Sunday, December 31, 2006


The award of $25,000 from the state of Wisconsin to a man wrongfully convicted of rape 15 years ago will likely end what Anthony Hicks called "a long journey."

It started in 1990, when Hicks was arrested in connection with the sexual assault of a woman who lived in his Schroeder Road apartment building. It continued in 1996 when the state Supreme Court said he was entitled to a new trial after a DNA test cast doubt on the evidence used to convict him and in 1997 when the charge was dismissed. And for the past several years, it wore on as Hicks sued his criminal defense attorney to recover something for the 4 years he spent in prison.

But in what will likely be the final legal act in Hicks' ordeal, the state Claims Board on Wednesday awarded $25,000 to Hicks - the most it can pay a wrongly convicted person under state law - plus $53,060 in attorney fees, half of the $106,061 Hicks said he paid his appellate attorney, Stephen Hurley, to prove his innocence.

"This is probably the last thing," Hicks said Thursday from his home in suburban Houston, where he lives with his wife, Denise, their three sons and another son from a previous relationship. "Hopefully this is the end of it with me. It's been a long journey."

"I'm extremely happy for Anthony," said Hicks' attorney, Jeff Scott Olson. "This will represent a significant closing of a chapter in the right way."

Hicks, 43, was convicted of rape in 1991 after the victim identified him as her assailant and from hairs left at the crime scene. But a DNA analysis showed the hairs were improperly linked to Hicks.

Hicks sued his trial attorney, Willie Nunnery in 1997 for negligence in failing to pursue DNA evidence. After a trial in October 2000, a jury awarded Hicks $2.6 million, but an appeals court in 2002 said the trial did not establish Hicks' innocence and ordered a new trial. Hicks reached a confidential settlement with Nunnery in October 2004.

Hicks said he filed the action with the Claims Board in 1997, about the same time he sued Nunnery, but was told he had to wait until the Nunnery case was finished before his claim would be acted upon. The board's decision on the attorney fee was disappointing, Hicks said. The reason for the amount was not explained in the decision. Olson said the reduced attorney fee award could deter other attorneys from pursuing cases on behalf of wrongly convicted people because it could signal their costs won't be recovered.

Olson said he knows of no movement in the state Legislature, despite other recent reforms, to increase the $25,000 maximum payment to wrongly convicted people, which has been the rate since the 1970s. In the Hicks case, he said, it doesn't even amount to minimum wage for the time he spent in prison.

In pursuing his claim, Hicks got help from an unexpected source - Dane County Deputy District Attorney Judy Schwaemle, who prosecuted his case. Schwaemle wrote to the board and testified to it in support of Hicks' claim. Hicks said he is grateful for her help and isn't bitter about her aggressive prosecution of his case because he would expect the same if his own daughter were the victim of such a crime. But he wonders why her words didn't come sooner.

In recent years, Hicks has been co-chairman of a group called the National Exonerees Council, which consists of about a dozen wrongly convicted people who try to help others like them adjust to life outside prison. "We've become like brothers, and we understand one another," Hicks said.

Even though he's been out of prison the longest of those in the group, Hicks said his experience still lingers. "We're all still scarred, no matter how long we've been out," Hicks said. He tries to remain strong for his family, he said, and keep it under the surface - a "macho thing," he calls it - but sometimes when he's alone he finds himself crying.

Hicks has also continued working as a driver for United Parcel Service, his employer since 1996. He started with the firm in Middleton and transferred to Houston, when his family decided to move in order to get a fresh start. He said he's very grateful for the company's support. Hicks said he has many other people to thank for his release from prison and for his life, particularly his wife, Denise, and his father, Earl. "I don't know where I would be without the two of them," Hicks said.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Trouble with Troubled Teen Programs

How the "boot camp" industry tortures and kills kids

The state of Florida tortured 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson to death for trespassing. The teen had been sentenced to probation in 2005 for taking a joy ride in a Jeep Cherokee that his cousins stole from his grandmother. Later that year, he crossed the grounds of a school on his way to visit a friend, a violation of his probation. His parents were given a choice between sending him to boot camp and sending him to juvenile detention. They chose boot camp, believing, as many Americans do, that "tough love" was more likely to rehabilitate him than prison.

Less than three hours after his admission to Florida's Bay County Sheriff's Boot Camp on January 5, 2006, Anderson was no longer breathing. He was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead early the next morning.

A video recorded by the camp shows up to 10 of the sheriff's "drill instructors" punching, kicking, slamming to the ground, and dragging the limp body of the unresisting adolescent. Anderson had reported difficulty breathing while running the last of 16 required laps on a track, a complaint that was interpreted as defiance. When he stopped breathing entirely, this too was seen as a ruse.

Ammonia was shoved in the boy's face; this tactic apparently had been used previously to shock other boys perceived as resistant into returning to exercises. The guards also applied what they called "pressure points" to Anderson's head with their hands, one of many "pain compliance" methods they had been instructed to impose on children who didn't immediately do as they were told.

All the while, a nurse in a white uniform stood by, looking bored. At one point she examined the boy with a stethoscope, then allowed the beating to continue until he was unconscious. An autopsy report issued in May-after an initial, disputed report erroneously attributed Anderson's death to a blood disorder-concluded that he had died of suffocation, due to the combined effects of ammonia and the guards' covering his mouth and nose.

Every time a child dies in a tough love program, politicians say-as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush initially did on hearing of Anderson's death-that it is "one tragic incident" that should not be used to justify shutting such programs down. But there have now been nearly three dozen such deaths and thousands of reports of severe abuse in programs that use corporal punishment, brutal emotional attacks, isolation, and physical restraint in an attempt to reform troubled teenagers.

Tough love has become a billion-dollar industry. Several hundred programs, both public and private, use the approach. Somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 teenagers are currently held in treatment programs based on the belief that adolescents must be broken (mentally, and often physically as well) before they can be fixed. Exact numbers are impossible to determine, because no one keeps track of the kids in these programs, most of which are privately run. The typical way to end up in a government-run program, such as the camp where Martin Lee Anderson was killed, is for a court to give you the option of going there instead of prison. The typical way to end up in a private program is to be sent there by your parents, though judges and public schools have been known to send kids to private boot camps as well. Since they offer "treatment," some of the private centers are covered by health insurance.

In the nearly five decades since the first tough love residential treatment community, Synanon, introduced the idea of attack therapy as a cure for drug abuse, hundreds of thousands of young people have undergone such "therapy." These programs have both driven and been driven by the war on drugs. Synanon, for example, was aimed at fighting heroin addiction, its draconian methods justified by appeals to parents' fears that drugs could do far worse things to their children than a little rough treatment could. The idea was that only a painful experience of "hitting bottom" could end an attachment to the pleasures of drugs.

But like the drug war itself, tough love programs are ineffective, based on pseudoscience, and rooted in a brutal ideology that produces more harm than most of the problems they are supposedly aimed at addressing. The history of tough love shows how fear consistently trumps data, selling parents and politicians on a product that hurts kids.

Attack Therapy Utopia

Synanon was a supposedly utopian California community founded in 1958 by an ex-alcoholic named Chuck Dederich. Dederich believed he could improve on the voluntary 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rather than rely on people choosing to change, Synanon would use extreme peer pressure and even physical coercion to impose the confession, surrender, and service to others that 12-step programs suggest as the road to recovery.

At the time, heroin addiction was seen as incurable. But when a heroin addict kicked drugs after participating in Dederich's brutally confrontational encounter groups, the founder and other members began living communally and promoting Synanon as an addiction cure.

The media took note, and soon state officials from across the country were visiting and setting up copycat programs back home to treat addicts. Only New Jersey bothered to do an outcome study before replicating Synanon. The investigation, released in 1969, found that only 10 to 15 percent of participants stayed in the program for more than a few months and actually ended their addictions, a rate no better than that achieved without treatment. A 1973 study of encounter groups by the Stanford psychiatrist Irvin Yalom and his colleague Morton Lieberman found that 9 percent of participants experienced lasting psychological damage and that Synanon groups were among those with the highest numbers of casualties.

But the research didn't matter. To both the media and the politicians, anecdote was evidence. The idea that toughness was the answer had a deep appeal to those who saw drug use as sin and punishment as the way to redemption. And Synanon produced testimonials worthy of a revival meeting. Indeed, it eventually recast itself as the "Church of Synanon."

By the early 1970s, the federal government itself had funded its own Synanon clone. It was located in Florida and known as The Seed.

In this program, teenagers who were using drugs or who were believed to be at risk of doing so would spend 10-to-12-hour days seated on hard-backed chairs and waving furiously to catch the attention of staffers, most of whom were former participants themselves. Like Arnold Horshack in Welcome Back, Kotter but with more desperate urgency, they would flutter their hands, begging to be called on to confess their bad behavior. Even before the excesses of the '80s, parents were so frightened of drugs that they were willing to surrender their children to strangers for tough treatment to avoid even the possibility of addiction; some parents even hit their children themselves at Seed meetings, following the instructions of program leaders.

When kids entered The Seed, they lived in "host homes" -houses of parents of other program participants that had been specially prepared to incarcerate teenagers at night. If these "newcomers" didn't give convincing enough confessions in group sessions, they would not be allowed to "progress" in the program and return to home and school.

In 1974 Sen. Sam Ervin, the North Carolina Democrat best known for heading the congressional committee that investigated Watergate, presented a report to Congress entitled "Individual Rights and the Federal Role in Behavior Modification." Ervin and other members of Congress were concerned about federal funding for efforts to change people's behavior against their will, seeing a fundamental threat to liberty if such efforts were successful. The report cited The Seed as an example of programs that "begin by subjecting the individual to isolation and humiliation in a conscious effort to break down his psychological defenses." It concluded that such programs are "similar to the highly refined brainwashing techniques employed by the North Koreans in the early 1950's."

Much more here

Pedophile escapes payout: "A pedophile has escaped paying criminal compensation to his victim because he was not convicted of a "personal offence" against the boy. The court was told that on November 20, 2003, the man took the boy - a family friend then aged 13 - fishing on a beach at Sandgate, in Brisbane's north. The man offered the boy $100 to perform oral sex on him, but the boy refused. The man, 46, later pleaded guilty to attempting to unlawfully procure a child to commit an indecent act. In a written judgment Judge Charles Brabazon said that under the relevant legislation compensation was payable for an "injury" suffered by an applicant caused by a "personal offence" - and that had to be against the "body". He dismissed the boy's application but said had he been successful in his action compensation would have been set at $7500."

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Friday, December 29, 2006

An outrage we all need to know about

Ripping off the innocent to feed the "justice" system

As many times as I've written about the many outrages of our criminal justice system, I thought that running across a new injustice would tend to be something of a yawner. In fact, when a friend alerted me to this subject, I was skeptical. Even my libertarian expect-the-worst-of-government attitude couldn't believe what I was coming to understand. What I was hearing was exploitation of completely innocent people, hidden back-door taxation, unapproved and unbudgeted government funding, kickbacks, and the worst sort of government-corporation conspired corruption.

I quickly found, with a little research, that this outrage is not new, and it's widespread... in at least 40 states and perhaps much more. Here's the way the scheme works:

A friend or relative of yours is arrested... makes no difference what the charge. Think DWI, for example... 7,500 people were arrested last year in my county for DWI. Or, think traffic accident, the cop smells marijuana, does a search, and finds a joint. Your friend or relative gets one free phone call. If they're lucky, they reach someone useful. If not, too bad. They need to get in touch with people "on the outside".

Take a minute here and think about how many people would need to know that you're in jail. You've just been taken out of your schedule... virtually out of existence. Who is depending on you? Who expects to see you, or to be able to contact you? What needs to be done that you now can't do? Got pets at home? Kids with a baby-sitter? You're thinking that you'll have to call a number of people.

You'll find that you can only make collect calls to friends or family members. Then, you'll be shocked to find that the people you want to phone have to have an "account" and be pre-approved to receive, and pay for, your calls. Locally, setting up the account costs $50. That may eliminate some friends, and even some relatives. If the people you want to call choose to go through the aggravation and cost of getting an account, they will later find out that they're being charged an arm and a leg for the calls... roughly 6 times what we normally pay. You'll also discover that your calls are monitored, taped, interrupted with messages (at their expense), or disconnected (with an extra charge for reconnection). When they get their bill, it is likely to be inaccurate, with overcharges, double-billed, or simply fraudulent. Their attempts to contact the provider will be avoided, time-consuming, and fruitless. All this grief is being borne, not by the person in jail, but by people who care enough about them to try to help.

But (and this can only happen in a governmental monopoly situation such as this) you have no alternative. You shut up and suffer, or just abandon someone you care about.

And why, you may wonder, would our own governments allow such travesties to continue? The answer is... because they are the SOURCE of this conspiracy. They cut deals with the phone service providers that returns up to 60% of the revenue the scam generates. The providers of the phone services and the government split the profits extracted from innocent people.

Here's a comment from Congressman Bobby Rush, 1st District, Illinois

State prison systems typically use telephone setups that permit only collect calls, made through providers that keep a monopoly on prison telephone service by paying the states a ''commission'' -- essentially a legal kickback. The kickback does not materialize out of thin air. The people who receive the phone calls often pay as much as six times the going rate. Not surprisingly, the costs discourage inmates from keeping in touch with spouses and children who may live hundreds of miles away and find it difficult or impossible to visit.

Or this, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has filed three lawsuits challenging such corruption in New York:

In more than forty states, prison systems rely on monopolistic telephone contracts to reap huge profits at the expense of families and friend trying to remain in contact with their loved ones in prison. In some cases, these people are charged as much as 60% above market rates for collect calls, in a practice that violates federal and state anti-trust laws. Statistically, it can be demonstrated that the majority of prisoners' families are poor, and also that prisoners who maintain close relations with friends and relatives on the outside are less likely to commit further crimes.

The New York State Department of Correctional Service has made $175 million off this backdoor tax on prison families since the contract started in 1996. Nevada got an estimated $2.9 million last year from calls made by 10,000 inmates. New York, with 67,000 inmates, got $20 million. I found information from a supplier of software for such telephone systems, and it gives us an idea how widespread the prison telephone scam is:

Digital ComBridge Has Prison Phone Systems All Locked Up
Introduced in 1997, the system is now running in over 1600 correctional facilities with over 40,000 telephone lines, making T-NETIX the leading supplier of telephony security and monitoring systems to the correctional services sector. In fact, our company holds a 30 percent market share.

Expanding from 30%, that calculates out to 5,333 correctional facilities with over 133,000 phone lines. By any standards, that is major corruption. What I've read makes it appear that Verizon/MCI is a major player in this scam, but the correctional departments are active participants in this awful scheme. As I pointed out in Those big, bad corporations, the power that is being misused resides in the government.

What effect do you suppose being able to profit from the families of prisoners has on the correctional system? Does it give them an incentive to put more people into detention? Does it give them an incentive to keep them there longer? As is true in other areas of the criminal justice system, this scheme gives agencies a source of income they don't have to ask legislatures to approve... a source that can be kept under the radar. As is also true in other areas of government, the scheme works best because it is perpetrated against people who are too frightened or poor to complain.

Government has a monopoly on force, and they can grant a monopoly on the telephone service. They can arrest and detain whomever they choose. With complete control, and perverse incentives, abuse is not just likely, it's guaranteed. Like all government abuse, it will continue until enough citizens and organizations learn about it, and spend their own time and money to try to stop it... while the abusers fight back using our own tax money.

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people? Not even close... we have government on the backs of the people.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Thursday, December 28, 2006


I'll bet the Enron bosses would wish they were Australians if they knew of this and similar Australian judgments

Two women involved in a multimillion-dollar land titles scam have been sentenced in the NSW District Court. The 2002 scam was one of the biggest scandals experienced by the state's Land Titles Office. It issued dozens of new certificates of title to corrupt lawyers and others, without the knowledge of the true owners. The first some homeowners knew of the "loss" of their house was when fraud squad detectives from Strike Force Whitney came knocking on their doors.

During separate sentencing proceedings this month for Jacqueline Stumer, and Tanya Lee Rankin, the court heard that the properties were used as security by a Queensland mortgage broking business, Direct Money Corporation Pty Ltd. Jacqueline Stumer was the sole director, and her husband, Neville Stumer, was the chief operating officer.

The company told potential investors that a wealthy Queensland family - people with the surnames Maher, English and Friel - had a multimillion-dollar property portfolio in Sydney, and wanted to borrow against it, offering high interest for short term loans. The Land Titles Office was told the certificates of title had been destroyed in a cyclone, and needed replacing.

By the time the scheme came undone in 2002 35 properties had been roped in - properties belonging to strangers unfortunate enough to share the same surnames as the original English, Friel and Maher family. Judge Stephen Norrish said that according to the fraud squad $7 million was put up by investors that remained missing. The Herald has been told the titles have been registered back to the original owners. In one case the Torrens Assurance Fund paid one owner $515,000 so he could pay out the mortgage taken out on his property.

In the NSW District Court Jacqueline Stumer, 40, pleaded guilty to 12 counts of making false a instrument with intent, while Tanya Lee Rankin, 28, pleaded guilty to 13 counts. Another involved in the scheme, Rankin's boss, Gerd Zhiemer, has pleaded guilty and is due to be sentenced in February. Two lawyers - Brian Dean Alcorn and Trevor Brown - have been given jail sentences. Michael and Grace English - who, the court heard, came to Neville Stumer looking for a loan but instead got involved in the fraud that initially involved their extended family's property interests - have been put on bonds. Jacqueline Stumer was given a suspended sentence with a 22-month good behaviour bond. Tanya Rankin also received a suspended sentence, with a two-year bond.

Report here

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

An Australian State government won't face its own unjust bungle

A woman who lost her job after her husband was wrongly accused of child sex abuse says she will continue to fight for justice despite waiting nearly a decade for the Beattie Government to act on recommendations she be compensated. The former family day care carer and mother of three has spent $117,000 on legal costs and faces losing her family home. But she wants to be compensated for the loss of her carer's registration and for the pain and suffering caused to her and her husband. The woman said she wanted to know why the Government would not implement the Ombudsman's compensation recommendations. "Justice will prevail. It must," she said.

The Courier-Mail first wrote about the woman's plight in 1998, when it reported the former Families Department had illegally shredded child abuse investigation documents, after her husband had been wrongly swept up in abuse allegations involving a child she was looking after.

Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney said the family deserved better treatment. "It's hard to imagine why the Government has not acted on the Ombudsman's recommendations," he said. "There is a case to be looked at here to ensure justice is done."

Her fight for justice has involved some of the state's most senior bureaucrats and politicians, including Peter Beattie who, in September 1998, as fledgling Premier, declared himself an "honest broker" in ensuring a "speedy resolution" of the matter. Deputy Premier Anna Bligh also was involved as then families minister. After a 3 1/2-year investigation, former ombudsman Fred Albeitz found "there were severe deficiencies in the management of the case" by the Families Department. Then departmental director-general Allan Male accepted the agency should enter into "meaningful negotiations ... to achieve an acceptable compensation package".

The woman later received an "unreserved" written apology from Mr Male's successor, Ken Smith. But the woman said little or no negotiations eventuated and, after her lawyers activated a Supreme Court writ which they advised was necessary to protect her legal right to claim damages, she was "frozen out". The woman's Supreme Court application seeking leave to proceed with her case was unsuccessful, as was a 2003 appeal, with the State Government engaging Queen and Senior counsels to fight the case.

The woman said she was continuing to pursue the matter with Linda Apelt, the Director-General of the new Communities Department, which has taken over the old Families Department files.

Report here

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

'We're not sipping champagne like the Farepak bosses'

British corporate boss not hurting -- unlike his customers. Farepak was a Christmas savings scheme

As Sir Clive Thompson, the former boss of Farepak, enjoyed Christmas with his wife in his eight-bedroom manor house in Sevenoaks, Kent, thousands of his former customers faced a rather less extravagant Christmas Day. While Sir Clive, 63, was on holiday last month at the £2,500 a night Alvear Palace hotel in Buenos Aires, Louise McDaid was working overtime as a home carer to make up for the money that she lost when the Farepak Christmas savings scheme collapsed. The mother of two was one of the 150,000 people who lost hundreds of pounds each when Farepak’s parent company, European Home Retail, went into administration in October.

Mrs McDaid, 42, and her husband, James, lost £400 that they had saved since the beginning of January. She is now chairman of the Ayrshire-based Farepak Victims Committee and has consulted a lawyer to try to bring a case against those responsible.

At her home in West Kilbride, Glasgow, yesterday, she said: “I’m not going to let Sir Clive Thompson or any of the others ruin Christmas for us.

“The past couple of months have been so tough and it’s that bit harder today because it’s all been building up to Christmas Day. We won’t be sipping on champagne like the Farepak bosses who are sitting in their million-pound mansions and there will be none of the extra-special treats that we’d saved so hard for.

“Maybe the bosses should spare a thought for all of the victims who worked so desperately hard for money that was supposed to make this day so special. Luckily, through scrimping and saving, we managed to get the children some presents, but they’ve had to go without and Christmas dinner won’t be the same as it would have been. There aren’t any luxury items on our table — just the basics. But we’re determined not to let it ruin our day. We’ve just got to make the best of it.

“There are thousands out there who are suffering more than us. Some can’t even afford to buy anything for their children so I hope the bosses think about that when they tuck into their dinner today.”

Like most other victims, Mrs McDaid was given some consolation thanks to the relief fund set up to help them. She received £70 from the donations that poured into the Farepak Response Fund from companies and members of the public. The fund raised £6.8 million, enough to pay customers 15 per cent of what they had lost.

Report here

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Monday, December 25, 2006


Breaking a door down over a minor theft inquiry??

On Friday, a sheriff's deputy in New Hanover County, North Carolina (that's the deep southeastern corner of the state) shot and killed Peyton Strickland, an 18-year-old University of North Carolina Wilmington student who was suspected of armed robbery of two PS3s. To be fair, we don't have all the facts in, so it's not clear exactly why gunshots were even necessary. Here's what we do know, thanks to a report from the local newspaper, the Wilmington Star-News:

On that fateful night, Strickland was to be served a search warrant; he and his roommate, Mike Rhoton were "playing a PlayStation video game" (we're guessing that means a PS3, given that the article later mentions "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" specifically), when there was a knock at the door.

Strickland went to answer it, but before he could, officers banged the door down, pinned Rhoton to the floor, fired "four or five shots," and Strickland was dead.

Adding to the confusion and tragedy of this whole situation, Rhoton later added that Strickland "may have been holding a PlayStation controller in his hand" when he went to answer the door, and that his roommate apparently had three unloaded guns in his bedroom at the time, which may have led to the officers' aggressive tactics. The officers and deputies are currently under investigation by the county District Attorney and the State Bureau of Investigation.

Report here


Former sheriff's Cpl. Christopher M. Long has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the Dec. 1 shooting death of Peyton Strickland, District Attorney Ben David said today. Strickland, 18, was shot in the head and right shoulder area and fatally wounded Dec. 1 in the house he lived in at 533 Long Leaf Acres Drive. Strickland’s death is attributed to a gunshot wound to the head, officials said.

His shooting came as members of the sheriff’s heavily armed and armored Emergency Response Team and UNCW police officers sought to arrest Strickland at his home at 533 Long Leaf Acres Drive. Strickland had been charged in connection with the Nov. 17 robbery of two PlayStation 3 game stations from a UNCW student.

The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the shooting. On Friday, Sheriff Sid Causey announced that Long had been fired. Long was one of three deputies placed on administrative leave after the shooting. The other two are Sgt. Greg Johnson, Detective Larry Robinson and Long. David said today that Johnson and Robinson had been cleared in the investigation. Bond for Long was set at $50,000.

Long, 34, was hired on July 31, 1996, as a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office deputy. Long was serving as a corporal, making an annual salary of $43,323. Long was involved in a shooting incident on Feb. 8, 2001, involving two teenagers in the 1600 block of Queen Street. Long had made a traffic stop and approached the car to ask the occupants about the license plates, which did not match the car. Long said the driver, 17-year-old Gregory Donell Miller, attempted to run him over before pulling away. Long fired at Miller and 18-year-old Terry Lamar Green, wounding both. Then-District Attorney John Carriker decided in April 2001 that no charges would be filed against Long.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Step Away from the Cold Medicine

Government's drug war fuels meth problem

Last month, President Bush declared Nov. 30 "National Methamphetamine Awareness Day." The official statement from the White House implored, "I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate programs and activities." There's no question that meth is a particularly nasty, vicious drug, both in how it's manufactured and in what it does to the people who use it. I think some skeptics have raised legitimate questions about the accuracy of some of the more hysterical media proclaiming we're in the midst of an "epidemic," but there's no question that the drug is widely available, and that it has some pretty terrible effects on users. That said, the approaches the government is taking toward attacking meth don't make much sense.

As is often the case with policies aimed at curbing the drug supply, civil liberties were one of the first casualties of the meth hysteria. Several cities and states, for example, quickly made it illegal for businesses to sell customers combinations of ingredients that together, are used to make meth, but that are perfectly legal if bought separately. Sell bhutane, cold medicine, and matches to the same customer, and an unknowing store clerk could well be arrested. These laws effectively deputized private business to begin policing the shopping habits of their customers - never a good idea.

The idea has led to some horrific outcomes. In Northwest Georgia, for example, a meth sting ended with the arrest of 49 convenience store clerks for violating the odd new law. The problem is that 47 of the clerks were of Indian decent, and spoke only broken English. When undercover police officers tossed out drug lingo like "cooking up a hit," the clerks had no idea what they were talking about. More troubling, 23 of the 24 stores targeted were owned by Indians, despite the fact that 75 percent of the convenience stores in the area are owned by whites.

Then there's cold medicine. When law enforcement officials began reporting that meth producers were extracting pseudoephedrine from over-the-counter medication to make methamphetamine, lawmakers in meth-plagued states like Oklahoma and Oregon rushed to make cold medicine more difficult to purchase - putting it behind the counter, requiring consumers to show ID and sign a registry to get it.

Critics like me complained that the laws wouldn't solve the meth problem, they would only invite new suppliers into these communities - all while inconveniencing consumers. These measures might dry up homemade labs - and admittedly, they did - but they would create a market for purer, more potent meth from Mexico, along with the attendant crime that comes with an international, black market drug trade. Additionally, the measures hurt generic drug makers, who rely on shelf space next to the brand names as the central part of their marketing strategy. Nevertheless, more states followed suit. And last year, Congress applied the policy to the entire country, tacking it on to the renewal of the PATRIOT Act.

Sure enough, we now see in early-adopting states like Oklahoma that meth is as prevalent and available as ever. In fact, it's more potent, which means it's creating more addicts. And as predicted, police are tracing the new stuff back to Mexico. So instead of some loser mixing up a personal supply of meth in his basement, the state's now flush with a more toxic for of the drug, pushed by international smugglers.

One not-often reported part of the cold medicine story involves the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. As the media seized on the meth hysteria, critics of the pharmaceutical industry began lambasting the companies for their complicity in the "epidemic." The charge was that out of greed, the companies were refusing to substitute pseudephedrine out of their cold medicines in favor of the substitute ingredient phenylephrine, which is useless in producing meth. (See this criticism from an anti-meth activist on the PBS series Frontline).

Pfizer eventually made the switch, and put out the phenylephrine medication Sudafed PE. There's just one problem. Phenylephrine doesn't work, and most in the pharmaceutical industry know it. Thanks to the new law and pressure from Congress, millions of customers have been wasting their money on a cold medication that's no more effective than a placebo. As you might expect, pharmaceutical industry critics have seized on this, too: Rep. Henry Waxman, for example, has asked the FDA to investigate Pfizer for marketing a useless medication. Not wanting to upset Bush administration drug warriors, the FDA has thus far refused.

But don't feel too bad for Pfizer. Given all the abuse the drug companies were taking for what was a blatant, unintended misuse of their product, you could almost forgive them for putting the new product on the shelves, even if they knew it was useless -- almost. What's not forgivable is that according to the Wall Street Journal, once Pfizer's new product was ready to go, the company switched sides, and began to lobby in favor of laws to put pseudoephedrine cold medicine behind the counter. Because the company had a non-pseudoephedrine alternative, the new laws basically cleared the shelves of Pfizer's competitors.

So Americans' access to cold medicine has been restricted, we've embarked on questionable sting operations that likely ensnare innocent people, and the FDA is allowing a useless medication to be sold to U.S. consumers. And to what end? Meth is more available and more potent than it ever was. Typical drug war folly. This is probably the place to point out that drug war itself is the bad government policy gave us the crude form of methampehtamine that's so popular today in the first place. Think back to alcohol prohibition -- alcohol was manufactured, shipped, and stored on the black market, just as illicit drugs are today. Consequently, much of the booze that was available was concentrated, potent, and often toxic. Deaths and hospitalizations from alcohol poisoning soared. Some who tried concoctions made with methanol literally drank themselves blind.

The similarities between so-called "bathtub gin" and modern meth are inescapable. When alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1932, the home brews dried up (not all of them, but the vast majority of them). We don't swig basement-brewed booze anymore because it's vile and hazardous - we now have an enormous variety of safe-in-moderation liquors to chose from that are sold openly, and consequently are regulated by market forces. Were conventional amphetamines less strictly controlled, I think you'd see the same thing happen with cruder drugs like meth and crack cocaine.

President Bush wants us to take some time to make ourselves more aware of the meth problem. Fine. But I'd encourage Americans to look beyond what the White House or the Office of National Drug Control Policy tells you. The government's having a hard time solving the meth problem because the government helped create it.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006


A convicted murderer proved his innocence by investigating his own case from behind bars at a maximum-security prison and identifying the real killer. Roy Brown appeared before a judge last night to ask for a pardon after 16 years in jail for a crime he had proved conclusively that he did not commit. Brown had always protested his innocence, denying that he stabbed and strangled a female social worker to death at a farmhouse in upstate New York in 1991, and he managed to investigate and solve the crime from his prison cell. Five days after he wrote a letter to the local fireman he had identified as the real murderer, the man killed himself by lying in front of an oncoming train.

"Witnesses can commit perjury, judges can be fooled and juries can make mistakes," wrote Brown. "When it comes to DNA testing, there's no mistakes. DNA is God's creation and God makes no mistakes." Yesterday he petitioned a judge for his freedom after DNA taken from bite marks on the victim's night shirt confirmed his theory of the crime. The judge, Peter Corning, who presided over the original trial and retires on December 31, last night delayed his decision until a full hearing on January 22. [Pompous b*stard. How would he like to spend Christmas in jail?]

Lawyers from the Innocence Project, a university-based law centre that argued his case, were pushing for his immediate release. He is suffering from a liver disease and awaiting a transplant. "Roy wrote to us, like thousands do every year," said Eric Ferrero, of the Innocence Project, which has overturned 188 convictions with DNA evidence. "What is unusual is somebody sitting in his prison cell solving the case. This is the first time we have seen that."

The naked body of Sabina Kulakowski was found across the road from her home in the town of Aurelius in the early hours of May 23, 1991, when firemen responded to an arson blaze at the farmhouse. The wounds - including bite marks on her red nightshirt found nearby - suggested that Ms Kulakowski, 49, had put up a struggle. The murder appeared highly personal because there was no evidence of rape or burglary. Two days later Brown, who made a living selling magazine subscriptions in Syracuse, 30 miles away, was charged with her murder. He had been released from prison six days before the crime after serving an eight-month sentence for making threatening calls to a social worker, whose agency he blamed for ordering his daughter, aged 17, into foster care.

He was convicted of the killing on the basis of expert testimony linking him to bite marks on Ms Kulakowski's body, even though they showed indentations from six upper teeth and Brown had only four. Sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in jail, it took Brown 13 years and three failed appeals to uncover evidence pointing to the true murderer - and then only because of another fire. When his trial records were destroyed at a blaze at his stepfather's house in 2003, he filed a freedom of information request for copies. Among the documents were statements that he had not seen before, implicating a local volunteer fireman, Barry Bench. Unlike Brown, Bench knew Ms Kulakowski well because his older brother, Ronald, had dated her for 17 years. He and Ms Kulakowski had lived together at the farmhouse and relatives said that Barry Bench resented that she stayed there after the couple separated in 1991.

Among the four sworn affidavits released to Brown was a statement by Tamara Eckstadt, Bench's long-time girlfriend and the mother of his child. She told police that Bench, already subject to a domestic protection order, got into violent row with her at about 5pm on the evening before the murder and went to a local bar. He returned home drunk between 1.30am and 1.45am - more than an hour after leaving the bar. He washed his face and arms and then turned off his fire monitor before going to bed, something he seldom did. He was roused and summoned to fight the fire at the farmhouse by repeated calls to his home phone. At the scene, he wandered in the direction of where the body was found.

After his suicide, Bench's 19-year-old daughter, Katherine Eckstadt, provided a private investigator with a DNA sample. It showed with 99.9 per cent certainty that her father's saliva was on the bite marks on Ms Kulakowski's night shirt. "I had to know the truth," Ms Eckstadt told the New York Times. "How was I supposed to live knowing that I could have helped Roy Brown, yet I let him rot in prison?"

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Believe scammers, go to jail

Negligent bank not blamed, of course

San Jose resident Steven Chesser, like so many of us, receives checks in the mail from people who claim he's just won a lottery or sweepstakes. Unlike most of us, though, he can't tell they're fake. And for that reason, he's spent the entire holiday season in the Santa Clara County Jail.

Chesser, who is 51 but, according to his father, has the mind of a 12-year-old, isn't sure why he's locked up. He told his dad that, as best as he can figure, it's because he opened a bank account. In fact, Chesser's mistake was thinking that if you receive checks in the mail, and if you take those checks to a bank, and if that bank gives you money, then everything must be all right. But it wasn't. Chesser was arrested July 7 on charges of check forgery and commercial burglary. He was subsequently released on his own recognizance but taken into custody again Nov. 1 after missing a court date. He was scheduled to enter a plea on Tuesday. But the public defender representing him, Kipp Davis, requested that the hearing be postponed until Jan. 19. Davis declined to comment on the case. Chesser's parents say the delay was sought to give the lawyer more time to negotiate with the Santa Clara County district attorney's office.

Jay Boyarsky, the supervising deputy district attorney, acknowledged that "the criminal justice system does not always deal well with people who have mental disabilities." But he said his office hadn't been made aware before Tuesday that Chesser's case involves mental illness and bogus checks. "We thought this was just a guy trying to deposit checks totaling $38,000," Boyarsky said. "We had no thought that the checks he was trying to deposit were related to some Canadian lottery scam." He said the district attorney's office will now look into how Chesser's case can be expedited.

For the time being, however, Chesser remains behind bars. He's being held in a special wing "for inmates who need mental health treatment," according to jail spokesman Mark Cursi. Grace McAndrews, executive director of the California branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, was shocked by Chesser's plight. "I thought I'd heard of everything," she said. "This is just terrible." Still, McAndrews acknowledged that it's all too common for people with mental disabilities to fall victim to scams. "They don't have the capacity to know the difference," she said.

Steven Chesser lives with his 81-year-old father, William Chesser. His 76-year-old mother, Mary, lives separately in Cupertino. Chesser is described by his parents as a likable and friendly person with no previous run-ins with the law. His mother said that when Chesser was a child, he was diagnosed by specialists at Stanford University as "slow," requiring special classes and medication. "He talks to imaginary people," Mary Chesser said. "He hears voices. But he's always been a good boy." Chesser doesn't read very well and doesn't always comprehend what's going on around him, his father said. He's worked as a janitor and held other unskilled jobs. He's easily taken advantage of by others. "When he's working, his friends always come around on payday and get him to buy them beer," William Chesser said. "That sort of thing is common."

The younger Chesser likes to receive mail. His father said Chesser will respond to virtually any marketing solicitation that comes his way. As a result, "he's on a lot of mailing lists." That's probably how the scammers found him. A particularly devious scam currently making the rounds is from Canadian fraudsters who write to say that you've been awarded thousands of dollars in an international lottery. To get your winnings, you simply have to pay about $2,000 in taxes and service costs. But not to worry: Here's a check for that amount from a U.S. financial institution that will cover the expense at no risk to you. Just cash the check, send in the funds and your lottery windfall will follow. The check, of course, is counterfeit, and the scam involves people sending in their own money while the bogus check is still being processed by the bank.

In recent months, his father said, Chesser has received a number of checks from overseas lotteries and sweepstakes. They came in handy when Steven decided in July that he wanted to buy a bike from a friend. William Chesser said his son went to a Wells Fargo branch in Cupertino with a couple of checks he'd received, ostensibly worth a total of about $2,000. Chesser opened a checking account, deposited the funds and asked for some money. The bank gave him $500, his father said. Chesser returned a few days later with a few more checks. Once again, his father said, the bank handed him $500. "He showed the checks to me and I said I didn't think they were any good," William Chesser recalled. "But Steven doesn't always believe me. And besides, the bank was giving him money." So Chesser went to the bank yet again with even more checks. And this time, bank officials suspected something was up. They called the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department and Chesser was promptly arrested for passing bad checks.

"He was attempting to deposit numerous checks," said Deputy Serg Palanov, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. Chris Hammond, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said, "There is more to the story, but we are not able to disclose it because we must respect the privacy of the customer's information." He added: "Wells Fargo does not make decisions based on a customer or potential customer's appearance. However, if a team member observes questionable or suspicious actions or behaviors in our banking store, it may be appropriate to contact authorities to ensure the safety of our customers and team members."

Chesser was handcuffed and taken to jail. He was released on his own recognizance the next day. William Chesser said his son then disappeared for the first time ever, returning home several days later and refusing to say where he'd been. William Chesser, who filed a missing-person report with police, speculates that his son was ashamed of his arrest -- what he understood of it -- and couldn't immediately find the courage to go back home. In any case, the date of Chesser's first court appearance arrived in August, and his father said Chesser locked himself in his room and refused to come out. His father went without him. A warrant was issued for Chesser's arrest. Sheriff's deputies arrived at the house on Nov. 1 and took Chesser into custody. He's been in jail ever since.

Bail was set at $10,000, but William Chesser said he's decided not to pay it because of the danger that his son might disappear again. "If he gets out, it's possible I wouldn't be able to get him back to court," William Chesser said. "That would make things even worse." And so Steven Chesser has spent Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season behind bars -- all because con artists targeted him with their scams. "He's going to be spending Christmas in jail," his mother said, her voice catching. "I feel so sorry for him."

Nearly two months of incarceration hasn't been good for Steven's condition, his parents observed. "When I saw him in jail, he said the walls were talking to him," Mary Chesser recalled. William Chesser had a similar impression. "He's been talking to imaginary people," he said. "When I visited him, we were speaking on the phone from two sides of a glass window. Steven would hold up the phone so an imaginary person could hear what I was saying. "I asked him if he knew why he was there," the father continued. "He said it was for opening an account at Wells Fargo. "I asked if he knew the checks were no good. He said they'd come in the mail and were addressed to him, so they must be good. He doesn't understand how a check can be bad."

Wells Fargo's Hammond said holds are routinely placed on checks so that banks can determine that funds are available. But he said a portion of the deposited amount may still be made available right away "at the customer's request." "Customers are advised not to spend funds until the item has cleared," Hammond said. "They are responsible for the authenticity of the item. In a situation when funds are not available or the item negotiated is found to be fraudulent, the customer is responsible for the amount the bank has distributed to the customer."

Chesser's father said he received a letter from his son recently, asking that he be let out of jail. "It's very sad," he said. "It's hard to understand why this is happening."

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Canada: DNA to the rescue after 24 years?

They're keeping pretty silent about what the new evidence is

Nearly 24 years after he was deemed a dangerous offender and sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars, new evidence has surfaced that could overturn the serial-rape conviction of Ivan Henry. The Criminal Justice Branch of the B.C. Ministry of Attorney-General has announced that Vancouver lawyer Leonard Doust will now review the conviction as an independent special prosecutor.

Doust told The Province he will conduct a thorough examination of not only the evidence that led to Henry's conviction, but also evidence in the case or cases of another as yet unidentified individual. The review may include the gathering of additional evidence and interviewing of witnesses who testified, or not, at Henry's criminal trial, he said. Doust may also seek out the women Henry was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting between May 1981 and June 1982 in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. "My role," Doust said, "is to review everything. Whatever it takes, I have to review the whole thing." "His case has never been reviewed by an appeal court . . . [Henry] has maintained his innocence all the way through," Doust said.

The review is expected to take several months to complete. Criminal justice spokesman Stan Lowe said in a release that special prosecutors are appointed "when there is significant potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice." The review will determine "if there has been a potential miscarriage of justice," Lowe said.

Ivan William Mervin Henry was an unemployed East Vancouver resident when he was arrested in July of 1982 and charged with three counts of rape, two counts of attempted rape and five of indecent assault. At his trial, Crown prosecutors argued that Henry broke in to ground-floor and basement suites and forced a total of eight women to perform sex acts. Prosecutor Mike Luchenko told the court Henry tried to humiliate his victims to the point where they would be too ashamed to notify police. In delivering the verdict and deeming Henry a dangerous offender, Justice John Bouck noted he showed "no particular remorse or concern. "He seems incapable of comprehending the nature of his actions. Instead, he takes refuge in condemning the judicial system for his predicament. "Society must be permanently protected from the predatory behaviour of Henry," Bouck concluded.

Henry refused all legal assistance and defended himself during the court proceedings. It was a decision that both the judge and reporters noted did little for the mental well-being of the victims he cross-examined -- or for his case.

The Crown did not call any medical evidence and Henry failed to convince the judge that the court should provide the names of the doctors who examined the complainants. As B.C. Court of Appeal judges would later note, "[Henry] did not pursue his appeal from conviction and therefore abandoned the opportunity to say that the trial judge erred." From jail, Henry began a barrage of legal filings, all of which have been dismissed.

In 2003, the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed Henry's appeal of a previous ruling that he not have access to medical evidence and proof of blood type found during the medical examination of victims. Finally, in a peculiar Catch-22, the fact that Henry insists he is innocent means he has been not able to take part in sexual-offender rehabilitation programs while in custody.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

No jail for "dangerous driving causing death"?

Another pro-crime judgment from an Australian court

Timothy Thornton never had the chance to wear the watch his girlfriend Catherine McLeay bought him for his 25th birthday. It now lies next to him in his coffin. Killed in a road smash on Easter Monday last year, the young solicitor's death has left an emptiness in Ms McLeay's life that was exacerbated by a decision in a Sydney court this week.

The man convicted of causing the fatal crash – fruit and vegetable millionaire Natale "Nick" Pisciuneri – was sentenced only to home detention after a jury found him guilty of dangerous driving causing death. The fact Pisciuneri, 57, has 20 speeding offences on his licence failed to sway Judge John Goldring, who ruled there was "insufficient evidence" to prove he was speeding at the time of the crash. An overwhelming 92 per cent of The Daily Telegraph readers who voted in an online poll yesterday said the sentence was too light.

Yesterday, as she struggled to comprehend the penalty imposed on Pisciuneri, Ms McLeay, 24, spoke of the crash in March last year when "the love of my life was needlessly snatched away". At the time of the crash near Camden, Mr Thornton was on his way to his girlfriend's house for a 25th birthday dinner in his honour. Mr Thornton, a solicitor at the NSW Department of Veterans Affairs, had planned to get engaged to his sweetheart of four years, travel the world with her and start a family. But instead of discussing wedding plans at his birthday celebrations, Ms McLeay was at Liverpool hospital "waiting for him to die". "Funeral planning was surreal," Ms McLeay said in a victim impact statement tendered to the court at Pisciuneri's sentencing hearing. "I had imagined walking down the aisle for our wedding, not following Tim's coffin. There was a crushing pain in my chest. I figured that must be how it feels to actually have a broken heart."

Ms McLeay described both Pisciuneri's sentence and his two-week trial as "a joke." On Monday, the court was told Pisciuneri had not expressed his regret to Mr Thornton's family in fear any apology would be seen as an admission of guilt.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006


A fiction dangerous to the public

One of the teenage killers of great-grandmother Marie Greening Zidan has been freed from jail in time for the Christmas break. The Herald Sun understands the man, now 21, was released yesterday after serving little more than six years for the brutal attack. But he can keep his past secret from his new neighbours, employers and workmates because of court orders designed to protect his identity.

He was 15 when he and a friend, 16, broke into Mrs Zidan's Seaford home in 2000 and bashed, choked and sexually assaulted her as her intellectually disabled son lay terrified in another room. They were jailed for nine years with a minimum of six after striking a plea deal with prosecutors for their murder charges to be reduced to manslaughter – so neither ever had to admit who actually killed Mrs Zidan.

Bids by the Herald Sun to name the killer as he returns to the community have been rejected by the courts, which have deemed the pair's rehabilitation more important than the public's right to know who they are. The family of Mrs Zidan, 73, declined to comment on the man's release but have fought for years for the right to name and shame the killers. The second youth has also applied for parole.

The man released yesterday is from a known criminal family and has shown no remorse, even taunting his victim's family with lewd phone messages while behind bars. One of the killers threatened staff at a youth detention centre during his sentence, saying people would "get hurt" if they interrupted his lap swimming or table-tennis. The Herald Sun also revealed in February that one of the two youths was allowed out 85 times for family visits, trips to the dentist and to get a learner's permit. The two had access to swimming pools, big-screen televisions and computer games while Mrs Zidan's son Peter was forced into a nursing home.

Mrs Zidan's daughter Janine Greening now helps other families affected by crime and wants a public register of sex offenders of all ages, including the two killers. As vice-president of Victoria Homicide Victims Support Group, Ms Greening was so disappointed by Supreme Court Justice Bill Gillard's refusal to lift the suppression order on the pair in September that she wrote to him for evidence of the pair's rehabilitation. "I am worried about public safety, as the youths have been protected all along," she said in a letter to MPs. "You cannot be rehabilitated if you have no remorse." The family's plight was yesterday echoed by retired MP Robin Cooper, whose elderly mother was killed in tragically similar circumstances by a teenager in 1977. "The rights of 99 per cent of the community should be put ahead of the one per cent who commit the offences," Mr Cooper said.

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Monday, December 18, 2006


I last commented on this case and the desperation to keep an innocent man in jail on August 27, 2005

A gruesome rape-murder nearly 20 years ago led to the wrongful conviction of a Browns Mills man for felony murder. And now a prominent Moorestown attorney is suing the state, seeking financial compensation for the exonerated prisoner, who languished almost 18 years behind bars. Under New Jersey law, the award could amount to $20,000 for each year of incarceration.

The suit on behalf of Larry Leon Peterson, 54, involves the first murder case in New Jersey ever to be overturned primarily because of DNA evidence. It is the 180th such case nationwide, according to the Innocence Project, the team of lawyers that fought for Peterson’s ultimate exoneration in March of this year. "Society owes Larry Peterson a lot," said William H. Buckman, an attorney noted for both criminal and civil rights litigation, who filed the civil claim on Peterson’s behalf last week in Burlington County Superior Court.

Buckman said the complaint names as defendant the state Department of Treasury, because that agency holds the state’s purse strings. But Buckman said he may also pursue civil action against the Burlington County detectives, who initially gathered evidence in the Peterson case. "The case was not dismissed simply because the DNA showed Peterson was innocent," Buckman said. "Many witnesses against him gave false testimony, some of it because of coercion by original detectives." Peterson is now working at a minimum wage job, unable to find better employment because of his prison background, according to Buckman.

Meanwhile, Jack Smith, spokesperson for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, declined to comment on the suit. However, Smith did say the nearly 20-year-old murder case is still "open," which is to say that, one way or the other, the killer is still out there.

The Peterson case began on the morning of Aug. 24, 1987, when a woman walking her dog on a wooded path in Browns Mills happened upon the partially naked body of 25-year-old Jacqueline Harrison. Investigators soon determined the victim had been manually strangled and sexually assaulted. The investigation also soon indicated that the body had been mutilated, with a stick left in the victim’s mouth and another inserted in her genital area.

Harrison’s best friend, as well as a former boyfriend, reported afterward that they had seen Peterson, a neighbor, with what appeared fresh "fingernail" scratches on his arms. Upon hearing of the allegations, the record shows Peterson voluntarily turned himself in to authorities. Peterson denied committing the crime, noting he had an alibi for the timeline in which the slaying allegedly occurred. But investigators were also talking to three other area men, each of whom claimed to have heard Peterson confess to the rape/murder, while the four men car-pooled to work on a day in the immediate aftermath of the crime. "Two jailhouse informants also testified at trial that they had heard Peterson admit that he had killed the victim," according to a case summary issued by the Innocence Project, one of whose founders is attorney Barry Scheck, famous for his DNA work in the O.J. Simpson case.

Ultimately, the most incriminating evidence came compliments of the New Jersey State Police crime lab, which microscopically analyzed three loose pubic hairs found on the victim. The lab determined the hairs matched samples taken from the defendant. Additionally, state forensic specialists testified Peterson’s pubic hair had been found on a stick near the crime scene. Investigators learned that the victim had performed sex acts with two other men in consensual arrangements on the same fateful night prior to her murder, but forensic tests found no matches between the DNA of those two partners and any recovered from the crime scene. Tests on sperm and seminal fluid taken from the body, however, proved inconclusive at the time.

Meanwhile, Peterson testified on his own behalf, and several witnesses corroborated his alibi. Records uncovered by investigators also showed that Peterson did not go to work on the day the three men from the carpool said he confessed. Nonetheless, in March 1989, a Superior Court jury in Mount Holly found Peterson guilty of felony murder and aggravated sexual assault. The judge sentenced him to life in prison, plus 20 years.

Peterson didn’t begin seeking redress through DNA testing until the early 1990s. By 1995, the Innocence Project took his case, ultimately winning a motion to authorize the Serological Research Institute (SERI) to undertake mitochondrial and other DNA tests on the hairs and fluids recovered from the victim and crime scene. "Although the New Jersey State Police Laboratory had reported that there was no semen in the victim’s rape kit, SERI identified sperm on her oral, vaginal and anal swabs," notes the Innocence Project summary. "Two different male profiles were found." One of the profiles matched one of the victim’s consensual lovers. The other profile belonged to an unknown male.

"The unknown male was found on all of the swabs in her rape kit," notes the Innocence Project. "Significantly, the unknown male profile was not found on the victim’s underwear or jeans, indicating that she did not put these items of clothing back on before she was killed, consistent with the fact she was found partially nude." Most significantly, scrapings from the victim’s fingernails underwent tests that showed they did not match the DNA of Peterson, but rather that of the same unknown male profiled in earlier forensic testing.

Peterson’s conviction was thus vacated by July of 2005 but the Burlington County Prosecutor’s office decided to re-try him, despite the loss of the forensic evidence. Peterson’s family and friends struggled to raise the $20,000 for the defendant’s release on bail. Then, in late May of this year, prosecutors finally dropped the case against Peterson and Superior Court Judge Thomas S, Smith signed the order dismissing all charges. "I was emotional, overwhelmed," Peterson was quoted as saying at the time. "I have proclaimed my innocence for so long, and now others will know I’m innocent as well."

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Sunday, December 17, 2006


Four articles below on an official attempt to prevent an apparent murder from going before a judge and jury. Post reproduced from Australian Politics

Outrage in the black community where the death occurred

Police officer Chris Hurley faces a potential million-dollar civil law suit despite being cleared of criminal charges over the death-in-custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji. Furious family members and community leaders last night vowed to fight for justice and called for calm on the island. "We want to dig deeper," said Mulrunji's sister Claudelle Doomadgee. "There is something about this whole thing that stinks."

Emotions are high after the state's top prosecutor, Leanne Clare, ruled there was no evidence to prove Senior-Sergeant Christopher Hurley was criminally responsible for Mulrunji's death. The Director of Public Prosecutions overturned a two-year coronial inquest finding that the police officer struck the fatal blow that led to the death of Mulrunji in November 2004. Ms Clare [who obviously thinks she is judge and jury] instead ruled the father-of-one, 36, died from a "complicated fall" in a "terrible accident" inside the police station.

Extra police are today on standby in Townsville amid fears of a repeat of rioting that led to the Palm Island police station, barracks and jail house being burnt down a week after Mulrunji's death two years ago. Acting mayor Zacc Sam, who goes to the polls today in a mayoral by-election on the island, said he had appealed for calm among his fellow islanders. "We need to stand together on this," Mr Sam said. "We are awaiting legal advice on if we can take civil action against Hurley and what other options we have got." Lawyers for the family and the Palm Island council are investigating the legal options of pursuing civil action, including an independent review and suing Sen-Sgt Hurley for millions in damages for wrongful death....

But the shockwaves of Ms Clare's decision to clear Sen-Sgt Hurley continued to reverberate through the tight-knit community. Most expressed "sadness, anger and disbelief" over the ruling. "This is a bewildering decision," said Brisbane-based lawyer Andrew Boe, representing the Palm Island council. "This man's liver did not split almost in half by itself. Mulrunji's crime, if there was one, was to say a few words to which a police officer took offence." He said he was investigating the possibility of an independent review through the Attorney-General's office. The family expects a response from the lawyers as soon as Monday on the prospect of a civil damages claim.


'White justice' ruling puts heat on State leader

National tensions over indigenous justice erupted yesterday as the Howard Government and Aboriginal leaders demanded an independent review of the decision not to charge a police officer over a death in custody. A day after authorities announced no criminal or disciplinary charges would be laid against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the death of a drunk Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island two years ago, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough urged Queensland Premier Peter Beattie to arrange for a review or second opinion in the case.

Mr Brough, a Queenslander, pointed to the "stark differences" between state Deputy Coroner Christine Clements's findings that Sergeant Hurley caused Doomadgee's death, and Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare's decision on Thursday not to lay any charges over the incident. "This strikes me as a reasonable case for a second opinion, and the matter may not be resolved in the minds of concerned people unless that occurs," Mr Brough said.

Senior indigenous Labor figures Warren Mundine and Linda Burney immediately rounded on the state Government for letting the decision stand. But Mr Beattie refused to intervene yesterday, instead suggesting Ms Clare use her powers to initiate an independent review, as she had done in a similarly contentious case in the past. "That's her decision. We will not have any political interference either from my Government or from Mal Brough," he said. Ms Clare refused to comment last night. And her office would not detail the extra evidence she considered, in addition to that raised at the inquest into Doomadgee's death, in deciding not to prosecute.

The coronial inquest was told that Doomadgee, who was drunk and had been arrested for swearing, struck Sergeant Hurley in the face at the Palm Island watchhouse and a "scuffle" ensued. Sergeant Hurley said he landed on the concrete floor of the watchhouse beside Doomadgee. However, the prisoner suffered four broken ribs and his liver was torn in two. In findings delivered in September, Ms Clements said "these actions of Senior Sergeant Hurley caused the fatal injuries" and the officer's failure to check on Doomadgee in his cell was "callous and deficient".

An initial autopsy report on Doomadgee's injuries sparked riots on the island in December 2004. Alleged riot ringleader Lex Wotton yesterday called on Mr Beattie to go to Palm Island, explain what had occurred and "hear our cries". "This will traumatise a whole generation of indigenous people," he said. Doomadgee's former partner, Tracey Twaddle, and his grieving sisters plan to launch a civil action against Sergeant Hurley.

Mr Beattie's stance was supported by federal Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin, but Labor Party president Mr Mundine said the law had "turned its back on Aboriginal people". "The Beattie Government need to bloody do something - they can't just can't sit there and do nothing while this is going on," Mr Mundine said. "They need to stop bullshitting and sitting on their hands. "There's been a number of incidents in the last few years in Queensland and what's ever been done about them?"

Ms Burney, ALP vice-president and a NSW state Labor MP, said the Queensland Government must hold an independent review of the DPP's decision. "On the basis of community concern, there is probably justification for another look at it," she said. But Ms Macklin said "the important thing is for us all to recognise that the DPP is independent of politics"[Rubbish!].

Prominent Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson accused Ms Clare of "driving indigenous people to depths of despair" and called for her NSW or Victorian counterparts to undertake a review. "Ms Clare's competence has been under question since day one," Mr Pearson said. "She has been appointed DPP in an orgy of political correctness by the Queensland Labor Government. "Nobody in Queensland can have confidence in her judgment, and the Government should forthwith, for the confidence of the indigenous people in this state's legal system, seek a second opinion from a Director of Public Prosecutions in another jurisdiction."

A spokesman for Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine said last night the Government was powerless. "The DPP is independent and free of political interference and it is up to the DPP to seek any review," he said. But indigenous lawyers plan to meet Mr Shine next week to discuss their options. The south Queensland principal legal officer of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Service, Greg Shadbolt, said while a referral to an interstate DPP would be sought, other options might include filing a private criminal complaint to a magistrate to determine if there is a prima facie case against Sergeant Hurley. "Given the findings of the coroner, one would have thought there is sufficient evidence to put before a jury for a jury to decide," he said.

Palm Island Acting Mayor Zac Sam said the council was also investigating whether a civil case could be brought against Sergeant Hurley. Sydney lawyer Stewart Levitt, who is representing several alleged Palm Island rioters, said he intended to file a complaint against the Queensland Government to the UN. Mr Levitt said the DPP's decision not to charge Sergeant Hurley provided further "evidence that a black life if not worth the same as white life in Queensland".

But Police Minister Judy Spence said she supported Ms Clare's decision and could understand why it was difficult for people to see how two arms of the judicial system could come to two different conclusions. "It's really a different test of evidence in each jurisdiction. I just remind people that it is common for judges to disagree." Mr Brough said it was possible that both Ms Clare and Ms Clements were correct in law. National Indigenous Council member Wesley Aird said the Beattie Government, by not intervening, was sending a message that police officers were more important than vulnerable Aboriginal people. "This community is just getting kicked while they are grieving. This wouldn't happen to a non-indigenous community," he said. Former Fraser government Aboriginal affairs minister Fred Chaney, co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, called on Mr Beattie to "restore confidence in the administration of justice". Doomadgee's sister, Valmai Aplin, said she did not know whether she could be strong enough to carry on without achieving justice for her brother. "In my heart I feel that my brother's soul will never rest until the person who did that to him is behind bars," she said.


Police reaction

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson conceded yesterday the decision not to put Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley on trial over the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee would inflame tensions between the police and indigenous community. Mr Atkinson made the comments after announcing that Sergeant Hurley was expected back on duty within two weeks - although not at an indigenous community - and as disciplinary action was being considered against police involved in the arrest of Doomadgee and the investigation into his death in November 2004.

In her findings delivered in September, Deputy Coroner Christine Clements found Sergeant Hurley "caused the fatal injuries" of Doomadgee. She was also scathing of police action on Palm Island before and after the death in custody. During the inquest, it was revealed the detectives who investigated Doomadgee's death - one of whom was a friend of Sergeant Hurley - shared a meal with the officer at his home on the night of the death and later failed to mention the allegation of assault in their report to the pathologist conducting the first autopsy. "It is reprehensible that the initial police investigations into the death were so obviously lacking in transparency, objectivity and independence," Ms Clements said.

The role of the Queensland Police Union also remains in question, with president Gary Wilkinson facing a contempt charge over his criticism of Ms Clements's findings and his deputy, Denis Fitzpatrick, yesterday criticising federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and Queensland Speaker of Parliament Mike Reynolds for questioning state Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare's decision not to go to trial. The criticism comes on top of outrage over heavy-handed police tactics - including holding children at gunpoint in nighttime raids - while searching for rioters who had firebombed the courthouse, police station and police living quarters after the first autopsy results for Doomadgee were released on November 26, 2004.

It also emerged that police asked the army in Townsville to send soldiers in helicopters in the aftermath of the burning of their police buildings. The request was refused. Police were later found by Queensland's courts to have conducted illegal interviews, including extracting confessions from unrepresented teenagers, during the riot investigation. In one case, a 16-year-old, deemed to have an intellectual maturity of 11, was dragged from bed at 6.30am and interviewed without proper representation.

Mr Atkinson said the events had damaged relations with the state's indigenous population. "Clearly this whole matter has not been helpful ... and has put us back," he said. "There's always room to improve, but I think across the board that police are not racist and they are sympathetic to Aboriginal people." On Thursday, Mr Atkinson rescinded the self-imposed suspension order against Sergeant Hurley. The Commissioner said Sergeant Hurley was unlikely to return to duty in an indigenous community such as Palm Island, not because of the death, but because there were few stations serving Aboriginal areas where a senior sergeant was required.


Equal rigour would have avoided disgrace

If the Queensland Police Service had applied just a percentage of the rigour and enthusiasm to investigating the horrific death of Mulrunji Doomadgee that they did to arresting people who had burnt their buildings on Palm Island, the disgraceful injustice that has been perpetrated on Aboriginal people could have been avoided.

Incredible as it may seem, they requested the army in Townsville send Black Hawk helicopters and soldiers when the buildings were torched and their 18 armed police ran to the hospital for protection. Then more than 80 police arrived with riot shields, taser guns, automatic shotguns and Glock pistols - and arrested more than 20 people suspected of property damage.

Contrast that with the investigation of Doomadgee's death. Mates of the arresting officer, Chris Hurley, were appointed to handle it. He picked them up at the airport, took them to his home, cooked a meal for them and shared a beer or two. The next day the "investigation" began. But contrary to standing rules, they did not declare it a "homicide situation". In fact, the original police statement to the pathologist conducting the autopsy on the body of Doomadgee did not mention allegations of an assault.

Deputy Coroner Christine Clements, after hearing months of evidence and cross examination, commented that some of the investigating officers were "wilfully blind" and that Hurley's treatment of Doomadgee was "callous and deficient". She found Hurley had lied and that his actions were responsible for Doomadgee's death. Yet the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crime and Misconduct Commission could not find enough evidence on which to charge Hurley with anything - not even a disciplinary issue.

Premier Peter Beattie said his Government was working to improve the lot of indigenous people in Queensland, and particularly on Palm Island. That is bunkum. After his election win this year - due more to the Opposition's ineptitude than the Government's achievements - he did away with the indigenous affairs portfolio. Beattie's protestations that he wants to help indigenous people have been too hollow for too long and this latest disgraceful incident dashes the credibility of his Government.


(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Maryland man is set free after 39 years behind bars

That's a long time to wait

At 4:15 p.m. yesterday, 39 years to the day after he was arrested for a robbery and murder he says he did not commit, Walter Lomax walked out of Baltimore Circuit Court a free man. Beaming and surrounded by jubilant relatives and friends, he said, "Even though it's my freedom, it's their moment because they've supported me all these years."

Hours earlier, a judge had granted the 59-year-old's motion to reopen his long-closed case, in which he was convicted of a convenience store robbery and killing that his lawyers say he could not have committed because his right arm was in a thick cast at the time. Circuit Judge Gale E. Rasin said yesterday that it was "in the interest of justice" to reopen Lomax's case, and then she overturned his life prison term and resentenced him to time served. At times emotional during her lengthy remarks, Rasin repeatedly said Lomax was a good man and wished him luck in his new life.

Lomax's assertion of innocence and claims of ineffective trial and appellate lawyers were accompanied by a long, unblemished prison record that included work release and overnight family visits in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was recommended for parole four times but kept behind bars by Gov. Parris N. Glendening's decision in 1995 not to parole any "lifers" except those who were dying. While in prison, the high school dropout educated himself, became a writer and editor of a prison newsletter, and amassed dozens of certificates of achievement and letters of support, some from politicians.

"As I have told the Governor and others, none of us in the community believe you committed the crime for which you're incarcerated," Del. Clarence Davis of Baltimore wrote in May 2002. "As such we remain steadfast in our unequivocal support for your freedom." Noting the age of the case, the Baltimore state's attorney's office did not oppose the motion to reopen or the decision to release Lomax. But Assistant State's Attorney Robyne Szokoly said at yesterday's hearing that the victim's family was distraught over the release and is still convinced of Lomax's guilt.

Rasin acknowledged that she could never change the minds of the victim's relatives. However, she said, she could not ignore the role race played in the case. Lomax was convicted of killing Robert Brewer, a 56-year-old convenience store manager, during a Dec. 2, 1967, robbery in South Baltimore -- amid a wave of robberies in the area and as racial tension swept the city. Police officers rounded up young black men and asked about 75 witnesses from the various South Baltimore robberies to identify suspects.

Lomax went to trial only in the in Dec. 2 robbery-murder. At his trial, five white witnesses identified him as the killer, though none said anything about a cast. No other evidence was presented, and not a single police officer testified. Yesterday, Rasin said such cross-racial identification is unreliable. "There is a significant likelihood, definitely a possibility, that Mr. Lomax would be acquitted" if he were on trial today, Rasin said.

A tall man in the back row of the courtroom nodded emphatically as Rasin spoke. He was one of the first to hug Lomax after his release. He was Michael Austin, another Baltimore man who won his freedom after decades in prison by convincing a judge of the possibility of his innocence. Austin, 58, said he knew Lomax's family as a boy and befriended Lomax when they were behind bars. Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey nonprofit organization that helps people it believes have been wrongly convicted, helped win Austin's release in December 2001, after he had served 27 years of a life sentence on a murder conviction based largely on one witness' account.

Lomax is the 40th person Centurion has helped free and shares the record with a Pennsylvania man for having spent the most time behind bars of any of Centurion's clients. Jim McCloskey, head of Centurion, said he was "blown away" by Lomax. "Not only is he innocent, but he is such a gentleman, so dignified," McCloskey said. "How could he be this way after so many years of being in a harsh environment?" Booth Ripke, who along with Larry Nathans also represented Austin, said he took Lomax's case because it "leapt off the pages. It wasn't a close call at all." The lawyers and McCloskey vowed to help smooth Lomax's transition. Austin, who released a jazz CD this year and speaks frequently about his ordeal, also said he would help his friend adjust to freedom.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Houston man claiming wrongful conviction could be released from prison

A judge this morning cleared the way for a Houston man's release while he awaits word on whether he will get a new trial in a case in which he says he was wrongly imprisoned. Gilbert Amezquita, 29, could walk free as soon as this afternoon. State District Judge Belinda Hill set his bail at $5,000. Today's decision resulted from a ruling last month by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which granted Amezquita a hearing.

Amezquita has been in prison since his 1998 conviction for the aggravated assault of a Houston woman. As she lay in a hospital, Kathy Bingham told police, "Gilbert did it." She later identified Amezquita, a co-worker, in a photo lineup. But his attorney, Roland Moore, argued in his appeal that Harris County prosecutors failed to consider another Gilbert: Alonzo Gilbert Guerrero, who also worked with Bingham. On the day of the attack, Guerrero, who had a criminal record that included assault, argued with the victim. Court records also show he had the woman's cellular phone after the attack.

Guerrero is serving a seven-year sentence in a state prison for a 2004 burglary in Cameron County, according to state records. Before Amezquita's trial, Judge Hill refused to allow the testing of DNA evidence, which has since been destroyed. [Evidence enough of corrupt proceedings and certainly evidence of an unsafe conviction]

In a 2003 interview with the Houston Chronicle, Moore said that "everything that could have gone wrong in (the Amezquita) case did go wrong." The Harris County District Attorney's Office has not announced how it will proceed in the case. After the appeals court's ruling last month, however, an assistant district attorney noted that the ruling was not based on Amezquita's claim of actual innocence but on ineffective assistance of counsel in the trial.

Report here

Some background:

The whereabouts of a cell phone played a role in the state's highest criminal court throwing out the conviction of a man who served about half of a 15-year prison sentence for aggravated assault. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a writ of habeas corpus Wednesday to 29-year-old Gilbert Amezquita, who has been in prison since his 1998 conviction in the brutal beating of a Houston woman who was in a coma for 10 days after the workplace attack. When she regained consciousness, Kathy Bingham couldn't tell police who attacked her, but when asked again later, she whispered "Gilbert," according to court records. She also testified during the trial that Amezquita, a co-worker, was her attacker.

Roland Moore, Amezquita's attorney, argued on appeal that Harris County prosecutors failed to consider another co-worker named Alonzo Gilbert Guerrero, who the appeals court said exchanged Bingham's cell phone for drugs shortly after the attack. Guerrero, who had a criminal record that included assault at the time of the attack, is serving a seven-year sentence for a burglary.

When police asked her about the missing cell phone, Bingham said she hadn't noticed it was gone. The appeals court faulted Amezquita's trial attorney for not raising the issue. "While there is no direct evidence that Guerrero was the attacker, the circumstantial evidence supports such a conclusion," the appeals court wrote in its 5-4 ruling.

According to testimony from the trial, Guerrero argued around the day of the attack with Bingham's brother about Guerrero's alleged harassment of her. But Bingham also had a heated argument with Amezquita about the same time. Harris County Assistant District Attorney Baldwin Chin said prosecutors will meet next week to decide whether to release Amezquita or retry the case. Moore said his client could be released on bail as early as next week. "This is the best present I've ever gotten," Moore said of the ruling.

Amezquita's case languished in the appeals court for five years, said Steve Hall, director of the criminal justice reform group StandDown Texas Project. That included an unusual sequence last year when the court rejected Amezquita's appeal but decided to reconsider it two weeks later. Before the trial, state District Judge Belinda Hill refused to allow the testing of DNA evidence from fingernail scrapings, which have since been destroyed. Moore said in 2003 that the Amezquita case was one where "everything that could have gone wrong ... did go wrong."

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

Thursday, December 14, 2006


So how can you have a safe DNA-based conviction under those circumstances?

The man accused of murdering 29 people in the Omagh bombing has claimed police were on a witch hunt to "cover up their own inadequacies". Sean Hoey from Jonesborough, County Armagh, denies a total of 58 charges. Hoey, 37, said if his DNA was on any evidence it was either there innocently or "planted" by police "or some other agency the police are using". The claims were made during police interviews which have been read out at his trial.

Earlier, the trial heard that an investigation into how bomb timers, linked to the Omagh trial, were lost up to eight years ago, only began a couple of weeks ago. The lost timers had been found at a number of attacks in 1998 and were lost as early as 1998. The Forensic Science Service in Northern Ireland was responsible for tracking the timer power units. In court, its acting operations director, Jim Speers, was questioned about whether their disappearance had ever been investigated. Initially, he seemed to indicate that an investigation was under way, but he said he had not spoken to anyone about it. However, during questioning by the defence, Mr Speers paused and asked the judge if he could consult the prosecution lawyers. Mr Justice Weir looked surprised and told him to answer the questions. He then revealed that he himself had asked for the review - and that he had only done so a couple of weeks ago - that would have been after the issue of the missing timers had been raised in the trial.

More details of why accreditation was suspended at forensic laboratories in Northern Ireland was also revealed. The accreditation service had a number of concerns including administrative errors and they discovered equipment had not been properly checked. A subsequent review by a consultancy firm found dozens of what it described as significant "non-conformities" or mistakes. However, Mr Speers said that none of the errors had a risk "of an unsafe conviction or a miscarriage of justice". [He would say that but how can he know? The violated procedures were there for a reason]

The trial will resume on Thursday when the prosecution is expected to complete its case.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)