Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Tony Blair is demanding tougher supervision of offenders by the Probation Service amid alarm at killings by criminals released from jail early. His move follows a finding that most risk assessments on sex offenders are not completed satisfactorily when they start supervision in the community. The Chief Inspector of Probation has said that monitoring of less serious offenders has fallen to "unwise levels".

Mr Blair has told colleagues that he is very worried. A source said: "He does not feel enforcement is working properly, and wants the Probation Service to be much tougher on acting against those who break the terms of their licence."

Failings by the Probation Service will be outlined in a report out tomorrow. The service was supposed to be monitoring Damien Hanson when he murdered the financier John Monckton at his Chelsea home. Similar cases are causing alarm.

Reports by the Home Office and the Chief Inspector of Probation have highlighted failings in the way the Probation Service assesses the risk that offenders may pose. As well as corners being cut because of costs a risk-assessment computer program is not being used properly.

The Home Office said: "We began addressing these issues in June to drive up the quality of assessment and the management of dangerous offenders."

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Monday, February 27, 2006


A judge launched a withering attack on the Crown Prosecution Service yesterday after throwing out a case in which Sir Paul McCartney's brother, Mike, had been accused of sexually assaulting a waitress. Mike McCartney, 62, was alleged to have touched the 16-year-old's bottom while attending a family party at a pub in the Wirral, Merseyside, in September 2004. The girl claimed he had placed his hand over her trousers and then moved it from her thigh to her bottom. Her allegation was supported by another waitress of the same age. Mr McCartney insisted that he had merely touched the girl's back in a "fatherly" gesture while asking her whether there were any more tempura prawns.

Three days into the trial Judge Elgan Edwards, the Recorder of Chester, ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was of a sexual nature. Having directed the jury to find Mr McCartney not guilty, he said: "This defendant has not been acquitted on a technicality, he leaves the court without a stain on his character. "This case was a misunderstanding from the word go and should never have been prosecuted." The judge went on: "A great deal of public money has been wasted and a great deal of court time wasted.' "Two young girls have had the agony of waiting for 17 months to give evidence and the defendant, a man of exemplary character, has had the matter hanging over his head as well. It is quite inexcusable and makes a mockery of legal proceedings."

Mr McCartney, a photographer and one-time member of the 1960s band The Scaffold, described the experience as "a living hell". Flanked by his wife, Rowena, and son, Sonny, he said: "It is a monstrosity that a wholly innocent man has been publicly named and linked to a charge of sexual assault, which to the ordinary person means rape. "It has been made crystal clear by this judge that I am totally innocent and have been from day one." He added: "I want to thank my family, including my big brother, who has been a rock of support during this attempt to soil our family name."

Mr McCartney said he was launching a campaign to change the law so that both the accused and the alleged victims of sex crimes would be granted the same anonymity in court. His solicitor, Stephen Taylor, said Sir Paul was delighted that his brother had succeeded in clearing his name. "I have spoken to him and he said it was great news."

Judge Edwards took the unusual step of ordering the Crown Prosecution Service to pay the entire costs of the case, which are estimated at 100,000 pounds.

The CPS claimed that the case could not have been dealt with any quicker. However, a spokesman acknowledged that lawyers had requested additional witness statements in January 2005. The final decision to prosecute was not taken until May 20 last year.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006


I noted this case on May 24, 2005 under the heading: "AMAZINGLY CROOKED CANADIAN JUSTICE". Perhaps the judicial crooks will eventually be made to suffer some consequences this way

James Driskell and his mother have filed a lawsuit seeking $20 million in damages and compensation for the time Driskell spent in prison on a conviction that was later quashed. The federal justice minister quashed Driskell's murder conviction last March, after he had served more than 13 years in prison. The Manitoba government then stayed the charges against Driskell.

The lawsuit names 21 people, including Winnipeg police officers, the RCMP and Crown prosecutors. "Driskell has suffered loss of liberty, humiliation and disgrace. He is entitled to substantial damages. So, too, is his mother, Florence, who tirelessly championed his freedom and who also suffered damages," the suit states. Last year, Driskell said he was not interested in seeking compensation, but his lawyer says he's changed his mind. "I suspect Mr. Driskell assumed someone would say they were sorry and write him a cheque," said lawyer Harvey Strosberg. "That not having happened, the only remedy is to go to court, which he's done."

The province is planning to hold an inquiry into Driskell's case; it's expected to start this spring. The defendants in the lawsuit have 30 days to file a statement of defence. Driskell was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Perry Dean Harder and sentenced to life in prison in 1991. Harder had been shot several times in the chest in September 1990 in Winnipeg. Police alleged Harder had implicated Driskell in a series of break and enters, but Driskell denied any involvement in Harder's death.

In 2005, then justice minister Irwin Cotler quashed Driskell's conviction, saying he believed a "miscarriage of justice" had likely occurred in the case. Cotler said he based his decision on a number of factors, including new DNA evidence that showed hairs found in Driskell's van did not belong to the victim – as the Crown argued at trial – as well as problems with key witnesses, and Crown and police disclosure of information that could have helped Driskell's defence. The Manitoba government stayed the charges, saying the Crown's case had been undermined and weakened and it was not likely Driskell would be convicted again. The stay does not officially exonerate Driskell, but means he will stay out of prison.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006


Isn't it wonderful to be protected by your caring government regulators? They register liens but what steps do they take to see if they are justified? No significant steps it seems

A financial setup orchestrated by a convicted criminal has left more than a thousand homeowners in Arizona and California facing illegitimate liens on their homes. The liens are being used to force people to pay thousands of dollars to a California collection agency. In order to get the liens lifted, homeowners are told by the agency that they must pay credit-card debts that, in many cases, have already been paid, written off in bankruptcies or aren't actually owed. An Arizona Republic investigation found that Pacific States Credit Co. has filed more than 600 such liens in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, as well as hundreds more in several counties in southern and northern California over the past two years.

The owner of Pacific States, Jeff McCoon, has a criminal record for defrauding businesses in Colorado, where he is wanted for arrest, accused of violating the terms of his probation. He also is awaiting trial in California on 148 felony counts of attempted extortion, forgery and filing false documents over liens he filed against homeowners in Orange County.

But authorities in Arizona were unaware that McCoon has been operating here since 2004, filing liens, threatening people with lawsuits, demanding payments for questionable debts and, in at least one case, forcing someone to sign over the deed to his home. Steve Wilson, spokesman for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, said the allegations raise serious concerns. "If they are true, we want to look into the case," he said.

McCoon, who lives in Oakhurst, Calif., a small farming community near Modesto, did not respond to repeated interview requests at his business. The phone number for Pacific States is answered by a message for another McCoon business, a corporation registered in the Bahamas as Sierra Consumer Acceptance.

John Brewington of Phoenix, who filed a complaint about McCoon with the attorney general this month, said authorities need to act fast. "I think anyone who has ever had a debt is at risk from this guy," said Brewington, whose friend was hit with a lien. "In fact, anybody in the community is at risk. . . . I would strongly suggest that every person check their credit and check their property records."

Liens, which can ruin credit and prevent owners from selling or refinancing, cloud title to property. Someone trying to sell or refinance a house is often required to pay off a lien before the transaction can be completed. Liens are traditionally filed in cases in which real estate was used as collateral but can also be filed against homeowners for failure to pay income taxes and by contractors who are owed money for work on a home.

McCoon, however, has been filing liens based on credit-card debt, records show, even though legal and financial experts say typical credit-card debt is not secured by real estate. County records, court documents and letters from Pacific States show that McCoon has filed liens and then demanded payment for credit-card debt, along with payments for penalties and interest.

Court records show that liens sometimes were filed against people who never owed debt or against people who had discharged the debt years earlier in Bankruptcy Court.

Phoenix homeowner Kim DeGeorge said she didn't learn that Pacific States had filed a lien against her home until she tried to sell it last month. "We had no idea. We didn't know until the first contract on our home was about to be signed," she said. The lien was based on a Bank of America Visa card, which had been written off when the DeGeorges filed for bankruptcy. The lien stalled the sale for a couple of weeks. "We called and called and called," DeGeorge said. "Finally, I left a message saying I was getting a lawyer." A few days later, the lien was terminated. "We didn't know what we were going to do. My husband wanted to pay it off and try to get it back later, just so we could sell the house," DeGeorge said.

Court records in Orange County, Calif., show that McCoon sent demand letters to escrow officers, offering to release the liens upon payment via wire transfer into his bank account. He also sent homeowners documents titled "summons and complaint," along with copies of the liens, giving some the impression that they were being sued. But records showed the "summons" was never filed with the court. "He doesn't give people an opportunity to prove the debts are valid. He files the liens as an opening salvo," said Leslie Young, Orange County deputy district attorney. "Eight of our victims never owed anybody any money in their lives." Young has charged McCoon with 148 felony counts stemming from liens he filed against 144 homeowners in Orange County from 2003 to 2005.

More here

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Friday, February 24, 2006


The FBI has been accused of demanding a cover-up of forensic mistakes in the case of a former police officer cleared of perjury because publicity would dent confidence in Scottish justice as the Lockerbie trial began. Two American fingerprint experts who helped to clear Shirley McKie of perjury in 1999 say they were approached by the FBI and asked not to publicise their concerns about inaccurate evidence given by the Scottish fingerprint service because it "might taint the people involved in Lockerbie".

Yesterday Ms McKie's family and supporters again called for the Scottish Executive to hold a public inquiry into the case.
Ms McKie was wrongly accused of leaving her thumbprint at a murder scene in 1997, when she was a Strathclyde Police detective, and was charged with perjury when she insisted that it was not hers. She was cleared in 1999 with the help of international fingerprint experts who proved that the print did not belong to her.

The doubts raised about the professionalism of the evidence-gathering of the Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO) came at a bad time for the Crown. In 2000 the Scottish justice system was under scrutiny as the trial started in the Netherlands of two Libyans over the Pan Am bombing. Tam Dalyell, the former MP, said: "I now strongly believe that there has to be a proper inquiry to establish the facts."

David Grieve, of Illinois State Police, and Pat Wertheim were two of the fingerprint experts who helped Ms McKie. Mr Grieve told Scotland on Sunday. "I was asked not to mention anything about the case because we had to think about the higher goal, which was Lockerbie." He also said that the FBI had been visited by officials from the SCRO, which has denied that the McKie case was discussed. Mr Grieve said: "I was given a lecture on the importance of not embarrassing a sister agency which had cases pending of international significance. I know the reference was to the Pan Am bombing."

This month the Executive paid Ms McKie 750,000 pounds in an out-of-court settlement for what it called an "honest mistake" by the SCRO "on the basis that the misidentification was not done maliciously".

The Scottish Executive said that there had already been two inquiries: "We don't see a third would shed any new light." A spokeswoman added that there had been "significant improvements" to the fingerprint service at the SCRO. The Crown Office said: "The SCRO were not involved in any way with fingerprinting of the Lockerbie case."

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Thursday, February 23, 2006


A law student was arrested for “stealing” Christmas cards that he had sent to relatives more than five years before when he was 15. The cards had been recovered and fingerprints found on the envelopes were stored on computer by Lancashire Constabulary. Then David Atkinson, 21, of Thornton Cleveleys, was arrested – mistakenly – on suspicion of criminal damage. His fingerprints and DNA were taken.

Another man surrendered to police on the criminal damage matter and Mr Atkinson was released without charge. However, his fingerprints were matched to the Christmas card crime — and he was rearrested. It was only after a shaken Mr Atkinson refused to admit that crime, urging police to look into the theft more closely, that his innocence was proved. The cards were addressed to members of his family.

Mr Atkinson said: “The potential incompetence, laziness, or overenthusiasm of an individual officer means an innocent citizen can never truly have confidence in the giant police database.” A police spokesman said: “This was investigated thoroughly and dealt with locally to the satisfaction of both parties.”

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Swigging a mid-strength beer and munching pizza on Monday night, Andrew Mallard quietly contemplated his freedom after almost 12 years behind bars. There were no high fives or whoops of joy, just a wander outside to look at the night sky unimpeded by prison walls. "I haven't seen the stars for so long," he mused. "Once you're locked in your cell, you can't see much." Just eight hours earlier, Mallard was spending another mundane day of musters and lock-downs, inmate number HO923173 in the maximum security Casuarina Prison. The jail had been his home since 1994, when he was charged with the murder of Perth jeweller Pamela Lawrence in a bloody case that has become infamous in the west.

At her retirement village cottage, his elderly mother Grace and his steadily loyal big sister Jacqui wept with relief. John Quigley, a prominent former police union lawyer turned Labor MP, and I swapped telephone calls with the pro bono legal team from Clayton Utz and eminent barrister Malcolm McCusker, QC, who also worked on the case for free. A documentary team, filming the final scenes for an ABC television special, captured the long-awaited first moments of freedom.

Monday's release came quickly but the road has been long: failed appeals and an exhausting struggle to find new evidence culminated in the discovery in 2002 of a police briefing that showed several key pieces of evidence were not disclosed to the defence at trial, including a forensic test that showing a wrench drawn during Mallard's long police interviews could not have caused Lawrence's injuries. The case was reopened by Attorney-General Jim McGinty but a long [Corrupt Western Australia] Supreme Court appeal was dismissed in 2003. That decision was overturned last November in a unanimous ruling by the High Court, which quashed Mallard's conviction.

Robert Cock, QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, had been hell-bent on retrying Mallard, claiming police and prosecutors had done no wrong and had nothing to hide. That was until mid-morning on Monday, when he telephoned McCusker to inform him the murder charge would be withdrawn because there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

The dramatic end to Mallard's incarceration places him alongside Western Australia's other famous wrongful conviction cases: the Mickelberg brothers, John Button and Darryl Beamish. Most of the key players in those other mysteries were either retired or dead. In Mallard's case, the police and prosecutors have since risen to the top echelons of the state's justice system.

After being handed a life sentence in 1995, Mallard disappeared down the Supreme Court dock stairs, yelling his innocence and promising, "You have not heard the last of this." He was right. Mallard's name now evokes bitter passions in the Perth legal community, publicly pitting Quigley and the eminent McCusker against Cock, who claimed on Monday that Mallard was still the prime suspect, despite conceding he had no case.

It has divided the legal clique of Perth, where senior lawyers and judges tend to speak about each other in terms of which year they graduated from the same law school and which college sporting team they represented together. Long-held concerns in defence circles about the cosy relationship between the office of the DPP and police, and the number of ex-crown lawyers appointed to the Supreme Court bench, are the talk of Perth's legal hub at St Georges Terrace. Now that the murder charge has been dropped, all eyes are on a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation, which was launched after a stinging parliamentary speech by Quigley following the High Court decision in November.

Before entering parliament, Quigley spent 20 years defending police against allegations of corruption and illegality. The outspoken Labor MP's passionate belief in Mallard's innocence turned him from police protector to accuser. He claimed in parliament the controversy amounted to a prima facie case of perverting the course of justice and lined up two assistant commissioners: David Caporn, who runs counter-terrorism and state protection, and Mal Shervill, the boss of specialist crime. Shervill led the investigation into Lawrence's death. Caporn, who would later lead the Claremont serial killer taskforce, was a head detective.

Before the stormy afternoon of June 23, 1994, when Lawrence was bludgeoned to death in the leafy suburb of Mosman Park, Mallard was one of Perth's many homeless drifters with mental health problems and a penchant for marijuana. He was known to police for petty crimes and, on the morning of the murder, had been in the lock-up for breaking into the apartment of a friend's ex-boyfriend. Detectives arriving at the bloody scene after the mother of two's death found no jewellery or cash stolen, although they were in full view. Lawrence's husband, who had found his dying wife on the shop floor, told police a wallet from her handbag was gone.

Police decided it was a case of robbery gone wrong. Mallard was one of 136 names on their list of suspects who vaguely fitted a description given by a schoolgirl who'd seen a man in Lawrence's shop. They began checking alibis and kept returning to suspects whose stories did not check out. Mallard, who was under assessment in Graylands Psychiatric Hospital at the time, was deemed to be dishonest because his alibis kept turning out to be stories from days other than the day of the murder.

He had no history of violence and did not know Lawrence but his odd behaviour led detectives to seize Mallard's clothing, including his only pair of shoes. One drop of blood was found on a boot. It appears detectives were misled by an early laboratory report that suggested it was Lawrence's blood type. It was actually Mallard's own blood from a cut finger.

Regardless of the blood result, police believed Mallard was suspiciously lying about his alibi. On June 10, 1994, without a lawyer or family member, Mallard followed Caporn, the day he was released from Graylands, into a police interview room, where he stayed for eight hours. What happened in that room is contested by both sides. The DPP's explanation on Monday for dropping the case surrounded the detective's handwritten, unsigned confession, which was admitted at Mallard's 1995 trial but would not be permitted under today's evidence rules.

After that marathon interview, Mallard was released in the dead of night with no money or accommodation. Unknown to him, his trial lawyer or the 1995-96 appeal lawyers, Caporn had ordered an undercover detective to befriend Mallard and attempt to find evidence, particularly the murder weapon. That officer, codenamed Gary, watched Mallard smoking marijuana (Mallard says Gary supplied the marijuana) and attempted to gain a confession. The secret operation found nothing. A summary of the investigation, among the uncovered evidence found in 2002, revealed that some police believed Mallard was acting strangely but had doubts about his guilt.

A week later, after a sleepless night in which he was bashed outside a nightclub under the watch of the undercover operation, Mallard was again interviewed off-camera and he drew a Sidchrome wrench. He then went on video for about 20 minutes to clear his name and confirm that he had told the police his theory of what the killer would have done. That video, supported by Caporn's corroborating notes, was the key to a successful prosecution.

The five judges of the High Court found the conviction a miscarriage of justice because those confessions were unreliable and significant forensic evidence was withheld from the defence. They were critical of the fact that the police held back a raft of evidence (the prosecution knew of some of it) helpful to Mallard's defence.

In addition to the wrench test and undercover operation, witness statements had been changed to remove crucial facts and a forensic scientist had been asked to alter his report on how the killer could have disposed of the murder weapon. It is not known what information the police made available to the then director of public prosecutions, John McKechnie, QC, or the trial prosecutor, Ken Bates. McKechnie is now a Supreme Court judge and Bates a senior prosecutor who acted as DPP when Cock was recently on sick leave with cancer.

Cock has said he hopes any non-disclosure by the DPP's office was an oversight and not deliberate. He has also said he believes the police have done nothing wrong and could not see why the CCC investigation was necessary. Cock told the court on Monday he still considered Mallard the prime suspect in the murder despite the lack of evidence to proceed against him. He has been supportive of the police refusal to reopen the case in the face of evidence provided by McCusker relating to other suspects, including a report from an internationally renowned forensic expert.

It is almost impossible to find senior criminal counsel without some link to this case or its main players. McCusker, Mallard's lawyer, is also the parliamentary inspector of the CCC. Safely ensconced in his mother's retirement village after a fitful night's sleep on a comfortable bed, the lanky, bespectacled Mallard is still coming to terms with his release. Yesterday, as furious words were hurled from both sides, the quietly spoken Englishman vowed to make his supporters proud. His first instinct is to flee the state, wary of police and a system he has grown to mistrust, but he is determined to clear his name before going anywhere. "I need it to be proved irrefutably that I am innocent and that the murderer is still out there," he says. "I have waited a long time. The whole truth will come out in the end."

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Further comment:

"State Attorney-General Jim McGinty yesterday conceded the case had revealed an "untidy and unfortunate" series of events, saying it was up to the state's corruption watchdog to continue its investigations into the handling of the police inquiries and prosecution. "Nobody can feel satisfied with the way in which the Mallard case has unfolded," Mr McGinty said. "It was an horrendous murder. Nobody has been brought to justice for it and now we have got allegations of improper or corrupt behaviour by police and DPP prosecutors. "I think there is no doubt that this particular case casts a shadow over the way in which the police conducted the investigation and perhaps the way in which the DPP prosecuted this case." Mr McGinty urged police to vigorously investigate any further information that became available.

Police Deputy Commissioner Chris Dawson was quick to defend his officers yesterday, saying it was important the case did not become a measure of police competence in homicide investigations. Contradicting his statement on Monday evening that police had no intention of re-opening the case, Mr Dawson said unsolved murder cases were never closed."

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Australian man free after decade in jail

No evidence of guilt and a crooked prosecution

After spending more than a decade behind bars for the murder of a Perth jeweller, Andrew Mallard last night walked from prison a free man. The 42-year-old was released from maximum security Casuarina Prison after prosecutors withdrew a murder charge against him yesterday afternoon. A calm, smiling and relieved Mr Mallard emerged from prison flanked by family and supporters, eager to head home in a limousine ordered for the occasion. "I just want a good night's sleep, free from officers jeering in the port and keys jangling and all that sort of thing," he said. "I have been preparing for this for some time - nearly 12 years actually."

Outraged at an assertion in the West Australian Supreme Court that he remained the prime suspect in the 1994 murder of Pamela Lawrence, Mr Mallard's sister Jackie accused police of conducting an inept investigation, claiming evidence was presented three years ago that should have set her brother free. "The police should now do their job properly, as they should have in the first place, and find out who really did this," she said.

Two appeals failed before Mr Mallard's conviction was quashed by the High Court in November. He was due to face trial later this year, but at a hastily convened sitting of the Supreme Court yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Cock QC withdrew the prosecution.

Lawrence, a 45-year-old mother of two, was found dying in a pool of blood in her jewellery shop in the western suburb of Mosman Park on May 23, 1994. The High Court ruled Mr Mallard's conviction after a 10-day Supreme Court trial in 1995 was a miscarriage of justice because the prosecution failed to disclose, or had suppressed, important evidence.

Mr Cock said the reason for withdrawing the prosecution related to the admissibility of alleged confessions made by Mr Mallard during several interrogations - including an eight-hour unrecorded interview - in 1994. Mr Cock said because of retrospective 1996 laws at least some of the police interviews should have been recorded on video. The court was told Mr Mallard - an itinerant suffering bipolar disease - alleged he had been induced to do one of the interviews, was assaulted, verbally intimidated and fed detailed information about the case; allegations denied by police.

Mr Cock said Mr Mallard's alleged confessions were complex and there were other obvious difficulties with the case, including no forensic evidence linking him to the murder. "It does not leave us with a case upon which there is a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction," he said. He said Mr Mallard remained the prime suspect, promising the prosecution would be pursued if further evidence came to hand.

Deputy Police Commissioner Chris Dawson stood by the investigators. "There is no information which suggests that these officers acted corruptly or maliciously," he said. [Only a cop would believe it]. There were no plans to reopen the investigation. [i.e. The guilty guy will never be found because the police are too stiff-necked to seek him]

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Monday, February 20, 2006


Muslims can't commite hate-crimes, apparently. Post taken from Unsealed Room

Amidst all of this hullabaloo surrounding cartoons, the story of the extremely horrific kidnapping, torture and murder of a young man named Ilan Halimi in France has gotten lost.

The story is horrific in several ways -- not the least of which is the fact that the French authorities have had the audacity to prematurely claim that anti-Semitism didn't play a role in the crime, when it so obviously did.

It all started on January 21, when a good-looking young woman walked into a cellular telephone store, started flirting with Halimi, and they made a date. It turned out that she was bait, used by a gang to lure Halimi into a kidnapping.

The woman had been sent by the gang, which calls itself "The Barbarians." A police source said the gang is a group of childhood friends who grew up in Bagneux, a suburb south of Paris. The gang includes Muslims of North African descent and is headed by Youssef Fofana, who has escaped police capture so far. According to Marin, the gang had made six similar abduction attempts in the past.

After overpowering Halimi, the gang brought him to an apartment in a high-rise in Bagneux. They contacted Halimi's family and over the next three weeks demanded ransoms ranging from 300,000 to 500,000 euros. According to reports, at one point they agreed upon a deal and set a meeting place but the kidnappers backed out and eventually ended contact.

On Monday, several weeks after he was seized, Halimi was found tied to a tree, naked and burned all over his body. He died on the way to the hospital.

"They acted with indescribable cruelty," the judiciary police chief leading the investigation said. "They kept him naked and tied up for weeks. They cut him and in the end poured flammable liquid on him and set him alight."

Late Thursday night, a SWAT team stormed an apartment building and arrested 12 members of the gang suspected in the kidnapping. Another was arrested in Belgium.

The fact that they caught the perpetrators is good. The fact that the Paris public prosecutor, Jean-Claude Marin, told the media that "no element of the current investigation could link this murder to an anti-Semitic declaration or action" is outrageous.

How about these elements?

According to Halimi's father, two of the previous kidnapping targets before his son were Jewish. And what's more, he told the media that:

"When we said we didn't have 500,000 euros to give them they told us to go to the synagogue and get it," Rafi said. "They also recited verses from the Koran."

Now, I really don't think the grieving father has any reason to make this up.

Add to that the fact that there are many simpler methods of murdering a standard kidnap victim -- but holding him prisoner naked? Setting him on fire and tying him to a tree? If this was a white gang and the victim was black would anyone be questioning if it was racist?

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that anti-Semitism just might have played a role in this. Instead, it seems we've got Inspector Clouseau on the case.

Surprisingly, this story hasn't gotten major play even in the Israeli media until today when the arrests were made -- we've all been too busy and the papers stuffed to the brim, not only with the Danish cartoon saga, but with Hamas, the Israeli election campaign and the Olympics.

It's nowhere to be found in the international media, not in the U.S. press and not on the wires. Only the Jewish and Israeli press, and one British paper.

I heard about it several days ago, only because my in-laws are French, and the affair has understandably shaken the French Jewish community to the core. We had a large wave of French Jews immigrating to Israel last summer. Something tells me that this summer we're going to have another one.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Frisking white-haired grandmothers, confiscating nail clippers and allowing thousands of illegal immigrants to stream in across the Mexican border is about the limit of their talents

An Algerian-born pilot wrongly jailed in Britain on accusations that he trained the Sept. 11 hijackers won the right Friday to challenge for compensation. An appeal hearing at London's High Court granted Raissi the right to challenge a government decision that he was not eligible for compensation.

Lotfi Raissi, 32, was arrested near London's Heathrow Airport shortly after the 2001 attacks, having been indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona. United States prosecutors described him as a prime suspect in the 9/11 case, claiming he offered pilot training to the hijackers.

But a British judge refused to extradite Raissi to face trial and released him from custody, claiming there was no evidence to link him with terrorism.

The former commercial pilot was told last year by Britain's Home Office interior ministry he was not eligible for compensation for his 4 month detention, as he waited for the decision on a U.S. request to extradite him. "My life has been destroyed. I chose to become an airline pilot, I worked hard for it and I starved for it," Raissi said outside court, following the hearing. "But the reality is that because of my profile of being Algerian, Muslim, Arabic and an airline pilot, I suffered this miscarriage of justice." He said he hoped British Home Secretary would take the court's decision "very seriously and think again."

Raissi was arrested on Sept. 23 2001 and held until February 2002, when he was released on bail pending the outcome of the extradition hearing in April that year. Appeal judge Duncan Ouseley ruled that a compensation scheme for those wrongfully held in British custody should apply to extradition cases and said Raissi was entitled to a full hearing.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006


A man wrongly convicted of killing his girlfriend says a ban on West Australian barristers talking to the media on the record could have meant his case may never have been resolved.

At a meeting of the WA Bar Association last night, the state's 165 barristers were told they were no longer able to talk to the media on the record without permission from the association president. They will still be allowed to brief journalists off the record to ensure accurate reporting. The Bar association's president, Ken Martin QC, said the decision was designed to prevent American-style media circuses developing in WA.

John Button, who served five-and-a-half years of a 10-year prison term after being wrongly convicted of running down his teenage girlfriend Rosemary Anderson in 1963, said the decision was another method for the legal fraternity to cover its mistakes. A court quashed Mr Button's conviction in 2002 after the author of a book unearthed evidence that another man, known serial killer Eric Cooke, had killed Ms Anderson.

Mr Button says it was the media who secured his release, by working alongside QC Tom Percy. "To say they are not allowed to talk ... to me, this is a gag, and another way of the system covering up its mistakes," Mr Button told ABC radio. "Rather than admit it and fix it, they would rather close all the gates to any sort of discussion - the last thing they want is for the public to know the whole truth. "I believe it was the media that secured my release ... Tom (Percy) did a fantastic job, but if the media had not come onside and worked alongside him, we would never have got there, purely because of the corruption in the system."

Mr Martin said recent examples had prompted the changes to the rules - but he did not say what they were. "Regrettably, there is an American tendency creeping into WA and Australia to try and have OJ Simpson circus-like side trials before the media," he told ABC radio. "That is a bad thing and we want to try and stop that. "I am not going to go into specific cases, but I think we all know situations where people start talking about the merits and demerits of their case publicly before their case has even been tried."

Last night's changes are understood to have been prompted by comments made by Perth lawyer Mark Trowell after he was asked to become involved in the case of Schapelle Corby, convicted in Bali for drug smuggling. After Mr Trowell was reported as saying Corby's Indonesian legal team intended to bribe appeal judges in Denpasar, senior WA silk Wayne Martin complained about him to the bar association.

Report here

Background on the Button case:

Somewhere in the world there's always an expert on any subject, no matter how arcane," says Bret Christian. In 1999, Christian, the publisher of independent suburban newspapers around Perth, Australia, needed to shed light on a murder that had taken place on February 9, 1963. The murder weapon was either a 1962 Simca Aronde, a homely French car with the rounded look of the early '50s that in its time and place was considered sporty for its 1500cc engine, or a 1961 Holden, an Australian GM car.

On the evening of the murder—John Button's 19th birthday—Button's girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson, had stomped out of the house after an argument and was headed home. She walked from Redfern Street, the Buttons' leafy lane of working-class cottages, to the busier Nicholson Road, which ran under a railway embankment. Button followed in the Simca, stopping several times to beg forgiveness. At length, he broke for a smoke at a gas station and watched Rosemary disappear under the embankment. From there, she turned onto Stubbs Terrace, then a poorly lit haven for auto-body shops. When Button resumed his pursuit, he soon found her unconscious along Stubbs Terrace. He took her to a nearby doctor, who called an ambulance.

The police suspected Button, because of the argument and a damaged grille on the Simca that he attributed to an earlier fender-bender. They interrogated him, and punched him up a bit, says Button, and then wrote a confession, which Button signed. Button served five years' hard labor for manslaughter.

Unknown to Button until after his trial, another man, Eric Edgar Cooke, had confessed to the same murder. Cooke was a serial killer who had terrorized Perth since 1958. His 20 murders and assaults on young women included six hit-and-runs. After he was nabbed for a shooting, in August 1963, Cooke, a small man with a harelip and cleft palate, whose father had beaten him with the regularity of sunrise, confessed the rest. The police, heretofore stymied, embraced the confessions, except regarding Anderson and another murder where conviction had been achieved. (The Kennedy assassination, which had occurred two days earlier, pushed Cooke's trial off the front pages, says Christian.) But the Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed the two men's subsequent appeals.

His sentence served, Button worked desperately to prove his innocence. A break came in 1991, when his brother met a journalist, Estelle Blackburn, at a dance. Blackburn poured her life into Button's case, spending six years writing a book, Broken Lives. She dug up "fresh evidence" that enabled reopening the case under Australian law: a Vespa rider who claimed Cooke had chased him, and a man who had seen Button place the unconscious Anderson in his car, but who was not called as a witness at the trial. Christian published Blackburn's book in 1998 but worried that it lacked "the killer piece of evidence she needed [for Button] to win in court." These witnesses' stories were vague, and Christian feared presciently that the prosecutor would "tear them apart."

One day, examining a photo of an Australian Chrysler Cooke had used to run down two girls, Christian was struck by the damage, which was far greater than that on Button's car-and these girls had survived. That dialectic led Christian to seek an expert on car-and-pedestrian crashes.

All leads led to William Russell "Rusty" Haight, who is 45 and lives in San Diego with his wife, Catherine, a fitness trainer, his children, and 10-year-old son Connor's pet snakes, which he tolerates out of paternal love. But he works all over the country, at hotels-such as the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau in Ocean City, Maryland, where groups such as the Maryland Association of Traffic Accident Investigators hold conferences-as well as on large expanses of nearby tarmac.

Haight, who was three when Anderson was killed, is an expert in vehicle accident reconstruction. That art is the bastard child of engineering principles and methods of police investigation and analysis, he says. It's not about putting Humpty Dumpty back together, but rather, understanding exactly how he came apart.

Haight is renowned for being his own crash-test dummy. He holds a Guinness World Record for the most car crashes, now approaching 800. The crashes have involved speeds up to 53 mph, but his most serious injury was a minor cut caused by an airbag. He also ranks 24th on Men's Journal's list of the 25 toughest men in America, behind 50 Cent, but ahead of Hillary Clinton. No kidding....

The crash testing went like clockwork. One by one, Rusty drove the Simcas into the dummy, dubbed Matilda, at speeds ranging from 27 to 39 mph. Each time, Matilda slammed the hood before cartwheeling above the roof, leaving the classic pedestrian-crash-damage pattern that was absent from Button's Simca....

News accounts drew two more witnesses out of the woodwork, whose testimony would bolster the case, most notably, Trevor Condren, the police crash examiner who had inspected the Simca following the murder and had said at the time that it could not have killed Anderson. He had been prevented from testifying at the original trial. Now, in court, Condren identified the Simca in a photo, noting that there had been no blood, fabric, or skin on it.

In court, Christian says, "Rusty was so good at his work that while he was giving this incredibly detailed scientific evidence he was chatting up the girl who was running the tapes for the court transcript." Rusty played a major role in Button's exoneration. The Supreme Court summary credits the crash tests for raising doubts that Button's Simca hit Anderson, and for corroborating Cooke's account from Button's 1964 appeal. After Button's lawyer read Eric Cooke's 1964 affidavit describing how he ran down Anderson, the video of Rusty driving the Holden into the dummy eerily echoed Cooke's account.

On the last day of the appeal, in his summary, the Crown prosecutor stuck to the original story that Rosemary Anderson had been carried for some distance on the front of the car. But the judges began quoting Rusty's evidence to the contrary. It then dawned on Button's supporters that they had won the case.

More here

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Friday, February 17, 2006


You may need them to defend yourself against crooked police

A federal jury awarded $18 million to a teacher who claimed a sheriff's detective falsely accused him of kidnapping and assaulting a girl and hid evidence that would have exonerated him. Wednesday's award was the largest ever against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The jury could decide that plaintiff Raul Ramirez deserves more money when the trial enters its punitive phase Thursday. Because the county is not insured, the award, if upheld, would be paid by the department at a time when Sheriff Lee Baca is complaining that underfunding is forcing him to release jail inmates early and preventing him from placing enough deputies in jails to improve security.

Ramirez, 29, a teacher at Charles R. Drew Middle School in Compton, was arrested after a student there identified him as the man who kidnapped her at gunpoint in May 2002 as she waited for a bus, drove her to another location and demanded that she perform a sex act. The 16-year-old girl managed to escape.

A jury found Ramirez not guilty after he produced ATM receipts and cell phone records showing he was miles from the scene when the crime occurred. A judge later made the rare finding that he was "factually innocent." Ramirez, of Bellflower, then sued the Sheriff's Department, alleging that Detective Frank Bravo built a false case against him. According to Ramirez's federal complaint, Bravo knew Ramirez did not match the victim's description of her assailant but withheld that information until just before trial. Ramirez's attorney also alleged Bravo did not disclose the existence of the girl's backpack, which did not bear Ramirez's fingerprints. Bravo "arrested Mr. Ramirez and basically shattered his life based on the unreliable eyewitness identification of a teenage girl who was mistaken," said Ramirez's attorney, Michael Artan. "Then he hid evidence that would have exonerated Mr. Ramirez."

Bravo, a 20-year veteran assigned to the Century Station in Lynwood, could not be reached for comment by the Los Angeles Times. Assistant County Counsel Roger Granbo said the county was disappointed by the verdict. Sheriff's officials believed they were not liable because prosecutors thought the case against Ramirez had merit, he said. "The district attorney knew the problems with the case and the positive aspects and made an independent decision to prosecute," Granbo said. The largest previous award against the sheriff's department was $15.9 million, which a jury ordered paid to 36 people who had been arrested at a Cerritos bridal shower six years earlier.

Report here

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Thursday, February 16, 2006


The victim as offender. I would have thought that defences of either provocation or self-defence would have succeeded. The ignoramus concerned seems to have got off Scot-free

An Australian woman charged with assault after trying to shush an American moviegoer who was on a mobile phone has been fined $176. Pauline Clayton was in Texas on holidays when she decided to catch Australian actor Heath Ledger's movie Brokeback Mountain last week. Halfway through the picture, a woman film patron took a mobile phone call, and began talking. Annoyed by the disruption, Ms Clayton, a former Sunshine Coast councillor, put her finger to her mouth, signalling to the woman to shush, then touched her on the shoulder twice.

The other woman then stood up and started shouting expletives at Ms Clayton before storming out of the cinema. Police arrived and escorted Ms Clayton out of the theatre. The maligned woman told officers Ms Clayton had been "invading her private space" and accused the Australian of assault. Police subsequently arrested Ms Clayton and charged her with assault.

Ms Clayton was fined $176, the Seven Network reported today. Seven showed vision of a smiling Ms Clayton leaving what appeared to be a court building but it was unclear whether she had paid the fine. "If I don't have a traffic violation or touch anyone again in 90 days, there's no conviction," she said.

Report here

India: Man released after 38 years, no trial

A man who was accused of murder and languished in prison for 38 years after becoming lost in India's bureaucracy was reunited with his family today after finally being freed by a Supreme Court order. Jagjivan Yadav, 70, was greeted by around 700 people as he arrived in his village in Uttar Pradesh state, but said the only member of his family he recognised was his wife. "I can hardly recognise anyone. They say they are my relatives, but I do not remember," he said. The only person Yadav recognised was his wife, Patto Devi. Devi said she had thought her husband was dead, having lost touch with him after his arrest for the murder of a woman in 1968.

Among the welcoming crowd were people whose evidence had led to his arrest, but one, Deo Dutt Yadav, said police had forced him to testify against Yadav. After his incarceration, Yadav's family fell upon hard times and his wife went to live with her brother.

His trial on murder charges had opened briefly but the authorities forgot about him after he was moved to another city for a medical check-up. Thirty-five years later he was transferred to a prison in Faizabad district, 150 kilometres southeast of state capital Lucknow, where his case came to light when a local official sought information about the status of the trials of all inmates. The Supreme Court took note of the case after a few lawyers rallied for Yadav's release, and he was granted bail on Monday. Yadav's lawyer said he would seek compensation.

Report here

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006


A brutal young granny-killer has been allowed to leave a youth jail at least 85 times, including trips to visit family, to a VicRoads office for a learner's driving permit, and to see a dentist. A one-hour lunch with his stepfather and a visit to his grandmother were among at least five visits to his family. Documents also reveal a proposal to transfer the youth to a minimum-security forest camp for youths. The Acheron camp is near Buxton, northeast of Melbourne.

The documents, dated December, propose that the youth be allowed leave to visit Acheron "to prepare for a possible permanent transfer there". The proposal is believed to have been put on hold after inquiries by the Herald Sun , but the youth is believed to have visited the camp. It was also proposed that he be allowed to leave detention at the Malmsbury Juvenile Justice Centre to have driving lessons in the community. It is believed that most of that was to take part in a program for young sex offenders.

The young man, now 21, and another youth pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of great-grandmother Marie Greening Zidan. Mrs Greening Zidan's daughter, Janine Greening, attacked the leave program yesterday, and insisted that the family and the public should be consulted about any proposal to move the youth to Acheron. "It's like a reward," she said. "We know they should have got a longer sentence and they didn't, and they never got to see jail, so they have had a very soft sentence." "I think he should never have been allowed out on leave," Ms Greening said. "If he is out on leave, the family and the public should know. "He's a sex offender and he's a killer. "The sentence was insulting enough, but to do this is more insulting. Words can't describe it."

Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara said the program was a slap in the face for the victims. "This Club Med sort of treatment by the Department of Human Services is totally unacceptable and quite outrageous," Mr McNamara said.

A source said the youth was receiving special treatment at Malmsbury. "I reckon it's unfair," he said. "I don't know why he's getting this. "Other clients do their time. They only get (leave) three or four months before parole. "Why is he getting it so early? It makes me sick."

A DHS spokesman said he could not discuss individual sentence management for security and privacy reasons. A government spokeswoman said the way young offenders were managed in the juvenile justice system was a matter for DHS. "The Bracks Government understands the juvenile justice system offers the best chance possible for rehabilitation of young offenders," the spokeswoman said. "However, community safety is also important. We expect DHS to ensure the community is in no way at risk as part of rehabilitation plans for young offenders."

Mrs Greening Zidan, 73, a frail invalid pensioner who looked after her disabled son, Peter, full-time, was sexually assaulted, beaten about the head and strangled in her Fortescue Ave, Seaford, home on October 15, 2000. The young killers, then aged 15 and 16, stole $10-$15 in loose change. Each was sentenced as an "aider and abettor".

The Court of Appeal, which increased the original jail sentences for both youths to a maximum of nine years, with minimum terms of six years, called the crime one of the most serious manslaughter cases it had seen. The Director of Public Prosecutions appeal called the original sentences manifestly inadequate.

The youth at Malmsbury, who claimed he was in the house when Mrs Greening Zidan died but not in her room, is eligible for parole in October. Because of his age at the time of the offence, he cannot be named or identified. Documents from Malmsbury supporting a proposed transfer to Acheron, seen by the Herald Sun, show that up to early December the youth went on 85 escorted leaves. They have become more frequent in the past year, and on many occasions he has been escorted by one staff member. The youth has also visited a dentist in Woodend, a psychologist in Bendigo, relatives on the Mornington Peninsula, and the VicRoads office in Kyneton. The documents state he was enrolled for the theoretical component of his learner's permit. A proposal was made that he attend driving lessons in the community. The documents state that the plan was still awaiting approval. It is believed he has visited Acheron and stayed the night there.

A report states it has recently become apparent he is struggling with his environment in a secure unit at Malsmbury. It states he conducts himself in a mostly mature manner in the unit. But the report adds that because of his high profile, there would be difficulties moving him to an open-site unit at Malmsbury, where he is continually abused and threatened if he walks across the centre. "Due to these issues, and in the interested of effect (sic) and timely case management, it is felt that the planned change of environment (Acheron) would benefit (him) greatly and see him through to his parole date without further incident."

In January 2002, the pair tormented Mrs Greening Zidan's family with a prank phone call from jail, singing a crude ditty that was recorded on Janine Greening's answering machine.

Report here

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006


A decade ago, as California was gripped with outrage over the release of a notorious rapist from prison, the state took bold action. Legislators vowed to keep the highest-risk sex offenders locked up for years after completing their prison sentences. They were to be sent to a maximum-security psychiatric facility - Atascadero State Hospital - for a strict, five-stage treatment program.

California's solution was considered among the nation's toughest. But the program has a fatal flaw, a six-month investigation by The Bee has found, because there is a much easier way out of Atascadero, one chosen by the vast majority of sexually violent predators housed there: Refuse treatment and bank on winning release through the court hearing each offender receives every two years.

That loophole makes California's get-tough solution in practice one of the most lenient sexually violent predator laws in the nation. It is precisely how 54 rapists and child molesters won release through the end of 2005 from their Atascadero commitments, according to a review of court records and interviews with dozens of prosecutors, law enforcement officers and sexually violent predators in California, Oregon, Arizona, Missouri and Colorado. Only four men have completed the five-step program, and one of those was returned to custody less than two months after his release.

To be declared a sexually violent predator and sent to Atascadero, offenders must have at least two sex-crime convictions, and prosecutors must convince a court that they are likely to re-offend if released directly from prison. But there is no guarantee that the offenders will remain in Atascadero. Some convinced state psychiatrists that they were unlikely to commit a new offense, which obligates the state to set them free. Others won release after juries could not agree whether they should continue to be held. Still others were freed after county district attorneys did not challenge the offenders' petitions for release, judging them too old or infirm to re-offend. None of the 54 went through the full regimen of treatment the state designed for them. More than two-thirds underwent no treatment at all.

"All they need is a doctor's slip to get out," said Harriet Salarno, president of Crime Victims United of California. "Nobody should be let out unless they're truly rehabilitated."

Instead, an investigation of the program found that in California:

* There's a built-in incentive to refuse treatment, because the few offenders who actually follow the hospital's full program find themselves not only targets of scorn inside Atascadero but subject to both tighter scrutiny and community protests upon release.

* Nearly all of the highest-risk sex offenders released from Atascadero without completing treatment have returned to society with less supervision than lower-risk sex offenders freed directly from prison.

* Members of the public have no sure way to tell if a sexually violent predator has settled in their neighborhood because the state refuses to identify them as such.

Despite that policy, The Bee found the last-known locations of all 54 sexually violent predators who were released through the end of 2005 without completing the treatment program. The search included use of court records, public documents, media archives, Internet search tools and interviews with law enforcement and county prosecutors throughout California. It also relied on cooperation from some Atascadero patients and released sex offenders, as well as California's Megan's List, the attorney general's Internet listing of all sex offenders registered with California law-enforcement agencies.

Eleven of the 54 men are back in custody, including one convicted of molesting two girls he was baby-sitting two years after his release. Two were accused of new sex-related crimes. At least 10 left the state after release, some saying that life as a convicted sex offender is easier outside California, where registration requirements and monitoring efforts can be even less stringent. Seven have died, and three currently are in violation of their quarterly registration requirements, including one - Donald Warren Delaney - who seems to have disappeared.

Authorities say Delaney, a 77-year-old former Stockton police sergeant, has dropped from sight and may be in Mexico. Delaney, sentenced to 24 years in prison in 1985 for lewd acts on nine children, was released from Atascadero on March 25. California's Megan's List indicates he is incarcerated, but there is no record of him in any California prison, and San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor said he may have left the country. One property record linked Delaney to an address in Pollock Pines that turned out to be a logging road with no homes.

Most of the 54 who failed to start or complete treatment simply moved into communities around California and the nation with little or no public notice, no requirement that they wear satellite tracking devices, and none of the parole restrictions heaped on other sexual offenders, such as the ability of law enforcement officials to search their homes and computers without a search warrant.

The only additional monitoring for sexually violent predators who stayed in California was a requirement to register quarterly with local police - as opposed to the annual registration required of other sex offenders. The sexually violent predators' faces, names and addresses do show up on the state's Megan's List site, along with general descriptions of their crimes, but there's no way to differentiate them from the 63,000 other registered sex offenders depicted there. Many other states provide more detailed information on offenders and their crimes and whether they are high-risk offenders.

In California, from the top on down, law enforcement officials typically refuse to identify sexually violent predators who have been released. Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office rejected a California Public Records Act request by The Bee for their names and whereabouts.

Much more here

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Monday, February 13, 2006


Despite big efforts from the blogosphere, Mississippi authorities are about to execute a man to cover up police bungling. Below is a summary of the case:

At 11:00 PM on December 26, 2001... Members of the Prentiss, Mississippi police force and the Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force conducted a drug raid on the duplex apartment of Jamie Smith. Cory Maye lived in the other apartment that made up the duplex. Maye was not named in the police warrant for the duplex. Smith was arrested for marijuana possession. As the raid on Smith commenced, some officers went around to the other side of the duplex, in search of more contraband. They either thought the other side of the duplex was part of Smith's apartment, or they may have thought it was abandoned. The door was actually a door to Maye's home. Maye was asleep and awoke when he heard the rear door being smashed in. The rear door opened into the rear bedroom where Maye's 18 month old daughter was asleep. Fearing for himself and his daughter, Maye picked up his gun and fired at the intruders as they came into his daughter's bedroom. A bullet hit and killed the first officer to enter, Ronald Jones. When other officers shouted "Police," Maye ceased firing and surrendered to arrest. Maye is now on death row for the killing of a police officer.

If you want to see Cory Maye freed and the right to self-defence respected, there is a petition here that you can sign.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006


Looks like what the investigators found was VERY incriminating of the prosecutors. The huge payout tells us that lots needed covering up. From the brief report it looks like they had on file notes exonerating the guy from the beginning

Chicago has agreed to pay $9 million to a man who spent more than a decade in prison for rapes he did not commit. LaFonso Rollins, who was 17 when he went to prison, was cleared by DNA testing. The city decided to settle the civil case last week after lawyers saw notes kept by Joel Schulze, a former serologist in Chicago's crime lab, the Grand Rapids Press reported. Schulze is now working for the Michigan State Police.

Rollins' lawyer says that Rollins should have been cleared when he was first arrested. He confessed during police interrogation and was also identified in police lineup, was convicted and sentenced to 75 years.

The governor of Illinois pardoned Rollins after DNA testing showed he could not have committed the rapes.

Report here


The latest inmate to be released from an Illinois prison after DNA tests exonerated him filed his own petition to seek the DNA test even though he has limited ability to read and write. Moreover, the freed inmate, Lafonso Rollins, was represented at his trial on rape charges 11 years ago by a lawyer who apparently was disbarred a short time later. Rollins, now 28, was convicted and sent to prison.

"I am calling for an investigation as to how Lafonso Rollins was incarcerated for crimes and sentenced to 75 years when DNA evidence has now acquitted him of crimes for which he spent 11 years in prison," said attorney Robert W. Fioretti in a press conference Wednesday. Fioretti, who only recently was retained to represent Rollins, said the state police, Chicago police and the Cook County state's attorney's office should find out how the false conviction occurred "and stop it from ever happening again." Fioretti said the conviction resulted from a coerced confession and the use of a questionable procedure known as a reverse lineup, in which a suspect is asked to identify his victims. "I think this was an outrage, an outrage to the whole system," he said.

Among the salient aspects of the case are these:

- In 1993, Rollins confessed to a series of assaults on elderly women.

- When he confessed, Rollins was 17 and a special education student in the ninth grade, although he may have had only a second-grade writing ability.

- The attorneys now representing him contend that Rollins' confessions were coerced.

- No DNA tests were sought at the time of Rollins' arrest and conviction.

John Gorman, spokesman for the Cook County state's attorney's office, said Rollins' defense lawyer "did not ask for DNA testing at the time" of the arrest or in connection with the trial. And about Rollins' confessions, Gorman said, "We don't know why this man confessed. We know that, neither pretrial nor during the trial, there [were] any allegations of a coerced confession. "We do know there is the phenomenon of false confessions," Gorman added. "People confess to crimes they didn't commit, awful crimes sometimes, and we don't know why this young man confessed to these crimes. But we do know he didn't do it," Gorman said.

Fioretti called the Rollins case "an immense tragedy." Rollins was released from prison this week with no personal identification, no way to support himself, and little contact with any relatives, Fioretti said. "On Monday, they opened the doors of the prison ... and said, 'You're on your own,' " according to Fioretti. "How does society now bring him back?"

Rollins was freed after the state's attorney's office asked Associate Judge Dennis J. Porter in Cook County Criminal Courts to throw out Rollins' conviction and dismiss the case.

Chicago police arrested Rollins in late January 1993 during their investigation of a series of at least four assaults on elderly women in a three-week period. All of the victims lived in public housing for senior citizens at 6360 S. Minerva Ave. According to a post-conviction petition filed by Assistant Public Defender Ingrid A. Gill, two of the victims gave descriptions of their attacker to an artist who made a composite sketch of the suspect. The manager of the building told police that the sketch looked like Rollins, who regularly visited a man who lived on the 8th floor. Police picked up Rollins. One of the rape victims, a 78-year-old woman, attended a lineup and failed to identify him, according to both sides.

Gorman said Rollins nevertheless confessed to three of the assaults and was charged with four. Police also showed Rollins a series of photos of elderly women and Rollins purportedly picked out the photos the ones who were attacked, Gorman said. Those photos turned out to be the women who were the actual victims. "Mr. Rollins has maintained that the police intimidated him and promised him that he would go home" if he signed the confessions, Gill argued. The police also allegedly told Rollins that "testing would be performed so not to worry."

Assistant Public Defender Vicki F. Rogers, chief of the appeals and post-conviction unit, said no one was present to verify that Rollins picked out the photos of the victims, except the police. DNA tests were not done in all rape cases in 1993, Rogers said. She said the defense attorney would have had to request it.

At trial, Rollins was represented by Madison Gordon, according to Rogers and Fioretti. The only Madison Gordon who has been a lawyer in Illinois was Madison James Gordon who was admitted to the bar in 1989, according to James J. Grogan, chief counsel for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. Gordon was suspended from the practice of law by the Illinois Supreme Court Sept. 29, 1995, "for multiple acts of neglect ... and failed to appear at his own disciplinary hearing," Grogan said. Gordon never applied to be reinstated, Grogan said. On appeal, Rollins was represented by the state appellate defender's office, Rogers said.

After the failed appeals, Rogers himself started the post-conviction process that led to his freedom. "About two years ago, he filed a pro se motion for DNA testing," Gorman said. "We agreed to that and we submitted it to the Illinois State Police crime lab." After Rogers filed his petition, the court appointed the public defender's office to represent him. The DNA results on sperm left at the scene of the rape of a 78-year-old woman -- the assault for which Rollins was sentenced to 75 years in prison -- showed the fluid came from an unknown man. "We immediately sought and obtained the sperm sample from the second sexual assault in another case he was charged with," Gorman said. In that second case, a 92-year-old woman had been attacked. Rollins had been charged but not convicted in that attack. Last week, the state police crime lab reported that the man who raped the 92- year-old woman was not Rollins. The rapist was in fact the same man who had raped the 78-year-old woman, Gorman said, "but it wasn't our guy" Rollins.

Fioretti said Thursday that attorney John B. Lower is filing a suit for damages in the Illinois Court of Claims for wrongful imprisonment. Fioretti is also preparing a civil suit on Rollins' behalf, but has not yet decided whom to name as defendants. Lonny Ben Ogus is also representing Rollins.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006


An enjoyable trip to a Texas cinema to watch Health Ledger in Brokeback Mountain ended badly for an Australian woman who had the nerve to shush a fellow movie-goer who was talking on her mobile phone. Former Sunshine Coast councillor Pauline Clayton ended up being escorted from the cinema by police, arrested and charged with assault, according to newspaper reports. Ms Clayton now faces a fine of up to $675.

She said she was enjoying the film, which was about halfway through, when a woman's mobile phone rang - and she answered it and began talking. Ms Clayton put her finger to her mouth, signalling to the woman to quieten down then touched her on the shoulder twice. The other woman then stood up and started shouting expletives at Ms Clayton before storming out of the movie.

Police arrived and escorted Ms Clayton out of the theatre. The other woman told police Ms Clayton had been "invading her private space" and accused her of assault. Ms Clayton was charged and must appear in a Texas court next week, but her accuser is not off the hook - she must also appear in court over her behaviour.

Report here

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Friday, February 10, 2006


See post of June 21, 2005 for background. Jenkins was initially convicted on subsequently discredited "scientific" evidence and two people gave him an alibi but were not asked to testify in court

Sion Jenkins walked free from court yesterday when the jury in a third murder trial failed to decide whether he was guilty of killing his foster daughter, Billie-Jo. Detectives are now faced with an unsolved murder, no new suspects and the prospect of Mr Jenkins, 48, suing Sussex Police for wrongful arrest and imprisonment. The Crown Prosecution Service said it would not pursue a fourth trial.

Moments after the formal verdict of not guilty was delivered, the former deputy headmaster was kicked and punched in the court corridor by members of the dead girl's natural family who remain convinced that he was guilty of the murder.

None of the juries sitting on the trials over the last nine years was allowed to hear evidence from Mr Jenkins's first wife, Lois, claiming that he had repeatedly attacked her during their 16-year marriage. Mrs Jenkins, 44, told the Court of Appeal that her husband, a strict disciplinarian, lashed out at her a number of times at their home. Mr Jenkins has denied the allegations.

Mr Jenkins was jailed for life in 1998 after being convicted of bludgeoning Billie-Jo, 13, as she painted patio doors at the family home in Hastings, East Sussex, in February 1997. He was freed in 2004 after new scientific evidence cast doubt on his conviction.

As the father of four emerged from the Old Bailey yesterday he was attacked by Billie-Jo's aunts Maggie Coster and Bev Williams. Mr Jenkins, who was visibly shocked, did not react as the women rained blows on him, leaving him with blood on his chin. Court staff, lawyers and police seized the women, who continued to shout obscenities as they were removed from the building. The two families were meant to have been kept separate during the three-month trial. Outside court the women simply said: "Revenge is sweet," before chanting: "Justice for Billie."

Mr Jenkins's eyes had filled with tears when the judge recorded the not guilty verdict. Meanwhile, Billie-Jo's natural father, Bill Jenkins, glowered at him from the public gallery. As Sion Jenkins made a brief speech under a large police presence outside court, he declared that he had been the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice and called on police to reopen the investigation with a new team of detectives. He said: "It has taken nine years of struggle and faith for me to be standing here. "It has been a terrible ordeal and I find it difficult to actually take it in."

He condemned Sussex Police for being "wilfully blind and incompetent" in their investigation. Mr Jenkins has always insisted that Billie-Jo was murdered by a passer-by, who was probably a mentally ill man named only as Mr B.
She was struck up to ten times with an 18in iron tent peg while she was left alone at the house for 15 minutes.

The case has left Mr Jenkins's reputation severely damaged. It emerged that he had made up much of his CV to get a job as a teacher and that he had been accused of having an affair with a 17-year-old "Billie-Jo lookalike". In a newspaper article the girl said that Mr Jenkins became "besotted" after meeting her at a colleague's house.

The jury was told that a family friend saw Mr Jenkins kick Billie-Jo during a family holiday in France a year before the teenager's death. It also heard hearsay evidence from two of the schoolgirl's best friends who said that they saw her turn up to school with scratches on her face, said to have been caused by her foster father.

Mr Jenkins has always vehemently denied being violent to his family, apart from slapping Billie-Jo across the face when she once behaved badly. He insisted that he had had a good relationship with the girl.

Questions will now undoubtedly be asked whether Mrs Jenkins's allegations of serious domestic violence should have gone before the jury. These were made subject to a contempt order which meant that neither of the retrials was told about them in detail. Changes under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 allow evidence of a defendant's bad character to be adduced in court in certain circumstances and it is possible that, had the offence occurred after that date, the allegations would have been heard.


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Thursday, February 09, 2006


A young magistrate with the face and haircut of a Boy Scout became the focus of nationwide attention in France yesterday as he defended his role in a paedophile case that has turned into one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in recent French history. The main French television channels scrapped afternoon programmes to show Judge Fabrice Burgaud’s appearance before a parliamentary committee inquiring into the affair. “I do not pretend to have carried out my investigation perfectly,” he said. “Could I have acted differently? With the benefit of hindsight, certainly. Did I make mistakes? Probably. Who does not? What examining magistrate does not?”

The judge, 34, has come to symbolise the failings of French criminal justice after leading the investigation into what he mistakenly thought was a child abuse network in Outreau near Calais in northern France. The case has similarities to the Cleveland scandal in Britain in which 121 children were removed from their families in 1987. In his first posting after leaving the French National School for Magistrates, Judge Burgaud imprisoned 18 people, including a bailiff, a baker and a priest, on suspicion of sexual assault amid claims of orgies, bestiality and bodies buried in a Belgian farmyard.

But three years later, 13 of the defendants were acquitted when it became clear that the paedophile ring had never existed. “L’affaire Outreau” was in fact a sordid but minor case involving two couples. The child abuse network had been invented by a disturbed child unable to distinguish fact from fiction after being raped by his mother and father. One defendant, Francois Mourmand, committed suicide in jail before his innocence was demonstrated. Another, Alain Marécaux, tried to take his life last month, but was saved. In a personal letter of apology to the families, President Chirac said that the affair was a “disaster” for French justice.

Seven of those wrongly imprisoned by Judge Burgaud were at parliament to hear his testimony, along with M Mourmand’s sister, Lydia. She was holding a large photograph of her late brother, which she kissed from time to time as the magistrate spoke. Pierre Martel, 57, a taxi driver who was among those acquitted said: “I feel sorry for him. He looks like a little boy.”

Judge Burgaud, who is described by his critics as arrogant and inflexible, has received hate mail and death threats since the appeal hearing last year. He looked frail, pale and unsure of himself yesterday as he sat before the committee at the National Assembly in a grey suit and blue tie. “I am terribly shocked to have been presented as a machine who applies the law without humanity,” he said in a hesitant voice. Judge Burgaud said that his work had been checked and approved by other magistrates, lending weight to claims that he has become the scapegoat for a wider failure that demands an overhaul of the French legal system

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006


If it wasn't for the civil lawsuits, he would probably still be practicing. The regulators and the police were asleep at the wheel -- or COULD it be that his race influenced them to go easy?

A gynecologist convicted of raping and fondling women who came to his clinics for treatment was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison. Charles Momah performed gynecological exams without wearing gloves, sexually touched patients, probed them unnecessarily with a vaginal ultrasound wand and flirted with them inappropriately, prosecutors alleged. The obstetrician-gynecologist prescribed addictive painkillers for no good medical reason, pressured patients into surgeries and double-billed insurance companies for procedures, documents say.

He was convicted nearly three months ago of two counts of rape and two counts of indecent liberties with patients. "They will be sleeping with both eyes closed for the first time in so many years," said lawyer Harish Bharti, who is representing dozens of women in lawsuits against Momah and his twin, who allegedly sometimes pretended to be the gynecologist.

In 2000, a former patient, Jolie Campbell, told the King County Sheriff's Office that Momah had performed unnecessary surgery on her, deliberately gotten her addicted to painkillers, raped her five years earlier and told her no one would believe her if she reported the rape because she was addicted to drugs. Prosecutors decided there wasn't enough evidence to file charges.

Momah continued practicing until Sept. 11, 2003, when his license was suspended after another patient reported being raped. By June 2004, 44 women had sued him.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reliability of eyewitness testimony put to the test: Witnesses affected by tiny changes in accused's looks

Eyewitness testimony that identifies criminals can be very unreliable when the accused person makes even slight modifications to their appearance, a new study has found. The research, conducted by Carleton University psychology professor Joanna Pozzulo, suggests that even natural hair growth between the time a crime takes place and the witnesses' identification of the accused can cause mistakes. "Appearance changes that are fairly easy to achieve (e.g. growing hair) are sufficient to allow a culprit to go unidentified, presenting a serious challenge to the criminal justice system and society," Prof. Pozzulo said in her paper, written with student Janet Balfour and published yesterday in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology.

Prof. Pozzulo studied 239 adults and 177 children, showing them a video of a staged purse snatching. She later showed them "lineup" photographs, some of which included the perpetrator with varying lengths of hair. Children and adults had difficulty correctly identifying the assailant when his appearance was slightly different in the lineup photos. "When there is a change in appearance, identification accuracy dramatically decreases," Prof. Pozzulo said in an interview yesterday. "We're not talking about an extreme makeover. We're talking about someone who decides not to cut their hair for a few months." She noted that eyewitness evidence is a major factor in criminal trials, and has been relied on in many cases that generated wrongful convictions.

Toronto criminal lawyer Steven Skurka said yesterday that mistakes by witnesses are the "greatest source of miscarriage of justice" in Canada and the United States. Witnesses are usually "well-meaning people" who have no intention of perjuring themselves, he said, but they often get things wrong and it is dangerous for juries to rely on them.

Still, Prof. Pozzulo added, "witnesses do get it right a lot of the time as well," and that's why studies of witness behaviour, and the procedures used by police to collect eyewitness evidence, are crucial. Prof. Pozzulo's current research is looking at ways to improve procedures used to get testimony from children who witness crimes. One problem with children is they tend to report "false positives" by choosing an innocent party when they are shown lineup photographs that do not include the alleged perpetrator of a crime they witnessed

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Monday, February 06, 2006

A Select Canadian Club nobody would want to join

A club of permanently damaged people who did nothing to deserve it

* David Milgaard - Wrongly convicted of murder. Served 23 years.

* Donald Marshall Jr. - Wrongly convicted of murder. Served 11 years.

* Guy Paul Morin - Wrongly convicted of murder. Served 1½ years.

It's a select club, totalling about 30 members so far -- and the membership is growing. But theirs is a club that not one of these men ever wanted to join. Because all of them served sentences for crimes they didn't commit. Today, they are all free -- exonerated of the heinous crimes that tarred their names -- but they may never be free of the stigma. Upon their release from incarceration, they return to a world that is forever changed and they themselves may never be the same. "When I got of prison I was a black and white person," says Thomas Sophonow, who served four years in prison. You either trust or you don't trust, he said, but there's nothing in between.

The crime Sophonow was wrongly convicted of was heinous. On December 23, 1981, 16-year-old waitress Barbara Stoppel was found strangled and left for dead in a washroom at a doughnut shop in Winnipeg. Three months later, Thomas Sophonow was charged with her murder. Even though he had an alibi and there was no physical evidence linking him to the attack, he was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison. All the while, Sophonow maintained his innocence. After four years behind bars, Sophonow was set free when the Manitoba court of appeal unanimously overturned his conviction. But his nightmare was far from over. Everywhere Sophonow went, he was treated as a man who got away with murder. "That was the core of my anger," he said.

So how did he survive this scrutiny and disdain? Where did he put all the frustration of living with a truth that no one else would accept? "I just kept it bottled up inside. I would occasionally just blow up and just get mad, just totally freak out." It was not until the summer of 2000 that the Manitoba Government finally called for a public inquiry and issued Sophonow an apology. But despite final and full exoneration—with DNA proof that he didn't attack and kill Barbara Stoppel -- Sophonow still suffers under the weight of his ordeal. These days, he rebuilds his new life in New Westminster, BC, as he renovates the heritage home he lives in with his wife and three kids. But Sophonow still lives under the sinister shadow cast by his conviction as a murderer. "Until I can overcome my mental block and talk about issues, it'll always be there. But I haven't -- I'm not there yet," he said.

During the public inquiry into his wrongful conviction, Sophonow sought treatment from Dr. Adrian Grounds, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Cambridge who is internationally recognized for his work on the damage done to the wrongly convicted. "They may get panic attacks, nightmares, vivid memories of particular experiences, adverse experiences that they've had in prison," Dr. Grounds told W-FIVE in an interview. Prison had a profound affect on Sophonow -- something his wife, Rebecca, noticed almost immediately when they met. "He used to pace, that was something that always stuck in my mind. He would put his head down and just walk back and forth across the room. A certain amount of steps it seemed, like he did when he was in jail."

W-FIVE's Victor Malarek asked Sophonow what it was like to spend four years in prison for something he didn't do. "I don't talk about prison," said Sophonow, his eyes welling with tears. "I just don't talk about it." Even after all these years, it's difficult to go back there. "Take one day at a time," he said. "Take one hour at a time."

Across the country in St. John's, Newfoundland, Ron Dalton counted thousands of hours for a crime that never was. In 1989, the university-educated bank manager was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for strangling his wife, Brenda. "I can always hear my mother there someplace in the background, screeching as the jury comes back in and says guilty," he said. In an instant, Dalton lost everything he held dear. When he went to prison, his sister Linda Gallant and her husband Sonny took in Dalton's three children and raised them alongside their own three kids. "The worst part about being in prison was being away from (your children) when you're used to spending every day of your life with them," he said.

It would take eight and a half years in prison before Dalton was released on bail, his original conviction questioned, but facing a new trial on the same charges. Coming home to his family was what he always wanted, but that didn't make it easy. "It was difficult, very difficult. Coming home my three children were still with my sister and her husband. I was out of prison, but I wasn't free to pick up the pieces," he explained. Dalton had to split his attention between his growing children and his new trial, which he couldn't afford to lose. "I wouldn't move them back in with me and then have to give them up again a year later if I was convicted a second time."

Forensic evidence eventually proved his wife choked on cereal. Dalton was acquitted in the 2000 trail, but he is still struggling to regain the stolen years. Linda Gallant sees her brother's loss every time she looks into his face. "When I look at him and I remember his children it was just, just a sadness there (in his face), that he missed a lot. And it's an ongoing thing because you cannot ever make that back up," she said.

Of all the losses a wrongly convicted person has to cope with, losing the ability to trust people is a pervasive and lasting effect, says Dr. Grounds. "Some people remain in a state of permanent mistrust. That sense of confidence in the stability and predictability of the world, the fact that you can rely on people has gone forever," he said.

Ron Dalton explains how prison has affected him: "It's made me much less trusting and it's harder to form close relationships. It's harder to trust people, (knowing) that you've been burned by so many people who are there." And the scars take a very long time to fade. "That mark of Cain is always there. You know, you're branded as a murderer," he said.

In 1995, Randy Druken was convicted of the brutal stabbing death of his 26-year-old girlfriend, Brenda Young. He was released on bail in 1999 and eventually exonerated by DNA evidence, but life has never returned to normal. "What I want most I'll never be able to get right for things to be the way they were. But I'll settle for my life you know," he said. Druken served his sentence in the Atlantic Institution, a maximum-security prison located in Renous, New Brunswick. "There was times that... I even wanted to kill myself, you know. Again I had to think of reasons why not to," he said. "I had to, you know, try to find strength in other peoples' ordeals that they were going through when they were trying to survive." In order to cope in prison, he used to go to the library and get books on the Holocaust to read about those who had done time in concentration camps. "Not that I went through anything what they went through, but the stories that they wrote helped me to get through what I was going through," he said.

With few places to turn in prison, Randy also turned to drugs. Although they dulled his pain, Randy eventually emerged from prison with a powerful drug addiction. And he was not equipped to deal with how much had changed. "I got addicted to CONTIN MS's, which is a painkiller for cancer patients. When I come out I was wired into morphine and I remember there for a while I wouldn't even do Oxycontins on the street. It didn't do nothing for me -- that's how high the drug was that I was doing in jail."

Bill Collins is Randy Druken's lawyer of 20 years and probably one of his only real friends. In Collins' opinion the drugs offered Randy a crutch. "Randy was ashamed of the fact that people thought that he was the killer. He was insecure in any social setting whatsoever. I think it was just a way to escape the world, and possibly, life," says Collins. Unable to escape the stronghold of his wrongful conviction and the lasting psychological damage, Randy has cycled in and out of jail four more times since his release. "Each time I come back it was because of drugs. There was times I asked the courts to put me in jail to get off this problem to get away from this drug problem," said Druken.

The system of support for the wrongly convicted is just not good enough for James Lockyer, a prominent lawyer and co-founder of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. He says the government has a responsibility to these men. "They obviously need social help from professionals and those professionals, it seems to me, should be provided by and paid for by the state. As well, the other way the state can and should help is by providing compensation." Of about 30 wrongful convictions in Canada, so far only about a dozen men have received a cash settlement for their time in prison.

But getting compensation has always been, and continues to be, an uphill struggle. And that's the case for Ron Dalton. "Compensation is the way governments apologize. They apologize with their chequebooks. An apology, a formal acknowledgement of innocence would be nice, but government's rarely do that as well," he said.

Randy Druken desperately wants to straighten out his life but he knows he's got one very big mountain to climb. "I got to do it this time or it's going to kill me."

In March 2003, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a public inquiry into alleged miscarriages of justice in the cases of three men, including Randy Druken and Ronald Dalton. Druken and Dalton are still awaiting the results of the Lamer inquiry, which should be released by June 1, 2006.

And while it's been 20 years since Thomas Sophonow walked out of prison a free man, his past continues to haunt him. In 2003, Sophonow was awarded $2.6 million in compensation—17 years after his release. But he insists that the time he spent in jail for a crime he didn't commit can never be repaid. "No. No. Actually no. To tell you the truth, no compensation would pay for all the years," says Sophonow.

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