Jam Master Jay · Hot Springs · Svengali

Plus: Harassment within the FBI

Folks who use one of eight local ABC stations’ app will get Set the Record Straight: The Jam Master Jay Case early. Deadline reports that the doc about the 2002 slaying of Run-DMC DJ Jason Mizell will drop Friday on “the eight free connected-TV apps run by the ABC Owned Television Stations,” which cover eight major U.S. markets like NY and LA. (Anyone in the U.S. can use any of those apps, so you don’t have to live in NY to install the ABC 7 NY app, for example.)

The reason for this? WABC (the aforementioned ABC 7) is behind the show. While you might roll your eyes at the idea of your local news station pulling together a doc, let’s hold on judgement for now: local reporter Darla Miles, a seasoned, solid reporter, wrote, directed and executive-produced the show — which suggests it’s a passion project for the journo. That broadcast tie is also likely why there are new interviews with NYPD investigators and officials: if there’s a single type of outlet the cops try to keep on their side, it’s broadcast.

Mizell’s death, which investigators linked to a coke deal gone bad, has been the source of some speculation over the years, as Sarah and I noted when we discussed Who Killed Jam Master Jay? back in 2019. But, per Deadline, “that hour did not feature NYPD interviews or the photographs and other new materials included in WABC’s film.” [“I’ll also note, because: wut?, that the Law & Order episode made legendary by departing ADA Serena Southerlyn asking, ‘Is this because I’m a lesbian?’ is ripped from the headlines of this case.” — SDB]

If you’re not up for installing an ABC app on your phone for this show, you still have options: STRS: TJMJS will drop on Hulu on April 20, and various ABC stations will also air it on April 17 and April 24 (check your local listings). And if you do decide to install an ABC app to watch it sooner, remember to say no to those push-alert news notifications, or you’ll never get a moment of peace. — EB

Sarah is down with Why Did You Kill Me? As you might recall from our conversation last week, WDYKM? is the story of Belinda Lane, who created fake social media accounts to lure her daughter’s killers into admitting their role in her death. I was cautiously intrigued, and in her review for Primetimer, Sarah has high praise for first-time feature director Fredrick Munk, and says that it’s “paced well and it features affecting insights from its participants.”

What sounds most interesting, however, is that victim Crystal Theobald’s family isn’t the typical squeaky-clean saintly victim clan you see on so many newsmagazines. Per Sarah:

In a handful of scenes, a hand is pushing a car around in the little "set," and it reinforces the idea of how everyone in the situation — from Crystal, to her family, to the 5150 gang members who set the event in motion — was at the mercy of larger forces, including poverty, addiction, racial inequities in the justice "system" and the vicious cycle incarceration inflicts on generations of families.

These larger forces are implied elsewhere in the film too, starting with the fact that Why is about the Theobalds in the first place. They aren't your typical victim's family or the classic crusaders so often seen in Dateline and PBS docs — they are imperfect, struggling people with broken furniture and prison tats; they don't call the police when trouble comes, instead they handle it themselves by catfishing local gang members to a "party" that's really a revenge trap. But they're still people, grieving, deserving of justice — and capable of compassion, even for the functionally orphaned gang member who ultimately pulled the trigger.

WDYKM? was released on Netflix yesterday; have you watched it yet? Are you planning to? Let us know. — EB'

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I would listen to a podcast about folks who debunk fake news. That’s not a true-crime observation, just a general expression of interest sent out into the universe The Secret style. Long before the term “fake news” was part of the lexicon, there was Snopes, though, and if they decided to launch a “debunk of the week,” pod, I’d be there for it.

Like, this would be a good debunk of the week: “Is a Serial Killer Investigation Underway in Hot Springs, Ark.?” Apparently, social media-using ding-dongs (apologies for the redundancy) are circulating claims that the dismembered bodies of five women were discovered in Hot Springs National Park, a revelation that “the police are trying to keep hush hush.” In actuality, Snopes reports, a woman was indeed found dead in the park, but investigators say they believe it was an isolated incident.

The Hot Springs Police Department has been working to correct those claims, including with pointed Facebook posts met with — you can see for yourself — comments claiming the federal government is covering up the serial murders “for financial gain” as if folks knew there was a crime, they wouldn’t visit the nature area. (Tell that to the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, Facebook commenters.) Then again, maybe a Snopes podcast would just be the hard-working debunkers screaming “WHY DO WE BOTHER” for a couple minutes, then the sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle of brown alcohol. — EB

Google the “Svengali defense” and the top true-crime result you’ll get is Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. His defense team argued that he was “a pawn of a more influential mastermind”: His brother, Tamerlan.

Now the defense team for Elizabeth Holmes might be preparing a similar defense, reports the Bay Area News Group. According to reporter Ethan Baron, “What is known is that she plans to present what federal court rules call ‘Expert Evidence of a Mental Condition,’ and that she plans to call as a witness a psychologist who specializes in relationship trauma.”

What’s suspected, Baron writes, is that Holmes might claim that the person controlling her (aka the Svengali) was former company president Sunny Balwani, with whom Holmes used to have a romantic relationship. From Baron’s report:

No information has surfaced to suggest Holmes suffered interpersonal violence or trauma. Holmes’ only known romantic relationship while Theranos was operating was with her co-accused, former company president Sunny Balwani. Holmes, a Stanford University dropout who founded Theranos in 2003, and Balwani have denied charges that they bilked investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars, and defrauded doctors and patients with false claims that the company’s machines could conduct a full range of tests using just a few drops of blood.

Stanford University law school professor Robert Weisberg believes Holmes has two potential avenues for a mental-condition defense: claiming her judgment was affected or that she acted under duress. If the former, her argument “will be laid out in terms of something like her mental distress clouded her judgment so she didn’t truly form the intent to commit the crimes” perhaps because of an “overwrought or emotional state” that meant she didn’t think through the possibility that others could be harmed, Weisberg said. “You have to somehow connect the dots that the state of emotional distress … made it psychologically impossible to form the intent,” he said.

Well, one thing’s for sure: If the defense moves ahead with that narrative, it’ll give Sarah’s boyfriend, Naveen Andrews, a lot more to do in The Dropout. But it seems like a real stretch in real life, yeah? — EB

This AP report on former FBI boss James Hendricks is a must read. The former head of the Albany, New York field office was so notorious for groping his female colleagues that one woman had to carry a ruler to smack him, an internal report says. But as opposed to making an example out of him, the FBI allowed him to quietly resign (presumably with a pension), and refuses to discuss the case.

It’s yet another example of how diligently law enforcement agencies adhere to “innocent until convicted” rules when one of their own is under discussion, while assuming guilt for everyone else. I mean, check this out:

Some colleagues chalked up Hendricks’ behavior to his being a “Southern gentleman” — he served as a police officer in western Kentucky before joining the bureau in 1998 — but others said he routinely crossed the line, became “super giddy” around women and was “incapable of stopping himself” from harassing them.

Co-workers told investigators he surrounded himself with a “harem” of attractive women, was fixated on high heels and breasts, and was known for gawking at female agents as they walked down the hallway.

In office conversations that involved women, Hendricks would shift his “body posture and head angle to stare at their breasts and bodies in a manner that was calculated to avoid detection,” the OIG report says. Male and female agents alike told investigators they endured this “as a condition of simply interacting with their boss.”

Read the full, incredibly frustrating, report here. — EB

Friday on Best Evidence: More fake news chat.

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