Friday, July 31, 2009

CSI Myths: The Shaky Science Behind Forensics

Even fingerprint evidence is often shaky. Forensic science was not developed by scientists. It was mostly created by cops, who were guided by little more than common sense. And as hundreds of criminal cases begin to unravel, many established forensic practices are coming under fire.

On Jan. 11, 1992, the jury in the murder trial of Roy Brown heard from a dentist named Edward Mofson. To establish his credentials, Dr. Mofson testified that he was certified in forensic odontology, belonged to six related professional organizations and did forensic consulting throughout New York state. He then explained that several months earlier he was called to the morgue in Cayuga County, New York, to analyze the body of 49-year-old Sabina Kulakowski.

Kulakowski’s corpse was found by a volunteer firefighter on a dirt road some 300 yards from the farmhouse where she lived, which had burned to the ground in the night. She was severely beaten and stabbed, and there were multiple bite marks on her body. Brown was a natural suspect in the grisly murder. The week before the crime, the hard-drinking 31-year-old had been released from jail on charges of threatening to “wipe everybody out” at the social services office where Kulakowski worked; the agency had put his daughter into foster care. In addition to the motive, the district attorney at trial produced other circumstantial evidence, including testimony from Brown’s two ex-wives that he had bitten them. But Mofson, now deceased, was the centerpiece of the prosecution.

Mofson testified that seven bite marks found on Kulakowski were “entirely consistent” with dental impressions taken from Brown. It was the only physical evidence tying Brown to the crime. Although a defense expert disputed Mofson’s findings, the jury convicted Brown of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

As the years ticked by, few listened as Brown proclaimed his innocence from his cell in the Elmira Correctional Facility. Then Brown got an unusual lucky break. His stepfather’s house burned down, taking with it all of his records from the trial. To replace his documents, Brown submitted an open records request to the county. The sheriff who processed Brown’s request mistakenly sent him the entire investigative file. It revealed another suspect: Barry Bench, the firefighter who discovered Kulakowski’s body. Bench’s brother had dated Kulakowski up until two months before the murder and Bench was reportedly upset that she continued to live in the family farmhouse. On the day before Christmas in 2003, Brown sent a letter to Bench letting him know he was seeking DNA testing. “Juries can make mistakes,” he wrote. But, “DNA is God’s creation, and God makes no mistakes.” Soon after receiving the message, Bench committed suicide by jumping in front of an Amtrak train. DNA tests confirmed that Bench was guilty of Kulakowski’s murder, and Brown was set free.

The faulty identification that sent Brown to prison for 15 years may seem like a rare glitch in the U.S. criminal justice system. It wasn’t. As DNA testing has made it possible to re-examine biological evidence from past trials, more than 200 people have had their convictions overturned. In approximately 50 percent of those cases, bad forensic analysis contributed to their imprisonment.

On television and in the movies, forensic examiners unravel difficult cases with a combination of scientific acumen, cutting-edge technology and dogged persistence. The gee-whiz wonder of it all has spawned its own media-age legal phenomenon known as the “CSI effect.” Jurors routinely afford confident scientific experts an almost mythic infallibility because they evoke the bold characters from crime dramas. The real world of forensic science, however, is far different. America’s forensic labs are overburdened, understaffed and under intense pressure from prosecutors to produce results. According to a 2005 study by the Department of Justice, the average lab has a backlog of 401 requests for services. Plus, several state and city forensic departments have been racked by scandals involving mishandled evidence and outright fraud.

But criminal forensics has a deeper problem of basic validity. Bite marks, blood-splatter patterns, ballistics, and hair, fiber and handwriting analysis sound compelling in the courtroom, but much of the “science” behind forensic science rests on surprisingly shaky foundations. Many well-established forms of evidence are the product of highly subjective analysis by people with minimal credentials—according to the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, no advanced degree is required for a career in forensics. And even the most experienced and respected professionals can come to inaccurate conclusions, because the body of research behind the majority of the forensic sciences is incomplete, and the established methodologies are often inexact. “There is no scientific foundation for it,” says Arizona State University law professor Michael Saks. “As you begin to unpack it you find it’s a lot of loosey-goosey stuff.”

Not surprisingly, a movement to reform the way forensics is done in the U.S. is gaining momentum. The call for change has been fueled by some embarrassing failures, even at the highest levels of law enforcement. After the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain, the FBI arrested Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield and kept him in jail for two weeks. His incarceration was based on a purported fingerprint match to a print found on a bag of detonators discovered near the scene of the crime. As a later investigation by the Justice Department revealed, the FBI’s fingerprint-analysis software never actually matched Mayfield to the suspect fingerprint, but produced him as an “unusually close nonmatch.” Lacking any statistical context for how rare such similarities are, investigators quickly convinced themselves that Mayfield was the prime suspect.

The next year, 2005, Congress commissioned the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to examine the state of forensics in U.S. law enforcement. The result was a blistering report that came out this February, noting “serious deficiencies” in the nation’s forensic science system and advocating extensive reforms. It specifically noted that apart from DNA, there is not a single forensic discipline that has been proven “with a high degree of certainty” to be able to match a piece of evidence to a suspect. The obvious implication is the sobering possibility that more Roy Browns are currently locked up based on shoddy science. Then there’s the flip side: A lot of bad guys who should be in prison still roam free. A study by the Innocence Project of the prisoners exonerated by DNA found that the real perpetrators were identified in 103 cases—roughly half. In all but one, the perpetrator committed at least one serious crime after the innocent person was jailed....

The FBI’s errors in the Madrid bombing case were particularly surprising because they called into question one of the gold standards of evidence—fingerprints. In recent years, legal experts have become deeply concerned about the accuracy of the “friction ridge analysis” central to fingerprint identification. Fingerprints are believed to be unique, but the process of matching prints has no statistically valid model. And forensic examiners are often working in an imperfect world, where prints taken in a police station on an ink pad are compared to prints left at a crime scene, which may be smudged or partially captured. Yet, as University of California–Los Angeles law professor Jennifer Mnookin has written, “fingerprint examiners typically testify in the language of absolute certainty.”

A 2006 study by the University of Southampton in England asked six veteran fingerprint examiners to study prints taken from actual criminal cases. The experts were not told that they had previously examined the same prints. The researchers’ goal was to determine if contextual information—for example, some prints included a notation that the suspect had already confessed—would affect the results. But the experiment revealed a far more serious problem: The analyses of fingerprint examiners were often inconsistent regardless of context. Only two of the six experts reached the same conclusions on second examination as they had on the first....

The double-helix structure of DNA was discovered in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 30 years later that sample analysis became sophisticated enough for positive ID. In 1987, a serial rapist by the name of Tommie Lee Andrews was the first person convicted in the U.S. using DNA. Nevertheless, for several years scientists continued to research and debate what constitutes a satisfactory match. The resulting process is broadly accepted and quantifiable (when using the most advanced analysis, there is a one in more than a quadrillion chance of a random match of two strangers’ nuclear DNA).

But DNA constitutes less than 10 percent of the case load at U.S. crime labs. The goal going forward, everyone agrees, is to make the rest of forensics more rigorous and statistically grounded....

It will take years to fully reconcile the rigors of the scientific method with the needs and processes of the judicial system. But in the meantime, questionable forensic science will continue to tip the scales of justice. And when bad decisions are made in the courtroom, an innocent person’s entire life can be swept right out from under him. It happened to Steven Barnes 20 years ago. Then 23 years old, he was brought to trial for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl. He had never been arrested before and was confident he’d be cleared. Yet he watched as forensics expert Elaine Pagliaro testified that two hairs found in Barnes’s pickup were microscopically similar to the victim’s. Pagliaro also noted that soil samples taken from the truck were consistent with dirt from the crime scene and even that a distinctive pattern from the victim’s jeans was similar to an imprint left on the truck.

Due largely to her testimony, Barnes was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Last year, he was cleared by DNA and released. He’d never been on the Internet or used a cellular phone, and his girlfriend, who initially stuck by him after he went to prison, had long ago married another man. Barnes told Popular Mechanics that he works hard not to be overwhelmed by bitterness, even toward the jurors. “They must have thought, ‘[Pagliaro] knows what she is talking about.’”

Pagliaro, a veteran analyst with the Connecticut State Police, has recently co-authored a book called The Real World of a Forensic Scientist. “I think this scrutiny is actually good,” she says. “It’s important for the public to have a realistic expectation of what the science can do.” As for the Barnes case, there is no suggestion of impropriety regarding her testimony, but none of the evidence she presented was based on statistically validated science. “You feel awful someone spent all that time in jail,” she says. “All you can do is look back and say, ‘Was that the best we could do?’”

More here

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Freed Wis. inmate finally gets homicide charge dismissed

False bite-mark "evidence" again

A decades-old homicide charge was dismissed Monday against a Wisconsin man who spent nearly two dozen years in prison before new forensic tests raised questions about the evidence used to convict him. Robert Lee Stinson, 44, shook hands with his attorneys, then hugged several relatives who wiped tears from their eyes after the charge was formally dismissed. He was freed from prison earlier this year after a judge vacated his sentence of life in prison.

"I feel wonderful right now," Stinson told The Associated Press. "I can't express it in words. It hasn't really sunk in yet."

Stinson, of Milwaukee, was convicted in the 1984 slaying of a 63-year-old Milwaukee woman, whose near-naked beaten and bloody body was found in an alley near her home with eight bite marks on her torso. His 1985 conviction was based in part on testimony from experts who said the bite marks matched the teeth of Stinson, then 21.

But newer tests, as well as DNA analysis of saliva found on the victim's sweater, suggested no match to Stinson, who has always maintained his innocence.
A judge vacated his sentence in January, meaning the conviction and sentence were thrown out but the homicide charge remained. Milwaukee County prosecutors had six months to decide whether to retry Stinson or dismiss the charge.

Assistant district attorney, Norm Gahn, recommended the case be dismissed on Monday, saying a new trial wouldn't be feasible. He cited a lack of available witnesses, destruction of critical evidence and problems associated with faded memories. "If something resurfaces, the charge could be reissued," Gahn said. "But as of right now we have no plans of reissuing charges." [He just hates admitting that they got it wrong]

After the hearing, the soft-spoken Stinson, dressed in a bright yellow short-sleeve shirt and matching pants, posed for pictures with his relatives and lawyers. He said he has learned to put the bitterness of his wrongful conviction behind him. "That just comes in the way of seeing life," he said.

The new tests on the evidence were conducted at the urging of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison law students and professors who work to overturn wrongful convictions. Stinson is the 12th Wisconsin person whose sentence was overturned after the group intervened.

Original report here

I am looking forward to the damages claim now

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Australia: Gross corruption in the Queensland police gets a big yawn

IT'S almost too fanciful to be true: a prisoner is picked up from jail and taken for a drive by police officers through the suburbs on Brisbane's southside. He's handed a list of unsolved break-and-enters, perhaps as many as 300. He reads the details: how entry was gained, what was taken, the time the crime was committed. And he's told that he needs to admit to at least 20 to make his reward worthwhile.

What was that? According to evidence given by the prisoner to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, police collected his girlfriend and delivered her to Morningside police station. And it was there where they engaged in sex and the prisoner injected himself with drugs his girlfriend brought.

The prisoner, called RI in the scathing report into police released this week, was not the only person allowed to come and go from their jail cell. Murderers and armed robbers were allowed out of custody: one to meet his partner and young children in Roma Street Parkland for a play; another to lunch at a swish riverside restaurant.

The CMC's Dangerous Liaisons report, based on its Operation Capri, is not a repeat of the Fitzgerald inquiry - but it's certainly a reminder of how a bad lot of eggs can stink out a whole refrigerator. And with more than 25 officers implicated in wrongdoing - ranging from stupidity to outright criminal activity - it should not be dismissed as easily as it was this week.

The sheer brazenness of some officers seems to know no bounds. Take this example, also outlined in the report. An informant fund existed, courtesy of the Australian Bankers Association and the Credit Union Security Forum. And over the period of its operation, 77 payments were made, a total of $17,990. But no records were kept, an "end justifies the means" mentality meant that few rules existed, and money was misappropriated. Police also falsely claimed payments had been made to informants, signatures were forged and evidence of transactions faked.

There's no better example of the latter than one outlined by Robert Needham and his team in their comprehensive and temperate investigation report. In that example, officers faked an audiotape and produced it as proof of a payment to an informant. The audio was supposed to support a meeting between two officers and an informant at a coffee shop at West End. But investigations showed it was made in carpark bay 148 on level B2 of police headquarters, and that a police officer assumed the role of an informant for the recording.

The litany of misdemeanours, maladministration and outright corruption weaves its way throughout the report, but it is Lee Owen Henderson, who is shown to have more influence on one group of officers than their own commissioner, Bob Atkinson. Henderson had 1241 calls diverted through one police station, at a cost of $2056, and his monthly telephone call bill was $535 - a big sum for a prisoner without any obvious source of income. But he was no ordinary prisoner. Called "The General", he had his own police locker, was able to arrange a police drug raid and despite earning only $7500 as a prisoner in a six-year period, spent at least $100,272.17.

He helped one officer buy a car, organised a theft from prison, and even sent two fluffy toys and two bibs - worth $85 - to a couple of police officers who were celebrating the birth of their baby daughter. He signed it "loyalty and love always".

Henderson was allowed to pose as an underworld crime figure with connections to corrupt police, had his own locker at the Rockhampton police station, and had access to police computers to help someone who wanted to give a "flogging" to a person they couldn't find.

The revelations this week are terrible but so is the response to them at every level. The Police Union decided to go in to bat for those police officers who were subject to the report, not the 99.9 per cent of others who are honest and law-abiding and who will be tainted by the accusations levelled at their colleagues. Commissioner Atkinson, who accepts responsibility for the misconduct, has allowed many of those under a cloud to resign on full benefits. That means they've got off scot free. And the Government? Originally elected on a post-Fitzgerald reform agenda, it seems to have decided silence is the best policy.

Queenslanders deserve better, especially those law-abiding, honest and hard-working police officers who will now be unfairly tainted by the wrongdoing of their unscrupulous colleagues.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The folly of judicial leniency

"Slap on the wrist" sentencing is very common in many jurisdictions worldwide. It is used far too indiscriminately -- as the case below shows

The Chinese man who killed his wife and dumped his child in Melbourne had been singled out as a potential killer a year before he murdered. New Zealand family courts are in the spotlight after it was revealed police had warned that martial arts expert Nai Yin Xue would kill his wife if released on bail over a 2006 conviction.

The following year he did just that, strangling An An Liu, 27, and leaving her naked body in the car boot before abandoning their daughter at Melbourne's Southern Cross Station and fleeing to the United States.

He will be sentenced this week after being found guilty by an all-female jury in Auckland's High Court last month. Since the conviction, investigations have brought to light the litany of charges against Xue, 55, for violence against Liu in the preceding year. When Xue first appeared in an Auckland court on September 21, 2006, charged with assaulting his young wife with a kitchen knife, the family court judge noted: "Police fear if she had not escaped, her injuries would have been severe or fatal."

Police again put their case opposing bail, saying Xue was "fully capable of killing the victim due to his training and discipline". They said he "created a climate of fear" in the house by using photographs of himself in threatening martial arts poses. However, he was released on bail after one week.

Xue faced court again in June 2007, just three months before Liu's death, that time charged with punching her in the face and threatening to kill her with a knife. Despite the viciousness of the attack, the court judge entered no punishment, setting him free, a decision widely criticised in New Zealand as "pathetic" and "bewildering".

But the courts have defended it, saying that Xue had no previous convictions and judges focused on sentencing practice that gave the best chance for "repair of the family unit".

Original report here

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Hector San Hueza's $4 million quest for justice

Careless Canadian cops put him in in jail last year, charged with crimes he did not commit. Now, Hector San Hueza has slapped police and Crown attorneys with a lawsuit

Hector San Hueza says he had just finished his morning coffee and was getting ready for work when heavily armed officers of Toronto's Emergency Task Force burst through the front door of his family's home. "They were yelling and shouting, `Do you guys have any guns in the house?' and asking for me, for: `Hector, Hector, who's Hector?''' recalls the soft-spoken man, who was in the house that day with his mother, stepfather and brother.

San Hueza says when he called out, "It's me," he found a shotgun pointed "very close" to his face. That June 4, 2008 morning, San Hueza was arrested along with 16 other alleged members of the violent MS-13 gang as part of a massive GTA-wide police operation. He was charged with participating in a criminal organization, conspiracy to commit murder and uttering a death threat.

San Hueza, now 33, was shocked and bewildered. "I've never had a criminal record, I've never done anything to give any motive or any reason ... for the ETF to come into my house." It turns out San Hueza wasn't in a gang – he has no tattoos common to MS-13 members – and had committed no crimes.

On Sept. 23, 2008, the Crown stayed his charges after he had spent 10 weeks in custody, according to a $4 million lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court last month. The 18-page statement of claim alleges San Hueza was negligently linked to MS-13, wrongly "charged with crimes of which wholly innocent," and maliciously prosecuted despite a "paucity of evidence."

The lawsuit notes that on two different occasions, Superior Court judges involved in bail hearings questioned the strength of the Crown's case. "I just don't see where the case is here against this accused," Justice Robert Clark said on Aug. 15, 2008.

The case against the alleged MS-13, which stands for Mara Salvatrucha-13, involved three other men charged with the alleged murder plot against a jail guard. The case collapsed, save for a few drug convictions and firearms offences.

The Toronto Police Services Board, Chief Bill Blair and two TPS officers, the Halton Regional Police Services Board and Chief Gary Crowell, along with two Crown attorneys are named as defendants. Neither police force would comment on the case. In a statement of defence filed July 20, counsel for the Ministry of the Attorney General called the action "frivolous and vexatious, and/or brought for an improper purpose."

So how did an aspiring cartoonist with no criminal record wind up at the end of a shotgun? Born on May 21, 1976 in Chile, San Hueza immigrated to Canada in 1989 with his mother, Sonia San Hueza, brother and two sisters. When San Hueza attended Dante Alighieri High School in North York, he and a classmate played pick-up soccer with a group of boys that included Jorge Salas.

San Hueza lost touch with Salas after finishing high school in 1996. In 2002, they crossed paths again while dating women who were friends. Salas asked San Hueza to be a witness when he married in a civil service, although they were more acquaintances than friends, according to the statement of claim.

In July 2007, the lawsuit says, Salas was charged with armed robbery and jailed at Maplehurst Detention Centre, near a car parts factory where San Hueza worked. San Hueza, aware that Salas had had few visitors, went to see him once, on Feb. 29, 2008.

In mid-March, an inmate advised guards that his cellmate, Salas, told him he felt disrespected after a correctional officer photographed his tattoos and that he had hatched a plot to have the officer killed. "If he could not get the officer, his wife and children," according to the statement of defence, the inmate said Salas's brother "or Hector would do the hit." "Hector" was a "Spanish guy who worked at a place called Karmax," in a car parts factory in Milton, the informant said. Police found that no one named Hector worked at Karmax and that "two other Hectors were identified as possibly associated to Salas, but no further connection was found."

The Crown opposed San Hueza's release on bail, but on Sept. 2, Justice Gary Trotter released him under stringent conditions, including house arrest. In his written endorsement, Trotter called the link between San Hueza and Salas "tenuous," adding he believed he was a "peripheral person" in San Hueza's life. He referred to his "unblemished history." Three weeks later the Crown withdrew the charges.

But the stain of being associated with a violent street gang remains. "It got into the media, the charges, my name, it hurt my reputation," says San Hueza. Neighbours look at his family differently. San Hueza now sees a therapist to deal with "a lot of anxiety, guilt and a lot of stress." The San Hueza family retained lawyers Richard Goldman, Adam Boni and Joseph Giuliana after pledging equity in the family home and other property.

Original report here

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

What’s the price of a uniformed temper tantrum?

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Daniel Martin, the infamous star of a viral Internet video that shows him pulling over an ambulance transporting a patient to the hospital and assaulting paramedic Maurice White, has been suspended without pay for five days and ordered to anger assessment. The relatively light penalty for an officer fired in the past over allegations of bullying comes after a period of public outrage, with a lawsuit pending.

Oklahoma Crime Examiner Patricia Phillips has followed this case from the beginning, and you can find details of the case in her columns. It's worth noting, though, that while Martin's suspension letter from the OHP goes out of its way to justify the traffic stop of an ambulance and to condemn White's conduct that day, it concedes some egregious conduct on the part of the officer.

The letter, from Commissioner Kevin L. Ward, points out that Trooper Martin was "twice advised that a patient was on board the ambulance and that the ambulance was headed to the hospital." Nevertheless, "in spite of the knowledge of the patient and the length of time of the stop, you made no inquiry of the patient or any other person regarding the status or welfare of the patient on board the ambulance." Ward advises Martin that it would have been more appropriate to have allowed the ambulance to continue to the hospital and conclude the traffic stop there.

Ward also points out, diplomatically, that Martin seemed to be spoiling for a fight.
"On at least one occasion, you withdrew from the altercation, only to place yourself in a position for a subsequent altercation with Mr. White.

Finally, your manner when approaching Mr. Franks, the driver of the ambulance, was unnecessary and unprofessional. Your demeanor and language at the scene was also unprofessional."

Ward then cites the OHP Operations Manual to characterize Martin's behavior as "conduct unbecoming an officer" and quotes statutes allowing for Martin to be "discharged, suspended without pay for not to exceed sixty (60) calendar days or demoted..."

Ward then states, "your conduct and disregard for the welfare of the patient justify severe discipline." And that "severe discipline" turns out to be ... five days suspension without pay and an anger assessment?

Oh, please. "Anger assessment" is that greatest of meaningless institutional butt-coverings. It allows organizational higher-ups to tell the lawyers that they're doing something without actually doing something. It's nonsense.

What needs to be assessed in a police officer who was fired in 2000 as Chief of Police in Fairfax, Oklahoma, for violent and bullying behavior, and who then endangers a patient in an ambulance and picks a fight while in uniform? Daniel Martin was out of line, acting like a cartoon cop outraged that somebody didn't "respect mah authoritah." While letting his bruised ego run wild, he behaved unprofessionally and, potentially, put a life at risk.

Five days without pay and a bit of psychobabble are an awfully light slap on the wrist for that sort of misconduct.

Original report here

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

ILLINOIS: Two freed after wrongful conviction related to Burge accusations

It would be a big job but ALL the convictions from the crooked Burge era should be re-examined

A Cook County judge is freeing two prisoners who say they were wrongly convicted of 5 murders more than 2 decades ago.

WBBM's Regine Schlesinger reports the Illinois Attorney General's office joined with the men's lawyers in asking the judge to vacate the convictions of Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves.

Reeves was sentenced to 5 life terms and Kitchen originally received the death penalty although his sentence later was commuted to life by then Governor George Ryan.

Kitchen says his confession was beaten out of him by a detective working under the command of Jon Burge who's been accused of torturing suspects.

The two men were found guilty in the allegedly drug-related murders of two women and three children in a burning home at 60th and Campbell in 1988.

Original report here

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Crooked British police investigated over notes that could give "murderer" an alibi

Prosecutors have been called in to consider charges of perverting justice and official misconduct after The Times found notes that indicate a convicted wife murderer is innocent.

The records, which were undisclosed at Eddie Gilfoyle’s trial, show that a police doctor who examined his wife’s body estimated that she had hanged herself at a time when her husband was away at work.

A chief constable has disclosed that, after The Times published the notes that his force had said never existed, the Crown Prosecution Service was asked to examine criminal sanctions. “Merseyside Police did refer the matter to the CPS to consider the offences of ‘Doing an act that tends to pervert the course of public justice and/or misconduct in a public office’. The advice to date, on the facts known, [is that] there is insufficient evidence to support a prosecution at this time,” Bernard Hogan-Howe, Chief Constable of Merseyside, wrote.

Gilfoyle’s lawyers and a former Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside, Alison Halford, called on Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, last night to order an independent inquiry.

The CPS said it had been asked by police to provide “early advice” rather than a “full file” of evidence. It appointed as adviser a prosecutor from outside Merseyside to ensure that the process was seen to be objective and independent. By contrast, Merseyside Police has declined to call in any outside force.

Gilfoyle, 47, has been behind bars protesting his innocence since 1992, when his wife, Paula, who was 38 weeks pregnant, was discovered hanged in their garage in the Wirral village of Upton.

The handwritten notes have been repeatedly lost and found by Merseyside Police and were not disclosed to a Police Complaints Commission investigator. The documents come from an internal inquiry, conducted by the force soon after Mrs Gilfoyle died, to learn from mistakes made by officers at her death scene. The papers state that the police doctor who saw Mrs Gilfoyle’s body estimated she had died six hours earlier, when her husband was at work as a hospital auxiliary.

During Gilfoyle’s murder trial in 1993, where they might have given him an alibi, they stayed undisclosed. A jury convicted him of murdering his wife, 32, after tricking her into letting him dictate a suicide note.

When in 1994 the Police Complaints Authority asked Lancashire Superintendent Graham Gooch to review the murder investigation, he asked for the notes. Chief Superintendent Edward “Ted” Humphreys, who headed the internal inquiry, said that to the best of his recollection no notes had been taken. His assistant, a detective inspector, recalled taking notes but said that they had been destroyed.

Just before Gilfoyle’s appeal against conviction in 1995, partly on the ground that the notes were unavailable, the papers were located and disclosed to the defence. When The Times asked last year for the notes under the Freedom of Information Act, Merseyside Police said: “Information is held that indicates that no such notes ever existed.”After The Times discovered and published the notes in February, the Information Commissioner cleared the force of intentionally withholding the documents.

Mr Hogan-Howe said in a letter to Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat MP, that the mistake occurred because freedom of information staff had found the old statement suggesting there had never been any notes. The Times understands that the missing papers were found to have been in the possession of Mr Humphreys.

In 1995 the Police Complaints Authority asked Merseyside to investigate possible misconduct but, as he had retired, no further action was considered proportionate. The Independent Police Complaints Commission says it has seen no new evidence to justify a fresh misconduct investigation.

Original report here

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

25 Australian Police officers implicated in criminal scheme

Twenty-five Queensland police officers have been implicated in a corrupt scheme to rort money paid to criminals for information, a new report has found. The Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) today released a 142-page report, Dangerous Liaisons, which examines the results of an anti-corruption operation codenamed Capri. The report found 25 police officers - some ranked as high as inspector - were implicated in the rorts. Three officers are currently before the courts and 22 have been disciplined, with 11 resigning from the police service before their hearings were completed. Some of the officers are still working.

The investigation covered three areas - Rockhampton in central Queensland, Cleveland on Brisbane's bayside and the since disbanded armed hold-up squad. The bulk of the allegations related to payments made to prisoner informant Lee Owen Henderson, who is serving two life terms in jail for murder.

In 2005 the CMC received information from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) suggesting that some police officers had an "improper association" with Henderson, who was then in the Rockhampton jail and was seen by officers as a valuable informant. But the report found "evidence suggests that (Henderson) rarely, if ever, provided information of value". "Instead, Henderson manipulated police officers for his own ends," the report said.

"In return for his supposed assistance, Henderson was obtaining benefits from police, including access to confidential law enforcement information, access to Queensland Police Service (QPS) and Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) resources for his own personal use, removals from custody, and some financial assistance. "Some officers assisted him in an (unsuccessful) attempt to secure a lower security classification."

The CMC investigation found that the relationship between Henderson and the officers stemmed from practices which came out of the now disbanded armed robbery unit. "The practice (from armed robbery unit) involved police officers providing prisoners with rewards and other benefits to encourage the making of confessions and the giving up of information," the report said.

The investigation uncovered other activities including the removal of prisoners from custody for "improper purposes", misappropriation of money intended to be used as rewards and the improper receipt of money and gifts from Henderson. The CMC found that the misconduct "not only compromised individual police officers, but had the potential to undermine the integrity of the QPS as an organisation, and with it, the criminal justice system".

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said in the foreword to the report many of the officers involved had started out "with the intention of solving or preventing serious crimes". "After the policies and procedures were not properly followed and strategies used were not sound," he wrote. Mr Atkinson said the QPS had since set new guidelines for the use of funds to pay informants. "Revised procedures were also implemented ... to enhance accountability and to raise approval levels for prisoner removal from correctional facilities," he said.

CMC chairman Robert Needham said the publication of the report, close to the 20th anniversary of the Fitzgerald Inquiry being tabled in State Parliament, "should serve as a reminder that lessons learned gradually diminish with the passage of time and generational change". "It is inevitable that as time passes, slippage in the ethical standards of our police will occur," Mr Needham said. [That's a fact!]

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mere slaps on the wrist for serious criminals in the Australian State of NSW

Carrying and using illegal handguns is OK if you are a Lebanese Muslim

In the middle of the afternoon of November 29, 2006, four hard men from the Lebanese community had a business meeting at the corner of Burwood Road and Livingstone Street, not far from the centre of the Burwood shopping centre. The meeting did not go well.

Bashar Ibrahim, a relative of the Ibrahim brothers, some of whom have been involved in multiple violent crimes, allegedly including a fatal brawl in an arrival hall at Sydney Airport this year, was accompanied to the meeting by George Youssef. They were meeting a leader of another notorious Lebanese family, Hussein Fahda, who was accompanied by a Mr Moustapha. After a brief and unpleasant exchange, Fahda punched Ibrahim in the face. The blow was so hard it broke Ibrahim's cheek and jaw.

Fahda spoke to Moustapha in Arabic, telling him, "Get it from the car". He then turned to Ibrahim and said, "I want to shoot you". Moustapha went to the car, pulled out an object, believed to be a gun, and tucked it into his trousers. Fahda then taunted Ibrahim, saying "Shoot me". So Ibrahim shot him. He pulled out a gun and fired five quick shots, one of which struck Fahda in the foot.

Ibrahim and Youssef ran to their car and departed. Fahda was driven to a hospital, where bullet fragments were removed from his foot. He declined to provide details of the incident to the hospital or police.

This did not surprise the police. Fahda was well known to them. In 2004, he had been arrested and jailed for carrying a loaded gun during an undercover investigation into drug dealing and a series of shootings. The violence swirled around three Lebanese Muslim clans, the Darwiches, the Razzaks and the Fahdas, elements of whom have been engaged in a murderous feud since 2001. The feud continues.

Back at the Burwood incident, after Ibrahim shot Fahda he fled the scene in his Range Rover. He left the vehicle with his wife, Laura Cathery. She had it cleaned and when the police called she claimed the car could not have been at the scene of shooting because she had been using it all day. She was found to be lying after police checked phone records and CCTV footage.

After leaving the Range Rover, Ibrahim and Youssef drove to Sylvania Heights to the home of a friend, Parrai Bitsikas, where Ibrahim intended to avoid the police and Hussein Fahda. But Bitsikas was under observation by another police unit, the drug squad. Police quickly became aware that Bitsikas was covertly arranging for treatment of Ibrahim's broken jaw.

The case assembled by the police was overwhelming. But the back-up they received from the legal system was far from impressive. Earlier this month, the following sentences were handed down by magistrate Caroline Barkell:

Bashar Ibrahim pleaded guilty to one charge of possession of an unauthorised firearm and was sentenced to four months in prison. He also pleaded guilty to one charge of firing a firearm in a public place in a manner likely to injure. For that he was sentenced to 12 months in prison, with a non-parole period of nine months. He remains free on bail and magistrate Barkell indicated it was likely Ibrahim could serve his sentences as home detention.

Laura Cathery pleaded guilty to one count of hindering a police investigation. She was placed on a good behaviour bond for two years. Parrai Bitsikas pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the crime. He received a 12-month suspended jail sentence upon entering into a good behaviour bond. George Youssef also pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the crime and received a 12-month suspended jail sentence.

After the sentencing, the police noted that this brazen collective chorus of deceit had resulted in not one day of jail time being handed down at sentence. They are also mindful that in March an innocent man was killed during another violent daytime argument between another set of armed and violent Lebanese men.

And last month Bob Knight, a 66-year-old truck driver, died when a volley of shots was fired in the car park of a KFC restaurant in Milperra. A stray bullet hit Knight in the head and killed him.

The police see a clear parallel with the Burwood shooting involving Ibrahim and Fahda. They believe, as a principle, there should be serious consequences when people carry illegal guns and start using them. The obvious and exceptional mitigating factor in this incident was Fahda's own violent behaviour. Ibrahim was acting in self-defence. But why did he bring a gun to the meeting? And why did he lie to police?

As for the "victim", Hussein Fahda, he has been of acute interest to police since March when his younger brother, Mohammed, was confirmed by police as the prime suspect in the shooting murder of Abdul Darwiche at Punchbowl. Members of the Darwiche and Fahda families have been under police scrutiny ever since.

Tomorrow, in court, magistrate Barkell will get the chance to reconsider whether she should send Bashar Ibrahim to prison over this incident. I'm presuming this matter is back in court because the Crown might share the dismay of the police at the feathery sentences handed down.

One message that could be taken from the case is this: why would any idealistic young person want to join the police force when the legal system constantly treats contempt for police with dismissive indifference? This entire case was a brazen challenge to the criminal justice system. As of today, it remains a victory for the cynicism of street law.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NY: $125k settlement for forced sedation, cavity search

Perverted cops running riot

A man who was forcibly injected with sedative drugs by police so a doctor could search for other drugs in his rectum will receive a handsome settlement from Albany County, New York and Albany Medical Center, a local publication reported Saturday. “The settlement stems from a federal lawsuit filed two years ago by Tunde Clement, an ex-convict arrested by sheriff’s investigators on March 13, 2006, at the Albany bus terminal,” reported The Times Union.

Following Clement’s forced drugging, a doctor put a camera in his rectum, discovering no drugs. “[The] final indignity came when the hospital sent Clement a bill for $6,792,” noted the Associated Press.

“Clement’s suit claimed his civil rights were violated,” The Times-Union continued. “He filed the federal complaint against Albany Med and several doctors and nurses, and also sued Albany County and Sheriff James Campbell, Inspector John Burke, who heads the narcotics squad that arrested Clement, and eight investigators assigned to Burke’s unit.”

Clement is not the first to accuse the Albany police of an unwarranted cavity search. New York criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield, on his blog Simple Justice, exclaimed that a “cavity epidemic” is underway in Albany.

Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley explained the seeming rash of invasive searches on his blog:

Women have accused the police of conducting cavity searches with little or no suspicion of crime acts. Crystal Royal, 22, has sued, alleging that she was strip-searched in January by the Albany Police Department and then forced to undergo a pelvic cavity search at Albany Medical Center Hospital. Nothing was found.

This filing follows another complaint by Lisa Shutter who charged that she was given a cavity search on a public street during a traffic stop in December. Royal said that was stopped by police on the interstate even though she had valid license and properly registered car. She also alleges that police took her cellphone and inspected her call list. She was then given a strip search and cavity search at the station — nothing was found. She was later charged with a felony drug conspiracy count.

The Times-Union noted: “People under arrest normally cannot be forcibly sedated without a court order unless they are in imminent danger, such as when a bag of drugs bursts inside them and they have a seizure or fall unconscious. The hospital’s records indicate Clement was behaving normally and showed no signs of any medical emergency.”

“There are a bunch of people running around Albany in uniform, with guns and shields, committing crimes against people and collecting public paychecks for their efforts,” wrote Greenfield. “Who stops them? How would you like to be Lisa Shutter explaining why the cops performed a cavity search of you on the street. How would you like to be the doctor drugging Tunde Clement and performing an anoscopy because the cops told you to do it. This is mere inches away from Abner Louima.”

Original report here

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Monday, July 20, 2009

More vindictive and totally unreasonable British police behaviour (1)

They are not the friendly Bobbies of old. They are now Left-trained thugs who see ordinary people as the enemy. A couple who tidied up a garden were thrown into a riot van for attempted burglary. But if you get your car stolen the British police just yawn

A judge has blasted a waste of taxpayers' money after a couple who picked up items of rubbish from the garden of an abandoned house were thrown into a riot van for attempted burglary. Public-spirited Richard and Lynne Small, both 38, believed they were helping the environment when they recovered leftover junk from the garden near their home in Hull, East Yorks. They collected a pair of old boots, a hose-pipe, a plant, half a shoe lace and used tins of paint from the empty property and used a wheelie bin to carry the trash to their home just a few yards down the road.

But they were left stunned and humiliated when they were arrested, handcuffed and bundled into a police van after being confronted by four officers. After a five-month ordeal ending at the city's Crown Court the couple were finally released without charge. And the case judge has condemned the decision to pursue the matter as a sickening waste of taxpayers' money.

Bricklayer Richard said: 'We couldn't believe it when they slapped handcuffs us and threw us in a riot van. You'd think we'd robbed a bank the way we've been treated. 'When it finally got to court we were charged with the lesser offence of theft by finding and refusing to take a drugs test. We'd refused the drugs sample because we'd done nothing wrong. 'All we did was pick up a bit of litter, we were doing a public service. We'd just been on a walk and thought we could use some of the stuff. It was an eyesore. 'It's been very distressing. The police should be arresting criminals.'

The Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence when the pair appeared at court and their barrister Paul Genney said: 'This was rough justice. It is a gross matter of overkill. 'One would question the reason for the arrest and as for the request to take a drugs test one can well understand their indignation.'

Recorder Paul Isaac formerly entered not guilty verdicts on the theft charges but gave the couple six month conditional discharges for refusing the drugs test. He said: 'This is all unfortunate. It does seem to me to bring this matter to the crown court is something of a waste of public resources. 'Whatever the rights and wrongs, your defence that you have taken these items believing them to be abandoned would likely have been accepted by any sensible jury.'

A spokesman for Humberside Police said: 'We had received a call from a member of the public saying they believed two people were stealing from the house. 'We followed procedure and now the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have decided not to continue the case.'


More vindictive and totally unreasonable British police behaviour (2)

They are not the friendly Bobbies of old. They are now Left-trained thugs who see ordinary people as the enemy. An offence to incite your friends to a BBQ via Facebook??

Riot police raided a 30th birthday barbecue because they thought the organiser, who had invited his friends via Facebook, was staging a rave. Four police cars, a riot van and a helicopter moved in on Andrew Poole's gathering which was taking place in a field owned by a friend. The coach driver had invited 17 guests to an 'event' on his social networking page by private invitation and was about to light the barbecue when the gazebo suddenly started flapping wildly and the sound of chopper blades filled the air.

The gazebo under which the party guests were gathered because it had started to rain. Then the police riot van arrived...

A police helicopter circled the field several times before four police cars and a riot van stormed into the field in a small village near Sowton, Devon. Eight officers wearing camouflage trousers and body armour then jumped out and ordered the party to be shut down or everyone would be arrested.

Andrew, of Exeter, Devon, said: 'It had started to rain so we had gone in under the gazebo. All of a sudden there was this noise in the sky - I honestly couldn't believe it. 'The thing then hovered over us for about 25 minutes, watching 15 people eat. They told us to take down the sound system and said everybody's got to leave. 'It was 4pm and we hadn't even plugged the music in yet. We tried to reason with them, and even offered for them to take the power lead for the sound system, but they were having none of it.

'It was on private land. We were nowhere near anyone. We weren't even playing any music. What effectively the police did was come in and stop fifteen people eating burgers.'

Andrew had spent £800 for the hire of the generator, marquee and food. The guests arrived at 3pm but soon after a police helicopter generated a huge dust cloud which covered his BBQ in debris.

Andrew said: 'The police had full-on camouflage trousers on and body-armour, it was ridiculous. There was also several plain-clothes officers as well. "I told them it was my 30th birthday. I said "this is a once in a lifetime event for me, please don't ruin it". But they kept on insisting I had been advertising it as an all-night rave on the internet.

'But I'd created an event, and 17 people had confirmed as guests, I did put the times on it as "overnight" in case people wanted to sleep-over. 'They were still banging on saying it was advertised on the internet. They wouldn't accept it wasn't a rave. It was in a completely isolated field.

'We'd actually faced the speakers away from the village just in case nosy-neighbour types complained. But someone must have seen us putting up the marquee and phoned the police.'



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

Sunday, July 19, 2009


(Taken from Australian Politics)

OK for a senior cop to be offensive scum?

It seems to be in NSW -- thanks to some very lenient court decisions. It is quite clear that, far from exemplary behaviour being expected of NSW police, substandard behaviour is regarded as normal.

A FEMALE parole officer whose breasts were commented upon by a senior policeman - after she allegedly exposed them in a bikie magazine - said she was upset that she would have to work with him again.

Although the police force tried to stand down Raymond Sewell, the NSW Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a decision that despite his sexual harassment of two women his dismissal was unjust.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione had taken the case to court in his campaign to purge NSW Police of dodgy officers and clean up its reputation for big drinking and sexism. The case was one of a string exposed last week by The Daily Telegraph of officers behaving badly after consuming alcohol. The Coonamble-based officer was sacked by then-commissioner Ken Moroney over a string of sexual incidents, many fuelled by alcohol. Sgt Sewell had harassed parole officer Isabel McDermott twice - at a pub and at her workplace - in late 2005 and early 2006.

In December 2005, at the Commercial Hotel, he grabbed her and pulled her to him and said words to the effect of, "Perfume smells better on breasts", according to the termination notice. In January he "made improper comments to her regarding her name badge, which was positioned on the right side of her chest . . . words similar to, 'If that one is named Isabel, what is the other?'."

Sgt Sewell said Ms McDermott had appeared in a magazine displaying her breasts with other women at a Rebels outlaw motorcycle group function. He said that since the incidents he had stopped drinking alcohol, had undertaken counselling and his medication had been adjusted.

In another three incidents, Sgt Sewell squeezed the bottom of his senior constable partner when she visited him and Senior Constable Matthew Dickson, at Coonamble Police Station in December 2005. At a New Year's Eve party at the Commercial Hotel he undid the strings of her top, causing her to become upset. And on a third occasion in February the next year, at a social gathering at the same pub, he grabbed her buttocks.

Despite these incidents, the Industrial Relations Commission found that Sgt Sewell had been unfairly dismissed. Mr Scipione appealed to the full bench of the IRC but the decision was upheld, prompting the unsuccessful Court of Appeal action.

"I'm not happy at all," Ms McDermott said. "I'm very uncomfortable having him back there, I can tell you that. "My colleagues are not happy either because we have to work with him."


'No Tasers' for Victoria's corrupt and deadly police

Victoria Police has failed to tackle the shoot-to-kill culture that made it the nation's most deadly force, and its officers should not be trusted with Taser stun guns, the state's police watchdog has declared. A damning report from the Office of Police Integrity, due to be released this month, is believed to recommend sweeping changes across Victoria Police to safeguard the public from poorly trained officers unable to defuse life-threatening situations.

Victorian police have been notorious for their deadly use of force since the mid-1980s. The OPI says successive police commanders, including recently departed chief commissioner Christine Nixon, did not do enough to combat it. The fatal shooting of 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy by three officers last December sparked debate on whether the police should be armed with Tasers.

Chief Commissioner Simon Overland, who took over from Ms Nixon in March, has read the draft OPI report and has already taken steps to tackle the problem, announcing last month that police would be retrained in how to deal with critical incidents.

OPI director Michael Strong told The Australian: "We have significant concerns about the use of force in Victoria Police. Education and training is not focused properly, there is not sufficient emphasis on alternatives to use of force, there is insufficient monitoring of use of force and insufficient analysis. "Lessons that should have been learnt have not been learnt, and recommendations for improvement have not been acted upon." Mr Strong was "gravely concerned" previous reports on the problem, including a 2005 OPI report, had been all but ignored by the force. He said it was "disappointing" Ms Nixon had not given priority to the issue.

"Mr Overland has publicly expressed his determination to improve outcomes in areas of use of force, and I am confident he will make further statements following the release of our report," Mr Strong said.

Between 1990 and 2004, Victorian police shot dead 29 people, compared with police in NSW and Queensland killing 18 and 11 respectively. Tyler's death sparked calls for Tasers to be issued to police on the beat. At present only specialist squads in Victoria Police are issued with the stun guns. Mr Strong said it was appropriate for specialist police to have Tasers, but he was opposed to the weapons being issued to regular police in Victoria because of their inadequate training. Victoria Police "is not in a space where it would be prudent to issue Tasers", he said.

Queensland has halted the rollout of Tasers to general-duty police after the death of a man last month who had been stunned 28 times.

NSW will introduce Tasers to general-duty police this month, while Western Australia already issues them to general-duty police. Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT have restricted the weapons to specialist tactical response squads. Mr Strong rejected claims that the OPI's reputation had been damaged by the collapse of its legal case against former police union strongman Paul Mullett. Mr Mullett had faced criminal charges stemming from a 2007 OPI investigation into a series of high-level leaks alleged to have compromised a murder investigation. The charges were dropped last month, prompting Mr Mullett to demand a public apology.

Mr Strong said he did not regret the OPI's decision to pursue Mr Mullett. "I express no regret for OPI doing its job," he said of the investigation, which resulted in a guilty plea from former police media chief Steve Linnell and as a result of which former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby is awaiting trial on perjury charges. "An investigation that results in one person being dealt with, another being sent to trial, and charges against a third being dropped is not at all unusual. It would not be attracting the attention it has if not for Mr Mullett's colourful protests."

Mr Strong said he backed the OPI tactic of using public hearings to expose corrupt police, saying it was a powerful deterrent. "It sends out the message that if you act in that fashion we will expose your conduct and we will do it publicly." He said the OPI was increasingly involved in prevention and education strategies to reduce the probability of police officers flirting with the dark side.


More hostile and stupid behaviour from the Queensland police

Co-operation between police and cabbies has in the past been very helpful in catching criminals but the Queensland goons seem to be doing their best to terminate any such co-operation

"PAYBACK" and "an abuse of power" are how taxi drivers are describing the extraordinary actions of a police officer who fined a cabbie $100 for not pulling up his socks. "That's just ridiculous, just crazy," Cab Drivers' Association of Queensland member Paul Henderson said. "In 18 years that's the first time I've heard of it ... it creates animosity between drivers and police even further." CDAC secretary Lee Sims slammed the fine as "an intimidation just to get even" and "an abuse of power", The Courier-Mail reports.

Mr Sims, who has been critical of Queensland Transport's management of the taxi industry, questioned whether police had the authority to issue the fine and its permissibility in court. He said it was the first time he had heard of such a "petty" notice but conceded drivers by law had to be "neatly dressed" – an area open to interpretation.

The driver advocate said a recent government blitz on Brisbane drivers resulted in cabbies copping $400 fines for not having a 2009 version of a street directory, or for allowing a car's window tinting to peel.

The Courier-Mail yesterday obtained the ticket issued last month to taxi driver Kidd Moors in which the officer claimed the offence was: "Failed to dress neatly". He identified the evidence as "WHT/runners, short running socks".

Queensland Police Service yesterday was unable to respond in time to the newspaper's questions about the harshness of the fine or the frequency such fines were handed out.

Mr Moors, 41, from Narangba, said he intended to fight the "sock fine" in court, along with a fine for not wearing a seat belt.

Mr Henderson said dress rules for drivers included the need to wear a uniformed shirt that was tucked in, business trousers or tailored shorts with long socks pulled up and dress shoes.


Queensland police are debating whether the length of a cab-driver's socks is really an issue that they should be concentrating on

Given their almost complete lack of interest in car-theft and such things, re-examination of their priorities is long overdue

A shocked Brisbane taxi driver who was fined $100 by police for not pulling up his socks may have the extraordinary penalty withdrawn. The Queensland Police Service told The Courier-Mail "a decision will be made as to whether to withdraw (the fine)" once all facts surrounding the incident were known.

To date, the QPS has refused to answer queries about its power to enforce a fine for wearing short socks, nor its opinion of the male traffic officer involved, saying: "It would appear that the officer . . . issued (the fine) under the provisions of Section 131 of the Transport Operations (Passenger Transport) Regulations 2005 relating to the appropriate dress code for taxi drivers." But the legislation does not stipulate that short socks are banned. Instead, it merely states: "The driver of a public passenger vehicle must, while driving the vehicle, be neatly dressed."

In June, part-time Yellow Cabs driver Kidd Moors was arguing with an officer about a seatbelt compliance issue on the side of the road at Hendra before the policeman wrote him a ticket that stated: "Failed to dress neatly . . . WHT/runners, short running socks".

The incident sparked claims of "payback" and "an abuse of power" from the Cab Drivers Association of Queensland.


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

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How a crooked prosecutor prevented an innocent woman from defending herself

I make these comments as I revisit the Sprouse conviction. When I wrote the first time about it, I received a score of nasty "f*ck you" emails and others, while not obscene, that made fun of Sprouse. She was charged, so she was guilty. Others told me that they followed the case and also were convinced of her guilt, so I could not know of what I speak. After all, they read the Charlotte Observer and watched local TV news, so and who can argue with the Great Wisdom of a local talking head?

Given that, I am going to lay out what happened and how it happened and why I am convinced – utterly convinced – that this was a wrongful prosecution and conviction. I am not alone; real estate professionals in Charlotte supported her, and I also have heard from attorneys and other professionals intimately familiar with the case who have agreed wholeheartedly with my assessment.

However, one asks, how was she convicted? If I am inferring – "insisting" is a better word – that she was victimized by a wrongful conviction, and I did not sit throughout the trial, then how is it that I believe that jurors abandoned their duty and served as little more than a Greek Chorus for the prosecution? Am I simply listening to one side of the story and forgetting that Sprouse was accused of participating in multi-million-dollar fraud scheme? The key to understanding this case is not necessarily knowing the testimony that backed the prosecution; it is in knowing how the prosecution effectively rigged this trial.

The prosecution, led by Martens, convinced a jury that Sprouse knowingly signed forged and fraudulent documents and other legal papers that had false information which would permit the buyers of houses and property to obtain those things without having the required income or down payments or other things that the lender required one must have. The buyers were planning to "flip" the properties, that is, sell them quickly and make a profit.

In bringing these charges, Martens and his staff agreed that Sprouse had received no payoffs or other quid pro quo compensation, her office receiving only the standard $500 fee for closing (with perhaps $40 to $50 actually accruing to Sprouse as income after she paid her staff and other office expenses). However, that fact did not stop Martens from repeatedly telling the jury and the press that Sprouse "made millions" from illegal sales, although even the most optimistic prosecution math did not come close to that figure.

(I should add that the Charlotte journalists, both print and broadcast, repeated Martens’ claims as though they were ex cathedra and never once thought to question the prosecutor’s fuzzy math. When I emailed some of them about the monetary discrepancies, they reacted as though I wanted to do away with the First Amendment. How dare I question their worship of the prosecutor!)

It is important to understand, however, that the outcome was fixed long before the trial, and not by any criminal or regulatory violations on behalf of Sprouse. Martens arranged for the government to forbid Sprouse from selling, disposing, or mortgaging any of her property in order to raise money to pay for her attorney, Pete Anderson. Because all her assets were forbidden to be sold or mortgaged she did not have any other funds by which to pay, the judge declared her "indigent" and then permitted a maximum of $25,000 for her legal fees.

The prosecution’s strategy was obvious. If Sprouse could be denied adequate counsel, as $25K is not going to buy anything more than an attorney who wants to plead out right away, then a conviction was as good as done.

What happened afterward is most important – and sealed the outcome. Anderson told the judge at a hearing in which she petitioned to have one of her properties sold so she could raise legal fees that he still wanted to represent Sprouse, given his knowledge of the case. That is where Martens dropped a bombshell.

Martens told the judge that it would take four-to-six weeks to present the government’s case. Anderson argued that since it would take his firm five months to prepare for trial with another month to six weeks in a trial would mean his firm would have to spend six months for a relatively tiny fee, which the firm could not afford. Thus, he begged off the case and the judge appointed two attorneys who then tried to force Sprouse to plea to a deal that would have given her 20 years. Sprouse, believing she had not committed any crimes and wanting her Constitutional day in court, refused, and from then on, she and her counsel were at odds.

There are a number of reasons why this development was significant, and why Martens had orchestrated it. First, and most important, when Martens actually presented the "evidence" during the trial, he took less than four days. One does not boil four-to-six weeks of material into four days; instead, Martens – an officer of the court and one who is bound to tell the truth while carrying out his duties – had not told the judge the truth.

Second, one asks why Martens was hell-bent on eliminating Anderson. The main reason was that Martens had put Rick Graves on trial two years ago on tax fraud charges, and a federal jury did something remarkable: it acquitted him. Graves’ attorney was none other than Pete Anderson, and he easily demolished Martens’ weak case.

In the Sprouse situation, Martens did not want to face a well-respected attorney who believed in the innocence of his client – and who already had bested Martens before in a case involving flimsy charges. Thus, he got rid of the competition and was able to play a role in the appointing of attorneys who clearly wanted to curry favor with the prosecution.

(Most court-appointed attorneys plead out their clients, bill hourly, and pocket the money. The key is cutting deals with prosecutors and letting the court know that the defense is not going to be a problem and will "play ball" with the prosecution. Sprouse's court-appointed attorneys fell into that category.)

A key issue in this case was whether or not Sprouse knew the documents were fraudulent and that she was knowingly signed off on transactions that were different than what was on the paper. The only prosecution witness to declare that Sprouse "must have known" about the fraud stated in a deposition under oath in a civil case saying that he never told Sprouse about what he was doing because he believed she was honest and would have refused to sign anything she thought was fraudulent and stopped the closings.

Now, one would think that this would be a key piece of evidence in the trial, and that is correct. The key was to make sure that this document never would be presented during trial, and Martens and Sprouse’s court-appointed attorneys did just that.

First, the man who made that original statement under oath was a key witness for the prosecution. In exchange for leniency (Martens offered him a plea bargain to serve two years in prison), the man gave very different testimony in Sprouse’s trial than what he had given before. (Of course, in the earlier testimony, there was no coercion from a prosecutor, so if one is going to choose which statements to believe, instinct tells us that the first set of statements is going to be truthful.) He never said that he knew for sure, since he did not tell her as such, and he knew of no one else who had done it, but that was enough to convince the jury.

Obviously, this leads one to ask why the original deposition was not entered into testimony, as it contained vital exculpatory information. The reason, as noted before, is that Sprouse had a pair of attorneys who deferred to the prosecution. They were angry with her because she would not plead out, as neither of them was experienced in white-collar criminal trials. The extra time spent in court would be an added expense and would destroy any potential profitability they could get from their $25,000 payment.

Even though Sprouse begged to participate in her defense, her counsel said no. She wrote the judge begging that she at least be permitted to participate in her defense, as her counsel was refusing to file motions and even review the evidence, but the judge was not inclined to grant her request.

Why would the attorneys be so passive, especially in the fact of a prosecutor who clearly was railroading someone? To fight would not be to seen as "cooperative" with the prosecution, and the opportunity to gain easy money by cutting future deals with Martens and his staff.

Sprouse even pointed out the information from the deposition to her attorneys. Excited, she showed it to her counsel, but they were noncommittal, and it was clear that the document meant nothing to them. It never was presented in court or presented as defense evidence, and neither attorney cross-examined the witness as to his earlier exculpatory statement made under oath, never using material from that deposition at all.

In the end, Martens’ main piece of "evidence" was the fact that Sprouse had signed the documents, something Sprouse agreed she had done. However, Martens then claimed that because Sprouse had signed the incriminating documents, then that was proof that she must have known they were fraudulent. If one thinks this is a non sequitur, one is correct.

There were other incidents of outright incompetence and worse. The counsel did not interview their own witnesses until just before trial, they rarely objected to anything, and they pretty much let Martens run the proceedings. During the breaks, Martens’ investigators harassed defense witnesses and threatened them, but Sprouse’s attorneys did not object or tell the judge.

Martens clearly enjoyed himself. During one session, he asked his investigator how she felt about investigating Sprouse. The transcript said she "enjoyed it," and that exchange drawing a rebuke from the judge.

Then there was the jury. One elderly juror slept much of the time and it was clear that many did not understand the complexities of the case. Federal "crimes" are like that in that most of them are "derived" from other acts. Unlike in state courts, where jurors are aware that a law clearly has been broken and that the person charged is accused of having committed the crime, in federal court, all parties generally agree with what was done, but the jury is supposed to interpret the law as to whether or not the act or acts were criminal.

This clearly favors the prosecution, as it does not take long for the jurors’ eyes to glaze over and for them to assume that the person on trial has to be guilty; otherwise there would be no charges in the first place. Thus it was with Victoria Sprouse.

In summary, the prosecution managed to make sure that Sprouse could not have the representation she wanted, an attorney who saw through the tactics of the prosecution and believed strongly in the innocence of his client. Martens falsely told the judge that the presentation of the evidence would take four-to-six weeks when it did not even take six days.

Martens used a witness who had testified under oath in a civil case that Sprouse did not know that the documents in question that she signed were fraudulent. To get past this obvious problem, Martens was able to use the prospect of a lighter prison sentence to entice the witness to change his testimony. To put it another way, Martens suborned perjury and the jurors swallowed the lies whole, as did the local media.

Lest anyone think I am too hard on Matt Martens, perhaps it would be helpful for the readers to know that his mentor in the federal government was Michael Chertoff, who served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Chertoff is a man who favors the use of torture and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" in order to pry words out of recalcitrant prisoners and is not concerned with anything as "trite" as "legal ethics."

When she learned she had been indicted, she and her first attorney, Anderson, made arrangements with the U.S. Marshals Service to turn herself in at 9 a.m. At 6 a.m. on the morning she was to turn herself in, Martens sent heavily-armed federal agents to her house and they pounded so hard on the door that they almost broke it. Included in the government’s Big Show arrest to grab an unarmed person who already was getting ready to turn her in were two Mecklenburg County police, two federal marshals, two FBI agents, the IRS investigating agent, the postmaster investigating agent, and the North Carolina Department of Insurance investigating agent.

After the trial, Sprouse asked to be free on bond pending her sentencing and appeal. Martens objected, telling the judge, "Your honor, she is going to spend a better part of the rest of her life in prison, so she should start serving her time now." He also declared that she was a risk to flee because her boyfriend had a German passport, and that perhaps she might even commit suicide, given that she had wept on the stand and had the temerity to say that the government had "ruined her life."

Chertoff’s star student has learned his craft very well. Unfortunately, most Americans today do not care that people who practice such cruelty are in positions of power. Perhaps most Americans don’t realize – and maybe they really don’t care – that men like Matt Martens and his mentor, Michael Chertoff, would gladly have prosecuted the late Mother Teresa herself had they believed they could have benefited from their actions.

Giuliani’s lieutenants were playing a simple parlor game, but it enabled them to find ways to prosecute people on Wall Street who had not committed crimes. Today’s federal prosecutors, however, have gone even one step beyond that, and one can be sure that because they are immune to any legal challenges, their quest to incarcerate innocent people will proceed unencumbered, as federal prosecutors seek political and personal gain and to maintain the all-important "numbers" in their offices.

More here

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Mass. town to pay $3.4m for unjust conviction

DNA test freed man after 18 years in jail. Crooked cops. Corrupt evidence believed and exculpatory evidence hidden

The town of Ayer and five of its insurers have agreed to pay $3.4 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by the estate of the late Kenneth Waters, who spent more than 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit before his sister earned a law degree and helped free him through DNA evidence.

Barry C. Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and one of the lawyers representing the estate, disclosed the amount of the settlement yesterday after a brief hearing in US District Court in Boston about the status of the case.

The lawsuit, which was scheduled to go to trial next week, accused Ayer police of coercing false testimony to convict Waters and withholding evidence that could have cleared him. A sixth insurance company, Western World Insurance Group, has declined to settle, but negotiations are continuing.

Waters’s sister, Betty Anne Waters, whose crusade on behalf of her brother is the subject of a recently completed movie in which she is portrayed by two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank, said the agreement vindicated her years spent fighting to free Kenneth Waters. “It’s been half of my life, exactly,’’ Betty Waters, 54, of Middletown, R.I., said after the brief hearing. “I can’t quite feel that it’s over. It’s been a long 27 years.’’

Kenneth Waters was freed from prison in March 2001, and the Middlesex district attorney’s office dropped the charges against him. But he enjoyed only six months of freedom. He died on Sept. 19, 2001, after he fell on his head from a 15-foot wall in Rhode Island while taking a shortcut to a restaurant. “Of course, I wish he was here,’’ Betty Waters said, fighting back emotion. “That’s part of the sadness of all this. I know he would have been very pleased with how this worked out.’’

Ayer’s town administrator, Shaun A. Suhoski, said the lawsuit was “a very complex case and, through the very diligent efforts of our legal team, with close oversight of the Board of Selectmen, it appears we’ve reached an acceptable endpoint in this litigation.’’ None of the defendants has admitted liability.

Joseph L. Tehan Jr., a Boston lawyer who represented the town, told District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. that the settlement was finalized Monday with the help of a mediator.

Kenneth Waters was convicted in 1983 of first-degree murder and armed robbery in the death of Katharina Brow. She was found on May 21, 1980, with more than 30 stab wounds, in her mobile home in Ayer. Waters; his girlfriend, Brenda Marsh; and two of her children, one of whom Waters had fathered, had been living in a house behind the mobile home.

According to the complaint filed by Betty Anne Waters, her brother had a solid alibi for his whereabouts when the killing occurred: He had been working a night shift at a local diner and then had a court appearance the next morning for an unrelated matter. Ayer police interviewed him after the killing, but filed no charges, and the case remained unsolved for 2 1/2 years.

In October 1982, a man who was living with Marsh approached Ayer police and said she told him that Waters had confessed to killing a woman in Ayer, according to the complaint. She also said she had washed Waters’s bloody clothes, he said. Ayer Police Chief Philip L. Connors and Officer Nancy Taylor-Harris interrogated Marsh. Although she initially denied that Waters had anything to do with the killing, Marsh ultimately relented and said he had come home drunk the morning that Brow was killed with a long, deep scratch on his face, according to the complaint. Police arrested Waters, even though officers had examined him after the killing and found no wounds.

The complaint alleged that Waters was indicted based in part on false testimony before a grand jury by Taylor-Harris that fingerprints found at the crime scene were smeared and useless to investigators. In fact, authorities found a bloody fingerprint on a broken toaster and a partial print on a kitchen faucet that was still running when Brow’s body was discovered. Taylor-Harris knew that Waters had been excluded as the source of the prints, the complaint alleged. Waters was convicted by a Middlesex Superior Court jury and sentenced to life in prison.

“This is as bad as it gets,’’ Scheck said yesterday of the wrongful conviction. “Prison is bad. Being innocent in prison is much worse.’’ Waters attempted suicide at least twice behind bars, suffered panic attacks, and contracted hepatitis C, Scheck said.

Both Connors and Taylor-Harris have retired from the Ayer police, according to an assistant to the current police chief, William A. Murray, who could not be reached for comment.

Determined to win her brother’s freedom, Betty Anne Waters, a mother of two with a GED, worked as a waitress and bartender to pay her way through Rhode Island College. She attended Roger Williams University School of Law and became a lawyer at the age of 40. She then began representing her brother and started searching for evidence to clear him.

In the late 1990s, after begging a court clerk to scrounge through a courthouse basement, she found it: a sample of blood believed to be of the perpetrator’s, which was taken from evidence at the crime scene. It had been kept in a yellow cardboard box. Prosecutors agreed to test the evidence, and the results showed that Kenneth Waters’ DNA did not match the sample.

If Kenneth Waters’s estate and the last insurance company cannot reach an agreement, O’Toole plans to hold a brief trial July 23 on damages that the company might have to pay.

Original report here

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stop signs and liberty

And then one day the stop sign was gone. It was the very stop sign one block from my house that was oddly stationed at a low-traffic, 3-way intersection, tempting every driver to slow down but not come to a complete stop. How the city cleaned up on that one! I have personally coughed up in excess of $1,000 for tickets there, one time receiving two tickets in as many days. This sign was even the reason that I spent a day in jail for failing to fork over when the judge said I should.

I'm not alone: 93% of the drivers failed to come to a complete stop. Even so, I'm routinely lectured that my job as a citizen is to do precisely as I'm told. I've learned to habitually stop completely, even when the place looks like a ghost town with no cars anywhere in view.

Then one day the stop sign vanished. What happened here? Did the cops finally get all the citizens trained to stop and thereby dissipate their opportunity for rents? Was there just no more money to be made from the disobedient? Do I get a refund? How about compensation for the day I spent in jail? What about everyone else?

The local government must have extracted tens of thousands of dollars before good sense overcame our overlords and they decided to relent to reality. But no, there will not be compensation. The law changed its mind, and we are supposed to just deal with it. Now I must rehabituate myself to breaking — I mean keeping — the law.

One day, I'm jailed for failing to stop. Presumably, I could now get a ticket for stopping, since surely there is a law against suddenly stopping on a public road for no reason other than some vague memory than one had to in the past. What is evil one day is mandatory the next.

Now, I know what some readers are thinking: here we go with the libertarian wacko complaining about the "coercion" of stop signs. For decades, conservatives have been poking fun, caricaturing libertarians as people who rail against stop signs and thereby reveal their personal problem with authority—even such obviously justified authority as government stop signs. Don't we understand that these keep us safe, and so surely we should be willing to give up just a bit of license to speed around with abandon in the interest of the common good? Even now, a quick google of "libertarians" and "stop signs" reveals many people on the Left and the Right who think it is just stupidly hilarious that libertarians talk about these issues.

As a matter of fact, the management of the roads is a hugely important issue, given that tens of thousands of people die on government roads every year. Private ownership would in fact lead to greater liability for the road owner — and also more rational rules of the road. The private road would be devoted to serving the customers, not looting them at the point of a gun. And not only are private roads viable; there is a long history and a present practice to draw on. Walter Block's new book on road privatization makes the case that this is not an issue to ignore but one to solve through free enterprise.

In some ways, then, it is true that the stop sign — as with every regulation by the state — embodies all that is wrong with the public sector. The rules are made to benefit the state. You are on the hot seat if any policeman says that you have done wrong. The pretense of a fair trial is a complete farce, as you have to tangle with judges who hate you, waste several days of work, and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. Once you are entangled in the web, you can't really get out.

And who makes the rules? The central planners make the rules, and the public be damned. The rules are there to serve the state, not us, and the stop sign that is oddly placed in order to extract revenue makes the point very well.

When you are stopped, you become aware that the imbalance between the citizens and the state couldn't be more obvious. Deliver an insult and you are arrested. Try to run and you are gunned down. Fail to pay and you end up in the slammer. And maybe the cop will find something else about your life to be suspicious of. Whatever they want to know, you must tell them.

Government is not reason; it is force. What was the actual social rationale for that stop sign in the first place? You dare not ask, for then you are questioning the elites who are in charge of your life. And why was it removed? It's not for you to question why; it is for you to do or die. It was there and now it is gone. All "law-abiding citizens" must change with the arbitrary dictate of the traffic masters.

Now, I'm not saying that we don't need rules in society. But the question of who makes the rules and on what basis becomes supremely important. Will the rule making flow from the matrix of voluntary exchange based on the ethic of serving others through private enterprise? Or will the rules be made and enforced by people wearing guns and bulletproof vests with a license to shock or kill based on minor annoyances?

Original report here

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NYC: Trespassing “undercover” cop murders resident

A polite explanation to the resident and the display of a badge was apparently out of the question

A man who told an undercover policeman to get off his family's stoop punched the officer and struggled over the officer's gun before being shot dead, police said Sunday. Shem Walker hit the officer on the head and grabbed his gun Saturday night, police said. Other officers heard the undercover officer or a plainclothes colleague identify themselves, top police spokesman Paul Browne said.

But Walker's relatives said they were nearby and didn't hear any officers identify themselves, said Councilwoman Letitia James, who visited the family Sunday. The shooting raised questions about police conduct, she said.

The undercover officer was serving as backup for a Brooklyn drug investigation at a deli a few doors down from the stoop in the Clinton Hill neighborhood, Browne said. The racially and culturally diverse neighborhood is where the rapper The Notorious B.I.G. grew up.

The drug investigation didn't involve Walker, but he came out of the home around 8 p.m. and told the officer to leave, hitting him on the back of the head and saying, "If you don't move, I'll make you move," the police spokesman said. When the officer stood up to confront him, Walker punched the officer in the face and the two tumbled to the ground, Browne said. Another plainclothes officer involved in the investigation tried to grab Walker, who shook him off, he said.

The first officer had drawn his gun, and Walker grabbed it, Browne said. The gun went off twice as the two scuffled, shooting Walker once in the chest, Browne said.

Other officers nearby said they had heard someone yell, "Police! Don't move," and a civilian witness heard a shout of "Freeze!" Browne said.

The 36-year-old officer, whose name wasn't released, needed two stitches for a cut to his head. He's been placed on administrative duty, as is standard while shootings are investigated, Browne said.

James, a Brooklyn Democrat, told reporters the discrepancy between the police account and the family's account "raises some serious questions in my mind."

Walker, 49, often asked people not to linger on the stoop, said James, whose district includes the neighborhood, home to actress Rosie Perez and rapper-actor Mos Def. Walker's sister, Jean Nurse, said he was a "good person at heart" and the father of two daughters. She declined to comment further.

Original report here

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kids recant abuse claims after dad jailed 20 years

Statements coerced by police again

Former Vancouver police officer Clyde Ray Spencer spent nearly 20 years in prison after he was convicted of sexually molesting his son and daughter. Now, the children say it never happened. Matthew Spencer and Kathryn Tetz, who live in Sacramento, Calif., each took the stand Friday in Clark County Superior Court to clear their father's name, The Columbian newspaper reported.

Matthew, now 33, was 9 years old at the time. He told a judge he made the allegation after months of insistent questioning by now-retired Clark County sheriff's detective Sharon Krause just so she would leave him alone. Tetz, 30, said she doesn't remember what she told Krause back in 1985, but she remembers Krause buying her ice cream. She said that when she finally read the police reports she was "absolutely sure" the abuse never happened. "I would have remembered something that graphic, that violent," Tetz said.

Spencer's sentence was commuted by then-Gov. Gary Locke in 2004 after questions arose about his conviction. Among other problems, prosecutors withheld medical exams that showed no evidence of abuse, even though Krause claimed the abuse was repeated and violent. Despite the commutation, Spencer remains a convicted sex offender. He is hoping to have the convictions overturned.

Krause declined an interview request from The Columbian in 2005 and could not be reached Friday, the newspaper reported.

Both children said that while growing up in California they were told by their mother, who divorced Spencer before he was charged, that they were blocking out the memory of the abuse. They said they realized as adults the abuse never happened, and they came forward because it was the right thing to do.

Prosecutors aren't yet conceding that Spencer was wrongly convicted. Senior deputy prosecutor Kim Farr grilled the children about why they are so certain they weren't abused, and chief criminal deputy prosecutor Dennis Hunter said that if the convictions are tossed, his office might appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Matthew Spencer said his father had ruined the relationship with his mother and he had faults, "but none of them were molesting children."

Friday's hearing paved the way for the state Court of Appeals to allow Spencer to withdraw the no-contest pleas he entered in 1985 and have his convictions vacated. Both children had previously filed statements with the appeals court, but the judges required the hearing to ensure their new testimony held up under cross-examination.

Spencer, 61, hugged his son and daughter afterward while a dozen supporters cheered. "For so many years, nothing went right," he said. "When things keep going right, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop." The hardest thing about his ordeal was missing his children, he said.

"They were my life, and they were taken away from me," he said. "I could serve in prison. ..." His voice trailed off, and his son came up for one more hug.

Original report here

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