Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Florida grand jury rejects official's 'stand your ground' defense for killing shoplifter

A city official in central Florida has been charged with second-degree murder after a fatal shooting at a military surplus store he owns, reported the Washington Post.
In indicting Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn on the murder charge, a grand jury effectively rejected Florida’s “stand your ground” law as a possible defense for the commissioner’s actions, though the argument that Dunn acted in self-defense will probably appear again in court, officials said.
On Oct. 3, police responded to Dunn’s business, the Vets Army and Navy Surplus store in Lakeland, where Dunn said a man had attempted to steal a small hatchet, according to a statement by the Lakeland Police Department.
That alleged shoplifter, 50-year-old Christobal Lopez, was found at the entrance of the store with gunshot wounds and pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
According to police, Dunn said Lopez had come into the store with his father, then attempted to take and hide a hatchet while the father was making a purchase.
“Dunn stopped Lopez asking him if he was going to pay for the item and a confrontation ensued,” police stated. “Dunn then fired his weapon, striking Lopez, who was still in possession of the hatchet."
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Monday, October 22, 2018

Perceived fairness of death penalty falls to new low

The percentage of Americans who believe the death penalty is applied fairly continues to decrease, falling below 50% this year for the first time, reported Gallup. Forty-nine percent now say the death penalty is applied fairly and 45% say it is applied unfairly.
The 49% who say the death penalty is applied fairly is, by one percentage point, the lowest Gallup has measured since it first asked the question in 2000 and reflects a gradual decline of this view over the past decade. Meanwhile, the percentage who say capital punishment is applied unfairly has edged higher, with this year's four-point gap marking the smallest difference between the two views in Gallup's polling.
These latest data, from Gallup's annual Crime poll, were collected Oct. 1-10 -- just before the Washington state Supreme Court on Oct. 11 struck down that state's death penalty, saying it had been unequally applied across racial groups. In its decision, the court cited evidence that "black defendants were 4 ½ times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants." The decision makes Washington the 20th state to outlaw the death penalty.
The decline in Americans' belief that capital punishment is applied fairly is largely the result of a sharp drop in this view among Democrats. Thirty-one percent of Democrats this year say the death penalty is applied fairly, similar to the low of 30% in 2017 but down significantly from 2005 and 2006, when slim majorities held this view.
Meanwhile, 73% of Republicans say the death penalty is applied fairly, and the percentage holding this view has been fairly stable over time -- typically in the low 70s.
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Sunday, October 21, 2018

New Castle killing may be act of serial killer

Cops in Pennsylvania say a man already behind bars for committing two homicides could be a serial killer responsible for multiple unsolved slayings that stretch back decades, Reports the Huffington Post.
Regis Brown, 59, of Fairview, pleaded guilty to brutally murdering his wife, Michelle, 53, and his 35-year-old stepdaughter Tammy Greenawalt inside their Fairview Township home earlier this year. Investigators said he killed the two women in the presence of Brown’s 14-year-old stepgranddaughter, whom he held captive for several days, police said.
Brown received a life sentence last month after pleading guilty to one count each of first- and third-degree felony murder.
The story might’ve ended there, police said, had Brown not decided to keep talking about his past, which they now suspect involves up to a half-dozen other homicides.
During a Thursday news conference, Pennsylvania State Police Detective Joseph Vascetti announced charges against Brown in the 30-year-old cold case slaying of 45-year-old Bryce Kenneth Tompkins, of New Castle.
Tompkins’ body was found partially submerged in a Lawrence County creek on Dec. 26, 1988. An autopsy determined he’d been shot twice in the back. According to Vascetti, Brown admitted to killing Tompkins because he was a witness to a burglary Brown had committed.
Up to this point, Brown has only been charged in Tompkins’ death. But officials say there’s much more to this case.
“He’s either been arrested for, or confessed to, or is a strong suspect in eight homicides right now in the northern part of the state from Lawrence County to Erie,” Vascetti said.
The detective declined to provide additional information in the five other homicides. It’s also unclear why, after so many years, Brown has allegedly decided to cooperate.
Brown faces multiple charges in connection with Thompkins’ slaying, including criminal homicide, aggravated assault and intimidation of witnesses, police said.
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Saturday, October 20, 2018

GateHouse: Gun violence: A tale of four cities

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
October 20, 2018
Last weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — not a single person was reported shot in all of New York City. The Big Apple is home to 8.6 million people and not a single reported shooting in the entire city.
Compare that to the last full weekend of August in Memphis, Tennessee, a population of about 650,000. Seven people were shot and killed. All seven of the victims were men. Six of the dead were between the ages 23 and 49.
The carnage is Memphis pales in comparison to Chicago’s deadly first weekend of August. At least 72 people were shot, including 12 fatally. Chicago, with a population of 2.7 million — about a third of New York City — hasn’t seen things improve. During the third weekend of August, 61 people were shot with eight dead.
Do you think guns in Chicago are a problem? Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told the USA Today that officers shut down 68 illegal block parties during the most recent deadly weekend seizing 83 guns, and arresting 29 people on gun charges.
Deadly weekends are not exclusive to Chicago and Memphis. At least seven people were shot and killed during the last weekend in September in Baltimore. Police told CBS WJZ two people were gunned downed Saturday evening, with three more fatal shootings overnight Saturday, and another one Sunday morning and the seventh Sunday evening. Baltimore has a population of about 618,000 people.
How has America’s largest city found the answer to gun violence?
“NYPD has the best strategy, the best training ... because this department never rests on its laurels,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told the New York Post. “This department always seeks to get better.”
The story is bleak in Chicago. “There is a shortage of values about what is right, what is wrong,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told CBS News. “We as a city, in every corner, have an accountability and responsibility. If you know who did this, be a neighbor. Speak up.”
Bill Gibbons of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission told WREG.com, “I think what we’re facing is a situation where, unfortunately, people are trying to resolve conflict through violence, and we need to address that.”
If New York City has found the solution to gun violence why isn’t it being replicated?
“We know far less about gun violence as a cause of injury and death than we do about almost every medical problem,” Dr. Elinore Kaufman, chief resident in surgery at Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center told Time.
In 1996, Congressman Jay Dickey, a self-proclaimed “point-man” for the National Rifle Association, proposed a legislative amendment that removed millions of dollars from the Center for Disease Control’s budget earmarked for firearms-related research.
Twenty-one years later, things haven’t changed. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, gun violence research received what amounts to 5.3 percent of the federal funds dedicated to studying motor-vehicle accidents — even though guns and cars kill at about the same rate.
According to the Washington Post, there are no national studies of who owns guns, how gun owners acquired their weapons, the theft of guns, the number of households with guns, the attributes of high-quality gun training or the risk factors associated with gun violence.
As Congress hides from the NRA, states have been left to pick up the slack, and most states have been reluctant. The NRA is equally influential in state capitals across the country.
However, California has stepped up. The state recently opened the nation’s first state-funded firearms-violence research center, on the Sacramento campus of the University of California-Davis.
Garen Wintemute, the director of the center, told the Post, “California essentially said that the federal government wasn’t fulfilling its responsibility, so we’re going to step into the breach.”
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 www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, October 19, 2018

Louisiana DAs support referendum calling for unanimous jury verdicts

Four of Louisiana’s highest-profile district attorneys are lending their support to a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot that would require juries in the state to return unanimous verdicts in all felony cases – something every other state besides Oregon does, reported The Advocate.
Hillar Moore III, Paul Connick, James Stewart Sr. and Keith Stutes, the district attorneys, respectively, for East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Caddo and Lafayette parishes, each told The Advocate this week that they have decided to back the closely watched ballot measure.
They preside over four of the six busiest trial dockets among Louisiana’s 42 judicial districts, records show.
Moore said he hopes changing the law will help restore fractured confidence in the criminal justice system. Stewart, a retired judge, called the proposed amendment an “opportunity to be on the right side of history,” and noted that Louisiana already requires unanimous verdicts in capital cases and for lesser felonies tried by six-person juries.
Stutes, whose jurisdiction includes Acadia and Vermilion parishes along with Lafayette, offered a similar rationale for his endorsement.
“I simply think at this point in our history, it’s no longer good for us to be one of only two states that are different than the rest of the nation,” he said.
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

FBI investigates Manhattan DA for dropping high profile investigations

FBI agents are probing the Manhattan district attorney’s office over its handling of high-profile cases that were dropped once lawyers for the well-connected subjects made donations, reported the New York Daily News.
Investigators have been quietly seeking information in recent months about decision-making by DA Cy Vance Jr. and his staff, sources with knowledge of the undertaking said.
The queries are centered on how things are handled in the office and who the major players are, the sources said. The FBI interest grew out of revelations that investigations were closed once lawyers representing the bigwig suspects made hefty donations to Vance’s campaign coffers, sources said.
The team has asked about current and former high-level staff members and their relationships to private law firms and outside agencies, sources said. Investigators are considering whether undue influence was at play.
The extent of the inquiry was not immediately known and it was not clear whether criminal charges were being considered.
Manhattan’s top prosecutor came under fire last year after questions surfaced about his office’s 2015 decision not to go after ex-Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after model Ambra Battilana accused him of groping her breasts in his Tribeca office.
A lawyer hired by Weinstein at the time had given Vance $24,000 and another attorney sent him $10,000 after the decision to spare the powerful producer an arrest.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Official Corruption Prosecutions Drop Under Trump

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during the first eleven months of FY 2018 the government reported 340 new official corruption prosecutions,. If this activity continues at the same pace, the annual total of prosecutions will be 371 for this fiscal year. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this estimate is down 23.5% over the past fiscal year when the number of prosecutions totaled 485.
The comparisons of the number of defendants charged with official corruption- offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (see Table 1).
Compared to five years ago when there were 636, the estimate of FY 2018 prosecutions of this type is down 41.7 percent. Prosecutions over the past year are lower than they were ten years ago. Overall, the data show that prosecutions of this type are down 45 percent from the level of 675 reported in 2008 and down 59.1 percent from the level of 906 reported in 1998.
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