Monday, February 28, 2022

The legacy of Trayvon Martin 10 years and moving forward

 Trayvon Martin’s final night began with a convenience store run, a quick trip for candy and something to drink. It ended in a confrontation with a neighborhood watch volunteer, a shot fired, the 17-year-old dead on the street, reported The Associated Press.

It might have been expected to end there -- the violent deaths of Black teenagers have rarely drawn even fleeting attention.

But the killing of this baby-faced, hoodie-wearing, unarmed youth at the hands of a stranger still reverberates 10 years later -- in protest, in partisanship, in racial reckoning and reactionary response, in social justice and social media.

“It was the thing that broke everybody, all at the same time,” said Nailah Summers-Polite, co-director of Dream Defenders, an organization founded in Florida during the protests following Martin’s death.

“We’re the Trayvon Martin generation, we are the people who were moved into action because of it.”

It happened on Feb. 26, 2012. Martin was visiting his father in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, a suburb of Orlando. Walking on the way back from the store, he was eyed by George Zimmerman, then 28, a member of the community’s neighborhood watch.

The initial police report said Zimmerman called authorities to report a suspicious person, a guy who, he said, “looks like he’s up to no good.” When Zimmerman said he was following the man, a dispatcher said, “We don’t need you to do that.” But armed with a gun, Zimmerman got out of his car.

In the confrontation that followed, Zimmerman would tell authorities, Martin attacked him, forcing him to use his gun to save himself. Zimmerman was allowed to go free.

From the start, Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, were outraged. They questioned Zimmerman’s account. Had their son had been profiled as “suspicious” merely because he was Black? Zimmerman’s family was adamant that their son and brother, who identified as Hispanic, was not racist.

As media attention picked up in early March, others joined in, first locally and then far beyond.

For many Black people, the idea that Trayvon had been profiled because of his race hit a nerve, echoing their own experiences in all walks of life. In his death they saw their own vulnerabilities.

“It felt like, `Oh, wow, I can’t walk down the street, even in the realm of my everyday life, normal happenings, that could have easily been me,’” said Jonel Edwards, another co-director of Dream Defenders.

It was especially jarring in 2012, when the occupant of the White House was Barack Obama, the country’s first Black president. His election had some insisting that America had turned a real corner in its troubled racial story; even many skeptics thought there had been progress.

And yet, Martin was dead. The United States “had elected a Black president and had a Black attorney general, and they are still killing us and not even arresting the killer ... we all saw our kids were still vulnerable,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who early on met with Martin’s family and their attorney Ben Crump as they worked to draw more attention to his death.

For years, police killings of Black people -- like Amadou Diallo in 1999, Sean Bell in 2006 and Ramarley Graham, just weeks before Martin’s death -- had caused outrage. But Zimmerman “was not law enforcement,” said Jenner Furst, co-director of the documentary, “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story.”

“This person did not have a badge,” he said. “This person had not been trained how to operate a firearm in the case of an emergency and not been trained in conflict management, had no skills for determining who is and who isn’t the risk.”

Said Sharpton: “I think the fact that it wasn’t a real police officer made it even more egregious” that authorities didn’t take action. “Here is a wanna-be security guard ... There’s no reason for reluctance here.”

As word spread of Martin’s death, many looking to speak out turned to the digital space. Social media had already shown its potential as a platform for protest, and now the trend went into hyperdrive.

Kevin Cunningham, then a 31-year-old graduate of Howard University’s law school who was working as a social media consultant for a Muslim organization, had been intrigued by the power of social media since he saw the role it played in the 2011 Egyptian revolution. He posted a petition on calling for Zimmerman’s prosecution, and it soon had about 10,000 signatures.

That number increased exponentially when he turned the petition over to Martin’s parents, who made a personal plea for support for Zimmerman’s prosecution. Celebrities on social media encouraged people to sign. In the end, more than 2.2 million people signed on to the petition.

“It was the right place and time as far as that adoption of social media and just sort of the right egregious case that was able to touch people’s hearts,” Cunningham said.

While Zimmerman set up a site to seek donations to help his defense, his online detractors were many. Social media brought together multitudes for protests like the Million Hoodie March, as well as countless celebrities and everyday folk who posted images of themselves wearing hoodies with the hashtag, “I am Trayvon Martin.”

Among them: LeBron James, then playing with the Miami Heat, who posted an image of him and his teammates wearing hoodies, their heads bowed.

Obama himself was drawn into the furor, framing it in terms no other president could.

“I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids,” Obama said.

“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

Six weeks after the shooting, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder; he would be acquitted the next year. But the ferment unleashed by Trayvon Martin’s death did not stop.

The verdict inspired a Facebook post written by Alicia Garza, a hashtag created by Patrisse Cullors and a social media strategy spearheaded by Ayo Tometi -- and the result was Black Lives Matter, a movement to combat racism and racial violence against Black communities.

And many of the same demonstrators incensed by Martin’s killing took to the streets to protest the death of Michael Brown, 18 and unarmed, killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, just weeks after Eric Garner, also unarmed, was killed by police in New York City.

“The moment of Trayvon Martin really opened our eyes,” said Edwards, of Dream Defenders, adding “there was much more of a general consciousness that had started in 2012 that then erupted in 2014.”

Then the 2020 death of George Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police, brought out a wide range of people around the country and the world.

“When the George Floyd tragedy happened, we all saw what played out with Trayvon,” film director Furst said. “And so many people said, never again, this cannot happen that way again.”

But that public anger also inspired a reaction. There have been those who took exception to Obama’s words of affinity to Martin, and saw the protests as anti-police chaos and disorder.

Others acknowledge that Martin’s death and its aftermath changed the country, but question whether the change was even remotely sufficient.

Sharpton, while disappointed that there has not been more federal legislation put into place, said a “cultural change” has happened.

He pointed to the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man chased and killed in 2020 by three white men who saw him running in their Georgia neighborhood. The shooter in that case also claimed self-defense, but an almost entirely white jury found them all guilty.

To read more CLICK HERE


Sunday, February 27, 2022

Idaho seeks privacy protection for suppliers of lethal injection drugs

The Idaho House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide confidentiality to suppliers and manufacturers of lethal injection drugs, reported Jurist.

House Bill 658 is intended to provide “legal protection from discovery or disclosure for certain persons and entities to carry out the death penalty.” The bill would provide confidentiality to any individual or entity that “compounds, synthesizes, tests, sells, supplies, manufactures, stores, transports, procures, dispenses, or prescribes the chemicals or substances for use in an execution or that provides the medical supplies or medical equipment for the execution process.”

According to the legislation’s statement of purpose, the current absence of confidentiality makes it “impossible” for the state to administer the currently approved means of the death penalty. At a hearing on February 17, Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt stated: “[T]he state does not have the material ability to carry out an execution. We have been unable to secure the necessary chemicals and potential suppliers have expressed concern that the language in our administrative rule is insufficient to protect their identities.”

The House passed the bill by a vote of 38-30. To become law, the bill must also pass the Idaho Senate and Governor Brad Little must then sign the bill into law.

Other states, including Arkansas, already provide confidentiality to lethal injection drug suppliers and manufacturers.

However, lethal injection has come under scrutiny within the past several years. Under former President Trump’s administration, twelve federal inmates were put to death. In January, the Supreme Court added Nance v. Ward to its docket, a case which raises the issue of whether a prisoner can be executed by means that are not authorized by statute when the authorized means of execution, lethal injection, is potentially unconstitutional.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Retired police commander not-guilty is movie popcorn murder

A jury in Florida acquitted a retired SWAT commander Curtis J. Reeves, Jr. who shot and killed a man more than eight years ago inside a movie theater after a dispute over cellphone use, reported The New York Times.

A jury of four men and two women found Reeves not guilty of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Chad W. Oulson on Jan. 13, 2014, at a matinee showing of “Lone Survivor” in a movie theater near Tampa.

A defense lawyer for Mr. Reeves argued that his client had acted in self-defense when he fired on Mr. Oulson, who had tossed a bag of popcorn at Mr. Reeves, a retired Tampa Police Department SWAT commander.

The verdict ended a case that ignited debates about legal firearms in public spaces and lingered in court because of multiple appeals and pandemic-related delays.

The case had garnered even more attention because of its ties to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows a person to use deadly force without first trying to retreat from a dangerous situation if the person “reasonably believes” that his or her life is being imminently threatened.

In 2017, Florida state lawmakers strengthened the law and shifted the burden of proof to prosecutors. A judge ultimately denied Mr. Reeves a self-defense claim under the law but he was still able to claim self-defense at the trial.

His lawyer, Richard Escobar, said in his closing argument that Mr. Reeves, who was 71 at the time, was an older man fearful of being attacked by the stronger Mr. Oulson, who was 43, and 6 feet 4 inches tall. Mr. Escobar said that when Mr. Reeves fired his handgun, it was purely in self-defense.

“I’ve never been encountered by somebody exhibiting that kind of rage and all of the preceptors that you could imagine, whether it’s verbal, physical, expression,” Mr. Reeves testified at his trial.

He added, “I came to the theater with my family to enjoy a movie, not to be attacked by some guy that’s out of control.”

Witnesses and prosecutors described a different scene.

Mr. Oulson, a Navy veteran and finance manager at a local motorcycle dealership, was on a date with his wife. Their 22-month-old daughter, Alexis, who was with a babysitter at home, was not feeling well.

Prosecutors said the worry about his daughter prompted Mr. Oulson to defy moviegoing etiquette and text the babysitter to see how his daughter was doing. The movie had not started yet while Mr. Oulson texted, they said.

Charles Cummings, who was 68 at the time and had served in the Marines, was in the row ahead of Mr. Reeves during the shooting. He told The New York Times in 2014 that Mr. Reeves was “aggressive” and had been kicking the seat in front of him because “he was agitated” that Mr. Oulson was using his phone in the semidark theater.

Mr. Reeves got up and told Mr. Oulson to quit texting. Mr. Oulson ignored him and continued. Mr. Reeves then left to get a manager, but returned alone.

Mr. Oulson complained about being tattled on, and the two men exchanged more words. Then Mr. Oulson threw a bag of popcorn at Mr. Reeves, who then shot Mr. Oulson in the chest, according to a criminal complaint.

Mr. Oulson’s wife, Nicole, had placed her hand on her husband’s chest and was struck in a finger.

The authorities said Mr. Reeves sat down calmly, put the gun on his lap and stared ahead. An off-duty sheriff’s deputy from Sumter County who saw the muzzle flash snatched the weapon from him. Mr. Reeves resisted at first and then acquiesced, the authorities said.

Ms. Oulson testified that Mr. Reeves was rude and never said, “Do you mind?” or “Excuse me,” The Tampa Bay Times reported.

In an audio recording of a police interview, Mr. Reeves said Mr. Oulson “kept on hollering.”

“Whatever he was saying was threatening, it was enough for me to look for a way out,” Mr. Reeves told detectives. “My wife said we should’ve just moved.”

Scott Rosenwasser, the state prosecutor in the case, said in his closing arguments that Mr. Reeves had displayed an “explosive moment of anger.” He said there “wasn’t any imminent threat of death” to Mr. Reeves — just some popcorn in his face.

“A man was killed because popcorn was tossed,” Mr. Rosenwasser said.

Mr. Escobar, however, disagreed, telling jurors that they needed “to judge the reasonableness of that perception, not here in the comfort of a courtroom, but in a darkened, cramped theater.”

Video footage from inside the theater showed Mr. Reeves instantly drawing his weapon after Mr. Oulson tossed the popcorn.

TJ Grimaldi, a lawyer representing Ms. Oulson, said on Saturday that he was “disgusted and embarrassed for the State of Florida and our legal system.”

He added that his client was “in total disbelief and total shock and just can’t comprehend how this jury was able to find the conclusion that they did.”

As jurors announced their verdict, Ms. Oulson was in the courtroom, visibly shaking and crying as juror after juror confirmed that they were in agreement: Mr. Reeves was not guilty.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, February 25, 2022

One in three adults in U.S. have been arrested

Rodrigo Perez Ortega writes in Science:

One in three adults in the United States has been arrested at least once, a strikingly high number compared with many other countries. Now, a new study reveals one of the implications of that figure: Nearly half of unemployed U.S. men have a criminal conviction by age 35, which makes it harder to get a job, according to an analysis of survey data.

The findings suggest having a criminal justice history is pushing many men to the sidelines of the job market, says sociologist Sarah Esther Lageson of Rutgers University, Newark, who was not involved in the study. “I’m not sure that many people understand just how prevalent an arrest is,” she says. “It really shows up [that unemployment] is actually a mass criminalization problem. … Because arrests are so common, they shouldn’t be considered in an employment context at all,” she says.

The work began when Amy Solomon, then head of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, was leading U.S. efforts to help former prisoners re-enter society. She knew previous research had shown having a criminal record—from arrest to conviction to incarceration—makes it harder to get a job. Employers may hesitate to hire applicants with a criminal record for fear they will reoffend, or for potential negligent hire lawsuits. But Solomon couldn’t figure out just how many of the unemployed had criminal records. She turned to Shawn Bushway, an economist and criminologist at RAND Corporation with a track record of finding answers to hard questions about statistics in criminal justice. “No one in criminology [had ever] asked … that question,” he says.

Because the justice system in the United States is highly fragmented, there’s no centralized repository of criminal history records. “[The data] is public by law, yet it is extraordinarily difficult to collect,” says Michael Romano, a criminal law researcher at Stanford Law School who was not involved in the new study.

So Bushway turned to another source: data from the U.S. Department of Labor. Starting in 1997, statisticians with the department conducted the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. For more than 2 decades, they have periodically interviewed 8984 people born between 1980 and 1984, asking questions about education, income, employment status, and criminal histories. Bushway had used the survey once before—to come up with the estimate of how many U.S. adults had ever been arrested.

Because far fewer women are arrested than men, Bushway and his colleagues focused on unemployed men. Of the men who responded to the survey at age 35, 5.8% were unemployed, which the researchers defined as being without a job for at least four consecutive weeks, but fewer than 39 weeks. Of these men, 64% had been arrested at least once and slightly more than 46% had a conviction, the team reported yesterday at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes Science) and online today in Science Advances. 

“It’s pretty staggering,” Romano says. “I would not have guessed that such a high number of people who are unemployed have a criminal background … it’s really eye-opening.”

The researchers also wanted to know whether people of color were disproportionally impacted by both unemployment and a criminal record. Among survey respondents, Black and Hispanic men were 1.4 times more likely to be arrested than white men, and were 1.8 and 1.2 times more likely to be unemployed, respectively. But what the researchers found surprised them: Although more Black and Hispanic survey participants were unemployed and had a criminal record than their white counterparts, the proportion of the unemployed Black men with criminal records was similar to that of unemployed white men with criminal records. Among the unemployed, 67% of Black men, 58% of Hispanic men, and 65% of white men had been arrested by age 35.

Lila Kazemian, a sociologist at City University of New York, calls these results “surprising.” She adds: “This is somewhat unexpected, given that Black men experience unemployment and contacts with the criminal justice system at a higher rate than their non-Black counterparts.”

The explanation, the authors say, is that although racism influences hiring, discrimination based on criminal history may be even more potent. “People [with criminal histories] are being segregated into certain jobs and in certain industries, and are unable to advance their careers … many, many years after they have a record,” Bushway says.

Harry Holzer, a labor economist at Georgetown University, says the findings should be taken into account by employment and re-entry services. But he points out that the findings may not be applicable for all unemployed today: Some of the years used in the survey had very tight labor markets, he says, and because the survey relies on self-reports, there’s a chance the criminal background of participants is underreported.

Meanwhile, Lageson points to Western European countries like France, where criminal records are not public and employers cannot use them to make hiring decisions. In experimental research, Lageson has found that U.S. employers do discriminate against applicants if they have one arrest. “We should rethink public access to these types of low-level records given that they’re impacting such a large proportion of unemployed people,” she says.

“These findings represent a major contribution to the re-entry literature and hold a key to improving economic mobility among those who are unemployed,” says Solomon, now a principal deputy assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice. “Now that we have an answer to this question, I hope the workforce development field will pay even greater attention to the barriers imposed by a criminal record and create strategies to address them.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Why Do Utah Legislators Keep ‘Blood Atonement’ on the Statute Books?

Matthew T. Mangino
The Crime Report
February 23, 2022

Earlier this month, the Utah House of Representative’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, after lengthy and passionate debate, narrowly defeated a bill to repeal the death penalty.

The committee’s action was both astonishing and bewildering―astonishing in that a bill to abolish capital punishment was being considered at all in a state steeped in Mormon tradition, and bewildering that it was not sent to the full house for a vote.

Utah’s recent vote demonstrates the dichotomy of capital punishment in the United States.

The death penalty was often described in Utah as “blood atonement“―the idea that only by spilling their blood can the condemned hope to receive forgiveness in the next life.

Although the death penalty has been around in Utah for 170 years the state has carried out only 51 recorded executions. Executions are rare in Utah and so is the method. Forty of Utah’s executions have been by firing squad.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty.

In the aftermath of the ruling, a number of states reworked their death penalty statutes to conform with the Court’s decision. By 1976, the death penalty was back.

The execution in the United States after the five year hiatus in executions that followed the Supreme Court striking down the death penalty was in Utah. Gary Gilmore was shot by a Utah firing squad for the cold-blooded murder of a gas station attendant and motel clerk on consecutive nights.

The last execution in Utah was in 2010. Ronnie Lee Gardner was also executed by firing squad. He would be the last person executed by firing squad in the United States.

In between Gilmore and Gardner was Albert Taylor.

In 1996, as Taylor’s execution approached, many in Utah were embarrassed by the “wild west” reputation that firing squads brought to the state. At the time, appalled by the spectacle, state representative Sheryl L. Allen drafted a bill to abolish the barbaric practice of death by firing squad.

According to the Los Angeles Times, some in Utah believed the continued use of the firing squad would tarnish the image of a state gearing up to be on the world’s stage hosting the Winter Olympics in 2002.

“As we enter our second hundred years,” Allen told The Times in 1995, “I’d like us to convey a better image than this. I want the world to look at us positively, as a progressive state.”

For Gilmore, Taylor and Gardner the moments leading to their deaths were identical. Five executioners, certified police officers who volunteered for the task, stand about 25 feet away, behind a wall cut with a gunport. Each man is armed with matching .30-caliber rifles. One is loaded with a blank so no one knows who fired the fatal shot.

The condemned prisoner is strapped to a chair and sandbags are stacked behind the chair to keeps the bullets from ricocheting around the cinderblock room.

Blood atonement was so important to the Mormon faith that beheading was once one an execution option in Utah, according to a May 16, 1879 article in The Evening News.

That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court in Wilkerson v. Utah ruled that death by firing squad was lawful and did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

The tradition of execution by firing squad was exclusive to the state of Utah, with the exception of a single firing squad execution in Nevada in 1913.

The Utah bill to abolish the death penalty failed to get out of committee by a 6-5 margin. The vote was close, but actually less successful than a measure proposed in 2016. Six years ago a similar proposal passed the Senate and got through a House committee, but the bill died on the House floor as the session ended.

More relevant to the status of Utah’s death penalty is that there has not been an execution in the state in 12 years.

According to The Deseret News, there are only seven men on Utah’s death row. In addition, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reported that there were no death sentences imposed by a Utah jury in 2021.

Maybe most important, four Utah prosecutors released an open letter in support of abolishing the death penalty. Those prosecutors included the Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan, Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt — two Republicans and two Democrats.

The prosecutors called the death penalty “a grave defect” in the operation of the law “that creates a liability for victims of violent crime, defendants’ due process rights, and for the public good.”

The legislature remained defiant. A penalty rarely used, a method looked on with disdain, will remain in place in Utah—as in many states—to satisfy the insatiable desire of some politicians to be viewed as “tough on crime.”

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George. P.C. and the former district attorney of Lawrence County, PA.  He is the author of The Executioner’s Toll. You can follow him on twitter @MatthewTMangino or contact him at

To visit The Crime Report CLICK HERE 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

'Stand your ground' laws responsible for 11% increase in homicides

“Stand your ground” laws may have led to hundreds of additional homicides every year in the United States, according to a new study that could boost criticisms that they encourage unnecessary violence, reported the Washington Post.

Fiercely debated and increasingly common in the United States, stand-your-ground laws remove the duty to retreat from an attacker when possible before responding with potentially deadly force. They became a flash point in national disputes over gun violence, self-defense and racial profiling, particularly after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager, in 2012.

Stand-your-ground laws are associated with an 11 percent increase in monthly firearm homicide rates, according to the new study, with especially striking jumps in Southern states that embraced stand-your-ground early on. That amounts to 700 additional homicides each year, according to the findings published Monday in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Justifications for stand-your-ground often “center around these laws actually having some protective effect on public safety and deterring violence,” said David Humphreys, an associate professor at the University of Oxford and one of the paper’s authors, in an interview. “There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to show that and, you know, we only seem to see the opposite effect.”

The research echoes some other studies that found spikes in firearm homicides after the laws were passed — especially in Florida, which kicked off a wave of stand-your-ground legislation in 2005. Michelle Degli Esposti, the study’s lead author, said she and her colleagues “really wanted to unravel whether [Florida] was just this outlier.”

The trend extends well beyond one state, she said. But the national numbers also mask big geographical differences.

The largest jumps in homicides and firearm homicides — as high as 33.5 percent — occurred in southern states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Missouri. In contrast, stand-your-ground laws were not associated with significant changes in Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia, the study found.

That suggests stand-your-ground is not the only factor at play, the researchers acknowledge.

Michael Siegel, a doctor and researcher at Tufts University School of Medicine who was not part of the research team, expanded on the possible explanations in a commentary for JAMA Network Open: “I would argue that the most important factor is the public’s awareness of the change in the law,” he writes, pointing to intense media coverage, public discussion and a campaign by the National Rifle Association as Southern states passed stand-your-ground laws in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

To read more CLICK HERE

Mangino discusses Curtis Reeves trial on Court TV

 Watch my comments on the Curtis Reeves trial in Florida for shooting a man in a theater over a cell phone.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Gun manufacturer WEEI Tactical releases JR-15 for children 'Operates just like Mom and Dad's gun'

Between August and December 2021, there were 136 instances of gunfire on school grounds, the highest rate in a 5-month period since the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety began tracking it in 2013. And 70% of school shooters, many of whom have easy home access to weapons, are under the age of 18, reported Fast Company.

Given this backdrop of ever-increasing gun violence, and especially by young perpetrators, the release of a new rifle directly marketed to kids has astonished even gun-reform experts who have followed the industry’s aggressive targeting of children for years. They say this new firearm, overtly advertised as a kids’ version of the AR-15—the style of rifle used in 11 of the 12 most high-profile mass shootings, including Sandy Hook and Las Vegas—is the most brazen example of such targeted firearms marketing they’ve ever seen. The move is part of a trend by an unstable gun industry in a volatile market to target new potential consumers, but it’s also motivated by a rise of political extremism.

Last month, the JR-15, or Junior 15, debuted at the SHOT Show, billed as the nation’s largest annual trade show for the sport shooting, hunting, and outdoor industry, according to Fast Company. The event is organized by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a firearms industry trade association. The rifle is manufactured by WEE1 Tactical, an offshoot of Schmid Tool and Engineering, which has sold AR-15 components for 30 years. A November press release from WEE1 specifically notes the JR-15’s appeal to children: “Our vision is to develop a line of shooting platforms that will safely help adults introduce children to the shooting sports,” it reads. To do that, it’s built a gun whose “ergonomics are geared towards children”: it’s lighter than an adult version, at 2.2 pounds, 20% smaller, and with a patented safety mechanism, not standard on AR-15s, which needs to be pulled out “with some force” and rotated before it can fire. Slight tweaks aside, the company boasts that it “operates just like Mom and Dad’s gun.”

To read more CLICK HERE


Monday, February 21, 2022

Oklahoma carries out execution of killer of four

The 3rd Execution of 2022

On February 17, 2022, Oklahoma executed convicted murderer Gilbert Ray Postelle without any of the issues that led to condemnation of the state's lethal injection procedure in the past.

It was the third execution in a row without incident.

"He didn't seem to be struggling at all with his breath," said one media witness, Dylan Goforth of The Frontier, an online news site. "It happened really quick. ... It didn't seem like he was having any trouble."

Postelle was declared dead at 10:14 a.m. at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He was 35.

He apologized at his clemency hearing in December for killing four people but made no final statement Thursday.

The execution was the fourth since the state resumed lethal injections in October after a hiatus of more than six years. It came just days before the start of a federal trial that will determine whether any more executions will be carried out this year.

Attorney General John O'Connor, whose assistants will represent the state at the trial, said the execution was carried out "with zero complications."

"I believe the last couple of executions have been very smooth," Corrections Department Director Scott Crow told reporters afterward.

What did Gilbert Ray Postelle do?

Postelle was convicted of murdering four people on Memorial Day 2005 outside a trailer in Del City. He was sentenced to death for two of the murders and to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the other two.

He was 19 at the time of the murders. He acted along with his older brother and their father in a blitz attack involving assault rifles. 

Shot the most was the trailer's resident, Donnie Swindle. Postelle's father had accused Swindle of causing his motorcycle accident the year before.

Also killed were Amy Wright, James Alderson and Terry Smith.

Jurors gave Postelle death sentences for fatally shooting Wright and Alderson after hearing testimony he hunted them down as they tried to flee. He later said Wright "was over there screaming in the corner, and I got her ... a whole bunch of times and she shut up," according to testimony at his trial.

Swindle's sister, Shelli Milner, called Postelle a monster who stole four innocent people's lives.

"To know that he will never walk this Earth again does give me a little more peace than I had yesterday, but I will never have peace knowing what he did to my brother Donnie, to Amy, to James and to Terry," she told reporters after the execution. "He got what he deserved today."

The brother, David Postelle, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for his involvement. Their father, Brad Postelle, never went to trial because he was declared incompetent because of brain injuries from the motorcycle accident. The father died in 2011.

Ironically, authorities believe the father was wrong about the motorcycle accident and that Swindle was not to blame. "There was no evidence to support any conclusion other than that Brad Postelle's wreck being simply a single-vehicle accident in which Brad was ejected from a rear-wheel skid that he alone caused," state attorneys told the Pardon and Parole Board.

Gilbert Postelle said at his clemency hearing that he absolutely still believed what his father told him about the accident. "He was hit by a car and he was hit with something," he said.

What was Gilbert Postelle's last meal?

For his last meal Wednesday, Postelle had 20 chicken nuggets with ranch, BBQ and honey mustard dipping sauces.

He also had three large fries with ketchup, a crispy chicken sandwich, a chicken sandwich, a large cola and a caramel frappe.

Gilbert Postelle's execution the last before trial over Oklahoma's execution procedure

A trial over the state's lethal injection procedure begins Feb. 28 in Oklahoma City federal court. More than two dozen death row inmates are asking a judge to find the state's procedure unconstitutional.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals will schedule executions for those inmates if the legal challenge fails.

Postelle was kicked out of the federal lawsuit because he initially didn't specify an alternative method of execution. He later gave firing squad as an alternative but his choice came too late.

He said at his clemency hearing that he had been high on methamphetamine for days at the time of the shooting and only remembers bits and pieces.

“I do understand that I’m guilty and I accept that,” he said. “My life at that time was filled with chaos and drugs.

"I do regret the pain and the loss that I have caused. ... There’s nothing more that I know to say to you all than I am truly sorry for what I have done to all the families.”

His attorney, Robert Nance, told the parole board he had a poor upbringing that included using meth for the first time in his father's presence at age 12. The attorney also said he suffered from intellectual deficits and mental illness.

One IQ test put his score at 76.

The parole board voted 4-1 to deny his clemency request. The U.S. Supreme Court in January denied his request for an emergency stay.

His daughter, ex-wife, fiancee and other supporters on Feb. 1 called on Gov. Kevin Stitt to delay the execution until after the federal trial. The governor did not.

Two other inmates who had been scheduled for executions were granted stays. A third, Julius Jones, had his sentence commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Oklahoma had problems with executions in 2014 and 2015. One was called off at the last minute when the doctor determined the wrong drug had been delivered.

The first execution in more than six years last October resulted in renewed criticism of the state's procedure. Media witnesses reported John Marion Grant convulsed repeatedly and threw up.

Gilbert Ray Postelle's final moments before execution

During Thursday's execution, Postelle stayed silent and mostly stared straight up. He looked three times at the five media witnesses.

The curtain rose in the execution chamber at 10 a.m., and he was asked if he had any last words. He shook his head.

His eyes were drooping by 10:02 a.m. They were mostly closed a minute later. He was declared unconscious at 10:06 a.m. after a doctor came into the chamber and checked him.

His chest rose and fell slightly for another minute or so. His last movement came at 10:09 a.m. when a finger twitched. Media witness Sean Murphy of The Associated Press reported seeing a tear roll down the side of his face at 10:10 a.m.

In the witness room with reporters from AP, The Oklahoman, two Oklahoma City TV stations and The Frontier was Dr. Ervin Yen.

Yen, a former state senator now running for governor, is being paid by the state to be an expert witness at the upcoming trial.

Postelle chose not to have a spiritual adviser with him in the chamber, and none of his family witnessed his execution.

In Oklahoma City, a handful of death penalty opponents gathered outside the governor's mansion in the bitter cold for a vigil at the time of the execution.

After the execution, the archbishop of Oklahoma City again called for abolishing capital punishment.

"Please pray that our state’s leaders truly embrace being pro-life and end the death penalty in Oklahoma,” Archbishop Paul S. Coakley said.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, February 20, 2022

New Mexico National Guard fill in as substitute teachers

For the last month, dozens of soldiers and airmen and women in the New Mexico National Guard have been deployed to classrooms throughout the state to help with crippling pandemic-related staff shortages, reported The New York Times. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also enlisted civilian state employees — herself included — to volunteer as substitute teachers.

New Mexico has been the only state to deploy National Guard troops in classrooms. But since the fall, when districts around the country began recruiting any qualified adult to take over classrooms temporarily, several other states have turned to uniformed personnel. National Guard members in Massachusetts have driven school buses, and last month, police officers in one city in Oklahoma served as substitutes.

The scenes of uniformed officers in classrooms have solicited mixed reactions. Some teachers see it as a slight against their profession, and a way to avoid tackling longstanding problems like low teacher pay. Other critics have worried that putting more uniformed officers in schools could create anxiety in student populations that have historically had hostile experiences with law enforcement.

But the presence of New Mexico’s state militia — whose members are trained to help with floods, freezes and fires as well as combat missions overseas — has largely been embraced by schools as a complicated but critical step toward recovery. Teachers have expressed gratitude for “extra bodies,” as one put it. Students were mostly unfazed but aware that, as Scarlett Tourville, a third grader in Colonel Corona’s class put it, “This is not normal.”

Superintendents were given the choice of whether to have the guardsmen and women wear regular clothes or duty uniforms; most joined Cindy L. Sims, the superintendent of the Estancia Municipal School District, in choosing the latter. “I wanted the kids to know she was here, to know why she was here,” Dr. Sims said. “I wanted them to see strength and community.”

For Dr. Sims, Colonel Corona’s presence breathed new life into a campus that had been scarred by death. In December alone, Dr. Sims attended seven funerals of people who died from Covid-19. Among them: the husband of a staff member who had contracted the disease at school and took it home, and a father who left behind a first-, seventh- and twelfth-grader. The week before Christmas, the district held a double funeral in the high school gymnasium for a father and grandmother of two students.

To read more CLICK HERE


Saturday, February 19, 2022

Pennsylvania man indicted for torturing an employee in Iraq

A Pennsylvania man was arrested Thursday on charges alleging that he tortured a victim in the Kurdistan region of Iraq in 2015, after a superseding indictment was returned in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, reported Jurist.

The grand jury charged Ross Roggio, 53, of Stroudsburg with directing and participating in the systematic torture of an employee over the course of 39 days with Kurdish soldiers in Iraq. He was charged with suffocating the victim with a belt, threatening to cut off one of the victim’s fingers and directing Kurdish soldiers to inflict severe physical and mental pain and suffering.

According to the superseding indictment, Roggio was managing a project in 2015 to construct a factory to produce weapons in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. When an employee of Roggio raised concerns about the weapons project, Roggio arranged for Kurdish soldiers to abduct the employee to prevent any interference with the project. The employee was then detained at a Kurdish military compound for 39 days, where he was interrogated and tortured by Roggio and Kurdish soldiers.

Roggio and the Roggio Consulting Company LLC were also charged in a 37 count-indictment in 2018 for illegally exporting firearms parts and tools from the US to Iraq as a part of Roggio’s weapons project. The superseding indictment adds torture charges and conspiracy to commit torture to these previous charges.

In response to the indictment and arrest, Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division said, “The heinous acts of violence that Ross Roggio directed and inflicted upon the victim were blatant human rights violations that will not be tolerated.” Special Agent in Charge Jacqueline Maguire of the FBI’s Philadelphia Field Office added, “Whether in the United States or on foreign soil, heinous acts like torture violate our laws.”

If convicted, Roggio faces a maximum 20-year sentence for each torture charge and a maximum total statutory penalty of 705 years in prison for the additional 37 counts. A federal district court judge will determine his sentence.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, February 18, 2022

DOJ sues Missouri over 'far-reaching' gun law

The Justice Department is suing Missouri over the state’s far-reaching gun law, which discourages local officials from enforcing federal firearms measures, reported The New York Times.

The law, known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, is among the most severe state gun-rights bills in recent years. At least eight other states, including West Virginia, have recently passed similar measures, but Missouri’s has by far the sharpest teeth: A provision allows citizens to sue any local police agency for $50,000 for every incident in which they can prove that their right to bear firearms was violated, provided they were not flouting state law.

The department argued that the Missouri law, rammed through the state’s Republican-led legislature last spring, violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which prohibits states from overriding federal statute.

“This act impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement after the suit was filed in Kansas City federal court. “The United States will work to ensure that our state and local law enforcement partners are not penalized for doing their jobs to keep our communities safe.”

Biden administration officials had threatened to file the lawsuit for months. They first outlined their stance in support of a state case brought last year by local officials in the St. Louis area who claimed that the law hindered them from addressing the recent spike in gun violence.

The Missouri law, Justice Department lawyers said in the complaint, has already “had a harmful impact on public safety efforts within the state” by prompting local and state officials to withdraw from state-federal task forces and sever their connections to vital crime and ballistics databases maintained by federal agencies.

The suit came two days after lawyers in the Missouri case began wrapping up their closing arguments before the state Supreme Court, and Republicans were quick to suggest the Justice Department’s suit was intended to pre-empt a possible loss in the state court.

“After their disastrous arguments in the Missouri Supreme Court last week, the Biden Department of Justice has now filed yet another partisan lawsuit that seeks to attack Missourians’ Second Amendment rights,” said Attorney General Eric Schmitt of Missouri, a Republican who supported passage of the law.

“Make no mistake, the law is on our side in this case, and I intend to beat the Biden administration in court,” added Mr. Schmitt, who recently joined a crowded field of conservatives running for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by the longtime senator Roy Blunt.

Editors’ Picks

But the measure has drawn sharp criticism from many law enforcement officials of all political stripes — including Second Amendment purists, who say it endangers public safety.

“It’s just a terribly written law,” Sheriff Brad Cole, a Republican from Christian County in the rural Ozarks region of the state, said last year, echoing the sentiments of other local officials.

In an affidavit filed in the state case in August, the special agent in charge of the Kansas City field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, reported that nearly a quarter of state and local enforcement officials who worked directly with the agency — 12 of 53 officers — had withdrawn from joint collaborations.

In addition, state and local agencies have begun to restrict federal access to investigative resources they have historically shared, including the Missouri Information Analysis Center, a state crime database, and the Kansas City Police Department’s records system, he said.

The bill’s supporters have argued that the new law is constitutional and does not prohibit federal agents from operating in Missouri. They have argued it only blocks state and local law enforcement officials from working on such cases without explicit proof that their actions will not contribute to the confiscation of guns from law-abiding citizens.

Gov. Mike Parson, a former sheriff, has suggested that the legislature should revisit the law to address the objections of law enforcement officials.

The Justice Department said it had filed the suit to assert a larger constitutional principle.

“A state cannot simply declare federal laws invalid,” said Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Thiel College-Death Penalty

 Death Penalty-Comment No. 2

Should combat induced PTSD be considered mitigation during the penalty phase of a death penalty trial or should it be a disqualification from pursuing the death penalty? What is the difference between the two?

Father and Son Charged With Unlawful Possession of More Than a Dozen Machine Guns and Nearly as Many Silencers

United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced in a press release that Joseph Raymond Berger, 67, and Joseph Paul Berger, 32, of Bethlehem, PA, were arrested and charged by Indictment this week with multiple firearms offenses including possessing machine guns, possessing non-registered firearms, and possessing non-registered silencers. 

The Indictment alleges that the defendants illegally possessed 13 fully automatic machine guns and 12 firearms silencers. According to court documents, law enforcement agents with Customs and Border Protection intercepted three firearms silencers that were illegally imported into the United States in packages addressed to the defendants at their shared residence. Investigators then obtained a search warrant for the home and recovered from the basement the 12 firearms suppressors/silencers and 13 fully automatic machine guns that are listed in the Indictment. The machine guns included 11 rifles and 2 submachine guns.

According to court documents, Investigators also uncovered evidence that the firearms found in the Berger home were originally sold and purchased as semi-automatic firearms, which were then manually converted into unregistered, fully automatic machine guns.

“The defendants allegedly possessed a stockpile of unregistered fully-automatic machine guns and silencers in violation of the National Firearms Act,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “These weapons are extremely dangerous, which is why there are laws regulating their possession. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to remove dangerous weapons from our District.”

“As the indictment alleges, possession of illegal firearms like these, threatens the safety of the general public, especially when in the wrong hands,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. “I would like to thank our local, state and federal partners for their contributions in this investigation.”  

“This father-and-son duo possessed a small artillery of firearms in their home, including more than a dozen machine guns and silencers. This type of fire-power is incredibly dangerous if in the wrong hands,” said William S. Walker, Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI Philadelphia. “HSI Philadelphia was pleased to work alongside our partners on this important investigation to ensure the defendants are held accountable for their crimes and not able to terrorize this community or any other.”

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 30 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, a $270,000 fine, and a $300 special assessment.

The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from Customs and Border Protection and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

DNA from rape kit used to prosecute victim for separate crime

 San Francisco police used DNA collected as part of a rape exam to link a woman to a crime, possibly violating her constitutional rights, the city’s district attorney alleged, according to The Guardian.

The department’s crime lab entered the DNA profiles of potentially thousands of sexual assault victims over “many years” to a database that is used to identify suspects, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. District attorney Chesa Boudin, who said his office first learned of the practice last week, told the newspaper such use of victims’ DNA could violate the California’s Victims’ Bill of Rights as well as constitutional laws related to unreasonable searches and seizures.

The woman’s DNA, which was collected in a rape exam as part of a domestic violence and sexual abuse case several years ago, was used to link her to a felony property crime in the city. Police identified her in the crime based on evidence from the rape exam, Boudin said.

The district attorney expressed concerns the practice would deter victims of sexual assault, which is widely underreported in the US, from coming forward.

“Law enforcement retaining and using DNA collected from survivors’ sexual assault exams to incriminate them hurts survivors,” Boudin said on Twitter. “Public safety demands that we support sexual assault survivors and end any practices that dissuade them from coming forward.”

Bill Scott, the San Francisco police chief, told the Chronicle the woman could have been identified in the property crime via DNA found in a different database, rather than a profile collected from a rape exam. Scott also said the department “would thoroughly review the matter” and report back to him and the district attorney’s office.

State senator Scott Wiener, who represents the city, said lawmakers were seeking to determine whether a change in state law was needed to prevent the practice. “Getting a rape kit can be re-traumatizing. Having that DNA placed in a database for future use creates yet another incentive not to do it. It’s unacceptable,” he said on Twitter.

To read more CLICK HERE