Saturday, September 30, 2006


In Britain, it is criminals who have the "rights", not ordinary people -- and politically correct British bureaucrats and police know how to ensure that

Two miles from the centre of Liverpool lies a street where no sane family would choose to live. Among the 19 houses that make up Childers Street, a pack of young savages runs wild. Fearless, lawless and sowing misery with a careless abandon, their reign seems uncontested. They shout, fight, steal, drink, vandalise, bully, urinate, abuse, litter and deal drugs. When they are bored they throw a brick through your window. Or through the window of a police car.

These feral teenagers from Europe's future Capital of Culture are not, of course, unique. They have hooded cousins who roam the streets of deprived inner-city communities the length of Britain. What was different about this little no-go world was that after enduring years of intimidation one brave council house resident decided that enough was enough. She had lived in Childers Street, in the Old Swan area of Liverpool, for half a dozen years and she had watched in growing dismay as decent families moved out and the road began its steady descent into dysfunction. June Hopkins (not her real name) is 60. Her husband has a serious heart condition. They felt like prisoners in their own home. She saw a Congolese family petrol-bombed out of their house. She watched children attack an ambulance. She saw a gang surround a man with learning difficulties and beat him to the ground.

At night, the grandmother would lie in bed as underage drinkers swarmed outside. Breaking glass, accompanied by the 2am yells and screams of her neighbours and their friends, often made sleep impossible. So she decided to take a stand. Encouraged by the police and the council, who promised to protect her anonymity, she began to log each incident in a diary provided by the local antisocial behaviour unit. From April this year Mrs Hopkins spent five months recording daily life in Childers Street. As a portrait of life in one corner of 21st-century Britain, it is a study in despair. The authorities, however, were delighted because the diary finally gave them the evidence they needed to apply for antisocial behaviour orders against the ringleaders of the disorder: five male teenagers aged between 13 and 19.

Mrs Hopkins believed, with good reason, that if the families of those five boys discovered the identity of the person who had "grassed them up" then her life would be in danger. As happens in ASBO cases across the country where witnesses fear reprisals, the local authority agreed that her evidence would be presented to the court by what is known as a professional witness, in this case an enforcement officer, Tracey Proud, from its antisocial behaviour unit. The officer presents the evidence to magistrates on behalf of the vulnerable witness. Crucially, disclosure of the evidence must also be made to the defendants when they are served with their summons.

Home Office ASBO guidelines empahsise that "the welfare and safety of residents whose complaints form the basis of any action must at every stage of the process be the first consideration". Councils are told that they have a duty to minimise any potential for witness intimidation; to maintain witness anonymity; and to ensure that it does not "identify them by default (for example through details of location . . . or age)". It would seem difficult to spell out the message more clearly, yet earlier this month the council, with the help of the police, breached the guidelines so crassly that it in effect led the young thugs to Mrs Hopkins's front door.

On Monday, September 11, the council filed five ASBO applications at Liverpool Magistrates' Court. Two days later police officers delivered summonses to five addresses in Childers Street. Within half an hour of the documents dropping through the letter boxes, and with the police nowhere to be seen, a baying mob had gathered outside Mrs Hopkins's home. Why? Because among the forms handed to each boy was a statement signed by Ms Proud that revealed that she was presenting evidence from "witness A", who "wishes to be anonymous for fear of reprisals". Immediately below is a paragraph in which witness A is described as a resident of Childers Street who has lived there for 6« years and is 60 years of age. There are only 19 homes on the street. Everyone knows everyone. Mrs Hopkins, a former care and support worker, had just been grassed up by her own council.

By pure chance, on the afternoon in question she was in hospital with her 58-year-old husband, who had just suffered a suspected heart attack. It was left to her son to face a hate-filled rabble that was demanding blood. Soon, cars drove up to disgorge local hard cases armed with baseball bats and knives, and one man, allegedly, carrying a gun. There was only one way out. Mrs Hopkins was contacted by her family and warned not to come home. The gang was told that the evidence against them would be withdrawn. It was, and the ASBO applications have collapsed.

Mrs Hopkins has been unable to return to the area. Her house is now boarded up and she is living in a temporary safe house provided by a wellwisher. Neither the council nor the police seemed willing this week to accept any responsibility for the potentially life-threatening identification blunder, although each was eager to blame the other. Merseyside Police said that the information in the documents disclosed to the defendants was entirely the responsibility of the local authority. The force also claimed that the officers who had been dealing directly with Childers Street had no idea that the summonses were being delivered on that day. One police source said that Mrs Hopkins had been treated appallingly. "She has a right to be afraid. She's been let down because her identity has been revealed and that has put her in danger."

The area police commander, Chief Superintendent Andy Ward, said in a statement: "We sympathise entirely with this local resident and her family, particularly as she was prepared to take a stand against antisocial behaviour in her area. This application by the council's antisocial behaviour unit has unfortunately led to a witness being vulnerable, something which needs to be avoided at all costs."

Liverpool City Council, by contrast, insisted that its officials had handled the matter by the book and said that the timing of the summons deliveries, earlier than had been scheduled, was the fault of the police. A spokeswoman said: "In every single case, we do our utmost to protect the identity of the complainant. In eight years of enforcing ASBOs, this is the first time an incident like this has happened. However, we have to provide a certain level of detail to the court to prove the alleged incidents took place, which can bring the slight risk that a person's identity could be discovered." Both the police and the council wanted to emphasise their commitment to tackling antisocial behaviour in Childers Street. The council urged local people not to be "put off from providing the information we need" and the police said that they were setting up a "proactive disorder team" to work in the area.

All of which is cold comfort for Mrs Hopkins. Over the years she had seen hundreds of occasions when a police car has visited Childers Street in response to reports of trouble. When the police arrive, the gangs melt away. The car spends perhaps one minute cruising up and down the street, then goes, at which point the teenagers re-emerge. The geography of the sloping street is partly to blame. Bollards and a brick wall at each end mean that the only vehicle access is via a side street halfway up the road, yet there are half a dozen entry and exit routes by foot. Its layout makes Childers Street a magnet for local youths and, as the police have confirmed, offers offenders "the luxury of escape".

One local officer, PC Stephen Duffy, whose sworn statement was to have formed part of the ASBO evidence, said that since April the police had received reports of more than 100 incidents in Childers Street. "The problems . . . consist of throwing missiles at property, being drunk in the street, assaults, setting fire to propery, stealing, riding motorbikes and causing alarm and distress to members of the community," he wrote. He noted one incident that resulted "in a police officer being placed in fear of his safety and receiving hand injuries where he lost the top of his finger". A second reported incident left a fellow officer "in shock after his patrol car was systematically attacked by several males who used bricks to smash the windows of the vehicle". If the police have now been told, for safety reasons, not to visit the street alone at night, what hope is there for a 60-year-old woman?

When Mrs Hopkins talks about her life on Childers Street, it becomes clear that her greatest anger is reserved for the parents who allow their children to run riot and too often take a sick pride in their behaviour. She has a security camera on the wall of her house. Video footage taken during numerous incidents was handed to the council to assist in the ASBO applications. In some night-time scenes, drunken mothers and their beyond-control offspring seem to merge into one mass of churning malevolence. She weeps quietly as she watches it.

Had the ASBOs been granted, they might have been the first step towards cleaning up Childers Street. Those five youths - aged 13, 14, 16, 17 and 19 - would have been banned from associating with each other, from using foul or abusive words or behaviour in public, from riding motorcycles, from being part of a group of more than three people on the street and from engaging "in any behaviour likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress". A breach of the order could have resulted in a custodial sentence. The council also had plans to evict some of the most troublesome families from the road.

Its colossal error in identifying Mrs Hopkins to her tormentors appears, for now, to have reduced such hopes to ashes. She talks of an earlier encounter with one young yob who told her: "The police don't rule our street, the council don't rule our street. This street belongs to us. This is our street." "And he's right. They do," she said yesterday

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Friday, September 29, 2006

BRITAIN: A soft criminal justice system to get even softer

Serious crimes such as assaulting a police officer and mugging will be punished by instant fines of up to 100 pounds from next year under plans to keep hundreds of thousands of offenders out of court. Proposals drawn up by the Home Office, and seen by The Times, envisage a huge extension of fixed-penalty notices from early 2007. They would apply to nearly 30 offences, including assault, threatening behaviour, all types of theft up to a value of 100 pounds, obstructing or assaulting a police officer, possession of cannabis, and drunkenness.

The move, which could remove 250,000 cases from the magistrates’ courts, comes after discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers and other groups such as the security industry. The plans have yet to be endorsed by ministers, but officials have made clear that the intention is to move swiftly, with legislation this autumn and a start date early next year. That would coincide with a rise in the top rate for a fixed-penalty offence from 80 to 100 pounds.

But the 30,000-strong Magistrates’ Association says the proposals make a mockery of the criminal justice system and downgrade the gravity of offences that should go before the courts. Cindy Barnett, chairman of the association, said: “These are crimes that involve victims, and sometimes violence, and some of them are at the top end of what government research has shown the public regard as serious. They should not be dealt with by penalty notice. What kind of message does this send out?” She said that the change would undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system because offenders would not be properly or appropriately dealt with. “Serious offences will end up being sentenced by the police and/or prosecution, and underlying problems such as drug abuse will be missed, because speed is seen as more important than taking people to court through a proper process.”

She added that the association had only just been consulted on the plans and been given only until next week to respond. “Feelings on this are incredibly strong,” Ms Barnett continued. “Magistrates are unanimous and we have already given the Lord Chancellor the very clear message from every part of England and Wales that the Government has already gone too far with these measures.”

The latest proposals are part of a wider initiative by the Lord Chancellor and Home Secretary to speed up justice. They are concerned to ensure value for money, to reduce the number of trials and to make sure that offenders are dealt with more quickly. Ministers are determined to divert large numbers of cases from the courts through a series of measures, including the nationwide use of conditional cautioning. Under that scheme, to be fully in force by 2008, so-called low-level offenders who admit their guilt are given a caution by police and the Crown Prosecution Service with conditions such as attending drug or alcohol treatment or apologising to a victim.

But The Times has learnt that officials also want to extend the use of penalty notices and conditional cautions to deal with unruly behaviour. Police would have the power to issue a notice for disorder to youths under 18 or impose a conditional caution for young offenders aged 16 and 17. Other offences that would be dealt with by fixed penalty include possessing drink or “unacceptable behaviour” on railway premises and disorderly conduct on licensed premises.

The police can already impose penalty notices for a range of low-level public order offences, such as littering, criminal damage and shoplifting. But magistrates say that these powers are being misused, with notices wrongly issued where offenders have a record and should come to court. “Serious cases are already slipping through the cracks because the notices are being used inconsistently,” Ms Barnett said. “We have heard of one case where a penalty notice was issued for possession of a firearm.”

She added that moves to divert cases from the courts had, in the view of magistrates, already gone too far. “The test of what is ‘serious’ is being shifted or ignored, so that these cases are not being dealt with in the way that they should be.” Sally Dickinson, chief executive of the association, added: “All these offences also have a victim — and they will not see the offender brought to justice. It cuts across everything ministers are saying about the importance of the victim in the justice sytem.”

Unlike conditional cautions, the fixed-penalty notices do not require the offender to admit guilt, and the penalty is not a criminal conviction. But as with a parking ticket, an offender can go to court to contest it. Magistrates argue, however, that many would not want the bother and would just accept it — in some cases wrongly.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006


A nursery owner was cleared of assaulting a toddler yesterday after the girl’s mother said the prosecution should not have been brought. Olive Rack, 56, claimed that she had been the victim of a vendetta by childcare inspectors who told “a pack of lies”. She was charged with common assault for allegedly dragging the two-year-old girl by the arm, forcing her into a chair and poking her twice in the head. Mrs Rack said that she had been using the “naughty seat” disciplinary technique made famous by the Channel 4 programme Supernanny after the girl hit a baby on the head with a toy brick.

The child’s parents refused to support the prosecution; the girl still attends the nursery in Kettering, Northamptonshire, and her hours have increased since the incident in July last year.

Magistrates ruled after a two-day trial that Mrs Rack had used appropriate force in disciplining the child.

Mrs Rack said after the verdict: “I am pleased to finally be vindicated and I’d like to thank the witnesses who gave evidence for me in this case.” Meryl Mayo, chairwoman of the bench at Towcester Magistrates’ Court, said: “We have had various versions of this incident. We feel that the main witnesses, Gillian Whall and Julie Medhurst (both local authority inspectors) were leaving the nursery. They may not have seen the whole incident or were possibly mistaken. “There were a number of inconsistencies in the evidence. We feel there is no evidence that Mrs Rack tapped or poked the child in this way.”

The mother, who cannot be named, told the court she had every faith in the punishment used by Mrs Rack, who has 40 years’ experience in the industry and has owned Tresco House Nursery for 19 years. She told the court: “Mrs Rack is a very nice lady and my daughter sees her as her carer during the day. If I felt there was problem with my daughter, I know she would tell me from her body language or her demeanour. When she has been naughty I expect her to be disciplined as I would discipline her at home. I believe that the incident has been highly exaggerated. “Mrs Rack explained what had happened and . . . I was completely satisfied with what she had told me.”

However, the two local authority inspectors, who were visiting the nursery at the time of the incident, said that Mrs Rack had over-reacted, and reported her to the Northamptonshire Police. Mrs Rack said that the Northamptonshire County Council officials had told a pack of lies and accused them of inappropriately intervening. She said that they had held a grudge against her since 1993, when she refused to dismiss a manager with decades of experience because she did not have the right formal qualifications. Mrs Rack said she won a magistrates’ court case against the local authority over her refusal to dismiss the manager. She added: “They carried on the vendetta from then on. They could not accept that they had lost.”

Mrs Rack denied common assault and told the court that the girl had been treated with caution and respect. She said: “I just got hold of the toddler’s hand. She was crying and having a tantrum — typical two-year-old behaviour. I led her to a chair and said, ‘You can sit there and think about what you have done.’ I certainly didn’t touch her.”

In a statement the authority said that its early years advisers had a duty to raise concerns that might arise through their visits to ensure that all children received the same high standard of pre-school education and care.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Some of the courtrooms are not even courtrooms: tiny offices or basement rooms without a judge’s bench or jury box. Sometimes the public is not admitted, witnesses are not sworn to tell the truth, and there is no word-for-word record of the proceedings.

Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many — truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers — have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles. Some never got through high school, and at least one went no further than grade school.

But serious things happen in these little rooms all over New York State. People have been sent to jail without a guilty plea or a trial, or tossed from their homes without a proper proceeding. In violation of the law, defendants have been refused lawyers, or sentenced to weeks in jail because they cannot pay a fine. Frightened women have been denied protection from abuse.

These are New York’s town and village courts, or justice courts, as the 1,250 of them are widely known. In the public imagination, they are quaint holdovers from a bygone era, handling nothing weightier than traffic tickets and small claims. They get a roll of the eyes from lawyers who amuse one another with tales of incompetent small-town justices.

A woman in Malone, N.Y., was not amused. A mother of four, she went to court in that North Country village seeking an order of protection against her husband, who the police said had choked her, kicked her in the stomach and threatened to kill her. The justice, Donald R. Roberts, a former state trooper with a high school diploma, not only refused, according to state officials, but later told the court clerk, “Every woman needs a good pounding every now and then.”

A black soldier charged in a bar fight near Fort Drum became alarmed when his accuser described him in court as “that colored man.” But the village justice, Charles A. Pennington, a boat hauler and a high school graduate, denied his objections and later convicted him. “You know,” the justice said, “I could understand if he would have called you a Negro, or he had called you a nigger.”

And several people in the small town of Dannemora were intimidated by their longtime justice, Thomas R. Buckley, a phone-company repairman who cursed at defendants and jailed them without bail or a trial, state disciplinary officials found. Feuding with a neighbor over her dog’s running loose, he threatened to jail her and ordered the dog killed. “I just follow my own common sense,” Mr. Buckley, in an interview, said of his 13 years on the bench. “And the hell with the law.”

The New York Times spent a year examining the life and history of this largely hidden world, a constellation of 1,971 part-time justices, from the suburbs of New York City to the farm towns near Niagara Falls.

It is impossible to say just how many of those justices are ill-informed or abusive. Officially a part of the state court system, yet financed by the towns and villages, the justice courts are essentially unsupervised by either. State court officials know little about the justices, and cannot reliably say how many cases they handle or how many are appealed. Even the agency charged with disciplining them, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, is not equipped to fully police their vast numbers.

But The Times reviewed public documents dating back decades and, unannounced, visited courts in every part of the state. It examined records of closed disciplinary hearings. It tracked down defendants, and interviewed prosecutors and defense lawyers, plaintiffs and bystanders.

The examination found overwhelming evidence that decade after decade and up to this day, people have often been denied fundamental legal rights. Defendants have been jailed illegally. Others have been subjected to racial and sexual bigotry so explicit it seems to come from some other place and time. People have been denied the right to a trial, an impartial judge and the presumption of innocence.

In 2003 alone, justices disciplined by the state included one in Montgomery County who had closed his court to the public and let prosecutors run the proceedings during 20 years in office. Another, in Westchester County, had warned the police not to arrest his political cronies for drunken driving, and asked a Lebanese-American with a parking ticket if she was a terrorist. A third, in Delaware County, had been convicted of having sex with a mentally retarded woman in his care.

New York is one of about 30 states that still rely on these kinds of local judges, descendants of the justices who kept the peace in Colonial days, when lawyers were scarce. Many states, alarmed by mistakes and abuse, have moved in recent decades to rein in their authority or require more training. Some, from Delaware to California, have overhauled the courts, scrapped them entirely or required that local judges be lawyers. But New York has no such requirement. It demands more schooling for licensed manicurists and hair stylists.

And it has left its justices with the same powers — more than in many states — even though governors, blue-ribbon commissions and others have been denouncing the courts as outdated and unjust since as far back as 1908, when a justice in Westchester County set up a roadside speed trap, fining drivers for whatever cash they were carrying. Nearly a century later, a 76-year-old Elmira man who contested a speeding ticket in Newfield, outside Ithaca, was jailed without even a warning for three days in 2003 because he called the sheriff’s deputy a liar. “I thought, this is not America,” said the man, Michael J. Pronti, who spent two years and $8,000 before a state appeals court ruled that he had been improperly jailed.

It is tempting to view the justice courts as weak and inconsequential because the bulk of their business is traffic violations. Yet among their 2.2 million cases, the courts handle more than 300,000 criminal matters a year. Justices can impose jail sentences of up to two years. Even in the smallest cases, some have wielded powers and punishments far beyond what the law allows.

The reason is plain: Many do not know or seem to care what the law is. Justices are not screened for competence, temperament or even reading ability. The only requirement is that they be elected. But voters often have little inkling of the justices’ power or their sometimes tainted records.

For the nearly 75 percent of justices who are not lawyers, the only initial training is six days of state-administered classes, followed by a true-or-false test so rudimentary that the official who runs it said only one candidate since 1999 had failed. A sample question for the justices: “Town and village justices must maintain dignity, order and decorum in their courtrooms” — true or false? The result, records and interviews show, is a second-class system of justice.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006


The husband of Lin Russell, who was bludgeoned to death with her six-year-old daughter, Megan, 10 years ago, said yesterday that his wife and child might be alive today if their killer Michael Stone had received better psychiatric care. Shaun Russell was speaking at the publication of an independent report which listed "significant failings" in the handling of Stone - a violent drug addict with severe personality disorder problems and a long criminal history - before the murders near Chillenden, Kent, in July 1996.

Criticisms highlighted by the 384-page report were the frequent failure of criminal justice and health professionals to share information and co-ordinate care, the loss of important records, and the reluctance of some agencies and individuals to deal with him. The report said that on July 4 1996, five days before the murders, Stone told a nurse he wanted to kill someone. He threatened to kill his previous probation officer, family and prison officers should he be jailed in the future.

But Robert Francis QC, who headed the inquiry, concluded that Stone's complex personality meant there was no way of predicting that he would kill. The QC said there was no suggestion that Stone was "deprived of any service which would have made him less of a danger". However, he admitted: "Could it happen again? So long as agencies do not co-ordinate their activity, the answer must be yes."

As revealed in an exclusive Guardian story in April, the inquiry found that the Prison Service lost most of Stone's medical records in the early 1990s, that a consultant thought Stone was too dangerous for his community mental health trust to become involved, and that a GP who did not know enough about Stone's medication changed dosages and prescriptions without informing the relevant specialists. Inadequate provision for identity checks within general medical services meant Stone was easily able to obtain drugs by registering under different names.

Mr Francis said the issue of how to deal with dangerous individuals went way beyond the health service and was also a matter for the criminal justice system. "We have made criticisms, some of them in strong terms, but we are unable to say that the murders could have been avoided by a better standard of care in these respects," he said.

But Dr Russell, who appeared at the same press conference in Maidstone, Kent, disagreed. He said: "If everybody had done their job right perhaps he [Stone] wouldn't have done what he did. The long catalogue of failings gives you grounds for accepting that that might be a logical conclusion as much as the other one."

Stone's criminal career saw him jailed for a hammer attack in 1981, jailed again for stabbing a friend two years later, and sentenced to 10 years for an armed robbery. He was freed in 1993. He murdered Lin and Megan Russell in July 1996.

The South East Coast strategic health authority, Kent social services and probation service - which commissioned the report and received it on completion - said most of its recommendations - for better inter-agency communication and improvement of mental health facilities - had already been implemented or were in the process of being implemented.

Lawyers for Stone, 46, issued a statement yesterday saying he was the "subject of a cruel miscarriage of justice" and that he hoped new evidence submitted to the Criminal Cases Review Commission would lead to a fresh appeal. Stone's sister, Barbara, who also attended the press conference in Maidstone, said her brother "never sought to use his mental health in his defence" and intended to continue his fight for justice.

After the murders, Dr Russell moved to north Wales with his elder daughter, Josie, who was with her mother and sister when Stone attacked. Josie, then nine, was left for dead but has recovered. He said: " Why Stone will not admit his guilt and why he carried out the murders are two questions always running around in my head."

The findings:

The report reveals a series of failings in the care of Michael Stone by the health, social services and probation authorities:

* Frequent failure to share information, co-ordinate risk assessment and management programmes.

* Prison Service lost substantial part of Stone's prison records, jeopardising continuity of care after his release following a long jail term.

* Addiction services failed to plan or implement appropriate care package and repeatedly ignored Stone's pleas for in-patient detoxification treatment.

* General medical services' inadequate provision for identity checks meant Stone registered under different names to obtain a variety of drugs.

* Supply of important medication delegated to a GP with inadequate understanding of the prescribed drugs who changed dosages and prescriptions without informing specialist services.

* Shortly before the murders, the GP gave specialist services the wrong information about Stone's compliance with the prescribed drugs regime, resulting in his behavioural assessment being carried out with inaccurate information.

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Monday, September 25, 2006


Police fabrication of evidence again

A man in prison since 1991 after being convicted of raping and killing a Peekskill High School classmate will go free now because a DNA match has linked another inmate to the crime. Jeffrey Deskovic was 17 when a jury found him guilty of murder in the Nov. 15, 1989, death of Angela Correa. The jury knew then that DNA evidence did not match Deskovic, but jury members convicted him based on testimony from a Peekskill detective that Deskovic had confessed to the crime.

Deskovic, now 33, could be released as early as this morning from the Westchester County Courthouse. A hearing is scheduled at which his lawyers from The Innocence Project will ask acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea to overturn the verdict. Prosecutors will join in the application, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore. The DNA match was confirmed at the end of last week, and the inmate, whom authorities would not identify and who is serving a life term for murder, has confessed to killing Correa, they said.

The 15-year-old girl's partially clad body was discovered in the woods behind Hillcrest Elementary School two days after her parents reported her missing. She was last seen leaving her home on Main Street to take outdoor pictures for a photography class in school.

When Deskovic was arrested two months later, police said he had an obsession with Correa and provided details that only the killer would have known. Detective Thomas McIntyre later testified that Deskovic told him he had lost his temper and hit Correa in the back of the head with a Gatorade bottle, and that he had put his hand over her mouth and "may have left it there too long."

But Deskovic's lawyer maintained that the confession was coerced and that he gave it after hours of police interrogation that violated his constitutional rights because he wasn't given an opportunity to get a lawyer. But the jury heard the confession and relied on it to convict Deskovic.

The sudden turnabout came as a shock last night to Correa's stepfather, Pedro Rivera. He said he always suspected Peekskill police had done a shoddy job of investigating the killing but was convinced of Deskovic's guilt because the police said he had confessed. "Why didn't anyone tell me? The least they could do is contact me," he said. "It's so weird. It's a shock after all these years. ... I feel bad for anybody who's in prison but didn't do it. That kid's been there for almost 20 years."

Deskovic's lawyers, Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison, and family could not be reached for comment last night, nor could Peekskill Police Chief Eugene Tumolo, who was a lieutenant at the time of the killing.

Deskovic was represented at the trial by Peter Insero, then of the Westchester Legal Aid Society. He could not be reached for comment, but Stephen Pittari, head of the society, said the case proved how all confessions should be videotaped, and police and prosecutors must respect the right to counsel. "It's terrible what happened to him," Pittari said. "It's bad enough to do hard time, but when you're an innocent person and a 17-year-old at that? You've lost your entire youth and young adulthood."

When it came to sentencing, state Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Collabella told Deskovic "maybe you are innocent" but that he had agreed with the verdict. He gave the teenager the minimum term for second-degree murder, 15 years to life in prison. Deskovic had exhausted his appeals and was turned down for release when he went before the Parole Board for the first time last year.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006


Sir Roy Meadow got off Scot-free. Looks like this guy will too

An eminent pathologist who has given evidence in high-profile Suffolk murder trials has quit the Home Office register after being severely criticised by a disciplinary hearing. Dr Michael Heath decided to step down yesterday rather than be struck off after an Advisory Board for Forensic Pathology ruled his conduct brought into question his fitness to practice. Dr Heath has given evidence in a number of Suffolk murder trials - including that of Ipswich man Simon Hall.

Following the decision Hall's family said they felt the pathologist was taking the “easy way out”. In August the Advisory Board for Forensic Pathology found Dr Heath had bungled post-mortem examinations on two women leading to their partners being tried for murder. In both cases - including that of Lowestoft man Steven Puaca - his professional performance fell short of the standards required of forensic pathologists by the secretary of state, the tribunal ruled. Mr Puaca was jailed in 2002 for killing Jacqueline Tindsley but was later cleared by the Appeal Court.

The hearing into Dr Heath's conduct, which was expected to reconvene on Monday to discuss disciplinary options, has now been called off. The panel could have chosen from a range of options which included doing nothing, reprimanding him, suspending him or removing him from the list of Home Office pathologists. But last night a spokesman for the Home Office confirmed Dr Heath had decided to step down before any action was taken. He said: “We are aware of his decision to remove his name from the register. I believe, as a result, the tribunal chairman has decided not to continue with proceedings as, because of his resignation, Dr Heath will not be able to reapply for the register.” A spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office, which will rule on whether all of Dr Heath's cases are reviewed, said it was still too early to decide if this would happen.

Hall, formerly of Hill House Road, Ipswich, was found guilty of the murder of Capel St Mary pensioner Joan Albert. Mrs Albert was discovered dead by a neighbour in the hallway of her home in Boydlands, Capel, in December 2001. She had suffered stab wounds inflicted by a knife taken from the house and Dr Heath was a central prosecution witness in the trial. Hall has always maintained his innocence and last night Hall's family spokesman, Stephanie Bon, said: “As campaigners for a miscarriage of justice involving Michael Heath, we feel this is an easy way out.”

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Amazing: Long Island (NY) woman gets only six months for murdering her husband

Is this a new low in contempt for men? Marvellous what a few tears and claims of abuse will accomplish

As she sobbed into a paper napkin in a Riverhead courtroom Wednesday, the Holbrook woman who ran over and killed her husband after an argument on their 25th wedding anniversary and then fled was sentenced to six months in jail. Supported by several weeping family members, Joanne Riva expressed remorse and asked State Supreme Court Justice Robert Doyle for leniency. "The only thing I can say is that my family is destroyed by this and I am destroyed," she said. "I am so sorry this happened."

Despite Riva's pleas, Doyle said jail time was necessary because Riva had known her husband was injured when she fled to her brother's house and waited several hours before reporting the accident. "When she was a block away or two blocks away, she could have reported the accident when the husband could no longer pose a threat," he said. "But she waited seven hours."

Riva, 50, pleaded guilty in June to leaving the scene of a fatal accident; a previous drunken driving charge was dropped. Police said they did not believe Riva intentionally ran over her husband outside the couple's home in June 2003. But the mandatory jail time, which Riva will start serving at the DWI Alternative Facility in Yaphank on Monday, dashed her hope for a non-jail sentence based on a history of domestic abuse.

"Joanne Riva should not spend one second in jail. She was just running from another attack," said Riva's attorney, Robert Gottlieb of Commack. Suffolk police said they had responded to domestic abuse calls at the Riva home, most recently in 2002.

Riva's remorse for the crime has been an issue in recent plea and sentencing negotiations. Last month, Gottlieb said Riva pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of community service and probation. A court transcript showed that the judge had said he would follow the recommendation of a presentencing report issued by the county probation department. But that report hinted that Riva had not shown sufficient remorse for the crime. Riva refused to withdraw her plea and risk a maximum 11/3 to 4 years in prison.

Members of Riva's family had several heated exchanges with Gottlieb outside the courtroom Wednesday, and Riva's son Frank spoke emotionally to the court in his mother's defense. "My father is dead and now my mother is going to jail. There is nothing just about it," he said. "Putting her in jail is not going to make anything better."

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Friday, September 22, 2006


But for a bit of luck she could have sent 4 innocent men to jail for years

A young woman whose accusation of rape led to four men being arrested and questioned for 36 hours has been jailed for six months for making the story up. Cinzia Sannino, 18, made the claims after getting drunk during a night out in Cardiff city centre and waking up in a house with four strangers. She claimed that she had been drugged and raped by at least two of the men. But she withdrew the allegation after one of them produced a video made on his mobile phone of her naked and performing a "lap dance" before inviting them to have sex with her.

Cardiff Crown Court heard that the only motive for Sannino's accusations appeared to be that she wanted a lift home. Chris Lewis, for the prosecution, said: "At seven in the morning she phoned police asking for a lift home. When the operator told her the police were not a taxi service she started to cry and said she had been raped."

Police began an investigation, even reopening a former police station to act as the inquiry team's headquarters. The operation, which also involved three doctors and a forensic science team, soon led to the arrest of the four men aged between 20 and 28.

Mr Lewis said: "The men were interviewed and told police remarkably similar stories. They said she began to lap dance for them of her own invitation and removed her clothes until she was entirely naked."

Sannino - who describes herself on her website as "a wild girl who likes to have fun" - initially told police that she had danced for the men but had kept all her clothes on. The court was told that she had been out with friends in Cardiff and had got drunk. She had met the men at a bar and agreed to go home with them.

Peter Wormald, for the defence, said: "This young woman went out and drank to an excess that she wasn't used to. She is a young woman completely overawed by what she has brought upon herself."

Judge Roderick Evans told her: "I have no doubt you had voluntarily, consensual sexual intercourse with each of them.You allowed them to touch you intimately. Fortunately, someone recorded part of your behaviour on his mobile phone. "Four men were arrested, interviewed and locked up for 36 hours based on your allegations. Some people would say that your conduct was more than foolish and ill-advised - it was evil."

Sannino, of Llanishen, Cardiff, admitted two charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice. She was sent to a young offenders institution for six months. [She'll be out in a fraction of that time]

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Thursday, September 21, 2006


In the Australian State of New South Wales

The State Parole Authority knows sex-change killer Maddison Hall allegedly raped and sexually assaulted several fellow prisoners - but still wants to release her. The authority also brushed aside a psychiatrist's warning that it was likely Hall, 42, would re-offend "in a violent manner" after her release. The alleged jail assaults were even more serious because Hall knew she was HIV positive at the time, the SPA was told. A rape charge was dropped only because the victim left the country after being released from jail.

The mother of Lyn Saunders, who was shot dead by Hall in 1987 while hitchhiking home to Adelaide for Christmas, will today plead with the authority in person for the first time to keep her son's murderer locked up. "The wound is always open," Marrion Saunders has said in a victims impact statement.

The fumbling authority was ready to release Hall, previously known as Noel Crompton, last month but the accommodation organised for her through the state-funded Gender Centre fell through. After pressure from Ms Saunders, a secret hearing scheduled to reconsider the parole was cancelled and will be held in public today.

The Daily Telegraph has obtained a transcript of the authority's hearing in July when it ruled to release Hall back into society. It reveals the authority was given a chilling stocktake of Hall's predatory behaviour after she was moved to Mulawa women's jail in 1999. Although still a man, Hall was on hormone treatment. She had a sex change in May 2003. The authority was told:

- THE first rape allegation was made in 1999, after Hall arrived at Mulawa;

- OTHER inmates "stated they were forced into sexual intercourse while in a relationship" with Hall;

- IN late 2004 "two inmates alleged they had been sexually assaulted" by Hall;

- A THIRD inmate alleged she had witnessed "inappropriate sexual behaviour" by Hall; and

- PSYCHIATRIST Dr Michael Giuffria considered the allegations, while not proven, to be consistent with his assessment of Hall and rated her a moderate to high risk of reoffending.

Hall's release was strongly opposed by the state, with crown prosecutor Belinda Paxton telling the board Hall had done no violence prevention, anger management or pre-release programs and had no job to go to. Hall has been in segregation since late 2004 following the sexual assault claims. Hall's lawyer, Will Hutchins from the Prisoners Legal Service, played down the sexual assault and rape allegations and told the authority Hall had only been punished for nine offences during her 17 years in jail, none of them violent.

Hall made a short appearance at the hearing in July when she was asked just 11 cursory questions by her lawyer. Authority chairman, former chief magistrate Ian Pike, said the authority was releasing Hall because it believed public interest was better served by having her on parole than being in jail. He said she had community support and a post-release plan through the Gender Centre and Foley House.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Canadian police wrongly identified an Ottawa software engineer as an Islamic extremist, prompting US agents to deport him to Syria, where he was tortured, an official inquiry found yesterday. The Canadian Government commission exonerated computer engineer Maher Arar of any ties to terrorism and issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the US for his deportation four years ago to Damascus. The report, released in Ottawa, was the result of a 2 1/2-year probe, one of the first public investigations into mistakes made as part of the US's "extraordinary rendition" program, which removes suspects to secret jails in foreign countries for interrogation.

In this case, Canadian intelligence officials passed false warnings and bad information to US agents about Mr Arar, a Muslim-Canadian citizen, which led US authorities to deport him to Syria, the commission said. After his release in 2003, the Syrian-born Mr Arar made detailed allegations about extensive interrogation, beatings and whippings with electrical cable in Syrian prison cells. Mr Arar was travelling on a Canadian passport when he was detained at a New York airport in September 2002 during a stopover on his way home to Canada from a holiday in Tunisia. He claimed he was a victim of extraordinary rendition - the transfer of foreign terror suspects to third countries without court approval. Mr Arar said US authorities sent him to Syria for interrogation on suspicion of being a member of al-Qaeda, an allegation he denied.

Canada's federal Government established an inquiry in 2004 to determine the role Canadian officials played in the case of Mr Arar, who has been cleared of any terrorist connections. Judge Dennis O'Connor released the report on Mr Arar, which concluded that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP) passed misleading, inaccurate and unfair information to US authorities that "very likely" led to their decision to send Mr Arar to Syria, but found no evidence that Canadian officials participated in or agreed to the decision. "It's quite clear that the RMCP sent inaccurate information to US officials," Mr Arar said. "I would not have even been sent to Syria had this information not been given to them."

Justice O'Connor absolved Mr Arar of all suspicion of terrorist activity and urged the federal Government to offer financial compensation for his suffering. He concluded Mr Arar had been tortured. "I have waited a long time to have my name cleared. I was tortured and lost a year of my life. I will never be the same," Mr Arar said. "The United States must take responsibility for what it did to me and must stop destroying more innocent lives with its unlawful actions."

Justice O'Connor recommended that information never be provided to a foreign country when there is a credible risk that it will cause or contribute to the use of torture. Justice O'Connor sifted through thousands of pages of documents and sat through testimony from more than 40 witnesses. He delivered two versions of his report to the Government: one classified, the other public.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006


More than 100 protesters marched silently through the Loop Friday requesting the city take action against former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge and others involved in the torture of nearly 200 Black men. The alleged torture began in the early 1970s and ran through the early 1990s. Just two months after special prosecutors filed no charges following a detailed report on two decades of torture by officers at Areas 2 and 3 police stations to gain felony confessions, the victims' families and several advocacy groups are seeking action against Burge, officers under his command, then-Cook County States Attorney Richard M. Daley, and his assistant, now-States Attorney Dick Devine.

Friday's march began and ended at Federal Plaza with a stop at City Hall along the way. In front of City Hall, the marchers stood silent, highlighting the city's inaction, said Attorney Lawrence Kennon, who led the march. "We want to silently show that this is so deep that it's beyond words," said Kennon, who has represented several victims of police torture. Kennon said he and groups associated with bringing the alleged tortures to justice, will continue their fight with a plan to remove judges from the bench who sentenced men to prison after Burge and other officers tortured confessions out of them.

Special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle in July released the findings of a four-year investigation and found charges could have been filed against Burge and about six other officers in at least three cases. However, the statute of limitations had long since run out.

As Friday's march ended at Federal Plaza, marchers stood and called out the names of torture victims including Aaron Patterson, sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of a Hispanic couple.

Ald. Ed Smith (28th) Wednesday presented a resolution to the City Council calling for a settlement in Patterson's wrongful conviction lawsuit against the city. The council's Finance and Budget committees will consider the resolution. Patterson's conviction and sentence were primarily based on a confession obtained under physical duress by a group of Chicago Police officers under Burge's command, said Smith, who did not attend Friday's march. "I'm doing what I have to do and this is the right thing to do," Smith told the Defender Friday. "They know they have to pay him, but they're balking. Why not just pay the man? The city already spent $10 million on (investigating and defending) Burge."

Attorney Standish Willis, who helped organize the march, said he wants men still imprisoned as a result of ill-gotten confessions to be released and for the state to pay reparations to those men. "Next time, we will have all 27 men still incarcerated out here with us. That's how determined we are," Willis said.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

After 22 years on death row, Nick Yarris has a new start on life

After spending nearly half his life on Pennsylvania's death row, ex-con Nick Yarris -- cleared through DNA tests in the 1981 rape-murder of an Upper Chichester woman -- has had nearly 32 months to start a new life. He now calls England his home. He's been living overseas the past two years with his wife, Karen, and their newborn daughter, Lara Rebecca.

It's a life he never dreamed of after being diagnosed in prison with hepatitis C and serving 22 years behind bars while awaiting execution. It was 8,057 days of living hell he'll never forget. Yarris, 45, a native of Southwest Philadelphia, was not only the first person convicted of murder to request unprecedented DNA testing (in 1988) in both Delaware County and Pennsylvania, but also in the United States, he says.

He was convicted in Delaware County Court in the December 1981 murder of Linda May Craig, 32, an employee at the Tri-State Mall whom law enforcement authorities alleged he stalked and abducted after work.

Yarris recently flew back home with his wife and infant daughter to spend several days with his parents and family in Southwest Philadelphia. It was the first time his parents had seen their granddaughter. And as an advocate against the death penalty and supporter of other death-row inmates he believes to have been wrongfully convicted, he also recently addressed incoming students at Haverford College with his longtime attorney, Peter Goldberger of Ardmore. "I have to say that I'm grateful," Yarris said. "I've had the chance in England to start my life all over even though my life had begun again in 2004 when I was released. "The one thing I'm very aware of when I walk down the street: I don't assume everyone owns a gun the way I assume here in America," Yarris said. "And I feel a little bit safer knowing there's not a thousand guns on the street," he said.

"I also appreciate not living under the threat that the U.S. poses to me to take my life away at any time because I have the three-strikes-against-me law," Yarris said. "One (conviction) is for escaping from death row for a crime I was innocent of" and the others were crimes he committed during his 25 days on the lam in Florida after escaping from county deputy sheriffs in 1985.

Living in England, he said he feels "as though I have a clean slate and not worrying about someone making up a charge against me and I go to prison for life for stealing a slice of pizza."

Two days after his daughter was born, British doctors notified him via mail that his hepatitis C was completely gone from his system, confirming the findings of his American doctors. The "three miracles" in his life were getting his life and health back from prison, meeting his wife, Karen, and the birth of their child, he said.

When Yarris got his first taste of freedom from death row at age 42, the prime of his life and more than two decades had passed him by. He was sentenced in 1983 at age 21 to die in the electric chair.

A new millennium had begun four years before and he faced a whole new world of technology -- from cell phones to laptop computers and CD/DVD players, and cars with global positioning systems and four-wheel drive.

15-year battle: Five years after the Bartram High School dropout and car thief/drug addict was sentenced to death, he read an article about a forensic science convention and the use of DNA testing in criminal cases. Prior tests sought by Yarris since 1988 had been inconclusive. At the time of his conviction in July 1982, such forensic DNA technology wasn't available in the criminal justice system. It took him 15 years, but in July 2003 those test results finally exonerated him.

Testing by noted forensic scientist Dr. Edward Blake of California determined that Yarris' genetic material wasn't found on the gloves found in Linda May Craig's car, among the sperm on the victim's underwear or under her fingernails. However, Blake reported that the DNA of two unknown men was found on the underpants -- eventually leading a federal judge to order a retrial for Yarris. The Delaware County District Attorney's office didn't have enough evidence to go to trial again; Craig's murder remains unsolved.

Six months after his release, Yarris appeared outside the Media Courthouse with a bullhorn and fliers demanding that the DNA evidence from the two unknown men at the crime scene be submitted to the FBI national data bank, or CODIS. The D.A.'s office refuted Yarris' claims about any delay and said the genetic profile of unknown male No. 1 was accepted by CODIS. To date, no DNA "hit" on an individual has been released by authorities.

Yarris has yet to receive one cent in compensation for the years he spent in prison for a murder he didn't commit. Pennsylvania, unlike several states and the federal government, has no law guaranteeing compensation for unjust incarceration after wrongful conviction.

In August 2004, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Delaware County authorities seeking $22 million in compensation for the time he spent on death row. His attorney, John "Jack" W. Beavers of Philadelphia, said they are awaiting a decision from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on the county's position that prosecutors and detectives have official immunity in their duties.

During his recent visit to his parents' home, Yarris invited former death-row convict Harold Wilson of Philadelphia, with whom he served behind bars in Huntington and Greene County, to meet his daughter and wife. "How many people would imagine a death-row inmate having a child that another death-row prisoner would hold after they both had spent 15 years together on death row?" Yarris said.

Acquitted through DNA evidence more than 16 years after his conviction in three murders, Wilson became the sixth Pennsylvania death-row inmate to be freed since 1982 and the nation's 122nd person freed from death row, according to the DPIC in Washington, D.C. "I'm trying to help him deal with survivor's guilt because he said to me at one point, `why are we allowed to live while they're killing other innocent men?'" Yarris said. "And some of those innocent men are friends we lived with in hell.

"I begged Gov. (Ed) Rendell to impose a (death-penalty) moratorium two years ago after I was released," Yarris said. The governor did not act on Yarris' request. "When a death-row prisoner is released and nothing happens, you expect some major change to happen," he said. "And when it doesn't happen, it's deflating. "Every time an airliner crashes, there's an investigation, but when a death-row prisoner is set free and proven innocent, they just ignore it," he said.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Australia: Only a $214 fine for lawbreaking leading to death

A "Hell-Ride" cyclist who knocked down an elderly pedestrian who later died faces a maximum $214 fine. The St Kilda man, 30, who hit James Gould as he walked across a pedestrian crossing, will be charged on summons with disobeying a red light. Mr Gould, 77, died in hospital after being struck as he crossed Beach Rd at Mentone on August 26.

The cyclist was riding in a high-speed unofficial Saturday bike race called the Hell Ride. Senior police said after the tragedy the rider could be charged with conduct endangering life. But the Herald Sun believes legal advice indicated there was little chance of a conviction. Instead, the rider faces a $214 fine.

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Update: The Cory Maye case becomes further unglued

Previous post here on this case was on March 9th

One of the Covington attorneys noticed early after they took the case that the autopsy on Ron Jones reported that Jones had written a phone number on his hand. The team hired a private investigator, and after some leg work, managed to track down the guy who owned the number at the time of the raid. Gold. The number eventually led to the informant who tipped Ron Jones off to the raid on the Cory Maye-Jamie Smith duplex. The guy's a real piece of work. I can't go into too much detail right now, but the story the informant told Covington's private investigator is dramatically different than the description given in Ron Jones' affidavits for the search warrants. The details between the two accounts aren't even close. I'll get into the rammifications of the discprencies a bit later. For now? Well, here's where it gets fun.

After the guy realized the investigator was working for the defense team, he clammed up. When Bob Evans -- Cory Maye's lead attorney -- called to tell him that if he didn't talk, they'd compell his testimony with a subpeona, the informant flipped out. He called Evans, and left a rant on Evans' answering maching that, when Evans played it for me the other night, blew my mind. It's a 45-second clip of absolute fury, brimming with f-bombs, anger, hate, and -- by my count -- at least four utterances of the word "nigger."

THIS is the "trustworthy" informant whose tip led to the raid on Cory Maye's home. An unabashed bigot. Makes you wonder how many other black people have been raided, arrested, and imprisoned based on this guy's tips. Not to mention how many ignoramouses like him are still turning people in down in Mississippi -- or, for that matter, anywhere else.

I'll have much, much more on this after the September 20th hearing. Needless to say, for the moment, this new development shoots a mile-wide hole in the already suspect case against Cory Maye. It also ought to have repercussions well above and beyond Cory's case. Every person this guy has ever put behind bars deserves to have his case reexamined. More broadly, all of this is yet more evidence in the sad, growing, and already overwhelming sea of evidence against the use of shady informants in door-busting drug raids.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006


DNA evidence could help tie four men to the 2005 killing of a 21-year-old rap music producer who was dragged from his bed and shot in the head at his Arden area home. Or not.

The evidence sample from the case is one of hundreds analyzed by a former criminalist whose entire work is now under scrutiny after supervisors discovered he didn't follow procedure in a rape case. The supervisors' conclusions are in a memorandum from the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office. "I'm sure there's going to be cases where this is going to be litigated," said Jeff Rose, an assistant district attorney.

The District Attorney's Office manages the county's crime lab where the criminalist, Mark Eastman, worked for five years until he resigned shortly after supervisors discovered problems with his lab work in May. Eastman couldn't be reached for comment.

The scope of the problem -- whether a criminal has gone undetected, whether someone was mistakenly convicted, whether there will be any spare evidence in cases that should be reanalyzed -- is yet to be fully understood, but Rose believes that the damage is minimal and largely limited to the rape case. In that case, a substandard DNA profile was created from a sample off of the rape victim's skin and was entered into a data bank in search of a matching profile, the memorandum says. A match was found, but no arrest was made and the profile has been removed from the data bank.

"I am confident that at the end of the day that justice will not suffer," Rose said. The 354 cases Eastman directly worked on have been reviewed, Rose said. On the rape case, a supervisor discovered that the DNA profile was entered into the data bank, but the sample's integrity didn't meet the lab's minimum standards, the DA's memorandum says. The supervisor also discovered that on 44 "cold" cases -- unsolved cases reopened because of DNA evidence -- Eastman failed to recheck his results, as required, before they were entered into a data bank to search for a matching profile, Rose said. The second reads have now been completed by the county crime lab and nothing wrong was discovered, he said. "There's no reason to believe there was an improper, erroneous profile entered into the database," Rose said.

As a safeguard, he said, the lab will reanalyze any of Eastman's profiles that produce a match, which Rose estimates are fewer than a dozen -- so far -- and will take a week or two for every redo, he said. "This isn't an ideal situation. Hopefully, this will trickle in as we get hits," said Rose.

Eastman worked on the DNA evidence found during the investigation into the May 2005 shooting death of Donald Willis, the music producer, said Lori Teichert, an attorney on a team representing four defendants in the case. Teichert declined to specify the nature of the DNA evidence because a jury has yet to be selected, but she said the DNA has been reanalyzed and results are due later this month. It was the right thing to do because there's no real proof how many times procedures were compromised, she said. "If you're not going to follow protocols, why have them?" she said. "How can I depend on anything else?"

Rose said the District Attorney's Office has compiled a database of Eastman's cases that has been turned over to defense attorneys. On evidence samples that are redone, an issue could arise if the original sample was so spare that nothing is left for a second analysis, Rose said. "There's going to be that time," he said. But a host of backup material, including electronic data on each sample, could suffice, he said. Because the office believes the problem is an isolated one, there are no plans for an outside, independent review, Rose said.

Defense attorneys say the power that DNA evidence holds with a jury requires vigilance in how it's processed. "The average man or woman believes the man or woman in the white coat," said David Lynch, a Sacramento County public defender who specializes in DNA cases.

The problematic profile in the rape case did match someone and that alone was a significant danger, Lynch said. "It's like the lottery," he said. "It's not going to happen to me, but it's going to happen to someone." In some cases, defendants will agree to a plea bargain when they run up against DNA evidence, he said.

Problems with crime labs surface almost weekly nationwide, said Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project. The New York legal clinic is renowned for winning exonerations using DNA. "Given the amount of forensic analysis done, it's not necessarily surprising," Saloom said. Especially when lab employees are overworked and pressured by deadlines, he said. "It may take a lot of work to determine this, but that only underscores the importance of staffing and training at crime labs." In Los Angeles County, six public defenders specialize in DNA cases out of a staff of 700 lawyers.

When problems surfaced with DNA testing at a private lab in Maryland that the county used, public defenders went to court over two cases seeking information on what went wrong, said Jennifer Friedman, one of the six public defenders. "It takes a lot of effort to determine if this is an anomaly, whether it just happened one time or whether this person is doing poor work," Friedman said. "But it can absolutely be done and it should be done."

One of the most notorious cases of crime-lab dysfunction drew in state investigators, grand jury probes and resulted in at least one gubernatorial pardon in Texas. Widespread problems at the Houston Police Department's lab surfaced in 2002, which jeopardized relying on DNA evidence, said Chuck Rosenthal, the district attorney for Harris County, which includes Houston. After 400 DNA cases were reviewed, including death-row cases, the city of Houston had to foot the bill for an independent laboratory to redo testing, Rosenthal said. Even though a state investigation revealed inadequate training, staffing and funding, the new results largely matched the originals, Rosenthal said. In one case, though, a man convicted of rape who had been imprisoned for several years was exonerated, he said.

Once allegations at a lab start, they don't stop, Rosenthal said. "There will be be allegations that the whole lab is tainted. They will go to ballistics; they will go to fingerprints," he said. At one point, the Texas Legislature even considered removing crime labs from law enforcement management, Rosenthal said. The city hired consultants to correct problems at the lab, which reopened under new policies. "It's going to take awhile," Rosenthal said, "to gain the confidence of the community."

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Friday, September 15, 2006


As if the guy had not already had enough aggression from the "justice" system!

On the same day a federal judge declared a mistrial in a wrongful conviction civil lawsuit, an appeals court removed him from the case, ruling that his "impartiality" in handling the case might be questioned. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acted Wednesday, the same day U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson declared a mistrial because a jury deadlocked over Herman Atkins' damages claim. "It will be in the interests of the district judge as well as the parties, and it will preserve the appearance of justice, if any future trial in this matter is conducted by another judge," an appeals panel wrote. A call to Anderson's courtroom in downtown Los Angeles was not immediately returned early Thursday.

Atkins, 40, spent 12 years in prison before DNA evidence cleared him of a 1986 rape and robbery in Riverside County. After his release, he sued the county, alleging a sheriff's detective fabricated evidence and misrepresented proof in court to secure a conviction. The DNA analysis that ultimately exonerated him was not available during his 1988 criminal trial.

Eight jurors deliberated for parts of three days after the two-week trial. They told Anderson several times they could not reach an unanimous agreement. Attorneys for both sides agreed that the judge should order more deliberations, but Anderson chose a mistrial, saying that further discussions among the jurors "may well coerce an erroneous verdict."

The result "seems particularly tragic given the fact that Herman was wrongly convicted and spent all those years in prison for something he didn't do," said Atkins' attorney, Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project at Benjamin Cardozo Law School in New York, which did the legal work that led to Atkins' exoneration and release.

Neufeld and his co-counsel Deborah Cornwall had repeatedly complained that Anderson was biased against their client. They unsuccessfully tried to get Anderson recused before the trial began, saying he had taken a hostile attitude toward them and their client in pre-trial rulings. Members of the appeals panel said their review of Anderson's rulings and the trial transcript lead them to conclude that in light of his "cumulative actions in this case, which has a long, bitter and controversial history, his impartiality might be questioned." The panel concluded that any new trial "be expedited and held at the earliest possible date."

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Australia: Child-molester out in a year

A rapist and kidnapper let out of jail by a sentencing technicality and later found beside a busy highway with a knife, sawn-off rifle and horror movie mask will be on the streets yet again in just a year.

Neo-nazi Whyatt William Azaparti, 36, kidnapped two teenage girls in March 2003. He fed them alcohol and drugs and raped the 13-year-old while her 14-year-old friend slept. He was jailed for four years and nine months but allowed out because authorities took into account time he served while waiting for his trial and sentence.

Azaparti was released on February 10 this year. Three months later he was picked up almost by chance, when police noticed a man asleep in his car beside the Ipswich Motorway. When they went to check the car they found a knife on the passenger seat. The sleeping man - Azaparti - was restrained and a search found a sawn-off gun near the driver's seat, a mask similar to the one featured in the Scream movies and four Clipseal bags of marijuana.

Yesterday he was sent back to jail but again the court opted to give him the opportunity to walk out of prison before completion of his original sentence. Justice Margaret Wilson yesterday ordered Azaparti to serve 12 months of the remaining four years and 167 days on his sentence, concurrent with a four-month term imposed on June 23 by the Ipswich Magistrate's Court for possessing the items found in the car.

Defence barrister Geoff Seaholme said Azaparti had been driving to Redbank Plains to dump the weapons in local lakes, and the drugs were to help him cope with pain from injuries sustained in a 1988 car accident. Azaparti maintained the gun had been in his car since he was arrested for the 2003 rape.

Breaches of suspended sentences can be punished by requiring the accused to serve the whole or part of the remaining sentence, or extending the operational period.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Amazing bureaucratic injustice in Australia

Another vicious "child welfare" bureaucracy

The NSW Government has ordered an investigation into the removal of a three-year-old Aboriginal girl from her indigenous foster parents because they allowed a family doctor to examine her for signs of sexual abuse. State Community Services Minister Reba Meagher said yesterday she had asked the director-general of her department to explain why the parents' decision was considered "inappropriate" by the child's caseworker.

Ms Meagher said Neil Shepherd would examine why the Department of Community Services [DOCS] refused the same couple, Gavan and Allana Rose, another Aboriginal foster child the following year because their hopes for the child to attend university or become part of the family's art business were "unrealistic". "Foster carers can and should take their children to the doctor when they require urgent medical attention," Ms Meagher said. "For other treatments, a caseworker needs to approve the procedure. In any event, it is important a caseworker be informed about any treatment to a child so a comprehensive medical history can be kept. "Furthermore, we select foster carers on their ability to provide nurturing and support to vulnerable children, affording them the opportunities they deserve to achieve their potential - including going to university."

The Roses' battles with DOCS to take permanent care of an indigenous foster child, revealed in The Australian this week, attracted widespread concern yesterday. Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said that if the reports were accurate, he would be "shocked by the inference that somehow a child's cultural background may be a determining factor in their expectations or ambitions". "Any attempt by bureaucracy to limit the expectations or ambitions of a child or that child's parents is appalling," Mr Brough told The Australian.

The head of the Howard Government's National Indigenous Council, Sue Gordon, said foster parents should teach children how to be successful adults and take a long-term view. Foster parents take on the role of parents, so they should take on a role that encompasses all of those issues: school, higher education etc," she said. "It shouldn't be short-term thinking, it should be long-term thinking and encouraging children. "Their role as a parent is to take on any role that a parent would have, and that includes counselling kids in relation to alcohol and drugs, counselling kids in regard to education, and getting them to start thinking about more than tomorrow."

The Roses, who own the successful Gavala Aboriginal Art Gallery in Sydney's Darling Harbour, first struck trouble when looking to care permanently for a three-year-old Aboriginal girl. In the latter stages of the process, Ms Rose took the girl to the family GP with a rapidly escalating fever, having been unable to get in contact with the caseworker. She also feared the little girl might have been sexually abused, and the doctor advised she should see a pediatrician.

On discovering the child had been to the doctor and examined for possible sexual abuse, DOCS told Ms Rose she had abused the child's "human rights" and came to collect the girl, saying the couple would not be allowed to see her again. About a year later, a member of Ms Rose's extended family could not care for her baby and asked the Roses to take her in. But DOCS intervened. One of the reasons given for not allowing the couple to take over care of the child was that they had "too high" expectations for the child's future. "They gave me the impression that foster children weren't expected to achieve much," Ms Rose told The Australian yesterday. "I was shocked because I believe you can climb up, you can improve a situation."

DOCS insisted it always acted with the best interests of the children in mind. But NSW Community Services spokeswoman Gladys Berejiklian said yesterday she was shocked to learn of the experiences of the Rose family. "It's frightening to think DOCS has such severe cultural problems, which are putting the future of children in foster care at risk," Ms Berejiklian said. "Having positive expectations about a child in your care should be regarded as a good nurturing environment, not a reason for removal of the child. "This example demonstrates what a basket-case DOCS is in relation to foster care."

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Santa Clara County prosecutor Benjamin Field -- whose aggressive courtroom conduct has triggered scrutiny of his ethics by judges, attorneys and the Mercury News -- has cleared the first hurdle to become a Superior Court judge. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has referred Field's application to the state commission that evaluates potential jurists, an early but crucial step toward winning an appointment to the bench.

Field was one of three prosecutors singled out in a Mercury News investigation earlier this year, ``Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice,'' that reviewed hundreds of jury trial cases over a five-year period. The series found questionable conduct on the part of prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys in more than one-third of the cases. Field was highlighted in a story that raised questions about whether the district attorney's office has sacrificed defendants' rights in a quest for convictions. In several cases, Field appeared to disregard judicial orders; in one case that resulted in a wrongful conviction, Field misstated evidence and withheld details of a key scientific examination.

And in May, the 6th District Court of Appeal issued an extremely rare reversal of a verdict because of ``deceptive and reprehensible conduct'' by Field. The California Supreme Court last week agreed to review that decision. Field expressed confidence Thursday in his abilities to serve as a judge -- a sentiment shared by others in the local legal community -- and has insisted throughout the controversy that his work has been unfairly portrayed. ``I've always been mindful of my ethical obligations and my goal has always been to ensure justice is done in my cases,'' said Field, 42. ``That's an important qualification for being a judge.''

Cliff Gardner, who represented defendant Damon Auguste in the wrongful conviction case that Field prosecuted, disagreed with that assessment. ``Anyone can make a mistake, and in our case, Ben made several,'' Gardner said. ``What I fault him for is not learning from them and admitting he made them. That's not something you want in a judge.''

Field said he first sought a judgeship in April 2005. Exactly when Schwarzenegger decided to put up his application for consideration is unclear, but it appears to have happened within the past few months. It's unclear to what extent, if any, the governor was aware of the controversy surrounding Field. The governor's office said Thursday it would not comment on a pending application.

One legal expert said Field appears to have a good chance of winning a seat on the 79-member bench. The governor's decision to send his nomination to the evaluation panel, formally known as the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, signals that his candidacy is being taken seriously. ``I'd say he's got a darn good shot at it,'' said Gerald Uelmen, a law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. ``The toughest obstacle is to get it out of the governor's office,'' Uelmen said, referring to the application. He said he thought a small percentage of aspirants reach this stage.

Nonetheless, the controversy surrounding Field, once a rising star in the district attorney's office, would appear to pose problems for him. As part of its routine process, the evaluation commission is soliciting input from hundreds of judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors who have had dealings with Field. The survey asks them not only about his intellectual capacity and experience, but his ethics and fairness. The commission will then rate Field as exceptionally well-qualified, well-qualified, qualified or not qualified. The governor will use the evaluation to decide whether to appoint Field.

The county bar association is conducting its own evaluation of Field that it shares with the commission. Also potentially troublesome for Field is a complaint, apparently pending before the state bar, based on his conduct in the Auguste case. But Field boasts prominent supporters, including retiring District Attorney George Kennedy, as well as a sterling academic record. He is a Columbia University graduate and earned a law degree and a doctorate in history from the University of California-Berkeley. He also served in the Marine Corps. ``I think he ought to get appointed,'' Kennedy said. ``He's a hard-working person, an excellent writer. He's good at analysis, and he's vigorous in any work that he does.'' The commission evaluating Field's qualifications has set a Sept. 19 deadline for soliciting comments.

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Monday, September 11, 2006


A $9?million court judgment has made Larry Mayes afraid to leave his apartment, even though he has yet to see a cent of the compensation for the 19 years he spent in prison on a wrongful conviction for rape. Mayes was released from prison five years ago after DNA tests proved he did not commit the 1981 rape. Mayes later sued the city of Hammond and a police detective, originally seeking $19?million, and two weeks ago, jury awarded him $9?million.

The city is appealing the verdict. In the meantime, the Mayes, 57, is still living in a Gary apartment with a friend and fellow former inmate. He has no car, and the lack of transportation cost him his job washing dishes at a restaurant. Last week, he had to change his telephone number. “People had been calling me that I haven’t heard from in years,” Mayes told the Post-Tribune of Merrillville. “If I go out … there’s people that think I’ve got a million dollars. “I do worry that I might not make it to see anything from the settlement,” said Mayes, who suffered a heart attack while behind bars at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

For now, the city will continue to maintain Mayes’ guilt on appeal. Federal Magistrate Paul Cherry blocked city attorneys from bringing up Mayes’ previous rape and felony convictions and that he was implicated but never charged in other crimes. The DNA evidence, and the gag order on Mayes’ convictions, will figure as key issues in the city’s appeal, Mayor Tom McDermott said. The city has far too much at stake to back down, McDermott said. “I am not going to just write him a check,” he said. “We will continue to fight this case. “This is a money issue,” the mayor said. “When all this happened, I was 10 years old. This is not about defending the integrity of the Police Department 20 years before I was mayor. I think $9?million is an unreasonable number, and we will fight that verdict tooth and nail.”

A co-defendant, James Hill Jr., also was convicted in the rape and served 17 years in prison. Two years ago, he petitioned to have his conviction overturned as well, and if that happens, the city could face another lawsuit, Hill’s attorney, Mitch Peters said.

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The defense attorney in a wrongful conviction lawsuit said in federal court Friday that former Riverside County sheriff's Detective Dan Miller had no reason to jeopardize his career by fabricating and suppressing evidence in a 1986 rape and robbery investigation. During closing statements, attorney Arthur Cunningham focused much of his remarks on the allegation that Miller fabricated a report from an eyewitness. It claimed the eyewitness saw the plaintiff, Herman Atkins, in Riverside County around the time of the attack.

Atkins, 40, served 10 years in prison for the rape and robbery of a Lake Elsinore shoe-store clerk before being cleared by DNA evidence that was not available at the time of the investigation.

The man listed in the report, Perris resident Eric Keith Ingram, testified earlier in the lawsuit trial that he had never identified Atkins or spoken with Miller. Cunningham questioned Ingram's credibility, saying he has a history of run-ins with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. Ingram also testified that he recalled meeting with a deputy named Dan Taylor, although no one by that name worked at the Lake Elsinore station, Cunningham said. "The question is which of these two people do you believe," he said. "(Ingram), who despises the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, or Miller, who has a 30-year career in law enforcement?"

The jury deliberated for three hours Friday afternoon but did not reach a verdict. Deliberations are scheduled to resume Monday morning. Atkins is seeking $10 million in damages for the decade he spent in prison for the Lake Elsinore crime. Attorney Peter Neufeld, who is representing Atkins, said that Miller used improper photo-identification procedures, falsified reports and withheld information that would have helped Atkins' defense.

The rape victim first identified Atkins after seeing a photograph of him on a wanted poster that was hanging in the briefing room in the Sheriff's Department office. At the time of the attack, Atkins was wanted in connection with an assault case in Los Angeles.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wrong Door

More cases of careless and indifferent police being more danger to the innocent than to the guilty

The Supreme Court ruled this June that evidence seized in an illegally performed "no-knock" police raid can still be used against a defendant. Though disturbing in its own right, Hudson v. Michigan touched on only a small part of a larger problem -- the trend toward paramilitary tactics in domestic policing. Criminologist Peter Kraska estimates that the number of SWAT team "call-outs" soared past 40,000 in 2001 (the latest year for which figures are available) from about 3,000 in 1981. The vast majority are employed for routine police work -- such as serving drug warrants -- not the types of situations for which SWAT teams were originally established. And because drug policing often involves tips from confidential informants -- many of whom are drug dealers themselves, or convicts looking for leniency -- it's rife with bad information. As a result, hundreds of innocent families and civilians have been wrongly subjected to violent, forced-entry raids.

Last year, for example, New York City police mistakenly handcuffed Mini Matos, a deaf, asthmatic Coney Island woman during a pre-dawn raid. While her young son and daughter burst into tears, Ms. Matos's plea to use her asthma pump was ignored until an officer realized they entered the wrong apartment.

Home invasions can also provoke deadly violence because forced-entry raids offer very little margin for error. Since SWAT teams began proliferating in the late 1980s, at least 40 innocent people have been killed in botched raids. There are dozens more cases where low-level, nonviolent offenders and police officers themselves have been killed.

Last summer a SWAT team in Sunrise, Fla., shot and killed 23-year-old Anthony Diotaiuto -- a bartender and part-time student with no history of violence -- during an early-morning raid on his home. Police found all of an ounce of marijuana. This January a member of the Fairfax, Va. SWAT team accidentally shot and killed Salvatore Culosi, a local optometrist with no criminal record, no history of violence and no weapons in his home. Police were investigating Culosi for wagering on sporting events with friends.

Public officials are rarely held accountable when mistakes happen. The Culosi family has yet to be given access to documents related to the investigation of his death, including why a SWAT team was sent to apprehend him in the first place. More than a year after Diotaiuto's death, his family too has been denied access to any of the documents it needs to move forward with a lawsuit.

New York City provides perhaps the most egregious example of public officials' reluctance to rein in the excessive use of paramilitary tactics. Throughout the 1990s, the city's newspapers reported a troubling, continuing pattern of "wrong door" drug raids. In many cases, tactical teams raided homes based solely on uncorroborated tips from unproven informants.

Members of the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board cautioned that they were seeing increasing complaints of botched raids, but limited jurisdiction and bureaucratic turf wars prevented them from doing anything about it. The principal result of the CCRB's warnings was the creation of a special police unit for the sole purpose of fixing locks, doors and windows in cases where forced-entry searches were performed on the wrong premises. Civil rights attorneys warned that without more substantial changes, it was only a matter of time before an innocent person would be killed in a botched drug raid.

They were right. In 2003, acting on a bad tip from an informant, police mistakenly raided the Harlem home of Alberta Spruill, a 57-year-old city worker. The violence of the incursion literally scared Spruill to death; she died of a heart attack at the scene. The raid spurred public outrage, calls for reform, and promises from the city to change its ways. The NYPD published new guidelines calling for more reliability when taking tips from informants. The city also promised greater vigilance in conducting surveillance and double-checking addresses before a SWAT team was sent in.

But later, during the course of a lawsuit stemming from another, mistaken raid -- in 1992, on corrections officer Edward Garrison, his elderly mother and two young daughters -- the city declared that all of the post-Spruill reforms it had promised were merely discretionary, not enforceable in court, and could be revoked at will by any future mayor or police commissioner.

In any case, botched raids have not stopped. In 2004, police arrested a Brooklyn father of two in a drug raid and held him for six months at Riker's Island. In March of this year they dropped all the charges, conceding that he had been wrongly targeted. The man's lawyer called it the worst case of malicious prosecution she'd ever seen. Also in 2004, police mistakenly raided the home of Martin and Leona Goldberg, a Brooklyn couple in their 80s, when an informant provided bad information. "It was the most frightening experience of my life," Mrs. Goldberg later said. "I thought it was a terrorist attack."

The NYPD goofed again in 2005, when a SWAT team raided the Brooklyn apartment of the Williams family, instead of the targeted apartment on the same floor. Police continued to search the apartment even after it was obvious they were in the wrong home. This year, according to the CCRB, there have already been at least 15 mistaken raids.

A few cities, such as New Haven, Conn., and San Jose, Calif., restrict the use of SWAT teams to cases where a suspect presents an immediate threat. Denver dramatically cut back the number of "no-knock" raids conducted after a SWAT team shot and killed an innocent man in a botched raid in 1999, and follow-up investigations revealed severe deficiencies in the how police had obtained "no-knock" warrants.

But these examples are few and far between. Most of the country is moving toward more militarization, more aggressive drug policing -- and less accountability when things go wrong.

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