Lt Joe Kenda once again displayed phenomenal investigation skills in the episode Death Grip on Homicide Hunter. This particular episode focused on a 1979 report of a car accident in a parking lot that led police on the scene to deduce that this was no accident. A pick up truck hit the side of a residential building and then rolled back into the parking lot where it finally rested. They found a man with a single entry gunshot wound to the head behind the wheel of the vehicle involved in the accident. They found a woman who was so traumatized by what she just witnessed that she was in shock and couldn’t speak. While the witness to the incident was being treated, Lt. Kenda continued his investigation during the critical hours following any violent crime.
Lt. Kenda learned that the murdered man was Michael Faast. Based on the evidence at the scene, Lt. Kenda determined that Michael had his hand on the gear selector when he was shot in the head. After years of doing investigative work, Kenda has learned that when someone dies they experience what’s known as cadaveric spasms. At the time of death muscles in the upper torso lock and as a result Michael ripped the gear selector right out of the floor, hence the episode title Death Grip. Kenda also observed that the window had been rolled down as if Michael had been talking to someone, possibly the shooter. Kenda needed to start talking to witnesses.
Cadaveric spasm, also known as postmortem spasm, instantaneous rigor, cataleptic rigidity, or instantaneous rigidity, is a rare form of muscular stiffening that occurs at the moment of death, persists into the period of rigor mortis and can be mistaken for rigor mortis.
The first thing Kenda did was look to the crowd of onlookers for witnesses. Because it was Colorado and it was cold that night, most people had their drapes drawn. Kenda checked with the residential land lady and learned that she had never seen this truck before and it did not belong to anyone in the residential building. They learned that the truck was registered to Darrien Emory. Meanwhile, one of the police officers shared with Kenda that there was one witness who admitted to seeing something. Before Kenda could get to the witness, he attempted to run but was stopped and apprehended by police officers. His name was Warren Anderson and when questioned by Kenda, he denied seeing anything and was uncooperative. This did not fly with Kenda because this guy admitted to seeing something initially which made him a material suspect in this case. Kenda was suspicious of him and decided to question him at the police station.
After Kenda began his interrogation of Warren Anderson, he learned that this guy was fearful that his wife would find out that he was having an affair. He was at his lover’s house the night of the incident. Anderson witnessed the crash when the truck hit the residential building but other then that he didn’t see anything that was helpful to the investigation. In Kenda’s mind the infidelity explained Anderson’s cagey behavior at the crime scene and as a result he was no longer considered suspicious. But before Anderson left the interrogation room, he offered a $500 bribe to Kenda to keep his name out of the investigation. Kenda turned down the bribe and angrily reminded Anderson that it was a felony crime to bribe a police officer and he better never bribe another police officer again or he was going to hold a press conference and put him on blast. Warren Anderson was then cut loose from the police station.
Kenda paid a visit to Darrien Emory next. Emory was the owner of the vehicle that Michael Faast was in when he was murdered. Emory admitted that he and Michael Faast were best friends and he lent him the truck so he could help his sister move. Emory was devastated and shocked to learn that his friend had been murdered. Kenda told Emory where the murder had occurred and Emory shared that Lori Firth lived at that location. Lori was an employee at JC Penny and worked with Michael Faast. Emory relayed that he thought Lori and Michael were simply friends. When questioned about Michael Faast and his relationship with his wife, Emory told Kenda that Michael may not have been happily married. Emory observed that the couple appeared to show no affection for each other but he really didn’t know for sure. Kenda determined that Faast must have just picked Lori up when the incident happened. Kenda was suspicious that a married man eight years older then Lori was picking her up so late in the evening.
Kenda wondered if this was a love triangle gone wrong. Quite typically anger, bitterness, and assaultiveness accompanies a love triangle. Love is blind but can also be dangerous. He wanted to know more about Faast’s relationship with Lori. Was he dating her? Did Michael’s spouse have some knowledge of what took place? Kenda decided to talk to Claudia Faast next. Kenda drove to Claudia’s house to give her the notification of death. Claudia was unresponsive and had little or no reaction to the news that Michael had been murdered. Kenda was surprised by this. He learned from Claudia that she thought Michael was helping his sister move. Claudia was also in possession of a weapon that matched the same caliber as the gun used to murder Michael Faast. Claudia remained disconnected from the situation during the questioning and it made Kenda wonder if Claudia did this. Did Michael threaten to leave Claudia for Lori? She had the motive and the means. Was this yet another revenge killing?
Finally the witness to the crime was ready to talk. Lori Firth was sitting in the truck when Michael Faast was murdered. She admitted to Kenda that she knew who killed Michael and revealed that it was her ex-boyfriend, Ronnie Ball. She met Ronnie at the Pentagon when she was working as a clerk stenographer. He was an up and coming officer in the US Air Force. He was described as a bright, rationale, intelligent man. They began dating and she fell in love but Ronnie wanted to take things slowly. He eventually got transferred to NORAD in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she followed him in an attempt to make things work. Lori felt that he was married to his work and was more focused on moving up the ranks. Ronnie Ball was a Captain and the Aid to the Commanding General of the North American Air Defense Command. He was considered a “golden boy” who could do no wrong and everyone admired him and his work. After Lori moved to Colorado their lives went in different directions. She eventually broke up with him because is was not working.
According to Lori, Ronnie Ball was devastated that she broke up with him. He even asked her to marry him over the phone but she declined. He just couldn’t believe that he was being rejected. He had never been rejected before. Lori denied having an affair with Michael and told Kenda they were not romantically involved at all. She was helping Michael with a book he was writing. Kenda wondered if Lori told Ronnie that she had a new boyfriend. Was this revenge for making her feel badly and not committing to her? This line of thinking made it obvious to me that Lt. Joe Kenda has experience with female sociopaths. He understands the manipulative and gas-lighting behavior and couldn’t help but wonder if Lori provoked Ronnie into shooting Michael with jealousy (which could make her responsible for his death as well). After listening to Lori’s testimony, I noticed that rejection was the precursor to Ronnie Ball’s downward spiral after he realized that Lori was not coming back to him. Those with personality disorders and sociopaths are often triggered by rejection.
Police tracked down Ronnie Ball at a bar in Colorado Springs. They weren’t sure if he was suicidal, homicidal, or armed. They sent in a tactical officer to scope out the scene and Ronnie was sitting at the bar drinking. The tactical officer reported back to Joe Kenda and they devised a plan for his arrest. They decided to block all the exits and send the tactical officer back in to arrest him at gunpoint. When the officer went back into the bar, Ronnie’s seat was empty. He wasn’t anywhere in sight so they figured he must be in the bathroom. The officer successfully arrested Ronnie with no incident in the bathroom and the tactical team ensured their exit was safe. Once Ronnie was in custody, they searched his vehicle but did not find the gun. Joe needed a confession to make the murder charges stick if he didn’t have a murder weapon.
Lt. Kenda advised Captain Ronnie Ball of his rights in the interrogation room and he immediately requested an attorney which put a halt to any questioning from investigators. While they were waiting, Kenda observed Ronnie Balls’s unusual behavior. He was talking to himself and it escalated to extremely bizarre behavior. Meanwhile Joe was ambushed by three Air Force officers (two Majors and one colonel) demanding to know who was in charge. They pulled rank on him and implied that because he was a Detective he was a subordinate to them. One of them asked Lt. Kenda what Captain Ball was being charged with. Kenda informed them that he was arrested for first degree murder and they immediately turned around and walked out. Based on their behavior, Kenda felt that they most likely thought it was some low level offense like Driving Under the Influence. He duly noted that their arrogance turned to shock before they disappeared.
Within hours, Ronnie Ball was officially discharged from the US Air Force. The discharge papers were delivered to him at the station. Lt. Kenda claimed it was most likely the fastest discharge in military history. ~Homicide Hunter
According to an Lori’s testimony, Kenda learned that Ronnie Ball showed up to her house the night he killed Michael Faast. His behavior was erratic and he was acting bizarre and he accused Lori of sleeping with Michael. Lori was frightened by the behavior and asked him to leave. He left at 9:35 pm. Ten minutes later, Michael Faast shows up. Lori was upset when she answered the door and shared with Michael what had just happened. He offered to get her out of her apartment and take her to his sister’s place. Once they were in the vehicle, Lori saw Ronnie approach the driver’s side. Michael rolled down his window in an attempt to keep peace with Ronnie but he demanded that Lori get out of the car. And he told Michael he needed to leave her there. Lori urged Michael to leave but Ronnie aimed a gun at Michael’s head and shot him from a foot away. Upon death, Michael’s foot hit the gas pedal causing the truck to crash into the side of the residential building before it rolled back into the parking lot where it rested.
According to Joe Kenda, Ronnie Ball had some of the best criminal defense attorneys at his trial. They claimed temporary insanity and he was found guilty but insane by the civilian justice system. He was sent to the Colorado State Hospital for treatment. Kenda concluded by sharing some of his wisdom. He said “emotion is a very dangerous thing.” He said men and women have been at war for over 6000 years and Michael is a casualty of that war. Michael died having not done anything at all. He met the wrong girl that had the wrong ex-boyfriend. “What a waste of a life.” I want to conclude by talking about where Ronnie Ball is now. Is he still in the hospital or was he treated and released? If you google Ronnie Ball, you find limited information and this is most likely because he committed murder in 1979 way before the explosion of the internet. It would be nice to comment on whether or not his “punishment” was appropriate for the crime. We currently do not know where he is located. Doesn’t that seem odd for someone who may be considered mentally unstable and capable of first degree murder?
In closing I want to make a couple observations about how the military operates. I know that society has accepted that the military has its own form of justice but what most people don’t know is that their form of justice does not necessarily take constitutional rights of servicemembers into consideration. In this instance, the military also exerted what appeared to be federal government overreach when they arrogantly assumed that they were going to take jurisdiction of Ronnie Ball’s case. In this particular case, it appeared they were willing to overstep in an attempt to protect their highly valued employee, that is until they found out what he was charged with. How many times has the military convinced and/or bullied police stations into handing over soldiers claiming they have jurisdiction so they could railroad them or protect them? They do have jurisdiction on federal bases but should not outside the base. They treat soldiers like property and it is obvious that they seek to get their property back when it so suits them. In this case it did not. The Air Force delivered discharge papers to the police station within hours after they learned Ronnie Ball was charged with first degree murder of a civilian.
Ronnie Ball was charged with murder when the Air Force discharged him. At the time Captain Ball was discharged, he exercised his right to remain silent and did not admit to the crime. The police had a formal statement from an ex-girlfriend they believed was not a sociopath. That’s it. First, how can one discharge a soldier within hours? Most discharges I have witnessed including my own take months if not years. Is there a different standard for enlisted soldiers versus military officers? Somehow they were able to discharge Captain Ball within hours based on an accusation of murder alone? He hadn’t even been to court yet let alone considered guilty. So if a soldier is charged with a crime while serving in the US military that is enough to begin discharge. How is that just and fair? Isn’t everyone considered innocent until proven guilty. I can see Ronnie Ball losing his career after the civilian courts found him guilty but apparently just the charge of murder is justification for Air Force leadership to boot you, within hours. This is the problem with a single investigator model. Commanders are judge, jury, and executioner. Although some may be held accountable by their superiors, most times you will find a united front when it comes to protecting their own favorite soldiers, their individual careers, and the reputation of the institution.
The Commander is the convening authority and ultimately decides whether or not a case goes to court martial. Until recently, they even had the power to reverse a guilty conviction by a jury of peers with no real justification. The Commander also has the power to end a soldier’s federal employment with little or no real justification. They quite often end careers or retire soldiers to avoid going to court martial. They don’t care about justice; they care about getting rid of the problem to protect the reputation of the institution. As evidenced, a soldier can lose their career based on the accusation of a crime or some other misconduct. This is yet another glaring example of abuse of power and federal government overreach going unchecked. Ronnie Ball had simply been accused of a crime when the Air Force discharged him. Captain Ball did in fact exhibit symptoms of despair, manipulation, obsession, and paranoia after he was rejected by his girlfriend, which are all indicative of a personality disorder. His due process rights were obviously protected by the civilian courts but meant nothing to the military. He was a problem they wanted to go away. If he had been found not guilty, we as a society would have to respect that. The military should not be able to rip a federal job away from an employee accused of a crime without respecting constitutional rights.