Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Morganelli's "D-Day Bank Massacre," A Riveting Must Read

I admit it. When I first heard Northampton County DA John Morganelli had written a book, I dismissed it as little more than a vanity project. John's a great prosecutor, but how the hell does that qualify him as an author? Also, as a death penalty opponent, I have little enthusiasm for the ultimate remedy.

I was wrong. D-Day Massacre is a terrific if terrifying book - a detailed, behind the scenes, account of a Lehigh Valley monster. Twenty years ago, Martin Appel viciously executed three bank employees during a planned bank robbery near Bath. Morganelli's chilling account of this triple homicide and bizarre aftermath are eerily reminiscent of Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter. Because it depicts events close to home, Morganelli's book is even more frightening for LV residents. His dispassionate and detailed narration contrasts starkly with Appel's inhumanity and a disinterested state government.

A defiant Appel had warned that, unless executed, "Guards are going to die and I will escape." He also taunted a bank employee who had miraculously survived three 9mm bullet wounds, including one right through her head. Here's part of his letter to her from hell. "Don't be stupid all your life. Why waste your time and [what] little money you have by suing me. You'll only give yourselves more headaches. Besides, I don't have a penny to my name. And now I know where you live. Real dumb move on your part. Bye Bye. 9mm."

When Governor Casey refused to sign Appel's death warrant, Appel's letter was sent to him. "I'm sure Appel would have been tickled to death knowing the effect it had on me."

Amazingly, Casey never had the courtesy even to acknowledge this victim's plight, a disgusting display of insensitivity that has now become all too commonplace in the land of midnight payraises.

D-Day's a good read, even for folks like me who oppose the death penalty. It's a dark and vivid reminder that evil exists, and can't be exterminated. Morganelli intends to share any profits with Turning Point of Lehigh Valley and the Crime Victims Council.


LVDem said...

Be fair to the late Gov... he opposed the death penalty. I wouldn't have signed the death warrant either. Conviction is conviction.

I'm not sure how he is supposed to reply to a letter on the matter. Anything he does or says will be twisted and be used to make him look weak. Sometimes, the best way to handle a hot button political issue with a no win situation is to not respond.

But I say this as an opponent of the death penalty. Nothing you can do or say as an opponent will comfort somebody who has been a victim. So why try. The only comfort they will receive is in their source of strength (be in God, inner strength, whatever). No legal or political remedy can ever provide that relief and comfort.

LVDem said...

But I'll look for the book... sounds like an interesting piece of local work.

Chris Casey said...

All life is sacred, but how do you deal with those who don't honor that premise? Keeping them alive is cruel and inhuman punishment. If we are going to allow assisted suicide, why not show Appel mercy and execute him?

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem, I'm being fair. I'm reciting the facts. And the simple truth is that Casey DID sign death warrants as governor. Read the book.

When this woman, who was shot thru the head and then taunted by Appel, sent the Guv a letter, he had an obligation as a human being to respond to her. Forget your political bullshit for a second and remember this was a human being. I'm a death penalty opponent, too. I know you don't ignore people in pain.

If Casey has such great convictions, he'd realize that as well and give her some kind of response. He could at least have assured her that he'd do everything in his power to make sure she felt secure. That is, after all, the object of government.

What you're saying is it's ok to ignore this woman for political reasons. That's disgusting. I'm disgusted by how Casey handled that woman or the way he ignored two DAs. I'm disgusted by a state that always ihnores us.

You think the best response to a "hot" issue is to ignore it? As far as I'm concerned, that';s the worst answer. It's the one thing I detest about government officials in either party. I'll never support a person who ignores me. It's the highest insult.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, Your logic is twisted. I think Apel is a monster, but I oppose the death penalty. Anyone trying to make an srgument based on logic will run into trouble. Ultimately, this is a question og personal conviction. But regardless how one feels, Casey should have responded to repeated letters from two DAs. And the way he ignored that bank employee disgusts me.

Anonymous said...

I will now incur the wrath of Bob Casey supporters everywhere. Not responding to the surviving teller's letter was an act of political cowardice.
So Bernie, what positive contribution does Martin appel give to the greater community?
Remember christ's own words, "Give to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to my father that which is his."
I don't pretend to know the mind of God, but if he truly exists in each of us as Aquinas argues, then executing Appel serves both man and God. If theologians can hand pick bible verses to serve their side of the argument, so can I. -Chris Casey

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, Once again, you're trying to argue a matter that can't be argued. You either support it or you don't. I don't. If the mind of God exists in each of us as you say, then killing Appel is killing the mind of God in him. We only keep people alive if they make a positive contribution? That argument would have resulted in my death many years ago. Like I said, this is a matter that can't be argued. It's more visceral. You either oppose it or not. I oppose it. I won't try to justify my sentiment. But don't make the mistake of thinking you can justify yours.

LVDem said...

I can see your logic Bernie and I will read the book. I just don't think a leader can ever satisfy and side on matters of the death penalty. I really don't have a problem when a leader looks at a situation that has become heated and charged, recognizes that the outcome will not change and concludes that it may not be best to respond, especially at that time. I think, actually, a lot of good can be done from time to time if a politician rises above temperment and lets feeling cool before issuing a response. I kind of view it as cooler heads prevailing, and sometimes, being a leader means saying "time, out... cool down." However, I think that a leader can only do that once or twice and still retain the capital necessary to be a leader. All of that said, I was REALLY young at the time and don't know all the dynamics so I'll look forward to reading teh book (recognizing that it is John's view). But I do see a parallel that wages from the Philly area... Mumia Abdul Jamal. For a long time, this matter has been a spectacle and politicial leaders and activists just fan the flames of this from time to time to incite anger amongst supporters. What good does it serve for a political leader to respond to questions on that matter now?

Bottom line, I don't think that every issue will get the response of our leaders. I don't have a problem with that. I know you do, but I guess I would issue the warning that no matter who is in office, at some point you are going to be seriously disappointed in all leadership (think about it... has John Stoffa been able to give every detail proper attention... and he's a lowly county executive). Sometimes it is simply too difficult for a leader to give every issue proper attention. We should expect them to do their best and I'm not sure you can demonstrate to me that Casey didn't do his best (as he knew it) on this matter. Could he have handled it beter. Probably, but I should reserve judgement until I read the book and then looked into accounts as to why the late-gov didn't reply, as I hope others do too. My basic point is that I do agree that our elected officials should pay attention to everything we ask of them. But I need to offer my experience in having worked for a state rep: there are numerous competiting factions and interests out there, many of which have as reasonable claim to promoting public interests. Sifting through those matters isn't easy and often is accompanied by another leader from somewhere else who can come to a completely different conclussion. I just think it is extremely arrogant to expect an official to respond just to you. I don't have those expectations. Maybe it's a generational thing. I just know that I'll be disappointed if I expect that response.

Chris, you chose a scripture from the New Testiment that deals with taxation... Casear represented gov't as a body that was due money. Render the finances of the gov't to the govt' and the finances of God (fruits of the spirit for example) to God. If you want to look for a quote on the Death Penalty from the NT, look into what Christ says about an eye for an eye. I believe it says something to the effect, "I tell you not an eye for an eye." Or perhaps the referance to a speck in somebody else' eye would be best used (though that applies more to the church community, not justice). If you are going to cherry pick, please make sure you have the subject matter right.

But I will also take an alternative view to the DP. Who determines whether somebody is a contributing member of society or not? Haven't you just become God if you claim that authority? I know I don't want that responsibility. If you do, more power to you. But if you want it, I now worry about what you will do with that power.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LKVDem, You want to defend a Guv who ignored a respectful woman who had been shot three times, once thru the head. This was not a matter of letting tempers cool. This was years after the incident. This was a victim. She was scared. He ignored her. He failed as a governor. He failed as a human being.

Then you blow my mind with this: "I just think it is extremely arrogant to expect an official to respond just to you. I don't have those expectations. Maybe it's a generational thing."

I expect an official to respond, even if it is just to me. If I write Dent a letter, i excpect an answer. If I don't get one, I would think he was arrogant.

Frankly, you got things mixed up. It is attitudes like yours that lead to bureaucrats who ignore drivers on Route 78. I know you have political ambition. But I'll tell you right now I'll never support an asshole who doesn't respond to a constituent.

LVDem said...

Bernie, I'm not sure I can defend or attack the late-gov without all the information which I just don't have. I just tried to offer the flip point in what I think is a reasonable manner (its very easy with blogs to go with the flow: sometimes its good to break that flow). If I was in that position, I would not have signed the death order, but I would have called the victim, DA and local newspaper editor directly and stated my moral reasons for doing so (opposition to the death penalty). But not being in the room when gov. casey made the decisions and then "moved on", I'm not going to take one point of view as gospel.

I should state what I expect from my elected officials in responding to these matters (of personal safety or pot holes). What I expect is that try. When I'm in an elected position, having worked with a state rep who busted his ass to try, I will try. I'll also admit the moment that I have failed to do so and I will apologize accordingly and profusely... and then correct the problem as best as I can (admitting outright when I can't). Its kind of like everything else that we hold near and dear: we try. We might fail as parents, professionals or people from time to time, but I honestly believe that if we try, we have done our job. The further up the order of elected office, the harder it is to be successful, but I think the reason people like Lisa Boscola and Charlie Dent are where they are is b/c they recognize that value, work with staff to accomplish it and add the personal touch when possible.

Basically, I hold myself to a higher standard than I do other elected officials when it comes to matters of responding directly to those concerns. It's something I do currently for my job and something I take very personally. But understand that others don't. Maybe they are bad people when they don't. I don't know. I just don't allow myself to be disappointed when they do fail to deliver. It's almost as if I set the bar low enough that if I get a response I'm surpised. Then again, my state rep was Paul Semmel, the ultimate in bad outreach. I never once got responses from him. That may have helped to frame my outlook early on.

What I would like more of is elected officials who internalize the practice themselves b/c it is part of their responsibility. I don't mean hire somebody to do it for them. I hate form responses (Rick Santorum did it constantly). Too many hire a staffer to draft letters and respond like that, including people who serve here in the LV of both parties. The state rep I worked for may have had somebody type the letter, but he wrote the letters (God for bid if you had to read his hand writing or notes) or made the phone calls instead.

One thing I would like to stress is that elected officials don't represent me as a singular. They represent a community, a district or a group of people. I want my officials to represent my community (and me as an extention). Part of that includes responding to individual concerns that arise from the community. I find it interesting that we view our officials as policy makers, case workers (many state reps have staff only to provide services that mirror case worker activities) and representation. I like the model that John Stoffa brings: come with general ideas, listen to others, engage in dialogue and then act. I hope that some day I have the fortune serving so I can do the same. Could you imagine what our system would be like if more people did that?

Ultimately, I have to read the book and then see if I can find other information that goes along with it. At the very least I'll be supporting a good cause (Turning Point).

Bernie O'Hare said...


What really frosted me w/ Casey is that he ignored three letters from then DA Corriere about the death warrant. No answer. Nada. He did the same thing w/ Morganelli. Noit even the courtesy of a reply to the chief law enforcement officer of a county. And at the same time he was snudding two DAs, he was executed other death warrants so he could make that claim in a reelection bid. If he could honestly state that he refused to executer the warrant, I'd respect that. But he hung two DAs out to dry. Ultimately, Morganelli had to sue.

That's bad enough, but what bothers me even more is that he ignored a heartfelt letter from one of the victims. This woman had been shot three times. One of those bullets went through her head. And after that happened, Appel sent her a letter signed "9mm," talked about "headaches," and claimed he now knows where she lives. This was from a guy who promised to escape if he wasn't executed.

When she sent a letter, Casey had an obligation to respond. Like Casey and you, I oppose the death penalty under all circumstances. But as Governor, he had an obligation to assure this victim that she would be safe. he should have responmded. He had that obligation not because he was governor. he had that obligation as a human being.

Any person who cavalierly dismisses his obligatiuon to respond in situations like that will never have my vote. Any person who thinks he can ignore citizens, even individually, will never have my vote. That is Harrisburg's biggest prtoblem. We saw what happened w/ I-78. I see it in the state response to our election woes.

I think your initial response to this was a tad too casual. As a former defense att'y and prosecutor, I've seen murder victims. I've seen their families. A state that ignores them and their pain is failing in its responsibility as a government.

LVDem said...

I made the comments without much knowledge to this case. I'm not a lawyer so the situations surrounding the cases are not so personal to me. But I'll learn.

In the end, my loyal opposition to the death penalty got the best of me.