Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Pleas from police and Jewish community leaders to send neo-Nazi axe murderer Dane Sweetman back to jail for breaching his parole conditions by allegedly assaulting a hotel patron have been rejected by the Bracks Government. Patrons at the Tote Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood have alleged Sweetman headbutted and punched a man who questioned him about swastika tattoos on his neck earlier this month. Police sources said the man did not wish to proceed with charges against Sweetman because he feared retribution.

Sweetman was released on parole last October after serving 15 years of a 20-year sentence for the 1990 murder of David Noble with an axe at a party to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler. At the time of the murder, Sweetman was on bail for another bashing offence. He had been released from jail five months earlier after serving four years for attempted murder.

The Australian revealed last week that as a result of the Tote Hotel incident, the Adult Parole Board amended Sweetman's parole conditions to ban him from entering Collingwood hotels and from drinking alcohol generally.

Victorian Police Association secretary Paul Mullepp said yesterday it was clear that Sweetman was a danger to the community. "A fat lot of good it will do to ban someone like this from a few pubs in Collingwood," Senior Sergeant Mullepp said. "There is a significant safety issue here. He has a dislike for police officers and he has a significant background as far as defying the law and assaulting members of the community is concerned. "The parole board should have taken the police view into account, and that is that he should be back in custody serving his original sentence."

B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission policy adviser Rodney Gouttman said the board should have acted on the police advice. "The board should not have let him out in the first place and the police continue to believe he is a fundamental risk," Dr Gouttman said. "Banning him from drinking is nonsense. Do they intend to monitor him 24 hours a day?"

Sweetman kept a diary in jail in which he boasted of torching a synagogue and vandalising others. He also claimed responsibility for several assaults for which he has not faced charges. Corrections Minister Tim Holding said he would not be making representations to the parole board. "The board took into account the fact he was not charged with any further offences," a spokesman for Mr Holding said. "It's a matter for the board."

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Monday, January 30, 2006


Lucky the woman had some integrity

A lovestruck judge could be jailed for offering to have a woman's boyfriend sent to prison so they could pursue an affair.
The judge, known only as Wolfgang W, was presiding over a robbery trial when he met the defendant's girlfriend, a 30-year-old Albanian woman known as Fatime L. The pair reportedly had dinner together during the trial and the 63-year-old judge then took to texting Ms L with suggestive messages such as "I'm kissing you awake" and "Alone with you in bed. I want to drag you into bed before breakfast and sleep with you".

It was when Judge W withdrew his original offer to sentence Ms L's boyfriend to no more than 22 months in jail and asked her to help him decide on the proper length of sentence that she thought things had gone too far. She contacted her boyfriend's lawyer and showed him the messages, including one that read: "He should be sent away for longer so that you're at peace or he should be sent to his wife, which might also help. It's up to you."

Judge W was removed from the case and could now face up to five years in prison for abuse of office.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006


Apparently the cop's gun not only discharged itself but aimed itself as well! And all because the victim liked a bet on sports!

Fairfax County's police chief said yesterday that one of his officers accidentally shot and killed an optometrist outside the unarmed man's townhouse Tuesday night as an undercover detective was about to arrest him on suspicion of gambling on sports. Police had been secretly making bets with Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., 37, since October as part of a gambling investigation, according to court records. They planned to search his home in the Fair Oaks area, just off Lee Highway, shortly after 9:30 p.m. Culosi came out of his townhouse on Cavalier Landing Court about 9:35 p.m. and was standing next to the detective's sport-utility vehicle, police said, when the detective gave a signal to tactical officers assembled nearby to move in and arrest Culosi. "As they approached him . . . one officer's weapon, a handgun, was unintentionally discharged," said Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer.

Culosi was not making any threatening moves when he was shot once in the upper part of his body, police said. He was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The last fatal police shooting in Fairfax was in September 2000, when an officer killed a man threatening him with a woodcutting tool. "On behalf of the Fairfax County Police Department and myself, I wish to express our condolences and our sincere sympathy to Mr. Culosi's family and friends," Rohrer said. He declined to answer questions after making the statement. Police departments generally do not accept responsibility for an officer-involved shooting before an investigation is completed.

Culosi's family in Annandale was grief-stricken and declined to be interviewed. Culosi's older sister, Constance Culosi Gulley, issued a statement saying that her brother was "a respected local businessman and doctor with his whole life ahead of him and didn't deserve to have his life end this way." Culosi grew up just off Annandale Road, graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School and the University of Virginia, then attended the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis and became a doctor of optometry. He opened practices in Manassas and Warrenton that are attached to Wal-Mart stores.

The officer, a 17-year veteran assigned to the police tactical unit, was not identified. He was placed on leave with pay while police conduct both an internal administrative investigation and a criminal investigation. Rohrer also expressed support for the officer, calling him a valued veteran of the department. Lt. Richard Perez, a police spokesman, said he could not say how or why the gun discharged.

More here

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Saturday, January 28, 2006


The lethal injection would be "cruel and unusual"!

Clarence Hill was strapped onto a gurney in the death chamber at Florida’s state prison at 5pm on Tuesday. Intravenous tubes were inserted into his veins to administer a lethal cocktail of drugs. Witnesses silently had taken their seats in the adjacent room from where they planned to watch Hill, 48, die at 6pm. But the brown curtain separating them from the man who killed a police officer, Stephen Taylor, in a botched bank robbery 23 years ago, remained drawn. At 6.36pm — more than half an hour after the execution had been scheduled to take place — Randall Polk, the prison’s assistant warden, announced that there had been a last-minute stay of execution. The witnesses, including members of Florida’s senate and relatives of Mr Taylor, were led back out.

The prison had received a message from Justice Anthony Kennedy, of the US Supreme Court, ordering a temporary reprieve. Although lower courts had rejected Hill’s final appeals, his lawyer filed a petition at 4.45pm which was, in the words of one anti-death penalty campaigner yesterday, “smart enough” to make Justice Kennedy think twice. On Wednesday, the stay was confirmed by the full Supreme Court. It decided to hear arguments that Hill should be allowed to pursue a claim against lethal injection based on the violation of his constitutional rights protecting him from cruel or unusual punishment. The case may take several months to wind its way through the courts. But in the meantime, lawyers representing some of the 22 death row prisoners due to be executed in the next four months, are preparing similar appeals....

Hill’s stay of execution relied upon new research published in the Lancet medical journal in Britain last April. Dr David Lubarsky, a conservative republican who says that he holds no brief for the abolitionists, had studied toxicology reports on 49 executed prisoners and found that many of them did not have sufficient levels of a particular anaesthetic — thiopental — to prevent suffering. Hill’s lawyer said that it was a fantastic day, but Linda Knouse, the sister of Hill’s victim, said that her family was numb. “It’s devastating because we really thought this chapter was going to be closed for us, and now it seems to go and on and on.”

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Friday, January 27, 2006


A judge who was widely vilified for giving a child molester a 60-day jail term imposed a new sentence Thursday, increasing the man's prison time to three to 10 years. Judge Edward Cashman said he felt he could now impose the longer sentence because the state had agreed to provide treatment to the man while he is behind bars. The state had initially said such treatment would not come until after the man served his time.

Mark Hulett, 34, pleaded guilty to charges that he had sexual contact with a girl during a four-year period beginning when she was 6. At the original sentencing, Cashman said the best way to ensure public safety was to get Hulett out of prison so he could receive sex offender treatment. Because the Corrections Department concluded that Hulett wasn't likely to reoffend, he wouldn't be eligible to receive sex-offender treatment until he reached the end of his jail term.

After Cashman announced the initial sentence, Gov. James Douglas called for the judge to resign and several lawmakers suggested he be impeached. Douglas said Thursday he considered the new sentence to be too lenient. "It's 18 times 60 days, so it's certainly an improvement," said the governor. "Personally I think it's inadequate for a crime of that magnitude, but it is certainly better than the first decision."

In his order Thursday, the judge remained firm in his original belief that sentences must be concerned with more than just punishment. "The court agrees a punitive response -- punishment -- is a valuable and necessary component of society's response to criminal conduct," he said. "It is a tool that the court has routinely used for the past 24 years on the trial bench. As stated during the sentencing hearing, however, punishment is not enough of a response in some cases. "This is one of those cases," he said.

Attorney General William Sorrell had also hoped for longer than three years, but he praised the judge for making the change. "I would have rather seen it be a longer sentence as a message to other would-be offenders, but I think Judge Cashman is big enough to change course," he said. The victim's family left the courtroom without comment. Hulett's lawyer, Mark Kaplan, said he thought the sentence was fair, adding, "I think it makes sense under the circumstances."

Report here


A Queensland judge has ordered a man's criminal conviction for the carnal knowledge of an underage girl not be recorded so he can join the police force. Brisbane man Stephen Douglas King, 19, pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court today to one count of unlawful carnal knowledge of a 13-year-old girl. The court was told in April, 2004, when King was 17, he formed a relationship with the young girl who had just turned 13. The pair had sexual intercourse a number of times and eventually the girl fell pregnant. They are no longer together.

Judge Ian Wylie sentenced King to 160 hours of community service. However, he ordered a conviction not be recorded because King told his counsel he wanted to join the Australian Federal Police. Judge Wylie said a conviction would hinder King's chances so he would refrain from imposing it, but said he wasn't certain King would make much of a police officer.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006


A man who has spent 11 years on North Carolina's death row and came within hours of execution deserves a new trial because police failed to turn over files that could have helped clear him of a murder charge, according to a judge. Greensboro officers violated the constitutional rights of Charles Walker by not releasing the evidence, Superior Court Judge John O. Craig III said in an e-mail sent to lawyers in the case this weekend, the News & Record reported Tuesday. He told them to draft an order for a new trial, which he will review and sign.

Walker's appeals lawyer, Jonathan Megerian of Asheboro, visited his client in Raleigh's Central Prison to give him the news. "He's very relieved and I guess he's very happy that justice prevailed," Megerian said Tuesday.

Walker, 40, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was condemned for the 1992 drug-related killing of Tito Davidson, who prosecutors said was trying to interfere with Walker's illegal drug business at a Greensboro public housing complex. Co-defendants testified that Walker participated in shooting Davidson several times, then slashing his throat in an apartment. Davidson's body was never found, and no blood, DNA or other evidence was located in the apartment, which co-defendants said they thoroughly cleaned.

Walker was hours away from dying by injection -- and, insisting he was innocent, had refused to order a last meal -- when the state Supreme Court upheld a stay of execution on Dec. 2, 2004. Craig issued the stay four days earlier, saying he wanted to hear further argument from defense lawyers who said Walker was convicted solely on the basis of unreliable testimony by co-defendants and others who could have been charged in the case. He later dismissed those claims, but ordered the state last year to hand over two police investigative files that had been withheld from the defense.

At a hearing this month, retired investigators D. M. Minner and Lee Walker Jr. testified that no one told them to conceal or withhold the investigative files, but neither could say why the defense didn't receive the files. Walker's lawyers argued that information in the files could have been used to undermine the credibility of a key prosecution witness, and possibly identify another person as the killer. "I want to avoid finger-pointing as to why the Greensboro Police didn't turn over these portions of their files, and whether it was wrong," Craig wrote in the e-mail sent Saturday to the lawyers. "I think my obligation is to merely find that it occurred ... and the law requires me to rectify the omission."

Megerian said he expects to have a draft order ready by the end of the week for review by state attorneys and Craig, meaning a final order will probably not be issued before the start of next week. "The sooner the better, from our point of view," he said. A spokesman for Attorney General Roy Cooper said the state's legal team won't decide whether to appeal until Craig issues his formal ruling. Megerian called the case and the brush with execution "a terrifying experience" for his client. "This guy was just a few hours away (from execution). They were asking what he wanted for his last meal when the Supreme Court granted the stay," he said. "He came so close to such an incredible miscarriage of justice."

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Man wrongly jailed for 21 years given $757,000. See the earlier post here of Dec. 7th, 2005

Kenneth Marsh, now 50, was convicted of killing a three-year-old boy in 1983, despite his saying that the child had fallen off a sofa and banged his head on a fireplace. Mr Marsh refused to accept a plea deal, protesting his innocence. The boy, Philip Buell, was the son of Brenda Buell Warter, Mr Marsh's girlfriend. The couple married after his release in 2004, which came, lawyers said, only because of more than two decades of campaigning by Ms Buell Warter.

The six-figure award is the largest made by California's Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. "Nothing can make up for the time I spent in prison unless they gave me 21 years back," Mr Marsh said.

The case against him fell apart when a doctor said that the drug mannitol - used to reduce pressure in the cranium - had been a "substantial factor" in Philip's death.

When Mr Marsh was tried, five doctors, including the medical director of the Children's Hospital in San Diego and a pathologist, said that the boy had been physically abused.

Mr Marsh has filed a $50 million lawsuit against doctors and the coroner's investigator, saying they were involved in covering up malpractice. He said after the board hearing: "My plans are to get the hell out of California. There are too many bad memories here."

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

DNA frees innocent NY man after 24 years

A US man who spent 24 years behind bars was freed today after DNA testing and other evidence convinced prosecutors he was not involved in the robbery and rapes that led to his 130-year sentence. Alan Crotzer, 45, was freed more than three years after he wrote to the Innocence Project in New York, a legal clinic that works to exonerate inmates through DNA testing. Crotzer had been sentenced to 130 years in prison for a 1981 robbery and two rapes.

"It's been a long time coming," Crotzer said. "Thank God for this day." Members of Crotzer's family and other courtroom spectators clapped and cheered as a bailiff removed the shackles from his wrists and ankles after Circuit Judge J Rogers Padgett said to Crotzer during the brief hearing: "Motion granted - you're a free man." Prosecutor Mike Sinacore congratulated him. "Trying to fix an error in the system is just as important as trying to convict someone who is guilty," Sinacore said.

DNA has been used to clear at least 172 people wrongly convicted of crimes in 31 states since 1989, according to the Innocence Project.

Crotzer and brothers Douglas James and Corlenzo James were convicted of robbing a Tampa family in 1981. Douglas James and Crotzer were also found guilty of kidnapping and raping a 38-year-old woman and her 12-year-old daughter at gunpoint. A victim picked Crotzer out of a photo lineup. But Douglas James maintained that Crotzer is innocent, and that he and his brother were the rapists and a childhood friend was their accomplice.

Crotzer, who has never held a paying job, said he will go live with a sister in St Petersburg, Florida and try to find work. His lawyers said they will seek compensation from the state for him.

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Monday, January 23, 2006


Another argument for not relying on one type of evidence alone

Memories may be the lifeblood of our identity. To some extent, you are what you remember. But what if some of your memories aren’t really yours? That might just be the case, says a group of psychologists from Duke University in Durham, N.C., and the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. In a new study, they seek to understand why some people seem to take over other people’s memories.

In past research, the team found that people, especially twins but others as well, sometimes spar over who owns a memory—and both can’t be right. Thus, “some of the memories in which we play a leading role might in fact have been the experiences of others,” they wrote in the new study, published in the February issue of the research journal Genes, Brain and Behavior. Many twins have noticed the phenomenon for years. But the researchers, one of whom is a twin herself, say they’re the first to document it scientifically, along with its occurrence among non-twins.

In the new research, the psychologists re-analyzed data from their past studies to try to understand why it occurs. Their finding: although our appropriation of other people’s memories is probably unintentional, it also tends to be self-serving. People “claim for themselves memories for achievements and suffered misfortunes but are more likely to give away memories of personal wrongdoing,” they wrote. That’s consistent other recent research findings, they added, that have pointed to something obvious to many non-scientists: most of us are often quite selfish.

The scientists started the research “in part because of all of the heat involved in most real world memory errors,” wrote Duke’s David C. Rubin, a member of the team, in an email. Controversy has surrounded the accuracy of memories for decades, largely because of how witness recollections affect court cases. A particularly thorny issue has been whether courts should let children sue their parents on grounds that they recently remembered long-suppressed memories of child abuse. Some critics contend these “memories” are often retrieved only with the help of hypnotherapists, who may actually have planted them through the force of suggestion.

Regardless of who is right, researchers have increasingly recognized that memories are highly fallible. And Rubin and colleagues say their findings suggest yet a new way that memories can be distorted. In their new paper, they quoted as follows a typical conversation between 54-year-old female twins as they participated in one of the studies.

Twin 1: I remember falling over and really hurting my elbow and knee when a wheel came off my roller skate.
Twin 2: Hang on a minute, are you talking about those roller skates we got for our eighth or ninth birthday?
Twin 1: Yeah, so what?
Twin 2: Well that actually happened to me if you don’t mind.
Twin 1: What do you mean, it was me! I was skating with you and [...]
Twin 2: Yeah, with Marie on the old tennis court.
Twin 1: Yeah, but it was me not you, I remember it being really bumpy with grassy bits in it.
Twin 2: I think you’ll find if you think really hard it was me.
Twin 1: Well I remember it so clearly, and you skated home to get mum.
Twin 2: No, you skated home to get mum, because I was hurt and crying and couldn’t move.
Twin1: Oh well, I guess we get confused; it happened so long ago.

The University of Canterbury’s Mercedes Sheen, a member of the research team, wrote in her 2002 Ph.D. thesis: “My own twin and I dispute a memory over a first kiss at summer camp when we were 12. The boy in question was the ‘camp catch,’ and although we both vehemently believe we were the one who was there, the event (one would hope) only happened to one of us.”

Although many twins have noticed the disputed memory phenomenon on their own, the studies found it may happen more often than they think, the researchers wrote. A 2001 study involving 20 pairs of same-sex twins uncovered 36 disputed memories, only 15 of which the twins involved already knew to be disputed, the researchers found. The discovery of a memory-ownership question “often seemed to come as a surprise to the participants, and many tried to assert their own right to the memory,” Sheen and colleagues wrote. The team also interviewed 69 non-twins and found that six reported having experienced a disputed memory. In half the cases, the disagreement was with a sibling; in the other half, a friend.

In the new study, they analyzed 77 disputed memories gathered in past research. Most cases involved both members of a pair claiming the same memory. But some cases—slightly over one fourth—involved them “giving away” memories, claiming that the other person experienced the remembered event.

Some patterns turned up, the researchers said. First, “the memories are predominantly bad (wrongdoing or misfortune) rather than good (achievement, gift or daring),” they wrote. Also, most of the disputes in both twins and non-twins occurred among females, they found, probably because “women share memories more than men.” A participant was moreover “more likely to claim good memories for herself or himself” than bad ones, they wrote. Participants claimed for themselves 17 out of 18 of the good memories, but only 28 of 43 bad memories. Also, they wrote: “Of the bad memories, there is a very much stronger tendency to claim misfortunes as one’s own (27 out of 34) than wrongdoings (three of 21).” Thus, in many ways the memories “could be described as self-serving,” they concluded.

They also noted that parents usually were unable to resolve memory disputes. That was possibly because the conflicts tended to involve events of middling importance rather than great importance, and the parents themselves couldn’t recall the facts, they said.

More here

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Sunday, January 22, 2006


Maybe the suppression WAS "inadvertent" but with the LAPD who would believe it? The only way to stop the chronic withholding of evidence is to treat any failure of full disclosure as conclusive evidence of the innocence of the accused

A federal judge has ordered the city to pay $1.1 million in legal costs to the family of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G. as sanctions for intentionally withholding evidence. U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper's ruling Friday didn't give the family the $2 million originally sought, but she left open the possibility of an additional $300,000.

"It's pretty clear from the ruling that the judge understands this is a significant and difficult case," said Perry Sanders, an attorney for the rapper's family. "We were disappointed with the order," said Jonathan Diamond, spokesman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, whose office defended the city. "We believe the officer's conduct was inadvertent, and we will prevail at trial on the merits of the case." Christopher Wallace, or Notorious B.I.G., was shot and killed March 9, 1997, after a party at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The murder has not been solved.

Cooper had declared a mistrial last summer in the family's civil lawsuit after finding that a police detective hid statements linking the killing to Officers David Mack and Rafael Perez. City attorneys said the statements came from a jailhouse informant seeking special treatment, and robbery-homicide Det. Steven Katz claimed he had overlooked the transcript of the remarks in his desk.

But Cooper ruled that Katz and perhaps others concealed the information, which could have bolstered the family's contention that Mack was involved in the killing.

The trial began in June, with plaintiffs trying to show that Mack, a convicted bank robber, orchestrated Wallace's killing with the help of college friend on behalf of Death Row Records chief Marion "Suge" Knight. All three have denied involvement. The case stopped abruptly when the plaintiffs' attorneys said they had received an anonymous tip from a former officer who said a department informant had tied Perez and Mack to the killing. The tip led to an investigation of the police department's Robbery-Homicide Division that uncovered statements by a former Perez cellmate, who had told the department that the disgraced officer had confessed to participating with Mack in Wallace's killing.

The retrial is expected to begin later this year.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Up to 20 wrongly in New Zealand jails says judge

As many as 20 people may be wrongly in New Zealand's jails, says the retired High Court judge who looked into the Peter Ellis Christchurch creche case for the Government. Sir Thomas Thorp is calling for an independent authority to be set up to identify miscarriages of justice, the number of which he says is underestimated. His recommendation follows a two-year study of the nature and incidence of miscarriages of justice, and the way New Zealand and comparable countries deal with such claims.

Sir Thomas, whose interest in the topic arose from reviews he did for the Government, including work on the Ellis case, said that, based on British experience, "up to a score" of New Zealand inmates may be wrongly jailed. His research includes analysis of 53 applications to the Justice Ministry claiming miscarriages of justice from 1995 to 2002. Of these, he classified 26 per cent as "raising issues that clearly required careful investigation". Sixteen per cent were "plainly without merit", while 58 per cent had "sufficient potential to require some further investigation".

In August, Parliament's Justice and Electoral Committee also recommended the establishment of a body to look into miscarriages of justice.

Sir Thomas' report, titled Miscarriages of Justice, has been published by the Legal Research Foundation, a non-profit body associated with Auckland University's law faculty. The university is holding a seminar on the report next month.

Though it was impossible to make reliable estimates of the number of miscarriages of justice, Sir Thomas said he found nothing to indicate the rate in New Zealand would be significantly different than in Britain. His estimate that there may be 20 people wrongly imprisoned was based on the experience there.

There were proportionally fewer complaints of miscarriages in New Zealand, something Sir Thomas believed was explained by New Zealand's system being reactive, whereas all people convicted of crimes in Britain were made aware of the independent review process available there. As well, Maori and Pacific Islanders used the existing processes much less than Pakeha.

Sir Thomas told the Weekend Herald the reason for Maori and Pacific Islanders' low use of the system may be that they felt most strongly that they were not understood by the justice system. "I think that there is in our racial difficulty a sense that people are not understood, which is complex and not open to simple resolution. But, surely, changing from the present self-generating system - which requires complainants to hold their hand up and come up with a written petition or claim - to a system which actually goes out to make sure that all convicted people are aware there is this authority and it will help them formulate a claim if need be, that should make some difference."

In his report Sir Thomas said a "fully independent and appropriately staffed and resourced authority" should have the task of identifying miscarriages and putting them forward for reconsideration by courts. That should include investigative capability. The authority should seek means to reduce the ethnic imbalance of claimants, identify causes of miscarriages in New Zealand, recommend means of minimising their occurrence, and assess compensation for wrongful convictions.

According to published reports of inquiries Sir Thomas has carried out for the Government, he concluded David Bain's conviction for the murder of his parents and siblings was safe but he had misgivings about Peter Ellis' conviction.

National's justice spokesman Richard Worth said he was in favour of an independent commission. Mr Worth said Ellis was a good example of the labyrinth of procedures parties could get caught up in as they tried to prove a miscarriage of justice. Criminal Bar Association president Peter Winter said an independent body was necessary. "There has been a climate of setting up institutions that prosecute, including the Serious Fraud Office, and greater authority for serious crime provisions. It is time there is a counter-balance to redress those who are wrongly convicted," Mr Winter said. "There is nothing worse than languishing on an improper conviction, particularly if you feel as though you can't communicate adequately with the system."

A spokesman for Attorney-General David Parker said last night the minister had not seen the report, but because it was by a retired High Court judge it warranted his attention and he wanted to read it.

(Report here)

Background on the Ellis case:

Former day-care worker, Peter Ellis was released in Feburary 2000 after serving two-thirds of his sentence,after being found guilty of 16 charges of sexual abuse against children in his care.

The case has always been controversial, dividing New Zealand, and particularly Christchurch, into two camps, one believing he is innocent, the other convinced of his guilt. The issue which has festered since his arrest in 1992, surfaced again dramatically on Sunday 16 November 1997, with a 20/20 television programme which painted a picture of a highly questionable approach by the State and of jury irregularities. The previous day, the media reported that the Solicitor General has ordered an inquiry into the Ellis jury.

The Solicitor General’s interest centres on claims that two jury members did not declare their interests before, or after being appointed. The first concern is that the jury foreman is said to have been the marriage celebrant at Crown Prosecutor Brent Stanaway’s wedding 15 years earlier. The second was that another juror had been involved in a lesbian relationship with the mother of one of the alleged victims

TV3’s journalist Melanie Reid claimed on the 20/20 programme, that former detective Colin Eade, a primary crèche sexual abuse allegations investigator, had a history of psychiatric problems and an obsessive personality. (Eade has since disengaged from the police suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He said on the 20/20 programme he was ‘burnt out’ before the case started and ‘beyond repair’ by the time it was finished).

On 19 November police commissioner Peter Doone told a Parliamentary Select Committee on Expenditure, that he would have the allegations against Colin Eade investigated and would report back to the committee. He said this could take months, based on the experience of the length of time it was taking to investigate Joe Karam’s criticisms of the police handling of the Bain murders investigation. Mr Doone also told the Select Committee he regarded the allegations made against Mr Eade as ‘extremely serious’. He is reported in the Dominion of 20-11-97 as saying “I can assure you that if there are any ethical, procedural or fairness breaches on the part of the police ... I will take every step to ensure that justice will be done”.

Ellis’s supporters are reported as saying a police review would be too narrow and that only a ‘full inquiry’ would suffice. They want an inquiry to also look at the role of the Christchurch City Council, the Ministry of Social Welfare, police investigators other than former detective and the Crown prosecutor.

In an interview with Sean Plunkett on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report on 20 November, Colin Eade was questioned about allegations he’d had relationships with two of the creche children’s’ mothers and had attempted to have a relationship with a third. Eade told Plunkett he had come home after drinking heavily and received a phone call from an alleged victim’s mother. Eade admitted he had ‘stupidly propositioned her’. He said he had realised his foolishness the next day and tried to pass it off on the basis he had only been joking, but he admitted to Plunkett he had seriously put the proposition. He went on to say the relationships with the other two women had occurred well after the trial.

Phil Goff, Labour’s spokesperson on law and order and Greg O’Connor, President of the New Zealand Police Association (the police union) debated the case on Morning Report the same day. Phil Goff said he had always been uneasy about the convictions. His primary concern appeared to be that the more bizarre claims made by some children had not been put before the court by the Crown prosecutor because of their potential to damage the credibility of the alleged victims.

Greg O’Connor questioned the objectivity of the 20/20 programme and said it was wrong to resurrect the Ellis case on the basis of such a one-sided programme. His position was, that the matter had been properly dealt with in the High Court and Court of Appeal and that none of the information now being raised was new.

(Report here)

And the controversy is still ongoing. See here

Friday, January 20, 2006

'Doodle' gets high school teen expelled

A kid is punished on a mere suspicion of wrong thoughts. Stalin would understand. So would Orwell

A 16-year-old boy who doodled an alleged gang symbol in his notebook has been expelled from high school in McHenry, Ill. Derek Kelly was expelled for the remainder of the school year Tuesday night during a closed session of the McHenry Community High School District 156 board. The Hispanic teen attended the meeting with his parents, who said he was not a gang member.

The Chicago Tribune reported board officials said a doodle of a crown, a cross and a spider web with the initials "D.L.K." in the middle was a symbol of a street gang. The youth's full name is Derek Leon Kelly. The Latin Kings and the Latin Disciples are rival street gangs. The teen, who has a troubled academic career, had been serving a 10-day suspension for the drawing.

"He needs to be in school. He didn't draw the picture on a wall," Jose Mercado, his stepfather said. "It was in his notebook."

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Thursday, January 19, 2006


How do you compensate someone who spends 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit? How about $800,000, for starters? Under a bill to be proposed in the Legislature, a person wrongfully convicted of a crime would be compensated at the rate of $40,000 a year. The rate would climb to $70,000 for someone on death row. The bill, drafted by Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, also outlines compensation for lost wages, physical and mental health care, and other services necessary for reintegration into society. "If someone is wrongfully convicted, if they spend time in prison and are exonerated, the state would compensate for what happened to them, monetarily," Litvack said Thursday.

He said the bill is not meant to punish the state, but to atone for an error. "It's someone whose life was changed. Their prospects for the future are dimmed. They've lost years off their life," Litvack said. "This is to atone for that and compensate for that."

If the price tag seems high, Utahns can take some comfort in knowing that exonerations are rare. "It isn't going to happen every day," said Jensie Anderson, University of Utah law professor and president of the Salt Lake City-based Rocky Mountain Innocence Center. "But when it does happen, we need to take seriously the time that's been taken away from them."

According to Anderson, Utah had its first exoneration two years ago, when Bruce Dallas Goodman - now 55 - walked out of prison 19 years after he was arrested for fatally beating a 21-year-old Salt Lake City woman. The partly nude and bound body of Sherry Ann Fales Williams was found next to an Interstate 15 on-ramp near Beaver in November 1984. Goodman was convicted in 1986 of second-degree murder and sentenced to five years to life in prison.

Testing of crime scene bodily fluids showed the perpetrator had the same blood type as Goodman, who had been living with Williams in Nevada. But DNA testing last year revealed the fluids were not Goodman's. Prosecutors agreed to Goodman's release, but - pointing to other circumstantial evidence - they won't concede he is innocent of the crime. Because the bill would not be retroactive, Goodman would not benefit by passage of the compensation bill, but Anderson said he is a poster child for such legislation.

Goodman is living a transient lifestyle as he searches for work and tries to reconnect with his three children, who are now adults. "His adjustment has been very difficult," Anderson said. She said there were 328 exonerations between 1989 and 2003 - 145 inmates were exonerated by DNA; 183 were cleared by other sorts of evidence. "Most spent about 10 years in prison," she said. "That's a good chunk of their life taken away."

Anderson said it is impossible for wrongly convicted inmates to simply pick up their lives where they left off because the world has left them behind. Technology has advanced, family members have died or become estranged; and people are not welcoming to ex-cons, even those who have been exonerated. "This law will give them a chance to start over," she said.

The bill is the brainchild of University of Utah law student Heather Harris, who began researching wrongful convictions last spring as part of her course work. "It shocked my conscience how they were treated once they were exonerated," said Harris, who plans to be a criminal defense attorney. "Instead of whining about it, I decided to help with the fight." Harris said at least 20 other states have adopted wrongful-conviction compensation laws.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stolen Innocence : Death penalty foes are easily gulled by vicious murderers

"This man might be innocent; this man is due to die," blared the May 18, 1992, cover of Time magazine. "Roger Keith Coleman was convicted of killing his sister-in-law in 1982. The courts have refused to hear the evidence that could save him." Accompanying the text was a full-cover photo of a shackled Coleman, looking morose in prison garb.

Before Coleman was sent to the electric chair two days later for the rape, stabbing and near-beheading of 19-year-old Wanda McCoy, his protestations of innocence had put an anti-death-penalty PR machine firmly in his corner. This man with a previous history of attempted rape became a cause célèbre telling his woeful tale of justice gone awry. "An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight," he declared before his electrocution.

A dramatic sound bite that proved hollow last week, when new DNA testing ordered by Virginia's Gov. Mark Warner proved Coleman's guilt. James McCloskey of Centurion Ministries, who had spent nearly two decades trying to prove Coleman's innocence, was befuddled, asking the Washington Post: "How can somebody, with such equanimity, such dignity, such quiet confidence, make those his final words even though he is guilty?"

It happens all the time. Killers rally sympathetic activists behind them by using the manipulative skills that are integral to their criminal careers.

Kevin Cooper is an inmate on California's death row who escaped execution on Feb. 9, 2004, when the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a last-minute stay to retest evidence. This evidence withstood that retesting, and other defense arguments have been since shot down in federal district court. The appeals process on those findings is now working its way through the courts, and the earliest he may face execution again--if appeals go in favor of the state--may be late this year.

His case has slipped into the background lately as death-penalty foes stole the airways in hopes of clemency for Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Yet the two murderers share many of the same supporters. As the "Save Tookie" campaign gathered thousands of signatures petitioning for the quadruple killer's clemency, the "Save Kevin Cooper" Web site has been championing his cause and featuring his writings.

Cooper's case is one in which it's hard to imagine anyone jumping on his bandwagon. He was an inmate at the California Institution for Men in Chino, serving time for burglary, when he escaped on June 2, 1983. Two days later he broke into the Chino Hills home of the Ryen family as they were sleeping and killed the parents, Douglas and Peggy, along with 10-year-old Jessica Ryen and 11-year-old Christopher Hughes, a friend of Joshua Ryen, who was the only family member to survive. "The first time I met Kevin Cooper I was 8 years old and he slit my throat," Joshua Ryen testified at an April 22 hearing in U.S. District Court in San Diego. "He hit me with a hatchet and put a hole in my skull. . . . I laid there 11 hours looking at my mother who was right beside me."

But Cooper does not lack supporters: the likes of Jesse Jackson, Mike Farrell, Richard Dreyfuss, Sean Penn and Denzel Washington have come to his defense. One would think that appropriate monikers for Cooper would have career-sensitive celebrities running for the hills: Ax murderer. Child killer. Mass murderer.

It's apparently lost on them that the people they're dealing with are master manipulators. Ted Bundy gave a videotaped interview to James Dobson hours before his 1989 execution in which he blamed his crimes on violent pornography. On the tape, Bundy is in the midst of an emotional monologue when a phone rings in the distance. For the slightest second, Bundy breaks from character and his eyes dart in the direction of the phone, perhaps hoping a stay was waiting on the other end of the line. And just like that, he's back into his emotional testimony on the evils of violent porn. This video was shown in one of my college criminology classes as an example of the offender as a manipulator.

"Offenders who have become adept at manipulating can exert complete control over others, especially children," writes renowned criminal psychologist Eric Hickey in "Serial Murderers and Their Victims." Society still has an image, though, of the dangerous offender carrying on in a continuously depraved manner and incapable of rational discourse or "good deeds." Remember "Coed Killer" Ed Kemper's genius IQ, and his ability to convince a court psychiatrist of his excellent progress, even as a victim's head was in the trunk of his car outside; or serial killer John Wayne Gacy's charitable work with the Jaycees and dressing up as a clown at children's parties.

An anti-death-penalty group's Voices From Inside project lets killers such as Richard Allen Davis--whose murder of little Polly Klaas sparked California's "Three Strikes" law--seek pen pals, inviting God knows who into their manipulative world. "Greetings with a smile," reads Davis's introduction. "Could there be anyone who could take the time to see for themselves, just who I really am."

We shudder at the thought of "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez or Yosemite killer Cary Stayner luring admirers through their court exposure, but how different is that from the flocks who are drawn to the sides of the likes of Williams, Coleman or Cooper to parrot their protestations of innocence despite overwhelming evidence?

And why wouldn't Williams have been a master manipulator? He was a gang leader, which requires a certain arm-twisting ability not only to keep operations running, but to recruit and build ranks. "Save Tookie" coordinator Barbara Becnel became convinced that the convicted murderer was a man on a mission. But was this a mission to save the 'hood or save his hide? Williams refused to cooperate in helping authorities clean up the Crips network. Regardless, like other killers before him, he won over scores who believed in his reformation through his "anti-gang efforts" and prose. "A close look at Williams' post-arrest and post-conviction conduct tells a story that is different from redemption," stated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's clemency denial. And though not a children's book author, Cooper has been writing from behind bars for several years, essays posted on his Web site with sympathetic titles such as "Suffering in Silence" and "Good vs. Evil."

Death-penalty foes could simply cite their general opposition to capital punishment as sufficient reason why they want the likes of Cooper spared, or why they believed executing Williams and Coleman was wrong. But perpetuating conspiracy-laden arguments of framing and innocence cooked up by the offenders shows that their advocates are just caught up in the manipulation, championing unrepentant killers at the expense of their victims. These murderers know exactly what they're doing in chalking up the sympathy to corral their stable of supporters.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006


This case was due for a new hearing about now but no details online yet

A woman, Diane Fleming, has recently been sentenced to 50 years in prison in Troy, Virginia. Her husband, Charles, died of "acute and chronic methanol poisoning," according to the autopsy report. In a two day trial, the jury was persuaded that he was poisoned with methyl alcohol from the windshield washer fluid during festivities for their son's high school graduation; however, it was also admitted that the fluid discovered in the garage was unopened and contained exactly the amount of methanol supposed to be in an unopened and sealed bottle of windshield washer fluid.

That Charles was addicted to aspartame sweetened "diet" drinks, "all he ever drank," which release cumulatively toxic levels of methanol into the bloodstream, was never considered at the trial. That aspartame becomes methanol and formaldehyde when ingested by all humans evidently was not part of the jury's deliberations. That it also precipitates diabetes and interacts with insulin, triggers lupus, birth defects, male sexual dysfunction - can trigger an irregular heart rhythm and interacts with all cardiac medication, damages the cardiac conduction system and causes sudden death., as well as behavioral problems, obesity, ADD, ADHD, depletes serotonin triggering such things as bipolar, suicidal tendencies, mood swings, insomnia, etc. and triggers memory loss and confusion and lack of concentration---not part of the jury's deliberations...

His death occurred in 2000; the trial was in 2002 in Richmond; He had been drinking 10 diet beverages a day, as well as taking a prescription drug, Metrex, had been playing basketball, came home, announced that he was ill, then declined his wife's request to call 911. After he died, his wife called the police, gave them the bottles of Gatorade; she took a lie detector test and the police told her that she answered truthfully. The results were not admissible. Very little of the Prosecution's flawed logic in this two-day trial was effectively questioned by her lawyer.

The medical examiner for the Richmond District, Dr. Marcella Fierro, M.D., apparently chose to reject peer-reviewed documents, affidavits, and articles on methanol toxicity, yet several had indeed been sent to her and handed to her, particularly that of Dr. H.J. Roberts, M.D. He is the author of a 1038 page medical text, ASPARTAME DISEASE; AN IGNORED EPIDEMIC, and he has treated victims of aspartame for 20 years; his date base contains case histories of 1200 aspartame reactions. This could be one of the ultimate horrors of miscarried Justice in America: if an innocent woman is now imprisoned because her husband poisoned himself with a recognized neurotoxic additive which a phalanx of MD's, neurotoxicologists and clinicians have thus identified, because the chief medical examiner states "there is no legitimate scientific basis to conclude that aspartame ingestion played any role in Chuck's methanol poisoning."

The late Morgan Raiford, M.D., an important methanol toxicity specialist who owned the Atlanta Eye Hospital wrote in 1986: "aspartame should be withdrawn from the market place until the Toxic Methyl Alcohol radical has been eliminated. Methyl alcohol has no place in a product to be allowed to be produced by any manufacturer for human use."

Does Dr. Fierro have some reason for not wanting these documents and affidavits to be part of the record? Perhaps they would open up lawsuits regarding aspartame and the fact that its toxicity would be proven and thus become prima facie evidence in later cases? This would be tragic, but certainly correctable by higher courts. Can Dr. Fierro give some other reason to you and your readers? In fact, a spectrographic analysis could have precisely revealed the manufacturer of the methanol!

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Monday, January 16, 2006


The arrogance of the police knows no bounds. And it is an important legal principle that evidence obtained illegally could well be tainted and so should not be admissable in court

Forget the ongoing privacy debate over U.S. government spying on telephone conversations--soon you may not have the right to tell cops to wait until you open your door. In a case involving a private citizen and police authorities of the Midwestern state of Michigan, a team of civil rights lawyers appeared before the Supreme Court this week to challenge the police practice of storming into homes to look for whatever they want as evidence of a crime.

The case was brought before the Court last year by Booker Hudson, a resident of the industrial city of Detroit. Hudson says he was arrested by several police officers after they broke into his home without any warning. Hudson was found guilty of possession of a small quantity of cocaine (found in the pocket of trousers), which led him to serve 18 months of probation, as sentenced by a judge at a local court.

Hudson challenged the verdict and took his case all the way to the Michigan State Supreme Court, arguing that that the evidence used against him by the police was found in violation of his constitutional rights. The court, however, rejected his plea last year in January. Hudson's lawyers argued that police had no right to enter his home without knocking at the door and announcing their presence, which is a requirement under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. "It is undisputed that the police violated the Fourth Amendment by barging into Hudson's home," says David Moran, a law professor at Wayne State University, who appeared before the Supreme Court Monday on Hudson's behalf. The fourth amendment states that, "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." It also notes that warrants shall only be issued once authorities have established "probable cause" and described the people, places, and things to be searched and seized.

In a 1995 Supreme Court opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas stressed that the "knock and announce" rule that Hudson's case rests upon protects the dignity of residents by allowing them a reasonable time to make themselves presentable before the police enter. The rule also protects private property by allowing residents to open doors, rather than having them destroyed by a police battering ram, Thomas said, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who filed an amicus brief in the case last September.

Hudson wants the Supreme Court to reverse the Michigan court's ruling, which embraced the argument that had the search been conducted legally, the evidence against him would have been found anyway. Under this reasoning, Hudson's lawyers say, police would have no incentive to avoid unconstitutional shortcuts--like failing to get a warrant or simply barging into homes--when looking for evidence. Moran and other lawyers representing Hudson say they are hopeful that the Supreme Court will decide the case in their favor by ordering the suppression of evidence against their client. "There is a good reason for the 'knock and announce' requirement," says Kary Moss, another lawyer affiliated with the ACLU. "The Court has always placed a higher priority on the rights of people within their homes." "Michigan's practice has made it too easy to completely disregard those rights," he adds. "We urge the Supreme Court to not allow policy to violate those rights with impunity."

And Hudson's case is not the only one of its kind. Moran, who has taken up several other similar cases, says the issue of the police transgressing their powers in search of criminal evidence is being disputed in courtrooms across the country. "This is a frequently occurring issue," Moran told OneWorld. "This must be stopped." ...

The Supreme Court is expected to make its judgment on Hudson's case in June.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006


A Tennessee murder case debated yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court could set new standards that convicted felons would have to meet in federal court to prove their innocence or at least force a new hearing or trial. The appeal of Paul Gregory House, convicted in the 1985 murder of a neighbor in rural Union County north of Knoxville, is the first time the high court has considered the issue in a case involving new DNA techniques that have exonerated numerous convicts in recent years.

In arguments yesterday, the justices were sharply divided over what the current legal standard is, whether new evidence might prove House is innocent, and even about minute details of evidence in the case. The House case and others at issue are ones in which numerous appeals in state and federal courts have been exhausted. House was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986 based, in part, on the claim by prosecutors that he sexually assaulted Carolyn Muncey before he killed her. The proof, prosecutors said, was that semen on Muncey's clothing matched House's blood type. But new, more precise DNA techniques showed that the semen actually belonged to Muncey's husband, Hubert Muncey Jr. House went to federal court with that and other new evidence — including testimony from Hubert Muncey's friends that he had admitted to the slaying — and asked to be exonerated or at least be given the chance to prove his constitutional rights were violated at his trial.

House's lawyer, Stephen Kissinger of Federal Defender Services of Eastern Tennessee, began his argument to the high court with the new DNA evidence. But he was immediately cut off by Justice Antonin Scalia, who said the fact that Carolyn Muncey's blood was found on House's jeans made the new DNA and other evidence irrelevant. "All of this would have made a better case for the defendant," Scalia said. "Just on the blood thing alone, I find that a difficult burden" to overcome, he said. House is on death row at Riverbend prison in Nashville.

Justice Stephen Breyer, the strongest advocate for House's position, said at one point that he would not have voted to convict House if a trial were held today. On Scalia's contention, Breyer countered that Dr. Cleland Blake, assistant chief medical examiner for Tennessee, had testified the blood on House's jeans came from sample vials collected from the victim during her autopsy. House's attorneys have argued that the blood was either intentionally or accidentally spilled onto the jeans.

Kissinger said the fact that House's trial attorney did not aggressively attack the blood evidence is one example of poor legal representation, a constitutional claim that could win him a new trial. So much time was spent debating the blood that an irritated Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who will soon retire from the high court, asked: "Are we going to discuss other evidence?" Instead, justices parsed the exact meaning of the current mind-twisting standard for getting another crack in the federal courts: "That it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in the light of the new evidence."

Deputy Tennessee Attorney General Jennifer Smith argued that the new evidence fails to "raise sufficient doubt about guilt." Again, Smith was cut off as justices returned to their debate about how the blood got on House's jeans. Smith conceded that some blood spilled out of the vials that were sent for testing, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that testimony showed the spill occurred after the FBI had already tested and found Carolyn Muncey's blood on House's jeans. And Smith said several witnesses testified they saw blood on House's jeans when they were found in his home.

In addition to debating the evidence, several justices pointed out that the new DNA evidence undermined one of the aggravating circumstances — sexual assault — that was the basis for imposing the death penalty.

A decision in the case probably will take several months. And if Judge Samuel Alito, being considered by the Senate, is confirmed to replace O'Connor, the court could decide to rehear arguments in the case.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006


There appears to have been little questioning of the evidence, just endless and specious legal technicalities. But more technicalities are on the drawing board. Great if you are rich garbage!

The state Supreme Court, in a decision to be released today, has upheld the murder conviction of Kennedy kinsman Michael Skakel. Skakel, 45, is serving a sentence of 20 years to life, and has been in prison since a Superior Court jury in Norwalk found him guilty on June 7, 2002. Skakel was convicted of bludgeoning Martha Moxley to death on Oct. 30, 1975, when both were 15 and neighbors in Belle Haven.

The ruling likely means that Skakel's only chances for freedom in the near future rest with a petition for a new trial filed by defense attorney Hope Seeley last summer, based on newly discovered evidence, or on a habeas petition claiming that Skakel's trial lawyer, Mickey Sherman, did not adequately represent him. An appeal of today's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to succeed because Skakel's claims rely predominantly on the trial court's interpretation and application of state laws.

Court officials notified lawyers of the outcome of the appeal yesterday afternoon, but the parties do not yet know the court's rationale for rejecting the numerous issues raised on appeal by attorneys Seeley, Hubert Santos and Steven Ecker. The decision is being released one day shy of a year since the case was argued before the state's highest court. Neither Seeley nor Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano would comment on the decision last night. "I am aware a decision will be released tomorrow," Morano said last night. "I'm awaiting that and don't think it would be appropriate to comment any further." Moxley family members and members of Skakel's family also were notified of the decision.

Dorthy Moxley, Martha's mother, said she had prepared herself for a possible reversal of Skakel's conviction and a second trial, and was thrilled with the court's decision. "Isn't that something," she said. But at age 73, and having crusaded to keep her daughter's memory and case alive, Moxley said she is looking forward to things calming down. "I want Michael to serve his time and that's it," she said. "I just want it all to be quiet and go away. . . I try not to think about it too much, but you can't help but think about it. It's nice to know they upheld the conviction."

In an interview with Greenwich Time last night, Robert F. Kennedy, who has repeatedly proclaimed his cousin's innocence, said "It's a tragedy." Kennedy wrote an article in Atlantic Monthly and went on CBS's "48 Hours Investigates" to defend Skakel. At the time, he told CBS reporter Lesley Stahl, "I'm utterly convinced that he did not do the crime." In his article titled "A Miscarriage of Justice," that ran in the January/February 2003 edition of Atlantic Monthly, Kennedy, a former prosecutor and now a professor of law at Pace University in New York, argued that Skakel's conviction stemed from from a poor job by his attorney and prosecutors who were influenced by celebrities like Dominick Dunne and Mark Fuhrman.

In Skakel's 75-page appeal brief, his lawyers raised numerous challenges, ranging from the admission of tabloid newspapers into evidence to claims of "outrageous" prosecutorial misconduct. Two legal issues have haunted the case since Skakel's arrest in January 2000, at age 39, nearly a quarter-century after the crime. One is the transfer of Skakel's case to adult court on the argument that no appropriate juvenile facilities could accommodate him if he were to be adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court. The defense team contends that that finding was erroneous, and rendered after state officials failed to comply with requirements in place in 1975 that an exhaustive study be conducted of the defendant's family, history and home conditions before a transfer to adult court.

Another compelling issue was whether the legislature had inadvertently put into effect a five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting murder cases at the time Moxley was killed. The prosecution argued that a 1976 bill adopted by the legislature that expressly stated there is no statute of limitations for prosecuting murders cases is a clarifying amendment, not an admission that such a deadline predated the bill.

If Skakel had prevailed on that issue, he could not have been tried a second time. Seeley, in her argument, focused on the statute of limitations issue and the prosecution's failure to turn over to defense lawyers a composite drawing of a man seen by a Belle Haven security guard walking near the crime scene. The defense also challenged the testimony of Skakel's classmates at a school for troubled teens in Maine, where Skakel was sent soon after the killing. The school's "treatment" program at the time involved both physical and verbal abuse, the witnesses said, and some of the self-incriminating statements attributed by witnesses to Skakel occurred while he was in these treatment sessions. "The most damaging evidence presented against Michael Skakel at trial were statements supposedly made by him under conditions of shocking brutality," the brief stated.

Skakel's lawyers also challenged the prosecution's dramatic courtroom use of a tape-recorded interview Skakel did with a ghostwriter in 1997, in which he talks about the night Moxley was killed, combined with projected images of Moxley both dead and alive. Fairfield State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict's final argument at one point drew an audible gasp from the packed courtroom, when Skakel's words were played against the backdrop of a crime scene photo.

Prosecutors in their brief countered that the defense team had misrepresented the final argument. "The state's use of audio and photographic exhibits during argument was a matter of effective advocacy," Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill wrote in her brief to the high court. Gill also rebutted the defense contention that a statute of limitations was ever imposed on murder cases. This issue was viewed by many as Skakel's strongest claim, in part because the court in recent decades has handed down three complex and seemingly conflicting rulings on the topic.

Martha Moxley was struck so hard on the head with a golf iron from a set of clubs owned by the Skakel family that the shaft shattered. She was last seen in the Skakels' driveway not far from her home about 9:30 p.m., hanging around with a group of friends. She is believed to have been killed between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. as she crossed into her side yard. Her body was dragged beneath a large tree in her yard and discovered by a friend about noon the next day.

Skakel is the nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 when he was running for president. Skakel grew up alongside a bevy of Kennedy cousins, and his murder case drew international media attention. Greenwich police in 1976 drafted an arrest warrant application charging Skakel's brother, Thomas, who was 17 at the time of the crime, with murder. Prosecutors refused to put it before a judge, however, citing insufficient evidence. Moxley's murder remained unsolved for nearly a quarter-century. Skakel is being held at the MacDougall Correctional Institution in Suffield

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Sin bin for rogue witnesses

It seems that Britain's Sir Roy Meadow has equivalents in Australia

A sport-style system of red and yellow cards is being considered to deal with rogue expert witnesses whose eccentric or irrational views are skewing medical negligence cases. Retired medical experts can earn tens of thousands of dollars each time they testify about whether other doctors' treatments were negligent. Their role has been mired in renewed controversy after an Australian study suggested last week that some obstetricians were being unfairly blamed for cases of cerebral palsy - a condition behind 60 per cent ofnegligence payouts in obstetric cases. The research found that some cases of cerebral palsy could be caused by a virus shortly before or after birth. Traditionally, oxygen starvation during birth was thought to be the main culprit.

Alastair MacLennan, leader of the South Australian Cerebral Palsy Research Group, which published the findings in the British Medical Journal, blamed the courts' willingness to find doctors at fault for cerebral palsy partly on "hired-gun expert witnesses" prepared to make groundless claims that the injury could have been avoided. He has proposed the red-card scheme as a way to bring errant experts to heel. Under the plan, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists would audit and train expert witnesses, and monitor their opinions for statements deemed impractical, dangerous or extreme. Those giving evidence without being registered, or giving opinions not backed by the college, would receive a warning, and a steeper penalty such as loss of college membership on a repeat offence.

"Several of the American colleges have this red card, yellow card system, and anecdotally I am told this is reining in some of the more rogue expert witnesses," Professor MacLennan said. "In Australia at the moment, they can say what the hell they like, which is a real worry. It's fairly easy to fool a judge who's never judged a cerebral palsy case before."

The chairman of the RANZCOG's medico-legal committee, Robert Lyneham, said the college was considering the plan, and was developing its own proposals to allow obstetricians to register as expert witnesses and receive training.

Professor MacLennan said fewer than 1 per cent of cerebral palsy cases were caused during birth. Two international expert panels had agreed that proving the cause was a sudden deprivation of oxygen during labour - something that could be blamed on an obstetrician - would require nine specific pieces of evidence, but rogue experts ignored these, he said. "There's no policing of medico-legal opinion - people in their retirement can sit and give outrageous opinions without peer review, and do," he said. "They're often quite out of touch, and in particular in cerebral palsy they almost never mention the modern literature. "What we're looking for is nine pieces of objective evidence, not somebody saying, 'Oh, this baby was crook at delivery, it must be due to a bad delivery and in my opinion it would not have had cerebral palsy half an hour beforehand'."

Another prominent obstetrician, David Molloy, said there was "a very difficult group of known rogue expert witnesses" who could not currently be dealt with any other way than to discredit their views in court. "There's a very substantial amount of money being made by a small group of doctors, when, in many cases, it's been a decade since they laid hands on a patient," he said.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Innocent but presumed guilty

How many homes are broken by Britain's closed and secretive family courts? Frighteningly, we don't know

THE 1990 ROCHDALE abuse scandal, brilliantly documented last night in Real Story on BBC One, is one of the most extreme in the lexicon of social service disasters. One minute a little boy is telling ghost stories, the next he finds himself in care amid rumours of satanic abuse. Even when a judge throws out the case, he is kept in care for ten more years, because the social workers change their story and claim that his parents are unfit.

We all hope that things have changed since then. But the almost complete censorship of what goes on in the world of "child protection" makes it impossible to know even how many cases go through the family courts. And 15 years on, the BBC's court battle to identify the Rochdale social workers shows that the professionals still close ranks just as they always did.

The full Rochdale story is only being told because the children are now over 16 and are free to cry out against the social workers who refused to tell them why they were in care, or why they could see their parents for only an hour a month. Rochdale Council claimed that the social workers could not be named because to do so would hurt the children. The mantra of "child privacy" was used to protect the professionals. Now that the children have gone public, the council argues that the BBC is wrong to broadcast something that might put people off social work. Right.

To acknowledge that decent people make mistakes, as the Rochdale judge did in 1991, is not to "demonise" social workers. It is to lessen the likelihood of miscarriages of justice that tear innocent families apart. Family courts, which operate in camera, generally have a lower standard of proof than criminal courts, because they cannot send people to jail. But to lose your children, and for them to lose you, is a life sentence of another kind.

In the past year I have been approached by several parents who have had children taken away. Even those who managed to get them back are still too frightened to talk publicly. They describe what it is like to find yourself on the other side of a one-way mirror, innocent but presumed guilty, by professionals who are almost completely unaccountable. Your instinct is to cry for help, but you are told that talking to anyone could jeopardise your case. It is impossible for me to judge the merit of these cases, since I am not permitted to read the legal papers. Even if I could, I suspect that not all would be clear-cut.

The courts struggle daily to weave solid judgments from the strands of frayed, imperfect relationships. But what is unbearable is the bewilderment and helplessness of parents who can be plunged overnight into a world of acronyms, key workers, guardians, counsellors, summonses, complex reports and, for many, an ever-changing cast of legal aid solicitors who are always rushing to the next case.

A mother (I shall call her Sarah) entered this world voluntarily, when she began to suspect that her daughter was being abused by her former parter, father of the girl. She approached social services for help. But they ended up taking her daughter away from her, and placing her with the very man she had accused. I have heard only her side of the extraordinary story. The expert psychiatrist appointed by the court decided that Sarah had coached her daughter to make false allegations - something that is not unknown. But he did so without ever having met Sarah, her daughter or the boyfriend her daughter accused. He never appeared in court to be cross-examined. He merely watched the police video of her daughter's interview and posted his report. Yet the judge apparently considered this a sufficient basis on which to take Sarah's daughter away.

The business of interviewing young children about abuse allegations is an extremely delicate one. It has become more sophisticated since Daniel dreamt about ghosts in Rochdale in 1990. Children are rarely put through more than two interviews at most, to spare them the trauma and to lessen the likelihood of embellishment. The language they use is analysed to see, for example, whether the words they use are too mature for their age and likely to have been suggested to them. But in the end professionals have to make notoriously tricky judgments. And they are not always right.

Sarah is now desperate. She believes her daughter is living with an abuser. Sarah has been offered no counselling, though that would surely be a logical outcome of the court's conclusion. She communicates with her daughter only by postcards, some of which have been returned by social workers as unsuitable. In a situation that would make me physically sick with fury and fear, she still does not look like the unstable liar she is accused of being.

It is not surprising that a judge would rely upon an expert that they knew. But insulating child protection professionals so completely does increase the likelihood that they will sometimes reinforce in one another a mistaken view. The veil of secrecy also spawns a host of rumours. I know mothers who have not taken their child to A&E after a minor accident, for fear of some spurious allegation being made against them. I know mothers who have stopped themselves admitting the extent of their post-natal depression, when they saw a certain look in the doctor's eye.

The media has been kept out of the family justice system to stop prying eyes making delicate situations even messier. But the secrecy is too complete. In 2004 Mr Justice Munby said: "We cannot afford to proceed on the blinkered assumption that there have been no miscarriages of justice in the family justice system. This is something that has to be addressed with honesty and candour if the family justice system is not to suffer further loss of public confidence."

Allowing journalists into family courts, even on a restricted reporting basis, could make both sides more honest. It could give the innocent a chance to cry for help and be heard. The media must keep its mouth shut much of the time but we should let it keep its eyes open, not only to what happened 15 years ago, but also to what may be happening today.

(From The Times)

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Friends and colleagues of the murdered American editor of the Russian Forbes magazine criticised the trial of his alleged murderers, which opened yesterday, as a whitewash that was closed to the public and press. The investigative journalist, Paul Klebnikov, 41, was shot eight times outside his Moscow office on July 9, 2004, in the first contract killing of a Western journalist in Russia. Two men yesterday pleaded not guilty to his murder.

One of the last people to see Mr Klebnikov alive, Alexander Gordeyev, the deputy editor of Russian Newsweek, denounced the trial as “a cover-up involving state officials”. He said: “This should have been the most open case possible. The fact the court will be closed helps the real murderers.” Two Chechen men, Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, are being tried for the murder, which the general prosecutor’s office argues was a contract hit ordered by the fugitive Chechen warlord Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev in revenge for a book that Mr Klebnikov published about him in 2003. A third man, Fail Sadretdinov, is accused of helping to arrange the killing.

Mr Gordeyev said that the dying Mr Klebnikov had told him that he was shot by a Russian, not by a Caucasian, and that he had twice given evidence of this to the prosecutor. “There’s no logic for Paul to be killed for a previous story. I think it was something he was working on at that time which got him killed,” Mr Gordeyev said. Friends and colleagues say that they do not know what stories Mr Klebnikov was working on when he was killed. His computer and files were taken away by the Interior Ministry to help with its investigation.

The Klebnikov family said that it was very disappointed that the trial was closed to the public. The murdered journalist’s brother, Michael Klebnikov, said: “We argued very strongly for an open trial in court in December. If the case had been open, it would have been a very important occasion for Russian people.”

The US State Department also strongly urged that the trial be open, officials at the US Embassy in Moscow said. However, the judge turned down the appeal of the family and the US Government, saying the court had to be closed to protect state secrets. Mr Klebnikov grew up in the US but moved to Russia in 2004 to become editor of the Russian language version of Forbes. He believed that, under President Putin, a new era of transparency was dawning in Russia and that the Russian Forbes would play an important role in that process

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

SOCIAL WORKER EVIL: stolen childhoods

Sixteen years after false claims of satanic abuse in Rochdale, the children involved can at last talk about their ordeal. Carol Midgley meets a brother and sister who still bear the scars of being taken from their family and spending much of their lives in "care"

Daniel has only hazy memories of the day that his childhood effectively ended. He vaguely recalls, at the age of 6, being taken to the head teacher's office at school, of strangers arriving and taking him away in a car. He remembers sitting in a small room filled with toys as a social worker asked him endless questions, of pleading for his mother but instead being taken that night to a Catholic children's home where they put him in a bath and scrubbed him with nailbrushes. He didn't know it then, but he would not return home for another ten years.

Though the details of these early events are fragmented in his mind, the memory of his tearful bewilderment and desperate longing to go home remains vivid. Today Daniel, a tall, pleasant but anxious young man of 22, is still uncomprehending and very angry. Incredibly, he was forced to live in care between the ages of 6 and 16, torn from his distraught parents, despite a judge ruling that there was no evidence that he was being abused.

But that is not the worst of what happened to his family. The full story beggars belief. Thanks to the zealousness - some called it obsessiveness - of a handful of social workers in Rochdale, Lancashire, Daniel's parents, Andrew and Beverley, were wrongly accused of involvement in a Satanic abuse network, a cult that supposedly involved ritualistic sex with minors, the slaughter of animals and the sacrifice of newborn babies. All four of their children were taken from them.

Three months later, in June 1990, 12 more children, all friends of Daniel, his sister and the family, were taken from their beds in traumatic morning raids, forced to endure intimate medical examinations and placed in care for months while investigations were conducted. During this time, bizarre though it seems, parents and children were kept apart because social workers suspected that they were communicating secretly with their children via coded signals and gestures.
Andrew and Beverley's other sons, James and Matthew, then 3 and 4, spent seven years in a children's home. Their daughter Julie, then 11, spent five years in care. Andrew and Beverley were allowed to see their children for just an hour a month, monitored by social workers. Contact with Daniel was reduced gradually from an hour a month to an hour a year.

Yet there was never any proof - forensic, medical or otherwise - to support claims of ritual abuse against any of the families, and the case remains one of the most scandalous misjudgments by a British social services department. The "evidence"? It was this: Daniel told his teacher that he was dreaming about ghosts - apparently a mummy and daddy ghost and a baby ghost that died. He was at the time a withdrawn, disturbed child, often hiding under desks and being disruptive. His speech was poor for his age. This, says Beverley, led to him being bullied. The teacher was concerned enough to alert social services.

Unfortunately for residents of the Langley council estate in Rochdale, this coincided with a particular climate in Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s in which social workers were being trained to spot "satanic indicators" - signs that a child was suffering ritual abuse - after a spate of alleged cases in America. Social workers interpreted Daniel's "ghosts" as being his abusers. They read his fantasies of being locked in a cage as reality - evidence of satanic abuse - and pursued the notion with a vigour that Professor Elizabeth Newson, an expert witness in the case, describes as unhealthy single-mindedness.

Now, for the first time, Daniel, his siblings and the other children whose lives were wrecked by the scandal can speak publicly about their experience after the BBC successfully challenged a longstanding injunction that gagged them and prevented the media from identifying the two key social workers involved in the case, Jill France and Susan Hammersley. Both still work in child protection. It also obtained social services ' original video-recorded interviews with the children - a legal precedent - which can be seen in a documentary tomorrow night.

One child, Caroline, then 6, is seen being so distraught throughout her "interview" that the judge said it was one of the most abiding and disturbing parts of the case. As many of those children, now adults, say, the only abuse they suffered was at the hands of the authorities.

When I meet Daniel, he is in his parents' house (they still live on the same estate), drinking tea and struggling for words to describe how those lost years have scarred him. He finds talking about his fractured upbringing harrowing and there is a palpable air of sadness about him. "I lack the confidence that everyone else seems to have," he says. "I find it hard to strike up conversations with people. I've missed such a lot." How would he describe his childhood in care? "Unhappy."

The first time Daniel heard that suspected satanic abuse and his dreams were at the root of his family's nightmare was when he was 16 and left foster care to return to his mother. He had spent ten years in a fog of uncertainty, never told the specifics of the case or allowed to read newspaper reports of it. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "At the time I didn't understand what was happening. I had no idea. I kept asking if I could go back home and they just said `No, it's not safe for you,' they didn't explain more than that. I didn't believe it but they are in control of you, there's nothing you can do. But I always wanted to go home. Always."

His social workers were not even consistent in their explanations. When he was about 12, Daniel, still totally in the dark, asked a social worker why he was in care. "I remember her saying that it was because of me," he says. "Nothing else, just that." It was a particularly cruel statement, given a child's propensity to feel responsible for problems in the family.

He and Julie were placed in one children's home, James and Matthew in another. Julie, now 26 and a carer in a nursing home, recalls social workers refusing to let them take any toys or clothes from home. "They took the clothes we were wearing and threw them away," she says. "I'd got a new coat for my birthday and they put it in the bin, saying it was filthy."

When police raided the house they took as "evidence" a cross that Julie had made from two lollipop sticks, and a religious wall plaque that she had given her mother, portraying Jesus on the Cross, which bore the words "God bless our home" and featured a small well for holy water. It was later alleged that this had been used to hold blood. It is still on the family's wall.

Julie winces at the memory of the medical examination she underwent in hospital to determine whether she had been sexually abused (it was negative). "I felt sick. Invaded," she says. She, too, had no inkling of the satanic abuse allegations and wasn't told why she was being examined.

After a few years in the children's home Daniel and Julie went to a foster home in Stockport until, unable to bear it any longer, she walked out at 16 and went home to her parents. It felt, she says, the most right and natural thing in the world. But she still feels the stigma following her. "Being a kid in care is hard," she says. "When people at school asked why I was with foster parents I'd just say that my real parents were ill. "It makes you wonder about the way people look at you, what they think about you. I'm still not as confident as I should be; I tend to keep myself to myself. I don't know if we'll ever get over it."

More here

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Monday, January 09, 2006


Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor's decision last week to order a retrial for a defendant convicted of sodomizing a minor - following the acquittal of another man who was accused of similar crimes by the same minor - would not have been made 10 years ago. In 1996, the laws governing the courts were changed, and a new reason joined the "classic" reasons for retrials, such as a court ruling that a significant piece of evidence was actually a lie or a forgery. The reason: if the president of the Supreme Court or another judge appointed by the president finds "there is a real suspicion that a conviction would be a miscarriage of justice." That was the reasoning Naor used in her decision.

Up until the amendment, a retrial depended on new evidence that was not presented during the original trial, could not have been presented during that trial, and could have caused a different outcome in the trial. A committee headed by then-justice Eliezer Goldberg noted in a 1994 report that the law took too narrow a perspective in the reasons it gave for allowing a retrial. As the committee said, the law did not have an answer, for example, to cases where a defending attorney failed "because he or she did not accord the proper importance to a piece of existing evidence" or because the defendant's lawyer did not ask an important question. The committee said that the accused is the one who suffers from the lawyer's misdemeanor and as a result, "a new population of people who cannot get an experienced lawyer to provide a comprehensive defense" is harmed.

The committee's position, which emphasized the need to expand the reasons for retrials, motivated the Knesset to legislate a "reasons basket" based on the concern that some convictions constitute a "miscarriage of justice" for some defendants. This decision came also in light of the reduced confidence in the guarantees against unwarranted convictions. But this was not enough to change the law. Much depends on the Supreme Court's interpretation of the degree of the "real suspicion" and what is included in "miscarriage of justice," which justifies a retrial. In the period directly after the law was amended, the Supreme Court found it difficult to internalize the amendment made by the Knesset, which enables calling a retrial for a judicial "overview" of the entire process, with no need for new evidence.

Over time, in light of the criticism of the court's readiness to accept defendants' confessions without independent external evidence, the Supreme Court began to take seriously its authority to order a retrial. In ordering a retrial for Amos Baranes because of inappropriate behavior by the police during its inquiry, then-justice Dalia Dorner emphasized that under the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, the importance of due process overrides the importance of the finality of the judicial process.

Even if it is clear that the retrial is not another appeal process and is "extraordinary and unusual" as Court President Aharon Barak said in 2003 when denying Arye Deri a retrial, it is clear that the retrial has become part and parcel of the Israeli legal system. This welcome trend, which has also become part of the British and Australian approach, shows there is a recognition that the legal system is not immune to mistakes.

The fact that in the last four months the Supreme Court has decided on four retrials is evidence of openness on its part, but this also raises questions in at least some of the cases about the sturdiness of the grounds for convictions. The reasons for retrial justify examinations, a kind of retrial of the entire law enforcement system - police, prosecution and judiciary - by a committee of experts in criminal law.

Justice Naor, with her detailed, reasoned decision, took an important step for the institution of retrial in its entirety. She saw a reason for a retrial because of " a real worry about a miscarriage of justice" when another defendant was acquitted based on evidence provided by the same complainant who brought about the conviction of the man now up for retrial, despite the fact that the alleged acts were not committed at the same time. The justice found that the concern for miscarriage of justice in the "reasons basket" includes cases in which the accused did not win thorough and professional defense in the original trial.

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