Tag Archive for Arizona

“Strange” is an Understatement

In sending Robert Henry Moormann’s case back to a lower court for a do-over, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that it was Moormann’s “strange and inconsistent behavior” that brought him to the attention of Florence, Arizona police.
 
Calling what Moormann did during his 72-hour furlough from the Arizona State Prison in 1984 “strange” is like calling Hurricane Katrina a minor setback for the Gulf Coast.
 
Moormann was serving a nine-year-to-life term for kidnapping a young girl when he received his three-day pass to spend some time with his 74-year-old step-mother, Roberta, better known as Maude. She took the bus to Florence and the two of them checked into a nearby motel. Maude was never seen alive again.
 
In hindsight, Moormann presented so many clues that something was amiss that it’s “strange” that it took authorities as long as it did to check out what this convicted pedophile was up to during his furlough. We should note, however, that Moormann didn’t start acting strange in public until after it was too late to save Maude.
 
His “strange” behavior became public at around 7 a.m. when he called one of Maude’s friends and asked that she pick him up that afternoon and take him to a lawyer in Mesa. He then walked to a nearby store where he purchased a large hunting knife, a steak knife and some food. Moormann told the store owner that he was on furlough and that his mother was back at the motel and had taken ill.
 
Two hours later he called the motel’s front desk and asked that the maid not disturb his mother, who was apparently resting. Moormann then went to the front desk and asked to borrow some disinfectant. The front desk clerk noted that Moormann “smelled horrible” and had some blood on his face.
 
Maude’s friend arrived later that day, but Moormann told her that his mother had disappeared from the motel room. He then told the friend that his mother had brought several garbage bags filled with spoiled meat and asked for her help in disposing them. The friend refused and left the motel.
 
Moormann, who had left some towels outside his motel room that were so disgusting that the staff didn’t bother to wash them, then asked the motel owner if he could throw the spoiled meat in the dumpster. When the owner told him that the trash would not be picked up for several days, Moormann went elsewhere.
 
He approached a nearby pizza parlor and asked if he could dispose of some “animal guts.” The pizza parlor owner happened to be a corrections officer at the state prison and contacted police.
 
Officers stopped by the motel and were greeted by Moormann dressed only in a pair of unzipped pants. He explained that his mother had left with “a Mexican woman” and that he was worried. It was now about 10 p.m. The officers looked in the motel dumpster, but didn’t notice anything unusual.
 
An hour or so later, Moormann contacted the lieutenant of his unit at the prison, who stopped by the motel. Moormann explained that his cousin had dropped off a box of “dog bones” which the corrections officer took from him.
 
The lieutenant, learning from police about Moormann’s suspicious behavior and his inability to keep his story straight about what had happened to his mother, turned the box of bones over to investigators who suspected that the bones were, in fact, Roberta’s.
 
Police returned to the motel and asked Moormann to wait with them in their cruiser until his mother returned, he agreed and while the crime lab examined the bones, slept in the car.
 
At 2:45 a.m., the lab confirmed that the bones were human and Moormann was arrested on suspicion of murder.
 
“I wonder if I need a lawyer,” Moormann said out loud. “I’ll leave it up to you guys whether I need a lawyer.” A statement of that type is not the same as invoking one’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.
 
At the police station, Moormann told officers “you can change the charge. She’s dead.” After being read his rights and waiving them, he told police just what had happened in room 22 that day.
 
As perceptive readers might have guessed, not only was she dead, she was dismembered.
 
The police obtained a warrant to search Moormann’s room at the Blue Mist, where they found bedding stained with Roberta’s blood; towels, a washcloth, and a cooking pot stained with blood; bloodstains on the bathroom walls and floor; a scouring pad with bloodstains and human tissue; and a buck knife and steak knife. They also found Roberta’s brassiere hanging in the closet with five hundred dollars in cash safety-pinned to it.
 
In trash dumpsters at and near the motel, the police officers found trash bags containing Roberta’s thorax, head, pelvic area, feet and hands, and muscle and skin cut from her limbs as well as torn strips of towel, a razor, the package in which the steak knife was sold, and some pajamas. The police found a finger in the sewer.
 
A search of Moormann’s living quarters in the prison revealed a notebook of bizarre writings, including instructions to train a dog to make bank deposits.
 
Moormann told the officers that he had just “lost his cool” when his mother made him “take his father’s place” and “do things he just couldn’t handle,” alleging that the two had had a sexual relationship.
 
“My mom and I had a — we had a argument, and during it I hit her a few times, and then it got worse and I — I lost my cool and — and I tied her up, and she kept on me, talkin’ about things that, uh, pertained to my real family and, I don’t remember the exact time, and I suffocated her,” Moormann told police. “Then I took the 409 and went into the wash room. I panicked, at which time I dissected her.”
 
During the autopsy, the medical examiner determined that no sexual intercourse had taken place.
 
The ME noted that the dismemberment of the body was very meticulous, particularly the cutting off of the hands at the wrist, the feet at the ankles, and then the fingers at the knuckles. The entire process would probably have taken two hours.
 
Not surprisingly, Moormann’s sanity was in question during his trial, but the jury found he was sane — disposing of a body in the manner he did indicates a knowledge of right and wrong — and convicted him of first-degree murder in 1985.
 
Twenty years later, he remains on Arizona’s death row and it’s likely that he’ll be there for some time still. In October 2005, the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling in his post-conviction appeal and remanded the case for further consideration.
 
Update: Moormann was executed on February 29, 2012. He was the longest-serving prisoner on Arizona’s death row.

Brotherly Love

Brotherly love was no match for greed and power as far as the Levine brothers, Donald and Robert, were concerned.
 
The brothers were real estate developers with properties in Arizona and the Midwest during the 1980s until the bottom fell out of the real estate market out west and forced Robert to go to his brother with hat in hand for a bailout.
 
The result was murder.
 
In the spring of 1989, while Robert and Patricia were vacationing in Italy, Donald threw the first stone that would eventually lead to the murder of him and his wife and the attempted murder of their son, Mark.
 
In a fit of rage, Donald accused his brother and sister-in-law of cheating him and mismanaging funds in one of their partnerships. Threatening to have them jailed, Donald kicked in the locked door of Robert’s office, and canceled management contracts held by a corporation mostly owned by Robert and Patricia. He also spread word of his mistrust to other partners, damaging his brother’s reputation.
 
When Robert returned from Italy, he hired an attorney and threatened a libel suit against his brother. The attorney managed to mediate a truce between the brothers that allowed Donald to assume almost total control of Robert’s business interests, although on paper, the brothers were equal partners in the real estate holdings. Part of the agreement required Robert and Patricia to repay $110,000 to the new partnership and Donald withheld Robert’s salary until he signed the new partnership agreement.
 
An uneasy peace remained in place during the summer of 1989, but the new agreement essentially ruined Robert and Patricia financially. They lost control of the management contracts they formerly held and were forced to lay off employees.
 
In September 1989 the strained relationship soured once again when Marsha Levine told a business associate that Robert “better hope that Donald lived a long time,” because when he was gone, she intended to put Robert and Patricia “out on the street.” Her comments were made around the same time that Donald told another associate that he once again suspected Robert of stealing, adding that he intended to travel from Chicago to Phoenix to audit the partnership’s financial records and to formally end his business with his brother.
 
While this was going on, Robert was planning in his own way to end the partnership. He contacted a former employee whose own fortunes had gone south when he was laid off from Robert’s management company and began to induce the man, Bruce McKinney, to kill Donald, Marsha and their son, Mark.
 
Over the next several weeks, McKinney and Robert spoke frequently, and Robert promised McKinney that he “would make him a millionaire” if he agreed to do the killings.
 
As another inducement, Robert told McKinney that if he did not murder Donald and his family, “the mob” would kill McKinney’s.
 
Robert gave McKinney $400 to pay his utility bill and for the purchase of a shotgun. Robert also gave McKinney a .25 caliber automatic pistol from Robert’s mother’s house, a suitcase to transport the guns, and a sixty dollar check for bullets. McKinney bought ammunition for the shotgun and the .25 automatic. McKinney also bought exploding bullets for his own gun, a Ruger .357.
 
The men flew to Munster, Indiana, where Donald and Marsha lived, staked out the house for a couple of days and returned to Arizona. A few days after that trip, McKinney traveled to Cincinnati, where he planned to murder Mark, who was living there. After riding in an elevator twice with Mark, but never being able to catch him alone, McKinney abandoned that plan and returned to Phoenix.
 
The opportunity to kill next arose when Mark returned to Illinois in early November 1989 to be admitted to the Illinois bar.
 
McKinney arrived in Munster on November 9, and posing as a package delivery man, approached the Levine home. Mark was working in the garage. McKinney entered the garage, pulled the .357, and ordered Mark into the home. He ordered Mark to lie on the floor and struck him on the head with the pistol. Marsha, hearing the commotion, came into the room and McKinney shot her in the chest, fatally wounding her.
 
Donald then came out of the bathroom and McKinney shot him. He then turned to kill Mark, only to find the young man had fled. In frustration, McKinney put another bullet into Marsha’s body and left the home.
 
Mark managed to get to a school across the street where he reported a burglary and shooting. He noticed that McKinney’s car was gone and returned home only to find his mother dead and his father conscious, but dying.
 
After the shooting, McKinney called Robert and told him that Donald and Marsha were dead, but that Mark escaped. After hearing the news of Mark’s escape, Robert cursed and said that he would handle Mark. McKinney drove back to the airport and flew to Phoenix.
 
Robert immediately left Phoenix for Munster, arriving at the hospital around midnight. Mark, suspicious of his uncle, refused to meet alone with him. Witnesses later recounted how this refusal visibly angered Robert, who tried to convince Mark to travel to Chicago with him until he could be relocated to a safe apartment. Mark again refused, and for months after the killings wore a bullet-proof vest under his clothes.
 
The plot unraveled quickly.
 
robertlevineRobert instructed McKinney to keep his mouth shut because Robert was a suspect. After Robert returned to Phoenix, McKinney returned the .25 automatic to him. About a month after the murders, Robert gave McKinney $600 and told McKinney not to contact him until after January 15, 1990.
 
Police were examining Robert’s background and saw the transactions and telephone calls with McKinney. When it turned out that McKinney was in Chicago around the time of the murder, he was arrested in Phoenix on December 22, 1989. Authorities suspected they had the shooter, but it was the person who hired McKinney who they really wanted. Robert was taken to police headquarters the same day, questioned and released.
 
In September 1990, McKinney agreed to cooperate with the FBI to avoid the death penalty for the murders of Donald and Marsha Levine and the attempted murder of Mark Levine. McKinney pleaded guilty to murder and received immunity on murder-for-hire charges from the government for his testimony.
 
Robert and Patricia became fugitives for four months. They did not leave a forwarding address and even family members did not know where they went. In fact, Robert and Pat went to southern California. In Costa Mesa, Robert rented a voice mail service and a private mail box under the alias Steven B. Rosenberg with his wife as Pat Green.
 
Jeffrey Ross, one of Robert’s lawyers, was advised of a scheduled appearance of Robert before the grand jury on January 10, 1991. Still in hiding, Robert did not appear before the grand jury, but called his brother-in-law from an unknown location to express his regret that the man had been dragged before the grand jury.
 
Robert Levine finally surrendered to the authorities in California on March 4, 1991.
 
After he turned himself in, Robert was incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. His cellmate was John Rinaldo. Robert and Rinaldo realized that they knew each other from the real estate business and had met during the 1970s. Robert unwisely decided to confide in Rinaldo. Ironically, Robert complained to Rinaldo that if McKinney had only kept quiet, Robert would not have his current problem.
 
He described the murder victim only as a business associate who falsely accused him of stealing money. Robert said that the Mafia persuaded him to commit the murder because the business associate was involved with the Mafia in a money laundering scheme and had reneged on a deal. Robert told Rinaldo that he traveled to Chicago with McKinney and said that he was concerned because he used an alias but used his credit card for a car rental.
 
All of this of course ended up being told the jury which returned guilty verdicts against Robert Levine on all five counts of the indictment. His alternative theory of the case was that Mark Levine had hired McKinney to murder his parents.
 
The district court fined him $250,000 and sentenced him to life in prison.