Saturday, October 31, 2009

Canadian official denies compensation to wrongfully convicted man

It is difficult to see what this garbage is talking about. Unger was convicted on the basis of bogus scientific evidence, the testimony of a jailhouse snitch and withheld evidence

Provincial [Manitoba] Justice Minister Dave Chomiak says there will be no offer of compensation for the 14 years Kyle Unger spent in prison and no inquiry into his wrongful conviction.

"The sad reality of this entire tragedy is that had it not been told to an undercover officer that he killed Brigitte Grenier, even all of the other evidence available would not have sent him to jail," Chomiak said yesterday. "Without his confession he would not have been charged ... External legal advice to the department indicates there are no grounds for compensation."

Chomiak argued Unger's case differs significantly from the wrongful convictions of Thomas Sophonow and James Driskell. Sophonow received $2.6 million for his wrongful conviction in the 1981 murder of Barbara Stoppel. Driskell received $4 million after spending 13 years in prison for the 1990 killing of Perry Harder.

"In the case of Thomas Sophonow there was factual evidence given by the chief of police that Sophonow was not the alleged killer so he was compensated," Chomiak said "In the Driskell case there was clear evidence that some information had been wrongly and inaccurately withheld from the defence so compensation was required. In this case, the 12 men and woman who convicted him did so on the basis of a confession that nowadays would not be entered into court."

Unger's lawyer expressed surprise that Chomiak announced a decision on compensation before even being approached. "We haven't talked to anybody about our position," he said. Wolch confirmed his client will be "looking at" filing a civil lawsuit seeking compensation.

Chomiak said the province learned much from the Sophonow and Driskell inquiries and does not need to a call another one into Unger's conviction.

Original report here

Background: From March this year:

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced Wednesday that a new trial has been ordered for Unger, who spent 14 years in a B.C. prison for the 1990 sexual assault and killing of Grenier. She was been beaten, strangled and sexually mutilated at a rock concert in the small Manitoba community of Roseisle, about 120 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

"I am satisfied there is a reasonable basis to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred in Mr. Unger's 1992 conviction," Nicholson said in announcing his decision.

Unger was convicted, along with Timothy Houlahan, who was released on bail in 1994 when his conviction was overturned by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in 1994. Houlahan committed suicide later that same year. Unger's initial appeal to the Manitoba Court of Appeal following his conviction was rejected and leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied. But in September 2004, a Forensic Evidence Review Committee established by the province called into question the hair comparison evidence used at Unger's trial. New DNA testing suggested a strand of hair found at the scene of the crime and originally used to convict Unger did not come from him.

Unger's lawyer subsequently filed an application to the minister of justice for a review of the murder conviction. Based on the DNA evidence, a judge of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench said she had "very serious concerns [he] may have been wrongly convicted of murder." In November 2005, at age 34, Unger was granted bail pending the minister's decision.

Despite Nicholson's call for a new trial, Lockyer told media he's not certain there will even be one because there is no forensic evidence left against Unger. In fact, there is more in his defence, Lockyer said. Police and prosecutors kept evidence from the defence during the original trial and used a jailhouse informant who was not credible, he charged. Since Unger's release, Lockyer said the defence team has discovered evidence Houlahan was a Satanist and the Crown knew it. "If you know about what [Satanism] is … you would quickly understand how that fits the nature of the crime," he said.

Original report here

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Never trust a government conviction

Megan Williams now says she was lying all along when accusing seven men of kidnapping, sexually abusing and assaulting her. The seven plead guilty to charges two years ago.

Indeed, “former Logan County prosecutor Brian Abraham, who was in charge of the case, said no one ever went to jail because of Williams’ statements. Instead, Abraham said Tuesday night, he decided early in the case not to rely on Williams’ statements, but on the physical evidence and the statements of the co-defendants.”

And what did the defendants admit to? “According to the admissions of those eventually convicted, Williams was physically and sexually abused. She was beaten repeatedly, held against her will, burned with hot wax, stabbed in the leg, and forced to perform oral sex on at least two defendants.”

So let me get this straight. The supposed victim claims all the crimes were made up, yet government officials claim that the evidence apart from her accusations — as in, the evidence of something that Williams now admits never happened — was enough to send them to prison.

Now, if something did not happen, and prosecutors claim the evidence and the process were still legally sufficient to put innocent people in jail, then the entire system isn’t even theoretically just.

Williams’s attorney muses, “It sounds to me that there are innocent people held in jail for something they did not do. I have no idea what convinced them to plead guilty.”

Well, I have an idea. The entire criminal justice system, like any socialist institution, is inherently rigged against actual justice. And so most people sent to prison never enjoy a trial, but instead are bullied into pleading guilty because they know their chances with a trial are slim, that the cards are stacked against them, and that if they lose a trial they will end up punished far harsher than what they could “negotiate” in a plea bargain. Despite all these plea bargains, our system is not one characterized by leniency, as we have more prisoners, both in absolute terms and per capita, than any other nation on earth. And so most convicts plead guilty, but we cannot be sure if they are actually guilty, as this was never proven beyond a reasonable doubt, even by the state’s own terms. When it is so much more attractive to cop to a heinous crime than to fight a false charge, even confessions must be doubted as a matter of course. Perhaps the standard should be to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, regardless of what the accused says. But that would require far too much deliberation for each case. This would be possible in a civil society with very few crimes, but when there are seven million Americans on parole or probation or behind bars, procedural niceties cannot get in the way of an ever expanding prison state.

I couldn’t guess how many innocents have been wrongly imprisoned, even having plead guilty, for crimes they did not commit, including truly vicious crimes. But I do know that I cannot possibly trust the state when it says someone is guilty, even if there’s a confession. A system that is able to railroad seven people into confessing to crimes they never committed, whose sentencing seems to prosecutors to be soundly based on “physical evidence” and their own desperate guilty pleas, even in retrospect, even despite it being clear there was no crime all along, can simply never be trusted in general to protect justice, nor in any given case not to have committed a great error or engaged in great immorality.

Original report here

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Never get naked in front of a cop … or his wife

Now it makes sense. Remember Eric Williamson? He was the Fairfax, Virginia man arrested for making coffee while naked and alone in his own kitchen. He was 'viewed' by a woman and her 7-year-old who were taking a shortcut across his property. Rather than apologize, knock on his door to complain or just shrug it off, the woman called the police to report a pervert and Williamson now faces a year in jail. Why does it make sense now?

According to the Washington Post: As officers tell it, the 45-year-old woman, the wife of a Fairfax police officer, was walking her son to school about 8:40 a.m. along a well-traveled path between public tennis courts and the house where Williamson had been living for three months when a noise drew her attention to a side door. That's when she first noticed Williamson standing nude in the doorway, she said.

It was the wife of a Fairfax police officer whose delicate pupils were seared by peeping through the window of a neighbor. it was the son of a Fairfax police officer who knows now to call the police on a pervert when you peep through windows and see things you don't like. Those who are 'insiders' of the legal or political system in America are a de facto elite class and, so, receive "protections" to which the rest of us are not privy.

Does anyone believe this case would be pursued if it was a clerk at WalMart married to a gas jockey who complained? The husband-cop got angry...and this is what happens when cops want to vent. Rank has its privileges. That used to mean those with rank had generous expense accounts; now it means they have special status under the law. I guess there are no murders, rapes, thefts, assaults and other real crimes stacked up on police desks in Fairfax.

Unhappily for Williamson, the fact that it is a cop's wife and the case has garnered international attention means the police are likely to pursue a conviction zealously in order to prove themselves in the "right." He could take a plea deal, like so many innocent people do. But that is likely to land him on a sex registry along with a notation that his offense involved a 7-year-old child. Such a listing would make him largely unemployable, unable to attend public places like church or a park and banned from living in most areas of most cities.

Original report here

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arizona hits the asset forfeiture jackpot

The Arizona Department of Public Safety, which includes the Highway Patrol, is making much fuss about two roadside stops last week that resulted in the seizure of over $150,000 in cash that was being transported in the vehicles. The money was taken on suspicion that it was the proceeds of criminal activity, and the two drivers have been booked on money laundering charges related to the as yet unidentified crimes.

That's right: unidentified crimes. Oh yes, it's a fair bet that the money -- $49,000 in a hidden compartment and $104,000 in a shoe box -- came from some underground trade, with drugs as the safest guess. But there was no way for police to know that for sure when they pulled the vehicles over for "speeding and a lane change violation" in one case and for "a following distance traffic violation." The police claim vague "indicators of criminal activity" as excuses for the subsequent searches of the vehicles that revealed the money, but the charges on money laundering alone suggest that the indicators didn't actually constitute evidence.

So the drivers are being charged with laundering money gained from criminal activities to be named at a later date, and their cash was taken on suspicion of being connected to those same mysterious activities.

Again, it will be no surprise to anybody if the cash does turn out to be drug money, but it should also be no surprise if it turns out to be perfectly legitimate cash. Police claim that their spidey senses are nearly infallible in such matters, but more than a few people over the years have had their money stolen by law-enforcement authorities who just wouldn't or couldn't believe that anybody would want to possess large sums of cash.

As long ago as 1995, then-Rep. Henry Hyde made a personal cause of exposing the confiscation of cash by police from innocent people. He emphasized the case of Willie Jones, a Nashville landscaper, who found it easier to do business in cash when purchasing supplies for his business -- and lost nearly $10,000 for his troubles. Unfortunately, Jones was only one victim among many of asset forfeiture laws -- weird vestiges of medieval legal theory that allow the authorities to seize and prosecute things under legal standards much less stringent than those required to prove cases against people.

Despite the attention of Hyde, the Cato Institute and the ACLU, and subsequent congressional hearings into asset forfeiture abuses, the situation hasn't really improved. Some communities -- such as Tehana and Jim Wells County, both of Texas, and Lamar County, Georgia, have become notorious for stopping passers-through and grabbing anything of value. Those who object are threatened with -- you guessed it -- money laundering charges. As of last year, The Jim Wells County Sheriffs's Department was generating one-third of its budget from roadside muggings.

Often, police will point to positive results from drug-sniffing dogs as indicators that seized cash is the proceeds of illegal activity (canine hits could well be the "indicators of criminal activity" cited by the DPS, since the arrests were made by a canine officer), but that's like tossing darts at an elephant considering that a whopping 90% of all U.S. cash has cocaine traces. One forensic scientist who has commented on the matter warns that the traces are high enough to cause false drug test results on people who handle large amounts of cash.
Asking dogs to sniff a bundle of the green stuff itself is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Odds are that the Arizona Department of Public Safety is right and the cash officers seized last week comes from drug transactions (and leave aside, for the moment, my strong belief that the government has no business criminalizing voluntary transactions among adults of any sort). But the DPS doesn't actually know that, it's just guessing. If the Arizona Highway Patrol didn't actually rob innocent drivers last week, it, like so many other law enforcement agencies around the country, certainly has in the past -- and it will likely do so again in the future.

Original report here

Dangerous drunken cop

Draws gun on haunted house employee. Slap on the wrist coming up, no doubt

A BALTIMORE city police officer delivered the fright of a lifetime to a haunted house employee, pulling a gun on the chainsaw-wielding man at the end of his act. Sergeant Eric Janik, 37, was charged with assault and reckless endangerment for pointing his service handgun at the worker, who was dressed as Leatherface, the killer from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Baltimore County police said.

The employee, Mike Morrison, followed Janik and several other people up a staircase Sunday night at the end of the haunted house tour in a bid to get ``one last scream'' out of them, police said.

When the group exited into a parking lot, Janik pulled his gun and pointed it at Morrison from less than three metres away, according to police and Morrison, who said he dropped the chainsaw, put his hands up and backed away. The saw had no chain.

Only then did Janik identify himself as a police officer, said Morrison, who retreated into the building. ``I started shaking pretty bad,'' he told The Associated Press. Another employee of the House of Screams called police.

According to charging documents, Janik smelled of alcohol and told police two different stories about what he did with the gun. First, he denied drawing the weapon but later he said he pointed it at the ground. Morrison and two other witnesses told police that Janik pointed the gun at Morrison's chest.

Original report here

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Innocent man freed after four years in prison

A witness and a confession landed 18-year-old Christopher Lindsey behind bars charged with murder and facing life in prison. But four years later, another man's DNA apparently has set him free.

Christopher Lindsey, 23, of Waggaman, was released in September after spending four years in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center, accused of committing a murder in Harvey when he was 18. The charge was dismissed on the eve of his trial last month. "I'm still angry, " Lindsey of Waggaman said recently, weeks after he left jail. "Four years out of my life for something I didn't do. I could have went to college and everything."

On the eve of his Sept. 21 trial, the Jefferson Parish district attorney's office dismissed a second-degree murder charge against Lindsey, 23, after he spent four years and two months in jail. He and Cedric Lewis, 28, of Harvey were accused of killing Trellas Porter, 23, a marijuana dealer on July 3, 2005, inside the Harvey home of Porter's grandmother.

Porter's girlfriend, Karra Crayton, told police she was waiting outside for Porter to drive her to her New Orleans home when two men approached. One pointed a gun to her head, told her she would die and forced her into the house, according to police reports.

During the scuffle that followed inside, Porter's 81-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Eugene, scratched one of the intruders. Porter was forced into a bedroom, where he was shot. Detectives later found nearly 800 grams of marijuana in his closet, according to police reports.

The case detective, then-Sgt. Don Meunier, ordered a crime scene technician to gather evidence, including material from Eugene's fingernails in search of DNA that could identify a killer.

Early in the investigation, Lindsey and Lewis emerged as suspects through rumors detectives heard on the streets, according to police reports. With that information, detectives included Lindsey's picture in a photographic line-up of five men and showed the array to Crayton. She identified Lindsey on July 14, 2005, and he was arrested two days later.

"I said, "Homicide?' " Lindsey recalled. During booking into the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna, officers found two rocks of crack cocaine in his underwear. He was booked with cocaine possession and introducing contraband into the jail, records show.

By midnight, Meunier and Detective Roger Gorumba were questioning Lindsey, records show. He waived his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney, speaking to the detectives for the next five hours.

The first taped statement began at 1:43 a.m., with Lindsey acknowledging he knew Porter about three years. "He's the weed man, you know, you go buy the weed. I smoke all day, " Lindsey told the detectives.

He denied involvement in the homicide but said he was on Estalote Street until about 3 p.m., when his mother drove him home, according to the statement. But his mother contradicted the claim, saying she didn't pick up Lindsey until after Porter's murder, Meunier wrote.

After a nap, Lindsey admitted in a second taped statement he hadn't been truthful, " 'cause I was scared for my life."

He told detectives "Sedric" killed Porter, although he went to Porter's house with Lewis to buy marijuana, according to a transcript of the statement. Unaware Lewis was armed, Lindsey said he ran out when he heard gunshots.

While Lindsey confirmed what the detectives suspected, that Lewis was involved, both men were indicted with second-degree murder in November 2005.

Confession was false, Lindsey says

But Lindsey now calls his admission a false confession, fabricated when the detectives' tape recorder was not running -- what detectives call a "pre-interview." He claims the detectives told him what to say and said they would let him go if he talked. They told him they found his DNA at the murder scene, he said.

Such police interrogation tactics are legal, attorneys say.

"I was so confused, I thought I done it, " Lindsey said of the all-night interrogation. "I was up so long." ....

"If the DNA didn't come back, I'd probably be doing life, ya heard me?" Lindsey said. "The DNA saved me."

More here

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Monday, October 26, 2009

U.S. police thugs filmed bashing university student

A cellphone video that shows police officers repeatedly hitting an unarmed university student with batons and a Taser gun has prompted a criminal investigation into the officers' conduct, a San Jose police spokesman said. The video, posted by the San Jose Mercury News on its website late Saturday, shows one officer hitting 20-year-old Vietnamese student Phuong Ho with a metal baton more than 10 times, including once on the head. Another officer is seen using his Taser gun on the San Jose State math major.

The final baton strike in last month's incident appears to take place after handcuffs have been attached to Ho's wrists. The last baton strike ought to bring a felony charge, said Roger Clark, a police expert and a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. "It takes me back to the day I saw the Rodney King video on TV," said Clark. The 1991 videotaped beating of the black motorist in Los Angeles resulted in charges against several officers and their acquittal the following year spawned a riot.

Officers arrested Ho on suspicion of assaulting one of his roommates. He was not armed when police arrived and he told the newspaper he did not resist arrest.

The confrontation began on September 3 when Ho's roommate, Jeremy Suftin, put soap on Ho's steak. The two scuffled, and Ho picked up a steak knife, saying that in his home country he would have killed Suftin for doing what he did. Police were called, and four officers responded.

Officer Kenneth Siegel encountered Ho in the hallway, but could not understand the student's accent, police reports said. Ho then ignored a police command to stand still, reports said. When Ho tried to follow Siegel into his room, officer Steven Payne Jr. moved to handcuff Ho. Payne wrote in his report that he pushed the student into a wall and then forced him to the floor when he resisted being handcuffed.

Ho, who weighs more than 200 pounds (90 kilograms), said his glasses fell off. As he went to pick them up, the officers struck him, he said.

Another one of Ho's roommates, Dimitri Masouris, captured the events on his cell phone. An officer can be heard on the video shouting, "Turn over!" Ho can be heard moaning and crying as he's struck. "In philosophy, they call it 'dehumanization,"' Ho told the Mercury News. "So when they think me a dangerous guy, they don't treat me like I was human. They hit me like an animal or something."

Masouris said he considered the police response excessive. He sold the tape to San Jose lawyer Duyen Hoang Nguyen, who is representing Ho. The Mercury News obtained a copy of the video and showed it to Daniel Katz, San Jose's assistant police chief. The police department is taking the matter very seriously, he said.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said the incident would be investigated by the internal affairs division of the San Jose Police Department and the results forwarded to the Santa Clara County district attorney for possible criminal prosecution. "Both investigations must respect the constitutionally guaranteed right of due process, which belongs to all parties to an investigation," Reed said Sunday in a statement.

The city's large Vietnamese-American community is already angry over the police shooting of a mentally ill Vietnamese man in May, the newspaper said in an editorial about Ho's beating. The lack of public disclosure in the investigation that followed was also a problem, the paper said.

Police experts said the grainy, shaky video is difficult to view and may not show actions by Ho that justified the officers' response. Nevertheless, several said the video raises serious concerns. "Once he is handcuffed, then he is helpless," said Frank Jordan, a former San Francisco police chief and mayor. "If you can show that his hands are behind his back, and he is handcuffed, that is where you get brutality. That would be excessive force."

Siegel and Payne didn't respond to written requests for comment sent through department officials and their union.

Original report here

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ludovic Kennedy: British campaigner against injustice

He could, one of his friends said, smell injustice. Sir Ludovic Kennedy, who has died aged 89, was a broadcaster and author whose relentless pursuit of miscarriages of justice ensured that his legacy would reach far beyond the transient fame of television.

In a career championing the wrongly convicted that stretched over four decades he not only secured pardons and remissions of sentence but also played a significant role in the campaign to abolish the death penalty.

The cases he took up included that of Timothy Evans — hanged for a crime that was almost certainly committed by the serial killer John Christie — and the Luton post office murder, in which a police officer conspired with an informant to help to convict men he knew were innocent.

Sir Ludovic “came from a rather good background”, his friend Will Wyatt, the former head of BBC Television, said. “But he had a huge sense of mischief and distrust of authority. When he got on to something, he really enjoyed upsetting the applecart. He smelt injustice and felt passionately about it, and enjoyed the chase.”

The first case he took up was that of Derek Bentley, who, aged 18, was hanged for his part in the murder of a policeman on a South London rooftop. Then, convinced that Evans was wrongly hanged, he wrote 10 Rillington Place — filmed with Richard Attenborough and John Hurt — which led to a judicial inquiry and a posthumous pardon for Evans. The case is widely held to have been instrumental in the decision to abolish the death penalty.

As Richard Ingrams, the former Editor of Private Eye, said, it “exposed the fact that the British judicial system could get things hopelessly wrong and would then try to cover them up”.

Sir Ludovic also believed that the society osteopath Stephen Ward, who killed himself during the Profumo affair, was a victim of injustice and that the man hanged for the abduction and killing of the aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby was framed.

Among his successes was the release from jail of Patrick Meehan, who had been convicted of the murder of Rachel Ross at her Ayrshire home.

He was also a passionate advocate of atheism, republicanism and foxhunting, and in his later years championed assisted dying. He stood for Parliament in the 2001 general election as an independent on a pro-euthanasia ticket.

Michael Mansfield, QC, who helped to overturn the conviction of the Birmingham Six, another cause championed by Sir Ludovic, said: “For me he was an inspiration. He is part of the reason I went to the Bar at all. After I read 10 Rillington Place I was horrified about that as a miscarriage of justice, and how it could happen. His style of investigative journalism was courageous at a time when the British system was hardly ever questioned.”

Mr Ingrams described Sir Ludovic as “a bit of an anarchist”. He told the BBC: “For somebody like that to be engaged in the exposure of miscarriages of justice — it gave him an advantage. He couldn’t be dismissed as a kind of left-wing lunatic or anything like that.”

Sir Ludovic believed that the main culprit in nearly all the cases he took up to have been the “extremely childish” British system of adversarial justice, which was “an invitation to the police to commit perjury, which they frequently do”. Such iconoclasm may have surprised television viewers for whom he was merely the urbane presenter of such current affairs programmes as This Week, Panorama and 24 Hours.

His charm, though, was legendary. As Mr Wyatt said: “People fell in love with him. They would fall over backwards for him, and so he was always able to get a lot out of people.”

At a fancy-dress ball in 1949 he met the young ballet dancer Moira Shearer, who had starred the previous year in the film The Red Shoes, and asked her to dance. She would be delighted, she told him, only “I don’t dance very well”.

They married the next year, and stayed together until her death in 2006.

Speaking for the family, Sir Ludovic’s daughter Rachel Hall said: “He leaves a great gap in all our lives. He was an immensely attentive and loving father, and though he was totally absorbed with his work, he was always ready to do things with his children. He taught us to be curious about the world, he shared with us his love of jazz, literature and poetry, and, of course, with that wonderful voice he was someone you always wanted to listen to.

“Both he and our mother had a delightful naivety about modern life — they were totally uninterested in the workings of anything mechanical, and although my father attempted to discover the boon of a word processor, it wasn’t long before it was discarded and he was back with his familiar Olivetti, and the two-finger typing.”

Original report here

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Police arrest a woman for standing up for her rights

On Oct. 2, Catherine Bleish was one of a handful of speakers who revved up a crowd of 2,000 at the St. Charles (Mo.) Tea Party. Ten days later, she found herself in jail in the South St. Louis city of Maplewood.

“I was standing in line outside,” the 25-year-old told me Monday afternoon during an interview on the porch of her South St. Louis home where she lives with her two Rottweilers, Harley Davidson and Ed Norton.

In this case, “outside” is the area just outside the Maplewood (Mo.) Police Station/Traffic Court where approximately 45 to 50 people — most of whom had been summoned as a result of traffic citations — waited to make appearances.

Why was Bleish, a 2005 communications graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, in that line in the first place? She said she was accompanying her boyfriend, Josh Carter — a man mentioned in a post I published March 29 — who had come to deal with the matter of expired license plates for his car. According to Bleish, Carter refuses to pay taxes on his state-issued license plate and believes such a tax is un-Constitutional.

The weather was getting colder at the thrice-monthly Monday night event, Bleish explained, and, according to National Weather Service data found here, the temperature around 7 p.m. — the midway point of the 2-hour event — was in the mid- to upper-40s with winds below 10 miles per hour.

People were starting to get a little frustrated, she explained, but remained in good spirits.

“We were joking about it, but everyone was talking,” she said, adding, “When you’re standing in line that long, you start to communicate with people around you.

“The next thing we know, an officer comes out and lets about 15 people in,” she explained. That prompted the remaining 30 or so people to crowd up closer to the door an under an overhead light not far from a security camera capturing video images above and around the entrance. But it didn’t last long.

“We’re just kind of talking and the officer comes back out and starts demanding that we all line up against the wall.

“I turned to the girl who was standing next to me — I later found out her name was Kymberly — and I made the comment, ‘Get in line. Show your papers. Give us your money. Welcome to the New America.”

Should the officer have taken a more tactful approach to dealing with those assembled outside? I’m sure Bleish thought he should have.

“The officer heard me say that, and he did not like it,” Bleish continued. “He looked over a couple of people’s heads and said, ‘What did you say?’ So I repeated myself. Then, she said, he came “storming up to me, saying, ‘Do you want to go to jail tonight? Do you want to go to jail tonight?’

Instead of defusing the situation, however, she responded to the officer’s question by saying, “Why? I haven’t done anything.”

Perhaps, the assertive former Ron Paul campaigner felt emboldened by the Gadsden Flag (a.k.a., “Don’t Tread On Me”) image emblazoned on her hoodie. More likely, though, her reaction was fueled — at least in part — by her familiarity with Constitutional rights and state sovereignty issues she deals with regularly as founder and executive director of the nonprofit Liberty Restoration Project.

Next, she said, the officer did something that was, if nothing else, unexpected. “He turns to the crowd and says, ‘Does anyone have a leash? If so, put it on her?’”

Immediately, Bleish said, the girl standing next to her asked the officer if he was calling Bleish a “b_ _ _ _?”

Several times, according to Bleish, the officer repeated his question, “Do you want to go to jail?” and Bleish responded by saying, “I have a right to be here sir. I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m not breaking any laws.”

The officer responded, she said, by telling her, “I will make something up to put you in jail.” After casting a verbal threat toward Kymberly and saying, “I’ve got something for you,” the officer walked inside and Bleish began thinking ahead and got out a piece of paper.

She said she wrote down words to the effect of, “I was just told that an officer would make up a reason to arrest me,” and handed it to her boyfriend with the instructions for him to have people sign it if that happens as a means of collecting contact information of people who witnessed events that had transpired.

Eight people — all with 314 area codes in their phone numbers — wrote their names and numbers on the paper. A handful of others, perhaps only wanting to appear as if they were willing to help, wrote down names only.

Within minutes, the officer came back out and told Bleish she had two minutes to leave or she would be arrested. Not surprisingly, the woman one witness described as “five foot tall and a hundred pounds” didn’t take kindly to the threat.

Why didn’t she leave at that point and avoid further confrontation? Apparently, she was willing to fall on her ideological sword.

“I said, ‘Sir, you just told everyone here you would make up reasons to arrest me; why do I have to leave?’” she said, explained that without a legitimate reason, “I have every right to be here.”

Apparently, the officer disagreed. “He turned around, went back inside and the next thing I knew there were three officers coming out,” she explained, using hand gestures and body movements to animate her description of events. “They grabbed me by my arms and literally lifted me off of my feet and pinned me up against the guard rail and started cuffing me.”

Seeing Bleish in trouble prompted Kymberly to raise concerns such as “Why are you being so rough with her?” and “Don’t hurt her!” Bleish recalled, adding that her just-made friend tried to get in between her and the officer putting on the cuffs, but that effort yielded nothing good.

Don't Taze Me, Bro!“She ended up having a taser pointed right at her chest,” Bleish said, noting that the threat of electric shock was enough to convince Kymberly to depart the property.

Bleish concluded her description of events by saying she was never told why she was arrested until after she was bailed out by friends — at a cost of $750. The charge: Failure to comply, an ordinance violation that, in the overall scheme of things, is a pretty minor violation.

Bear in mind, this wasn’t the first time Bleish has had an ideological run-in with the law. She said she was once “thrown out” out of the Missouri governor’s office by members of the Missouri Highway Patrol — the agency that provides security for the state’s highest office holder — “for trying to schedule a meeting with him.”

In addition, she is known by many in statewide political and law enforcement circles as a staunch opponent of the Department of Homeland Security-funded “Fusion Centers” which entered the public discourse in March. It was then that the Missouri Information Analysis Center issued to members of the Missouri law enforcement community what one writer described as “chilling instructions” about how to identify members of the “modern militia movement.” (For more details, see Yikes! I Might Be Part of the Militia Movement, a piece that earned me an interview by Fox News.).

Using phone contact information they provided Bleish, I contacted others in the line who witnessed the events of that evening. By and large, they corroborated Bleish’s recollection of events with little variance — even the part about officers handling the petite woman in a rough manner.

At the other end of the spectrum, sources close to the department spoke to a reliable friend of this blog under conditions of anonymity, since the matter is under investigation. They told him Bleish — and, probably, the officer himself — could have prevented events of that night from escalating to the level they did simply by using a little discretion and common sense.

Original report here

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Friday, October 23, 2009

An example of plea bargains convicting the innocent

Seven people pleaded guilty for their part in abusing Megan Williams -- but now Williams says that abuse never happened. She will hold a press conference Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, to recant her claims of abuse, attorney Byron L. Potts, who represents Williams, told The Charleston Gazette on Tuesday night. "She has decided she has been living this lie for approximately two years and she has decided to tell the truth," Potts said. "She fabricated the story and she did this in retaliation because she was having a relationship with one of them."

But former Logan County prosecutor Brian Abraham, who was in charge of the case, said no one ever went to jail because of Williams' statements. Instead, Abraham said Tuesday night, he decided early in the case not to rely on Williams' statements, but on the physical evidence and the statements of the co-defendants. "It's ironic to me that today she's saying she made all this up. At the time she was criticizing me for offering them plea agreements," Abraham said. "This isn't to rejuvenate her 15 minutes of fame, but to regurgitate her 15 minutes of fame. Is she proposing to give back all the donations she got?"

State Police found Williams at the mobile home of Bobby Brewster and his mother, Frankie Brewster, on Sept. 8, 2007. She was in a relationship with Brewster. According to the admissions of those eventually convicted, Williams was physically and sexually abused. She was beaten repeatedly, held against her will, burned with hot wax, stabbed in the leg, and forced to perform oral sex on at least two defendants.

"Each of them made statements incriminating themselves and others. When you sat back and looked at it in its entirety, there was a pretty clear picture of what had taken place," Abraham said. "As she got hooked up with her family and with additional handlers joined in, she continued to embellish. But we had her original statements that she gave. For the most part, they were consistent with what the co-defendants said happened."

The Brewsters and Logan County residents George Messer, Alisha Burton, Karen Burton, Linnie Burton Jr. and Danny Combs each plead guilty to crimes for abusing Williams. The crimes ranged from simple battery to kidnapping, sexual assault and one hate crime charge. Burton pleaded guilty to a hate crime charge for stabbing Williams in the ankle while saying, "This is what we do to niggers around here."

At the time of the plea deals, Megan Williams, her adopted mother Carmen Williams, and her adviser Malik Shabazz criticized the plea agreements, claiming they were too light a punishment. Shabazz, co-founder of Black Lawyers for Justice and a member of the New Black Panther Party, gave Williams and her family legal counsel.

The Williams family, Shabazz and others criticized Abraham for only pursuing a hate crime charge for Burton. Now Williams claims she wasn't abused at all, Potts said. "They did plead guilty, I don't know why," he said of the defendants. "This is what she's telling me."

Potts said he contacted current Logan County Prosecutor John Bennett to tell him Williams was recanting her testimony. The prosecutor gave Potts contact information for the lawyers of the defendants. Potts said he plans to contact each of them. "It sounds to me that there are innocent people held in jail for something they did not do," Potts said. "I have no idea what convinced them to plead guilty."

He said Williams knows that by recanting her testimony, she could be prosecuted for lying about the incident. "She still wants to come forward. She's been fully advised that she could potentially be charged and end up in the penitentiary herself," he said.

Potts said Megan Williams was manipulated by Carmen Williams and others after she was found at the Brewster home. Carmen Williams has since died. Megan's adoptive father, Matthew Williams, could not be reached late Tuesday. "I know for a fact she has been manipulated," Potts said. "People raised money for her, she never received that money." Abraham also believes Williams has been manipulated.

Six days after Williams was found, Abraham met with NAACP and black church leaders to discuss hate-crime charges in the case. "I remember specifically telling them, 'Look fellas, be careful how far you go out on this limb, you may get sawed off. Be careful of what she's saying and what her family is saying,'" Abraham said.

Original report here

Justice in China 24 years after wrong conviction

A MAN in central China was awarded one million yuan ($160,000) and declared innocent of rape 27 years after being unjustly convicted and jailed for the crime, state press says.

Following orders from the high court of Henan province, a local county court retried Zhang Baoyin in August and found him innocent of raping a woman in 1982, China National Radio reported.

Zhang was convicted of the rape based on police evidence that his blood type matched that of blood found at the scene of the crime and sentenced to 10 years in jail despite his pleas of innocence, the report said.

After being released from prison for good behaviour in 1989, Zhang began his quest to clear his name and by 1996 proved that the blood type of the evidence collected by police was type O, while his blood type was AB, the report said.

Despite such findings, Henan local courts refused to overturn the 1982 conviction, it said. Finally, in June 2008, the case went before the Henan high court, which ordered the retrial.

On August 24, Zhang was declared innocent and the court awarded him 1.02 million yuan in compensation, it said.

Original report here

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

A case of innocence executed

It is unlikely you've ever heard of Cameron Todd Willingham. He was an out of work Texas mechanic in the state's poor rural north-east who cared for his three small children while his 22-year-old wife worked in bar. He died at 36 in 2004; executed by lethal injection at the infamous Huntsville prison – the oldest in Texas – and where 362 people died in the electric chair before it was replaced with lethal injection in 1964.

He had always declared he was innocent of setting the blaze in his house, which took the lives of his three children two days before Christmas in 1991. His last protest was to refuse to cooperate with his executioners and had to be dragged to the death chamber's gurney. He was gone within 20 minutes and soon forgotten like most of the 1152 people who've died in Texas at executioner's the hand or the 16,708 across the US, beginning with George Kendall, a Virginian soldier, shot in 1608 for spying.

Now Cameron Willingham has arisen from the sheeted gurney within the green walls of Huntsville execution chamber to cast the shadow over the American justice system that defenders of the death penalty never wanted to see; has an innocent man been executed and will Texas become the first state to ever admit it?

The Willingham case has been looked at sporadically over the years, mostly because of the shambolic investigation, which maintained arson led to the fire in his home. It was, however, The New Yorker magazine in its September 7 issue that cast the greatest doubt on Willingham's guilt. The magazine published one of the longest articles in its 84-year history – a towering 17-page piece by writer David Grann that reduced to splinters the case again Willingham in words that hold so tight, they crush.

Willingham was abandoned by his mother as a baby and raised by his father, a wrecker's yard worker. Soon after dropping out of high school he chalked up arrests for stealing a bike, driving drunk and shoplifting. In his early 20s he married a girl called Stacy who, aged four, had seen her stepfather strangle her mother. He drank too much and sometimes hit Stacy.

His life was unlike that of the square-jawed, ex-military pilot, wealthy rancher's son and avowed Republican who replaced George Bush as Texas Governor. It was this man, Ric Perry, who signed off on his execution. Now it is Ric Perry who is the focus of much anger by the informed and articulate anti-death penalty movement in America who see within his bewildering actions and statements since the New Yorker piece appeared a fear of where Cameron Willingham's ghost might lead.

Within three weeks of the publication of the New Yorker article, Perry suddenly, and totally unexpectedly, announced that he had fired members of the Texas Forensics Commission, whom he had appointed, just two days before the commission was to hear evidence from one of America's mostly highly regarded arson experts on the Willingham case. Dr Craig Beyler intended to say Willingham had been convicted on evidence of arson that was wrong. Other leading experts have agreed that the original arson findings were made by ill-trained men who had little or no understanding of fire behaviour.

Investigators from Willingham's home town 0f 20,000, Corsicana, claimed at his trial that, judging by the fracture patterns on broken glass — known as crazed glass — left by the blaze, someone had trailed flammable liquid under the children's beds, along the hallway and out the front door. Scientists have since discovered that water sprayed by firemens' hoses caused the fracture patterns when glass suddenly cools. Among the other forensic evidence used against Willingham — mostly all of it now exposed as shoddy and wrong — was a key piece that helped the jury convict him within an hour. The local investigators told the court they had found traces of flammable liquid on the front porch of Willingham's house. It was Dr Gerald Hurst, a fire expert, who discovered the truth. The liquid came from the exploded canister of lighter fluid Willingham used to fuel his small barbecue – also on the front porch. Hurst's report said not a single piece of physical evidence supported a finding of arson.

Hurst, knowing early in 2004 that Willingham was on the verge of execution, wrote his report in such haste that he didn't fix the typos. A man was about to executed on the basis of junk science, his report said. Hurst rushed his report to the Governor's office. But one of the leading anti-death penalty lobby groups — the New York-based Innocence Project — has since discovered, using Freedom of Information Laws, that no one in Governor Perry's office has any record of acknowledging it, taking note of its significance, or calling attention to it within the Government. On February 17, 2004, just after he finished his last meal of barbecued pork ribs, Willingham was told Perry had refused to stay his execution.

Hurst's finding that there was no arson was confirmed six weeks ago by Beyler who was to appear on the first day of the commission's review of Willingham's execution. He is an independent arson expert hired by the Forensic Science Commission, which was created in 2005 to investigate mistakes in crime laboratories. Beyler said in his August report on the Willingham case that "the investigators had a poor understanding of fire science", and that the evidence they cited did not support a finding of arson.

Beyler was to testify before the commission in Dallas on Friday. But the newly appointed chairman, John M. Bradley, the district attorney in Williamson County and known for his hardline stance on law and order, cancelled the hearing, saying he did not know enough about the inquiry.

On Wednesday, under increasing suspicion that his office – and he – had ignored the evidence that might have saved Willingham, Perry refused to release written advice he had received from his general counsel about giving a stay of execution. Instead he called Willingham a monster.

For those who don't believe that Governor Perry or the US system would be capable of killing an innocent, it is worth considering one fact; 17 people have left death row alive because DNA testing proved their innocence after a death sentence. They served an average of 12 years in prison.

For many years, proving a dead man innocent and forcing a state to admit it has been the Holy Grail of campaigners opposed to the death penalty. They believed one case might well have changed American public opinion, which runs at 65 per cent in support of the death penalty. Sadly and perhaps perversely the US Supreme Court, in a five-four decision, ruled in June that a prisoner had no constitutional right to demand DNA testing of evidence held by police. In August, two of the Supreme Court's members, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, in a dissenting opinion, nevertheless disclosed views that exist at the highest level of the US justice system. They wrote: "This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

As they see it, a man can be executed for an accidental house fire in today's America. The Constitution simply looks the other way.

At 7pm on October 20 at the Butts County state prison in Georgia, Mark McLain, 43, was lethally injected for the 1994 shooting murder of a pizza store manager during a hold-up.

According to the reporter from the Augusta Chronicle, McLain's death was unremarkable and unlamented. The only activity outside the prison was the low, steady roll of 18-wheeled trucks pulling in for a pitstop and some armed guards discussing the cool weather.

Original report here

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Johnny Gaskins and the end of law

As the federal government has become more powerful and more invasive, we have seen an explosion of new laws and regulations. Interestingly, as the number of laws increase, we have seen a similar decrease in anything that resembles the rule of law. The successful North Carolina criminal defense attorney Johnny Gaskins has found out the hard way that in the federal system, law has disappeared altogether.

Earlier this month, Gaskins was convicted in a Raleigh federal court for depositing money in a bank and faces prison for the rest of his life as a result. I am not kidding.

The News & Observer presented a misleading headline about the case: Lawyer’s Career Ends in Crime. (Yes, the N&O is the same paper that published the false story which set off the infamous Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape Case almost four years ago.) True, the lawyer’s career is over but, no, he did not commit any crimes, despite what the N&O and a federal jury might be saying. According to the N&O:
Johnny Gaskins was a keeper of the law who built his career defending those who disregarded it. But a jury decided Oct. 9 that Gaskins had gone from being an officer of the court to being a criminal.

Gaskins, a Raleigh criminal defense lawyer, was convicted of dividing large sums of money into small deposits so that his bank would not fulfill an Internal Revenue Service requirement to report cash transactions of more than $10,000. The rule is intended to flag large sums of cash that might be tied to illegal activity.

The legal term for this activity is "structuring," and readers might remember that Elliot Spitzer, a.k.a. "Client Number 9," was caught doing something similar (except he was making small withdrawals rather than deposits). However, there is a huge difference between the two acts. Gaskins did not make his deposits in order to cover up any illegal activity, while Spitzer did.

Thus, it seems to be the perfect commentary on federal criminal law that Spitzer never was charged while Gaskins faces more than 30 years in prison. This is a compelling story, and as one who has seen injustice after injustice in the federal system, this perhaps is the worst injustice I ever have seen. The N&O continues:
Associates of Gaskins said in interviews that many of his fees were paid in cash, often offered by clients who didn't trust banks enough to open checking accounts. Gaskins kept the money in a safe in his home's upstairs closet. By September 2005, he had amassed more than $200,000 in cash.

That month, Gaskins hired a crew to work at his house. One evening, he noticed a set of muddy footprints on the carpet leading to his safe, even though he had locked his house. Gaskins was sure he would be robbed. He began moving that cash, one chunk at a time, to a personal account at RBC bank, careful to not alert any particular teller about his supply of cash.

"I was concerned about any single bank teller having information that I had so much cash," Gaskins testified during his trial.

Each deposit was just below $10,000, the threshold to report to the IRS so that federal authorities can track cash that might be tied to criminal activity. Purposely structuring cash deposits to cause a bank to evade reporting requirements is against the law.

This law was passed as an "ancillary crime" to give prosecutors leverage in cases where people had amassed huge amounts of cash via drug sales or other illegal activities and were trying to avoid detection as well as avoid paying taxes on their money. However, that clearly was not the case here, as the N&O continues:
Gaskins filed forms to the IRS accounting for more than $450,000 in cash payments, according to evidence at trial. Prosecutors agreed that he had filed and paid his taxes.

He didn't dispute that he intentionally divided his money, but he testified that it was for innocent reasons. His habits, he said, were born of an exposure to a criminal world that most people only see on television dramas.

Prosecutors did not offer evidence of any other motive for Gaskins' behavior. They said at trial that Gaskins should have known better. "The point of the law is to make sure we don't have people who try to fool the bank," federal prosecutor Randall Galyon told jurors last week. "The fact that he was trying is against the law."

So, we had an attorney who was paid legally in cash, decided he might be robbed, so he deposited the money in a bank. Furthermore, he already had paid taxes on his cash earnings, so it is clear that he had no criminal motives.

Furthermore, I can guarantee the readers that there was a motive that was not mentioned, but well should be: prosecutors would have tried to frame Gaskins had he deposited all of his money at once. That kind of a deposit – which prosecutors insist that he had to make in order to be legal – would have sent alerts to the police and prosecutors, who would have tried to make a drug case against him, claiming he actually had received that money illegally.

The question is this: Why were prosecutors hell-bent on going after him? The answer lies in the success that Gaskins had in his career: He had received death threats and had been harassed for more than a decade after he persuaded a jury to spare the life of a client convicted of killing a popular Raleigh police detective. Some of Gaskins' clients were robbed and tortured, targeted because they carried large amounts of cash, court filings show. The N&O continues:
Gaskins was a former agent with the State Bureau of Investigation who built a legal career on a reputation for asking the right questions and paying attention to detail. He won his first jury trial as a third-year law student while attending Campbell University Law School.

Over the years, Gaskins would represent more than 20 clients facing the death penalty, nearly all too poor to afford their own lawyers. In recent years, though, Gaskins carved a niche representing clients in massive federal drug conspiracy cases. His clients stretched across this state and into others.

This was payback, pure and simple. Gaskins had success representing people accused of crimes, and the police and prosecutors paid him back with what only can be a trumped-up charge. Remember, Gaskins was convicted of depositing money in a bank. He did not evade taxes, he did not gain his cash through illegal means, he just put the money in the bank.

This is the first time I have seen someone convicted in federal court of only an ancillary crime with no underlying accusation to buttress it. Spitzer withdrew small amounts of money in order to evade his lawbreaking. (Even if one believes prostitution should be legal, we should not forget that Spitzer would not have hesitated to charge someone else with the same crime if he had the chance.)

Lest anyone think that the "system works fairly," think again. The federal criminal system works, but it only works for the prosecutors and no one else.

While I am lambasting the prosecution, one also should save at least some venom for the judge and the jurors. If the jurors in this case really believe that depositing one's money into a bank at less than $10K a pop is a crime, then they need to turn in themselves and plead guilty to the same thing.

If Americans really can go to prison for what effectively will be for the rest of their lives simply for depositing money in a bank, then the law is lost. Lost. One cannot rescue this "legal" system, for it is beyond rescue.

Original report here

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The new felony: A bad attitude

During my morning browse-fest, I am stumbling more and more over news stories in which people are charged with felonies, repeatedly tased by police or otherwise brutalized for the crime of having a bad attitude. No act of violence, no damage to property, no threat of violence is alleged; the person is arrested pure and simply for a bad attitude. In this context, the definition of bad is that the person spoke back to authority, said 'no' to a request or did not comply quickly enough, asked a question or tried to short, the person did not immediately and with subservience obey.

The story that caught my eye this morning comes from Politico and concerns a D.C. mover-and-shaker named David Bass and a recent flight on Continental airlines. Politico explains,

An FBI agent and a couple of flight attendants say in court documents that Bass seemed drunk on the flight, disobeying instructions from the crew, climbing over another passenger to get to the overhead luggage bin, making “mean faces” and generally “upsetting everyone in first class.” Bass says he was tired, “out of it” on allergy medication and doesn’t even know what a “mean face” is.

Frankly, I don't believe Bass was as disruptive as the 'authorities' allege -- and, yes, as absurd as it seems, flight attendants have now become 'agents of the state' who can dish out prison sentences along with diet coke; all it takes is for an attendant to complain about you. My skepticism is not merely because I know how casually and automatically authorities lie, it is also based on a few aspects of the story. For one thing, Bass "said he offered to take a blood-alcohol test when he got off the plane, but...the officers declined."

Nevertheless, I'll assume Bass was every bit as obnoxious as the complaint alleges. What is the sane response? Refuse to serve him alcohol, certainly. And, then, to bar him from travelling on future Continental flights.

Nope. Instead, the police met the plane upon landing. Instead, he was charged under section of the PATRIOT act that prohibits “assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act.” He is facing a possible 20-year jail term essentially for making a "mean face" at an attendant who refused to continue serving him.

Sadly, I think the most unusual aspect of this story is the attention it has received due to Bass' high political profile. For every David Bass brutalized by airline authorities, I expect there are dozens of Joe Averages whose story is never heard. Indeed, a recent story in the Los Angeles Times said there had been 200-some convictions on that particular charge since it went on the books...and that's convictions, not just charges. that a high profile case has shone a bright light on the absurdity and injustice of someone facing 20-years in jail for pulling a "mean face" on an authority figure, the outrage will be pouring. Right? Wrong. Comments made in the popular Gawker blog are typical: Washington, DC PR man David Bass has a perfectly good explanation for why he was charged with a felony for disrupting a flight: He was all hopped up on Benadryl! He was awake for five days straight! He wanted wine! Or the blogger Lindsay Beyerstein who shrugged the incident off as Bass' "bad luck."

I must admit to a bit of shameful joy at the harassment of a D.C. insider; it couldn't happen to a 'nicer' guy -- that is, short of it happening to an actual politician responsible for such laws. But, overwhelmingly, my reaction is to feel a chill run through my blood. The potential punishment for pulling a "mean face" on an attendant and being rude is now more than the punishments for attacking people and destroying property. That's the value the state puts on the demand for your 'respect.' And the state can get away with it precisely because people snicker at the fool who doesn't obey (like the Gawker did) or shrugs it off (like other bloggers)

America has not only become a police state; Americans are now accustomed to and so part of the "police culture.".

Original report here

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Canadian Province settles wrongful conviction lawsuit on disgraceful terms

Eyewitness statements and confessions from others that would have exonerated the man were not led at his original trial. The evidence for his guilt was so weak that the province opted not to retry him when a review of his conviction was eventually ordered after a TV program about the case. They just folded. Yet we see here that he had to say that the withheld evidence was not admissible in order to get his payout! Guilt on the part of government employees is clearly being covered up. It is piling one disgrace on top of another

The New Brunswick government has reached an out-of-court settlement with Erin Michael Walsh over his wrongful conviction for second-degree murder in 1975. In a release from the Office of the Attorney General on Friday afternoon, Justice Minister Michael Murphy announced the settlement without disclosing financial details.

Walsh, who was convicted of murdering Melvin (Chi Chi) Peters in Saint John in August 1975, had filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million in compensation for the wrongful conviction. "The province acknowledges and agrees ... that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred respecting the 1975 conviction because of the timeliness, processes and procedures of the day. The province and the city have therefore agreed to pay compensation to Mr. Walsh and his wife," the statement said.

"The parties are pleased that this matter has been concluded to the satisfaction of all involved. The details of the settlement are subject to a confidentiality agreement among the parties to the civil action and their respective legal counsel."

Under the Survivor of Actions Act in New Brunswick, if Walsh had died during the delays in his civil case, any financial settlement could have been severely reduced.

The law states if a person dies, the only damages that can be awarded are for an actual loss to the person or their estate, and cannot include payments for "loss of expectation of life, pain and suffering."

Walsh's five-week civil action was supposed to start on Tuesday but was rescheduled for Oct. 26 because one of his lawyers had a death in the family.

Walsh's 1975 conviction was overturned by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal in 2008. He was suing the province, the Saint John city police and William McCarroll, a sitting judge who was the Crown prosecutor at the time, for compensation.

Walsh, who now lives in Kingston, Ont., and is dying of colon cancer, argued he was deprived of a fair trial because key pieces of evidence were not disclosed that would have exonerated him at his original trial. The evidence, obtained by Walsh as part of a 2005 access-to-information request, included a report of jailhouse conversations that suggested someone else shot Peters. "In March 2008 ... the New Brunswick Court of Appeal accepted various documents as fresh evidence. Mr. Walsh now acknowledges and agrees that these documents did not meet the test of admissibility before the Court of Appeal and should not have formed a basis for that court's findings," Murphy states.

"The parties to the civil action now acknowledge and agree that in fact all relevant documents were available to Mr. Walsh and his defence counsel and that Mr. McCarroll and the police, respectively, acted at all times in good faith and in accordance with the law and fully complied with all of their obligations to Mr. Walsh and to the public in the investigation and prosecution and are therefore completely absolved of all allegations of any wrongdoing."

At the time of Peters's death, Walsh, who has a long criminal record, was travelling from Toronto. He arrived in Saint John and met up with a group that included Peters for drinks at a beach in the city's south end. When leaving the area, a fight broke out in a car, a shotgun went off and Peters was killed. Walsh was convicted by a jury in less than one hour and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 10 years. The conviction was upheld on appeal in 1982.

In 2006, Walsh filed an application to the court, arguing that his conviction resulted from a miscarriage of justice. He began a civil action against the province, former Crown prosecutor William McCarroll, the City of Saint John and various chiefs of the Saint John police force in July 2007.

Original report here

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Some choice Australian police again

A CABAL of experienced Victoria police see themselves as "guardians" of a counter-culture that promotes self-interest ahead of ethical service and encourages rule-breaking among younger officers as a necessary part of the job.

Victoria's police watchdog, the Office of Police Integrity, yesterday handed down its annual report, exposing the practice of some officers "green-lighting" unethical conduct. It also raised the alarm over the leaking of sensitive information from corrupt police to criminals.

The OPI report was one of three reports tabled in parliament that raised questions about police systems and performance during the 2008-09 financial year. They included Victoria Police's own annual report, which showed a 9 per cent rise in the number of homicides and a 7 per cent rise in the number of assaults.

OPI director Michael Strong said his organisation had provided information to Victoria Police about individual officers identified as leaders of the counter-culture. "Like the police involved in criminal associations, they cling to the myth that breaking the rules goes with the job," he said in the damning report. "Most of them appear to have little or no understanding of the ethics in policing and, despite working in operational policing areas, little knowledge of police policies and procedures. They provide negative role models for younger, less-experienced police and, in some cases, actively encourage more junior members to cut corners or break rules."

The reporting period covers the final months of Christine Nixon's term as chief commissioner and the start of Simon Overland's tenure.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius vowed to use "every resource available" to rid the force of corrupt officers.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

British police rapped for blunders in murder case of girl 'turned into kebab meat'

Police investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl allegedly 'chopped up' for kebab meat have been criticised for a catalogue of failures which led to the collapse of a murder retrial. An independent review found that police surveillance techniques were 'handled poorly and unprofessionally' and as a result nobody is now likely to be convicted of killing Charlene Downes, 14, who was last seen in 2003.

Her mother today said she felt 'badly let down' after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) recommended that seven officers should be disciplined over the matter.

Charlene was last seen on November 1, 2003 when she kissed her mother goodbye and went to see friends on Blackpool Promenade. Two men appeared at Preston Crown Court in 2007 in connection with her alleged murder but the jury was discharged after it failed to reach verdicts. The prosecution claimed the murder suspect was overheard talking about having sex with the teenager and that she had 'gone into kebabs'.

A retrial was scheduled to begin a year later but the Crown Prosecution eventually dropped the case because it had 'grave doubts' about the reliability of some of the evidence. Iyad Albattikhi, 31, was formally cleared of Charlene's murder and Mohammed Raveshi, 51, was acquitted of helping to dispose of her body.

Charlene's mother, Karen Downes, of Blackpool, said she was 'devastated' at the findings of the police watchdog. 'We feel badly let down by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service,' she said. 'We're no further on, we're back to square one. There is no closure. 'I was devastated when I saw the report. It's very upsetting.'

Lancashire Police apologised to the Downes family but said it remained a live investigation and its officers were still committed to solving the case.

The investigating team were guilty of a strategic and tactical failure in the management of the audio and video material they obtained, the IPCC concluded. Proper records were not kept, material was not fully transcribed and the overall integrity of the material was not ensured. The use of untrained and inexperienced officers in the inquiry was also criticised as was the way a human intelligence source was handled. The IPCC recommended that one officer should face a disciplinary hearing, one should receive a written warning and five others should receive words of advice. [Big deal!]

Two other officers who retired prior to the investigation cannot be considered for disciplinary sanctions. It has been recommended that the current role of another officer who retired during the investigation, but was then re-employed in a civilian capacity, be considered.

Assistant Chief Constable for Lancashire Police, Andy Cooke, said he acknowledged the findings. He said: 'It is clear that certain aspects of the case have not been well managed - specifically during the time prior to the trial - and for this we must certainly apologise to the Downes family. 'I want to reassure them and our local communities that we have learned the lessons from this and have moved on quickly in terms of the handling of such information.'

Naseem Malik, IPCC Commissioner for the North West, said: 'What is abundantly clear is that the covert surveillance aspect of Lancashire Constabulary's investigation into Charlene's disappearance was handled poorly and unprofessionally. 'The IPCC's managed investigation has identified a catalogue of errors which undermined the court case.' Ms Malik added: 'Six years since the disappearance of Charlene, her parents are no nearer to knowing what happened to their daughter. I cannot imagine how distressing this must be for them. 'The failings in Lancashire Constabulary's investigation can only have compounded that distress. Lessons must be learned from this matter to ensure such failures cannot happen again.'

The inquiry was one of Lancashire's longest-running investigations involving a child missing from home before detectives switched the focus to a murder hunt. More than 3,000 people were spoken to by police and almost 2,500 statements were taken. No trace of Charlene has ever been found.

The prosecution in the 2007 trial alleged that Jordanian immigrant Mr Albattikhi, who owned Funny Boyz fast food shop in Blackpool, strangled the teenager after having sex with her. The court heard Charlene was one of a number of young white girls who gravitated to the resort's fast food shops to have sex with older men. Expelled from school, she spent her time hanging around the shops on the promenade.

Prosecutors claimed either Mr Albattikhi, known as Eddie, or his Iranian landlord and business partner, Mr Raveshi, was having underage sex with her and they would be in trouble if the police found out. Both men denied even knowing her.

Police started a murder inquiry when David Cassidy, a former friend of Mr Albattikhi, said the accused's brother had told him the schoolgirl had been strangled and chopped up. Detectives later bugged both Mr Raveshi's home and car with secret listening devices and claimed the defendants could be heard on the tapes discussing her murder, with references to eating her body and a burial place.

Det Sgt Jan Beasant spent two years and around 2,500 hours listening to the contents of the tapes but such was the poor sound quality that much of the content was hard to decipher at the trial with sound experts and police disagreeing over what was actually said. John Bromley-Davenport QC, defending Mr Raveshi, claimed Det Sgt Beasant was totally unqualified for the task of listening to the tapes and already knew a huge amount about the case.

Ian Goldrein QC, representing Mr Albattikhi, accused Mr Cassidy of telling a pack of lies and that his evidence was unreliable because he had a lengthy criminal record for dishonesty.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for 49 hours before they conceded they could not reach a verdict on either defendant. On his release Mr Raveshi, who like Mr Albattikhi spent two-and-a-half years on remand in jail, said the case against him was 'shameful' and indicated he would sue police.

Original report here

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Friday, October 16, 2009

KY police Chief promises full review of police actions in wrongful conviction

Once again, animalistic members of an American police force ignore evidence and coerce a false confession

Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert White said Wednesday that he is ordering a thorough review of the police investigation that led to the wrongful conviction of Edwin Chandler 14 years ago. White said the discovery that Chandler was not that man who fatally shot Brenda Whitfield in the head in September 1993 while she worked as a clerk in a gas station on Newburg Road raises questions about the procedures and tactics police used to get a confession from Chandler — a confession that Chandler has long contended was coerced.

White said he also wants to know how police have responded over the years as new information or questions arose in the case. By figuring out where mistakes were made, White said, the department can ensure they aren’t repeated. “There are going to be some things that go wrong,” White said of police operations. “But we don’t want them to be catastrophic. That’s a catastrophic mistake when the wrong man goes to prison for murder.”

Marguerite Thomas, director of the Kentucky Innocence Project, which helped exonerate Chandler, said an investigation was “absolutely necessary.” She said her office was told many times by Louisville police since it began exploring the case in 2004 that evidence — including a beer bottle with a fingerprint that eventually helped clear Chandler — either didn’t exist or couldn’t be found.

“The investigation should happen, because I don’t know whether their conduct was intentional or it was laziness or sloppiness,” said Thomas. “If anything was intentional, they have a really big problem in that department that needs to be solved.” Thomas said the Innocence Project has had — and continues to have —problems obtaining old evidence in cases they have taken on, both in Jefferson County and other places.

She said in Chandler’s case it was only when Sgt. Denny Butler, who works with Louisville Metro Police's cold-case homicides, got involved that the evidence was found and the bottle retested, with more advanced automated fingerprinting system matching the print to a convicted felon, Percy Phillips.

Phillips was indicted Tuesday on murder and robbery charges for Whitfield’s death. Phillips, who is in prison on a separate assault conviction, has not been arraigned.

White said he believes his detectives do their best to find the right people responsible for crimes, but he said the review may show areas where policies could improve. “Based on what we discover, we’ll take appropriate action,” White said.

In 1993, Chandler gave police a confession that he says was coerced, through threats and coaching by a detective. Several pieces of physical evidence from the murder scene did not match Chandler either, including hairs found in a hat worn by the killer and fingerprints from a bottle of beer touched by the killer. Still, based in part on his confession, Chandler was convicted in 1995 of manslaughter and robbery. He served nine years in prison before he was paroled in 2002.

On Tuesday, after a judge had wiped the conviction from Chandler’s record, the 37-year-old father said he doesn’t want to waste time being bitter about the years he’s lost. “Even though I’ve been through a lot, I know I’m still blessed,” Chandler said. “I’d like for someone to miraculously go back, give me my nine years back. I can’t get back what’s been taken from me.”

White said he’d like to know how police were able to get Chandler to confess and what tactics they used. He said he’d also like to know what the detectives did to try to corroborate that confession with other evidence.

Although he has not reviewed the case file personally, he said he is instructing one of his assistant chiefs to spearhead a review. White said sometimes people do admit to acts they didn’t commit, but detectives have a responsibility to make sure that what they’ve been told is the truth.

Though the Chandler case happened 16 years ago, White said a wrongful conviction hurts the credibility of the department. Asked if a criminal investigation could be brought against the detectives involved in Chandler’s conviction, White would not rule anything out, but he said he didn’t want to make accusations against the detectives without a more thorough review.

More here

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

NC: Man in jail a week for mistaken identity

Not too bright

Authorities say a 44-year-old North Carolina man spent a week in jail because he has the same name as a suspect 23 years younger.

The News & Record of Greensboro reported Saturday that Jesse Ray Hardy Jr. of Greenville was arrested Monday, then taken to jail 160 miles away to face charges of resisting an officer, breaking and entering and failing to yield to a pedestrian.

Court officials say the real suspect shares the same name and hometown, but is not related. The mix-up wasn't realized until Friday, despite court appearances in both Pitt and Guilford counties.

Judge Susan Bray apologized to Hardy as she worked to get him released.

But he didn't have a way home. Bray, prosecutors, defense attorneys and bailiffs collected $58 to buy Hardy lunch and a bus ticket back home.

Original report here

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Australia: Pedophile rapist jailed -- but still OK for a senior police job!

A FORMER police chief inspector - who kept his job despite admitting sexually assaulting two girls - has been jailed for nine years for his "loathsome" criminal offending. Graham Bennett Fraser was imprisoned for nine years by the District Court today after pleading guilty to seven counts of indecent assault. Judge David Smith said Fraser's two victims were aged nine and 14 when the sexual abuse started in 1980. "The offending was loathsome ... you exploited and harmed them for your own sexual gratification," Judge Smith told Fraser.

Most of the offending occurred in Fraser's northern Adelaide home during a three-year period but Judge Smith said the crimes were part of persistent sexual abuse, some of which had not been subject to criminal proceedings. "The offending conduct is not to be regarded as ... out of the ordinary," Judge Smith said.

Fraser, now aged 68, sexually abused his victims in his shower, shed and pool, with one victim telling the court she was assaulted daily. The victims initially contacted authorities in 1986 but a statute of time limitations meant criminal charges could not be laid.

Fraser admitted his guilt in 1986 and was demoted as a SA Police chief inspector to the rank of inspector. Judge Smith sentenced Fraser to nine years' jail with a non-parole period of six and a half years.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How the Feds imprison the innocent

Authors of serious books seldom have cause to celebrate, but Larry Stratton and I have two reasons to pop the champagne. Crown Publishing, a division of Random House, has announced a second printing of the second edition of The Tyranny of Good Intentions, and the noted civil libertarian and defense attorney, Harvey Silverglate, has just published a book covering many of the same legal cases and vetting our conclusion that in the United States every American is in grave danger from unscrupulous prosecutors who target the innocent.

For two decades I have been attempting to make Americans aware that the danger to their liberty comes not from foreign adversaries, terrorists, or criminals, but from prosecutors, who have destroyed law as a shield of the innocent and turned law into a weapon against the innocent. The Tyranny of Good Intentions (the publisher’s title) documents how the legal principles that protect our civil liberties were eroded by prosecutors even before the Bush regime obliterated what remained of the Bill of Rights.

The struggle has been uphill, because neither the right-wing nor the left-wing is emotionally content with the facts that Stratton and I present. Conservatives tend to see civil liberties as liberal coddling devices for criminals and, today, for terrorists. Predisposed to “law and order,” conservatives align with police and prosecutors. They object to accounts of police misbehavior and prosecutorial abuse as propaganda in behalf of the criminal class.

The left-wing tends to see law as a tool of oppression that “the rich” use to control the lower classes, and liberals fret that “the rich” get off by hiring good lawyers, while the poor and minorities are ground under.

Consequently, leftists object to the demonstration that even the very rich, such as Michael Milken, Martha Stewart, and Leona Helmsley, and even law and accounting firms, are victims of wrongful prosecution. Confusing wealth with villainy, leftists cannot free themselves from the emotional predilection that a convicted rich person must have been so guilty that not even the best lawyers could get them off.

The Tyranny of Good Intentions had a second printing of a second edition because of word of mouth, not because of reviews. Neither the right nor the left objects to wrongful prosecution as long as the victim is a bete noir. Sir Thomas More’s question (A Man For All Seasons)--what will happen to the innocent if we cut down the law in pursuit of devils?--rings no warning among right or left.

With this point made, I have come not to praise myself and my coauthor, but to praise Harvey Silverglate. If The Tyranny of Good Intentions cannot convince you, then perhaps Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent can, and, if not, then both together surely will.

The Tyranny of Good Intentions is a broad stroke. It demonstrates how each civil liberty has been eroded away. Prosecutorial abuse is one chapter in the book.

Silverglates’ Three Felonies A Day focuses on how federal prosecutors invent creative interpretations of statutes, sometimes creating new felonies out of vague language or thin air, felonies never legislated by Congress. Federal criminal law is today so vast and so poorly worded that Silverglate reports, truthfully, that each of us, every American, commits three felonies every day without knowing it.

Federal judges, an increasing number of whom are former federal prosecutors, permit the prosecution of Americans for crimes that the defendants did not know were crimes, crimes that never before existed until the federal prosecutor brought the charge. The invention of crimes by prosecutors violates every known legal principle in Anglo-American law. Yet, it has become commonplace. Defense attorneys, a group that also increasingly consists of former federal prosecutors, as Silverglate accurately reports, have lost confidence that it is possible to defend a client from a federal prosecution and see their role, not as the defense, but as negotiators of a plea bargain that reduces the charges and prison time of the defendant, no matter how innocent.

Silverglate shows that many of the plea bargains create precedents that prosecutors can exploit to trap more innocent victims.

The reader by now is asking why prosecutors would waste time on the innocent when there are so many real crimes. Silverglate provides conclusive answers. For example, politically ambitious federal prosecutors, such as Rudy Giuliani and William Weld, pick high profile targets to frame in order to build name recognition for political careers. Giuliani picked Michael Milken and Leona Helmsley. Weld picked Boston mayor Kevin White. Giuliani went on to be Mayor of New York and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Weld went on to be a two-term governor of Massachusetts. Leura Canary, perhaps at the urging of Karl Rove, picked Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Michael J. Sullivan picked Thomas Finneran, Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and so on.

From Silverglate’s book, the reader can learn how federal prosecutors manage their frame-ups of innocents. For a targeted city or state political figure, the prosecutor first hunts for a criminal act somewhere in the bureaucracy. Perhaps some low level person has extorted a bribe for a permit. Once such a person is caught, he or she is told that charges will be dropped if information is given that can be used to implicate the mayor or Speaker of the House or governor. As federal district court judges now permit hearsay and uncorroborated testimony, a totally innocent high profile person can be snared on the basis of testimony by a petty crook low in the bureaucracy.

This is the way America works today. Just as state and local police cannot stand up to the FBI, elected state and local officials are powerless in the face of their pursuit by corrupt federal prosecutors.

Silverglate himself was the attorney in some of the landmark cases that he reports. The reader, even one with the usual illusions and delusions that blind Americans to their predicament, will be scared by Silverglate’s documented account, case by case, of how easy it is in “freedom and democracy” America to frame the totally innocent.

In Silverglate’s concluding chapter, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the answer is obvious even to a naif: “It tolls for all.”

Original report here

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