Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Race, culture and economic factors influence domestic violence

Advocates for victims of domestic violence stress that state legislatures must consider the influence of race, culture and other demographic factors to craft effective Domestic violence strategies, reported Stateline.
African-American women, for example, are most likely to be killed by an intimate partner. Domestic abuse among Asian/Pacific Islander communities often involves more than one family member battering the same victim in the home, according to the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence. And Latinas are less likely to seek help from a shelter, preferring to find protection from friends and family.
Currently no state is trying to prevent domestic violence by focusing on specific demographic groups, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Advocates say that’s a problem.
“What works for one victim or 20 victims might not work in another part of the city or the state,” says Michael Polenberg, vice president of government affairs for Safe Horizon in New York City. “It might not work two blocks from where you’re standing. There should be a diverse range of options for victims of crime to get help that recognizes cultural and linguistic differences.”
Nonprofit organizations are picking up the slack, often with federal money distributed by the states. Recently, the MacArthur Foundation awarded one of its “genius grants” to legal scholar Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, for her work advocating for Native women, who suffer the highest rates of violent crime in the country.
Because the movement to help battered women largely has been driven by white, middle-class women, said Deer, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, “the attention is on generic domestic violence, (without legislators) really thinking about the nuances of race and class."
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Monday, September 22, 2014

Tennessee inmates seek to prevent use of electric chair

Ten death row inmates in Tennessee were permitted by a judge to amend pending lawsuits to include a challenge to the use of the electric chair, reported the Associated Press.
The general assembly passed a law earlier this year allowing prisoners to be electrocuted if Tennessee Department of Correction officials were unable to obtain the drug used for lethal injection.
Prior to that, prisoners could not be forced to die by the electric chair, although they were allowed to choose that method under some circumstances.
The death row plaintiffs claim the new law violates both the US and Tennessee constitutions. Among other things, they claim it violates evolving standards of decency. They also claim that the law is too vague. And they question whether the state’s electric chair actually operates as it is supposed to.
Davidson County chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled recently that the inmates could amend their lawsuit to include the new claims. The original lawsuit challenged the state’s new lethal injection protocol, adopted in September 2013. It switched execution from the use of three drugs to just one, pentobarbital.
The switch was a response to legal challenges over the effectiveness of the three-drug mixture and a nationwide shortage of one of them, sodium thiopental. Those issues have effectively prevented any executions in Tennessee for nearly five years.
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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dental analysis as crime solving tool under scrutiny

The use of expert testimony to match body wounds with dental records of the accused has played a role in hundreds of murder and rape cases. However, mounting evidence has shown that matching body wounds to a suspect’s dentition is prone to bias and unreliable, according to the New York Times.

A disputed bite-mark identification is at the center of an appeal that was filed Monday with the Mississippi Supreme Court. Eddie Lee Howard Jr., 61, has been on death row for two decades for the murder and rape of an 84-year-old woman, convicted largely because of what many experts call a far-fetched match of his teeth to purported bite wounds, discerned only after the woman’s body had been buried and exhumed.

The identification was made by Dr. Michael West, a Mississippi dentist who was sought out by prosecutors across the country in the 1980s and 1990s but whose freewheeling methods “put a huge black eye on bite-mark evidence,” in the words of Dr. Richard Souviron, a Florida-based dental expert who helped identify Ted Bundy in 1979, in an interview last week.

Since 2000, at least 17 people convicted of murder or rape based on “expert” bite matches have been exonerated and freed, usually because DNA tests showed they had been wrongfully accused, according to research by the Innocence Project in New York. Dr. West was the expert witness in two of those cases.

In six additional cases, one involving Dr. West and one involving Dr. Souviron, indictments and arrests linked to bite-mark identifications were dropped after new evidence showed that the matches were wrong.

Still, without glaring new proof of innocence, courts have been reluctant to reopen cases based on even the most dubious of dental claims, leaving scores more defendants with questionable convictions to languish in prison or on death row, said Chris Fabricant, the Innocence Project’s director of strategic litigation.

One of them is Mr. Howard. His appeal cites the scientific consensus that bite-mark identifications are unreliable, and questions the methods used by Dr. West. The appeal to reverse his conviction, prepared by the Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi, also cites newly completed DNA testing that found no traces of Mr. Howard on the murder weapon, the body or elsewhere at the crime scene.

Georgia Kemp, a reclusive 84-year-old in Columbus, Miss., had been stabbed to death and was partially dressed when police found her body among smoldering fires in her rundown house in 1992. The medical examiner found bruises “consistent with” rape but no hair or semen to prove it.
In the absence of fingerprints or witnesses, it was understandable when the police turned to Mr. Howard as a person of interest: Only four months earlier, he had gone to Columbus after spending most of the two previous decades in prison for attempted rapes.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

GateHouse: Federal government complicit in militarization of police

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 19, 2014
Nearly 50 years ago when Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates organized the nation’s first special weapons and tactics team (SWAT), nobody envisioned that most police departments — large and small — across the country would someday have SWAT teams.

Gates wanted an elite team of specialized cops similar to the Army Rangers or Navy SEALs that could respond to riots, barricades, shootouts or hostage-takings, wrote Radley Balko in the Huffington Post. The SWAT team would be used exclusively for special incidents that Gates thought rank-and-file officers were not prepared to handle.

Only days after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Paul Szoldra — a former Iraqi war veteran — described what he saw in photographs of the police responding to protests in Ferguson.

“We are shown a heavily armed SWAT team. They have short-barreled 5.56-mm rifles … with scopes that can accurately hit a target out to 500 meters. On their side they carry pistols. On their front, over their body armor, they carry at least four to six extra magazines, loaded with 30 rounds each,” Szoldra wrote in Business Insider.

He continued, “They wear green tops, and pants fashioned after the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage pattern. And they stand in front of a massive uparmored truck called a Bearcat, similar in look to a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle.”

The militarization of the police has been hotly debated in the wake of Ferguson.

Today, SWAT teams are not unique to big incidents in big cities. Eastern Kentucky University professor Dr. Peter Kraska testified at a recent Senate hearing called by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill looking into the militarization of local police departments. He told McCaskill’s committee that the line between police and military is quickly blurring.

In the mid-1980s, one-third of police departments had SWAT teams, Kraska told the Louisville Courier-Journal. Now more than 80 percent of all police departments have a SWAT team. The number of SWAT deployments skyrocketed from 3,000 a year in the 1980s to an estimated 60,000 annually.

Though SWAT raids are commonly associated with police response to potentially violent situations, a recent ACLU report found that, “only a small handful of deployments — 7 percent — were for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.” According to the report, more than 60 percent of deployments were to search for drugs or for serving warrants on individual residences.

St. Louis County Police Col. Jon Belmar defended his department’s para-military response in Ferguson in a recent interview with USA Today. “Had we not had the ability to protect officers with those vehicles [armored], I am afraid that we would have to engage people with our own gun fire. I really think having the armor gave us the ability not to have pulled one trigger. …”

The militarization of the police is the byproduct of two wars — the war on drugs and the war on terror.

Local police departments have welcomed surplus military equipment from the Pentagon. According to the Wall Street Journal, billions of dollars of excess military equipment and funding to buy other gear funneled down to local police departments over the past two decades.

Some local police departments are so eager to get free surplus gear they have made an investment in keeping the military equipment flowing. According to Politco.com, last year about 30 law enforcement unions or police departments spent more than $2.1 million lobbying Congress to keep the surplus program in place.

The militarization of America’s police forces has been building for nearly a half-century with little oversight. Last week’s congressional hearings revealed that the federal government does not track the distribution of surplus military equipment to local police departments. That must change. The federal government should also begin tracking the use of SWAT teams and develop national standards for mobilizing SWAT teams.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Cautionary Instruction: The paradox of falling crime and crowded prisons

Matthew T. Mangino
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
September 19, 2014
The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released two reports this week that appear to be in conflict with one another. Crime rates are down for 2013, but incarceration rates are up. Locking up a few thousand more people is not going to make crime rates fall, but it begs the question -- if there are fewer crimes shouldn’t there be less people in jail?
The nation's violent crime rate declined slightly last year after two years of increases according to BJS.
BJS’s National Crime Victimization Survey found the overall violent crime rate -- which includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault -- declined from 26.1 victimizations per 1,000 people in 2012 to 23.2 per 1,000 in 2013.
The rate of violent crime in 2013 was similar to the rate in 2011 -- 22.6 per 1,000. Since 1993, the rate of violent crime has declined from 79.8 to 23.2 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.
The victimization report is based on an annual scientific survey of Americans on whether they had been victimized in the previous year. The interviews included about 90,630 households and 160,040 persons last year.
It differs from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, which is based on voluntary submissions from local police departments of crimes reported to them. Many criminologists consider the victimization survey a more accurate picture of the nation's crime, because the FBI's data are incomplete.
At the same time, the incarceration rate has increased. At the end of 2013, the U.S. held an estimated 1,574,700 people in state and federal prisons, an increase of approximately 4,300 prisoners, about a three percent increase from 2012. This was the first increase reported since the peak of 1,615,500 prisoners in 2009.
The incarceration totals rose in 27 states. With at least 700,000 in local jails, not included in the BJS report, the national total behind bars remains well over 2 million. Only six states had fewer prisoners at the end of 2013 as compared to 2000.
Critics question why more people should be behind bars while crime is dropping.
Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report, suggests that the basic answer is that there is not necessarily a connection between the two sets of numbers.
Gest wrote, “About 450,000 people entered prison last year as a result of a court sentence. That is only a small fraction of the 6.1 million violent crimes. Most crimes don't lead to arrests or prosecutions, and only some of those cases result in an offender going to prison. So it is very possible for the crime rate to be going slightly in one direction and the imprisonment rate slightly in the other, as was the case in 2013.”

(Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Texas executes woman for starvation death of child

The 30th Execution of 2014
Texas executed Lisa Coleman on Wednesday evening. Coleman was the ninth person executed by Texas this year — more than any other state – and the 30th inmate executed in the United States over the same span, reported the Washington Post.
This particular execution was also unusual for this country, because executions of female inmates have almost never happened throughout the modern era of the death penalty.
Executions of women in the United States are incredibly rare. Coleman is just the 15th woman put to death since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. That accounts for about 1 percent of the 1,389 executions over that time.
Coleman, 38, was sentenced to death after being found guilty of murdering Davontae Williams, her partner’s nine-year-old son, a decade ago. Davontae was emaciated, weighing 35 pounds at the time of his death in 2004, and had multiple injuries on his body. Coleman and Marcella Williams, her longtime girlfriend, had restrained him and deprived him of food, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
She was killed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Tex. The execution took about 12 minutes, lasting from 6:12 p.m. to 6:24 p.m., and nothing unusual happened, the Department of Criminal Justice reported. In her final remarks, she told her family and “the girls on the row” she loved them. Her last words were, “I’m done.”
Texas is far and away the most active state when it comes to capital punishment, having put 516 inmates to death since 1976. That is nearly five times as many executions as any other state (Oklahoma has put 111 people to death, while Virginia has executed 110 inmates). Of the 14 women executed since 1976, five of them were put to death in Texas.
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Texas executes double murderer

The 29th Execution of 2014
Texas executed Willie Trottie on September 10, 2014 after the US supreme courts rejected last-minute appeals against the convicted double murderer being put to death by lethal injection, reported the Associated Press.
The death sentence against Trottie, who shot dead his former common-law wife and her brother more than two decades ago in Houston, was carried out on Wednesday evening. He had contended he had poor legal help at his trial and questioned the potency of the execution drug.
Trottie repeatedly expressed love to witnesses – both people he selected and relatives of his victims, Barbara and Titus Canada – and several times asked for forgiveness as he was about to be executed. “I love you all,” he said. “I’m going home, going to be with the Lord … Find it in your hearts to forgive me. I’m sorry.”
Trottie was pronounced dead at 6.35pm, 22 minutes after the injection began. He was the second person executed on September 10, 2014.
His was the eighth lethal injection this year in Texas and the first in the nation’s most active death penalty state since recent executions went awry in Oklahoma and Arizona. Unlike those states, where a drug combination is used for capital punishment, Texas uses a single lethal dose of pentobarbital.
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