Friday, February 29, 2008

The Siegelman case

I have deleted unproven conspiracy claims below. I think the facts by themselves are of great concern

Don Siegelman, a popular Democratic governor of Alabama, a Republican state, was framed in a crooked trial, convicted on June 29, 2006, and sent to Federal prison... What was the "crime" for which Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted? You will not believe this. Scrushy’s firm made a contribution to the Alabama Educational Trust, a charitable organization, to retire debt associated with the Alabama education lottery proposal. Scrushy was a member of Alabama’s Certificate of Need board, a nonpaid group that oversaw hospital expansion. Scrushy had been a member of the board through the terms of the prior three governors, and Siegelman asked him to serve another term.

Federal prosecutors claimed that Scrushy’s charitable contribution was a bribe to Siegelman in exchange for being appointed to the Certificate of Need board. In the words of federal prosecutor Stephen Feaga, the contribution was "given in exchange for a promise for an official act."

Feaga’s statement is absolute nonsense. It is well known that Scrushy had served on the board for years, felt he had done his duty, and wanted off the board. It was Siegelman who convinced Scrushy to remain on the board. Moreover, Scrushy gave no money to Siegelman. The money went to a charitable foundation. As a large number of attorneys have pointed out, every US president appoints his ambassadors and cabinet members from people who have donated to his campaign. Under the reasoning applied in the Siegelman case, every president, cabinet member and ambassador should be in federal prison.

How in the world did a jury convict two men of a non-crime? The answer is that the US Attorney used Governor Siegelman’s indicted young assistant, Nick Bailey, to create the impression among some of the jury that "something must have happened." Unbeknownst to Siegelman, Bailey was extorting money or accepting bribes from Alabama businessmen in exchange for state business. Bailey was caught. Presented with threats of a long sentence, Bailey agreed to testify falsely that Siegelman came out of a meeting with Scrushy and showed Bailey a $250,000 check he had accepted in exchange for appointing Scrushy to the Certificate of Need board. Prosecutors knew that Bailey’s testimony was false, not only because they had Bailey rewrite his testimony several times and rehearsed him until he had it down pat, but also because they had the check. The records show that the check, written to a charitable organization, was cut days after the meeting from which Siegelman allegedly emerged with check in hand.

In video documentaries available online, Bailey’s friend, Amy Methvin, says that Bailey told her that he was going to parrot the prosecutors’ line, "pay for play," "quid pro quo." Methvin says Bailey went into a speech about money exchanged for favors. "You sound like a robot," Methvin told him. "You would have it memorized, too, if you had heard the answers as many times as I have heard the answers," Bailey replied.

The prosecutors also had help from some jurors. On a WOTM Special Report hosted by former US Attorney Raymond Johnson, Alabama lawyer Julian McPhillips produced emails from two jurors about influencing other jurors in order to achieve a conviction. Jurors are not supposed to discuss a case outside the court or to consider information other than what is presented in court and allowed by the judge. The outside communication among the jurors is sufficient to declare a mistrial.

However, Federal District Judge, Mark Fuller, a Bush appointee, ignored the tainted jury. Fuller himself was part of the prosecution. He bore a strong grudge against Siegelman. Fuller had been an Alabama district attorney before Bush made him a federal judge. Fuller’s successor as district attorney was appointed by Siegelman and produced evidence that Fuller had defrauded or attempted to defraud the state retirement system.

Despite his known animosity toward Siegelman, Fuller refused to recuse himself from Siegelman’s trial. According to the WOTM Special Report, Fuller owns a company that was receiving federal money during Siegelman’s trial. Fuller did not disclose this conflict of interest.

The Justice Department’s answer is that Siegelman was indicted by career prosecutors and convicted in a fair trial by a jury of his peers. These claims are no more truthful than anything else the DOJ says. Horton reports that career prosecutors advised against the case, concluded it was a political vendetta and walked away from it. Canary’s "girls" were "flailing about trying to find loyal troopers who would shut up and do what is expected of them," a category into which Scott Horton says Louis Franklin and his deputy Stephen Feaga fell. The jurors were presented with Bailey’s perjury suborned by the US Attorney's office and misled about what the testimony actually meant.

Horton says the case was "pressed forward with brute political force." According to Horton, Leura Canary refused to recuse herself despite her obvious conflict of interest. After she was forced to recuse herself, she continued to control the case from her office. In Horton’s words: "Her husband was managing the campaign against Siegelman and leaks from the investigation were emanating from someone at his address.

Author’s note: Scott Horton, Harper’s Online, has reported extensively and courageously on the frame-up of Don Siegelman. Raw Story has a multi-part report by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane. The "60 Minutes" broadcast is available from YouTube as is the WOTM Special Report. YouTube also has a multi-part documentary on Richard Scrushy. Brad Blog provides good coverage including a MSNBC broadcast on the Siegelman prosecution

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

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Is breast-feeding pornographic?

Jacqueline is an immigrant from Peru where she worked as a nurse. Of course the US wouldn't let her work in that profession when she arrived so she got a job in the middle of the night cleaning the local Wal-Mart. She and her kids lived with her parents. After a year her boyfriend was able to join her. Their son had just turned one and the family spent their reunion taking photos to remember the happy occasion. Unfortunately those photos would lead to great emotional distress.

One photo showed Jacqueline breast-feeding the baby. In Peru such photos are common and the family keeps them to remember this special mother-child bond. In a few other photos Jacqueline was taking a bath and washing the baby along with her 4-year-old. Jacqueline was no exhibitionist and made sure she used her arm to cover her breasts when the photo was taken. At this point her fate was sealed. She didn't know how sex panics are the American past time -- a hobby of monumental proportion engaged in by both the Religious Right and the Feminist Left.

All four rolls of film were dropped off at the local Eckerd Drugs in Richardson, Texas (alas the Theocratic Republic of Texas strikes once again). A dirty minded clerk who processed the film called the police who were not just dirty minded but filthy minded. They immediately turned relatively innocent photos into the most horrendous case of child exploitation they have ever seen - -- much the way they turn 1 lb of cocaine in the biggest drug haul in "years" or they think that something the size of cocktail weenie is nine inches. If you think I'm kidding let me describe how the police twisted these photos in their report on the matter.

Sergeant Danny Martin of the Richardson police claimed "We thought they contained sexuality. If you saw the photos, you'd know what I mean." People who have seen these alleged pornographic photos have trouble agreeing with Martin. He seems to be sexually obsessed and finds obscenity where there is none. Eventually after some publicity the District Attorney, who saw the photos, said that nothing in them "rise to the level of a crime." So apparently this was all in Sergeant Martin's warped imagination.

Consider how the original indictment for child pornography charges described the photos of a mother breast-feeding her child: "actual lewd exhibition of.. a portion of the female breast below the top of the areola, and the said defendant did and then employ, authorize and induce Rodrigo Fernandez, a child younger than 18 years of age, to engage in said sexual conduct and sexual performance." Apparently breast feeding in Texas is "sexual conduct" -- but this is the state that made masturbation with a vibrator a crime, even if done in the privacy of one's own home!

Police Detective John Wakefield was another one of the sex-obsessed, filthy-minded investigators in the case. You remember the photo where she was bathing her children and carefully used her arm to cover her breasts when the photo was taken. Mr. Potty-Mind Wakefield described this covering act as being "topless and touching her breast".

When Jacqueline went to pick up the family photos she was made to wait so that the police could come and interrogate her. She was shocked at the accusations and couldn't see how something as innocent as breast-feeding and bathing her children had become a perversion in the mind of these zealous cops. She tried to explain but they knew what they knew and damn the facts.

The police and prosecutors went to a grand jury and Jacqueline's attorneys offered to wave her Fifth Amendment right so she could testify before the Grand Jury. This offer was refused. Based on police reports the jury brought charges against Jacqueline and her boyfriend as child pornographers. The police also ransacked their home looking for more evidence of child pornography but they found nothing. Jacqueline was shocked. She couldn't understand how a "free" country was treating her this way. She said: "We fought so hard to come to this country. For this to happen is unbelievable."

Now you already know that the prosecutor would back down pronto fast when word got out that his police agents thought breast-feeding a child is a sexual act. So all's well that ends well! Right? Not at all. It isn't over.

All charges were dropped. But the state of Texas sent their agents to the Mercado home and kidnapped Jacqueline's two children. These busybodies went to a judge and had the children forcibly removed and placed into foster care -- where their chance of actually being sexual molested is much higher. So far the Texas bureaucrats are refusing to return the children even though an attorney appointed on behalf of the children has recommended they be sent home.

The state is forcing Jacqueline and her boyfriend to attend therapy groups for sex offenders! They have also told her that they must, at their own expense, take lie detector tests. Remember that all charges were withdrawn. In the eyes of they law they are not guilty of any crime. Yet they have their children stolen from them and are being forced to attend therapy sessions that they don't need. Eventually, after months of forced separation the couple did regain custody of their children.

The rakish columnist "Buzz" in the Dallas Observer noted:

You might wonder what sort of twisted upbringings Texas bureaucrats must have had to see breast-feeding as a sexual act. Our readers certainly did. We received upward of 50 letters from people in the States and Canada, all sharing one thought, summed up by this writer: "That parents could have their children taken away from them because of photos of a 1-year-old breast-feeding is horrible beyond words." (One writer from Alabama described it as "jack-booted thuggery." It's a proud moment in Texas history when residents of Alabama are appalled by our heavy-handed government.)

This column noted that no one bothered to apologize to the family for what they were put through:

Now that's indecent. Damned jack-booted thugs. Why can't someone with CPS send a letter, a note, a friggin' Hallmark card saying, "We made a mistake. We apologize." Just try it, CPS. Really, it's not hard to say "We're sorry." A child could do it.

Eventually the case was resolved in favor of the family but it cost them lots of money to defend themselves from overzealous bureaucrats and dirty-minded cops. I swear that police have an attitude that there are just two kinds of people living in America. One kind is criminals who they got the goods on and the rest of us are criminals who still need to be caught. And since they perceive all of us as criminally inclined they are just waiting for their chance to arrest and convict us no matter what is required along the way.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mississippi horror

There is some welcome news from Mississippi, where one of the worst child prisons in the United States, is going to be shuttered by order of the governor and the state Department of Human Services. (The prison, named "Columbia Training School" in honor of George Orwell, would be better described as a paramilitary torture camp for children ages 10-18.)

The decision comes in the wake of a federal investigation that uncovered prison guards, drill instructors, "recreation" officers, and "counselors" using hog-tying, pole-shackling, pepper-spraying, cruel and bizarre punitive "exercises," punching, slapping, choking, and isolation cells in which children were stripped naked and left alone in the dark for hours or even days on end. At least four separate federal lawsuits have been filed against Mississippi child prisons in the past four years over the treatment of the children imprisoned there, including the severe beating of a 14 year old boy and the repeated rape of a 14 year old girl by prison guards. Here is some of what went on at Columbia:
The majority of youth committed to Oakley and Columbia are nonviolent offenders. For example, 75 percent of the girls at Columbia are committed for status offenses, probation violations, or contempt of court. The majority of boys at Oakley are committed for property offenses, lower level drug possession charges, or auto theft charges.

. Approximately 10 to 15 boys and girls consistently described [hog-tying of children at Columbia], where youth are placed face down on the floor with their hands and feet shackled and drawn together. That is, youths' hands are handcuffed behind their backs. Their feet are shackled together and then belts or metal chains are wrapped around the two sets of restraints, pulling them together. A 13-year-old boy, in the SIU [Special Intervention Unit] on suicide watch, told us that he had been hog-tied twice while in the SIU. Another boy told us that he was hog-tied for refusing to follow orders. Several girls in Hammond Cottage told us that either they had been hog-tied or they had witnessed other girls being hog-tied. They reported that girls are typically tied for three hour periods in the corners of the cottage and stated that girls were also hog-tied in the SIU. Girls also reported being hogtied in a SIU cell called the "dark room."

Contrary to Columbia's policy that requires the documenting of all uses of restraints, the practice is not documented in incident reports or unit logbooks. When our expert consultant discussed the apparent discrepancy between youth reports and lack of incident report documentation, Columbia SIU staff either denied that these incidents took place or reluctantly admitted they may have occurred - but not during their shifts. A senior manager claimed it had been a long time since hog-tying had occurred because the practice was "inhumane." However, one relatively new SIU staff person stated that hog-tying had occurred in the boys' SIU a few months prior to our visit.

. Youth reported that they had either observed or experienced having their arms and legs shackled to poles in public places. For instance, one young girl reported that her arms and legs were handcuffed and shackled around a utility pole because she was non-compliant during military exercises. The rest of the unit was forced to perform military drills around her. The youth was shackled for at least three hours, released for lunch, and briefly shackled again. . Another girl reported that two weeks prior to our visit, she was shackled to a pole for talking in the cafeteria. Still another girl reported that she was shackled to a pole for approximately four hours because she did not say, "Yes, sir," on command. Again, this practice is not documented in incident reports or unit logbooks in violation of Columbia's restraint policy. .

Girls in the SIU at Columbia are punished for acting out or for being suicidal by being placed in a cell called the "dark room." The "dark room" is a locked, windowless isolation cell with lighting controlled by staff. When the lights are turned out, as the girls reported they are when the room is in use, the room is completely dark. The room is stripped of everything but a drain in the floor which serves as a toilet. Most girls are stripped naked when placed in the "dark room." According to Columbia staff, the reason girls must remove their clothing before being placed in the darkroom, is that there is metal grating on the ceiling and the cell door which could be used for hanging attempts by suicidal girls. Such suicidal hazards should be remedied rather than requiring suicidal children to strip naked.

One girl told us that the weekend prior to our visit, she was placed naked in the "dark room" from Friday until Monday morning. She stated that she was allowed out of the cell once a day to take a shower, but received all her meals inside of the cell. Another girl told us that in July 2002, she was placed in the "dark room" with the lights off for three days with little access to water as her requests for water were largely ignored.

. During our visit to the girls' SIU at Columbia, there were 14 girls present. Nine of the girls had been locked in bare cells for more than a week; one girl had been locked in a bare cell for 114 days. The conditions we observed in the SIU are particularly inhumane. The cells are extremely hot with inadequate ventilation. Some girls are naked in a dark room where they must urinate and defecate in a hole that they cannot flush. Restraint chairs are use for punishment in violation of Columbia's own policy and procedures manual. OC [pepper] spray is sometimes used in response to a youth's minor misbehavior. As discussed earlier, sometimes, girls are hog-tied. Girls are often not given access to basic necessities, such as water, personal hygiene items, and bathroom facilities, and girls are not given sufficient mental health services. .

[Y]outh report "sitting in a chair," in which youth are required to assume a sitting position while holding their backs up against the wall with knees bent for as long as 20 to 30 minutes. Youth also are forced to perform "guard duty." Youth are awakened in the middle of the night, required to get dressed, and walk inside the cottage for hours with their hands to their heads (similar to a military salute) from bed to bed. . Boys housed in the cottages are sent by drill instructors to the SIU during the day for punishment for failing to perform exercises. SIU staff confirmed that boys' punishment may last for hours and consists of running around tables in the SIU day room with mattresses on their backs. Girls are punished in the military field by being forced to run with automobile tires around their bodies or carrying logs. Girls reported being forced to eat their own vomit if they throw-up while exercising in the hot sun.

. In the girls' SIU at Columbia, staff reportedly have hit, choked, and slapped girls. For instance, girls reported that a ten-year-old girl was slapped by a male security guard. A young boy in the boys' SIU reported that before being taken to the SIU, security slapped him twice in the face and placed his neck in a "sleeper hold."

. According to the facilities' policy, OC [pepper] spray may be used in only three situations: to "quell a riot"; or to "prevent further injury when students are fighting" and all other efforts to resolve the fight have failed; or if a youth possesses a device "clearly intended to be used as a weapon and refuses to disarm." . At Columbia, boys in the SIU reported that staff sprayed under their locked cell doors and that staff sprayed boys in the face while they were hog-tied. Boys also told us that staff sprayed into the air while boys were doing exercises for punishment in the SIU. Incident reports make clear that suicidal youth are sprayed for their suicidal gestures and behaviors and that youth locked in isolation rooms who bang on the door of their cell are sprayed. A log entry for the SIU in May 2002 indicates that a suicidal girl was sprayed because she refused to remove her clothes before being placed in the "dark room."

Youth at Columbia reported that staff routinely sprayed youth for failing to perform military exercises. . For example, a 13-year-old boy was sprayed because he did not perform exercises. Reportedly, he was punished further by being forced to do 100 squat thrusts, 100 push ups, and 100 jumping jacks. One girl, prior to being sent to the SIU, had difficulty keeping up with the group during exercise in the parade field. She yelled to a staff person that it was hot and to "shut up talking to me." Security was called and she was sprayed in the face. Youth also talked extensively about "running the ridge," a form of intensive running on the campus grounds. Youth who refuse to run the ridge are reportedly sprayed by staff.

. Moreover, during our tour of Columbia, children made various abuse allegations concerning specific staff. Several girls alleged that a recreation staff person forced girls to run and perform military exercises wearing tires. Many youth reported that the acting head nurse routinely denied medical care and access to appropriate health services. The girls in the advanced cottage alleged that a security guard engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior by standing in front of the uncovered windows of the girls' cottage and observing them while they were undressing before going to bed.

. Activity, positive relationships between staff and youth, individual attention, school, exercise, reading, and counseling are necessary aspects of an adequate adolescent suicide prevention program. Instead, at Columbia, suicidal youth are isolated in SIUs in stripped cells, sometimes naked, are not allowed outdoor exercise, and receive very little schooling or counseling. As previously discussed, some suicidal girls at Columbia are placed in the "dark room." Furthermore, in the isolation units or SIUs at both facilities, children's mattresses are taken away during the day, leaving them with the option of lying or sitting on concrete or standing. . In the evenings, youth are required to sit in silence for large blocks of time while they sort their clothes, clean their boots, or for girls, braid each other's hair. . [Y]outh are forced to perform physical exercise and threatened with SIU if they are caught talking to each other. In fact, youth expressed frustration at the wasted time and lack of rehabilitation services being offered in the evenings. Lack of activity, social interaction, and counseling assistance put youth at risk for depression.

. The disciplinary practices [in paramilitary programs] are particularly harmful to the younger boys at Columbia who are physically, emotionally, or psychologically unable to participate fully in the training program. Young boys at Columbia are not developmentally suited to benefit from the military approach. Many staff perceived that this particular population was noncompliant and anti-authority, when in reality, many of the boys are merely active third, fourth and fifth graders with short attention spans. The result is that the younger boys stay at Columbia longer because they are considered behavior problems. .

Columbia's paramilitary program also is unsuitable for some of the troubled girls it serves. . Harsh disciplinary practices are characterized as training. A June 2002 log book entry shows that a facility manager punished a girl by requiring her to sleep one hour and walk one hour for two successive nights. This same girl also had to eat every meal standing for one week thereafter. These punishments are largely unregulated and in some cases endorsed by supervisory personnel because they are considered military training. .

A paramilitary program also is inappropriate for youth with learning or developmental disabilities. . For example, staff made fun of a girl who had both physical and cognitive impairments. This girl was just learning to read and was unable to earn a grade higher than 70 on the military test the youth must pass in order to move from the basic to the advanced phase of the program. Her peers were concerned that she would never be able to pass the test. .

. Even asthmatic youth do not receive follow-up care to ensure that their cases are being managed. For example, a girl was admitted to Columbia with a history of asthma. She was not asked about her medical history during her initial exam. She subsequently told the nurse about her inhaler and that it prevented asthma attacks if used prior to exercise. The youth never received an inhaler. While performing exercises, she began to have an asthma attack. She was not allowed to see the nurse and was told to continue to exercise or be punished for disobedience.

. At Columbia, youth are required to attend religious services at the church every Sunday. Some girls reported they would be subject to discipline if they did not sing during services. The facility administrator stated that youth had the option of not attending the Sunday worship services if they chose not to, but both boys and girls indicated that attending Sunday worship services was a requirement or they would be disciplined. Youth also must participate in a religious service in their cottages every Tuesday evening or face discipline. The only reading material the children in the SIUs and some of the housing units are allowed to possess is the Bible. We witnessed a mandatory group counseling session in the boys' SIU in which youth were required to read Bible verses and sing religious songs.

In each of these cases, youth were required to engage in specific religious activities and were subject to disciplinary action if they did not participate.

It is tempting to call this kind of treatment "barbaric." But that would be a slander against the good name of barbarians. The most brutal Hun or Vandal would never imagine inflicting this kind of relentless, sustained, coordinated, institutionalized sadism on anyone. They might kill you, but they wouldn't pay professionals to break you. What would be the point? No, it takes a civilized society for people to imagine a use for a torture camp like Columbia-whether that's institutionalizing their own revenge fantasies, or, what's worse, claiming that it's all for their victims' own good.

Shuttering Columbia is a welcome move in the right direction. I hope that it will be followed by more, because more are certainly needed. Unfortunately, the governor is spinning this partly as a matter of "inadequate staffing" and "efficiency" in government spending. (As if what Columbia needed were even more hired thugs to run it "efficiently." They were the ones who created that hellhole in the first place.) The children imprisoned at Columbia, most of whom are nonviolent offenders who should never have been locked in government cages to begin with, are largely being shipped over to Oakley Training School, which previously had been the state's child prison for older boys. Meanwhile, the "All of Columbia's 109 staff members will keep their jobs for now," within the Mississippi state prison system-although apparently they will generally not be transferred over to the Oakley child prison, and this may be a way to defer firings until a later round of "downsizing," in order to mollify the prison guards' union.

But the take-away here is that as usual, when the government's goon squad goes around humiliating, beating, raping, and torturing, even when their victims are ten year old or fourteen year old children, they can do so with almost complete impunity; politicians and their colleagues can be counted on to deny or minimize the problem, change the subject, and, if their hand is ever finally forced by external pressure, simultaneously personalize the problem as Yet Another Isolated Incident caused by A Few More Bad Apples - thus marginalizing any critique that takes the problem seriously enough to call the institutional culture and incentives of prison guards into question - while also stonewalling any efforts holding individual perpetrators personally accountable, either civilly or criminally, and instead pass off public-relations moves and minimal administrative reprimands as close enough for government work. This double strategy of personalizing blame while depersonalizing accountability ends up guaranteeing that the vast majority of people who create and run a torture camp like Columbia are allowed to operate in an environment of almost absolute impunity, and one or two of the most obviously atrocious prisons are very publicly closed, while the very people who made it that way are allowed to metastasize throughout the rest of the prison system.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hope for prisoner as expert recants on wife’s suicide letter

The pioneer of criminal profiling in Britain has switched sides to say that a man he helped to jail for life for murdering his wife is innocent. Eddie Gilfoyle was prosecuted after David Canter, a psychology professor, told police that his hanged wife’s suicide note betrayed signs of having been faked. But research prompted by the case into the difference between genuine and false suicide notes has persuaded Professor Canter that Paula Gilfoyle, 32, was, indeed, the sole author of her final words. Now campaigners for the jailed husband are hoping to use Professor Canter’s analysis of the suicide note as part of a fresh appeal.

On a June evening in 1992, Paula Gilfoyle’s body was found hanged in the garage of the home in Upton, Wirral, Merseyside, that she shared with her husband. Mrs Gilfoyle, who worked in a local factory, was eight months pregnant and presented a cheery front to the world. But the long suicide note that she left spoke of a feeling of failure and unhappiness, and hinted at strains in her marriage. She told her husband not to blame himself, and even suggested that the baby was not his. There is an overwhelming feeling of guilt and self-blame in the note.

Friends and relatives refused to believe that she could have killed herself. They insisted that she had no cares and was looking forward to the birth of her first baby. Suspicion soon turned on her husband. Some work-mates told police that she had said that her husband, a hospital porter, had persuaded her to write a bogus suicide note as part of a course that he was taking on suicide. No such course existed.

However, Professor Canter points out, in a 10,000-word report on the case, that for the bogus suicide plot to have worked Gilfoyle would have had to persuade his wife to climb a ladder in the garage and allow a noose to be placed around her neck. There were no signs of force on her body.

Gilfoyle has always protested his innocence of what was portrayed as a calculated, evil plot to make his pregnant wife’s killing look like suicide. When Merseyside police began to investigate Mrs Gilfoyle’s death, they consulted Professor Canter, who had been the first psychological profiler to be used by British police and who shared their doubts about the note. His evidence formed part of the prosecution case, though it was never heard by the jury. He nonetheless believes that it helped to reinforce prosecutors’ determination to press ahead against Gilfoyle, who was convicted unanimously of murder in July 1993.

Professor Canter used a technique of linguistic analysis to try to establish whether Mrs Gilfoyle had composed her note. Police suspected that her husband had dictated it to her. But studies since, including one supervised by Professor Canter, have shown that errors can be produced by using simple word counts as the main basis for deciding authorship.

By chance, a couple of years after the conviction, Professor Canter moved to Merseyside, taking a post at the University of Liverpool. There, he came into contact with Gilfoyle’s relatives and eventually met the prisoner himself. “He wasn’t that creative an individual,” Professor Canter said. The academic then began looking closer into the science of suicide notes. The most pertinent study was conducted 50 years ago by the founders of the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Centre, Edwin Schneidman and Norman Farberow. The two psychologists, pioneers in suicide prevention, compared genuine suicide notes with artificial ones written by people who had never been suicidal.

Their purpose was to look for ways to stop people taking their own lives. But Professor Canter made a study of those 1950s notes, along with other samples, to seek clues to how a genuine suicide note could be distinguished from an imagined one. It became clear that it is difficult to simulate the elements in a real suicide note. Professor Canter now uses Mrs Gilfoyle’s final handwritten lines, beginning “Dear Eddie” and ending “Goodnight and God bless, love Paula”, in his lectures.

“It is my opinion that the suicide note was written, unaided, by Paula Gilfoyle,” he said. “That this intention was genuine is difficult to determine, but the way in which the note appears to be the culmination of months of thinking of various possibilities for dealing with her situation, and indicates so directly that Paula could see no other way, is consistent with a very real determination to kill herself.”

Gilfoyle’s brother-in-law, Paul Caddick, a retired police sergeant who found Mrs Gilfoyle’s body and now runs the miscarriage of justice campaign, praised Professor Canter. “He is a brave man,” Mr Caddick said. “We are very pleased he has come on to the defence side because he is a man of integrity. Obviously, for a long time, Eddie didn’t like him. When he came on to our side he said, ‘The bastard, he should’ve said the right thing in the first place’. But now he realises it was a dreadful mistake.”

Gilfoyle has already lost two appeals against conviction but his new legal team at Birnberg Peirce is preparing evidence to bring before the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Merseyside Police said: “There was a lot of other evidence heard by the jury and he was convicted on that evidence.”

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

Monday, February 25, 2008

Canada: A VERY late appeal

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has asked the New Brunswick Court of Appeal to review a dying man's 1975 murder conviction because it may well constitute a wrongful conviction. The case — the first apparent wrongful conviction to take place in New Brunswick — could result in the province's Court of Appeal overturning Erin Walsh's non-capital murder conviction within days or weeks. New Brunswick Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau acted quickly Friday, convening a hearing during which the Crown conceded that a miscarriage of justice took place in the Walsh case...

Should Mr. Walsh end up being fully exonerated in the shooting of Melvin "Chi Chi" Peters, he will have spent longer in prison than any previous victim of a wrongful conviction. Factoring in a series of parole revocations which added years to his sentence, the father of five spent more than 25 years behind bars.

Defence counsel Phil Campbell said in an interview that his initial reluctance to become involved in the case became an obsession when he saw the undisclosed evidence — which Mr. Walsh obtained from the provincial archives in 2003. "Now, with Erin dying and the case back before the court, it still feels like we are staggering to the finish line and desperately hoping we get there before he drops," he said...

The key to Friday's dramatic development were two areas of evidence the defence had not been given prior to Mr. Walsh's trial. In the first of these, a group of CNR workers had made statements corroborating Mr. Walsh's account that he approached them in fear to ask for help against Mr. Peters and his combative friends.

The defence was also unaware that, within an hour or two of the killing, police overheard Mr. Peters' friends apparently cooking up a plan to frame Mr. Walsh for the killing. "In 1975 a jury convicted Erin in one hour, during which they stopped to eat," lawyer Sean MacDonald said in an interview. "With the power of his case today, as we now know it, there is not a jury in this country that would not acquit him in half that time. "This is the first recognized miscarriage of justice in two centuries in the province of New Brunswick," Mr. MacDonald added. "It is an opportunity for New Brunswick to rise to the challenge presented by miscarriages of justice — something some provinces do better than others."

On Aug. 11, 1975, Mr. Walsh and a travelling companion —George Ferguson — befriended three local roustabouts after they arrived in Saint John. A 24-hour drinking binge resulted in the shooting death of one of Mr. Peters - and the creation of a crude plot to pin the murder on Mr. Walsh.

Mr. Walsh was at a terrible disadvantage at his trial. Not only was he painted as an lawless drifter, but shortly before the trial, he took his own lawyer and several correctional officers hostage at the local jail. He released them after several hours, but the incident received massive publicity and was likely on the mind of most potential jurors. "I have never claimed to be an angel," Mr. Walsh said Friday. "What I have claimed is that I am a wrongfully convicted man. All I am asking is that I get justice."

"What is so exceptional about the case is the way that the New Brunswick attorney-general has approached it in a spirit of co-operation that I hope we will see in future cases in other provinces," Mr. Lockyer said in an interview. "All too often, prosecutors deny even the obvious in a case like this."

In a civil lawsuit launched last year by Mr. Walsh accused police and prosecutors in the case of targeting him in a manner that was "malicious, high-handed, outrageous, reckless, wanton, entirely without care, intentional, deliberate, callous, disgraceful, willful, exploitative, and in disregard of Erin's rights and indifferent to the consequences."

It alleged that prosecutor William McCarroll - now a New Brunswick Provincial Court judge - failed to disclose key evidence that would almost certainly have demolished the charge against him and spared him the lost of his freedom and a prison life dominated by psychiatric turmoil and physical abuse.

"Erin has always known that the only beneficiaries of the lawsuit would be his family," Mr. MacDonald said. "He is living out his final days in semi poverty. The lawsuit has always been primarily a vehicle to secure justice for Erin. My hope is that with respect to compensation that all the parties involved act swiftly and fairly before Erin dies. He deserves that."

Report here

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

A chilling example of how Britain's secretive welfare goons forced a mother and child into hiding

Last autumn a small English congregation was rocked by the news that two of its parishioners had fled abroad. A 56-year-old man had helped his pregnant wife to flee from social workers, who had already taken her son into care and were threatening to seize their baby.

Most people had no idea why. For the process that led this couple to such a desperate act was entirely secret. The local authority had warned the mother not to talk to her friends or even her MP. The judge who heard the arguments from social services sat in secret. The open-minded social workers who had initially been assigned to sort out a custody battle between the woman and her previous husband were replaced by others who seemed determined to build a guilty case against her. That is how the secret State operates. A monumental injustice has been perpetrated in this quiet corner of England; our laws are being used to try to cover it up.

I will call this couple Hugh and Sarah. Neither they nor their families have ever been in trouble with the law, as far as I know. Sarah's only fault seems to have been to suffer through a violent and volatile first marriage, which produced a son. When the marriage ended, the boy was taken into temporary foster care for a few months - as a by-product of the marriage breakdown and against her will - while she "sorted her life out" and found them a new home. But even as she cleared every hurdle set by the court, social workers dreamt up new ones. The months dragged by. A psychologist said the boy was suffering terribly in care and was desperate to come home. Sarah's mother and sister, both respected professionals with good incomes, apparently offered to foster or adopt him. The local authority did not even deign to reply.

For a long time, Sarah and her family seem to have played along. At every new hearing they thought that common sense would prevail. But it didn't. The court appeared to blame her for not ending her marriage more quickly, which had put strain on the boy, while social workers seemed to insist that she now build a good relationship with the man she had left. Eventually, she came to believe that the local authority intended to have her son adopted. She also seems to have feared that they would take away her new baby, Hugh's baby, when it was born. One night in September they fled the country with the little boy. When Hugh returned a few days later, to keep his business going and his staff in jobs, he was arrested.

Many people would think this man a hero. Instead, he received a far longer sentence - 16 months for abduction - than many muggers. This kind of sentence might be justified, perhaps, to set an example to others. But the irony of this exemplary sentence is that no one was ever supposed to know the details. (I am treading a legal tightrope writing about it at all.) How could a secret sentence for a secret crime deter anyone?

Sarah's baby has now been born, in hiding. I am told that the language from social services has become hysterical. But if the State was genuinely concerned for these two children, it would have put "wanted" pictures up in every newspaper in Europe. It won't do that, of course, because to name the woman and her children would be to tear a hole in the fabric of the secret State, a hole we could all see through. I would be able to tell you her side of the story, the child's side of the story. I would be able to tell you every vindictive twist of this saga. And the local authority knows perfectly well how it would look. So silence is maintained.

And very effective it is too. The impotence is the worst thing. The way that perfectly decent individuals are gagged and unable to defend themselves undermines a fundamental principle of British law. I have a court order on my desk that threatens all the main actors in this case with dire consequences if they talk about it to anyone.

Can that really be the way we run justice in a country that was the fount of the rule of law? At the heart of this story is a little boy who was wrenched from the mother he loves, bundled around in foster care and never told why, when she appears to have been perfectly capable of looking after him. When she had relatives who were perfectly capable of doing so. In the meantime, he was becoming more and more troubled and unhappy. To find safety and love, that little boy has had to leave England.

What does that say about our country? The public funds the judges, the courts, the social workers. It deserves to know what they do. That does not mean vilifying all social workers, or defending every parent. But it does mean ending the presumption of guilt that infects so many family court hearings. It does mean asking why certain local authorities seem unable to let go of children whose parents have resolved their difficulties. It does mean knowing how social workers could have got away with failing to return this particular boy, after his mother had met all the criteria set by a judge at the beginning. It is simply unacceptable that social services have put themselves above the law.

We need these people to be named, and to hear in their words what happened. We need to open up the family courts. We need to tear down the wall of secrecy that has forced a decent woman to live as a fugitive, to save her little boy from a life with strangers, used like a pawn in a game of vengeance. Even if the local authority were to drop its case, it is hard to see how Sarah could ever trust them enough to return. At home, for their God-fearing congregation, the question is simple: what justice can ever be done behind closed doors? And in whose name?

Report here

Australia: Disgusting Muslim child molester gets off free

Note that the garbage was in a position of trust

Queensland's Attorney-General has failed to secure a criminal conviction for a Brisbane medical student who tried to give an 11-year-old boy a penis "massage". Shakee Mirza, escaped with only 12 months probation over his attempt to molest the boy in the child's bedroom in February 2006, sparking outrage that without a black mark against his name, the 27 year-old would-be doctor would be allowed to treat children once qualified.

Attorney General Kerry Shine launched an appeal against the leniency of the sentence earlier this month, but it was dismissed by the full bench of the Supreme Court of Appeal this morning, which found Mirza had suffered enough. "The recording of a conviction for this offence could well have an impact on Mr Mirza's economic and social wellbeing and his chances of finding employment," Justice Margaret McMurdo said in sentencing remarks, handed down this morning. [Too bad about the kids, apparently] "That, placed together with the circumstances of the offence and Mr Mirza's character and age, placed the matter into that rare category of sexual offence against a child where the recording of a conviction, although certainly open, was not mandatory."

In the Brisbane District Court in October, Mirza pleaded guilty to the attempted indecent treatment of the boy, who he had been assigned to as a mentor by charity organisation the Lions Club of Australia under its Aunties and Uncles program. The court heard he had been in the family home, rubbing the child's head to relax him when he offered to massage the child's penis instead because "it would feel better". The boy managed to fend off Mirza's advances.

It was later suggested Mirza had been inspired to touch the boy after watching the comedy film Spaceballs, which had been playing in the room at the time. Lawyers for Ms Shine had argued the disparity in age and Mirza's "gross breach of trust" warranted a jail term. However, the Court of Appeal today found that the third year University of Queensland medical student would still have to inform the university and any future employer of the offence, which was "an adequate deterrent for minor offenders like Mr Mirza". "A significant consideration in this case is that there was no actual physical indecent touching of the compalinant," Justice McMurdo said. "The offence was not premeditated and was comitted in front of others."

Report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Australia: Only 12 months for rapist teacher

A TEACHER who molested and raped children could be freed after serving only 12 months of a five year jail sentence following a failed bid by Queensland's top prosecutor to have the sentence increased. Warren David Schneider, 39, was sentenced to five years jail in October after pleading guilty in the Brisbane District Court to 12 offences involving four students. The offences included maintaining a sexual relationship with a child, rape and seven counts of indecent treatment of a child under 16 under care.

Schneider will be eligible for parole after serving just 12 months of the sentence, despite admitting to molesting three Year 8 and Year 9 girls at Redeemer Lutheran College at Rochedale, in Brisbane's south, between 2000 and 2002. He also admitted molesting a girl in his first teaching position at Prince of Peace Lutheran College at Everton Hills, in Brisbane's north, in 1994. The crimes included digital rape and the giving and receiving of oral sex. Schneider was arrested for these offences shortly after serving five months for indecent acts that included performing naked cartwheels in front of students at a school camp in 2002.

Earlier this month Mr Shine appealed the latest sentence, arguing that it was "manifestly inadequate". Barrister Michael Copely argued Schneider's behaviour was "determined and persistent", and was conducted over a protracted period of time. Mr Copely also told the Court of Appeal in Brisbane that Schneider had abused a position of trust and that he had threatened one of his victims.

However in a split decision the Court of Appeal today dismissed Mr Shine's request that Schneider's sentence be increased to seven years, with parole eligibility after two years. Two out of three of the judges rejected the appeal, stating Schneider had a "favourable prognosis of rehabilitation" that would benefit more from a long period of community-based supervision with treatment than from an increased jail term. "In the end, we are not persuaded that the sentence, though compassionate to (Schneider), was so manifestly inadequate as to justify this court's interference," the written judgment stated.

Report here

English court lets dangerous maniac go free

Another example of Britain's very peculiar justice system. This guy goes free but speaking ill of Muslims or homosexuals is a REALLY serious offence

An English court has freed a teenager who drove up to speeds of 210kmh [130 mph] in his car while filming himself. Danny Hyde, 18, had one hand on the wheel of his Vauxhall Astra while holding his mobile phone to capture his joyride near Ipswich in south-east England, the Daily Mail reported. He then posted the clip on YouTube under the heading "Danny's Badboy Astra".

Mr Hyde's lawyer, Neil Saunders, described him to the court as being "full of remorse". "It would be a great shame for what was a minute's madness," he said. "The consequences of that stupid moment would be absolutely horrendous. "He would lose his liberty, lose his job and lose his career."

Mr Hyde pleaded guilty to a charge of dangerous driving last month, but was given a four-month month prison sentence suspended for 18 months yesterday, the Daily Mail reported. He was also ordered to complete 210 hours of unpaid work and banned from driving for 18 months.

A YouTube spokesman told the Daily Mail that the website monitors and takes down dangerous footage. "We have a very successful flagging system on YouTube that lets users alert us to inappropriate content," he said.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Another policegoon

The Shreveport Police Department has received at least two other excessive force complaints against an officer who recently was fired amid allegations that he beat a Mooringsport woman during a DWI arrest.

The most recent case drew national attention following the release of a police video that shows the handcuffed woman lying in a pool of blood in an interrogation room.

Wiley Willis, 30, was fired Feb. 5 after police investigated injuries, including a broken nose, to Angela Garbarino, who was arrested Nov. 17 on charges of DWI and hit and run. Willis’ attorney said Garbarino was injured during a fall.

An unrelated lawsuit, filed in Caddo District Court in 2006 by Shreveporter Darlene Atkins, alleges Willis put his gun to the head of her son Dillon Freeman in 2005.
Atkins said Willis threatened to shoot Freeman if family members came closer to the pair. Her lawsuit states the incident happened after Willis pursued Freeman, who was riding a scooter, to the family’s home.

Another lawsuit filed in 2006 alleges Willis arrested Shreveporter Tomeka Bush and had her car seized as retaliation for a complaint filed against him about the incident involving Freeman. Bush’s lawsuit says she’s related to Atkins and Freeman.

The lawsuit states video shot by Willis’ patrol car camera was available to the Police Department for review. Bush said the department investigated but didn’t discipline Willis.

The city has denied Willis acted inappropriately. Both lawsuits are pending. Shreveport attorney Ree Casey, who represents Atkins, said she is still researching the issues and hasn’t talked to Bush.

Willis, who joined the Police Department in 2004, was put on paid administrative leave Jan. 24 after Police Chief Henry Whitehorn filed an internal affairs complaint into his handling of Garbarino’s arrest. Willis was fired during a predisciplinary conference with Whitehorn.

The chief has said little publicly about the incident, and the department didn’t file charges against Willis.

“After reviewing the evidence, we decided it was something that needed to be handled internally and that it was not enough to pursue criminal charges,” Whitehorn says in a prepared statement.

Whitehorn, who has scheduled a news conference Wednesday, did not return calls from The Times today.

Garbarino, 42, was taken into custody after someone saw her crash her vehicle into other cars in the Sam’s Town casino parking garage and a light pole on Clyde Fant Memorial Parkway, according to police.

Video from the DWI room shows the woman in handcuffs and refusing to take a Breathalyzer. At one point, Willis slings her out of the camera’s view; but the audio track records what sounds like something hitting a file cabinet.

Willis sits Garbarino down and walks away from her. Immediately after, Willis turns off the video equipment. When he turns it back on, the woman is lying in a pool of her blood, at times vomiting blood, the video shows.

“Oh, God. Somebody help me,” the woman says on the audio accompanying the video. “Somebody please help me. He beat the living shit out of me.”

Paramedics took her to LSU Hospital in Shreveport, where she was treated for a broken nose, a fractured cheek bone and bruises on various parts of her body. Two of her teeth were knocked out.

Willis’ attorney, Eron Brainard, was at the officer’s internal affairs hearing but said the exact reason for his firing remains unclear.

However, Brainard said he later heard that Whitehorn fired his client for the treatment of the woman in general, not her injuries.

Brainard maintains Willis followed procedure and did not try to mistreat Garbarino. But she was “belligerent” and kept trying to leave the testing area, Brainard said.

In dealing with a DWI suspect, officers turn on a video camera to record the breath testing, according to police. Once that’s done, they turn it off and go into another room for processing. The taping itself is to be used as evidence in court.

“After her refusal to take the breath test, officer Willis turned off and saved the videotape in accordance with normal practice,” Brainard said. “The suspect again tried to leave the room. In the process of (Willis) stopping her, she fell and injured herself.”

Willis called 911 then turned the video camera back on, Brainard said. Blood was only on Garbarino and the floor, which supports Willis’ version, Brainard said.

“Obviously, those pictures are brutal but he didn’t brutalize her,” Brainard said.

Willis has appealed his firing and will go before the civil service board.

Attorney Ron Miciotto, who represents Garbarino, said his client was injured because the officer did not follow procedure in handling Garbarino.

As for the charges against her, Garbarino pleaded not guilty Dec. 20. Her trial date is March 20.

“There has not been an internal affairs complaint from Ms. Garbarino,” Mayor Cedric Glover said Tuesday.

As a state legislator, he sponsored bills that would have allowed Shreveport to create a citizens review board for complaints against the police.

A series of shootings in which police killed suspects, some of whom weren’t armed, prompted a call for a closer look at the Police Department.

Today, Glover said his concern about a need for leadership in the Police Department prompted him to support the push for a review board.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wronged Ulster mother is reunited with kids

A mum wrongly accused of assaulting her month-old baby girl had her five-year nightmare ended by a judge today. The High Court ordered that Londonderry woman Louise Mason should be reunited with her three children who had been taken into care when she was accused of the attack. Mr Justice Gillen also took the unusual step of lifting a publicity ban in the case - saying it would help give Ms Mason "a sense of justice".

The 38-year-old mum, who was cleared of assault by a Crown Court jury in 2004, spoke of her sense of relief at having her children returned to her - including a one-year-old taken by the authorities after she had been found not guilty. "I have been accused of something I didn't do," she said outside the court today. "It's been an absolute nightmare. "I fell into religion when my child was ill and it was my faith that kept me strong. "I always knew in myself I didn't do it; now the courts have recognised that."

Ms Mason has already had the youngest child returned to her, and has already enjoyed increased contact with the other two. One of the girls will now return to her permanently, although the court heard there are still issues about the oldest child, because she has been separated from the mother for so long.

That child had been brought to Altnagelvin Hospital by Ms Mason in October 2002, suffering from abdominal bleeding. Doctors who treated the baby said the injuries were non-accidental and some later testified that great force would have been needed to cause the internal rupture.

Ms Mason was charged with causing grievous bodily harm to the child, but was cleared by a jury in November 2004. Publicity about that trial brought forward the doctor who first treated the baby for an unusual infant cancer. The High Court concluded that cancer " was the likely explanation of the child's illness". Ms Mason described the medic who came forward, identified only as Doctor D, as "my guardian angel". He raised concerns that no-one had ever sought his medical opinion, and also called for independent paediatricians to give their opinion on the findings of five doctors who gave evidence against Ms Mason. One of those independent experts said the bleeding tumour was naturally occurring.

With the Foyle Health and Social Services Trust telling the court it no longer intended to call any evidence to back claims of non-accidental injury, it was decided the allegations could no longer form part of the case. Mr Justice Gillen indicated that the children should be returned to Ms Mason in "a phased, planned way". The judge said he was aware that lifting the publicity ban could lead indirectly to the children being identified, but he concluded that disclosure would help the mum "address her sense of injustice" - especially because some details of the case were already known in the area where she lives.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It isn't just us

Below is a comment from a group of police who believe that the "war" on drugs has had a catastrophic effect on the quality of policing

So - how's the drug war been doing, lately? Hmmmm, let's see. There was the midnight raid in the Minneapolis area that scared the heck out of six kids and their parents - all innocent of any dealings with illegal drugs. There was the shooting to death of a suspect's live-in and the wounding of the baby she was holding in Ohio which, stirred up accusations of racism and a lot of questions about the standard practice of relying on informants who have little to lose and lighter sentences to gain (and, by the way, caused the local paper's editorial staff to question the drug war). There was the shake-up in NYPD's narcotics units over discrepancies in their handling of cases and informants (suspensions, reassignments, command changes - oh, my!) and an ever growing unrest about the entire program among us folks.

I say it isn't just us in the world of drug policy change advocacy - others of note are taking notice, and speaking out more often. No longer are they just voices crying in the wilderness.

You know the drill; sometimes I get just downright lazy writing about the same old story. And I love having someone from outside the drug reform movement speak for us. So, here's another voice - conservative columnist Burt Prelutsky, who wrote, a few days ago, a column entitled Time Once Again to Prohibit Prohibition. After musing on a couple of other things, he wrote the following:
Next, I would like to see an end to the War on Drugs. It's a colossal waste of time, money and resources. I am not an advocate for illegal drugs, but for common sense. I don't use drugs and I very rarely drink alcohol, so I'm not campaigning on my own behalf, but what difference does it make to you what some fool decides to smoke, snort or shoot into his arm?

If you make the junk legal, we'll not only be able to collect tax revenue, but the price comes down and users aren't forced to steal in order to finance their habits. Plus, overnight, it would free up jail cells so that we could put an end to early release for those cretins who should never see the light of day.

On the other hand, if a person gets stoned on drugs that would now be legal and, say, gets into an automobile accident, I wouldn't let him cop a plea by blaming it on the substance. It's time we started holding people responsible for their acts. So, if you decide you'd like to try rehab, that's fine and dandy. But don't wait until you've been arrested. This is the real world and not a board game. You shouldn't get to use your addiction as a Get Out of Jail Free card.

The way things stand, illegal drugs are a multi-billion dollar business with most of the money going directly into the hands of vicious criminals who use it to bribe corrupt police officers, judges and politicians. The rest of the dough goes to Islamics who use it to finance terrorism. So much for those assorted Hollywood celebrities and Wall Street yuppies who insist that their recreational use of cocaine isn't hurting anyone.

Yet another downside to having made this stuff illegal is that it promotes hypocrisy. We Americans get to look down our noses at poppy farmers in Afghanistan, drug lords in Colombia and cops in Mexico, all the while overlooking the odious fact that they'd all have to start earning an honest living if millions of our fellow countrymen didn't constitute the world's single biggest market for this crap.

It took Americans just 14 years to conclude that Prohibition did nothing more than make folk heroes and millionaires of bootleggers, speakeasy owners and Al Capone. But, now, after several decades, we still haven't caught on that this latter day prohibition is an even bigger disaster.

Have we really gotten that much stupider since 1933? Perhaps so, or maybe it's just the drugs. In either case, we should all grow up and resolve in 2008 to face the music and acknowledge that sometimes good intentions don't necessarily pave the way to Paradise, but to Hell.

Once again, as said by others. Well said, at that.

Report here

One Australian prosecutor pushes for tougher sentences

Not a moment too soon. The courts seem to think that it is their role to keep people OUT of jail. They seize on the weakest of excuses to do so

VICTORIA'S top prosecutor will challenge the Court of Appeal to set tougher sentences for drug traffickers, murderers and frauds. Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Rapke, QC, is planning a series of "test case" appeals where he believes sentences have not met the expectations of lawmakers or the community. Mr Rapke said he believed some crimes had been "devalued" by light sentences.

He was particularly concerned by sentences in some serious drug cases. "That's one area which we're looking at very carefully to try and pick our mark for the appropriate case to test this on. "You've got people convicted of trafficking large commercial quantities of drugs, where the legislation says that's life imprisonment, and they're getting suspended sentences. "The Parliament says you can go to jail for life and they don't go to jail for one minute. I can't work it out."

The longest maximum sentence in Victoria in the past five years for large commercial drug trafficking was 16 years. The longest total effective sentence, including related charges, was 23 years with a 17-year minimum.

Mr Rapke also revealed:

THE recent decision that some sex cases would in future be heard in the Supreme Court would also work in reverse, with some other offences traditionally heard in the top court transferred to the County Court.

WORKING parties and management consultants were looking at ways to reduce delays in court hearings.

DELAYS in forensic testing were still resulting in bail being granted in serious cases.

HE will continue to speak up on behalf of victims despite the furore over his recent comments about the insensitivity of some judges towards sexual assault victims.

Mr Rapke said sentences for some murders and major frauds were likely to be among cases he would take to the Court of Appeal. "Our argument will be that some sentencing courts are having insufficient regard for the maximum penalty imposed by the legislature," Mr Rapke said. "What they tend to look at is what other courts have imposed in this type of case, rather than what they could have imposed." He said the Sentencing Act required sentencing judges to take account of the maximum penalty set by Parliament. "I think that's lost sometimes," he said.

Sentencing Advisory Council statistics show the longest sentence in the past five years for rape (maximum 25 years) was 20 years; the longest for armed robbery (25 years) was 11; for manslaughter (20 years) 15; and for fraud (10 years) six.

Mr Rapke has already lodged an appeal in the case of Cody Hutchings, 5, beaten to death by his mother's partner, Stuart John McMaster. "McMaster got a minimum of 10 years, which was then the longest manslaughter sentence for that type of crime ever handed down in Victoria," Mr Rapke said. "But I took the view that if the legislation says you can get 20 years for that, and this is in the highest category of that type of offence, why shouldn't the courts be looking at that as a guide? "One might say the offender 'got the tariff', but I'm trying to persuade the Court of Appeal that the tariff needs to be reviewed," he said. "I've taken the view in some cases that although the sentence being imposed might be said to be the current tariff, the current tariff may be said to be inadequate."

Mr Rapke succeeded Paul Coghlan, who launched more than 40 appeals in his last year as DPP before being appointed a Supreme Court judge last year. "I'm not keeping figures and I'm not interested in them, because I just view each case that comes to me entirely on its own," Mr Rapke said. "But I am trying to look for, one might say, test cases in a variety of different fields to see whether or not we can persuade the Court of Appeal to re-look at what has been regarded as the traditional tariff."

Source. (Via Australian Politics)

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Australia: Lawless behaviour by by law-enforcement officials

GUARDS at Victoria's largest women's prison were told by experienced officers to break rules, conducted improper strip searches and falsified records, according to secret prison documents. The documents, obtained by The Age, detail concerns raised in October 2006 by new prison officers at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. They included a complaint about inhumane policies that may have caused prisoners to harm themselves. The Age can also reveal that Victoria's ombudsman has spent several months investigating allegations of poor practices in the maximum-security jail, which can house up to 260 female prisoners.

The revelations come two months after Channel Nine aired secret files detailing claims that a few guards at the Deer Park prison had inappropriate sexual relationships with prisoners in 2003.

As part of the ombudsman's inquiry, investigators have interviewed a former senior prison manager who claims she was bullied after encouraging a fellow employee to raise concerns about staff involvement in contraband smuggling. The former senior prison manager told The Age that after arranging a meeting between the staff member and the general manager of women's prison, Brendan Money, in late 2006, the manager was ostracised and told to find a new job. She resigned from the prison last month. In a statement written late last year, Mr Money confirmed that the senior manager helped another staff member raise corruption concerns, but said they were unfounded. He denied that the senior manager had been bullied and said there had been performance issues.

The October 2006 documents reveal that when an officer was asked to describe a situation that had made them uncomfortable, a prison officer complained that an experienced officer had directed them "to do something you know is against procedures". Other guards said they had been "a second officer for a strip search which was not completed in accordance with procedures", and had recorded perimeter fence checks as being completed when in fact "they were not even conducted". One staff member said they had been ordered to treat a prisoner in a manner "which is in accordance with procedures but seems inhumane", and had to deal "with the consequence of that prisoner self-harming straight after you have completed the task".

When asked to list what they found most difficult at work, prison staff nominated: "When policies and procedures override humanity, there is inconsistency in the way that procedures are applied, people take short cuts." One prison guard criticised the lack of "direction, training, leadership, coaching, support in situations where you are working in a place for the first time". Other concerns included the flawed checking of prisoner numbers and cells, and a poisonous working environment in which staff talked about their sex lives, bullied others and refused to do work.

Victoria's Corrections Commissioner, Kelvin Anderson, said some of the conduct discussed in the 2006 documents appeared to be inappropriate, but stressed Victoria's prison system was humane. Not surprisingly, he said, when new staff arrived they found that existing staff had worked out "some short-cut ways" of doing things. "Our job is to stop that short-cut way of doing things," he said. "We go and look for those sort of inconsistencies so we can target our training and reinforce what we don't want done."

A separate departmental memo from December 2006, also obtained by The Age, raises concerns about staff training, saying: "There are a number of inconsistencies in the way we conduct urines (drug testing), searches, escorts and work in the gatehouse. "Some people do not follow Director's Instructions (perhaps because they don't know what they are)."

Report here

Australian policegoons

Police are investigating claims an officer tasered a handcuffed man three times in the Cleveland watchhouse last year to "shut him up". Three other complaints about police using the 50,000-volt stun guns inappropriately had been referred to the service's internal investigation unit, police said. Ethical Standards Command investigators dismissed one complaint against an officer who pulled out a Taser but did not fire it, according to a police spokeswoman.

Two matters are still under investigation and the other is subject to court proceedings, she said. Police Minister Judy Spence last month controversially announced a statewide rollout of Tasers to all frontline police despite being barely halfway through a 12-month trial. Ms Spence released only limited trial results and immediately faced heavy criticism from lawyers and civil libertarians who feared the weapons would become the standard police response even in non-dangerous situations.

Police have pulled out Tasers 128 times since the trial began in July last year, shooting them about 60 per cent of the time, according to police. The Tasers store data of the exact time, date, and duration of each shot.

Last August, police arrested concreter Nathan Brown, 23, near the Alexandra Hills Hotel and locked him in a cell at the Cleveland watchhouse. Mr Brown pleaded guilty to assault, assaulting police and being a public nuisance. However, he has claimed in a signed statement believed to have been given to investigators that he was tasered three times while handcuffed in the watchhouse. His sister Rebecca, 18, who was locked up that night after attempting to make an official complaint that police arresting her brother punched him, also gave an eyewitness statement.

Mr Brown admitted he lost control when police locked his sister up so he began "using aggressive language", telling officers to release her because she had done nothing wrong. "A policeman unlocked my cell to what I thought was going to be frisked-processed while still handcuffed and during this process I was hit with a Taser gun three times in a row by an older policeman," he said, according to the statement. Mr Brown's father Bryan, who has given statements to investigating officers, said about a week after the alleged incident he spoke to the officer who tasered his son. The officer said "it shut him up, didn't it?", and hung up, he said.

Police confirmed the ethical standards investigation was ongoing.

Report here (Via Australian Politics)

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Monday, February 18, 2008

More absurd sentencing

A pueblo police officer already mad at being served a burger spiked with marijuana is even more upset that the two men responsible got probation instead of jail sentences. Henry Gabaldon and a fellow Isleta pueblo officer ate those burgers while on duty. Both got high and could have hurt themselves or someone else that night, he said. Gabaldon called the crime a personal attack that had no consequences for the attackers. "The message was it's OK to hurt an officer," Gabaldon said.

At first Gabald¢n was very matter of fact about what happened on that October night in 2006. He told KRQE News 13 how he and a fellow officer went to the Los Lunas Burger King and got Whoppers that had secretly been filled with pot. "There was a lot of marijuana on the hamburgers," he said. But it quickly became apparent how personal this is to Gabaldon. "In the end we have to go home, too," he said. "We have families, and that is what it was, to all police officers, just a slap in the face."

The two men who laced the burgers, Justin Armijo and Robert Nuckols, both pleaded guilty to the crime. Armijo was sentenced in November, and Nuckols was sentenced Monday. Both will serve no prison time only probation.

Gabaldon took issue with how District Judge John Pope handled the sentencings. "He looked at it like it was nothing," the officer said. In court Monday Pope said he knew the officers are not pleased. "I don't blame them for being mad at me," Pope said. He then told Nuckols, who admitted being high that night but saying he has since quit drugs, "I would rather you recognize that promise and make good on that promise as a way of making amends."

For Gabaldon, who said he or someone else could have died that night, that's not good enough. He said he constantly ponders the what-ifs of what might have happened. While Armijo and Nuckols admitted to the crime, each blamed the other for it.

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Legal crook gets off very lightly compared to corporate bosses

Tort baron Bill Lerach was sentenced to two years in prison yesterday, and he can consider himself a lucky man. His defense team had sought six months in the slammer and six months of home confinement for admitting that he had paid kickbacks to plaintiffs for helping him gin up securities class actions in the 1990s. The sentencing guidelines call for a slightly stiffer sentence, but 24 months is what the prosecution had requested as part of the forgiving plea deal he agreed to last year. He was also fined $250,000 on top of the $8 million in disgorgements and penalties in the plea -- though he stands to make as much as $50 million as part of the Enron class action settlement.

Mr. Lerach's lawyers also contended that he had accepted responsibility for his misdeeds. This is how he defined that "responsibility" in an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post last November after this newspaper declined the submission: "I'm on my way to prison because, in my zeal to stand up against this kind of corporate greed over the years, I stepped over the line."

Mr. Lerach built an entire lawsuit industry and grew very rich on the back of illegal payments. The resulting proliferation of strike suits has reduced the returns for investors large and small. Yet in Mr. Lerach's view, secret, illegal payments to professional plaintiffs in trumped-up shareholder class-actions are a foot-fault.

Mr. Lerach's op-ed mentioned the architects of the Enron fraud, but passed over the many decades worth of prison sentences handed out in that case and others, such as WorldCom. Instead, he offered up the following gem: "It turns out that the legal system is a lot tougher on shareholder lawyers than it appears to be on Wall Street executives." We doubt WorldCom's Bernie Ebbers, serving not two but 25 years, agrees.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cops on camera

Post below taken from Tuccille. See the original for links

On this blog, I've posted quite a few videos of cops behaving badly. There was the case of Brian Sterner, who was dumped from his wheelchair by sheriff's deputies, Eric Bush, who was roughed up by a Baltimore police officer, Hope Steffey, who was stripped naked by a mixed-sex gang of uniformed miscreants and Jared Massey who was tasered for asking questions of a police officer during a traffic stop.

In all cases, these incidents came to public attention, resulting (usually) in disciplinary action of some sort for the officers involved, because the victims, their friends or the press posted video to the Internet where people could judge official conduct for themselves -- and were overwhelmingly horrified. In all but one instance, the video posted to the Internet came from official sources: jailhouse surveillance cameras in the Sterner and Steffey incidents, a patrol car's dashboard camera in the Massey case. Only the video of Eric Bush came from an independent source -- a camera held by one of Bush's friends.

This isn't exactly a scientific survey of the sources of video evidence of official misbehavior, but it is an indication that, wonders of the distributive potential of the Internet aside, much evidence of cops (and others) behaving badly comes from video recordings made by the police themselves. The reasons are obvious: in many circumstances (such as in a jail facility) it's extremely unlikely that private citizens will have access to recording equipment; even in public, most people don't usually carry video cameras (although as such cameras become smaller, cheaper and deliberately distributed for the purpose of monitoring police, they're increasingly ubiquitous). Even when private citizens do have the means to record police behavior, officers abusing their authority are unlikely to stop short of confiscating evidence of that abuse. In fact, just such a seizure of video evidence by New Orleans police is the subject of a lawsuit filed this past December.

Sometimes the attack on private recording is more direct and official. Pennsylvanian Brian Kelly briefly faced up to ten years in prison under an old wiretapping law for recording police with a handheld camera before the Cumberland County District Attorney backed off under public pressure. Mary T. Jean faced a similar battle with Massachusetts authorities after posting video of an illegal search on her Website; she finally won her case in federal court. It's no purely American phenomenon either: Last year, France passed a law that effectively outlaws recording police conduct and publicizing such recordings.

That means that much of the effort to publicize misbehavior by police and other government officials is likely to remain dependent on the willingness of the authorities to record their activities, preserve those recordings and release them to the public. So far, despite growing awareness of the potential of YouTube and other online resources to make private behavior very public, authorities have, time and again, proven their willingness to engage in violent, stupid and otherwise illegal behavior with government-owned cameras pointing directly at them. The offenders may simply be so accustomed to the cameras in question that they just become part of the background, or they're so used to behaving outrageously that they forget their actions are widely considered unacceptable. Or maybe we're just seeing uniformed abusers who lie on the wrong side of the bell curve and the smart ones are clever enough to evade cameras.
eillance cameras are increasingly getting them into trouble. Ideally, this will result in a reduction in the sort of bad behavior that invariably winds up on the Internet. I'm not going to hold my breath. More likely, authorities will become cannier about where they commit their abuses -- assaulting prisoners out of sight of cameras, for instance. They may also backtrack on their willingness to be recorded at all. And they'll probably attempt to control the release of any video evidence that is captured, through new laws, sabotage of recordings, or failure to comply with requests for records. That's already happening; Jared Massey had to unscramble the video of his arrest that he received from the Utah Highway Patrol, while Arizona's own Sheriff Joe Arpaio makes a sport of ignoring public records requests that aren't backed by (expensive) court orders.

But I'm not suggesting that video and the Internet revolution aren't good things or that they aren't having an effect. On the margins, some cops will think twice before punching kids in public or searching homes without warrants. They'll never know for sure that they won't end up as the next Internet celebrity, with career death or even criminal charges as the booby prize.

And members of the tax-paying public, at long last, are able to see for themselves what the powerless long knew: that agents of the state are often prone to behaving like members of a criminal gang -- one that offers salary, power and privilege. Opening people's eyes is a major accomplishment all by itself.

Thug wheelchair cop charged: "A sheriff's deputy [above] who was videotaped dumping a paralyzed man from a wheelchair onto a jailhouse floor has been charged with abuse of a disabled person, a sheriff's official said. Hillsborough County Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones, 44, turned herself in and was booked into the Orient Road Jail early Saturday, jail records show. he was charged with one count of felony abuse of a disabled person and released after posting $3,500 bail. Surveillance footage from January 29 shows Marshall-Jones dumping Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair and searching him on the floor after he was brought in on a warrant for a traffic violation. Sterner, 32, said when he was taken into a booking room and told to stand up, the deputy grew agitated when he told her that he could not. Marshall-Jones was suspended without pay, and three other deputies were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. If convicted, she could be sent to prison for five years. Sterner, who can drive a car but has not been able to walk since a 1994 wrestling accident, was arrested at his Riverview home and taken to the Orient Road Jail on a charge of fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer, according to records. He had called for charges to be filed against Marshall-Jones"

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

British judges condemn police lies after 9/11 attacks that ruined pilot's life

Six years of fighting for justice left Lotfi Raissi an emotional and physical wreck and his marriage close to ruin. But yesterday, the Algerian pilot falsely accused of training the September 11 terrorists heard, finally, that he was “completely exonerated” of any part in the attacks on the twin towers.

As Mr Raissi pored over the Court of Appeal’s densely worded judgment, the lengths to which the authorities had bent the rules to detain him in the febrile days after September 11 became clear. Three of Britain’s most senior judges condemned the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for abusing the court process, presenting false allegations and not disclosing evidence.

But it was not until page 44, paragraph 154, line 17 that Mr Raissi’s eyes settled upon the words he had been praying for. The judges ruled that the charge that he was a terrorist and had trained the September 11 hijackers was one of which he should be “completely exonerated”. His only “crime” was to learn his skills at the same Florida flying school as two of the hijackers.

Mr Raissi’s eyes filled with tears and he “wept with relief”. Outside the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday he told The Times: “I’ve regained my dignity, it feels as if I can breathe and I am free again. The judges have said there were serious faults and an abuse of process in my case and that has restored my faith in British justice. I knew this day would come.”

The judges also ordered the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to reconsider the repeated refusal to compensate Mr Raissi for locking him in Belmarsh prison for six months and accusing him of the murders of thousands of people. Solicitors for Mr Raissi, 33, are expected to lodge a claim for compensation which — taking into account his loss of a career as an airline pilot, wrongful imprisonment and damage to his health — is expected to exceed 2 million pounds.

But it will take more than money to repair Mr Raissi’s damaged life. His mental and physical health have deteriorated, his marriage to his French wife, Sonia, has suffered and his childhood dream of being a pilot is shattered for ever.

After the September 11 attacks a frightened world waited, dreading the next atrocity. Across the Atlantic, the FBI, the CIA and every law enforcement agency were chasing leads on the background of the 19 terrorists who had hijacked the four airliners. In Phoneix, Arizona, they came across a flight school called Sawyer Aviation where Hani Hanjour — who crashed an airliner into the Pentagon — had trained. The school was popular with Middle Eastern trainees and one of those at Sawyer at the same time as Hanjour was Mr Raissi. He had, checks quickly established, left the US and was now living in Britain. On September 17, a letter from the legal attache at the US Embassy in London was delivered to Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch. “The FBI request that this matter be handled as expeditiously and discreetly as possible,” the letter said. The words “expeditiously” and “discreetly” were typed in bold.

Ten days later Scotland Yard executed its response to the American request. Armed officers smashed down the door of Mr Raissi’s flat in Colnbrook, Berkshire, not far from Heathrow, and arrested him and his wife at gunpoint. The media hailed the arrest in Britain of the first suspects in the global hunt for the men who planned the worst terrorist attacks ever seen. An extradition warrant was issued for Mr Raissi on a “holding charge” that he had failed to disclose a theft conviction on his US immigration application. But in the courts, British lawyers representing the US Government made much more serious allegations.

Mr Raissi, they said, was the “lead instructor” for the hijackers. The courts were told there was evidence that he falsified flight logs to hide the fact he trained Hanjour. Videotape had been found of Hanjour and Mr Raissi together. A notebook said to belong to Abu Doha, a major terrorist suspect, that had been found in London contained Mr Raissi’s phone number. One by one, over the course of ten court hearings, Mr Raissi’s solicitor proved that the allegations and the evidence to support them were false, if not fabricated.

The accurate flight log was produced and the flying instructor who testified that Mr Raissi and Hanjour had indeed hired the same plane, but at different times. The man in the video was shown to be Mr Raissi’s cousin. It took time, but the address book was clearly shown not to have belonged to Abu Doha.

In February 2002, Mr Raissi was released from Belmarsh jail. But neither the British nor the American authorities were prepared to say they had been mistaken. He remained a suspected terrorist, unable to travel outside Britain except to Algeria.

The appeal court, under the presidency of the Master of the Rolls, said that responsibility for many of the mistakes in the Raissi case lay in Britain. In its judgment that the “primary responsibility for the falsity” over the notebook lay with the Met and the CPS. The judges also found that the false claim about the flight logs could be blamed on either carelessness or incompetence by Scotland Yard. In a scathing passage of criticism, at the heart of their ruling, the judges said that the extradition proceedings had been abused as a means of keeping Mr Raissi in custody while inquiries were pursued in the US. The judges said: “We consider that the way in which extradition proceedings were conducted in this country, with opposition to bail based on allegations which appear unfounded in evidence, amounted to an abuse of process.

It had taken the distance of six years and fundamental shifts in attitudes to the events of the War on Terror for a court to look with forensic detachment at what had been done to Mr Raissi. But the appeal judges found that British police and prosecutors were directly responsible for the events that destroyed the young Algerian’s life. Justice, they told ministers, demanded that the Government compensate as a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Report here

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Friday, February 15, 2008

More charming American law enforcement

There need to be some real sanctions against goons like this --blacks in this case

Investigators released video on Tuesday of an incident involving a quadriplegic man and a Hillsborough County deputy. Video shows the deputy dumping the man from his wheelchair onto the floor as she booked him into jail. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that one of their own deputies is in trouble after she was caught on tape dumping a quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair while he was being booked into jail, and three supervisors were nearby at the time but did nothing.

Investigators say Deputy Charlotte Marshall Jones is suspended without pay after the January 29 incident, which involved 32-year-old Brian Sterner, who is a quadriplegic. Video shows Deputy Jones dumping Sterner out of his wheelchair and onto the floor while she is booking him into the Hillsborough County Jail. The tape also shows the deputy then searching Sterner as he lay on the floor.

Sterner reportedly suffered a spine injury during a wrestling accident when he was 18, and that left him bound to his wheelchair. Records show his arrest was due to charges of fleeing and attempting to elude a law enforcement officer from an incident on October 25, 2007. Those same records show Sterner was cited at that time for blocking an intersection.

On Tuesday, Chief Deputy Jose Docobo spoke to the media about the incident. He said after looking at the video himself, he was astonished. "I was appalled," said Docobo. "Obviously the actions are indefensible at every level." Docobo also said that the supervisors who were in central processing at the time of the incident have been suspended with pay. They include Corporal Decondra Williams, Corporal Steven Dickie, and Sergeant Gary Hinson. Docobo says none of the supervisors filed a report or told anyone about the incident, even though they were nearby and witnessed the incident.

While an investigation into the incident is still to come, Docobo said he feels all those involved in the incident should be held responsible for their actions—or their lack of actions. The video shows several people in the room at the time of the incident, and none of them came to Sterner's aid. "Certainly all the personnel are entitled to due process under the law, but I can tell you that based on what I saw, anything short of dismissal would be inappropriate," said Docobo. Deputy Jones is a veteran deputy who has been employed with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office since 1986.

Docobo explained that though Sterner was in a wheelchair, deputies are used to dealing with this type of situation. He said there are currently more than 30 wheelchair patients in the county's jails, and this is nothing new for deputies. "What this boils down to is just treating an individual correctly," he said. "You don't need a policy to tell you that you don't treat someone like this." According to Docobo, the department will do whatever it can to make the situation with Sterner right. "The best I could do is offer him our apologies," said Docobo. "There's no excuse. This is indefensible. To the extent that we can make it right for this gentleman, we'll attempt to do so."

Report here

Killer of negligent Swiss is a hero in Russia: "A Russian man who murdered a Swiss air traffic controller he blamed for the deaths of 71 people, including his family, landed a senior post in his native region on Friday months after his release from prison. Vitaly Kaloyev stabbed to death air traffic controller Peter Nielsen, who was on duty the night in 2002 a jet carrying mostly Russian children crashed into a cargo plane in Swiss airspace. Kaloyev's wife and children were among those killed. Kaloyev was greeted as a hero when he returned to Russia in November last year after serving two-thirds of a five years and three months sentence in a Swiss jail. Originally he was sentenced to eight years in prison. A Swiss court last year found four air traffic control managers guilty of manslaughter over the accident in which Kaloyev's family perished, giving three of them 12-month suspended sentences each and fining the fourth. [Effectively no punishment at all. What Kaloyev did comes closer to real justice]. When the two planes collided mid-air in 2002, both the main and backup telephone were out of order, radar software displaying flight coordinates was in a restricted mode and Nielsen's only colleague was on a coffee break."

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