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HOOKED UP FOR MURDER
By Robert Mladinich Michael Benson
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Robert Mladinich and Michael Benson
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePredawn Gunshots
It was a Sunday-morning tradition for Edward Feldman (pseudonym); he'd get up bright and early, maybe even before the sun came up, and read the online New York Times edition.
And that was what Feldman was doing on this Sunday morning, October 12, 2003. All was quiet in the den of his Colonial home in the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn.
At 6:40 A.M., Feldman's quiet, early-morn solitude was abruptly ruined by a series of loud explosions. Five of them. Very loud. Three of them in a row, a pause, then two more. They sounded like they were coming from right outside his window. Scary close to him. Perhaps on his front lawn.
By the time the explosions had stopped, Feldman recognized them as gunfire. Feldman half-expected to hear his window crashing inward. He ducked under his desk. His window remained intact.
Outside now, there was quiet, but Feldman didn't trust the silence. He stayed under the desk for some time before taking action. When he did move, he moved quickly, staying low, crossing the room and picking up the phone to call 911. He gave his address and told the operator he had heard shots.
Even after hanging up, Feldman was too frightened to go to the window and peek outside. Only after police arrived, did he look out. Hecould see that there was a body lying still on a driveway near the sidewalk a few houses away from him.
The police told him to come outside. He went out to look at the body. He looked close enough to determine that he didn't recognize the victim.
There were other neighbors who were curious enough to come out and take a look. No pedestrians. Not before seven in the morning on a Sunday.
After concluding the victim was a stranger, Feldman went back inside.
Police at the Seventieth Precinct in Brooklyn, the Seven-Oh, responded to Feldman's call and arrived in less than two minutes. Police Officer Dillon Stewart was first on the scene. Two calls had been received. Feldman's was the first. At the scene police found a body wrapped in a yellow blanket and dumped near the curb of a tree-lined street. It was a distinctive blanket, with a picture of a large, wild cat on it.
The body was in front of the stately Victorian home, one in a row of stately Victorian homes, a few doors down from the neighbor who called 911. The body was where the sidewalk and driveway crossed, in front of a home on Argyle Road.
The house was beige, with brown trim. It had a traditional brick stoop with pillared overhang, plus an extension at the right front, and a bay window that bulged into the yard. High hedges on the left, and a lower set on the right, provided the homeowners with privacy.
In that idyllic setting, the body looked so wrong, so out of place, as it lay stretched out only feet from the neatly trimmed hedges that formed the gateway into the nearby home's front walkway.
The body was not very far from the house, only fifteen feet or so. There was only a few feet of front yard, the sidewalk, the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, and then the street.
Police could tell that death had not been instantaneous. There was evidence that the victim had tried to crawl along the edge of the street after he'd been shot, but he hadn't gotten very far.
The victim-a tall and muscular young white male-had been beaten, then shot five times. His wallet was gone-but there was $12 in loose bills in his pockets. Several .22-caliber shell casings were found nearby.
Police blocked off the road. It had begun to rain, and they covered the body with a tarp right away. After talking with Feldman, police estimated that three minutes had elapsed between the shooting and the 911 call, so the time of death was set at 6:38 A.M.
Orange cones were placed around the body. Of course, the police on the scene weren't going to let a pedestrian get anywhere close to the body, but the cones were another visual signal that the area was off-limits.
There had been a second 911 call. Police found the lady who had called in the second report and asked her a few questions. She was also a neighbor from the block, but she wasn't very helpful. As one might expect, she said that she had been sleeping and was awoken by five gunshots.
Her description of the loud report's cadence differed from that of the other earwitness, Feldman. The man had said that he heard three shots, a pause, then two more. The female earwitness said that there was one shot, a pause, and four shots in rapid succession. Both witnesses agreed that there had been a pause in the shooting sequence, and that there had been a total of five shots.
Upon hearing the shots, the female earwitness said, she had jumped out of bed and had looked out the window.
"What did you see?" police asked.
"I couldn't see anything," she replied.
Detective James Gaynor was assigned the homicide case and reported to the Argyle Road crime scene at 8:00 A.M. The area around the body remained cordoned off to keep anyone from contaminating it.
Only authorized personnel would be allowed near the body. A couple of curious civilians came right up to the tape to see what was going on, but no one made an attempt to get closer than they were supposed to.
The street had been blockaded at Beverley Road, so there would be no curiosity-seekers in motor vehicles cruising by the crime scene while the police tried to do their work.
Lifting the tarp, Gaynor saw a body, apparently dead, bleeding from the mouth. The victim was wearing a green shirt, tannish brown pants and work boots.
Upon more careful inspection, the detective saw that there were abrasions on his forehead, on the bridge of his nose, on his chin, his right cheek, and there was an abrasion on the back of his right hand.
The guy hadn't just been shot. He'd been in a scuffle. In addition to the abrasions, which also indicated that he'd been in a fight, there were buttons torn off his shirt. He'd also been robbed by what was apparently an impatient thief. The rear pants pocket had torn.
Crime scene detectives removed the victim's shirt, allowing Gaynor to observe five gunshot wounds between the shoulder and the waistline. The deceased had been struck by five bullets, and two had gone all the way through, causing exit wounds. There were seven holes in the body in all.
The body was designated as a John Doe. The victim had no wallet and had been deemed, for the moment, unidentifiable. There was an ATM receipt found in the pocket. That might turn out to be helpful.
The ATM receipt said that it came from a convenience store on Coney Island Avenue and Beverley Road, only a couple blocks away. Twenty dollars had been withdrawn at 4:23 A.M. A subsequent check of the ATM showed that its clock was an hour off (sixty-two minutes, to be precise), probably not reset during a seasonal time change, and that the money had actually been taken out at approximately 5:25 A.M.
Detective Gaynor observed two .22-caliber shell casings lying on the sidewalk near the body. There was also a yellow blanket with an emblem of a large, wild cat on it. The blanket was basically around the victim's feet.
Detective Joseph Lupo, of the Crime Scene Unit (CSU), arrived on the scene at about 9:00 A.M. It was cool and overcast. Temp was in the 60s. Still drizzling. Both uniformed and nonuniformed police personnel were already at the scene.
Lupo went through the same procedure at every crime scene. When he got to the location, he would speak with the officers at the scene, then the case detectives at the scene.
Then he would do a walk-through of the crime scene to make a mental list of what evidence would need to be collected. He would photograph the scene and prepare sketches.
Lupo noticed immediately that the focal point of the crime scene was a body in a driveway near the sidewalk. Tall. Young. White. Facedown. His face was bloody and he had bullet holes to the right side of his torso.
Underneath the body, between the body and the sidewalk, was a yellow blanket with a picture of a lion or a tiger on it. Looked as if the victim had been wrapped in it, but it had fallen open as the body tumbled to the ground.
The shooting had been cruel. The victim had been shot so that death would not be instantaneous. Shot low to die slow. Three of the wounds were in the right side.
Detective Lupo stepped between the orange cones, removed the tarp from the body and took photos right away. First he took photos of the body as it had been found. Then he lifted the victim's shirt so he could photograph the bullet wounds.
He then prepared what they called a "body sheet," which documented the wounds and the clothing the victim was wearing. That sheet was then sent to the medical examiner's office.
There were not pedestrians. Neighbors peeked out from windows or stood inconspicuously on front porches, but no one had the courage to approach the scene on foot.
The detective looked at a spot near the body, north and a little to the west of the body, where two shell casings had been discharged from a .22-caliber pistol. Lupo placed the casings in an envelope and then clearly labeled the envelope. They would be sent to the police laboratory for analysis.
Lupo spent 2 1/2 hours at the scene, making sure that he'd done a thorough job. His processing of the scene was completed about 11:30 A.M. Unless there was an arrest and a trial, at which he might have to testify, he was done with the case.
Police knew that murders happened in all shapes and sizes, and for all reasons. They knew that killers could be as old as eighty-eight and as young as nine, for both had happened in NYC's five boroughs during 2003.
Police knew that women were twice as likely to kill a current spouse than they were to kill an ex. Men were almost exclusively the killers of their exes.
They knew that the deadliest day of the year was almost always in July when the temperature was just above 90 degrees. Hotter than that and people were too sluggish to kill. Cooler than that and they weren't so angry.
Police knew that the great majority of killings were hot-blooded-friends and loved ones, current and past, killed in an uncontrollable rage. These were understandable. Heartbreaking often, but understandable. People sometimes lost control of themselves. It happened.
But it was the cold-blooded murder that kept homicide investigators awake at night. It was the one where the killer didn't know the victim, or at least didn't care about the victim; the one in which the bodies were disposed of like trash-dumped, law enforcement called it-just like litter. These were the ones that gave police detectives insomnia. This victim had been robbed, killed and thrown out with the trash.
* * *
Law enforcement is not crowded with philosophers, but there are a few, and lawmakers can't fit punishment to crime without weighing philosophical issues. When it came to murder, that disturbing feeling police got over cold-blooded crimes was taken into consideration.
Hot-blooded crimes are often not punished as harshly as their cold-blooded counterparts. Premeditation must be proven for a murder to be considered in the first degree. When it's boiled down to its essence, police and prosecutors must gauge how depraved a murder is in order to know how to punish it.
In thirty-nine states there are provisions for harsher punishments for crimes that are "atrocious," "depraved" and "vile." These terms did not have a legal definition, however, and the interpretation of these words varied greatly from judge to judge.
In order to establish consistent and fair punishments for the worst of crimes, a "depravity scale" has been developed. The father of the scale is Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist at the New York University School of Medicine.
Regarding future use of his scale, Welner has said, "The judge or the jury will still have the burden of saying, 'Here's how I want to call it.' But at least they will be informed."
The scale is based on the results of a questionnaire during which respondents were given descriptions of crimes and asked which they thought most depraved. Welner's scale would allow prosecutors, judges or juries to classify a crime as having low, medium or high depravity.
Shot low to die slow. Put that on your depravity scale. If such a scale had been in effect in Brooklyn at the time of this murder, a "high depravity" conclusion would no doubt have been reached.
* * *
Since the body was missing its wallet, police could not immediately identify it. There was $12 in the pocket, but no identification.
Two shell casings, apparently from a .22 handgun, were found near the body. There were more than two bullet wounds. Metal was missing. Police got a break when a kid from Fairfield University, up in Connecticut, called the precinct and said his friend was missing. He'd last been seen at a party in Brooklyn. His folks lived in New Jersey. The New York Police Department (NYPD) got a photo of the kid from the Fairfield Security Department. Looked like him, so they headed to New Jersey to talk to the kid's parents.
By Sunday evening Michael and Nancy Fisher were beginning to get nervous. They called their son Mark's cell phone but one of his Fairfield classmates answered and reported that he had left it behind the night before. It wasn't like Mark to disappear like this.
At two in the morning on Monday, the doorbell to the Fisher home rang. Mrs. Fisher answered the door. Mr. Fisher was working. When she saw it was a police officer, she became frightened and refused to allow him in.
She sensed that bad news had arrived and she thought she could delay or even prevent the news from being real if only she could keep the messenger outside her home.
Delay, yes. Prevent, no.
Eventually the policeman was allowed in and showed her the photo.
"This your son?"
"Yes," Nancy Fisher replied with a sob.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news, ma'am."
Mark Fisher had been found the previous morning lying on a street in Brooklyn, dead from bullet wounds.
"Mark was murdered," the policeman said.
"No, you're wrong," Nancy Fisher replied.
They had never heard of the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn before they learned it was the location of Mark's murder. On Tuesday morning Michael and Nancy drove to Brooklyn to visit the neighborhood where he died and to formally identify Mark's body. It would be the first of many trips the couple would make to Ditmas Park over the next few months.
Once police knew who the victim was, they had to figure out how he got there. Mark Fisher had been a long way from both his home and his school when he died. How had he gotten there? The last hours of his life needed to be reconstructed.
Nineteen-year-old Mark S. Fisher grew up in suburban utopia-Andover, in Byram Township, New Jersey, in a modern home in a scenic wooded valley. The picture-perfect postcard town was only a forty-five-minute drive northwest of New York City, but-with its scores of lakes and autumnal foliage-it might as well have been a million miles away.
Mark was the son of Michael and Nancy Fisher, an attractive, dark-haired couple. The Fishers exuded positive energy. Dad worked as a service engineer, Mom as a realtor.
Nancy Fisher was born and raised in Colombia, and came to the United States when she was seventeen. Although she spoke flawless English, one could still hear an accent. Mom was very high energy, while Dad was more quietly competent and confident, not the kind of guy to toot his own horn.
Both Michael and Nancy were devout Roman Catholics, and had raised their children the same way. Mark had an older brother, Michael Christopher, twenty-four years old and a graduate of Montclair State College, where he earned a degree in mathematics, and a younger sister, Alexis, who was eighteen.
After stints at Our Savior Preschool, Byram Consolidated School and Byram Intermediate School, Mark attended Lenape Valley Regional High School in Stanhope, New Jersey.
In intermediate school he played Little League baseball and basketball, as well as CYO basketball for St. Michael's, of Netcong.
Excerpted from HOOKED UP FOR MURDER by Robert Mladinich Michael Benson Copyright © 2007 by Robert Mladinich and Michael Benson. Excerpted by permission.
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