Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another police charmer

OH: Police officer pleads guilty to using Taser on girlfriend’s toddlers

A part-time Dellroy police officer pleaded guilty Friday to allegations that he abused two of his girlfriend’s young children with a Taser gun. Kevin L. McCann, 48, of 10188 Radmoor St. NW in Lawrence Township, admitted to two counts of felonious assault and two counts of felony child endangering. The mother of the children, Christina L. Robinson, 22, of the same address, pleaded guilty to four counts of felony child endangering.

Stark County Common Pleas Judge John G. Haas set a May sentencing date for the couple. McCann and Robinson each face the prospect of significant prison time.


McCann disciplined Robinson’s 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son by using or placing a Taser on their bodies, leaving burn marks, according to court papers.

The abuse occurred on more than one occasion between June and August, and came to light after the children were taken to Akron Children’s Hospital in August with marks and bruises, according to a court filings.

The children and a younger sibling now are with a relative under the protective supervision of the Stark County Department of Job and Family Services.

With sentencing pending, Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Lori Curd declined to discuss specifics of the abuse, including whether McCann shocked the children with the Taser or used it in some other way.

The charges against Robinson were based on her failure to protect her children from the abuse, according to court papers.


Defense attorney April Bible told the judge that Robinson believed a jury would find her guilty of not protecting the children and didn’t want her daughter to have to testify. “I don’t want her to go through this anymore,” Robinson said.

McCann’s attorney, Patrick Cusma, said his client considered the evidentiary issues and the potential of a 32-year prison term if convicted, before deciding to plead guilty.

Cusma said McCann is a private security contractor who has worked part-time for various law-enforcement agencies, but he has never owned a stun gun or a Taser and was never trained to use one. “He’s been in and out of law enforcement for 15 years,” Cusma said. “He’s very concerned about going to prison. He’s very, very concerned.”


McCann still is listed as an active part-time officer with the village of Dellroy in Carroll County and has been since May 2004, said Ted Hart, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general.

McCann also was a part-time deputy in Wayne County for less than a year before he was fired in 2000, said Capt. Charles Hardman of that sheriff’s office.

The agency terminated McCann over allegations he had inappropriate conversations with minor females but no charges were ever filed, Hardman said. [Letting him off lightly obviously taught him nothing]

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

San Francisco D.A. on verge of mass drug-case dismissals because of corrupt forensic science

San Francisco prosecutors told judges Friday that they could not "ethically go forward" with 46 narcotics trials because of evidence problems arising out of the scandal at the Police Department's drug-analysis lab - signaling that the district attorney is likely to dismiss nearly all 750 pending drug cases in the city.

"Based on what the district attorney's office knows about the issues within the narcotics division of the crime lab, we cannot ethically go forward with this prosecution," Assistant District Attorney Nancy Tung told a judge overseeing a case that was serving as a test of how much police and prosecutors had to disclose to defense attorneys about problems at the drug lab.

Prosecutors dropped that test case, a cocaine-sales trial, after having been deluged with 1,500 pages of police files about the lab that a spokesman for the district attorney called "troubling" and said pointed to possible larger problems in the Police Department.

Prosecutors are legally required to give up any evidence that could clear a defendant, and the judge in Mario Bell's cocaine-dealing case, who reviewed the papers in private, said Thursday that many of the police files could be relevant in Bell's trial. Now that his case has been dropped, however, the documents will not be given to his attorney.
Madden case and more

The papers include files related to the drug lab and technician Deborah Madden, 60, who left the lab last year just before suspicions surfaced that she had stolen cocaine she was testing as evidence. Police Chief George Gascón shut down the drug lab March 9.

With no one from the lab available to vouch for evidence in court, and with much of the lab's work called into question, the district attorney's office had already dropped more than 400 cases since the shutdown. Prosecutors had said they hoped to retest narcotics evidence and refile some of those cases, but Friday's action signaled that is unlikely to happen.

One recent development that could doom even retested cases is that discrepancies have arisen between the weights of drugs as recorded at the crime lab and weights as measured by outside agencies brought in to do the new tests.

Brian Buckelew, a spokesman for District Attorney Kamala Harris, said prosecutors are still considering what to do about the 750 pending drug cases in jeopardy because of the lab's problems.

"My office is going to work through the weekend and assess how to handle the remaining cases," Buckelew said.
Scope has changed

The exact contents of the 1,500 pages of police files have not been made public, but Buckelew said the documents hinted at problems with police and the drug lab that go beyond Madden's conduct. Buckelew called the files "troubling."

"At the very beginning this was a case about Debbie Madden and isolated incidents that could have been resolved by retesting," Buckelew said. However, he added, "the face of this has changed."

Bell's attorney said he believed the material included audits of the crime lab at Hunters Point, and its drug-testing section, going back at least six years.

Among the questions raised since the suspicions about Madden were made public is why the Police Department took more than two months to open a criminal investigation into her actions after her sister said she had found what she believed to be a stolen lab vial of cocaine in Madden's home. Documents contained in the files could help answer that question and reveal who in the Police Department knew what and when.
Only allegations

Former Assistant Police Chief Jim Lynch, who was chief of staff to Gascón until retiring March 17, said Thursday that he did not alert the chief when the Madden issue first surfaced in December. He did, however, refer it at that time to Assistant Chief Kevin Cashman, who oversees the investigations unit, for evaluation as a criminal case, he said.

"They were allegations, we hear lots of allegations, and that's all we had," Lynch said. "All kinds of allegations don't get to the chief's level.

"As it gained merit," he added, "I briefed him (the chief)." He said that was in February. Madden has not been arrested or charged.

Cashman declined to comment, referring questions to a police spokeswoman, who said interviews in an internal investigation are still under way.

"That's what we're trying to find out - why didn't people act sooner, if that is in fact what happened," spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka said.
Happy defendant

The judge in Bell's cocaine-sales case, Anne-Christine Massullo, said Friday that she would keep the police files under seal as prosecutors decide what to do with them.

Prosecutors dropped 45 other cases Friday in which the defendants, like Bell, were on the verge of trial. In each case, they cited the same reason - that they could not "ethically go forward."

Bell, 35, was accused of selling crack cocaine on three occasions. Madden tested at least one of the samples and confirmed that it was cocaine. Bell has previous offenses, and if convicted of the cocaine-sales charges could have been sentenced to 19 years in state prison.

A smiling Bell declined to comment outside court. His attorney, Jim Senal, said that "the district attorney stepped up to the plate" and had done the right thing by dropping hopelessly flawed charges.

Any mass dismissal of drug cases would raise questions about people who have been convicted of narcotics offenses in San Francisco in recent years, as well as federal cases that have been based on earlier San Francisco convictions. The fallout could be limited, however, because drugs in closed cases that date from before 2008 have been destroyed.

Police were philosophical about the possibility of mass dismissals. "It's another development," Tomioka said. "We will continue with the independent investigations being conducted at the lab."

She added that Gascón "wants a very thorough investigation. We realized there was going to be fallout from the get-go. We work with the district attorney's office. They are going to do what they feel is the right thing to do. I have confidence in that process."

Original report here

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wrongly convicted Australian man slams police failure to pursue the real killer

There have long been strong suspicions about who the real killer was but the police would have to admit that they bungled the initial investigation before they could pursue that -- and so far they are too stiff-necked

GRAHAM Stafford, the man cleared of murdering schoolgirl Leanne Holland, would gladly give up millions of dollars in compensation to have the real killer behind bars.

Mr Stafford, of Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, served 15 years in jail for the brutal slaying of his then-girlfriend's 12-year-old sister in Goodna, west of Brisbane, in 1991. His conviction was quashed on appeal in December and he is now able to pursue compensation through the civil courts after the Crown on Friday decided it would not proceed with any charges against him.

Mr Stafford, speaking exclusively to The Sunday Mail yesterday, said he would likely go down that legal path - but there was a more urgent priority. "There is a killer out there. That person, or persons, has been on the run for nearly 20 years," Mr Stafford said. "It is time he was caught and brought to justice - for my sake, for Leanne's sake, for the Holland family. "The case has to be re-opened and the killer caught," he said.

Mr Stafford received a Facebook message on Friday - soon after walking free from court for the final time - which hinted at the identity of Leanne's killer.

The informant, who has connections to the Holland family and has followed the case from the start, told Mr Stafford two people were responsible for Leanne's death. Mr Stafford said it was credible information, and would eventually be passed on to any new investigation. "It is encouraging. . . I don't know what to make of it at this stage," he said.

Information gathered by former Queensland Police Service detective and private investigator Graeme Crowley and The Sunday Mail over 16 years cast serious doubt on Mr Stafford's conviction. That new evidence - which formed the basis of Mr Stafford's two Court of Appeal cases - pointed to at least two individuals who had the opportunity and were more likely to have killed Leanne. Police never investigated those suspects.

The independent investigation found Mr Stafford had no time to commit the killing, that tyre tracks found at the body-discovery scene were not from his car, and a maggot supposedly found by police in the boot of his car - but never documented - was not from Leanne's body.

Mr Stafford said Attorney-General Cameron Dick had indicated to his legal team on Friday that once a formal request was made to re-open the Holland homicide, he would then consider it. Mr Stafford said a request would be filed this week.

He said compensation for the 15 years spent behind bars would "be nice", but catching Leanne's killer would be satisfying to all involved with the case. "Money can't bring back all those years, it can't bring back Leanne," he said. "But a new investigation and finding the killer could bring a lot of closure to everyone."

Police on Friday said they would not pursue the matter any further. They remained convinced they had the right man - despite the Court of Appeal quashing his conviction. Justice Catherine Holmes said she would have entered a verdict of acquittal. Court of Appeal president Tony Fitzgerald said the same thing in the 1997 appeal, which was lost 2-1.

Mr Stafford said yesterday he was happy with Friday's decision - which he learnt of from the media before he even entered the Supreme Court complex - but on the other hand wished the Crown had taken it to trial.

"I was thinking of my family first, particularly my dad Eric, who has not been well. I did not want to have to put them through a long drawn-out trial again," he said. "But a new trial would have given me the opportunity to clear my name once and for all. "I would have been able to walk out of the court without a shadow of doubt. There would have been no room left for argument."

Mr Stafford said there would always be doubters and he was not sure what to make of the Holland family's agreement with the Crown not to proceed with a trial. "You can read it two ways: Either they accept I am innocent, or they don't want to go through it all again. I would like to be able to talk to them again one day."

Mr Stafford said his legal team would launch a petition to get the case re-opened. "In the meantime, I will just try to get on with my life the best I can," he said. "I am trying to maintain a semblance of normality, but there are still a lot of ups and downs."

Mr Crowley yesterday urged police to treat the Holland homicide as a "cold case". He said it needed a fresh set of investigative eyes and a thorough review.

Mr Crowley and Professor Paul Wilson, his co-author of the book Who Killed Leanne?, said a cold-case review would not cost the State Government money as they did not have to set up a new review.

Original report here

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

WA: Police officer charged with second-degree murder

SEVEN bullets from the cop??

An Everett police officer already charged with first-degree manslaughter has also been charged with second-degree murder in connection to the shooting death of a Stanwood man last June.

Officer Troy Meade shot 51-year-old Niles Leo Meservey while Meservey was in his car at the Chuckwagon Inn last June. Witnesses called police to report Meservey was too drunk to drive. Everett police, including Officer Meade, responded to the scene and boxed in Meservey’s white Corvette.

According to court documents, Meade tried tasering Meservey, who was described as belligerent. Another officer at the scene said Meservey appeared to try to drive away and his car became lodged against a fence and a parking curb. That officer said he heard Meade say, 'Time to end this, enough is enough' before he opened fire. Meservey was shot seven times in the back and died at the scene.

An autopsy determined that his blood alcohol level was .26 percent, more than three times the .08 legal threshold for intoxication. No other drugs or medications were found.

"The difference in second-degree murder is that the charge is someone has intentionally cause the death of another person," said prosecutor Joan Cavagnaro. Cavagnaro wants the jury to have greater flexibility in deciding what Meade's state of mind was during shooting and which charge is more appropriate.

Cavagnaro said she believes that Meservey was not an imminent threat to Meade, other police or civilians when Meade opened fire. Meade's lawyer strongly disagrees, and will argue against the additional charge of murder.

"He was placed in a very dangerous situation. He was defending himself, he was justified in defending himself and if he hadn't defended himself, he might be dead or disabled at this point,” said defense attorney David Allen.

Meade's criminal trial is scheduled to begin April 13.

Original report here

Court backs police goons

A US federal appeals court says three Seattle police officers were justified when they used a stun gun on a pregnant mother who refused to sign a traffic ticket.

Malaika Brooks was driving her son to school in 2004 when she was stopped for exceeding the speed limit.

The officers used a Taser three times when she refused to get out of her car.

A panel of judges ruled 2-1 that the officers were justified in using force because Brooks could have picked her keys up off the floor, started the car and driven away.

The dissenting judge called the ruling absurd and said the officers had no authority to arrest Brooks - let alone use a Taser on a nonthreatening woman who was seven months pregnant.

Original report here

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Friday, March 26, 2010

NE: Top CSI guilty for tampering with evidence

One hope that past cases involving this crook will be re-opened. "Planting" DNA undermines all DNA evidence that supports a prosecution. One hopes that his sentence will be severe

No one knows yet how or if the verdict against Dave Kofoed could affect other big cases he has investigated. Ivan Henk is serving a life sentence for killing his son, Brendan Gonzalez. Henk confessed. A jury convicted Chris Edwards for killing Jessica O'Grady. Edwards is also in prison. Judge Randall Rehmeier convicted Kofoed Tuesday on one count of tampering with evidence in another murder case he investigated, the double murder on Wayne and Sharmon Stock of murder on Easter Sunday 2006.

Before ruling, Judge Rehmeier told the court the evidence shows Kofoed intentionally planted the speck of blood that led to the arrest of two innocent men. Matt Livers and Nick Samson were charged with the murders and later released. Two teenagers have since confessed to the murders.

After the Judge read his verdict, Kofoed tried to describe his feelings. "It's not devastating, it's just something, got to move on," he said.

Not devastating for Kofoed, but it is for his lawyer. "You don't think I'm blaming myself for this, that I waived the jury that I didn't put him up on the stand. You don't think I've fallen on the sword thinking I'm the one that lost this case. The answer should be yes. That's what I'm thinking. I'm the one who lost this case, not Dave," said Kofoed's Attorney Steve Lefler.

Even Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning, who has supported Kofoed, never doubting his innocence, tells Action 3 News now it's time to move on, "I've been in this business for 39 years and I have to respect the decision of the judge".

The sheriff holds back almost all emotion related to the verdict. "It's not a good day," said Dunning.

Kofoed is still on paid administrative leave until next week. He'll go in front of top county officials for a disciplinary hearing who'll decide if he will be fired.

Since Kofoed's arrest, Sheriff Dunning ordered changes in the CSI lab, including how evidence is handled, stored, and how crime scene reports are written. The sheriff is even talking about putting a security camera in the evidence room to record the staff at work. Dave Kofoed will be sentenced in May.

He tells Action 3 News he has no doubt Kofoed committed the crime. He says this case is a lesson to dishonest law enforcement officials saying they might not be caught the first time, but eventually their actions will be punished. "I take no great pleasure in this verdict nor should anyone else for that matter," said Mock

Original report here

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

SCOTUS stops Texas execution

With just an hour to spare, the Supreme Court blocked the Wednesday evening execution in Texas of convicted murderer Hank Skinner, who maintains his innocence and who has sought DNA testing of key evidence for a decade.

The justices issued a stay of execution and said they wanted more time to consider Skinner's appeal. It will probably be several weeks before the court decides whether to hear his case.

Last year, the court ruled 5 to 4 that the Constitution does not give convicts the right to demand DNA testing of crime-scene evidence. The case, however, did not involve a prisoner facing execution.

Skinner had sued the county district attorney seeking DNA tests on semen and skin samples as well as two bloody knives and a man's windbreaker, all taken from the scene of a triple homicide in the north Texas town of Pampa 16 years ago. Last week, a crime lab in Phoenix offered to conduct the testing for free.

Skinner was convicted and sentenced to die for killing Twila Busby, his girlfriend, and her two adult sons in their home on New Year's Eve 1993. Skinner had been drunk and sound asleep on the couch earlier in the evening when Busby left for a party. After midnight, he staggered away from the house with blood from two of the victims on his clothes.

Skinner has always maintained his innocence and contends that an uncle of Busby was the killer. Busby had left the party after her uncle, now deceased, made crude sexual advances. It appeared as though she had been raped and had struggled with her killer.

Police and prosecutors said that the blood on Skinner's clothes came from two of the victims and that he had left bloody palm prints in the house.

Skinner said he awoke in a stupor and cut his hand on a broken bottle.

His trial lawyer, a former county prosecutor, did not seek DNA testing of the crime-scene evidence. Since then, state and federal judges have rejected Skinner's appeals, ruling that he had no right to test evidence that he could have tested at the time of his trial.

Ten years ago, the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University raised doubts about Skinner's guilt. Researchers found a neighbor who said the uncle had cleaned out his van and replaced its carpet the day after the killings.

They also found a former girlfriend who had seen Skinner shortly after the slayings. She said he was too drunk and disoriented to have killed three people, including one son who stood 6-foot-6 and weighed 225 pounds.

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NYC settles jail strip-search suit for $33 million

Perverted correctional officers slapped down

Two women who claimed they were forced to undergo gynecological exams and thousands of other people who said they were strip-searched in New York City jails have settled a class-action lawsuit with the city for $33 million.

The suit was filed on behalf of people arrested on misdemeanor drug and weapons charges and strip-searched at Rikers Island and other jails. Other charges included jumping turnstiles, failing to pay child support, shoplifting and trespassing.

"We hope in some small way these damage awards will stand for some semblance of justice for these victims," said Richard D. Emery, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Under the agreement, victims can receive between $1,800 and $2,900 each, depending on how many people respond. The plaintiffs who claimed they were forced into gynecological exams are entitled to $20,000 each for their injury and suffering, according to the decision, reached last week and finalized Monday.

The case included people arrested, but not convicted, between July 15, 1999, and Oct. 4, 2007. The court has already ruled that the practice violated the prisoners' constitutional rights.

David Sanchez, 39, of the Bronx, said he was strip-searched twice at Riker's Island after he was arrested in November 2006 for misdemeanor drug possession. "It was horrifying," Sanchez recalled at a news conference in Manhattan. "I was humiliated."

Sanchez said he was pleased with the outcome of the case. "It's a beautiful thing," he said. "It's not about the money. It's about people being respected."

About 100,000 pretrial detainees were illegally searched. Mariann Meier Wang, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, said she expected about 15 percent of those illegally searched to file a claim to receive money.

Wang called the settlement historic and the illegal strip searches a "form of mass humiliation." She said they were designed to let inmates know who was in charge.

Most of the illegal searches took place at Riker's Island and the Manhattan Detention Complex.

Genevieve Nelson, a lawyer in the New York City Law Department, said the settlement is the final step for changes in procedure that began in 2007.

"The City of New York and its Department of Correction have worked diligently to ensure that both safety and privacy are given high consideration during intake search procedures," she said in a statement.

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Your papers, please

A few days ago, Pete Eyre (who serves as outreach consultant to FFF) had an encounter with two police officers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which Pete videotaped while openly carrying a weapon, which is legal under New Mexico law.

After some conversation, the two officers asked Pete to produce identification. Pete asked the cops if he was required by law to produce an ID, and they responded that he was. Pete pointed out that the officers were wrong because he wasn’t violating any law and, therefore, was not required to produce any identification. The officers then suggested that Pete must have something to hide. Pete responded that he simply valued his privacy.

Pete steadfastly refused to provide his ID to the officers and, after some conversation with them, departed from the scene without producing his ID and without the cops doing anything to him.

Several years ago, I was traveling in Cuba. Like other communist countries, people in Cuba are required to carry “their papers” with them. Over the years, most Americans have heard that term, especially in the movies — “Your papers, please.” But how many people have ever given much thought to what the term means? “Your papers” simply means “your ID.”

During my trip to Cuba, I took a cab from Havana to another town about 6 hours away. When I arrived, I paid the cab driver and he returned to Havana. It was about sundown. There were no hotels in town but people were renting rooms in their houses to tourists.

The problem was that no one would rent to me. Why? Because I had forgotten my papers — my passport — back in Havana. Under Cuban law, the people renting the rooms were prohibited from renting to anyone who couldn’t produce his papers.

I finally paid a bribe to an old woman to permit me to illegally stay in her home. I signed the registry that Cuban law required her to keep, but I could see that she was clearly scared to let me stay there. She said to me, “You will never make it back to Havana. There are checkpoints on the roads and they are stopping everyone. They will arrest you and jail you somewhere along the way.”

The prospect of spending the night or several nights in a Cuban jail was not very attractive to me. The matter was especially tense because during my visit, Cuba was prosecuting a terrorist with CIA ties who had bombed some Cuban hotels, killing at least one person. (The trial was being shown on national television, parts of which I watched in public venues. Ironically, it was remarkably similar in appearance and process to the U.S. military tribunals at Guantanamo.)

When I was ready to return to Havana, I decided I’d be better off taking a flight back rather than a cab, despite the fact that the airline was government owned and operated. When I approached the ticket agent, I smiled, spoke English instead of Spanish, and said that I was visiting from the United States. The agent said, “Oh, Cuba’s baseball team is playing in your country.” I responded, “I know. I’m cheering for your team!” He laughed, gave me my plane ticket, and didn’t ask to see my papers. I made it back to Havana.

What those two New Mexico cops fail to realize is that by asking innocent people for their IDs, they are conducting themselves like the police in communist countries. American police officers need to be taught that in America, cops are not supposed to ask innocent people for their papers. Hopefully, there are two cops in New Mexico who have now learned a valuable lesson in freedom and privacy.

Original report here

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Monday, March 22, 2010

CT: Judge Orders Two Prisoners To Be Set Free After Wrongful Murder Conviction

Crooked police again. If there were any justice the cops concerned would now be put away for 16 years

Two men serving life sentences for the murder of a Fair Haven bodega owner have been ordered set free after more than 16 years behind bars.

Calling the matter a "manifest injustice," Superior Court Judge Stanley Fuger Jr. reversed the convictions of George Gould, 48, and Ronald Taylor, 51, the two New Haven men charged with the July 1993 slaying of bodega owner Eugenio DeLeon Vega.

Fuger's decision hinged on admissions by two key witnesses who said they had been pressured by police to give false testimony. Investigators also found that DNA on the electrical cord used to bind the hands of the slain shop owner didn't belong to either of the two men convicted of killing him, nor were their fingerprints among those found on the door handle of the store's safe.

"It is now an inescapable conclusion that a manifest injustice has been done to these two men," Fuger wrote in his decision, dated Thursday. "George Gould and Ronald Taylor have been convicted and spent over 16 years in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction for a crime that, based upon all of the available evidence, they did not commit."

Taylor's wife, Mary, with whom Taylor has a 21-year-old daughter, said Thursday she was pleased with the judge's findings. "I always knew Ron didn't do this. There was never a day ... that I ever believed Ron had anything to do with this. I lived with the man. I know the man," she said. "When you know someone's a decent human being and you know they're innocent of something, you stand by them."

Calls to attorneys for both men were not returned.

Vega died of a single gunshot wound to the left temple a short time after he opened his store on July 4, 1993. He was tied up with an electrical cord and shot execution-style inside a small cooler.

The state's principal witness, a prostitute named Doreen Stiles, testified at Taylor and Gould's joint trial that she hid in an alleyway next to the store after seeing Gould go inside. She then overheard three people arguing about money, followed by screams and a single gunshot. She testified she saw both men leaving the store before Vega's body was discovered in the cooler.

But last year, Stiles admitted that she lied about seeing the men, saying she made the story up because police threatened to send her to jail if she didn't implicate them.

Original report here

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wonderland comes to the Georgia Supreme Court

The Georgia Supreme Court is apparently stocked with imbeciles. Either that or they are simply dishonest to the core

As I have noted before, Georgia is one of these theocratic states where the detestable sex offender registry requires people to register as sex offenders, even when they have not committed a sexually based crime. There are two cases where individuals were placed on this odious, useless, counter-productive list where no sex was involved.

I previously reported on a young man who accompanied a friend when the friend robbed a Dairy Queen. A teenager was exiting the store as the robber went in. The robber instructed the young man to lie on the ground until they finished the robbery. No physical contact with the youth took place. But the underage accomplice in the case is now listed as a registered sex offender in Georgia.

The case that these morons in robes heard was similar. One Jake Rainer, then 18, along with unnamed co-defendants, met a 17-year-old girl who said she would sell them pot. She got in their car and they drove her to a cul-de-sac where they relieved her of her marijuana, without paying. Instead of rightfully charging them with theft (something the government doesn't oppose on principle) they robbers were charged with "false imprisonment" and forced to register as sex offenders. Again no sexual contact took place, no attempt at sexual contact took place. There isn't even evidence that anyone thought about sex, let alone did anything sexual.

Now consider that the sex offender registry is itself a vicious form of perpetual punishment applied very indiscriminately, as we see in this case. Having the status of "sex offender," the closest any human even gets to eternal life, means that one is constantly penalized. Presence on that data base, no matter what the circumstances of the "crime," means that one is banned from living in most places, especially in Georgia. There are entire counties where a "sex offender" is basically banned from living there. It subjects one to constant harassment from would-be vigilantes as well as the local police. It is used to deny people seeking to better themselves, from obtaining a college education. It is used so that many on the list are incapable of finding employment. The whole purpose of the registry is to inflict unrelenting punishment on people, even if the sex was consenting and non-violent. And, as we saw here, one need not even commit a sexual crime to be on the list.

The Georgia Supreme Court was asked to rule on the list being cruel and unusual punishment. It certainly is cruel, unfortunately in these less civilized times it is not unusual. Justice Harold Melton rejected the arguments entirely because he said such registries "are regulatory, not punitive, in nature." What a butt wipe! A proper understanding of the nature of "regulatory" actions shows them to differ little from punitive actions.

Consider an area completely outside the realm of sex offenses. If a businessman uses his premises to sell drugs the government may come in and confiscate his business under Rico laws, thus putting him out of business. In truth they can do this merely by accusing him of a crime, even if they have no evidence he actually did anything illegal. The business is gone, the owner is bankrupt. Now consider the same business getting zoned out of existence, regulated into oblivion instead. What is the difference between punitive actions and regulatory actions if both can inflict the same harm?

In this case much of the harm that is inflicted eternally on these "offenders" is not just government sanctioned, but government mandated. Surely when government arrests people for living in their own home, due to sex offender zoning laws, that is punitive. There is a fine line between regulatory actions and punitive ones and the sex offender laws were intentionally created as punitive measures.

The Court ruled that "it is of no consequence whether or not one has committed an offense that is 'sexual' in nature before being required to register." No consequence! Exactly where does this justice have his brains?

Conservatives ought to be worried. This ruling basically says that a government regulation, one that is onerous and harmful, is not punitive because the government calls it a regulation instead of punishment. The court also said that the state may place people on the sex offender list, for public scrutiny and harassment, even if they have never committed a sex crime in their life. As the Justice (sic.) put it, "it is of no consequence" whether or not a sex crime was committed.

I am going to rename my cat Fido, because that will apparently, miraculously turn him into a dog, at least if the logic of the court is accurate. Calling something regulatory, instead of punitive, makes it non-punitive, no matter how much punishment is inflicted by it.

The court said that it was perfectly fine to do this because it "advances the State's legitimate goal of informing the public for purposes of protecting children from those who would harm them." Get real! In this case Rainer was within a few months of the same age of the girl he robbed. She was dealing an illegal drug and he took the drug. If the police did it they would be applauded. There is no reason to assume that Rainer is a threat to children and it is absurd to say that the girl was a child. This girl is old enough to consent to sex in Georgia, and old enough to marry. Yet if she deals drugs and is robbed her robber becomes a sex offender because the State is protecting children.

This should indicate exactly how America's sex laws are running wild, as well as contradicting common sense. The Court ruled:
There is no requirement that sexual activity be involved. Rainer’s belief that the term “sexual offender” may only apply to offenders who commit sexual offenses against minors does not change the fact that the definition provided in the statute, and not the definition that Rainer wishes to impose upon the statute, controls.

Do you get that? Rainer argued that it was wrong to call him a "sex offender" when he never committed a sexual offense. The Court refers to that reasonable definitional issue as merely a "belief" which doesn't matter because the State has redefined the term "sex offense" to include offenses that are entirely non-sexual. In Through the Looking-Glass (aka, Alice in Wonderland), Alice speaks to Humpty Dumpty who tells her: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." Of course when Lewis Caroll wrote that, he meant it as nonsense. When Justice Melton wrote something similar he thought it made perfect sense.

Melton says that Rainer's definition of sex offender is "incorrect" because the Georgia legislature has redefined the word to mean "just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." In children's fantasies this might be amusing, but in the law it is dangerous.

In related news a new study says that 20 percent of teens have sent erotic photos of themselves by cell phone. For most of these teens that means they have committed a felony, could be imprisoned, and may very likely be listed a sex offenders. Given America's tendency to see sex as evil I would assume that when 20 percent of teens admit to sexting, that the actual numbers are significantly higher. As I see it, the government may as well publish well publish a list of the names of everyone in the country, call it a "sex offenders" list and get it over with. The over-criminalization of everything continues unabashed and it is destroying lives.
Labels: sex offender registries

Original report here

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Charming correctional officer

Glued-on grill ripped off Tenn. man's teeth in jail, taking teeth with it. The bitch who did it is the one who should be made to pay

When a Tennessee jailer ripped the gold grill from a new inmate's teeth two days before Thanksgiving last year, it left the 31-year-old man in excruciating pain and left taxpayers on the hook for nearly $100,000 in damages.

Anthony McCoy spat out blood and teeth in a trash can and was in agony for more than a week after Davidson County Sheriff's Lt. Tanya Mayhew reached into his mouth and yanked out the grill, along with the cement attached to his teeth, said his lawyer, David Raybin. The forced extraction pulled the enamel off McCoy's front teeth and left him with a damaged mouth that still isn't fixed, Raybin said. Nashville Metro Council on Tuesday approved a $95,000 settlement to avoid a lawsuit.

It happened Nov. 24, a day after McCoy was admitted to the Metro Jail on charges of contempt of court for failure to pay child support, two counts of violation of an order of protection and harassment. When a guard asked McCoy to remove his grill while he was being processed in the jail, he said it was permanently cemented to his teeth years earlier.

In a legal analysis, the Metro Council's office acknowledges that Mayhew then reached into McCoy's mouth and ripped off the grill, causing an estimated $10,000 worth of damage to McCoy's teeth.

McCoy made repeated but futile requests for medical treatment," Raybin said. "There was no urgency at all," Raybin said of the Metro Jail officials and Correct Care Solutions, the company that Nashville contracts with to provide inmate medical care. "This guy was in agony for over a week and a half." The inmate's claim is based on pain and suffering, as well as the dental damage.

CCS has agreed to pay $20,000 because of the "unwarranted delay" in receiving treatment, the Metro Council's legal analysis says. It also says Mayhew broke sheriff's office policy by reaching into the inmate's mouth. The paperwork also acknowledges that McCoy waited 10 days before ever receiving medical treatment beyond Tylenol, in spite of repeated pleas for help. It's not clear why McCoy had to wait so long to get treatment or how many times he asked for help. It's also not clear whether jail officials ever requested that CCS see him sooner. In an e-mail to The Associated Press, CCS declined to comment.

A Sheriff's Department spokeswoman said that since the incident, a new policy specifically prohibits jailers from removing inmates' grills. The Sheriff's Department referred other questions about the case to the county Health Department, which oversees the contract with CCS.

A Health Department spokesman said that federal privacy laws barred officials from saying whether McCoy sought medical treatment while in the jail.

City officials have previously been happy with the quality of care CCS has provided to the inmates, but are going to closely monitor the agency, said Health Department spokesman Brian Todd. "We don't ever want to see something like this happen again." "This appears to be an unusual and pretty reprehensible act," Councilman Ronnie Steine, chairman of the budget and finance committee, told The Tennessean newspaper of Nashville. "My hope is that the employee has had the appropriate disciplinary action for something that seems to be an egregious act."

The lieutenant who pulled out the grill was demoted and received five days suspension.

McCoy was later convicted on the harassment charges and released from jail on Feb. 2.

Original report here

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Friday, March 19, 2010

MO: City settles suit with cop fired for criticizing quota system

Police bosses normally deny that they have a quota system so it is good that someone blew the whistle on one -- and even better that he was vindicated. The city would have settled because they knew how bad the publicity of a trial would have been for them

The city will pay $100,000 to a former police officer who claimed he was fired because he criticized a police ticket-quota system. The out-of-court settlement with Randall Messina was approved 6-1 by the City Council following a more than two-hour, closed-door session Monday, said Mayor Dick Stratman. Council member Connie Groff voted against it, he said.

Messina sued Washington in federal court in April 2008, saying his free speech rights were violated. In his complaint, Messina alleged Stratman, Police Chief Ken Hahn, and Capt. Kevin Menefee communicated between August and November 2007 about a police ticket-quota system to counter falling city revenue.

At a Nov. 1, 2007, police staff meeting, Hahn outlined new "performance standards" for officers that required a "quota of arrests, written reports, tickets issued, warnings issued and self-initiated activities," the suit claimed.

City officials have maintained Messina was fired for insubordination. On Tuesday, Stratman said he was restricted from commenting on the settlement. The City Council voted to fire Messina in February 2008, after he criticized the alleged quota system on television. He was hired as a patrolman in August 2005.

Original report here

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pre-crime policing

Allegedly “disgruntled” man has his guns seized, and “voluntarily” surrenders to two SWAT teams and dozens of police officers for a crime that hadn’t been committed. The police can now seize you and cart you away for something that exists only in their imagination. And what check is there on what they might imagine? None.

To hear them tell it, the five police agencies who apprehended 39-year-old Oregonian David Pyles early on the morning of March 8 thwarted another lone wolf mass murderer. The police "were able to successfully take a potentially volatile male subject into protective custody for a mental evaluation," announced a press release put out by the Medford, Oregon, police department. The subject had recently been placed on administrative leave from his job, was "very disgruntled," and had recently purchased several firearms. "Local Law Enforcement agencies were extremely concerned that the subject was planning retaliation against his employers," the release said. Fortunately, Pyles "voluntarily" turned himself over to police custody, and the legally purchased firearms "were seized for safekeeping."

This voluntary exchange involved two SWAT teams, police officers from Medford and nearby Roseburg, sheriff's deputies from Jackson and Douglas counties, and the Oregon State Police. Oregon State Police Sgt. Jeff Proulx explained to South Oregon's Mail Tribune why the operation was such a success: "Instead of being reactive, we took a proactive approach."

There's just one problem: David Pyles hadn't committed any crime, nor was he suspected of having committed one. The police never obtained a warrant for either search or arrest. They never consulted with a judge or mental health professional before sending out the military-style tactical teams to take Pyle in.

"They woke me up with a phone call at about 5:50 in the morning," Pyles told me in a phone interview Friday. "I looked out the window and saw the SWAT team pointing their guns at my house. The officer on the phone told me to turn myself in. I told them I would, on three conditions: I would not be handcuffed. I would not be taken off my property. And I would not be forced to get a mental health evaluation. He agreed. The second I stepped outside, they jumped me. Then they handcuffed me, took me off my property, and took me to get a mental health evaluation."

By noon the same day, Pyles had already been released from the Rogue Valley Medical Center with a clean bill of mental health. Four days later the Medford Police Department returned Pyle’s guns, despite telling him earlier in the week—falsely—that he'd need to undergo a second background check before he could get them back. On Friday the Medford Police Department put out a second press release, this time announcing that the agency had returned the "disgruntled" worker's guns, and "now considers this matter closed.

That seems unlikely. Pyles' case has spurred outrage in the gun rights community. Kevin Starrett of the Oregon Firearms Federation has been advising Pyles, and helped get his guns back. Oregon-based syndicated conservative talk radio host Lars Larson has taken up the story. And Pyles is now attorney shopping for a possible civil rights lawsuit.

At root behind this case and others like it is our naïve, hopeful, and sometimes even dangerous belief that every horrible shooting spree or lone-wolf act of terrorism can be prevented. We seem unable to accept the idea that bad people will occasionally do bad things. Every new mass shooting spurs an urge to assign blame beyond the shooter: What political ideology inspired him? Who missed the “warning signs,” and why wasn't he apprehended ahead of time? Gun retailers are scrutinized and vilified, even when they've complied with the law. In ensuing days and weeks, politicians mull new laws, often both ineffective and constricting on our liberty.

There's nothing wrong with looking for signs that someone is about to snap, and if he's putting up multiple red flags, we'd certainly want law enforcement to investigate, possibly to chat with the person and his friends and family. And obviously if someone has made specific threats, a criminal investigation should follow. But that's a far cry from what happened to Pyles.

Pyles' problems began last June after a series of grievances with his employer, the Oregon Department of Transportation. "This was always a professional thing for me," he says. "It was never personal. We were handling the grievances through the process stipulated in the union contract." Pyles declined to discuss the nature of the complaints, citing stipulations in his contract.

On March 4, Pyles was placed on administrative leave, which required him to work from home. On March 5, 6, and 7, after getting his income tax refund, he made three purchases of five firearms. Pyles describes himself as a gun enthusiast, who had already owned several weapons. All three new purchases required an Oregon background check, which would have prohibited the transactions had Pyles ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor involving violence, or been committed by the state to a mental health institution. Pyles says he has no criminal record, and says he never threatened anyone in his office. (A specific threat of violence would have likely brought a criminal charge.) The Oregon State Police, the Medford Police Department, and the Oregon Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment.

"In my opinion, the apprehension of David Pyles was a violation of Oregon's kidnapping laws," says James Leuenberger, a criminal defense attorney who is also advising Pyles. "He definitely deserves to be compensated for what they did to him, but even if he wins a civil rights suit, that will just result in the officers' employers paying for their mistakes." That of course means the final tab will be paid by Oregon's taxpayers, not the offending cops. "I want these law enforcement officials held personally responsible," Leuenberger says. "I want them criminally charged."

It's hard to see that happening. Joseph Bloom, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health & Science University and a specialist in civil commitment law, says the police who apprehended and detained Pyles were likely acting under the cover of Oregon law. Bloom says the police are permitted to make a determination on their own to take someone in for a mental health evaluation—there's no requirement that they first consult with a judge or mental health professional. Bloom believes this is a wise policy. "It's important to remember that this is a civil process," he says. "There's no arrest, these people aren't being taking to jail. It's not a criminal action."

So SWAT teams, guns, and handcuffs...but not a criminal action? And what if Pyles had refused to "voluntarily" surrender to the police? "Well, yes," Bloom says. "I guess then it would become a criminal matter."

If what happened to Pyles is legal, in Oregon or elsewhere, we need to take a second look at the civil commitment power. Even setting aside the SWAT team overkill in Medford, there's something awfully discomfiting about granting government authorities the power to yank someone from their home and drag them in for a mental health evaluation based on a series of actions that were perfectly legal, especially with no prior oversight from a judge, or guidance from a psychiatrist.

"The idea that Pyles turned himself in voluntarily is ridiculous," says Starrett, the gun rights activist. "There's nothing voluntary about waking up to a SWAT team outside your home, then having a police negotiator call and suggest you surrender. They had no arrest warrant. But Pyles only had one option. If he didn't come out on his own, they were going to come in to get him."

Even if the apprehension of Pyles was legal, the seizure of his guns wasn't. Because civil commitment laws aren't criminal in nature, they don't carry authorization for the police to search a private residence. According to Pyles, he closed the door behind him as he left his home. Because the police didn't have a search warrant, they had no right to even enter Pyles' home, much less seize guns inside that he bought and possessed legally.

For a potential mass murderer, Pyles is remarkably placid and big-picture about what happened to him. "I've been looking for a new job for months," he says. "But given the economy, I'm pretty lucky to be getting a paycheck, even given all of this. For me, this is about civil rights. This seems like something the NRA and the ACLU can agree on. South Oregon is big gun country. If something like this can happen here, where just about everyone owns a gun, it can happen anywhere."

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Arrogant cops thought they knew who the murderer was and ignored other clear possibilities

Three current persons of interest in the death of 16-year-old Kimberly Simon were questioned by police within the year after she was killed in 1985, current investigators said. But for reasons that still remain unclear today, past investigators instead turned their attention to 19-year-old Steven Barnes, who was released from prison in late 2008 after DNA proved his innocence.

It would take nearly 25 years before those same past suspects now once again find themselves linked to Simon's homicide. Less than a week after Saturday's “America's Most Wanted” aired a program on the Simon's case, Oneida County District Attorney's Investigator Richard Ferrucci on Tuesday shared new details about what the 16-month investigation has uncovered so far.

What unfolded the night Simon died? Simon was last seen leaving her River Road home shortly before 6 p.m. Sept. 18, 1985, as she walked to meet friends at the Whitesboro Junior High School on Route 69. Simon never made it, and instead she likely snuck away to a popular hangout spot along the Sauquoit Creek in New York Mills known as “Three Bears,” named after a stone structure that resembled something out of a fairy tale, investigators said.

There, Simon likely spent the last hours of her life with at least four young males known for satanic rituals, investigators said. As another young girl at the time watched from behind the bushes, she reportedly saw one member of the group have sex with an unconscious Simon. “Were they true Satanists? No, I believe they were cowards using this as a guise to drug and sexually abuse young women,” Ferrucci said. “I just think this was their way of trying to make people afraid of them.” It's those “sick and demented” individuals - now in their 40s - whom investigators have focused on since Barnes was exonerated.

Whatever occurred in the hours after Simon was seen unconscious at Three Bears until her partially clothed body was found nearly 4 miles away the next day is a mystery investigators continue to face. While Simon might have been drugged that night, a bruise on her face suggests she was struck at some point, investigators say. One of Simon's shoes reportedly seen downstream from Three Bears also might be a clue about how things unfolded that night.

Simon's body likely was driven in unknown vehicle and carried into a wooded area along the Mohawk River in Marcy, not too far from where she was last seen walking the evening before. Her arm was stiffened upwards with rigor mortis, which suggested she had been dead for some time in another position.

The horrific screams of a female were reportedly heard after 1 a.m. that night in another popular hangout spot known as the “Water Tower” behind the Hart's Hill Elementary School on Clinton Street, investigators said. This location was about 2 miles south from where Simon's body was discovered. Shredded papers from Simon's purse also were scattered along both sides of Clinton Street, less than a mile away from Three Bears, investigators said. This suggests the suspects might have tossed Simon's belongings out a car window either before or after they disposed of her body.

Police believe another female - Allison Scranton, who attended New Hartford High School -spent time with one person of interest that night. Investigators confirmed Tuesday that Scranton died in December 1997, but Ferrucci still would like to talk to anyone who knew Scranton or has any information about what Scranton might have witnessed that night.

Investigators also still question what another youth, Michele Mikalajunas of Whitesboro, might have known about Simon's death before she committed suicide less than a month later in October 1985. Both girls were students in the Whitesboro Central School District. “We have reason to believe that Michele might have held some information pertaining to what happened to Kim Simon,” but it is unclear whether she attended the Three Bears party that night, Ferrucci said.

What did past investigators know? Shortly after Simon's death, former investigators with the Oneida County Sheriff's Office were made aware of the same group of youths and disturbing behavior that today's investigators are targeting, Ferrucci said. In fact, the past investigators talked to two of the suspects in 1985 and a third suspect in 1986, Ferrucci said.

One of the first tips past investigators probed in 1985 was that Simon had been seen with this group of interest at a hotel party the previous Friday, Sept. 13, 1985, Ferrucci said. That initially led investigators to two current suspects, one of which admitted at the time that he knew Simon, that she had been to his house at least once, and that they partied together, Ferrucci said.

A third suspect was questioned less than a year later in 1986 when he reportedly signed a letter threatening to kill the young girl who witnessed what was going on at Three Bears that night. Although, at the time, the girl only told police she was being threatened by the group responsible for Simon's death, it wasn't until after Barnes was exonerated in 2008 that she acknowledged seeing someone having sex with Simon.

The past investigators, however, never documented what they concluded after talking with these three suspects back then, Ferrucci said. And today, those past investigators haven't been able to explain why they didn't pursue those suspects further. “It wasn't done maliciously, I just believe that in their hearts and in their minds they believed they were tracking the right person,” referring to Barnes, Ferrucci said.

Simon's parents, William and Cheryl Simon, also received threatening notes and phone calls even after Barnes was in jail, Ferrucci said. Although the Simons say they turned those letters over to past investigators, Ferrucci said the letters have not yet been found.

What are the current obstacles? Investigators still are awaiting final DNA test results to determine whether any DNA recovered from Simon's body matches any persons of interest or anyone who has been in the prison system. One person of interest - Richard W. Miller Jr. - has since died in February. It still is unclear how that may affect the outcome of this case.

Several people also have come forward with information that they overheard certain persons of interest openly speak about their role in Simon's death, Ferrucci said. But because some of those conversations occurred so many years ago, Ferrucci said it is a challenge today to verify those allegations.

But considering how a previous rush to judgment played a role in Barnes' wrongful conviction, Ferrucci said he has no choice but to be patient this time for the sake of Simon's family. “A previous conviction in this case is the biggest obstacle to overcome, but we are going to do it,” Ferrucci said. “It just makes everything so much harder.”

Original report here

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Grossly unjust official foot-dragging by Canadian authorities

How long are 2,100 days? That's six whole years. It's enough time to see a child from birth to the first grade. Or, in Canada's current political climate, enough time for three general elections and a few prorogations.It is a particularly long time if you have to spend it in limbo.

This is how Deveryn Ross has lived the last six years of his life. A successful lawyer, Ross was convicted of fraud in 1995 for his role in a botched restaurant venture in Brandon. He spent less than a year in jail, having been released as a low-risk offender following the Headingley jail riot.

Ross was accused of deceiving investors, some of whom had money taken from their retirement savings without their knowledge. In some cases, signatures were forged to access the money.

For a decade after his release, Ross worked tirelessly to earn a review of his case by the federal justice minister. He discovered that two other men involved in the venture admitted to the Manitoba Securities Commission they had deceived investors. This was not disclosed at his trial.

In May 2004, Ross filed an application under the Criminal Code to have the federal justice minister review his case. In July 2004, the Department of Justice Canada assigned Alex Pringle, a noted Alberta lawyer, to review the case. This was done to avoid a conflict of interest; the prosecutor in Ross's case, Paul Jensen, was now working for the DOJ.

The Free Press published a detailed investigation of the case in March 2005, which included new evidence that supported Ross's claims of innocence. Former Manitoba attorney general Jim McCrae and former Brandon police chief Dick Scott both publicly called for a review of the case.

A few weeks after the story appeared, along with an editorial criticizing delays in the federal process for reviewing claims of wrongful conviction, the man in charge of that process wrote to the Free Press. Kerry Scullion, head of the Criminal Convictions Review Group objected to the Free Press's assertion that these reviews take too long. "Barring any unexpected complications, the review will be completed in a little less than 18 months from the time the application was received," he wrote.

Unfortunately, "unexpected complications" were exactly what unfolded.

The first unexpected complication was Pringle's workload. After agreeing to review the Ross case, Pringle accepted several large and complex assignments, including an extended gig at the judicial inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard.

In an interview, Scullion acknowledged Ross's application has taken much longer than anticipated, in part because of Pringle's workload. However, he said that is a risk when you contract with top defence lawyers to review claims of innocence.

That was, however, not the only unexpected complication. Correspondence from Pringle, recently obtained by the Free Press, shows both Manitoba Justice and the Manitoba Securities Commission were tardy in turning over case files. In fact, the MSC fought Ottawa on the release of one key document that, Ross's lawyers believe, shows there was a vigorous debate within the commission about whether to disclose evidence to Ross during his trial. Ross has kept these details from the public out of a concern it would have further delayed his application.

The final unexpected complication was the political environment. There have been three federal elections since Ross filed his application, and one change in government. Elections, and the accompanying cabinet shuffles they bring, tend to reset the game clock on wrongful convictions.

Pringle finished interviewing witnesses in February 2007. A preliminary investigative report was completed in May 2008. A final report was sent to federal Justice in June 2009.

Those reports confirm evidence was not disclosed to Ross prior to his trial. They also confirm new evidence supporting Ross's case. It is now up to Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to determine if all this adds up to a miscarriage of justice.

Often, when faced with a massive failure of process, the authors of that failure try to find reasonable excuses for unreasonable delays.

It seems reasonable there might be delays when you hire a top lawyer with a busy schedule to review a case of this complexity. But given the circumstances -- a man who had his life stolen from him when he was convicted of this crime -- the contractor could demonstrate a greater sense of urgency or turn it over to someone who can.

It also seems reasonable that political uncertainty would lead to delays. Again, one would hope someone would take a look at the clock and realize that cabinet shuffle or no, this has taken too much time.

Hiring independent counsel to avoid a conflict of interest is reasonable. But allowing the case to drag on for six years leaves Ottawa open to allegations it has dragged its heels on a case involving one of its own employees.

In the long and painful campaign to reclaim his life, Deveryn Ross lost 2,100 days that no one will be able to replace. All the reasonable excuses won't change that.

Original report here

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The dark side of DNA evidence

Contaminated samples, inept analysts and genetic quirks have led to miscarriages of justice, Kirk Makin reports

Gregory Turner feared he was bound for life in prison after an RCMP lab reported odds of 163 trillion to 1 that a tiny amount of DNA on his gold ring could have come from anybody but a 56-year-old woman found murdered in rural Newfoundland. The only real evidence in a first-degree murder charge against Mr. Turner, the golden sheen of DNA appeared certain to become a silver bullet in the hands of the Crown.

"I told my lawyer, Jerome Kennedy, that there was no way in the world it was true," Mr. Turner recalled in an interview. "He believed me. He said that I was too stupid to commit that crime and leave no evidence."

A lucky hunch by Mr. Kennedy - now Newfoundland's Minister of Health - saved Mr. Turner from a life behind bars. He sought the name and DNA profile of every technician who had worked at the RCMP lab. It turned out that the technician who had tested the ring had also been working on the victim's fingernails a few inches away, creating a strong possibility of contamination.

The technician conceded at Mr. Turner's 2001 trial that she had also contaminated evidence in two previous cases. In another disturbing twist, it emerged that she had mistakenly contaminated Mr. Turner's ring with her own DNA, causing police to waste considerable time on a futile search for a presumed accomplice.

Mr. Turner still has nightmares. "I remember the judge saying that he was denying me bail based on the likelihood I'd be convicted based on a DNA match," he said. "I think DNA can be good, but its only as good as the people who perform it. I spent 27 months in jail for a crime I didn't do."

In just 20 years, DNA has become a staple of crime-lab analysis, capturing the imagination of scriptwriters and anchoring thousands of criminal convictions. Its record of accuracy is superb - at least, when samples are collected and analyzed under reliable conditions by experts.

But cautionary tales such as Mr. Turner's are starting to pile up. As scientists are able to analyze smaller and smaller portions of DNA, the spectre of DNA evidence being planted at crime scenes becomes a more chilling possibility. There is also an emerging understanding that some individuals may elude detection because they have more than one DNA profile; that lab botch-ups happen with distressing regularity; and that overly dogmatic or underqualified courtroom experts represent a constant danger.

In a legal paper he wrote in 2004, Mr. Kennedy described the case as a blow to the scientific objectivity of the RCMP lab, as well as the credibility of future DNA reports. "In this case, bad science was exposed," he said. "...This case is an example of how untested scientific techniques, human error and bad science could have combined to obtain a conviction for murder."

Last year, University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett and Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, found that three of 156 U.S. individuals ultimately exonerated in serious crimes had been wrongly convicted because of DNA errors. In one case, a technician grossly overstated evidence. Another featured lab contamination. The third wrongful conviction came after senior analyst Fred Zain gave evidence in court he knew to be false.

Prof. Young describes the Zain case as "a classic example of why you can't simply roll over and play dead in the face of science." After his shortcomings at the Virginia State Police Crime Laboratory were discovered, Mr. Zain left and became head of a medical examiner's lab in Texas. His errors became one of several problems the state ultimately faced. "They have had to reopen hundreds of cases in Texas because of the discovery of horrible preservation and contamination issues," said Alan Young, a professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School. "They had to literally shut down a lab in Houston because it was generating so many false results."

In other cases, the errors were inadvertent but no less damaging. Several years ago, a developmentally handicapped girl in Australia was linked to the murder of a toddler hundreds of kilometres away based on DNA found on the victim's clothing. It turned out the suspect had recently reported being sexually assaulted. A condom connected with the assault was being tested in a forensic lab at the same time as the murdered child's clothing.

And in England, bartender Peter Hamkin, 23, spent 20 days fearing deportation to face murder charges in Italy in 2002 before Interpol discovered that it had blundered in matching his DNA profile to that of a wanted killer in Tuscany. "I was a prisoner in my own home, constantly on the edge thinking the Italian police were going to arrive to take me away," he said afterward.

Faked results

In a recent publication of the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers, lawyer William Thompson deplored the rash of faked and mistaken DNA results. "Police and prosecutors have demanded DNA tests in an ever-expanding number of cases, putting pressure on labs to keep pace," he said.

In Canada, the RCMP, Ontario's Centre of Forensic Sciences and a handful of private labs analyze crime-scene DNA. While CFS has raised its standards since 1995, when an inquiry into the wrongful murder conviction of Guy Paul Morin heard that clothing fibres used to convict him had actually been shed by a lab technician's sweater, an incident last summer was a sobering reminder.

With his first-degree murder trial just two weeks away, Michael Smith of St. Thomas, Ont., learned from the Centre of Forensic Sciences that a defective lot of semen-testing kits several months earlier had yielded a false positive result in his case. "I was shocked that it was a mistake, but also that it had taken so long for them to tell us," said Mr. Smith's lawyer, Robert Upsdell. Mr. Upsdell asked a top Canadian DNA analyst, John Waye - head of the Molecular Diagnostic Genetics Service of the Hamilton Regional Laboratory Medicine Program - to look into the problem. Dr. Waye recalled that "many, many cases" were affected by the faulty testing kits, including some that had already gone to trial.

While CFS was retesting samples in the Smith case, it discovered that the locations on the victim's body where swabs were obtained had been mislabeled when CFS received them in 2007. "Had the retesting not been required, this mistake would never have been discovered," Mr. Upsdell said.

Dr. Waye said Canadian labs are inspected annually by independent auditors and have improved quality control and tracking of sample. Still, tens of thousands of samples flow in and out every year. "They do a mind-boggling amount of work, and it is really done as an assembly line. You can do your own job absolutely perfectly, but if somebody messes something up before it gets to you, everything you do is messed up, too."

Leo Adler, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in DNA cases, said most lawyers simply don't believe they can beat a DNA case and seek a plea bargain. "I would say that 99 times out of a hundred, nobody is fighting it any more," he said. "I suspect that there are lawyers whose clients say: 'Hey, it wasn't me,' and the lawyer says: 'You're going to go down, so let's work something out.' "

Mr. Adler said the problem with capitulation is that many cases involve experts making subjective conclusions about DNA sources that were mixed together and in different locations at a crime scene. Technicians can be tempted to stretch their conclusions in the belief that they are helping to convict a dangerous criminal, he added: "When a submission goes in to CFS, it goes along with a police theory."

Ricardo Federico, a Toronto lawyer who issues a monthly DNA newsletter, said he was jolted last summer when an Israeli company, Nucleix Ltd., announced it could synthesize DNA. The news raised the spectre of criminals framing innocent people starting with a couple of microscopic cells. "Sharp, brilliant minds are not always on the side of law and order," Mr. Adler said, citing a Saskatchewan man who surgically planted a vial of somebody else's blood in his forearm in an attempt to foil a blood test several years ago "People are always trying to stay one step ahead."

Another scientific development that has caused concern is the discovery of individuals who have two distinct DNA strands in their bodies. Known as chimeras, they have unusual DNA profiles that can come about either because of a blood transfusion or because two embryos merged in their mother's uterus. Estimates of the number of chimeras range from a tiny proportion of the population up to 10 per cent. Catherine Arcabascio, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, said in a recent scholarly article a chimera can potentially leave misleading DNA deposits at a crime scene. "If he is a chimera, the DNA from his saliva could, in theory, differ from the DNA in his semen, skin, blood or some other sample left at the scene."

Mr. Federico criticized Canadian courts for working on a dangerous assumption that DNA tests are accurate, unless the defence can prove otherwise. "The DNA party is over," he said. "It should be the Crown that has an onus to show that testing has been authenticated."

Original report here

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Man Exonerated by DNA 33 Years After Rape Conviction

In a story that is becoming all too familiar these days, a man was recently exonerated by DNA evidence for a crime he was convicted of 33 years ago. Freddie Peacock, 60, got the news at a hearing in Rochester, New York, on Thursday. The good news came 28 years after he was released on parole for an alleged raping of a Rochester woman in 1976.

The exoneration came from the work of The Innocence Project, affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law. The Project's co-director, Peter Neufeld, was in court with Peacock and his attorneys when the judgment was handed down.

Peacock, who is mentally ill, told the officers that he'd been hospitalized for mental illness; however, the officers continued to interrogate Peacock until he confessed. He was given 20 years in prison and released on parole in 1982.

Most interesting about Peacock's case is that he was badgered by police until he simply said, "I did it," without having any knowledge of how, when or where he committed the crime. This case is disturbing for a number of reasons. We also know that Peacock's case is not the only such case in the country, and there are thousands of other questionable cases that have never been challenged by the Innocence Project, leaving innocent men and women behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Of tremendous concern is the fact that many of these men and women are African American, leaving black families to struggle without the heads of households present to raise their children.

Here are some quick thoughts:

1) Mr. Peacock and his family should be compensated: Any wrongfully convicted American who spends more than a year in prison should receive $10 million dollars in cash from the federal government. If we can bail out the bankers, we can also afford to bail out those who are falsely accused and arrested. You can't replace the time someone loses for being in prison when they didn't commit a crime. Going to prison is a horrible and traumatic experience.

2) Officers and prosecutors involved in the case should be put on trial: The idea that this man can present a confession that has no details or other evidence is unbelievable. Clearly, the prosecutors and officers involved in this crime are guilty of the worst forms of corruption and unethical behavior. I am not sure why we believe that they should be held above the punishments thrust upon the defendants whose lives they've chosen to carelessly destroy.

3) The federal government should dramatically expand funding for the Innocence Project: If the Innocence Project is finding so many people who were falsely convicted, there are undoubtedly many more. The federal government should allocate billions to providing DNA testing to any defendant who requests it. Defendants should be IMMEDIATELY released from prison if it is found that their DNA does not match that of the defendant at the scene of the crime. We should not let laws and systems get in the way of doing what is just.

4) Any small amount of time in prison can destroy your life: I have a relative who went to prison for only two years at the age of 17. He is now a 46-year-old man who cannot psychologically overcome the horrible things that happened to him during his time in the penitentiary. If any innocent man or woman is sent to prison for any amount of time, we should all be deeply concerned and someone should pay a very serious price for delivering such a horrible injustice.

I long for the day when cases like Freddie Peacock receive the outrage that they deserve. This should not be happening in America, but it still happens every single day.

Original report here

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cover-up exposed in post-Katrina police killings

A New Orleans police supervisor pled guilty February 24 in a federal court to charges of conspiracy to cover up the police shooting of six unarmed people a few days after Hurricane Katrina struck the city. Two of the victims, Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, and James Brissette, 19, were killed, while the other four were seriously wounded, one losing part of her arm.

Police lieutenant Michael Lohman, who just retired from the force at age 42, admitted taking the lead in efforts to manufacture evidence that the police shooting was legitimate. He described the events of that day in detail in sworn testimony before US District Judge Ivan Lemelle.

Lohman is now cooperating with federal authorities, who began an investigation into the shootings on the Danziger Bridge shortly after a local judge dismissed murder and attempted murder charges against seven policemen in 2008. He is expected to testify against the cops who actually fired the shots on September 4, 2005. The retired police supervisor remains free on $50,000 bond. Judge Lemelle set a May 26 sentencing date for Lohman, who faces up to five years in prison and three years of supervised release, as well as a $250,000 fine.

Danziger Bridge crosses the Industrial Canal in eastern New Orleans, connecting the Gentilly neighborhood on the west and the New Orleans East neighborhood. It was one of the few ways of moving across the city in the flood conditions that followed Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005.

Ronald Madison was shot to death near a motel on the west side of the span. He was crossing the bridge with his brother Lance, a FedEx worker, as they tried to reach the dentist’s office of his brother, Romell. The other five victims were shot while walking together on the eastern side of the bridge. Leonard Bartholomew III was shot in the head, his wife Susan Bartholomew lost part of her arm, their daughter Leisha and a nephew, Jose Holmes, were hit by multiple gunshots. Brissette, a cousin of the Bartholomews, was killed.

A total of seven policemen were involved in the shootings. Officer Robert Faulcon, who quit the NOPD soon afterwards, shot Ronald Madison. The other six, who fired on the Bartholomews, are Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius Jr., Officer Anthony Villavaso II, Officer Mike Hunter Jr., Officer Robert Barrios and Officer Ignatius Hills. All six have been assigned to desk duties since the killings.

Lohman arrived at the bridge in response to the report of police opening fire, and immediately understood that it was a “bad shooting,” he told the court last week. None of the victims had been armed, and no shots had been fired at the cops, so the evidence would not support a claim of self-defense. He therefore proceeded to manufacture evidence, while coaching the police on the scene so their statements would sustain the planned cover-up. Lohman worked with two NOPD investigators, Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and Sgt. Gerard Dugue, to concoct a report justifying the shootings. He described how he frequently discussed with Kaufman how to make the report “more plausible.”

At one point, he threw out the draft report the others had produced and wrote a 17-page substitute, in which he made changes such as increasing the number of policemen who had allegedly seen Ronald Madison throw a gun into the Industrial Canal—there was no such weapon—from one to four. The additional three policemen then had to be told what they had “seen” so their statements would be in synch. Lohman’s report also falsified the testimony of the Bartholomews, portraying them as admitting that some members of the family had fired on the police.

Lance Madison had been arrested at the scene and charged with attempted murder against the police and Kaufman logged into evidence a gun that was described as belonging to Madison, although it had been planted on him. In their discussions, Lohman testified, he asked Kaufman whether “the gun was ‘clean,’ meaning that it could not be traced back to another crime.” This was necessary to conceal the fact that the gun had been in the possession of the police before it was planted at the shooting scene.

Lance Madison was held in prison for weeks on the bogus murder charges. He was taken before a grand jury, which refused to indict him. He obtained legal representation from longtime civil rights attorney Mary Howell, and the charges were eventually dropped. Both families, the Madisons and Bartholomews, filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the NOPD.

Under pressure from public outrage over the killings, Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan brought charges against the seven cops in December 2006. A New Orleans grand jury indicted Bowen, Gisevius, Villavaso and Faulcon on charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. Hunter and Barrios were charged with attempted first-degree murder, and Hills with attempted second-degree murder.

The seven cops were treated as heroes by the NOPD and the police union when first arraigned, and their case (the “Danziger 7”) became a rallying point for right-wing political forces. District Judge Raymond Bigelow dismissed the charges on August 13, 2008, seizing on alleged misconduct by the prosecutor’s office in what may have been a coordinated effort to “throw” the case.

Soon afterwards the families and local civil rights groups petitioned for federal intervention in the case, and the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice agreed to begin the investigation that has now blown open the cover-up.

Lohman was an early target, and as late as May 27, 2009, in an interview with federal investigators, he continued to stonewall. But some time after that date, he began cooperating in the hope of a lighter sentence.

According to the current Orleans Parish district attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, Lohman’s admission of a police cover-up and his role in it will affect many other cases in which Lohman was a key witness, since defendants convicted on the basis of his testimony will now be able to file claims that his credibility is now impeached.

The exposure of the police cover-up in the Danziger Bridge shootings also adds to suspicions over a series of police killings and unexplained murders in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. These include:

• Matthew McDonald, shot to death by police on September 3, 2005. Police claimed he was reaching into a plastic bag carrying a handgun, despite orders to drop it. The autopsy of the victim has since “disappeared” from the coroner’s office.

• Henry Glover, shot by unknown persons September 2, 2005, and brought by friends to a police checkpoint, at which the friends were arrested and a car with Glover in the back seat was driven away by police. The car was found days later, badly burned, with Glover’s incinerated remains inside.

• Danny Brumfield Sr., shot to death by police after Hurricane Katrina, in front of the Morial Convention Center, after allegedly attacking police with a pair of scissors.

There is, in addition, the notorious police beating of Robert Davis, a 64-year-old retired teacher, in the French Quarter shortly after the hurricane. A videotape of the brutality was widely viewed at the time, but the policeman involved, Officer Robert Evangelist, has been reinstated and returned to work.

Original report here

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Minn. juror wonders if Toyota driver deserves new trial

As a man convicted of vehicular homicide pushes for a new trial, some jurors wonder if they would've convicted him had they known about Toyota's troubles.

Koua Fong Lee, 32, is more than two years into an eight-year prison sentence. In June of 2006, his 1996 Toyota Camry slammed into another car, ultimately killing three people.

"I hope they visit the whole issue of whether this was a possible malfunction and that he gets his day," said one juror, who asked to be identified only as juror number six.

Lee has always insisted he tried to stop his car, but the brakes did not work. An expert found nothing wrong with the brakes, so prosecutors argued Lee must have stepped on the accelerator instead. "That was all that was presented to us," juror number six said. "We had no inkling of any of this other stuff that's coming out in the news today."

In the wake of Toyota's sudden acceleration problems, the juror wonders if that would've been enough to create reasonable doubt. "People need to be aware that if we were presented with evidence back then that there could have been an issue, I believe things would have been different and I don't know that it would have gone as far as a trial," juror number six said.

KARE attempted to reach other jurors from Lee's case. Some did not return messages, others could not be reached and one declined to comment. But two other jurors told the St. Paul Pioneer Press they're having second thoughts about the verdict.

Lee is trying to get his case reopened. Relatives of the victims now support his efforts and believe he's innocent. And Ramsey County prosecutors are open to taking another look at the car. "But there needs to be evidence that a wrongful conviction occured," Ramsey County attorney Susan Gaertner told KARE 11 in late February. "We can't go by media reports of things that happened elsewhere with other vehicles."

Brent Schafer, Lee's attorney, hopes to meet with prosecutors in the next couple weeks to see if getting a new trial is possible. If not, he'll try to get experts to take another look at the car. No matter what happens, he plans to ask a judge for a new trial.

The '96 Camry is not part of Toyota's recent recalls and its acceleration system has a different design. Still, it has received complaints about sudden unintended acceleration, according to a review of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's complaint database.

Juror number six just hopes the case comes to a close with no lingering questions left unanswered. She lost her sister and niece to a car accident about 25 years ago and knows how tough it can be for everyone involved. "Ultimately, to be honest with you, I hope that people can find some kind-of peace after such a tragic accident," she said.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE