Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fire is not the only danger for British firemen. Avoiding the police is the tricky bit

'Treated like common criminals': Fire chief slams decision to charge colleagues after pair are cleared of manslaughter following warehouse blaze roof collapse.

Should firefighters just stand aside and watch buildings burn? That seems the only safe way to avoid prosecution by safety-mad British police

When they couldn't find the arsonist, the cops turned on the firemen instead! Only in Britain

Police have been accused of wasting £5million prosecuting senior firemen over the deaths of four colleagues in a warehouse blaze – while failing to catch the arsonists who set the building alight.

A jury yesterday threw out the case against Timothy Woodward and Adrian Ashley, who were accused of manslaughter through gross negligence in their handling of the fire in 2007. In the worst loss of life for the fire service in 35 years, part-time firemen Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley, John Averis and Ian Reid died trying to put out the fire.

But while police never found the criminals who started the fire in Atherstone-on-Stour, Warwickshire, £4.7million has been spent over five years trying to pin blame for the losses on the managers who let the firemen enter the building even though all employees had already been accounted for.

A third defendant, Paul Simmons, was acquitted on the direction of the judge earlier in the trial at Stafford Crown Court.

After the verdicts, critics said firemen may now hesitate before trying to save lives for fear they could be arrested. Andy Dark, of the Fire Brigades Union, said: ‘Firefighters are furious at the police and prosecutors.

We believe that the Crown’s case, which was essentially that firefighters should stand aside and watch buildings burn, must be challenged by the Secretary of State, if not the Prime Minister himself.’

The police officer in charge of the inquiry, Detective Superintendent Ken Lawrence, insisted the investigation was justified and said he hoped the fire service had learned lessons from the tragedy.

Station Manager Timothy Woodward, 51, and Watch Manager Adrian Ashley, 45, who acted as incident commanders, were charged with gross negligence manslaughter in February last year following a criminal inquiry which cost taxpayers £4.6 million.

But after hearing six weeks of evidence jurors decided Mr Woodward and Mr Ashley had not acted illegally during their command of the incident on the evening of November 2 2007.

Speaking outside the court, Warwickshire’s Chief Fire Officer condemned the decision to press criminal charges against three members of his brigade in the first place.

Graeme Smith claimed the defendants had been treated like 'common criminals' and is now calling for the Home Office and Ministry of Justice to investigate how and why the prosecution was allowed to proceed.

Mr Smith, who was present in court during much of the six-week trial, said: 'It is crystal clear that these cases should never have been brought to court in the first place. 'But today neither I nor any of my colleagues in the Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service feel any sense of relief.

'Rather we feel a sense of sorrow and remembrance for the four brave firefighters who died at Atherstone-on-Stour in 2007.'

Both Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Chief Fire Officers Association have serious concerns about the case.

Mr Smith and both bodies will be writing to the Home Secretary and to the Justice Secretary to seek a formal investigation into the prosecution.

Mr Smith was also critical of 'undue aggression' shown towards the firefighters charged with manslaughter during their time in police custody. During two days in the custody of Warwickshire Police, Mr Simmons, Mr Ashley, and Mr Woodward had their belts and shoelaces taken away and were also held at a police station overnight between interviews.

Mr Smith said: 'I am seriously concerned - and the public should be seriously concerned - that today, up and down the country, fire officers will be asking themselves... why on earth would I ever want to be an incident commander and face an unjustified legal attack in the way these three men have?'

There were two independent reports into the blaze, one commissioned by the police and another commissioned by the Warwickshire Fire Service, which was seized by the police before Warwickshire Fire Service had a chance to consider it.

Mr Smith said the investigation had been handled poorly and had put firefighters’ safety behind the needs of the police. He said: 'The police investigation into this fire took a wrong turn very early on.

'The police treated decent fire officers like common criminals. The court heard they were locked up in the cells overnight and even had their shoelaces taken away from them.

'It has taken almost five years and five million pounds of public money to construct a flimsy case against these three men and when it was presented in court it simply fell apart.'

He added: 'Both of these reports contained safety critical information of vital importance to the safety of firefighters up and down the country. 'Neither of them was released to the fire service until May 2011 - an incredible three-and-a-half years after the fire.

'I am outraged that the secrecy surrounding these reports meant that firefighters remained at risk for so long.'

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) hit out at police and prosecutors after the two remaining firefighters were cleared.

The union said it was absurd that the arsonists who started the blaze had never faced trial, while those who struggled to put it out were 'relentlessly pursued' by police and the CPS.

FBU assistant general secretary Andy Dark said: 'This was the first time firefighters at an incident were accused of the manslaughter of their colleagues. 'This prosecution cast a shadow across the whole fire service and caused anger and concern. 'We are relieved at the not-guilty verdicts but firefighters are furious at the police and prosecutors.

'The criminals who started the fire are still free, but those who tried to put the fire out were arrested, charged and brought to trial.'

Original report

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Study: 2000 convicted then exonerated

More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled at two universities.

There is no official record-keeping system for exonerations of convicted criminals in the country, so academics set one up. The new national registry, or database, painstakingly assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is the most complete list of exonerations ever compiled.

The database compiled and analyzed by the researchers contains information on 873 exonerations for which they have the most detailed evidence. The researchers are aware of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, for which they have less data.

They found that those 873 exonerated defendants spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison, an average of more than 11 years each. Nine out of 10 of them are men and half are African-American.

Nearly half of the 873 exonerations were homicide cases, including 101 death sentences. Over one-third of the cases were sexual assaults.

DNA evidence led to exoneration in nearly one-third of the 416 homicides and in nearly two-thirds of the 305 sexual assaults.

Researchers estimate the total number of felony convictions in the United States is nearly a million a year.

The overall registry/list begins at the start of 1989. It gives an unprecedented view of the scope of the problem of wrongful convictions in the United States and the figure of more than 2,000 exonerations "is a good start," said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

"We know there are many more that we haven't found," added University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, the editor of the newly opened National Registry of Exonerations.

Counties such as San Bernardino in California and Bexar County in Texas are heavily populated, yet seemingly have no exonerations, a circumstance that the academics say cannot possibly be correct.

The registry excludes at least 1,170 additional defendants. Their convictions were thrown out starting in 1995 amid the periodic exposures of 13 major police scandals around the country. In all the cases, police officers fabricated crimes, usually by planting drugs or guns on innocent defendants.

Regarding the 1,170 additional defendants who were left out of the registry, "we have only sketchy information about most of these cases," the report said. "Some of these group exonerations are well known; most are comparatively obscure. We began to notice them by accident, as a byproduct of searches for individual cases."

In half of the 873 exonerations studied in detail, the most common factor leading to false convictions was perjured testimony or false accusations. Forty-three percent of the cases involved mistaken eyewitness identification, and 24 percent of the cases involved false or misleading forensic evidence.

In two out of three homicides, perjury or false accusation was the most common factor leading to false conviction. In four out of five sexual assaults, mistaken eyewitness identification was the leading cause of false conviction.

Seven percent of the exonerations were drug, white-collar and other nonviolent crimes, 5 percent were robberies and 5 percent were other types of violent crimes.

"It used to be that almost all the exonerations we knew about were murder and rape cases. We're finally beginning to see beyond that. This is a sea change," said Gross.

Exonerations often take place with no public fanfare and the 106-page report that coincides with the opening of the registry explains why.

On TV, an exoneration looks like a singular victory for a criminal defense attorney, "but there's usually someone to blame for the underlying tragedy, often more than one person, and the common culprits include defense lawyers as well as police officers, prosecutors and judges. In many cases, everybody involved has egg on their face," according to the report.

Despite a claim of wrongful conviction that was widely publicized last week, a Texas convict executed two decades ago is not in the database because he has not been officially exonerated. Carlos deLuna was executed for the fatal stabbing of a Corpus Christi convenience store clerk. A team headed by a Columbia University law professor just published a 400-page report that contends DeLuna didn't kill the clerk, Wanda Jean Lopez.

Original report

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Vegas sting: A cunning FBI trap set by a cocaine-addicted stool pigeon ensnared this British businessman and destroyed his life. The only problem? He was innocent

In the chill of a Nevada morning, David Painter left his Las Vegas hotel. Wearing a Hugo Boss suit and a blue Brooks Brothers shirt, a Rolex on his wrist, he bore the anonymous affluence of business travel. For a defence industry executive his first diary appointment was routine: a weapons demonstration at a training range just outside the city limits.

It was as his 4x4 arrived at the range that the FBI SWAT team appeared to take him down. Four hulking police commandos in body armour, jackboots, helmets and goggles thrust their semi-automatic rifles through his car door. ‘Shut up and get out,’ they ordered, the array of close combat weapons on their waist belts brooking no refusal.

The middle-aged Briton was handcuffed and led at gunpoint into a pastel two-storey classroom building. There on a desk he found a large cardboard box awaiting his briefcase and laptop, his telephone and wallet. On it was stapled his mug shot and a charge sheet. Across the top were the typewritten words ‘Armed and Dangerous’.

Painter was neither. He was the Surrey-based chief executive of 3S (Security Support Solutions Ltd), a company licensed and audited by the British Government to supply civilian armoured vehicles for use in conflict zones including Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. He was also, it was to emerge that day in Vegas, the victim of a huge, sleazy and ultimately doomed FBI operation known as The Africa Sting.

The project had been set up as a fake $15 million deal to arm the presidential guard of the Omar Bongo regime in the West African nation of Gabon. It had been created by the American Department of Justice (DoJ) and run by the FBI (unbeknown to Bongo). They designed it to be a deadly weapon in their arsenal against corruption but the biggest investigation of its type in DoJ-FBI history brought only humiliation, controversy and complete legal defeat.

David Painter’s liberty, home and business were the collateral damage. After his arrest in January 2010 he was jailed for five weeks.

Once bailed, he had to sell his much-loved £1.5 million Surrey home and liquidate shares and pensions to pay legal fees and costs amounting to £1 million. 3S has ceased trading.

In February this year the DoJ asked a judge to dismiss all charges made against him with prejudice, which means they can never be revisited. The same was true of his 21 co-accused. In the end, nobody ensnared by the fictitious Gabon deal was convicted.

Presiding Judge Richard Leon of Washington Federal District Court called the fiasco ‘the end of a long and sad chapter in the annals of white-collar criminal law enforcement’. He accused the DoJ of promulgating a ‘very, very aggressive conspiracy theory that was pushing its already generous elasticity to its outer limits’, adding ‘the elastic snapped in the absence of the necessary evidence to sustain it’. He was also obliged to chastise prosecutors for ‘sharp practices which have no place in a federal court room’.

All of which means The Africa Sting case raises troubling questions about the integrity of the American judicial system and the likely fortunes of British nationals extradited to face it.

Today Painter, 58, sits at a borrowed desk in a borrowed office, starting his career afresh. Home is a modest house in Surrey bought by his wife Judy.

It was, he says, ‘like having a bomb dropped on your life. There is a dark side to our world, a place beyond our control where governments and their agents can do what they want.

‘My life is the flotsam left in the wake of America’s obsession with policing the world. I have never contravened the rigorous controls and laws in my line of business,’ he states firmly.

‘The Gabon deal was drip-fed to me by someone who had worked for a blue-chip defence company and whose then wife was a former American Ambassador to the UN.

There was nothing to make a decent man walk away from the table. West Africa is a notoriously difficult area to do business with; bribery exists but over and over, with the complicity of the DoJ and FBI, I was told this deal had been approved by the US State Department.’

Ruefully he adds: ‘I was sceptical – but only because I was concerned it might not be big enough to be worth my while . . .’

Meeting him now, dapper and proper in an old-fashioned English way, it is hard to imagine his immersion into the American prison system.

There he slept on a concrete floor; was stripped naked, bent over and searched in public; shared an open latrine in a cell with two dozen inmates and was handcuffed, shackled and chained at the waist when he was moved.

He learned to block out the howling madness of 24-hour-a-day electric light and television with DIY ear plugs made from toilet roll and cling-film.

At home, he had enjoyed executive lunches and flew on British Airways. In America, he survived on stale baloney sandwiches and long-life milk and was transported on ‘Con Air’, the infamous aviation network that relocates inmates from one prison to another.

Cuffed to his own seat and shackled to the one in front, he remembers one flight where a fellow prisoner – an obvious informant – plied him for information to pass on to the guards. On another flight, his neighbour had a skeleton tattooed across his bald head.

Five weeks after his arrest when he was finally arraigned and bailed by a court in Washington DC, he was spat out of the prison system a stone-and-a-half lighter and with its standard welfare package: a twin pack of condoms, a list of homeless shelters and a bus ticket. He emerged late at night during a snow storm in XXXL jogging bottoms and canvas prison shoes.

‘That was a highlight,’ he grimaces. ‘I’d rank it alongside the morning I was transported from Las Vegas to San Bernadino in California chained into the back of a prison wagon with two noisy Mexican hookers and a man in a spit mask, a plastic hood that covered his whole head from the neck up [to prevent him spitting at the guards].

‘Or the time when I was being strip-searched in Washington and the huge bloke next to me turned out to be in possession of breasts and a penis.

‘There were moments of humour, but it was mostly a matter of survival. I was locked in cells with up to 90 other men, from Mafia types and Hispanic drug barons to fathers who’d committed mortgage fraud.

‘I learned not to ask to watch the news, not to snore, not to be embarrassed about my body and to zone out.

‘It was rough. I saw men being pepper-sprayed. I went hungry and thirsty and was perpetually cold. The whole experience is designed to make you feel precisely what you are: crushable.’

The question must be why did the DoJ and FBI wish to crush David Painter? And the answer lies in the recent history of its prosecutions under America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which makes it illegal for any individual or corporation with business in America to bribe a foreign official.

Investigations into household-name companies such as Siemens and BAE Systems had resulted in multiple non-prosecution agreements in which multi-million- dollar fines had been paid to the US government but no guilty executives put in the dock. It was starting to look unjust. Added to which, the department had suffered several well-publicised defeats in its prosecution of FCPA cases and was determined to reverse its fortunes.

In 2009 it concocted The Africa Sting which, according to the FBI’s PR machine, was designed to ‘play out with all the intrigue of a spy novel’. A Confidential Human Source – a stool pigeon – was to front a deal to arm the Gabonese presidential guard.

But the contracts, for everything from body armour to armoured cars, would be subject to a 20 per cent commission, half of which would go to the Gabonese Minister of Defence, Ali Bongo, son of the then president – and now president himself – and the other half to a sales agent. At least, that is what the FBI later claimed.

Anyone transacting the proposed contract would be in violation of the FCPA. However, the words bribe or kickback were never employed by the sting’s players. The payment was simply listed as a ‘commission’, its true nature concealed from the executives to whom it was offered. It led the foreman of the jury, which eventually tried six of David Painter’s co-accused, to reveal the underlying view of the jurors was that ‘the defendants had acted in good faith and the DoJ-FBI in bad faith’.

The sting was pitched to Painter by a man called Richard Bistrong whom he once considered a trusted associate and family friend. They first met in 2006, when Bistrong was the international vice-president of a major US defence company called Armor Holdings. Tall, tanned and urbane, he was then married to diplomat Nancy Soderberg, an American ambassador to the UN and a key aide to Bill Clinton.

But despite his polished appearance, Bistrong was in deep legal trouble having been caught violating the FCPA and other statutes while working for Armor Holdings. He had conspired to pay bribes to win a UN contract to supply body armour. In February 2009, the DoJ offered him a plea bargain whereby he would receive a maximum five-year jail term in return for an admission of guilt. (It is expected to be handed down to him by Judge Richard Leon on July 31.)

The DoJ insisted that, as part of the deal, he re-entered the defence industry on the FBI payroll as an informant. Bistrong indiscriminately targeted 22 people who were immediately nicknamed the ‘Catch 22’. Among them was David Painter. The victims included a former deputy director of the US Secret Service who had retired after a distinguished career.

Bistrong dangled a deal to supply $10,000 worth of night-vision goggles to Gabon. Painter passed the invitation to his American parent company, pointing out he was not licensed or qualified to sell them. Bistrong told him phase two of the tender could include armoured cars, his speciality. Painter was interested and, although he had signed nothing and funded nothing, Bistrong had done enough to put him in the FBI’s sights.

Next, the Bureau needed to choreograph a meeting of all The Africa Sting suspects to create a core charge of conspiracy. To coincide with a big Washington trade fair, which Painter was attending, Bistrong invited him and others to a ‘reception’ to meet the Gabonese agent brokering the deal – in reality an FBI man with a French accent likened in court to Peter Sellers playing Inspector Clouseau.

At a restaurant in downtown Washington DC, Painter and the other victims ate canapes and drank beer. FBI agents mingled covertly among them reading from prepared scripts designed to entrap. Satisfied it had nailed the conspiracy, the FBI then moved to carry out its stunning military-style take down in Las Vegas.

‘After I was arrested I felt as if I’d just dropped off the radar of my real life, as though I’d disappeared into the American prison system and would never be discovered,’ says Painter now.

‘I had no access to an international telephone or money, no lawyer, no useful communication from my own government. I got one visit from a British consular official in Las Vegas who had come to check up on my medical welfare. He looked like Mr Bean.’

He was moved from Vegas to San Bernadino and from there on ‘Con Air’ to Oklahoma. From Oklahoma he was shuttled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from where he was driven to his arraignment and bail hearing in Washington DC on February 17.

Freed, but required to stay within a 25-mile radius of Washington city centre, his first thought was to be reunited with Judy, who immediately flew to his side.

‘I don’t think,’ he says allowing himself a smile, ‘the taxi driver who dropped her off quite knew where to put himself. It meant everything to be back together.’

In May 2010, with The Africa Sting case already generating legal controversy in America, a court permitted Painter to come home. Judy and the children, a son now 25 and a daughter now 22, met him at Heathrow. Painter then worked on his defence as he would a job. He had been fired by his parent company and faced a potential 25-year jail term. He declined to plea bargain.

‘After I was arrested I felt as if I’d just dropped off the radar of my real life, as though I’d disappeared into the American prison system and would never be discovered,' said David Painter

‘My dramatic arrest and the way I was treated in prison was to soften me up for a plea bargain. Ninety per cent of people in my situation accept one because of the almost insurmountable odds against fighting the limitless resources of the DoJ.

‘But I am not the kind of man to perjure myself in court. I could not confess to something I had not done. We sold our home and cashed up the fruits of a lifetime of work to fund the fight.’

Back in America, three Africa Sting defendants did accept the offer of a lesser sentence in return for a guilty plea. The subsequent dismissal of all charges against all defendants included their plea bargains. Their confessions were overturned by Judge Richard Leon.

The first four accused went to trial in May 2011. That hearing ended with a combination of dismissed charges and a mistrial being declared.

The second six defendants went to trial the following September and it was then that their nemesis Bistrong was unveiled as the FBI’s star witness.

Under cross-examination, Bistrong’s appetites for cocaine and alcohol and his predilection for prostitutes were exposed, as was his own history as a law breaker.

He admitted he had lied to the defendants and misled them. There was also the revelation of strings of seedy text messages about sex, cigars and sport between Bistrong and his FBI handlers, which fatally damaged what was left of his – and their – credibility.

That case ended in January 2012 without a single conviction but with a legally confused picture of dismissed charges (including the conspiracy charge at the heart of the DoJ’s case), three acquittals, and another mistrial.

Two weeks later, the DoJ admitted that ‘continued prosecution of this case is not warranted’ and requested the motion to dismiss, which was granted. David Painter was shopping in Waitrose at the time.

The DoJ won’t relent. ‘Our FCPA enforcement efforts are broader than one case,’ said a government spokeswoman.

‘We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute acts of foreign bribery covered by this important law and to hold accountable those businesses and individuals who seek to illegally obtain business through bribery of foreign officials.’

David and Judy Painter are, as they say, slowly ‘righting the ship’ but they were holed beneath their safe, English middle-class water line by the self-righteous cannons of American justice.

‘I tell the story of the Gabon deal and think, “You couldn’t make it up ......’ Painter says. ‘But, of course, they did.’

Original report

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Monday, May 28, 2012

When police have a record of "planting" evidence, how can any of them be believed?

It seems pretty clear by now that the three young “domestic terrorists” arrested by Chicago police in a warrantless house invasion are the victims of planted evidence — part of the police-state-style crackdown on anti-NATO protesters in Chicago last week.

The Chicago Police clearly realized that it would be hard to convince a jury that the homemade beer-making equipment in the house was some dreaded bio-terror weapon, so for good measure they apparently dropped off some glass jars with gas in them and tried to make out that the kids were preparing molotov cocktails. That’s the word from National Lawyers Guild attorneys representing the men. They say their clients and others like them coming into Chicago from out of town to join in protests against the NATO summit were “befriended” by police informants and undercover Chicago Police, who then offered to obtain gasoline or explosive materials like toy rocket motors, and who proposed actions like firebombing police stations.

This kind of entrapment and official deceit by police should alarm every American. It’s bad enough when police plant evidence and lie about evidence in order to win convictions, since it means innocent people will be sent to prison or worse. But with the new post 9-11 terrorism laws, like the state terrorism statutes in Illinois being applied in these cases, it becomes far more difficult for a victim of such police and prosecutorial misconduct to challenge the case against her or him.

In terror cases, the government can claim “national security” to hide the evidence and even the identity of the witnesses from the defendants and the courts, the jury and the public, and can avoid ever being questioned about it publicly. In a worst case, the federal government doesn’t even need to bring the case to trial. If the victim is accused of being a terrorist, under the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and various executive orders, that person can be locked away indefinitely without trial — exactly the kind of abuse that led American colonists to rise up against their British colonial overlords 237 years ago.

Residents like me from Philadelphia know all about this stuff. Planting evidence on people you want to lock away has a venerable history in this once revolutionary town.

In 1995, six Philly cops were convicted of presenting false testimony and of framing over a hundred people with planted evidence that sent the victims to jail with long
prison terms. In the end, two of those cops ended up serving jail terms themselves as the result of a federal corruption probe. A bigger federal investigation of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Center City division in the 1980s led to the conviction of several dozen cops, including a captain, four lieutenants, and the deputy chief of police, on charges of extortion and evidence tampering, including the planting of false evidence. Dozens of convicted prisoners were released from jail when it became clear their convictions had been based upon faked evidence by these uniformed miscreants.

The practice of planting evidence and of police lying to win convictions has continued in Philadelphia, which has paid out over $27 million in damages to people victimized by police corruption and false evidence planting since the mid-’90s. In 2009 the Philadelphia Daily News broke a story that a narcotics division cop on the force had planted drugs (a tactic known as “flaking” among dirty cops) in order to lock up dozens of people and to rack up a seemingly stellar record of drug-busting.

And across the river in Camden, NJ, over 75 people jailed for drug offenses are having their cases reviewed and overturned now because of evidence that police in that city were planting evidence on the people they arrested.

So common was the knowledge that police in Philadelphia keep stolen unlicensed handguns and bags of drugs in their cars for the purpose of framing citizens, that after I published my book Killing Time on the case of Pennsylvania death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Afro-American journalist convicted in 1982 of killing a white Philadelphia police officer in a trial fraught with police and prosecutor perjury and faked evidence, that I was loath to drive through the city. And when I did, was extremely careful to follow traffic rules to the letter.

With white police officers publicly pressing, through their union and lobbying arm, the Fraternal Order of Police, for Abu-Jamal’s execution, it seemed all to easy for them to stop me, run a make, ID me as the author of a book exposing the wrongness of his conviction, and to then plant a gun or a stash of illicit drugs in my vehicle, and lock me away. At least back then, though, you’d just be facing ordinary criminal charges, and hopefully a good attorney would be able to prove the charges were bogus. Terrorism charges make it much harder to do that.

The faking of terrorism crimes is abetted by a lazy corporate media, where reporters and editors just run their stories based upon the wild claims made by police and prosecutors, without bothering to consider how ludicrous those claims me be. Often, they don’t even bother to go to the victims’ defense attorneys for rebuttal.

Plus, the general scare-mongering by government and media, and the media propaganda glorifying of “tough” cops and prosecutors who cut corners, makes it likely that most juries will continue to believe the false statements and evidence presented by the prosecution at trials.

It’s ironic that the same public that is so ready to believe all manner of wild conspiracies will prove completely gullible and ready to suspend any disbelief when a police officer or a prosecutor makes some outlandish claim about three kids with beer fermenting equipment in their basement.

Original report

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Good Samaritan ticketed by Cleveland cop

Last Monday, May 14th John Davis was exiting I-90 at the West 117th ramp when he saw a man in a wheelchair. The man was pale, thin and holding a sign that had a religious sentiment and also a request for help.
John thought to himself, “I think we’re all to help the less fortunate.” The middle class family man from Elyria works hard for a living and enjoys giving back especially to people who are physically challenged. “I have a brother that’s paralyzed,” said John, “My brother’s in that same situation and struggles.”

John reached into his wallet and grabbed a couple of bucks to give to the man. As he approached the light at the exit, he rolled the money up vertically and stretched his arm out of his window. He says, the man touched the cash and one of the dollars fell to the ground. The man then bent over and picked it up.

Moments later as John travelled North on West 117th he says a Cleveland police officer pulled him over. “He proceeds to tell me he’s pulling me over for littering,” said John.

John and his friends who witnessed the exchange were baffled. The ticket cited Section No: 613.06 of Cleveland’s Municipal Codes, which is littering from a motor vehicle. His offense was listed as, “Throw paper out window,” and in parenthesis, “money to panhandler.” John said he was confused because money is paper but it’s not trash.

Cleveland police can’t comment on the ticket at this time but according to a spokesperson there is another code that may have been violated. There is a code which states that it is illegal to panhandle or give money to panhandlers near a highway or street including a berm, shoulder, treelawn or sidewalk.

Section No: 471.06 states in part that “No person shall stand on a highway for the purpose of soliciting…contributions…” It also reads that “No driver” is to “transfer currency….to any person standing on a street or highway.”

But John says that’s not what he was ticketed for. He was cited for littering from a motor vehicle, and the officer advised him to “take it up with the courts.”

John does plan to challenge the ticket in court, mainly because it carries a hefty fine. It could cost him $500 once you add the fine plus court costs. John says he has always had a deep admiration for Cleveland police, and he isn’t trying to start trouble, but that’s a lot of money for helping out someone less fortunate.

“I don’t mean any disrespect toward the police department at all we need ‘em but I just wish I didn’t have to pay this ticket,” said John Davis. The experience has left him disheartened, and has already destroyed his joy and willingness to give money to those in need. “I’d like to do it again but I’m petrified I’m going to get a ticket.”

Original report

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ex-London detective who worked on sexual assault cases charged with faking police records

A former Scotland Yard detective specialising in rape and sex assault to be prosecuted for faking police records, it emerged today.

Ryan Coleman Farrow will be charged with 13 counts of misconduct in a public office while an officer at Kingston upon Thames, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

The ex-detective constable 'wilfully engaged in conduct amounting to an abuse of the public’s trust' while working for Scotland Yard’s specialist Sapphire unit, charges against him read.

Investigators for the police watchdog obtained a summons from Westminster Magistrates’ Court for the 30-year-old to appear in the dock on June 20.

The charges relate to investigations into allegations of rape and serious sexual offences between January 2007 and September 2010 whilst he was an officer at Kingston upon Thames and then under central command in London.

The prosecution follows a lengthy Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation.

A CPS statement said: 'The 13 charges include allegations that Mr Coleman Farrow failed to perform his duty in investigating rape and sexual assault cases, falsified entries on the police’s Crime Report Information System and falsified records of CPS decisions which had never actually been referred to the CPS.

'The decision to prosecute was taken in accordance with the code for Crown prosecutors.

'After very careful consideration of all the evidence, I am satisfied there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute this case.

'Mr Coleman Farrow now faces criminal charges and has the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice this trial. Proceedings are now active.'

Original story here

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Anti-corruption detective and 3 ex-officers arrested after claims London police were 'pocketing bribes worth £20,000 from private investigators'

A Scotland Yard anti-corruption detective and three ex-officers from the Met were arrested today amid claims serving police were pocketing bribes worth up to £20,000 from private investigators.

Officers are accused of taking money for information about an inquiry into a politician who defrauded a Nigerian state of more than £150million.

The 45-year-old detective constable is being questioned on suspicion of providing information about Nigerian fraudster James Ibori in return for cash.

Two private investigators, aged 53 and 58, and another man are being held in connection with providing the money after raids at the London offices of Risc Management Ltd.

The Metropolitan Police confirmed today the firm has previously worked with the force.

A lawyer told MPs at a Parliamentary inquiry yesterday into the work of private investigators that he had evidence of substantial cash payments made over nine months.

Mike Schwarz said invoices from a law firm reveal an undetected case of 'apparent corruption right at the heart of Scotland Yard.'

He accused a handful of senior officers responsible for orchestrating the inquiry of also leaking information for cash.

If true, the incendiary allegations would ignite a fresh scandal at the London force which remains embroiled in a damaging race row.

And they would raise serious questions about links between police and private investigators who want to obtain information to undermine the criminal justice system.

The claims centre on a wide-ranging and complex inquiry into the James Ibori, the former governor of Nigeria's Delta State.

He was jailed for 13 years last month after admitting he embezzled huge sums to fund a lavish international lifestyle for his family.

Documents passed to the Commons home affairs committee, and seen by the Daily Mail, appear to show payments were made in return for police information.

They include a series of detailed invoices from a London law firm and leading private investigation company RISC Management, which is run by former Scotland Yard detective Keith Hunter.

The paperwork indicates that both companies were hired to work for Ibori in 2007 after he discovered he was being investigated for fraud.

Yesterday, Mr Schwarz, who represents one of Ibori's co-defendants, said the invoices document payments to 'sources', presumably police officers close to the inquiry. He added: 'The records show about half a dozen payments totalling about £20,000 over a period of eight or nine months... it appears to be inappropriate if not corrupt.'

One invoice includes a charge for £5,000 with the note: 'Engaged with source in eliciting information re: forthcoming interview strategy to [be] deployed by police.'

Mr Schwarz said he has also seen emails which confirmed contact had been made between the private investigators and detectives.

The allegations have been circulating since last year but only surfaced in public yesterday after Mr Schwarz used Parliamentary privilege to make them. His client is Bhadresh Gohil, a London-based solicitor jailed for orchestrating Ibori's vast money-laundering operation.

The Met has briefed reporters that there is evidence that casts doubt on the credibility of the evidence against the officers. But following the intervention of Mr Schwarz sources said an investigation into them is being taken more seriously.

Keith Vaz, who chairs the home affairs committee, has said there is growing concern that some private investigators are operating in 'the shadows' of the law.

The latest inquiry comes in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and is scrutinising links between private investigators, who include retired police officers, and former colleagues.

RISC Management denied all the allegations about the company. Mr Hunter said: 'We pride ourselves on our ability to provide positive solutions and accurate information legitimately.'

A Met spokesman said: 'The Met is investigating an allegation that illegal payments were made to police officers for information by a private investigation agency.

'The Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in October 2011 which agreed to supervise a DPS investigation into the allegations.'

Original report

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Schirach on crime

One of the most remarkable things about the collection of short stories by Ferdinand Schirach entitled Crime is that the legal system he describes (i.e. Germany’s) is far more humane and just than the system we’re familiar with here in America. His abrupt claim therefore in the very last sentence of the Afterword that the differences between the two systems are “insignificant,” after everything that’s gone before, strikes the reader — or at least the informed American reader — as intentionally and enigmatically untrue.

Two significant differences: In Germany, the prosecutor is supposed to remain “neutral” and is apparently not even supposed to take a position at trial on the defendant’s guilt or innocence, leaving that determination to the judges and jurors. Another significant difference is that in Germany there is no such thing as “plea bargaining,” which we here in America imagine is indispensable.

Two of my favorite stories were “Summertime” and “Self-Defense.” I remain befuddled by the last paragraph of the former story, which suggests that the criminal defense attorney pulled a fast one on the prosecutor and the court and by that legerdemain got his more-than-likely guilty client acquitted of murder. I still fail to see the flaw in the argument that persuaded the prosecutor and the court, and would be grateful to any reader who would be so kind as to cure my blindness.

“Self-Defense” begins with a heart-warming account of two neo-Nazi thugs looking to have a little ultra-violent fun at the expense of a mild mannered bespectacled middle-aged man on a subway platform getting their comeuppance when the man goes all Jason Bourne on their asses and fatally dispatches them to the netherworld with uncommon skill. Turns out the middle aged man is very likely a professional hit man for very wealthy and connected people. The criminal defense attorney of course gets this man acquitted of all charges and released back into society. The story ends with the criminal defense attorney giving rare expression to feelings of disgust (feelings which weren’t expressed at the conclusion of “Summertime,” for example), although it’s not clear whether that disgust was solely in reference to the man himself or whether it was directed to the attorney’s own role in securing his release.

If the latter, it might conceivably be explained by the observation that there is dangerous and there is dangerous. A man who has committed a murder and has thereby demonstrated that he is capable of murder is undoubtedly more dangerous than your average man, but a man whose very profession is murder will undoubtedly commit more murders. This cannot sit well with a man whose profession is to defend people, even if his job may call upon him to try to set a professional murderer free.

One little gripe with the book: The author in his Preface makes it sound like these stories are true crime stories drawn from his own criminal defense practice, and this impression has found its way into more than one review. While I don’t doubt Schirach found inspiration in real life cases, his stories are obviously fiction.

Original report

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

London police bungled multi-million prosecution of 25-year-old murder case by losing four crates of evidence

Bungling police and prosecutors caused the collapse of a multi-million pound murder prosecution by losing four crates of evidence, a damning new review has found.

Five inquiries failed to find Daniel Morgan’s murderer after he was killed in a Sydenham pub car park in 1987, and the case has become one of Britain's most notorious unsolved murders.

Mr Morgan was found with an axe embedded in his head, and his family have always believed he was killed because he was about to unveil a web of corruption involving his business partner Jonathan Rees, an ex-Met police detective friend named Sid Fillery, and a string of police officers.

Defence lawyers acting in the case asked for access to particular documents just a month before the last murder trial collapsed at the Old Bailey last year.

It then emerged that four whole boxes of evidence had been left in storage instead of being handed over, and that three were relevant to the trial proceedings. As a result, Mr Rees and his brothers-in-law Garry Vian and Glenn Vian were cleared of any involvement in the killing.

The report said: 'The police team were unable, in respect of four of the boxes, to locate them.... These latest developments proved to be the final undoing and the cumulative weight against the Crown's position became untenable.'

The review was jointly produced by the police and Crown Prosecution Service, and while it found that the loss of the boxes was the case's 'final undoing', it also criticised the 'unreliability of critical witnesses'.

The three witnesses in question were 'assisting offenders' - commonly known as 'supergrasses' - whose handling is covered by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005 (Socpa).

They were undermined by what the report called 'factors that adversely affected their credibility', and this led to the collapse of the case against two other defendants - James Cook, accused of murder, and former detective sergeant Sid Fillery, charged with perverting the course of justice.

The costs of the five police inquiries and an inquest, as well as three years of legal hearings, are unofficially estimated at £30 million.

The report found: 'This was a truly exceptional case in terms of a combination of factors, namely its age; the size and the number of linked operations; the enormous volume of material generated, particularly unused, and the fact that all three of the Socpa witnesses were undermined, post charge, by factors that adversely affected their credibility. In addition there was a lack of scientific evidence.'

A total of 17 points of 'good practice' were included in the review. The guidance relating to supergrasses states that a 'thorough investigation addressing the credibility of the witness' is vital whenever they are used.

There should also be a 'full and auditable record of all police contact regarding the management of any Socpa witness' and 'consideration needs to be given at the outset to the types of unused material that could reasonably be expected to be encountered in a particular prosecution, and its anticipated location'.

The good practice guidance adds: 'Consideration must be given to the size and complexity of the disclosure task from the outset.'

Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and Alison Saunders, chief Crown prosecutor for London, issued a joint statement today.

It said: 'This case, as the trial judge said, was of an exceptional scale and complexity, with over three quarters of a million documents gathered over 20 years being examined.

'The issues around the disclosure exercise were such that we could not guarantee that all relevant material had been identified, considered and disclosed so as to ensure a fair trial. A further factor related to the unreliability of critical witnesses.

'To this end, the purpose of the review was to identify potential good practice and learning for both police and prosecutors for future cases.

'What the review was not was an investigation into allegations of corruption; nor was it intended to serve the purpose of an investigation for police disciplinary purposes. 'Those recommendations identified within the review will now be implemented by both agencies.'

Back in March, Labour MP Tom Watson accused the News of the World of collaborating with suspects in the Morgan murder case by placing a senior detective under surveillance on the pretence that he was having an affair.

Speaking during an adjournment debate ahead of the 25th anniversary of Mr Morgan’s death, he said News of the World crime journalist Alex Marunchak was a close associate of Mr Morgan's business partner Mr Rees - who became a main suspect in his murder - and regularly paid his company Southern Investigators for information.

‘Jonathan Rees and Sid Fillery were at the corrupt nexus of private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World,' he said.

‘Southern Investigations was the hub of police and media contacts involving the illegal theft and disclosure of information obtained through Rees and Fillery’s corrupt contacts.’

When Detective Chief Inspector Dave Cook started to investigate the murder, at a time when Mr Rees was still a suspect, it is alleged Mr Marunchak placed the police officer under surveillance.

Mr Rees was accused of Mr Morgan's murder in 2008 but the case collapsed in 2010.

West Bromwich East MP Mr Watson told the adjournment debate: ‘The person who was investigating a murder was put under close surveillance by a close business associate of the man he was investigating.

‘A journalist tried to undermine a murder investigation.’

He added: ‘I think Rupert Murdoch owes the Morgan family an apology. I also don’t think he has made his last apology to the grieving parents of dead children.’

Mr Marunchak has previously denied having any contact with Daniel Morgan, and all allegations of wrongdoing.

Original report

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Did gang police have their own secret society?

Seven deputies from the Los Angeles County sheriff's gang unit have been placed on leave on suspicion that they belong to a secret clique that celebrates shootings and brands its members with matching tattoos, sources confirmed.

The move is a sign of the intensifying nature of the investigation of the "Jump Out Boys." Suspicion about the group's existence was sparked several weeks ago when a supervisor found a pamphlet describing the group's creed, which promoted aggressive policing and portrayed officer shootings in a positive light.

Days after the Los Angeles Times reported on the discovery of the pamphlet, the captain of the division gathered his deputies for a private briefing, during which he told them that they had shamed the department by forming the group and urged those responsible to identify themselves, a source with knowledge of the unit's inner workings said.

At some point, one deputy came forward, and named six others, said sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.

All seven of those deputies were placed on leave with pay sometime this week. Internal affairs investigators are trying to determine whether the deputies violated Sheriff's Department rules or committed serious misconduct.

The deputies under scrutiny have all worked on the Gang Enforcement Team, a unit divided into two platoons of relatively autonomous deputies who target neighborhoods where gang violence is high, locate armed gang members and take their guns away.

Investigators are looking at whether the deputies sported matching tattoos. The suspected design of the tattoo was obtained by the Times and confirmed by two sources: It includes an oversize skull with a wide, toothy grimace and glowing red eyes. A bandanna is wrapped around the skull, imprinted with the letters "OSS" -- representing Operation Safe Streets, the name of the larger unit that the Gang Enforcement Team is part of. A bony hand clasps a revolver. Investigators suspect that smoke might be tattooed over the gun's barrel after a member is involved in a shooting.

One source compared the notion of modifying the tattoo after a shooting to a celebratory "high five."

Despite the disturbing allegations, sources say there is currently no evidence that the men were involved in improper shootings or other misconduct. Still, the revelations have heightened concerns. What investigators are most concerned about isn't the alleged tattoos, but the suspected admiration they show for officer-involved shootings, which are expected to be events of last resort.

The department has long grappled with unsanctioned cliques inside its ranks. Last year, the department fired half a dozen deputies who worked on the third, or "3000," floor of the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles after the group fought two fellow deputies at an employee Christmas party and allegedly punched a female deputy in the face.

Sheriff's officials later said the men had formed an aggressive "3000" clique that used gang-like three-finger hand signs. A former top jail commander told the Times that jailers would "earn their ink" by assaulting inmates. This week, two former jail supervisors told a county commission created to examine jail abuse about troubling deputy behavior.

One said jailers ignored orders from direct supervisors, preferring instead to listen to rank-and-file deputies who had worked at the jails for several years and earned the informal title of "OG," short for "Original Gangster."

Another testified about becoming alarmed by how large numbers of deputies assigned to the same floor made it a habit to arrive and leave work together and not mix with colleagues from other floors. "This is reminiscent of a gang. ... This is how gang members act," said retired Lt. Alfred Gonzales.

The Jump Out Boys, sources said, was a name coined by Compton-area gang members alluding to how quickly deputies from the unit would jump out of patrol vehicles to stop them.

One source with knowledge of the inner workings of Operation Safe Streets said the deputies placed on leave this week consist of current and former Gang Enforcement Team members.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed that seven deputies were placed on leave, but declined to discuss the details of the probe. "We took the appropriate action and we will continue to take the appropriate action," he said. "It's still early in the investigation."

Whitmore said placing so many deputies on leave over one incident hasn't happened since the 2010 Christmas party fight involving the "3000" deputies. He said the action is one of the largest mass leaves ever ordered by the department.

Original report here

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

TX: Probe determines that wrong man was executed

He was the spitting image of the killer, had the same first name and was near the scene of the crime at the fateful hour: Carlos DeLuna paid the ultimate price and was executed in place of someone else in Texas in 1989, a report out Tuesday found.

Even "all the relatives of both Carloses mistook them," and DeLuna was sentenced to death and executed based only on eyewitness accounts despite a range of signs he was not a guilty man, said law professor James Liebman.

Liebman and five of his students at Columbia School of Law spent almost five years poring over details of a case that he says is "emblematic" of legal system failure.

DeLuna, 27, was put to death after "a very incomplete investigation. No question that the investigation is a failure," Liebman said.

The report's authors found "numerous missteps, missed clues and missed opportunities that let authorities prosecute Carlos DeLuna for the crime of murder, despite evidence not only that he did not commit the crime but that another individual, Carlos Hernandez, did," the 780-page investigation found.

The report, entitled "Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution," traces the facts surrounding the February 1983 murder of Wanda Lopez, a single mother who was stabbed in the gas station where she worked in a quiet corner of the Texas coastal city of Corpus Christi.

"Everything went wrong in this case," Liebman said.

That night Lopez called police for help twice to protect her from an individual with a switchblade.

"They could have saved her, they said 'we made this arrest immediately' to overcome the embarrassment," Liebman said.

Forty minutes after the crime Carlos DeLuna was arrested not far from the gas station.

He was identified by only one eyewitness who saw a Hispanic male running from the gas station. But DeLuna had just shaved and was wearing a white dress shirt -- unlike the killer, who an eyewitness said had a mustache and was wearing a grey flannel shirt.

Even though witnesses accounts were contradictory -- the killer was seen fleeing towards the north, while DeLuna was caught in the east -- DeLuna was arrested.

"I didn't do it, but I know who did," DeLuna said at the time, saying that he saw Carlos Hernandez entering the service station.

DeLuna said he ran from police because he was on parole and had been drinking.

Hernandez, known for using a blade in his attacks, was later jailed for murdering a woman with the same knife. But in the trial, the lead prosecutor told the jury that Hernandez was nothing but a "phantom" of DeLuna's imagination.

DeLuna's budget attorney even said that it was probable that Carlos Hernandez never existed.

However in 1986 a local newspaper published a photograph of Hernandez in an article on the DeLuna case, Liebman said.

Following hasty trial DeLuna was executed by lethal injection in 1989.

Up to the day he died in prison of cirrhosis of the liver, Hernandez repeatedly admitted to murdering Wanda Lopez, Liebman said.

"Unfortunately, the flaws in the system that wrongfully convicted and executed DeLuna -- faulty eyewitness testimony, shoddy legal representation and prosecutorial misconduct -- continue to send innocent men to their death today," read a statement that accompanies the report.

Original report here

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Video catches Houston goons in action

Attacking a man who was already prone with his hands behind his head

Houston Police Department officials in charge of training and supervising said Friday that former officer Andrew Blomberg was not following “use of force” protocol when he used one foot to try to secure Chad Holley during an arrest and police beating that was caught on tape in 2010.

Jurors also heard investigators say Blomberg stomped the 15-year-old, contrary to defense claims.

Blomberg faces a year in jail if convicted of official oppression for his role in the March 24, 2010, incident in which HPD officers were unknowingly videotaped stomping, kicking and punching Holley during a burglary arrest.

In court Friday, a senior police officer who trains officers about use of force testified that he did not know what Blomberg was trying to do when he rushed to the teen, who can be seen lying on his stomach with his hands behind his head after running from police. “That’s a technique that I’ve never seen,” the trainer testified.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Dick DeGuerin worked to show that Blomberg and other officers were dealing with a situation that was “tense, uncertain, dangerous and rapidly evolving.”

The jury also heard from one of the HPD supervisors who investigated the incident. “Yes, he was kicked, what we called ‘stomped,’...” HPD Lt. Murray Smith told jurors after being asked if Blomberg kicked the teen.

The beating came to light after it a surveillance camera video surfaced at a neighboring business.

Smith said he and other investigators watched the videotaped beating for 2½ days. “It appears to me that he put his foot on the back of his neck,” the veteran officer said.

Smith said he would instead have been handcuffing the teen, who was lying prone on the ground. “You handcuff someone with your hands, not your feet,” he explained. “I don’t know what Andrew Blomberg was doing.”

Holley, now 18, was convicted of burglary in the case. Blomberg is the first of four officers who were fired and indicted in the beating to go trial.

The recording shows a patrol car hitting a chain-link fence in front of Holley, who is running from police. He can be seen hurdling the car’s hood to avoid the fence. When he does not make it and falls to the ground, he flips onto his stomach and puts his hands behind his head as several officers converge on him.

Trials are pending for former officers Phil Bryan, Raad Hassan and Drew Ryser, all of whom were fired.

Original report here

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ex-Philly Fighter Anthony Fletcher, Railroaded 2 Decades Ago, Sits Forgotten in Pa. Cell

Anthony Fletcher, ex-lightweight from Philadelphia, ex-soldier, and a victim of deplorably sick justice, is a discarded member of the boxing fraternity who was railroaded and forgotten 20 years ago by an out-of-control District Attorney’s Office.

Entombed in a tiny death row cell inside SCI Greene Prison in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, he’s not allowed to mingle with other convicts. Fletcher sifts through old memories because he doesn’t have sufficient sensory surroundings to create new ones. He files his own briefs once in a while but can’t untangle himself from the web of legal incompetence that entrapped him long ago. Unlike former cause célèbre Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Fletcher wasn’t proficient at organizing others to take up his cause and has suffered horrifically for it. Every once in a while he mails me a photocopy of some document relating to his case, maybe just to prove he exists.

Fletcher was convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection on a charge of first-degree murder largely on the strength of eyewitness testimony from Natalie Renee Grant, who was facing charges of retail theft and prostitution. After the court convicted him of first-degree murder, she walked away on probation. A standard deal.

Fletcher is one of countless steamrolled defendants I cover in a book coming out from Potomac Press called Sick Justice: Locking up Millions in the Land of the Free, but it won’t be out for a year or so. If Fletcher’s going to get any help, now would be better than later.

What happened on the street that night in March 1992 has been dimmed by time and Fletcher’s botched defense. He always admitted shooting small-time crook Vaughn Christopher but maintained he acted in self-defense. Christopher, Fletcher said, had earlier stuck up a crap game, taking $50 from him, and when he saw Christopher later, Fletcher threw a punch and Christopher pulled the pistol. They both wrestled for it, Fletcher said, and the gun fired, striking Christopher in the leg and right side. The wounds shouldn’t have been fatal. No one informed jurors that Christopher bled to death in the hospital after his mother, a Jehovah’s Witness, denied him a crucial transfusion on religious grounds.

One of the ironies of our system is that innocent defendants are particularly tempted to go to trial, which means they’ll likely serve harsher sentences because juries usually convict criminal defendants, who then pay a price for not accepting a plea bargain. And Fletcher, then 34, insisted on a trial. He didn’t believe an American court would convict him. But his attorney, who wouldn’t let him testify, barely cross-examined Grant and didn’t even challenge her hearsay testimony. The judge let it slide too.

Fletcher’s case wasn’t terribly unique in 1992, a time when crack ruled south Philly streets. The prosecutor offered a typical bargain – to bring the charge down to third degree murder if he’d agree to a sentence of 10 to 20 years. The district attorney at the time was execution devotee Lynne Abraham. “Abraham’s office seeks the death penalty virtually as often as the law will allow,” said The New York Times Magazine in a July 16, 1995 article headlined “Deadliest D.A.” She once posed on the cover of Philadelphia magazine cradling a submachine gun.

Later it turned out that key facts in Fletcher’s case were hidden from the jury. Others were manufactured, plain and simple. For example, the prosecutor preposterously claimed Fletcher was called “Two Guns” because he carried two guns on the street, but any Philadelphia fight fan could have informed the court that it was a boxing alias referring to his ability to land telling shots with both hands. There was a dreadful communication gap between Fletcher and his court-appointed attorney Stephen Patrizio.

Remarkably, Patrizio never even corrected the bogus tale about Fletcher’s alias. Patrizio subsequently confessed to a host of other trial errors. Probably the most grievous was his failure to object to the judge’s flawed instructions to jurors. The judge was supposed to inform them they could find Fletcher guilty of voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter instead of murder. An objection at the time might have led to a much lighter sentence or given Fletcher excellent grounds for appeal. A competent attorney always looks for such gifts, but the defense never tore off the wrapping. In a deposition taken from him later, Patrizio made it clear that his principal strategy was to take the deal and after that he ran out of ideas.

Other disturbing issues include the disappearance of vital physical evidence after it was sent to the medical examiner’s office. Hard-nosed detectives who looked at it later all agreed that with or without Grant’s dubious testimony, circumstances didn’t merit a first-degree charge, which requires premeditation.

Because of his earlier cocaine conviction and the playground shooting that came later, police considered Fletcher just another drug dealer who needed to be taken off the street, and when Christopher was shot they found their lever. If they could get him sentenced to death, so much the better. But looking back after all these years it’s difficult to argue that keeping him locked up any longer makes sense and even tougher to make a case for lethal injection. If you think about it, he’s no longer being punished for his alleged crime but for refusing to take the deal. Had he done so, he’d have been free long ago.

Robert Cassidy, a former associate editor of Ring magazine, wrote about the holes in Fletcher’s case in the August 2000 issue of The Ring. Ake Sintring, who lives in Sweden, read the article and eventually formed a group to work in Fletcher’s behalf. Sintring brought the case to my attention.

Reversing a conviction is a steep uphill climb, particularly when the defense attorney fails to lay out grounds for appeal during the trial. Fletcher got caught in a perfect storm. Although Patrizio did an awful job defending his client, somehow his mistakes were deemed not quite grievous enough to win a new trial. So the case has withstood legal challenges even though the charges were never fairly tested.

It’s impossible for a reasonable person to conclude that Fletcher, now 55, received justice back then or is getting it now. Ironically, had Fletcher punched a little harder and didn’t have those four losses, he’d have been a well-known lucrative commodity, not another disposable black man, and this tale would have unfolded differently.

Original report here

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Convicted murderer, 24, who has served seven years in British jail freed on bail after judges rule he is victim of 'serious miscarriage of justice'

A man walked free on bail today after spending more than seven years of a life sentence in jail for a murder he has always denied. Kitchen fitter Sam Hallam, 24, was greeted by cheering and tearful family members as he emerged from court after judges were told he was the victim of one of the most serious miscarriages of justice.

The Court of Appeal heard that police had failed to investigate his alibi for the night a trainee chef was battered to death by a mob and that vital evidence which could have proved his innocence was not handed to the defence.

He was freed on unconditional bail by the three Appeal Court judges after the Crown withdrew their opposition at the eleventh hour. They will give a full judgment at noon tomorrow.

Evidence on his mobile phone of pictures showing his whereabouts at the time, which could have cleared him was never checked, the court heard.

His 53-year-old mother Wendy Cohen from Hoxton, North London, said as she left court: 'I am in shock.

'This has been torture for Sam and the whole family. He should never have been put away in the first place. I never thought this day would come. We have been to hell and back.'

His two older brothers Terry, 31 and Danny 29 and younger sister Daisy, 16, were also at court to greet a stunned Same as he emerged from the cells.

His father, also named Terry, was not around to see his son emerge having committed suicide 15 months ago in October 2010 still believing in his son’s innocence. But Wendy said it all became too much for him.

Paul May, who chaired a campaign to free Mr Hallam, said: ‘Sam should never have been brought to trial.’ 'The failure lay in the fact that the Metropolitan Police did not carry out a proper investigation. There were numerous leads that the police failed to follow up on. We say that is negligent.’

He added: ‘He has been in prison for seven years. He’s lost the best years of his life. He’s going to need a lot of support. He’s obviously delighted but he’s also dazed.’

Sam still only 24 sat quietly in the dock as his counsel Henry Blaxland QC said he was convicted on 'manifestly unreliable identification evidence'. Mr Blaxland told Lady Justice Hallett sitting with Mr Justice Openshaw and Mr Justice Spencer that the court had 'bitter experience of wrongful convictions in cases like this'.

He said this case provided a 'stark reminder of the dangers of a miscarriage of justice from unreliable visual identification evidence'.

Summarising the grounds of challenge, he said: 'It is our case that this appellant Sam Hallam - and I put it boldly - has been the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice brought about by a combination of manifestly unreliable identification evidence, the apparent failure of his own alibi, failure by police properly to investigate his alibi and non-disclosure by the prosecution of material that could have supported his case.'

Hallam who lived with his family in Hoxton was just 17 when arrested. He was jailed for life at the Old Bailey in 2005 for the murder of 21-year-old Ethiopian trainee chef Essayas Kassahun in 2004.It was recommended he serve a minimum of 12 years. He has been locked up since October 2004, so has spent seven years and seven months in custody.

Kassahun had come to the aid of a friend who was being attacked on Old Street, Central London, by a mob of youths over a trivial perceived insult.

Hallam, who claimed to be playing football at the time, was convicted on the basis of disputed identification evidence from two witnesses who placed him at the scene of the killing.

His first appeal was rejected in March 2007, although the court then found 'significant and substantial inconsistencies and difficulties in the prosecution evidence'.

But following a lengthy campaign by his family and friends, including actor Ray Winstone, Hallam who had hoped for a career in the army had his case referred back to court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission which investigates miscarriages of justice.

He was one of seven originally charged with the murder. One other man Bullabeck Ring-Biong was also convicted and jailed for life.

He has also had support from members of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, themselves victims of miscarriages of justice.

Mr Blaxland claims that the identification evidence of the two witnesses Phoebe Henville and Bilel Khelfa 'was so manifestly unreliable that the appellant’s submission of no case to answer should have been allowed'.

He also claimed at the trial Judge Richard Hone QC failed to properly direct the jury over the evidence of another witness.

He said there was fresh evidence that he was not at the scene of the murder, and more fresh evidence from previously undisclosed police documents also supported his case.

He will return to court tomorrow to hear the formal judgment from the court which is expected to quash his conviction as unsafe.

Original report here

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Watch Them Explode

Great reporting by the Miami New Times on the city’s hyper-aggressive Tactical Narcotics Team, which goes by the charmingly subtle moniker “TNT.”
Suddenly, flashing lights bathe the front lawn in red and blue. More than a dozen cops in light-gray polos, dark-gray cargo pants, and black vests flood out of the Chrysler and other unmarked cars, storming through the front gate with guns drawn. Dante drops his beer. Before he can react, a beefy cop tackles him, knocking down his 1-year-old, who screams in terror.

The police, all members of an elite Miami-Dade unit called the Tactical Narcotics Team — TNT for short — arrest Dante and his friends, and haul Khalid and Alexis off to jail as well.

The Levels were just three of the 112 people in Liberty City booked that weekend as part of a TNT operation cheekily dubbed “Santa’s Helper,” which the Miami Herald and local TV stations ate up as a feel-good story about cops keeping the inner city safe — an especially juicy tale when coupled with video of the widow of a slain officer handing out 500 toys to poor children. The Levels’ arrest led the 6 p.m. telecasts, with CBS 4 reporter Peter D’Oench hailing the MDPD for “getting kids in the neighborhood to see… the human side of the officers who love to interact with the children.” A Herald story, meanwhile, offered that the “streets of northwest Miami-Dade [will be] safe for when Santa comes to town.”

However, a two-month investigation by New Times has found that Santa’s Helper was a colossal waste of police resources. Of the 112 suspects arrested, 73 people were charged only with misdemeanor pot possession. The vast majority of the busted pot smokers were either released within 24 hours or avoided jail by promising to show up in court. Of the 73 alleged tokers, 68 of them — including Dante Level and his siblings — had no violent criminal record. If they were guilty of anything, it was smoking a joint on their own front porch.

Police say TNT, a 31-officer team that focuses on aggressive, low-level drug busts such as Santa’s Helper, is vital because their work prevents more serious drug and gang violence. Even as other units specializing in cargo and auto theft were disbanded last month to save money for the cash-strapped department, the brass left TNT and its $3 million budget untouched.

“This is a great way to capture a cross section of robbers, burglars, thieves, and dopers who shoot kids and cops and will openly spray a corner with bullets,” says Maj. Charles Nanney, head of the Miami-Dade Narcotics Bureau. “Cocaine, marijuana, and heroin availability at the street level poses the greatest threat.”

But neighborhood activists and some criminologists say letting an aggressive unit loose on small-time users does more to alienate black neighborhoods than it does to end violent crime. Santa’s Helper, they say, is a perfect illustration of how a unit with a history of corruption — and a mound of complaints about excessive force — has lost the War on Drugs. In recent years, three officers who worked with TNT, but not assigned to the unit full-time, were busted in public corruption probes. Meanwhile, 14 current squad members have combined for 40-plus internal affairs probes.

We’ve seen this over and over again. These tactics are typically justified on the argument that they’re only used on the nastiest, most dangerous drug distributors. Time and again, when local media looks into what these raids typically turn up, they find vanishingly few weapons, significant drug busts, or felony charges. In the case above, three people were charged for possessing the same joint.

The one difference with the TNT unit is that, as the story indicates, while it was initially set up to target criminals with violent histories, busting low-level offenders with the shock-and-awe bullshit is now stated policy. So they’ve dispensed with the pretense. If a few toddlers and grandmas get in the way of scaring the vocabulary out of the city’s pot smokers, well, that’s a price these cops are willing to pay.

But I suppose there’s no questioning the results. As I understand it, Miami is now basically drug-free.

Original report here

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Australian medical expert gets case re-opened

Stomach ulcers were one believed to be caused by stress. We now know that they are caused by bacteria

CRUCIAL scientific evidence from WA Nobel prize winner Barry Marshall has reopened a 29-year-old murder case.

In 1983, Chris von Deutschburg, then a 19-year-old known as Christian Wilhelm Michael, received a life sentence after an elderly man with whom he scuffled during a house robbery died of a bleeding duodenal ulcer, seven days after the crime.

At the Supreme Court trial in December that year, state pathologist Donald Hainsworth said 86-year-old Stavros Kakulas's condition was brought on by stress caused by the incident.

But WA Attorney-General Christian Porter referred the case to the Court of Appeal two weeks ago, after Prof Marshall wrote to the State Solicitor's Office last month.

Prof Marshall - who won the Nobel in 2005 with co-researcher Robin Warren for proving bacteria not stress caused most ulcers - emphatically told the SSO that injuries suffered during the robbery would not have caused the ulcer or its bleeding.

"There is no likelihood that his (Mr Kakulas's) injuries either worsened or contributed to the duodenal ulcer in question," Prof Marshall wrote on April 4, 2012, as part of a petition for clemency first lodged in 2009 by law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques, after it was settled by Malcolm McCusker QC who was acting for Mr von Deutschburg before he became Governor.

"My answers do not necessarily depend on my opinion that the duodenal ulcer already existed before the assault on 1st June 1983. The duodenal ulcer may have existed before then or may have developed after 1st June 1983.

"Obviously a duodenal ulcer is a recurring condition and in 1983 the aetiology of these recurrences was completely unknown.

"Therefore persons with duodenal ulcer disease have ulcers coming and going throughout their life.

"The injuries sustained by Mr Kakulas did not contribute to the development, or accelerate the development of his duodenal ulcer."

The 1983 trial's former jury foreman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told PerthNow this week that he believed the jury would have acquitted Mr von Deutschburg if anyone at the trial had suggested the bleeding ulcer could have been caused by something other than stress from the assault which had resulted in Mr Kakulas having bruising and fractured ribs.

He would have welcomed another medical opinion but that did not happen. "I am relieved (about the latest decision), the conviction has bothered me for years and years, ever since the trial," he said.

Mr von Deutschburg, 47, who now lives in Victoria, thanked his lawyers and supporters, including Prof Marshall PerthNow and The Sunday Times, who have worked on his bid for an appeal since 2005.

This week Mr von Deutschburg relived the events that saw him serve seven years in WA's toughest jails .

"On June 1, 1983 I was aged 18 and was homeless for several months. I broke into and entered a house to steal money for food," he said. "During this crime I struggled with an old man. It was a crime without justification and I am deeply remorseful. The old man said 'goodbye son' as I left.

"But I was convicted of murder, a crime I did not commit. I served a life imprisonment with hard labour sentence before being paroled in 1990. "For the past 28 plus years I have experienced imprisonment, months of community service on parole, and years of work for the dole, as no one will employ a convicted murderer. For over 28 years I have been punished for a crime I did not commit."

A University of WA clinical professor of microbiology, Prof Marshall, who is currently abroad, could not be reached for comment this week. But he told PerthNow in 2005 that he stood by an affidavit he wrote in 1986 when Mr von Deutschburg had previously considered appealing.

"As a result of my own research and findings . . . I strongly believe that all statements to the effect that the ulcer which caused Mr Kakulas's death was caused by stress are medically incorrect," he said in that document.

He also said in 2005 that if the case were run now with a good legal defence, the outcome would likely be different.

Mr Porter said this week of his decision to allow the appeal: "Given the advances in medical science surrounding the causes of gastric and duodenal ulcers furthered by Professor Barry Marshall and Dr Robin Warren, which are directly relevant to this case, in all the circumstances, it is appropriate that it be referred to the Court of Appeal for consideration."

Tom Percy QC is understood to be involved in the appeal which will be headed by Sam Vandongen SC and starts with a directions hearing tomorrow.

Original report here

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Monday, May 14, 2012

British Police pair who ‘tortured’ man in custody ordered to pay him just £100 compensation

Two police officers who twisted the arms of a man in custody, in order to convince him to answer their questions have been spared a jail sentence. Sergeant Stephen Harvey and civilian detention officer Michael Mount assaulted David Healer after arresting him in County Durham in March last year.

Harvey, 50, and Mount, 61, who were both convicted of two counts of common assault at a trial at Teesside Magistrates’ Court, were today ordered to pay Healer a mere £100 in compensation.

The attack which was condemned as a form of torture by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), showed Harvey twisting Mr Healer’s arm behind his back as Mount held his other arm.

He was then grabbed by both wrists across the custody suite desk by both defendants after again refusing to answer questions.

DIY shop boss Mr Healer, who sat in the public gallery to watch the sentencing, left the courtroom wiping his eyes as his screams of pain were played on the DVD.

The 48-year-old, of Seaham, County Durham, who had recently been treated in hospital and was an angina sufferer, said he feared he would die in the attack.

Harvey, of Chester-le-Street, and Mount, of Thornley, both County Durham, argued that they used reasonable force to restrain Mr Healer, who had been arrested on suspicion of breaching bail conditions and assaulting a police officer.

Both men had exemplary records during their time in the police and the incident last year was described as being out of character.

Steven Crossley, for Harvey, said: 'The consequences of these convictions for Mr Harvey has already been great.

'He’s someone who prides himself on being a good police officer, prides himself on his reputation.

'Of course, there has been devastating damage to that reputation as a result of these convictions. That represents real punishment to him.'

Sentencing both men, Oliver Johnson, chair of the bench, said: 'The greater punishment you will have received today is not the fine but the fact that your position in society will be severely downgraded in a bad way.“Your unblemished character has gone.'

Speaking outside court after the sentencing, father-of-six Mr Healer said he was happy with the outcome.

He said he would be pursuing a claim for compensation for injuries to his spine, which he said he received as a result of the assault.

He said: 'At the end of the day, it’s the consequences of what they did in society that’s going to affect them.It’s a shame that two people have ruined their careers over this.' Mr Healer continued: 'As far as I’m concerned, it’s over now.'

Stephen Gowland, Mr Healer’s solicitor, said: 'Mr Healer suffered a great injustice but today at least he can be content that justice has been done.'

He added: 'My client’s life has been affected greatly by the treatment he received both mentally and physically and he now has to live with severe pain for the rest of his life, due to the serious spinal injuries incurred in this incident.'

Mr Gowland said Mr Healer was lucky to be alive after the assault.

'Stephen Harvey and Michael Mount were tasked to ensure the safety of the public and uphold the law and failed to do so,' he said.

'Since 1990, nearly 1,000 people have died in police custody in England and Wales. My client thought he was going to die in the police station and it is only through luck that he was not part of those statistics.'

Deputy Chief Constable Mike Barton, of Durham Police, said the excessive force used by the two staff members was wrong and should not have happened.

Speaking outside court, Mr Barton said: 'Durham Constabulary aims to treat everyone who comes into custody with due respect, dignity and fairness and in accordance with the law and codes of practice.

'When this does not happen, then we take the appropriate action and, on this occasion, our professional standards were not upheld.

'The actions of our staff were completely out of character but they were wrong and this should not have happened.

'This was clearly a case where there has been a use of excessive force.'

Mr Barton added: 'Without wishing to condone the actions of these particular members of staff, I must point out that custody can be a very challenging environment for our staff. They regularly have to deal with people who are drunk, or violent, or both.

'We process around 20,000 people a year and, in the vast majority of these cases, there are no issues.'

Harvey was told to pay £1,395 in fines and costs for his role in the attack, while Mount was told to pay a total of £730.

Original report here

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