Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jail Watch: Dallas Jail Inmate Corey Bailey's Death Under Increasing Scrutiny, Family Is Suing

Corey Bailey was 31 years old when he died, face down, on the floor of a cell in the Dallas County Jail this past June. No friends, no family, no last rites, alone on a cold floor, and we know he was scared - think about that.


So far, there's been an internal investigation - but none of the jail employees have been given leave, much less fired, for any wrongdoing - and the medical examiner's initial decision was that the cause of Bailey's death was "undetermined."

Sure doesn't sound like it's that hard to call ... and Bailey's family apparently thinks so, too, because they've sued.

Here's the backstory:

1. Corey Bailey was mentally ill, and suffering from paranoid delusions.

2. On June 27, 2008, Corey Bailey was to be moved from the Decker Jail to another facility.

3. Corey Bailey was mentally ill -- paranoid -- and scared of the guards - he confronted them, and they admit to spraying him with pepper spray.

4. Somehow, there's a gap in the story here (ahem), Corey Bailey is moved and he's placed face down in a new jail cell.

5. Twenty minutes later, according to the guards, they come to check on Corey Bailey and he's "nonresponsive." Read that, dead.

6. From the medical examiner, we know that Corey Bailey suffered from toxic effects of PCP, suffered from "excited delirium," and suffered from the "restraint by police officers," which together combined with "physiological stress associated with restraint" to kill him.

7. The autopsy report reveals that "traumatic asphyxia associated with restraint" may have contributed to Corey Bailey's death -- and that happens from choke holds or from pushing a knee into Corey's back (which would keep Corey from breathing).

Here's what the family attorney has pled in the lawsuit:

1. Corey Bailey was handcuffed at the wrists and ankles before anyone attempted to move him anywhere.

2. Six guards then dragged Corey Bailey down the hall by his pant legs and arms. That's right: SIX.

3. Corey Bailey was vomiting as they were doing this.

4. Corey Bailey spat at the nurse who was treating him for the pepper spray, and for an injury to his knee. (Before you get upset at this, put yourself in Corey's position. Ponder how you're feeling right about now, the fear and the anger .... add to that a delusion or two - maybe monsters are trying to kill you, or maybe aliens are trying to abduct you ... you're not in reality right now)

5. In response, a guard covered Corey Bailey's mouth with a plastic bag until a mask arrived (this is in the autopsy report).

6. Guards placed Corey in a cell, face down, and removed his cuffs (which we can assume means he was unconscious, right?)

Who Was Corey Bailey?

According to his brother Cedric, Corey was a church-going, hard-working guy who took care of his 10-year-old son. He had family who loved him.

According to medical records, Corey was a diagnosed mentally ill person, suffering from paranoid delusions.

According to autopsy records, Corey was a drug user because somehow, he had PCP in his system. (Isn't this curious???? ? Wonder when that PCP was put into Corey's body????? This PCP is just so darn convenient.)

Finally, according to jail records, Corey Bailey is the first inmate to die after an involvement with Dallas County jail guards since the jail was forced by court order to make "improvements" -- and these changes only happened after federal inspectors ruled that the Dallas County Jail was dangerous and indifferent to human suffering.

The Dallas County Jail was "dangerous and indifferent to human suffering."

When was that? Just 2 years back ... doesn't sound like much has changed, does it?

Meanwhile, the most sincerest of condolences to the family and friends of Corey Bailey, especially his ten year old son.


Dallas Morning News

Monday, December 29, 2008

Media Watch: Dallas Morning News Changes Its 100 Yr. Stance on Death Penalty

Today, the Dallas Morning News changed its position on the death penalty, and after 100 years the newspaper no longer supports capital punishment. Wow.

The entirety of the editorial is worth the read, but here are some excerpts in case you don't have the time:

"The year draws to a close with Texas in its familiar No. 1 place nationally in capital punishment statistics (18 of the nation's 37 executions in 2008). It has also been a year rich with examples of why this state should stop its error-prone machinery of death. ...

"For a change, discussion about flawed justice need not start in Dallas County, the nation's ground zero for DNA exonerations. Just to the north, Collin County illustrates how even a highly educated, affluent community can get it wildly wrong in the high-stakes gamble called capital punishment. ...

"There is no quick or neat fix for breakdowns in justice that range from poor technology to dishonesty among officers of the court. Dozens of DNA exonerations across the state – including the nation-leading 19 in Dallas County – have demonstrated how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. Further, statistics indicate a disturbing arbitrariness of capital punishment, varying greatly by county. Data also show that a killer is far likelier to die for killing a white person. ...

"It's the view of this newspaper that the justice system will never be foolproof and, therefore, use of the death penalty is never justified. ...."

Read the full editorial here:

Editorial: Death penalty moratorium needed

For some earlier posts on issues addressed in this editorial, see:

Crime News: Bernie Madoff Scandal Kills DNA Testing for Wrongfully Convicted

Judge Watch: Secret Love Affair Between Trial Judge and DA Stops Execution?

Crime News: Will DNA Tests Free Johnnie Lindsey on Friday?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Crime News: Bernie Madoff Scandal Kills DNA Testing for Wrongfully Convicted

The biggest Ponzi scheme in history has reached Texas - and it's very bad news.

This week, while Bernie Madoff sits on house arrest in his plush NYC condo, the Innocence Project of Texas was forced to announce that while they can finish up their scheduled DNA testing for folk who have been wrongfully convicted, they don't have the cash to continue.

JEHT Foundation Closed Its Doors on December 15, 2008

Seems the Madoff scandal forced the JEHT Foundation to shut down, and this was the organization that paid for all these DNA tests.

An acronym for Justice Equality Human dignity and Tolerance, JEHT has been the work of New York philanthropist Jeanne Levy Church and her husband, Kenneth. JEHT focused upon criminal justice reform nationally, and just last year the Levy Churches gave $29.9 million via the Foundation for this Dallas DNA testing endeavor. Madoff's evildoings put an end to JEHT's cashflow, effective December 15th.

There is some good news here. According to the Dallas Morning News, JEHT gave $400,000 to the Innocence Project of Texas and the Project is legally free to keep that cash, and pay for DNA tests already on its calendar.

Just forget the $15,000,000 that JEHT was negotiating to invest in Dallas justice over the upcoming year ....

What Happens With the Innocence Project of Texas?

First, after what is reported as an initial "panic," their leadership has regrouped and after determining that they can keep the $400,000, they're going to try and spread that money over the DNA testing on schedule and hope that this will cover the years of questionable verdicts currently under scrutiny.

They're also talking about where else they can go for funds, and how they can organize fundraisers, etc.

Finally, their executive director reportedly told the Dallas Morning News, " I think it's going to turn out okay."

A Suggestion for Bernie - Instead of House Arrest, Put Him in James Woodard's Old Cell

Here's one suggestion that I'm sure lots would agree would be true Texas Justice -- let's move Bernie Madoff from his Manhattan condo, and put him into one of the Texas prison cells in which one of the wrongfully convicted had to reside while Madoff awaits trial.

Maybe Bernie could kick back in the prison cell of James Woodard, who was released at age 55 after serving 27 years for the wrongful conviction of raping and murdering his girlfriend. (Woodard's got the record right now for the longest amount of wrongful time served.)



Associated Press

New York Times

Dallas Morning News


Monday, December 22, 2008

JUDGE WATCH: Houston Judge Ignores Reversal of Conviction, Keeps Abused Kid Behind Bars Whose Repeated Outcries Where Ignored

This Christmas story should make you mad. Mad at a lot of people .... really, really mad.

Right now, a kid sits in jail over this Christmas holiday because a judge said so - a boy who everyone knows suffered physical abuse from his father for years must spend another Christmas behind bars.

And, even though the 14th Court of Appeals says this kid didn't get a fair trial the first time.

Who is this kid?

We don't know his name - that much is being protected. We do know that he is a boy who at the age of 10, after no adult would listen to him, took matters into his own hands to protect himself and his little brother (two years younger), and shot his father to death when the dad came to pick up the boy and his brother from their mother's home (the parents were divorced).

Get this (and this comes from the 14th Court's opinion):

1. Cops were called to the parents' home on 20 separate occasions on domestic violence calls with each of them -- mother and dad -- being arrested more than once.

2. The boy in jail saw his dad arrested at least 7 times because of physical altercations.

3. This dad was not some fly-by-night guy: the boy's father was an emergency room doctor at the University of Texas hospital in Galveston. That's right: an ER doctor.

4. When the boy was 6, he saw his dad take a hammer to his mother - and the child picked up the phone, trying to get his mother to call 911. She didn't.

5. While a psychologist confirmed that the boy had been sexually abused, and while the mother found the boy exhibiting behaviors that are known to be evidence of sexual abuse, nothing was done after the boy outcried that his father was the perpetrator -- CPS was inept, the police didn't file charges. And this was true for authorities in both Houston and Galveston. The dad didn't lose parental rights or visitation.

6. The boy was beaten by his father - the father used his hands or a leather belt.

7. The boy was afraid to take a bath in his father's home because of fear of molestation. He took a beating rather than take a bath.

8. The father was known to have "intermittent explosive disorder" and was also known not to be taking medication to combat the condition.

9. Cops had to be called to make the boys get in the car to go on legal visitation with their dad.

10. The father's new girlfriend hit the boys, called them names like "pigs" and "turds" and would lock the boys out of the house. The boy could not stop the girlfriend from "whipping" his little brother with a belt.

11. The boy was under the care of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist at the time of the shooting.

12. He had been given Prozac for depression.

What? What's going on here?

Four years ago, this 10 year old boy from Katy, Texas, was tried and convicted of shooting his father to death as the dad came to pick up the boy and his brother from their mother's home (the parents were divorced). He pulled a pistol out of his backpack and shot his father through the driver's seat of the SUV as the boy and his brother were being picked up for weekend visitation.

Last week, the 14th Court of Appeals reversed that conviction. The boy did not get a fair trial.

What was unfair? The appellate court found that the jury didn't get to hear evidence about how that boy thought he was defending himself and his kid brother from his dad. Part of that evidence included this 10 year old meeting with a psychologist just hours before the shooting, outcrying that he was afraid of his father, as well as this child telling a variety of authorities many times that he was scared of his dad.

According to the Appellate Court, this boy should have a new trial, where evidence that he was trying to protect his brother and himself could be a part of the jury's consideration of his guilt or innocence.

Apparently, the Houston judge doesn't care what the Appellate Court thinks is fair.

What's the judge's excuse? Why can't this child -- who suffered for 10 years with his parents, only to suffer his next four years of life in TYC -- come home for Christmas?

The trial judge wants to wait till the full Appellate Court grades the papers of its three-justice panel. Usually, appellate court decisions are rendered by panels of three justices who collectively render an opinion. If someone requests it, that panel decision can be reviewed by the entire appellate court -- and all the justices come together for a collective result.

Ridiculous. Sad. Sounds a lot like this boy just keep getting abused, doesn't it?

Free this boy!!! Perhaps the 14th Court of Appeals can do something here -- something like justice????


Houston Chronicle


FoxHouston (includes the 14th Court of Appeals Opinion)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

DA Watch: In Odessa, Ethnicity is a Threat to Society and It's a Law and Order Love Match

Quick! Someone call the Coen Brothers! I've got a pitch for them. And, it's based on FACT.

Okay, first: the Ector County District Attorney just transfered a case over to the Big Kahuna -- the Attorney General of the State of Texas -- so the Attorney General can represent the government in the penalty phase of a case that's already been tried twice.

That's just not done every day. (Feel the interest build ....)

Then, add to that the reason why: seems that the defendant, Mike Gonzales, was sentenced to death in a case where one of the government's expert witnesses actually testified to the jury (yep, it's on the record) that the guy's ethnicity was an indicator that he was a threat to society.

Ethnicity. You know, like he's ... hispanic. (Okay, we've got a villian.)

That's just not said out loud every day - and particularly, by an expert witness in sworn testimony. Oh - and this expert, Walter Quijano, isn't some zany hired gun they found in the classifieds somewhere. Oh, no no no.

Seems Walter Quijano used to be the chief psychologist for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. That's right.

(Ironic twist: guy with surname of Quijano is swearing that ethnicity is a threat to society and apparently, offering himself of as proof of same. WHEN are the Coen Brothers calling me?????!!!)

The guy testifying that ethnicity means a danger to society (think about that) was the Big Kahuna over at the Department of Criminal Justice's psych dept. Yes, he was the Big Cheese over there. The Man with a Plan. The Chief. The Boss. The Top Dog.

And this crazzzeee guy has apparently given this same sworn testimony in around 6 other cases where men's lives were at stake (a jury has to determine that someone already convicted of murder is also a future threat to society before they can impose the death sentence).

I don't know about you, but I'm already pondering who would play this guy in the movie.

But hey! The story's not over.

Seems that over in Ector County, the first assistant D.A. (Jack McCoy's job in the original Law & Order series) is married to the lead investor (Lennie Briscoe's job, ditto) in Mr. Gonzales' case.

(Here comes the romantic sub-plot!)

So, the Ector County District Attorney, Bobby Bland (great name, let's keep it in the screenplay), asked the Attorney General's advice on Mr. Gonzales' case because he was concerned there might be some talk, since there's all this hoopla over in Collin County about a judge and a district attorney having a long term affair, all the while trying death penalty cases together. (Check out the earlier post on the Collin County Love Connection.)

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Ector County DA told them, "[t]he (attorney general) recommended that my office recuse itself from that case so there wouldn't be an affect on the case if it were to be appealed," Bland said.

Yeah, you think? (Who's gonna play this guy?)

Oh, and what's the latest on Mike Gonzales? Jury selection has been scheduled for April, and the Attorney General's office will be setting at the prosecution table.

Whew. I'm tellin ya -- I see Oscars here.


Houston Chronicle

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cop Watch: Austin Cops Pay Out Their Second $1 Million in 2 Months Time for Wrongful Death Shootings

Be careful in Austin, boy howdy.

Last month, the Austin City Council approved a $1,000,000 settlement in the case brought by Kevin Alexander Brown's family. Seems Kevin Brown, 25, was shot as he was running from an Austin policeman already under suspicion for using excessive force.

Brown was shot dead at the scene, only two days after the press announcement that the US Department of Justice was investigating the possible use of excessive force by members of the Austin Police Department.

This month, here comes the Austin City Council approving another $1,000,000 settlement -- this one for the shooting death of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha.

Rocha was killed during a traffic stop -- shot by a cop who said she was afraid he had gotten ahold of her (or her partner's) Taser and was about to use it on them. The Taser was found 10 feet away from Rocha's body.

Oh, and one interesting point to note: 18-year-old Daniel Rocha was shot in the back.

When Can the Cops Shoot to Kill?

Police are allowed to shoot - and even kill - when they are under the reasonable belief that either they or others are in danger of imminent (and possibly fatal) harm.

With Brown, running away hardly seems like a threat of harm. Let him go and you're totally safe, right?

With Rocha, even if he had a Taser those things aren't guns - they can stop you, they are painful, but they don't kill people. Plus, no one stopped to check and make sure Rocha even had the Taser ... talk about excessive force.

Will Two Million Bucks Send a Message?

Two million bucks. In two months time. Maybe paying that much money out of city coffers will make someone train these cops to stop and think.

Meanwhile, if you're stopped by a cop in Austin -- be very, very careful.


Austin American Statesman

Austin American Statesman

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cop Watch: KopBusters Traps Corrupt Odessa Cops and You Can Watch on YouTube

Barry Cooper used to be a cop. Now, he's a KopBuster.

Barry's big on civil liberties and he's making a living these days by exposing corruption - you can peruse his site, Never Get Busted Again, where products like the DVDs "Never Get Raided" and "Never Get Busted Again" are sold for $24.95 (they're even cheaper now, apparently Barry's got a Christmas special going on this month).

Barry Cooper and KopBusters Set Up Corrupt Odessa Cops

This Odessa story began when Barry Cooper and his company, KopBusters, were contacted by the father of Yolanda Madden, name of Raymond Madden, who was trying hard to free his daughter from prison. Seems Yolanda Madden, who hails from Odessa, Texas, had been convicted back in 2005 for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

Yolanda's dad reports that a key witness in her case admitted in court to planting the drugs -- didn't matter. Yolanda got convicted and was sent off to the Big House.

Seems that Raymond Madden learned of Barry Cooper and asked him to help. And, Barry Cooper and KopBusters said they'd be happy to do what they could.

What did KopBusters Do? Here's the Story, in Barry's Own Words

Barry gave the details of his operation on his website, explaining:

"KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

"The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster's attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster's secret mobile office nearby."

Watch it Yourself

What Happens Now?

What happens now for Yolanda Madden? For the Odessa Police Department? For those cops on the video? For Barry Cooper and KopBusters?

Well, let's all watch and see.


Houston Examiner

Monday, December 08, 2008

DA Watch: Investigation Into Former Houston District Attorney Rosenthal Is Finished Without Criminal Prosecution

Another Texas District Attorney has escaped prosecution.

Over in Houston, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned last February because of allegations that he had done bad things - read that, Rosenthal allegedly committed crimes while in office as the top prosecutor for the county.

Serious stuff.

However, after 8 months of snooping around, any possible indictment of Rosenthal was nixed by his successor in office (who acts as D.A. until January, when newly-elected Pat Lycos will take over as the first female district attorney in Houston's history). The scandal itself has been going on in the media for a year now, so it's a nice gift for Rosenthal here on the holidays.

What was Rosenthal alleged to have done?

He sent lots of e-mails from his official work e-mail address, and lots of people read them after they got subpoenaed in a federal civil rights case. Sure, he tried to delete them -- in fact, Rosenthal is known to have deleted 1000s of e-mails ... and that was part of the problem.

Seems the deleted e-mails were covered by that federal subpoena. It's a big no-no to delete or destroy documentation that is subject to a subpoena. Rosenthal knew that, right?

Additionally, some of these e-mails had bad, bad content. They had messages to staff members asking for help with his political campaign. Others had personal, romantic messages to Rosenthal's executive assistant. Still others were pornographic in content, and some e-mails are said to have had racist "jokes and pictures."

None of this stuff is appropriate for a county employee's work correspondence, much less that of the county district attorney. There are laws about this stuff.

Did anything happen to Rosenthal? Sure.

The federal judge found him in contempt of court for deleting e-mail messages, and he had to pay a fine of $18,000.00. And, he had to resign his office as part of a deal with the Texas Attorney General -- who agreed to drop the state's investigation if Rosenthal would just leave the building.

So, he lost his job and had to pay a fine.

Is it serious or a slap on the wrist? Slap, slap.

Rosenthal probably doesn't have any future in public office. He still has a law license and lots of experience, so he's got a future in private practice somewhere. That's good for him.

He doesn't have to face a trial or months of media play during the litigation process, it's a clean slate for him now. That's good for him, too.

Interesting, isn't it, that no grand jury was involved here when this case was dismissed for "insufficient evidence"?

That's right: the decision to close the book on the Rosenthal case was made by Ken Magidson, who's been setting at Rosenthal's old desk until Pat Lycos takes over. Just Magidson.

What did he tell the media? Here's what the Houston paper reported as a direct quote:

"After a careful and independent review of this matter, I have determined that there is insufficient evidence for prosecution," Interim District Attorney Ken Magidson said.

No grand jury. "Insufficient evidence for prosecution." You've got the e-mails. You got the evidence of the deletions. Insufficient evidence?

Hmmmm. Just something to ponder ....



Houston Chronicle

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Media Watch: Can Casey Anthony Get a Fair Trial - Part 2: Let's Compare Jennifer Hudson's Case

There's already a post here on why we should all be concerned about whether or not Casey Anthony can get a fair trial - and yes, each and every one of us should be watching this Florida media circus to see how it is impacting our rights - but let's just check in on how things are so screwy there, compared to another big media case.

American Idol and Academy-Award Winner Jennifer Hudson's Tragedy

They've just announced that Jennifer Hudson's brother-in-law has been charged with three counts of first degree murder -- and one of those murders, of course, involves the death of Jennifer Hudson's seven-year-old nephew, Julian King.

Case Against William Balfour For Killing a Child (and two others)

That's it. No nightly media recaps since the October 24th shootings. No release of video interviews of friends or family. No "document dumps."

We've seen the police scour the surrounding area, heard that they found a gun, and there's been a couple of interviews with neighbors, and that infamous call-in interview with the defendant's mother on Nancy Grace.

And, remember, this child's death had the additional media play of having a direct family connection to American Idol finalist, and Academy-Award winning star of Dreamgirls, Jennifer Hudson to give it legs.

Case Against Casey Anthony For Killing a Child

Meanwhile, in the Casey Anthony case - where there is absolutely no celebrity connection, we've got dozens of video interviews to review online. There's even audio transcripts of the questioning of the defendant if you want to hear them. And, "document dumps" have become routine -- so much so, that it feels like someone's behind schedule if there isn't a new release of the state's investigative files after about a month or so.

The amount of documents - which will be used by the State of Florida as they try Casey Anthony for the murder of her 2 year old daughter Caylee Anthony - is huge. It's in the thousands now: 700 pages were released within the past two weeks. (There were also large dumps in August and September.)

Motion for a Gag Order is Made ... by the State

Here's a clue that there may be a concern about the ability to set an unbiased jury in this case. Usually, the defense files a motion to silence things. In the Casey Anthony case, which is set for trial in early January, it's the State that wants to stop the hoopla. (Judge didn't agree with their arguments, and denied the request.)

Media Impact On the Jury Pool

Comparing the two investigations into a child's disappearance, both ending in murder charges being filed, it is readily apparent that the Casey Anthony jury pool has been given an unbelievable amount of information -- along with all sorts of spin, opinion, and just plain junk -- from the media pundits.

Can Casey Anthony get a fair trial? That answer is becoming clearer every day.

Trying this case on the television screen (which Nancy Grace essentially did on her Thanksgiving "specials" last week) insults the judicial system and harms the defendant.

It's Our Rights That Are Being Disrespected and Trampled Upon Here

Casey Anthony remains innocent until proven guilty -- something that doesn't sell airtime and is a core right being trampled on here.

A right belonging to you and me.



Can Casey Anthony Get a Fair Trial - And Why We Should Care

Monday, December 01, 2008

Cop Watch: Austin Police Using DNA to Track Down Burglars in Property Crimes - But What About a Backlog?

It had to be. Just had to be.

Where else in Texas would they start to use DNA testing to track down burglars and other evildoers involved in property crimes, but tech-happy Austin - our fair state's capital city and home of the University of Texas (as well as Michael Dell and all his compadres)?

In Austin, they're using DNA in property crime investigations now ....

Yep, they're doing it. They're taking blood and saliva samples from crime scenes that involve absolutely no murders or rapes or any bodily injury, really, and they are using that stuff to grab DNA to compare with existing databases.

And it's working. So far, they've found 10 suspects out of the 50 crime scenes they've tested. Boo-yah!

Of course, they do mention a slight backlog over at the Crime Lab. Slight.

Yet in the Same Bat City, Same Bat Day, Same Bat Channel ... there's a DNA Backlog?

Seems there's a different lab that law enforcement is using for the burglars than the one over at the Department of Public Safety there in Austin. Two nationally known crime labs in the same town cuz the City of Austin decided awhile back to build its own swanky crime lab.

And, on the very same news day that one lab is touting its use of DNA in property cases, they're reporting over at DPS that they've got a big 'ole HUGE backlog of cases over there. Big. Big. Big.

In fact, DPS doesn't expect to be caught up with all its DNA testing until 2011. That'll be after their nice new lab gets finished and they all keep working really, really hard on getting their backlog all caught up.

You gotta wonder: Williamson County DA John Bradley tells the KEXE reporter that his office expects a six month to one year delay in a case when they ask for DNA testing from the DPS offices in Austin -- while defendants sit in jail with taxpayers paying $25 - $50 per day for their upkeep (Bradley's estimate). And these are the big felony cases: murders, rapes, you get the idea.

Meanwhile, since the City of Austin built its own lab, over at the City's Field Support Services Department, they've got time to test for DNA so they can track down some kid who broke into a car, or to bust a burglar who got away with a stereo and other household goods.

You just gotta wonder here ....




Austin American Statesman

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Crime News: Raymondville is One Happening Place To Be - Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, and Pol Brennan of the IRA

Raymondville - who knew this small Texas town would be making such a name for itself these days? You'd think the berg had its own publicist ....

What's up?

Well, first -- that's the place for the ongoing Juan Angel Guerra story (see the post below for more on Operation Goliath). On Monday, there's gonna be a hearing down there on whether or not Judge Banales should be recused from the local criminal case, where felony indictments were filed against Vice President Dick Cheney and former U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales and others.

Hearing to Recuse Judge Banales in the Dick Cheney Felony Case

Seems the Texas Supreme Court has instructed San Antonio Judge Michael Peden to mosy on down to the Rio Grande Valley and preside over Monday's hearing. Should be a media frenzy, and great news for the little town's local economy. Try the carnitas, guys.

Notorious IRA Escapee Pol Brennan Awaits Extradiction Ruling in Willacy County Jail

And, it justs better ... there's also international happening down there in Raymondville as a hearing was going on for a good part of November, about whether or not to extradite Pol Brennan, a former member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who was convicted for his IRA activities and sentenced to jail in Belfast, Ireland.

Brennan was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment for possession of explosives, and he was part of the infamous escape from the maximum security Maze prison back in 1983 (along with around 30 other blokes).

Seems that after Brennan's escape, he lived on the run here in the US for many years (25, to be exact). He made San Francisco his home, built a career as a master carpenter, got married, even bought a gun under an assumed name.

But the jig was up back in January, when old Pol was pulled over in South Texas as he and his wife were driving to visit his mother-in-law down in South Padre Island. He didn't have good papers, and he ended up busted and sitting in the Willacy County Jail -- where he's still sitting today, awaiting the ruling on whether or not he's going to be booted back to Ireland.

And, you think the Dick Cheney case is big ... well, over the waters the Pol Brennan case is making all the papers. There are organizations raising money for his defense fund, papers in all parts of Europe are covering his story, and he's even got a web site (where he complains about the jailhouse food, among other things).


Who would have thunk it?


Brownsville Herald

Associated Press

Irish Abroad

Belfast Telegraph

Monday, November 24, 2008

DA Watch: Juan Angel Guerra, Take 2 - Cheney Indictment, Texas Supreme Court Joins the Party

Well, Juan Angel Guerra certainly isn't going quietly into that good night ....

In my last post, we all felt bad for ol' Juan Angel, because it sure seemed ... well, ... ahem ... suspicious that he was indicted on three felony charges, only to have them all dismissed as being totally without merit AFTER he'd lost the March primary - forcing him out of a DA position he'd held for 3 prior terms.

Juan Angel Guerra said it was fishy at the time the indictments were zapped. But what could he do? He was out of the ballgame, public office was now a part of his past like it or not.

Surprise, Surprise -- Juan Angel Guerra's Using His Last Few Weeks as Willacy County DA to Take On Some Big Kahunas - Like Vice President Dick Chaney and former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

Juan Angel's name had barely faded from the front page of the Brownsville Herald on the election - indictment scandal, when there he was again.

Juan Angel Guerra is now in the national media spotlight for having the guts (and you have to give him that, regardless) of taking on the Vice President of the United States, the former top Trial Lawyer for the country, and some other Pretty Big Players.

Yep, that D.A., from that little-known little county in south Texas, is getting lots of word count in papers like USA Today because he's gone from a local political skimish to a big, big national battle.

Why? Guerra believes these guys are responsible for abuses suffered by prisoners at private run-for-profit detention centers in his part of Texas -- where one prisoner has died from injuries he sustained. And he wants them held accountable.

Juan Angel Guerra is mad. And He's Getting Madder and Madder.

Apparently, this isn't Juan Angel Guerra's first rodeo. He has made a career out of going up against public corruption and he's been particularly zealous about investigating the privately run federal detention centers in his area.

Guerra already won a fight in 2005, when he got three guilty pleas to bribery charges from some corrupt county commissioners -- based upon contracts to build and run the prisons.

Guerra Called His Investigation "Operation Goliath" and He was Code-named "David"

After that, Guerra continued investigating but he kept things close to his vest. He called his investigation "Operation Goliath" (he was "David") and everything was handled on a need-to-know basis. Lots of evidence was kept locked up at his house, because he didn't trust the courthouse enough to keep it there.

Juan Angel Guerra obviously believes that there have been serious wrongs done at these for-profit prisons, that prisoners have suffered, and he's staked his professional reputation as well as his personal life on righting that wrong.

This guy knew before he filed a single piece of paper that his enemies were going to laugh at him, that some were going to question his sanity and others would impune his motives.

Doesn't look like Juan Angel Guerra cares much about that.

What Guerra Is Charging -- Prisoner Abuse, Prisoner Death, Cover Up

Guerra's investigation has culminated in the following indictments being issued by the grand jury (to read the full indictments, click HERE). Half of them involve charges against those who tried to stop Guerra's investigation, and the other half deal directly with alleged prisoner abuse at run-for-a-profit prisons in Willacy County:

State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.
Acceptance of Honararium (illegally taking money related to prison consulting fees)

GEO Group, Inc., Et al.
Murder and Manslaughter (murder of a prisoner at the detention center)

Richard B. Cheney and Alberto Gonzales
Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity

2008-CR-0129-A (incomplete)
Migdalia Lopez
Abuse of Official Capacity
Official Oppression

Janet Leal
Abuse of Official Capacity
Official Oppression

Mervyn Mosbacker, Jr.
Abuse of Official Capacity
Official Oppression

Gustavo Garza
Abuse of Official Capacity
Official Oppression

Gilbert Lozano
Abuse of Official Capacity
Official Oppression

The Willacy Courthouse Drama of Last Week -- Judge Banales Tosses It to Austin

Last week, the big guns rode into town (in this case, Raymondville), and tried to toss their weight around and get the indictments dismissed. They're just silly, they said.

Juan Angel stood strong. He pitched a fit on Wednesday that they were trying to argue a motion at a time when their requests should not properly be heard. Guerra won.

The big guns came back on Friday. Again, they argued that the indictments should be dismissed. They're just silly, they said.

Juan Angel got really mad then. He started yelling and pounding his fist (go read the media accounts, this isn't exaggeration here) and looking to things like procedure, again. The required notice for such a hearing had not been met.

Judge Banales -- the same judge that tossed Guerra's indictment aside earlier this month -- sent the whole kit-and-kaboodle up to the Texas Supreme Court.

Fight Goes to the Texas Supreme Court

So, today, the fight has moved to Austin. Juan Angel Guerra's already on the battlefront, he's filed an affidavit with the high court - and you can read it if you want to do so.

Here's Juan Angel Guerra's affidavit to the Supreme Court:

Sure, there are some who will argue his affidavit has some procedural problems of its own -- but he may have a good point about that hearing notice requirement stuff. Heck, the calendar alone should help prove that point.

Is Juan Angel Guerra Crazy?

You know lots of people are going to call this guy crazy. Nuts. Lost it. Wacko.

Some are going to think he's crazy because he's not spending his time finalizing his lucrative private-sector gig for when he leaves office in less than six weeks.

Some are going to call him nuts because he is a small town DA in the backwaters of Texas, and he's trying to take on Dick Cheney for crimminey's sake. That's nuts!

Some are going to be all academic (like Dean Treece) and argue that Guerra's got no constitutional footing here: he's a state guy going after federal folk, and ones with immunity to boot. Zany.

And, some -- hopefully some -- will stop long enough to ponder what Guerra's arguing about.

Juan Angel Guerra is arguing about prisoners being hurt and sometimes killed in prisons that are being run by private companies for a profit.

Prisoners are being hurt and dying -- and maybe the craziest thing of all is that a Prosecutor, a District Attorney -- is risking all he's got to try and stop this.

It's a nice change to the DA Watch stories on this blog, by a long shot. Usually, they're lying about witnesses or hiding evidence or being so ready to convict that innocent men are spending their lives behind bars while guilty men go free.

If Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra's crazy, then maybe it's the kinda crazy we need.


USA Today

Brownsville Herald

KGBT-TV 4 (Rio Grande Valley)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

DA Watch: In Dallas, You Can't Fall in Love While Out on Bail

Clay Chabot -- doesn't that name sound like something from a daytime soap opera, or a Harlequin romance novel?

Wasn't Clay Chabot one of Erica Kane's husbands on All My Children back in the 1980s?

Um, no.

Clay Chabot is a real man though his story is reading somewhat like a melodrama. It seems that the Dallas County District Attorney's office is seeking to revoke Clay's bond and send him back to jail because they argue he's violated the terms of his release. The revocation hearing was yesterday.

What did Clay Chabot do that was so very bad?

He fell in love with one of his live-in chaparones while living under house arrest in his Cedar Hill home. Who's the lucky lady? She's his sister-in-law's daughter. And, of course, Clay has a MySpace page where the happy couple published photos of their wedding ceremony.

Oh fine, so there's a question of no marriage license even though she's going by "Mrs. Chabot" these days. And, yes, she's 37 and he's 49.

But it's love - the stuff that dreams are made of.

Love as the Basis for Bond Revocation

Meanwhile, the prosecution is ticked off about this marriage. They are moving for bond revocation because, they argue, a sexual relationship may violate the terms of his release.

First Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore actually argued at the hearing yesterday that she "didn't believe that the court intended for Mr. Chabot to be permitted a live-in girlfriend, wife, or spouse while out on bond." (Quoting the Dallas Morning News, who reported events from Tuesday's revocation hearing.) According to Moore, "[w]e give him an inch, and he takes a mile."

Chabot Already Victim of False Testimony That Resulted in Murder Conviction

Now, here's where the story goes from silly to serious. Clay Chabot was out on bond because the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is hearing his motion for a new trial -- because it's been discovered that Chabot was convicted of murder based upon the lies of his brother-in-law. Seems DNA testing has revealed that the brother-in-law actually raped the murder victim.

The District Attorney is claiming that they are going to retry Chabot when his motion is granted, because they still think he's guilty of the crime. Now they're arguing that Chabot and his lying brother-in-law are both guilty of the murder.

Chabot Did Stop at a CellPhone Store on the Way to the Doctor

Perhaps the only real argument they've got here is that Clay did stop at a cellphone store on the way to the V.A. for medical treatment (he's allow to leave his house for doctor visits). However, it wasn't off the beaten path: it was a store on the route from Cedar Hill to the V.A. Hospital -- and please: he wasn't stopping off to gamble, buy booze, or get porno -- he stopped with his sister-in-law at a phone store.

For this, Chabot should go back behind bars after he was wrongfully convicted of murder? Maybe the DA knew this wouldn't be a big enough argument - so she added on this horrible event: Chabot married the woman he loves.

The audacity of it all.

Love Shouldn't Be Penalized

In prisons everyday, there are couples who wed without even the hope of building a life together. It's the story of legend how many penpal relationships have evolved in marriages behind bars. Heck, About.Com has an how-to article online, "How to Marry a Prisoner."

Surely if Texas Cadet Murderer Diane Zamora and Night Stalker Richard Ramirez can marry while in prison for life, then Clay Chabot can get hitched while on house arrest while his wrongful conviction is being ironed out.

Perhaps Clay's sister sums it up best: "He may have fallen in love, but he didn't do anything wrong."


Dallas Morning News

Monday, November 17, 2008

DA WATCH: Dallas Prosecutor Hid Evidence in 1996 and Only Now are Defendant's Rights Being Respected

Today is a very big day for Antrone Lynelle Johnson -- because today, Mr. Johnson may regain his freedom after serving 12 years of what would have been a life sentence. Antrone Johnson is just 31 years old.

Today is also a very big day for Dallas County prosecutors because once again they are facing charges of prosecutorial misconduct. And this time, it's not about DNA evidence -- it's about withholding evidence that would have helped Mr. Johnson's case.

The District Attorney Hid Evidence That Would Help Johnson's Defense

That's right: a Dallas County district attorney had evidence that tended to exonerate Antrone Johnson back in 1996, and they didn't turn it over to the defense. That D.A. doesn't work for the Dallas County District Attorney's office anymore, and hasn't responded to media queries. (Fancy that.)

It's Been a Recognized Constitutional Violation Since 1963

When a prosecutor does this -- intentionally or accidentally withholds exculpatory evidence -- it's a violation of the defendant's constitutional rights, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. That defendant's conviction must be overturned.

Sadly, these errors have become such a commonplace event across this country that everyone just refers to the situation as a "Brady violation" (named after U.S. v. Brady, the 1963 case where the high court ruled this was a constitutional violation).

What Did the DA Hide, and What Were Johnson's Accused Crimes: the Backstory

Back in the 1990s, Mr. Johnson faced two cases of sexual assault before he turned 18 years old. Here's what the prosecutor didn't turn over to the defense:

1. In one case, the girl told the prosecutor that Mr. Johnson did not rape her.

2. In the other case, the girl gave conflicting statements about whether she had sex with him.

What about DNA testing?

No DNA testing was done (in either matter). That's right: zip DNA testing in two rape cases.

The Girls' Statements Were Kept From the Defense From 1996 to 2008

All this remained on the QT for what's going on 20 years, until earlier this year when Mr. Johnson and his defense attorneys were informed about these two statements of the girls.

Mr. Johnson's defense counsel promptly filed the proper motions for his convictions to be overturned as Brady violations. He should be free, they argue -- and based upon what the girls said, he should never have spent one night in prison for these crimes.

DA's Office Now Agrees With the Defense that Johnson Should Go Free

Now, the Dallas County District Attorney's office (throught Mike Ware, the head of its Conviction Integrity Unit), has filed a document with the court that states the DA's office agrees that Mr. Johnson's life sentence conviction should be overturned.

Meanwhile, Johnson's Already Finished One Sentence and He's Spent A Decade of His Young Life Behind Bars

Mr. Johnson went from being a high school student to being an incarcerated felon serving a life sentence, until hopefully today. And that's just on the first convction. As for the convition on the second sexual assault charge, Mr. Johnson has already served that five-year sentence.

What Happens to the Attorney Who Hid the Evidence? Is the State Bar Going to Do Anything?

The prosecutor who knew about this evidence that would clear him -- and she knew, it was no accident, her own handwritten notes show this -- has not had her identity revealed by the media or the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, and probably faces little if any consequences for her actions.

That's right - it's not very likely that the State Bar of Texas will seek to disbar her (though many are arguing that she should have her law license taken from her because of this bad act).

This, while the Bar has filed its own grievance against an Austin solo criminal defense attorney for his allegedly offensive conduct in a county court at law DUI proceeding.

Comparing The Bar's Disciplinary Actions: Adam Reposa vs. this case's Mystery Prosecutor -- If You Go Against Reposa, Surely You Go Against This DA

If the State Bar of Texas is going to sua sponte institute disciplinary action against this Austin solo, then surely they should have the chutzpah to file an action against Mr. Johnson's prosecutor, who blatantly let a young man go to jail for life when she knew better.

Even the Bar must see that when Austin solo Adam Reposa allegedly "...began whispering in Williams' ear and made a masturbatory gesture when the prosecutor said something about the continued whisperings .... " (quoting the Texas Lawyer) his purported actions are far less offensive to Texas courts and American justice than those of former Dallas prosecutor Madame X, who intentionally let an innocent teen go to jail for life.

Meanwhile, maybe Mr. Johnson's attorneys can think of a civil action to file ....


Dallas Morning News

Grits for Breakfast

Law.Com/Texas Lawyer

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Court Opinions: Melendez-Diaz Oral Arguments and the Need to Confront Forensic Scientists on the Stand

You've seen CSI.

Yes, you have -- whether you've watched Gil Grissom in the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, or Horatio Caine in CSI - Miami or Mac Taylor in CSI:NY (which I can never take too seriously, because everytime I see that guy's face, I hear "Lt. Dannnnnn" in Forrest Gump's drawl).

Well, in whatever version of CSI you're talking about, these guys are busy being lab rats one minute, and cops with guns the next. Maybe Miami does it more than Vegas, but it rings true for all three.

Forensic Scientist - Cops

As well it should -- in real life, the forensic science pros in law enforcement think of themselves just as much as police officers as they do science gurus. They just don't have the same cool lighting effects in the labs or the same tight low-cut shirts as their TV counterparts.

Confronting the Forensic Reports Is A Big Defense Problem

Which has been a big problem in the courtroom, because there has been a big brouhaha over whether or not criminal defense attorneys have the right to confront these forensic guys (and gals) over their reports and such -- on the witness stand, in front of the jury.

After all, a criminal defendant has the right to confront his (or her) accusers under the U.S. Constitution. Why can't they confront these science folk on the neutrality and objectivity of their lab findings?

Prosecutors, of course, want to introduce forensic reports as if they are the Holy Grail, never to be questioned by anyone -- after all, science is science right? District attorneys argue that criminal defense attorneys are just trying to manipulate things when they want to bring the forensic scientist into the courtroom: the lab results say what they say, they give routine results, and having some white-coat witness take the stand is just an attorney playing games.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, believe that not only are these forensic professionals merely human, and therefore subject to making mistakes, but these pros see themselves as law enforcement -- and are far from impartial in their work. They're not independent third parties from some faraway laboratory, wearing monocles and speaking with a slight European accent.

Things May Be Changing: the pending case of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts

The US Supreme Court has just heard oral arguments in the case of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. Looks like they'll be deciding really soon whether or not forensic experts should be subject to confrontation by the defense.

What does this mean to you and me?

Seems that the High Court is considering the possibility that a forensic expert who has a paycheck signed by the same kahunas that sign the beat cop's paycheck might have a bias or be subject to err on the side of the prosecution. And if that's true, then the defense attorney should be able to cross-examine that forensic expert on the witness stand. That's the right thing to do.

Looks like the Supremes watch a bit of CSI, too, doesn't it?


New York Times

Brief for Petitioner:

Brief for Respondent:

For more discussion on Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, check out:

Grits for Breakfast


Monday, November 10, 2008

DA Watch: Judge Dismisses Felony Corruption Charges Against DA Juan Angel Guerra

You gotta wonder.

Once Upon A Time, Juan Angel Guerra Was Just Planning a Re-Election Campaign ...

Almost two years ago, Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra was planning his re-election campaign, after serving his region in South Texas for three straight terms. Guerra was gearing up for a run to serve another term in office - he would be voted the top prosecutor of the area for the fourth straight election.

Next, DA Guerra was Indicted on Three Separate Felony Indictments ....

Then, about 18 months ago, Guerra was indicted for allegedly doing some very bad things. In fact, there were three separate indictments:

First, it was alleged that DA Guerra commited theft when he demanded that a bail bonds company fork over $10,000 or he'd put them out of business.

Second, the DA was indicted for allegedly tampering with government records, perjury, or abuse of office because Guerra purportedly lied under oath when he claimed the bail bonds company was over its limit.

Third, Guerra was indicted for allegedly stealing over $200,000 in public funds by using county equipment and personnel for his own personal use.

Then, The Special Prosecutor Is Held to Be Improperly Appointed ....

Gus Garza was the man appointed to be Special Prosecutor of the Guerra case. DA Guerra challenged Garza's appointment, and in May 2008, the 13th Court of Appeals agreed with Guerra -- Gus Garza was improperly appointed to serve in this role. Ron Barroso replaced Garza.

And, State District Judge Manuel Banales Dismisses All Three Indictments.

In October 2008, the new Special Prosecutor Ron Barroso files a motion that the indictments against DA Guerra be dismissed, and Judge Banales grants the motion.

Why? Ron Barroso found NO EVIDENCE to support the three felony corruption charges that had been leveled against DA Juan Angel Guerra.

That's right: NO EVIDENCE.

But This is Only After Guerra's Lost the March Primary and His Re-Election Bid.

So, DA Guerra should be very happy, right? Well, no.

Seems that DA Juan Angel Guerra was beaten in the March 2008 Primary, when all this felony indictment stuff was being thrown around in the media -- and after serving three terms in office, this experienced prosecutor was beaten even before the November election day.

His reputation will forever be tainted, too - because lots of people are just going to remember that he was accused of being a thief and misusing his office, and they'll assume where there is smoke there is fire ... regardless of the fact that he's been cleared of any wrongdoing here.

Did Politics Go So Far As To Indict An Incumbent to Drive Him Out of Office?

Some might wonder if there were some closed-door shenanigans here. And, they would include Juan Angel Guerra - who has been quoted by the media as stating he believes the indictments came down to keep him from being re-elected.

Well, Juan Angel -- it kinda looks that way, doesn't it?


By the way, on those three charges: Juan Angel had explained that he was using the $200,000 in county equipment and personnel as part of his job to offer free legal services to those in need; and he had legitimately demanded $10,000 from the bail bonding company to pay lawsuit judgments filed against the company, because it couldn't cover its bonds after the criminal defendants failed to show.


Associated Press

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Crime News: Jose Baez Has A Tough Job as Defense Attorney for Casey Anthony

If you read People magazine at all, or watch CNN's Nancy Grace any day of the week, then you're aware of the "tot mom" case: young mother Casey Anthony has been charged with killing her 3-year-old daughter, Caylee Anthony, sometime this summer.

No body has been recovered, and the Anthony family maintains that the little girl is alive and well, having been taken by evildoers.

Heavy Media Coverage Turns to Jose Baez's Relationship with His Client

Media coverage has been heavy in this case; I've already posted about fair trial and due process concerns given the heavy media play (see 09/15/08).

On the web, the Websleuths site has dedicated an entire forum with numerous, active threads specifically dealing with the Caylee Anthony disappearance. The Websleuth forums have heavy traffic 24/7.

During the past week, however, the piercing eye of the press has turned away from Casey, the formal investigation, and the manned searches for Caylee's remains to Casey's defense attorney, Jose Baez. Web chatter has followed close behind.

It seems that Jose Baez hugged his client during two separate jailhouse visits, and jail officials have asked him to refrain.

There were early reports that the Florida Bar Association was investigating Jose's activity for purposes of formal disciplinary action - but the FBA has nixed those reports as untrue.

There have been many unsavory suggestions that Jose and his client have entered into a personal relationship - again, without factual support.

The Unmitigated Gall of Hugging Your Client

A hug might have been a big deal during Victorian times, just like showing the female ankle, but in our present culture, nothing could be more innocent than a hug. Friends hug. Grandmas hug. Colleagues hug. You hug your pet, you hug your pillow, you hug your doctor when he gives you good news and you hug your pastor on Sunday after a particularly touching sermon.

Of course, jail officials will point to past precedent of contraband being passed to prisoners during apparently innocent hugs -- sometimes, yes, by attorneys -- and that this is a legitimate reason for their request to Mr. Baez.

Jose's Defending a Client Who Has Already Been Found Guilty or Crazy By Many People

Jose Baez has the job of representing a woman who, before she has reached the age of 25, faces formal charges of murdering her only child - and possible execution for this crime, if convicted - as well as charges of assorted felony thefts that carry enough jail time that she'll be lucky to get out of jail before she is eligible for an AARP card.

Public opinion has pronounced her guilty, she's been labeled a monster by the masses and armchair psychologists have been busy diagnosing Jose's client as a sociopath, a psychopath, or someone suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder, Histronic Personality Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder.

Jose's Defending a Client Who Hasn't Told the Truth and Has No Support System

In addition to the public arena, Jose has the job of defending a client who hasn't told the truth to authorities regarding the circumstances surrounding her daughter's disappearance (that's all in the recorded interviews and transcripts) and who has lost apparently all her friends, who assumedly feel betrayed by her lies to them. It's one of her former close friends, for example, that pressed the felony theft charges.

Jose's client has not had a visit from family or friends since she was returned to jail, based upon the murder indictment. According to media reports, Jose Baez is Casey Anthony's only visitor.

A Criminal Defense Attorney's Relationship with His Client

It's not the job of a criminal defense attorney to judge his client's guilt or innocence: that's the job of the factfinder, be it judge or jury. Doing so -- making the call on whether or not your client did the deed -- can sometimes hamper your work, in fact.

It is the job of a criminal defense attorney to make sure that a client's rights are protected, and that the prosecution truly proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defending the accused is an honorable and vital role in our criminal defense system. If you or a loved one are accused of committing a crime, you will want your attorney to defend you, not to judge you.

The Relationship Between Attorney and Client

Representing someone who has had their freedom taken away from them is a heady matter. It's a tremendous responsiblity to defend someone sitting in jail, much less someone facing a death sentence.

You need not be your client's friend in order to feel compassion and empathy with their plight -- and if you hug your client, it doesn't mean you are sleeping with her.

Representing Casey Anthony would be a tough job for the most experienced of criminal defense attorneys, much less one with the years of experience that Jose Baez has. This media exposure places him in the most glaring of lights -- every decision he makes is second-guessed (and often ridiculed) by media talking heads. Still, many of Jose's motions to the court have been granted, and he seems to be holding up well under all the pressure.

Make no mistake -- not only is Casey Anthony's life on the line here, so is Jose Baez's professional reputation. And Jose knows it.

The Paradine Case

Of course, it makes a better story the other way around ... and if you're interested in the plot of a criminal defense attorney falling in love with his client, check out Gregory Peck in Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case. (And, yes - of course the client was guilty of poisoning her husband in the movie, would it be a Hitchcock movie otherwise?)

Monday, November 03, 2008

DA Watch: Legislator Promises Action to Fight Against DA's Wrongful Convictions

Well, it's good to know that someone's paying attention to the Dallas Morning News scoop on known wrongful convictions of innocent men and women by the DA here in Dallas besides a blogger or two (see this blog's October 13, 2008 post)....

State Senator Rodney Ellis Has A Plan for Laws to Fix the Eyewitness Identification Problem

State Senator Rodney Ellis (who represents District 13, covering parts of Harris and Fort Bend counties) actually wrote a column in the Dallas Morning News last month, where he promised to:

1. introduce legislation in 2009 to reduce the likelihood of an innocent person being convicted in the future with laws requiring that eyewitness identification procedures be based in science and implemented by trained law enforcement personnel;

2. introduce legislation in 2009 to pass a law that will require videotaping of custodial interrogations, arguing that this will not only stop false confessions but also false claims of police brutality as well as disclosing any deals made with informants for their testimony; and

3. introduce legislation to create an Integrity Commission within the Texas Legislature, if the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit created within the Texas Judiciary (i.e., formed by Justice Barbara Hervey of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) doesn't hit the ball out of the park in reform aimed at preventing the conviction of innocent people in this state.

What About Ellis' Proposals?

Rodney Ellis is known for advocating criminal justice reform, and he's been one of the first appointees to Justice Hervey's Integrity Unit. He's not new to the scene here, trying to grab a headline or two: this isn't Ellis's first rodeo.

And, writing a short column for the Dallas paper might not be the proper place for details on how Ellis intends to implement his ideas.

Nevertheless, an argument can be made that we already have trained law enforcement personnel that are supposed to use scientific techniques (proper lineups, not show-ups) and it's just not happening when zealots are anxious for a quick conviction.

Academics have shown that eyewitness testimony has historically resulted in more wrongful convictions than all other causes, combined (See source link, below). Good luck to Senator Ellis on finding the cure.

As for the videotaping of custodial interrogations? You don't have to watch many episodes of Law & Order to figure out that taping the formal interrogation isn't going to stop police brutality and false confessions. It's just going to move the bad stuff down the hall.


"Rodney Ellis: Lowering odds that innocents end up in prison," Dallas Morning News, October 21, 2008

Eyewitness Identification Procedures: Recommendations for Lineups and Photospreads, Law & Human Behavior Vol. 22, No. 6 (1998)

For More Information:

DA Watch: Dallas County Prosecutors Routinely Convicted Innocent Men Using Eyewitness Testimony Known to Be Faulty

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

JUDGE WATCH: Austin Judge Thinks His Power Includes Ordering Woman Not to Get Pregnant

Here in Texas, even a state district judge can be a man with a hat and no cattle ....

Last month, Travis County Judge Charlie Baird faced off against 20-year-old Felicia Salazar, who admitted to the court that she had failed to properly protect her 19-month-old daughter from the child's father - who had beat the baby, breaking bones and causing other injuries.

Felicia and the baby daddy both had their parental rights to the child terminated, and the little girl was placed in foster care. Meanwhile, the father was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

When it came time for Felicia Salazar to face the music, she stood before Judge Baird with no prior criminal history and an acknowledgement that she'd failed her daughter -- and with her defense attorney, she'd entered into a plea bargain with prosecutors, where she would get 10 years probation. It was time for the Judge to impose conditions upon that probation, and usually judges require things like community service and mental health treatment.

Judge Baird did impose standard conditions to Felicia's probation: she has to perform 100 hours of community service, and she's got to undergo a mental health assessment. But Judge Baird went one further: he ordered Felicia NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN FOR THE NEXT TEN YEARS.

Can a judge really order a woman not to have a child? Really???

Nope. Of course, the Judge thinks so. He's told the media that it's a reasonable condition of her probation. And, there are those who would argue that it's all too often that parents who have had parental rights terminated just repeat the abuse cycle when they bear new offspring. They'd see this as avoiding a tragedy, and applaud Judge Baird's efforts.

They'd be wrong. This just isn't constitutional, period. A trial court judge can't tell someone that they can't have children. It's exceeding his power. Blatantly.

1. A man elected to preside over criminal proceedings doesn't have the authority to tell a 20 year old woman that she can't have a baby at any time, much less until she's 30 years old.

2. Even assuming that somehow this action could be justified, this would still be overreaching in this situation -- the woman has no prior history with criminal authorities or Child Protective Services, and she herself was not the one who committed the violent acts. I believe we can all read between the lines here: she looks to be a woman who cowered before an abusive boyfriend, and was too weak to stop him. What about getting her classes in parenting? life management? individual counseling?

3. How enforcable is this? What if she does get pregnant - is the Judge going to order that she have an abortion, in addition to revoking her probation and sending her to jail? Ridiculous.

Dangerous precedent being set here -- and in Wisconsin.

As much as this sounds like some story out of the annals of Judge Roy Bean, it appears that Felicia may be stuck with Judge Baird's ruling. Her attorney hasn't filed an appeal. Heck, Felicia may be counting her blessings that she's not behind bars, and she's happy enough right now.

If so, Felicia's challenge may come up later -- when she gets pregnant, and some probation officer tries to throw her in jail for violating a condition of her probation. Then, her lawyer will get this arrogant, unconstitutional ruling overthrown -- hopefully.

Why hopefully? Because up in Wisconsin, there sits on the books a case where a father of 10 kids got caught for not paying child support. As a condition of his probation, he was ordered not to father any more children. The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld that decision.

Criminal Defense is all about Protecting Our Rights

Every single criminal defense attorney in this country gets questioned on almost a daily basis with a version of the same query: 'how can you represent those bad, guilty people who did horrible things to good folk?'

And, every single criminal defense attorney in this country has to remind people on almost a daily basis that those accused clients, in each and every case, are testing the strength of our judicial system -- a system of rights that serves to provide justice and freedom for each and every one of us.

The System of Rights that Protects All of Us is Weaker Today Because of this Decision

Felicia Salazar admitted to not being a good mother. Judge Baird thinks he's doing the right thing by keeping her from becoming a mother again. But, to you and to me, a constitutional right has been disrespected and weakened here and we should all be very concerned about this.

Any time the rights of any single individual are denied, one brick in that system of freedoms we all hold dear falls away.


Austin American Statesman

Monday, October 27, 2008

Crime News: Brain Scan as Truth Test Sends Woman to Life Imprisonment

Sit down for this one.

This is scary, scary stuff - even for Hallowe'en ... because what has been reported is true, not just some science fiction story or horror movie or boring lab report.

"Experiential knowledge of the crime" - an Automatic Guilt Machine

Technology now exists where some lab worker in a white coat can attach wires to your head, and then decide whether or not you have "experiential knowledge" of a crime -- as in, you really remember doing it -- and if you do, voila -- you're guilty!

That's right. Let's ponder this again: there's a gizmo that is supposed to conclusively know if you're guilty of a crime or not by monitoring your brain waves with wires.

How's this supposed to work?

Well, the guy in the white coat takes an electroencephalogram, or EEG -- in other words, he places electrodes on your head that will measure electrical waves.

You set there, silent, with your eyes shut tight. Wires on your head.

Then, white-coat guy starts reading aloud the details of the crime (and you can bet, this is a script written by the prosecutor). As he reads, and you just set there, the EEG machine is recording all your brain images.

Using this new gizmo software. the brain is said to purportedly "light up" in certain areas that store memories, lighting up when past experiences are recognized.

Oh, and sure, the gizmo software is supposed to be able to clearly, easily, and conclusively be able to determine whether or not your brain is "lighting up" because you witnessed, or saw, something happen, as opposed to whether or not you committed the act yourself.


I cannot even begin to describe the horrific affront this is to the most basic human rights, much less those constitutional rights like due process .... Heck, we know lie detectors are not accurate. We still have some problems with fingerprint analysis. And, this testing of air in the Casey Anthony case is getting lots of skeptical responses.

But, some machine can not only report that you have a memory of an event, but that you committed a crime, based upon whether or not your brain "lights up" -- this would be hilarously stupid to consider, if it weren't being taken so very seriously.

Surely this isn't being taken seriously, you ask? Wrong.

Over in India, a young woman was accused of poisoning her fiance by putting arsenic in his McDonald's meal. It's apparently understood by everyone that in India "police interrogation" is synonimous with "torture," so when the woman had the choice between the "interrogation" or undergoing this new Gizmo Guilt Test, she chose the brain scan. Who wouldn't?

She claimed she was innocent. She probably hoped science would be her friend in ways that law enforcement would not.

No such luck. The woman purportedly "failed" the brain scan, was found guilty of murder based upon the brain scan, and sentenced to life imprisonment - because of this scary, scary brain scan.

Just think what an overzealous Dallas County prosecutor could do with this thing.

Check out this YouTube video that shows the CNN report on Aditi Sharma's murder conviction and life sentence, ordered by a judge (no jury), based upon a brain scan.

For more information:

International Herald Tribune


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crime News: Now Informers Can Narc Anonymously by Text Message

For criminal defense attorneys in Texas, it's getting closer and closer to Orwell's 1984 every day ....

Have you heard about this one? A Nacogdoches, Texas, company called Anderson Software issued a press release that victoriously announced its introduction of a new product, Tips via Text TM, which will allow anyone, anywhere to send an anonymous tip to an agency, like CrimeStoppers, and have the cops text them back, all without revealing their identity.

Informers Can Text In Their Tips Anonymously Using The New Tips via Text program

CrimeStopper programs are chomping at the bit to get this software for their communities (it assigns an encrypted alias to the tipster's call, so their real identities are not revealed).

Anderson promotes Tips via Text as a way for informers to send in their tips when its "not feasible or safe" to telephone a tip line. CrimeStoppers is particularly excited about the product, predicting it will be "particularly useful for student programs."

Doesn't anyone think about the implications here?

How does this anonymous text messaging impact the rights of you, me, and our teen aged kids -- you know, like our right to privacy and all those civil rights that we are guaranteed under the Constitution??

Ponder this situation: teenager A is mad at teenager B because A's boyfriend has left the party with B, and it's not looking like they're coming back to the soiree. What does A do?

She sends a Tips via Text and with her guaranteed anonymity, reports that the boyfriend is driving drunk. There's a prompt reply and a quick text discussion on the type of car being driven, the road they've taken, a description of the driver.

Remember, there's no human to listen to her giggle as she reports this, or to judge how inebriated she might be....

The police quickly respond and pull over boyfriend on suspicion of drunk driving. Nevermind that the cops never saw anything that would lead them to believe he might be intoxicated -- they act solely on the text-tip and when boyfriend fails the field sobriety test, he's busted.

What Happens to Due Process and Privacy and All Those Other Rights?

In this country, we're supposed to have LIBERTY and JUSTICE ... which means that the government cannot detain us, much less arrest us, without good reason. Cops shouldn't be able to pull someone over for a suspected crime unless those cops actually have their own reason to believe a crime is occurring. Period.

Police power is supposed to be exercised within carefully defined, clear-cut boundaries. This Text Tip Under an Alias messes with that ... and police power can be misused.

Think this won't happen? Think again. It's already been okayed by the California Supreme Court (police acting on anonymous tips without their own verification of a possible crime). They even have signs along the road, encouraging fellow travelers to narc on each other about possible drunk driving.

Imagine the misuse this invites. Imagine. Think of your ex-wife. Think of the disgruntled employee. Think of the cop who's tempted to text himself.


Anderson Software

Darren Kavinoky's

Monday, October 20, 2008

COP WATCH: New Online Website for Those Most Wanted of Criminals, the Unpaid Traffic Tickets (But Don't Trust the Site, It Warns)

Have you seen this yet?

Dallas County has actually spent the time and money to publish a website (click here to check it out) that lists (with photos!) the most notorious, heinous wanted men and women in the county who ... wait for it ... haven't paid their traffic tickets. Yes. Not kidding.

And, it gets better.

The site itself admits that the information shown may not be "current information for any legal purpose." The people may not really be wanted. The amounts shown may not be accurate. You get the idea.

And, finally -- the website itself warns that no action should be taken based upon anything shown on the site.

What You've Really Got Here

So, you've got U.S. citizens (remember those "innocent until proven guilty" folk?) with their photos posted online for anyone and their neighbor (including their mother-in-law) to see, under a bold headline in red type (RED) that says really great stuff like "MOST WANTED," along with lots of disclaimer language that says "well, maybe ... but don't trust anything you read here and above all, don't rely on it."

I could not make this stuff up.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Full Text of Vasilas Opinions - Oct 2008 Memorandum Opinion by Judge Sandoval and March 2006 Opinion of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

For those interested in reading the details in the Vasilas case, including the memorandum opinion just released by Judge Sandoval this month (finding Jim Vasilas "not guilty"), here they are (click on each link):

October 6, 2008, Memorandum Opinion of Judge Charles Sandoval, Cause No. 380-82535-03 in the 380th Judicial District Court of Collin County, styled State of Texas v. James Vasilas; and

March 22, 2006 Opinion (unanimous) of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Cause No. PD-0351-05 and styled State of Texas, Appellant, v. James Vasilas, Appellee on petition for discretionary review from the Fifth Court of Appeals of Collin County

In case you'd like to read the underlying section of the Texas Penal Code, check it out here:

Texas Penal Code 37.10(a)(5)
Texas Penal Code 37.01 (Definitions)

Note the text of the following Penal Code definitions:

(1) "Court record" means a decree, judgment, order, subpoena, warrant, minutes, or other document issued by a court of:
(A) this state;
(B) another state;
(C) the United States;
(D) a foreign country recognized by an act of congress or a treaty or other international convention to which the United States is a party;
(F) any other jurisdiction, territory, or protectorate entitled to full faith and credit in this state under the United States Constitution.

(2) "Governmental record" means:
(A) anything belonging to, received by, or kept by government for information, including a court record;
(B) anything required by law to be kept by others for information of government; ....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

District Judge Charles Sandoval's Memo Opinion in the Vasilas Case: Jim Vasilas Not Guilty, But the Story's Not Over

Along with almost every other attorney in the State of Texas, I've been following James Vasilas' case as its traveled the appellate highways (e.g., my May 1, 2006 post). Now, Judge Charles Sandoval has issued a memorandum opinion from his bench on the 380th Judicial District Court of Collin County that should be a welcomed relief not only to Brother Vasilas, but to some degree to lawyers everywhere.

For those of you who aren't well aquainted with this case, here's a brief wrap-up:

James Vasilas is a Dallas attorney who was criminally charged with violating Texas Penal Code section 37.10(a)(5), tampering with a governmental record, which is a third degree felony carrying the possibility of 2 years in jail.

All this came about after James Vasilas represented a man charged with, and acquited of, delivery of marijuana while being convicted of a lesser charge (possession). Attorney Vasilas filed a petition for expunction of his client's criminal record. The petition stated that the delivery charged had been dropped.

Based upon that statement, the District Attorney pursued James Vasilas on the felony charge. (For civil lawyers, dropped and acquited are two different arguments to be made for expunction and technically, the petition held factual error.)

An attorney was charged with a felony because a pleading he filed in civil court allegedly contained a factual error. Imagine the ramifications and the misuse this invites.

At the get-go, the judge quashed the indictment. The DA appealled and the games began.

In Vasilas v State, 187 SW3d 486 (Tex.Crim.App.2006), the court found a petition to be a "government record" under the Texas Penal Code. Whoa.

Then, the Dallas Court of Appeals (on remand) held that Tex.R.Civ.P. 13 (the civil procedural rule against frivolous pleadings that includes the possibility of sanctions) did not override the Penal Code provision, and they set James Vasilas' case for trial.

Vasilas fought back, taking the Dallas appellate opinion up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing the Dallas court was wrong. Amicus curaie briefing was filed by such noteables as the TTLA and the TADC. This time, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the doctrine of in pari materia does not apply, Rule 13 is a court rule adopted by the Texas Supreme Court and therefore not a statute to be construed with any section of the Penal Code.

Then comes Judge Sandoval ....

On October 6, 2008, Judge Charles Sandoval signed his memorandum opinion in the case that started it all (when he granted Vasilas' motion to quash the indictment). Judge Sandoval writes in pertinent part:

"....At any rate, it seems to me that fairness requires that the same standard for pleading should apply to civil and criminal attorneys.

"The State's attorney has governmental immunity, but the rationale for the immunity is similar to the rationale which protects the civil lawyer. These general principles with regard to pleadings have been in existence, I would assume, since before the founding of the nation. I would also assume this rationale applies to legislators' statements made in legislative chambers.

"I find that Mr. Vasilas' pleading could easily have been a mistake of law, or a mistake of fact or the result of carelessness. Accordingly, I find him not guilty. If this sort of case arises in the future, perhaps the defendant may wish to assert that he is protected by the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment (due process), theSixth Amendment (right to counsel) and the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection). Who knows what could happen if cert is granted?"

The Bottom Line

It's still possible for attorneys filing pleadings in civil cases to face criminal charges here in Texas. But James Vasilas has been found not guilty, and that makes this a happy day.

Congratulations, Jim.