Recently in Notorious Cases Category

Road Rage Murder

From Crime Watch PA:

The West Goshen Police Department and the Chester County District Attorney's Office continue their investigating of the homicide of Bianca Nikol Roberson, 18, of West Chester, PA.

On June 28, 2017, at approximately 5:30 p.m., law enforcement initially responded to a report of a serious automobile accident in the area of Route 100, just north of Route 202, that resulted in the death of Bianca Nikol Roberson, who was operating a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu.  Subsequent investigation revealed that Roberson suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

Law Enforcement have been interviewing numerous witnesses to the incident and have been reviewing several sources of video surveillance of the roadway and surrounding area.  Law Enforcement are requesting assistance with locating a red, possibly Chevrolet, pickup truck that was involved in the road rage incident with Bianca Roberson's vehicle and was seen fleeing from the scene.  The truck was last seen exiting Route 202 southbound, at Paoli Pike.  The driver of the truck is described as a white male, 30-40 years of age, blonde hair, and a medium build.  The West Goshen Police along with the Chester County District Attorney's Office continue to follow-up on multiple leads in the investigation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:  If you have information on this crime, any serious crime, or wanted person, call Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers Toll Free at 1-800-4PA-TIPS.  All callers remain anonymous and could be eligible for a CASH REWARD.
Chester County is west of Philadelphia.

Jury Nullification At Work

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How many times we have heard, mostly from libertarians, that juries should be free to disregard what they view as an unjust law, or even merely an over-reaching prosecution, to acquit a defendant even if, on the facts presented and the law given by the judge, the argument for a guilty verdict is emphatic?

The Internet is livid that a policeman was acquitted in the shooting death of Philando Castile.  The NYT has this (relatively restrained) story.

I cannot be sure, as no one outside the jury room can be sure, of the reason for this acquittal, which seems as wrong to me as it does to almost everyone commenting on it. From what I can see, even if the officer responded in panic and emotionally-charged over-reaction, he's still guilty of manslaughter.  I saw many cases over my years as a prosecutor, and the only "justification" I can discern for the outcome here is that the jury thought a police officer, always subject to mortal danger even in a "routine" traffic stop, should not be convicted no matter what.  This view may be seen by some as plausible or even compelling.  It is not the law.

This is the reason I've always argued that jurors must put aside personal views, no matter how strongly held, and follow the law, no matter how wrongheaded they think it to be. The alternative is scattershot vigilantism, the very thing civilization was developed to avoid.

Nullification fans, do you like your handiwork?

My View: Mueller Is Conflicted Out

UPDATE:  An op-ed I adapted from this post was published today in USAToday. I am linking it in my entry this morning.

It's scarcely news by now that the appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of Bob Mueller to be Special Counsel to investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 election is the Big Story in criminal law circles.

I know Mueller very slightly, having met him only once, when he was Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division.  From what I know of his reputation, he is an honest, no-nonsense, effective prosecutor.

Under the present circumstances, however, and not without regret, I have concluded that he cannot continue to serve as Special Counsel.

Willingham Prosecutor Cleared

The anti-death-penalty crowd very earnestly desires a case of a demonstrably innocent person actually executed, and if they can't find a real one they will just invent one.  Employing the Lenin Principle, if they can simply repeat enough times that Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent of burning to death his baby daughters, he will become innocent.  The original New Yorker article on the case was a shameless piece of propaganda, as demonstrated in this post.  After the first year, it seemed like we were making some progress on balanced coverage, as noted in this post, but as time went on the only people interested in the case were those with an anti-death-penalty agenda, and that has become the overwhelmingly dominant narrative.

In their quest, they went after the original prosecutor in the case for a claimed Brady disclosure violation.  Interestingly, in Texas you can take a bar discipline case to a local jury, so that is what former prosecutor (and now judge) John Jackson did.

Regrettably, the only coverage on the decision I can find is by the Marshall Project, an advocacy group masquerading as journalists.  So we have to take the story with a heaping tablespoon of salt.  The WaPo is printing this report instead of devoting actual journalism resources to it.  Update:  Michael Kormos has this article on the verdict in the Corsicana Daily Sun, the local paper for the venue.  Regrettably, the article has no information on the trial or the evidence presented that convinced the jury the charges were groundless.

Remembering the Boston Marathon Murders

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The Boston Marathon murders four years ago were shocking even to those of us whose prosecution experience has shown us some of the worst in human nature. The only good thing I ever heard of to come out of it is reflected in this story from 

Image result for martin richard
You cannot make this up:

WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) - The man accused of killing two people in Howland during a shooting on his property butted heads with the prosecutor during his arraignment on Thursday.

Nasser Hamad is facing two counts of capital murder and six counts of attempted murder charges with gun specifications.

During a hearing Thursday, Hamad questioned whether Prosecutor Chris Becker was Jewish and then accused him of threatening his son.

But it gets better.  The defense lawyer also chimed in.

How soft do we have to get on our very worst criminals before people stop accusing us of being inhumane to them?  The case of Norway demonstrates that there is no limit, so we might as well not even worry about that.

As noted on this blog back in 2011, Anders Breivik's sentence of 21 years comes to about 14 weeks per life taken.  The lives of innocent people are pretty cheap in Norway if you only get 14 weeks for taking one.

Yet, as noted here last year, a Norway court found that even this outrageously lenient sentence was being executed inhumanely because Breivik's "three-room prison suite furnished with a treadmill, a refrigerator, a DVD player, a Sony PlayStation, a desk, a television, and a radio" was too isolated.

Today, Agence France-Presse reports:

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has not been treated "inhumanely" by being held in isolation in prison, an Oslo appeals court has ruled, overturning a lower court judgment.

"Breivik is not, and has not, been subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment," it said.

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Sally Yates and Me

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I was never Deputy Attorney General or Acting Attorney General or anything close. But a long time ago, in my days in the US Attorney's Office, I had my Sally Yates moment.  As a mostly obscure, but in that one instance somewhat prominent, federal prosecutor, I disagreed with the White House about the proper litigating position in a high profile case, one that was on its way to the Supreme Court.

Ms. Yates chose her path.  I chose a different one.  

El Chapo in U.S. District Court

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Nicole Hong reports for the WSJ:

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the Mexican drug lord who evaded U.S. authorities for years and built a billion-dollar narcotics empire, is expected to make his first appearance in a U.S. courtroom on Friday.

Mr. Guzmán, who successfully escaped twice from maximum-security prisons in Mexico, was extradited to the U.S. late Thursday. His arrival came as a surprise to many, even to U.S. officials, who said Friday that they didn't know he was coming until the day of the extradition.
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Treason? Not a Problem!

Among the most astonishing and damaging security breaches in decades took place when then-Sergeant Bradley Manning (who now calls himself/herself "Chelsea") released massive amounts of classified national security information to Wikileaks. But, hey, we gotta have second chances!  Thus, the Hill reports:

President Obama on Tuesday commuted the prison sentence of former Army soldier Chelsea Manning, according to the White House. 

Manning was convicted in 2013 of leaking classified information about U.S. national security activities that were later disclosed by WikiLeaks.  The 35-year sentence Manning received was the longest ever imposed for a leak conviction. Manning has already served seven years of her sentence and will now be released on May 17, 2017. 

She was originally set to be released be released in 2045. 

Yup, getting your sentence chopped by 80% for grossly compromising national security while you're serving in the armed forces is just what the doctor ordered.

By any sane reckoning, this is a scandal that exponentially dwarfs the Marc Rich affair.  No wonder Obama waited until about 70 hours before he exits the White House.

UPDATE:  I was quoted on this commutation in the up-to-the-minute journal, Lifezette, here.

Another Hate Crime Hoax

Katie Mettler reports for the WaPo:

When the historic black church in Greenville, Miss., first burned last month, many, including the city mayor, speculated that the intentionally lit fire was a hate crime.
It was a particularly tense time in America, just a week before the bitterly divisive 2016 presidential election came to a close. Then-candidate and now President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and banning Muslims from the United States -- or, at the very least, aggressively vetting Muslims seeking entry to the country. A prominent newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan offered a de facto endorsement of Trump and he secured the support of the KKK's former grand wizard, David Duke.
"Secured" is an exceptionally poor choice of words there.  It implies that Trump sought this endorsement when the truth is nothing of the sort. But let's go on.

Among African Americans, Trump polled with low support.

All this led church and community leaders to believe that, when they found the words "Vote Trump" spray-painted on the outside of the charred, 111-year-old Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, the fire was a political act.
Turns out it wasn't.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs board has this post:

President Barack Obama made one of the final moves of his presidency appointing Debo Adegbile, the lawyer for convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, to a six-year term on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. In 2014, President Obama's attempt to appoint Adegbile to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division was rejected by the United States Senate, with eight Democratic Senators among those opposing his confirmation.
Of course, simply representing a notorious criminal is not, by itself, disreputable or disqualifying.  Criminal defendants have a right to counsel, and in capital cases that right extends all the way through habeas corpus review.*  Lawyers willing to provide effective advocacy even for the worst among us are an essential part of the system.  But the Abu-Jamal advocates went beyond the pale, as has been documented elsewhere.  ALADS concludes:

The antipathy of President Obama towards law enforcement has been reflected from his first days in office all the way through this appointment. From his earliest days in office, when he accused a Cambridge police officer who was simply doing his job of "acting stupidly" and continuing with quick condemnations of use of force immediately after incidents occurred, despite lacking knowledge of the underlying facts, President Obama has by his words and actions made clear his disrespect for law enforcement. Now President Obama has taken his final parting shot at law enforcement through his appointment of Debo Adegbile, a man, found unfit by the United States Senate to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, in large part because of his representation of a convicted cop killer.

Once upon a time, Timothy Hennis was hailed by the anti-DP crowd as an innocent man, wrongly convicted and sentenced to death by a badly flawed system and subsequently exonerated.

Then improved DNA technology proved him stone cold guilty.

Drew Brooks reports for the Fayetteville Observer:

An Army appeals court has upheld the death sentence of Timothy Hennis, a former Fort Bragg soldier who in 1985 butchered a mother and two of her young children.

A four-judge panel in the Army Court of Criminal Appeals filed an opinion last month after a review of 49 possible errors in Hennis' 2010 court-martial, which was the third time he stood trial in the case.

The court found that Hennis' claims of double jeopardy were without merit, as was his claim that the Army did not have jurisdiction in the Fayetteville murders.

"We conclude the approved sentence is correct in law and fact," the court opinion said. "Further, under the circumstances of this case, including appellant's rape of one of the murder victims, the vulnerability inherent in the young ages of the other two murder victims, and appellant's mutilation of all three murder victims, we conclude the adjudged and approved death sentence fits the crimes of which he was found guilty."

Hillary's Defense of a Child Molester

Hillary Clinton, as a young lawyer, accepted a court appointment to represent a man accused of raping a 12 year-old girl.  He was eventually convicted, I believe, of a lesser charge of sexual battery on a person less than 14 years of age.

The question has arisen whether our view of Hillary should be better or worse because she took this case and how she behaved when she had it.  Some (easily the majority of the reactions I've seen) think we should think better.  The argument is that it is the best of our legal tradition that even the most despised defendant is entitled to a faithful and energetic ally as he  faces the power of the state.  The most frequently given example is John Adams' defense of British soldiers accused of brutality in the Boston Massacre.

The minority point of view is that Hillary's defense of the child molester was at best a display of callousness; a moral holiday from the consequences to the victim; a choice she did not need to make; and, in the course of the actual defense, a demonstration of the truth-optional attitude for which Hillary (and in my view, a big segment of criminal defense generally) has become known.

There are two among many articles, here and here, that discuss this episode in a way favorable to Hillary.  Without for the moment going into my view of it (less favorable), I'm seeking readers' views.  There are a number of questions here.  A very, very non-exhaustive list is:  Does or should the underlying truth about the client's behavior affect the lawyer's decision about how, and whether, to represent? Does or should a defense lawyer  --  as an attorney, a citizen, or a human being  -- have any moral obligation to the child victim?  To potential (probable?) future victims if the client wins an erroneous acquittal and is thus emboldened?  Should the lawyer undertake intentionally deceitful (even if not directly unethical) tactics in order to bring about such an acquittal?  Or any acquittal?  Is it a good or a bad thing to allow lawyers to have a "conscientious objection" exemption from a court appointment that makes them morally queasy?  Or is conscientious objection limited to military duty?

Two Years After the Lies, the Truth

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From the Washington Post:

A federal judge has dismissed a $41.5 million lawsuit that protesters in Ferguson, Mo., had filed against police, the city and the county, alleging that police used excessive force against them during unrest that erupted after a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager in August 2014.

In a 74-page decision, Judge Henry Autrey ruled that plaintiffs "have completely failed to present any credible evidence" that any actions by police "were taken with malice or were committed in bad faith" during protests in the wake of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson in Brown's death.

Autrey wrote that police gave numerous orders for the protesters to disperse and that police "clearly had argued probable cause to arrest any individual" who refused to comply with the orders.

The story is here.

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