Monday, September 30, 2019

Mangino appears on Law and Crime Network

Watch my segment on Law and Crime Network. To watch the segment CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Mangino on WFMJ-TV21 to discuss impeachment

Watch my interview on Weekend Today, WFMJ-TV21 regarding the House decision to begin impeachment inquiry of President Trump.
To watch interview CLICK HERE

The impeachment that wasn't

The House of Representatives has announced an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Two presidents--Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton--have been impeached. Neither was removed from office.  The only president to leave office as the result of impeachment was never actually impeached.
According to Wikipedia, an impeachment process against Richard Nixon began in the on October 30, 1973, following the "Saturday Night Massacre" episode of the Watergate scandal. The House Judiciary Committee set up an impeachment inquiry staff and began investigations into possible impeachable offenses by Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States
The process was formally initiated on February 6, 1974, when the House of Representatives passed a resolution, H.Res. 803, giving the Judiciary Committee authority to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach Nixon[1] of high crimes and misdemeanors, primarily related to Watergate. This investigation was undertaken one year after the United States Senate established a select committee to investigate the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon Administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement.
Following a subpoena from the Judiciary Committee, in April 1974 edited transcripts of many Watergate-related conversations from the Nixon White House tapes were made public by Nixon, but the committee pressed for full tapes and additional conversations. Nixon refused, but on July 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to comply. On July 27, 29, and 30, 1974, the Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, for obstruction of justiceabuse of power, and contempt of Congress, and reported those articles to the House of Representatives. Two other articles of impeachment were debated but not approved. 
Before the House could vote on the impeachment resolutions, Nixon made public on August 5, 1974 a transcript of one of the additional conversations, known as the "Smoking Gun Tape", which made clear his complicity in the cover-up. With his political support completely eroded, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974. It is widely believed that had Nixon not resigned, his impeachment by the House and removal from office by a trial before the United States Senate would have occurred.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Capital-Star: It’s time to step up, and say ‘Enough is enough’ to gun violence | Opinion

Matthew T. Mangino
Op-Ed, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
September 26, 2019
Last winter, my son’s high school baseball team had a community fundraiser. The “wing bash” as we called it was held in a social hall in a small town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. Amid all the hot wings and baseball memorabilia was a guy wearing a side arm.
There he was, plate in hand, event program under his arm and firearm on his hip as uneasy patrons pretended not see. He wasn’t a police officer or security guard. He was a private citizen who apparently felt so threatened at our wing bash that he had to come armed.
How did we get to a point where private citizens need to carry firearms when they leave their homes? This isn’t Dodge City, Kansas circa 1878, or a John Wayne movie on the silver screen — this is reality and an obvious step backward for a civilized society.
The proliferation of gun ownership has increased the potential for unnecessary violent confrontations. Lawmakers recognized this concern centuries ago.
According to a New York Times op-ed by Robert J. Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York-Cortland, in 1686, New Jersey enacted a law against wearing weapons because they induced “great Fear and Quarrels.”
Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia passed similar laws in the 18th century. By the 19th century, 37 states joined the list prohibiting concealed weapons. Today, more than 11 million Americans have concealed carry permits.
A 2017 Harvard/Northwestern University joint study estimated that our country’s 319 million citizens currently own about 265 million guns. And while in 1994, the “typical gun-owning household” owned 4.2 guns, in 2015, the Washington Post revealed that the average number of firearms owned has nearly doubled to 8.1 guns per household.
Why so many guns?
It certainly is not due to out of control violent crime. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI Annual Crime Report, according to the Pew Research Center — two of most trusted names in crime analysis — found a substantial decline in the violent crime rate since it peaked in the early 1990s.
Every year, the FBI reviews crime reporting from 18,000 police departments around the country. The Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys more than 90,000 households asking Americans whether they were victims of crime, regardless of whether they reported those crimes to the police.
Using the FBI numbers, the violent crime rate fell 49 percent between 1993 and 2017. Using the Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the rate fell 74 percent during that same period.
Yet in spite of those statistics, Gallup polling found that the percentage of gun owners who possessed a firearm for hunting purposes fell from 60 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2013. The number of respondents who cited gun ownership for “sport” fell even more.
According to a Harvard University School of Public Health survey, 63 percent of gun owners in 2016 reported self-defense as their primary motivator, up from 46 percent in 2004.
Some suggest the recent widespread adoption of state stand-your-ground laws has fueled firearms sales. These laws permit people who feel threatened to use deadly force without the need to retreat.
Twenty-five states have stand-your-ground laws, including Florida which brought us George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin and the recent would-be robbery victim who killed three young teens — ages 15, 16, and 16 — in an alleged robbery gone awry.
The Congress can’t even decide if it wants to consider any options on gun violence. Legislators in many states, in deference to the power and money of the NRA, pretend like there isn’t a gun problem in this country. According to the CDC, middle-and high school-age children in the U.S. are now more likely to die as the result of a firearm injury than from any other single cause of death.
How can anyone, much less a lawmaker, look the other way?  Pretending it’s not a problem, much the same way patrons at my son’s baseball fundraiser did, is not the answer.
That uneasy feeling that makes you look the other way when someone walks into your neighborhood grocery store with a gun, is the very feeling that should cause you to stand up and say “enough is enough.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. in New Castle, Pa., and the author of “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010.” @MatthewTMangino. He welcomes feedback at
To visit the column CLICK HERE

GateHouse: Down the rabbit hole with impeachment

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 28, 2019
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The inquiry will focus on the president seeking to enlist a foreign power to investigate a political opponent aiding his reelection campaign, while dangling foreign aid to entice cooperation.
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution ... no one is above the law,” said Pelosi during a press conference.
Impeachment refers to the process specified in the Constitution for trial and removal from office any federal official accused of misconduct. Impeachment comes in two parts. The House of Representatives charges the official, here the President of the United States, with articles of impeachment. Once charged by the House, the case goes before the Senate for a trial. House members serve as prosecutors and must prove an impeachable offense defined as, “Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Essentially, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial, the House prosecutes and the Senate serves as the jury.
America has been down this road before.
In spring 1868, President Andrew Johnson, who assumed office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, became the first president to be impeached.
A year earlier, the Republican lead Congress passed the Reconstruction Act. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, was responsible for enforcing the Act. Johnson, a Democrat, opposed the Act and tried to remove Stanton. The House formally adopted 11 articles of impeachment.
In May 1868, after a trial in the Senate, presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, 35 Senators voted to convict, one vote short of the required two-thirds majority. A single profile in courage, a Republican senator from Iowa voted against his party’s leadership saying, “I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious working of the Constitution for the sake of getting rid of an unacceptable president.” Johnson remained in office and served out his term.
It would be 130 years before another president was impeached. However, impeachment is not just for presidents. In the last 100 years, five federal judges have been impeached and removed from office. The most recent, Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Federal District Court in Louisiana.
Judge Porteous, was accused of receiving cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, using a false name to elude creditors and intentionally misleading the Senate during his confirmation hearing. According to the New York Times, the articles of impeachment alleged a “pattern of conduct incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him.”
The U.S. Senate found Porteous guilty on four articles of impeachment and removed him from office. All 96 senators present voted “guilty” on the first article.
The 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton is a little fresher in the American psyche. The GOP-lead House initiated impeachment proceedings on Oct. 8, 1998. The specific charges against the president were lying under oath and obstruction of justice - charges that stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit chronicled by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr in a report to the House Judiciary Committee. In December 1998, the House adopted two articles of impeachment against Clinton.
The trial in the Senate began in January 1999, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding. On Feb. 12, Clinton was acquitted by the Democrat-lead Senate when it failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed for conviction.
In 1998, America had a Democrat president, a Republican majority in the House and a Democrat majority in the Senate. Today, we have exactly the opposite. If history is any indication, this latest push to impeach will end the same way the other two presidential impeachments did - acquittal.
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.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, September 27, 2019

Whistleblower complaint against POTUS is released

A partially redacted version of the whistleblower complaint that has led to an impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump was released, detailing allegations that the president and members of his administration conspired to induce a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 US presidential election, reported Jurist.
The complaint, originally made on August 12, comes from a yet unnamed source within the Trump administration who “received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The complaint was filed with intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson in August, but was illegally withheld from congressional intelligence committees until earlier this week. Section (K)(5)(C) of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act requires that whistleblower complaints from members of US intelligence agencies be released to congress within seven days. The refusal of the Trump administration to release the whistleblower complaint was one of the catalyzing events that led congressional Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.
The complaint alleges that while on a phone call made on July 25, Trump pressured the government of Ukraine to investigate unsubstantiated claims that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son had illegal business dealings in the country and provide that information to the White House. In addition, the president reportedly requested that the Ukrainian government obtain and deliver servers used by the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election that he believed were in the country and to contact US Attorney General Robert Barr and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani for any follow-up. Most notably, the complaint alleges that White House officials sought to immediately cover up the records of the conversation, including removing electronic recordings of the phone call from normal White House records systems and refusing to distribute raw transcripts to cabinet-level officials as is customary. The complaint further details months of interactions between Giuliani, Barr and Ukrainian officials allegedly tied to the interference scheme. Finally, a redacted portion of the complaint covers the refusal of the administration to release approved foreign aid to Ukraine at the same time as the phone call took place. The details of the whistleblower complaint comport with a heavily edited summary of the telephone conversation released by the White House.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thiel College-Death Penalty

Thiel College-Comment Project 2

Should severe mental illness and/or veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injury be categorically removed from the imposition of the death penalty?

Texas executes man claiming intellectual disability

The 16th Execution of 2019
Robert Sparks, 45, was executed by lethal injection in Texas on September 25, 2019 for the September 2007 slayings of 9-year-old Harold Sublet and 10-year-old Raekwon Agnew in their Dallas home, reported The Associated Press.
In his final moments, Sparks uttered these words: "Umm, Pamela, can you hear me? Stephanie, Hardy, Marcus, tell all the family I love them. I am sorry for the hard times and what hurts me is that I hurt y'all, and um, even for y'all too, and Patricia, she wrote me, tell Patricia I wrote her back and to tell y'all what I said. I love y'all. I am ready."
Prosecutors say Sparks' attack began when he stabbed his wife, 30-year-old Chare Agnew, 18 times as she lay in her bed. Sparks then went into the boys' bedroom and separately took them into the kitchen, where he stabbed them. Raekwon was stabbed at least 45 times. Authorities say Sparks then raped his 12- and 14-year-old stepdaughters.
His attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, alleging his trial jury was improperly influenced because a bailiff wore a necktie with an image of a syringe that showed his support for the death penalty. Sparks also alleges a prosecution witness at his trial provided false testimony regarding his prison classification if a jury chose life without parole rather than a death sentence.
Lower courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down requests by Sparks' attorneys to stop his execution.
Sparks became the 16th inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the seventh in Texas. Seven more executions are scheduled in Texas this year.
On Tuesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stop his execution on claims he was intellectually disabled, saying his attorneys had not presented sufficient evidence to show Sparks was mentally disabled and had failed to raise such a claim in a timely manner.
In August, the 5th Circuit did grant a stay for Dexter Johnson, another Texas death row inmate who also claims he is intellectually disabled. In that case, the appeals court ruled Johnson had made a sufficient showing of possible intellectual disability that needed further review.
After his arrest, Sparks told police he fatally stabbed his wife and stepsons because he believed they were trying to poison him. Sparks told a psychologist that a voice told him "to kill them because they were trying to kill me."
Sparks' lawyers argued he suffered from severe mental illness and had been diagnosed as a delusion psychotic and with schizoaffective disorder, a condition characterized by hallucinations.
A psychologist hired by Sparks' attorneys said in an affidavit this month that Sparks "meets full criteria for a diagnosis of" intellectual disability.
"Without a stay of execution, it is likely that Texas will execute an intellectually disabled man," Seth Kretzer and Jonathan Landers, Sparks' appellate attorneys, wrote last month in court documents.
The Supreme Court in 2002 barred execution of mentally disabled people but has given states some discretion to decide how to determine intellectual disability. However, justices have wrestled with how much discretion to allow.
The Texas Attorney General's Office, which called the killings "monstrous crimes," said in court documents that Sparks' "own trial expert testified that he was not intellectually disabled."
His attorneys said that at the time of his trial, Sparks was not deemed intellectually disabled, but changes since then in how Texas makes such determinations and updates to the handbook used by medical professionals to diagnose mental disorders would change that.
On whether Sparks' jury was improperly influenced by the bailiff's necktie with an image of a syringe, the attorney general's office said the jury foreperson indicated she never saw the tie and had no knowledge of it affecting the jurors.
The attorney general's office said the testimony from the prosecution witness on prison classification was corrected on cross-examination.
"Sparks committed a heinous crime which resulted in the murders of two young children. He is unable to overcome the overwhelming testimony" in his case, the attorney general's office said in its court filing with the Supreme Court.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Tennessee attorney general seeks to schedule execution of nine inmates

Tennessee’s attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for nine death row prisoners, bucking a national movement away from capital punishment, reported The Associated Press.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery quietly filed the request on Friday with no explanation, and the state Supreme Court later posted it on its website on Tuesday.
“The Tennessee Constitution guarantees victims of crime the right to a ‘prompt and final conclusion of the case after the conviction of sentence,’” Slatery said in a statement Tuesday in response to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Slatery’s motion came the same day he publicly announced he would challenge a Nashville Criminal Court’s decision to commute the death sentence of black inmate Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman’s to life in prison after concerns were raised that racism tainted the jury selection pool. Slatery argued in his appeal that the court’s order “circumvented established legal procedures.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

PA law enforcement made over $15 million on civil asset forfeiture in 2017-18

A recent report from the Pennsylvania Attorney General shows that law enforcement across the state made over $15 million dollars through the use of civil asset forfeiture between 2017 and 2018, WHYY-FM.
This controversial legal mechanism allows police departments and district attorney offices to profit from property seized during arrests, even if a suspect is never convicted of a crime. This property — which is often tied to drug suspects — ranges from cash, cars and homes to jewelry and flat screen televisions.
While the annual haul –– which covers both the AG itself and 67 county DA offices –– is down from previous years, critics say the report shows that police still regularly take small amounts of cash from suspects — in some instances from innocent people.
Jennifer McDonald, a researcher with the national non-profit Institute for Justice, says these smaller confiscations are a sticking point for reformers. Potentially innocent people caught up in such a seizure rarely find it worth the cost of retaining a private lawyer to retrieve a few hundred dollars or less.
“For district attorneys to say, ‘Someone has $175 dollars in their wallet. We can call that drug money,’ is concerning. That means anyone who happens to be carrying cash at the wrong place at the wrong time can have their property taken and they’re very likely to not get it back,” she said.
Although the state legislature and court rulings have moved to tighten Pennsylvania’s forfeiture policies, McDonald hopes the state implements more reforms to protect innocent people.
Institute for Justice has previously sued over abuses linked to asset forfeiture in Philadelphia, where use of this tool has declined dramatically over the past decade. Although forfeiture petitions continue to bring in over a million dollars a year in Philadelphia, a Keystone Crossroads investigation earlier this year showed suburban and exurban jurisdictions had eclipsed big cities in their use of forfeiture
The recent AG report showed that the main subject of that story, Berks County DA John T. Adams, brought in $1.8 million between June 2017 and June 2018 –– more than any other county. 
Adams said this reflects his efforts to squash major drug organizations. He credited his county detectives with executing several high-profile busts, including the breakup of a large synthetic marijuana ring that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Part of our fight against the drug trade is to strip the profits that are made by the drug dealers and the drug organizations so they can’t reap the benefits of their illicit activity,” he said. “[Forfeiture] takes away the profits of their drug dealing. It takes away their incentive to sell drugs.”
Adams said his office had recently raised the minimum amount of cash it would seize to $500 in most cases to prevent instances in which innocent people surrendered property because it was too costly to fight back.
Adams acknowledges that the state’s forfeiture laws hold some potential for abuse — that it is largely up to individual DAs to implement controls on property confiscation.
“We know there’s a lot more scrutiny now,” he said. “We welcome that.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, September 23, 2019

Florida police officer handcuffs, arrests, and takes away 6-year-old girl in police car

An Orlando, FL police officer who arrested two children — a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old — at school in separate incidents on Thursday will be subject to an internal investigation, reported
Officer Dennis Turner was on duty as a school resource officer when he arrested the students on misdemeanor charges, Lt. Wanda Miglio of the Orlando Police Department told BuzzFeed News. Turner did not follow the department's policy of requiring approval from a watch commander for the arrest of any children under the age of 12.
 “There will be an internal investigation regarding these incidents,” Miglio said.
The officer is part of the department's reserve program and will be suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
"As a grandparent of three children less than 11 years old this is very concerning to me," Chief Orlando Rolón said in a statement. "Our Department strives to deliver professional and courteous service. My staff and I are committed to exceeding those standards and expectations."
The investigation comes after the 6-year-old's grandmother said the girl was handcuffed and taken away in a police car, drawing outrage and national headlines.
Meralyn Kirkland, 6-year-old Kaia Rolle's grandmother, told NBC affiliate WLFA that she was called Thursday and told her granddaughter had been arrested after throwing a tantrum at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, the Orlando charter school she attends as a first grader. Kirkland said she was told her granddaughter had been arrested on a battery charge.
The school didn't immediately return a request for comment.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 22, 2019

PA State Police stopped collecting data on race of drivers pulled over

The Pennsylvania State Police, the nation’s third-largest statewide law enforcement agency, quietly stopped collecting data on the race of drivers stopped by its troopers in 2012, making it far more difficult to detect bias, reports Spotlight PA, a project of major Pennsylvania newspapers, according to The Crime Report.
This week, after being presented with the findings of Spotlight PA’s nationwide survey that showed the force was the largest of 11 statewide law enforcement agencies that do not collect race data during stops, Pennsylvania State Police officials said the agency would reverse course and resume collection next year.
“We do feel that collecting this information would yield valuable statistical information for the department,” said Lt. Col. Scott Price, deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility.
When initially asked why data collection was discontinued, a spokesman for the State Police said it was based on studies that found no evidence of racial disparities in traffic stops. One of those studies had, however, identified “racial, ethnic, and gender disparities” in how troopers dealt with motorists after they were stopped.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the state police, alleging troopers were violating the law by stopping and holding people based solely on their Latino appearance.
The failure to collect racial data can “undermine” police legitimacy, commented Georgetown law Prof. Christy Lopez, a former official in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It makes it look like you either don’t care about disparities, or you are trying to hide what the data shows.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 21, 2019

GateHouse: Killing of 3 teens shines light on stand-your-ground

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 20, 2019
This past week in Rockdale County, Georgia, three masked teenagers - ages 15, 16 and 16 - allegedly tried to rob three individuals in front of their home.
One of the teens allegedly fired a shot in the direction of the would-be robbery victims. None of them were hurt, but, and this is a big but, one of the targeted victims returned fire and killed all three of the retreating teens.
Georgia allows people to take deadly action when they have a reasonable belief it is necessary to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury, or to prevent a felony that involves the use or threat of physical force.
In 2005, Florida passed the first stand-your-ground law expanding on what was known as the Castle Doctrine. The Castle Doctrine permitted the use of deadly force within one’s home without first attempting to retreat.
Florida’s stand-your-ground law stated “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” Georgia’s law mirrors the Florida statute.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, laws in at least 25 states provide that there is no duty to retreat from an attacker anywhere in which one is lawfully present. At least 10 of those states have language stating one may stand his or her ground.
Research published several years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that stand-your-ground increased homicide rates. Soon after the law took effect in Florida, there was a sudden and sustained 24% jump in the monthly homicide rate - the rate of homicides caused by firearms increased by 32%.
An investigation last year by the Tampa Bay Times, a Florida newspaper, found that the rate of homicides declared justifiable tripled in the five years after the passage of stand-your-ground.
More than 11 million Americans now have concealed carry permits. Stand-your-ground and the proliferation of gun ownership has increased the potential for unnecessary violent confrontations.
Professor Ronald L. Carlson of the University of Georgia, told The New York Times that the Georgia law provides that someone may “use whatever force to protect themselves if a felonious assault is about to be made upon him,” and is not obligated to retreat.
According to the Washington Post, the Georgia case joins a national debate over stand-your-ground laws fueled by high-profile cases. The Florida law came under scrutiny after the police invoked it in declining to arrest George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
In 2012, 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman after Martin allegedly punched Zimmerman, slammed his head against the sidewalk and knocked him to the ground. The outrage that followed Zimmerman’s acquittal helped launch Black Lives Matter. As for Zimmerman he had several brushes with the law after the trial, including assaultive behavior.
Not all cases have ended the way Zimmerman’s did. Last year, a Florida jury convicted Michael Drejka of manslaughter for shooting Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a convenience store in Clearwater, Florida. Drejka unsuccessfully sought the protection of Florida’s stand-your-ground law.
Maybe the senseless loss of three young lives in a Georgia neighborhood will cause lawmakers to rethink the idea that gun slinging is the answer to America’s ills.
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.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, September 20, 2019

Detroit police arrest suspected serial killer

Prosecutors announced murder charges against a 34-year-old man in the slayings of four women in Detroit whose deaths authorities have characterized as the work of a serial killer, reported The Associated Press.
Deangelo Martin is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of felony murder in the killings of the women whose bodies were found in abandoned houses in the city as far back as February 2018, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said at a news conference.
Martin, who was arrested in June, was already charged in the stabbing and sexual assault of 26-year-old woman in May and the kidnapping and assault of a 51-year-old woman in June.
Police Chief James Craig has said he sees similarities between three of the slayings and the assaults of at least two other women who survived attacks.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we believe he is a serial killer,” Worthy said.
She named the victims as Annetta Nelson, 57, whose body was found Feb. 26, 2018; Nancy Harrison, 52, who was discovered March 19, 2019; Trevesene Ellis, 55, was found March 24; and Tamara Jones, 55, who was found June 5.
All the victims were found face down with a used condom beside them, she said. A coroner determined that Nelson and Harrison died of blunt force trauma but the cause of death for the other two couldn’t be determined because their bodies were too badly decomposed, Worthy said.
Police are investigating two additional possible homicide cases that might also be connected, she said.
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from Martin’s appointed defense attorney in the assault and kidnapping cases.
Police have said they believe all the women were sex workers.
“Predators ... look for people who are seemingly vulnerable, left out and left behind,” Worthy said. “People that they think will not fight back, people that they think nobody cares about, people that they think won’t be missed. But they’re wrong.”
She continued: “We worked tirelessly to make sure that we can bring them some modicum of justice, of respect and of dignity, no matter what they were engaged in before, during, after they were reported missing.”
Martin was initially arrested in June in the rape and attempted murder of a woman who was able to escape the attack. At that point, police had already uncovered three homicide victims, and teams of police officers and other city workers were searching hundreds of vacant buildings for more bodies.
“This is the kind of case that creates so much fear in our community,” Craig said during the news conference. “We’re very diligent, relentless in how we approach these matters.”
Six years ago, Detroit had at least 30,000 empty houses and 20 square miles (50 square kilometers) of vacant land. Mayor Mike Duggan has said removing blighted houses is a priority in his efforts to revive Detroit since the city’s 2014 exit from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Duggan this week announced plans to ask voters to approve the sale of up to $250 million in bonds to eradicate residential blight across the city. A proposed resolution to put the initiative on the March 2020 ballot has been submitted to the City Council.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Oregon's less than unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases to be reviewed by SCOTUS

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled hear arguments on Oct. 7 in Ramos v. Louisiana and determine whether it should overrule Apodaca v. Oregon and hold that the sixth amendment of the constitution guarantees a state criminal defendant the right to a unanimous jury verdict, reported the Salem Statesman Journal.
Apodaca v. Oregon refers to Robert Apodaca and two other Oregon men convicted of felonies whose cases went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. 
Apodaca, then 23, of Salem, was convicted by a split Marion County jury in 1968 of assault with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to five years in prison. According to newspaper archives, Apodaca cut a man's neck with a knife during a fight on State Street earlier that year. 
It took the jury less than 10 minutes to convict Apodaca. 
Apodaca and two other Oregon men appealed their convictions. After the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed their convictions and the Oregon Supreme Court denied review, the men took their cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming the non-unanimous juries that convicted them violated their constitutional rights.
The court reviewed whether a conviction stemming from a less-than-unanimous jury decision violated the men's right to a fair trial by jury as protected by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a fair trial and impartial jury; the Fourteenth Amendment ensures due process of the law and equal protection of law. Neither explicitly states unanimous jury verdicts are required for conviction. 
In 1972, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to a trial by jury was not violated by a non-unanimous verdict in state court. 
Apodaca's and the two other men's convictions were upheld. 
Justice Thurgood Marshall, who dissented along with three others, said the ruling "cut the heart out" of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.
Since the ruling, Oregon has continued to allow non-unanimous jury convictions in manslaughter, sex abuse, attempted murder and rape cases.  
Louisiana voters ended the practice in 2018, leaving Oregon as the lone holdout for non-unanimous verdicts in the United States.
A widespread push emerged during the 2019 Oregon Legislative Session to take the issue of non-unanimous juries to voters.
Opponents of the system said it leads to racism, wrongful convictions and serious miscarriages of justice. Even sides who typically opposed each other — prosecutors, defense attorneys and activists — were united against the non-unanimous jury system. 
Aliza Kaplan, director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at the Lewis & Clark Law School, said Oregon's decision to allow non-unanimous verdict in the 1930s was the result of racism and xenophobia.
A Jewish defendant was acquitted of murder and instead convicted of manslaughter because of a hung jury in 1933, a public outcry ensued. Many blamed the hung jury on immigrant and non-white jurors. 
The next year, Oregon voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to allow non-unanimous jury verdicts.
This choice, Kaplan said, effectively silenced minority juror voices and abandoned the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. 
Even Oregon's district attorneys joined in urging legislators to repeal the system on the ballot. 
The resolution to bring the issue to voters passed unanimously and with no opposition in the House, but the resolution died in committee and never went to the Senate for a vote.
Some speculated that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear Ramos v. Louisiana may have contributed to the resolution losing momentum.
“Some felt that we should let the case on the issue pending before the United States Supreme Court, Ramos v. Louisiana, play out before advancing a constitutional amendment to voters,” Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said in a statement after the session ended. “This issue remains a top priority for me, and I will continue to fight to ensure that non-unanimous juries become a relic of Oregon’s past.”
She vowed to work during next year's short legislative session to bring it to voters in 2020.
DOJ lawyers made it clear in the first page of the brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court that they were not aiming to address whether Apodaca was correctly decided.
"Nor does this brief contend that a non-unanimous jury rule is preferable to a unanimous jury rule," the brief reads. "In fact, there is widespread agreement among the stakeholders in Oregon's criminal justice system that the state's constitution should be amended to require jury unanimity prospectively."
Rather, the brief was filed to outline the impact of ruling that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimity on state prosecutions. 
"I filed the amicus brief in Ramos ... to explain the dire situation the Oregon justice system would find itself in if Apodaca were to be overturned," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. 
As Oregon's attorney general, she favors unanimous jury verdicts for cases going forward.
But, Rosenblum clarified, for 47 years, Oregon judges have relied on the Apodaca ruling upholding the constitutionality of non-unanimous verdicts. 
"If that decision were to be reversed now, hundreds, if not thousands, of past Oregon felony convictions since 1972 could be overturned," Rosenblum said. "Already criminal defense lawyers have set over 250 cases currently on direct appeal in motion."
Oregon Justice Resource Center Executive Director Bobbin Singh said this was an unfortunate position for Rosenblum to take, accusing her of being "afraid of too much justice."
Everyone acknowledges and admits that the non-unanimous jury system is rooted in racism and xenophobia, Singh said. 
"It undermines the integrity of convictions," he said. "I think this is all well-understood and accepted by pretty much everyone at this point. If we accept that, then we should accept it in its entirety."
He likened the current dilemma with the case McCleskey v. Kemp — "one of the most horrific decisions to emerge from the Supreme Court as it relates to racial disparities and discrimination and the death penalty."
In the 1987 decision, Singh said, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged racial disparities existed when it came to death sentences, but said it would be "too disruptive" to fully acknowledge the problem. 
"We can't accept these truths and these realities in piecemeal or in ways that are just convenient for us," Singh said. 
DOJ attorneys said Oregon has a legitimate reliance in maintaining convictions made since Apodaca, saying the brief was submitted to alert the Supreme Court that overruling the 1972 decision would cause widespread disruption in the criminal system, including to the victims and witnesses in each felony case tried to conviction and affirmed in the past eight decades in Oregon.
"The extent to which Oregon has relied on Apodaca cannot be overstated," the brief said. "Oregon courts have given a non-unanimous jury instruction in almost every single felony jury-trial case for the past 47 years."
Tens of thousands of jurors have followed these instructions. The DOJ outlined a future if Apodaca was overturned:
Trial, appellate and post-conviction courts would be flooded with non-unanimity claims.
The criminal justice system would be overwhelmed by the "staggering" number of cases to be re-tried.
Many cases could not be re-tried due to loss of evidence and witnesses from the passage of time. 
In Ramos' reply brief, his attorneys said Apodaca was a splintered decision.
"So even from the very beginning, convictions obtained by non-unanimous verdicts rested on unsteady— indeed, defective — legal footing," attorneys said in the brief. "Louisiana and Oregon relied on Apodaca at their own risk."
They also contended that there is no good reason to believe ruling in Ramos' favor would severely burden the court system. 
Rosenblum said a better outcome would stem from voters, not the courts, eliminating Oregon's non-unanimous system.
"In my view, legislators should refer this important issue to the ballot so Oregonians can vote, and hopefully end the long-standing practice in Oregon of non-unanimous jury verdicts," Rosenblum said. "If we move forward with a referral to the people, I believe the Supreme Court will be less likely to outright reverse Apodaca, and we will be in a much better position to make a compelling argument to the Court to that effect."
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Distinguished DOJ award for lawyers who worked on Kavanaugh nomination

The Justice Department will present a prestigious award to the team of lawyers who did "work in support of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh" to the Supreme Court, according to an internal email sent to department staff .
The email, obtained by CNN, says Taylor Owings, Douglas Rathbun and Craig Minerva along with others across the department were selected to receive "the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service."
The award -- the department's second highest for employee performance -- is often given to employees who worked on key prosecutions.
News of the award comes amid renewed scrutiny of Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court last year as a new book is published that contains a previously unreported sexual misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh while a student at Yale.
The victim declined to be interviewed by the book's authors, and her friend told the authors she does not recall the incident.
Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court was nearly derailed by allegations of sexual misconduct. Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor and the first accuser to come forward, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were both teenagers. He has denied all allegations against him.
While President Donald Trump has stood by Kavanaugh -- as he did throughout his nominee's confirmation process -- some Democrats, including presidential candidates, are jumping on the wave of renewed scrutiny to call for Kavanaugh's impeachment.
"I sat through those hearings. Brett Kavanaugh lied to the US Senate and most importantly to the American people," said Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "He was put on the court through a sham process and his place on the court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice."
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

K9s trained to sniff out child porn?

You’ve heard of bomb- and drug-sniffing police dogs.
You may have heard of service dogs that can detect changes in a diabetic’s blood sugar levels. They are trained to wake their masters before they lapse into a coma.
But did you know police K9s can be trained to sniff out child porn?
The Miami Herald reported the Clay County Sheriff’s Office has a 2-year-old yellow lab named Ty that has been trained to detect the chemical scent of electronics that are often hidden in the most unusual of places, reports WJXT News4 Jax.
It should be made clear Ty isn’t trained to detect the content on the electronics, just the electronics themselves. But it’s safe to assume if someone is going to great lengths to hide a thumb drive, chances are there’s some data on it a person doesn’t want you to see.
Ty’s official title: Electronic Scent Detection Canine, or ESDC for short.
“What Ty is trained on is a chemical odor that most of your electronic devices will have in them, and he picks up on that odor,” Clay County spokesman Deputy Drew Ford told News4Jax.
“The suspects and criminals get very, very creative when it comes to hiding electronic devices,” Ford told First Coast News.
How creative?
Think micro SD cards or thumb drives that hold data, which can include offenses like child pornography, tucked inside books, taped to the bottom of drawers, even slipped inside a shower curtain rod.
The sheriff’s department has found the electronics in all of these places, often thanks to the K9 nose that knows.
When Ty, who works with deputies in the department that tackles crimes against minors, isn’t sniffing out SD cards, he’s used as a therapy dog to help anxious kids.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, September 16, 2019

Politicians blame video games for violence — but the data doesn’t back them up

After two mass shootings that killed 31 people and wounded dozens more, the New York Times reported that powerful Republicans, including the president, blamed an old bogeyman: video games.
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” President Trump said in a White House address on the shootings. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
Mr. Trump’s words echoed those of Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader. In an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Sunday morning, Mr. Patrick implored the federal government to “do something about the video game industry.”
“We’ve watched from studies, shown before, what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others,” added Mr. McCarthy on a different Fox show.
Armed with little and often unconvincing evidence, politicians have blamed violence on video games for decades. Their rhetoric quickly ramped up in the 1990s, after games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom popularized the genre of violent first-person shooting games. Since then, video games have been blamed for shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, and many others in between.
Researchers have extensively studied whether there is a causal link between video games and violent behavior, and while there isn’t quite a consensus, there is broad agreement that no such link exists.
According to a policy statement from the media psychology division of the American Psychological Association, “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities.”
Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University, led the committee that developed the policy statement. In an interview, he said the evidence was clear that violent video games are not a risk factor for serious acts of aggression. Neither are violent movies, nor other forms of media. 
 “The data on bananas causing suicide is about as conclusive,” said Dr. Ferguson. “Literally. The numbers work out about the same.”
The Supreme Court has also rejected the idea. In striking down a California law that banned the sale of some violent video games to children in 2011, the court savaged the evidence California mustered in support of its law.
“These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively,” Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion. He added: “They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.”
Shortly after Mr. Trump’s address, the hashtag #VideogamesAreNotToBlame began trending nationally on Twitter, with most tweets mocking the idea that video games were to blame for either of the shootings.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Is 50 years in prison a life sentence for a juvenile?

Is 50 years in prison a de facto life sentence for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder?
That narrow, but complex question is now in the hands of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court following a short appeal hearing in Philadelphia, reported WHYY-FM.
The case centers on Michael Felder, who shot and killed Jarrett Green in 2009 after a two-on-two pick-up basketball game at Shepard Recreation Center in West Philadelphia. 
Felder was 17 years old at the time of Green’s murder. He was later given life in prison without the possibility of parole, which was the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder convictions in Pennsylvania at the time, regardless of the defendant’s age.
That changed in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without parole for all juveniles were unconstitutional because they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan.
Then, in 2016, the nation’s high court made that decision retroactive to those sentenced before 2012.
In Pennsylvania, the landmark decision meant more than 525 state inmates who had been convicted as juveniles — including more than 300 from Philadelphia — were eligible for resentencing hearings.
A trial court judge gave Felder 50 years to life, a sentence his lawyers say still constitutes life in prison.
Felder would be nearly 70 years old if he gets out after five decades behind bars, which his lawyers argue would rob him of the opportunity to lead a “meaningful, quality life” upon release.
“The [U.S. Supreme Court] has given a definition to what meaningful means. It doesn’t mean that they come out when they’re on a gurney. It doesn’t mean that they come out with just a few years to live,” Marsha Levick, chief legal officer of Juvenile Law Center, said after Wednesday’s hearing.
Felder’s legal team maintains that 20 to 25 years in prison should be the maximum sentence for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office agrees that 50 years constitutes a life sentence, but argues that 40 years is a more appropriate bright line for these juveniles to become eligible for parole.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania rejected the case, saying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 does not “directly apply” to Felder’s situation or other claims of de facto life sentences.
“We conclude that when a juvenile convicted of homicide has been subjected to a discretionary sentence that may approach but does not clearly exceed life expectancy, that sentence does not run afoul of [Miller v. Alabama] and therefore does not violate the Federal Constitution.” 
It could be months before the state’s high court renders a decision.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 14, 2019

GateHouse: Neurolaw: Discovering the past and the future

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 13, 2019
The criminal justice system is not precise. The burden of proof in a criminal case is not guilt to a mathematical certainty or beyond all doubt. Proving an accused guilty of a crime does require a heavy burden - beyond a reasonable doubt - but it does not provide errorless outcomes.
As a result, there is a level of tolerance in criminal cases that an occasional innocent person will be convicted. Sure there are technological advances that have resulted in exonerations of people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Those advances, particularly DNA, when available, have provided a safety net for those falsely convicted.
How can science help investigators get it right the first time?
Eryn Brown wrote recently in Knowable Magazine, about Judge Morris B. Hoffman, of Colorado's 2nd Judicial District Court, a leader in neurolaw research. He predicted that neuroscientists are likely "in the next 10 to 50 years ... (to) be able to detect memories and lies, and to determine brain maturity."
If investigators were able to detect when someone is lying or recreate their memory, could that help insure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are set free?
The primary element of most criminal statutes is intent. An actor's responsibility is often determined by whether their conduct was reckless or intentional. Stephen J. Morse,Professor of Law and the Associate Director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Neuroscience and Society, contends that his research "found that they were able to predict with a high degree of accuracy whether a person was in a knowing or reckless state and were also able to associate those mental states with unique functional brain patterns."
That finding is significant. Using science to determine intent would be a huge advancement in neurolaw. However, Morse's study was conducted in real time using MRI brain scans while the decisions were being made by the participants. Unfortunately, criminals don't wear devises that scan their brain when they act.
Morse and his colleagues admit as much when he wrote, "Even if several future studies confirm what we have observed here, that knowledge and recklessness are associated with different brain states, if human jurors cannot distinguish them behaviorally, then one may still ask whether they should be considered relevant to assessments of criminal liability."
The whole idea of neurolaw raises some concerns. Neurolaw is creeping into courtrooms across the country on an ever-increasing basis. Brown wrote, "In criminal courts, MRIs are most often used to assess brain injury or trauma ... (I)f a murder defendant's brain scan reveals a tumor in the frontal lobe, for instance, or evidence of frontotemporal dementia, that could inject just enough doubt to make it hard for a court to arrive at a guilty verdict."
That type of evidence is often used as mitigation, not that the accused didn't commit the crime, but that they are less responsible.
Science is not only looking back at what the brain can tell us about a criminal's state of mind at the time of a crime, but also what might happen in the future. In "Predicting violent behavior: What can neuroscience add?" the authors suggested that neuroprediction offers the potential to identify brain function that can distinguish the callous criminal from the immature or dysfunctional actor who might benefit from treatment or preventive programming.
Neuroscience is also being considered for use as a tool to predict who might be most likely to commit a crime in the future. What do we do with those individuals labeled as future criminals? Do we lock them up for crimes they haven't yet committed?
What role neurolaw plays in measuring culpability and predicting human behavior will best be left to ethicists, scientists and legal scholars.
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.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears arguments to outlaw death penalty

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked this week to outlaw the death penalty because of what critics call the cruel and arbitrary way it’s applied to poor and black defendants, reported the Associated Press.
More than half of the 441 death sentences handed down since the death penalty was reinstated in the late 1970s have been deemed flawed and overturned, Assistant Federal Defender Timothy Kane told the court. Among the 155 from Philadelphia, the reversal rate is 72%.
“The reliability of the system as a whole is cruel … and the systemic problems affect every case,” Kane argued before an overflow crowd at Philadelphia City Hall.
Most of the time, the sentence or verdict was reversed on appeal because of the work of court-appointed lawyers working with limited public funds, he said.
In the two test cases involved in the unusual “King’s Bench” petition presented to the Supreme Court, transcripts of the defense portion of their sentencing hearings run to just 14 pages combined.
Justice Debra Todd asked why the issue was urgent, given the moratorium on executions that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf imposed after taking office in 2015. A lawyer for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who opposed the petition, said it was not. Shapiro’s office said that any amendments to the death penalty should be decided by the state Legislature.
“The questions the report raises are important, and should be thoroughly considered and resolved, by the General Assembly,” Shapiro’s office said in its brief.
However, Kane said the Supreme Court needs to step in given the failure of lawmakers to act on a troubling, bipartisan review completed last year. He asked the court to declare the state statute unconstitutional and convert the sentences of 137 men on death row to life imprisonment. There are no women on death row in Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who won election in 2015 on an anti-death penalty platform, said that 82% of the current death row inmates from Philadelphia are black.
Statewide, just under half of the current death row inmates in Pennsylvania are black, compared to 11% of state residents. The death penalty remains legal in 29 U.S. states, although four of those states, including Pennsylvania, have a moratorium on executions.
The average appeal in Pennsylvania takes 17 years, straining the resources of the court system, critic said.
The five Democrats and two Republicans on the state Supreme Court did not indicate when they would rule.
The test case involves two men sentenced to death row in the 1990s — Jermont Cox of Philadelphia and Kevin Marinelli of Northumberland County. Relatives of Marinelli’s victim, who was killed over a stereo during a 1994 home invasion robbery, oppose the appeal.
Only three people have been executed in Pennsylvania since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978, the last of them in 1999.
The death penalty remains legal in 29 U.S. states, although at least four of those states, including Pennsylvania, have a moratorium on executions.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Reform minded Lt. Governor will consider 21 lifers for clemency in Pennsylvania

The year was 1988, and that lieutenant governor, Mark Singel, would oversee the release of just 27 of the state’s lifers before one of them, Reginald McFadden, went on a violent crime spree that left three people dead, ended Singel’s run for governor, and extinguished hopes for commutation in the state.
Now, three decades later, Inge’s plea for clemency is finally before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons again, this time in the hands of another reform-minded lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, who is set on restoring second chances, particularly for those sentenced to life in prison who did not actually take a life themselves, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“We need to reevaluate and ask ourselves as a community, how much is enough?" Fetterman said in an interview. "Is that 25 years? Thirty years? Thirty-five? Forty? We have inmates in our system who have done 40 years and never taken a life directly. I think it’s critical that we examine that and, when it merits it, make sure we give them another chance to rebuild their lives and contribute to society.”
That commitment is evident in public hearings set to begin Wednesday for the largest number of lifers up for commutation that anyone can recall: 21 men and women, all of whom have served decades in prison and are recommended by the state Department of Corrections for release.
As well, Fetterman is backing a constitutional amendment to roll back the requirement that commutations be recommended unanimously by the five-member Board of Pardons — a rule put in place as officials were reckoning with the deadly error of releasing McFadden. State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Republican from southwestern Pennsylvania, and Sen. Larry Farnese, a Philadelphia Democrat, are poised to introduce legislation to ease it back to a four-to-one vote, which would still be a higher bar than the three-to-two majority required in the pre-McFadden era. (To take effect, the measure would have to pass in two successive legislative sessions and then be approved by voters.)
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To Bartolotta, the decision to require a unanimous vote was “an emotional reaction” — with enormous ripple effects, creating a backlog as long as three years in commutation applications as lifers are denied clemency over and over again. There are now more than 5,000 lifers in Pennsylvania. “It’s not increasing public safety. It’s not streamlining the process. It has basically just slammed the door shut on cases that should otherwise be considered,” she said.
Farnese said he saw the importance of the reform in the case of William Smith, who was denied commutation twice by a four-to-one vote before he was finally released earlier this year at age 77. Attorney General Joshua Shapiro, the only elected official besides the lieutenant governor on the Board of Pardons, had initially opposed Smith’s release, but relented after learning the District Attorney and victim’s family did not object.
Farnese said he believes the proposed reform will take the “political considerations out of it.”
“The folks up for commutation generally they’ve served 30 years in state prison. They’ve worked extremely hard to improve themselves. They take responsibility for their crimes. They become mentors and teachers that help other individuals rehabilitate,” he said. "When these mentors and teachers go up for commutation and they’re not getting it, it hurts the overall morale. We need to give people hope. That’s what this process is all about."
For now, the 21 applicants up for review will still need unanimous support to be considered by the governor for clemency.
They include both individuals convicted of first-degree murder, which is intentional killing, and those found guilty of second-degree or “felony” murder, a charge applied to any individual who participates in a felony that results in death. Among those second-degree cases are Michael Helwig, a Pottstown man who was involved in a 1982 attempted robbery in which a codefendant shot and killed a man outside a pancake house; Thomas Schilk, who tied up a man in his apartment and took the man’s wallet, but was not present when the man fell from a third-floor window and died in 1984; and David Sheppard, who was convicted in a 1992 robbery of an Overbrook pharmacy in which a codefendant shot and killed the pharmacist.
In the 1960s, when there were fewer than 500 lifers incarcerated and commutation was more routine, it was not unusual for a dozen or more to be considered at once. In recent years, however, the Board of Pardons has allowed only a handful of cases to advance to public hearings.
While Fetterman’s predecessor as lieutenant governor, Mike Stack, also advocated for second chances in his role as chairman of the Board of Pardons, he made little progress. By the time he left office at the end of 2018, voted out after a series of scandals, he declared the commutation system “broken.”
But Gov. Tom Wolf has now commuted a total of 11 life sentences — the highest total since Gov. Bob Casey Sr. in the ’90s. And Fetterman is taking a different course from Stack, who at times battled with Attorney General Joshua Shapiro over board decisions, most publicly in the case of William Smith. Fetterman’s plan is to build consensus: Rather than forcing the issue of any given vote, he intends to hold under advisement any applicants who don’t yet have unanimous support so he can fulfill any missing requirements or satisfy any lingering concerns.
In response to an interview request, Shapiro’s office provided a statement emphasizing his commitment to second chances: "I give careful consideration to each case that comes before us and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Texas executes man for 2010 home invasion and murder

The 15th Execution of 2019
On September 10, 2019 Texas executed Mark Soliz for the 2010 home robbery and shooting death of a North Texas woman. The execution was the sixth in Texas this year and the third in the last month. Nine more are scheduled through December, reported the Texas Tribune.
Soliz, 37, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012 for the murder of Nancy Weatherly, 61, and the robbery of her Johnson County home, according to court records. Prosecutors said the murder was part of an eight-day crime spree during which Soliz and another man, Jose Ramos, robbed random people at gunpoint, and Soliz killed another man.
Soliz and his lawyers had long argued that his life should be spared because he had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which they claimed is the “functional equivalent” of an intellectual disability, a condition the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled disqualifies individuals from execution. Both state and federal courts rejected the claim during Soliz’s relatively short seven years on death row.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, Soliz was taken into the execution chamber in Huntsville and placed on a gurney. Soliz was apologetic in his final words, addressing Weatherly's family members.
"I wanted to apologize for the grief and the pain that I caused y’all," Soliz said. "I’ve been considering changing my life. It took me 27 years to do so. Man, I want to apologize, I don’t know if me passing will bring y’all comfort for the pain and suffering I caused y’all. I am at peace."
He was then injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital, the only drug used in Texas executions. He was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m.
In June 2010, prosecutors said, Soliz and Ramos terrorized residents in the Fort Worth area for eight days before they were arrested on suspicion of one of several crimes, including multiple robberies, carjackings and shootings, another of which was fatal. When police interrogated Ramos about one stolen car, he began talking about another crime — in which he said the two men forced their way into Weatherly’s house in Godley at gunpoint, and Soliz shot her in the back of the head as they robbed her home.
Soliz initially denied killing Weatherly, telling police he was outside by the car when he heard a gunshot and then saw Ramos exit the house. Later during the interrogation, he said he would confess “just to get this over with,” according to a 2014 ruling from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A friend of Soliz’s later said he bragged to her about killing an “old lady.” Ramos received life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder.
At his trial and in his appeals to state and federal courts, Soliz repeatedly raised the claim that he should not have been executed because of his disorder. Several defense experts testified before the jury that he was diagnosed with partial fetal alcohol syndrome, which his lawyers claim caused mental impairments like lack of impulse control, serious adaptive learning deficits and hyper-suggestibility. But the testimony did not keep the jury from handing down a death sentence, and appellate courts did not interfere, partially because the claim was raised at trial and failed.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Pa Supreme Court to take up the death penalty this session

The second day of the September session of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is scheduled to begin with a focus on the high-profile challenge to the state’s death penalty, reported The Legal Intelligencer.
The justices are set to hear argument in the consolidated appeals of Cox v. Commonwealth and Marinelli v. Commonwealth starting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. The case comes before the justices in an unusual posture, as the justices agreed to hear the case under their extraordinary King’s Bench jurisdiction.
However, a possibly more unusual feature is the fact that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, is in agreement with the defendant that the death penalty statute is unconstitutional as applied. The prosecutor’s brief, entered in July, garnered significant media attention as it marked what one court observer called an “unprecedented” move of having a prosecutor’s office pushing to have a death-penalty statute struck down.
To support the argument, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office conducted a review of nearly all capital cases out of Philadelphia between 1978 and 2017, and found it was being applied in a “wonton and freakish, arbitrary and capricious manner,” quoting language from a 1982 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision. Specifically, the brief cited racial disparities and the high rate of sentences being overturned due to ineffective court-appointed attorneys.
“Where a majority of death sentenced defendants have been represented by poorly compensated, poorly supported court-appointed attorneys, there is significant likelihood that capital punishment has not been reserved for the ‘worst of the worst,’” the brief said. “Rather, what our study shows is that, as applied, Pennsylvania’s capital punishment regime may very well reserve death sentences for those who receive the ‘worst’ (i.e. the most poorly funded and inadequately supported) representation.”
Krasner’s position splits from those presented by other prosecutors, including the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, which said the court should defer to the General Assembly on the issue, and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which asked the court to reject the constitutional challenge.
Although Chief Justice Thomas Saylor has hinted at possible agreement with Krasner’s position—even saying in 2013 in the Widener Law Journal that the “current state of Pennsylvania’s capital jurisprudence is impaired”—court watchers have questioned how forcefully Saylor and the rest of the court might address an issue that could be seen as the legislature’s prerogative.
Along with the prosecutor and defendants, the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus is also set to present oral arguments in the case as an amicus curiae.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thiel College-The Death Penalty

Thiel College-Comment Project 1

Why is there a death penalty?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Mangino on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today

Watch my interview on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today regarding the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. To watch CLICK HERE

Pitt leading way in developing marijuana breath detector

The alcohol Breathalyzer came to life slowly, over the course of decades.
From the 1930s through the 1960s, scientists, lawmakers, police and the public quarreled over the veracity of the numbers spit out by the device, the appropriate legal limit for drivers and whether they could trust a machine over a cop's testimony.
Today, the same debate is playing out over cannabis, reports NPR.
As 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot in some form, Breathalyzer-type devices that could theoretically aid police enforcement have begun appearing in various stages of development. But legal experts and scientists say there's a long way to go before those devices can actually detect a driver's impairment.
Last week, a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh announced the latest tool to detect THC — delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive component in pot — in breath.
The university's Star Lab, led by Alexander Star, began developing the box-shaped device in 2016, in the midst of a wave of pot legalization across the United States. Star, a chemistry professor, partnered with Ervin Sejdic, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who's also at the university, to build the prototype.
The device uses carbon nanotubes, which are 1/100,000 the size of human hair, to recognize the presence of THC, even when other substances are in the breath, such as alcohol. The THC molecule binds to the surface of the tubes, altering their electrical properties.
"Nanotechnology sensors can detect THC at levels comparable to or better than mass spectrometry, which is considered the gold standard for THC detection," says the news release from the university's Swanson School of Engineering.
And the device is nearly ready for mass production.
"If we have a suitable industrial partner," Star told Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson, "then the device by itself would be quite ready in a few months."
The remaining steps, he says, include testing the prototype and correlating the device's output to the driver's level of impairment.
With alcohol, you can figure out impairment by measuring the amount of alcohol in someone's blood, which you can determine from a Breathalyzer using the "blood to breath," or "partition," ratio. Make that translation from breath to blood to brain, and you have a relatively accurate sense of how drunk someone is.
"So when it comes to these marijuana breath tests, that's the million-dollar question right now," says Chris Halsor, a Denver lawyer who focuses on issues around legal cannabis.
Is there a ratio that links the amount of THC in someone's breath to the amount in the person's blood — and then to exactly how stoned that person is?
No, says Sejdic. The correlation "is basically missing, from a scientific point of view."
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