Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Trump demands SCOTUS justices step aside

President Donald Trump launched a new attack on the judicial system, targeting the nation’s high court by demanding that two liberal Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from any case involving him or his administration, reported The Huffington Post.
Trump claimed associate justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t be fair to him: 
Trump has a history of attacking prosecutors and judges. Earlier this month, he slammed U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who presided over the case against longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. Jackson also handled a case that concluded last year against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. 
Trump earlier tried to insult U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana, by describing him as a “Mexican.” He also called U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar a “disgrace” and an “Obama judge” for ruling against his administration in an immigration case.
Trump’s latest attack seems to be in response to a dissent Sotomayor wrote last week in which she accused the Supreme Court’s conservative wing of being biased toward the administration, saying they’ve been “all too quick to grant the Government’s ‘reflexiv[e]’ requests.” She warned that such actions could “erode the fair and balanced decisionmaking process that this Court must strive to protect.” 
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, February 24, 2020

People Serving Life Exceeds Entire Prison Population of 1970

To place the growth of life imprisonment in perspective, the national life in prison population of 206,000 now exceeds the size of the entire prison population in 1970, just prior to the prison population explosion of the following four decades, according to a recent report released by The Prison Project. In 24 states, there are now more people serving life sentences than were in the entire prison population in 1970, and in an additional nine states, the life imprisonment total is within 100 people of the 1970 prison population.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Tennessee executes convicted killer by electric chair

The 4th Execution of 2020
Tennessee executed death row inmate Nicholas Todd Sutton in the electric chair Thursday night, marking the fifth time the state has used the method since 2018, reported The Tennessean.
Sutton, 58, was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. CST, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.
He was 18 years old when he killed his grandmother Dorothy Sutton, his high school friend John Large and another man, Charles Almon. Sutton didn't receive a death sentence until he fatally stabbed fellow inmate Carl Estep six years later, in 1985.
When the curtain to the death chamber opened Thursday, Sutton looked forward with a solemn expression and made eye contact with media witnesses on the other side of the glass. 
Asked by the prison warden if he had any last words, Sutton spoke at length about his Christian faith. He thanked his wife, his family and "many friends for their love and support as they tried so very hard to save my life."
He spoke about the "power of Jesus Christ to take impossible situations and correct them."
“I’m just grateful to be a servant of God, and I’m looking forward to being in his presence,” Sutton said. "And I thank you."
Nicholas Sutton's last words: 'I’m just grateful to be a servant of God'
A prison chaplain and Sutton's spiritual adviser had served him communion — Welch's grape juice and a wafer — at 3:30 p.m., just before he ate his last meal.
Seated in the electric chair, Sutton closed his eyes as prison officials doused sponges attached to his body with saline solution. Salt water ran down his face before a pair of officers draped a shroud over his head, which had been shaved hours earlier.
Then his body lifted up as jolts of electrocution twice coursed through his body.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, February 22, 2020

GateHouse: Interference in the failed administration of justice

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
February 21, 2020
Last week, prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York submitted a sentence memorandum in the case of longtime President Donald Trump associate Roger Stone. The recommendation, based on the federal sentencing guidelines, proposed a sentence of between seven and nine years in prison.
Within hours of the recommendation, President Trump took to Twitter suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that the Department of Justice, ”(C)annot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
Although, Attorney General William Barr denied the president asked him to do anything, the Department of Justice swiftly intervened. All four career prosecutors handling the case withdrew and one resigned. New prosecutors submitted a second, more lenient, recommendation.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Stone to three years and four months in federal prison.
Barr’s capitulation to Trump’s, not so veiled, demand has spurred talk of the demise of the rule of law.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi accused the Attorney General of having “deeply damaged the rule of law.” Professor Joyce White Vance wrote in Time, “If Barr truly believes in the rule of law, this is his moment.”
The Atlantic suggested, “Indeed, given our national faith and trust in a rule of law no one can subvert, it is not too strong to say that Bill Barr is un-American.” In fact, none other than William Barr himself said in 2019, “Nothing could be more destructive of our system of government, of the rule of law, or Department of Justice as an institution, than any toleration of political interference with the enforcement of the law.”
Although the term “rule of law” has been tossed around a lot lately, especially in these turbulent political times, what exactly is the rule of law that has so many, so concerned?
The rule of law is defined as: The restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws.
At its core, the rule of law means that the law applies to everyone equally - no one is above the law. The rule of law is embodied in the maxim “a government of law, not of men,” a phrase President John Adams included in the Massachusetts state constitution 240 years ago.
Some will argue President Trump has every right to intervene with the Department of Justice. The attorney general is appointed by the president and serves at the pleasure of the president. The Department of Justice is an executive branch office. In response to Barr saying the president asked for nothing, Trump tweeted, “This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so.”
There is a difference between being able to do something, and it being the right thing to do. One principle of the rule of law is the equal enforcement of laws.
If the President of the United States calls for, and gets, favorable treatment for his friend Roger Stone; while demanding a foreign country investigate his political rival Joe Biden; or continually call for his former political opponent Hillary Clinton to be “locked-up” - the trust and confidence in our system of laws begins to erode.
That is why nearly 2,500 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials, from across the political spectrum, have called on the attorney general to step down. In an open letter that began circulating after Barr intervened in the Stone case, the signatories adopted the following language, “Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice.”
It is easy in politics to overstate the urgency of a given situation. This is not one of those situations. There is more at stake than meets the eye. CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin warns in The New Yorker of “creeping authoritarianism.”
We are living at a time where it appears that the president doesn’t merely want to flex his muscles, he wants to destroy American institutions, by breeding distrust, creating doubt and eroding confidence in one of our most cherished values - the rule of law.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, February 21, 2020

Trump dangles clemency for Stone after berating the justice system

President Trump once again berated the “dirty cops” of the law enforcement establishment on Thursday, accusing the Justice Department of going after his friends but not his enemies in an outburst that flouted Attorney General William P. Barr’s pleas to stop publicly intervening in prosecutions where he had a personal interest, reported The New York Times.
Speaking out hours after his friend Roger J. Stone Jr. was sentenced to more than three years in prison for lying to protect the president, Mr. Trump belittled the case and hinted broadly that he would use his clemency power to spare Mr. Stone if a judge did not agree to a retrial sought by defense lawyers.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Trump friend, Roger Stone, gets sentenced to 3 years and 4 months in prison

A federal judge sentenced Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime friend, to serve three years and four months in prison for impeding a congressional investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, reported the Washington Post.
The penalty from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson comes after weeks of infighting over the politically charged case that threw the Justice Department into crisis, and it is likely not to be the final word. Even before the sentencing hearing began, Trump seemed to suggest on Twitter he might pardon Stone. With the proceedings ongoing, Trump questioned if his ally was being treated fairly.
In a lengthy speech before imposing the penalty, Jackson seemed to take aim at Trump — saying Stone “was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.” She also appeared to call out Attorney General William P. Barr, whose intervention to reduce career prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation she called “unprecedented.” But she said the politics surrounding the case had not influenced her final decision.
“The truth still exists, the truth still matters,” Jackson said. “Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t, his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracies. If it goes unpunished it will not be a victory for one political party; everyone loses.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Why Roger Stone's sentence recommendation should never have been amended

The President asked the DOJ, through a tweet, to adjust his friend, Roger Stone's, sentence recommendation.  The DOJ complied. The original recommendation by the Assistant U.S. Attorneys was spot on--Lawfare.com explains why.
For those readers not familiar with the sentencing guidelines, the guidelines work by assigning a numerical base level to the underlying offense and then adding to or subtracting from that number based on a variety of different factors. In its initial brief, the government concluded that Stone’s total offense level is 29 and that his criminal history category is I, yielding a sentencing range of seven to nine years under the advisory sentencing guidelines.
The government reached this conclusion using a calculation that runs as follows. Under the guidelines, the base offense level for “Obstruction of Justice” (counts 1-7, combined) is 14. Pursuant to the guidelines, eight levels are added because the offense “involved causing or threatening to cause physical injury to a person, or property damage, in order to obstruct the administration of justice.” The sentencing memorandum recounts Stone’s threats, in writing, to keep his longtime associate Randy Credico from testifying truthfully to Congress. The prosecutors contend that although Stone might argue that he did not have a serious plan to harm Credico, Credico testified that the threats concerned him. Regardless, the memorandum emphasizes, the threat itself––not the likelihood of Stone’s carrying out the threat––triggers the enhancement under the guidelines.
In addition, the prosecutors add three levels to Stone’s offense level because the offense “resulted in substantial interference with the administration of justice”: the House Intelligence Committee did not receive important documents and testimony because of Stone’s conduct. And two more levels get added because the offense was otherwise “extensive in scope, planning, or preparation”: Stone engaged in a multi-year scheme that involved making false statements in sworn testimony, concealing important document evidence, lying in written submissions to Congress, and engaging in a “relentless and elaborate campaign” to silence witnesses, the government argued.
Finally, two more levels are added because Stone “willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the prosecution of the instant offense of conviction.” The memorandum recounts an occasion in which Stone posted an image of the presiding judge with a crosshair next to her head and a pretrial release hearing in which Stone gave testimony that was not credible. It also notes that Stone repeatedly violated the judge’s order by posting on social media about the case.
Adding the above levels together, the memorandum concludes that Stone’s total offense level is 29. Under the guidelines, the prosecutors argue, this should translate into a sentence of seven to nine years.
Lawfare.com also explains in detail why defense attorney's will be taking advantage at the DOJ change in the Roger Stone case.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Ninety-eight year old federal judge retires, appointed by President Johnson in 1967

For more than half a century, Judge Jack B. Weinstein was the quintessential activist jurist, using his longtime perch on the federal bench in Brooklyn to champion causes like gun control and school desegregation. In his career — one of the longest in American legal history — he carved out a niche as both a liberal hero and, not surprisingly, a bane for conservatives.
Last week, at age 98, Judge Weinstein announced his retirement, saying he no longer had the stamina to perform his daily duties. In an interview with The New York Times, he looked back over a tenure so packed with accolades that his résumé now runs to more than 70 pages. He said his unremitting hope and faith in the judicial system remained intact even in the current polarized political climate.
“I’m convinced our country is bound to equalize, democratize and to save with love, not hate,” he said.
Born in Kansas in 1921, Judge Weinstein earned his law degree in 1948 from Columbia University after playing bit parts on Broadway and serving as a submarine officer in the Pacific theater during World War II.
In his early years as a lawyer, he helped write legal briefs in the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education. After he was named to the bench in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, he presided over groundbreaking mass tort cases involving the use of asbestos and the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange.
At the height of his career, Judge Weinstein, who is known for his impressive eyebrows and his iconoclastic temperament, handled several high-profile Mafia cases, including the prosecution of Vincent Gigante, known as the Chin, the former boss of the Genovese crime family. A stickler for propriety, Judge Weinstein once ordered the mob don, famous for dressing in his bathrobe, to shower and spruce up when he came to court.
In the past decade, Judge Weinstein turned his attention even further toward legal changes, publicly calling for more female lawyers to have speaking roles in court and decrying the “lack of sentencing alternatives” for violent young criminals who, he said, are often written off as “society’s unredeemables.” He has also tackled the endemic problem of police officers lying on the witness stand.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

If Barr believes in the rule of law he should resign

“Nothing could be more destructive of our system of government, of the rule of law, or Department of Justice as an institution, than any toleration of political interference with the enforcement of the law.” Those were William Barr’s words at both his 1991 and 2019 confirmation hearings, the words of someone who claimed to respect the Justice Department and its mission, reported Time.
No one knows the best path forward through the havoc Trump has wreaked on our democratic institutions. Impeachment failed. Some have called for another one, but there is no reason to believe a second try would have a different outcome in the Republican-dominated Senate. People are voicing concerns about the integrity of the upcoming election.
This is a dangerous time and we should not pretend that it’s anything else. But it is no time to give up. The republic feels fragile in this moment, yet our country’s legacy of resilience should give us reason for hope and courage to forge ahead. This is the time for each of us to fulfill our greatest responsibility as Americans, what Justice Louis Brandeis called the most important public office in the land, that of private citizen, in whatever way we can. We must insist on congressional oversight, must register and vote in record numbers, must make it clear that voter suppression and election interference cannot be allowed.
The Attorney General too must fulfill the duties of his office and the oath he took. He must make good on what he told the Senate when he was confirmed, that political interference in the enforcement of criminal law cannot be tolerated. Those are just words until the moment comes to stand up for them. If Barr truly believes in the rule of law, this is his moment. He can resign to show the country the President is not above the law, but in the more than 48 hours since Trump’s tweet, we’ve heard nothing from Barr. No Attorney General who respects the rule of law and the men and women who serve in the department would sit idly by and acquiesce while a President abuses it.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, February 17, 2020

Eyewitness identification: Minimizing the risk of error

People who witness a crime may identify the wrong person as the perpetrator for a multitude of reasons, many of which relate to basic psychology, the authors of the report write: In the room with law enforcement, a nervous witness wants to be helpful, and may strain to deliver the answer they believe the authority figure standing next to them wants to hear, reported The Appeal.
Officers want just as badly to solve the case and may unintentionally provide suggestive clues about the suspect’s identity—a phenomenon known as the “expectancy effect.” Beginning a lineup with comments like “We got the guy and just need you to pick him out,” for example, can prompt an otherwise hesitant witness to hazard a guess. 
If a witness has previously seen someone—in an earlier photo lineup, for example, or on social media—they might incorrectly believe they remember that person as the perpetrator. For this reason, the report’s authors recommend against including the same person in successive identification procedures, and urge law enforcement to discourage witnesses from doing their own amateur detective work online.
Police sketches, another staple of criminal procedurals, are another potential source of error. Research shows that people “typically process faces holistically, not feature-by-feature,” which means that a composite cobbled together from a witness’s description of individual features may end up looking nothing like the perpetrator. Yet police, with little else to go on, are likely to start looking for people who look like the composite—straying further away from the witness’s actual description, and perhaps ignoring promising leads in the process.
For the witness, the composite immediately becomes the most tangible representation of someone they may have only briefly glimpsed. During subsequent identification attempts, they may focus on a person’s resemblance to the sketch, as opposed to their recollections of the perpetrator. Because composite or sketch evidence is involved in about a quarter of DNA exonerations, the report authors recommend that law enforcement “only use them rarely and with great caution.”
Courts have long been at least somewhat aware of the shortcomings of these identification procedures. Whether police show a suspect in a photo array or alone, “it is obvious that risks of suggestion attend either form of confrontation,” Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote in United States v. Wade. 
And as Brennan noted in a different case, Watkins v. Sowders, it is difficult for jurors—impassive observers with no firsthand knowledge of what took place—to be skeptical of an earnest witness who saw a crime with their own eyes and swears to tell the truth in court. Quoting renowned psychology professor and memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, Justice Brennan wrote that “all the evidence points rather strikingly to the conclusion that there is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says ‘That’s the one!’” 
By the time jurors file into the courtroom, though, it is far too late to warn them about all the different mistakes that can occur along the way. At that point, a suspect is an indicted defendant, and after confirming and reconfirming that the defendant is the responsible party, the witness has grown comfortable repeating this narrative to others. As a result, they may have formed a “memory” that never took place.
There are simple strategies available to law enforcement for minimizing the risks of these errors, and the report goes through them in detail: For example, whenever possible, police should conduct double-blind lineups and photo arrays, where neither the witness nor the officer administering the procedure knows who the suspect is. If double-blind procedures are impractical—for example, in smaller departments where everyone knows the suspect’s identity—officers can at least use “blinded” techniques, in which the officer cannot see which suspect or suspects the witness is viewing at any given moment. 
So-called filler lineup participants—the people asked to stand next to a suspect in a lineup—should match the elements of the witness’s description of the perpetrator, and not merely look similar to the suspect. The authors also caution against giving witnesses books of mugshots to browse, a practice that may result in witnesses over-committing to their initial identification and being less reliable during subsequent attempts. In 2001, New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer ordered law enforcement agencies to do away with “mugshot-searching” altogether and instead present witnesses with sequential, one-at-a-time lineups. The move, prompted by a U.S. Department of Justice report published two years earlier, made New Jersey the first state to embrace such a shift based on the evolving understanding of memory science. 
Using standardized instructions can reduce the likelihood of tainting the proceedings, too. The report suggests that police issue a series of caveats and reminders before each identification attempt: that the suspect “may or may not be present,” for example, and that “it is just as important to free innocent people from suspicion as it is to identify the guilty.” In 2007, lawmakers in North Carolina passed the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act in an effort to modernize identification procedures throughout the state. The act prescribes a set of initial instructions to be given to witnesses, and requires that law enforcement either conduct identifications using independent administrators who are not involved with the case, or use blinding techniques that prevent administrators from knowing whose face the witness is looking at. 
Once the witness has made an identification, the report’s authors add, police should take one final, critical step: Immediately ask witnesses for a self-assessment of their confidence, and record it without comment. Detectives should also refrain from giving any sort of suggestive feedback, even after the attempt is ostensibly “complete.” No matter what evidence later comes to light, it can be difficult to convince a witness who saw a detective pump his fist in triumph that the answer they gave was anything other than the right one.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, February 16, 2020

More than 1,100 former federal prosecutors call on Attorney General William P. Barr to resign

More than 1,100 former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials called on Attorney General William P. Barr on Sunday to step down after he intervened last week to lower the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for President Trump’s longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr., reported the New York Times.
They also urged current government employees to report any signs of unethical behavior at the Justice Department to the agency’s inspector general and to Congress.
“Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice,” the former Justice Department lawyers, who came from across the political spectrum, wrote in an open letter on Sunday. Those actions, they said, “require Mr. Barr to resign.”
The sharp denunciation of Mr. Barr underlined the extent of the fallout over the case of Mr. Stone, capping a week that strained the attorney general’s relationship with his rank and file, and with the president himself.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, February 15, 2020

GateHouse: Civil rights versus stopping a deadly virus

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
February 14, 2020
The latest news about the coronavirus is sobering. Health officials in China’s Hubei province reported 14,840 new cases of coronavirus, most of them in Wuhan, the capital.
Province officials also said another 242 people had died, taking the total number of deaths in mainland China to 1,367 as of Feb. 13. These increases raise concerns about the true scale of the epidemic in China.
Coronavirus represents a group of viruses that can cause a range of symptoms including a runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever. Some are mild, such as the common cold, while others are more likely to lead to pneumonia.
The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global public health emergency and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services issued a similar warning for the U.S.
What are traditional public health measures available in the U.S. with the threat of a deadly outbreak? Isolation and quarantine are the methods by which public health officials stop the spread of disease.
According to the Department of Health and Humans Services, the president by executive order provides for the use of federal isolation and quarantine for communicable diseases, including cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, smallpox, yellow fever and Ebola among other potential pandemic diseases.
Isolation is used to separate ill people who have a communicable disease from those who are healthy. Quarantine is used to separate and restrict the movement of people who are well but may have been exposed to a communicable disease. This is ongoing with several cruise ships in Asia and other parts of the world.
Isolation and quarantine can have a significant impact on fundamental individual rights. The U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government, as well as state governments, from depriving individuals of protected liberty rights.
Isolation and quarantine restrict the movement of people to help stop the spread of diseases. This means that an individual can be detained against his or her will for an extended period of time.
Quarantine and isolation are not new public health remedies. As far back as 1902 the U.S. Supreme Court recognized isolation and quarantine as legitimate public health techniques. Although, most patients normally have a right to refuse medical treatment, that right disappears when an infected or exposed person poses a significant risk to public health.
In addition to being medical functions, isolation and quarantine are also “police power” functions, derived from the right of the government to take action affecting individuals for the benefit of society. The authority for carrying out these functions has been delegated to the CDC. Pursuant to federal regulations, the CDC is authorized to detain, medically examine, and release persons arriving into the United States and traveling between states who are suspected of carrying communicable diseases.
States also have police power functions to protect the health, safety and welfare of persons within their borders. All 50 states have laws to enforce the use of isolation and quarantine.
For instance, in Pennsylvania, the Disease Prevention and Control Law provides that the state or local health departments may, without court intervention, order an individual quarantined or isolated if the individual poses a significant threat to the health of the public and there are no lesser restrictive means.
In Arizona, the governor, along with the state director of the Department of Health Services, have expansive authority in a state of emergency involving infectious disease. However, there must be an urgent threat to public health to establish a quarantine or isolation without an order of court.
In fact, in many states the governor has the authority to order a “cordon sanitaire” which is the quarantining of an entire town or city. Such authority has far-reaching implications for those not yet infected. They are being forcefully detained in an area where infected persons remain.
The government attempts to balance the good of the community with individual liberty. In times of international crisis, there is a heightened need to zealously protect those individual rights.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, February 14, 2020

Congressman Jim Jordan tried to cover-up his cover-up of the OSU wrestling sex-abuse scandal

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan’s name came up Tuesday during a Statehouse hearing on a bill that would pave the way for victims of former Ohio State University doctor Richard Strauss to sue the university for damages, reported the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
Jordan an ardent supporter of President Trump during the impeachment hearings in the House of Representative could be seen regularly on television defending the president.
Adam DiSabato, a former captain of the OSU wrestling team during the late 80s and early 90s, told members of the House Civil Justice Committee that Jordan and other team officials knew about open-shower team facilities that facilitated sexual harassment and abuse of team wrestlers​, an allegation Jordan has denied.
He also said Jordan called him repeatedly in July 2018, after media outlets quoted his brother, Michael DiSabato, saying Strauss’ abuse was common knowledge to those surrounding the wrestling program, including Jordan.
“Jim Jordan called me crying, groveling… begging me to go against my brother…That’s the kind of cover-up that’s going on there,” he said.
“Are you guys going to do what you’re voted to do?” he told lawmakers later. “That’s the only reason I’m here.”
Jordan, an assistant coach for the wrestling team at OSU from 1987 to 1995, has denied knowledge of lewd behavior at university facilities. Adam DiSabato is among the former OSU wrestlers who have filed lawsuits against the school alleging it ignored Strauss’ abuse.
To read more CLICK HERE 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

AG Shapiro creates statewide Conviction Integrity Unit

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has announced the creation of a new, statewide office that will offer justice to people wrongfully convicted of crimes, reported the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 
The new Conviction Integrity Unit will work with local law enforcement officials and prosecutors — especially in small counties — to reevaluate cases that ended with dubious convictions. 
Investigators will also “pursue corrections” for individuals who were wrongfully or unfairly convicted, according to the Attorney General’s website.
“We’re striving for justice, not for cases we’re dealing with today and tomorrow, but the cases we dealt with yesterday,” Shapiro said in a video announcement released Wednesday.
Shapiro has appointed Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser, the former elected district attorney of Somerset County, and a one-time public defender, to lead the new unit.
Shapiro said Lazzari-Strasiser brings “unique experience serving in a system we both agree is in need of reform.”
Conviction integrity units have proliferated in recent years amid a nationwide effort to reduce prison populations and redress past wrongs of the criminal justice system. They’re a popular tool among a crop of recently elected progressive prosecutors, who want to use their offices to reduce incarceration. 
The only other Conviction Integrity Unit in Pennsylvania, founded in 2014 in Philadelphia, has exonerated 13 defendants, according to a database maintained by the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan School of Law. 
Most conviction integrity units are located in county prosecutors offices. Only two other states — New Jersey and Michigan — run such offices at the state level, data from the registry show.
Barbara O’Brien, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, said it’s “too early to tell” if statewide units are more effective than those run by counties. 
But she said a statewide model does provide a measure of objectivity, which can be difficult for county prosecutors to match when they’re asked to examine the work of their colleagues or predecessors. 
“You get a little removal from the people who made the original decisions,” O’Brien said. “The independence of the office is incredibly important.”
Shapiro’s new initiative will require the cooperation of Pennsylvania’s county district attorneys, who prosecute the vast majority of criminal cases in the Commonwealth.
But a spokeswoman for that group said Wednesday that they didn’t have much information about the new unit beyond what Shapiro announced publicly on Wednesday.
Lindsay Vaughn, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said Lazzari-Strasiser is scheduled to meet with members of the statewide group later this week. 
At that point, Vaughn said, “we expect to begin to hear more details and formally start the conversation on what the unit is, how it will work, what our role will be, and the complex jurisdictional issues it presents.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Trump Justice Department intervenes in Roger Stone sentencing

All four career prosecutors handling the case against Roger Stone withdrew from the legal proceedings — and one quit his job entirely — after the Justice Department signaled it planned to undercut their sentencing recommendation for President Trump’s longtime friend and confidant, reported the Washington Post.
The sudden and dramatic moves came after prosecutors and their superiors had argued for days over the appropriate penalty for Stone, and exposed what some career Justice Department employees say is a continuing pattern of the historically independent law enforcement institution being bent to Trump’s political will.
Almost simultaneously, Trump decided to revoke the nomination to a top Treasury Department post for his former D.C. U.S. attorney, who had supervised the Stone case when it went to trial.
The cascade of controversy began Monday, when career prosecutors handling the case recommended a judge sentence Stone — convicted in November of obstructing Congress and witness tampering — to between seven and nine years in federal prison.
Stone has been a friend and adviser to Trump since the 1980s and was a key figure in his 2016 campaign, working to discover damaging information on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. His was the last conviction secured by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The president suggested angrily on Twitter that Stone deserved more lenient treatment.
“This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” Trump wrote early Tuesday morning. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
leadership was “shocked” by the recommendation of a seven- to nine-year sentence and would soon revise it.
 “That recommendation is not what had been briefed to the department,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive case. “The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.”
One by one, the career prosecutors, two of whom had worked on Mueller’s investigation, filed notices in court of their intention to leave the case. Though none of the prosecutors gave a reason, their asking to do so was highly unusual and suggested they could not ethically affix their names to the government’s revised position.
Career Justice Department lawyers similarly moved in 2018 to withdraw from a case when the Trump administration decided it would not defend the Affordable Care Act against a challenge to its constitutionality. One of those lawyers resigned over the matter.
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the White House did not communicate with the agency on Monday or Tuesday about the Stone case, and that the decision to reverse course was made before Trump’s tweet.
Trump told reporters later Tuesday, “I have not been involved in it at all,” though in the same remarks he called the career prosecutors’ initial recommendation “an insult to our country.”
“That was a horrible aberration. These are, I guess, the same Mueller people that put everybody through hell and I think it was a disgrace,” Trump said. “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
Jonathan Kravis, one of the prosecutors on the Stone case, wrote in a court filing that he had resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney, leaving government altogether. Three others — Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, Adam Jed and Michael Marando — filed notices with the judge saying “please notice the withdrawal” from the case.
Zelinsky, a former member of Mueller’s team, also indicated in a filing he was quitting his special assignment to the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office, though a spokeswoman said he will remain an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.
Through a spokeswoman, Zelinsky declined to comment. Jed and Kravis also declined to comment. Marando could not immediately be reached.
As the drama unfolded Tuesday afternoon, Trump also decided to withdraw his nomination of former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu to serve as Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, people familiar with the matter said. The withdrawal was first reported by Axios.
The reason was not clear. Liu had left her U.S. attorney post last month in a somewhat unusual move, because she had not yet received Senate confirmation for her new job. She was replaced on an interim basis by Timothy Shea, a former counselor to Attorney General William P. Barr.
An administration official said Trump has been lobbied extensively against Liu by those who did not like how she handled the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office — particularly as it related to the Mueller probe. Several people familiar with the matter said Liu had no role in Stone’s sentencing recommendation, having left the office before it was sent to supervisors for approval. Liu, whose confirmation hearing had been scheduled for Thursday, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Former Justice Department officials and others characterized the department’s abrupt shift on the case as an egregious example of the president and his attorney general manipulating federal law enforcement to serve their political interests.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate, writing, “this situation has all the indicia of improper political interference in a criminal prosecution.”
, a former Justice Department official, called it a “shocking, cram-down political intervention” in the criminal justice process.
“We are now truly at a break-glass-in-case-of-fire moment for the Justice Dept.,” he wrote on Twitter.
Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, said it was “unprecedented, wrong and ultimately dangerous.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) said the move amounted to “obstruction of justice.”
“We are seeing a full-frontal assault on the rule of law in America,” Pascrell said. “Direct political interference in our justice system is a hallmark of a banana republic. Despite whatever Trump, William Barr, and their helpers think, the United States is a nation of laws and not an authoritarian’s paradise.”
In its revised sentencing recommendation, the Justice Department essentially took aim at its own line attorneys, saying their previous guidance “could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances.” The memorandum was signed by Shea and his criminal division supervisor, John Crabb Jr.
 “Ultimately, the government defers to the Court as to what specific sentence is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case,” they wrote.
The decision to file a new sentencing memo was made by officials in the attorney general’s office and the deputy attorney general’s office, according to a senior Justice Department official. The official could not point to another instance of Justice Department headquarters overruling and replacing a sentencing memorandum a day after a filing but insisted it was not unusual for law enforcement officials to “correct the record.”
“I don’t think anyone thinks this went smoothly,” the official said, while declining to discuss who knew what inside the department about the Stone sentencing recommendation.
Like the original sentencing recommendation, the official said the withdrawal of the Stone prosecution team came as a surprise.
Barr has previously faced criticism for seeking to protect Trump and undercut the special counsel’s work.
In perhaps the most notable instance, he sent Congress a letter before the special counsel’s report was publicly released, describing what he called the investigation’s principal conclusions. Mueller, Barr wrote, did not find that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election, and reached no conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice. Barr wrote that he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein reviewed the matter and concluded there was insufficient evidence to make an obstruction case.
The bare-bones description so infuriated the special counsel’s team that Mueller wrote to Barr to complain that the attorney general’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the Russia probe. Barr, though, repeated his description at a news conference before Mueller’s full report was released, drawing criticism that he was trying to shape public opinion in a way favorable to Trump.
Mueller closed his office in May, though some members of his team stayed on special assignments to the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office to handle cases — including Stone’s — that were not resolved. People familiar with the matter say there was tension between them and their supervisors on what penalty to recommend.
As Monday’s court deadline neared for prosecutors to give a sentencing recommendation, it was still unclear what the office would do, even after days of internal debates, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Front-line prosecutors argued for a prison sentence on the higher end, while their bosses wanted to calculate the guidelines differently to get to a lower sentence. The debate centered around whether they should seek more prison time for obstruction that impedes the administration of justice, these people said.
In the end, the office filed a recommendation keeping with the line prosecutors’ goals, and rejecting the lighter recommendation sought by their superiors, the people said.
Hours before the filing was due Monday, Shea, the new head of the D.C. office and a former close adviser to Barr, had not made a final decision on Stone’s sentencing recommendation, they said.
A Justice Department official said senior leaders were led to believe it would be lighter than what was ultimately filed. But some legal observers were skeptical, and the department declined to provide a more detailed account.
Stone is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Feb. 20.
Mary McCord, a former prosecutor and acting assistant attorney general for the department’s national security division, said decisions related to the sentencing of such high-profile political figures would not be made without initial consultation between a U.S. attorney’s office and Justice Department headquarters, andthat it was is hard to imagine the department was truly taken aback.
“There is no way you can come away from this with anything other than an impression that Justice is taking its orders from the president and pandering to the president,” McCord said. “This is causing lasting and long-term damage to the department’s reputation and credibility.”
It can be common for prosecutors to disagree about sentencing recommendations, especially when it comes to politically sensitive cases. It would have been unusual, however, for the U.S. attorney’s office to endorse a sentence below the guideline range after winning conviction at trial, according to former federal prosecutors.
In the initial 22-page sentencing recommendation, the career prosecutors wrote that a sentence of 87 to 108 months, “consistent with the applicable advisory Guidelines would accurately reflect the seriousness of [Stone’s] crimes and promote respect for the law.”
Kravis and Marando were part of the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. Jed and Zelinsky were members of Mueller’s team on special assignment to the office. Kravis and Zelinsky revealed the resignations in formal notices of withdrawal from the Stone case. Jed and Marando asked to withdraw but gave no immediate indication they were resigning from the government.
Crabb, the head of the D.C. office’s criminal division and also a career prosecutor, entered the case in their place.
Stone’s defense on Monday asked for a sentence of probation, citing his age, 67, and lack of criminal history. They also noted that of seven Mueller defendants who have been sentenced, only one faces more than a six-month term: former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is serving 7½ years.
Given the hardships and loss of professional standing suffered by Stone and his family, “No one could seriously contend that a [reduced . . .] sentence would cause anyone to walk away from these proceedings believing that one can commit the offenses at issue here with impunity,” defense attorneys Bruce S. Rogow, Robert C. Buschel and Grant J. Smith wrote.
Federal sentencing guidelines are calculated using mathematical formulas. While prosecutors and defense lawyers make recommendations based on their calculations, ultimately it is up to the judge to decide which factors to consider in sentencing someone, and whether to adhere to the recommendation or depart.
In Stone’s case, the prosecutors came up with a recommendation of seven to nine years based on a number of aggravating factors, including an alleged threat to harm a witness, to whom Stone sent the message, “prepare to die,” and because prosecutors decided Stone’s conduct resulted in “substantial interference in the administration of justice.”
Under the federal sentencing guidelines’ point system, those factors add years to Stone’s prospective prison sentence. Stone and the witness in question, Randy Credico, both have maintained Stone’s statement was not a threat of violence, but part of Stone’s history of making bombastic statements.
In their Monday filing, prosecutors argued more time should be added to Stone’s sentence because of his extensive criminal conduct, which stretched two years, and because they say he obstructed the prosecution of the case after he was charged.
In a Tuesday filing from Shea and Crabb, the government argued those enhancements were overkill, noting that Stone’s victim has asked for leniency for him and did not view the statement as an actual threat. The new filing also contended that the enhancements endorsed in the previous government filing were not in keeping with the sentences generally doled out to nonviolent offenders.
Tuesday’s filing suggested — but did not outright recommend — that a sentence of three to four years would be reasonable, and “more in line with the typical sentences imposed in obstruction cases.”
Prosecutors in another case brought by the special counsel’s office, against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, also recently walked back a sentencing recommendation — though the move was subtle.
In early January, prosecutors recommended that Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., be sentenced “within the Guidelines range” of zero to six months in prison. But in another filing just weeks later, they made clear they agreed with Flynn “that a sentence of probation is a reasonable.”
Prosecutors did not explain in the later filing why they emphasized probation as a reasonable sentence for Flynn. Both documents were signed by career prosecutors — Brandon L. Van Grack and Jocelyn Ballantine — though Van Grack has not signed some later filings in the case. Flynn is now seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging a variety of government misconduct.
Barr has been critical of the FBI’s 2016 investigation into Trump’s campaign that Mueller ultimately took over. When the Justice Department inspector general found last year that the bureau had adequate cause to open the case, Barr issued a remarkable public statement registering his disagreement. He said the case was initiated “on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”
“It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory,” he added.
Barr has tasked the U.S. attorney in Connecticut with exploring the origins of the case, and current and former law enforcement officials have expressed concern that it might be an effort to undercut an investigation because Trump did not like it.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

President calls for death penalty for drug dealers after 'fair but quick' trials

President Donald Trump is campaigning on criminal justice reform efforts that reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders, while suggesting he’d like the American justice system to work more like ones in authoritarian countries where drug dealers are executed after “fair but quick” trials, reported Vox.
If those two things sound hard to square with each other, that’s because they are. But the contrast serves as an especially stark illustration of the incoherency at the core of Trumpism.
Just days after his Super Bowl ad and State of the Union speech highlighted his support for legislation that makes a modest effort to reduce prison sentences at the federal level, Trump on Monday said the best way to further reduce the quantity of fentanyl in the US is to follow China’s lead.
“States with a very powerful death penalty on drug dealers don’t have a drug problem,” Trump said during a White House event with governors. “I don’t know that our country is ready for that, but if you look throughout the world, the countries with a powerful death penalty — death penalty — with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem. That includes China.”
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Monday, February 10, 2020

PublicSource: 'The true cost of court debt'

Every week, dozens of payment determination hearings are held throughout Allegheny County, Pennsylvania for people with outstanding fines and fees on offenses ranging from serious crimes to traffic tickets, reported PublicSource.
Even for something as minor as running a red light or driving with expired inspection stickers, not paying off the citation can result in an arrest warrant, a suspended license and, in extreme cases, jail time.
Throughout the county, there is more than $350 million in unpaid court debt on roughly half a million cases dating back to 1970, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts [AOPC]. The debt includes fines and fees left unpaid by people of all income levels.
Revenue from fines and fees funds multiple levels of government, due in large part to lawmakers imposing court fees as an alternative to raising taxes.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, is the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to Baker, there are two reasons the state has added costs and surcharges to the justice system for years. First, the belief that wrongdoers should contribute to the costs of running the legal system and supportive services. And second, the need to generate revenue outside of raising taxes. “This is one of many nontraditional means that have drawn support in enabling our state to provide necessary services and meet public expectations,” she wrote in an email to PublicSource.
Over the past six months, PublicSource spoke to people throughout Allegheny County struggling to pay their court debt on a range of offenses.
One 33-year-old woman from South Side is slowly paying off four traffic tickets from 2009. She estimates she still owes $1,100.
A 46-year-old man who lives in the East End said he owes more than $20,000 in fines and fees related to low-level drug offenses. He is in long-term recovery and is working toward a degree in social work. His last arrest was in 2014.
A 20-year-old University of Pittsburgh student had a warrant issued for his arrest after he ignored an August 2019 citation for driving a friend’s car that didn’t have valid registration or inspection. He is now on a monthly payment plan to settle the $250 charge.
Evans Moore, a Pittsburgh-based organizer for the criminal justice reform organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums [FAMM], said situations where people cannot pay their court debt are too common. “Folks’ lives are being stymied because they can’t pay their fines and fees,” he said. “You get caught in this never-ending cycle of the criminal justice system.”
In 2018, Pennsylvania courts collected $444 million in fines and fees, roughly $35 million of which came from Allegheny County. Even so, the state has some $3 billion in unpaid monies on the books.
While fines are monetary punishment for an offense, fees (also known as costs or surcharges) are administrative charges that counties and states impose as additional sources of revenue. Fees, which fund items ranging from the court’s computer system to emergency medical services, are not meant to be punitive. Yet for many offenses, the cost of fees outweighs the fine, in some cases many times over.
Pittsburgh Magisterial District Judge Richard King said very few people are unable to pay their court costs; they choose not to. Courts can administer payment plans based on what a person is able to pay, sometimes as little as $5 a month.
“They usually always have an ability to pay like $5 a month or something, but they don’t want to do it,” said King whose jurisdiction includes neighborhoods such as Allentown, Beltzhoover and Knoxville.
Yet several judges, including King, agreed that the same cost can have a drastically different impact on different individuals. To people with means, paying $300 is only temporarily inconvenient, said Magisterial District Judge Bruce Boni of McKees Rocks. “But a $300 cost for someone who is virtually indigent can be catastrophic.”
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Sunday, February 9, 2020

Florida Supreme Court rules that a unanimous jury is not required for death penalty

When the Florida Supreme Court ruled last month that a unanimous jury is not required for the state to hand down a death sentence, the decision reverberated in the state prisons that house hundreds of felons already sentenced to death, reported The Crime Report. The legal wrangling over their fate overnight became “chaos,” says death penalty lawyer Marty McClain,  the Christian Science Monitor reports. Only four years earlier, Florida had struck down the power of judges, not juries, to decide whether or not to execute convicts. That ruling came after the U.S. Supreme Court said Florida’s system for capital sentencing was unconstitutional, leading nearly 100 inmates on death row to challenge their sentences.
A new conservative majority on Florida’s highest court has begun taking a shredder to this and other seemingly settled rulings, part of a national rollback of what conservatives see as an era of liberal judicial activism. With President Donald Trump’s appointment of 187 judges, three U.S. appeals courts have flipped from liberal to more conservative majorities. Critics say the Florida court’s abrupt reversal violates the concept of stare decisis, which holds that rulings that overturn established law should be “well thought-out and pretty rare,” says Prof. Kenneth Williams of the South Texas College of Law Houston. The reason for the change is the court’s makeup: Republican governors have replaced four of the justices who ruled on the 2016 case under Florida’s mandatory retirement law, tilting it to conservatives. The new judges “have a very narrow interpretation of the Constitution and they will come out with really narrow decisions,” says Stephen Harper of the Death Penalty Clinic at Florida International University in Miami. “That means the country is reverting to a much more conservative outlook and jurisprudence – more conservative than I think the public wants, or is.”
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Saturday, February 8, 2020

GateHouse: Lawyers zealously advocate in face of ‘clamours of the populace’

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
February 7, 2020
The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients was established 250 years ago with John Adams’ representation of the British soldiers charged with murder during the Boston massacre. Adams’ trial summation set the standard for law and order.
Adams, who would later serve two terms as president of the United States, said of justice, “On the one hand it is inexorable to the cries and lamentations of the prisoners; on the other it is deaf, deaf as an adder to the clamours of the populace.”
Today, more than ever, the clamor of the populace - through news media and social media - can almost instantly accuse, try and convict a person in the court of public opinion. Harvey Weinstein is on trial in New York City for sexual assault. Although there are two alleged victims in his trial and another four women who may testify about Weinstein’s prior bad acts, the media has reported on as many as 80 other women who claim to be victims of Weinstein.
Lawyers are often intentionally, or unintentionally, drug into the glare of the media and no longer perceived as only representing the accused, but of siding with the reprehensible “monsters.”
A lawyer faced with the decision to take on a controversial client must legitimately ask herself, “Will I ever get any more law business in my community if I take this case?”
The Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, shortly after accepting the case, was asked by a CNN reporter why he took the case. He replied, “I have, throughout my professional career, believed it was a lawyer’s duty to defend unpopular cases.”
Attorneys are advocates for others. Many people understand that representing the person or issue does not equate with accepting or endorsing what a particular client does. In practice, however, many people have difficulty accepting that a pedophile, terrorist, mass killer or racist hate group is entitled to legal representation.
At times, attorneys are demonized for representing defendants charged with heinous crimes - as if there was something wrong with providing a defense to someone charged with a crime. Such conduct undermines the fundamental protections of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, “to have the assistance of counsel.”
Criminal defense attorney and Georgetown law professor Abbe Smith wrote several years ago, “My clients, no matter what they may have done, aren’t wicked. They are damaged, deprived or in distress. Their crimes can be understood as the products of awful lives, or of being young, hot-headed and lacking in judgment, or of not having the mental wherewithal to know what they were doing. There is always a story.”
Defense counsel has the responsibility to act zealously within the bounds of the law and standards on behalf of the client. There is no duty to, and defense counsel may not, execute any directive of the client which violates the law or rules of court. In representing a client, defense counsel may engage in a good faith challenge to the validity of such laws or standards if done openly. The principles embodied in American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct include “the lawyer’s obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests.”
Yet, every criminal defense attorney is asked this question, “How can you defend someone you know is guilty?”
Irving Kanarek represented Charles Manson, who was convicted in 1971 of conspiracy to murder actor Sharon Tate and six other people.
He told The Guardian, “I would defend a client who I knew was guilty of horrific crimes. They have to be proved guilty. I’ve had cases where people were guilty as hell but they couldn’t prove it. And if they can’t prove it, he’s not guilty. In that case, the person walks free. That’s American justice.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, February 7, 2020

Texas executes man who killed his family

The 3rd Execution of 2020
Less than an hour after the courts denied his final appeal, Abel Revill Ochoa, a Texas man who killed five people became the state’s second prisoner in 2020 executed, reported the Houston Chronicle.
With his last words, Ochoa thanked Jesus for his salvation and apologized to his victims’ families.
“I would like to thank God, my dad, my Lord Jesus savior for saving me and changing my life,” he said, strapped to the Huntsville gurney. “I want to apologize to my in-laws for causing all this emotional pain. I love y’all and consider y’all my sister I never had. I want to thank you for forgiving me.”
He died at 6:48 p.m., 18 years after the crime that landed him on death row.
When police initially arrested him years earlier, Ochoa said he couldn’t handle the stress and had simply gotten tired of his life. So he’d killed his family.
The then-30-year-old Dallas man cooperated with police from the start, and confessed to the five murders, ultimately blaming his violent outburst on the drugs he’d smoked less than half an hour earlier.
“My body started wanting more crack,” he told police, according to news reports at the time. “I knew if I asked my wife for more money, she wouldn’t let me have it. I knew she’d argue with me about the money, just like we had in the past.”
A jury found him guilty in just 10 minutes, and in 2003 sentenced him to death. Many of his later appeals centered on claims he didn’t have good enough legal representation earlier in the case, but in the final days before his Thursday execution he raised claims about parole board procedures and the prison’s reluctance to let him film a clemency plea.
Born in Mexico, Ochoa was raised by a father who beat him with sticks and branches but, he later told the court, “not a lot.”
In the early 1990s, Ochoa married his wife Cecilia and settled in a home in South Dallas, according to Associated Press reports. It was a volatile relationship, with occasional separations. Then sometime around 2000 Ochoa became addicted to drugs, financing a crack habit with an illegal loan scheme, according to court records.
One Sunday in August two years later, Ochoa went to church with his family. On the way home, he asked his wife for money to buy drugs. She gave in, and he bought a $10 rock of crack, according to court records. He went out back to smoke it, then walked into the bedroom — and came back out with a 9mm handgun. He walked into the living room, where he systematically shot his wife, their 9-month-old daughter Anahi, his father-in-law Bartolo and his sisters-in-law Alma and Jackie. He then walked into the kitchen and shot his 7-year-old daughter Crystal four times.
Only Alma survived.
Afterward, Ochoa got in his wife’s Toyota 4Runner and drove away. When police stopped and arrested him minutes later at a nearby shopping center, he told the officer where he’d left the gun and gave a detailed written confession.
“He said he remembers it like a dream,” his brother Gilbert told a Dallas-Fort Worth TV station the next day. “He was doing that drug outside and then he went into the living room.”
When the case went to trial, his lawyers argued that he’d committed the slayings in a cocaine-induced delirium, and that he had poor impulse control due to frontal lobe damage from drug use.
Prosecutors argued that he’d simply acted out of anger.
After he was convicted and sent to death row, Ochoa filed appeals accusing his trial team of shoddy work. The defense investigator responsible for learning about Ochoa’s life and uncovering reasons to spare him didn’t speak the same language as many of the witnesses she was supposed to interview, he argued to a federal court. The judge had only approved her appointment at the last minute, and the trial attorneys didn’t ask for more time until it was too late.
But a federal district court decided that it wasn’t clear more investigating would “substantially improve” Ochoa’s chances of success, and a federal appeals court said Ochoa’s attorneys were “simply seeking to ‘turn over every stone’” when they asked for the time and money to get another investigator.
“No stones, in fact, have been turned over, because of the lack of funds,” Ochoa’s lawyers wrote. “Far from quality representation, Mr. Ochoa has only had counsel deprived of any means to effectuate his representation.”
The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Ochoa’s case in October 2019, but on Wednesday his attorneys tried again in the high court. This time, his legal team wrote that he wanted to send the parole board a video plea for clemency - but the prison system at first wouldn’t let his lawyers film him without a court order. Reporters are often allowed to film interviews, and Ochoa’s lawyers took issue with the prison’s initial reluctance to allow them the same access.
After Ochoa’s death, seven more Texas executions already are on the calendar for 2020.
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