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CRIME AND COURTS

Men kill 4 fellow inmates to get on the death row, mental illness spoil plan

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Columbia — Two men’s evil and bizzarre plot to enrol themselves onto the death row by killing fellow inmates has spectacularly failed after it has been discovered mental illness played a part in their plan.

One by one, Denver Simmons recalled, he and his partner lured inmates into his cell — one was promised cookies in exchange for doing some laundry, while another thought he was coming to snort some crushed pills.

Over the course of about a half-hour, four men accepted Simmons’ hospitality. None of them made it out alive.

Calmly, matter-of-factly, the 35-year-old inmate told The Associated Press how he and Jacob Philip strangled and beat their blockmates to death and hid their bodies to avoid spooking the next victims. They had nothing against the men — one of them was even a friend, Simmons admitted.

Convicted in the cold-blooded shootings of a mother and her teenage son, Simmons knew he would never leave prison alive. Tired of life behind bars, a failure at suicide, he hoped killing these criminals would land him on death row.

Officials say Philip and Simmons have confessed to the April 7 slayings of Ham, 56; Jason Kelley, 35; John King, 52; and Scruggs, 44. But until Simmons talked to the AP, no motive had been made public.

During telephonic and letter-based interviews with the AP, Simmons described a twisted compact between two men who had “a whole lot in common” from the moment they met — most important, both despair and a willingness to kill again.

“I’d always joke with him — from back in August and September and October of 2015 — that if we weren’t going to kill ourselves, that we could make a name for ourselves, so to speak, and get the death penalty,” Simmons, told the AP. “The end of March of this year, he was willing to do it. So, we just planned to do it. And we did it.”

Each man was serving life without the possibility of parole for a double murder.

In May 2010, Simmons shot an acquaintance, 45-year-old Sheila Faye Dodd of Round O, an unincorporated community northwest of Charleston. Prosecutors say he ate a pizza he’d bought with the dead woman’s debit card, picked her 13-year-old son, William, up from school and killed him.

Simmons agreed to plead guilty in exchange for prosecutors taking the death penalty off the table.

In August 2015, Philip pleaded guilty but mentally ill to strangling his girlfriend, Ashley Kaney, 26, and her 8-year-old daughter, Riley Burdick, two years earlier.

Both men were sent to Kirkland Correctional Institution, a maximum security facility a few miles from the state capitol in Columbia.

They were being housed in a unit for inmates who need significant mental health help but whose conditions aren’t serious enough to require hospitalisation.

Because of their relatively clean records in custody, Simmons said he and Philip, 26, were named “dormkeepers” for their unit. That meant their doors remained open when others were on lockdown.

Just two officers were assigned to the dorm, which housed 139 inmates, Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told lawmakers in April.

About 9:30 the morning of April 7, Simmons said, he hung a “flap” over the narrow window to his room — in this case, a clear trash bag on which he’d scrawled the words, “Using restroom. Don’t open.”

“You’re not supposed to keep a flap,” Simmons said. “But if you’re using the restroom, you know, they turn a blind eye to it.”

Simmons said the original plan was to wait until cells were being cleaned, “where ALL the doors were open.” But that morning, they opted for a different strategy.

“We just decided, you know, we’d use my room,” he said. “Until it was full. And then we’d use Jacob’s. And that’s just how it started.”

So, how did they choose their victims?

“This is the part that’s gonna sound bad,” Simmons said. “They, they trusted us. We talked to these people every day. One of them was a friend of both of ours. And they just trusted us. We come up with something for each one.”

The first name on the list was King, who was in for burglary, theft and larceny.

They knew King liked coffee. And there was a bonus, in Simmons’ mind: At 5-foot-4 and just 132 pounds, he was the smallest.

“He was older, but he was small,” Simmons said. “And he wouldn’t offer much resistance.”

Since Philip was the experienced strangler, he took the first turn, Simmons said.

“He took his from behind and put his arm on his neck and just choked him,” he said. “It happened really fast.”

They slid King’s body under the lower bunk and went looking for their next victim in the common area known as “the Rock.”

William Scruggs, killer of a disabled veteran, was waiting in line for the restroom. Simmons knew him as a lifer who did laundry in exchange for goods from the canteen.

“I said I had some cookies for him. ‘Just come up to my room,’” Simmons said. Scruggs showed up a few minutes later, and Simmons said Philip dragged him to the floor.

Unlike Philip, Simmons said, he’d never strangled anyone.

“It’s totally different than killing somebody with your hands,” he said.

Simmons said he grabbed an extension cord from a lamp and wrapped it around Scruggs’ neck. Scruggs was facing him, but his eyes were closed.

“And, you know, he didn’t suffer a long time, man,” Simmons said. “I know that sounds lame. But he didn’t suffer a long time.”

The two placed Scruggs’ body, the cord still tied around his neck, on the lower bunk. They hung a sheet from the top bunk to conceal the corpse, then went in search of their next victim.

Simmons said Philip chose Jimmy Ham, who was to be released in November after serving nearly a decade for aggravated assault and battery, grand larceny and two counts of burglary.

“I didn’t want him on the list, because I knew he would fight,” Simmons said. “And Jacob, as big as he is, he’s not a fighter.”

But Philip prevailed, and Ham was invited in to snort some drugs.

Simmons said Philip told their guest to break up the tablets on a stool that was in the room. As Ham bent over the stool, Simmons said, Philip pounced — but he slipped.

Simmons said Ham had Philip pinned down on his back. As the two men struggled on the floor, Simmons said he grabbed a broken broom handle that he’d hidden in his room and hit Ham twice in the head with it. In the struggle, Simmons tried to silence Ham by jamming the broomstick in his mouth (“there could be no noise”) and Ham “just died. I mean, he died very fast.”

Simmons said they placed Ham’s body on the bunk beside Scruggs and let the curtain fall back into place.

“And we just went on the Rock,” Simmons said with a sigh, “and Jacob said, ‘Who’s next?’”

Simmons chose Jason Howard Kelley, who was serving time for stabbing his teenage stepson.

Everything about Kelley “was just annoying,” Simmons said. But unlike the others, he considered Kelley a friend.

Once in the cell, Simmons said, Philip told Kelley, “Look behind the curtain.”

“And he literally peeked behind and he said, ‘What the?’” Simmons recalled. “And Jacob grabbed him and threw him down.”

Simmons said he climbed on top of his friend and pressed the broomstick against his throat until he stopped struggling. And as Kelley lay there — dead or just unconscious, Simmons couldn’t tell which — Simmons thrust the stick in his ear.

By then, the murderers were too tired to bother with hiding Kelley’s body. When they stepped outside, Simmons said, he asked Philip, “Who do you want to do now?”

“I’m tired,” Philip replied, according to Simmons. “I don’t want to do anymore.”

“And I said, ‘Are you sure? Because this is going to be our only chance,’” Simmons recalled. “And he said, ‘Yeah.’”

It was just before 10am., about 15 minutes before the next head count. Simmons said they walked down to the guard station and told what they’d done.

The Department of Corrections referred the AP’s questions to the State Law Enforcement Division, which has declined to comment on the case.

Simmons was asked why he did not commit suicide, if prison life was unbearable.

He said he’d tried several times: “You know, killing yourself is, it sounds easy. It’s really hard. Your body even fights you when you cut yourself.”

He said he’d even discussed having Philip “choke me out.”

“The original plan was that if I decided that I wanted to do it, I would be the last person,” he said. “And I’ll be honest with you. After I saw how it works, I guess you would say I was scared. I just couldn’t see myself going through with it.”

Simmons expressed no remorse for the killings.

“Honestly, we could have got staff members,” he said. “But they’re just there doing their job, you know? The people we killed, whether they deserved it or not, were not fine, upstanding members of society. You know, none of us are, or we wouldn’t be in where we’re at.”

And the more you kill, he said, the easier it gets.

“The second time, the third time, it’s just, I guess you’re desensitised to it.”

In retrospect, he said, the plan was not well thought out.

“Because Jacob’s not going to get the death penalty either way,” he said. “He’s legitimately mentally ill.”

As for himself, South Carolina hasn’t carried out an execution in six years, and court challenges likely will keep capital punishment on hold for the foreseeable future. Even a recently confessed killer of seven got life without parole, he noted.

Simmons said he imagines he’ll do the next 10 years in solitary and probably get another four life sentences tacked onto the two he was already doing.

“I did it all, I did it for nothing,” he said. “So that makes it especially bad for me, you know?”

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CRIME AND COURTS

Family Of Girl (14) Who Died During Childbirth “Offers” The Husband Her Sister (9) As A Replacement

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The family of a 14-year-old girl who recently lost her life during childbirth at an apostolic sect’s church gathering in Marange is reportedly planning to offer their nine-year-old daughter to their in-laws as her late sister’s replacement (chigadzamapfihwa).

Evans Momberume, the man who allegedly impregnated the girl, Memory Machaya, is still walking free, more than two weeks after the minor’s death.

Memory reportedly died around 9 AM on 15 July and was secretly buried two hours later.

The Manica Post has gathered that Memory was forced out of school while doing Form One in Mhondoro to get married to Momberume.

Memory, the last born child in a family of six, was having her first birth. She left behind a baby boy who is said to be in the custody of his father.

Efforts by The Manica Post to get in touch with Momberume were fruitless as no one had his contact details.

In a telephone interview with The Manica Post on Thursday, the Machaya spokesperson, a bitter Alice Mabika, confirmed her niece’s painful death.

Alice said she and Memory’s mother, Shy Mabika, were barred from entering the church shrine after their daughter’s burial.

The Mabika sisters said their daughter was denied medical attention at her hour of need.

Alice said from the information they obtained from Momberume’s sister (name not supplied), those who attended to Memory on the fateful day say she complained of a headache.

“Midwives” reportedly diagnosed that Memory had ulcers in the mouth and nose and went on to rub her mouth with salt while pouring paraffin into her nose. Said, Alice:

_We were told that five ‘midwives’ attended to Memory and rubbed salt in her mouth while pouring paraffin into her nose. We were told that she had a seizure and hit her head on the ground._

“She died soon after delivering her baby boy and the church members went on to bury her without involving us.”

After being notified about Memory’s death, her mother, a devotee of the church who had not attended the church gathering in question, went to the shrine in the company of her relatives.

The family spent the night waiting to be granted access but were barred from entering the shrine by the sect’s security team. Said, Alice:

“When we arrived at the shrine around 2 pm, we were told to wait until the prayers were done at 6 pm.”

“The security team checked us around 7 pm, but they became evasive. Our pleas to be attended to fell on deaf ears and we had to spend the night in the open.”

“We remained resolute in our quest to see our daughter’s body, but the security details would not budge.”

“We even tried to engage the service of our relative who is in the police force in Chinhoyi.”

“We phoned him and he tried to talk to the church’s security personnel, but they refused to entertain him over the phone.”

Alice said Memory’s mother is “devastated” by her daughter’s death and she is currently bedridden at her home in Kwekwe.

Meanwhile, pressure groups have demanded the arrest and prosecution of the church’s leaders and the man who impregnated Memory.

According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the legal age of consent for sexual activity is 16, while the minimum age for marriage is 18.

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CRIME AND COURTS

Businessman nabbed over 113 fraudulently obtained driver’s licences

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Police have arrested a Harare businessman and seized at least 113 driving licence discs that were due to be handed to aspiring drivers who paid US$250 each to be issued with the documents without undergoing the Vehicle Inspectorate Department (VID) tests.

Detectives arrested businessman Tendekai Madongorere and Julius Punungwe before seizing a number of documents which included:

  • 113 fake driving licence discs and certificates of competence with names of aspiring drivers,
  • five fake defensive driving certificates,
  • five card printers used to produce the documents,
  • 400 fake blank national identity cards,
  • one fake Zimra tax clearance certificate,
  • one fake deed of grant in respect of a Mufakose house,
  • 29 copies of serialised birth record documents and nine copies of birth certificates.
  • A fake Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) identity card in the name of Madongorere
  • fake Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) identity cards bearing the names of Innocent Kayo, Edmund Mhere and Tichaona Chijwanha.
  • fake Covid-19 essential staff cards,
  • fake Cambridge O-Level and A-Level certificates,
  • a desktop computer,
  • three fake diploma certificates, and other dubious papers.

Three months ago, The Herald carried an investigative story in which fraudsters were advertising on social media that they can facilitate the issuance of driving licences within hours.

Madongorere (48) is a director of Impact Designs Private Limited which operates in Harare’s central business district while Punungwe (47) is unemployed.

Police established from interviewing the 113 people whose names appeared on the fraudulent driving licence documents that they had paid US$250 each for the discs.

The people in question, are expected to give evidence as State witnesses in the trial of the two suspects.

Detectives at Chitungwiza Police Station received information that some fraudsters were printing forged official documents selling them to people in Harare and Chitungwiza.

The police arrested Madongorere who then implicated Punungwe who was subsequently arrested.

The two are in custody, having lost two freedom bids at Chitungwiza Magistrates’ Court and the High Court.

They are now back at Chitungwiza Court with a fresh freedom bid dubbed “application for bail pending trial on changed circumstances”.

A magistrate is yet to determine the application.

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CRIME AND COURTS

Fraudster arrested after swipping for $390 000 groceries

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A fraudster has been arrested after he swiped for groceries worth more than $398 000 at OK Supermarket in Hwange using a bank card that had been tampered with.

The man, Brian Pedzisa of Chitungwiza, was arrested on Thursday and is suspected to be among a gang of people who have been using cloned cards and other bank card related tactics to con various retail shops across the country.

Detectives on Thursday pounced on Pedzisa at the supermarket, moments after he was about to get out after swiping for groceries worth $396 384.

Matabeleland North provincial police spokesperson Inspector Glory Banda confirmed the incident and said police were now looking for two other people linked to the sca

“On 10 June 2021 a gang of three fraudsters tried to defraud OK Hwange Supermarket of groceries worth $396 384.

One of the fraudsters successfully used an electronic Visa card to make purchases but before he could make off he was arrested by a team of watchful detectives who were working on a tip-off. Upon being interviewed the suspect revealed that he was working with two other accomplices who are still at large,” said Insp Banda.

He said the gang had used the same strategy to defraud OK Mart Victoria Falls of an undisclosed amount in groceries. He appealed to members of the public to assist with information leading to their arrest.

“The two accomplices are on the run anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of these two criminals can report at the nearest police station,” said Insp Banda.

He called on shop owners to enhance security to avoid such incidents which were on the rise in the country.

“As police we would like to implore shop owners to enhance security at their premises through use of alarm systems and Closed Circuit Television. Retailers should examine electronic cards and do necessary verifications before processing of electronic transactions. For the record some fraudsters misrepresent themselves as humanitarian workers.”

According to sources privy to the incident, the gang would approach the supermarkets seeking a quotation for groceries pretending that the transaction wanted would be effected from a nostro account. Later one of the gang members would return to make purchases using a Visa card whose microchip would have been tampered with. Sunday News

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