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History > 2009 > USA > Justice > States (I)





Men's Room Rant to Judge

Leads to Jail Sentence


September 8, 2009
Filed at 12:23 p.m. ET
The New York Times


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A Texas man got a 30-day jail sentence for contempt of court after criticizing a judge in the courthouse men's room.

State District Judge Jack Robison ordered 69-year-old Don Bandelman released after two days in jail after a state appeals court in Austin made inquiries into the matter.

Robison had granted temporary custody of Bandelman's 13-year-old granddaughter to his son's ex-wife on June 23. Records reviewed by the Austin American-Statesman show Bandelman followed Robison into the men's room at the Caldwell County Courthouse and berated him as ''a fool.'' Robison ordered Bandelman's arrest.

Bandelman says he'll complain to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Robison hasn't returned a call from The Associated Press.

    Men's Room Rant to Judge Leads to Jail Sentence, NYT, 8.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/09/08/us/AP-US-Mens-Room-Rant.html






Ill. Man on Trial for 7 Deaths at Ill. Restaurant


August 31, 2009
Filed at 3:00 a.m. ET
The New York Times


CHICAGO (AP) -- Sixteen years after seven employees were slaughtered inside a suburban Chicago fast food restaurant, the last suspect is going to trial.

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday in the capital murder case against James Degorski, one of two men accused of killing everyone inside a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in the quiet bedroom community of Palatine in 1993.

A jury convicted Degorski's high school friend, Juan Luna, in 2007 and sentenced him to life in prison.

Luna once worked at the restaurant. He told authorities he thought it would be an easy target at closing time.

The robbery netted less than $2,000.

Prosecutors said the men shot and stabbed the couple who owned the restaurant and five of their employees.

    Ill. Man on Trial for 7 Deaths at Ill. Restaurant, NYT, 31.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/08/31/us/AP-US-Illinois-Restaurant-Slayings.html






Life Sentence Closes Chapter in Arizona Shootings


July 30, 2009
Filed at 3:49 a.m. ET
The New York Times


PHOENIX (AP) -- A sentence of life in prison for one of two men convicted in a series of random nighttime shootings closes a significant chapter in a case that unnerved metropolitan Phoenix residents in 2005 and 2006.

A jury decided Wednesday to spare Samuel Dieteman from the death penalty, unlike his partner in the Serial Shooter case, Dale Hausner. Authorities say the two preyed on pedestrians, bicyclists and animals in attacks that ended in August 2006 when both men were arrested at the apartment they shared in Mesa.

Hausner received six death sentences in the case earlier this year.

Dieteman, who never asked for leniency and was a key witness against Hausner, thanked the court for treating him like a human being after the verdict was read Wednesday.

''I'm truly sorry for the pain that I've caused to many, many people,'' said Dieteman, 33.

Dieteman met Hausner in April 2006 -- about nine months after the Serial Shooter attacks began, and Dieteman's defense attorneys painted him as being Hausner's follower.

Paul Patrick, a victim of the shooting spree who nearly died when Dieteman shot him as he walked down a street in June 2006, was in the court for the verdict and said he agreed with it.

''It's not a cause to celebrate; a mother just lost a son, and children lost their father,'' he said of Dieteman's family. ''No hatred for the family. Too much time has been wasted on that.''

Patrick said if there is such a thing as closure for him, the verdict is ''the closest thing to it.''

Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill, who also was in court, said the verdict was the culmination of four years of pain and suffering for the victims in the case and their family members.

''This is a closure,'' he said. ''The verdict, we think is just. Without the forthrightness of Sam Dieteman coming forward we might not have had a verdict today.''

Dieteman, who had been charged with murdering two people and attacking 14 others, had admitted to fatally shooting 20-year-old Claudia Gutierrez-Cruz in Scottsdale in May 2006 and assisting in the deadly shooting of 22-year-old Robin Blasnek in July 2006 as she walked from her parents' home to her boyfriend's house in Mesa.

Testimony at Dieteman's sentencing trial included a written apology from Dieteman to Patrick, in which he said he would make ''no cries for mercy.'' He also said he regretted his actions, including not turning in Hausner to authorities when he first learned of the shootings.

''There's so many things I would change back then,'' he told jurors.

Ulysses Fuentes, one of the jurors who decided to spare Dieteman's life, said he initially wanted to sentence him to death.

''I felt that what he had done was just irresponsible and there was just no excuse for that,'' said Fuentes, a 19-year-old customer service representative of Phoenix.

He said he didn't feel sympathy for Dieteman. ''Mercy would be a better term.''

Doug Budner, the jury foreman, said he also wanted the death penalty at first.

''The way I was brought up was an eye is for an eye, but as you go into the jury room, then you start seeing evidence unfold in front of you, you have to really listen and really dissect all the information out there and from there make an educated decision,'' said the 53-year-old aircraft mechanic of Phoenix. ''We know we came up with the most lawful decision.''

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Dieteman. They painted him as a drifter who was a willing participant, pulling the trigger and serving as Hausner's lookout.

Investigators said their big break came when one of Dieteman's drinking buddies, Ron Horton, called police to say that Dieteman had bragged about shooting people. ''They called it 'RV'ing.' Random Recreational Violence,'' Horton told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview. Horton died last year.

During Hausner's trial, Dieteman said Hausner professed a hatred for prostitutes and homeless people as they looked for victims in areas frequented by streetwalkers. Dieteman said Hausner never explained why he wanted to shoot people.

In describing one shooting, Dieteman said he and Hausner found humor at the sight of one of their seriously injured victims, who held his stomach and appeared angry.

The Serial Shooter case was one of two serial murder investigations that put Phoenix-area residents on edge during the summer of 2006. Police attributed 23 more attacks, including nine slayings, to an assailant dubbed the Baseline Killer.

    Life Sentence Closes Chapter in Arizona Shootings, NYT, 30.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/07/30/us/AP-US-Serial-Shootings.html






Virginia Governor Sets Free 3 Sailors Convicted in Rape and Murder


August 7, 2009
The New York Times


RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Tim Kaine on Thursday ordered the release of three sailors who were convicted in a 1997 murder and rape case that had become a national cause célèbre as an example of wrongful convictions based on coerced confessions.

The three, who with another sailor were known as the Norfolk Four, were charged in the rape and murder of the wife of a fellow sailor. But after someone else confessed to the crime and the men remained in prison, their plight attracted a long list of supporters, including former judges, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and even some of the jurors in their cases.

Citing “grave doubts” about the men’s complicity in the crimes, Governor Kaine issued a partial pardon to the three sailors — Derek Tice, Danial Williams and Joseph Dick Jr. — which reduced their life sentences to time served and permits them to leave prison in the coming days.

A fourth sailor, Eric Wilson, was not pardoned because he was released in 2005 after serving eight and a half years for the rape conviction. Mr. Wilson was not charged with murder.

The men had been convicted in the slaying of Michelle Moore-Bosko, 18, of Pittsburgh, who had recently moved to Norfolk and secretly married her longtime boyfriend, William Bosko.

“The petitioners have not conclusively established their innocence, and therefore an absolute pardon is not appropriate,” Mr. Kaine said. “However, I conclude that the petitioners have raised substantial doubts about their convictions and the propriety of their continued detention.”

The sailors confessed after they were told they had failed lie detector tests and were threatened with the death penalty if they did not cooperate. But they quickly recanted.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, noted that the confessions contradicted forensic evidence, that no physical evidence linked the four men to the crime scene and that another man, Omar A. Ballard, had confessed, asserting that he had acted alone.

Moreover, Mr. Ballard’s DNA matched the only DNA evidence found at the scene, and he bragged about the crime in a letter to an acquaintance, who notified the authorities. Mr. Ballard was later also convicted of Ms. Moore-Bosko’s rape and murder and is serving time. The tidy appearance of Ms. Moore-Bosko’s apartment and the pattern of her wounds also suggested a single assailant.

Last November, 30 former agents of the F.B.I. called for a full pardon of the four sailors. They joined four former Virginia attorneys general; 13 jurors from two of the sailors’ trials; 12 former state and federal judges and prosecutors; and a past president of the Virginia Bar Association. In opting for a partial pardon, the governor did not overturn the men’s convictions, so they will still have to register as sex offenders and will have criminal records.

It is not clear where the men will go upon their release since their families live in areas where sex offenders are not permitted.

Earlier this year, the best-selling author John Grisham announced that he was writing a screenplay about the case.

“I never doubted his innocence,” Larry Tice said of his son, Derek. After driving four hours from Clayton, N.C., to hear the governor’s decision, Mr. Tice said he had ambivalent feelings.

“I guess we wished the governor could recognize the innocence of these men, but we are happy our son is finally coming home,” he said, adding that he planned to barbecue a pig for Derek. “It’s one thing I know will make him smile.”

Mr. Kaine’s decision angered relatives of the victim.

“The governor has chosen to ignore the facts and history of this case by granting a conditional pardon to these confessed and convicted rapists and murderers,” said Ms. Moore-Bosko’s mother, Carol Moore, of Pittsburgh, in a written statement. “There is absolutely zero new evidence or information to justify this decision.”

Lynne Ragazzini, a juror in the first trial for Mr. Tice, said, “The people that I had on the jury with me, we went over everything thoroughly. We made an informed decision at the time.”

The lack of forensic evidence had been troubling, Ms. Ragazzini said, but jurors were also told that there were children in the house the night before the murder and there were no fingerprints of theirs in the house, either.

Lawyers for the sailors continued to argue that their clients had been unfairly convicted.

“These young men, who were serving their country, were railroaded by coerced confessions,” said George H. Kendall, a lawyer with Holland & Knight, which worked for the last five years with Hogan & Hartson and Skadden Arps to clear the men.

Mr. Kendall added that the jurors had never been told that the detective who had elicited the confessions had previously been reprimanded for having elicited false ones.

If Virginia wants to avoid false confessions in the future, Mr. Kendall said, all criminal defendants should be given access to counsel before being interrogated and all interrogations should be recorded in full. The sailors’ confessions were recorded but not their full interrogations.

    Virginia Governor Sets Free 3 Sailors Convicted in Rape and Murder, NYT, 7.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/us/07norfolk.html






New Evidence Opens Old Wound in 1991 Slaying of 4 Girls


July 1, 2009
The New York Times


AUSTIN, Tex. — Seventeen years have come and gone. The yogurt shop where four teenage girls were raped and murdered has been replaced with a payday loan store. No sign remains of the fire the killers set to cover their tracks; no plaque marks the place where the girls died.

Yet this city has been unable to put the horrific crime to rest. Last week, two men who were awaiting retrial for the murders walked out of jail on bond after new evidence surfaced suggesting that someone else might have taken part in the attack.

The men, Michael Scott, 35, and Robert Springsteen, 34, had been convicted in one of the slayings years ago, but an appeals court overturned the verdict, ruling that the men’s confessions were improperly used against each other.

Now the new evidence — an unknown man’s DNA found on at least one of the girls — has thrown those confessions into doubt. The district attorney’s office has tested scores of people, hunting for the mystery person.

Defense lawyers argue that the DNA belongs to the true killer and proves their contention that the confessions of the convicted men were a coerced mass of falsehoods. But the authorities say investigators may have contaminated the evidence.

The events have raised two possibilities deeply troubling to many in this city, which is home to both the state Capitol and the University of Texas. One is that two innocent men have served nine years in prison for a crime they did not commit. The other is that there might be another killer out there.

“We wanted this case to be closed, but there is this gnawing sense that perhaps it wasn’t,” said Thomas Spencer, the head of an association of ministers in Austin. “We wish we had more certainty.”

Some Austin residents are angry at the turn of events.

“We’re stressed because they let these two guys go,” said Terry Ayers, 61, a cousin of one of the slain girls. “They totally botched this whole case.”

The Travis County district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, said she was confident that her office would resolve doubts about the evidence. The new DNA evidence did not mean the confessions were false, Ms. Lehmberg said.

“It doesn’t exonerate anybody,” she said. “It just leaves us with a new aspect of the case.”

But, she quickly added, “We need to identify this person before we ask a jury to decide a case again.”

The killings on Dec. 6, 1991, have come to be known throughout Texas as “the yogurt shop murders,” and for many here, they were a turning point for Austin, the moment when a sleepy college town became more like a big city, where brutal crimes could be committed at random for no obvious motive.

The girls were attacked just after closing time at the “I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt” shop in a strip mall.

Two of the girls, Jennifer Harbison and Eliza Hope Thomas, both 17, worked part-time at the shop. Ms. Harbison’s sister, Sarah, 15, was sitting at a table with a friend, Amy Ayers, 13.

Before the attackers left, the four girls had been stripped, bound with their own clothing and shot in the head. At least two of the young women were sexually assaulted.

The assailants piled three of the girls in a back room, covered them with Styrofoam cups, poured lighter fluid and lit a fire. The bodies were badly burned, and most of the other physical evidence was destroyed when firefighters put out the blaze.

Noting evidence of rape, coroners were able to gather a small amount of material from the girls. But the only person positively identified from the DNA swabs was a boyfriend of one of the older girls. The police ruled him out as a suspect.

For years, investigations went nowhere. The police chased down thousands of leads and received several false confessions.

In 1999, cold-case detectives went back to interview Maurice Pierce, who had been a suspect for a brief time early on. Then one of Mr. Pierce’s friends, Mr. Scott, gave a rambling 20-hour confession in September 1999 in which he described the attack in detail. He said a teenager named Forrest Welborn had waited outside in a getaway car while he, Mr. Springsteen and Mr. Pierce had committed the crime.

Within days, Mr. Springsteen gave a shorter confession in West Virginia, where he was living, confirming many details in Mr. Scott’s account, the police said. Both retracted their confessions before trial.

Sgt. Ron Lara, who interrogated both men, said they had given details about the crime that had never been made public, like the position of the bodies. “There is no doubt in my mind, personally,” Sergeant Lara said of their guilt.

But Carlos Garcia, a lawyer for Mr. Scott, said the police had bullied his client into confessing and fed him details of the crime. “They broke all the rules,” Mr. Garcia said.

Mr. Springsteen was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to death, later reduced to life in prison. A year later, Mr. Scott was convicted and given life in prison. Both refused to testify against Mr. Welborn and Mr. Pierce; those men had never confessed and were released for want of evidence.

The convictions did not stand. In 2007, an appeals court ordered new trials because the defendants had not been able to cross-examine each other about their videotaped statements, which prosecutors had introduced at trial because they had no physical evidence.

In preparing for a retrial, prosecutors decided to perform a new test on samples from Miss Ayer’s body in hopes of finding evidence to bolster the case. The technology, which had not been available in 2001, was able to detect minute amounts of genetic material.

But the DNA did not match any of the four suspects.

“It blew up in their faces,” Joe James Sawyer, a lawyer for Mr. Springsteen, said. “They went out looking for Robert Springsteen, and the poor prosecutors ended up with the truth.”

Faced with the new evidence, Judge Mike Lynch of State District Court ordered Mr. Scott and Mr. Springsteen released on bond.

Ms. Lehmberg, the prosecutor, said she was reluctant to go to trial until the mystery person was identified. So far, prosecutors have tested more than 100 people, including firefighters and laboratory technicians who might have touched the evidence.

Mr. Scott’s wife, Jeanine, said the authorities were grasping at straws. “They have got a sinking ship,” she said, “and they are trying to figure out how to save it.”

Sergeant Lara and his cold-case squad, meanwhile, are still searching for people whom the accused men may have confided in.

“There are a lot of people out there that know about this case,” Sergeant Lara said. “But they just won’t give it up.”

    New Evidence Opens Old Wound in 1991 Slaying of 4 Girls, NYT, 1.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/us/01austin.html?hpw






NY Woman Gets Probation for Newborn's 1981 Death


June 22, 2009
Filed at 12:24 p.m. ET
The New York Times


SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- A 50-year-old Syracuse, N.Y., woman will spend five years on probation for killing her newborn son and tossing his body in a park trash can nearly 30 years ago.

Patti Cooper pleaded guilty in April to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter for the infant's February 1981 death.

The death had gone unsolved until 2006, when police linked Cooper to the baby through DNA testing on cigarette butts taken from her trash.

Prosecutors say Cooper, then 21, hid her pregnancy from her family and panicked when she gave birth to the baby boy. Investigators say the baby was born alive and died of head injuries

Prosecutors say they don't think a jail sentence would serve any purpose at this point. Cooper said nothing at her sentencing Monday.

    NY Woman Gets Probation for Newborn's 1981 Death, NYT, 22.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/22/us/AP-US-Cold-Case-Arrest.html






Gun Rulings Open Way to Supreme Court Review


June 17, 2009
The New York Times


A year ago, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision establishing the constitutional right of Americans to own guns. But the justices did not explain what the practical effect of that ruling would be on city and state gun laws.

Could a city still ban handguns? The justices said the District of Columbia could not, but only because it is a special federal district. The question of the constitutionality of existing city and state gun laws was left unanswered.

That left a large vacuum for the lower courts to fill. Supporters of gun rights filed a flurry of lawsuits to strike down local gun restrictions, and now federal appeals courts have begun weighing in on this divisive issue, using very different reasoning.

One court this month upheld Chicago’s ban on automatic weapons and concealed handguns, while in April a California court disagreed on the constitutional issue.

The differing opinions mean that the whole issue of city and state gun laws will probably head back to the Supreme Court for clarification, leading many legal experts to predict a further expansion of gun rights.

The new cases are fallout from last year’s Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down parts of Washington’s gun control ordinance, the strictest in the country, and stated for the first time that the Second Amendment gives individuals a right to keep and bear arms for personal use. But the court declined to say whether the Second Amendment in general applies to state and local governments.

In January, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, in a ruling joined by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, declined to apply the Second Amendment to a New York law that banned the martial arts device known as chukka sticks. The ban was allowed to stay in place.

Then in April, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that the Second Amendment did apply to the states, even though it allowed a California county to ban guns on government property like state fairgrounds. That case, Nordyke v. King, is being considered for a rehearing by the full Ninth Circuit.

Those two conflicting cases set the stage for two other cases that were heard as one in the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, testing that city’s handgun ban. On June 2, a three-judge panel of the court, led by Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, a well-known conservative, ruled that there was no basis for the court to apply the Second Amendment to the states. Such a decision, Judge Easterbrook wrote, should be made only by the Supreme Court, not at the appellate level.

The right of states to make their own decisions on such matters, Judge Easterbrook wrote, “is an older and more deeply rooted tradition than is a right to carry any particular kind of weapon.”

The lawyers for the plaintiffs, including the National Rifle Association, have asked the Supreme Court to take up the Chicago cases.

A split among the federal appeals circuits, especially on constitutional issues, invites Supreme Court action, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Californians, Hawaiians and Oregonians have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, but New Yorkers, Illinoisans, and Wisconsinites don’t,” Professor Winkler said. “The Supreme Court will want to correct this sooner rather than later.”

The process of applying amendments of the Bill of Rights to the states, known as incorporation, began after the Civil War but had its heyday in the activist Supreme Court of the Earl Warren era. Much of the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and some rights of criminal defendants, have been applied to the states, but other elements have not, including the Seventh Amendment right to a civil jury trial and the Second Amendment.

Incorporation fell out of favor after the 1960s, but a new generation of largely liberal scholars of law and history have brought it back into the intellectual mainstream, said Akhil Reed Amar, a law professor at Yale University, who supports the process.

“The precedents are now supportive of incorporation of nearly every provision of the Bill of Rights,” Professor Amar said. “Now what’s odd is that the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to the states.”

Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas, said he would be surprised if the Supreme Court accepted these gun cases, because some of the conservative justices on the court had scoffed at incorporation arguments in the past and might not want to set a precedent.

Professor Amar, however, argued that the justices would not only take up the case but would also ultimately vote for incorporation of the Second Amendment.

Even if the Second Amendment becomes the controlling law of every state and town, constitutional scholars say it is still unlikely that gun laws would be overturned wholesale. The Supreme Court’s Heller decision last year, notes Nelson Lund, a law professor at George Mason University, “clearly indicates that governments will still have wide latitude to regulate firearms.”

Even the Ninth Circuit in California, while applying the Second Amendment to the states, still upheld the gun ordinance that gave rise to the lawsuit.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the view of the Ninth Circuit reflected what polls have said was, by and large, the view of the American people.

“There is a right to bear arms,” Professor Volokh said, “but it’s not absolute.”

    Gun Rulings Open Way to Supreme Court Review, NYT, 17.6.2009,http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17/us/17guns.html?hp






Police Find Suspect in Cold Case: One of Their Own


June 13, 2009
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — To her neighbors, she was the kindly friend who delivered chocolate-covered cherries at Christmastime and passed hours in the garage building doors and cabinets. To her colleagues, she was a basketball-crazed jokester who threw herself into work but delighted in pranks like kidnapping a stuffed bear for a candy “ransom.”

But to the police and prosecutors, Stephanie Lazarus, the 49-year-old mother of a toddler whom friends and co-workers could not praise enough, is a killer. Worse, she is one of their own. She is a Los Angeles police detective, and she has been charged with killing the wife of a former lover more than 20 years ago.

Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who supervises hundreds of detectives and has seen his share of sensational crimes in a 32-year career here, is still shaking his head at the whirlwind turn of the case.

Only a few police officers in Chief Beck’s career have been charged with deliberately killing someone off duty, and he never imagined investigating one of his own seasoned detectives for such a crime.

“I don’t know that everyone is capable of homicide, but certainly you never know who is capable of homicide,” Chief Beck said in an interview. “People can hold dark secrets and hold them very well for a long period of time. She definitely did.”

Detective Lazarus was arrested June 5 at police headquarters and charged with the 1986 beating and shooting death of Sherri Rasmussen, 29, whom Ms. Lazarus had stalked and threatened, Ms. Rasmussen’s father has said. Detective Lazarus, a 25-year veteran, was a patrol officer then with two years on the force.

Now on leave without pay, Detective Lazarus is to be arraigned July 6 and is being held in the county jail without bail. An assistant for her lawyer, Mark R. Pachowicz, said Mr. Pachowicz would not comment.

Prosecutors will have the option of pursuing the death penalty because the police assert that Detective Lazarus committed robbery — Ms. Rasmussen’s car disappeared, along with her marriage certificate, during the attack, family members said.

Ms. Rasmussen and her attacker engaged in a “dramatic” fight, Chief Beck said, before she was shot three times and left for dead. Her husband of three months, John Ruetten, found the body when he returned to their condo in the San Fernando Valley.

The department is now reviewing the original investigation to determine whether Detective Lazarus was overlooked as a suspect.

Ms. Rasmussen’s father, Nels Rasmussen, would not comment, but his lawyer, John C. Taylor, said that at the time Mr. Rasmussen had pressed detectives to look into a former girlfriend of Mr. Ruetten who was a police officer, though he did not know her name.

Mr. Taylor said Mr. Rasmussen was told at one point, “you have been watching too much TV,” and ultimately investigators concluded that the killing had probably resulted from a botched burglary.

The case had remained unsolved until investigators in the department’s cold-case unit, newly bolstered as a result of the city’s plummeting homicide rate, reviewed it as part of a systematic check of old files using technology that was not available at the time of the crimes.

They discovered evidence — a saliva swab from a bite wound on Ms. Rasmussen — that, after recent DNA testing, revealed the attacker was a woman and not a man, as originally thought.

After re-interviewing Ms. Rasmussen’s friends and family, investigators began looking at Ms. Lazarus as a prime suspect and surreptitiously retrieved a discarded item from her, tested it and determined that her DNA matched the swab.

Detective Lazarus worked on a small squad investigating art theft and fraud. The homicide unit is right across the hall.

Chief Beck said the department had gone to great lengths to keep its investigation secret, including housing the detectives on the case in another building and limiting its knowledge to “very, very few people.”

The arrest stunned colleagues and friends.

“It is heartbreaking,” said Detective Deborah Gonzales, president of the Los Angeles Women Police Officers and Associates, an organization in which Detective Lazarus had been an officer.

“You had the impression this job was her life,” Detective Gonzales said, adding that at work Detective Lazarus often displayed a sense of humor, for example, swiping a stuffed animal for ransom.

“She left a note saying leave 10 M&Ms on her desk and she would give it back,” Detective Gonzales said.

Detective Lazarus lives in suburban Simi Valley on a street populated with several current and retired police officers. Her husband, Scott Young, is a Los Angeles police officer as well, and they have lived on the street for about 10 years.

An elderly woman who answered the door at their home said: “I have nothing to say, and I may never have anything to say. The press has made a circus out of this.”

Neighbors said Detective Lazarus was friendly but not particularly outgoing. She and her husband mostly kept to themselves, the neighbors said, working on the house or walking with the daughter they have adopted, but displayed kindness through small gestures, like distributing Christmas treats and offering flowers to the sick.

They did, however, share their eagerness for a child.

“They wanted a baby so bad,” said Sandra Preece, who lives across the street. “They asked the neighbors if we knew of anyone who wanted to give up a child for adoption.”

For a time, Detective Lazarus ran a private investigation firm on the side called Unique Investigations, according to The Ventura County Star. An article in the paper from 2000 describes her offering free photographing and fingerprinting of children as part of a protection kit for parents.

Mostly, those who knew her said, Detective Lazarus seemed committed to work. In an article on the art-theft unit in The LA Weekly in April, the detective, who graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, said she became an art lover at 18 after a trip to Italy. She was described as a protégée of the senior officer in the unit.

Her career collapsed on the morning of June 5. Shortly after arriving at police headquarters, she was summoned to a holding jail in the basement with word that a suspect needed to be interviewed. She was relieved of her gun as part of the jail’s procedure for visiting officers, and an arrest team swooped in.

“There was” a suspect, Chief Beck said. “But it was her.”


Rebecca Cathcart contributed reporting from Simi Valley, Calif.

    Police Find Suspect in Cold Case: One of Their Own, NYT, 13.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/13/us/13coldcase.html?hpw






Wis. Man Pleads to Kidnappings, Sexual Assaults


June 1, 2009
Filed at 12:43 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (AP) -- A Wisconsin man pleaded no contest Monday to charges he kidnapped and sexually assaulted two young men who were held captive in chains at his home.

Wood County Circuit Judge Gregory Potter accepted a plea deal that convicted Edward Lanphear of rural Wisconsin Rapids on four felonies in the abductions of a 23-year-old man and a 22-year-old man in Wisconsin Rapids last summer.

Lanphear, 47, a longtime paper mill worker and divorced father, faces a maximum sentence of 130 years in prison at his July sentencing. His attorney, Gary Kryshak, wouldn't comment after the hearing.

District Attorney Todd Wolf said prosecutors wanted to avoid a trial that would likely include the victims testifying about graphic sexual details. Neither victim was in the courtroom when Lanphear entered his plea.

The Associated Press doesn't routinely identify the victims of sexual assault.

During a preliminary hearing, the victims testified that, after nights of drinking, they were abducted by Lanphear -- one on July 4 and the other on July 8 -- handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to his home where they were bound in chains and sexually assaulted.

The 22-year-old said he escaped July 8 after he asked Lanphear for a cigarette and Lanphear left to buy some. The man said he used his chained feet to pull a ladder toward him, climbed it and freed the chain that had him tied to the ceiling in a garage.

He ran naked, chains dangling from his wrists and ankles, to a neighbor, he testified. The man said that when he was talking to a sheriff's deputy at the neighbor's home, Lanphear returned.

''There he is. Go get him,'' the man said he told the deputy.

The 23-year-old testified that Lanphear offered him a ride as he sat on a curb July 4. The man said he thought Lanphear was driving him to his parents' home but Lanphear said he was a police officer and handcuffed him.

The man said he was hit on the back of the head with a flashlight, driven to Lanphear's home and kept in chains as Lanphear sexually assaulted him three or four times over four days.

At one point, the man testified that Lanphear told him that a string was attached to a gun and the man's chains, and that if he tried to escape ''I wouldn't like the consequences,'' a statement the man interpreted to mean he would be shot.

    Wis. Man Pleads to Kidnappings, Sexual Assaults, NYT, 1.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/01/us/AP-US-Wisconsin-Abductions.html






Impersonator to Go on Trial for Kidnapping


May 26, 2009
The New York Times


BOSTON — He told stories of growing up on Manhattan’s Sutton Place, of getting into Yale at 14 and of his work as an astrophysicist, venture capitalist or movie producer, depending on his whim.

And Boston listened.

To his wife and everyone else here, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was known as Clark Rockefeller — presumably a member of one of the nation’s richest and most storied families.

But that persona disintegrated on a Back Bay street last summer when, on his first custody visit with his daughter after a bitter divorce, Mr. Gerhartsreiter pushed aside a social worker who was supervising, jumped into a waiting car with the 7-year-old girl and fled. That led to an international manhunt and, prosecutors say, the unveiling of a life’s worth of spectacular lies.

This most erudite of cities, where Mr. Gerhartsreiter had made his home since 2006, will be watching closely when he goes on trial here this week, seeking an explanation of how he could have fooled his former wife, a graduate of Harvard Business School, and so many others for so long.

Six days after his disappearance, investigators arrested Mr. Gerhartsreiter in Baltimore, where he told them he had hoped to start a new life with his daughter, Reigh. According to court documents, he had presented himself to real estate agents in Baltimore as Chip Smith, a ship’s captain who was moving with his daughter, Muffy.

Soon after the arrest, investigators matched a fingerprint he had left on a wine glass to one from an old immigration document; they said he was a German citizen who had come to the United States as an exchange student in the 1970s, and never left.

Mr. Gerhartsreiter was charged with custodial kidnapping, assault and battery (on the social worker), assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon (the S.U.V. that he fled in, which the social worker had hung on to as it sped off), and giving a false name to the police. The kidnapping charge, the most serious, carries a maximum sentence of five years.

The notoriety of the case riveted Boston, which could prove problematic when jury selection begins on Tuesday in Suffolk County Superior Court. Referring to “a toxic dose of sensational pretrial publicity,” the defense asked Judge Frank M. Gaziano last month to move the trial to western Massachusetts.

Mr. Gerhartsreiter’s lawyers cited the “particularly damaging” effect of the news, reported soon after his arrest, that he was a “person of interest” in the 1985 disappearance and presumed murder of a couple whose guest house he had rented in San Marino, Calif., under a separate alias, Christopher Chichester. Jurors will not hear about that case, but the defense still doubts that an impartial jury can be assembled.

A poll of 300 Suffolk County residents, commissioned by the defense, found that 77 percent knew about the kidnapping case, according to court documents. Of those, the poll found, half believed that Mr. Gerhartsreiter was guilty.

But Judge Gaziano refused to move the trial, writing, “The fact that a juror has been exposed to pretrial publicity does not mean that the juror is no longer impartial.”

The judge also said the defense was partly to blame for its predicament, writing that Mr. Gerhartsreiter’s “calculated efforts to court media attention diminish the argument” for moving the trial.

He was referring chiefly to jailhouse interviews that Mr. Gerhartsreiter gave to The Boston Globe and the “Today” show on NBC after his arrest. Among other things, Mr. Gerhartsreiter spoke of taking a childhood trip to Mount Rushmore in a Ford station wagon, teaching his daughter to read poetry when she was 2 years old and writing a novel on the founding of Israel.

The defense will tell jurors that Mr. Gerhartsreiter was legally insane when he took his daughter to Baltimore and when he spoke to investigators and reporters after his arrest. His lawyers are likely to try to paint him as a fragile, mentally ill man who was pushed over the brink when he lost his beloved daughter, nicknamed Snooks, in the divorce.

An evaluation by an expert defense witness found “indications of grandiose delusions, illogical thinking and misperceptions of reality,” court documents show.

In one victory for the defense, Judge Gaziano has agreed to suppress all but the first few minutes of the statement Mr. Gerhartsreiter gave to state and federal officials after his arrest, on the ground that they continued questioning him after he invoked his right to remain silent.

But an insanity defense can be tricky, not least when the type of juror typically coveted by the defense in such cases — the intelligent type — is also the most likely to have read news reports on the case.

Mr. Gerhartsreiter’s former wife, Sandra Boss, now lives with Reigh in London but is on a list of scheduled witnesses. Mr. Gerhartsreiter told her during their 13-year marriage that he had never used a driver’s license or a Social Security card, according to court filings — apparently to explain his lack of identification — and even persuaded her to file tax returns as a single person.

In her only public statement since Mr. Gerhartsreiter’s arrest, Ms. Boss begged her former husband on a widely circulated video to return Reigh, saying, “Please, please bring Snooks back.”

Prosecutors want to show the video at trial; the defense has asked that it be suppressed. Prosecutors have also asked the judge not to allow discussion of “extraneous” details of the couple’s divorce, the rancor of which Mr. Gerhartsreiter referred to in his statement to the police.

He told them that he lost custody of Reigh “four days before Christmas, which was evil,” according to court filings.

“I just want to be a father,” he said. “That’s all I want to be.”

    Impersonator to Go on Trial for Kidnapping, NYT, 26.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/us/26rockefeller.html






Prosecutors: Peterson Offered $25K for Hit on Wife


May 23, 2009
Filed at 3:39 a.m. ET
The New York Times


JOLIET, Ill. (AP) -- Worried a pending divorce would leave him penniless, prosecutors say ex-police officer Drew Peterson offered someone $25,000 to kill his third wife, but then did it himself.

Peterson also told a fellow police officer just a few weeks before his wife was found in a bathtub that his life would be easier ''if she was just dead,'' prosecutors said Friday as they laid out part of their case against former suburban Chicago police officer.

Peterson is charged with first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He also is a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. He has maintained his innocence in both cases.

Peterson's attorneys had asked Friday that his $20 million bond be reduced, but the judge refused.

Prosecutor James Glasgow said Peterson told a fellow police officer that he would be financially ruined by a pending divorce, and life would be easier if she were dead. Three weeks later, Savio's body was found with a gash on the back of her head in her bathtub, the Will County prosecutor said. Glasgow did not reveal the source of his allegation.

Savio's death initially was ruled an accidental drowning, but authorities reopened the investigation after Stacy Peterson disappeared. They ruled Savio's death a homicide after exhuming her body and completing a new autopsy. Peterson was arrested May 7.

Glasgow said Peterson was a flight risk because he knows how to disappear and knows he faces 20 to 60 years in jail if he's convicted.

But attorney Joel Brodsky said Peterson has not fled during trips to Mexico, California and Florida since police named him a suspect in Stacy Peterson's disappearance. Peterson's attorneys said they planned to appeal the judge's refusal to lower his bond to under $1 million.

Savio's family -- who long said they believed Peterson killed her -- was shocked at the attempted hit allegations.

''Finally someone's listening to us,'' said Sue Doman, Savio's sister. ''This is a victory for our sister, Kathleen.''

Peterson, who is known for making smart-aleck remarks in the media, was subdued in court Friday. He hung his head as he left the hearing, and got into a van to go back to jail.

    Prosecutors: Peterson Offered $25K for Hit on Wife, NYT, 23.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/23/us/AP-US-Drew-Peterson.html






First Death for Washington Assisted-Suicide Law


May 23, 2009
The New York Times


SEATTLE — A woman with pancreatic cancer has become the first person to die under a law passed last year allowing doctor-assisted suicide in Washington, according to an advocacy group that pushed for the law.

The woman, Linda Fleming, 66, of Sequim, Wash., died Thursday evening after taking lethal medication prescribed by a doctor under the law, according to a news release by the group, Compassion and Choices of Washington. The release said Ms. Fleming received a diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer a month ago, and “she was told she was actively dying.”

Ms. Fleming was quoted in the release as saying: “I am a very spiritual person, and it was very important to me to be conscious, clear-minded and alert at the time of my death. The powerful pain medications were making it difficult to maintain the state of mind I wanted to have at my death.”

In November, voters approved the Death with Dignity Act, 58 percent to 42 percent, making Washington the second state — after Oregon — to allow assisted suicide. The laws in both states have been deeply controversial, particularly among religious groups. Washington passed its law after the United States Supreme Court in 2006 rejected an effort by the Justice Department to block Oregon’s law, which took effect in 1998.

In Montana, a state judge ruled in December that doctor-assisted suicide was legal under the state’s Constitution, but the state is appealing that decision.

Steve Hopcraft, a spokesman for Compassion and Choices, said the group was “not leading a campaign in any other state right now.”

The Washington and Oregon laws allow terminally ill patients who are at least 18 and have been found mentally competent to self-administer lethal drugs under the prescription of a doctor.

In Oregon, 401 people used the law through 2008. Since the law took effect in Washington in March, six prescriptions for lethal medication have been dispensed, but a spokesman for the State Department of Health, Donn Moyer, said it had not received any forms saying a patient had used the medication. Under the law, doctors who write such a prescription have 30 days to report that it had been used.

Mr. Moyer, saying privacy laws prevented the state from providing information about a specific death, said he could not confirm Ms. Fleming’s death.

In Oregon, not everyone who received a prescription has taken the drugs.

Some critics fear that physician-assisted suicide will pressure people with terminal illnesses who have low incomes or are disabled to end their lives to avoid becoming a financial burden to loved ones. Supporters cite studies that they say have refuted that idea.

Ms. Fleming, who was divorced, filed for bankruptcy in 2007 with $5,800 in credit card debt, according to court records and a lawyer who had represented her, Hugh Haffner.

Mr. Haffner said that when she filed for bankruptcy, Ms. Fleming, a former social worker, had been unable to work because of a disability and lived in subsidized housing on $643 in monthly disability checks.

Virginia Peterhansen, who said she had befriended Ms. Fleming about six months ago through a book group, said Ms. Fleming bought a 1982 Oldsmobile station wagon days before she was told she had cancer and that she had hoped to learn to contra dance.

Robb Miller, the executive director of Compassion and Choices of Washington, said that he had spoken to Ms. Fleming and that, although he was unaware of her bankruptcy filing, her situation presented “none of the red flags” that might have given his group pause in supporting her. He said Ms. Fleming’s two children and her former husband “were involved and supported her choice.”

The family could not be reached for comment.


Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

    First Death for Washington Assisted-Suicide Law, NYT, 23.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/us/23suicide.html?hp






Witness Tells of Escaping Kidnapping by Defendant


May 19, 2009
The New York Times


The man was dressed like an officer of the law, so Shanai Woodard did as she was told.

She gave him her identification when he asked. But then he grabbed her and handcuffed her hands behind her back. Ms. Woodard, thinking she was under arrest, asked if she could call her sister. The man said no. Then he pushed her into his van, the interior a mess.

“I realized at that point he wasn’t an officer,” Ms. Woodard, 23, said in a Brooklyn courtroom on Monday. Breathing sharply, she pointed at the man who had kidnapped her: Darryl Littlejohn, who is now on trial for the murder of 24-year-old Imette St. Guillen, a graduate student whose body was found dumped in Brooklyn in 2006.

Mr. Littlejohn was convicted last year of kidnapping Ms. Woodard, who escaped. In January, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Ms. Woodard’s testimony was a victory for prosecutors: Mr. Littlejohn’s lawyers in the St. Guillen trial had fought to keep her off the stand, but the judge, Abraham G. Gerges, sided with prosecutors who had argued that her testimony should be allowed.

Justice Gerges allowed Ms. Woodard’s testimony for the narrow purpose of “proving the identity of the perpetrator in this case.” But even with the justice’s instruction to jurors that they should not take Ms. Woodard’s testimony as proof of Mr. Littlejohn’s “propensity” to commit such crimes, his lawyer Joyce B. David acknowledged that Ms. Woodard’s vivid story hurt their case. “It’s not helpful,” she said afterward.

Under questioning from the lead prosecutor, Kenneth Taub, Ms. Woodard said that on the afternoon of Oct. 19, 2005, she was walking home from York College, in Jamaica, Queens, where she was a student in her first semester. She usually took the bus, she testified, but had no money and decided to walk.

She walked on the service road to the Van Wyck Expressway toward her house in South Ozone Park. Somewhere near a church, Mr. Littlejohn approached her, wearing a dark blue uniform, combat boots and a gun on his belt, she testified. The cap and jacket he wore said “Fugitive Agency.”

The van he threw her inside was blue, with curtains on the windows, and a ladder and a spare tire on the back. Ms. Woodard was on the floor of the van, still shackled, when he started to drive away. She made her first attempt to escape, pulling herself onto a seat and trying to open the door.

Mr. Littlejohn stopped the van, punched her in the head several times, and draped a jacket over her head so she could not see.

“He said I was trying to be slick and that I was trying to get away from him,” Ms. Woodard said, her voice cracking. “I said, ‘Why are you doing this? What did I do?’ And he didn’t say anything.”

Mr. Littlejohn started to drive again, she said. Dizzy from his blows, Ms. Woodard tried to escape again.

“I moved the jacket off my head so I could see,” she testified. Again she pulled herself onto the seat, with her back facing the door, and guided her handcuffed hands to the latch. The door opened. “I tumbled onto the ground really hard,” she said.

Children were playing a few feet from the spot where she landed, and Mr. Littlejohn kept driving. “I ran to the first door that I saw,” Ms. Woodard said.

Prosecutors in Queens said that Ms. Woodard’s DNA was found in the blue van.

But Ms. David, speaking to reporters outside of the courtroom on Monday, pointed out Ms. Woodard had told the police that her attacker was much taller and skinnier than Mr. Littlejohn is, and that she had failed to pick Mr. Littlejohn out of a lineup. The sketch that the police produced at the time does not look like Mr. Littlejohn, Ms. David said.

Even so, Ms. David acknowledged that Ms. Woodard’s testimony would play a central role in the trial. “The jury is not going to be able to ignore the white elephant in the room,” she said.

Ms. Woodard left York College and moved in with her parents in New Jersey. A few months after she was kidnapped, while her case was still unsolved, she watched a TV news report about Ms. St. Guillen’s murder. On the screen she saw the van again, recognizing it in a terrible instant as the one she had escaped from.

She called the police.

    Witness Tells of Escaping Kidnapping by Defendant, NYT, 19.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/nyregion/19littlejohn.html?hp






Drew Peterson Pleads Not Guilty to Murdering Wife


May 18, 2009
Filed at 12:11 p.m. ET
The New York Times

CHICAGO (AP) -- Former police officer Drew Peterson pleaded not guilty Monday to killing his third wife, whose death was reclassified as a homicide after the suburban officer's fourth wife disappeared.

Peterson, who has been jailed since May 7, was formally arraigned on first-degree murder charges in the 2004 slaying of Kathleen Savio.

A prosecution bid to change the judge in the proceeding stalled a defense plan to seek reduced bail for Peterson.

Peterson is accused of drowning Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004 with a gash on the back of her head. Her death was originally ruled an accident. But after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared in 2007, Savio's body was exhumed, and authorities reclassified her death as a homicide after an autopsy.

Peterson, 55, has denied any involvement in Savio's death or Stacy Peterson's disappearance.

After his plea, prosecutors asked that Judge Richard Schoenstedt be removed from Peterson's case, citing ''grounds of prejudice against the state.''

In November, Schoenstedt dismissed felony gun charges against Peterson after Will County prosecutors refused to give the defense communications between Illinois State Police and the state's attorney's office. Those documents had led to Peterson's arrest on the gun charges.

The defense challenged the motion, and a hearing on the issue was set for Thursday before another judge.

The prosecution move derailed defense attorney Joel Brodsky's plan to ask that bail be cut from $20 million to less than $500,000.

''Drew has proven he is not a flight risk or danger to the community. Bonds are not supposed to be punitive, but to ensure someone's presence in court,'' Brodsky said on NBC's ''Today.''

Outside court after the arraignment, Savio's family said they did not want Peterson released on reduced bail. Savio's father, Henry, said his one wish is ''to have this done.''

Savio family members said they think money, specifically Peterson's pension, was a motive in the killing.

Peterson's numerous media appearances, where he has gained a reputation for making smart-aleck remarks, could play a big role as prosecutors try to lock him up.

Peterson, of suburban Bolingbrook, has never shied from the media, seeming to relish the spotlight and often joking to reporters. As he was led to his first court appearance this month, he referred to his prison-issued jumpsuit as a ''spiffy outfit.''

And that, attorneys say, could be one of Peterson's biggest problems.

''If one wife goes missing and (another) wife is dead, those aren't usually the subject of jokes,'' said Roy Black, a defense attorney whose clients have included Rush Limbaugh and William Kennedy Smith. ''People are going to think this is a very bizarre person, who's more likely to have committed murder than someone who is in mourning.''

Brodsky has said that joking around is how Peterson deals with stress.

His personality is ''unique, but he's honest,'' the lawyer said Monday.

''He doesn't try to act or change the way he is in order to come across and I think that that will resonate with the jury to show his honesty if, in fact, he does choose to testify,'' Brodsky said on ABC's ''Good Morning America.''

Peterson has said he wouldn't behave any other way.

''Would it be better if I hid my head down and tried to hide my face and hunched and had tears in my eyes?'' he asked NBC's Matt Lauer during a telephone interview aired Friday on ''Today.'' ''I mean, no, that's just not me.''

    Drew Peterson Pleads Not Guilty to Murdering Wife, NYT, 18.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/18/us/AP-US-Drew-Peterson.html






Prosecutors Block Access to DNA Testing for Inmates


May 18, 2009
The New York Times


In an age of advanced forensic science, the first step toward ending Kenneth Reed’s prolonged series of legal appeals should be simple and quick: a DNA test, for which he has offered to pay, on evidence from the 1991 rape of which he was convicted.

Louisiana, where Mr. Reed is in prison, is one of 46 states that have passed laws to enable inmates like him to get such a test. But in many jurisdictions, prosecutors are using new arguments to get around the intent of those laws, particularly in cases with multiple defendants, when it is not clear how many DNA profiles will be found in a sample.

The laws were enacted after DNA evidence exonerated a first wave of prisoners in the early 1990s, when law enforcement authorities strongly resisted reopening old cases. Continued resistance by prosecutors is causing years of delay and, in some cases, eliminating the chance to try other suspects because the statute of limitations has passed by the time the test is granted.

Mr. Reed has been seeking a DNA test for three years, saying it will prove his innocence. But prosecutors have refused, saying he was identified by witnesses, making his identification by DNA unnecessary.

A recent analysis of 225 DNA exonerations by Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, found that prosecutors opposed DNA testing in almost one out of five cases. In many of the others, they initially opposed testing but ultimately agreed to it. In 98 of those 225 cases, the DNA test identified the real culprit.

In Illinois, prosecutors have opposed a DNA test for Johnnie Lee Savory, convicted of committing a double murder when he was 14, on the grounds that a jury was convinced of his guilt without DNA and that the 175 convicts already exonerated by DNA were “statistically insignificant.”

In the case of Robert Conway, a mentally incapacitated man convicted of stabbing a shopkeeper to death in 1986 in Pennsylvania, prosecutors have objected that DNA tests on evidence from the scene would not be enough to prove his innocence.

And in Tennessee, prosecutors withdrew their consent to DNA testing for Rudolph Powers, convicted of a 1980 rape, because the victim had an unidentified consensual sex partner shortly before the attack.

Such arguments, defense lawyers say, often ignore scientific advances like the ability to identify multiple DNA profiles in a single sample.

Defense lawyers also say the arguments ignore the proven power of DNA to refute almost every other type of evidence.

In a case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, for example, Lynne Abraham, the Philadelphia district attorney, argued that the defendant, Anthony Wright, was not entitled to DNA testing because of the overwhelming evidence presented at trial, including his confession, four witnesses and clothing stained with the victims’ blood that the police said was found at Mr. Wright’s home. The Pennsylvania DNA statute requires the courts to determine if there is a “reasonable possibility” that the test would prove innocence.

Prosecutors say they are concerned that convicts will seek DNA testing as a delay tactic or a fishing expedition, and that allowing DNA tests undermines hard-won jury verdicts and opens the floodgates to overwhelming requests.

“It’s definitely a matter of drawing the line somewhere,” said Peter Carr, the assistant district attorney who handled the case of Mr. Wright, who was accused of raping and killing a 77-year-old woman. The defendant did not request testing until 2005, three years after the statute was passed, Mr. Carr said, and in his view there was no possibility that the test would show innocence.

“There’s also the idea that you want finality for the victim’s sake,” Mr. Carr said. “If someone else’s semen was found at the crime scene, we’d have to talk to the victim’s family about whether the victim was sexually active.”

Barry Scheck, a co-founder of the Innocence Project, a New York legal advocacy group that uses DNA to help the wrongfully convicted, said that most prosecutors no longer resisted testing in cases like Mr. Wright’s, where there is one perpetrator. More obstacles arise, Mr. Scheck said, in cases with multiple defendants or cases where a test result might point to another suspect, even if it does not clearly prove the innocence of the defendant.

In one such case near Austin, Tex., a defendant who was convicted in the bludgeoning death of his wife requested a DNA test on a bloody bandanna found 100 feet from the house. On its own, a test of the bandanna would not prove the guilt or innocence of the defendant the same way testing semen in a rape case might. But if it matched DNA found at the scene of a similar crime in the same county, or DNA in a database of convicted felons, it would be significant evidence that someone else might be responsible — the kind of evidence that might plant a reasonable doubt in a juror’s mind or lead to a confession by a perpetrator.

Although such matches have been found in many cases, most state DNA statutes focus only on whether a test alone could prove innocence. The purpose of Tennessee’s DNA statute, a court there said, was “to establish the innocence of the petitioner and not to create conjecture or speculation that the act may have possibly been perpetrated by a phantom defendant.”

Law enforcement officials often say, “ ‘We’re not going to consider the possibility that a third party did it,’ ” Mr. Scheck said, adding, “which is completely crazy because you use the databank every day to make new criminal cases.”

In Mr. Reed’s case in East Baton Rouge Parish, the district attorney who first prosecuted the case and now his successor, Hillar C. Moore III, have appealed every DNA-related ruling in Mr. Reed’s favor and objected to even a hearing on the matter.

They have argued that Mr. Reed’s identity was not an issue in the trial because he was identified by the defendant, even though DNA evidence has repeatedly contradicted eyewitness identifications. They have argued that there was no way of knowing whether the evidence would yield a usable DNA profile — a question that would be settled by testing it.

The victim testified that two attackers had sexual intercourse with her, but the prosecutors now argue that it might have been only one, Mr. Reed’s accomplice. Even if Mr. Reed’s DNA was nowhere to be found, said Prem Burns, the first assistant district attorney, he would still be guilty of aiding the rapist.

Mr. Reed’s lawyers have argued that a test on a rape kit and semen could prove his innocence if it shows two distinct profiles and neither is a match.

But Ms. Burns said that under her reading of the law, the mere possibility that the test would show two profiles is not enough — Mr. Reed has to demonstrate, in advance, that a favorable test result would resolve his innocence without question.

But the prosecutors also seem to believe that Mr. Reed’s arguments are far-fetched. “There are simply too many ‘ifs’ in this case,” Mr. Moore wrote in a recent appeal.

Prosecutors said much the same when Douglas Warney, convicted of murder in Rochester in 1997, argued that a DNA test could lead to the real killer. They called his assertion “a drawn-out kind of sequence of if, if, if.” Yet that is exactly what happened after Mr. Warney’s DNA test, and the killer, when he was identified, confessed.

Nina Morrison, a lawyer for Mr. Wright, said: “The one thing I’ve learned in doing this for seven years is there’s no reason to guess or speculate. You can just do the test.”

    Prosecutors Block Access to DNA Testing for Inmates, NYT, 18.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/18/us/18dna.html?hp






Judge Won't Let Inmate Change Name to 'Sinner'


April 30, 2009
Filed at 3:04 a.m. ET
The New York Times


LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- No, the judge said to a 23-year-old Nebraska prison inmate. You can't call yourself ''Sinner Lawrence Bilskirnir.'' Court documents said Jonathan L. Thomas cited his Norse religion in seeking the name change, saying he ''is a heathen and Thor is his 'High God.'''

But Lancaster County District Judge Steve Burns says government agencies need to closely track Thomas because of his criminal record and because there are three child-support cases against him.

Burns says Thomas' reasons do not satisfy the legal requirements.

In his ruling, Burns said that ''simply because a person is a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim, they do not change their name to Moses.''


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

    Judge Won't Let Inmate Change Name to 'Sinner', NYT, 30.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/04/30/us/AP-ODD-Inmate-Name-Change.html







Reviewing Criminal Justice


March 30, 2009
The New York Times


America’s criminal justice system needs repair. Prisons are overcrowded, sentencing policies are uneven and often unfair, ex-convicts are poorly integrated into society, and the growing problem of gang violence has not received the attention it deserves. For these and other reasons, a bill introduced last week by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, should be given high priority on the Congressional calendar.

The bill, which has strong bipartisan support, would establish a national commission to review the system from top to bottom. It is long overdue, and should be up and running as soon as possible.

The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. More than 1 in 100 adults are now behind bars, for the first time in history. The incarceration rate has been rising faster than the crime rate, driven by harsh sentencing policies like “three strikes and you’re out,” which impose long sentences that are often out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense.

Keeping people in prison who do not need to be there is not only unjust but also enormously expensive, which makes the problem a priority right now. Hard-pressed states and localities that reduce prison costs will have more money to help the unemployed, avert layoffs of teachers and police officers, and keep hospitals operating. In the last two decades, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report, state corrections spending soared 127 percent, while spending on higher education increased only 21 percent.

Meanwhile, as governments waste money putting the wrong people behind bars, gang activity has been escalating, accounting for as much as 80 percent of the crime in some parts of the country.

The commission would be made up of recognized criminal justice experts, and charged with examining a range of policies that have emerged haphazardly across the country and recommending reforms. In addition to obvious problems like sentencing, the commission would bring much-needed scrutiny to issues like the special obstacles faced by the mentally ill in the system, as well as the shameful problem of prison violence.

Prison management and inmate treatment need special attention now that the Prison Litigation Reform Act has drastically scaled back prisoners’ ability to vindicate their rights in court. Indeed, the commission should consider recommending that the law be modified or repealed.

Mr. Webb has enlisted the support of not only the Senate’s top-ranking Democrats, including the majority leader, Harry Reid, but also influential Republicans like Arlen Specter, the ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey Graham, the ranking member of the crime and drugs subcommittee.

There is no companion bill in the House, and one needs to be written. Judging by the bipartisan support in the Senate, a national consensus has emerged that the criminal justice system is broken.

    Reviewing Criminal Justice, NYT, 30.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/30/opinion/30mon1.html?hpw






As Jurors Turn to Web, Mistrials Are Popping Up


March 18, 2009
The New York Times


Last week, a juror in a big federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock.

Eight other jurors had been doing the same thing. The federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial, a waste of eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“We were stunned,” said a defense lawyer, Peter Raben, who was told by the jury that he had been on the verge of winning the case. “It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head.”

It might be called a Google mistrial. The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.

Last week, a building products company asked an Arkansas court to overturn a $12.6 million judgment, claiming that a juror used Twitter to send updates during the civil trial.

And on Monday, defense lawyers in the federal corruption trial of a former Pennsylvania state senator, Vincent J. Fumo, demanded before the verdict that the judge declare a mistrial because a juror posted updates on the case on Twitter and Facebook. The juror had even told his readers that a “big announcement” was coming on Monday. But the judge decided to let the deliberations continue, and the jury found Mr. Fumo guilty. His lawyers plan to use the Internet postings as grounds for appeal.

Jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom. They are required to reach a verdict based on only the facts the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. But now, using their cellphones, they can look up the name of a defendant on the Web or examine an intersection using Google Maps, violating the legal system’s complex rules of evidence. They can also tell their friends what is happening in the jury room, though they are supposed to keep their opinions and deliberations secret.

A juror on a lunch or bathroom break can find out many details about a case. Wikipedia can help explain the technology underlying a patent claim or medical condition, Google Maps can show how long it might take to drive from Point A to Point B, and news sites can write about a criminal defendant, his lawyers or expert witnesses.

“It’s really impossible to control it,” said Douglas L. Keene, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

Judges have long amended their habitual warning about seeking outside information during trials to include Internet searches. But with the Internet now as close as a juror’s pocket, the risk has grown more immediate — and instinctual. Attorneys have begun to check the blogs and Web sites of prospective jurors.

Mr. Keene said jurors might think they were helping, not hurting, by digging deeper. “There are people who feel they can’t serve justice if they don’t find the answers to certain questions,” he said.

But the rules of evidence, developed over hundreds of years of jurisprudence, are there to ensure that the facts that go before a jury have been subjected to scrutiny and challenge from both sides, said Olin Guy Wellborn III, a law professor at the University of Texas.

“That’s the beauty of the adversary system,” said Professor Wellborn, co-author of a handbook on evidence law. “You lose all that when the jurors go out on their own.”

There appears to be no official tally of cases disrupted by Internet research, but with the increasing adoption of Web technology in cellphones, the numbers are sure to grow. Some courts are beginning to restrict the use of cellphones by jurors within the courthouse, even confiscating them during the day, but a majority do not, Mr. Keene said. And computer use at home, of course, is not restricted unless a jury is sequestered.

In the Florida case that resulted in a mistrial, Mr. Raben spent nearly eight weeks fighting charges that his client had illegally sold prescription drugs through Internet pharmacies. The arguments were completed and the jury was deliberating when one juror contacted the judge to say another had admitted to her that he had done outside research on the case over the Internet.

The judge questioned the juror about his research, which included evidence that the judge had specifically excluded. Mr. Raben recalls thinking that if the juror had not broadly communicated his information with the rest of the jury, the trial could continue and the eight weeks would not be wasted. “We can just kick this juror off and go,” he said.

But then the judge found that eight other jurors had done the same thing — conducting Google searches on the lawyers and the defendant, looking up news articles about the case, checking definitions on Wikipedia and searching for evidence that had been specifically excluded by the judge. One juror, asked by the judge about the research, said, “Well, I was curious,” according to Mr. Raben.

“It was a heartbreak,” Mr. Raben added.

Information flowing out of the jury box can be nearly as much trouble as the information flowing in; jurors accustomed to posting regular updates on their day-to-day experiences and thoughts can find themselves on a collision course with the law.

In the Arkansas case, Stoam Holdings, the company trying to overturn the $12.6 million judgment, said a juror, Johnathan Powell, had sent Twitter messages during the trial. Mr. Powell’s messages included “oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they’ll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter” and “So Johnathan, what did you do today? Oh nothing really, I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else’s money.”

Mr. Powell, 29, the manager of a one-hour photo booth at a Wal-Mart in Fayetteville, Ark., insisted in an interview that he had not sent any substantive messages about the case until the verdict had been delivered and he was released from his obligation not to discuss the case. “I was done when I mentioned the trial at all,” he said. “They’re welcome to pull my phone records.”

But juror research is a more troublesome issue than sending Twitter messages or blogging, Mr. Keene said, and it raises new issues for judges in giving instructions.

“It’s important that they don’t know what’s excluded, and it’s important that they don’t know why it’s excluded,” Mr. Keene said. The court cannot even give a full explanation to jurors about research — say, to tell them what not to look for — so instructions are usually delivered as blanket admonitions, he said.

The technological landscape has changed so much that today’s judge, Mr. Keene said, “has to explain why this is crucial, and not just go through boilerplate instructions.” And, he said, enforcement goes beyond what the judge can do, pointing out that “it’s up to Juror 11 to make sure Juror 12 stays in line.”

It does not always work out that way. Seth A. McDowell, a data support specialist who lives in Albuquerque and works for a financial advising firm, said he was serving on a jury last year when another juror admitted running a Google search on the defendant, even though she acknowledged that she was not supposed to do so. She said she did not find anything, Mr. McDowell said.

Mr. McDowell, 35, said he thought about telling the judge, but decided against it. None of the other jurors did, either. Now, he said, after a bit of soul-searching, he feels he may have made the wrong choice. But he remains somewhat torn.

“I don’t know,” he said. “If everybody did the right thing, the trial, which took two days, would have gone on for another bazillion years.”

Mr. McDowell said he planned to attend law school in the fall.

    As Jurors Turn to Web, Mistrials Are Popping Up, NYT, 18.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/us/18juries.html






Peter E. Fleming Jr., 79, Dies; Defense Lawyer Who Relished the Limelight


January 16, 2009
The New York Times


Peter E. Fleming Jr., a prominent criminal-defense lawyer whose client list over more than three decades included high-ranking politicians, flamboyant celebrities and a cast of characters from outbreaks of corporate crime, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 79 and lived in Greenwich, Conn.

The cause was complications of lung surgery, his son Peter said.

Among Mr. Fleming’s clients were John N. Mitchell, the former United States attorney general; Don King, the boisterous boxing promoter; John J. Rigas, the founder of what was once the nation’s sixth-largest cable company; and companies operated by Marc Rich, the commodities trader, who received a controversial pardon from President Bill Clinton.

High-profile names also brought Mr. Fleming out of the courts into public service. In 1991, the United States Senate named him as a special counsel to investigate the disclosure of sexual-harassment allegations made by Anita F. Hill against Clarence Thomas during proceedings leading up to Judge Thomas’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. The investigation raised anew the volatile question of whether reporters have a constitutional right to conceal confidential sources. The Senate eventually chose not to seek contempt citations against the reporters who had refused to cooperate.

Mr. Fleming also received national attention in 1974 when he successfully defended Mr. Mitchell, President Nixon’s attorney general. Mr. Mitchell, along with Nixon’s commerce secretary, Maurice H. Stans, was accused of obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with an investigation of Robert L. Vesco, the fugitive financier. Both Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Stans were acquitted. (Mr. Mitchell went to prison in a different case for his role in the Watergate scandals, serving 19 months for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and lying under oath.)

“We pitched a no-hitter,” Mr. Fleming told The New York Times in a 2002 interview in which he recalled the thrill of being barraged by reporters as he descended the steps of the federal courthouse in Manhattan 28 years earlier after the acquittal. He did not mind the limelight.

A rangy 6-foot-6, typically attired in custom-made suits and French-cuffed shirts, Mr. Fleming could capture a courtroom with a booming voice, an occasional tear or a quip.

A People magazine profile of him during the Mitchell trial described how, “while interrogating former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman G. Bradford Cook, a pivotal prosecution witness, Fleming was asked by Judge Lee Gagliardi how much longer he planned to continue. ‘Till he cracks,’ snapped Fleming.”

In 2004, Mr. Fleming represented Mr. Rigas, the chief executive of the cable company Adelphia Communications. Mr. Rigas had started Adelphia in 1952 with a $300 purchase of a single franchise in the small Pennsylvania town of Coudersport. Mr. Rigas and his son Timothy were eventually convicted of conspiracy, bank fraud and securities fraud involving $2.3 billion.

But Mr. Fleming succeeded in his defense of Mr. King, the boxing promoter. In 1998, Mr. King was acquitted of charges of defrauding Lloyd’s of London, the insurer, by submitting fake expenses and a fake contract from a canceled title fight.

“The guy saved my life,” Mr. King said of Mr. Fleming on Wednesday. “If everything went against me, I was facing 63 years in prison. I think that Clarence Darrow will be standing there welcoming Peter to lawyer’s heaven.”

Peter Emmet Fleming Jr. was born in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., on Aug. 18, 1929, one of six children of Peter and Anna Sullivan Fleming.

Besides his son Peter, he is survived by three other sons, William, James and David; a daughter, Jane Fleming; a sister, Joan Fleming Sexton; and 11 grandchildren. Mr. Fleming’s wife of 34 years, the former Jane Breed, died in 1990.

Mr. Fleming graduated from Princeton in 1951. After serving in the Navy during the Korean War, he graduated from Yale Law School in 1958. For three years, he was an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell. In 1961, Robert M. Morgenthau, then the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, hired Mr. Fleming as one of 15 new assistant attorneys.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Morgenthau, who has been Manhattan district attorney for 34 years, called Mr. Fleming “one of the best lawyers around,” and recalled his independent streak:

“Bobby Kennedy comes up, goes around the room asking, ‘Why did you want to be an assistant U.S. attorney?’ Others say, ‘To do public service.’ Peter says, ‘I did it for the money, general.’ Peter’s making a third of what he was making in private practice, but he’s no sycophant.”

Mr. Fleming won 49 out of 50 cases in his nine years as a prosecutor. In 1970, he joined the firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, where he remained for the rest of his career.

“I never had a client I thought was guilty,” Mr. Fleming said in 2002. “Everyone may deserve a defense, but they don’t deserve my defense.”

    Peter E. Fleming Jr., 79, Dies; Defense Lawyer Who Relished the Limelight, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/nyregion/16fleming.html






Lloyd E. Ohlin, Expert on Crime and Punishment, Is Dead at 90


January 4, 2009
The New York Times


Lloyd E. Ohlin, a prominent criminologist who explored both the social underpinnings of crime and the social consequences of punishment, especially as they related to youthful offenders, died Dec. 6 at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 90.

The cause was complications of Shy-Drager syndrome, a neurodegenerative disease, his daughter Heather Ohlin said.

At his death, Professor Ohlin was the emeritus Touroff-Glueck professor of criminal justice at Harvard Law School, where he had taught from 1967 until his retirement in 1982. He was previously associated with Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

Trained as a sociologist, Professor Ohlin helped illuminate sociological conditions that gave rise to crime, chief among them poverty and the entrenched obstacles to upward mobility that many poor people face. He also studied the extent to which correctional institutions actually correct.

A past president of the American Society of Criminology, Professor Ohlin divided his career between the academy and public service. He was a special consultant on delinquency to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under President John F. Kennedy; an associate director of the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice under Lyndon B. Johnson; and a member of the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice under President Jimmy Carter.

Professor Ohlin was known in particular for his work on the causes of juvenile delinquency, a much-ballyhooed but little-understood subject in the 1950s and afterward. With Richard A. Cloward, he wrote “Delinquency and Opportunity: A Theory of Delinquent Gangs,” a seminal study of the wellsprings of delinquency among urban youths.

Rejecting a common view that delinquency was the product of youthful irresponsibility, the authors argued instead that it was a symptom of poverty and of the lack of opportunity that poverty entailed — conditions that could be addressed through carefully designed social programs in local communities.

“In a democratic society such as ours, equal opportunity is expressed constantly,” Professor Ohlin told The New York Post in 1961. “The myth of log-cabin-to-president and city-street-to-bank-president is deeply ingrained in us.”

He continued: “The trouble comes with the break between aspirations and opportunities. When we lead people to aspire to higher and higher standards and then fail to produce opportunities for them to do so, they are left with a sense of having been denied and they often become delinquents.”

Professor Ohlin helped plan Mobilization for Youth, a $12.9 million antipoverty program designed to prevent delinquency. Conceived in the late 1950s and begun in the early ’60s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, it was rooted in the ideas set forth in “Delinquency and Opportunity.” Mobilization for Youth, which encompassed job training, psychological counseling, a narcotics program, legal assistance and other services, became a model for federal antipoverty programs of the 1960s.

Lloyd Edgar Ohlin was born on Aug. 27, 1918, in Belmont, Mass.; his family owned a small chain of bakeries in the area. He received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in 1940 and a master’s in sociology from Indiana University in 1942. He earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1954.

In World War II, Professor Ohlin served with the Army in counterintelligence in Europe. Toward the end of the Korean War, he spent several months investigating conditions in Korean prisoner-of-war camps for the Human Resources Research Office of George Washington University.

From 1947 to 1953, Professor Ohlin worked as a sociologist for the Illinois Parole and Pardon Board, interviewing prospective parolees and preparing recommendations on their cases. From 1953 to 1956, he directed the Center for Education and Research in Corrections at the University of Chicago. In 1956, he joined the faculty of the New York School of Social Work, as it was then known, an arm of Columbia University. He was later named director of the school’s research center.

In 1967, Professor Ohlin joined Harvard Law School, one of the very few non-lawyers on the faculty; he was also the research director of the Center for Criminal Justice at Harvard. His work in those years included studying the possible hazards of incarceration, in particular for young people.

As Professor Ohlin said in a 1968 speech quoted in his obituary in The Boston Globe on Monday, “By doing nothing but processing children who get into trouble routinely through an overcrowded correctional system, we do more to develop than to stop career criminals.”

Professor Ohlin’s first wife, the former Helen Hunter, whom he married in 1946, died in 1990. Two sons, Jor and Robert, also died before him. He is survived by his wife, Elaine Cressey Ohlin, whom he married in 1993; two daughters from his first marriage, Heather Nancy Ohlin of Chicago and Janet McCandless of San Francisco; a brother, Stanley Nelson Ohlin of Reno, Nev.; and five step-grandchildren.

In the 1961 interview with The New York Post, Professor Ohlin encapsulated the difference between the prevailing view of juvenile delinquency and his own.

“The boy who joins a gang isn’t in a rut,” he said. “He has aspirations, but no place to go with them.”

    Lloyd E. Ohlin, Expert on Crime and Punishment, Is Dead at 90, NYT, 4.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/04/us/04ohlin.html