Friday, September 14, 2007

Horses used in Search and Rescue

Here is a very interesting article on horses being used for search and rescue. It describes a demonstration using two horses. The demo proved that "a wide variety of horses can be trained for cadaver area/air scent locating" and also that horses can distinguish human cadaver scent from the scent of other dead animals.

The advantage of horses over dogs is that the horses can cover a much larger area in a much shorter time. Also, they seem to need less training.

Read the article . . .

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Reporter Richard Cole suffered heart attack in May

We have just come across an article about Richard Cole's heart attack on May 14, 2007. He was at work at the SF Daily's newsroom when he began experiencing chest pains. A co-worker drove him to a hospital, where he was given a blood thinner and then an angioplasty. The article said Cole hoped to return to work in a few weeks. We wish him well.

Those of you who followed the Scott Peterson trial know that Richard Cole provided some excellent reporting that called attention to weaknesses in the State's case. This lengthy article by Cole demonstrates his extensive and detailed analysis of the evidence presented at Scott's trial.

By Richard Cole
Daily News Staff Writer

After more than four months and 174 witnesses, prosecutors in Scott Peterson’s double-murder trial have rested, and the defense will begin its case next week. Using lead prosecutor Rick Distaso’s four-hour opening statement as a guide, the Daily News has graded whether the government proved its case against the Modesto fertilizer salesman beyond a reasonable doubt.

1. Blinds down: Distaso said in his opening it was unusual for the blinds to be down in the Peterson home, as they were the morning of Dec. 24, 2002, when Laci was reported missing. No witnesses testified to that, however, and the Peterson’s housekeeper said the blinds were always down when she arrived to clean the house. Grade F.

2. Golfing vs. fishing: The first neighbor Scott talked to when he went looking for Laci testified Scott told her he golfed that day. But she also said Scott was distraught and that she was firing questions at him. Laci cousin Harvey Kemple also claimed Scott said he went golfing, but Scott had already told police he was fishing before he talked to Kemple. And hours before he talked to the neighbor, police or Kemple, Scott left a message for Laci on their answering machine that he was returning from Berkeley – not the Modesto country club the couple had just joined at a cost of $25,000. Grade F.

3. No dog walking: Her doctor and numerous of Laci’s relatives and friends testified Laci was tired as her pregnancy progressed, and had suffered dizzy spells while walking. But none could say for certain she wasn’t walking the dog. A neighbor who appeared neutral in the case said Laci told her in mid-December she had started walking McKenzie because she was worried about her weight. Grade F.

4. Fishy story: In his opening statement, Distaso said emphatically, “That kind of sets the scene for the entire case, this story about fishing.” The first thing that made police suspicious about Scott’s fishing trip was that he didn’t answer directly when asked what he was fishing for the night Laci disappeared. They also thought it strange that he went fishing the day before Christmas. But Scott said in his police interview that he mainly wanted to get his new boat in the water. And Laci’s stepfather Ron Grantski, who became one of Scott’s chief accusers, also went fishing that same day. Grade F.

5. Bucket and mop: A bucket and mop were found outside the door of the Peterson’s house, with prosecutors’ suggesting Scott may have tried to clean up the crime scene. But no evidence of a crime scene was found inside the home and none of the floors were wet. A state criminalist examined the mop and bucket and found no evidence of blood or tissue. Grade F.

6. The bodies and Brooks Island: The most powerful prosecution evidence is that the bodies washed up almost four months after Laci disappeared near the spot where Scott went fishing in San Francisco Bay. But experts told police the anchors Scott allegedly used to sink the body weren’t heavy enough to do the job. And the coroner indicated there was evidence Laci’s body was exposed to sunlight. A tidal expert trace the path of Conner’s body to where Scott said he was fishing – but said the location of Laci’s body didn’t fit his calculations. Grade C.

7. Dog and leash: Prosecutors suggest that leaving McKenzie outside with his leash on was a setup by Scott to blame Laci’s disappearance on a stranger. But Scott took the leash off the dog before calling family, neighbors and police. Grade D.

8. No rain: Scott said he washed his clothes after fishing because it rained at the Berkeley Marina on Dec. 24, 2002. Prosecutors said both during the opening statements and in affidavits that the claim was untrue. But a marina maintenance man called by prosecutors said last week it had indeed drizzled during the day. Grade F.

9. Tiny time gap. Prosecutors used cellular tower records to show Scott made a cell phone call at or close to his home at 10:08 a.m. Neighbor Karen Servas said she found McKenzie at 10:18 a.m. That leaves only ten minutes for Laci to walk the dog and get kidnapped. But a cellular company executive called by the prosecution testified that the 10:08 a.m. call could not be used to fix Scott’s location. And Servas initially said she found the dog at 10:30 a.m. Grade D.

10. Freshwater fishing pole. Distaso said during his opening statement that Scott was carrying a freshwater fishing pole instead of a saltwater rod and reel at the Berkeley Marina. But police and a sports store manager later said the pole was indeed a saltwater pole, and detectives conceded that on the witness stand. Grade F.

11. Problems in the marriage: The first detective who interviewed Scott asked if there were any problems in his marriage. A state Department of Justice official later asked if there were “third parties.” Scott denied it both times, indicating he was lying about Amber Frey. He was later recorded apologizing to detectives for lying to them about Frey. Other witnesses have testified Scott had at least two previous affairs, and Laci had clearly forgiven him. But Scott continued to call Amber, even minutes before a candlelight vigil for Laci. Grade B.

12. The black pants: Scott told police he had left Laci wearing a white shirt and black pants, but she was found in beige pants. Prosecutors have never explained why Scott would lie about the color of the clothes. Even Frey’s pro-prosecution attorney Gloria Allred conceded Scott just may have been mistaken. Prosecutors tried to show that when Laci died, she was wearing the same clothes she had on the previous evening. But her sister Amy Rocha found the blouse Laci was wearing during a search of the Peterson’s home. And she said the pants she had seen on Laci were not those found on her body. Grade F.

13. The baby’s age: Distaso said a bone-growth expert would show Conner died Dec. 23 or 24. But the expert initially told police Dec. 25, which would have cleared Scott. And all but one of his estimates had Conner dying too early. Grade D.

14. “I lost my wife.” Amber Frey and her friend Shawn Sibley testified Scott told them he cried and said he had “lost” his wife weeks before Laci disappeared. Sibley also indicated she was unsure if Scott meant his wife had died or divorced him. And Scott had told at least one previous lover he was divorced. Grade B.

15. Scott’s mystery boat: “Not a soul knew he had bought a boat,” Distaso claimed in his opening statement. But police have conceded that witnesses place Laci at the warehouse where the boat was kept a few days before she disappeared. And Scott had put his correct name and address on the pink slip, which the boat’s previous owner sent in to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Grade F.

16. Not my photo: Scott looked at a faxed copy of a photo showing him and Amber together and falsely claimed to police it was a composite. The defense raised questions about the quality of the fax. Grade B.

17. Gasoline and fertilizer: Police found Scott’s boat cover with gasoline dripping on it in one shed, and found fertilizer spilled on his tarpaulin in another shed. Both materials could destroy forensic evidence, although prosecutors have not explained why he would not simply have thrown them away. Grade D.

18. Hair in the boat: A hair that may have been Laci’s was found in Scott’s boat in his warehouse. But witnesses have her visiting the warehouse days before. And the detective who spotted the hair had just searched Laci’s car before arriving at the warehouse and examining the boat. Tracking dogs had also been put in the boat before the hair was found. And the pliers the hair was found entwined in had not been used for some time, a state lab expert said. Grade F.

19. Meringue boomerang: The prosecution’s worst moment. Distaso said in his opening statement that, contrary to what Scott claimed, meringue was never mentioned in the Dec. 24, 2002 Martha Stewart Living television show he and Laci supposedly watched. But the defense then played a clip from that show, and meringue was indeed mentioned. Later Detective Al Brocchini, who had reviewed the tape, admitted on the witness stand that he didn’t know meringue was mentioned until the defense played the clip during its opening statement. Grade F-.

20. Scott’s pilgrimages to the marina: Scott visited the Berkeley Marina several times after Laci disappeared, and prosecutor suggest he may have been remorseful or fearful the bodies would surface. But each of those visits apparently coincided with either calls from police or newspaper stories about police searches of the San Francisco Bay waters. The defense also showed Scott visited other sites that were searched by police, were identified in telephone tips, or were mentioned as possible search sites in the newspaper. Grade D.

21. Heading for the border: Scott was arrested in the San Diego area with his brother’s identification, $15,000 cash and a car full of camping equipment, suggesting he was about to flee. His brown hair was blond and he was wearing a goatee. Prior to his arrest he had led police undercover cars on a four-hour roundabout journey, seeking to evade them several times. But the arrest took place at a golf course where Scott was scheduled to meet his family. And Scott had bought most of the camping equipment months earlier. And Scott had started growing the goatee when he was still in Modesto, where it is visible in television video. Grade C.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Texas Judge Blocks State from Destroying Evidence that May Show Whether Man Was Wrongfully Executed

Excerpts from The Innocence Project:

The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network filed motions in state court in San Jacinto County, Texas, seeking DNA testing on the only piece of physical evidence in the case – a hair from the crime scene – that could determine whether the hair matches Claude Jones, who was convicted of murder in 1990 and executed on December 7, 2000.

The hair, which was found on the counter in a liquor store where a man was shot and killed, was central in Jones’ trial and post-conviction appeals. An expert for the state testified at the trial that the hair was consistent with Jones’. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, narrowly upheld Jones’ conviction, in a 3-2 ruling where the majority specifically cited the hair evidence as the necessary “corroboration” to uphold the conviction.

"The judge today recognized that this case raises very serious issues about the integrity of the criminal justice system. We’re grateful that the state will not be able to destroy this evidence before DNA testing can be conducted,” said Nina Morrison, Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project. “We are hopeful that the judge will also see that it’s in everyone’s interests to conduct DNA testing that could resolve serious, lingering questions about this case. DNA testing could show that Claude Jones was guilty, or it could show that the state had no basis for executing him. The public has a right to know whether Claude Jones committed the crime for which he was executed, and today’s ruling moves us one important step closer to learning the truth.”

Why did a Judge have to make this ruling?

The San Jacinto District Attorney, who was one of the prosecutors during Claude Jones’ trial, told us this week that he will not agree to DNA testing without a court order. We are asking for an emergency order from the court that will mandate testing and prevent officials from destroying this evidence in the meantime,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “The public has a right to know whether Claude Jones actually committed the crime for which he was executed, and whether a serious breakdown in the state’s legal and political process led to a wrongful execution. Public confidence in the criminal justice system is at stake.” [underlining added]

From the same article, we learn that when Claude Jones applied for a stay of execution to then Governor George Bush, Bush's staff did not present him with information on the availability of DNA testing on the hair. That information would have stayed the execution because Bush supports the testing of DNA in order to ensure that a conviction is correct. A few months earlier, Bush stayed an execution so DNA testing could be done. “Any time DNA can be used in its context and can be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it.” Several weeks later, DNA results showed that the man, Ricky McGinn, was guilty and he was executed.

I personally hope that Claude Jones is proven guilty by the new DNA testing, because I don't think our Criminal Justice system can withstand too much more erosion of public confidence.

Plea Bargains -- The 8th Circuit Court says the Government must keep them

In a recent case, US v. Yah, No. 063736, the Eighth Circuit Court affirmed the conviction but remanded the case for re-sentencing.

Yah had entered into a plea agreement with the government. In exchange for other charges being dropped and a recommendation for the lightest sentence under the guidelines, Yah would plead guilty, thus avoiding the cost of a trial.

Yah did plead guilty, but the government didn't recommend the lightest sentence because between the signing of the plea agreement and the sentencing hearing, Yah engaged in more criminal behavior and was charged with several State criminal offenses. The government argued to the sentencing Judge that this was a breach of the "acceptance of responsibility" clause in the plea agreement.

The appellate courts apply "general contract principles in interpreting plea agreements," and the Eighth Circuit Court interpreted Yah's agreement in Yah's favor. It said the "acceptance of responsibility" clause did not apply to the promise of a recommendation for a lighter sentence.

The case was remanded to a different judge for re-sentencing. The government is obligated to recommend the lighter sentence, but the new Judge is not required to accept the recommendation.

Read the decision . . .

[Reminder, to read decisions from Find Law, you have to register. This is a free registration, with no gimmicks attached.]

I am very much opposed to plea agreements. They are useful in only a very few instances. They pose two opposing dangers:

1) They are used by prosecutors to convince innocent people to admit to something they didn't do, to avoid going to prison for a very long time.

2) They are used by savvy criminals as get-out-of-jail free cards, or to greatly minimize the penalties for their crimes.

Jim Brazelton dies in Modesto, age 66

Extract from The Mercury News:

Jim Brazelton, former district attorney of Stanislaus County who led the prosecution team against convicted double-murderer Scott Peterson, has died. He was 66.

Brazelton died Monday afternoon at Memorial Medical Center, where he was hospitalized for the past few days, said Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley, who did not know the cause of his death.

The ModBee also has an extensive article on his accomplishments and comments from friends.

Monday, September 10, 2007

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