Friday, March 31, 2006


Hundreds of rapists are escaping justice because of the continuing confusion over the issue of consent and a court environment hostile to victims. In an attempt to boost stubbornly low rape conviction rates, video tapes of distraught rape victims describing attacks to police just hours after being assaulted are to be allowed in court. The plan comes as a report published today reveals a “lottery” on whether a rape allegation ends in a court conviction.

Ministers are alarmed that conviction rates remain low and that some rapists are escaping justice, particularly when victims have been drinking. Mike O’Brien, QC, the Solicitor-General, said: “An awful lot of people who are committing rapes are getting away with it.” Fiona Mactaggart, a Home Office minister, said: “There is clear evidence that the mismatch between convictions and reports suggests that there are people who have raped who don’t get convicted.”

The Government wants to allow video film of traumatised women and men reporting details of their attacks to be shown as evidence to ensure that jurors understand the full enormity of the crime. The plan was announced yesterday as part of a package of proposals to increase the number of suspects convicted of rape in England and Wales. Only 1 in 20 rape allegations in 2004 ended in a guilty verdict and thousands of cases were dropped before prosecution.

Other proposals include allowing experts to give evidence about a rape victim’s general behaviour after the attack. This will allow expert witnesses to explain why traumatised women sometimes delay reporting a rape. Ministers will also examine whether greater legal protection should be offered to those who are unable to consent to sex because of alcohol or drug use. At the moment a person is deemed incapable of giving consent if asleep or unconcious but the legal position is unclear when the victim in conscious but judgment is clouded by drink or drugs.

Ministers also want to permit “hearsay” evidence about when victims report attacks to friends but not to police. Yesterday’s proposals follow a case last November when a student was acquitted of raping another student who had been drinking on the ground that “drunken consent is still consent”. It raised fears that rapists might target “binge-drinking” women in the knowledge that they were unlikely to face trial.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006


The following is something that has not hit the media at all, other than a story in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record that simply repeated FBI propaganda about this awful case. Harrisonburg, Virginia happens to have one of the largest enclaves of Iraqi Kurdish population in the US. They all came in the late 1990s to flee from Saddam Hussein's regime after working for pro-US NGOs and having their lives threatened. They applauded at the fall of Saddam.

However, four of them have been arrested for transferring funds to their families and charitable organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan without a license, a felony offense under the Patriot Act and the act to keep Cubans from sending money to their relatives in Cuba. One has been convicted in a trial in which most of the evidence was not allowed and in which the FBI suggested that the defendant was a terrorist. These people were cowed into not talking to the media, and now they are all in deep trouble. Their homes have been raided, their money seized, even things like medical insurance cards (with one wife pregnant), applications for citizenship are off, they are facing deportation, and so on. They were assigned a Croatian translator for the court. There is a serious string of outrages associated with this with no coverage by any serious media. The FBI agent in charge even told them, "I know you are not the bad guys, but too much paperwork has gone forward on this."

If you are interested in helping these people out, the following are contacts.

Kakahama Askery and Christi Kramer

Mike Medley

Eileen Magruder

Ruth Stoltzfus Jost

Unfortunately this is what we are coming to in America right now, the FBI trying to prove it is fighting terrorism after all the revelations of its incompetence, and violating peoples' human rights.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006


One is reminded of the failed Federal prosecutions against other big-business targets -- such as Richard Scrushy and Arthur Anderson

Kenneth Lay, the former chairman of Enron, and Jeff Skilling, his former chief executive, left a court in Houston smiling and waving last night after the judge in the fraud case against them ordered several of the charges to be dropped. Judge Sim Lake ordered three of the charges against Mr Skilling and one against Mr Lay to be dropped because US government prosecutors had failed to provide sufficient evidence to uphold them in 32 days of testimony. The decision was seen as a big victory for the pair, even though Mr Skilling still faces twenty-eight counts and Mr Lay six.

The judge said that the charges against Mr Skilling that were dropped related to allegations of securities fraud and of lying to auditors about events in the first quarter of 2000. Prosecutors did not present any evidence that dealt with that period [!!!]. The dropped charge of securities fraud against Mr Lay was linked to a conference call with investors and analysts that took place in November 2001. The order to drop the charges came after the US Government rested its prosecution against the pair, which included evidence from 22 witnesses, most of whom were former Enron workers.

While the pair still face decades in jail if found guilty of the remaining charges against them, the decision to drop some of the allegations gives their lawyers a powerful new line of argument. It is expected that lawyers acting for Mr Lay and Mr Skilling will seize upon the dropped charges when the defence opens next Monday morning as evidence that US government prosecutors filed trumped-up charges as part of an ongoing vendetta against the senior Enron executives. Messrs Lay and Skilling have maintained their innocence since the trial in Texas began last month.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006


A nightclubber was falsely charged with assault after a former soldier died in police custody, a court has ruled. Humberside Police officers wanted to "deflect potential criticism" over the death of Falklands veteran Christopher Alder, Sheffield County Court heard. Mr Alder choked to death at a Hull police station on 1 April 1998.

Jason Paul was awarded 30,500 pounds damages after a jury heard he tried to stop a fight between Mr Alder and another man on the night the ex-paratrooper died. Mr Paul was arrested on suspicion of murder the next day when he reported to police voluntarily as a potential witness. He was subsequently charged with GBH with intent before the Crown Prosecution Service accepted in June that he had nothing to do with the tragedy.

The two-week civil hearing, which ended on Friday, was Mr Paul's second attempt at claiming false imprisonment and malicious prosecution against Humberside Police. In 2003 a judge dismissed the case on the grounds there was no factual evidence of police deceit, but the Court of Appeal overturned his ruling and ordered another trial in March of the next year.

The eight-strong jury ruled in favour of Mr Paul on a series of questions posed by the judge. They agreed unanimously that it was "more likely than not that the police charged (Mr Paul) with causing GBH with intent to deflect potential criticism of the circumstances of Christopher Alder's death". They also decided by a margin of seven to one that it was "more likely than not that the instruction to arrest for murder was given to deflect potential criticism of the circumstances of Christopher Alder's death".

Outside court, Mr Paul said: "I am relieved that after eight years my name has been cleared. "A jury of my peers has publicly recognised that I was wrongly arrested on suspicion of murder and then charged for GBH with intent because the police needed a scapegoat to avoid potential criticism of the circumstances of the death in police custody of Christopher Alder. "I wish the Alder family success with their continuing fight for justice against Humberside Police."

Five officers - Sgt John Dunn and Pcs Neil Blakey, Mark Ellerington, Nigel Dawson and Matthew Barr - were cleared of Mr Alder's manslaughter and misconduct in 2002, even though an inquest had concluded that he was unlawfully killed. At least four have now retired.

Humberside Police were refused permission to appeal the verdict, but could petition the Court of Appeal directly. A spokeswoman for the force said: "We are now considering the full implications of the case and will contemplate our future legal position."

In 2004 a BBC TV programme featured CCTV footage of Mr Alder dying with his trousers around his ankles, while a group of officers chatted nearby. His sister, Janet, has led a campaign to have a public inquiry set up to investigate her brother's death

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Monday, March 27, 2006

*Department of Coercion

Say you run a financial services firm that markets tax shelters to wealthy clients. Although the shelters are aggressive, you firmly believe they're legal. Indeed, you have sent one of your tax partners to testify before Congress to that effect. The IRS hasn't challenged the shelters in court, and no court has declared them to be illegal. Nevertheless, the Department of Justice has opened an investigation of your firm for tax fraud and indicted the partner who testified before Congress.

As a responsible executive, what should you do? Instruct corporate counsel to conduct an internal investigation to ensure that no law has been broken? Have the legal department begin to work on the corporation's defense? Enter into a joint defense agreement with the partner under indictment? Advance the partner's legal fees in accordance with the company's policy of supporting employees sued for employment related actions?

Or should you have the corporation accept responsibility for tax fraud, officially declare that several of your tax partners engaged in unlawful conduct, refuse to enter into a joint defense agreement or advance the legal fees of any of these partners, fire those who refuse to cooperate with the government, waive the firm's attorney-client and work product privileges, disclose all information that may incriminate your employees to the government, and agree to pay a several hundred million dollar fine? This, surprisingly, is the answer. Under current federal law and Department of Justice policy, it would be irresponsible management to attempt to defend the corporation or its employees.

The Thompson Memorandum spells out DOJ policy regarding indictments of corporations; and the federal Organizational Sentencing Guidelines determine the size of the corporation's fine if convicted. Both consider how thoroughly the corporation monitors the behavior of its employees through its compliance program, and whether the corporation is willing to "cooperate" with the government. That's the rub -- because cooperation is defined in terms of "the corporation's willingness to identify the culprits within the corporation, ... to make witnesses available; to disclose the complete results of its internal investigations; and to waive attorney-client and work product privileges." Retaining suspected employees without sanction, advancing their legal fees and entering into joint defense agreements with them is evidence of lack of cooperation.

The Arthur Andersen case showed that an indictment can itself be a corporate death sentence. And corporations which do survive to stand trial can face potentially ruinous fines if convicted. Responsible managers will therefore do all they can to avoid either. But under the memorandum and the guidelines, the only way to avoid corporate indictment and reduce the firm's financial exposure is to help the government prosecute your firm's employees.

This situation confronts ethical business people with many difficult dilemmas. For example, most corporations solicit sensitive information from their employees by promising to keep communications made through employee "hotlines," or pursuant to the firm's attorney-client privilege, confidential. But whenever such communications suggests possible criminal activity within the firm, the corporation must disclose it to the government or risk indictment and increased fines. The responsible manager must then chose between protecting the corporation and reducing its promise of confidentiality to a fraud.

Worse, conscientious managers cannot escape the dilemma by refusing to make a promise of confidentiality that they know they will have to breach. For by doing so, they would willingly forgo one of the most effective means of monitoring employee conduct. And under the Thompson Memorandum and guidelines, this would constitute a failure to have an effective compliance program, which would itself increase the firm's exposure to indictment and enhanced penalties.

Similarly, managers who believe that they are ethically bound to respect their employees' privacy must somehow square this obligation with the injunction to engage in sufficient "monitoring and auditing to detect criminal conduct."

Finally, the minimal demands of justice seem to require that employees be accorded a modicum of due process and not be subjected to adverse action in the absence of adequate evidence of guilt. But both the Thompson Memorandum and the guidelines require that a corporation accept responsibility for criminal conduct to be regarded as cooperating. Since corporations act only through their employees, accepting responsibility means declaring that its employees violated the law. How can managers give their employees a presumption of innocence while simultaneously declaring them guilty? How can they ensure that their employees receive due process while firing them if they choose to mount a defense, refusing to advance their attorney's fees, and becoming part of the government's prosecution team?

By coercing businesses into enlisting as deputy law enforcement agents, the government has decided to prosecute its war on white collar crime in a way that pits corporations against their own employees. This may make prosecutors' jobs easier, but it is a poor way to encourage more ethical corporate behavior. Despite what DOJ may think, there is more to ethics than helping its prosecutors collect scalps.

Incidentally, my initial hypothetical is not a fanciful one. KPMG recently agreed to pay $456 million to avoid indictment for marketing tax shelters that have never been shown to be illegal. It also waived its attorney-client and work product privileges and is helping the government prosecute 17 of its former employees, including a tax partner it sent to testify before Congress. This help includes providing the government with all incriminating evidence in its possession and firing and refusing to advance the attorney's fees of employees who defend themselves rather than cooperate with prosecutors. It also includes agreeing not to retain employees who say anything inconsistent with the indicted employees' guilt, something that neatly precludes the accused from obtaining defense witnesses.

Legally, KPMG is on good grounds in taking these actions. Ethically, the case is considerably less clear.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Vicious Irish killer allowed to stay in Australia

No doubt he will be on the streets again in a few years

This man was returned to Melbourne's streets after serving just a year in jail for torturing a woman for 12 hours in front of her children. Instead of being deported home to Northern Ireland after his release, Francis John McCullagh was allowed to stay. His freedom cost another young mother, Melanie Ann Harden, her life on September 11, 1999. Yesterday a jury took 2 1/2 hours to convict him of Ms Harnden's murder -- for a third time.

McCullagh pleaded not guilty, claiming he was so drug-crazed after a three-day binge that he didn't know what he was doing. Two other juries quickly rejected his defence -- one in an hour, one in just 35 minutes -- but he won retrials on technicalities.

Belfast-born McCullagh, 36, strangled Ms Harnden and dumped her body in the bush near Skye after an argument about a missing Celtic cross his grandmother had given him. At the time he had 47 assault convictions and was on parole for brutally attacking an ex-girlfriend. He was also on the run from police after breaching the parole by brawling with hotel bouncers. An arrest warrant was issued but police couldn't find him.

McCullagh, formerly of Swan Walk, Chelsea, is not an Australian citizen but has spent much of his life here. He said he had been taking amphetamines, cannabis and ecstasy and had not slept for three days when he killed Ms Harnden, 21, as they drove to an engagement party. His lawyer, Damian Sheales, said he was guilty of manslaughter by a dangerous and unlawful act, not of murder because he had not been able to intentionally kill or seriously harm Ms Harnden. The prosecution said he was alert enough to drive, to tie up the body and to hide it in scrub.

He was released from jail in April 1998 after serving 12 months of a two-year sentence for a vicious 12-hour attack on his de facto wife in front of their three children. He re-offended just months after being freed. Ms Harnden, the mother of a young daughter, weighed just 48kg [110lb]. "I just grabbed her and was pulling her hair . . . All I remember is choking her and she stopped f------ breathing," McCullagh told police. Justice Betty King remanded McCullagh in custody for a pre-sentence hearing today.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Spitzer's Rotten Call

Someone needs to explain to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's gubernatorial- campaign brainiacs that class warfare only works as a political tactic when you attack rich people. Spitzer's latest suit - against H&R Block, America's neighborhood tax preparer doesn't qualify.

Sure, Block is a large and very visible company. But Spitzer isn't claiming Block's officers cooked their books or helped hedge-fund billionaires make a few more million. No, the assault is over the company's "Express IRA" program - which lets folks with low incomes start putting away modest amounts of money into tax-protected retirement accounts.

Yes, Block created a way for hundreds of thousands of lower-income Americans to open Individual Retirement Accounts and begin saving for the first time. Many of these folks have never saved a dime for retirement. But thanks to H&R Block, they can take the first step toward a brighter future.

But Spitzer wants $250 million from H&R Block - because a few Express IRA owners lost money. (The vast majority, of course, continue to gain.) Yet the "victims" typically lost because they closed their accounts prematurely - a step all IRA owners are never advised to take - or made extremely small deposits. Moreover, their average loss was just $23.

No IRA owner - at any level of investment - can expect a guaranteed rate of return. And every IRA owner must expect to pay a fee to the company running the account. So, yes, a few will come out behind. That's investing, not fraud. Plus, Block's Express IRA program has earned considerable praise - including from the Aspen Institute and the New York Times editorial board - since it began. And Block has actually lost money by providing this service to low-income taxpayers. (Presumably, it sees it as a smart investment in goodwill from future customers.)

But New York's eternally campaigning attorney general isn't one to be slowed when there are headlines to be grabbed. So he went after Block, saying the company hadn't adequately disclosed its fees and falsely claimed it offered solid interest rates. Poppycock. Block clearly disclosed its fees in a number of places. And it company actually subsidized the interest rates it offered - making Express IRA rates better than what competitors offered for similar accounts.

Lost in all of Spitzer's rhetoric is the fact that many of the people who took out Express IRAs would never have started saving if not for H&R Block. The minimum investment is only $300. Try walking into a Wall Street brokerage to open an account that small - you'd be laughed all the way down the mahogany-paneled corridors and back onto the street. Go to an H&R Block office, and you get the chance to invest, save and increase your net worth through the same tax-favored means that individuals from Eliot Spitzer to Warren Buffet use for their own families.

Reportedly, Block tried to reach a cost-effective settlement with Spitzer - but refused to pay out the tens of millions he was demanding. That's when he launched a highly publicized legal assault on the firm - precisely one month before April 15, during Block's busiest time of the year. He plainly intends the attack to inflict maximum PR and economic damage.

Unlike many Spitzer targets, Block is fighting back. The highly regarded company (which provides vital tax-preparation services to millions of average New Yorkers) will give the attorney general exactly what he doesn't want: a long, drawn-out legal fight in which the company stands a good chance of success.

New York's attorney general should be protecting the poor, not stopping them from saving for a better future. H&R Block is providing a valuable service to all New Yorkers in fighting back.

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Friday, March 24, 2006


Charges against two men accused of gang-raping a 19-year-old Sacramento woman were dropped Wednesday after authorities came across grainy footage from a cell phone that showed the acts were consensual and part of a pornographic video. The woman, identified in court records as Kimberly B., may now face criminal charges of her own, including making false statements to police.

Cousins Sarn Saechao, 25, and Chiem Saechao, 21, who if convicted could have faced life sentences for the Feb. 6 alleged sexual assaults, appeared briefly in court Wednesday and heard through a Mien interpreter that the case - including nearly a dozen felony counts against them - was dropped. The case, which police had called "one of the most brutal" assaults in recent memory, deteriorated this week after a defense attorney brought to the attention of authorities a compact disc that contained 15 camera-phone clips, lasting 15 to 20 seconds each, of the alleged victim apparently making pornography with the men she later accused of raping her.

The woman told police she was restrained and assaulted for 12 hours near her Tahoe Park apartment. She had bruises and tears to support her claims. But on Monday, Deputy District Attorney Noah Phillips said he learned of the video, obtained by Sarn Saechao's defense attorney. On Tuesday, the prosecutor viewed it with Sacramento Police Detective Alisa Buckley, and on Wednesday morning, he spoke with the woman. "It was clear that this case could not be prosecuted," Phillips said. The woman, he said, recanted the allegations of rape and mentioned that a pornographic video was being made for money.

At Wednesday's hearing, Phillips also asked a judge to dismiss the arrest warrants for two other men and a 15-year-old boy who had been sought in connection with the alleged crimes and featured at a police press conference earlier this month in which a $1,000 reward was announced. At that press conference, police characterized the sexual assault as one of the most brutal cases they ever investigated and lauded the woman's courage for coming forward.

Defense attorneys Paul Irish and David Lynch said their clients had steadfastly maintained their innocence. Lynch, a public defender for Chiem Saechao, said the woman had held onto her claims until she was confronted with the video. He accused authorities of trying to prosecute his client without "thoroughly" investigating the allegations.

Buckley, the lead detective on the case, did not return a phone call for an interview, but Capt. Joe Valenzuela said police "cannot start second-guessing our victims and witnesses." "In this case, it was very clear to her that this was a very brutal act," Valenzuela said of Buckley. Valenzuela said police will present a case to the District Attorney's Office to file charges against the woman for allegedly making false claims to police.

Nicolette Bautista, executive director of WEAVE, a domestic violence resource and rape victim advocacy center in Sacramento, said Wednesday's revelation could cloud the credibility of true victims of rape and hinder them from coming forward. "It angers victims," Bautista said of the false claims.

Valenzuela said investigators had heard of a video and were searching for it when defense attorney Irish came across the footage. Chiem Saechao's relatives, who were awakened by a police search of their home Friday morning, said authorities confiscated at least five of their cell phones. A computer was also taken from the home. "I don't know how the video came out," said Chiem Saechao's older brother, David. He and other family members said they had been waiting for the truth to come out. "I knew they were innocent in the first place," said Thuy Nguyen, David Saechao's fiancée.

A family friend, Song Vang, 22, said Chiem Saechao's relatives and others close to them had been publicly shamed by the allegations against the Sacramento man. David Saechao said they can't wait to welcome his brother home. He was expected to be released from custody today. It remained unclear when Sarn Saechao would leave jail. "I got my son back," said Chiem Saechao's father, Yoon Saechao. "So I thank God."

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

O'Reilly, editor spar over sex-offender case

Managers of the Dayton Daily News have received more than 900 e-mails from fans of Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly after Reilly's Web site and television program slammed the paper for an editorial that he says makes it "the most friendly (newspaper) to child rapists" in America. The Dayton Daily News editorial, which ran Sunday, cautioned against those who have called for removing Judge John Connor of Franklin County Common Pleas Court, without a formal complaint or investigation, after Connor gave probation and house arrest instead of prison to a man convicted of repeatedly raping two boys.

The defendant, Andew Selva, had been charged with 20 counts of rape, but prosecutors made mistakes in listing the boys' names on the indictment and tried unsuccessfully to change the errors. Top Republican leaders in Ohio began pressing for the removal of Connor after O'Reilly called for his impeachment on his talk show.

Jeff Bruce, editor of the Dayton Daily News, defended the paper's editorial Tuesday and took O'Reilly to task for inflammatory journalism. "We never defended Judge Connor's decision to sentence a child molester to a year of house arrest and five years' probation," Bruce said Tuesday in a prepared statement. "What we said is that if the judge deserves to be removed from office, then due process should be followed – the same sort of due process that Bill O'Reilly relied upon when he was sued (for sexual harassment) and, ultimately, settled out of court."

O'Reilly was sued in 2004 by his former producer. hen the suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, O'Reilly called the lawsuit and the media lashing he took for it "a brutal ordeal" and thanked his listeners for having "given me the benefit of a doubt when some in the media did not."

Bruce wondered why O'Reilly won't give Connor the same benefit of a doubt. "In America we have a system of checks and balances that includes the independence of the judiciary," Bruce said. "There are rules in place to remove bad judges. Our editorial simply said we should follow those rules, not allow ourselves to rush to judgment because of a television commentator's opinions."

O'Reilly, through a producer, said, "Personal attacks launched on me disqualify the Dayton Daily News from any serious debate. We believe that Jeff Bruce is not an honest individual."

Statement from O'Reilly's Web site:

"What newspaper in the United States of America is most friendly to child rapists? Could it be the Dayton Daily News which has supported Judge John Connor's sentence of probation for a man who raped a 5 year old boy and a 12 year old boy over a 3 year period. "Not only that... but the Dayton Daily News attacked the Governor of Ohio, the Attorney General of Ohio and Bill O'Reilly for reporting the story and actually asking for the removal of Judge Connor. The vicious personal attacks launched by the Dayton Daily News were strange when contrasted to the lack of condemnation for the judge. "So, can one conclude therefore that the Dayton Daily News is a newspaper that has sympathy for child rapists and the judges who will not incarcerate them?"

Statement from Jeff Bruce:

"They say only two things happen when you wrestle a pig: You get muddy and the pig enjoys it. So it's tempting to just let this pass, but, really, what O'Reilly has said on his Web site is so outrageous and such a distortion that I can't. "No crime is more heinous than child molestation, so it is understandable that people would be inflamed by the notion that a pederast evaded the punishment he is due. But when Mr. O'Reilly asks the question on his Web site, "What newspaper in the United States of America is most friendly to child rapists," he's egging his readers on without giving them all the facts. "As readers of the Dayton Daily News know, this newspaper is not soft of child molesters. Just the opposite.

"Here's what's really happening: Mr. O'Reilly is upset with the newspaper because in an editorial we referred to his own recent legal history in which he was accused of sexual harassment. His producer threatened that unless we published an apology they would resort to their 'bully pulpit.' That's what they've done. This isn't about being 'soft' on child molesters. It's about Bill O'Reilly getting even. "We never defended Judge Connor's decision to sentence a child molester to a year of house arrest and five years' probation. What we said is that if the judge deserves to be removed from office then due process should be followed – the same sort of due process that Bill O'Reilly relied upon when he was sued and, ultimately, settled out of court.

"The editorial also noted that the prosecutor in the case, while disappointed with the judge's sentence, was afraid his evidence was so weak that he might have lost the case entirely if it had gone to trial. He agreed to settle the case. "In America we have a system of checks and balances that includes the independence of the judiciary. There are rules in place to remove bad judges. Our editorial simply said we should follow those rules, not allow ourselves to rush to judgment because of a television commentator's opinions. "That's not an endorsement of Judge Connor or his decision. The fact that a child molester got off so lightly is disgusting. If I would fault our editorial for anything it is that we could have said that and said it firmly.

"But that's not why O'Reilly asked his readers to write the newspaper. His producer, in a conversation with me, acknowledged the logic of our editorial's argument. But they felt dragging O'Reilly's own legal problems into the article was gratuitous. While I expected O'Reilly to take a shot at us, I was shocked that he would suggest that this newspaper 'has sympathy for child rapists.' That is a deliberate distortion of what we said and what we stand for, and nothing could be further from the truth. "So you know, on the same page that we published our editorial, we also printed a package of opposing views, including those from O'Reilly himself. We made every effort to be fair and balanced in our presentation of this issue. It is a pity that sense of fairness was not reciprocated."

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006


More dubious forensic science assumptions behind implausible murder conviction

A couple jailed for killing a boy of 3 by force-feeding him with up to six teaspoons of salt as a punishment were wrongly convicted, three Court of Appeal judges were told yesterday. The jury at the criminal trial in January last year of Ian and Angela Gay, who wanted to adopt Christian Blewitt, was not given the opportunity to consider whether he died from natural causes.

Michael Mansfield, QC, their counsel, said that, since the trial at Worcester Crown Court, a report by Glynn Walters, a specialist consultant in medical pathology, challenged expert evidence given to the jury. Dr Walters will give fresh evidence to the appeal court today that the osmostats - likened to thermostats in the brain, which regulate sodium concentration in the body - can malfunction and reset at levels that are too high. New evidence would say that the child was one of only a handful of documented cases known to medicine to suffer from hypernatraemia, an excess of salt in the blood leading to cerebral oedema. Dr Walters had concluded, he said, that "there is nothing in this case that can be explained by salt poisoning that cannot be equally well explained by resetting of the osmostats".

The couple sat behind bars in Court 8 at the High Court, the first time that they had met since their conviction for manslaughter, as Mr Mansfield began an application for leave to appeal. The Gays were charged with murder after doctors found serious head injuries on Christian's body; manslaughter over the salt poisoning; and child cruelty. After a seven-week trial they were acquitted of the murder charge and the judge discharged the jury from giving a verdict on the cruelty charge. But they are serving five years for the manslaughter of the little boy, who swallowed the equivalent of a litre of seawater.

Christian was the eldest of three siblings placed with the wealthy couple at their home in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Mr Gay, 39, an engineer, and his wife, 40, a 200,000 pounds-a-year insurance actuary, wanted to adopt all three. The other brother and a sister have been successfully adopted elsewhere. The three had been with the family for about three weeks when Christian was taken to Russells Hall Hospital on December 8, 2002, after lapsing into a coma. He was transferred to a special unit at Birmingham Children's Hospital that night but died four days later when his life support machine was switched off.

Mr Mansfield said that jurors at the criminal trial of the couple had had to grapple with a mass of contradictory expert evidence over the cause of death. They were presented with two options: either the couple murdered the boy with a blunt instrument, which led to the unexplained head injuries, or were guilty of manslaughter through feeding him salt.

But Mr Mansfield asked the appeal judges - Lord Justice Richards, Mr Justice Penry-Davey and Judge Ann Goddard - to hear a third option, that he had a rare brain malfunction that allowed sodium levels to overload. The condition, he said, could explain why the boy was retaining sodium instead of excreting it via his kidneys, which were functioning normally. Mr Mansfield told the court: "These two individuals had an unblemished character. They were just two ordinary adults who wished to adopt because they were unable to have children of their own. There was no prior misbehaviour or abuse. "The issue at their trial was broadly a whodunnit, but, more importantly, a whatdunnit." He added: "One has to be very careful in medical cases - and I don't hesitate to say that this case is at the frontiers of science. "It has to be countenanced that there was an unknown existing disorder (suffered by the boy) at the time. What is regarded as truth and accepted litany today is regarded as heresy tomorrow."

William Davis, QC, for the Crown, denied that Dr Walters's evidence was new or that it was a "burgeoning area on the frontiers of science". He said that the Crown had not failed to put forward an explanation at their trial of how the couple might have killed the boy. In cross-examination the couple had been asked about injuries to the boy's chest wall, underneath the arms and asked whether this occurred while one held the boy down and the other fed him with salt. The couple had denied those allegations.

Of the evidence that Dr Walters was to give, Mr Davis said this was not fresh testimony but a revisiting of what was litigated at trial.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006


You can't go to jail in the USA without due process? Don't you believe it! Once you get into the hands of a U.S. government agency, it takes pretty heavy legal cannon to blast you free -- even when government agents are patently lying

After more than four years in jail, Ahilan Nadarajah will soon gain the freedom he sought when he fled Sri Lankan government forces that he said pistol-whipped him, forced his head into a plastic bag with gasoline and left him hanging upside down for hours. Since arriving in the United States in October 2001, Nadarajah has been detained on the same accusations that almost got him killed in Sri Lanka. He was suspected of being a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

Nadarajah has repeatedly denied the claims and been exonerated by immigration judges who twice granted him asylum. Still, the government refused to release him, and he appealed to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Friday, that court ordered Nadarajah's release, saying the government was violating federal law by holding him even though he wasn't criminally charged and couldn't be deported in the foreseeable future.

Nadarajah was expected to be set free in the next several days, his lawyers said. "I lost my time and my life, and I almost lost my mind, too," Nadarajah said Friday in a phone interview from the Otay Mesa detention center, located at the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego. "It's not fair. They put me in jail without reason." U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson said the decision was being reviewed but declined further comment. It wasn't immediately clear whether the government would appeal the court's decision.

In Friday's ruling, the court relied on a 2001 Supreme Court decision that immigrants must be freed if their deportation is "no longer reasonably foreseeable," a period interpreted by many legal experts to be about six months. In a tersely worded 37-page decision, Judge Sidney R. Thomas said Nadarajah's detention is "unreasonable, unjustified and in violation of federal law." The decision went on to call the government's reading of a past decision, which it claimed allowed for prolonged detention, as "patently absurd."

Nadarajah's attorney described the case as one of the Bush administration's repeated violations of immigration law in the name of national security. "He should have been out a long time ago," said Ahilan Arulanantham, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. "The government got it completely wrong about whether he was a terrorist, and overreached for detention powers Congress never granted."

Nadarajah, who turns 26 on Wednesday, started having problems in the mid-1990s. An ethnic Tamil, he worked as a farmer with his family in the Jaffna peninsula in northern Sri Lanka, an island of 20 million off the southern coast of India. In 1995, the Sri Lankan army bombed the area, forcing the family, including Nadarajah's two brothers and sister, to relocate about 37 miles away. Nadarajah's older brother died during the attack. When they returned 18 months later, the family's house was being occupied by the army, and Nadarajah was accused of being a member of the Tamil Tigers. Before a 2002 cease-fire, that group had fought for an independent state for Tamils, an ethnic minority in Sri Lanka. Nadarajah was then beaten and jailed, only getting out when his mother bribed an army commander, the court's ruling said. Over the next couple years, Nadarajah was repeatedly jailed and tortured.

Getting a passport and exit visa from a smuggler, Nadarajah traveled through Thailand, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico before getting picked up on the California border on Oct. 27, 2001. "That's why I came to the United States, to save my life," Nadarajah said. "If I go back to my country, I'll get tortured again and maybe they will kill me." When Nadarajah applied for asylum, the government opposed his application on the grounds he was affiliated with the group. Despite the opposition, an immigration judge found Nadarajah's testimony credible and granted him asylum in April 2003.

The government appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which agreed to reopen removal proceedings. In June and August of 2004, a "special agent" presented the government's case, based on State Department information and interviews with Sri Lankan experts. The testimony included an informant's claim that Nadarajah and a female detainee and Tamil Tigers member had made a phone call from the detention facility in May 2003, allegedly ordering that someone in Canada be killed.
Asked how they could have made a call together at a gender-separated facility, the agent answered: "'I could only say that's what I wrote. I mean I, I don't know,'" the ruling said.

Nadarajah's asylum was granted a second time, and his lawyers filed for parole. That was denied by the San Diego Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, and later by the Southern District Court of California. Nadarajah is anxious to be free. He wants to improve his English - which he learned in jail after arriving without speaking a word - go to college and get some "good food." "I'm tired of this place," said Nadarajah. "I want to be outside, you know? But this was worth it because it saved my life."

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Monday, March 20, 2006


The two stories below are from Australia -- obviously a good place to hurt other people and get off with the minimum punishment

No jail for a violent assault by druggies

An invalid pensioner dropping his teenage son at the movies was mistaken for a drug dealer, chased home and bashed with a baseball bat by two brothers who also destroyed his car. But Shammi and Shamal Chand escaped with fully suspended sentences when they faced Southport District Court yesterday, angering victim Brett Paterson who said they should have gone to jail. ``It was a violent attack and they should have done time for what they did to me,'' said Mr Paterson, who still bears the physical and emotional scars of the attack. ``I don't think justice has been done.''

Mr Paterson was dropping his 15-year-old son at the Harbour Town shopping centre about 10.30pm on October 1, 2004, when his ordeal began. he court was told Shammi Chand, tired from working long hours in a Redbank Plains furniture business he was establishing, had contacted an associate to get some amphetamines. The Chand brothers drove to the Gold Coast to buy the drugs but the associate disappeared with Shammi's money at Harbour Town.

Mistaking Mr Paterson for the drug dealer, the Chands then followed him home to nearby Labrador, ramming his car with their four-wheel drive utility along the way. Mr Paterson grabbed a baseball bat to defend himself but that was broken and turned on him. As Shamal Chand held Mr Paterson down in his driveway, Shammi Chand bashed him ``four or five times'' with the broken bat, the court was told. Shammi Chand had then twice reversed the 4WD into Mr Paterson's car, causing it to be written off.

The Chand brothers pleaded guilty to assault occasioning bodily harm while armed and in company. Shammi Chand also pleaded guilty to dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. Handing down the sentence, Judge Ian Dearden said the Chand brothers had inflicted ``misery'' on Mr Paterson who suffered ongoing physical problems, had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and was unable to work.

But Judge Dearden said he also took into account the Chands' own misery following the death of their father at 56, the difficulties Shammi Chand faced supporting his extended family and Shamal Chand's battle with drugs and mental illness. The judge sentenced Shammi Chand to 18 months' jail on the assault charge, wholly suspended, and Shamal Chand was sentenced to nine months' jail, wholly suspended.

The story above is not previously online but appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on Saturday 18 March 2006, Page 33. Reporter Greg Stolz

Breaking into a helpless old guy's home and bashing him to death is not a "particularly heinous offence"???

Two teenagers who killed an 86-year-old war veteran for just $8 have been sentenced to 10 years' detention. The two boys, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty to murdering Stanley James Smith in his Toowoomba home in November 2004. An autopsy revealed Smith had been hit at least five times on the head and at least three times on the back of the neck. At the time of the murder, the teens were aged 14 and 16.

The 14-year-old said Smith had been sitting in the lounge room watching television when they broke in and the other boy was going to hit Smith but "he wouldn't do it". "I hit him. I thought I knocked him out. I didn't want to kill him," the younger boy told police. The boys then took $8 from the kitchen. The pair also pleaded guilty to breaking into the home of a pensioner four weeks earlier, hitting her with a vacuum cleaner pipe and stealing her handbag containing $35.

Prosecutor Richard Pointing asked for the maximum penalty of 10 years' detention to be imposed on both boys, but he did not request that they be named under new legislation that can allow juveniles to be named for serious crimes.

In sentencing, Justice John Muir said he found that the killing was not premeditated and therefore could not be ruled a "particularly heinous offence" according to the Juvenile Justice Act, thus limiting the maximum sentence to 10 years' detention.

Outside the court, Smith's daughter Denise Miles said juvenile perpetrators of serious crimes could be named under Queensland law and it was unfortunate Justice Muir had not seen fit to allow the names of the youths to be published.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006


When Alex Stone logged onto a chatroom for the blind three years ago, he little realised he was unleashing a chain of events that would see him extradited to America in handcuffs and shackles on a maximum security private jet. Stone, 34, has just returned from the US, having spent more than six months in jail on remand before an assault charge against him was dropped. Worryingly, he was extradited under laws set up to deal with terrorists that mean America can in effect remove a UK citizen from British soil “on demand” without having to prove there is a valid case.

He is now joining 150 MPs being mobilised by the Tory frontbencher Boris Johnson in a campaign to overturn the 2003 Extradition Act, which has also been used to try to extradite the three British businessmen accused over the collapse of Enron. The law replaces the age-old rule under which American prosecutors had to show there was a prima facie case when asking British courts to extradite. British courts do not have the same power to extradite American suspects, as that would break the terms of the American constitution, which demands that the requesting country shows “probable cause” that the proposed extraditee is guilty of the crime in question. Ironically, the treaty was signed by Britain’s blind home secretary, David Blunkett.

The problems began when Stone, who has been blind from birth, met 20-year-old Alma — from the incongruously named Liberty, Missouri — on in 2003, which proclaims it “explodes the notion that being blind is some kind of living death”. “I suppose I was kind of lonely,” says Stone, who returned to Britain 12 days ago. “She was lovely, really fun, and we got on so well.” They began to talk on the telephone and, in August 2003, Stone went to stay with Alma and her young child from another relationship. “We had so much fun,” says Stone, from Tooting, south London. “We had fallen in love. We were talking about marriage.”

Stone decided to move to America to be with Alma. Two weeks after he arrived, however, her 14-month-old child was taken to hospital and found to have suffered broken bones. “It transpired that the family and the local police decided that it must have been me who had done it.” He was advised by his American lawyer to return to Britain, because he had not been arrested or charged with a crime. Naively, perhaps, Stone, who has no previous convictions, hoped this would be the end of his matter. Estranged from Alma, who would not speak to him, and nursing a broken heart, he tried to fit back into his old life as a computer programmer, contacting a British lawyer as a precaution.

“I knew that I had not harmed the child, and I imagined that in order to be extradited somewhere, there had to be some burden of proof,” he says. But in November 2004 he was horrified to discover that British police were looking for him. He turned himself in and was extradited under the new laws after three hearings at Bow Street magistrates’ court. “There appeared to be no defence to extradition and no evidence at all was presented,” he says. “I had thought that would be a requirement. When I realised what was happening, I was really, really scared.”

In April 2005 Stone found himself transferred by the Gatwick extradition squad onto a jet with three other British subjects, also being removed and guarded by American marshals, some of the 12 suspects who have been extradited to the US since the law change. Another 31 American requests are being processed. Having been transferred across America and kept in various “holding cells”, Stone ended up in jail in Missouri. There he was kept alone in a cell for 23 hours a day, unable to communicate with the outside world except in a monthly telephone call home and frighteningly isolated because of his disability.

After an appeal to the British consulate he was given a scanner that he was able to use to input letters from home into his voice-enabled laptop, so that he could “read” them. No printer was forthcoming, however, so he was unable to reply to concerned friends. “Being in prison was very difficult,” says Stone, who rarely refers to his lack of sight. “It was very boring. There was nothing I could do, I listened to a little radio, and once a day you were allowed out for a shower. Emotionally, it was horribly depressing. I didn’t know how long I would be there, and it began to seem never-ending.”

Visits from his parents Colin and Celia, a solicitor and retired teacher, were “strangely meaningless”, he says. “They had to talk to me over a telephone and from behind glass. For me, they might just have well been on another continent.” His father says: “It was horrific. Alex was effectively held in solitary confinement for six months. When we went to see him, we weren’t allowed to touch or hug him.” Eventually the family secured bail for Stone and he lived in a motel from the end of 2005. He describes the “huge relief” of walking into the fresh air for the first time in more than six months. “Just feeling the air on my face, being able to walk more than eight paces ahead after all that time in a 6 x 8ft cell, it was heaven.”

The other monumental relief for the family was the emergence of evidence indicating that Stone could not have injured his girlfriend’s child. Expert witnesses on both sides had already asserted that the injuries predated his arrival in America. At the end of last year another child in the family, with whom Stone had had no contact, was found to have suffered similar injuries. The child’s grandmother decided she would testify on Stone’s behalf. Stone was subsequently asked by prosecutors to take a polygraph test, which he passed. He was presented with the option of pleading guilty to the minor offence of leaving the country during a police investigation, in exchange for the assault charge — which carried a penalty of 10-30 years’ imprisonment — being dropped.

Stone’s lawyer, Michael Caplan QC, at Kingsley Napley, said the manner in which he was treated was most irregular. “No longer do the American authorities have to provide prima facie evidence for extradition, but what is also of concern is what happened to Alex Stone when he was returned to the US,” he says. “By proceeding with this other offence, for which he was not extradited, the Americans may well have been in breach of the ‘specialty arrangement’ under the extradition treaty, which is there to protect people when they are extradited.”

On the last day of February this year Stone was sentenced to 179 days in prison, time he had already served, and his father came to collect him from the US. He has come to regret deeply finding the BlindKiss website, with its banner proclaiming: “It’s all going to be OK now!” “It is very difficult to prove you haven’t done something,” says Stone, who has had no contact with Alma since the family made the allegations. “This has robbed me of 2½ years of my life and cost me around 50,000 pounds — money I will not get back. I feel angry about it, but most of all, I feel very sad.”

See here

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Saturday, March 18, 2006


The Californian authorities were sued because they refused to promote a guy to a job he could not do!

A Sonoma County health care case worker who claimed he was denied a promotion because a panic disorder prevented him from meeting clients won $6.5 million in an employment discrimination lawsuit. A Sonoma County Superior Court jury awarded George Alberigi, 52, of Forestville $1.5 million in lost wages and $5 million for pain and suffering and other damages.

Alberigi was diagnosed in 1986 with panic disorder and agoraphobia, a fear of public places. He accused the county of bias in failing to accommodate his disability. For most of 14 years with the county's Human Services Department, Alberigi was allowed to interview Medi-Cal clients by phone, but a promotion he applied for in 2001 required meeting clients in person. He was denied the promotion and eventually went on permanent medical disability. He sued the county in 2003.

The county will likely seek a new trial, County Counsel Steven Woodside said Wednesday. "Everyone around here was stunned by the verdict, particularly the amount of the verdict, which we think is excessive," he said. Alberigi also won attorney fees, which could add another six figures to the county's cost, said his lawyer, Steve Murphy of San Francisco.

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Investigating the rape of little girls has no priority???

Police investigating a sexual assault on a 10-year-old girl didn't follow up on a convicted rapist whose DNA was linked to the case, until he allegedly raped another girl months later, according to a newspaper.

The case of Kalonji Lavaro Lee, 30, a convicted sex offender, shows the shortcomings of the use of DNA science in solving crimes, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday. Police were investigating the molestation and attempted rape of a 10-year-old girl attacked in her home in January 2004 and turned to DNA to help solve the crime. The state crime lab's computer gave investigators a DNA "cold hit" that linked the crime to Lee, who lived nearby.

Alameda County court records show that Oakland police investigators didn't contact the suspect until after he allegedly attacked another 10-year-old girl six months later, according to the Chronicle. Lee's photo appears on the state's "Megan's Law" Web site of sex offenders. Oakland police said Friday that they wouldn't comment on the case.

Experts say that breakdowns in DNA testing can occur because modern DNA science is unearthing "cold hits" faster than police can investigate them. California's criminal DNA database has already produced 1,800 cold hits, said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

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Friday, March 17, 2006


It sure seems hard to prove sometimes. Even a videotape is not enough evidence for an immediate arrest of an out-of-control black?? Or is it just that a policeman can do no wrong? That would be the biggest laugh of all

A returning Iraq war veteran, Senior Airman Elio Carrion, 21, was shot three times by a sheriff's deputy at the conclusion of a high-speed chase in San Bernardino County, Calif., recently. Carrion, who also served as a U.S. Air Force security officer in Iraq, was a passenger in the car.

After Carrion and the car's driver were apprehended, a passer-by videotaped the ensuing scene. The tape showed a deputy pointing a gun at Carrion, who was unarmed and lying prone on the ground. On the tape, we can hear Carrion saying, "I'm on your side." We also hear the deputy directing Carrion to "get up, get up, get up." Next, we see Carrion begin to get up, and then we see the deputy firing three shots at Carrion. Carrion was hit three times, but not fatally.

This description fits events that happen all too often throughout America, in too many urban areas of the country. And usually the local community rises in protest, with charges of racism and police abuse, and calls for state and federal investigations into possible criminal conduct and civil-rights violations. I've always supported efforts to find out the facts and ensure that those few law-enforcement officers who lose control or bring bias to their job are not allowed to get away with such horrific deeds.

But in this case, there is one small detail that somehow has transformed the normal community response. You see, the Iraq war veteran, Carrion, is Latino, and the sheriff's deputy in question, Ivory J. Webb, is black.

The Carrion family is outraged that Webb was not immediately arrested. As for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, it accorded Webb the same prerogatives that are always accorded officers in these situations — and which I never agree with. Webb was placed on paid administrative leave, and he was given the standard two to three days to relax, collect himself and get his story together for his written report.

The case's newest development is that the officer will face charges of attempted voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm.

But before that, it was standard operating procedure by law-enforcement officials: Whenever a videotape is involved, department spokesmen immediately assert at news conferences that the officer was acting fully within departmental guidelines and was responding to an immediate threat. Then they warn that what we see on the tape doesn't show the entire picture and cannot be relied on to portray the actual events.

Bull. Officers and deputies involved in shootings either should not have the luxury of paid leave, or else it should be capped at 30 days pending the initial findings of a preliminary review. Second, officers should not get 48 or 72 hours to get their story together, or, when several officers are involved, to coordinate what they say. Statements from immediate memory are what's needed. And, finally, stop kidding us about what's on the videotape. It is what it is. Denying what's on the tape insults all of us and reveals a "wall of obstruction" that we cannot tolerate.

But there's more. In this case, the local African-American leadership has not expressed public outrage and condemnation of the deputy — even though the circumstances are the same as those that have motivated the community to march, protest, and demand investigations in other shootings. We cannot have a double standard in an area so vital to bridging the racial divide in this country.

I've long maintained that it's not just racism that leads to these incidents. It's also improper training and screening. When officers lose control, they are not psychologically suited to be on the force. Period.

If the African-American community wants these actions to stop, it must make no exceptions when expressing outrage over these police shootings — regardless of the skin color of the officer involved. Bullets don't distinguish one skin color from another. In our fight to end these incidents, we must not make any color distinctions, either.

Original column here. News report here

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

DNA lab admits rape case bungle

Another rogue laboratory found out. Coverup ongoing.

More than two years after a man was charged with rape on the strength of DNA profiling, a state pathology centre has admitted it could have made a mistake when testing the evidence.

A leading defence DNA expert, NSW-based molecular geneticist Brian McDonald, says the case highlights the risks posed by databases and the reluctance of state laboratories to admit mistakes. Dr McDonald says anything from a laboratory error to the planting of evidence might link someone on a database to a crime they did not commit.

In the West Australian rape case, PathWest has admitted it believes there may have been a "contamination event" or laboratory error in the man's case, prompting them to withdraw their report and leading prosecutors to discontinue the charges.

Defence lawyer Richard Utting said the case demonstrated potential dangers associated with an increasing reliance on DNA evidence. His 44-year-old client was charged in December 2003 with five offences, including sexual penetration without consent and deprivation of liberty, arising from an alleged attack against a woman in November 1999. The man denied the allegations and the woman could not identify her attacker, but the man was charged after DNA evidence was matched to his profile on the state database. "He said he was not there and did not know anything about it ... it all came down to DNA," Mr Utting said.

A report by PathWest found there was a one-in-10 billion chance the DNA profile found in a sperm sample taken from the woman's swabs belonged to somebody else other than the man. "That probably would have been enough to get him convicted," Mr Utting said. But the man continued to deny the offence and Dr McDonald was employed to assess the case. After numerous inquiries by Dr McDonald, PathWest withdrew the earlier report and acknowledged "there may have been a contamination event or a laboratory error during the DNA extraction process". "Here is a man who is presumed innocent and said he did not do it and yet he is facing the possibility of going to jail," Mr Utting said. "For this sort of thing you would get at least six years."

Dr McDonald said the explanation for the mistake remained a mystery, though he suspected one of the accused man's original samples from the database had been mislabelled and confused with a sample from the rape case. "I still have not seen an official report which, under their accreditation guidelines, they must issue," he said. Dr McDonald said PathWest reports had been withdrawn in several other West Australian cases, which indicated the laboratory was using inappropriate statistical calculations that risked producing flawed results. "It is quite possible people have been convicted on the strength of flawed results presented by the laboratory," he said. "Usually in cases where reports have had to be withdrawn, there is an examination of the reasons, a correction and a review of past cases."

Dr McDonald, who has worked on criminal cases across the nation for more than a decade, said he was also alarmed by PathWest's statement that it did not have any further portions of the affected samples to enable it to verify its original findings in the rape case. "The horror of this error relates to a problem with the databases and the failure to manage them effectively," Dr McDonald said. The management of DNA databases should be delegated to an independent agency, he said. PathWest would not comment yesterday as the case remained with the DPP.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

U.S. case vs. Hells Angels fizzles: Racketeering counts dismissed

Government concealment of evidence again!

A much ballyhooed racketeering case against Arizona's Hells Angels Motorcycle Club has all but ended in federal court with the U.S. Attorney's Office dismissing charges against some defendants and settling for lesser convictions against the rest.

When the two-year sting known as Operation Black Biscuit became public in 2003, it was touted as the most successful infiltration ever of the notorious biker group. Undercover agents were feted in Washington, with Top Cop awards from the National Association of Police Officers. The government's case of drug violations, gun running, murder, racketeering and other crimes came to a close Wednesday, in part because of a feud between federal prosecutors and undercover agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The result:

* Authorities failed to convict any of the 16 defendants on the key charge of racketeering, or running a criminal enterprise.

* Half of those indicted were given plea deals on lesser offenses.

* Federal charges against five others were dismissed.

* Under the indictment, most of the bikers faced possible life terms. As a result of plea deals, none will serve more than five years in federal prison.

The U.S. Attorney's Office described the outcome as a "good thing" because eight defendants pleaded guilty. "This is but one of many cases brought against the Hells Angels around the country, in Canada and around the world," office spokeswoman Sandy Raynor said in an e-mail. Joe Abodeely, attorney for Tucson Hells Angels President Craig T. Kelly, whose charges were dismissed, scoffed: "I was a prosecutor for 15 years, and this wasn't a 'good' result. Talk about spin . . . The government tried to prosecute some people simply because they were Hells Angels. This was a waste of time, effort and taxpayers' money."

The U.S. Attorney's Office had no cost figure for the case, which included years of work by undercover agents, prosecutors and public defenders. Brian Russo, who represents former Mesa Hells Angels President Robert Johnston Jr., put the public expense in "millions and millions of dollars."

National investigation

The Arizona crackdown was part of a national Hells Angels sweep led by ATF agents. In July 2003, raids were conducted statewide, as well as in California, Nevada and Washington. The indictment here targeted three charter presidents with club members and associates. With help from moles, ATF agents spent two years penetrating Hells Angels, attending drug parties and becoming privy to alleged murder plots against rival gangs. Investigators described the club as a criminal syndicate, not a fraternity of motorcycle enthusiasts. Guns, drugs and thousands of records were seized.

But defense attorneys claimed the government's case was based on lying "snitches" who fabricated evidence and took part in beatings, drug dealing and other crimes while employed by federal agents.

In recent months, Hells Angels lawyers pressed the government for evidence that could be used to discredit those paid informers. That led to a dispute between prosecutors and the lead ATF agent, Joseph Slatalla, concerning 1,800 pages of investigative records that never were disclosed to the defense. Rather than meet legal requirements to disclose information to the defense, federal lawyers offered plea deals to defendants, some of whom accepted. Then, as a Feb. 24 deadline arrived, charges against the remaining subjects were dismissed. Legal grappling continues, including motions by some defendants to have their plea agreements overturned.

While defense attorneys touted the outcome as a Hells Angels victory, they expressed disappointment that the government was not forced to disclose all of its evidence. "I do believe they're covering up some serious mishap in this investigation," said Patricia Gitre, attorney for defendant Kevin Augustiniak of Mesa. "There's something going on here that we're not supposed to know."

Gitre said that details of misconduct by ATF informers have been described in court: One paid operative failed to tell his handlers that he had participated in a murder. Another became a "snitch" to avoid prosecution, then got busted with methamphetamines. Regarding those problems, spokeswoman Raynor said, "There are always issues in dealing with cases requiring the use of confidential informants. None of the issues occurring in this matter is novel."

Protecting informers?

The case involved thousands of reports, audio recordings and videotapes. Prosecutors fought disclosure by arguing that informers would be in peril if the Hells Angels got hold of sensitive information. In October, U.S. District Judge David Campbell ordered the U.S. Attorney's Criminal Division chief into his courtroom and rebuked prosecutors for making "inaccurate, inconsistent and sometimes legally incorrect statements." Last month, as a discovery deadline arrived and questionnaires were prepared for prospective jurors, the government shifted gears. First, defendants were offered plea deals. Then, as the date arrived, federal lawyers dismissed all remaining charges.

That worked for everyone except Augustiniak, a biker whose indictment involves the 2001 murder of 44-year-old Cynthia Yvonne Garcia after a party at the Hells Angels' clubhouse in Mesa. As federal attorneys moved to drop charges, Maricopa County prosecutors obtained a state indictment against Augustiniak for the murder. Defense lawyers Gitre and Jerry Hernandez complained that the government was playing a "shell game," shifting from one court to another to avoid turning over hidden files.

Garcia's slaying is the most grisly crime in the Arizona saga. According to law enforcement records, the victim was beaten unconscious by Augustiniak and two other men, then driven to a remote area north of Mesa and stabbed more than two dozen times. The second suspect, Paul Eischeid, is a fugitive. The third, Michael C. Kramer, is a key ATF informer who did not reveal his role in the crime to agents until he had spent months as a paid operative. Kramer is the only person involved who was convicted of racketeering. His guilty plea, which was sealed, includes no prison time.

Much of the courtroom battle focused on information about Kramer, who infiltrated Hells Angels charters in the West. Gitre said the government has carried out a campaign to withhold exculpatory evidence and information that would discredit witnesses.

Judge Campbell ordered prosecutors to submit a sealed explanation for its dismissal of the case against Augustiniak. After reading that document, Campbell concluded that federal lawyers were acting in good faith to protect "legitimately confidential" information. The information remained sealed, and the case was closed.

"This is just reprehensible what they're doing," Gitre said of prosecutors. "You know, justice is about seeking the truth . . . And Cynthia Garcia has gotten no justice at all. What do they tell her parents, her children?"

While Augustiniak awaits trial in Superior Court, fugitive Eischeid apparently added insult to injury with an Internet taunt at federal agents: "Catch me if you can," says the note with Eischeid's photograph at, a Web site. "The ladies call me blue eyes . . . I live to ride for the Hells Angels." It is unclear whether Eischeid is responsible for creating the Web page.

One other target in the probe is on the offensive: Michael Coffelt, who was wounded by a police sniper in a 2003 raid at a biker clubhouse in Phoenix, is suing in U.S. District Court. He was arrested on state charges, but a judge who ruled that agents acted improperly when they swarmed the clubhouse dismissed the allegations.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I think the judge could quite reasonably argue that male and female sex offenders should be treated differently but to deny that he is doing so is a laugh. If you want to see what a laugh it is, just ask yourself what he would have done if the victim were a young girl! A similar sentence in that case would have produced a huge outcry

A judge said yesterday he was not showing sexual bias in suspending a jail term for a woman who molested a schoolboy. Judge Geoff Chettle said he let the mother of 10 go because her crime happened 14 years ago and she was older and wiser now. That she was a woman and her victim a boy had nothing to do with his decision, the judge said. "Lest anyone be of the view that you have been treated in a more lenient fashion because you are female and because I suffer some unconscious sexual bias, I can say that I would impose an identical sentence if the genders of your victim and you were reversed and a similar delay of 14 years occurred," he told her.

Cheryl Whittle, 44, of Werribee, pleaded guilty to sexually penetrating a 14-year-old boy in 1992. She demanded child support payments after giving birth to his child. Judge Chettle suspended a 15-month jail sentence for three years. The County Court judge said the inordinate and exceptional delay in the case coming to court had saved Whittle from going to jail. The boy, now 27, had not reported the assault until December 2004, saying he was too embarrassed to come forward earlier.

People Against Lenient Sentencing spokesman Steve Medcraft said soft sentences discouraged victims from ever coming forward, and delays should not favour offenders. "It's making a mockery of the justice system. We can't put time limits on justice," he said.

The boy had been an overnight guest when Whittle crept into the bedroom where he was sleeping and had sex with him. A year later he quit school after constant taunts from classmates. He began a carpentry apprenticeship but was soon harassed for child support.

Describing Whittle's crime as out of character, Judge Chettle said it could be considered a "foolish lapse", not repeated. Unlike teacher Karen Ellis, jailed for six sex crimes against a 15-year-old student, she abused her victim just once, he said.

In a statement to the court, the victim said the assault had had a lasting and unsettling effect, and "I felt disgusted and betrayed at the time of the sexual assault, and shocked, stressed and horrified at the prospect of becoming a father".

Judge Chettle acknowledged that the victim had suffered long-term psychological damage, telling Whittle: "You stole his innocence."

In August last year the victim took custody of his son, now 12; Whittle's lawyer told the court she intended to launch court action to get him back. Whittle, who has had 10 children to four fathers, lives in a housing commission flat with four children under 16. She has multiple convictions for theft, and was jailed at 18 for robbing a milk bar. The judge said Whittle had led a chaotic life and was a battler who'd tried to rehabilitate herself.

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Monday, March 13, 2006


The [Queensland] State Government has blocked a prisoner from speaking publicly about information he claims identifies the "real killer" of schoolgirl Leanne Holland. The man, who is in Wolston Correctional Centre in Brisbane, once shared a cell with a violent sex offender who allegedly boasted of his involvement in the 1991 murder of the 12-year-old. The offender knew details only the killer could have known and claimed he had photographs of Leanne's body, dumped in bush at Redbank Plains in Ipswich. The long-term prisoner is willing to reveal information to The Sunday Mail in a bid to clear Graham Stafford, who was jailed for life for the brutal sex slaying.

Stafford strenuously denies murdering Leanne, the sister of his then-fiancee, and is about to launch a desperate last-ditch petition for a pardon. The Sunday Mail sought permission to interview the Wolston prisoner – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – after being contacted by his mother. However, the Department of Corrective Services this week blocked our attempt to speak with him. In refusing the interview, Corrective Services media chief Ross McSwain said that "particular consideration was given to the potential impact of interviews on the victims of crime and their families".

The prisoner's mother said her son, jailed in 1992 for a range of serious offences, shared a cell at Moreton Jail with a sex offender, 51, who was serving a seven-year sentence before being released in 2003. The offender was the same man named by two sisters in a Sunday Mail report last year as being responsible for Leanne's murder.

The prisoner's mother said her son, who is eligible for release this year after serving 13 years, nine months, had nothing to gain by passing on the information about the case – other than clearing the name of Stafford, who he believed was innocent. "He said he was forced to share his cell with this other fellow . . . said he was always talking about the murder . . . non-stop talking about Leanne Holland," she said yesterday. "He told my son about the killing, explicit details, and said he had autopsy photos of her."

The mother was prompted to contact The Sunday Mail after reading a report in October about sensational new claims in the book, Who Killed Leanne?, by former police officer Graeme Crowley and criminologist Paul Wilson.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006


A judge ordered a convicted murderer released from prison after finding that sheriff's deputies cut a deal with a key witness and didn't disclose it to the defense. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen J. Hillman ruled Thursday that the deal greatly influenced testimony at the trial of James Horton, who was convicted in 1985 of murdering a drug dealer. Horton, 51, has always maintained his innocence.

Horton's lawyer, Michael Rubin of San Francisco, said his client was in lockdown at Salinas Valley State Prison and did not yet know that he had been ordered freed. "To have a result like this after two decades is extraordinary," Rubin said.

Kenneth N. Sokoler, the assistant attorney general who handled the case for the state, said his office was disappointed with the decision. "We did not think the petitioner showed by a preponderance of evidence (that) the prosecution made a leniency deal with the witness," he said. Sokoler said he did not know if his office would appeal. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which has 90 days to decide whether to retry Horton or release him, had no immediate comment.

Horton was arrested in Los Angeles and charged with the 1982 robbery-murder of drug dealer Herschel "Lobo" Bowser. The key witness against him was a man who admitted driving Horton to a bus station after the killing. Deputies told the man before trial they would ignore his involvement if he testified against Horton, Hillman found. The man's testimony provided the bulk of the evidence against Horton. Hillman found there was "at the very least a tacit understanding" between the witness and detectives, which should have been disclosed to the defense.

Horton had previously been convicted of murder in Illinois.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006


Despite videotaped evidence, high-priced lawyers nearly got these rich-kid B******S off Scot-free. But if they get any sort of prison sentence no doubt the appeals will go on and on

The son of a former assistant sheriff in wealthy Orange County, California, is to be sentenced today to as many as 12 years in prison for leading the sexual assault of a teenage girl on a pool table — a crime that was captured on a 21-minute videotape. Gregory Haidl and his two friends were 17 at the time of the crime, during which a 16-year-old restaurant hostess was abused with a pool cue, a cigarette and a bottle of Snapple. During the lurid trial the teenagers claimed that their victim was an aspiring porn star who had agreed to an orgy and was faking unconsciousness. It was Mr Haidl himself who recorded the assault on his Sony Handycam. The July 2002 assault was all the more controversial because it took place in the garage of the home of Mr Haidl’s father, Don, who was then the Orange County assistant sheriff. He had gone into politics after making a multimillion-dollar fortune from car auctions.....

The first trial of the case resulted in a deadlocked jury, whose members said that they found the evidence ambiguous. The defence had put up as a witness a neurologist who minutely analysed the tape and said that the girl’s movements showed that she was alert. At a second trial, the jury convicted the three men of sexual penetration but not rape.

For the past four years, the citizens of Rancho Cucamonga have been unable to escape the aftershocks of the crime. The accuser, known as Jane Doe in the press, but widely known in the town, was forced to switch high schools. She became addicted to methamphetamine. Leaflets were put up in the town asking for information about her family. The victim, now 20, has since gone through drug rehabilitation.....

The case began when an 18-year-old woman, Lindsay Picou, found the videotape of the incident at a rented beach house. She was so disturbed that she hid the tape in a towel, put it in her car, and later gave it to a police officer.

Ms Picou was regarded locally as a pariah as a result, eventually having to move away from the area. After watching the videotape, she had feared that the unconscious woman was dead. Her mother told The Los Angeles Times: “My daughter was raised in a Christian home and did what she’s supposed to do, and for that, no deed goes unpunished. “It’s been four years of hell

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Friday, March 10, 2006


It happens time and time again. Police seize drugs and then what happens to them? Controls are minimal. And when you hire a woman with a long history of drug abuse to handle the drugs ....!

The county should be held responsible for the death of a man poisoned by his wife, who worked as a toxicologist for the county Medical Examiner's office, a lawyer told jurors Tuesday morning. But a lawyer for the county said only Kristen Rossum was to blame for the death of her husband, Gregory de Villers. Rossum was convicted in late 2002 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing de Villers, then 26, with a mix of narcotics in Nov. 2000. He was found on the floor of the couple's La Jolla apartment with red rose petals around him. His death became widely as "The American Beauty Murder," because the rose petals were reminiscent of those in the movie. Authorities said his death was made to look like a suicide. Toxicology reports later concluded that he died of an overdose of fentanyl, a pain killer that is 100 times stronger than morphine.

The lawyers presented their opening statements Tuesday in the wrongful death case in which de Villers' relatives are seeking more than $2.1 million in damages. The lawsuit was filed against Rossum, as well as San Diego County and Michael Robertson, Rossum's lover and her supervisor at the county Medical Examiner's Office at the time of de Villers's death.

In his opening remarks, John H. Gomez, the family's attorney, told jurors that the county shares in the blame for de Villers' death. "She didn't act alone," Gomez said of Rossum. The "OME (Office of Medical Examiner) failed to provide effective controls and procedures to prevent the theft of drugs," he said. Gomez told jurors that during Rossum's time as a toxicologist, everyone working in the Medical Examiner's office had access to drugs that were seized for investigations.

At one point, Gomez said, Rossum used a methamphetamine pipe that was in the office as evidence and left it on her desk. "She took the stuff, was using it at work and left it at work," he said. Gomez also said Rossum would be erratic and do strange things while under the influence, and that the lax control of drugs in the office made it easy for her to access drugs when she relapsed.

More here. Background here

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Thursday, March 09, 2006


A man who was sentenced to death for the 2001 shooting death of a Prentiss police officer is appealing for his life. Cory Maye, 25, was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to die by lethal injection on Jan. 23, 2004 for the death of Officer Ron Jones. A hearing has been scheduled for June 20, to determine whether Maye deserves a new trial.

Maye's case has generated controversy on a series of Web sites and blogs, because he claims he shot Jones in self defense. Maye had no prior criminal record when, according to his testimony, officers raided his home in search of drugs after he had fallen asleep in a chair while caring for his daughter on December 26, 2001. He said he didn't hear officers announce themselves when they burst into his home. Maye insists he was trying to protect his daughter from - what he thought was - a violent intruder when he grabbed his .380-caliber pistol and fired at officers in self-defense.

"I honestly believe there's been an injustice," said his new attorney, Bob Evans. "It's a tragedy, no doubt, that Officer Ron Jones lost his life, but a double tragedy is that Cory, who wasn't out seeking trouble, ends up on Mississippi's death row."

The Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force was raiding the duplex where Jamie Smith, 21, lived, after they received a tip that Smith had drugs. The warrant had Smith's name on it, not Maye's.

But prosecutors said that Maye's story is implausible. Assistant District Attorney Doug Miller said that police officers knocked on Smith's door, and he quickly surrendered to them after they identified themselves. Smith was charged with selling cocaine. Officers testified that they approached Maye's door because they saw a light inside his duplex, Miller said. Police testified that they received no answer after they knocked on the door and announced themselves. Jones, a K9 officer, helped the task force and broke down Maye's door. Maye fired three times, hitting Jones once, right below the bulletproof vest. The shot killed Jones before he ever drew his gun, according to testimony.

Police searched the duplex for drugs, finding nothing but the remnants of a marijuana cigarette. Smith was charged, but he skipped bail after his release. He was never found or prosecuted.

Radley Balko, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute in Washington and a biweekly columnist for, has taken up Maye's cause. He wrote on his Web site, "Maye's case is an outrage. Prentiss, Mississippi, clearly violated Maye's civil rights the moment its cops needlessly and recklessly stormed his home in the middle of the night. The state of Mississippi is about to add a perverse twist to that violation by executing Maye for daring to defend himself."

While others have built momentum behind Balko's angry protest, prosecutors say that bloggers have muddled the facts. "Most of the information I've seen on the Internet is wrong," Miller said.

The case is all the more relevant now, as lawmakers consider measures that would broaden the right for citizens to kill intruders. Currently it is legal for Mississippians to defend themselves from intruders who they believe will do them "some great personal injury." Two bills before the state Senate and the House would expand that right to include a citizen's place of employment, businesses and vehicles. The Senate bill has passed both chambers, but the House amended it. Both chambers must agree to all changes before it can move forward. The House measure is pending in the Senate.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Crooked police again

A former Marlborough resident who spent 10 years in prison on a rape conviction before being exonerated by DNA testing has settled his lawsuit against the city for $2 million. Eric R. Sarsfield, 42, of Clinton, had asked for at least $10 million in damages in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and several police officers. In a special meeting Monday night, the city council transferred the money from the stabilization and health insurance funds to cover the settlement. Mayor Nancy Stevens, as well as city lawyers Mary Jo Harris and James Agoritsas, called the settlement fair. The city faced possible bankruptcy if it lost at trial, Agoritsas said. "We are the only defendants in this case. We recognize the fact the jury is going to look to assign blame in this case. Any award against the city in the tens of millions of dollars would render this city bankrupt," Agoritsas said. The lawsuit already has cost the city about $400,000, and he estimated another $500,000 in legal costs for a trial.

The settlement also stipulates that the city will assign its rights to Sarsfield so he can proceed with litigation against insurance companies with which the city contracted after Sarsfield was prosecuted. The insurance companies have denied the city had coverage for the lawsuit. "A part of my life has gone by," Sarsfield told the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester. "It has been 20 years of my life. At least I don't have to worry about it any more, and I can put it behind me now." Sarsfield was awarded $500,000 by the state last year for wrongful imprisonment.

On Aug. 24, 1986, a 30-year-old woman who had moved to Marlborough from Iowa just three weeks before was raped several times by an apparently drunken man who came to her apartment to ask for a glass of water as she was on her patio potting plants. She escaped by pretending to get her attacker a drink. Sarsfield's suit claimed that he and the victim were "manipulated, cheated, and betrayed by law enforcement officers more interested in closing a case and getting a conviction than in playing by the rules and serving justice."

Sarsfield, 24, and married at the time, testified at his 1987 trial that he was not the rapist. The victim "consistently told police that she was uncertain about identifying Mr. Sarsfield as the man who raped her," according to the suit. Nevertheless, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. He was paroled in June 1999, and the next year DNA tests cleared him and the conviction was vacated.

Sarsfield's suit claimed that police pointed him out to the woman in photo arrays, and as a result, police "improperly induced an unsuspecting victim to identify Mr. Sarsfield incorrectly, fabricated exculpatory evidence and withheld evidence of their misconduct in order to ensure his false arrest, unfair trial and wrongful conviction."

In a Telegram & Gazette interview in 1993, the victim said that during counseling she had wondered whether she had picked out the wrong man. Several current and former police officers also were also named in the lawsuit. "We're very mindful of the pain and trauma Mr. Sarsfield went through. However, we are of the opinion that our police officers involved in this case did nothing wrong," Agoritsas said.

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