A Walk in the Woods

April 20, 2014

by Crane-Station

Letty Owings, age 89, describes Easter in a farming community during the early 1930s:

At 4AM on Easter Sunday, my dad went outside, fed the animals and milked the cows. Then he made cornbread and opened a jar of apple butter for the cornbread. This was the only work allowed on Easter, because it was considered a sin to work on Easter.

After we ate, we dressed for church. Mom wore her only dress. Women were required to cover their heads in church, so Mom wore her only hat that she called a “pot hat” which was uglier than sin and looked like an upside-down stove pot. Her hat had eye hooks in the back. My dad wore his only suit, and he wore a men’s hat, but since he did not have to wear the hat in church, he hung it on the hat hook in the back of the church. The preacher wore black.

Men sat on the right of the church and women sat on the left, although that changed, sometime later in the 1930s. The church had a pump organ. One person pumped it, while another person was at the keys. The organist maintained his appointment as such until ‘the sheep croaked,’ we used to say as a joke.

Easter was a communion day. The drink was wine and never grape juice, and the bread was broken from a loaf rather than of a wafer variety, but one had to be confirmed to receive communion, so our church did have Sunday School. Baptism was neither by sprinkling nor immersion but by the preacher dipping his entire hand three times to perform the blessing.

After church, there was no communal get-together or meal. Rather, I went for walks with my father in the woods, the pastures, the fields. The flowers and trees were beginning to bloom. Morel mushrooms would come up with the first warm dirt, if the dirt was warm enough. We walked and walked.

During our walks, my dad told me how much we should appreciate the gifts that we have. He would point to the “boy britches,”pink flowers with hearts that resemble boys’ britches, and blooming trees, and “spring beauties” flowers in the meadows.

Easter is a time of rejuvenation and beauty, but something my father said remains with me to this day. He said, “We have done nothing to deserve this.”

I cherished that.


Greed is a false god

April 20, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Good morning:

Today is Easter Sunday.

Whether or not you celebrate Easter, resurrection is an ancient myth that was old before humans invented writing. The Ancient Egyptian story of the resurrection of Osiris dates back to a time long before Menes unified the Two Lands creating the fabled Old Kingdom of Egypt in approximately 3,000 BC.

Jesus was a rabbi and the core principle of his teachings is the Golden Rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Rabbi Hillel, who lived and died before Jesus was born, expressed the Golden Rule:

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.”

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins and incompatible with the Golden Rule.

Nevertheless, greed is the so-called invisible hand that regulates the free market and, according to neoliberals, the only acceptable form of regulation. Not only is unrestricted greed an acceptable business plan, it has become the only acceptable business plan. Thus, has greed been accorded godlike status.

And we wonder why the world is so messed up.

On this day that we celebrate resurrection and rebirth, we would do well to recommit ourselves to living the Golden Rule. Believing it is not enough. Breath it. Live it. Become it, now.

Rabbi Hillel also said,

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

We are in this together.

Greed is not a path to prosperity. It is a path to corruption, exploitation, enslavement and chaos.

We all know know it.

Now let’s do something about it.


Craig Michael Wood moves to exclude confession that he killed Hailey Owens

April 19, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good morning:

I write today to update readers regarding Craig Michael Wood, 46, who is charged with kidnapping and murdering 10-year-old Hailey Owens in Springfield, MO. I have three new facts to report:

(1) He has new counsel who are experienced death penalty lawyers;

(2) Hailey Owens was sexually assaulted; and

(3) He confessed to police.

Wood has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday, April 24th. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether probable cause exists to support the charges.

The test for probable cause is whether the evidence introduced at the hearing would warrant a reasonable person to believe that the defendant committed the crimes charged. Judges rarely dismiss charges at preliminary hearings and I expect no deviation from that practice on Thursday. A finding of probable cause will permit the State to keep Wood in custody until a grand jury indicts him. The indictment will set forth the final set of charges.

Defense attorneys usually have not received any discovery before preliminary hearings, so they use them to discover information about the prosecution’s case and lock witnesses into their testimony.

Because child welfare records obtained pursuant to a state FOIA request by the News Leader reveal that Hailey Owens was sexually assaulted, I am expecting the defense will inquire into that subject matter.

I also expect the grand jury indictment will contain a sexual assault charge.

Although the prosecuting attorney, Dan Patterson, has not announced whether he will seek the death penalty, I do not believe there is any doubt whether he will do so. The case is too egregious not to seek it because, if a state is going to have a death penalty, it’s going to use it to execute people who kidnap, sexually assault and murder a child.

Because this will almost certainly be a death penalty case, the court has appointed Patrick J. Berrigan and Thomas Jaquinot to represent Wood. Berrigan and Jaquinot are death-penalty lawyers who work for the Capital Division of the Missouri Public Defenders Office. Berrigan has considerable experience handling death cases and an excellent reputation.

They have already done something unusual that suggests they are diligent and know what they are doing. Yesterday, they filed a motion to suppress (exclude) Wood’s statements to police. The motion is not unusual, but the timing certainly is. These motions are typically filed after indictment, but before trial. I have never seen a motion to suppress filed before indictment and scheduled to be considered at the preliminary hearing.

Do not be surprised if the judge declines to consider it on the ground that he is not a circuit court judge and lacks the authority to do so. If he does consider it, I doubt there is any chance he will grant it, assuming he wants to keep his job.

However, he may permit defense inquiry far beyond the permissible scope of inquiry in a normal preliminary hearing where the scope of inquiry is limited to whether probable cause exists. I suspect that is the real reason defense counsel filed the motion. If so, it was a brilliant move to not only broaden the scope of inquiry, but to lock police witnesses into their testimony about what Wood said and the circumstances that existed when he said it.

Defense counsel assert in the motion that Wood was drunk, drugged and mentally ill when police took him into custody, that they failed to advise him that he had a right to remain silent and refuse to answer their questions, that they ignored his request to consult with counsel before answering their questions and that they coerced him into providing a statement by promising they would go easy on him, if he cooperated and told them the truth.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the assertions are true, the statement would be inadmissible because it was involuntary and obtained in violation of the Miranda rule.

We have been watching Gerrie Nel, an excellent prosecutor, and now we are going to have an opportunity on Thursday to watch an excellent death penalty lawyer, Patrick Berrigan.

You will not want to miss this hearing, so please join us for the live stream on Thursday and check-in with us each day between now and then for updates and reports on other cases.

If you appreciate what we do and have not yet made a donation for this month, please do so today. You will not find more knowledgeable in depth no-nonsense coverage of legal matters anywhere else on the internet.

Thank you,

Fred


The Kansas City highway shootings investigation and danger of false confessions

April 18, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good morning:

The Kansas City Star is reporting this morning that police arrested a suspect yesterday at 5:40 pm in connection with a series of shootings on highways in the Kansas City area commencing March 8th and ending April 6th.

According to the article, the man has not been charged. He is an African American.

I do not know if he is the shooter or if he has confessed to committing the crimes, but I do know something about the effects of community panic, pressure on police to solve a crime or series of crimes, and false confessions.

The police offered a $10,000 reward and set-up a tip line for people to call. That strategy created 10,000 reasons for people to report anyone who appears to be suspicious to them.

Loners, oddballs, minorities, the mentally ill, the unemployed, the homeless and young people with a history of being in and out of trouble are especially vulnerable to being suspected and reported to police during times like these.

The following quote in the Star regarding the suspect arrested by police bothers me:

Neighbors said the man kept to himself and would come and go at odd hours of the night.

“The dude was like a ghost,” said neighbor Kevin Cooksey. “In and out. I’m just glad they got him.”

Cooksey said the man would drive up in the car at night, turn out the lights and sit inside without getting out.

I do not see anything suspicious in that behavior and I am more inclined to believe that Mr. Cooksey is a neighborhood busybody who needs to mind his own business rather than believe the suspect is the feared shooter. I also suspect Mr. Cooksey is white.

On January 7th and 8th of last year, I wrote about false confessions and the Phoenix Buddhist Temple murders.

I wrote:

On August 10, 1991, nine bodies were discovered at the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple in the West Valley near Tucson Phoenix, AZ. The nine victims were six Buddhist monks, a nun and two acolytes.

William Hermann of The Arizona Republic described the scene.

Investigators found nine victims lying face down and grouped together, their heads pointing inward like spokes in a wheel. Some had their hands clasped in prayer. The carpet was bloody from head wounds made by .22-caliber bullets and shotgun blasts to torsos, arms and legs.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s detectives spent six days processing the crime scene. They made numerous diagrams, collected all of the shell casings, tore down walls, and removed all of the carpeting. However, despite all of their efforts they did not identify any promising suspects until a month later when they received a phone call from a patient in a mental hospital named Mike McGraw. He told them that some of his friends had committed the murders.

After the phone call, the police picked up McGraw and four of his friends: Mark Nunez (age 19), Dante Parker (age 20), Leo Bruce (age 28), and Victor Zarate (age 28). Over the course of three days of grueling nonstop interrogations from 9 pm to dawn, they eventually obtained confessions from four of the five suspects by refusing to take “no” for an answer and, after breaking them down, they committed the additional sin of providing them with some details of the crime that only the killers would know so that their confessions would be self-authenticating. Only Mark Nunez Victor Zarate failed to succumb to their tactics, so they released him and then they held a big press conference where they triumphantly announced that they had solved the murders.

Six weeks later their case against the Tucson Four, who had subsequently recanted their confessions, fell apart when the crime lab announced that it had identified the murder weapon.

How did that happen, you ask?

On August 21st police had confiscated a .22 caliber rifle from two West Valley boys, Rolando Caratachea and Johnathan Doody, after stopping them at Luke Air Force Base. When the crime lab finally got around to testing the rifle, the analyst discovered that that it was the murder weapon.

The next day, detectives picked up Caratachea (the owner of the gun), Doody and a third boy, Alessandro Garcia, and subjected them to the same non-stop interrogation tactics. Two days later, Garcia confessed that he and Doody did the shootings. Doody admitted that he was present but denied shooting anyone. Caratachea denied being involved.

Three weeks later, Garcia confessed to another murder. Katharine Ramsland reports he told the police that two months after the temple massacre,

he and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Hoover, had murdered Alice Cameron, 50, in a campground. Garcia had goaded Michelle to do it, so she had pulled the trigger. They waited an hour to be sure the woman was dead and then stole her money, which amounted to $20. Michelle pleaded guilty and got 15 years.

As in the case of the Tucson Four, police had coerced an innocent man into falsely confessing to killing Hoover. He was released after serving more than a year in prison.

One month later the prosecution dismissed the charges against the Tucson Four and released them from jail.

Garcia and Doody, who were juveniles, were charged with the murders. Their cases were transferred to adult court due to the seriousness of the charges and the prosecution announced that it would seek the death penalty against both defendants.

Garcia eventually entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to first degree murder and testify against Doody in exchange for the prosecution agreeing not to seek the death penalty against him.

Doody was convicted. The judge declined to impose the death penalty because he was not certain whether Doody was more culpable than Garcia. He sentenced him to 281 years in prison. Garcia was sentenced to 271 years in prison.

In May, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Doody’s conviction on the ground that his confession was coerced. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. The SCOTUS denied review.

His case has not been resolved.

The Tucson Four sued Maricopa County and the case settled for $2.8 million.

The man who falsely confessed to the Hoover murder also received a settlement.

Please do not misunderstand. I hope the police have arrested the right person in the Kansas City highway shootings case. I am merely using this arrest and the comment by the suspicious neighbor to illustrate how community pressure to solve a case and aggressive police questioning of a suspect in response to that pressure can create a false confession.

There will be a news conference later today, perhaps this morning, when police announce additional information about the suspect and the case against him.

If you are interested in reading more about false confessions, please google the name Dr. Richard Ofshe or go to falseconfessions.org

This is our 982nd post and we are rapidly closing in on our 1,000th post. If you appreciate our work and have not made a donation this month, please take this opportunity to do so.

Thank you,

Fred


Gerrie Nel destroys a defense expert and gets him to implicate Oscar Pistorius

April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Good evening:

In the following exchange regarding the position of the magazine rack in the toilet room where Reeva Steenkamp was shot to death, we are going to see an excellent example of a skilled prosecutor leading a very compliant defense expert witness into a trap and springing it shut.

The position of the magazine rack is important to the outcome of the trial because Oscar Pistorius testified that he fired his gun in response to hearing the magazine rack hitting or being hit by something and he was certain that it was not in the position in which the police claimed to have discovered it when they investigated and photographed the scene. The graphic photo showed the magazine rack next to the toilet bowl on the side opposite the door and positioned at an angle to the wall.

The defense contends that the magazine rack was close to the door when Reeva Steenkamp bumped it while reaching for the handle to open the door.

The prosecution contends that they were having an argument and she locked herself in the bathroom to get away from him. They argue that he fired through the door, killing her as she stood away from the door on the far side of the toilet bowl.

Roger Dixon is the compliant defense expert because Gerrie Nel so thoroughly humiliated him yesterday regarding his lack of integrity that today he was absolutely determined to defend his integrity no matter the cost to Pistorius by insisting that the magazine rack was positioned where the police said they found it. That is, on the other side of the toilet contrary to what Pistorius said.

The exchange begins around the 45 minute mark of Session 1 earlier today.

Nel: Now are you saying that after the wound to the back was sustained on your reconstruction, that the deceased got up again . . . you’re not saying that?

Dixon: The deceased was lifted, up my Lady, by Mr. Pistorius when he took her out of the bathroom. Other than that, I do not believe that she made any more voluntary movements after she fell to the floor.

Nel: On your reconstruction [with glasses twirling], having fallen on the magazine rack, the furthest point of the magazine rack from the toilet, that’s what you said, and that caused the bruise to the buttocks . . .

Dixon: The contusion as Mr. Simmonds said . . .

Nel: Good. And in the same movement, it caused the two contusions on the back, am I correct?

Dixon: That is correct, my Lady.

Nel: And from that position she must have fallen forward toward the toilet bowl . . .

Dixon: That is my interpretation, my Lady.

Nel: Then one would expect the magazine rack to be there?

Dixon: That is so, my Lady.

Nel: The accused said to this court that it definitely wasn’t there. Are you giving a version that is different than the accused version?

Dixon: My Lady, my reconstruction of the events in that toilet is based on the evidence that I can see and measure and has been recorded by other people.

Nel: So what you’re saying, let me just get that . . Whatever the accused is saying, you’re saying he’s wrong.

Dixon: My Lady, I am giving testimony on what I observe and interpret. I am not saying that anyone else is right or wrong.

Nel: Can the accused be right, if you’re right? He said the magazine rack was definitely not there. Then he must be wrong. You’re his witness. What are you saying about that?

Dixon then refers to a photograph of the blood on the floor next to the toilet and shows two marks — one of a dry spot where the blood congealed around one leg of the magazine rack, which was positioned in a pool of her blood next to the toilet bowl on the far side of the toilet from the door, and the second of a bloody smudge on the floor next to the wall after the magazine rack was moved. The photograph contradicts Pistorius’s testimony.

In other words, in a desperate move to salvage his honor, dignity and professional reputation, Dixon used the photograph to drive another nail into Pistorius’s coffin.

I have never seen that done before.

Nel is a master of his craft and if you are at all interested in the art of cross examination, you need to watch him in action.

The trial of Oscar Pistorius resumes on Monday, May 5th.

That is also the scheduled date for the beginning of Michael Dunn’s retrial, although I am still anticipating a defense continuance.

In the meantime, we will check in on the other cases we have been covering and take another look at the Boston Marathon Bomber case.

Please let us know if you have any other cases you would like to see us discuss.

Finally, if you have not already made a donation this month and can afford to make one, please do so.

Thank you, Fred


The Exit Room (short film)

April 17, 2014

posted by Crane-Station

This is a powerful film, and I was only about a minute or so into it, when I realized that it reminded me very much of a film that I saw in the early 1970s. I will explain at the end of this post. Here is what Vimeo includes about The Exit Room:

Starring: Christopher Abbott
OFFICIAL SELECTION 2013 @ Tribeca Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Hollyshorts Film Festival, Aruba International Film Festival and many more.
SYNOPSIS: It is 2021, and imprisoned journalist Joseph Michaels faces government execution as he contemplates a desperate escape attempt in order to return to his wife and new-born in The Exit Room.
Director: Todd Wiseman Jr.
Producer: Ariel Elia
Cinematographer: Milos S. Silber
Co-Producer: Tyler Ben-Amotz
Editor: Brian Denny

The film that I saw in the early 1970s is called An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and as it turns out, this film is based on that excellent film:


Pistorius: Gerrie Nel’s savaging of Roger Dixon continues

April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Good morning:

Gerrie Nel continues his savaging of Roger Dixon, the defense “expert” witness whom Nel exposed yesterday for testifying outside his area of expertise, which is geology. Dixon expressed opinions in pathology, wound ballistics, ballistics, as well as audio and video analysis that contradict the state’s theory of the case as laid out by its expert witnesses during the state’s case in chief.

Not a good idea, Roger, old chap. In fact, it was a really bad idea, unless his idea of fun is to be discredited and humiliated in front of a world audience.

Unfortunately, the field of forensic science is densely populated by all sorts of unqualified people from all sorts of backgrounds eager to make money pretending to be scientists. They lie about their credentials, fake their results, cut corners, tailor their testimony to fit their master’s desire and complain loudly whenever anyone dares challenge their results. What cheek!

Regulatory oversight is about as desirable to them as daylight to a vampire.

Their idea of proficiency testing is to know when they are going to be tested and the correct results before they do the test. If a miracle happens and they get a wrong answer, they get to do it over again until they get it right so that they can testify that they have a perfect record on their proficiency tests.

Their idea of peer review is to have a supervisor, who often is another charlatan who has been around a little longer, glance at their results and sign-off on them.

Most of the laboratory analysts who work for state crime labs are wannabee cops and the prosecutors who rely on them to obtain convictions do not want rock the boat, so they also resist regulatory oversight.

No one knows the ratio of charlatans to legitimate scientists, but I would not be surprised to discover that it exceeds 50%.

Gerrie Nel is a great white shark in a robe, an apex predator with attitude. He is one of the best prosecutors I’ve ever seen and a treat to watch.

Pop some corn, settle in and join Crane-Station and me as the master flogs Roger Dixon before a world audience and a more than a little worried Oscar Pistorius.

Watch his command of language, timing, voice, the way he worries his robe and twirls his reading glasses. Note how he controls a witness by interrupting an unresponsive answer by repeating his question and then asking, “Why won’t you answer my question? “You’re not doing yourself any favors, you know.”

I especially like how he uses pauses to create tension.

If any of you are fledgling trial lawyers, study this man.

And don’t forget to make a donation, by the way, if you have not already done so.

Thanks,

Fred

Session 1

Session 2


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