Saturday, January 31, 2009

Man Serving Life Sentence Freed 23 Years After Wrongful Murder Conviction

Shaky bite-mark "evidence" again

MILWAUKEE - A man sentenced to life in prison for killing a woman in 1984 had his conviction overturned and was released Friday after spending 23 years behind bars. Robert Lee Stinson, 44, of Milwaukee, walked out of the New Lisbon Correctional Institution in street clothes and hugged his sister and members of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. A judge vacated the sentence after the Project argued that bite-mark analysis and DNA evidence that didn't match evidence from the crime scene, defense attorney Byron Lichstein said.

Stinson was convicted in 1985 of first-degree murder in the death of a 63-year-old Milwaukee woman. Evidence suggested she had been raped, and her body also had eight different bite marks, Lichstein said. Stinson still faces a charge of first-degree homicide related to the woman's death, Lichstein said. A status hearing is set for July 27, according to online court records. Stinson was released on a personal recognizance bond, meaning he must return to court.

At trial, two forensic odontologists testified that Stinson's teeth were a match, even though Stinson was apparently missing a tooth in a place where the bite marks indicated a tooth, Lichstein said. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said in a statement Friday that Stinson's conviction was not wrongful, and that he was convicted based on "state-of-the-art scientific evidence available at the time of his trial." "The question today is whether there is newly discovered evidence in this case to warrant a new trial, and we agree that such evidence exists," Chisholm said. The statement did not specify the evidence.

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Norman Gahn said he has six months to decide whether to retry Stinson. Lichstein, who last spoke to Stinson on Thursday, said his client was happy but in shock. "I don't think it had completely sunk in," Lichstein said. "Personally, I feel a real sense of relief. It's been a long time coming for Mr. Stinson."

Stinson's conviction was based almost exclusively on evidence suggesting that bite marks matched Stinson's teeth, Lichstein said. The lawyer said he did not know why special technology was necessary if the missing tooth could have indicated there was no match. "I wish I could tell you. I wasn't around back then," he said.

Steven Kohn, Stinson's trial attorney, said he didn't remember the details of the prosecution but recalled that the two state experts had discussed the case at a conference for forensic odontologists, leaving them unable to serve as defense witnesses. Kohn said he was forced to rely on an expert whose expertise was in dental records, not forensic odontology.

DNA taken from saliva on the victim's sweater also did not match Stinson. For a decade, attorneys and even some forensic experts have ridiculed the bite-mark identification as sham science and glorified guesswork. Critics say human skin changes and distorts imprints until they are nearly unrecognizable. As a result, courtroom experts end up offering competing opinions. But odontologists insist the science is sound if applied properly.

Since 2000, at least eight people in five states who were convicted largely on bite-mark identification have been exonerated, according to the Innocence Project.

Stinson attended a celebratory reception with family and other Innocence Project lawyers Friday afternoon. He previously told lawyers the first thing he wanted to do as a free man was to eat shrimp, which he did later at an Applebee's restaurant in Wisconsin Dells. He maintained his innocence and said he planned to work on a book about his experiences, adding: "I'm finally out and I'm going to enjoy my life."

Original report here

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Supreme Court Broadens the Disgrace of Absolute Prosecutorial Immunity

The Supreme Court has unanimously overruled the Ninth Circuit in the case of Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, and broadened absolute prosecutorial immunity to include district attorneys whose poor supervision of subordinates may result in wrongful convictions. I wrote about the case last April:
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Thomas Goldstein, an ex-marine who was convicted of murdering his neighbor. Goldstein served 24 years before his conviction was thrown out when the main witness against him was shown to have lied. That witness was a lifelong criminal who was given a deal on his own charges in exchange for testimony that Goldstein confessed to him in a jail cell. Goldstein alleges that the district attorney's office that prosecuted the case routinely used the testimony of so-called "jailhouse snitches" prosecutors knew or should have known weren't reliable.

Goldstein's case is unusual because he's not suing the prosecutor who convicted him, but John Van de Camp, the district attorney who supervised that prosecutor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has allowed Goldstein's case to go forward, causing the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to hear it.

This isn't terribly surprising, but it's too bad. All the incentives for prosecutors right now point toward winning convictions. There's very little to hold them accountable when they go too far. Currently, even if a prosecutor knowingly withholds exculpatory evidence in a case that results in a wrongful conviction, he can't be sued.

Original report here

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

More injustice from Britain's "child protection" police

And no apology, of course. Targeting decent people is all they seem to want to do. Feral parents can (and do) kill their kids without the social workers lifting a finger.

Social services banned a mother from being alone with her baby after she took him to hospital with a tiny mark on his ear. Lyndsey Craig worried that six-month-old Daniel might have meningitis after she found the blemish. But doctors who examined him referred the case to social services who then banned Mrs Craig and her husband Tim, 30, from being alone with the child while they investigated.

Responsibility for Daniel had to be handed to his grandparents. Mrs Craig, 24, who works as an accounts assistant, took Daniel to Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool last month as he was suffering from vomiting and had a small purple mark on his ear.

She said doctors took blood tests and confirmed he did not have meningitis, but decided to keep him in overnight for scans. During this time, she and her husband were asked questions about domestic violence and a social worker was sent round to check their home in Liverpool. When the scans and X-rays came back clear the Craigs expected to be given an apology from social services. But instead they were told they were not allowed to be left alone with Daniel. Mrs Craig said: 'They said that if I took him home, they would be able to arrest me and put both of my children into foster care. That's when I broke down.'

Daniel was discharged from the hospital when his grandparents Florence and Jim Craig signed a form promising to 'support, supervise and monitor' his care until a child protection conference on January 8. The couple, from the Lake District, who are both retired and in their 60s, had to move in with the family.

Social services visited the Craigs, who also have a three year old son Sam, three times during the ban. Officers finally visited them on New Year's Eve to say the ban was lifted, more than three weeks after their ordeal began. But they weren't officially cleared until the child protection conference on January 8 in which ten people voted unanimously against putting Daniel into care. Mrs Craig requested a photograph of the mark on her son's ear and showed it to those attending the conference. She said they were shocked when they discovered the tiny blemish had been the cause of the problem. It has since disappeared and remains unexplained.

Mrs Craig said: 'Right now, there are probably thousands of children who are getting beaten up and abused and they have wasted all this time and money on us.' A Liverpool council spokesman said: 'We recognise these situations are stressful. However, we do have a legal duty to investigate.' An Alder Hey spokesman said the referral was standard practice for any child admitted to hospital with 'unexplained injuries'.

Original report here. (Via PC Watch)

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

BBC personality made 40 false but very damaging rape allegations against her ex-boyfriend

And the British police still have him recorded as a possible rapist

A BBC personality has shattered her ex-boyfriend's life by falsely accusing him of rape. The woman, who has broadcast to television audiences of millions, accused him of raping her 40 times throughout their two-and-a-half-year relationship. He was arrested, held in a police cell and handcuffed as police searched his flat for evidence of his crime. But she retracted her allegation weeks later, and the officer investigating the claims described them as 'inconsistent' and 'not credible'.

Despite the lack of evidence, the incident remains on the Police National Computer thanks to a legal loophole, which campaigners say is blighting the lives of falsely accused men. Even if the 'victim' withdraws their allegation, it will show up under enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks that are undertaken regularly on people who apply for jobs with employers such as the NHS or schools. It will also prevent them from travelling to the United States.

The boyfriend cannot be identified to protect his accuser's anonymity, but wants to make his case public. He said: 'The lies she told have ruined my life. Yet, while I have lost out on jobs and been left paranoid and scared of women, she has got away without punishment. We're not even allowed to reveal her identity. Rape is a horrific crime, and there is no way I am capable of committing it. 'I don't care how successful she is, she should be sent to prison. Of course, the BBC doesn't know what she has done. But if they were to find out I would like to think they'd sack her.'

Fewer than six per cent of reported rapes result in a conviction, but according to Tim Murray of the False Rape Society, this case is typical. 'Thousands of innocent men are tainted for ever by an unfair system,' he said. 'The accused should have the right to remain anonymous until a conviction. If they are cleared, the incident should be erased from their records.'

Robert - not his real name - is an articulate man in his 50s who met the BBC star in London in 2003. A keen amateur photographer, he was there to take promotional shots. The woman, who we will call Charlotte, was working for a commercial television station and asked Robert if he would take some publicity pictures to help further her career. Within weeks they had embarked on a physical relationship. 'In addition to being very beautiful she was intelligent and funny. She was, still is, ambitious. Her career and becoming famous meant more to her than anything,' he said.

The pair filmed many of their encounters at his Central London flat, something he said was Charlotte's idea. 'It turned her on and I enjoyed it too,' he said. 'We agreed from the start that we'd have an open relationship. But we didn't just have sex. We cooked together, went to restaurants. I supported her whenever she was down.' Robert, who separated amicably from his wife, with whom he has two teenage children, ten years ago, was introduced to her friends, but not her family. 'They have strict views on sex before marriage and Charlotte wanted them to believe she was a virgin.'

Still in her 20s, there was a considerable age gap between the two. 'It was flattering at first,' he admits. 'But as the months went by I became more self-conscious about it. Plus, I started to mistrust Charlotte. She lied to me about her whereabouts. And I knew she wanted to marry another boyfriend.' By March 2006 he decided to end the relationship. He arranged to visit Charlotte's London home to pick up the keys to his flat from her.

Yet as he was waiting outside in his car, he was arrested. He was taken first to Hendon Police Station in North London, then to Marylebone police station, where he was accused of raping her, spiking her drinks, blackmailing and threatening to kill her. 'I was confused and powerless. I imagined myself in prison for life. I respect women and would not dream of touching one against her will.' While in custody, Robert, a former employee of an international trading company, suggested the police visit his flat to pick up the DVDs he and Charlotte had made. 'I knew they should prove my innocence,' he said. He also thinks the footage was the reason for his arrest in the first place. 'Once I ended the relationship she became paranoid I would blackmail her with the DVDs,' he said. 'But she was judging me by her standards.'

After seven hours, he was released on bail. 'I dreaded telling my children and ex-wife what had happened,' he recalled. 'Charlotte had befriended them, even picking my children up from school. Luckily they supported me from the start.'

In police records, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and seen by The Mail on Sunday, Charlotte claimed that Robert had been blackmailing her by threatening to sell the DVDs to the Press. She said he spiked her drink before they had sex and threatened to kill her if she left him. 'It was all nonsense, fabricated to substantiate her claim,' he said. 'She once told me she had been raped twice before. Now I think she uses both the allegation, and sex in general, as some kind of tool to get what she wants.'

As the days passed, the police began to find Charlotte's evidence increasingly 'tenuous'. The DVDs showed that Charlotte 'would appear to be fully participating in sexual acts'. On May 18, perhaps knowing her account contained, as police put it, a 'number of inconsistencies', she withdrew the allegation. The police officer recorded the incident as 'no crime'.

Robert then received a letter saying he was released from bail and that no further action would be taken. 'But there was no apology from Charlotte or the police,' he says. His anger was exacerbated when police told him in a letter that 'the matter remains recorded as rape'. It was eventually downgraded to 'an allegation of rape' after he protested. Although the allegation had been withdrawn, one police officer had written in his records that: 'There is insufficient additional verifiable information to determine that no notifiable offence has been committed.'

Surprisingly, the law permits officers to register their disagreement with the outcome of a case in police records, with potentially devastating repercussions. While Charlotte's anonymity is guaranteed by the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 1976, Robert's ordeal will remain on his file indefinitely. He believes he has been rejected from a job as a Home Office interpreter because he failed to clear criminal checks. An application for a US visa requires him to state whether he has ever been arrested for a crime, and he says he did not apply for a job as a photographer in London schools because his records would stop him being offered it.

A police spokesman would not discuss individual cases but said: 'The current Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines state that police forces retain allegations of serious crime for ten years. We are liaising with ACPO and the Information Commissioner about a review of this policy.'

Original report here. (Via PC Watch)

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

5 pardoned after wrongful conviction in Neb. crime

Coerced plea-deals again

Five people imprisoned for the 1985 rape and murder of a 68-year-old woman were pardoned Monday, two months after investigators said DNA evidence proved they were innocent. In all, six people were convicted in the death of Helen Wilson of Beatrice. Investigators had described a gruesome crime scene in which Wilson was held down and raped in front of a group of people. Her hands were bound, and she died of suffocation.

Assistant Attorney General Corey O'Brien told the parole board Monday that only one man committed the crime. And the three men and three women convicted of the crime were innocent "not beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond all doubt," he said.

"It finally puts closure on something I knew all along," 43-year-old Thomas Winslow said after being pardoned. Yet, Winslow and the other four pardoned Monday had pleaded guilty to the rape and murder. Only Joseph White, who didn't seek a pardon because his conviction was overturned last year, had maintained his innocence. "If it wasn't for him being stubborn and saying he's innocent all along, we wouldn't be here right now," said 44-year-old James Dean, who was released from prison in 1994.

Investigators now say the real killer was Bruce Allen Smith, a former Beatrice native who returned to the city days before the murder, then went back to Oklahoma. He was among the original suspects, but DNA tests performed in the original investigation appeared to exclude him. Newer tests performed recently showed that the earlier test result was flawed. Smith died of AIDS in 1992 at age 30.

The five defendants who pleaded guilty said they were threatened with the death penalty and told that others had implicated them in the crime. They were offered plea deals to confess. "I had a 14-month-old baby," said 45-year-old JoAnn Taylor, who spent 19 years in prison. "I was told they'd make me the first female on death row."

Deb Shelden, 50, said she was surprised she got a pardon. She has maintained that she was at the scene but didn't participate in the crime, but said Monday, "I don't know what to believe any more." "They say the evidence shows we weren't there," she said. Her husband, Clifford, said his wife was confused by a psychiatrist who helped her "recover" what she came to believe were memories.

O'Brien said Shelden and others may have been brainwashed. Shelden and Kathy Gonzalez, 48, completed their sentences in 1994. In 2007, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that White and Wilson could ask for DNA tests to try to prove their innocence, after lower courts had denied them the tests on the basis that they wouldn't absolve the men. Nebraska's DNA testing law is about 8 years old and requires the state to test DNA evidence if it is likely to produce evidence that someone else committed the crime.

A pardon doesn't mean a person is considered innocent of the crime, and it doesn't erase a criminal record. O'Brien said he would ask a judge to order the criminal records for the six former inmates expunged. The pardon restores civil rights, such as the right to get a passport, vote and serve in the military.

Nebraska might soon join 25 states and the District of Columbia that have laws entitling exonerated inmates to government compensation. Sen. Kent Rogert of Tekamah has introduced a bill in the state Legislature that would provide for a minimum of $50,000 for each year an innocent person is incarcerated. Rogert wants to make the law retroactive. The state might end up paying either way. Several of the former inmates said they're working with an attorney to file a lawsuit. If I don't, I'm a fool," Dean said.

Original report here

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Wrongfully convicted man still pursuing the crooks who put him inside

BOSTON -- A month after the city of Lowell reached a settlement in its federal court battle with Dennis Maher over his wrongful imprisonment, a federal judge has set a March hearing date for the town of Ayer to renew its motion to dismiss the case.

After a two-year federal court battle, Maher, through his lawyers, reached a $160,000 settlement with the city of Lowell last December in his conviction for the alleged rape and sexual assault of two women in 1983. He was sentenced to life in prison, but Maher won his freedom in 2003 after tests showed his DNA did not match that found on one of the women. He spent more than 19 years in prison for crimes he says he did not commit.

In the civil rights lawsuit, filed on March 22, 2005, Maher accused Lowell and Ayer police of using improper identification techniques, failing to disclose evidence, failing to investigate and fabricating evidence against Maher to win convictions.

Named in the suit is the city of Lowell and the town of Ayer, former Lowell police Superintendent Edward Davis, who was a detective in 1983, Lowell officers Garrett Sheehan and Mark Grant, and former Ayer Officer Nancy Taylor-Harris.

Ayer's portion of the case is still active in federal court. With the settlement, Lowell's portion of the federal case was dismissed; however, Ayer's portion is pending trial. To avoid a trial, attorneys for the town of Ayer have filed a renewed motion for summary judgment, essentially asking the judge to rule in favor of the town and dismiss the case.

A hearing is scheduled for March 30 in U.S. District Court in Boston. Maher always blamed the incompetence of his former defense attorney, Patrick Clooney, now deceased, and the police departments for his wrongful convictions. But to win the federal lawsuit, legal experts say a wrongful conviction is not enough. Maher will have to prove that his convictions involved police misconduct.

Maher claims in court documents that one of the victim's struck a "secret deal" with Ayer police to identify Maher if an unrelated criminal charges against the victim was dismissed and that Taylor made suggestive comments after Maher had been identified, tainting her identification.

But Ayer's attorneys wrote in court documents that the victim denies there was a secret deal and that Maher's then-defense attorney and the prosecutor were aware at the time that the victim's criminal charges were being dismissed.

As for the suggestive comment, the grand jury heard about the comment and still indicted Maher.

Original report here

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Justice finally done over a very sad story

A CORONER who cleared a woman of killing her baby sister when the woman was two — finding that her mentally ill mother was instead responsible for the death — has commended the now 49-year-old for her "extraordinary strength and courage" in pursuing the truth.

Ann Kramer grew up thinking she had killed her sister Margaret Loomes, who was six-months-old when she died in March 1961. In an inquest into the baby's death the same year, Coroner Harry Pascoe found that Ann had accidentally suffocated Margaret while playing with her in her crib in their Clayton home. The girls' mother, Phyllis Loomes, told police she went into the rear bedroom to get Margaret for a bath and found Ann, two years and nine months, kneeling on the bed with her arms across her little sister in the crib. She said Margaret's head was covered by a blanket and plastic bag, and she was not moving.

But confessions by Mrs Loomes before her death in 1983 led a Supreme Court judge to overturn the original finding last October. After a new inquest, coroner John Olle yesterday found that Mrs Loomes had killed Margaret.

Ann Kramer and her 77-year-old aunt, Joan Keating, Mrs Loomes' sister, cried and embraced when Mr Olle gave his finding. Both women told police that Mrs Loomes had confessed to them that she was responsible for Margaret's death.

Mr Olle said Phyllis Loomes had placed a plastic bag over Margaret's head, which she falsely attributed to Ann, because she was not coping with her infant. He said Mrs Loomes was probably suffering post-natal depression at the time. Mr Olle noted that Mrs Loomes suffered significant mental illness. He said she was admitted to various psychiatric institutions between 1960 and 1980, whose patient records contained references to killing Margaret.

In 1980, Mrs Loomes was charged with murdering her former husband, Colin, by striking him with a heavy object. She was found unfit to plead at the Victorian Supreme Court in 1981 and committed suicide at Pentridge Prison two years later.

In a statement to police in May last year, Mrs Kramer said: "I grew up thinking I had killed my little sister. As I grew older I had terrible guilt and thought that I must have been jealous of my little sister. "Even though I knew as a child I couldn't have known the danger of plastic bags, I still thought that maybe I had been mean to my little sister because I didn't want to share my parents with her. "It was something I was ashamed of and tried hard to put out of my mind, although I was frequently reminded of my guilt when my mother told people that she had seven children, but only six were living."

Police reopened the investigation into Margaret's death after she wrote to the State Coroner in 2006 to challenge the official version. Her mother told her in the early 1970s that she had killed Margaret because Mr Loomes had not wanted another daughter, and she had been "sick" at the time.

Mrs Kramer addressed Mr Olle from the courtroom floor to express her gratitude "for the opportunity to finally have the truth heard and understood". "The reason it's taken so long is because, with our family history, it was thought better to ignore this and pretend it didn't exist — but it did for me," she said. "When mum confessed I felt better, relieved, but it didn't make everything OK because everyone thought I was a murderer. It has caused me considerable distress. "This has not been easy for some members of my family, some of them think it would be best left unexamined, because life is easier that way." She commended her aunt for supporting the renewed investigation and focusing on events that were "extremely difficult for her to relive".

Mr Olle had high praise for both women. "The burden carried by Ann Kramer is now lifted," he said. "Throughout her life, culminating in her determination to right a wrong, she has displayed extraordinary strength and courage. Her Aunty Joan has also displayed enormous courage, to ensure that the truth has prevailed." The women held hands as they left court after the finding.

Original report here

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

No justice for British paternity fraud husband

A husband was conned for 17 years by his wife into bringing up her lover's child as his own, a court heard yesterday. Mark Webb only found out the truth from DNA tests conducted after the girl turned 18, it is alleged. He has tried to sue his ex-wife Lydia Chapman for deceiving him over the paternity of her daughter.

In the first 'paternity fraud' case to reach the Appeal Court, Mr Webb said his former wife and her alleged lover conceived the girl at a hotel in 1985. Mr Webb, 47, claims he was given no reason to believe the girl was not his and she was registered as the couple's child. He claims that three months after the girl was born, Mrs Chapman and her alleged lover again met at a summer barbecue, where they sneaked away to a nearby picnic area to have sex. He alleged that they also discussed the baby's paternity and deliberately set out to make Mr Webb believe the girl was his daughter.

Mr Webb claimed that, for years, his wife had continued with the deception, even giving her husband Birthday and Christmas cards from his 'daughter' referring to him as her 'daddy', the court heard. Mr Webb, from Bournemouth, claimed he financially supported the girl from birth without a penny in maintenance from the 'true father'. Mrs Chapman, who denies deceiving her ex-husband, allegedly told Mr Webb in 2002 that he was not the girl's father and filed for divorce the following year.

Mr Webb's barrister, Nicholas Mostyn, QC, told the court it was not until 2004 – by which time the girl was 18 – that a DNA test confirmed that he was not the girl's father. Mr Mostyn argued the case raised 'profound questions' about a spouse's 'duty of candour' to their partner. He told the court: 'Honesty and good faith lie at the very heart of the contract of marriage.' Describing 45-year-old Mrs Chapman as an 'inveterate liar', he insisted she had 'a fixed and certain knowledge' that Mr Webb was not the girl's father.

Mr Mostyn said Mr Webb's 'sense of injustice' meant he wanted to pursue his case to the House of Lords if necessary, but the Appeal Court judges denied him that opportunity yesterday. They refused him permission to appeal against a Bournemouth County Court judge's dismissal of his damages claim. Lord Justice Thorpe said the case involved 'interesting socio-legal arguments' but would 'visit upon the litigants huge burdens, both financial and emotional, which are disproportionate to any prospects of success'.

The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Aikens and Mr Justice Bennett, said: 'This whole case can be categorised as a misfortune to all those engaged in it. I would not wish to be the one to extend their misfortunes further.' At her 250,000 pound red-brick cottage in Southampton, Mrs Chapman refused to talk about the case last night. Her alleged lover also refused to comment.

Original report here

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Friday, January 23, 2009

British police still doing their specialty -- attacking people who are harming no-one

There are few things more tiresome than strippagrams - male or female. If I'm in a pub or at a party and someone bursts in, wearing a police uniform, and starts singing 'Happy Birthday', my heart sinks. But I don't want strippagrams made a criminal offence - unlike Grampian Police. Over the past couple of years, they've spent o170,000 trying to convict male stripper Stuart Kennedy - aka Sergeant Eros - for impersonating a police officer. They have arrested him six times since March 2007, and he has appeared in court 22 times, without them securing a single conviction. They even charged him with possessing an offensive weapon. Is that a rubber truncheon in your pocket . .?

Stuart charges 115 pounds a time to strip, and poses for photos with a strategically placed policeman's helmet. He does it to pay off his student loan. How on earth, you might ask, could he be confused for a real copper? But then I read at the weekend that cops are subsidising their wages with part-time jobs, including throwing underwear parties. Operation Ann Summers, anyone? Wasting 170,000 on this ridiculous persecution campaign is an outrageous abuse of police resources.

If other officers can have a sideline knocking out lacy thongs and nipple tassels, then the Chief Constable of Grampian should be forced to moonlight as a strippagram until every single penny of that o170,000 has been paid back.

Original report here

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

British speed camera negligence

More evidence of police devotion to the "easy cop". When there is more than one car in the picture, they are supposed to give the apparent offender the benefit of the doubt. No apology for a false accusation from the animals, of course

It is hardly the boy racer's vehicle of choice. About 14 years old and with 130,000 miles on the clock, the Honda Civic driven by Dale Lyle was barely capable of reaching the speed limit. So when he received a ticket for apparently driving at almost 100mph on the motorway, he told magistrates the mobile speed camera must have got it wrong. Prove it, they said. He did . . . but it wasn't easy.

Mr Lyle, 21, who has a clean driving licence, had already sold the car to a friend for 600 pounds. He had to take out a bank overdraft to buy it back. Then he had to pay an independent driving expert 600 pounds to test the 1.3litre Civic's top speed at a circuit in Bedfordshire. The result was as expected. Even when driven flat-out, the Honda could still only do a top speed of 85.4mph in fourth gear and 81.3mph in fifth.

Next, Mr Lyle obtained the mobile speed-camera footage of his alleged offence - travelling at 98mph on a 70mph three-lane carriageway of the A38, near Plymouth, on December 13, 2007. The three-minute film shows three other cars in the frame at the same time, he said, which he believes means his vehicle was mistaken for another.

Mr Lyle could have faced a maximum 1,000 pound fine and a six-month ban for the speeding charge. He said: 'The video evidence the CPS sent me was just appalling. They are just picking on innocent motorists. It makes you wonder how many people say, "Fine, give me the points", when they are not guilty.

Eventually, his hard work paid off, and the Crown Prosecution Service informed him the case had been dropped. 'I'm really glad I fought the system and won,' he said. 'It's shocking how hard it has been for me to prove my innocence.' Mr Lyle, a finance worker, from Staple Hill, Bristol, recalled his feelings when first served with the prosecution. 'I was in total disbelief when I opened the letter,' he said. 'I've never driven my car over the speed limit, let alone at 98mph. It's such a small car I wouldn't feel safe. 'I told the magistrates that the car was ancient and that there was no way it will do that speed.'

He intends to return to court to seek compensation for the 1,200 he spent proving his innocence. The CPS said: 'We came to the conclusion that there was no longer sufficient evidence to provide a prospect of a conviction. Recompense is a matter between the defendant and the court.'

Original report here

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mississippi justice again: The Wrongful Conviction of Gladys and Jamie Scott

This story is all too familiar. It's the corrupt police who should be in prison

Fourteen years ago in a small town, Forest, MS, two young Black women, who are sisters, were given a double life sentence. This sentence was for a crime, in which they did not commit. The alleged crime was Armed Robbery of two Black men. No one was killed or harmed during this alleged robbery.

Three young Black men confessed to the robbery. They also implicated that Gladys and me, Jamie Scott, were involved and participated in this crime. On December 24, 1993, Scott county Sheriff's Department arrested Gladys and me for armed robbery. This was the beginning of a real life nightmare for everyone in our family: our parents, our children, and especially us.

Our trial began on October 4, 1994. Gladys, nineteen, and I, Jamie, were twenty-two years old. The three young men called the "Patrick Men" because they were related. Through coercions, threats and promises they chose to turn states evidence against Gladys and me. These men were promised a lenient sentence, in return for their testimonies.

During our trial, the tale began to unravel. One of the Patrick men testified he didn't write the statement used as evidence against Gladys and me. He testified that the police coerced and threatened him with a long sentence at Parchman State Prison, if he didn't sign the written statement. The Scott county Police used fear, threats, and intimidation against the Patrick Men to sign a statement against us.

This man testified regarding the coerced statement on the witness stand; however, the jury found Gladys and me guilty. We received a double life sentence.

Prior to our trial, the two victims who had been robbed went to our parents with a bribe. They requested a large sum of money in exchange for there disappearance and unavailability to testify against us. However, our attorney advised our parents to cease all communications with the victims.

We contend our innocence. Our parents believe in our innocence and the Patrick Men know we are innocent.

In 1998, one of the Patrick Men wrote a sworn affidavit clearing Gladys and me. But, the courts never heard the affidavit. Our attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, filed our Post-Conviction, regretfully, too late. The most devastating and unfair thing about this is the police and investigators know we are innocent.

What began as an implication and outright miscarriage of justice, has catapulted to destroyed an entire family. These accusations and subsequent convictions have totally destroyed mine and Gladys' life. Causing a chain reaction which has led, Gladys, a nineteen year old, mother of a seven year old daughter and pregnant with another child, myself, Jamie, a twenty-two year old mother of three children; seven, three and one years of age, during the time of our arrest, conviction and sentencing for a crime we did not commit. Before being eligible for parole, we will have to serve a total of twenty years.

We have exhausted all of our appeals in our fight for freedom. We now realize we are unable to receive justice within the Mississippi Judicial System. Our hopes and dreams of freedom lie with the American people. Who can become our voice and assist us with our plight for freedom. By voicing their opinions, speaking our against this atrocious miscarriage of justice, and a court system that has denied us our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We are compelled to plead and ask for a public outcry. Attention needs to be given to public officials and a county that refuses to let justice be served.

Our situation is complex, multidimensional, and heart-wrenching. We will never cease speaking out against the disservice done to us. However, we have discovered our voice carries very little weight, especially now, we are convicted as violent offenders serving a double life sentence.

Horror, frustration and humiliation of being subjected to life in prison for a crime, we did not commit, has made both of us feel hopeless and helpless at certain times; but we will continue to fight for our lives. This is a story that could happen to anyone.

My mother, Evelyn Rasco, decided to leave the state of Mississippi due to this "miscarriage of justice" inflicted upon Gladys and me. There is a great deal more to our story than what we are revealing presently. Events which have happened to us during fight for freedom.

Hopefully, someone will find this story worthy enough to be exposed and to show what has happened in a small town in Mississippi, during this time in America. Someone may decide to come forward and speak out against what has happened to my sister and me. We pray this will happen.

This is not a movie, it is a real-life situation, this happened to real people. An untruth has taken away our lives. A life that included our parents and children (now grandchildren). Unless someone decides to take a stand against the county, it's officials and not allow intimidation and fear to discourage them from helping us with our fight for freedom; our children will be adults before we are free citizens.

The injustices that have occurred are pattern within this county and their police departments. This type of injustice and exploitation has been done to many African-Americans who have lived in this county for many years. They have been very successful in destroying many lives. This should not be happening in America today. This is a time we show Americans what really occurs in most small towns in the state of Mississippi.

We are convinced that once this chain of events is exposed and unraveled, the events that occurred, the lives that have been destroyed, the pain and suffering the citizens of Scott County have endured; everyone will be utterly amazed, astonished and compelled to assist us in our plight for freedom. We pray, the people would insist upon an investigation into their misconduct and miscarriage of justice.

The officials in this community should be exposed and reprimanded for all they have done and continue to do to others and us. Once this has occurred, and revealed; perhaps, it will bring an end to this horrific story we have endured and experienced for the past fourteen years.

We need someone willing to take a stand for our families, to be our voice and us. Also, to assist, guide and lead our mother, because she is fearful. Our mother and children need us. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

May God Bless You,

Jamie Scott

Please visit

Jamie and Gladys Scott have been wrongfully convicted of armed robbery and received double life sentences each. No one was murdered or taken to the hospital during this robbery, no one was even injured. The transcripts state that 9, 10 or 11 dollars was stolen. Witnesses confessed during the trial, that the sheriff coerced and threatened them to lie on the Scott Sisters. That testimony was obviously not taken into consideration by Judge Marcus Gordon. They have been in prison now for 14 years.

Original report here

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

British Rape outrage

Britain really knows how to protect the weak and vulnerable! (NOT)

Thugs who doused a girl with caustic soda after gang-raping her have escaped with “insultingly low” jail terms, it was claimed last night. The 16-year-old victim, who has a mental age of eight, nearly died from the effects of the powerful drain cleaner. But the laughing teenagers — some of whom filmed the rape on mobiles as she begged for mercy — ran off, leaving her screaming in agony.

Yesterday three of her attackers — the only members of the ten-strong gang to be convicted — were jailed for a total of 23 years. However each will only serve HALF the sentences minus the amount of time spent on remand. That means none will spend more than FOUR YEARS in jail.

Kathryn Stone OBE, chief executive of charity VOICE UK, said: “These sentences don’t come close to reflecting the brutality and horror. “They send completely the wrong message.”

The girl — still badly disfigured despite repeated surgery — was lured to an empty house in Tottenham, North London, before being repeatedly raped by the gang, some wearing hoods. She still suffers nightmares and panic attacks.

Judge Shaun Lyons told Wood Green Crown Court: “Her life changed irretrievably. In her eyes and her mother’s her life was ruined. It is doubtful what form her life will take and whether she can operate fully as a young woman.”

Rogel McMorris, 18, from Stockwell, South London [pic above], who threw the caustic soda, was sentenced to nine years but will serve just over four. Rapist Jason Brew, 19, who got six years, will do two and a half years. Hector Muaimba, 20, will serve just over three years of an eight-year term for rape and an unrelated robbery.

Original report here

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Monday, January 19, 2009

A change of heart in Ohio

A year ago, Ohio prisoners requesting a DNA test to prove their innocence were repeatedly rejected or ignored. Now, at least in Franklin County, where one man was exonerated last year, prosecutors are searching and finding lost evidence and even reconsidering DNA testing requests that they previously opposed. So, Prosecutor Ron O'Brien is going to give Charles A. Dumas another chance at freedom.

"This test means my life; it's my last chance to prove to my children I didn't do this," said Dumas, an inmate at the North Central Correctional Institution near Marion. Dumas, a 37-year-old Columbus man without a previous felony record, was convicted in 1998 of raping a 4-year-old Reynoldsburg girl. He was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. His original request for a DNA test was rejected in 2004 and then stymied again in 2007 when he was told the best evidence in his case had been lost or destroyed.

Without prodding from defense attorneys, O'Brien told his staff in October to search again for Dumas' evidence. The search produced two slides containing sperm samples recovered from the victim during a medical examination after the rape. "I had somebody turn everything upside down to look for it," O'Brien said. "We were able to find the rape kit in a closed file in storage, rather than a property room where it should have been."

Yesterday, O'Brien and the Ohio Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic at the University of Cincinnati law school representing Dumas, completed a testing agreement. An official order is expected to be filed in Common Pleas Court next week for sending the evidence to a private lab in suburban Cincinnati.

David Laing of the Ohio Innocence Project praised O'Brien and his staff for their cooperation. "They've been absolutely fabulous," Laing said. "I have to give a great amount of credit to O'Brien and Kim Bond (an assistant prosecutor). They went the extra mile and are supportive of the testing."

O'Brien said the Robert McClendon case changed his view of DNA cases. The Columbus man was released in August after serving 18 years for a child rape that DNA testing showed he didn't commit. As in the Dumas case, DNA testing at the time of McClendon's trial proved to be a dead-end. But last year, advanced testing at a private lab identified semen on the victim's underwear and showed that it couldn't have come from McClendon.

O'Brien agreed, with skepticism, to more testing after a private lab, DNA Diagnostics Center, offered it free as part of the Dispatch series "Test of Convictions." Dumas' case was among 300 reviewed by The Dispatch last year but wasn't a candidate for testing because the evidence had been lost. In 2004, Dumas' DNA request also was rejected in part because, as with McClendon, the evidence already had been tested years earlier to no avail.

"What we found with the McClendon case is it makes us more willing to take a second look at evidence that may have been previously tested," O'Brien said. DNA Diagnostics has agreed to test Dumas' evidence at no charge, as well.

Dumas was babysitting his girlfriend's two daughters, an infant and a 4-year-old, when the older girl was raped on Oct. 29, 1997. Dumas says he was drinking and partying when the 4-year-old went outside to play. When she came back inside, Dumas said, she was in pain and her genitals were bleeding. The girl later identified Dumas as her rapist, prosecutors said. DNA testing at the time was inconclusive, but a jury convicted him. Now, there appears to be enough sperm to obtain a DNA profile of the attacker, thanks to advanced testing technology.

Both sides agree that the testing should settle questions about Dumas' guilt once and for all. The victim's mother didn't respond to messages seeking comment. Dumas always has maintained his innocence, although he acknowledges feeling terrible about what happened. "I was a pretty (lousy) babysitter," he said. "I ain't going to say it's my fault, but I should have been there for her."

Dumas has two children of his own, now teenagers, who have grown up without him during his more than 11 years in prison. "I just want to be exonerated for my kids' sake. My kids need me." Dumas isn't scheduled to appear before the parole board again until 2012, and officials have warned inmates that a DNA test confirming their guilt will be used against them. "I'm not worried about that," Dumas said, "because I didn't do this."

Original report here

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Clyde Charles: Cleared of rape conviction after DNA test and after 17 years in La. prison

This was a disgraceful case. Around 30 letters requesting DNA testing were ignored by the authorities until the Innocence Project took up the matter

Clyde Charles, the first inmate to use a federal civil rights law to sue for DNA testing that not only cleared him of a Louisiana rape conviction but also sent his brother to prison for the same crime, has died. He was 55. Mr. Charles died Jan. 7 of natural causes at his home, relatives told The Courier newspaper. His health problems included diabetes that required dialysis, they said.

He was the first inmate to sue under the federal Civil Rights Act to get his DNA compared to DNA samples held as evidence, said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, a legal center specializing in wrongful conviction cases. After Mr. Charles was sentenced to life in prison for the 1981 rape of a nurse who identified him as her attacker, he pleaded with authorities to conduct DNA testing against evidence collected in the case.

Although investigators had semen samples from the victim, the technology to compare DNA samples didn't exist during Mr. Charles' trial. "Back then you didn't have DNA evidence, so you had to take the word of the victim and work with the evidence you had," then-Detective Jerry Larpenter told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview.

Terrebonne Parish authorities agreed to have Mr. Charles' DNA tested after Scheck, a former O.J. Simpson defense attorney, filed the civil rights lawsuit in 1999. When the DNA samples didn't match, Mr. Charles was soon exonerated and released from prison just before Christmas that year.

The investigation then focused on his brother, Marlo. During Clyde Charles' trial, Marlo Charles testified he had been near the crime scene (the brothers had been drinking at a nearby Houma home) and a court document named him as an alternate suspect. Marlo Charles' DNA was on file in Virginia; authorities confirmed in 2000 that his DNA matched the Louisiana evidence. Marlo Charles was convicted of the nurse's rape in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.

Clyde Charles had a tough life after his release from prison, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and terrible pain from his diabetes, Scheck said Tuesday. In early 2003, Mr. Charles was arrested on a charge that he had stabbed one of his other brothers, but was released on $100,000 bail for intensive drug rehabilitation. That case was continued indefinitely in a deal brokered with state prosecutors. "I wish I could tell you they lived happily ever after. But they didn't," Scheck said.

Original report here. Background on the case here

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Survey: Most ER doctors suspect police brutality

Nearly 98 percent of emergency-room physicians report that they believe some patients were victims of suspected excessive force by police, a national survey concludes. Yet most of the suspected incidents went unreported because no laws require physicians to alert authorities.

The survey of 315 physicians, contained in the January issue of the Emergency Medicine Journal and based on 2002 data, is believed to be the first doctors' account of suspected police brutality, says H. Range Hutson, lead author and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Harvard. The responses were based on interactions with patients who were brought in by police or who said officers caused their injuries. Ninety-five percent of the doctors reported injuries caused by fists and feet.

Hutson says the survey and analysis of findings were in the works for years. National police groups challenged the survey, saying it would be hard for physicians to know if injuries resulted from excessive force if they were not present during the encounters. Unlike cases of suspected domestic violence, elderly abuse and child abuse, which doctors must report to authorities, physicians are not required to notify anyone of suspected excessive force by police, Hutson says.

The report says the findings suggest that national emergency-medicine groups and police should work to develop guidelines for "this complex issue."

Original report here

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Speedy trial issue lands before US Supreme Court

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence" -- 6th amendment

After he was charged with hitting his girlfriend in the face, career criminal Michael Brillon sat in jail without bail for nearly three years, going through six public defenders before being tried for assault. The delays paid off - for Brillon: A Vermont court threw out his conviction and freed him from prison last spring, saying his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case this week, trying to decide if delays caused by public defenders can deprive a criminal defendant of that right. In particular: Whether governments can be blamed for such delays since they're the ones who assign and pay the lawyers for indigent defendants. [The right of the accuseed to be given "Assistance of Counsel for his defence" would seem to make it very clear that the onus is on the prosecution to ensure that there are defenders]

Forty states and 15 organizations - state governments, county governments, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a victim's rights' group - are backing the Vermont prosecutor's appeal of the ruling, worried that if it stands criminal suspects will try to game the system and get the result Brillon did. "You're greasing that slippery slope," said David Parkhurst, an attorney with the National Governors Association, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the prosecutor's appeal. "That's the big concern here."

Brillon, a 46-year-old construction worker whose criminal past includes convictions for sexual assault on a minor, felony obstruction of justice and cocaine possession, was charged with aggravated domestic assault over the 2001 incident with his girlfriend, who was the mother of his child. Held without bail, his case inched along as lawyer after lawyer asked for postponements and eventually withdrew or was replaced at Brillon's request. The first got an evidentiary hearing postponed because he was moving his law practice. He was fired by Brillon, who claimed the lawyer had failed to communicate with him. The second reported a conflict of interest that prevented him from continuing - a day after he'd been appointed. The third quit after telling a judge Brillon threatened his life during a break in a hearing. Brillon fired the fourth, and the fifth quit, citing changes to his contract with the state public defender's office. The sixth took the case to trial in 2004, when Brillon was convicted and sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison because he was a habitual offender with three prior felony convictions.

However, Brillon appealed on the speedy trial claim, and the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in his favor, saying the delays were the fault of the state. The ruling outraged victim's rights' advocates and others, both because Brillon was freed and for fear that other suspects would take his cue, hoping for a similar outcome. "The motivation would certainly be there," said Erica Marthage, one of the Vermont prosecutors who will appear at Tuesday's oral argument before the Supreme Court in Washington.

Brillon's current lawyer, whose position has been buttressed by friend-of-the-court briefs by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union, acknowledges that Brillon had a role in some of the delays. Still, says attorney William Nelson, the criminal justice system is primarily responsible. Brillon was without any appointed counsel at all for six months and was held without bail for nearly three years, despite telling judges he wanted to go to trial, Nelson said.

The U.S. Solicitor General, representing the federal government, has filed a brief denouncing the Vermont ruling and is seeking permission to use 10 minutes of prosecutor Christina Rainville's allotted 30-minute oral argument to make the case for striking down the Brillon ruling.

Maureen Dimino, indigent defense counsel for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said cases like Brillon's will become more common as cash-strapped states cut funding for public defender services, burdening those lawyers with so many cases that they seek more delays to prepare. "This is going to become a bigger and bigger issue due to the economic crunch. The states are failing to fund these systems, causing these undue delays," she said

Original report here

It would be a a shocking precedent if ANY excuse were found to water down this vital protection against abuse by the state

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Murderous cop arrested at last

Former police officer Johannes Mehserle on murder charge over Oscar Grant shooting death

A former police officer has been charged with murder after an unarmed man was shot dead on the San Francisco subway. Johannes Mehserle, a former Bay Area Rapid Transit agency police officer, was arrested this week at a home near Lake Tahoe, Nevada. He is being held over the New Year's Day shooting death of Oscar Grant, who was lying on the ground after being pulled off a San Francisco area train by police investigating reports of fighting.

Mr Mehserle resigned from the rapid transit unit on January 7, hours before a protest in Oakland turned violent and resulted in more than 100 arrests. Mr Mehserle is white and Mr Grant was black. The shooting was recorded by passengers using mobile phones and the video has been widely circulated on the internet and TV.

Alameda County district attorney Tom Orloff said Mr Mehserle was charged with murder because evidence showed Mr Grant was the victim of an intentional killing. Mr Grant's family is suing the rapid transit unit for $US25 million ($38 million). A lawyer representing the family praised authorities for arresting Mr Mehserle and called it "a very first step" of what was expected to be a long process.

Original report here

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

30 years on death row, conviction quashed on a technicality

Sounds to me that he should have fried long ago

A white man on death row in Texas for nearly 30 years could be freed because an appeals court has ruled prosecutors improperly excluded blacks from his jury in the belief that blacks empathise with defendants. Jonathan Bruce Reed was convicted and condemned for the November 1978 rape-slaying of Wanda Jean Wadle at her Dallas apartment.

But now the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled Dallas County prosecutors improperly excluded black prospective jurors from Reed's trial and ordered him released unless prosecutors choose to retry him. "Although we do not relish adding a new chapter to this unfortunate story more than 30 years after the crime took place, we conclude that the Constitution affords Reed a right to relief," a three-member panel of the New Orleans-based court wrote in the ruling posted late Monday. Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, had no immediate comment on the court decision.

Reed has been on death row since September 1979, making him among the longest-serving prisoners awaiting execution in Texas.

The 5th Circuit said Reed's case mirrored the capital murder case of Thomas Miller-El, on Texas death row for nearly 20 years until the Supreme Court overturned his verdict, citing racial discrimination during jury selection. Miller-El last year took a life prison sentence as part of a plea deal. The Supreme Court cited a manual, written by a prosecutor in 1969 and used for years later, that advised Dallas prosecutors to exclude minorities from juries. Documents in Miller-El's case described how the memo advised prosecutors to avoid selecting minorities because "they almost always empathise with the accused".

"Reed presents this same historical evidence of racial bias in the Dallas County District Attorney's Office," the 5th Circuit panel said. Reed, now 57, was identified as the man who attacked Wadle and her roommate, Kimberly Pursley, on November 1, 1978. He had apparently entered their apartment by posing as a maintenance man. Pursley survived an attempted strangulation by feigning unconsciousness. Two other residents identified Reed as the man they saw in the apartment complex just before the time of the attack.

Original report here

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hey, officer, we’re watching you

You've heard all about it by now. Early in the morning on New Year's Day, police in Oakland, California, had a man down on his belly on a BART platform -- a suspect in a fight with other passengers. Suddenly, in full view of other holiday revelers traveling home, Officer Johannes Mehserle draws his pistol and shoots 22-year-old Oscar Grant III in the back. Camera-equipped cell phones on the scene captured the incident as it happened, putting the telling of the tale on YouTube and beyond the power of official spin.

Oakland broke out in rioting as a result, and we have yet to see the last of the fallout. That's happened in the past in the aftermath of apparent police misconduct, whether negligent or malicious (we don't yet know in this case). But rarely, if ever, before has the public been so motivated by a story driven less by professional media reports than by raw footage taken and distributed by citizens bypassing formal channels.

Fast as the media was to respond, it relied on the amateur video captured at the scene --and even professional reports were then edited and repurposed by citizen journalists dedicated to telling their own version of the tale. When speaking to the jaded pros, police spokespeople have found themselves chasing a story driven by grassroots outrage -- one that couldn't be put to rest by stroking a few familiar faces.

Citizen journalism is coming into its own. Video cameras, cell-phone camers, PDAs and the Internet are handing tools to regular people that allow them to communicate and distribute information as never before. The stories they tell are often unpolished, but they're real, they can tell unpleasant truths, and they can reach vast audiences in unfiltered form.

Authorities are starting to clue in -- and to respond in ham-handed form. After Grant was shot, police tried to confiscate cell phones on the scene that had recorded the incident. But almost everybody has a cell phone these days. They're small, and easy to conceal. The revolution in journalism can't bring back the dead. But it can help to ensure that the guilty are held accountable and that the truth is widely known.

Original report here

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Crooked Australian cops

UP to 100 Victoria Police officers and employees have been taken into criminal custody or punished for serious disciplinary breaches in only 12 months. Thirty-two sworn officers have been detained, suspected of offences including rape, child pornography, drug-related offences and perverting the course of justice. Another 50 officers were punished for breaking internal police rules. Twenty-two civilian police employees were investigated for crimes and internal breaches.

The figures were obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun under Freedom of Information. Ethical Standards Department head Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said: "We believe there is a need for a faster system that allows dismissal of members who are corrupt, involved in criminal offences or have lost the community's confidence." But the Police Association claims any reforms would give too much power to the Chief Commissioner.

Most of those taken into custody were locked up or questioned as suspects in thefts, assaults, drug crimes, deception offences and misconduct in public office. Some officers were released, while others were charged and jailed.

The Sunday Herald Sun can reveal Victoria Police internally disciplined 50 officers with ranks as high as inspector for breaking rules in a recent 12-month period. The 50 officers received penalties for "disgraceful" and "improper" conduct, illegal moonlighting, criminal acts and disobeying orders from Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon, according to Victoria Police data.

The revelations come as the reputation of Victoria Police reels from criminal and corruption scandals, including allegations of police running an illegal brothel and suspicions of police leaks being linked to gangland executions. Misbehaving cops caught by police internal affairs, now ESD, include:

TWO inspectors, one demoted, the other put on a good behaviour bond, for disgraceful conduct.

TWO Sen-Sergeants, believed to have been training police officers in Iraq, fined and given good behaviour bonds for non-approved moonlighting.

DISGRACEFUL conduct by a Sen-Sgt and six Sen-Constables leading to a dismissal, demotion, promotion freeze and transfer freeze.

A SERGEANT and 16 Sen-Constables who refused to follow an order of the Chief Commissioner, leading to a promotion freeze, a demotion, four reprimands, four fines and seven bonds.

SIX officers proven guilty of a criminal offence, leading to a dismissal, reprimand, promotion freeze and three bonds.

A SEN-CONSTABLE and constable put on bonds after committing an offence punishable by jail.

FOUR constables found negligent in discharge of duty, but given no penalty.

AND improper conduct by a Sen-Sgt, five Sen-Constables, a leading Sen-Constable and two constables leading to four bonds, two fines, a dismissal, a reprimand and a transfer.

Another four unsworn force employees were also given good behaviour bonds after being found guilty of serious misconduct. Victoria Police refused to identify the alleged culprits or reveal details of their alleged offences.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

British Metropolitan Police accused of protecting staff against rape allegations

The Metropolitan Police was accused last night of shielding officers against accusations of rape after it emerged that dozens of complaints had not resulted in a single conviction over the past five years. The figures, obtained by The Times, also show that since 2000 only 1 per cent of all public complaints of rape and sexual assault against Met staff were upheld by an internal police investigation. Even then, a quarter of those who faced a disciplinary board were allowed to resign before any hearing and with police pension intact.

When the victims of a rape or sexual assault are members of the public, the figures show that their complaint is highly unlikely to be upheld by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, the internal investigation unit known as “The Untouchables”. Only four of the 311 public complaints in the last nine years were substantiated following an internal investigation. Nineteen of these were complaints of rape by a Met employee on a member of the public — but none was upheld.

The disclosures are embarrassing for the Government, which is struggling to improve public confidence in how police deal with rape victims. They are also a personal failing for Sir Ian Blair, the departing Commissioner, who came to the force as an expert on improving police performance on rape. The figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act, but only after a five-month delay.

Last week it emerged that two women police constables, Julie Facey and Paula Church, were suing the Met for 1 million each over sexual assault and harassment allegations involving three male officers over two years.

Woman Against Rape, a campaigning group that provides support to victims, said that the figures illustrated why there should be impartial independent investigation of such cases. Lisa Longstaff, of the group, said: “They are proof of what rape victims have been saying: the police are protecting the rapist, particularly when the attacker is a police officer.”

Over the past nine years there have been 62 allegations of rape against Met officers and civilian staff by members of the public and their own colleagues, so-called blue-on-blue rape. Only four of these cases resulted in a successful prosecution. A fifth accused was not prosecuted, though an internal investigation found that there was a case to answer. Instead, he was allowed to resign before his misconduct hearing. In 2003 there were nine reported alleged rapes, resulting in only two convictions. Since then no one has been successfully prosecuted, although in 2006 there were 16 reported rapes, eight in 2007 and five last year.

A Met spokesman said: “Any instance where the conduct of our staff brings the Met into disrepute is treated extremely seriously"

Original report here

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

This blind faith in experts fails family justice

Professionals giving evidence in British courts are supposed to be independent; too often they are hired guns for local authorities

This morning I got an e-mail from Frank Lockyer, the retired police superintendent and father of Sally Clark. His daughter spent three years in jail for murdering two of her sons, during which time she suffered untold torments. She was exonerated later and released, but she never recovered from her treatment at the hands of the British justice system - a system she had once served as a solicitor. She died in 2007.

Mr Lockyer was writing about a recent decision of the Press Complaints Commission to clear me of a complaint made under clause 1 of the Code of Practice (accuracy) by the paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow. He was villified by the media for evidence he gave at Sally Clark's trial and that of Angela Cannings, another mother who was jailed and subsequently released. Professor Meadow had objected to a comment I had made suggesting that he had gone beyond his remit and given evidence that “led to the jailing of innocent people” - partly by presenting statistical evidence of the likelihood of cot death when he was not a statistician.

He felt that this was misleading, for three main reasons. First, he was only one of several witnesses in these cases; second, appeal judges had played down the importance of his statistical evidence in the Clark ruling, and third, we cannot know how much weight the juries actually gave his evidence.

The PCC decided not to uphold the complaint. It took into account that my views were set out in what it felt was an opinion piece and not presented as indisputable fact - and that Professor Meadow had rejected The Times's offer to print a letter from him, setting out his position. It is not an episode I am proud of - it is sobering for any journalist to be accused of inaccuracy. But that he was supported by other paediatricians in bringing the complaint reflects a continuing gulf between the medical professions and the press over what we should expect of expert witnesses.

Mr Lockyer writes that he would never have complained to the General Medical Council about Professor Meadow if he had apologised or admitted that he might have been mistaken. This is a different question from whether he was made a scapegoat when the courts themselves should have been more sceptical. Mr Lockyer wanted accountability, not revenge. He is concerned about what he considers to be the reluctance of so many members of the Royal College of Paediatrics to admit that evidence might sometimes be wrong.

He is not alone. This week I spoke to a Welsh woman whose son has been forced to go on seeing his father although both she and his school fear that dramatic changes in his behaviour are the result of abuse. An expert psychologist has dismissed their concerns by stating - astonishingly - that teaching in Welsh could cause retardation in some children. Despite there being no apparent research to back this up, the court served a penal notice that means that the mother will go to jail if she attempts to protect her son from unsupervised visits by her ex-partner, who she believes is an abuser. Welsh politicians have expressed outrage - Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister, said last month that he “would not dignify that person with the title of ‘expert'”. But the decision cannot be challenged, even though the expert has refused to indicate what his conclusions were based on.

The worst part of this story is not the expert's “evidence”, or the court's apparent acceptance of it. It is that the court has twice denied the mother the chance to call another expert in her defence. This is a common problem if the letters I get from parents are anything to go by.

After overturning Angela Cannings's conviction in 2003, Lord Justice Judge declared that no one should ever go to prison again solely on the basis of expert witness evidence. The criminal law was changed as a result. But in family courts, many decisions are still made on the basis of evidence from psychiatrists, psychologists or doctors, who often take the view that a mother is unstable, sometimes without cross-examination. Too many family courts are being run by experts, rather than judges.

If the courts are not prepared to challenge “expert” evidence, they should surely allow others to do so. In theory, experts are supposed to be independent professionals who have a duty to help the court to come to the right decision. In practice they are often hired guns, paid by local authorities that choose people they know will be a “safe pair of hands” - people they have used time and time again.

In December the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Jack Straw took the heroic decision to open the family courts to the media and to end the gagging of parents who wish to speak out about their cases. In doing so he has struck a huge blow for justice. But blind faith in experts still poses a problem.

The opening up of the family courts will allow the media to scrutinise experts and their evidence - at least when journalists turn up. But although the Straw reforms will let parties disclose court documents to outside experts without a judge's permission, they will still not be able to call those experts in their defence without the court's say-so. Unless defence lawyers are savvy enough to exploit this, there may still be miscarriages of justice.

It is perhaps not surprising that many experts have an inherent tendency to believe that they are right. That is human nature - although you would expect members of the medical professions to be more conscious of scientific complexity and uncertainty. Courts should be more sceptical. If they will not challenge experts, they must let more parents do so.

Original report here

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Friday, January 09, 2009

SF police goon videoed

New video shows BART officer shooting Hayward man in the back. The goon has now resigned and won't talk

A BART police officer struggling to handcuff a 22-year-old man, stood up over the facedown Hayward resident and fired a single shot into his back while a handful of officers watched, a video taken by a train passenger apparently shows. The attorney for the family of Oscar Grant III, fatally shot by an unidentified BART officer early New Year's Day, said Sunday he plans to file a $25 million lawsuit against the department and asked prosecutors to consider filing murder charges against the officer. The shooting occurred shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday after five officers responded to the Fruitvale station to reports of a fight on a train, officials said, though they have not confirmed whether Grant was involved in the fight.

The new video, obtained by television station KTVU, shows two officers restraining a struggling suspect. While the man is lying face down on the ground, one officer appears to be seen pulling out a gun and firing a single shot into his back.

Civil rights attorney John Burris, known for his work in several high-profile cases involving police abuse and corruption, said at a Sunday news conference that the shooting was "the most unconscionable shooting" he has ever seen. He said that the Alameda County district attorney should consider filing charges of second degree murder or manslaughter against the officer. "I've drafted a notice of claim against BART for $25 million I plan to submit officially," Burris said, adding that the officer had violated Grant's civil rights and caused his wrongful death.

The Police Department is in the early stages of a thorough investigation, BART police Chief Gary Gee said Sunday at a news conference. He declined to discuss many details, as doing so "before all the facts are in could compromise individual recollections and do disservice to the truth and the answers we're all seeking." BART police are cooperating fully with a parallel investigation by the Alameda County district attorney's office, Gee said. Gee declined to identify the officer but said he is a two-year BART police veteran. The officer was given drug and alcohol tests before being sent home on administrative leave Thursday, Gee said. The last BART officer-involved shooting occurred in May 2001, Gee said.

Mario Pangelina Jr., whose sister had a 4-year-old daughter with Grant, said he was on the same train as Grant that night, but on a different car. He said he saw Grant's interactions with police immediately before the shooting. "First, an officer grabbed Oscar by the neck and pushed him against the wall," Pangelina said. "Oscar didn't fight him, but he didn't go down either. He was like, 'What did I do?' Then another officer came up with his Taser and held it right in his face. Oscar said, 'Please don't shoot me, please don't Taser me, I have a daughter,' over and over again, real fast, and he sat down."

Grant was the only man in a small group sitting against the wall who was not handcuffed, Burris said, so officers grabbed him away from the wall and pressed him belly-down onto the ground. "One officer was kneeling over his neck and head, and another standing over him," Burris said. "He was not kicking, and one officer was pulling on his arm. The standing officer pulled out his weapon and, within moments, fired the gun into Mr. Grant's back." Burris said the bullet went through Grant's lower back and ricocheted off the ground up into his lungs, killing him.

BART's 206 sworn officers attend the same academies and training programs as city police and sheriff's deputies. According to BART's Web site, its requirements go beyond state guidelines, as every officer applicant must have completed at least a year of college. Police have one video of the incident in evidence, different from the video that local media have released, and the quality of that video makes it hard to reach a sure conclusion, Gee said. "It's not clear to me why the officer felt he needed to shoot. I don't know, and from my perspective it doesn't matter," Burris said.

Original report here


The BART police officer under investigation for the fatal New Year's Day shooting of an unarmed man quit his job Wednesday rather than speak with investigators, an official said. Former officer Johannes Mehserle, 27, has given no comment to BART investigators since the incident in which cell phone videos appeared to capture Mehserle shooting Oscar Grant III as Grant lay facedown on the ground at the Fruitvale station, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said Wednesday.

"We had a meeting scheduled for him to talk, and his attorney and a union rep came in his place and dropped off a letter of resignation instead," Johnson said. "It's interesting, because he was supposed to be talking for the administrative part of our investigation, which is privileged information and couldn't have been used in any criminal investigation anyway."

While BART officials said they've been trying to get Mehserle to talk ever since the shooting, Mehserle's attorney said he hadn't received any requests for an interview from Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff's office as of Wednesday night. "In general, a prosecutor would contact the attorney of anyone under investigation for a crime," said Christopher Miller, Mehserle's Sacramento-based union attorney. "So that would have come to me."

Orloff declined Wednesday to discuss any details of his office's investigation with the media, citing a standing policy his office has to allow police departments to act as the main public face of any officer-involved shooting investigation. "We've confirmed the investigation, and that's about as much as we'll say," Orloff said. "The normal thing in a situation like this is to interview anyone who can shed light on it."

Mehserle's resignation takes away BART's ability to leverage a statement out of him, since he can no longer be fired for remaining silent, Orloff said. Orloff met with a group of about 50 clergy and community members in his office, after they held a rally outside the courthouse and packed the lobby outside his office with wall-to-wall demonstrators demanding he meet with them. Among the demonstrators was Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary), who called the shooting an "execution" and demanded an explanation of the behavior of the other officers present during the shooting.

Brooks and the clergy spoke with a crowd of about 100 people outside the courthouse just after 9 a.m. and said they'd been denied a meeting with Orloff and demanded swift justice for Grant's killing. "What shall we tell our sons?" said the Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr. of Alan Temple Baptist Church. "Shall we tell them to fear the law? Is the law their enemy? If Oscar Grant is not safe, then I am not safe."

Minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam said Mehserle should be arrested immediately. "What is left to investigate? The whole world has seen this," Muhammad said, referring to widespread Internet videos taken from witnesses' cell phones. "We can discuss his mindset later. But right now he should be detained and held on criminal charges."

At a demonstration in protest of the shooting Wednesday afternoon at the Fruitvale station, Grant's younger sister, Audrena Gilbert, said Mehserle has not talked to the bereaved family. "I want him to start. I want him to apologize for what he did," said Gilbert, 19, of Oakland. "I want him to tell the truth, why he shot him, what he shot him for. That's all I want."

The afternoon protest, which had a microphone open for anyone to speak but was led by speakers for the Coalition Against Police Executions, drew a crowd of 500 people, police estimated. The station was temporarily shut down, and trains let passengers off at stations on either side of the stop. "It's not enough the officer resigned today," said Sean Dugar, president of the California National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth and College Division. "We demand he be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. "... We shut down one BART station this afternoon. Let's do another one next week." Speakers at both the morning and afternoon protests led the crowd in a call-and-return chant, shouting, "I am Oscar Grant."....

Dave Rose, a retired Placer County sheriff's lieutenant who's now an expert witness on police use of force and the co-author of "Police Use-of-Force Case Law," said every bit of Mehserle's training and all circumstances of the situation on the BART platform that night must be taken into account. All the videos should be professionally enhanced and then reviewed frame by frame for every detail, every twitch, he said. Based on Mehserle's experience and how officers react physiologically in high-stress situations, Rose said, it could well have been nothing more than a tragic, noncriminal accident.

But UC Berkeley Boalt Hall Law School professor Franklin Zimring, a criminal justice expert, said "absolutely conclusive" videos of the shooting have convinced him there's no possible justification for Mehserle's actions. "Normally, what you get in a police deadly force interaction is a 'he said, she said' in which there's at least an accusation like, 'There was a flash of metal as he reached toward his pocket,'"‰" Zimring said. "But this guy was already down on the ground. "... He's not in a position to be threatening anybody." Use of deadly force is considered "in terms of a threat to the physical safety of the officer or somebody else, and there's none there in this case," he added. "So it's accident versus intention, but justification is off the table." ....

Original report here

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Appeal in Canadian shaken baby case

An arrogant and overconfident medical "expert" again. Similar to British cases

Richard Brant’s conviction more than 13 years ago in the death of his infant son was the result of disgraced pathologist Charles Smith’s work and should be quashed, the man’s lawyer said Tuesday as he prepared to file an appeal.

Brant was taking his two-month-old son Dustin for a walk on Nov. 16, 1992, after the boy had been sick for a few days. When he lifted the rain guard on the stroller he was horrified to find Dustin’s lifeless body with thick, red foam around his nose, Brant said in an affidavit filed with the court. The infant was taken to hospital and died two days later. The pathologist who conducted the autopsy listed pneumonia and respiratory failure as causes of death.

When Smith, then a prominent pathologist, examined the case he concluded Dustin likely died from Shaken Baby Syndrome. “Dr. Smith actually took it on himself to contradict the pathologist who provided the original opinion,” lawyer James Lockyer said Tuesday after Ontario’s highest court granted a time extention to file an appeal. “It’s a case where he played a very significant role in the prosecution of the father.”

Brant’s lawyer at the time told him “Dr. Smith was ‘The King’ of his field, and challenging his conclusions would be next to impossible,” Brant said in the affidavit. Facing the prospect of damning testimony from a star witness in court, Brant took a deal and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, the documents state. His new girlfriend had just told him she was pregnant, and he didn’t want to risk being convicted of manslaughter and never being allowed to see his child. “I did not cause Dustin’s death or assault him in any way, and pled guilty because I felt I had no other realistic option,” the affidavit reads. “However, I now know that I entered my plea based on flawed pathology.”

Smith’s work was the focus of a public inquiry last year that blasted key players, including Smith, in a forensics scandal that saw innocent people branded as child killers. The Ontario government has launched a formal review of so-called shaken baby cases in which Smith played a role.

Lockyer said he will be asking the court to quash Brant’s conviction and enter a verdict of acquittal. There is virtually no way to re-examine Brant’s case through a new trial because key pathology evidence was unintentionally destroyed and a stay of the proceedings would be unacceptable, Lockyer said. “The evidence now is clear that Dustin died of natural causes,” he said outside the court. “It’s, in my view, not good enough to just say, ‘We’ll stay the proceedings against you.’ He really should never have been charged in the first place.”

There are several other cases like Brant’s that will likely be brought before the courts again, Lockyer said. “(Brant’s) case, as much as any of them, was dependent on Dr. Smith’s evidence,” Lockyer said. “This isn’t going to be the last of them, that’s for sure.”

Because of the time that has passed since Brant’s conviction, Lockyer had to ask the Ontario Court of Appeal for an extension of time to file an appeal. “The appellant has explained the delay and there is obvious merit to the appeal,” Justice Marc Rosenberg wrote in his endorsement. Lockyer was given until Friday to file the appeal.

Original report here

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Chicago: Exonerated Inmate Can Collect Settlement

Police corruption again

Madison Hobley, who once sat on death row, is now allowed to collect $6.5 million stemming from a wrongful-conviction lawsuit he won against the city. Hobley was originally convicted of setting the 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son. He served 13 years in prison before Gov. George Ryan pardoned him in 2003. An extra layer of intrigue to the situation comes from the fact that Hobley's main defense was that former Police Commander Jon Burge tortured Hobley into confessing.

Hobley was originally awarded $1 million from the city last year for the wrongful-conviction, but the remaining $6.5 million was held until officials could conclude a new investigation as to whether or not Hobley set the fire. The deadline for an indictment came and went this Saturday with no charges, clearing Hobley to collect the money, but prosecutors have not officially stated whether or not the new investigation is closed. Said his attorney, Jon Loevy, "Mr. Hobley is innocent, and we were absolutely confident there would be no indictment. We are pleased prosecutors have apparently recognized that." Hobley now lives out of state.

Original report here


Madison Hobley was one of 14 African American men sentenced to death based on confessions — alleged or acknowledged — obtained by a group of Chicago police officers later shown to have engaged in systematic torture of suspects in criminal cases.

Four officers claimed Hobley admitted setting a fire that claimed the lives of his wife, infant son, and five other persons early the morning of January 6, 1987, at an apartment building in the 1100 block of East 82nd Street in Chicago.

When the fire broke out, Hobley, 26, escaped the flames without shoes and wearing only underwear. He consistently maintained his innocence, alleging that the officers tortured him and — when that failed — fabricated a confession.

In addition to Hobley’s wife, Anita, 21, and their 15-month-old son, Philip, the fire victims were Schalise Lindsey, 7, Shelone Holton, 23, Johnnie Mae Dodds, 34, Anthony Bradford, 36, and Robert Stephens, 40.

The alleged confession

The morning after the fire, two Area 2 police detectives, Robert Dwyer and James Lotito, found Hobley at his mother’s home about a mile from the fire scene. Dwyer and Lotito claimed that Hobley voluntarily went with them to Area 2 headquarters and then to central police headquarters at 1121 South State Street — where, they said, he confessed.

Hobley denied not only that he confessed but also that he had any choice about going with Dwyer and Lotito. He claimed that Dwyer handcuffed him to a wall ring at Area 2 and beat him, after which he was taken downtown, where he was handcuffed to a chair and kicked by Sergeant Patrick Garrity. Then, according to Hobley, Dwyer, Lotito, and Detective Daniel McWeeny suffocated him with a plastic typewriter cover until he blacked out.

The officers' testimony

At Hobley’s jury trial before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Christy Berkos in 1990, the prosecution case rested primarily — although not entirely — on the testimony of the four officers, all of whom denied abusing Hobley in any way. They claimed that Hobley had twice been advised of his right to remain silent and to consult a lawyer but that he elected to waive his rights and proceeded to confess.

According to the officers, Hobley related that he went to a filling station with a can, bought a dollar’s worth of gasoline, went home, emptied the can into the hallway outside his third-floor apartment and down the stairwell, ignited the gasoline with a match, and threw the can down in the second-floor hallway. This he did, it was alleged, that he might start a new life with a woman with whom he had recently had an affair.

There was no record of the purported confession. Dwyer said he took notes on Hobley’s confession, but threw them away after something was spilled on them. "Quite frankly they were soaking wet," he testified. "You know, ink was running on them." Garrity testified that he also took notes, but they indicated only that Hobley made "admissions."

The alleged gasoline purchase

The prosecutors — Assistant Cook County State’s Attorneys George Velcich and Paul Tsukuno — presented two witnesses purporting to link Hobley to the purchase of a dollar’s worth of gasoline, in a can, at an Amoco station in the 8300 block of South Cottage Grove Avenue less than an hour before the fire.

Andre Council, a customer at the station, testified that he stood five feet from the man as he pumped the gasoline. After the man paid for the gasoline and left, Council said he visited with the attendant, Kenneth Stewart, for 30 to 45 minutes before fire trucks went roaring past.

A little later, Council said he went to the fire scene, about half a mile from the station, where he saw the man whom he had seen buy the gasoline. The next day, Council continued, he saw a photograph of Hobley on television and recognized him, whereupon Council called the police.

Steward, the station attendant, testified that a man had bought a dollar’s worth of gasoline while Council was at the station. At a lineup the day after the fire, however, Stewart initially failed to identify Hobley. After officers pressed him to identify someone, Stewart responded that Hobley "favored" the man who bought the gasoline, but added that he was not certain.

Purported physical corroboration

To corroborate Hobley’s alleged confession and other aspects of the prosecution theory of the crime, Velcich and Tsukuno introduced into evidence a two-gallon gasoline can that another Chicago Police Detective John Paladino testified he discovered at the fire scene.

Detective Virgil Mikus, a Chicago police detective who testified as an arson expert for the prosecution, told the jury that a burn pattern on the floor in front of the Hobley apartment indicated that gasoline had been poured there. Mikus acknowledged that tests showed no traces of gasoline in the area — but claimed it must have been washed away by water firefighters used to extinguish the fire.

Sentence and appeals

When the jury found nothing in mitigation sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty, Berkos sentenced him accordingly and, in 1994, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld Hobley’s conviction and death sentence, calling the evidence "overwhelming." People v. Hobley, 159 Ill. 2d 272 (1994).

The following year, Hobley’s appellate attorneys — Professor Andrea Lyon, of the DePaul University College of Law, and Kurt H. Feuer, of Ross & Hardies — filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court alleging that the authorities had illegally withheld a forensic report stating that the gasoline can introduced into evidence at the trial had been examined for fingerprints and that Hobley’s were not on it. During the trial, Velcich and Tsukuno had denied the existence of such a report.

More important, Lyon and Feuer alleged that the authorities had withheld a group of reports showing that police had recovered a second gasoline can at the scene of the fire and had destroyed it. The implication of these reports was not only that the fire had been set by someone other than Hobley but that the can introduced at the trial had been planted to corroborate Hobley’s alleged confession. Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Porter, however, drew no such inference. He denied Hobley’s petition without a hearing.

In 1998, the Supreme Court found the new evidence sufficiently troubling to reverse Porter and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. "At defendant’s trial, the defense theory was that another person had started the fire," said the court. "The negative fingerprint report and the existence of a second gasoline can found at the fire scene certainly would have offered concrete evidentiary support to that defense theory." People v. Hobley, 182 Ill. 2d 404 (1998).

The evidentiary hearing

On May 31, 2002 — two years and two days after the Supreme Court ordered the evidentiary hearing — Judge Porter complied. The hearing dragged on intermittently for more than two years, during which, in addition to documenting the withheld exculpatory evidence, Lyon and Feuer showed that Andre Council, the principal witness who linked Hobley to the purchase of gasoline before the fire, had himself been a suspect in an arson that occurred on March 17, 1987.

At this point, former Area 2 Commander Jon Burge was commander of the department’s bomb and arson unit. He issued an order waiving a fingerprint check for Council and releasing him on a personal recognizance bond. This was six years before Burge would be fired for torturing suspects while working in various capacities at Area 2.

Evidence was presented indicating that the jury had been intimidated. A group of jurors having dinner while sequestered reported that they were taunted by other diners, "You know he’s guilty," "Give him the death penalty," and "Hang the motherfucker." Also, during deliberations, the jury foreman, a suburban police officer, placed a revolver on the jury table and proclaimed, "We'll reach a verdict."

The evidence supporting the claim that the gasoline can introduced at the trial had been planted was presented by an arson expert retained by the defense — Russell Ogel, of Packer Engineering, Inc. He testified that the can bore no signs of exposure to extreme heat that destroyed other items in the area where it purportedly had been found; not even the plastic cap on the can had been damaged.

Ogel also testified that — contrary to the prosecution expert’s contention at Hobley’s trial — there was no evidence of burn patterns on the third floor of the building. Rather, said Ogel, tests showed that the fire started in a stairwell lower in the building.

Porter found the new evidence unpersuasive. On July 8, 2002, he denied Hobley a new trial saying, "There is no showing the favorable evidence could reasonably be taken to put the whole case in such a different light as to undermine confidence in the verdict."

Pardon based on innocence

Lyon and Feuer appealed and filed a petition seeking a full pardon based on innocence with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, which conducts hearings on such requests and makes confidential recommendations to the governor.

On October 18, 2002, the board heard Hobley’s petition, and on January 9, 2003, Governor George H. Ryan granted the pardon. "Madison Hobley was convicted on the basis of flawed evidence," Ryan said. "He was convicted because the jury did not have the benefit of all existing evidence, which would have served to exonerate him."

Original report here

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