Sunday, April 30, 2023

U.S. among the worst in industrial world at solving murders

More murders across America are going unsolved, exacerbating the grief of families already reeling and worsening the largely cracked trust between police and the public, especially communities of color most affected by gun violence, reported NPR.

"I haven't had any word," says Mark Legaspi about the murder of his cousin, friend and business partner Artgel Anabo Jr., 39, who was known as Jun. He was shot just outside their popular Filipino fast-food restaurant Lucky Three Seven in East Oakland, Calif., May 18, 2022. "It's still emotional every day coming in here, you know?" Legaspi says nodding toward the street where Jun was murdered.

Oakland detectives released security camera footage and the license plate number of the suspected get-away car. Anabo's family believes the suspect is a man who sold Anabo a truck that turned out to be stolen. Still, there's been no break in the case and no word.

"It's definitely frustrating. Justice hasn't been served," Legaspi says. "I mean it's almost a year. I would like to know something. I don't get no answers," he says noting that he and his family haven't heard from Oakland homicide detectives for months. "You know, if there's anything, you know, even if they didn't do anything, that'd be nice to know. Instead of us hoping."

The U.S. among the worst at solving murders in the industrialized world

Legaspi's frustration and pain are shared by hundreds of families of murder victims in Oakland – and across the country – whose cases remain unsolved.

While the rate at which murders are solved or "cleared" has been declining for decades, it has now dropped to slightly below 50% in 2020 - a new historic low. And several big cities, including Chicago, have seen the number of murder cases resulting in at least one arrest dip into the low to mid-30% range.

"We saw a sharp drop in the national clearance rate in 2020," says Prof. Philip Cook, a public policy researcher and professor emeritus at Duke University and the University of Chicago Urban Labs who has been studying clearance rates for decades. "It reached close to 50% at that time nationwide, which was the lowest ever recorded by the FBI. And it hasn't come up that much since then."

That makes the U.S. among the worst at solving murders in the industrialized world. Germany, for example, consistently clears well over 90% of its murders.

While reasons behind the drop are multi-faceted, Cook and other experts warn that more people getting away with murder in the the U.S. is driving a kind of doom loop of mutual mistrust: low murder clearance rates impede future investigations which in turn potentially drive up killings in some communities where a lack of arrests undermines deterrence and sends a message that the police will not or cannot protect them.

"Communities that are especially impacted by gun violence believe that the police are ineffective or indifferent, and as a result, they're less willing to cooperate and provide information the police need to have successful investigations," says Cook, who has several research articles on the topic coming out.

"It is undermining whatever trust there is in the police. And it's a vicious circle," Cook says.

"I certainly don't believe in anyone getting away with murder"

Oakland, Calif., is a prime example of that vicious circle. The city's per capita homicide rate remains abnormally high and its murder solve rate is among the lowest in the nation, hitting just 36% last year. If you take out the handful of older, "cold" cases that were solved during 2022, the clearance rate in Oakland just 27%, an analysis by the S.F. Chronicle shows.

"Well, I certainly don't believe in anyone getting away with murder. These cases are never closed," says Drennon Lindsey, an Oakland deputy chief who formerly led the department's homicide division. "We never give up, you know. And I also think we can only get better."

Lindsey says the veterans among her 16 detectives are often handing two dozen or more cases at a time, far above the federal recommendation that detectives carry an average of only four to six new homicide cases per year.

In addition, she says, an antiquated case management data system, which the city is working to replace, is another reason behind the painfully low clearance rate. But the biggest one, she says, is too many people are scared to talk with and help the OPD.

"People don't want to cooperate, people don't want to come to court and testify. And they're afraid of retaliation, of being labeled in their communities as a "snitch." And we're often left trying to plea and beg for the community to come forward with information to hold this person accountable for committing murder," she says.

But that mistrust is also bred by the department's chronic dysfunction.

The department remains under federal oversight and has for two decades. In that time the troubled agency has gone through a dozen leaders. And recently veteran Oakland homicide detective Phong Tran was arrested and arraigned after the Alameda County district attorney's office accused him of paying a witness thousands of dollars to lie in a murder case that resulted in two men getting life sentences. Detective Tran faces felony charges of perjury and bribery. Those two murder convictions have been tossed out.

In a statement to NPR, Tran's attorney Andrew M. Ganz called the charges "baseless" and lashed out a District Attorney Pamela Price for treating "murderers like heroes."

Price's office in a statement says it is now reviewing at least 125 murders Tran investigated "to see if we have wrongfully convicted anyone else."

"Lying and manipulating a witness are serious violations of the public trust and a threat to the integrity of the judicial system," Price says. "When the integrity of a conviction is at issue in one case, it raises questions in every other case that the detective has investigated."

The "exceptional means" clause and chronic police staffing affect murder clearance rates

The FBI defines a murder "cleared" if a suspect has been identified and arrested. But a murder can also be declared cleared through what's known as an "exceptional means." For example, if a suspect is dead, can't be extradited or prosecutors refuse to press charges.

So, criminologists note, even some cities now touting modestly improved murder clearance rates, such as Chicago, are really just artificially boosting their clearance numbers through that "exceptional means" clause.

The arrest rate per murder if is often a better indicator of how police departments are actually doing at holding killers accountable. Prof. Cook's research, for example, shows that from 2016 to 2020 the percentage of murders in Chicago with any type of weapon resulting in at least one arrest was just 33%. And in Durham, North Carolina, between 2017 and 2021 just 41% of gun homicide cases resulted in at least one arrest.

Other reasons for the further decline in murder clearance rates, experts say, include chronic police staffing and recruiting problems, and the fact that more murders are committed with firearms, which can result in fewer witnesses and less physical evidence. In addition, judges, prosecutors and juries have higher evidence and procedure standards than in the 1960s when 90-plus% of homicides were listed as solved.

Researchers say key ways cities can to try to stop the downward spiral is simply investing more in homicide investigations: improving crime labs, training, DNA testing, computer modeling systems.

White crosses with the names and ages of the dead grows with every killing

In front yard of Oakland's Saint Columba Catholic Church along bustling San Pablo Ave, a garden of simple, wooden, white crosses with the names and ages of the dead grows with every killing.

Every Jan. 1 "that garden is a garden for about a minute," says Fr. Aidan McAleenan, St Columba's pastor looking at the roughly two dozen crosses already posted in the yard. "And then is just gets grows and grows" all year. "My biggest concern, and I prayed about this, there are about 100 people walking around Oakland now who will not be walking around Oakland at the end of the year," McAleenan says.

Parishioner Rich Laufenberg makes the wooden crosses and dutifully "plants" them every week or two. "I do it as some kind of service work, I hope, and to let people know that we have a major violence problem here in Oakland," he says. Regularly, Laufenberg says when placing the crosses he'll find family or friends of a victim praying or just gazing in stunned silence at the lives cut short

"They'll stop and look and strike up a conversation and they mention not infrequently that the relative whose cross they're looking at, that case, hasn't been solved yet."

At Oakland's Lucky Three Seven Filipino restaurant, owner Mark Legaspi says he doesn't blame Oakland detectives, per se, for not solving his cousin's murder. They're overworked and overwhelmed, he says. But he wants answer. And so does his murdered cousin's son, Kiah, now 12 who was super tight with his dad. Kiah was right next to his dad when the gunman attacked.

"He saw everything. I'm just glad he ran the other way instead of following his dad. You know, because he could have got caught in the line of fire," Legaspi says. "Obviously, as a kid, seeing that, your superhero dad, you know, that will always have problem with you know, like inside," he says.

Anabo's son is doing OK, given the circumstances, he says. He's making the Honor Roll and trying to stay positive. "Just got to keep that love with him every day, you know."

The family plans to honor Anabo with a gathering at the restaurant on the upcoming May 18 anniversary of his murder.

But they'd rather celebrate a break in his case.

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Mangino on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace

Listen to my discussion with Nancy Grace on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace as we discuss murder victim Breanna Wood's mother who was put into a room with boxes of evidence related to her daughter's case, including crime scene photos. For three days, Wood sat on the floor sorting all the interviews, photos, and more.

To listen to the interview CLICK HERE 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Ending Qualified Immunity Act reintroduced in Congress

Excerpts from Christina Carrega piece in Capital B

In civil court, qualified immunity has blocked families and survivors from holding a police officer, who may have skirted criminal charges, financially accountable. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent during a 10-year period to settle civil lawsuits stemming from police violence, The Washington Post reported.

The fight for justice can come in three different forms for families and survivors of police brutality: through criminal court, civil litigation, and demands for systemic overhaul. Some may want all three. Others may feel shortchanged by a monetary payout. And it’s very rare for all three to happen.

In reality, most families and survivors of police brutality cannot afford an attorney’s retainer fee and aren’t on the radar of high-profile civil rights attorneys who can waive their costs. Then there’s a larger bulk of victims of injustice who are left with the pain of losing a loved one, or who live with the trauma of surviving police brutality without any criminal justice or financial recourse.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts announced the reintroduction of the Ending Qualified Immunity Act. The same week, after an Ohio grand jury declined to indict any of the eight Akron police officers who killed Jayland Walker last year, ABC News 5 Cleveland reported that the family will likely file a civil lawsuit near the anniversary of his death in June.

The proposed bill to end qualified immunity aims to eliminate the legal doctrine that was created 55 years ago this month by the U.S. Supreme Court. The bill was first introduced by former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan following the murder of George Floyd. The legal protection is offered to law enforcement on all levels and professions, such as government officials and school administrators, that relieves them of financial responsibility if they are named as a defendant in a lawsuit.

At a press conference last week to reintroduce the bill, Pressley was joined by one of its co-sponsors — U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts — and by Lewis and other mothers whose children have been killed by police.

The first bill received bipartisan support from 65 House Democrats, including Pressley, and one Republican co-sponsor. Once Amash, a former Republican, left office, Pressley picked up the bill and reintroduced it in 2021, but it didn’t receive the same momentum. It was co-sponsored by 41 House Democrats and no Republicans. The latest effort launched with 39 House co-sponsors and three from the Senate, as well as endorsements from dozens of organizations, including Black Lives Matter Grassroots and the Boston Herald.

Eliminating qualified immunity is also a provision under the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that has lingered in Congress since 2021. Getting rid of the legal doctrine has given many Republicans pause to get behind the sweeping police reform package, and a standalone bill is expected to get a similar reception. 

“I truly do look forward to the day where people do not have to weaponize or relive their trauma in order to compel action from their government,” Pressley said during the press conference on Capitol Hill. 

“Stories of harm and abuse by law enforcement are not one-offs, or rare incidents. For the Black community, in particular, these stories are not new,” she said. 

“We want to be very clear that the Ending Qualified Immunity Act is meaningful, and it’s common sense. But it’s not radical. It’s a common sense thing that if you kill someone, if you commit harm, you should be held accountable,” said Melina Abdullah, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Grassroots.

“We cannot and we must not wait in vain for the Supreme Court to fix its own mistake,” Markey said. “There will be no true justice until there is racial justice, and there will be no racial justice until we can end qualified immunity once and for all in the United States of America.” 

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Mangino provides legal analysis for Law and Crime Network

Watch my interview with Michel Bryant on Law and Crime Network discussing the  Letecia Stauch trial in Colorado.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Police are not the appropriate responders to mental health crisis

"Mental illness should not be your ticket to death."  

That is what Caroline Ouko said after watching video footage of her son's death while in police custody. Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old aspiring musician, was reportedly suffering from a mental health crisis when he was placed under an emergency custody order. But like many others before him, Otieno did not receive the appropriate help from the criminal justice system. Instead, that system cost him his life, reported the USA Today. 

There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the events surrounding this tragedy. Nevertheless, it is a stark reminder that there is an urgent need to improve how communities address mental health crises.

Police are not the appropriate responders to every mental health crisis. Law enforcement should be focused on preventing and solving serious crime, and are often not sufficiently trained and equipped to respond to crisis situations involving people suffering a mental health emergency.  

Local policymakers must create an environment that enables better and more comprehensive community mental health services that address mental health needs before they become crises. And when crises do occur, we should have appropriate responses that do not rely solely on law enforcement.  

Each year, 2 million jail bookings involve people with serious mental illness. About 40% of incarcerated people have a history of mental illness. What's more, 63% of those with a history of mental illness never receive treatment while incarcerated.  

Policing the USA:A family asked police to help man struggling with mental illness. Instead, they shot him.

Statute of limitations:How long do you have to report police brutality? Why one year is hardly enough.

Police and the criminal justice system at large have a critical role in ensuring public safety. But they do not have the same knowledge, training and expertise as mental health professionals and should not be the first responders for most situations involving a person experiencing a mental illness crisis.  

According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Crisis Intervention Team Training is a "40-hour curriculum taught over five consecutive days." A week in a classroom is simply not enough to prepare law enforcement for managing a problem as complex as mental illness, especially considering the types of high-adrenaline, and often violent, situations that police officers must deal with on a regular basis. 

Officers need more training so they can better support mental health professionals on calls where their presence may still be required.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Mangino provides legal analysis for Court TV

Watch my segment with host Michael Ayala on Court TV discussing the Colorado trial of Letecia Stauch for the murder of her step-son.

 To watch the segment CLICK HERE

Where the guns are, violence surges

In October, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis proclaimed crime in New York City was “out of control” and blamed it on George Soros, reported Politico. Another Sunshine State politico, former president Donald Trump, offered his native city up as a Democrat-run dystopia, one of those places “where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones.” In May 2022, hours after 19 children were murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott swatted back suggestions that the state could save lives by implementing tougher gun laws by proclaiming “Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis.”

New York City is in a region that is far and away the safest part of the U.S. mainland when it comes to gun violence, while the regions that Florida and Texas belong to have per capita firearm death rates (homicides and suicides) three to four times higher than New York’s. On a regional basis it’s the southern swath of the country — in cities and rural areas alike — where the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where pro-gun legislation has dominated state governments for decades, according to Politico.

To read more CLICK HERE


Monday, April 24, 2023

Mangino joins Nancy Grace to discuss doctor who allegedly poisoned husband with Drano

Listen to my discussion with Nancy Grace on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace as we examine the California doctor who allegedly poisoned husband with Drano.

To listen CLICK HERE

Sunday, April 23, 2023

DeSantis ignores SCOTUS: Signs law allowing death sentence with the vote of only 8 jurors

Florida will no longer require a jury to unanimously recommend the death penalty under a measure signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a change made in response to outrage over jurors who last fall blocked the death penalty for convicted Parkland killer Nikolas Cruz, reported Politico.

DeSantis approved the bill in a private bill-signing ceremony held in his office with legislative leaders and the sponsors of the legislation.

“Once a defendant in a capital case is found guilty by a unanimous jury, one juror should not be able to veto a capital sentence,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I’m proud to sign legislation that will prevent families from having to endure what the Parkland families have and ensure proper justice will be served in the state of Florida.”

Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School five years ago and eventually pleaded guilty to murder charges. But DeSantis called for changes to Florida’s death penalty law after three out of the 12 jurors deciding his fate recommended life in prison.

From now on, convicted murderers could receive the death penalty if eight out of the 12 jurors recommend it. It’s a lower threshold than any other states that actively carry out the death penalty. Alabama requires a jury vote of 10-2.

“This bill is about victims’ rights, plain and simple,” said Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina Montalto was killed by Cruz, in a statement. “It allows the victims of heinous crimes a chance to get justice and have the perpetrators punished to the full extent of the law.”

Florida’s death penalty process has undergone a flurry of litigation over the years. State legislators switched from a simple majority to a 10-2 jury requirement after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state’s process was unconstitutional. But then legislators changed the law to require a unanimous jury recommendation after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that it was required.

According to The New York Times, Nearly all of the 27 states that allow the death penalty require unanimous sentencing votes by juries. The new Florida threshold will be lower than the 10-to-2 majority required in Alabama. Indiana and Missouri allow judges to decide the sentence when jurors are divided.

At least 30 inmates who were sentenced to death in Florida have since been exonerated, more than in any other state, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research organization that opposes capital punishment. More than 300 inmates remain on Florida’s death row.

But the state’s high court — which shifted rightward due to several appointments by DeSantis — retracted that decision four years later and said the previous decision was “wrong.”

While supporters of the bill insist the lower threshold will withstand constitutional muster, opponents counter that the new standard will likely be challenged in federal court.

The legislation, S.B, 450, was supported by both Democrats and Republicans, although most of the “no” votes were from Democrats.

“We are talking about the state injecting chemicals into a person’s body to take their life,” said Rep. Ashley Gantt, a Miami Democrat and an attorney. “And that demands the highest of the threshold of a unanimous jury verdict.”

The death penalty bill was just one of a series criminal justice bills that DeSantis called for ahead of this year’s session. DeSantis, who has made stops across the country to promote a new memoir ahead of an expected presidential run, has lashed out at blue states and “soft-on-crime” prosecutors operating in other parts of the country.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, April 21, 2023

Mangino discusses Letecia Stauch murder trial for Law and Crime Network

Watch my discussion with host Michel Bryant on the Law and Crime Network discussing the Colorado murder trial of Letecia Stauch.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Can Missouri's 'Stand your Ground' protect a man who shoots teenager ringing the doorbell?

Is Missouri’s "stand your ground" law applicable in last week’s shooting of a teenage Black boy who knocked on a white man’s door by mistake?

Andrew Lester, 84, was charged with two felony counts of first degree assault and armed criminal action after shooting 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, a high school student who rang his doorbell by accident, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said at a news conference, reported NBC News. Thompson said the shooting had a “racial component.”

In the aftermath of the shooting in North Kansas City, a growing number of Yarl’s supporters expressed concern that the gunman would be protected by the 2016 Missouri law, in which a would-be shooter defending life or property does not have to retreat before taking violent action. 

“As a mother of four, I’m completely distraught at the possibility that I could send my child to play with a friend next door and something could happen and that child would suffer instead of holding the adult accountable for their actions,” said Jalisa Davis, an organizer with Decarcerate KC, one of several grassroots groups supporting Yarl and demanding accountability.

 “It’s very sad that we live in a world that would function that way,” Davis said.

During the news conference, Thompson cited the law but did not give an opinion on whether it might apply in this case. Earlier in the week, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said investigators would consider whether Lester was justified under the "stand your ground" law, according to the Kansas City Star.

Yarl was trying to pick up his siblings around 9:45 p.m. Thursday when he mistook the Northeast 115th Street home for one a block over on Northeast 115th Terrace, police said. Yarl told them he rang the doorbell and noticed the owner took longer than expected to answer, according to one of the family’s attorneys, Lee Merritt. Merritt said the man eventually opened the door and said “Don’t come back around here” before shooting Yarl. (Lester told police no words were exchanged during the incident, according to the probable cause statement.) Witnesses told police they saw Yarl knocking on neighbors’ doors for help, according to the statement. James Lynch, who lives nearby, soon ran out to help

Yarl had not gone into the home before allegedly being shot through a glass door, according to the probable cause statement. 

The teen was taken to the hospital. Lester was initially taken into custody and released after 24 hours per Missouri law, which states that felony suspects can only be held up to 24 hours until charges are filed. Civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Merritt, both representing Yarl and his family, condemned Lester’s initial release from police custody in a statement early on Monday.  When the felony charges were filed, an arrest warrant was issued for Lester, who surrendered himself on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. 

Attorney Bill Tackett, who has worked in Missouri for nearly 40 years, said it seems unlikely the homeowner will be able to effectively use "stand your ground" as a defense. Tackett said it would only apply if Yarl threatened the man’s safety. He also acknowledged the state’s “castle doctrine,” which gives residents the right to defend themselves with force while inside their home. 

“Castle doctrine doesn’t apply unless he’s an intruder. And there’s no 'stand your ground' because there’s no threat,” Tackett said of Yarl, adding that Yarl could be classified as a trespasser but, still, shooting a trespasser would result in criminal charges. 

Ralph Yarl.via Ben Crump Law

“These doctrines don’t apply to someone who’s nonthreatening, knocking on the door on the stoop of a house. Otherwise, that means anybody who comes to your door, you can put a bullet in their head and it’s OK. You can’t do that.” 

The state’s "stand your ground" law has been shrouded in controversy since it was passed in 2016. The law was part of a wide-ranging gun bill that also allowed people to carry concealed weapons without obtaining a permit. Missouri has seen a drastic rise in gun deaths since adopting the law, according to a February 2022 study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.  “These findings suggest that adoption of SYG laws across the US was associated with increases in violent deaths, deaths that could potentially have been avoided,” the researchers concluded.  

Lester told police he shot Yarl because he thought the teen was trying to break in, according to a probable cause statement from a Kansas City Police Department detective. But NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos estimated that defense wouldn’t hold up — neither would the "stand your ground" law nor castle doctrine — because Yarl rang Lester’s doorbell. 

“Burglars don’t ring doorbells,” Cevallos said. “This all comes down to defense of property, the only thing that could apply is he thought someone was breaking into his occupied dwelling. Then you can use deadly force. He rang the doorbell, that’s evidence he wasn’t trying to break in. The doorbell is very bad for the defendant here.” 

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Modern true crime practitioners face challenges

 Author Sarah Weinman writes in The New York Times:

During the end credits of the recent film “Boston Strangler,” which dramatized the real-life efforts to crack that criminal case, there’s a notation that addresses the fate of a convicted murderer named George Nassar who, the movie states, is “still in prison in Massachusetts.” I’ve long been fascinated with the Strangler case and Mr. Nassar’s connection to it, so this detail caught my attention — since I was pretty sure I recalled an interview from a few years back in which he announced that he had terminal prostate cancer. As it turns out, Mr. Nassar, who told authorities that his cellmate had confessed to being the Strangler, died in 2018 at a prison hospital in Jamaica Plain.

As a writer and editor of true crime, I might be more sensitive to these sorts of factual errors than most people. But they are part of a troubling trend. Errors like the one in “Boston Strangler” threaten the integrity of true crime, which as a genre has grappled with whether the stories it tells about crimes are, in fact, true.

True crime has always had a volatile relationship with facts. A century ago, tabloid newspapers routinely hyped up the most lurid aspects of a crime, even if there were few verifiable facts to be had. One reason the Hall-Mills murders of 1922 remain unsolved is that the press trampled all over the crime scene, literally and metaphorically.

Truman Capote, who is credited with inventing the modern true crime genre with “In Cold Blood,” radically expanded its creative possibilities — even as he resorted to making things up for effect. The book’s final scene in the cemetery, in which the detective visits the Clutter family’s graves with the daughter’s best friend? Invented out of whole cloth. Capote even landed in jail after he refused to take the stand because, according to a death-row prisoner, Capote would have had to reveal that he’d lied about their interview. The crime journalist Jack Olsen once said of Capote’s book that it “made true crime an interesting, successful, commercial genre, but it also began the process of tearing it down.”

Accuracy is not the only challenge that true crime practitioners face. Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer” famously explores the inherent ethical dilemmas in earning a subject’s trust — especially if it’s a story of violence, trauma and tragedy. Malcolm wrote that “the writer-subject relationship seems to depend for its life on a kind of fuzziness and murkiness, if not utter covertness, of purpose.”

Given this fraught history, you’d think that modern true crime practitioners would proceed with utmost care and caution. In reality, the opposite is true, plunging true crime into a credibility crisis — thanks to the pressures of a voracious market for documentaries, docuseries, podcasts and movies purporting to be based on real events.

Did you know you can share 10 gift articles a month, even with nonsubscribers?

The variety of lapses are as plentiful as the examples are. HBO’s blockbuster 2015 documentary series “The Jinx,” about the murderer Robert Durst, was lauded for its shocking twist ending — which was later revealed to be the product of editing that manipulated the timeline for maximum impact. “Making a Murderer,” a Netflix series which debuted the same year, stirred public outrage over an apparently unjust conviction — and then it came out that the show had omitted evidence that supported the prosecutor’s case.

Beyond factual lapses and questionable techniques, the rush to feed the true crime beast has led to all sorts of slippery practices. The limited series “Dahmer” on Netflix retold a well-documented story with a new, exploitative gloss — over the objections of family members of Dahmer’s victims, who protested that the series was “retraumatizing over and over again.” As the market becomes more competitive, true crime filmmakers have raced to lock down exclusive access to sources, preventing other journalists from reporting out a story, as happened in the case of a film about the women R. Kelly assaulted.

The proliferation of true crime podcasts has led to some honorable examples of investigative journalism, such as “In the Dark,” which won two Peabody awards for its re-examination of mishandled murder cases. But for every podcast like that, there are 10 (or more) in which so-called experts speculate on infamous mysteries with far more eagerness than authority.

These slipshod approaches have real-world consequences. Richard Walter, an expert criminal profiler whose testimony led to many convictions, was recently revealed to be a fraud. That’s particularly disturbing not only for those wrongfully imprisoned thanks, in part, to his faked credentials but for the way his fakery hid in plain sight for decades. Walter had become a hero to some in the true crime community, lionized in books that were more interested in chronicling his dramatic exploits than in the authenticity of his expertise.

Given a figure as egregious as Walter, it may seem ungenerous to call out an error in a film like “Boston Strangler” — after all, we tolerate, and even expect, a certain level of embellishment in our entertainment, even in those works based on real events. But this misstep illustrates how, increasingly, stories of tragedy (and, ironically, stories of dogged journalistic reporting) have become simply another form of intellectual property to be put through a churn of repackaging and reselling.

It’s become a familiar cycle: A criminal case becomes a book, becomes a podcast, becomes a documentary, becomes a scripted series or a film, becomes another, more sensational film. There are now even true crime cookbooks. But somewhere at the start of it all an actual crime took place, leaving behind not just facts but victims and survivors. Where does a true crime cookbook leave them?

At its best, true crime grapples with what can and cannot be uncovered and verified about the past, and even incorporates those challenges into the story. I’m thinking of two recent books, Alex Mar’s “Seventy Times Seven,” a compassionate account of mercy for a teenage girl on death row, and Roxanna Asgarian’s “We Were Once a Family,” on the heartbreaking failures of child foster systems to prevent senseless deaths. Both demonstrate the impact that great true crime can have. They give a full accounting not just of the details of the crimes but of the lives of those affected by violence, exploring whether the legal system can truly provide justice.

But if the facts aren’t there, or they’re flatly wrong, or they’re twisted beyond recognition, then true crime transforms into something closer to lurid fiction — and the entities cashing in on it are making a cynical, shortsighted bet. If creators want to benefit from the frisson of a “true” story, they must honor the truth — it’s that simple. If true crime practitioners give up on doing better and succumb to the temptation of exploitation, that would be a crime in and of itself.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Mangino explains "no bill" for Akron Police shooting of Jayland Walker

Watch my interview with Lindsay McCoy on WFMJ-TV21 discussing the Akron grand jury refusing to indict eight Akron police officers for shooting unarmed Jayland Walker 46 times last summer.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Chauvin's conviction for killing George Floyd upheld

 The Minnesota Court of Appeals on  rejected former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's appeal for a new trial outside Hennepin County, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The decision comes nearly three years since George Floyd's murder in May 2020, when Chauvin knelt on the Black man's neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin's appellate attorney William Mohrman argued that pretrial publicity — the global unrest, media coverage and calls for police reform — made a fair trial impossible.

But a three-judge panel issued a unanimous 50-page decision stating that Chauvin failed to show prejudice among jurors or in the publicity surrounding his trial. Presiding Judge Peter Reyes wrote the decision considered by him and Judges Elise Larson and Roger Klaphake.

"Police officers undoubtedly have a challenging, difficult, and sometimes dangerous job," Reyes wrote. "However, no one is above the law. When they commit a crime, they must be held accountable just as those individuals that they lawfully apprehend. The law only permits police officers to use reasonable force when effecting a lawful arrest. Chauvin crossed that line here when he used unreasonable force on Floyd."

Mohrman said in an interview Monday that he is disappointed in the decision.

"We're obviously going to consult with Mr. Chauvin and see what options can be pursued here," he said. "We certainly have the option to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the case and probably will."

If so, the Supreme Court has discretion on whether they will review the case.

Mohrman told the panel in January that the main remedy for Chauvin would be a new trial outside of the Hennepin County Government Center because the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis was "surrounded by concrete block, barbed wire, two armored personnel carriers and a squad of National Guard troops" all there with one purpose: "in the event that the jury acquits the defendant." Leading up to Chauvin's verdict, he said, the city braced for more riots in the event of an acquittal.

Even if Chauvin, 47, would have won his appeal, he would still be serving 21 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to violating Floyd's civil rights. He remains incarcerated at a medium-security federal prison in Tucson, Ariz.

Chauvin's legal proceedings reached beyond Floyd's murder. He appeared in a Zoom hearing from prison last month to plead guilty to tax evasion charges out of Washington County where he used to live with his now ex-wife, Kellie Chauvin. She pleaded guilty to similar charges in February and filed for divorce two days after Floyd's murder.

And just last week, the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $9 million in brutality settlements after paying the Floyd family a $27 million settlement in March 2021. A woman and then 14-year-old boy said they were pinned by Chauvin three years before he fatally pinned Floyd. Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating their civil rights as well.

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Monday, April 17, 2023

More and more state officials interfere with prosecutorial discretion

 There’s pressure across the political spectrum to return to policies adjacent to the failed crime policies of the 1980s, said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, told the Intercept. “It’s ironic that for decades no one has questioned the exercise of prosecutorial discretion when that discretion has been used to ramp up penalties or to look the other way in lieu of holding police accountable.” Now that some prosecutors are trying to embrace a more restrained and sensible approach, it’s causing pushback by those who feel threatened by those changes.

Some of the advocates targeted the governor directly. “You have tragically become part of a disturbing reactionary trend,” said a Sunday letter to Walz from the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, “and placed yourself in the company of the likes of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Missouri Governor Mike Parson by preventing a local progressive prosecutor from exercising her prosecutorial discretion in acting consistently with her principles — and the principles that she was elected to carry out. Your decision to play to the crowd does grave damage toward making reform a reality.”

IN MINNESOTA HISTORY, it’s extremely rare to have the governor assign a case to the attorney general. The last time it happened was in the 1990s. In the exchange of letters preceding the reassignment of the case to the attorney general, both Ellison and Walz acknowledged the rarity of such occurrences.

“I do not make this request lightly and I do not expect to have to make a request like this again,” Ellison wrote. (Ellison’s office referred questions about the case to its statement last week.)

Under Minnesota law, county attorneys can refer criminal cases to the attorney general, and the governor may assign cases to the office as well. Usually, when cases get transferred, it is because the elected county attorneys who would normally handle felony criminal cases are understaffed or lack experience — but transferred with the approval of the county attorneys themselves.

Over the last four years, the attorney general’s office has taken at least 50 cases that were referred from county attorneys in Minnesota, including the prosecution of the cops who murdered Floyd.

Nothing in Minnesota statute requires the attorney general to request the governor to reassign a case. “The governor’s hope here was that whatever criticism there might be would be focused on the attorney general,” Moriarty said.

Family members of Zaria McKeever, the 23-year-old woman killed in the juvenile case that Ellison took on, were outraged by Moriarty’s decision not to charge the two teenage brothers in the case as adults.

Erick Haynes, McKeever’s 22-year-old ex-boyfriend who she shares a 1-year-old child with, recruited the boys, ages 15 and 17, to break into her apartment and beat up her new boyfriend. Haynes drove the boys to McKeever’s apartment, where they broke in and shot her. Her new boyfriend escaped through a window and called 911.

In March, Moriarty’s office offered the boys a plea bargain in exchange for their testimony against Haynes, who had been harassing McKeever in the weeks leading up to her murder, according to court filings. The boys were offered two years in a juvenile facility and probation until their 18th birthdays. Haynes was charged in November with second-degree murder.

In a heated exchange with McKeever’s family during a press conference last week, Moriarty defended her charging decision and pointed to the failures of the adult criminal system in stopping juveniles from reoffending. Instead, adult charges would increase the likelihood that the boys went on to commit more crimes, she said.

“We know that when you send kids to prison, violence happens in prison. Everybody is traumatized by prison,” Moriarty told The Intercept. “What do we expect a 15-year-old to look like when they get out of prison in their 30s?”

Ellison’s request to take over the case was met with opposition before it was made. Though it did not mention the case by name, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association voted unanimously in favor of a resolution expressing that it did not support the attorney general asking the governor to involuntarily remove county prosecutors from cases.

After Ellison formally requested to take over, the county attorneys association followed up, stating its objections to the governor’s intervention in a case that was actively being prosecuted by a county attorney. “Without discussing the merits of any particular case, our Association is of the view that when a County Attorney is actively prosecuting a case and exercising the decision-making authority for which the County Attorney was elected, the Governor should not choose to exercise that statutory authority,” the group wrote. (The association declined to comment on Walz’s decision to reassign the case.)

Moriarty said media coverage often seizes on a single case but fails to address how out of step “tough-on-crime” approaches are with juvenile brain development and research on recidivism. “There are many in the community who do support our decision,” she said. “There are many in the community who want us to be doing something different with youth. I think that’s why I got elected by such a large margin. There is nothing new that I am doing that I didn’t talk about during the campaign,” she said.

“There is this perception that because of the nature of the act, a youth is irredeemable,” Moriarty said. “There’s a huge gap here in reporting on brain development, and how yes, it’s intuitive that somebody who pulls a trigger, even if they’re 15, is less likely to be rehabilitated, when the science says that’s not true.”

Critics of Ellison’s decision have pointed to examples where Walz denied requests to reassign cases to the attorney general when the accused were police officers or jail staff.

The National Lawyers Guild letter said, “Instead of promoting equal justice, you are reinforcing the status quo where prosecutions are not permitted against the privileged but are required to be harsh against people from marginalized communities.”

Ellison’s intervention in the case could have a chilling effect on future reformers as well as the plea bargaining process in general, Krinsky, of Fair and Just Prosecution, said. When Moriarty made her decision in the McKeever case, she was doing what she told the community that elected her she would do — and Ellison’s request and the governor’s compliance took that decision-making power away from the community.

“It sets a hugely dangerous precedent to create a starting point that undoubtedly is going to chill faith in the plea bargaining process, and chill the autonomy of local prosecutors, and chill the next prosecutor from making tough decisions around when to show restraint, and when to treat kids as kids,” Krinsky said. “And when compassion and mercy is the better result for the individual as well as the community.”

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Saturday, April 15, 2023

A jury of one’s peers does not have to include the unvaccinated

A jury of one’s peers does not have to include the unvaccinated ones, at least in the 4th Circuit, reported the Washington Post.

A Hampton Roads husband and wife, found guilty in September 2021 of trafficking heroin and cocaine, had challenged their convictions because the federal judge in Virginia excluded unvaccinated people from the jury pool.

A panel of Republican appointees in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, two of which were nominated by President Donald Trump, ruled against them Tuesday, saying that Judge David J. Novak did not exclude potential jurors “based on immutable characteristics like race, gender or ethnic background,” but based on “perceived inability to serve without creating unnecessary safety risks.”

The defendants declined to be vaccinated because of “sincerely held beliefs,” according to the court record. They were tested for the coronavirus both days the trial was held, and their attorneys argued that unvaccinated jurors could have been screened the same way.

Novak responded he didn’t have the power to force jurors to take tests or to limit their exposure and was concerned about a higher risk of transmission by unvaccinated jurors of the delta variant of the coronavirus spreading at the time.

“My job is not just to give them a fair trial, which they are going to get. My job is to — it is my responsibility to make sure everybody is healthy,” the judge said before trial, according to the transcript. “People who are conscripted to come to this courthouse to serve their civic duty, I’m not exposing them to COVID for that reason.”

A majority of courts have allowed the exclusion of unvaccinated jurors during the pandemic, according to the American Bar Association. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed vaccination requirements for health-care workers but struck down a broader federal mandate from the Biden administration.

The three-judge panel on Tuesday left open the possibility of a different challenge, saying their ruling applied only to the jury pool and did not consider whether the jury itself was chosen in a discriminatory way. In a different case, the Justice Department argued for seating unvaccinated jurors on the grounds that failing to do so would be racially biased; that argument was rejected by a federal judge in New York as unsupported by data.

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Friday, April 14, 2023

Questionable ethics: Concern grows over unreported transactions involving Justice Clarence Thomas

In 2014, one of Texas billionaire Harlan Crow’s companies purchased a string of properties on a quiet residential street in Savannah, Georgia. It wasn’t a marquee acquisition for the real estate magnate, just an old single-story home and two vacant lots down the road. What made it noteworthy were the people on the other side of the deal: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his relatives, reported ProPublica.

The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice. The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners — Thomas, his mother and the family of Thomas’ late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated Oct. 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse.

The purchase put Crow in an unusual position: He now owned the house where the justice’s elderly mother was living. Soon after the sale was completed, contractors began work on tens of thousands of dollars of improvements on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, which looks out onto a patch of orange trees. The renovations included a carport, a repaired roof and a new fence and gates, according to city permit records and blueprints.

federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000. Thomas never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties. That appears to be a violation of the law, four ethics law experts told ProPublica.

The disclosure form Thomas filed for that year also had a space to report the identity of the buyer in any private transaction, such as a real estate deal. That space is blank.

“He needed to report his interest in the sale,” said Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer now at the watchdog group CREW. “Given the role Crow has played in subsidizing the lifestyle of Thomas and his wife, you have to wonder if this was an effort to put cash in their pockets.”

Thomas did not respond to detailed questions for this story.

In a statement, Crow said he purchased Thomas’ mother’s house, where Thomas spent part of his childhood, to preserve it for posterity. “My intention is to one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “I approached the Thomas family about my desire to maintain this historic site so future generations could learn about the inspiring life of one of our greatest Americans.”

Crow’s statement did not directly address why he also bought two vacant lots from Thomas down the street. But he wrote that “the other lots were later sold to a vetted builder who was committed to improving the quality of the neighborhood and preserving its historical integrity.”

ProPublica also asked Crow about the additions on Thomas’ mother’s house, like the new carport. “Improvements were also made to the Thomas property to preserve its long-term viability and accessibility to the public,” Crow said.

Ethics law experts said Crow’s intentions had no bearing on Thomas’ legal obligation to disclose the sale.

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Thursday, April 13, 2023

Florida executes man for 1989 killing of New Jersey couple

 The 10th Execution of 2023

Florida executed  Louis Bernard Gaskin known as the “ninja killer” on April 12, 2023 for the 1989 slayings of a couple visiting the state from New Jersey, reported The Associated Press.

Gaskin, 56, was pronounced dead at 6:15 p.m. after receiving a lethal injection, the governor’s office said. He was convicted of killing Robert Sturmfels, 56, and Georgette Sturmfels, 55, on Dec. 20, 1989, in their Flagler County winter home on Florida’s northeastern coast.

Gaskin woke up at 4:45 a.m. Wednesday and had his last meal at 9:45 a.m., Department of Corrections spokesperson Kayla McLaughlin Smith said during a news conference. The meal included BBQ pork ribs, pork and turkey neck, Buffalo wings, shrimp fried rice, french fries and water.

Gaskin was visited by his sister Wednesday, but he did not meet with a spiritual adviser, McLaughlin Smith said. No relatives of the victims had arranged to be in the witness room during the execution, which was scheduled for 6 p.m. and started without delay.

When asked if he had any final statement, Gaskin said: “Justice is not about the crime. It’s not about the criminal. It’s about the law.”

He then referred to the legal proceedings surrounding his case and the appeals and finished his statement saying, “Look at my case.”

Gaskin began receiving the lethal cocktail of drugs at 6:02 p.m., causing him to breathe heavily as his chest rose and fell under a white sheet. The prison’s warden went to check on whether Gaskin was still conscious at 6:05 p.m. He didn’t respond. Gaskin’s breathing appeared to stop at 6:07 p.m. A doctor entered the death chamber at 6:14 p.m. to examine Gaskin and declared him dead a minute later.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been signing death warrants at a rapid pace this year as he prepares his widely expected presidential campaign. He oversaw only two executions in his first four years in office, both in 2019.

Gaskin’s execution came six weeks after Donald Dillbeck, 59, was put to death for the 1990 murder of Faye Vann, 44, in Tallahassee, and three weeks before the scheduled execution of Darryl B. Barwick for slaying Rebecca Wendt, 24, in 1986 in Panama City.

Barring any stays for Barwick, it will be the shortest period that three executions have been carried out in Florida since three were put to death within 36 days in 2014 under former Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican.

Gaskin’s death marked the state’s 101st execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. There are an additional 297 people on Florida’s death row, which is located at Florida State Prison, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Jacksonville.

Gaskin, who was dubbed the “ninja killer” because he wore all-black ninja clothing during the crimes, shot his victims with a .22-caliber rifle, investigators said. He was convicted of first-degree murder.

Property that he stole from the Sturmfels’ home — a clock, two lamps and a videocassette recorder — was found at his residence and were intended to be Christmas gifts for his girlfriend, according to investigators. He was also convicted of armed robbery, burglary and the attempted murder that same night of another couple who lived nearby.

Local media reported at the time that Gaskin quickly confessed to the crimes and told a psychologist before his trial that he knew what he was doing.

“The guilt was always there,” Gaskin said. “The devil had more of a hold than God did. I knew that I was wrong. I wasn’t insane.”

Jurors voted 8-4 in 1990 to recommend the death sentence, which the judge accepted. Florida law now requires a unanimous jury vote for capital punishment, although the Legislature could send DeSantis a bill this week that would allow 8-4 jury recommendations for capital punishment.

The state and U.S. supreme courts rejected appeals Gaskin filed since his death warrant was signed. The latest denial came Tuesday.

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