Maybe Fred Thompson Will Get To Intervene Twice
Last October Hans Peterson rented a car and drove to Chicago from his home in New York City. He parked in a garage near the lake, took an elevator to the 12th floor of a Michigan Avenue office building, bound and gagged 64-year-old dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet, and then stabbed the struggling physician more than twenty times until he was dead. The 28-year-old then got back on the elevator, returned to his car and drove home. Peterson has confessed and as far as I know these facts aren't in dispute.
After the jump, I'll describe how he might get away with it.
If you watched Chicago television last fall it was difficult to avoid security camera video of the suspect coming and going from the downtown building where Dr. Cornbleet had his office. The killer took care to cover his face with a bloody sweatshirt on the way out and police begged the public for leads. At least one promising tip didn't pan out, but another to the Cornbleet family's MySpace page led to Hans Peterson's NY apartment where police found DNA that matched DNA at the crime scene.
By then Peterson had fled to the island of St. Martin. Because his mother was French, he held dual US-French citizenship and in May, with American authorities closing in, Peterson, who had lived all his life in the United States, obtained French identification and a French passport. Two weeks ago, he turned himself in, apparently claiming that he killed Cornbleet because five years ago the doctor had prescribed acne medicine that Peterson believed had rendered him impotent.
One presumes that Peterson, who briefly attended law school, was aware that the French do not extradite their citizens in potential capital cases, or even, according to Emmanuel Lanain, the French ambassador who this week made his country's non-cooperation official, in any criminal cases. "It's not a decision by our government, it's just a legal provision in our law," he said. "We can't do it. We've never done it."
When news of Peterson's arrest hit local papers last week, I waited for inevitable details about the killer to emerge, but as the days passed there seemed to be a general lack of journalistic curiosity on the subject. This seemed especially odd given the amount of attention the case had received a year ago, not to mention the savage nature of the murder, the cold calculation of Peterson's self-imposed exile, and the fact that this crime is totally going to be a Law & Order next season. We learned Peterson was a "professional internet gambler" but that was about it. No picture. No biography. Not even an explantion why a New Yorker had sought acne treatment in Chicago when there was already so much bad skin in Manhattan.
I wondered aloud about all this at a blog where I have a timeshare with six other Chicago suspense writers. In the following days I was contacted by multiple people with information about Hans Peterson. Much of what they said was easily confirmed, even for somebody like me whose qualifications as a journalist are about as impressive as Lisa Nowak's credentials as a matchmaker.
Hans Peterson is originally from Eugene, Oregon, where his father is a doctor specializing in sports medicine (Clarification: Hans actually grew up in Roseburg, Oregon, which is about 40 miles south of Eugene. See update below). Hans was described to me as always having been "pretty weird," but he was at least functional enough to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in Economics and Philosophy. He flirted with both the financial industry and law school. About five years ago, around the time he visited Dr. Cornbleet's office as a patient (as opposed to the time he visited as a brutal assassin), he lived for a period in Chicago. At some point he discovered he could make a living playing poker on the internet. (In fact some acquaintances of Peterson assumed he had moved to St. Martin to avoid US anti-gambling laws.)
The Peterson family has been understandably reticent and issued only an anonymous press release to the American media but, perhaps in an effort to influence an overseas (probably Caribbean) trial, Hans's father has been more forthcoming in the French press. In a phone interview with a freelance St. Martin journalist, Dr. Thomas Peterson began to outline what he believes might be the mitigating circumstances of his son's horrible crime:
He claimed his son suffered a “severe and permanent damage to emotional and social parts of his brain, from the drug Accutane which was prescribed to him in 2002 by the dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet. My son was an intelligent and shy man who led a fairly healthy life but he has never been the same since he took that drug,” said Peterson Senior in an overseas phone interview.
“He doesn’t relate well to people, he has lost all interest in physical activity, he has become a cigarette smoker and a gambler. He is always depressed and there is a sense of terror and turmoil in him since taking that medication.”
Peterson Snr said prior to taking the drug his son did suffer depression at times but not to the extent he could not go to College and pass exams, and have a relatively normal life otherwise.
On the subject of his son’s extradition he said:
“This is a tragedy where this doctor inappropriately prescribed this drug which more or less ruined my son and caused him to kill. He suffered the side effects for five years. I think just punishment would be for him to be in a French mental hospital/prison. The French would probably take better care of him. Even though it was a horrible thing he did, it wasn’t his fault in a way and he has suffered enough in my opinion. I think there are two victims here in this tragedy and the biggest villain is the drug which should be withdrawn. It’s ruined other families.”
Accutane has been controversial in the past. Some parents of teenagers have claimed the drug has caused their children to become depressed, or that it has made their existing depression more acute. The parents of Charles Bishop, the fifteen-year-old who committed suicide by flying his small plane into a Tampa office building just months after 9/11 famously blamed Accutane for their son's death, although they withdrew their lawsuit against the drug company, citing physical and emotional fatigue.
I don't know anything about Accutane, but a lifetime's experience with over-the-counter allergy medicine probably qualifies me to say that you could inject toilet water from a Bangkok heroin den directly into your cornea and it wouldn't cause you to go on a cross-country homicidal rampage five years later. I think even a French court would call that connerie, although I'm sure there's an expert witness somewhere who will testify otherwise. Also, I'm not sure in what system of justice does the father of the accused get to decide when the murderer has "suffered enough." But I've been told by individuals who are not the killer's dad that Peterson, weird and depressed as he may have been, underwent a radical personality change a few years ago. "Seething with rage" is how he was described to me. As someone who speaks with all the authority of a guest blogger, the picture I see is not one in which Accutane turned Hans Peterson into a killer, but one in which Hans Peterson was suffering from severe mental illness and Accutane, whether its side-effects were real or perceived, became the object of his obsession. Accutane became Hans Peterson's Jodie Foster.
Along with Condoleezza Rice, Illinois Senators Barack Obama and Dick Durbin have been lobbying the French government for Peterson's return, to no avail. For reasons that escape me, the French seem to want to prosecute Hans Peterson themselves. An assistant Cook County state's attorney claims the maximum sentence in France is twenty years.
I'm not entirely sure that's true--if it is, someone should call Carlos the Jackal with the good news.
Twenty years would be one for every stab, anyway. But the idea that a crime committed by one American against another, conceived and executed on US soil, might be adjudicated at a Caribbean tourist destination like Guadaloupe just because the suspect has a French mother sounds like the premise of a Pauly Shore movie, except for the brutal murder part. I'm opposed to the death penalty but if that were the only issue here, I'm sure a compromise could be arranged. Illinois still sentences criminals to death row, but they haven't actually executed anyone since Hans Peterson was reading Adam Smith and pounding 50-cent drafts at the Kollege Klub. In any event, the Cornbleet family's right to see justice done in Chicago should trump whatever point another government wants to make about our justice system. And you'd think the French would rather not have a violent nutjob like Peterson make a complete mockery of their laws, especially since they'll most likely be stuck with him and his pharmaceutical bills after he gets out.
I don't know how much the French fear our online petitions, but if you're looking for a futile act to express your frustration, you can sign one asking the French to do the not-entirely-bizarre thing.
Of course, even if he serves twenty years, 50-year-old Hans Peterson would never be able to compete in the World Series of Poker. Whatever Caribbean justice he received wouldn't count toward double jeopardy and there could even be federal charges hanging over his head. If he did try to come back, it's possible that in 2027 Illinois would be executing its cons again.
That, Alanis, really would be ironic.
UPDATE: In the comments of the original Outfit post I've been having a discussion (of sorts) with someone calling him/herself "Accutane Peterson," who claims to be a member of Hans's family. I have no way to verify that, of course, but check it out for another perspective on Hans and for more thoughts on the relevance of the drug Accutane to this case.
UPDATE 2: Today Senators Obama and Durbin sent a letter to the new French Foreign Minister asking for help in Peterson's extradition. The letter contradicts the assertion of French officals last week that the issue was a matter of law and that the French government has no choice but to refuse extradition. A relevant excerpt:
Article 3 of the Extradition Treaty between the United States and France provides in pertinent part that: "There is no obligation upon the Requested State to grant the extradition of a person who is a national of the Requested State." While this article does not require the extradition of a national to a requesting state, it also does not appear to preclude extradition. To the extent there is discretion available in such extradition decisions, we urge the French government to exercise that discretion in favor of extradition.
The letter also contains a minor but interesting detail about the source of the tip that eventually pointed to Peterson:
In May 2007, Mr. Peterson sought and obtained a French passport after Mr. Peterson's American former roommates contacted the Chicago Police Department to report their suspicions that Peterson was involved in Dr. Cornbleet's murder.
Update 3: Jocelyn Cornbleet, Dr. Cornbleet's daughter, is scheduled to appear on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News program On the Record this Monday night at 9 PM Central.
Update 4: The News-Review, a newspaper in Hans Peterson's hometown of Roseburg, Oregon, ran a story last week with a few innocuous details from Hans Peterson's high school days. They also include a photo (right) that appears to be from the Roseburg High School yearbook. The article identifies Hans's mother (whose nationality is a primary issue in this case) as a current resident of Roseburg named Jackie Peterson. Finally, the article claims Hans attended Oregon State, which is true, but he transferred to the University of Wisconsin where he received his degree.