Mary Lash

The Desert Murders: How Junk Science, Witness Contamination, and Arizona Politics Condemned an Innocent Man

In 1991-92, seven girls and women, ranging in age from 10 to 47, were raped in the desert outskirts of Phoenix. Local media described the assaults as related, for all of the victims had accepted rides from personable men, whom some of the women described as generally similar. The theory quickly spread that one man—nicknamed the I-17 rapist or the baby-seat rapist—was guilty of all the attacks. When the bodies of Margaret Christorf, Michelle Morales, and Belinda Cronin were found in the desert over a six-month period, investigators assumed that the hypothetical serial rapist had committed the murders as well. Based primarily on a vague resemblance among the cars used in some of the assaults, detectives arrested 32-year-old Scott Lehr, a devoted father of three with no criminal history. Lehr was prosecuted in two trials that piled the ten cases together, found guilty, and given two death sentences plus 982 years in prison—despite troubling flaws in the investigation and blatant falsehoods in the testimony against him. He now awaits execution in Arizona in spite of abundant evidence of his innocence.

Extensively researched from police reports, legal transcripts, news articles, and interviews, The Desert Murders reconstructs the crime investigations and offers a front-row seat on the prosecution of Scott Lehr. The book provides information the juries that convicted him never knew, including inconsistent eyewitness testimony, false allegations by the prosecution, scanty, arguably tainted forensic evidence, and the fact that similar crimes continued to occur in the area after his incarceration. Also included are chapters on Lehr’s interaction with Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio and on the botched 1991 temple murders case, which helped set the stage for Lehr’s prosecution. Anyone concerned with injustice and the politics of the death penalty will want to read it.

 

A Roller Coaster Down

“This is a wonderful coming of age novel about Bernie, a visually disabled teenager, attempting to make her way in the visual world of high school.”
 – The Eric Hoffer Award

The terrors and thrills of beginning high school are daunting enough for those without a daredevil optimism and a platinum ego. Imagine adding the challenge of blindness into the drama. Where is my first-period classroom? Is everyone staring at me? Can’t there be an empty seat anywhere near the back of the room? And where are the cute guys out there? A Roller Coaster Down, follows 14-year-old Bernie O’Brien, an overweight underachiever who happens to be blind, as she makes her way at Desert Vista High School.

Bernie begins freshman year living in the shadow of her beautiful, domineering sister and coping with their mother’s moving out. Then best friend Leese dumps Bernie, and teachers from hell humiliate her. She finds a seat at the losers’ table and reluctantly accepts geeky new friends. But when Bernie becomes the only one who can save the career of a well-liked young teacher, she fumbles. Alone and sick with kidney disease, Bernie sees her life as a runaway roller coaster that can only speed downward. Can she find faith in herself and the key to her share of love?

A Roller Coaster Down was named First Runner-Up in the Young Adult Category of the Eric Hoffer Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing. The novel was also a short-list finalist for the Grand Prize and a finalist for the First Horizon Award.

The book was coauthored by Mary Lash, a writer from Greenville, South Carolina, and Vasant Garcia, a Phoenix, Arizona, rehabilitation teacher for the blind. Lash and Garcia are aunt and niece. The novel grew out of brainstorming sessions after Garcia, who is blind, shared some of her own experiences as a teen.