Q: I teach criminal law at Harris Stowe State University. A few days ago, my students and I discussed “deadly weapons.” I said that anything which endangers one’s safety can be considered a deadly weapon — which increases the seriousness of any crime. Most of the time, these take the form of a gun, knife, club or the like. But I was able to show them an article in the BND where a young man recently was arrested in Florida for tossing a small alligator through a Wendy’s drive-through window. He was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. Granted it’s funny now, but I don’t think the clerk at Wendy’s was amused! Since you are a cornucopia of unusual information, I was wondering if you have run across other unusual deadly weapons.
Catherine Stoltz, of Belleville
A: In “Mary Poppins,” it was a spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down. In England a few years ago, it was a plain old spoon that made Richard Clare’s victim go down.
Yes, whenever people start calling for new restrictions on firearms, pro-gun groups now can ask why these potentially deadly dinner utensils shouldn’t be regulated as well.
The date was Nov. 28, 2003, when Clare, a heroin addict, climbed out of a window at the Vale House Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Hertford and took a taxi to see James Gibson, who owed Clare money. When Gibson was unable to pay, Clare took Gibson’s cell phone, which he hoped to trade for more heroin.
Wanting his phone back, Gibson asked Timothy Magee to confront Clare, which, unfortunately, he did. During the ensuing trial, Clare said Magee had butted him repeatedly and beat him with his walking aid. In response, Clare struck Magee on the back of the neck with a spoon, which somehow severed an artery, causing fatal bleeding between Magee’s skull and brain.
Pleading self-defense, Clare was cleared of both murder and manslaughter, although he was sentenced to seven days for stealing the phone. Seven years later, however, Clare, 38, was convicted of murdering a roommate, this time with a more conventional utensil — a knife. He is now serving at least 27 years for slashing Peter O’Connell’s throat.
But that may be just the most oddball case of many I found. When humans are intent on doing harm to one another, there seems no end to the list of unusual objects that can turn into instruments of death. Consider these cases that almost seem to be a cross between “Law & Order” and “The X-Files”:
Holiday mayhem: Karen Walsh said she walked over to 81-year-old Maire Rankin’s house to wish her neighbor a festive noel on Christmas morning 2008.
But when Rankin’s family came to see why their relative did not answer her phone, they found the elderly woman in a pool of blood on her bedroom floor. She had been bludgeoned to death with a crucifix. The blows had been so forceful that imprints of the religious object’s thorns had been left in Rankin’s chin.
During Walsh’s trial in Belfast, prosecutors alleged the 41-year-old Irish pharmacist had been drinking vodka and became enraged when Rankin accused her of being drunk and an unfit mother for her 2-year-old son. Walsh, the prosecutors contended, went so far as to sexually assault Rankin to throw police off her trail.
Walsh argued she had given the vodka to Rankin as a gift, but the jury didn’t buy it. She was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years, and an appeal last summer was summarily rejected.
A deadly heel: When 45-year-old Ana Trujillo allegedly was being assaulted by her 59-year-old boyfriend, Alf Steffan Andersson, she said she grabbed the only available weapon: a cobalt blue platform pump with a 5-inch stiletto heel.
Then, in a scene straight out of the musical “Chicago,” she proceeded to pound the heel of her shoe into the University of Houston professor’s head. Twenty-five times. Some of the resulting holes were at least an inch and a half deep. Andersson died at the scene — his luxury high-rise apartment in Houston — on June 9, 2013. Trujillo, a message therapist, was found covered in blood and arrested the next day.
During her trial, Trujillo’s claims of self-defense were quickly rejected because of her violent history and babbling testimony, plus prosecutor John Jordan’s graphic re-creation of the crime on a mannequin in the courtroom. She is now serving life with no chance of parole for 30 years.
Death and limb: In early 2010, Debra Hewitt, a homeless woman in Louisiana, apparently became embroiled in an argument with her new boyfriend.
First, she jumped on him. Then she took off her prosthetic leg and beat the 47-year-old man with it. His decomposing body was found about six weeks later in Lafayette Parish.
Hewitt, 47, had been acquitted in two previous murders, but not this time. In less than two hours in March 2012, a jury found the woman who had somewhere gained the nickname “Angel” guilty of second-degree murder. She got a life sentence.
Open case: On the day before Valentine’s Day, 2008, Carline Renelique became worried when Murat St. Hilaire, the father of her three children, hadn’t shown up for work or made his daily phone call.
So, with kids in tow, Renelique drove to his Prospect Heights, N.Y., apartment. Their 11-year-old daughter found her 55-year-old father lying dead in his bedroom, face up with a corkscrew in the side of his head. No arrests were ever made as far as I can tell.
And if those still aren’t strange enough for you, there’s also the 2013 case of 192-pound Donna Lange, of Everett, Wash., who apparently passed out face down on her 175-pound boyfriend, suffocating him when her upper torso wound up covering his nose and mouth. He was found with clumps of hair in his hands. She was charged with second-degree murder.
What rock star once lost his teaching job because he wanted to replace the classics with Spider-Man comics?
Answer to Saturday’s trivia: Talk about your radical environmentalists: According to Aristotle, anyone around Athens who dug up or cut down an olive tree could be tried by the Aeropagus, a Greek court — and sentenced to death. Apparently, ancient Greeks took their Mediterranean diet seriously.