Recently in Notorious Cases Category

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.

Earlier this summer, the lenient sentence given to Stanford student Brock Turner for a sexual assault on an unconscious young woman sparked national outrage.  Friday, he was released from jail after serving only half of that.  Paul Elias has this story for AP, with extensive background on the case.

What lessons should we draw from this double outrage?

First, the excessively lenient sentence demonstrates why we cannot vest too much discretion to judges to grant leniency.  In other words, it demonstrates--conclusively, in my mind--that we will always need "mandatory minimums" in some form for some crimes.

Second, Turner's release in 3 months when sentenced to 6 demonstrates that we need to be very careful with "credits" against sentences and award them only when they serve an important function.

Third, given the number of people guilty of serious crimes who are now sentenced to county jail in California, it is imperative that we build enough jail capacity to hold them for every single day for which they are sentenced, reduced only by those judiciously awarded credits.
The AP reports that President Obama today met with the family of Alton Sterling, a black man shot last month by Baton Rouge police.  The story mentions (in one sentence) that he also met with the families of the three policemen ambushed in "response" to that killing.

Because I do not adequately know the circumstances of the Sterling shooting, I'm not going to comment on the prudence of the President's meeting with his relatives.  The nearly simultaneous meeting with the officers' families implies a moral equivalence of which I am skeptical, but, again, not in a position to say much more than that.

I do have a question, however:  Where is Obama's meeting with the families of Erveena Hammonds and her daughters, aged seven and ten?  They were knifed to death in January by Wendell Callahan, who had been in federal prison but was released early under the Fair Sentencing Act, gushingly supported and signed by Mr. Obama on August 3, 2010. But for Callahan's early release under that bill, Ms. Hammonds and her little girls would be alive today.

Their murder scene was so gruesome that responding police had to be given counseling afterward.  Apart from the FSA, Callahan's windfall early release was facilitated by the false representation from Obama's US Attorney's Office in Columbus, Ohio that Callahan did not present a danger to the community. 

As we have seen before, Mr. Obama is happy to blame local police, but takes not a shred of responsibility for grotesque child murders his Presidential signature, and the lies from his Justice Department, facilitated.

The Case for Disbarment Just Got Stronger

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I have discussed before (e.g., here and here) the question whether State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby should be disbarred.  I oppose disbarment simply because she failed to win a conviction; acquittals are contemplated by any system that interposes a neutral trier of fact between the prosecutor and the accused.  I have also opposed disbarment simply because of Ms. Mosby's partisan and grandstanding behavior; the remedy is too potent for the offense (and comes from the wrong source).

Today, however, I saw a story that makes the case for disbarment considerably stronger:

Leaked text messages between one of Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's deputies and the lead investigator in the Freddie Gray case are raising new concerns about whether politics played a role in the decision to charge six officers with his death.

Fox News' Trace Gallagher reported that the leaked messages suggest that the prosecutors planned to charge the officers, regardless of what the evidence showed.

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