Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fair and Impartial What?


Cam Brown's second trial ended in a mistrial. When the jury returned from deliberations the jury foreman reported that the verdict was 6 votes for second-degree murder and 6 votes for manslaughter. Since 6 plus 6 equals 12, and only 12 jurors voted, even someone with only a second grade education can see that there were no votes for first-degree murder. However, the Judge neglected to inquire how the jury voted with regard to first-degree murder. As a result, the prosecution hopes to overcome Double Jeopardy and retry Cam on first-degree murder.

Double Jeopardy is defined as (from Britannica Concise Encyclopedia):
"In law, the prosecution of a person for an offense for which he or she already has been prosecuted. In U.S. law, double jeopardy is prohibited by the 5th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which states that no person shall 'be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life and limb.' The clause bars second prosecutions after acquittal or conviction and prohibits multiple convictions for the same offense. Thus a person cannot be guilty of both murder and manslaughter for the same homicide, nor can a person be retried for the same crime after the case has been resolved. A person can, however, be convicted of both murder and robbery if the murder arose from the robbery."
This issue is further illuminated in the following:
''The constitutional prohibition against 'double jeopardy' was designed to protect an individual from being subjected to the hazards of trial and possible conviction more than once for an alleged offense . . . The underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.'' [Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187 - 88 (1957). This passage is often approvingly quoted by the Court. E.g., Crist v. Bretz, 437 U.S. 28, 35 (1978); United States v. DiFrancesco, 449 U.S. 117, 127 - 28 (1980).]
The above quote from Green v. United States describes exactly what is happening to Cam Brown. Prosecutor Craig Hum is using the State's formidable resources and power to zealously make attempt after attempt to wrongfully convict Cam of a crime that never occurred. By doing so he is subjecting Cam to the very sort of injury that the double jeopardy clause is intended to prevent.

Prosecutor Craig Hum's argument, responding to Cam's attorney's position that retrying Cam for first-degree murder is a violation of double jeopardy, is scheduled to be heard on January 28, 2010. Until then we don't know how he will respond. However, there has been talk that Craig Hum and Dectective Jeff Leslie contacted each and every juror, after the Judge released them, and as a result Hum is now claiming that the count reported by the jury foreman was incorrect, and there was a vote for first-degree murder. We will find out when Hum argues his case on January 28 if this is just talk, or not. Until then these are only rumors.

However, let's consider these rumors for a moment – as a hypothetical. If Hum were to proceed along this course he would be essentially asking for a new vote, after Leslie and he tampered with the jury. This notion may sound unthinkable. Yet there are instances within the Los Angeles court system that are equally unthinkable, nevertheless they are fact. One such instance is the case of Richard I. Fine.

Richard Fine was sentenced indefinitely, without bail, without a hearing date and without a release date by L.A. Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe, after Fine challenged Judge Yaffe. Fine argued that the Judge was required to recuse himself from presiding over a case in which LA County was a defendant since he had been receiving illegal payments from the County Board of Supervisors since 1988. In fact all LA Superior Court judges have been receiving these illegal payments from the County Supervisors.

Los Angeles County Supervisors have been paying LA Superior Court judges redundant benefits, called "local judicial benefits" since November 1988. These benefits are paid in addition to the judges' State compensation of about $179,000 a year in salary, plus about $30,000 a year in State paid benefits. The current amount of County paid benefits is about $57,000 a year (the judges are allowed to take all of the County paid benefits in cash). This makes the total LA judges receive in excess of $260,000 annually (giving them more than any other group of judges in America, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court). This "double dipping" by the LA judges costs LA County taxpayers an estimated $20 million per year. (And LA County is continually cash strapped. I wonder why.)

The judges are employees of the State, not the County. And payment by the County is prohibited by the California Constitution, thus making the County paid benefits illegal. Actually, there is currently some controversy as to weather these payments are still illegal. In 2006, Judicial Watch challenged the payments in a case called Sturgeon v. LA County. After the trial court upheld the payments, Judicial Watch appealed and in 2008, the California Court of Appeals ruled that LA County's payments to the LA Superior Court judges were unconstitutional under Article VI, Section 19, of the California Constitution. The California Supreme Court subsequently denied review of the appeals court decision (meaning it did not disagree with the appeals court and would not overturn it). As a result the appeals court decision became law. But instead of abiding by the law, lobbyists were hired who convinced the State Legislature to sneak through a midnight bill, literally, called SBX2-11, which made the payments legal, authorized them to continue, and gave everyone involved retroactive immunity from criminal prosecution. (So a state senate bill can now override the CA Constitution? When did they change that? I missed it.) An additional problem with Senate Bill SBX2-11 is that the CA Constitution prohibits ex post facto (after the fact) laws from being enacted (Article I, Section 9). This means that Senate Bill SBX2-11 is also unconstitutional. Nevertheless, proponents of the judge's County paid benefits claim that these payments are now legal.

Regardless of the current legal status of the payments, questions that arises is why would the County pay for benefits that they aren't obligated to pay, and why make payments that were blatantly illegal for at least some of the time the County made the payments? The Supervisors claim they pay the extra benefits to "attract and retain quality judge". This is a confounding explanation given that there are thousands of qualified attorneys who would happily fill judicial openings at the legal base pay rate; and "retaining" judges with money makes even less sense because judges are elected. Perhaps the answer lies in the judge's decision record: not one LA County case has been lost when it was decided by a judge who collects the additional County benefits – no not one.

An argument against allowing judges to decide cases concerning the County at the same time that they are receiving sizable payments from the County is that the judges who receive the payments may hesitate to rule against the County if they felt the County could cut the payments in retaliation. This very argument was made by the founders of our nation. On July 4, 1776 the Second Continental Congress approved a little document called the Declaration of Independence. Within it the founders enumerated a list of charges against King George III to show that he had violated the colonists’ rights and was therefore unfit to the their ruler. They wrote:
"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world . . . He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries."
This is the very thing that Mr. Fine is fighting against. For his trouble he has been locked in solitary confinement since March 4, 2009, he is not allowed to post bail nor have any kind of hearing. Additionally, Judge Yaffe ordered that Mr. Fine can't have paper and pencil with which to petition a higher court, nor does he have access to a law library or any legal materials. In short, Mr. Fine has been ordered to remain in jail until he relents. Welcome to LA County.

So what does all this have to do with the Cam Brown case? For one thing it shows that when the County's interests are at stake, the rule of law is duplicitous at best, amounting to nothing more than lip service. With regard to Cam Brown's case, a compelling, though circumstantial, argument can be made that the prosecution of Cam Brown isn't really about Lauren's death, but about hidden County interests that Lauren's death threatens (more precisely, about hidden County interests that an accidental death would threaten). We are not going to go into those specifics here (this is not the appropriate place for that) but we will say that we are not talking about potential liability, insurance claims, umbrella policies, nor anything remotely connected to such matters.

It may be a difficult to accept the notion that the prosecution of Cam Brown is driven by hidden County interests. Yet, it explains the multiple incongruent aspects of the case that are otherwise perplexing. The sheer volume of this kind of thing is considerable. As a result it is beyond the scope of a single blog entry to explore.

If we were to examine the prosecution's case, in spite of that, we'd find these claims have merit. If we started our examination at the very beginning and looked at how a homicide investigation was first initiated, and then looked at the investigator's behavior once they arrived at the scene – if we considered only these first few hours after Lauren's death, we'd find a pattern is already emerging. The pattern would show that the investigators were manipulating circumstances and events to make Lauren's death appear like a case of murder. If we continued our examination we'd find that this pattern persisted to the interrogation of Cam that night, the investigator's actions in the days, weeks and months that followed, and throughout each phase of this case until we reach this day, with the issue of double jeopardy in question. In the process we'd find multiple "irregularities" with each aspect of the prosecution's case. Such "irregularities" would include but not limited to, the machinations the coroner's department went through to reach the final version of the autopsy report, nearly two years of expert-shopping until a biomechanical expert willing to say what the prosecution wanted to hear was found, the biomechanical expert's methods and practices, and his final product and conclusions, the forensic accountant's process (not to mention her testimony at the second trial, which is much more than "irregular" and completely jaw-dropping) and much, much more.

We would also find that the investigators pursued Cam with a near maniacal zeal. This zeal is now being mimicked by the prosecutor, who is willing to take on double jeopardy, as he maliciously makes attempt after attempt to convict Cam of a crime that never happened. Despite all this, however, the worst thing we would find is that Lauren's mother, Sarah Key-Marer is being used and manipulated by County agents to protect the County's interests. Yes, that right, the grief of a mother's loss is being exploited to make this case. But, alas, the overwhelming amount of this kind of material makes covering it here more than daunting.

Written by Case Insider's Assistant

P.S. Even though we are engrossed in our own misfortune impinged by injustice, we are not blind to other's catastrophes. With that we want to say that our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti. In this most dark and dire time, we wish for you God's light, His strength and a conclusion wrought in His most profound blessing.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Defense Present It's Case



The first expert witness to appear on behalf of Cam Brown was Dr. Janice Ophoven from Minnesota. Dr. Ophoven also appeared during the first trial at which time her testimony was limited by Judge Mark Arnold. The autopsy was not considered a full document in that trial, several sections having been redacted. Judge Arnold limited the testimony accordingly.

I have linked the biography from one of Dr. Ophoven's websites here, and have reproduced a portion of it for your convenience as follows:

"Dr. Janice Ophoven is a pediatric forensic pathologist with more than 30 years of clinical, administrative and quality improvement experience. She is board certified in Pathology, Forensic Pathology, Quality Assurance and Utilization Review. Dr. Ophoven has focused her clinical practice on understanding child abuse and injury to children."

A review of Dr. Ophoven's history reveals that she was the only witness to appear on behalf of the defense in the Dierks shaken baby trial. Amy Dierks, a Sioux Falls daycare provider, was held to account for injuries sustained by baby Henry while under her care in November, 2007. Six-month old baby Henry had become lethargic and was in a coma-like state when his father took him from the day-care center on that bleak November day. Now two years old, baby Henry is blind and can barely crawl. His parents are still seeking answers about what happened that day. They believe Amy Dierks shook their son and banged his head, causing the injuries, but the jury took only four hours to agree with Dr. Ophoven's assessment that the child showed signs of something else happening days before he was under Dierks' care. The defense contended that a brain infection was the source of his injury.

Dr. Ophoven is involved in 50 to 75 cases internationally each year. She testifies for the prosecution and the defense, and most often regarding injuries or deaths involving children. Prior to becoming a forensic pathologist, Dr. Ophoven practiced as a Pediatrician. She is also an assistant medical examiner for St. Louis County, Minnesota.

The book The Death of Innocents, highlights Dr. Ophoven's role as a prosecution witness in the case of serial killer Waneta Hoyt, convicted for the murder of five of her infant children over a seven year period. Hoyt's sixth child, an adopted boy, grew up normally which added further support to Waneta's claims that the earlier deaths were caused by a genetic abnormality. Those deaths had been used as a scientific model to support SIDS research, but when this theory was challenged by additional information years later, Waneta admitted that she had killed each of her biological children because she couldn't tolerate hearing them cry. Oddly, the crying of her adopted son never bothered her in the same way.

Once a strong proponent of shaken baby syndrome, more recent research, information and anaysis has caused Dr. Ophoven to rethink previous beliefs. She has taken an opposing view in more recent cases and stands firmly in defense of those charged under the old theories. She is quite use to being called a defense-whore as a result of this, but is undeterred by her attackers. The number of previous cases which might now be reconsidered due to the studies and biomechanical research of her colleague, Dr. John Plunkett, is mind-boggling, but his work, work they had accomplished together, and the work of others has convinced Dr. Ophoven the phenomena of shaken baby syndrome is not conclusive and needs to be challenged on a case-by-case basis. An article which gives a more in-depth understanding of the work of Dr. Plunkett is found here. The debate will certainly bring about a flurry of review which could reach the proportions of that seen by the work of Barry Scheck and "The Innocence Project" due to dna. Unfortunately, once medical examiners have identified the three most common signs being used to identify the syndrome, other very important data which would support other explanations may have been overlooked and lost. Crime buffs might want to keep an eye on these developments because they are certain to raise much more conflict as future prosecutions are challenged by the scientific community.

The Cameron Brown trial is more straight forward, however. Were Lauren's injuries the result of a single high-velocity impact, or could they have been sustained in an accidental fall? Based on the autopsy report, (which miraculously contains all of the sections in this trial) what conclusions would Dr. Ophoven have reached regarding cause and manner of death?

Today's testimony took direct aim at the testimony of Dr. Wilson Hayes. Dr. Ophoven questioned the conclusions of Dr. Hayes based on the fact that he had no absolutes to work with and there were numerous variables that had not been taken into consideration in Dr. Hayes's model. She actually stated that she was embarrassed by Dr. Hayes's conclusions and could not reconcile the fact that he drew such a narrow conclusion based on the fact that there were so many other possibilities that were not given any consideration.

Dr. Ophoven reviewed the autopsy report from Dr. Chinwah and was asked to compare her findings of injuries with those of Dr. Chinwah. Large pictures were used for her to demonstrate to the jury what conclusions she reached and why. She identified substantially more injuries which pointed to multiple impacts, particularly a large area of contusion to the right side of Lauren's back which Dr. Chinwah didn't bother with at all in the first trial and Hayes brushed off as lividity in this trial. This bruising, by the way, is on the same side as the injury to Lauren's wrist (the right side). There was also 250cc of blood in her right chest cavity, contusions to her liver which is on the right side of her body, contusions on the right side of her diaphram, and a tear where the pancreas is attached (which is also on the right side of her body). The head and upper chest injury which Hayes and Chinwah claim is the result of the only impact Lauren suffered, is on the left side of her head and upper chest.

Lividity is one of the changes which occur after death. It takes a number of hours to become "fixed". When the heart stops pumping, blood will begin to settle in those areas which are lowest, but not in the areas which are in direct contact with a hard surface. This is because the vessels become constricted in those areas. The only reason lividity would show up on one side is if the body was lying on that side, in which case it would run along the entire length of the body. The fact that the area of concern in the pictures was exclusively on one side of Lauren's body while she was positioned on her back, and did not run the entire length was the first clue that the discoloration was not lividity.

Dr. Ophoven also noted many bruises and contusions to Lauren's limbs that had not been noted in the autopsy report. In fact, Dr. Chinwah had stated (as had Craig Hum) that Lauren's limbs did not show injuries. Dr. Ophoven concluded from all of the injuries that Lauren had sustained, that she had suffered "numerous and many" impacts, although she was unable to say how many.

Craig Hum tried to discredit Dr. Ophoven during the cross examination. He did not attack her on the basis of her testimony about the injuries, but rather about her personally. For instance, Dr. Ophoven is considered to be a pioneer in the area of pediatric forensics. She was considered an expert in the area many years before it was recognized and offered as a board certified specialty. Although she has been clearly looked up to in the field for many years, he attacked her on the basis that she did not bother to test for the pediatric certification which she had actually pioneered. He then went over the qualifications of Wilson Hayes, including the fact that he held a prestigious position at Harvard. In re-direct by Pat Harris, Dr. Ophoven reluctantly stated that Dr. Hayes had in fact lost his position at Harvard because of academic fraud.

Dr. Bruce Beckwith is due to testify tomorrow, and it is also expected that Detective Leslie will retake the witness stand because he traveled to Montana to consult with Dr. Beckwith.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

When Law Enforcement becomes the Criminal


Recent readings of the cases discussed at The Innocence Project website , and others, has enhanced our curiosity with respect to seeing the violators pay for their deliberate efforts to deny fairness and civil rights to defendants who are being wrongly convicted of crimes. Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld should be repeatedly applauded for their work in getting the innocent out of jail, but who is taking this bull by the horns to see that those who violated law along the way are being held accountable?

WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Please visit sites that are concerned about protecting the civil rights of those being wrongfully prosecuted and convicted and remember that as long as we turn a blind eye toward justice we are opening the potential that the next person prosecuted wrongly for a felony could be YOU! As proven by Cam Brown, all it takes is a very unfortunate accident and investigators willing to lie and cover up exculpatory evidence in order to make someone pay.

Investigators, under the cover of a badge, have been given the right to lie in order to encourage statements from witnesses. There is nothing wrong (according to law) with the investigators saying that they have undeniable PROOF that someone committed a heinous crime and they desperately need the help of others in order to present it to the court. The question that should be asked is, "If your proof is so good, why are you bothering me? I've got no evidence!"

Suddenly the scream of a seagull (which has been heard often and repeatedly) becomes the scream of a child. Suddenly a child bending over to pick up rocks becomes a child crawling along on all fours! Suddenly the statements of a defendant are forgotten and replaced by "I believe..." this or that may have happened... in an effort to create an illusion rather than facts. Suddenly expert testimony that holes in the ground can NOT be footprints are ignored in favor of statements that someone thought they "looked" like they could be footprints. Suddenly the truth of the matter no longer matters as prosecutors cleverly conspire with others to create an illusion and pass it off as facts.

Our current laws which allow law enforcement to lie to witnesses and the courts and then be protected by immunity lay the foundation for corruption in our system. All you need to do is go to the Innocence Project, Truth in Justice or any of the other sites around the internet to see how justice has been manipulated in order to find innocent people guilty of crimes they did not commit. Our justice system is supposed to prevent that from happening, but under the current methods it encourages it.

While none of us wants to see a guilty person walk away from their crimes, all of us have a responsibility to make sure justice is administered fairly, swiftly and accurately. A sobering reminder from the Innocence Project:

Innocence Project Case Profiles

There have been 218 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history. These stories are becoming more familiar as more innocent people gain their freedom through postconviction testing. They are not proof, however, that our system is righting itself.

The common themes that run through these cases — from global problems like poverty and racial issues to criminal justice issues like eyewitness misidentification, corrupt scientists, overzealous police and prosecutors and inept defense counsel — cannot be ignored and continue to plague our criminal justice system.

* Sixteen people had been sentenced to death before DNA proved their innocence and led to their release.
* The average sentence served by DNA exonerees has been 12 years.
* About 70 percent of those exonerated by DNA testing are members of minority groups.
* In over 35 percent of the cases profiled here, the actual perpetrator has been identified by DNA testing.
* Exonerations have been won in 32 states and Washington, D.C.

Please visit their site and take an interest in protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system. Please help in any way you can to make sure no other person is held to pay for a crime they didn't commit.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Accuracy in Media and those Stubborn little things called FACTS!


The Los Angeles Men's Central Jail has a library? Wow! Who knew?

It's interesting that a very recent article in The Daily Breeze, written by Denise Nix, would lead us to believe there is a library there. And that information is according to none other than Deputy District Attorney Dennis Lockfield. Quoting a portion of the article as it appeared in the Daily Breeze on June 18, 2008:

Cameron Brown shank case dismissed

Prosecutors dropped a weapon posession [sic] charge today for a man jailed while waiting trial in connection to his 4-year-old daughter's Rancho Palos Verdes cliff death.

Cameron Brown, 46, was charged with one felony count of custodial posession [sic] of a weapon after a jailer found a razor blade in a book Brown borrowed from the jail library, according to Deputy District Attorney Dennis Lockfield.

Lockfield said the case was dismissed because he did not believe it could be proved that Brown knew about the razor.

First of all, I believe there are rules with regard to a prosecutor providing false or misleading information to the media, and nothing can be more false or more misleading than the statement Ms. Nix claims Lockfield made. Mr. Brown did NOT borrow a book from the library. Furthermore, the Men's Central Jail, according to Deputy Nawotny who testified during the Preliminary Hearing, has NO library!

The Daily Breeze is a well-known and relied upon source of news in the beach communities surrounding the Palos Verdes Peninsula. As such, it would seem they have a responsibility to make sure their customers are provided with unbiased reporting. I don't know what ever happened to "fact checking", but it seems to have taken a back seat to sensationalism. At the very least Ms. Nix might have been wise to add the caveat, "the unconfirmed statement of DDA Lockfield". Or, perhaps, Ms. Nix might have checked with the defense team to see if they have anything else to add to these developments.

Well, I guess we aren't always lucky enough to get what we pay for, but we will do our very best to take up the slack and correct the mistakes.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Weapons Charge Against Cameron Brown Dismissed!



Yesterday, June 18, 2008, the weapons charge that had been filed against Cameron Brown was dismissed. This case was filed after a razor blade was found in the spine of a book that was ostensibly discovered in Cameron's cell. The book was a hard-covered book, which inmates are not permitted to possess in the jail. On January 6, 2008, after Cameron was brought back from a shower, he immediately noticed a hard-cover book in his cell which had not been there when he had been taken to the shower. He asked a deputy to remove it since it was not his book. As soon as the deputy took the book from Cameron, he looked for and found a razor blade in the spine of the book.

At the Preliminary Hearing on April 30, the deputy who had found the blade testified that the book had been destroyed because it was considered to be contraband. The destruction of this main piece of evidence was, of course, a major point of concern to the defense. For one thing, all books belonging to inmates are stamped on the inside cover indicating how they were received into the jail and to whom they were being sent.

Since inmates are not permitted to possess hard-cover books, such a book would have to have been brought in by a prison employee, or else by someone with access (such as for example the chaplain). Cameron's cell was searched regularly and the book had not been in his cell at the time that he left for the shower. It is completely incomprehensible to suppose that the book had been in his possession. Nevertheless, since it was found in his cell, he was charged with possession of a weapon. It is shocking to learn that the book, which was an important piece of evidence, was destroyed!

It was also revealed that the razor blade which was in evidence had not been checked for fingerprints. Why not? Fingerprints found on the book or on the razor blade would seem to be a primary piece of evidence. There is no logical reason why they would not have been checked for fingerprints prior to bringing the case forward. But they were not.

The defense also immediately subpoenaed a video tape that would have shown all the activity in Cameron's cell. Because of previous problems and complaints that Cameron had filed, he was placed on a special tier in the jail where all activity was videotaped. The defense immediately subpoenaed the videotapes, and also made an offer to send someone from their office to the jail to retrieve the data at their own expense. But they were assured that this would not be necessary. However, at the next hearing they were told that the tapes were not available since they had already been recycled and taped over. They were told that the deputies did not know how to save the data on the tapes! Now, really! Are we supposed to believe that?

At each subsequent hearing there was a new prosecutor appearing for the State. At the hearing prior to the dismissal there was also an attorney representing the Sheriff's Department present. He tried to advance the idea that the book wasn't destroyed and had only been misplaced. He tried to say that they would find it somehow -- somewhere -- at sometime. This was odd since the Deputy who found the shank was very clear about what had happened to the book, and why. The testimony from the prior hearing was referred to on the record to establish the point.

We believe that the weapon was planted in Cam's cell deliberately as a means of pressuring him into making a deal, and also to have a charge of potential violence on his record. Prosecutor Hum has been trying to find whatever he can to show that Cameron is ostensibly a "bad guy" with a violent temper. After nearly 8 years, he is certainly frustrated by the reality that Cameron has never been a violent person.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Guilty Until Proven Innocent! Justice blowin' in the wind


The following article and information comes from Justice On Trial and can be found http://www.justiceontrial.org/articles/csi_effect.htm

Excerpts from the article:
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THE CSI EFFECT

THE CSI EFFECT: A relatively new problem with justice in America has recently merged. Most of what the public knows about the legal system comes from media reporting and the pseudo-documentaries that purport to depict law enforcement realistically. Known collectively as the “CSI Effect,” the phenomenon affects not only trials but also the public’s perception of what happens in criminal investigations. Simply put, “It just ain’t so.” The altruism we see in Cold Case Files; the intense investigation we see on CSI, SVU; the reluctance of prosecutors and judges to pervert the legal system we see in “Law and Order” is “creative license” taken by teleplay writers and it is what should happen, but rarely does.

Legal professionals are concerned at the heavy influence of these semi-fictional dramatic presentations on the outcome of trials where “CSI expert” juries base their verdicts on their own “forensic evaluations” of the evidence. In effect, jurors who rely on the “expertise” acquired by viewing TV-crime programs are overruling the expert forensic witnesses. Courts, though they should, rarely instruct juries to disregard their “TV crime busting experience” when reaching a verdict.

Below are highlights of some of other, much more serious, flaws in the system that Justice On Trial, using contributions and grants, hopes to offer suggestions, and lobby for legislation, to improve.

1. THE IRRELEVANCE OF INNOCENCE: The “presumption of guilt,” not innocence,tracks defendants throughout the system. Imagine law enforcement arresting those they “presumed innocent.” In virtually all arrests, law enforcement makes a “prophecy of guilt,” early on, then ‘develops” appropriate evidence to prosecute and convict. (See the 2002 feature film, with Al Pacino, Hillary Swank, Robin Williams, “Insomnia” for a realistic depiction of this law enforcement mindset with truly disastrous results. Also read Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes’ “Mean Justice” to see how rampant, and dangerous, this can be in a community where it is nurtured, unchecked.)..................

2. ARREST WITHOUT EVIDENCE: Officials can and do arrest on no, or flawed, even fabricated, evidence. Affidavits are sworn, under penalty of perjury, so judges, relying upon the honesty of law enforcement and prosecutors, approve such documents without corroboration. Judges are unable to verify evidence in a “sworn officer’s” affidavit. There are evidentiary requirements for arrest, search and seizure and preliminary hearings. However, they are based upon the premise that officers of the law and courts will rise to these standards of law, voluntarily, accurately and truthfully. Some do not.

Frequently, in cases where there is little or no evidence, the “instincts and experience” of law enforcement point them to a suspect early in the investigation. To validate these de facto “declarations of guilt,” officers and/or prosecutors “fudge” evidence to arrest and prosecute so conviction becomes, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy of guilt. Officials “amplify” weak evidence; falsify forensics that would be difficult for the defense to verify; manipulate witness testimony; avoid investigation of other suspects, and withhold exculpatory evidence to strengthen the case and validate that prophecy of guilt....................................

3. YEARS OF INCARCERATION WITH NO TRIAL: Routinely, defendants, many who present no danger or the very remote possibility of flight, are held without bail or unaffordable bail, for years. “Speedy trial” is another fallacy of the American Judicial system. The more serious the crime alleged, the longer it will take the defense to prepare for trial.........................................

4. MYTH OF INCREASED CONVICTION/DECREASED CRIME RATE: Statistics, like holograms, look a little different from every angle. About 85% of “convictions” in the U.S. are not really convictions at all. Ostensibly, to save the courts’ time and money, in collaboration with law enforcement, prosecutors “over-charge” defendants. That is, in the majority of criminal cases, the defendant is charged with more serious crimes than there is evidence to support. Law enforcement then persuades the defendant:

A. That sufficient evidence does exist, when most often it does not; that he will be charged and almost certainly convicted with a long sentence.

B. If he goes to trial it could take years (it will) and, should he lose and appeal, he could spend many years in jail (he would) and still be sentenced at the highest end of the sentencing standard, without “time served” being counted because he was uncooperative by not accepting the plea bargain.....................

5. ESTIMATES OF INNOCENTS IN JAIL RUN TO 200,000 OR MORE: If that were true, what an outrage! But, it is. You may have heard that Barry Scheck, nationally known trial attorney, has headed up a similar non-profit organization, Innocence Project for several years. This group has been responsible for 158 cases overturned, some from death row, primarily based on DNA evidence. (Read “Actual Innocence” by Barry Scheck, for more information and some astonishing statistics on numbers of innocent inmates in U.S. jails). The U.S. has the largest inmate population of any country in the world, over 2 million.


I found the above article as I was researching to write a similar piece regarding Cam Brown. I simply could not find the words to state it better. Justiceontrial.org is an excellent site and is currently working on a television series by the same name. All of us who previously had strong confidence in our justice system before Cam's case, will be anxiously looking forward to that program. We are committed to the principle of being innocent until proven guilty and understand that we can not have a sound justice system in America unless we do everything in our power to preserve truth, honesty and integrity in justice. But lets apply the conclusions of the article to Cam's case:

1. The Relevance of Innocence: There is no question that Cam's case was approached with the assumption of his guilt being the primary motivation and catalyst. As the prosecutor said in an interview, he simply felt certain Cam was guilty. As the investigators said, it was because of their experience that they were able to ferret out statements Cam had made that caused them to conclude early on that he was a guilty man. From there it was a matter of finding what they needed to prove it. They spend the next couple of years trying to "make" their case, but found nothing to substantiate their suspicions. They then enlisted the assistance of DDA Craig Hum who began to creatively weave together the "facts" in a way that would demonstrate guilt to a grand jury and secure an indictment. In the process, facts were manipulated in order to fit, and other facts were created out of thin air. When it didn't hold up in the trial court, prosecutor Hum merely shifted gears and began to argue an alternative theory, and in case the jury didn't buy either, he threw in an admonition to the jury that they "MUST" find Cam Brown guilty, it's the law! Presumption of innocence is, in reality, a farce. It's what we strive for but can not obtain as long as those whom we trust to serve our best interests work from a presumption of guilt, and have all of the resources they need to create the appearance of guilt.

2. Arrest without Evidence: The prosecution twisted the facts to make it appear there was probable cause to arrest Cam Brown. One of the things they used were so-called footprints. The truth about those so-called footprints is that their own crime analyst testified in trial for the defense that they were not footprints. Then, when it was time to give the molds of supposed footprints to the defense for testing and review, they were lost. From those supposed footprints they hired an expert who was willing to support their conclusion that Cam Brown threw his daughter over a cliff. They had other experts who said it was impossible to reach that conclusion, but that did not deter them and those experts were not hired. They then fudged the "evidence" enough to not only secure an arrest and indictment, but to ensure Cam would not be let out on bail. This tactic is often used to prevent an accused the ability to aid in his own defense, but more importantly to put pressure on them to make a deal or to confess to a crime.

3. Years of Incarceration with no trial: This tactic was also utilized in Cam's case. The longer he is incarcerated, the more likely it is that he will fall prey and admit to something or strike a deal. Incarcerated for nearly five years, when all else failed, pressure was put on Cam by bringing charges against him for possession of a weapon. $50,000 bail was placed on him for that charge, even though there is no evidence against him. But let me explain what he was accused of.

Cam was taken for a shower. When he returned he noticed a hard-covered book in his cell. Hard-covered books are not allowed in the jail. If they are discovered in the mail they are returned to sender and are never forwarded to an inmate. All other books are stamped to show when they were received and where they are going. Also, the cells are checked regularly for contraband, and Cam's cell was checked on a daily basis. The book was not in his cell when he was taken out for his shower, but it suddenly appeared when he returned. He immediately saw it and asked the deputy to take it away. It was not his. The deputy took the book and right away discovered there was a razor blade in the spine of the book. As a consequence, Cam was charged with having a weapon.

Because of complaints Cam had previously made regarding abuse in jail, he was on a tier which video-taped everything. The video tape was subpoenaed by the defense and would show how the book got into Cam's cell, but when the defense failed to receive the tape and brought it to the attention of the judge, it was revealed that the tape had been destroyed. The book was also intentionally destroyed. While it is said that the razor blade is being held in evidence, no finger prints were ever taken from it prior to charging Cam or prior to bringing the case to trial. This case is certainly being brought as a means of intimidation. The fact that it is costing Cam additional money to defend is another bonus for the prosecution, as well as the fact it can be used by the media to make Cam look bad. Tactics. It's all about gaining the advantage and putting pressure on the accused.

I realize that there are some who believe it was as simple as invoking Cam's right to a speedy trial, but in reality it's never that simple. This is especially true when funds are limited and negotiations are on going to provide the defendant with expert witnesses. Certainly you can invoke speedy trial rights, but then there is no assurance that you will be able to support your defense with the necessary experts. Believe me, it's not as easy as some would like you to believe unless you are independently wealthy. This is the reason why the percentage of those who give up and take a deal is so high - somewhere in the neighborhood of 80%. Cam has been fighting for the opportunity to prove his innocence.

4. Myth of Increased Conviction/Decreased Crime Rate: Of course this myth serves a dual purpose. It helps the District Attorney and the Sheriff in their re-election campaigns, and it also helps the Deputy District Attorney in his quest for recognition. But there is another reason to overcharge people such as Cam. It's because being locked up often puts the accused in a position of being falsely testified against by jail house snitches, but also because of the pressure to confess -- even if those kind of confessions are known to be due to pressure and not because they are true. Even though it is likely that some of these people will actually be acquitted in trial, many of them have no resources to fight the system and depend on the already over-stressed Public Defender's Office. They know that they are at a grave disadvantage and might as well bend to the pressure and just admit to something in a plea deal. The plea goes down on the charts as a conviction -- another supposed bad guy off the streets. It's a cruel and nasty game, but it has proven to be a very effective one until people like Barry Scheck came along and began getting enough evidence to effect the release of some of the falsely convicted, but also began to gather enough data to show how innocent men were convinced to give false confessions. The data also showed patterns of tactics used to ensure the conviction of innocent men and women. We began to have enough data to take the complaints of abuse and lies very seriously.

Even a defense attorney will look to deal out a case. Fighting it costs far more money than most people have, and public assistance is rarely enough to even begin to cover the cost of a good defense. In Cam's case, experts for the defense were severely limited in what they would be paid (those experts paid by the public funds), and after the trial the judge further cut their payment back to ensure (we believe) that they would never come back for a second trial. It's all about games. It's all about strategy. It works far too often.

Further along in the above article it says, "Those believing that their innocence will lead to acquittal are naive and find, too late, of the irrelevance of innocence in today's American system of justice."

Cam believed, after Lauren's accident, that the ambitious investigators would investigate and find out they were wrong and eventually leave him alone. He was not afraid of the investigation because he knew he had done nothing wrong. He naively had confidence in the system to protect him.

You know, you often see people who immediately call for an attorney when it seems suspicion is befalling them. You also see that when someone does that it is used against them by the investigators. Why would anyone call for an attorney if they are, indeed, innocent? In reality it's like anything else that will happen to you if the long arm of the law decides you are guilty of something; you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you cry, you are intentionally over-reacting to hide your guilt, therefore providing probable cause. If you don't cry, you are not reacting in the way you should be reacting and therefore you are providing probable cause. The police know very well that there is no set way to respond to a terrible and tragic event, yet they will use your response (regardless of what it was) to provide foundation of your suspected guilt.

The next time you hear of someone protesting their innocence -- even on their way into a gas chamber -- don't assume they are guilty just because they made it that far into the system. Chances are just as likely that they never committed the crime they were accused, tried and convicted of. Chances are real good.



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Thursday, April 24, 2008

For Lauren


May God bless little Lauren
We think of her each day
She watches over all of us
As we go on our way

Her smile is in each rainbow
Her warmth in each sunray
Her tears fall with each raindrop
Memories help us through each day

Let her memory fill empty hearts
Let her love guide what we say
Let us see things through those little eyes
And do right by her each day

As her little hands reach out to us
We know she leads the way
May God bless our little Lauren
Let her truth be known, we pray
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May the truth and nothing but the truth prevail. Cam Brown is due to be retried for Lauren's death soon. He did not cause her death. He did not kill the daughter he loved. Lauren and Cam loved each other and enjoyed the time they spent together. This deserves to be known and Lauren should not be held in our memories as the little girl who was thrown off a cliff by a hateful father if that is not what happened. Lauren should not be remembered as the little girl whose father thought so little of her that he intentionally put her at risk if, indeed, that never happened. Lauren deserves better than that. For all those who have the ability to see through her little eyes, please tell the truth. For those who knew her innocence and her little heart, please speak the truth, not from a place of our own selfishness, but from an untainted honesty.

Give us all the strength to go through this one more time so that the whole truth and nothing but the truth can be heard. Justice is only found in the truth.

I say this as though I really believe solely in the goodness of God to bring about justice and truth. Well, I don't. We have to put our faith and confidence in the goodness of our fellow man to do the right thing and that has proven to be a little harder.

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