Sunday, May 31, 2009

Trigger-happy British cops face prosecution

Mainly because the victim's family kept a heavy glare of publicity on the police complaints procedure, it would seem

Police marksmen who controversially shot dead a barrister face a manslaughter investigation by prosecutors, it emerged yesterday. Seven officers fired 11 shots into Mark Saunders at the end of a five-hour siege of his London flat, in which he exchanged fire with the specialist firearms squad. His family claim the successful divorce lawyer could have been arrested 'peacefully' after he began firing a shotgun randomly from his Chelsea home.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an investigation into the shooting by Scotland Yard's elite CO 19 unit. Now the police watchdog has completed its inquiry and announced the file will go to the Crown Prosecution Service for it to decide whether to bring charges.

Oxford-educated Mr Saunders, 32, was killed at his £2million flat off the Kings Road last May after spending an afternoon drinking. The former Territorial Army soldier legally owned a 12-bore shotgun which he began firing. While a police helicopter hovered overhead, he shot at officers and hit a house opposite - then marksmen ended the stand-off.

A post-mortem examination found Mr Saunders, whose wife Elizabeth is also a barrister, was hit at least five times and shot in the head, the heart and liver by several weapons. The IPCC began an investigation into the incident, as is routine in police shootings, but Mr Saunders' family began questioning whether lethal force had been necessary to stop him.

His sister Charlotte said five months after the incident: 'I question whether they had to kill him. 'I firmly believe that this could have been brought to a peaceful conclusion. Mark had no hostages, he was holed up in his own home, surrounded by scores of officers and the area had been evacuated.' She claimed a senior IPCC member told her officers had a 20-minute opportunity to use a Taser gun on her brother which would have incapacitated him. Miss Saunders, 26, also highlighted video footage which apparently showed her brother had not fired his gun for 20 minutes when marksmen opened fire and was talking to officers only ten seconds before he died. 'If police were in range for Taser guns why didn't they Taser him then? Why didn't they throw in the CS gas then,' she asked?

She also dismissed suggestions that her brother committed 'suicide by cop', denied he was an alcoholic or depressive, or an angry man jealous of his wife's professional success. His family went to the High Court seeking a judicial review in an attempt to have the IPCC inquiry into his death declared unlawful. They argued - in a case echoing concerns raised about procedure in the wake of the shooting of Brazilian John Charles de Menezes in 2005 - that allowing firearms officers to confer about their accounts gave rise to the risk of collusion. Mr Justice Underhill dismissed the claim but expressed concern about the practice and the Association of Chief Police Officers later effectively ended it.

Charlotte Saunders has launched a legal action for damages against the Met. She has also cited the IPCC in her High Court proceedings for negligence.

In a statement, the IPCC said: 'As in all IPCC cases, the investigation report was passed to an IPCC commissioner to decide whether the case should be referred to the CPS. 'On this occasion it was decided that the case did meet the criteria for referral.' An IPCC spokesman added: 'We find the facts and then it is up to the CPS to say whether those facts amount to criminal charges.'

If prosecutors decide there is no case to answer, the officers could still face disciplinary charges. A date for the inquest has yet to be fixed.

Original report here

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chicago man sues Chicago, police over wrongful conviction

Chicago justice: Man who spent more than 12 years in prison says he was framed to clear case

A Chicago man freed a year ago after DNA cleared him of a rape for which he spent 12 years in prison has alleged in a federal lawsuit that he was framed by Chicago police. Dean Cage, 42, was convicted in 1995 of the rape of a 15-year-old girl on the South Side after she identified him in a police lineup and said she recognized his voice.

Cage, who had just moved to Chicago from Arkansas and was working at a supermarket, was arrested a week before Thanksgiving 1994 after police said a tip stemming from a published composite sketch led them to him.

Cage, who had no criminal record, repeatedly denied that he had committed the rape but was convicted in a bench trial and all of his appeals were denied. For years, Cage wrote to the New York-based Innocence Project, asking them to take on his case. In 2006, the project persuaded the Cook County state's attorney's office to test Cage's DNA against evidence taken in the case. The tests excluded Cage as the rapist, charges were dropped and he was freed in May 2008.

Since being freed, Cage received a "certificate of innocence" from the state, allowing him to seek compensation for his years in prison, which he is in the process of doing, said his attorney, Jon Loevy. But last week Cage sued the City of Chicago, a police detective who investigated the rape and other unnamed officers, alleging that he was framed to simply clear the crime.

The lawsuit alleged that Cage looked "nothing like" the composite drawing and that evidence at the time showed the victim had several sexually transmitted diseases that Cage didn't carry. The suit accused officers of manipulating the victim to implicate Cage and refusing to investigate other possible suspects, even after Cage was cleared by DNA of another rape. The suit alleged the case's primary detective may have influenced the victim while conducting the lineup.

In an interview Tuesday, Cage said he has struggled for the last year to adjust to life outside of prison, spending time with his three sons, one of whom recently graduated from high school. Finding work has been difficult, as he is still trying to expunge his record, he said. He recently began working in a barbecue restaurant on the South Side. His mother won't let him travel alone in a car, preferring to send family members to transport him. He rides his bike from home to work, he said.

"It's been kinda rough," Cage said with his mother at his side. A scrapbook of exoneration cases he kept for years while in prison lay open before him. "If I didn't have the support of my family, I don't know what I would have done," he said.

Cage said he's filing suit in the hope of obtaining money to start his own exoneration project for other inmates who may have been wrongfully convicted. He said he also wants to provide for his sons.

Original report here

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Some recent Australian police experiences

(Via Australian Politics)

Abusive police in court

I can see no reason why police should abuse suspects so I hope they lose this one. Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and in this case the accused WERE innocent. There was not even enough evidence to take them to court. Unless they are being physically attacked, the police should be polite at all times -- as in the old British tradition

THREE men questioned by police on Sydney streets are suing the New South Wales Government, saying the officers made defamatory comments about them within earshot of passers-by. Alleged statements such as "we are stopping you because you guys were ... intending to steal" could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and restrict the way police conduct routine investigations, The Australian reports.

The NSW Government recently tried to have the men's cases thrown out of court. However, a NSW District Court judge not only gave the two separate cases the go-ahead, but ordered the Government to pay the men's legal costs. Payouts of up to $250,000 can be awarded if comments are found to be defamatory.

In both cases, none of the men can identify any members of the public who are said to have heard and witnessed the alleged defamatory comments made by the officers, but the court ruled they did not have to provide further details because it would be an "unnecessary expense" at that stage of proceedings.

In the first case, David Moses and Tangiwai Kawenga are suing the police for defamation over an incident in inner-city McEvoy Street in September last year. Police arrived after receiving a call that a criminal offence had taken place and arrested and charged the pair. At the time, one of the officers allegedly said to Mr Moses: "You're robbing women", "you're a thief", and "you have stolen from women". Mr Kawenga claims a police officer said to him: "You're under arrest -- you're a piece of shit ... you're f**ked -- you're going to jail."

The pair say officers were speaking "in a loud voice within the hearing of passers-by and residents of premises adjoining George Street, many of whom were standing at and near their front fence observing the police and (Mr Moses and Mr Kawenga)", according to court documents. Mr Kawenga tried to argue that the words "you're under arrest" were also defamatory but this was knocked out by judge Judith Gibson last week and he and Mr Moses were ordered to pay costs.

The charges against the pair were later dropped and no further action was taken against them.

In the other case, police were called to the exclusive watch store TAG Heuer, in Sydney's King Street luxury shopping precinct, in June last year. Staff had pressed the "hold-up button" while Michael Lassanah and another man were in the store. Police arrived shortly afterwards.

Mr Lassanah said he was defamed when police spoke to him on the footpath outside and allegedly said: "The manager of the TAG shop said you were intending to steal from the shop. We are stopping you because you guys were in the TAG shop intending to steal. You were intending to steal. Don't go into that shop. You were intending to steal."

Mr Lassanah is suing for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment and says police kept him on the footpath for an hour and searched him "in the presence of the general public".

Seeking to have the cases dismissed, the NSW Government unsuccessfully argued in the District Court that it was protected by defences available to the defamation laws. The matter will return to court in September.

NSW Police have yet to give their version of events. But a spokesman said yesterday: "It should be noted that this is an interim finding only and not final, and police will leave it in the hands of the courts to make a decision. The NSW Police Force has always stood behind its officers who carry out their duties in good faith."


Murder calls to police emergency number ignored

A CIVILIAN police radio operator in Queensland ignored two triple-0 calls which may have helped save a man's life, it has been revealed. Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said the calls were received at the Maroochydore Police Communications Centre on Monday night, about 10 minutes apart. Both calls are believed to have been made by a woman screaming that someone was in trouble.

Mr Atkinson said it was "highly likely" both calls related to the death of a 48-year-old man whose body was found near a Nambour creek about 6.30am (AEST) on Tuesday. James Albert Madden, 23, of Nambour, has been charged with the man's murder. Kilah Johnelle Jones, 17, of Yandina, faced Maroochydore Magistrate's Court yesterday charged with being an accessory. Jones was granted bail, while Madden did not appear yesterday and his case was adjourned for six weeks.

Mr Atkinson yesterday admitted it was his "biggest fear" that the man's death could been prevented had information from the 000 calls been relayed to police. "The person who took the calls is a civilian radio operator . . . who has been in that position for six months," Mr Atkinson said. "He brought the matter to light today when he became aware of the murder charge and related it to the two phone calls he received on Monday night."

An inquiry has been launched by the Ethical Standards Command. "The investigation will focus on the origin, nature and appropriateness of any response to any such call," Mr Atkinson he said. He said a civilian radio operator usually would pass on such information to the duty sergeant at the communications centre. "It's early days yet but it doesn't appear as though that happened," he said. "We have grave concerns that this information that was provided at the time was not acted on." [I'm guessing that the operator brought the matter up because he DID pass the info on to the cops]


More useless police

Emergency calls 'not answered'. It is common in the USA for police to arrive within a couple of minutes of a robbery call, often quickly enough to catch the robbers. That's a dream in Australia

South Australia's Police Minister has ordered a review of the emergency response to an armed hold-up at Torrensville in Adelaide. Witnesses to the robbery at Grech Jewellers on Monday afternoon say they were put on hold for up to 10 minutes when they tried to telephone 000. When shop owner Bruce Bubner heard a gunshot at the jewellery shop, he says he called 000 straight way. But he says he waited eight minutes, then hung up.

"It was worrying that David (jeweller) could have been lying in there waiting for the police to arrive, you know, he could have been injured," he said. "I saw other people on the phone as well and I figured that they had made contact. "As it turns out, when I talked to Theresa at the snack bar, she hadn't made contact either."

Opposition police spokesman David Ridgway says the lack of response is a worry. "The system if it can't cope then it needs to be upgraded or there needs to be a full explanation about why that happened," he said.

Witnesses say police took 20 minutes to arrive. SA Police Minister Michael Wright has ordered a report on the response. "I don't think we should make any assumptions at this stage. What we do know is there was a very high volume and that may have caused the difficulty," he said. Police are searching for the two men armed with a shotgun and a tomahawk who robbed the store.


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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Arrogant and law-defying British top cop

A chief constable could face jail and an end to his 35-year police career for defying a High Court order to return computers suspected of holding a huge collection of child abuse images to a controversial expert witness. Colin Port, Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset, was served with a High Court summons alleging contempt of court at his force headquarters yesterday. But Mr Port is adamant that he will not return 87 hard drives and 2,500 photographs of abuse seized from the home of Jim Bates, a forensic computer analyst.

Senior police sources told The Times yesterday that Mr Port believes that returning the material before it is analysed and investigated would be “tantamount to a neglect of duty”. One said: “He thinks the public would be appalled if he were to hand over these hard drives, which are suspected of containing images of child abuse, without examining them with a view to identifying the children, rescuing them and preventing any further abuse.”

Avon and Somerset Police’s inquiry into Bates began last year, soon after he provided a statement as an expert witness for the defence in the case of a Bristol man charged with possessing child abuse images that went to court in September 2008. Bates, 68, is seen by some as the founding father of forensic computer analysis but his credibility was undermined when he was convicted in March last year of falsifying his qualifications and given a six-month suspended prison sentence.

Police and prosecutors were concerned when, despite his conviction, Bates obtained a copy of the suspect’s computer hard drive by saying that he was an assistant to a defence witness. The computer expert was investigated on suspicion of conspiring to possess indecent images of children and police obtained a warrant from magistrates to search his home. A haul of material — hard drives, memory sticks and hard copy images — was seized from Bates’s home in Leicestershire by Mr Port’s officers in September last year.

Lawyers for Bates sought a judicial review of the legality of the search of his home and won a High Court ruling that the warrant obtained by police was not properly obtained. Two judges said that the search warrant was illegal because the police did not inform the magistrate who granted it that Bates’s possessions might include legally privileged material relating to other court cases. The effect of that ruling was to require Avon and Somerset Police to halt their investigation into Bates and return the material taken.

Mark Spragg, Bates’s solicitor, said: “You cannot simply take legally privileged material or special procedure material — the police failed to tell the magistrate that Mr Bates had acted as a prosecution and defence expert many times. “The High Court therefore made an order for the return of the material. Mr Bates needs that order to carry out his job as an expert computer analyst and the material is currently being withheld from him illegally.”

As a pioneer of forensic computer analysis, Bates has been used widely by police and prosecutors in the past. He has lectured at police training colleges. The authorities became concerned about his retention of material from court cases, but Mr Bates argued that he had to retain casework in case of future appeals. The Crown Prosecution Service said Bates was no longer used as an expert witness and that confidential guidance concerning him had been issued to all prosecutors in 2006.

Bates fears that he is being targeted by police because he has become an outspoken critic of the conduct of Operation Ore, a nationwide police investigation into online child abuse that began in the late 1990s and led to thousands of arrests.

The expert had helped in the prosecution of a number of early Operation Ore cases before expressing his concerns about the inquiry. He is now assisting people who are appealing against their convictions and another group who are taking civil action. Papers from Bates’s work on the Operation Ore appeals are understood to be among the material seized by police that he wants returned.

Tony Butler, a former spokesman on child protection for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said he understood why police would need to retain and examine images of abuse. He said: “Technology has advanced to such an extent that we can gain a lot of clues from a photograph. It is possible to identify a child, where the abuse took place and possibly prevent further abuse.”

Original report here

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Another Australian police goon

Teen boy 'taped policeman's baton threat'

A 14-YEAR-OLD boy says he used his mobile phone to secretly record a police officer's threat to assault him with a baton. The boy said he was intimidated by Leading Senior Constable Matthew Lake, who he said threatened to shove a baton up his backside. The officer has been put on alternative duties while the Ethical Standards Department investigates.

The 20-minute one-on-one interview - over an accusation the boy pushed a younger child off his bike and punched him repeatedly - was at Narre Warren station last Thursday. According to a tape heard by the Herald Sun, Sen-Constable Lake warned he'd circulate the boy's photo to other police so they could harass him.

The boy said the officer also waved a baton at him during repeated threats. He said that when Sen-Constable Lake left the interview room at one point, he turned on his mobile phone recorder. On his return, Sen-Constable Lake advised the boy anything he said could be used as evidence in court.

He then asked if the boy wanted the matter to end in court. Recorded was this comment: "If I hear one more complaint . . . about your behaviour, I'll shove this thing so far up your a***. . . you won't know what day it is."

The boy was eventually given a warning; on leaving, he told his mother he had been threatened. She phoned Sen-Constable Lake, told him the interview had been recorded, then taped several heated conversations with the officer. The registered nurse said he tried to calm her, apologising and explaining he was trying to teach her son a lesson and handled it the "wrong way".

She said she was not permitted to sit with her son during the interview, which is against police regulations when dealing with a child. "The more I listen to it, the more angry I get. I feel terrible I didn't go into that room," she said. "I said 'Don't be rough with him'. When my son got out of there he was pale. He couldn't breathe." She said her son suffered an asthma attack soon afterward and had to be put on a ventilator pump. The next day he was prescribed sedatives because he could not sleep.

She said she would seek legal advice over the unprofessional and damaging conduct. "I feel abused," the boy said. "He's a big guy. He stood over me . . . he had a baton and I thought he was going to hit me. He was waving it in my face."

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Exporting corruption

Last month, a South Tucson, AZ, cop who ran his department's asset forfeiture program was convicted of stealing over $560,000 from it. This month, the cop who handles asset forfeiture funds in Spring Lake, NC, was arrested for stealing $2,900. Another cop was arrested for having seized the money in a hotel room under false pretenses.

Will these arrests "fix" asset forfeiture, or will corrupt cops simply learn that it's safer to pocket some of the money they seize before it's officially counted? Retired police captain Peter Christ of L.E.A.P. suggests this is already common.

Under civil asset forfeiture, police can seize money or property upon "probable cause" that it was connected to a crime. The onus then falls on the owner to prove innocence. Police departments use the proceeds to help fund their budgets.

"Probable cause" can include the mere fact of carrying a large amount of cash, or a police dog's sniff of drug residue on your property. One may have a legitimate reason for carrying the cash, and the residue may have been left over from the previous owner. It doesn't matter. The police can seize your property to enrich their departments, and it's often too risky and expensive for you to fight for its return.

Civil asset forfeiture breeds corruption. It's immoral and unconstitutional. But instead of abolishing it, the U.S. is exporting it...

The State Department has faulted Mexico for its lack of asset forfeiture laws. U.S. Marshalls are instructing the Mexican government on asset forfeiture. The World Bank and the United Nations have co-published a guide to help developing countries implement asset forfeiture procedures. The U.S. contributes billions to these institutions.

The supposed reason to promote asset forfeiture abroad is to "fight corruption." But giving law enforcement the arbitrary power to seize personal property is like combating ignorance by censoring newspapers, or strengthening democracy by arresting opposition leaders. Civil asset forfeiture is inherently corrupt and it may be about to get worse...

It's long been assumed that as a recession leads to budget crunches, police tend to write more speeding tickets for the revenue. There's now solid evidence to demonstrate this. We can surmise then that police will also increase searches, raids, and seizures to generate more revenue.

Original report here

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Chicago cop gets arrested in teen's hit-and-run death

At 1.30 am, going through a red light and "swerving" the cop was probably drunk. I wonder if they will use that to exculpate him? No doubt he was under "stress". What both the cop and the kids were doing out late at night in a rough area is a question. One Chicago certainty: The cop will do no jail time

Terrence Booker had planned to pick up his 13-year-old son, Trenton [above], from school Friday afternoon for a holiday weekend of family barbecues just weeks shy of the boy's 8th-grade graduation.

But he instead received a heartbreaking phone call in the middle of the night that his son had been killed in a hit-and-run collision while riding his bike with friends about 1:30 a.m. Friday after sneaking out of the house.

Later Friday, Chicago police acknowledged that an off-duty officer had struck Trenton on South Ashland Avenue with his car and then drove off.

"That car tore him to pieces," Booker, 40, said outside the home of Trenton's mother, Barbara Norman. "He was dead when he hit the ground."

Police said an internal investigation would take place into the conduct of the off-duty officer, age 39 with 17 years on the force. He was stripped of police powers. A police spokeswoman confirmed that it was a hit-and-run collision. No criminal charges had been filed against the officer by Friday evening, but the investigation continues.

It was the second fatal crash involving an off-duty Chicago police officer in recent weeks. Officer Joseph Frugoli, 41, was charged last month with reckless homicide and DUI after a fiery April 10 crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway that killed Andrew Cazares and Fausto Manzera, both in their 20s.

Witnesses said Trenton and at least one other boy were riding their bikes in the left southbound lane of Ashland Avenue near 81st Street when a black Dodge Charger approached from behind, swerving and speeding.

Though witnesses said the light at the intersection had turned red, the car did not slow as it approached the boys, striking Booker's bike and flipping him in the air, said Brian Jackson, a witness.

The car continued southbound on Ashland and later was found by police in the 1900 block of West 82nd Street, four blocks from the collision, said Sgt. Antoinette Ursitti, a police spokeswoman.

A steady stream of relatives and friends visited Trenton's home. He was in 8th grade at nearby Cuffe Math, Science and Technology Academy. Trenton's father said his son was loyal and friendly -- the only boy among five sisters -- still figuring out who he wanted to be. "He wanted to be everything in the world," Booker said. "Nothing but dreams."

Booker said he was furious that it was a police officer behind the wheel of the car that hit his son. "It's outrageous. It's a shame that a police officer [who] is supposed to uphold the law, that he would do something like that," Booker said later Friday. "You hold your badge and honor as an authority and you leave someone down in the road you know you just hit? It's terrible."

Original report here

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Monitoring device shows up mistaken eyewitness evidence

Lucky for the wearer

The electronic monitoring device Andrew Lorenzana wears on his ankle lets authorities know where he is at all times. It also proved that he could not have taken part in a robbery earlier this month. The Lorain County prosecutor dropped robbery, assault and kidnapping charges this week against the 19-year-old Lorain man. He had been arrested after the victim of a May 10 robbery identified him as one of the attackers. But surveillance records showed he was nowhere near the Sheffield Township home.

Lorenzana's attorney, Anthony Rich, said the device is tamper-proof, so it could not have been removed. That would have sent out an alert. The incident should serve as a cautionary tale, he said, against reliance on eyewitness identification. "I think this just proves eyewitness identification isn't as great as people think it is," he said. The woman told police three times that Lorenzana was on the scene, said Rich, "And she was absolutely wrong."

Lorenzana was fitted with the ankle bracelet - which works off the Global Positioning System - when he was released on bond in a murder case. Lorenzana and Avery Taylor, 19, of Lorain, are charged with murder in the Feb. 4 death of Christopher Lundberg. The 35-year-old Lorain man died the day after he was shot by two men during a drug deal in Lorain, police said.

In late February, Lorenzana and Taylor were released from Lorain County Jail after their bonds were lowered from $1 million to $50,000. Both had to wear the GPS devices.

The victim of the May 10 robbery said four or five men banged on her door, claiming to be police officers. She said Taylor pushed her onto a couch, put a pillowcase over her head and put a gun to her head, according to the police report. The robbers took $1,350. She fingered Lorenzana in the crime.

Lorain County Sheriff's Capt. John Reiber said he cannot explain what happened. "I was shocked," he said. "She identified him by name, but I guess it was a case of mistaken identity. "I can't explain what happened. But the GPS showed he was not there."

Police are looking for several other suspects in the robbery.

Original report here

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Black British footballer convicted of killing girlfriend in double jeopardy case

His victims were also black

A footballer yesterday admitted killing his former girlfriend, more than six years after he was cleared of the crime. Mario Celaire, 31, is the first person to be convicted of a crime for which he had been found not guilty by a jury. The double jeopardy rule that prevented anyone from being tried twice for the same crime was changed in 2005 for cases where “new and compelling evidence” could be produced.

In Celaire’s case, the new evidence included a confession to his new girlfriend that he battered Cassandra McDermott, 19, to death in November 2001. He then tried to kill Kara Hoyte, who was also 19, but she survived and was eventually able to give evidence against him. At the Old Bailey yesterday he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempted murder.

Celaire, a former Brentford player, was with the non-league club Maidstone United when he was arrested in 2007 in an investigation that would bring him back to court. He was known to the club’s fans as Mario McNish, having changed his name the year before.

In 2002 the Old Bailey was told that he beat Ms McDermott unconscious at her mother’s house in Norbury, South London, after years of domestic violence. He failed to do anything to help her or to raise the alarm and she choked to death on her own vomit.

The victim’s sister, Andrea, found her body almost 24 hours later. Celaire claimed that Ms McDermott was alive and well when he left her and the jury acquitted him of murder and manslaughter after deliberating for less than three hours.

But in February 2007 he admitted the killing to Ms Hoyte, a part-time model, after she found papers relating to the court case at a flat in Walthamstow, East London. He then flew into a rage and struck her on the head with a hammer.

Doctors thought that Ms Hoyte would die from her brain injuries. But nine months after the attack, despite paralysis down one side of her body and extreme difficulties communicating, she was able to speak to detectives.

Prosecution lawyers applied to reopen the inquiry into Ms McDermott’s killing and successfully got the acquittal quashed in the Court of Appeal.

Celaire was due to stand trial for murder yesterday until the prosecution accepted his guilty pleas. Ms Hoyte was due to give evidence via video link with the help of a doctor. Because of the severity of her injuries, provision had been made for her to write down or draw some of her evidence with cameras relaying images back to the courtroom.

Simon Denison, QC, for the prosecution, said that the families of both victims had been consulted before a decision was made to accept the guilty pleas.

Cassandra McDermott’s mother, Jennifer, 58, and two older sisters were in court to see Celaire finally admit his guilt.

Later Ms McDermott, who has set up a domestic abuse charity in memory of her daughter, said: “The change in his plea is an indicator that he knew he couldn’t get away with it. We have waited years and, luckily for us, we haven’t waited in vain.”

Sophia Springer, 39, Cassandra’s sister, said: “To have the acquittal overturned is a great achievement for us.” Andrea McDermott, 37, described how Celaire had “haunted” the family over the years by turning up at places where he knew they would be.

She said: “The double jeopardy rule will give so many people a chance to go back and fight again. We didn’t give up, friends didn’t give up and the police didn’t give up.”

Michael Borrelli, QC, for Celaire, successfully applied to the court for his client to be given a psychiatric assessment before he is sentenced on July 3.

Original report here

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Alabama police officers fired over car chase beating

Honest prosecutors!

Five Alabama police officers have been sacked after a video emerged showing them brutally beating an unconscious man. The officers were pursuing a black suspect in a high-speed chase through Jefferson County when the man lost control of his van and fell out of the vehicle as it flipped over.

The driver, Anthony Warren, lay motionless on the verge at the side of the road as the officers leapt on top of him kicking, punching and beating him with a baton.

Mr Warren has filed a compensation claim for more than $100,000, saying the beating left him with injuries including severe concussion and a skull fracture.

The assault took place in January last year but the video only came to light this week. Prosecutors for the district attorney of Jefferson County, Brandon Falls, found the tape in March while preparing their case against Mr Warren, who received a 20-year sentence for first-degree assault for hitting an officer with his van in the chase.

The state Bureau of Investigation is considering charges against the experienced officers and Chief A. C. Roper of the Birmingham Police Department called the actions “shameful". “We’ve terminated over 50 years of combined service due to 10 seconds of injustice,” he said. “In addition to these terminations, we’re also reviewing our supervisor’s actions, reporting mechanisms and policies.”

Original report here. Video at source

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Former Illinois trooper writes book on Rhoads killings

A Terre Haute native took his mission with the Illinois State Police seriously when he was tasked with reinvestigating a 1986 homicide. Michale Callahan’s dedication uncovered what he believes is the wrongful conviction of two men, and a conspiracy to cover up the faulty investigation and government corruption.

His book, “Too Politically Sensitive,” details Callahan’s long journey to not only reveal the errors in the investigation of the slaying of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads, but also the political corruption in the state of Illinois. The title comes from a supervisor’s statement that the case was “too politically sensitive” to be reopened.

Callahan’s book was released Monday during a Defenders of the Innocence reception at the Illinois governor’s mansion. “We have had nothing but positive comments so far,” Callahan said in a telephone interview of the response to the book. “I think people in Illinois are really unhappy about this case and how it was handled.” Area residents are invited to two upcoming book signings — from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Vigo County Public Library, and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Waldenbooks at Honey Creek Mall — to meet Callahan and talk to him about how homicides can be “too politically sensitive.”

The July 6, 1986, killings of the Rhoads newlyweds was highly covered in area media, as were the trials of Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock, both of whom were convicted of murder in June 1987.

Fourteen years later, Callahan drew the assignment of reviewing the case. It was 2000 and he was the newly promoted investigations commander of District 10 in east-central Illinois. The homicide case was to be featured in an upcoming episode of CBS’ “48 Hours,” which examined whether Steidl and Whitlock had been wrongfully convicted. And the case also had drawn the attention of the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project and The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.

Callahan said he learned Steidl and Whitlock were railroaded into prison. But as he tried to uncover the truth behind the wrongful convictions, pressure from superiors in the Illinois State Police and then-Gov. George Ryan’s administration thwarted his investigation.

During his 20-year career in investigations, Callahan was promoted to sergeant, master sergeant and lieutenant. He retired from the Illinois State Police in March 2005, and a year later he received The Edmund Burke Award from the National Lawyers Association for his efforts to uncover the truth in the case. Callahan has spent much of the past three years working on the book.

“It was a lot of research — thousands of documents. It took a lot of rewrites and a good editor,” Callahan said Tuesday morning. The book has several layers, from corrupt public officials to drug-dealing motorcycle gangs to pizza joints associated with the Sicilian Mafia. “It’s a living document,” he said. “The book has multiple meanings, and one of those is about the First Amendment.”

Callahan has a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, asserting that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was retaliated against by ISP command for speaking out on a matter of public concern. That case now focuses on whether, as a public servant, Callahan is guaranteed First Amendment rights when it comes to his employers.

The book names names, Callahan said, but does not accuse anyone of any crime. “They are named as suspects in the initial investigation, so they are in the book,” Callahan said. “The big question is why these people get excluded from the later investigation.”

The case still draws interest from people in the Paris, Marshall and Chrisman, Ill., areas, he said, and he thinks people in his native Terre Haute also will find the details he has uncovered interesting.

Callahan attended Wiley High School and was in the first graduating class of Terre Haute South Vigo High School. He graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in forensic studies, and left graduate school to begin a 25-year career in law enforcement.

A preview of Callahan’s book is available at

Original report here

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Breaking the code of silence

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs President Wayne Quint were both furious – Wayne had steam coming out of his ears, according to one associate – at District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and more specifically at his press spokesperson, Susan Schroeder, for a few matter-of-fact comments she made after a recent mistrial. When asked why the office was not going to retry the excessive force case against a deputy who used a Taser on a handcuffed suspect, she gave an honest answer: "We argued in closing arguments that we felt there was a code of silence – what is it? A thin blue line. We're very disappointed. … It's very important for the District Attorney's Office to have ethical and law-abiding law enforcement officers."

The D.A. believes OC deputies had "blue amnesia" – they lied, or conveniently "forgot" critical facts – when testifying in a case involving one of their own. It's the latest incident in a string of cases involving sheriff's deputies who allegedly covered up for their misbehaving colleagues, ranging from the D.A.'s allegations of departmental perjury and witness tampering following the John Chamberlain jail murder in October 2006 to the possible cover-up by sheriff's officials of a deputy, Gerald Stenger, accused last year of child molestation.

The jury voted to acquit the Taser-happy cop, Christopher Hibbs, by an 11-1 verdict. According to Rackauckas, speaking at a press conference on May 12, it did so because the key witnesses changed their stories.

Deputies painted a clear picture of Hibbs and his Taser abuse in an internal investigation and before the grand jury. But they told differing accounts of the event once the trial got under way. The public knows that cops frown on "ratting out" one another, even though this undermines the rule of law. While a "code of silence" is no surprise, the sheriff's overreaction to a few words certainly is surprising.

There's little that would shock me coming from union chief Quint, a guy who once publicly threatened to release criminals in the neighborhood of a rival union official. But the personal attacks he unleashed on Schroeder – a vitriolic letter sent to deputies statewide with a big photo of her, along with demands for her resignation – were indecent. (Quint said, "Since the communication was to my membership which consists of 1,850 fully sworn peace officers the likelihood of targeting Ms. Schroeder for harassment is a ridiculous assumption." He obviously hasn't followed the many news stories of police abuse or been on the receiving end of one of those "we hope you don't get pulled over" e-mails.)

"My concern is when the association sends out this letter telling hundreds, maybe thousands, of deputies that this is a person we dislike and here is her picture, then there may be repercussions to this," Rackauckas said. "[I]t might invite harassment." On her departmental blog, Hutchens wrote that "Recent statements by a prosecutor about a 'code of silence' as part of a 'thin blue line' are an affront to all in law enforcement. In my 30 years in law enforcement I have never heard a prosecutor make such an irresponsible claim." One will find little outrage over the details of the alleged perjury, however.

"Why are they so offended by what I said?" Schroeder asked. "Why aren't they offended by what the deputies did?"

Those are my thoughts exactly. Responsible leaders would assure the public that blue amnesia isn't tolerated and leave the personal criticisms to behind-closed-door meetings. At least Rackauckas did the right thing. He stood by Schroeder and laid out the facts to the sheriff's department, the union and the media. The facts make Schroeder's case.

On Sept. 13, 2007, Deputy Christopher Hibbs and Deputy J.C. Wicks observed a suspicious-looking man in a trench coat walking the streets at 2 a.m. in Anaheim.

The suspect, a parolee named Ignacio Lares, ran away and, with the help of an off-duty Los Angeles officer who was in the area at the time, they caught him. Hibbs used a Taser on Lares, who was resisting being cuffed. Other officers show up. Wicks writes up the police report and includes the Taser incident in it, which is required under department policy. No problem.

The cops catch a fleeing bad guy, use a Taser to subdue him and file a report.

But then in December, Hibbs is about to be transferred to Villa Park. As part of that hiring process the higher-ups get wind of locker room banter about the possible misuse of a Taser. As it turns out, Hibbs didn't just use the Taser once on Lares that night, but he used it at least one other time while Lares was handcuffed in the back of the squad car. After an interview with Deputy Chris Thomas, an officer who arrived on the scene, the sheriff's department concluded in a memo: "Thomas saw Hibbs attempting to question the subject, again, handcuffed in the back of the unit, and when the subject refused to answer or was belligerent, Hibbs used his Taser to 'drive stun' the suspect. According to Thomas, he used the Taser several times."

Or as the boys in the locker room jokingly mimicked the sound of a Taser (according to one deputy's testimony): "What's your name, what's your name, clack, clack, clack, clack. Tell me your name, clack, clack, clack, clack." Lares reportedly was crying and pleading for mercy. At the grand jury, deputies were clear about what happened that night. Thomas, for instance, said he did not see anything that justified the use of the Taser in the back seat of the car and explained that "it was in my mind that this is enough, we have to stop this."

But as the case moved toward trial, the sheriff's department – which handed information about the Hibbs incident and cooperated with the D.A. – called the D.A. and said that the witnesses were going "sideways." According to an internal affairs interview, Thomas said he "could only hear the sounds of a deployed Taser, but he did not actually see Hibbs deploy it." At the grand jury, Thomas thought that the Taser use had gone too far and testified that there was no obvious reason for it, but in his new interview he suggested that "there had to have been justification for it."

At the grand jury, Wicks said he could see Lares through the window and never heard him struggle or do anything that would justify the Taser use. At the trial, Wicks said he couldn't see Lares or inside the vehicle. At the grand jury, Sgt. Robert Long testified that department policy requires that the person who uses a stun gun must document it in the report, but at the trial he claims that there is no such requirement. The sergeant who wrote the memo explaining what Thomas saw, Robert Gunzel, testified at the trial that his report wasn't based on facts, but on assumptions. At the trial, the deputies even changed their minds about where they were standing when Hibbs used the Taser.

After the D.A.'s press conference last Tuesday, Hutchens and Quint calmed down, happy that Rackauckas said the code of silence accusation applied only to specific cases and not to accepted departmental behavior. But Hutchens and Quint were long privy to the details of this case.

They know about Stenger and Chamberlain and everyone knows about convicted witness-tamperer and ex-Sheriff Mike Carona.

Yet they decided to protest so much that anyone would suggest there's a code of silence in the department and so little about the alleged bad behavior by their deputies. Methinks this problem might be bigger than any one wants to let on.

Original report here

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Photography in a courthouse may not be illegal, but it can land you in jail

It's important to know that Sam Dodson isn't being charged with filming inside a courthouse in defiance of the law. That's important, because he was arrested for videorecording in the lobby of the Keene District Court, in Keene, New Hampshire, during the course of media coverage of a case there. Dodson's camera use defied the wishes of a judge who banned photography anywhere in the courthouse despite a state-wide policy permitting cameras in the courtrooms themselves. To top it off, it's likely that the judge's policy is rooted in nothing more than embarrassment that one of his courtroom tantrums was filmed and uploaded to YouTube last year.

Dodson, a professional videographer, independent journalist, and member of the libertarian Free State Project, was at the Keene District Court on April 13, 2009, to cover the arraignment, ironically enough, of Dave Ridley, another Free Stater, for video recording at court. In the lobby, camera in hand, he was ordered to turn off his equipment based on a flyer taped to the wall banning photography. Seeing that the flyer cited no legal basis, he refused. And so he was arrested -- as were several other people supportive of Dodson. Only Dodson remains in jail, on a hunger strike, a month later. Officials keep him confined on $10,000 cash bail because he refuses to formally give his legal name -- an exercise of his right to remain silent -- as a protest against his arrest. Of course, his identity is known to the authorities.

The arrest seems to fly in the face of court policies clarified and formalized just last year. As the Keene Sentinel reports:

The rules for recording public hearings in courtrooms are relatively clear: The Supreme Court says it’s allowed unless “there is a substantial likelihood of harm to any person or other harmful consequence.”

But those foggy gray areas beyond the courtrooms remain untouched by state law.

The specific district court rule states:

The presiding judge should permit the media to photograph, record and broadcast all courtroom proceedings that are open to the public. The presiding judge may limit electronic media coverage if there is a substantial likelihood of harm to any person or other harmful consequence.

If recording is permitted inside the courtroom, why would it not be permitted in the lobby and hallways open to the public, where security concerns would seem to be minimal?

According to the Sentinel, Judge Edward J. Burke banned photography in the courthouse "in an effort to protect juveniles and victims of crimes walking through the lobby from being caught on film without their consent." That seems like a tenuous excuse given that people run the risk of being photographed in any public place at any time.

A more likely reason for the ban is Burke's mortification over a video of him throwing a courtroom tantrum in November of last year. In that video, Burke repeatedly snapped "have a seat" at a defendant before ordering the man arrested just seconds later. The seemingly confused defendant had begun to sit in compliance with an order to do so, then stopped and began to stand when his name was called. Viewed over 58,000 times, the video portrays Burke as petulant and petty.
That video just slightly predates Burke's February general ban on photography in the courthouse.

As of today, Dodson is charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest or detention and refusing to be processed. All of these charges would seem to be related to the arrest itself and its aftermath, not to Dodson's supposedly forbidden camera use. Perhaps the authorities aren't as certain about the legal basis for Burke's photography ban as they'd like the public to believe.

And, as of today, photography remains forbidden in the lobby of the Keene District Court -- not as a matter of law that anybody can cite, but to spare a hot-tempered judge further shame.

Original report here. (See original for videos)

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Monday, May 18, 2009

A truly frightening story

There is no doubt to me that the US is becoming a "police state." By that I mean a nation where the police have ceased to protect individuals but become agents of the state. Instead of keeping the peace, remember they were once called peace officers, they have become law enforcement officers. Their function is more and more that of enforcing state policy and protecting the government.

When I was a youngster the very idea of police officers breaking into homes in the middle of the night, armed to the teeth, guns drawn, and screaming at terrified citizens, was unthinkable. Now these armed thugs do it routinely, over the most trivial of offenses. Even the smallest of town, for no conceivable reason, has SWAT teams. We have police forces using tanks as if they are in the center of some war. As horrifying as the militarization of our police has become, what the Explorer Scouts are doing is truly disgusting.

Across the United States we are witnessing the Scouts training young people to be armed government agents. This is directly related to the escalation of violence which the police are using routinely in the United States. Thirty years ago dogs weren't routinely killed by cops. Today it happens over and over. And I can assure you, that in the last thirty years, it wasn't the dogs that got more violent and deadly. It was the police. As I've said before, having anything to do with law enforcement today, is potentially deadly to you. Now we have the Scouts training youth to act like violent cops.

Here is what the New York Times reported on this trend:
“United States Border Patrol! Put your hands up!” screams one in a voice cracking with adolescent determination as the suspect is subdued.

It is all quite a step up from the square knot.

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

What the f*ck is happening to this country? This is what we are teaching teenagers! I cringe to think how far down the fascistic road this country will go before things change for the better.

The Explorer Scouts say no one has criticized the program. Apparently the only problem they have is police officers who work with them molesting the youth they are training. Now they require them to have "sexual misconduct training" to try and prevent the problem.

It should be no surprise that Homeland Security, the American Gestapo, is heavily involved in these programs. One Border Patrol agent for Homeland Security said the reason for the training is "to create more agents." Worse yet: "Explorer posts are attached to various agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation... that sponsor them much the way churches sponsor Boy Scout troops." One government agent said the program's emphasis "is on terrorism, illegal entry, drugs and human smuggling."

Anyone who is supporting the Scouts at any level really needs to reconsider. I won't even buy Girl Scout cookies anymore.

Original report here

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

French court psychologist Régine Labeur accused of being unqualified

Régine Labeur was hailed as a respected psychologist whose evidence was pivotal in more than 400 trials in the Dordogne, southwest France. She testified in criminal cases, explaining, for instance, the hidden character of serial rapists or the trauma suffered by families and friends of murder victims.

She also played a central role in many divorce cases, assessing the emotional stability of parents seeking the residency of their children. So when officials discovered that she had apparently never qualified as a psychologist, there was widespread stupefaction.

Mrs Labeur, 53, is accused of fooling judicial authorities with false certificates that went undiscovered for four years. She has been placed under formal investigation on suspicion of fraud and usurping the title of psychologist and faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (£67,000).

Maître Frédérique Pohu-Panier, her lawyer, declined to comment on the allegations. The inquiry is understood to have started when Mrs Labeur’s husband, from whom she is divorcing, told police that she lacked qualifications.

“It’s incomprehensible,” Françoise Lorrin, another judicial psychologist in the Dordogne, said. “When I applied, I submitted my degrees and also scientific publications, which prove your competence.” Le Parisien newspaper said there was no record that Mrs Labeur had published a single paper. “Certain filters didn’t work,” Yves Squercioni, the state prosecutor in Périgueux in the Dordogne, said. “You can’t become a judicial expert through improvisation.”

Mr Squercioni ruled out a review of the cases in which Mrs Labeur had given evidence, despite the fraud claims. However, a lawyer in the Dordogne told The Times: “A number of us are looking at the possibility of lodging appeals. It is difficult because the French judicial system is always very reluctant to reopen cases that have been judged. “But it might be possible to overturn rulings in cases where her reports were critical — in custody cases where she wrote that a father was psychologically incapable of looking after his children, for example.”

The scandal is reminiscent of the French film Intimate Stranger, in which the actor Fabrice Luchini played a false psychoanalyst. It also highlights the importance of l’expert psychologue in the French judicial system. Last month, for example, Mrs Labeur was called to Dordogne Criminal Court to tell the jury about Thierry Caballero, a serial rapist, after a consultation with him while he was in prison awaiting trial.

Her words were damning: “He is far removed from reality as far as his actions are concerned, he does not feel any remorse, he is incapable of controlling his urges.” She said that Caballero, who was sentenced to 14 years in jail, had a “fragile” character and added: “Perhaps he has a hidden side.”

According to Le Parisien, Mrs Labeur earned €60,000 a year for her reports for French justice — a significant sum given that many of France’s 40,000 fully qualified psychologists struggle to make a living.

Original report here

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Federal judge in sex case sentenced to nearly three years

HOUSTON - A federal judge was sentenced Monday to nearly three years in prison for lying to investigators about sexually abusing two female employees, who said they feared him so much they hid from him in the courthouse. U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent stared at the floor while the women described years of harassment and abuse at the Galveston courthouse where he wielded great authority as the only federal judge. He apologized to his wife, his family and the federal court staff but never specifically referred to the two women.

He could have received up to 20 years in prison, but prosecutors said they wouldn't seek more than three years under a plea agreement. He also was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $6,550 in restitution to the secretary and case manager whose complaints resulted in the first sex-abuse case ever against a sitting federal judge.

"Your wrongful conduct is a huge black X, a smear on the legal profession, a stain on the judicial system itself, a matter of concern in the federal courts," said U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, a visiting senior judge called in from Pensacola, Fla. Vinson ordered Kent, 59, to surrender June 15 for transfer to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and to serve three years probation once his sentence is completed. He also was ordered to participate in an alcohol-abuse program while in prison.

The chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and its ranking Republican demanded that Kent resign immediately from the bench Monday. His lawyer has said he retired rather than resigned, which would allow him to continue drawing a federal judge's salary. "Unless Judge Samuel Kent immediately resigns, we intend to introduce a resolution jointly tomorrow to commence an inquiry into whether grounds exist to impeach him and remove him from office," Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said in a statement Monday.

The women he abused told Vinson that they came to work scared Kent might find them, and even neglected to answer courthouse phones to avoid him. Cathy McBroom, Kent's former case manager, said he "bragged" about his ability to intimidate people. "He told me everyone was afraid of him." McBroom's complaint began the case, which expanded when allegations from the judge's secretary, Donna Wilkerson, were added.

McBroom said making the complaint had been "incredibly stressful" and led to the breakup of her marriage and the loss of her home. She said it forced her to give up what she considered her dream job and put her entire life under a public and legal microscope. "One would think I was the criminal," said McBroom, 50.

Wilkerson told of seven years of abuse by Kent and said he tried to molest her on her fifth day on the job. Responding to defense allegations that she had been a willing partner in a romantic affair, she said, "Being molested and groped by a drunken giant is not my idea of an affair."

Kent, speaking softly as he stood before Vinson, described himself as "completely broken" and "in some ways a better person for that." Kent pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in February as jury selection was about to begin for his trial on the obstruction charge and five sex-crime charges. Conviction on the most serious of those charges could have sent him to prison for life. The five other charges were dismissed Monday. As part of the plea agreement, Kent admitted the sexual contact was against the women's will.

Kent's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said the judge had recently been hospitalized for stress-related illnesses and described the judge as an alcoholic.

Kent said he had the "benefit of 26 months of absolute sobriety." "I've come to see the world as the flawed, selfish, indulgent person I have been," he said.

DeGuerin has said the judge was retiring due to a disability — which is the only way a judge Kent's age could leave the bench and keep his $169,300-a-year salary. Retired federal judges collect their full salaries for the remainder of their lives.

A council of judges from the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit investigated Kent and suspended him in September 2007 for four months with pay but didn't detail the allegations against him. McBroom had accused Kent of harassing and sexually abusing her over a four-year period, culminating in March 2007, when she said the judge pulled up her blouse and bra and tried to escalate contact until they were interrupted.

The judicial panel transferred him from Galveston, where he'd worked since his 1990 appointment, to Houston, 50 miles northwest. After a Justice Department investigation, he was indicted in August; additional charges stemming from Wilkerson's claims were filed against him in January.

Original report here

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Convicted rapist is freed from jail... because his trial 'took too long'

I agree with this verdict. The disgrace lies with the British prosecutors who should have been better prepared. For once they hit a guy who refused to be railroaded. And a conviction on the basis of rather strange allegations by one woman is certainly best explained by the jury losing focus

A man jailed for life after being convicted of poisoning and raping a vulnerable woman has been freed - because his trial was too long. Appeal Court judges ruled its six-month length had made it very difficult for the jury trying Kevin O'Dowd to 'keep its eye on the ball'. 'Each member of the court is regrettably driven to the conclusion that the verdicts of the jury are not safe and therefore cannot stand,' said Mr Justice Beatson yesterday.

'For a trial involving just one defendant and the relatively simple issues that the jury had to decide to have lasted for this length of time, with the consequent vast cost to the public, is not only disproportionate but a serious blot on the administration of justice. 'Many of the delays could be justified individually, but viewed collectively, it is entirely unacceptable for the case to have taken anything like this length of time.'

The Crown did not seek a retrial, so O'Dowd, from Lewisham, South East London, was cleared and will now walk free. The 62-year-old thanked the court and gave his legal team the thumbs-up as he was led from the dock.

At the end of the trial - which ran from December 6, 2006 until June 22, 2007 - O'Dowd was convicted by a majority verdict of falsely imprisoning, threatening to kill, poisoning, sexually assaulting and twice raping his victim, who was in her 30s. He was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of nine years behind bars. The Crown said O'Dowd locked the woman in her own flat, threatened to kill her with a knife, and forced her to take anti-psychotic medicine.

He vehemently denied the charges, insisting the woman was completely unreliable and telling his legal team that 'no point was to be conceded'. The trial, which lasted 42 days, was interrupted by Christmas, New Year and Easter holidays - but Mr Justice Beatson said that was the tip of the iceberg. There were concerns over O'Dowd's health - he needed 'frequent short breaks' for medication and had to be admitted to hospital during his cross-examination. Further delay was caused by his decision to sack and replace his barrister in the midst of the trial.

O'Dowd's instruction that no point was to be conceded also meant that 'the Crown was required to prove matters which, in many trials, would have been uncontentious or admitted'. The most serious delay in the trial was caused by the need for an in-depth investigation of three allegations of rape O'Dowd had faced 22 and 17 years earlier and which were introduced by the Crown as evidence of his bad character. [Introducing unproven allegations was allowed? Very strange procedure!]

The judge delivered a summing-up at the trial which ran to 434 pages, added Mr Justice Beatson, sitting with Lord Justice Scott Baker and Mrs Justice Rafferty.

Original report here

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Getting jailed for speech

Few people expect to get arrested when they send an e-mail to a newspaper, but that’s what allegedly happened to Bobby Felix Simmons when he sent a message to the Ville Platte Gazette suggesting misconduct by Mamou Police Chief Greg Dupuis.

Simmons apparently sent an e-mail to the Gazette asking why it had not published a story about Dupuis allegedly having received a DWI.

Dupuis denies getting a DWI, and we’ve seen no evidence that he did. But what happened next seems like overkill, to say the least.

According to a lawsuit filed against Dupuis and the town of Mamou by the American Civil Liberties Union, Mamou police arrested Simmons and charged him with criminal defamation, a rarely used state law that is loosely defined as “a malicious publication or expression that tends to expose a person, living or dead, to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to deprive a person of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse.” The crime is punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and/or six months imprisonment.

We agree with ACLU attorney Katie Schwartzman’s prediction that the defamation charge against Simmons won’t stick. Court rulings typically support the view that people should be able to say what they want about public officials, even things that are outrageous. The principle here is that democracy is best served by allowing the freest possible discourse about public affairs.

Simmons’ suit seeks unspecified monetary damages, plus legal fees. Simmons claims he was denied necessary medical treatment while he was being held.

Whatever the courts decide in this case, we believe Simmons’ arrest underscores the need to revise Louisiana’s little-used criminal defamation law, which is vague and invites abuse.

The Ville Platte Gazette quoted Dupuis as saying he was personally offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone else caught “spreading rumors” about him.

That’s the kind of behavior we’d expect from police officials in China and other authoritarian countries, but not the United States of America. We hope the courts agree.

Original report here

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Findings on pregnant suicide open British murder conviction to doubt

Crucial new evidence has emerged that casts doubt on the conviction of a man serving a life sentence for the murder of his pregnant wife. Eddie Gilfoyle has spent 17 years behind bars protesting his innocence of tricking his wife Paula into writing a suicide note then hanging her in the garage of their home. At the time of his trial in 1993 experts, police, lawyers and judges all believed that pregnant women hardly ever took their own lives and certainly not just before the baby was due. This view was confirmed by the available research.

It now appears that the consensus was wrong. Official statistics, newly uncovered by The Times, reveal that not only was suicide the main cause of maternal deaths in Britain but that hanging was also the method most frequently chosen. Also unknown to the murder trial jury, an 8½ months’ pregnant Ulster woman hanged herself in almost identical circumstances shortly before Paula Gilfoyle’s death, and her husband was judged by police to be innocent. The Times can also disclose that:

• the newly found statistics show that the suicide rate is the same among women in late pregnancy as in the postnatal period, contrary to previous expert belief;

• the same in-depth research contradicts the formal advice given to detectives and prosecutors in the Gilfoyle case, which is made public today for the first time;

• the detective who led the Gilfoyle murder investigation believes that the outcome of the trial could have been different had the jury known these facts;

• a distinguished pathologist whose evidence was kept from the jury would have told them that in 40 years he had never come across a case of an adult being murdered by hanging.

The latest findings come as lawyers work on a fresh appeal for Gilfoyle, who is struggling even to get parole because he refuses to admit that he murdered his wife. She was found dead at their semi-detached house in the Wirral village of Upton.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “These new facts were not readily available either to the police or the court at the time of Eddie Gilfoyle’s trial or his last appeal. They are another important building block in the case for a review of his conviction.”

The important findings were published only in 2002, two years after Gilfoyle lost his second and last appeal against conviction. They are contained in the government-funded Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths, the most comprehensive study into the issue that for the first time used enhanced statistical techniques to find the true rate of maternal suicide. “Obviously it would have been of interest to a jury or the Court of Appeal if that detail was available to them because it does take an element of ‘ooh, we didn’t know that’ and it gives a bigger possibility to introduce an element of doubt,” said Raymond Fitzsimmons, the former detective inspector who led the inquiry. “The jury have to be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt, so, clearly it would have been of use to Gilfoyle.”

During the murder inquiry Merseyside Police asked Sheila Rossan, a psychologist with a particular interest in women in pregnancy and the first year after delivery, to look at the incidence of antenatal suicide. She based her findings on what was then the latest Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths, covering the mid-1980s. It was realised later by the researchers that the methodology that they had been using had led them to underestimate the incidence of suicide.

Dr Rossan’s report, which has been seen by The Times, looked at suicides both before and after delivery. In the three years between 1985 and 1987 she discovered that there had been only five reported cases, of which just one was in pregnancy. Later, when the enquiry researchers took into account additional data provided by the Office for National Statistics, the rate rose to 26 maternal suicides per three years, with five or six of those happening during pregnancy. Whereas Dr Rossan found no known maternal suicide by hanging, the later research showed that 35 per cent of maternal suicides involved hanging.

In the report she prepared for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, Dr Rossan calculated that, on the basis of the available statistics, the incidence of suicide in pregnancy was less than one in 2,009,563. When The Times showed Dr Rossan the later research, she stuck by her conclusions. “It appears that there are still only a total of five cases of suicide in the time period studied,” she said. “In addition, the report suggests that the majority of suicides are associated with psychiatric disorders, particularly psychosis. I found no evidence that Paula Gilfoyle was suffering from such a state.”

The safety of Gilfoyle’s conviction was dealt a blow this year when The Times found long-lost police notes that could have given him an alibi for his wife’s death. The doctor who examined her body estimated that she had died in the garage of her home at a time when Gilfoyle was still at work as a hospital nursing auxiliary, the notes stated. This timing was undisclosed by police to either prosecution or defence before trial.

Original report here

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Texas Wrestles With Wrongful Convictions

New Law Increases Compensation For Exonerees Like Tim Cole, Wrongly Convicted Of Rape

The Texas house yesterday passed the Tim Cole Compensation Act, named for a wrongly convicted man exonerated years after his death, and the full legislative is expected to approve the bill, reports CBS News correspondent Don Teague in Austin. The law increases lump sum payments to the exonerated from the current $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment - no small matter in the state that leads the nation with 86 DNA exonerations.

The judge's words were simple: "Timothy Cole was, and is, innocent." It was the decision Cole's family had waited two decades to hear. In 1985, a serial rapist attacked five women near Texas Tech University. Among his victims was then 20-year old sophomore Michelle Mallin. "It's constantly in my mind all the time," Mallin said recently.

Cole, a 25-year-old college student was convicted, largely because Mallin identified his picture in a photo lineup. "I honestly thought it looked like him," she said.

A DNA test in 2008 revealed Cole did not commit the rape. And in his final opinion judge Charles Baird concluded Cole was convicted because "evidence was downplayed or deliberately ignored" by prosecutors." But Cole wasn't in court to hear his name cleared. In 1998, after 13 years in prison, he had an asthma attack in his cell and died. "Timothy was caring, he loved family, he had high hopes for the future," Cole's mother, Ruby Sessions, told Teague.

In the courtroom, justice may have finally been done for Timothy Cole, but for his family it's not nearly enough. Now they're working the halls of the state capitol to make sure what happened to Cole doesn't happen to someone else. "My brother, he didn't die in vain, he just didn't," Cole's brother Kevin Kennard said.

The family is pushing reform of the witness identification process, video taping of police interviews, and independent review of cases. But some officials believe the measures are unnecessary. "There probably isn't any other public servant who isn't subject to more scrutiny and someone else looking at their work before, during and after it's done than a prosecutor," said John Bradley of the Texas County District Attorney Association.

Since 1989 there have been more than 230 DNA exonerations nationwide. In at least 33 of those cases, prosecutorial misconduct was cited as the reason for the wrongful conviction.

Jim Bob Darnell, who prosecuted the Cole case, maintains he acted properly. But, "My feeling was, that someone had just kicked me in the stomach, he said. "I wish we could undo it, but we can't."

"I haven't the slightest idea what Jim Bob Darnell was thinking when he was trying that case. I do know he wanted a conviction," said Corey Sessions, another of Cole's brothers.

What the family wants now is a posthumous pardon from the governor of Texas.

Original report here

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Britain: Engineer's wrongful conviction quashed after eight years

Crooked cop. Court of appeal rules conviction of Patrick Zengeya unsafe because of failure to disclose relevant material during case. I hope the Manchester police are eventually forced to pay out big over this. The cop is now one of their senior people. It would be nice to see HIS career derailed

An engineer who said his career was derailed by a wrongful conviction for fraud eight years ago was cleared by the court of appeal yesterday. The case of 36-year-old Patrick Zengeya had been referred back by the Criminal Cases Review Commission as a potential miscarriage of justice. The court of appeal ruled that the failure to disclose relevant material during the case had undermined the safety of the original verdict.

Zengeya said the conviction, in July 2001, had paralysed his life. "At long last I can start living again," he said. Zengeya was studying for a PhD in engineering when he was arrested by police in connection with the use of stolen credit cards to pay for the transportation of a car from England to South Africa. He was convicted on two counts of attempting to obtain services by deception at Manchester crown court and sentenced to nine months in jail.

He protested his innocence and appealed against the conviction in November 2001, but was refused leave to appeal and it was not until he took his case to the commission in September 2006 that there was a breakthrough. In 2008, the commission recommended that the case be referred back to the court of appeal.

Zengeya had agreed to an offer from a man called Ali Usman, who owed him money for fixing his car, that Usman would pay the shipping costs for the car bound for South Africa. Usman was a key prosecution witness in the case. A commission report found that the police officer investigating the case, Steve Hassall, then a detective sergeant and now a detective superintendent for Greater Manchester police (GMP), failed to disclose certain important pieces of evidence, relating to Usman, which should have been put before the jury.

The commission found the failure to give full and proper disclosure of material relating to the credibility of the key prosecution witness rendered the conviction unsafe. "Hassall's witness statement was clearly misleading in that he said Usman was interviewed in relation to 'unconnected offences of obtaining services by deception' whereas the records of his police interviews clearly showed that he was interviewed as a suspect and also, as regards items found in his house, as a potential fraudster," the commission's report said.

GMP's professional standards branch has placed Hassall on restricted duties while the case is investigated. He has 30 years' experience in the police and has received several commendations for professionalism and bravery. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is also investigating. A GMP spokeswoman said Hassall was on restricted duties pending the outcome of the IPCC investigation. A spokesman for the IPCC said it was "investigating the allegation that the officer failed to disclose evidence at the original fraud trial".

The Crown Prosecution Service did not ask for a retrial and did not challenge the appeal.

Zengeya was poised for a successful career in engineering before his arrest and conviction. He had a job lined up as an engineer in the RAF on completion of his PhD, but the offer was withdrawn when he was convicted. "Every job I applied for I was turned down for because I had to declare my conviction," he said. "I'm self-employed and go around fixing people's cars because I was unable to get any other sort of employment. "Now I can start applying for engineering jobs again, although my colleagues from university are much further up the career ladder than me because of all the years I've lost."

He is planning to pursue a civil action against GMP following yesterday's ruling. He says police referred to him as a "black bastard" during the investigation. "When I went to prison I was in shock," he added. "I couldn't believe that I'd been arrested, let alone convicted for a crime I didn't commit. "I sat in jail and cried, but the other prisoners were very supportive of me during the few months I was inside.

"A case like this really messes up your life. I'm very frightened of the police as a result of what happened to me. Every time I see a police car, my heart beats very fast. I'm hoping that, now my conviction has been quashed, that will change."

Original report here

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Go back to where you were assaulted, say Texas police

You have to go to the "right" police station in Britain too. The amazing thing is that despite their laziness, they did eventually catch the crooks

It was 3 a.m. April 18 on the corner of Fuqua and Post Oak when a Houston man we're not identifying says he was brutally attacked and robbed by two suspects. That man was eventually able to overpower one of the robbers-- he took his gun and shot at least one of the suspects.

That victim who spoke to FOX 26 by phone says he went to HPD's Fondren police station for help. He stumbled in bloodied and with the gun of one of the suspects he'd shot.

Instead of getting immediate attention, the man tells FOX 26 he was told by an officer on duty at Fondren that he was at the wrong station. The victim says the officer also said it was shift change and he either should go back to the scene and wait or go to the right police substation.

Gary Blankenship is the president of the Houston police officers union. He says cops have a job to take action, especially in a felony situation. "Officers have to prioritize they're put in that position everyday but certainly if it's at all possible we should respond to the public when they have needs."

Eventually, police were able to arrest the two would be robbers. That came after the officer dispatched them to Post Oak and Fuqua. It's where the victim says he waited all bloodied and with that gun.

FOX 26 learned that police officer is under investigation according to the captain at the Fondren station. As for the victim, he says he couldn't believe he was turned away for help by those who promise to protect and serve.

Original report here

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Convict Fights for DNA Testing, Exoneration After Wrongful Conviction

Crooked Illinois again

Johnnie Lee Savory spent more than 30 years of his life in prison for a crime he says he did not commit. At age 14, Savory was arrested for the murder of two of his friends in Peoria, Ill. Now 46 and out on parole, he is committed to fighting for the DNA testing he says will prove his innocence.

After he was convicted with what he described as weak evidence and a questionable confession, Savory spent more than two-thirds of his life behind bars. "I was clinging to the promise that the truth would win out," he said.

DNA evidence was not available at the time of his conviction. As the technology developed, the courts continued to refuse the tests which are guaranteed when relevant to a claim of actual innocence under Illinois law.

With all options in the courts exhausted, Savory's only hope in proving his innocence lies with the governor who can order executive clemency. Along with Steve Drizin, his lead attorney and director of Northwestern University School of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions, Savory is asking Ill. Governor Pat Quinn to order the testing which would be paid for privately, at no cost to taxpayers. Although Savory's lawyers succeeded in obtaining his release on parole on December 19, 2006, Savory's struggle with the justice system is not over.

However, Savory remains confident that the governor will grant his pardon by the end of the year. “The prosecutors have said there is no evidence to tie me to the crime or to the scene of the crime,” he said. “That is a very powerful statement that I should never have been here in the first place.”

Savory, an African American, was twice convicted by all-white juries of the murder of two teenagers who were found stabbed to death in 1977. The most recent conviction rested primarily on the testimony of three informants who claimed Savory talked about committing the crime in their presence. Two of the informants have recanted and said the conversations never occurred.

The physical evidence similarly holds little evidentiary value. The bloody pants seized from Savory's home were several sizes too big for Savory and were worn by his father when he suffered an injury at work. The blood sample did not match Savory's, but Savory said prosecutors fabricated the evidence by removing the positive and negatives from the blood work, making them match as type A.

The fingernail scrapings from both victims and the hair found in the victims' hands and bathroom sink were withheld from the trial. A pocket knife, which had what the prosecution thought was a blood stain, was entered into evidence, but the stain was too small to determine if it were blood.

"The evidence in my case was fabricated," Savory said. "The state withheld the other evidence and we're still fighting to have it. They hid some evidence that could have solved the crime." DNA testing on these items could exonerate Savory and also determine the identity of the true killer, Savory said. "If you use DNA evidence to convict people all over the United States, you should use it to exonerate people and set people free," Savory said.

Since the first ever DNA exoneration of Gary Dotson in 1988, there have been 209 other wrongfully convicted prisoners exonerated because of DNA testing. "It's just at the beginning," Drizin said. "There are going to be many, many more exonerations based on DNA evidence."

While serving his time in prison, Savory said he did not let the prison culture influence him and even organized campaigns from prison to help victims of disasters like Hurricane Katrina. He said he was able to successfully reintegrate into society on parole, and now works at a facility helping inmates transition out of prison. "It is imperative that I speak to other people about what I've been through," he said. "Who better is there to awaken the consciousness of others than the people who have lived it?"

For others fighting a wrongful conviction, Savory said they should never give up because the truth will prevail. "Let the truth speak for itself," he said. "It doesn't need any help. Facts don't change, the way you manipulate facts change.”

While Savory is confident that DNA testing of the original evidence will prove his innocence, he acknowledges that injustices do exist and they can happen to anyone. "Injustice has touched every man and woman from all walks of life," he said. "Injustice is like a stray bullet. It doesn't care where it lands."

Original report here

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Corrupt West Australian cops still refusing to admit that they did any wrong

ANDREW Mallard - awarded $3.25m over his wrongful murder conviction - is not satisfied with the payment and is talking to his lawyers. Mr Mallard told reporters: "I am extremely disappointed and I will be conferring with my lawyers." He would not be drawn into comments on the desired amount for the payout, describing it as a "very delicate situation".

Mr Mallard was yesterday offered $3.25m compensation for serving more than 12 years in jail for the a 1994 murder he didn't commit. He was wrongly convicted of murdering Mosman Park jeweller Pamela Lawrence, but later acquitted by the High Court.

Attorney General Christian Porter announced the compensation offer to Mr Mallard, the highest of its kind in the State’s history.

Mr Mallard served 12 years of a 20-year jail sentence before his conviction was quashed by the High Court in 2005. He walked free from jail in 2006. The murder investigation and his wrongful conviction was the subject of a Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry into whether police officers had engaged in misconduct. Two assistant police commissioners, Mal Shervill and David Caporn, were forced to step down from their top jobs in the wake of the CCC's findings.

Mr Mallard had demanded $7.5 million on advice from his lawyers and on the weekend Opposition legal spokesman John Quigley claimed Mr Mallard was injected with drugs as part of efforts to make him confess to the crime.

Labor MP and friend John Quigley, who has championed Mr Mallard's case and lobbied for his release, said he knew the final settlement would be ``miserable''.... ``There is no way Premier Colin Barnett or Attorney-General Christian Porter would accept $3.25 million for 12 years imprisonment and the destruction of their lives. ``There is no way they would accept that as proper compensation. ``In fact the sum being given to Andrew is about the same amount that Mr Barnett will receive from his superannuation scheme when he retires.’’ Mr Quigley revealed last week that Mr Mallard was seeking a $7.5 million payout.

Mr Quigley re-iterated that Mr Mallard would sue police in light of the $4.25 million shortfall. ``The government should have offered the $7.5 million straight up, or they should have appointed an independent assessor,'' he said. ``I would have thought the police union won’t be happy with this. ``Too right, Andrew will sue.’’

WA Police Union president Mike Dean wouldn’t be drawn into comments by Labor MP John Quigley that Mr Mallard would now sue police. Mr Dean said he stood by the officers, including Mr Shervill and Mr Caporn, and believed the $3.25m amount offered by the State Government was sufficient. “I’m sure the Government would have liked to have settled all issues, (but) the officers are extremely confident on their legal position,” he said. He said he did not believe the offer had left the officers exposed to personal litigation.

“I don’t believe there’s any legal exposure for these officers whatsoever – they still stand by their position that they have not acted inappropriately in any way,” he said. “If (Mr Mallard) wishes to pursue the civil writs, then they will be defended.”

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Free Ashton Lundeby!

Around 10:00 p.m. on March 5, a wolf-pack of armed men gathered at the front door of the Lundeby family's home in Oxford, North Carolina.

When she answered the doorbell, Annette was greeted with the sight of a State Highway Patrolman who introduced himself with a lie. Things went dramatically downhill from there. "He told me that my son Ashton had committed a hit-and-run with somebody's car," Annette told Pro Libertate in a phone interview. "I said, 'No, that's not true – it was exactly the reverse; he was on the receiving end of a hit-and-run, and that was last January.'"

The State Trooper's lie was a pretext to rouse the home-schooled teenager from bed and bring him to the doorstep. Once the falsehood shattered against Mrs. Lundeby's polite resolve, however, the pretense was dropped and roughly a dozen armed men in body armor stormed into her home. One of them demanded that Annette go get her son; the others fanned out to search the house.

"They wouldn't tell me who they were, or where they were from," Annette recalled. "All I knew was that if I said the wrong thing I'd be dead on the floor, and there would be nobody here to protect my children." So she went upstairs and woke up her son, as instructed. When she returned with Ashton she demanded to see a search warrant. She was shown the paperwork, but the intruders were still reluctant to explain why they had invaded her home.

At some point over the next three and a half hours, Annette and Ashton learned that the men who had barged into their home were from the FBI, and that the teenage boy, who had never been in trouble with the police, was suspected of making several bomb threats via the internet. The one that brought the FBI had been made against Purdue University in Indiana at 9:05 Central Time on February 15.

Ashton had an alibi so tight it could be used as a space capsule: On the evening in question he was at a meeting held in the Union Chapel Methodist Church in Kittrell, North Carolina until after 9:00 p.m. local time, a fact that could be confirmed by interviewing any of several dozen witnesses.

After helping his mother clean the chapel, Ashton accompanied her to a local grocery store to buy food and litter box filler for the family's three cats. Once again, this element of Ashton's alibi – for which his mother was an eyewitness – would be relatively simple to confirm.

The Union Chapel church is about 35 minutes away from the Lundeby family's home. Annette recalls that the family got home shortly after 10:00 on February 15, which wouldn't have given her son adequate time to log on to the Internet and make a bomb threat by 10:05 Eastern Time (which would have been 9:05 p.m. in Indiana). She also insists that her son "went straight to bed" without turning on his computer.

The FBI insists that the threat was made using Ashton's IP address. Mrs. Lundeby insists that her son was the victim of identity theft, and that he was not the family’s only victim. Her late husband, a former employee of the federal Bureau of Prisons, also had his personal financial information stolen, and Annettee herself recalls that her bank account was hacked a couple of years ago.

For the past several months, she explained to Pro Libertate, "our family has been receiving bizarre and threatening phone calls from people" because of the malicious activities of at least one hacker. "We had the police call here claiming that someone had called 911 to report drugs in our home. I told them that there wasn't anything going on here, but they were free to come and search the place to see for themselves." That's an invitation she wouldn't extend again under similar circumstances.

According to Annette, at least one of Ashton's friends can identify, by screenname, the hacker who made life miserable for the Lundebys. Once again, there is no shortage of leads for an honest, competent, reasonably resourceful investigator to follow in establishing Ashton's alibi. The unfortunate truth is that the FBI is, as far as I can tell, entirely devoid of people meeting that description.

Annette and her children were held hostage in their home until 1:30 in the morning. The 12-year-old daughter was dragged from her bed by an armed stranger – an act that left the girl traumatized (and one for which the assailant should be thrashed to within a centimeter of his tax-devouring existence). Annette insisted that Ashton not answer any questions without an attorney present, but she wasn't permitted to call one.

The Feds confiscated Ashton's computer and gaming equipment, and made off with a great deal of family paperwork. But they couldn't find a particle of evidence anywhere to suggest that the teenager had built a bomb, or that possessed the necessary knowledge and intent. Nonetheless, they handcuffed Ashton and hauled him away to jail.

A hearing was scheduled for 10:00 a.m., which meant "that I couldn't get an attorney – none of their offices was open," Annette recalls. Her son was given a court-appointed attorney, a typically ineffective nebbish who – in the fashion of court-appointed "defense" counsel everywhere – was entirely disinclined to contest the prosecution's assertions.

At this point it's appropriate to note that "court-appointed" defense lawyers perform exactly the same function as "jobbers" in professional wrestling: Their job is to lose every contest. And judges in federal cases serve the same purpose as referees in pro wrestling "matches": They offer a pitiful pantomime of objectivity as they advance the pre-determined storyline. In this case, the script called for Ashton to be taken into federal custody under the terms of the Sovietesque PATRIOT (sic) Act.

"The standard that they used to arrest and detain my son was not 'probable cause,' as the Constitution requires, but rather 'good faith,' as specified in the PATRIOT [sic] Act," Annette Lundeby observes. "This meant that they didn't have to provide real evidence of a crime, because they didn't have any. All they had to do was assert their 'good faith' reasons for arresting and holding Ashton, and the judge simply let it stand."

Before and after the hearing, Ashton – a sixteen-year-old – was kept in detention with as many as thirty adult criminal suspects. He was then transferred to a federal detention center in South Bend, Indiana, where he has been for more than 60 days.

As of today (May 5), a criminal complaint in this case does exist, but Ashton has yet to be charged with a crime. Were we living in a country in which the habeas corpus guarantee was operational, Ashton would most likely be free, and a lawsuit against his persecutors would probably be in the works.

However, the late Bush administration, with the enthusiastic support of nearly every conservative commentator and activist of any consequence, quite thoughtfully disposed of the habeas corpus guarantee. And since Ashton is being held on terrorism-related charges, his status is analogous to that of an "enemy combatant" – which is to say, he can probably be held indefinitely, and even be subjected to the same "enhanced interrogation" methods that so enchant many of the pew-defilers in conservative "Christian" congregations.

Ashton hasn't been mistreated yet, according to his mother. However, the 16-year-old – who is "in every sense still a child," in his mother's estimation – is in an environment defined by cruel, arbitrary regulations designed to break his will. "I've been able to talk with him several times since he was taken into federal custody," Annette told me, "but there was a period of about three weeks in which I didn't hear from him, and nobody would let me talk to him. I was frantic, and my mother – she just turned 81 – had to be hospitalized for stress."

When that long silence was finally broke, Ashton explained to his mother that "he was being punished for 'moving his eyes in the lunchroom,'" Annette related in a voice heavy with incredulity. "He told me, 'Mom, all I did was try to find out what we were eating. But I got written up for moving my eyes.'"

If the case goes to trial, Ashton would be prosecuted as an adult, and would face a 15-year prison sentence. The Feds, who at this point appear to have no case, are quite likely using the leverage offered by the PATRIOT (sic) Act and similar measures to terrorize Ashton and his family into a plea bargain that would preserve the State's sense of infallibility and reinforce by precedent its ability to terrorize citizens at random.

Something of this sort took place last time a teenager was charged with terrorism under the PATRIOT (sic) Act – specifically, section 802, which makes practically any crime committed on "public" property an act of "terrorism."

Two years ago, Andrew Thomas, the demented and politically ambitious prosecutor for Arizona's Maricopa County, filed "terrorism" charges against Brent Clark, a 14-year-old delinquent from Mesa who pulled a pocketknife on a schoolmate. Thomas also charged the eighth grader with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which seems like a sufficiently serious offense. But invoking the post-PATRIOT (sic) definition of "terrorism" helped extract a pre-emptive guilty plea from the adolescent and his family.

In Brent Clark's case, there was an actual crime committed: He threatened a girl with a knife and tried, albeit not with much ardor, to take her hostage before permitting her to flee to her home. Brent's parents apparently discovered evidence suggesting that the emotionally disturbed teenager harbored ambitions – how serious, we'll never know – of carrying out Columbine-style violence.

None of that applies in the case of Ashton Lundeby. Apart from the use of Ashton's ISP information – a fact for which he and his mother have provided a persuasive and easily inspected alibi – nothing connects the 16-year-old to a bomb threat anywhere. Under traditional Anglo-Saxon standards of evidence and due process there is no case against Ashton.

This is precisely why the Feds are apparently using the Stalinist PATRIOT (sic) Act to keep this youngster confined for as long as it takes to extort some kind of confession from him.

If they determine the situation requires such measures, the Feds can draw upon the precedent set in the case of José Padilla, the first U.S. citizen to be designated an "enemy combatant" and held indefinitely without criminal charges. In Padilla's case, federal authorities conducted a prolonged campaign of psychological torture designed not only to break his will, but literally – in the words of a Bush administration official – "to destroy Mr. Padilla's ordinary emotional and cognitive functioning in order to extract from him potentially self-incriminating information."

Annette Lundeby once attended a police academy; her late husband, as noted previously, was an employee of the Bureau of Prisons. The family's home in North Carolina is decorated with U.S. flags. The three of them are devout Christians who spend most of their free time in church-related activities. The loss of Annette's husband was a severe blow, and the continued harassment they have suffered from hackers and identity thieves is the sort of thing one reads about in the Book of Job.

But the treatment of Ashton by the Regime is like something from modern dystopian literature; indeed, Franz Kafka might find the story nearly implausible.

"This isn't America – not the America I knew, the one I grew up in," Annette told Pro Libertate. "This is like something out of a Third World dictatorship where the people in power just do whatever they want to anybody they choose. I want my son back, and I'll do anything I can to free him. But people need to know that if this isn't stopped now, any of us at anytime can be treated the same way. The next time it will be your house they visit in the middle of the night, and your children they take away."

Original report here

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