Sunday, April 30, 2006



ANY JUSTICE FOR THE VICTIMS OF THIS LUDICROUS "JUDGE"?

And how come it took years to pull her up? No mystery: She's both black and female -- in a favored class on two counts



James Williams was ordered to "go to Citi Trends and pick out what you want" as a court-ordered sentence for automobile infractions. Another man pleaded guilty to not having car insurance and was ordered to anger management. An unidentified man was told to get an inspection sticker for his vehicle when he pleaded guilty to simple battery. And another guy was sentenced to the UAW Hall for an unrelated criminal offense. The alleged nonsensical decisions are findings of the ongoing investigation into allegations that City Judge LaLeshia Walker-Alford misused prescription drugs, which resulted in her being suspended from the bench.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana, acting on a recommendation by the state Judiciary Commission, this week ordered her off the bench while it considers additional disciplinary action that could include further suspension or removal. Court documents say commissioners believe Alford is addicted to prescription drugs, which has adversely affected her conduct on the bench.

"Right now this is the only dealings of the emergency aspect to get her off the bench with pay," said Valerie Willard, press secretary for the office of the judicial administrator. "Other action is pending further investigation. "I suppose there will be another commission recommendation to the court based on the additional facts and conclusions of law. Once the entirety of the case is submitted, the judge can argue her case." Willard doesn't expect the case to appear on the Supreme Court's calendar before September.

The case arose from numerous complaints of excessive absenteeism from her court, canceled court sessions without prior notice and impairment to the extent that she was inarticulate, incoherent or fell asleep.

The Judiciary Commission found evidence that Alford "had abused, and continued to abuse, prescription pain medications. The documents and sworn statements presented convinced the commission members of the probability that excessive use of prescribed medications" had affected Alford's judicial conduct, the findings said. City Court's senior judge, Charles Kelly, in his sworn statement to the commission, cited that a fellow judge decided to keep a running tab on the number of days Alford was absent from the bench in 2004 and they came up with about 40 days, not including time taken off to attend conferences.

Attempts by The Times to reach Shreveport City Court officials on Thursday were not successful. Calls made to Clerk of Court Virginia Hester, clerk staffers Jackie Watson and Rita Jackson and Kelly were not returned.

Alford and her attorneys deny the accusations but admit to her use of medications that caused sedation, saying that she had suffered from fibromyalgia, pneumonia and asthma for which the medications were prescribed. A clinical psychopharmacologist testified that, based upon the judge's medical and prescription records spanning August 2003 through March 2005, she was regularly consuming the "Trinity Cocktail," a combination of the prescription drug Xanax, Soma and Lortab. The expert reiterated his view that Alford's case was the most severe he had seen in terms of volume of prescription drugs.

According to court documents, the doctor said Alford was "doctor shopping," going from one doctor to another, getting multiple prescriptions. The judge had seen 28 different physicians over a four- or five-year period.

Commissioners suggested """" during a period of interim disqualifications """" that Alford seek treatment for her prescription problem as well as for other problems that may have been caused by her longtime drug usage, but she failed to meet the deadline she agreed to on Feb. 17. The judge went forward with recommendation for immediate disqualification and the court disqualified her Tuesday.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006



BRITISH SCROOGES

Leftist "compassion" at work: No money for criminal compensation but billions for bureaucrats.

Some might think it would be difficult to make the current compensation scheme for victims of miscarriages of justice any meaner. But this is to underestimate the Scrooge-like mentality of some criminal justice administrators. Already the current scheme blocked compensation payments to Angela Cannings, who spent 18 months in prison before having her wrongful conviction of the murder of two of her children quashed by the court of appeal in 2003. She was ruled ineligible because her acquittal was not based on newly discovered facts but on discredited scientific evidence. Two men wrongly jailed for the murder of the newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater did receive compensation for the 18 years they spent in prison, only to discover they lost one quarter of their loss-of-earnings compensation for their free food and accommodation inside. As the editor of the Prisons Handbook wryly noted at the time: "It has to be the sickest of all sick jokes. Can you imagine Terry Waite getting a bill for the living expenses he saved during his five years wrongly held in Lebanon." Clearly, the Home Office can.

Yesterday Charles Clarke, the home secretary, announced he would be cutting £5m from his department's miscarriage of justice compensation budget. True, his department does face a freeze on spending for the next three years. But its annual budget runs to £13,000m. Just diverting into the community a few of the many thousands of offenders who are still unnecessarily being sent to prison, would have resolved the budget freeze and avoided the new £500,000 ceiling being set on compensation payments. Moreover, a diversion policy would have been in line not just with the urgings of successive director generals of prisons and chief inspectors, but also the home secretary himself.

Penal campaigners yesterday rightly pointed to the failure of the department to take into account the impact of wrongful convictions. The Bridgewater two, wrongly labelled child killers, were subjected to insufferable conditions including regular adulteration of their food with phlegm, urine and glass. Undaunted, and indulging yet again in illogical rhetoric that would make even a Jesuit blush, Mr Clarke declared: "The changes I have announced today will create a fairer, simpler and speedier system for compensating miscarriages of justice." In reality what it means is that people will no longer be able to apply for compensation if their convictions are quashed in a normal appeal process. This is both unfair and unjust.

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Friday, April 28, 2006



MORE BRITISH JUSTICE

A Jamaican Yardie who should have been deported after a child sex offence was allowed to stay in Britain and shot a man.
Kevin Ford, 27, was supposed to be forcibly removed but was released without his deportation being considered because officials lost his file.

He is believed to be among the 1,023 foreign criminals released from jail in the past seven years who the Home Office failed to deport. Weeks after he was freed in 2004 he shot and seriously wounded a man in a drive-by shooting outside a Sheffield nightclub. He was later jailed for 24 years.

A source close to the case said that Ford remained in Britain because of "a major administrative cock-up". The source said: "The judge said he should be kicked out. But then there was a mix-up between the court and the immigration offices. No one knew where his file had got to. As a result, Ford was not deported.

Ford, a gang member in Jamaica, was jailed in February 2004 after admitting to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl. The judge recommended that a deportation order should be served on his release. Instead, he was freed into the community. In August 2004, Ford opened fire on two men outside a club in Sheffield in a "cold-blooded" shooting. Alton Chambers, 32, was left seriously ill and had up to 30 per cent of his liver removed. Another man, Christopher Gordon, 30, escaped unharmed. During the attempted murder trial at Sheffield Crown Court, the jury was told that Ford drove up to his victims and fired three shots at their vehicle.

Peter Johnson, for the prosecution, told the court: "On February 10 the case was adjourned under notice that an immigration order should be served. No such notice was served - the matter being in the hands of the Immigration Service. That is still the position, no notice has been served."

Ford was also a murder suspect on the run from police in Jamaica. He may have killed a woman in Kingston, the island's capital, in the late 1990s, the court was told. The Home Office told a local newspaper in 2004 that it would investigate why Ford had been released. Yesterday, it said: "Neither the prison service nor the immigration service have any record of any recommendation for the deportation for Mr Ford."

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Thursday, April 27, 2006



Loony Britain: Where do police's crime priorities lie?

Would you find a gang of 15 youths hurling stones at you intimidating? Unless you are Phil Louis, Macclesfield’s answer to Rambo, you most certainly would. So, caught in that situation what would you do? No use phoning the police, your call would be directed to the Community Action Team’s answer phone. We know Cheshire Police do not accept such calls as emergencies. So now what?

Forty-nine-year old Falklands War veteran Stephen Fosbrooke found himself in exactly that situation. When he attempted to move abusive yobs from outside his home he was stoned, taunted and told to “bring something bigger” than the screwdriver he was holding. Mr Fosbrooke went inside and returned brandishing a sword and chased the youths away. To his eternal credit he then phoned Cheshire Police and told them exactly what he had done.

You may consider Mr Fosbrooke’s actions exemplary in the face of such an unnerving ordeal but not Cheshire Police who prosecuted him for ‘possessing a bladed article in a public place’. Given the opportunity to dismiss this ludicrous miscarriage of justice, Macclesfield magistrates chose to convict Mr Fosbrooke, who now has a criminal record and 300 pounds court costs to pay. What do you suppose the gang of undisciplined yobs made of that?

Now to something completely different: When 26-year-old Timothy Moore was stopped by Macclesfield Police for failing to surrender to bail, using threatening behaviour and having court debts of over 3,000 pounds he thought it appropriate to kick and punch the arresting police officer. Moore’s solicitor explained: “He’s now in a relationship, starting to get things together and wants to be more responsible.” Regardless of Moore’s abysmal track record, Macclesfield magistrates agreed to sentence him to community punishment.

So to summarise: war veteran Stephen Fosbrooke chases away a gang of stone throwing yobs from outside his front door and ends up with a criminal conviction. While Mr Moore, who has a string of convictions, refuses to surrender to bail, uses threatening behaviour, punches and kicks a police officer is given community punishment, which he may not complete, along with fines that he may not pay.

The message couldn’t be clearer: the only legitimate response to an unprovoked attack, regardless how outnumbered you may be, is to take it and phone Cheshire Police the following morning for an incident number. If, on the other hand, you are inclined to bouts of gratuitous violence expect to be pardoned again and again and again and again…

Is it any wonder we are plagued with violent yobs and disrespectful louts? The whole criminal justice system is a farce. If you would like to show your support for Stephen Fosbrooke write to me care of the Express and we’ll make a stand.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006



BRITISH IMMIGRATION MADNESS

Britain lets in hostile Muslims at a great rate but people who assimilate are not welcome

At 5pm last Tuesday, Eleonora Suhoviy was dumbstruck by four simple words: "We accept this appeal." Although the courtroom at Field House, London, resembles a cheap conference centre, the Ukrainian says the moment was, "as theatrical as Kavanagh QC. I couldn't take it in. I froze. The world froze. It was only when I stumbled into the corridor outside that relief swam over me".

For 24-year-old Suhoviy the judgment marked the end of a six-year deportation battle with the Home Office. She had moved to Britain from Ukraine with her mother at 13, taught herself English by reading Sherlock Holmes and attended a comprehensive in Lincolnshire where she defied the odds to excel in maths, physics, music and languages. But though she became the first girl in her school's history to win a place at Oxford University, on her 18th birthday, Suhoviy was told by the Home Office to get out. She was no longer a child and was therefore no longer entitled to remain in Britain. Her achievements counted for nothing. She would have to return to Ukraine.

A ferocious networker, the gifted girl launched a campaign that has seen luminaries such as Michael Howard, Frederick Forsyth and Jeremy Paxman write letters supporting her bid to stay. They praised her passionate Anglophilia, her intelligence and tireless work for the NHS after leaving university, to say nothing of her unusual desire to join the Royal Navy as an intelligence officer. But though it seemed like common sense would prevail at her tribunal last week, her victory was won - according to her barrister Jonathan Goldberg QC - "by the skin of her teeth".

And was clinched not on the obvious merit of keeping such a bright and driven talent in Britain, but on a technicality. The girl who many see as a poster child for positive immigration would be allowed to stay, said the panel of three judges, not on merit but only because the Home Office had dithered for too long after deciding to deport her in the first place. The case raises serious questions for the Home Office. Why, when it claims to be encouraging qualified immigrants to come to Britain, is it pushing people such as Suhoviy out? And how many other anglicised child immigrants is it sending back without consideration of their achievements at 18?

I meet Suhoviy outside the Oxford and Cambridge club in St James's, where she certainly looks British - texting a friend in the sunshine, her scarf knotted Sloanily. When she says "Hello" even her voice is plummy. And no wonder. Despite (perhaps even because of) humble beginnings - first in Lviv, a large city in north eastern Ukraine, then later in Lincoln - both Suhoviy and her mother have always idolised the British Establishment. "Right from the start I was here to work," says Suhoviy, sipping tea.

Every year some 5,000 juveniles enter Britain with their parents seeking asylum. A further 2,500 arrive unaccompanied, put on planes and ferries by their families and left to fend for themselves on arrival. Most are granted temporary leave to stay but on their 18th birthdays orders are sent by the Home Office to deport the "For some who've made a life here it can seem very, very unfair," says Suhoviy. It was the promise of making a life - a better life - that first tempted Suhoviy and her mother here in 1994. After divorcing her husband Svetlana Suhoviy moved to the UK with Eleorora because, "she believed Britain was a meritocracy," explains her daughter. "She believed this is a place where a child could do well and where there would be nothing to hold her back."

Though she and her mother returned to Ukraine for 10 months in 1995 to re-qualify for tourist visas, Svetlana eventually gave up her career as a biochemist and settled full-time in Lincoln, where they had friends. One goal was explicit from the outset: Oxford, that bastion of traditional British aspiration. But on her first day at school, the dream of attending the university seemed a long way off. "It was bewildering," says Suhoviy. "The children were very friendly but they all thought I was a KGB officer because I didn't speak any English and was wearing a leather coat, which were fashionable for children in Ukraine. The maths was so easy though, the physics simple and I remember being outraged in biology because the questions were so childish." The teachers tried hard, she remembers, but the resources were pitiful. When she said she wanted to go Oxford the school didn't even have a prospectus, and advised her against applying.

Meanwhile, Suhoviy's love affair with Britain began in earnest when she made friends with an English family who had lived in the area for generations. "I owe them a lot because they introduced me to the English way of life," she says, a little misty eyed. "Radio 4, The Times, tea and scones, tennis, the breakfasts with bangers and fried bread - I loved everything about it. "I loved these customs and traditions because they made me feel part of the community. I was fascinated by the school governors and local councillors and always sought them out to speak to. I loved these people because of what they stood for."

She always preferred the Britain of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Evelyn Waugh. With her excellent GCSEs and five A-levels, she found this Britain in Oxford when she went for interview in 1999. "It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. The dons, the darkened rooms, the mystery, the legends. I knew I couldn't go anywhere else. This was why I was here - England." The likelihood of her going still seemed remote. Her mother's appeal against deportation had been refused as the Home Office believed that a man she had married was for convenience. Was that fair? "No," says her daughter. Are they still together? "No, the Home Office ruined their relationship."

When Suhoviy got her place at Exeter College to read modern languages, "all my dreams came true". But when she turned 18, the Home Office wrote to her solicitor to inform them they wanted her out. As a student, Suhoviy would be allowed to stay, but though she had won a scholarship from Lincoln Cathedral, there was still the matter of the international fees. Here her story takes a Dickensian turn, when in response to a local newspaper article, a secret benefactor offered to pay 30,000 pounds on the condition that Suhoviy never seek out his identity.

She made good on the investment. At Oxford she thrived, winning exhibitions and the Fitzgerald prize. She gave recitals and during her five terms serving as a committee member for the Conservative Association, socialised with Tory grandees. "This is what is extraordinary about England," she marvels. "You have access to these amazing people and all the opportunities they can offer you." Though she met everyone from Michael Howard to Margaret Thatcher, her friends never knew that each month she had to report to the police station so the state could monitor her whereabouts. "I was always there with these criminals, and when I was doing my finals it was particularly ridiculous because I was wearing the full gown and so on. The police thought I was pulling a student prank."

After graduating in 2003, she got a job as an administrator at the John Radcliffe hospital where she worked illegally. But Suhoviy explains that, "the NHS is so understaffed that everyone does it and I always paid tax. What would you rather I did? Stay home and claim benefit?" Life was good, but time was running out.

Last autumn, with her appeal hearing fast approaching, Suhoviy enlisted the help of some of those influential men meritorious Britain had allowed her to meet. Having assisted Jonathan Goldberg when he was working on a case in Oxford, she wrote to him for a character reference. Instead he took her case, waiving his usual 100,000 pound fee. Reasoning that a few well-placed letters would help, Goldberg enlisted his friend Frederick Forsyth, the novelist. "He has an address book second to none," says Goldberg and so letters were solicited from the Bishop of Oxford and Lord Carrington, among others. "This young lady is an asset of great value to the UK," said Forsyth. "She is exactly the kind of young person we ought to be raising in this country, and so often fail to do." For his part the Rt Reverend Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, said it would be "a violation of common sense and a travesty of justice" for her to be sent back.

Nevertheless, last December Suhoviy's hearing ended with a judge telling her that while she was the sort of person who would benefit Britain she should also be deported. Goldberg was outraged. "In a supposedly democratic meritocracy we should not be ashamed to consider the quality of an applicant as being a deciding factor," he says. "Even back in 1938 our government made representations to Hitler to get Freud out of Vienna. The only thing that distinguished him from thousands of other persecuted Jews was his merit. We were not ashamed then so why are we ashamed now?" For Suhoviy, the battle was personal. "This is my home. I've lived here since I was a girl. I have no family left in Ukraine, except a father I don't speak to."

Emma Ginn of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns thinks the situation for minors is ridiculous. "There are huge areas where there's no common sense, neither in terms of fairness for the individual nor for the needs of the country. There are even people who are being deported to countries they've never been to." These essentially British children, says Ginn, "have no affinity with the places they're being sent to - no family, no support structure". Goldberg believes that, "while Australia and Canada ruthlessly pursue an immigration policy based on point systems and merit, they count for next to nothing here and this case won't change that. Her circumstances were too unique, so you do wonder what will become of the next highly gifted young person who wants to stay."

Suhoviy's plans now include a masters in international relations at Oxford and then work as an intelligence officer in the Royal Navy. "And a holiday," she says. "I haven't been anywhere in 11 years because I was worried I'd be refused entry here when I got back." In Britain, it seems the floodgates are closed only to the most able.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006



MAN TO BE FREED DESPITE INSISTING ON HIS INNOCENCE

Convicted killer Graham Stafford -- jailed 15 years ago for the sex murder of schoolgirl Leanne Holland -- is set for a dramatic early release. The 42-year-old, sentenced to life in 1992, could be granted parole within months. Stafford, who has always strenuously denied killing the sister of his then-fiancee, was not expected to be released for several years. He had been in a Catch-22 situation -- because he continued to proclaim his innocence, prison psychiatrists said it meant he had shown no remorse and should be denied parole.

But sources told The Sunday Mail Stafford had been a model prisoner and there was widespread support from prison authorities for his bid to clear his name. Stafford was recently placed on work-release in Brisbane, allowing him to assimilate back into the community. He lives in a State Government halfway house, a key step before earning parole. A favourable report from his house manager could lead to his release. As part of his work-release, Stafford is banned from contact with the media. His family also declined to comment, fearing they would jeopardise any upcoming parole hearing.

Criminologist Paul Wilson, who has investigated the Holland murder, said it was almost unheard-of for a prisoner convicted of such a horrific crime to be released after just 15 years behind bars. He said authorities did not consider Stafford to be a danger to the community, and it was obvious some had ``serious doubts'' about the conviction.

The bashing, stabbing and sex attack on the Goodna girl, 12, shocked Queenslanders in 1991. Stafford, who lived in the Holland family home, was alleged by police to have killed Leanne and hid her body in the boot of his car for two days before dumping it in bushland about 10km away.

The Crown produced no motive, murder weapon or witnesses, instead relying on circumstantial evidence. But much of that evidence has since been dismissed by leading forensic experts, plus Prof Wilson and former police detective Graeme Crowley in their book Who Killed Leanne?.

Prof Wilson said offenders were rarely released early if they had not confessed their guilt and/or taken part in a sex-offenders treatment program. ``I am delighted for him . . . it is very surprising that he could be out so soon,'' Prof Wilson said. ``I would have expected he would have been in for many years longer, given the recent toughening of parole legislation.''

But a recent psychiatric evaluation had come to a different conclusion about his threat to the community than earlier assessments. Sources said the latest report accepted Stafford would not confess to a crime he insisted he had not done, and therefore had no need to do the sex-offenders program. It said he did not pose a risk if released.

Mr Crowley said Stafford would not let the case rest with parole, and wanted a full pardon. His imminent release is all the more remarkable given that between 1985 and 2005, the average time spent in custody by Queensland prisoners serving a life term was almost 18 years. Police Minister Judy Spence said yesterday a lifer could apply for parole only after serving a minimum of 15 years in jail. As Stafford was arrested in September, 1991, and served time on remand before being sentenced in May, 1992, that would mean he would be eligible in five months.





A GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE CROOKED POLICE WORK THAT LED TO STAFFORD'S JAILING


The State Government will consider sending the Leanne Holland murder case to the Crime and Misconduct Commission for an independent investigation. Police Minister Judy Spence this week told Parliament she would examine that option after revelations that new evidence had thrown doubt on Graham Stafford's involvement in the murder.

Opposition police spokesman Vaughan Johnson urged Ms Spence to ask the CMC to examine the case because of new evidence relating to concerns from the jury foreman from Stafford's 1992 trial, a leading scientist who gave evidence for the Crown and a forensic entomologist who had disputed crucial case details. He said this new evidence and the handling of the case required an independent assessment by the CMC. Ms Spence replied that she would seek legal advice about a CMC investigation.

The move follows Attorney-General Linda Lavarch's February invitation to Stafford to apply for a pardon. Jury foreman Peter Hobbs said that he believed Stafford would have been found not guilty if evidence now available had been put forward.

Forensic entomologist Russell Luke has also told The Sunday Mail police scrapped his 1997 report which would have demolished their case. He had disputed Leanne's body was in the boot of Stafford's car and the time of death, saying police relied on flawed evidence about maggots on her body.

Both the above articles appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" of April 23, 2006



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Monday, April 24, 2006



Suspect passes lie-detector test

The guy was originally convicted on the basis of later-discredited "bite-mark" evidence but police still believe he did it. They tried to re-prosecute him years later with improved bite-mark evidence but were thwarted by the double-jeopardy protection. It looks like it is about time they stopped relying on still-experimental forensic science and started looking for the real killer

Raymond John Carroll, the man accused of killing Ipswich toddler Deidre Kennedy 33 years ago, has confounded critics by passing a lie-detector test. In yet another twist in the long-running saga, Mr Carroll demanded the polygraph as a condition of interview for last night's 60 Minutes program. He was tested for an hour by Australian Polygraph Services, while electronic devices recorded his breathing, blood pressure and perspiration rates. Asked if he killed Deidre Kennedy, Mr Carroll, 48, who received no payment for the interview, replied: "No, I did not." The tester said: "The score I got for Raymond Carroll of plus seven was a conclusive result that he is telling the truth."

Reporter Richard Carlton played down the results, putting it to Mr Carroll that it could be that he had convinced himself that he had not killed the baby. It was not the first time Mr Carroll had offered to sit the test. Author Debi Marshall reported his willingness last year and Mr Carroll's claims that he wanted to do it for his trial but was advised against it by barrister Kerry Copley, QC.

"I asked for a lie-detector test," Mr Carroll said. "He said that after all the accusations that had been put to me, that under hypnosis it might come out that I admit to it, subconsciously or however he put it."

Deidre Kennedy, 17 months old, was taken from her family home west of Ipswich on April 13, 1973. She was strangled, sexually assaulted and had bite marks on her leg. Mr Carroll fell under police suspicion after he was traced to a bizarre break-in at the women's quarters of a nearby RAAF base at Amberley. A photograph of a woman taken during the break-in was found with his fingerprints on it. Mr Carroll, who lived nearby, was convicted in 1985 of murder, after the jury heard evidence that his teeth matched the marks on the toddler.

But the conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal. More than 14 years later prosecutors tried to charge Mr Carroll with perjury. His conviction by jury was later overturned by the Court of Appeal, in a decision supported by the High Court.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006



DISGRACEFUL BRITISH CONVICTION REVERSED -- BUT "OFFENDER" DEAD

Uncorroborated rape allegation from a mentally ill woman against a disabled man believed!

A music teacher who died while serving an eight-year jail sentence for raping a pupil has been cleared posthumously by the Court of Appeal. Darryl Gee was convicted in 2001 on the word of his accuser about incidents that she claimed happened more than a decade earlier, when the woman was 11. Mr Gee, who always protested his innocence, died aged 55 in his cell in Armley prison, Leeds, from an undiagnosed blood cancer a month after his second appeal was turned down in 2002. He had served 18 months.

His mother, Molly, 88, waged a five-year battle to clear his name, which ended with the decision of the Court of Appeal in London to quash the conviction. Lady Justice Smith said that expert psychiatrists had concluded that the alleged victim’s claims were unreliable and had become “more florid” since the trial.

A schools union said that the case underlined how vulnerable teachers were to malicious allegations from pupils that could wreck their lives. The Government issued guidance last year designed to speed up investigations by police and local authorities into allegations of abuse.

Mrs Gee told The Times yesterday that her son was physically disabled and would not have been capable of committing the alleged acts. Mr Gee, from Huddersfield, was born with spinal deformities that made it difficult for him to balance and to co-ordinate his hands. “The whole thing has been utterly farcical and tragic. My son could not climb the stairs without holding on to the bannister. He certainly could not have raped anybody,” she said. “[He] was always quite convinced he would be cleared. He would tell me that it would all work out. But he died just after the second appeal was lost. His faith in the system had been totally betrayed.” Mrs Gee said that her husband Kenneth sank into depression and died seven months later, shortly after the couple’s diamond wedding anniversary.

Their son, in 20 years as a supply teacher, gave music lessons to hundreds of children without any complaints until he was accused by the woman in 1999 of rape and indecent assault at a Huddersfield school a decade earlier. The woman made similar allegations against another man, John Hudson, who was jailed for 12 years at Leeds Crown in 2000. Mr Hudson’s conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal last year after a psychiatric expert concluded that his accuser’s recollection of abuses was “implausible”.

A jury convicted Mr Gee by a majority verdict of rape and indecent assault in January 2001. Mr Gee and Mr Hudson shared a prison cell for a time. “It all boiled down to one girl’s word against [my son’s] and the jury believed her,” Mrs Gee said. The Court of Appeal awarded Mrs Gee more than £62,000 in costs at the hearing last month. The appeal was heard after the Criminal Cases Review Commission asked a psychiatrist to report on Mr Gee’s accuser. The study cast doubt on the mental state of the woman, now 26. The judge said that she had made no mention of being abused by Mr Gee in recent statements.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: “This is an extreme and tragic illustration of the consequences of malicious allegations and underlines the need for these new procedures.”

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Saturday, April 22, 2006



A CORRUPTED WITNESS

If you can call her a witness. The latest on the very dubious Duke university rape prosecutions

At first, a stripper who performed at a Duke University lacrosse team party doubted the story of a colleague who told police she was dragged into a bathroom and raped. Now, Kim Roberts isn't so sure. "I was not in the bathroom when it happened, so I can't say a rape occurred - and I never will," Roberts told The Associated Press on Thursday in her first on-the-record interview.

But after watching defense attorneys release photos of the accuser, and upset by the leaking of both dancers' criminal pasts, she said she has to "wonder about their character." "In all honesty, I think they're guilty," she said. "And I can't say which ones are guilty ... but somebody did something besides underage drinking. That's my honest-to-God impression."

Attorneys for the 46 players have aggressively proclaimed the players' innocence, citing DNA tests during a public campaign that has included describing and releasing photos from the party. Those photos, the defense maintains, show the accuser was both injured and impaired when she arrived, and also support the claim that one of the two players who has been indicted would not have had enough time to participate in any assault before he left the party. The district attorney has said he also hopes to charge a third suspect in the case.

The attorneys claim Roberts at first told a member of the defense team that she did not believe the accuser's allegations. They say she has changed her story to gain favorable treatment in a criminal case against her. They note she also e-mailed a New York public relations firm, asking in her letter for advice on "how to spin this to my advantage." "We believe ... her story has been motivated by her own self-interest," said attorney Bill Thomas, who represents one of the uncharged players. "I think that a jury will ultimately have to decide the question of her credibility."

Roberts, 31, was arrested on March 22 - eight days after the party - on a probation violation from a 2001 conviction for embezzling $25,000 from a photofinishing company in Durham where she was a payroll specialist, according to documents obtained by the AP. On Monday, the same day a grand jury indicted lacrosse players Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, a judge agreed to a change so that Roberts would no longer have to pay a 15 percent fee to a bonding agent. District Attorney Mike Nifong signed a document saying he would not oppose the change. "It seems she is receiving very favorable financial treatment for what she is now saying," Thomas said.

Mark Simeon, Roberts' attorney, said the bond conditions were changed because Roberts is not considered a flight risk. Nifong, who hasn't spoken with reporters about the case in weeks, didn't return a call seeking comment. Roberts' testimony could be vital during any trial of the two sophomores, indicted on charges of first-degree rape, sexual offense and kidnapping. Other than lacrosse players and the accuser, a 27-year-old student at a nearby university, Roberts is believed to be the only other person at the March 13 party. Roberts said Thursday she does not remember Seligmann's face, but said she recalls seeing Finnerty - whom she described as the "little skinny one." "I was looking him right in the eyes," she said. Although she would not talk extensively about the party, she confirmed some of what the other dancer told police - including that the women initially left the party after one of the players threatened to sodomize the women with a broomstick.

The players' attorneys have said their clients were angry and demanded a refund when the women stopped dancing, but Roberts disputed that. "They ripped themselves off when they started hollering about a broomstick," she said.

The accuser told police that the women were coaxed back into the house with an apology, at which point they were separated. That's when she said she was dragged into a bathroom and raped, beaten and choked for a half hour.

Later, police received a 911 call from a woman complaining that she had been called racial slurs by white men gathered outside the home where the party took place. Roberts acknowledged that she made the call because she was angry. Roberts drove herself to the party and said she could have left anytime, but she said, "I didn't want to leave her with them." Roberts then drove the accuser - whom she had just met that night - to a grocery store and asked a security guard to call 911. The accuser was described later by a police officer as "just passed-out drunk."

Roberts said the woman was sober when they arrived at the house. But by the time the party was over, she said the accuser was too incoherent to tell her where she lived, let alone that she had been raped. "I didn't do enough," she said, tears welling in her eyes. "I didn't do enough. I didn't do enough."

The defense timeline is backed up by a cab driver who said Seligmann called for a ride at 12:14 a.m., and was picked up five minutes later. The defense argues that if the dancers were performing around midnight, Seligmann would not have had enough time to participate in the 30-minute assault described by the accuser. The cabbie, Moez Mostafa, also said he saw a woman leaving the party in anger, and overheard someone say, "She just a stripper. She's going to call the police." "She looked, like, mad," he said of the woman. "In her face, the way she walked, the way she talked, she looked like mad." ....

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Friday, April 21, 2006



Criminally unfair changes to compensation

Several comments on the outrageous new UK procedures. Looks like they might fail in the courts

If the home secretary's idea about capping compensation to victims of miscarriage of justice comes into force (Report, April 20), a torrent of civil suits is likely to begin. Most will be against the police forces whose officers perpetrated the miscarriages. Some will be directed at the Home Office itself. In the 70s and 80s its C3 division would not consider such cases in a proper manner, as a consequence, the the Criminal Case Review Commission was created.


The home secretary is bound by law to compensate victims of miscarriage of justice. He will claim that the law allows him to do so "as he thinks fit". However, the Criminal Justice Act of 1988, which gives him that power, was also designated by the government as ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1976. It is questionable whether Charles Clarke's capping is allowable under the restraints of the ICCP.

In many of the cases of miscarriage of justice, the Home Office has already unnecessarily prolonged the sentences of many innocent people for years - and cost the nation millions of pounds. This was almost invariably because of maladministration committed by its former C3 division. Now it seeks to cut compensation for its own failures by this capping.

For 25 years I have been closely involved in the case of a man who was "fitted up" by the police. The evil these officers did was so bad that the police force involved has apologised for their actions. The victim of these unlawful acts was a totally innocent man. He served 20 years in prison for a murder he did not do. His life was left in ruins. Prison brought on a serious heart condition - but the authorities have "lost" his medical records, so he cannot prove what treatment he had. His parents lost him to the prison authorities. But they shall receive nothing in compensation.

The truth is this: there are about 150 cases before the home secretary at the moment of cases where the system has done a terrible wrong to innocent people. No one anticipated that the legal system could possibly be as bad as that - until the CCRC produced the evidence. So there are no funds to properly compensate such people and the Home Office seeks to hide that fact, because it reflects so badly on them as much as anyone else in the system.
Peter Hill

Producer, BBC TV's Rough Justice


The home secretary seeks to align compensation for wrongful arrest with compensation for criminal injuries. The latter reflects, to a limited degree, the state's awareness of its failure to protect the victims of crime as few criminals have assets from which their victims can be compensated. Compensation for wrongful conviction is compensation by the state to those whom its own processes - police, prosecution services, courts - have wilfully harmed.

The wrongly convicted include people such as the Birmingham Six. Their wives came to me in 1976, when appeals against conviction had failed. I took up the cases of two of the men and referred the others to other firms. It was not until March 1991 that the convictions were overturned and the men were released - and 10 more years passed before compensation was finally paid. These men, and their families, were victims of gross wrongdoing by the state. That a secretary of state (whose remit is outside the legal system) should now plan to amend the law and the procedures of the appeal court, and to limit the sums payable to the state's victims, maximises the obscenity.

Ivan Geffen
Malvern, Worcs


I write as a lawyer acting for victims of crime, whether criminal injuries compensation claimants or those wrongfully convicted by the courts. Charles Clarke is seeking to duck out of the government's responsibilities under the 1966 UN international covenant on civil and political rights - article 14(6) - which requires compensation to be paid when imprisonment is due to state error or wrongdoing. The UN convention states that compensation should be paid "according to law".

A na├»ve person may have thought that "the law" would be the same one that applied to road or work accident victims, which allows for unlimited compensation to be paid. But if a wrongful act is committed by a private company or individual then the state allows no limit on the amount of damages that can be awarded. If the state is involved, however, the government is happy to step in to cap the limit of its liabilities. The only similarity with the criminal injuries compensation authority limit of £500,000 referred to by Clarke is that it shows that there is one rule for the state sector one rule for the private sector, which gives us a second-rate, two-tier compensation system that pours scorn on the innocent victim.

James Bell
Christian Khan solicitors


When an innocent person serves a prison sentence he or she suffers terrible losses, often including employment, home, family and mental health. Many, if not all, of these losses are irretrievable on release. Psychiatric research published in 2003 showed that wrongful conviction and imprisonment caused enduring personality change and in two-thirds resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder. We allow the state enormous power to detain and imprison people. If we want a rigorous criminal justice system it is essential that we compensate people properly for its mistakes.

The economics of this change make no sense. CCRC referred only 45 cases to the court of appeal last year, resulting in only 23 convictions being quashed. The home secretary is talking about saving only £5m a year - a drop in the ocean of crime victims. But Tony Blair announced recently that miscarriages of justice are a thing of the past. If he is correct there is no need to make this heartless change. Will he please step forward to explain?

Jane Hickman
Secretary, Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association

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Thursday, April 20, 2006



PAYMENTS TO VICTIMS CUT IN BRITAIN

If the British Labour government were as "compassionate" as it says it is, it would be cutting down on bureaucratic salaries rather than cutting payments to some of the most victimized members of society

Compensation payments to people wrongly convicted of crimes are to be slashed by a total of 5 million pounds a year, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said. Individual awards will be capped at 500,000 pounds - the same as the maximum amount paid to victims of crime - compared with the previous highest payout of £2.1 million.

Mr Clarke announced a highly significant ministerial review of the legal test currently used by the Court of Appeal to quash criminal convictions. It will examine to what extent an error in the trial process necessarily leads to a miscarriage of justice, said a Home Office spokesman. Mr Clarke described the move as an "urgent review" which could lead to a change in the law.

A discretionary compensation scheme set up by former home secretary Douglas Hurd in 1985 will be scrapped immediately, Mr Clarke said. That scheme paid out 2 million pounds a year. A statutory scheme which currently pays out 6 million pounds a year will remain in force but a number of new limitations will be placed on claimants. Mr Clarke said he planned to bring in new laws so that compensation could be reduced to zero because of previous criminal convictions or other conduct by the applicant.

Scrapping the discretionary scheme means people who have been wrongly convicted will not be able to apply for compensation if their cases have been quashed while going through the normal appeal process. Instead they will have to sue for compensation through the civil courts.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006



SHARP LAWYERS RIP OFF INJURED BRITISH MINERS

Thousands of miners whose hearing was damaged by years of heavy industrial work have been denied their full compensation because of the dubious conduct of the solicitors handling their claims. Claimants lost money after a confidential deal between a leading law firm and a trade union claims manager, an investigation by The Times has discovered. The deal led to lucrative commission fees for the solicitors and the union employee but left clients with lumps of money sliced off their compensation. Had they gone to different solicitors, the claimants would almost certainly have received their damages in full.

At the centre of the scandal is a law firm that has earned £73 million in recent years by handling industrial disease claims. Some of the money paid to Beresfords, based in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, came from claims by thousands of workers whose hearing was irreparably damaged in the steel, textile and mining industries. Many coalminers were introduced to the solicitors by Vendside, a claims-handling company wholly owned by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM). Until early 2002 miners whose UDM hearing-loss claims were settled by Beresfords received their damages — on average £2,100 — minus a fee of up to £352.50 that was paid to Vendside “to cover the cost of pursuing the claim”. The miner lost nothing if the claim failed.

But in January 2002, The Times has learnt, Beresfords’ two senior partners sat down with Clare Walker, the union’s claims manager, to shape a deal that transformed the way future hearing-loss claims were conducted. Miners whose UDM claim went to Beresfords after that date were likely to end up with a far smaller cheque. After the 2002 agreement, a copy of which is with The Times, Beresfords advised every UDM hearing-loss claimant to take out an insurance policy that would cover him against liability for his opponents’ costs if the claim failed. Clients were encouraged to take out a loan — from banks including First National and the Bank of Scotland — to fund the insurance premium and other fees that were likely to arise as the case proceeded. If the claim succeeded the miner would receive his compensation but the deductions would now include both the Vendside fee and the interest, often several hundred pounds, accrued on the loan.

The solicitors say that the use of ATE (after-the-event) insurance has been “commonplace in personal injury claims” for several years. The firm said that it had begun protracted negotiations with the DTI over the insurance of claims in 2000. The new funding method proved lucrative for Beresfords and Ms Walker, 42. The law firm continued to pay £150 for each hearing-loss claim that it received from the UDM, but from 2002 the payment went not to Vendside, as it had in the past, but to a new company called Walker & Co, wholly owned by Ms Walker.

Future hearing-loss medicals would be arranged by Melex Ltd, 90 per cent of which is owned by the wife of Jim Beresford, the law firm’s senior partner. Melex, whose costs added to the size of the loan, would pay a £50-per-claim “admin fee” to Ms Walker’s company. Ms Walker would also be paid a £100 commission per policy by Composite Legal Expenses (CLE), a Cardiff company that acted as the agent for NIG, the insurance underwriter.

Beresfords would receive a £200 commission from CLE for each policy taken out by a client. This payment was declared to claimants. Later in 2002 Beresfords set up a panel of 11 solicitors’ firms to which it sold hundreds of UDM hearing-loss cases for £400 a claim. These firms also received £200 from CLE for each insurance policy that their clients took out. Beresfords agreed that all correspondence relating to Walker & Co should be sent directly to Ms Walker’s home and “must NOT [the word was in capital letters and underlined] be sent to the offices of Vendside Ltd”. The solicitors say that this was at the request of Mick Stevens, the general secretary of the UDM and a Vendside director. He was at the 2002 meeting. Mr Beresford, 55, received £2.7 million as his share of his firm’s profits between 2002 and 2004.

Had he sought a more appropriate way of handling miners’ hearing-loss claims he could have looked at Towells, a firm in Wakefield that has handled more than 20,000 cases without once deducting money from a client’s damages. “When a solicitor is handling cases in bulk like this it is an enormously profitable enterprise,” David Russell, Towells’ senior partner, said. “As far as we’re concerned there can be no justification for deducting anything.” Mr Beresford might also have looked at two other law firms to which the UDM separately referred more than 3,000 miners’ hearing-loss claims. Both, like Beresfords, signed an agreement with the Government — the defendant in miners’ industrial deafness cases — under which each firm would receive a fixed level of costs for every UDM claim settled without recourse to litigation. Unlike Beresfords, the other two firms were not making payments to Ms Walker. They did not feel the need to advise clients to take out insurance policies with the help of a high-interest bank loan for any of their UDM hearing-loss miners.

The Times has learnt that the Law Society has referred Mr Beresford to the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal for what may amount to serious professional misconduct relating to his firm’s relationship with the UDM. A separate Serious Fraud Office inquiry is being held into the union’s relationship with solicitors handling compensation claims. The UDM, Vendside and Ms Walker declined to comment yesterday, but she and Mr Stevens have previously denied any wrongdoing. Beresfords also said that some of its mining hearing-loss claimants took out ATE insurance before January 2002.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006



DO-GOODER RACIST LAW HURTS KIDS

A 30-year-old law to protect Native Americans puts adopted children who’ve never set foot on a reservation at the mercy of Indian tribes

At Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles, Chris Moore, 11, lines up on a long-jump pit partly shaded by shimmering magnolias. His parents, John and Terri, watch from behind a chain-link fence. Step . . . step . . . step . . . sprint . . . leap. Sand sprays up around Chris' landing and his parents burst into applause. "Great job, Chris! Great job!" his dad yells. The boy trots over to the fence and—there's really no other way to describe this—sparkles. Green-eyed, freckle-faced, ears poking through his strawberry-brown hair, he twines his hands through the links and grins as he reports his personal best: "Three-three-nine!" That Chris belongs to the man and woman on the other side of the fence is signified right on his sky-blue warm-up pants, where the name "Moore" is embroidered across his left thigh. No big deal to most kids. But to Chris, being a Moore is everything.

Six years ago, when his last name was Bybee, police found Chris, then 5, and his brother Anthony, 4, in an apartment in Compton, Calif., an L.A. borough notorious for gangs, crack, and murder. The apartment was a hovel: no electricity, no running water. The toilet had overflowed and the bathtub was filled with clots of tissue and a suspect mix of murky liquids. The boys slept on cardboard boxes after their mother left them there with strangers, who, when she did not return, called the police.

The following month, in July 2000, John Moore, a Long Beach, Calif., screenwriter and his wife Terri, a second-grade teacher, opened their home to Chris and Anthony, who is dark-haired, olive-skinned, and shyer than his brother. When the boys became their foster kids, "we fell in love with them immediately and they quickly became attached to us," Mr. Moore said. "They began calling us Mom and Dad after about three to four weeks."

A month later, when no relatives had come forward to claim the boys, the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) began assessing the Moore's home for what seemed a fast-track adoption. The Moores were overjoyed. But six months later, they say, race-matching, political correctness, and the chilly indifference of social-services bureaucrats nearly ripped a fledgling family apart.

That's because Chris and Anthony are descendants of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska Indians. That means they're subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a 1978 law that gives federally recognized Native American tribes near-complete sovereignty in adoption decisions involving children with Indian blood—even those who, like Chris and Anthony, have never had a moment's prior contact with their ancestral tribe.

Like many child welfare laws, ICWA began with good intentions. In the 1960s and '70s, American Indian children were roughly six times more likely than other kids to be removed from their family homes and placed in foster care, according to an April 2005 General Accounting Office report. Such removals resulted from a "lack of understanding of tribal cultures and child-rearing practices by state child welfare agencies and courts."

The federal government recognizes 562 tribes, each of which has a different "blood quantum" (a specified amount of tribal blood) requirement for membership. Congress intended ICWA to protect Native American families from unwarranted removal of their children, give tribes a role in making child welfare decisions, and preserve their social and cultural standards. "ICWA protects the right of Indian children to tribal resources, to own property, to run for tribal office, and learn the roles of traditional clans," said Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

But Lisa Morris, administrator of the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare (CAICW) and an ICWA critic, points out that Indian children adopted by non-Indian families retain the same rights. ICWA, she said, enables tribal governments to interfere in custody battles between parents, overturn county decisions in favor of the tribally enrolled parent, and for even part-Indian kids with a non-Indian family ready to adopt them, delay placement while tribes attempt to gain custody instead.

That's what happened to the Moores. Six months passed and the Moores surrounded Chris and Anthony with friends, family, and church activities. Social workers were encouraged by the rapid bonding between the Moores and the boys. Meanwhile, no other blood relative had come forward and any "relative preference" that might have applied under California law had already expired. Then, in December 2000, Chris' grandmother surfaced. She had had no prior relationship with the boy but told DCFS workers that she wanted custody of him. Only Chris, though—she did not want Anthony.

"The kids' social workers, therapist, and attorney all had the same concerns," Mr. Moore said. "Where has this woman been? Why should she suddenly show up now when Chris is doing so well? And how could she even consider splitting the boys up?" Then a new wrinkle: The grandmother notified DCFS that the boys were of Native American descent. And where the young brothers had settled into a stable, loving home and were on the fast track to permanency, suddenly DCFS slammed on the brakes.

DCFS spokesman Stuart Riskin said the agency is prohibited by confidentiality rules from commenting on any specific case, or even confirming that the agency worked with the Moores. As for ICWA, he said, "We are mandated to protect the heritage and integrity of Native American children who come under our jurisdiction. We refer them back to the tribe and the tribal elders take it from there."

The Iowa tribal elders did their best to take both boys from the Moores, the couple said. A two-year custody battle ensued during which the tribe attempted to place Chris and Anthony with Chris' grandmother (who finally agreed to take both boys), even though she was white like the Moores and had no connection to the tribe.

The Moores say the boys endured forced weekend visitation in preparation to make the move. Twice before visits, Anthony vomited (a reaction a social worker said was "normal," Mr. Moore claims) and once clawed his face until it bled. Chris suffered nightmares. Meanwhile, the Moores claim that a Native American social worker in the DCFS Indian Unit had sided firmly against them—even after the grandmother told the boys' therapist that she intended to return Chris to his father, who had been in trouble with the law and had had very little contact with his son since birth. Anthony would stay with her. All this because 30 years earlier, the boys' maternal grandfather, who was one-quarter Indian, had enrolled in the Iowa Tribe. Two generations later, Chris and Anthony were, at most, one-sixteenth Indian. But ICWA's jurisdiction is ironclad and applies whether a parent is full-blooded Indian or not.

Under the law, tribal wishes even supersede those of birth parents. In the 1989 case, Mississippi Choctaw Indian Band v. Holyfield, an unmarried man and woman who were enrolled members of the tribe gave birth to twins 200 miles from the tribal reservation. After their parents consented to release the children for adoption, they were adopted by the Holyfield family, who were non-Indian. The Choctaw challenged the adoption, but the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the adoption was legal because the twins had never been physically present on the reservation and because they were "voluntarily surrendered" by their parents, who went to some efforts to see that they were born outside the reservation and promptly arranged for their adoption. But on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not have intended to allow "individual Indian parents to defeat the ICWA's jurisdictional scheme simply by giving birth . . . off the reservation."

The 2005 GAO report, requested by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), studied ICWA outcomes but was inconclusive. The agency was able to gather data on Indian children in only five states, and child welfare agencies responding to GAO surveys often answered only half the questions. Also, researchers interviewed tribes, child welfare officials, and adoption professionals, but no adoptive or foster parents. The report did not reflect the claims of ICWA critics that the law has so mushroomed in supremacy that social-services agencies cede authority to tribal governments even when doing so will place children in harm's way.

In 2004, for example, Emilio Rodriguez, 3, and his brother Jose, 4, were beaten so severely that doctors say Jose will probably never walk or talk again. Both boys are of Mexican and Indian descent, and they had been living in a safe and stable Palmdale, Calif., home with their paternal grandmother. But using ICWA, the Ute Indian Tribe pushed to have them moved to the home of their maternal grandmother on the tribal reservation in Utah. On Aug. 30, 2004, three weeks after the Rodriguez kids moved in with her, the grandmother blackened Emilio's eyes and beat Jose into a coma. According to U.S. District Court records, the grandmother had a lengthy history of alcoholism and had already been convicted twice of child endangerment before social services, cleaving to the letter of ICWA instead of children's best interests, placed the boys in her home.

CAICW asserts that ICWA elevates tribal heritage above any other sort of heritage. For example, if a tribe requires one-sixteenth blood quantum for membership and intervenes in an adoption case, the child's Indian ancestry is said to trump his majority heritage, even if the child is fifteen-sixteenths Hispanic. But NICWA director Cross said the law's reach isn't based on race. ICWA governs "a political status . . . it's an issue of citizenship," Mr. Cross said. A member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Mr. Cross told WORLD that Native American children are always better off with a tribal family. Even an itinerant placement plan, he said, in which a child moved from tribal home to tribal home—a few months with a distant aunt, several weeks with a cousin, another few months with another relative, even if those relatives were strangers—would be "superior" to placement in a nontribal home, even if the child had already bonded with foster parents for a year and was established in school.

Lisa Morris and her husband, Roland, co-founded CAICW before he died of cancer in 2004. Mr. Morris was a member of the Minnesota Tribe of Leech Lake Indians. After watching many Indian children treated poorly under ICWA, the Morrises began to speak out. But they found it difficult to penetrate the bubble of institutionalized Native Americanism. In 1997, for example, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held hearings to consider amending ICWA. "We asked Sen. [Max] Baucus if we could testify," Mrs. Morris said. "He said no, they had everyone they needed to testify."

Those who did testify included tribal leadership, tribal lawyers, social-services employees, and people working in the adoption industry. "You didn't see non-Indian foster parents and adoptive parents," Mrs. Morris said. "You didn't see Indian children who have grown up in white homes. You don't see people like our family who have moved off the reservation and made a different life. No one is asking why they made that choice."

Despite the legal hurdles, Chris and Anthony officially became Moores in 2002. This year, the Moores added a daughter to their family, Ashley, who is part Hispanic and also a descendant of the Lumbee tribe. At 14 and charmingly frank, Ashley had bounced around the foster-care system for seven years after being abused by her mother. She now says the whole concept of race as a basis for adoption is "crazy." After Ashley's grandfather objected to the Moores' adopting her because of their skin color, she even made a running joke of it: "Now I tell my parents, you can't help me with my homework because you're white."

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Monday, April 17, 2006



TEXAS JUSTICE SYSTEM REFUSES TO ADMIT IT GOT IT WRONG

How unsurprising. And who cares if the real murderer goes free?

Prior to June 1977, Kerry Cook was just another 20-year-old guy from Tyler, Texas. Then he was sentenced to death for a rape and murder he said he didn't commit. Fast forward 20 years and science, not the justice system, proved he was right. Those 20 years in the violent world of Texas' death row were what Cook refers to as a real-life Sisyphus story - all uphill and getting nowhere. "It was like being in the Twilight Zone," said Cook, who is in Fort Collins to speak at several showings of "The Exonerated," a play based on his story - as well as the stories of five other wrongly convicted death row survivors. Cook will also present the program "Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction" today at the Foothills Unitarian Church.

Cook said his was a Murphy's Law case - "Everything that could go wrong did." A more plausible suspect - the victim's ex-boyfriend - was never arrested in the case. A confession Cook never made was entered into evidence. The lead investigator claimed Cook's fingerprint on the victim's patio door was six hours old, putting him there at the time of the murder. There is no way to determine the date of a fingerprint.

During his appeals process, these errors were noted as "harmless" in court transcripts, Cook said. "Because of the politics (surrounding the case and the death penalty), no one wanted to reverse the conviction," he said.

Death row was brutal, Cook said. He was raped repeatedly and stabbed. When he entered the system, Cook estimated there were about 50 men on Texas' death row. When he left, there were 450. In the 1990s, there could be as many as two executions a day. Many pleaded guilty just to avoid the death penalty in exchange for life in prison. Cook was offered the chance to plead guilty but said he couldn't do it. "It wasn't a tough choice," he said matter-of-factly. "I had no family left. The only thing I had was the integrity of my innocence."

Eventually Cook was offered, and accepted, an Alford Plea, which allowed him to assert his innocence but admit that sufficient evidence existed for a guilty sentence. In 1999, he was released from prison, but it was a hollow victory. Two years after his release, DNA evidence came back exonerating Cook of the crime and implicating the girl's ex-boyfriend.

However, the Texas justice system has never admitted any mistake in Cook's case, and no one else has ever been arrested for the crime. "You call Tyler, Texas, today, and they'll still say I'm guilty," he said.

Cook, now married with a 5-year-old son, is free and his story known throughout the world, but prison still haunts his daily life. Finding regular employment has been next to impossible, and Cook was recently denied an apartment in Dallas because of his criminal record. He makes his living traveling around the world talking about his experiences and protesting the death penalty. His book, "Chasing Justice" is due out in January.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006



NY POLICE CANNOT TAKE PUBLICITY

They have much to hide, no doubt

Since 2003, the NYPD has been filming protesters at political demonstrations, regardless of whether anything illegal's going on. City lawyers were in court last month defending the practice, arguing that what happens in public view is fair game. But police evidently aren't so keen on surveillance when the cameras are turned on them—particularly when those cameras show them abusing free-street-parking privileges. On March 27, two volunteers from the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives were detained for taking pictures of police officers' private cars, which were parked on the sidewalk outside the Fifth Precinct in Chinatown. The volunteers say they were held and questioned at the precinct for about 20 minutes and instructed to erase the pictures. "It was intimidating. I was afraid they were going to arrest me," says Brian Hoberman, 37, who works as a researcher for the city's Rent Guidelines Board.

Hoberman and a college student had been dispatched by Transportation Alternatives to document the scourge of sidewalk parking around City Hall and Chinatown. "We were told to photograph all the cars on the sidewalk with their license plates, and if they had any parking permits in the windows," Hoberman explains. They started outside the Fifth Precinct on Elizabeth Street between Canal and Bayard streets, a narrow block where it's customary to find police and others parking with two wheels on the curb. Hoberman says he snapped a shot of an SUV straddling the sidewalk, and was quickly confronted by its owner, a cop in plain clothes. "He said, 'Do you know this is my car? What are you doing?' " Hoberman recalls. "I told him we weren't targeting police or any particular people's cars, and that it was just a general survey, but he kept haranguing me, so I walked away." Hoberman says he resumed taking pictures, then turned back when he noticed his fellow volunteer being held up by a different officer.

They were asked to come inside the precinct, Hoberman says, where they were grilled by at least three officers. "They asked if we had anything to do with Critical Mass—twice," he says. "They took our driver's licenses and asked us if we had any outstanding warrants." Hoberman says the officers listed several reasons they could not photograph cops' personal vehicles—including concerns that if the license plate numbers were published online, gang members could track police to their homes. "One officer asked if we were familiar with the gang situation in Chinatown," Hoberman recalls. "He said his tires had been slashed outside the precinct. He said, 'This is not the West Village.' And he mentioned the Patriot Act. "Then he asked me to delete the photographs on my camera—just the ones that showed private police vehicles. The ones of marked police cars and a taxicab didn't bother him." Worried about getting his ID back and already told by the cops that they had the right to hold him, Hoberman agreed.

His account was confirmed by David Snetman, the Transportation Alternatives staffer coordinating the survey, who came to the precinct to intervene. "They said the Patriot Act is somehow involved. The commanding officer, an Asian man, chimed in and said to me, 'Are you familiar with the Patriot Act?' " Snetman says. "They said if we wanted to continue our survey, Brian would have to delete the photos he'd taken. They didn't go so far as to say it was illegal; they just said they didn't want us to do it. I didn't really want to press the issue, so we just agreed and left. They were pretty upset."

Officers at the Fifth Precinct referred all calls to the NYPD's public information office. A spokesperson there, Deputy Chief Michael Collins, told the Voice he was "unable to find anyone familiar with the incident." However, Chief Collins said he did not see anything wrong with questioning the volunteers. "I would find it unusual if officers did not conduct a preliminary investigation if they observed unidentified people photographing department vehicles, officers' private vehicles, department buildings, etc.," Collins wrote in an e-mail.

But Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union says the incident is troubling. "There are no prohibitions against photographing in public spaces," Dunn notes. "They can't mandate anyone to destroy photographs. If they said [the volunteers] could be held, that sounds like coercion to me."

It's not the first time New Yorkers have been detained for taking pictures of law enforcement vehicles parked illegally. On January27, Jan Lee, a Chinatown antique dealer, says he was stopped after photographing two cars—one bearing an NYPD placard and another belonging to a court officer—that were blocking a fire hydrant on Mott Street. Lee says he was leaning in to capture the court officer's placard on the dash when an undercover detective shouted at him: "Who are you? What are you doing?" Unaware the officer was a cop, Lee kept shooting and snapped a photo of the detective, who he claims brushed the camera away, telling him, "You cannot take pictures!" "I told him it was a public street and I can take pictures of whatever I want, and he said, 'No, you can't,' and hit my arm again. So I said, 'That's it, I'm calling the cops,' and flipped open my cell phone," Lee recalls. "Then he said, 'I am a cop' and flashed his badge."

According to Lee, the detective pushed him against a roll-down gate, then dragged him by the collar to the NYPD kiosk on Park Row. Lee, a prominent community advocate and business owner, says he was handcuffed and forced to kneel on the street for about 15 minutes while the detective and another uniformed officer radioed for backup. The police took his camera and ran a check on his ID, then released him, telling him he needed a permit from the NYPD to photograph cars belonging to law enforcement personnel. "The officer said, 'There's a right way and wrong way to take photographs, and you're doing it the wrong way,' " Lee recalls.

The NYPD told the Voice the department has no record of this incident, either, though Lee says the commander of the Fifth Precinct visited his antique store on Mott Street to speak with him about it a few days later, after Lee called civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and Community Board 3. Lee says he felt humiliated and doesn't buy the officers' claim: that they were concerned he could illegally copy the placards. He views his detention as an effort to intimidate him and other Chinatown activists, who have been raising a stink about what they see as the abuse of street-parking privileges by cops, court officers, and municipal workers in their neighborhood. They've made a short documentary about it called Clogged Arteries, in partnership with Community Board 3. Lee and fellow business owners say the all-day parking by police and other government workers (who are supposed to use their placards only on "official business") impedes emergency responders and drives away shoppers.

Police officers' seeming paranoia over street photography goes beyond disputes over parking placards. The MTA nixed its proposed ban on subway photos, but cops have been hassling people for filming at commuter rail stations. A NY1 reporter was briefly detained in Penn Station last month—while doing a story about this very issue. "We are constantly getting complaints of people being approached by NYPD cops for independent photography and filming," says Dunn. The NYCLU recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a well-known Indian documentary filmmaker who was stopped by police last May while filming taxis in midtown and then detained for several hours. Dunn also points to an incident on January 20, when police stopped a man taking pictures near the George Washington Bridge. According to Dunn, the officers brought him back to his home and went through his personal photo albums. The NYPD then sent two members of the intelligence divison to interview the man—a white massage therapist from Washington Heights who takes pictures of flowers as his hobby.

No doubt cops have reason to be on alert after 9-11. But at issue, says Dunn, are the degrees of interrogation to which people are being subjected—and to what end? In the case of the Chinatown incidents, Dunn offers a simple solution: "If police officers don't want their private vehicles photographed, then they should not park them on public streets."

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Saturday, April 15, 2006



California: Rape charges thrown out, but cell doors stayed shut

Two men exonerated in what was first thought to be a gang rape case remained in a Sacramento County jail for 21 days after charges were dropped, until another hearing this week decided their fate. Cousins Sarn Saechao, 25, and Chiem Saechao, 21, appeared before a state parole board Wednesday about a string of alleged parole violations tied to the criminal rape case dismissed last month.

Why it took three weeks for the case against the Saechaos to be resolved highlights a growing debate between the interest of justice and the interest of public safety, according to attorneys involved in the case and legal experts. "This does seem to conflict with our broad sense of justice," said professor Jennifer Chacon, at UC Davis School of Law. But, given the severity of the allegations, authorities will err on the side of caution with inmates who have criminal histories. "The inmate could have violated parole even though they may not have been guilty," said Tip Kindel, spokesman for the state parole board. "One has to do with reasonable doubt; the other has to do with preponderance of evidence."

Shortly after their arrests in February, the Saechaos were charged with a handful of parole violations along with nearly 12 felony counts associated with the alleged rape of a 19-year-old woman in Tahoe Park. Both have prison records - Sarn Saechao for drugs and Chiem Saechao for burglary. The parole violations, intended to keep them in custody before trial, were based on the rape charges: Chiem Saechao's alleged violations included conspiracy to commit sexual assault, rape with force or fear, and forced oral copulation; Sarn Saechao was similarly charged, but he also faced a parole violation for not reporting to his parole officer, according to the state parole board.

At the time, Sacramento police called the case "one of the most brutal" assaults in recent memory. But on March 22, prosecutors unilaterally dropped charges against the Saechaos. Video footage had surfaced showing the woman agreeing to participate in what appeared to be pornography. Both men were pleased that the case was thrown out, but those feelings turned to confusion, their lawyers said, when they were not released from jail.

The state Board of Parole decided to pursue the alleged violations, with the parole hearing held Wednesday. The decision also confused Saechaos' defense attorneys. "It's very surprising to me that the District Attorney's Office would deem someone factually innocent of the crimes ... yet, the parole board is deeming it (fit) to move forward on the underlying charges," said Paul Irish, who represented Sarn Saechao in the rape case. "It just doesn't seem fair." Chiem Saechao's defense attorney, David Lynch, said he grew increasingly frustrated that his client, an innocent man, was caught in a legal Catch-22. "My position is, that may work well for 99.9 percent of cases that are dismissed because of insufficient evidence or ambiguities," Lynch said of parole officials' move to keep his client locked up. "But, this is the type of case where they should, at least, (have been) released."

UC Davis law professor Floyd Feeney said it's not unusual for authorities to keep inmates in custody if they believe some aspect of the criminal case was true but lacked the evidence to prove the charge. A 1974 state appeals case allowed authorities to level parole violations against an inmate based on dropped charges. Subsequent rulings have supported the practice in cases where evidence showed a defendant's guilt but the criminal case was dropped, Chacon said. But in the Saechao case, where the victim recanted the allegations, Chacon said she was not convinced it was sound for the parole board to keep the men behind bars. "This is an example," she said, "why we may want to be careful in how broadly this legal principle is applied."

At Wednesday's parole hearing, all of the sexual misconduct charges were dismissed, Kindel said, and Chiem Saechao was released from the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center near Elk Grove. With Sarn Saechao, officials found that he failed to report to his parole officer. He was sent to Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy to serve a nine-month term. During his first full day of freedom Thursday, Chiem Saechao slowly settled in, cupping a bowl of steamed noodles for lunch. He hadn't told his family, yet, about his experiences in jail, but the past three weeks was enough of an ordeal. "It didn't make any sense," he said.

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Friday, April 14, 2006



CALIFORNIA: VERY DUBIOUS EVIDENCE

Convicted on the basis of dogs picking up a 7 year old scent??? And an angry ex-wife is a good witness???

A motion seeking a third trial for Nathaniel Davison, convicted of murder in a "cold case" trial late last year, has been filed in Lake County Superior Court by Lakeport attorney Mitchell Hauptman. Davison was judged guilty of murdering Tracy Lyons and disposing of his body in 1998 by a Lake County jury in November. Hauptman's motion charges that Davison did not receive adequate defense in either of his first two trials, the first of which ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. Public defender Doug Rhoades represented Davison in both trials.

"Nathan Davison did not kill Tracy Lyons," Hauptman says in a brief filed at Lake County courthouse. "Moreover," the brief continues, "the evidence at trial was glaringly insufficient to support the wrongful conviction that occurred. A substantial portion of the evidence' which was presented was highly prejudicial, fundamentally irrelevant, and should have been objected to and excluded."

Much of the testimony regarding Davison's character flaws and Jillian's character strengths, Hauptman asserts, was inadmissible under the law. His motion concludes that "the failure of any effort to present any defense whatsoever abandoned Davison to the wit and wiles of a skilled prosecutor."

The prosecutor, county Chief Deputy District Attorney Jon Hopkins, said he did not agree. "I've read through the brief and I disagree with just about all of Mr. Hauptman's points," Hopkins said. "I think the verdict was sound and based on competent evidence, and I think the defense attorney did an excellent job."

Hauptman specifically charges that too much credibility was given to testimony of Jillian Davison, Davison's ex-wife and Lyons' stepdaughter. Jillian testified that Davison told her he had shot Lyons and that she saw Lyons' shoes sticking out of a 55-gallon barrel in which Davison was alleged to have put the victim's remains after quartering him with a chain saw. Davison's alleged motive was that he felt Lyons should die for sexually abusing Jillian as a child.

Neither Lyons' body, the revolver that Davison was alleged to have used to shoot him, the chain saw nor the barrel have ever been found and there is no forensic evidence.

Hauptman also labels as "irrelevant" the testimony of trainers regarding how their cadaver dogs picked up the seven-year-old scent of Lyons in the vicinity of the hills behind Clearlake Oaks, where Davison was alleged to have buried him in a shallow grave. "The conviction rests upon the unimpeached testimony of Jill Davison, the infallible testimony of two dogs and a ton of inadmissible character evidence," Hauptman wrote. " ... In other words, human remains' dogs are infallible. Like the pope, they speak ex cathedra, they are inaccessible to cross-examination, and, when they speak that's the beginning and end of it; matter settled. More accurate as a match' tool than DNA evidence."


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Thursday, April 13, 2006



ARROGANT FORENSIC "SCIENCE" EXPOSED AGAIN

The boy whose adoptive parents face a retrial for killing him by salt poisoning may have been born with an unusual intolerence towards the mineral, The Times has learnt. Ian and Angela Gay, a wealthy couple, walked from the Court of Appeal yesterday after their conviction for the manslaughter of Christian Blewitt, 3, was overturned. They became notorious when portrayed as rich professionals who killed a child placed for adoption because he was not the perfect boy they desired. Judges allowed the Gays’ appeal after hearing fresh expert evidence that a rare condition exists that could provide an explanation for Christian’s death.

There was an excited cry of “yes” from a supporter of the Gays in court as Lord Justice Richards, Mr Justice Penry-Davey and Her Honour Judge Goddard, QC, quashed the guilty verdicts. Tears soon flowed among the crowd of relatives and friends when the court ordered a retrial of what Michael Mansfield, QC, for the Gays, described as, medically, an exceptional case.

Christian, his younger brother and sister were placed for adoption with the childless couple in their mid-thirties after social workers realised that his mother, Tracey Osik, was unable to cope. The children’s new home was an exclusive gated community in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, but the professional couple struggled with the challenge of raising a boy from a difficult background. Only a week after Christian arrived into the couple’s care, Ian Gay, 39, an electrical engineer, was describing the boy as “brainless”, a “vegetable” and a “zombie”. Christian had been with the couple for just a month when Mr Gay rushed the unconscious child, by Lotus sports car, to hospital in December 2002. The boy was found to have exceptionally high levels of salt in his blood and died on his natural mother’s lap four days later, never having regained consciousness.

The couple were convicted of manslaughter based on medical evidence suggesting that at least 4½ teaspoons of salt would have to be swallowed to create the readings. A judge jailed the Gays for five years after accusing them of deliberately making Christian eat salt as a punishment for mild misbehaviour. But Glyn Walters, a retired specialist consultant in chemical pathology, told the appeal judges that he was sure Christian’s blood-salt levels were not the result of poisoning. He pointed out that Christian’s body had failed to excrete the salt as would have been expected during the days he spent dying in a coma. One explanation would be a rare condition, where a region of the brain fails to do its job of detecting high levels of salt and having it flushed out of the system. There had been only two documented cases, both in adults, but there was no reason that a child would be unsusceptible.

Other, non-medical, evidence had counted against the Gays. A total of 11 small bruises below Christian’s scalp and a small cut on his mouth might have been consistent with gripping the boy’s head to forcefeed him salt. The couple had lied or concealed the truth: in particular Christian had bitten Mrs Gay’s hand and she asked her husband not to tell the social worker in case the children were removed. The appeal judges said that they decided the convictions were unsafe only after “anxious consideration of the case as a whole”.

The Gays were cleared of murder at their trial when the jury accepted there might be innocent explanations for the bruises. On the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday, a frail and exhausted Angela Gay, standing beside her husband, read a prepared statement. “After 15 months in prison we are finally free,” she said. “The convictions against us have been quashed. However, we must now face the fresh agony of a retrial. We now know for certain what we have believed all along, that Christian died of natural causes. “We are now just looking forward to going home. Yet again we protest our innocence and hope that one day soon true justice will finally be done.”

Mr Gay’s mother Jacqueline told The Times:“Yes, they had a good many material things — which had been worked extremely hard for. They had got themselves into a good position to achieve their main dream, children by adoption. They moved to a big house in Bromsgrove just prior to getting the three children — complete with a big mortgage, like a lot of people — just to have the perfect home for the children. They adored all of them from the moment they first met them.”

Angela Gay spoke last night of the distress of losing Christian, the child she regarded as her own new son, and disclosed she still hoped she would one day be a mother. Asked how she felt about Christian’s death, Mrs Gay replied: “I was devastated. I was taken to hospital because the shock of what happened was just too much for me to cope with. The grieving process when you lose a child, you can’t describe unless you go through it yourself. It’s just the most intense pain.”

The couple told ITV Central news after their convictions were quashed. Asked whether she had given up hope of having children, Mrs Gay answered: “The longing to have a child has not gone away.” And asked whether she would consider adoption, the 40-year-old said: “It’s too early to say. At the moment I am just coming to terms with being out of prison and back with my family.”

Mrs Gay said: “We were hoping it would all be over today but at least we are back together as a couple and as a family. It seems quite surreal at the moment. It doesn’t seem normal to us as I am just used to being in prison for the last 15 months. It’s just wonderful to be back out.” Mrs Gay added: “Until we went to the appeal court three weeks ago, we hadn’t actually seen each other for over 14 months. “It (being apart) was very difficult because you can’t really express how you are feeling in letters all of the time.” Mrs Gay said that being taken away from her family and losing her freedom for something that she and her husband had not done was very difficult to accept.

Mr Gay said: “It’s all a bit of a dream at the moment — it’s such a long time since we managed to see each other. We have not had much contact for the last 15 months and seeing everyone in one place, it’s just a bit of a shock.” He added: “I think sometimes being locked in a room is just the smallest part of the problem. Being away from your family and friends, especially being away from my wife, has been very hard for me. You lose your whole life in prison.”

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006



WIFE-BATTERING TO JOIN THE LIST OF "OK" CRIMES IN BRITAIN

You can get off with just a warning in Britain for burglary, car-theft and assault (See here) and it seems that wife-beating is next on the list for being yawned at by the "justice" system there

Men and women who attack their partners should have the chance to avoid being sent to jail if they appear genuinely sorry for their violence, according to sentencing proposals published yesterday. Instead, wife-beaters could receive a suspended prison sentence or community order. The proposals also recommend that perpetrators of domestic violence attend courses to tackle their offending, even though it is too early to know if they are effective in curbing violence.

The head of the leading domestic violence charity attacked the draft guidelines. Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: "It would be a travesty if the Sentencing Guidelines Council proposals on domestic violence come into effect. In short they give men a licence to batter women as long as they are able to put on a remorseful act in front of a judge." She condemned the council for putting forward the proposals after years in which women had fought to persuade the Government and justice system to take domestic violence seriously. "Women and children need protection and deserve justice. Living in safety is a human right," Ms Horley said.

The proposals come after women's groups expressed alarm that courts were not treating rape seriously enough. They are also likely to cause concern in the Government, which has repeatedly called for the courts to treat domestic violence seriously. Two weeks ago Baroness Scotland of Asthal, QC, a Home Office minister, said: "Domestic and sexual crimes are some of the most damaging physically and emotionally to victims and it is essential that victims have the confidence to stand up for their right to live without fear of violence. "As well as increasing support for victims, we are sending a strong message to perpetrators that these crimes will not be tolerated."

The Sentencing Guidelines Council, which issues guidelines to the courts in England and Wales, said that cases of domestic violence should be treated as no less seriously than any other crime of violence. But in draft guidelines out for consultation until June 12, the council added that offenders who were remorseful could receive a non-custodial sentence, including supervision by the Probation Service. It said: "If the court is satisfied that the offender genuinely intends to reform his/her behaviour, and there is a real prospect of rehabilitation being successful, it may be appropriate to impose a sentence that will allow the offender to be rehabilitated. Rather than the imposition of a short custodial sentence, an appropriate disposal in such situations might be a suspended sentence order or a community order, in either case with a requirement to attend a domestic violence programme."

The council, chaired by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, outlined the type of case where a convicted wife-beater could escape jail. It said they could be where an attacker "shows genuine signs of remorse" or where both partners want to stay together.

The Probation Service runs an Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme in which offenders attend a series of classes for 12 to 13 weeks. It is too early, however, to evaluate whether it is effective or not. A study based on a sample of 134 female victims of domestic violence showed that a third of men completing an abuser programme and more than two thirds jailed or fined committed a further act of domestic violence within a year of being sentenced.

The guidelines said that domestic violence should be punished more severely by the courts if it was witnessed by children, or if they were aware of it taking place elsewhere in the home. They also emphasised that any assertion that the victim had "provoked" an attack should be "treated with great care". If the victim expressed any pleas for mercy on their partner's behalf, the courts should be sure that they were genuine views and not expressed under duress or put them at risk of further violence, it added. The guidelines have gone to consultation before a final version is drawn up.

Nearly half of all female murder victims are killed by their partners or former partners. According to the British Crime Survey, 26 per cent of women and 17 per cent of men aged 16 to 69 have experienced domestic violence. The survey estimated that there are 15 million separate incidents a year. A Home Office spokesman said last night that the guidelines were only in draft form and the Government would comment in due course. David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary, said: "Discretion as proposed by the Sentencing Guidelines Council should only ever be used with extreme caution. Mistakes in this area could result in the most appalling consequences."

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Man pleads guilty to the fatal shootings that kept another man on death row

Months after he confessed on videotape to two killings that kept another man on death row for almost 17 years, a Milwaukee man pleaded guilty to the crimes. Alstory Simon agreed to a plea bargain in which he was sentenced to 37 years in prison for the 1982 murder of Marilyn Green. He also pleaded guilty on Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Jerry Hillard, 18, and was given a 15-year sentence to be served concurrently.

The deaths of Green, 19, and Hillard, 18, had left Anthony Porter convicted of murder and on death row. He was released in February after Simon confessed the killings to a private investigator, who was working for a Northwestern University journalism professor and his investigative reporting class. The investigator elicited the confession from Simon by using a phony eyewitness account. In the confession, Simon said he acted in self-defense.

Simon, a 49-year-old laborer who has lived in Milwaukee since 1982, had no connection to Porter. They were simply at the same pool in Washington Park on the night of the fatal shootings, said Thomas V. Gainer, an assistant Cook County state's attorney. Porter was released from prison and is living in Chicago.

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