Thursday, June 21, 2012

The body on Simonton Street

Elijah "Saunders" didn't have any plans for Memorial Day.
He was still on his bicycle after pedaling all night around Key West as the sky began to lighten on May 31, 2010.
Saunders, whose real last name is being withheld, was one of scores of night wanderers of this city, one of the homeless men and women who bounce from one vagrant encampment or gathering place to another, seeing who was about and what was up.
As Saunders rode his bicycle across the parking lot behind First State Bank on Simonton Street, he saw his friend Tracy lying face down on the asphalt, her bicycle standing a few feet away. Stillness inhabits a dead body so thoroughly that the absence of life is apparent a hundred feet away. Saunders knew she was dead even before he saw the blood pooled around her head.
Tracy Leigh Heshmaty, 37, with three sisters and a mother in Georgia, was a homicide victim, and the killer was someone in the clan. Like Saunders and the battered woman he had just discovered, the murderer was a restless soul seeking satisfaction on a nighttime bicycle ride. Elijah called the Key West Police just after 6 a.m. and waited with his deceased friend for the law to arrive.
Once at Heshmaty's side, Detective Scott Standerwick and a crime scene investigator analyzed the murder scene. A large piece of coral rock stained with blood and tissue was just beyond the victim's head. CSI Donald Guevremont also photographed a bloody shoe print, left behind by someone wearing athletic shoes. If the victim had carried a purse, it was now nowhere to be found.
Saunders told Standerwick and another Key West Police detective, Frank Duponty,  that he had seen Heshmaty with a Hispanic male about two hours earlier at the all-night CVS store at Truman Avenue and Simonton Street. He described the man as thin with long, black hair parted in the middle. The man had been on a silver mountain bike and talking with the victim outside CVS, Saunders remembered.
Duponty drove the three or four blocks down Simonton Street from the murder scene to the CVS and watched the security video. As he watched video that had been shot around 4:30 a.m., the time Saunders said he'd last seen Heshmaty alive, he saw the suspect on the screen. With the night just outside the doors, the high-quality video captured Heshmaty entering the store. In the next few frames, a man on a silver bicycle rolls past the store's entrance in the dark parking lot. The man is thin, with black hair parted down the middle. A few frames later, the man walks into the store, looking to his right toward the beer coolers, the direction Heshmaty had just walked. Finally, the two are taped leaving the store together. Detectives now had a suspect.

'A cipher'

The thin man in the video is Pablo Solano Jimenez, a 29-year-old drifter from a small town outside Vera Cruz, Mexico. He has no history in the United States before making it to Key West. Jimenez was living in a mobile home across Simonton Street from the Gato Building at the time of the murder. His trailer is between the CVS and the murder scene several blocks up Simonton Street.

According to Mark Wilson, the assistant state attorney who prosecuted Jimenez last week, there is very little known about Jimenez. There is no family in Mexico asking about his well-being and there are no defense witnesses going  to bat for him, Wilson said.
"He is a cipher," Wilson said. "We know nothing much beyond the intersection of the two and how it ended. She is from Macon, Ga., and he came to Key West from Mexico. She was sleeping on friends' couches and he was staying with friends at a mobile home."

Heshmaty had been arrested for credit card theft and fraud in 2005; her last arrest was in 2009 for a probation violation, Monroe County Sheriff's Office records show. There was marijuana in her system at the time of her death, an autopsy showed.
There are no witnesses to the murder so the question of motive may never be answered. All police have is Jimenez's version of events.
A former resident of the trailer park said Heshmaty and other women would occasionally go to the trailer park to perform sex for money. The former resident said he saw Heshmaty, long before the night of her death, knock on the door of the trailer where Jimenez and his male roommates lived.
That adds the possibility that the two had been discussing a sexual liaison on the night of the murder, but doesn't answer what led to the attack that killed her.
When police found him on Duval Street at 3:45 that afternoon, Jimenez denied knowing anything about Heshmaty's murder. In fact, Jimenez later suggested that African-American men who had been outside CVS may have killed her. He also told detectives that one of his roommates had talked of murdering someone.

The following detective notes indicate that his story kept changing:
  • He saw the victim at CVS around 4 a.m. as he was buying beer. "He and the victim had gone to his trailer, kissed and had sex. She said something about looking for her roommate Richard and she left and he never saw her again."
  • Jimenez then told police the two had walked down Simonton to a corner near the murder scene, where she left him, still alive. He then told police he last saw her "at the corner of CVS."
  • Jimenez said he went to CVS with the victim, but stayed outside. He said he was waiting by Simonton Street but when told about the video showing him in the store, he changed his statement, saying he had waited for Heshmaty by the shopping center's Truman Avenue exit.
It was a bicycle, the silver mountain bike, that brought Jimenez down to earth, police said. Jimenez gave detectives permission to search the trailer where he was staying. Police could not find the pants, shirt, or athletic shoes Jimenez had worn in the CVS video, but they did find a blood-stained, silver mountain bike in the trailer. When detective showed the blood on the bicycle to Jimenez, he told detectives he didn't know anything about the blood stains.
The next day, on June 1, detectives found the clothes and shoes Jimenez wore in the CVS video; the athletic shoes that matched the bloody footprint had been put in the trash can outside the trailer.

The question: Why?

When asked what happened, Jimenez told detectives:

 "He had stolen a car and found two packages of cocaine in the trunk. He hid the packages and later he shared the cocaine with Heshmaty. At one point she started to demand money in exchange for her not to tell the owners of the cocaine about him. He also was [inexplicably] assaulted a couple of times," detectives wrote. "The morning of the incident she told him the guys were in town and she wanted money. She mentioned her daughter and he hit her with the rock."

Because the Monroe County Medical Examiner had found no cocaine in Heshmaty's system, detectives did not buy Jimenez's statement that he killed her to protect himself from drug dealers.

As Jimenez sat in his cell at the Monroe Count Detention Center a few days after his June 1, 2010, arrest, detectives dropped by to ask follow-up questions. Here is the report they gave of that conversation.

"Jimenez did not remove any of her jewelry, only her purse and he threw it in the trash. He said his friends [in the trailer] were not involved and knew nothing about the incident. Jimenez said he never threw the rock. Only hit her while holding the rock. He did not remember his exact hand placement.
 Jimenez said he did not do drugs; [that he] only had five beers and he did not know why it happened. Jimenez said he went to Denny's after a beer and a cigarette. He bought coffee and nachos.

Jimenez said they did not have sex in the parking lot. He said he pushed her down and hit her and believes he hit her in the back first. Jimenez said they did not fight. She scratched him as he pushed her. He grabbed the rock after she fell down. She never yelled after he hit her only at first during verbal argument.
Jimenez said he was not sure why it happened but it may be over anger, vengeance, reaching a limit, or hate."

 --John L. Guerra

Sunday, June 17, 2012

No proof that Key West sailors were irradiated

Several people have contacted me with concerns that Key West Navy personnel were among the crew of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan exposed to radiation following Japan's tsunami in March 2011.
The Regan (CVN 76), a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier, was deployed off the coast of Japan in the plume of radiation spewing from the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear power plant, the U.S. Navy said. The power plant had been hit by a tsunami generated by an earthquake off Japan's east coast.

Helicopter crews from the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan ferried supplies into the island nation and returned to the ship after passing through the plume, the Navy said.
One local said that at least 140 sailors had been treated for exposure in Key West; another put the number at about 50 sailors.
As to whether sailors from Key West were irradiated, that turns out to be false, the Navy said.
According to the ship's commander, Capt. Thom Burke, only 17 sailors, most of whom served on the helicopters, received low-level radiation. No one has taken ill from the exposure, he said.
"The levels that were detected were very low levels," Burke told in San Diego, the Reagan's home port. "To put this in perspective, the maximum radiation dose received was equal to the amount of natural background radiation one would receive in one month from sources such as rocks, soil and the sun."
Generators designed to keep the power plant cooled during emergencies ceased working and the pumps that circulate coolant water in the reactor ceased to work, causing the reactors to begin to overheat. After full meltdown in three reactors, the Japanese shut down the plant by flooding the whole system with seawater.
No sailors from Key West were on the carrier, so there's no reason to worry about any Key West sailors when it comes to the Japan radiation, the Navy said.

The dogs of poor

Two recent national news items riled Key Westers who live on the edge of poverty. As everyone who lives here knows, it's incredibly expensive pay for an apartment here, much less pay a mortgage and raise kids. Key West, like other towns across America, has a suffering middle class.
So when it was reported on television networks that the 2008-2009 stock market collapse took 40 percent of Americans' savings, the news merely proved what we here have been feeling: that we got screwed. Those savings were in the form of 401K plans and other retirement plans. What happened was sinful: banking houses and investment firms took our savings and gambled them away without our permission. They had access to our money and they simply lost it on a whim, on a blue-sky investment idea, or in some scheme or other. If someone comes into your house, steals $500 from your dresser drawer and goes on a drinking spree,  the result is the same. A stranger used your savings for themselves.

The second news item was a televised Senate Banking Committee hearing at which the head of JP Morgan apologized to the American people for destroying Americans' nest eggs. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told Senate Banking Republicans that JPMorgan alone lost $2 billion of your money and those of millions of other Americans. He promised senators that JPMorgan would put a "risk committee" together to review what went wrong.
Meanwhile, JPMogan has yet to pay back billions in tax dollars (the money taken from your weekly paycheck) it received to keep the banking network afloat.
Here's a plan: I am going to go into a bunch of banks and steal all the money. Once banks start complaining, I'm going to put together a committee to determine what went wrong.

If the response of Republican senators on the banking committee this week is any guide, the banks I robbed would then hold me up as a model of honesty and American values.

Here's what Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), had to say about Dimon after Dimon explained that ONE guy in the JPMorgan London office blew $1.6 billion on ridiculous investments. (The guy's nickname is the "London Whale," by the way).

Corker, whose job it is to regulate bankers like JPMorgan, was unabashed in his sniveling, kneeling and pawing:
"You’re obviously renowned, rightfully so I think, as being one of the most, you know, one of the best CEOs in the country for financial institutions,” Corker swooned. “You missed this, it’s a blip on the radar screen.”

A blip? That's not what people who now have no money for retirement, much less healthcare, think of losing their money to some dude in some London office.

It made me and dozens of other Key Westers who caught the hearing ill and ashamed. Across the web, the exchange was seen as nothing less than an "ass-kissing" by Senate republicans who have no manhood.

Corker also asked Dimon how Congress can write legislation that makes it easier for banking firms to follow the rules. What he was really asking, it seems, was "How can we write rules that make it easier for you guys to not have to come here and explain?"

In my life as a critic, it's been easy to beat up on Republicans. To be fair, though, while Dimon gives Corker and other Republican banking committee members money for their campaigns, Democrats receive even more money from Dimon.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Dimon and his wife, Judy, have donated more than a half-million dollars to Democratic candidates and committees since 1989. That is nearly 12 times what the couple has given the GOP.

Vice President Joe Biden ($2,000), Sen. Chris Dodd ($5,300), Sen. Tom Carper ($8,000), Sen. Charles Schumer ($12,000) and Rep. Charles Rangel ($4,500) have all received Dimon dollars. Former Vice President Al Gore received $4,000 from the Dimons in 1999. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has hauled in $7,000 from them over his career.

What this means is old news, unfortunately. Forget party affiliation; it doesn't exist. Nearly everyone up on Capitol Hill is for sale. They play fast and loose with our retirement, our futures. It's disgusting and at least the Republicans are up front about selling their souls to the rich and megapowerful.