Saturday, April 30, 2022

CrimeCon 2022 is Live in Las Vegas

CrimeCon is an immersive, weekend-long event dedicated to all things true crime and mystery.

From the latest cases to the latest scientific techniques. From binge-worthy TV shows and docs to the top podcasters and creators in the world. And from deep-dives into niche topics to big ballroom events with personalities you watch every week—CrimeCon delivers it all.

Made by fans, for fans, CrimeCon's mission is to bring together the true crime community for a weekend filled with education, understanding, advocacy and lots of fun.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Champion Book Review: Death on the Doorstep & other stories: A trial lawyer's memoir

Death on the Doorstep & other stories:
A trial lawyer’s memoir
Edward Z. Menkin
Pages 238
Champion Magazine Book Review

Reviewed by Matthew T. Mangino

            Dashiell Hammett had Sam Spade; Raymond Chandler had Phillip Marlow; Ross Macdonald had Lew Archer—Edward Z. Menkin has himself.

            After more than 40 years practicing criminal defense in Syracuse, New York, Menkin has self-published his memoir, “Death on the Doorstep & other stories: A trial lawyer’s memoir.”

            With four decades of experience as a criminal trial attorney, Menkin has a lot to draw on. Menkin also has a PhD in English Literature and has used that training to weave an interesting conglomeration of war stories into and entertaining read.

            The reason I bring up Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald is that, at times, Menkin’s writing has the gritty, smoky, alcohol drenched feel of noir fiction.

            Very early on Menkin hits his readers with “Murder and I have had more than just a passing acquaintance over the years.”  He describes an armed man, high on PCP, wondering the streets as “not selling subscriptions to Better Homes and Garden.”  Menkin quipped, after a “guy and his wife” were arrested for shooting an assailant with his own gun in self-defense, “I must have missed that extra credit class in law school which taught Advance Prosecutorial Thinking.”

            Menkin’s style holds nothing back and he is not ashamed to admit it.  He starts off his memior with “I’m an egoist and I know it.” Menkin shares some of his more entertaining cases with his readers. In all there are 11 stories, most of them a few pages.  The two marquis stories, “Death on the Doorstep” and “Senor Sal’s turn in the barrel” are considerably longer, and make up a majority of the storytelling.

            The author did not shy away from what most practicing attorneys would consider taboo—taking on the court.  He described a judge he was practicing in front of as “He was a smart guy, the smartest judge around, all you had to do was ask him.” This is from a guy who tells his readers very early on, “I’m in love with myself. Always have been.”

            He displays that affection when he tells the story of a judge who attended a presentation by Menkin and said the quote Menkin used was “great.”  He asked Menkin “Who said that?” Menkin replied, “I did.”

            With all his bluster Menkin could also show humility.  In “Death on the Doorstep” Menkin writes in great detail about a case he took on as co-counsel with no fee.  Menkin concludes with, “I’d like to tell you . . .” that he did something really cutting edge to convince the jury, conducted some dramatic cross-examination or presented a mesmerizing closing argument. Instead, he candidly admits, “I could have read the Betty Crocker recipe for orange-glazed chicken with broccoli and mashed potatoes and the jury would have come to the same conclusion.”  Raymond Chandler would have loved that line.

            Criminal defense attorneys need to have a certain swagger, they need to believe in themselves and they need to believe in their clients.  Menkin understands that balance between ego and humility.  Above all, trial attorneys need to be storytellers and Menkin excels at storytelling.

            Menkin’s translation of complicated legal strategy into easy-to-understand terms, often in a salty way, is compelling.   He suggests that jury selection is not just important, “it was the whole case.” Then in his Hammettesque style he describes his ideal juror as a person “of ample girth, comfortable shoes, a sense of humor, and teenage daughters at home.”

            If you’re a fan of courtroom war stories or noir detective fiction “Death on the Doorstep & other stories” is the book for you. 

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


Thursday, April 28, 2022

TCR: Defending the Presumption of Innocence

Matthew T. Mangino
The Crime Report
April 28, 2022

In a rare bipartisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month overwhelmingly agreed to stop the unconscionable practice of enhancing a federal offender’s sentence based on conduct for which the offender was previously acquitted.

The House voted by a margin of 405 to 12 for the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021, which would end the current practice of federal judges considering, for purposes of enhancing a defendant’s sentence, conduct for which a jury found the defendant not guilty.

The Supreme Court has called the right to a jury trial one of the foundations of American law. There are two principles that are fundamental in American jurisprudence.  First, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty; and second, the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The presumption of innocence is not guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. However, through laws and court decisions it has been recognized as one of the most basic requirements of a fair trial.

On the other hand, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the accused against conviction “except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged.”

Jurors are instructed before deliberations about the government’s burden of proof.

The instructions normally include some variation of the following, “It is not required that the government prove guilt beyond all possible doubt.”  The test is one of reasonable doubt.  A reasonable doubt is a doubt based on reason and common sense—the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a heavy burden, and it should be.

As English jurist William Blackstone famously wrote in his 18th century Commentaries, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

However, on a federal level, once a defendant has been convicted by a jury, sentencing is generally a matter within the province of the judiciary. As a result, “beyond a reasonable doubt” flies out the window when it comes to sentencing.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that acquitted conduct may be considered by a judge for sentencing.

As the practice exists today, the defendant was accused of a crime.  Twelve jurors found the defendant not guilty, but at a subsequent proceeding the acquitted conduct can be used to enhance the defendant’s sentence on an unrelated matter.

In 2020, a former federal judge and a group of law professors suggested, in a friend of the court brief, that a judge considering acquitted conduct results in “judicial nullification of juries.”

The scholars went on to argue, “Enhancing a defendant’s sentence based on acquitted conduct is not only something that the jury’s verdict ‘failed to authorize,’ it relies upon ‘facts of which the jury expressly disapproved.’”

In 2014, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas and—an unlikely ally— Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote in a dissenting opinion opposing the Court’s refusal to hear a case about acquitted conduct, this Court must “[P]ut an end to the unbroken string of cases disregarding the Sixth Amendment.”

In a press release supporting Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act, co-sponsors  Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), and Rep. Steve Cohen D-TN), said when the bill was sent from the Judiciary Committee to the full house, “The right of criminal defendants to be judged by a jury of their peers is a foundational principle of the Constitution.”

They continued: “The current practice of allowing federal judges to sentence defendants based on conduct for which they were acquitted by a jury is not right and is not fair.”

Last summer, the Senate version of the House bill, Bill 601, Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act, co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The full U.S. Senate needs to act quickly to correct this Constitutional inequity and send the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act to the President for his signature.

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 read more CLICK HERE 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Pennsylvania's anything but 'compassionate' release from prison

“The statute is drafted so narrowly that it forces you to make decisions like forgoing lifesaving treatment in order to get even the possibility of medical transfer,” 

If Bradford Gamble wanted to leave state prison, he had to decide to die, reported Spotlight PA.

He found out about his late-stage cancer diagnosis unceremoniously: A guard dropped a piece of paper into his cell without a word. After months of pain, confusion, and waiting he had answers: metastatic colon cancer that had already spread to his liver.

Gamble spent his entire adult life inside the walls of Pennsylvania state prisons. He was sentenced in 1976 for a murder he committed when he was 19 years old, an action he’s come to deeply regret.

His cancer diagnosis at age 65 gave him an opportunity to use a little-known Pennsylvania law that allows terminally ill people to leave prison, but only if they have less than a year to live. For people serving life, it’s one of the only ways out.

So Gamble had a decision to make: get treatment to prolong his life and stay in prison, or come home for good and die.

He chose to die. He has six months to a year left to live, he told Spotlight PA during an interview.

“I’m not even concerned about the time because God, you know, got his hands in that,” he said. “I’m here, and we really need help. … We need somebody to speak up for us.”

In 2018, former President Donald Trump signed a law expanding the number of people who qualify for release from federal prisons due to age, illness, or other extraordinary circumstances.

Many states have their own versions of “compassionate release” laws that allow older people and those with serious medical issues to leave prison for better care. But in Pennsylvania, the law is so narrowly written it creates a life-or-death decision for people like Gamble.

The statute, established in 2009, allows older and sick people to transfer from prison to a hospital or long-term care facility if they have less than a year to live, or to a hospice if they are terminally ill and unable to walk. If the person gets better, the Department of Corrections or a state prosecutor can ask a court to send them back to prison.

“The statute is drafted so narrowly that it forces you to make decisions like forgoing lifesaving treatment in order to get even the possibility of medical transfer,” said Rupalee Rashatwar, an attorney with the Abolitionist Law Project, a public interest law firm that represented Gamble in his transfer petition.

Gamble is one of only 33 people who have successfully petitioned to leave prison in the past 13 years because of illness. Two more petitioners have been successful since Spotlight PA investigated the law in March.

Gamble didn’t know about the process until he met an incarcerated activist, Bryant Arroyo, who helped him scour the prison law library for any means of getting out. They called dozens of state lawmakers, attorneys, and activists on the outside before discovering the compassionate release statute.

“He was so adamant about not dying here under these particular circumstances that he was willing to do exactly what he needed to do in order to try to obtain his release,” Arroyo said over the phone. “And I told him that there was no guarantee.”

Rashatwar filed Gamble’s petition in February. He left the state prison in Coal Township nearly three weeks later.

Bradford Gamble now lives with his nephew in West Philadelphia. During the interview, he sat under a wall of art that spelled out “HOME,” surrounded by photos of family that grew up without him.

A shirt Gamble designed hangs next to him. It features an image of Arroyo, standing with a book and smiling, wreathed by the words “Fight for Justice” and “One Heartbeat.” Under the text, the shirt also displays the bill number for legislation that would replace the current compassionate release law and establish more flexible parole opportunities based on age or illness.

“I came up with that because it’s many men and women, but we all had the same heartbeat as far as getting home to our loved ones,” Gamble said.

To read more CLICK HERE


Sunday, April 24, 2022

Increase in gun violence is concentrated in geographic areas within cities

DW Rowland and Hanna Love write for The Brookings Institution:

The rise in gun homicides in the United States is having reverberating political ramifications at the federalstate, and local levels, with many elected officials falling back into “tough on crime” policies to curb the violence. This punitive turn can be seen in President Joe Biden’s proposed federal budget, in which he calls for “more police officers on the beat” and allocates an additional $30 billion for state and local governments to support law enforcement. Many local leaders are mirroring this approach, centering their gun violence prevention strategies on increasing funding for police and rolling back criminal justice reforms.  

What these enforcement-based approaches fail to recognize is that the recent rise in homicides is more nuanced than it appears. Rather than a widespread dispersal of gun violence within cities, the increases in gun homicides are largely concentrated in disinvested and structurally disadvantaged neighborhoods that had high rates of gun violence to begin with. This geographic concentration is a persistent challenge, not a new one—and it requires targeted solutions to improve outcomes in disinvested places rather than reverting to the old “tough on crime” playbook. 

This piece takes a deeper look at patterns of gun violence in four cities—Chicago; Nashville, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Baltimore—and finds that each city’s gun homicide increases were driven predominantly by increases in neighborhoods where gun violence has long been a persistent fixture of daily life, alongside systemic disinvestment, segregation, and economic inequality. These patterns point to the longer-term need to address the place-based factors that influence violence and invest in the critical community infrastructure that has not only been proven to make communities safer, but can also help them thrive.  

National data doesn’t tell the full story about the increase in gun homicides  

Between 2019 and 2020, a very specific phenomenon occurred. While homicides rose nearly 30% (driven by gun homicides), overall crime rates declined by 5%. This divergence matters, as experts contend, because homicides and crime usually rise or decline together and, importantly, homicides require different kinds of interventions than other crimes. It is therefore not only incorrect to say we’re in a “crime wave,” but it also obscures the specific challenge at hand: gun homicides.   

Moreover, unlike the last major uptick of homicides in 2015 (which was heavily concentrated in a small set of big cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.), this rise is more widespread, affecting small and large cities and blue and red cities and states alike. The seemingly dispersed nature of this rise is fueling fear nationwide, with as many as eight in 10 Americans saying crime is a major problem, ranking it ahead of health care and poverty.  

To better understand patterns of rising gun homicides and who this rise primarily impacts, as well as to suggest potential solutions, we selected four cities with varying population sizes, demographics, and murder rates. We then plotted the locations of all gun homicides on a map showing the percentage of households in poverty at the block group level, using data from the 2019 American Community Survey five-year estimates.  

Recent increases in gun homicides are highly localized in disinvested areas—as are their cumulative impacts 

When we looked more granularly at gun homicides within these cities, we found that the burden of gun violence is unequally shared. Some communities are relatively untouched, while others live under the threat of gun violence on a regular basis, alongside systemic disinvestment, segregation, and economic inequity. Notably, poverty alone was not a predictive factor for high rates of gun homicides, but rather the intersection between poverty, racial segregation, and systemic disinvestment

In Chicago, for instance, gun homicides in 2019 and 2020 were concentrated in neighborhoods far from the city center that have long suffered from severe disinvestment as a result of white flight, and are now centers of concentrated poverty with predominantly Black residents. As Figure 1 shows, these include neighborhoods in the West Side (including Humboldt Park, Austin, West and East Garfield Park, and North Lawndale areas) along with the South and Southwest Sides. So as Chicago’s murder rate increased by 53% from 2019 to 2020 (from 18.9 homicides per 100,000 residents to 28.9), residents in disinvested areas bore the brunt of this burden, while more affluent areas had near-record low levels of murder

Similar trends emerged in Kansas City, which saw its murder rate increase 16% from 2019 to 2020. Our analysis (Figure 2) found that in both years, gun homicides were concentrated in neighborhoods with high levels of concentrated poverty and a history of racist housing policies just east of downtown (Parkview and Lykins), along with a strip of relatively high-poverty neighborhoods (particularly Oak Park and Swope Park) along the US-71 freeway south of downtown. 

local analysis by the Missouri Independent found a correlation between high rates of gun violence in these neighborhoods and higher than average eviction rates, which they contend contributed to the increase in murder rates, alongside economic injustice and lack of access to critical community amenities such as food and quality education. As in Chicago, Kansas City had a high murder rate in 2020—30.9 homicides per 100,000 residents—but more affluent areas within the city were largely untouched by gun homicides.  

Baltimore, a city with historically high rates of gun violence, saw its murder rate decline by 3% between 2019 and 2020, from 58.8 homicides per 100,000 residents to 57.3. It was one of 10 majority-Black cities that saw violent crime decline during that period. Even with this decline, however, the pattern of gun violence concentrating in historically disinvested communities holds. 

Homicides in both years were most concentrated on the city’s West Side, along the Fulton Avenue corridor—one of the city’s poorest areas, which has been impacted by segregation and systemic disinvestment. Rates were also generally high in other pockets of poverty, such as north of Patterson Park on the East Side, Central Park Heights on the West Side, and the Winston-Govans neighborhood on the city’s northern edge. These areas map on to the city’s well-known “Black Butterfly” of low-income, highly segregated majority-Black neighborhoods on the East and West sides. 

Nashville saw a 36% increase in its murder rate, from 12.5 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2019 to 16.5 in 2020. Our analysis (Figure 4) found that the highest concentrations of gun violence in both years were in high-poverty areas just outside the city’s downtown core: North Nashville and the East Bank, which was the heart of Black Nashville before urban renewal and freeway construction destroyed it. In contrast to these highly segregated neighborhoods with generational poverty, gun homicides are not elevated in the Nolensville Pike neighborhood—which has a high poverty rate but much more economic and racial diversity, with a large population of middle-class immigrants. These trends reflect the enduring relationship between racial segregation and higher rates of violence

To combat gun violence, invest in the community infrastructure that keeps neighborhoods safe 

Even amid yearly fluctuations in crime rates, the intersection between gun violence and systemic disinvestment is clear and persistent. So too is the status quo governmental response of relying on policing to respond to it; as Georgetown University law professor and author Sheryll Cashin aptly put it: “Government does overinvest in Black neighborhoods in one area: punitive practices such as policing, law enforcement and incarceration.”  

These reactive approaches for policing the symptoms of segregation and disinvestment distract from the deeply rooted need to invest in the community infrastructure that keeps neighborhoods safe, such as quality housing, youth workforce development and employment programs, green space, and civic and community-based organizations. Luckily, the influx of federal resources flowing into communities from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act offers an unprecedent opportunity to properly invest in disinvested communities and advance the community-based safety alternatives proven to promote a more holistic, life-affirming vision of safety. 

To read more CLICK HERE 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

SCOTUS to decide Miranda warnings case

 Casey McGowan of Vermont Law School writes in Juris:

The US Supreme Court Wednesday heard an oral arguments for Vega v. Tekoh. The case will determine whether a person can seek civil relief when an officer fails to provide them with their Miranda rights, legal protections for potential criminal defendants against self-incrimination.

Terence Tekoh was employed as nursing assistant at a Los Angeles medical center when he was accused of sexually assaulting a heavily sedated patient. The allegations were reported and  Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Deputy Carlos Vega went to the hospital where he questioned Tekoh. After about an hour of questioning Vega obtained a handwritten confession of the assault from Tekoh. Tekoh claims the confession was obtained without Vega providing him with his Miranda rights. 

At trial, Tekoh’s motion to remove the confession from evidence was denied. When that trial ended in mistrial, there was a second trial  where the government, tried to introduce Tekoh’s confession again. The jury acquitted Tekoh in the second trial. Following his acquittal, Tekoh sued Vega, Vega’s supervisor, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and the County of Los Angeles for damages. During that case the jury ruled  in favor of Vega and the other defendants. Tekoh appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which overruled the jury’s verdict and reversed the district court’s ruling in favor of Tekoh.

During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Tekoh’s attorney Paul Hoffman claimed Tekoh’s confession was obtained as a result of being placed in a closed room for an hour, berated, and threatened with deportation while Vega had his hand on a gun. Tekoh seeks to hold Vega civilly liable for his failure to provide Tekoh with his Miranda rights. 

However Vega’s attorney Roman Martinez acknowledged that Miranda rights are constitutionally protected, but not a Fifth Amendment right. Martinez reasoned that  Dickerson v. United States gave Miranda v. Arizona constitutional status, but did not create a Fifth Amendment right.

During their lines of questioning, Supreme Court justices challenged both parties’ claims. Justice Kagan warned that the court should be careful of limiting the Dickerson decision in the way that Martinez construed it. Kagan warned that Martinez’s construction of Dickerson may undermine it and unsettle people’s understanding of the criminal justice system in as well as the court system’s legitimacy. Justice Barrett, on the other hand, said when Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion in Dickerson, he  did not say Miranda warnings were a constitutional right. Barrett said, “It seemed very carefully worded to say ‘constitutional rule’ or ‘constitutionally required.’” Chief Justice Roberts said Rehnquist chose his words carefully and only addressed the constitutional underpinnings and constitutional basis of Miranda.

At the close of oral arguments, Hoffman said: “[Tekoh’s] life was destroyed by these actions. He gets acquitted. When the full story comes out, he is contending that the officer set him up for this and basically set up the prosecutor and court, too. What remedy does he have?”

The court’s decision on the case is not expected until June 2022.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, April 22, 2022

Mangino discuses dropped charges in Morphew case with Nancy Grace

Listen to my interview on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace about the unexpected withdraw of Barry Morphew's murder charge on the eve of trial.

To listen CLICK HERE

Texas executes oldest member of death row, Tennessee postpones its execution

The 4th Execution of 2022

Texas executed its oldest death row inmate by lethal injection, shortly after the governor of Tennessee granted a temporary reprieve in what would have been the state's first execution since the pandemic began, reported CNN.

Carl Wayne Buntion, 78, was executed at 6:39 p.m. CT on April 21, 2022, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Buntion, who was the first inmate in Texas to be executed this year, was put on death row after being convicted of fatally shooting 37-year-old Houston police motorcycle officer James Irby after a traffic stop in 1990, according to the Texas Department of Corrections.

In June 1990, Buntion and John Killingsworth were pulled over by Irby for a traffic violation, documents show. Buntion shot the 19-year veteran Houston officer once in the head and then shot him twice more in the back as he lay on the ground.

Buntion, a former auto mechanic, was captured inside a nearby warehouse after firing at three additional people, including two witnesses, while fleeing on foot, according to state documents. Buntion, who had an extensive criminal history, had been on parole for about six weeks when he killed Irby, the documents show.

Killingsworth was not charged in connection with the crime, according to documents.

A spiritual advisor was present at Buntion's execution, nearly two months after the US Supreme Court ruled that the death row inmate could have his spiritual adviser pray aloud and "lay hands" on him during his execution.

The ruling relates not to Buntion but to a different death row inmate, John Henry Ramirez, and establishes new guidelines that will govern similar requests in other prisons across the country. The court agreed to block the execution of Ramirez in 2021 while the justices considered his requests concerning his pastor.

At the time, policy in Texas allowed a pastor in the death chamber, but the pastor could not speak up or physically touch the inmate.

"This was the first execution in which an inmate's spiritual advisor was allowed to touch and pray during the execution, and there were no issues that took place with that," said Jason Clark, chief of staff for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee granted a temporary reprieve in the execution of Oscar Franklin Smith due to an "oversight in preparation for lethal injection," he announced just moments before the scheduled 7 p.m. execution.

Lee said in a tweet that the execution would not move forward.

"I am granting a temporary reprieve while we address Tennessee Department of Correction protocol. Further details will be released when available," the tweet said.

Smith, 72, was scheduled to be executed for the 1989 murders of his wife and her two minor children in Nashville. He would have been the first inmate to be executed in the state since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The state has not performed an execution since February 2020, when Nicholas Sutton was put to death by electric chair.

Earlier this week, Lee said he would not intervene and grant clemency to Smith. The state's Court of Criminal Appeals last week denied Smith's motion to reopen his case and his motion to have a DNA analysis review of the case. On Monday, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied hearing his appeal.

CNN has reached out to the governor's office, the department of corrections and Smith's attorney for more information.

The pandemic delayed executions in many states, including Tennessee, though annual execution numbers have been generally decreasing since the early 2000s, according to an analysis from the Death Penalty Information Center.

To read more CLICK HERE


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Thiel College-Death Penalty

Death Penalty Comment No. 6

The neuropsychology issue raised in juvenile death penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court has jumped to non-death penalty cases like juvenile life without parole. Do you think brain development cases will further seep into juvenile criminal jurisprudence?  Explain your position in detail.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Marking the 35th anniversary of one of the Supreme Court’s most egregious missed opportunities

Richard Dieter former Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center writes in the

April 22, 2022 marks the 35th anniversary of one of the Supreme Court’s most egregious missed opportunities. In a 5–4 decision, the Court rejected arguments that Georgia was applying the death penalty in a racially discriminatory manner in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The ruling not only led to the execution of the defendant, Warren McCleskey, but essentially shut the door to all future claims based on a pattern of racial bias in sentencing.

McCleskey had challenged his death sentence by presenting a comprehensive study of 2,500 murder cases in Georgia over a six-year period. Those cases resulted in 128 death sentences. The study sought the reasons why those relatively few cases were chosen out of the huge number that were eligible for the death penalty. The results of that careful research revealed that, when it comes to death sentencing, black lives matter much less than white lives.

The study explored a broad range of factors that might have explained why some defendants were sent to death row while others were spared. Among the variables in the cases that led to death were such appropriate aggravators as the murder of a police officer, murder with kidnapping, and murder by a repeat offender. However, there was one factor in the cases studied that surpassed all three of those in predicting a death sentence: Those who killed a white victim were far more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed a black victim.

The Court held that statistics did not prove that Mr. McCleskey himself was purposefully or unfairly treated. The strong predictive relation between the victim being white and an eventual death sentence was insufficient to convince the Court that an underlying preference was influencing prosecutors or jurors in deciding who should live and who should die. The racial discrepancy was particularly large in cases in the mid-range of severity, where the decision-makers had the most discretion. Of course, proving that a prosecutor deliberately pursued a death sentence because the murder victim was white is extremely difficult, especially since intent may be subconscious. This analysis made it exceedingly difficult that any future challenge to the death penalty based on studies of racial bias in sentencing would succeed.

The detrimental role that race plays in our society has been dramatically displayed in recent years. When it comes to hiring, housing, or being stopped by police, black lives often have mattered less than white lives. Such leanings were not necessarily those of white supremacists but rather of ordinary citizens at every level. Few would admit to such bias, but it existed nevertheless.

Justice Lewis Powell wrote the majority opinion in McCleskey. After retiring from the Court, he was asked if there were any case that he wished he had decided differently. His reply was “McCleskey v. Kemp.”

Justice William Brennan wrote the leading dissent. His explanation of the case in personal terms bears repeating:

At some point in this case, Warren McCleskey doubtless asked his lawyer whether a jury was likely to sentence him to die. A candid reply to this question would have been disturbing. First, counsel would have to tell McCleskey that few of the details of the crime or (his) past criminal conduct were more important than the fact that his victim was white. Furthermore, counsel would feel bound to tell McCleskey that defendants charged with killing white victims in Georgia are 4.3 times as likely to be sentenced to death as defendants charged with killing blacks.

Brennan concluded with a prophetic warning: “[T]he reverberations of injustice are not…easily confined. ‘The destinies of the two races in this country are indissolubly linked together,’ and the way in which we choose those who will die reveals the depth of moral commitment among the living.”

Since the McCleskey decision, there have been 1,473 executions; 78% of the underlying cases involved murders with white victims, in a country where the number of black murder victims exceeds the number of white victims. The Court expressed concern that if McCleskey’s sentence was overturned, it could mean that the remaining death sentences in Georgia would also be suspect, and similar studies might even present a challenge to other aspects of the justice system. Brennan described these concerns as a “fear of too much justice.” Although addressing racial bias on a societal level is indeed challenging, solving the problem of a biased system of capital punishment has a ready solution: stopping the death penalty altogether.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Mangino a guest on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace

Listen in as I discuss with Nancy Grace the gruesome murder of Orsolya Gaal  in New York City.

To listen to the program CLICK HERE

Monday, April 18, 2022

No-knock warrants need more judicial scrutiny

 In Louisiana, it took a judge just a few clicks online to give West Baton Rouge Parish deputies the go-ahead to force their way into a motel room without knocking. Within 30 minutes, officers rushed in and fatally shot an unarmed Black man, seizing a little more than 22 grams of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and hydrocodone, reported the Washington Post.

In St. Louis, a judge authorized police to break down the doors of three homes simultaneously without knocking. Officers killed a 63-year-old Black grandfather, and police said they found just over nine grams of heroin, marijuana, fentanyl and hydrocodone in the three homes combined.

In Houston, a judge approved scores of requests for no-knock warrants for officers who relied on unnamed informants. One raid led to a gun battle that left a White man and woman dead and four officers shot, and it failed to turn up the heroin police said they would find. The officer who requested the warrant later admitted he fabricated the confidential informant.

Judges and magistrates are expected to review requests for no-knock warrants — one of the most intrusive and dangerous tactics available to law enforcement — to ensure that citizens are protected from unreasonable searches, as provided in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

But judges generally rely on the word of police officers and rarely question the merits of the requests, offering little resistance when they seek authorization for no-knocks, a Washington Post investigation has found. The searches, which were meant to be used sparingly, have become commonplace for drug squads and SWAT teams.

Criminal justice experts estimate that police carry out tens of thousands of no-knock raids every year nationwide, mostly in drug-related searches. But few agencies monitor their use, making the exact number unknown. None of the 50 state court systems or the District of Columbia reported tracking the use of no-knock warrants. And no federal or state government agencies keep tabs on the number of people killed or wounded in the raids.

“The whole system has devolved into a perfunctory bureaucracy that doesn’t take any care or due diligence for how it’s done,” said Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who has studied no-knock raids for more than three decades. “That wouldn’t be as big of a deal, except that we’re talking about a really extreme policing approach — breaking into people’s homes with a surprise entry with the possibility of finding evidence.”

The raids became a flash point two years ago when Louisville police killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor inside her apartment as part of a drug investigation involving an ex-boyfriend who didn’t live there. In that case, an officer obtained no-knock warrants for Taylor’s home and four other residences. Police later said they knocked and announced themselves at Taylor’s home, a claim that has been disputed. In a no-knock raid in February, Minneapolis police shot and killed 22-year-old Amir Locke. Body-camera footage shows Locke, who was not the target of the investigation, wrapped in a blanket on a couch with a gun in his hand when police shot him.

Police carrying out 21 no-knock warrants have killed at least 22 people across the country since 2015, according to a review of The Post’s database of fatal shootings by police and hundreds of court records. In one case, an officer was also killed.

Of the 22 people fatally shot during no-knock raids since 2015, 13 were Black or Hispanic. Experts have suggested that high-risk searches disproportionately target Black and Hispanic homes.

In the vast majority of the cases, police said they were searching for illegal drugs and expected the subjects to be armed.

In all but two of these raids, police claimed they encountered someone who had a weapon — in most cases a gun. In at least five raids, police killed someone who was not a focus of the warrant, according to court records and media reports.

The Post obtained documents listing evidence for 13 of the fatal raids: In 12, officers recovered less than three pounds of drugs combined — including marijuana, mushrooms and heroin. Only one raid recovered more: In 2018 in Fort Worth, officers found more than a pound of marijuana, three pounds of mushrooms and more than 16 pounds of a prescription allergy medicine. Officials did not respond to a request for or declined to provide a list quantifying the drugs seized in the other eight raids.

The full tally of fatalities from no-knock warrants is unknown: The Post database includes at least 24 other searches that ended in fatal shootings of civilians, but court officials and police departments were unable or declined to provide records clarifying whether the raids involved no-knock warrants. In 2017, the New York Times examined SWAT team raids and found that at least 81 civilians and 13 officers had died from 2010 through 2016 in searches that involved both no-knock warrants and knock-and-announce warrants.

In recent years, it has become quicker and easier for judges to approve no-knock warrants, bypassing the normal process that usually involves an officer meeting with a judge in person. Software, adopted by hundreds of law enforcement agencies, allows judges to remotely approve requests using computers, cellphones or tablets.

The Post reviewed more than 2,500 warrants in 30 states, examined court and police records, and interviewed dozens of judges, police officials, lawmakers, witnesses and relatives of people who died in raids.

Officers obtaining typical search warrants are required to show a judge they have probable cause, listing the location to be searched and the contraband or evidence they expect to find. They’re also supposed to “knock and announce” before entering homes.

But with a no-knock warrant, police can force their way into a home without warning. The requirements for no-knock warrants may vary by jurisdiction, but are generally guided by a 1997 Supreme Court opinion involving a forced-entry search by police. The court ruled that police seeking to conduct these searches must have a “reasonable suspicion” why knocking and announcing could be dangerous or result in the destruction of evidence. Police are generally expected to make this argument to judges when seeking approval for a no-knock warrant.

“This showing is not high, but the police should be required to make it whenever the reasonableness of a no-knock entry is challenged,” the justice wrote.

Training and educational requirements for judges vary state to state. In some cases, judges or magistrates without law degrees or extensive training are tasked with approving no-knocks.

“It’s set up so that police departments can do whatever they want with regards to no-knocks,” Kraska said.

Across the country, 29 states and 21 cities have approved legislation or ordinances restricting the use of no-knocks, according to Campaign Zero, a police reform group. At least 13 other states and nine other cities have recently considered proposals for such restrictions, the group said.

In Maryland, after Montgomery County Police killed a man in a no-knock raid, the council in 2020 imposed limits on such warrants. Police reported that 108 of 140 search warrants executed by the SWAT team in 2019 were no-knocks.

In South Carolina, Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty ordered a temporary ban on no-knocks in 2020 after a survey by the state court system revealed that magistrates routinely issued warrants without questioning police, and that most “do not understand the gravity of no-knock warrants and do not discern the heightened requirements for issuing a no-knock warrant.”

But many judges say that in evaluating the requests for search warrants, they rely on the officers’ claims in the affidavits because they are filed under oath.

Gordon Marcum, a former municipal judge who approved the no-knock warrant for the 2019 deadly raid in Houston, told The Post in an interview that he considered himself the last line of defense against unjustified searches and carefully scrutinized the warrants he handled. But he said it wasn’t his responsibility to spot patterns, including whether officers appeared to be lying on affidavits or whether police failed to locate the guns or drugs they claimed they would find. Though officers typically must file documents with the court detailing what they seized in raids, judges who sign the warrants aren’t required to examine them.

“It wasn’t my job to do that,” Marcum said. “It’s the officer who’s in charge. The police officer, the supervisor, the captain, the department director, and all of them who have access to those things.”

Police defending these warrants note that the vast majority of them lead to no injuries and are likely to have prevented violence and preserved evidence that otherwise would have been destroyed.

Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said there are misconceptions about no-knocks, including that police use them frequently and haphazardly. “In reality, there’s a whole lot of assessment that goes into determining whether a no-knock warrant is going to be executed,” Yoes said.

The raids can be deadly not only for residents, but officers as well.

One Texas man, Marvin Guy, is facing charges, including capital murder, after an officer was killed and three others were shot during a 2014 no-knock raid at his home in Killeen. Guy was sleeping when officers smashed his window and slammed a battering ram into his front door. He said he thought he was being robbed and fired a gun through the broken window. Police had suspected that Guy, who had an extensive criminal history, was selling drugs, but no drugs were found in his home. Police said they found trace amounts of a white powder in his car, records show.

Survivors of raids have said they feared that intruders were breaking into their homes. In Louisville, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend said he fired at police because he didn’t know who was storming the apartment.

Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, said she blames the judge who signed the warrant that led to her daughter’s death as much as she blames the police.

“We know that [police] are not doing the work to get these warrants, that they’re not doing what needs to be done,” she said. “Why would you want to sign your name on that? Why wouldn’t you want to make sure, ‘Let me just take a day or two to make sure you’ve done what you need to.’ … It’s insane, it’s lazy.”

On Feb. 21, 2017, a boom shook Marlon O’Neal from his sleep in his basement bedroom in south St. Louis. Panicked and half-dressed, he told his girlfriend to hide in the closet. She yelled for her 4-year-old son, who was sleeping near the front door.

O’Neal, thinking intruders had broken in, said he crept up the steps and saw red lasers from gun sights aimed at the living room wall. He realized the men, clad in dark clothing, were police. Officers yelled at him to go outside, where police SUVs lined California Avenue.

A SWAT team had already raided his neighbor’s home two doors down. Now, the team of 17 officers converged and headed to a third house next to O’Neal’s home.

Inside was his former father-in-law: 63-year-old Don Clark, known as “Pops.” He was hard of hearing, couldn’t see well and walked with a cane. He slept in a bed near the front door.

Officers smashed a battering ram into Clark’s front door and tossed a flash-bang device inside, according to witness statements and police records. Nicholas Manasco, the first officer in, later told an investigator that Clark shot at him — he said he felt a bullet whiz past him and in the darkness saw someone holding a gun. Manasco shot at Clark, hitting him nine times. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

O’Neal was not arrested or charged in connection with the raid.

The deadly raid was one of many in which judges gave St. Louis police the go-ahead to target multiple homes simultaneously with no-knock warrants.

In the raid on California Avenue, police initially sought to search two addresses; they added Clark’s home two days later, records show. The affidavits were identical for all three homes.

Detective Thomas Strode of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department accused Clark and others of conducting drug sales and storing weapons and narcotics in homes on California Avenue. In his affidavit, Strode said he also did several weeks of surveillance. He reported a controlled drug buy, but it happened five months earlier and about a mile away from California Avenue, according to the affidavit.

Strode noted in his affidavit that some of the residents of the targeted homes had criminal histories: “Since the targets of the investigation are known to be armed narcotic traffickers, many of whom have a violent history, I am requesting no-knock search warrants” for the three homes.

O’Neal, who lived next to Clark, had felony convictions, including unlawful possession of a firearm in 2010. Ben Byas, another neighbor, was on probation for possession with intent to distribute drugs. And Strode said in the affidavit that Clark had arrests for unlawful use of a weapon, felonious restraint and assault. A Post review of local court records showed Clark, who once owned a security company, had no charges or convictions.

On the morning of the raid, Associate Circuit Court Judge Barbara Peebles signed the warrants.

A court spokesman said Peebles determined there was probable cause “based on the information presented under oath.” Peebles, now a judge in the juvenile court, declined to comment further.

From 2016 through 2018, Strode received approval for at least 43 no-knock warrants, according to a Post analysis of records obtained by ArchCity Defenders, a legal advocacy group helping to represent Clark’s family in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the police. Twenty-four of the warrants involved multi-house raids.

In nearly half of those 43 raids for which Strode received approval, officers said they failed to find suspected drugs, according to a review of documents filed in court by police.

Police need a judge’s approval to raid a home or business without warning. These are high-risk searches that require additional scrutiny — but a Post investigation found that judges rarely question the merits of these requests by police. This affidavit from a 2017 raid by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department shows how police obtained no-knock warrants to raid three homes.

Strode did not respond to messages seeking comment. Evita Caldwell, a police spokeswoman, said Strode and Manasco, the officer who fatally shot Clark, no longer work at the St. Louis police department and declined to discuss the terms of their departures. More than five years later, the department and the circuit attorney said they are still investigating the fatal shooting.

Police rely heavily on confidential informants, but experts said they can be unreliable — incentivized to trade questionable information for reduced sentences or other beneficial treatment.

David Moran, a University of Michigan law professor who argued before the Supreme Court in a case about evidence seized during no-knocks, said a raid on one home can easily become a violent confrontation. Carrying out simultaneous no-knock warrants at several homes “just multiplies the risk,” he said.

That risk takes on a new dimension in states with high gun ownership or “stand your ground” laws, including Missouri. In those states, people may legally defend themselves with deadly force if they believe their life is in danger.

Clark had moved into his home a few years earlier and was concerned about crime, his family said.

Sherrie Clark-Torrence, one of Clark’s daughters, said that she doesn’t believe her father used a gun as police claimed, but even if he had, it would have been self-defenseIn the family’s lawsuit, they allege that he was unarmed, that he had no criminal convictions and police lied about surveillance of his home.

“He’s already an elderly man in a bad neighborhood,” she said in an interview. “So if he heard a boom and he grabbed his revolver … to protect himself, wouldn’t that be right?”

The city of St. Louis declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit.

Police said they recovered a .45 caliber Glock handgun, a 9mm Taurus handgun and boxes of ammunition from Clark’s home. A forensics report concluded that one gun had been fired.

Clark’s family disputes that he had any drugs, according to their lawsuit.

At Clark’s home, officers reported finding 8.39 grams of heroin and 0.50 grams of marijuana. They also said they found 20 pills; a lab test determined one to be .005 grams of hydrocodone.

At the home of Ben Byas, police said they recovered 0.1 grams of fentanyl, .08 grams of heroin and fentanyl, and a plastic bag with an unknown white substance.

After the raid, Byas told police he had heroin and cocaine in his home. When a detective asked if he sold them, Byas responded, “No I just pretty much use.” He was arrested, but wasn’t charged.

Police said they seized no drugs at O’Neal’s home. He and his girlfriend claimed officers stole money from a safe in his basement. He questioned whether the raids were worth it.

“You did all these search warrants, and that’s all you found in this house,” he said, referring to Clark’s home. “What about my house? What did you find there? … You know, not nothing.”

On a humid afternoon in July 2019 in Port Allen, La., the River West Narcotics Task Force sent a confidential informant to buy $50 worth of methamphetamine from a suspected drug dealer at the Budget 7 Motel, sandwiched between a gas station and another motel near the Mississippi River.

The quick transaction in room No. 5 was enough evidence for West Baton Rouge sheriff’s Deputy Brett Cavaliere to request a no-knock warrant.

Cavaliere filled out the request in his office, using software called CloudGavel. The affidavit was barely four pages long, mostly filled with Cavaliere’s law enforcement experience and boilerplate language.

He typed in one sentence about the suspect: “Affiant states in the last 72 hours, an informant purchased a quantity of methamphetamine during a controlled operation from a Black male at the Budget 7 Motel Room #5.” He didn’t include the suspect’s name, whether he had a gun or who else was in the room.

At 6:06 p.m., with the click of a button, the deputy sent the request to Tonya Lurry, a West Baton Rouge judge, for approval: “Affiant has requested and cause has been shown for the authorization of a ‘NO KNOCK’ entry or entry without announcement to search the aforesaid premises,” it stated.

At 6:17 p.m., Lurry electronically signed it, records show. It’s unclear whether Lurry spoke with the deputy or how much time she spent considering the request.

About 6:40 p.m., Cavaliere approached the motel room with Deputy Vance Matranga and two other West Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputies.

Jessica Clouatre told The Post she was on the bed inside, watching a YouTube video. Her 38-year-old fiance, Josef Richardson, had just showered, and she said he opened the door a crack to let out cigarette smoke. The couple was staying at the motel while searching for a new apartment, and had hosted Richardson’s daughters the day before.

He had a criminal record that included felony convictions for resisting arrest and battery of an officer, and he was on parole after pleading guilty in 2017 to possession with intent to sell drugs. He looked tough with tattoos and gold teeth, but his friends and family knew him as a father of three who enjoyed taking his children shopping and to water parks.

Clouatre said she looked up as deputies rushed in and yelled “sheriff’s office!” She said both she and Richardson had their hands up when one deputy bent Richardson’s arm and brought him to the ground. Within seconds, she said, Matranga had shot Richardson in the back of the neck.

The deputies involved in the raid told a state police investigator that there was a struggle between Cavaliere and Richardson. One deputy said he holstered his gun to help Cavaliere, and Matranga said he fired his gun after seeing Richardson pull out a dark object from the waistband of his shorts, according to interviews with investigators.

But Richardson was unarmed: He was holding a bag of drugs, according to an attorney general’s report. Officers arrested Clouatre, and Richardson died at the scene.

Officers said they recovered about 9 grams of methamphetamine, 9 grams of marijuana, 4.4 grams of cocaine and a few pills containing hydrocodone.

“Anybody selling drugs out of the Budget 7 Motel is not a major player,” said Ron Haley, an attorney representing Richardson’s children in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.

The state attorney general ruled the killing was justified. Cavaliere, who is now a lieutenant, did not return requests for comment.

In an interview with The Post, Matranga declined to discuss most details of the case. Matranga, who is now a corporal in the department, also defended Cavaliere, saying he is a “meticulous and thorough” officer. And he said he believed Richardson could have been armed because of his “extensive criminal history.”

Deputies found no weapons in his motel room.

The family questions the basis for the deadly raid.

Lurry, who approved the warrant, was elected as a judge 15 months before Richardson’s shooting after a career as a public defender and prosecutor. She declined repeated requests for comment.

For years, Louisiana has been a leader in “e-warrants,” warrants that are processed electronically on computers, smartphones and other tablets. CloudGavel, the Baton Rouge software company used by the sheriff’s office, said its technology is used in nine states by more than 200 agencies, including police in Austin and New Orleans. The number of all types of warrants processed annually increased from 13,000 to almost 90,000 over the past six years. The company declined to say how many of those were no-knock warrants.

CloudGavel markets its software by emphasizing its efficiency, using the tag line “Serves justice. Saves time.” An information sheet on its website proclaimed: “The one that got away? Not this time. When officers use CloudGavel’s Electronic Warrant Solution, warrant processing can happen up to 90% faster.”

Around the time of Richardson’s death, CloudGavel touted that it took about 27 minutes from warrant submission to approval. Cavaliere and Lurry beat that by 16 minutes.

Casey Roussel, CloudGavel’s president and chief customer officer, said law enforcement likes the technology because it saves time and money. He also said that the software allows courts to gather more data about warrants.

“The technology is not giving them the ability to more easily get no-knock warrants,” he said. “We’re eliminating the drive to and from the judge. At the end of the day, whether it’s a paper warrant or a digital warrant, one hundred percent of the responsibility relies on the judge.”

But some criminal justice advocates worry that judicial scrutiny is being compromised for efficiency, said the Rev. Alexis Anderson, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition. The organization sends volunteers to monitor bail hearings in Baton Rouge.

“While the technology certainly speeds up the process, what gets lost sometimes is the due process in that speed,” she said. “Because we’re assuming, quite frankly, that great thought is given to these warrants … and sometimes that’s not true.”

Richardson’s children, as well as Clouatre, have sued the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office over the raid. That case is pending.

Clouatre is facing felony charges of possession with intent to distribute drugs from that night at the motel. She has pleaded not guilty.

The warrant did not name Clouatre, who said she is haunted by the raid.

“To this day, I cry every day and I’m traumatized,” she said.

Houston Judge Gordon Marcum was watching television at home in his gated community on Jan. 28, 2019, when he learned about a deadly no-knock raid across town. Immediately, he knew that he had signed the search warrant.

Just hours before the raid on a house on Harding Street, Houston police officer Gerald Goines had requested Marcum approve a no-knock warrant, claiming a confidential informant purchased an unspecified quantity of heroin at the house in a low-income, largely Latino neighborhood in southeast Houston. The narcotics officer didn’t list the name of the suspected dealer, information that is not required.

Shortly before 5 p.m., members of Narcotics Squad 15 descended on the home of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, forcing open the front door and fatally shooting their pit bull. Officers shot and killed Tuttle and Nicholas in their living room.

Police claimed that Tuttle was armed with a .357-magnum revolver and shot first. Four officers, including Goines, were shot during the gun battle. One was permanently paralyzed.

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