Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mangino discusses Dee Dee Blanchard murder on Law and Crime Network

Watch my appearance with Yosha Gunasekera on the Law and Crime Network talking about the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard.
To watch the segment CLICK HERE

GateHouse: The murder of Dee Dee Blanchard: Sex, lies and mental illness

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
November 16, 2018
In Missouri, a jury is being asked to consider whether murder is justified in retaliation for a long history of child abuse by a domineering mother.
The only catch is that the killer was not the victim of abuse, but rather the autistic online boyfriend of the victim.
Gypsy Rose Blanchard lived with her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, in Springfield, Missouri. Gypsy had reportedly been battling several chronic diseases since childhood including Muscular Dystrophy and cancer. She was confined to a wheelchair since the age of seven. In June 2015, Dee Dee Blanchard was found dead in her home. She has been stabbed 17 times and her chronically ill daughter, Gypsy, was missing.
Within days, to everyone’s shock, Gypsy was arrested for Dee Dee’s murder in Big Bend, Wisconsin, along with her online boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn.
Police soon revealed that Gypsy was perfectly healthy. She could walk and never had cancer. Her ailments had been the product of her mother’s imagination. Gypsy’s mother suffered from a rare disorder known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP).
The name MSbP is derived from Munchausen Syndrome, a different though related condition. People with Munchausen Syndrome have a profound need to assume the sick role, and exaggerate complaints, falsify tests or inflict illnesses on themselves directly. With MSbP perpetrators fulfill their need for positive attention by hurting their own child, thereby assuming the sick role onto their child — by proxy.
The case had all the ingredients of a prime-time crime drama — mental illness, child abuse, sex, matricide and a gory crime scene.
According to the Washington Post, the murder created a media sensation around Gypsy’s arrest. She appeared on the “Dr. Phil Show.” HBO featured a documentary on the case. Hulu is set to produce a scripted series based on the events.
Godejohn is on trial for first degree murder in Missouri for his role in the killing. He allegedly did the stabbing. Gypsy, 27, is serving a 10-year sentence in Chillicothe Correctional Institution in Ohio. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She will be eligible for parole in 2024, at the age of 32.
In the trial’s opening statement, Godejohn’s lawyer portrayed him as an autistic man with few friends who only had one real job in his life, holding a sign outside of a pizza shop, and spent most of his time on the internet, reported the Springfield News-Leader.
Godejohn fell in love with Gypsy online. The two shared salacious text messages. Gypsy revealed the abuse heaped on her by her mother.
Gypsy formulated the plan for the killing, stole the murder weapon and arranged for Godejohn to come down to Springfield from his home in Wisconsin.
Godejohn’s defense is to show that he wasn’t able to formulate the requite intent to commit first-degree murder because of diminished capacity — his autism spectrum disorder.
According to Christine N. Cea in Autism and the Criminal Defendant, autism is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosed through the standards of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A fundamental criterion for autism is a “persistent deficit in social communication and social interaction.”
In a stunning turn of events, Gypsy testified for the defense this week at Godejohn’s trial. She said she planned the murder — she used Godejohn because “I didn’t believe I could do it — I’m too squeamish.”
Gypsy testified about her mother’s abuse, her isolation from the outside world and being forced to portray herself as wheelchair-bound and sickly. A sad story to be sure, but is it a defense for Godejohn?
At the trial’s end, the jury will decide whether Godejohn is guilty of first-degree murder — the intentional and deliberate killing of Dee Dee Blanchard — or a lesser charge like second-degree murder. That decision will have a major impact on how Godejohn spends the rest of his life.
First-degree murder in Missouri carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
— Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, November 16, 2018

Was Whitaker's appointment as AG unconstitutional?

An op-ed in the New York Times last week, written by former solicitor general Neal Katyal and conservative lawyer George Conway, argues that Whitaker’s appointment is unconstitutional under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, which requires that the president get the “advice and consent of the Senate” for appointments to offices that report directly to the president. The U.S. attorney general is a position that requires Senate confirmation, and Whitaker had not been through that process for his post as Sessions’ chief of staff. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., expressed similar misgivings in a letter to the president last week, CNBC reports.
The president appointed Whitaker under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, a 1998 federal law laying out rules for how a president may appoint temporary officers. Under that law, presidents may appoint a temporary officer to a Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed position when the previous officeholder “dies, resigns or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” The president may install any other person who has been confirmed by the Senate, or an “officer or employee” who has served at least 90 days at the agency at a senior pay scale, reported the ABA Journal.
Whitaker, as the former chief of staff, would fall under the second category. That’s unusual, critics note. Most acting federal officers are promoted from a position as deputy to the vacant office. The Vacancies Reform Act makes this the default succession, and the Justice Department’s succession law, 28 U.S.C. § 508 (2011), designates the deputy attorney general as the preferred acting attorney general. This would make Rod Rosenstein, who has been through a Senate confirmation, the presumptive successor to Sessions. On Tuesday, the state of Maryland made that argument in a motion challenging Whitaker’s appointment as illegal and unconstitutional.
Thus, the debate over Whitaker’s appointment is partially about whether the Vacancies Reform Act’s provision allowing the appointment of non-Senate-confirmed officials violates the Appointments Clause. Justice Clarence Thomas said it did in 2017, writing in NLRB v. SW General Inc. that the Appointments Clause should apply even to temporary appointments.
“That the Senate voluntarily relinquished its advice-and-consent power in the FVRA does not make this end-run around the Appointments Clause constitutional,” Thomas wrote.
The Wall Street Journal notes that some critics of the president’s choice also argue that the provision of the Vacancies Reform Act at issue doesn’t apply to “principal officers” that report directly to the president.
As Lawfare and Slate note, there’s also a debate over whether the Justice Department’s succession statute should override the Vacancies Reform Act. John Bies, writing at Lawfare, notes that rules of statutory interpretation favor specific statutes over more general ones. However, the Justice Department itself, through its Office of Legal Counsel, has supported a deviation from the line of succession during President George W. Bush’s administration in 2007, when former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez stepped down. In that case, Bush selected Peter Keisler, who had gone through the Senate confirmation process as the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. Keisler served less than two months as the acting attorney general before Michael Mukasey was confirmed as U.S. attorney general by the Senate.
“The Vacancies Reform Act nowhere says that, if another statute remains in effect, the Vacancies Reform Act may not be used,” the 2007 memorandum opinion states. “Nor would it make sense that the attorney general, through the exercise of a discretionary authority to name a further order of succession after the deputy attorney general and associate attorney general, could prevent the president, his superior, from using his separate authority under the Vacancies Reform Act. Indeed, for this reason, we believe that the president’s action under the Vacancies Reform Act, without more, trumps the attorney general’s designation of a succession under section 508.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice released a new memo referencing the 2007 opinion and justifying Whitaker’s appointment as within the president’s powers.
Gonzalez himself weighed in on Whitaker’s appointment in an NPR interview on Saturday. “I’ve got some issues with this, quite frankly, because the notion that the chief of staff who is not Senate confirmed would have more experience, more wisdom and better judgement than someone like the deputy attorney general or even the solicitor general, people in the line of presidential succession within the Department of Justice, to me, it confounds me,” he told NPR.
Finally, some question whether the Vacancies Reform Act applies when the departing officer was fired. Sessions resigned, but said in his resignation letter that he was resigning at the president’s request, raising questions about whether that is effectively a firing. The Vacancies Reform Act says it applies when the officer “dies, resigns or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” Attorney John Lewis of Democracy Forward and Elizabeth Hempowicz, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight, told the ABA Journal in October that there’s an active legal debate on this issue, with no court rulings and a pending case on the issue as applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Those who say the Vacancies Reform Act includes firings point to the “otherwise unable” language as wide enough to encompass firings. Law professor Steven Vladeck of the University of Texas wrote in the New York Times on Saturdaythat Sessions’ resignation letter is enough to pass muster, and that the Vacancies Reform Act would apply to Whitaker’s appointment. Professor Anne Joseph O’Connell of Stanford argues on Twitter that whether or not Sessions was fired, the Vacancies Reform Act would apply.
“What about a bad apple in a [presidentially appointed] job? If the person refuses to resign (and impeachment takes time) what would happen to the job’s duties if they were non-delegable and could not be performed, except by an acting (confirmations take time too)?” wrote O’Connell. She notes that there are issues with the Vacancies Reform Act that could be tweaked, “but don’t burn down a statute that makes modern government work because of [Trump].”
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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Texas executes man convicted of killing wife and two children

The 21st Execution of 2018
Texas executed Robert Moreno Ramos by lethal injection on November 14, 2018, amid his lawyers’ continued pleas up until the final hour that the case be re-examined for legal violations from 25 years ago, reported the Texas Tribune.
Ramos, 64, was convicted of capital murder in March 1993 for the February 1992 killings of his wife, Leticia, 42, and their two children, Abigail, 7, and Jonathon, 3, in Hidalgo County. Ramos, a Mexican national, beat his wife and children with a miniature sledgehammer, and then buried them under the bathroom floor in the family’s Progreso home, according to trial evidence.
Ramos’ case had been a point of contention in both district and federal courts for years, due to requirements of an international treaty. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations mandates that when an immigrant is arrested and held in detention, he has the right for the consulate to be notified so that the foreign government can provide legal representation.
Lawyers in Ramos’ case had argued in appeals since 1996 that Ramos wasn’t aware of his rights, and therefore didn’t receive sufficient legal guidance that they say could have made a difference in his sentencing.
His current lawyer, Danalynn Recer, wrote in a 2015 filing that Ramos was instead represented by court-appointed, “incompetent counsel” who was poorly trained and failed to present “mitigating evidence” at his conviction and sentencing that disregarded Ramos’ brain damage and history of severe mental illness, including bipolar disorder, as well as his upbringing marked by “shocking brutality and desperate poverty.”
On Feb. 7, 1992, a neighbor reported that she had heard screams coming from the Ramos home. For nearly two months after the murders, Ramos dodged questions regarding his wife and children’s location, until his sister-in-law reported Leticia Ramos and the children as missing. In court records, it is noted that Ramos was having an affair and had married the woman three days after the killings.
Police questioned Ramos at the end of March about his family’s disappearance. After providing contradictory statements — saying first that his family was in Austin, then San Antonio and Mexico — Ramos was later arrested on traffic violations and brought to the police station.
Police obtained permission to search the house on April 6. They found traces of blood throughout the home. After another round of questioning on April 7, Ramos admitted that he buried the victims under the bathroom floor, where police eventually excavated the bodies from underneath newly installed tiling.
During Ramos’ sentencing, his 19-year-old son testified against him, detailing harrowing accounts of growing up under his father’s physical and verbal abuse. Another woman testified that Ramos was likely responsible for the disappearance of her daughter, who married Ramos in 1988 in Reynosa and who had not been seen by her family since 1989.
Ramos was found guilty and sentenced to death in March 1993.
The Mexican government eventually filed a case against the United States in 2003 that bundled Ramos with more than 50 other Mexican immigrants sentenced to death in the U.S. who did not receive consulate-sponsored representation under the treaty. The case went to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, which determined in 2004 that the U.S. government had violated the treaty.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

St. Louis deadliest big city in America

No major American city has come close to Chicago’s soaring murder total in the past few years. The Windy City recorded nearly 1,900 homicides between 2015 and 2017, a period during which the next-closest city, Baltimore, registered around 1,000, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, when adjusting for its large population, Chicago is by no means the nation’s “murder capital.” For decades, in fact, it has had fewer murders per capita than many other U.S. cities with smaller populations, according to FBI data going back to 1985.
St. Louis led the nation with 66.1 murders per 100,000 people in 2017, according to the FBI’s most recent yearly statistics, released in September. It was followed by Baltimore (55.8 per 100,000), Detroit (39.8 per 100,000), New Orleans (39.5 per 100,000) and Baton Rouge, Louisiana (38.3 per 100,000).
For its part, Chicago ranked 14th among cities with at least 100,000 people in 2017. Its 653 murders, measured against a population of more than 2.7 million, translated to a murder rate of 24.1 homicides per 100,000. That was less than half the rate in St. Louis and Baltimore and below the rates of cities including Cleveland; Memphis, Tennessee; and Newark, New Jersey.
St. Louis has had the nation’s highest big-city murder rate every year since 2014. Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans have all been in the top five during that span, according to the FBI, which collects data each year from thousands of local, state, federal and other law enforcement agencies. (It’s important to note that not all police agencies submit data to the FBI every year, which can make comparisons across cities or time periods difficult. 
Chicago’s annual murder total reached its highest level in two decades in 2016 (765 murders), but New York, Los Angeles and several other big cities have enjoyed long-term declines. No decrease has been more dramatic than New York’s: The 292 murders that took place in the Big Apple in 2017 were down from a peak of 2,245 in 1990. In fact, New York’s murder rate – 3.4 homicides per 100,000 people – is now below the national average.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Guns in school still a bad idea

Gregory Gibson's son was killed in a school shooting in 1992, he wrote this for the New York Times:

In 1992, my son was killed in a school shooting in Massachusetts, a random victim of a disturbed fellow college student who’d purchased a semiautomatic rifle at a local gun shop and smuggled it onto campus. College officials had been warned that this student had a gun, but they didn’t know how to respond; school shootings were still too new.
How could we have imagined then the cellphone videos of the carnage in Las Vegas? Or Thousand Oaks, Calif. trending on social media because a dozen people, including college students, were slaughtered in a country music bar?
America’s response to our gun problem has taken some strange turns since 1992. We no longer ask, “How could this have happened?” Gun violence has become reliable content in the 24-hour news cycle.
Survivor activists work toward the cultural change we’ll need to eradicate the virus that’s grown bone-deep in us. Lucy McBath, a black woman whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed by a white man for playing loud music, got angry enough to run for Congress in Georgia — and last week she won the seat. Manuel Oliver, whose son was killed in the Parkland,Fla., school shooting, makes public art related to gun violence, including a 3-D printed model of his son.
endorsed by Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, that putting guns in schools will reduce school shootings. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, President Trump seconded the motion: “If they had some kind of protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a very much different situation.”
I think of the crowded school library in which my son died. I try to imagine a librarian drawing her Glock and returning fire.
This scenario resonates for me. A few years ago, tired of being told by gun rights people that I knew nothing about firearms, I bought a handgun and learned to carry and use it. I found the transgressive nature of the exercise stimulating. Survivors of gun violence are not supposed to walk around with guns. I also discovered, to my surprise, that shooting was therapeutic. I was mastering the instrument of my suffering. Now I reckon I’m at just the level of casual knowledge that a gun-owning janitor or history teacher might be expected to have attained. What if I’d been in that library in 1992, charged with keeping my son safe?
I put the question to a man I know, a retired Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent who specializes in training people to use guns defensively — the kind of training that this administration might want to give teachers, the kind that the National Rifle Association imagines could stop the killer in a mass shooting.
This man spoke with me about the low proficiency of the average gun owner: “Imagine shooting hoops in your driveway and thinking you can play in the N.B.A.” He spoke of the hundreds of hours necessary to achieve the Zen-like level of expertise in which, in the midst of chaos, responses are instantaneous and instinctive. He spoke of the continual training necessary to maintain those skills, and he generously agreed to take me through an abbreviated version of that curriculum, training intended to turn an average shooter into, well, what exactly? I wasn’t sure.
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Monday, November 12, 2018

Alexander: Risk assessment 'weapon of math destruction'

Michelle Alexander writes for the New York Times:
In the midterms, Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize marijuana, Florida restored the vote to over 1.4 million people with felony convictions, and Louisiana passed a constitutional amendment requiring unanimous jury verdicts in felony trials. These are the latest examples of the astonishing progress that has been made in the last several years on a wide range of criminal justice issues. Since 2010, when I published “The New Jim Crow” — which argued that a system of legal discrimination and segregation had been born again in this country because of the war on drugs and mass incarceration — there have been significant changes to drug policy, sentencing and re-entry, including “ban the box” initiatives aimed at eliminating barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people.
This progress is unquestionably good news, but there are warning signs blinking brightly. Many of the current reform efforts contain the seeds of the next generation of racial and social control, a system of “e-carceration” that may prove more dangerous and more difficult to challenge than the one we hope to leave behind.
Bail reform is a case in point. Thanks in part to new laws and policies — as well as actions like the mass bailout of inmates in New York City jails that’s underway — the unconscionable practice of cash bail is finally coming to an end. In August, California became the first state to decide to get rid of its cash bail system; last year, New Jersey virtually eliminated the use of money bonds.
But what’s taking the place of cash bail may prove even worse in the long run. In California, a presumption of detention will effectively replace eligibility for immediate release when the new law takes effect in October 2019. And increasingly, computer algorithms are helping to determine who should be caged and who should be set “free.” Freedom — even when it’s granted, it turns out — isn’t really free.
Under new policies in California, New Jersey, New York and beyond, “risk assessment” algorithms recommend to judges whether a person who’s been arrested should be released. These advanced mathematical models — or “weapons of math destruction” as data scientist Cathy O’Neil calls them — appear colorblind on the surface but they are based on factors that are not only highly correlated with race and class, but are also significantly influenced by pervasive bias in the criminal justice system.
As O’Neil explains, “It’s tempting to believe that computers will be neutral and objective, but algorithms are nothing more than opinions embedded in mathematics.”
Challenging these biased algorithms may be more difficult than challenging discrimination by the police, prosecutors and judges. Many algorithms are fiercely guarded corporate secrets. Those that are transparent — you can actually read the code — lack a public audit so it’s impossible to know how much more often they fail for people of color.
Even if you’re lucky enough to be set “free” from a brick-and-mortar jail thanks to a computer algorithm, an expensive monitoring device likely will be shackled to your ankle — a GPS tracking device provided by a private company that may charge you around $300 per month, an involuntary leasing fee. Your permitted zones of movement may make it difficult or impossible to get or keep a job, attend school, care for your kids or visit family members. You’re effectively sentenced to an open-air digital prison, one that may not extend beyond your house, your block or your neighborhood. One false step (or one malfunction of the GPS tracking device) will bring cops to your front door, your workplace, or wherever they find you and snatch you right back to jail.
Who benefits from this? Private corporations. According to a report released last month by the Center for Media Justice, four large corporations — including the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies — have most of the private contracts to provide electronic monitoring for people on parole in some 30 states, giving them a combined annual revenue of more than $200 million just for e-monitoring.Companies that earned millions on contracts to run or serve prisons have, in an era of prison restructuring, begun to shift their business model to add electronic surveillance and monitoring of the same population. Even if old-fashioned prisons fade away, the profit margins of these companies will widen so long as growing numbers of people find themselves subject to perpetual criminalization, surveillance, monitoring and control.
Who loses? Nearly everyone. A recent analysis by a Brookings Institution fellow found that “efforts to reduce recidivism through intensive supervision are not working.” Reducing the requirements and burdens of community supervision, so that people can more easily hold jobs, care for children and escape the stigma of criminality “would be a good first step toward breaking the vicious incarceration cycle,” the report said.
Many reformers rightly point out that an ankle bracelet is preferable to a prison cell. Yet I find it difficult to call this progress. As I see it, digital prisons are to mass incarceration what Jim Crow was to slavery.
If you asked slaves if they would rather live with their families and raise their own children, albeit subject to “whites only signs,” legal discrimination and Jim Crow segregation, they’d almost certainly say: I’ll take Jim Crow. By the same token, if you ask prisoners whether they’d rather live with their families and raise their children, albeit with nearly constant digital surveillance and monitoring, they’d almost certainly say: I’ll take the electronic monitor. I would too. But hopefully we can now see that Jim Crow was a less restrictive form of racial and social control, not a real alternative to racial caste systems. Similarly, if the goal is to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization, digital prisons are not an answer. They’re just another way of posing the question.
Some insist that e-carceration is “a step in the right direction.” But where are we going with this? A growing number of scholars and activists predict that “e-gentrification” is where we’re headed as entire communities become trapped in digital prisons that keep them locked out of neighborhoods where jobs and opportunity can be found.
If that scenario sounds far-fetched, keep in mind that mass incarceration itself was unimaginable just 40 years ago and that it was born partly out of well-intentioned reforms — chief among them mandatory sentencing laws that liberal proponents predicted would reduce racial disparities in sentencing. While those laws may have looked good on paper, they were passed within a political climate that was overwhelmingly hostile and punitive toward poor people and people of color, resulting in a prison-building boom, an increase in racial and class disparities in sentencing, and a quintupling of the incarcerated population.
Fortunately, a growing number of advocates are organizing to ensure that important reforms, such as ending cash bail, are not replaced with systems that view poor people and people of color as little more than commodities to be bought, sold, evaluated and managed for profit. In July, more than 100 civil rights, faith, labor, legal and data science groups released a shared statement of concerns regarding the use of pretrial risk assessment instruments; numerous bail reform groups, such as Chicago Community Bond Fund, actively oppose the expansion of e-carceration.
If our goal is not a better system of mass criminalization, but instead the creation of safe, caring, thriving communities, then we ought to be heavily investing in quality schools, job creation, drug treatment and mental health care in the least advantaged communities rather than pouring billions into their high-tech management and control. Fifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned that “when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” We failed to heed his warning back then. Will we make a different choice today?
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