Articles Posted in Murder

INTRODUCTION

Recently, I read several headlines that stated, “Aaron Hernandez Is Innocent.” I immediately thought of the impact of those words. First, I thought how it might affect the readers. Then, my thoughts shifted to how it may impact the families of the victims. After a day of contemplation, I decided that I needed to write this article.

THE FACTS

THE ALLEGED FACTS

The victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida are suing both the wife of the shooter and the shooter’s former employer. They accuse them of failing to prevent the abhorrent massacre. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in South Florida.

The 57 victims, consisting of survivors and representatives of the deceased, allege that the security company that the shooter worked for knew of the comments Omar Mateen had made prior to the shootings that resulted in the tragic death of 49 club patrons and the injury of dozens more. Mateen allegedly bragged to a co-worker that he had ties to terrorists and a mass shooter. The law suit alleges that his employer, G4S Secure Solutions, should have immediately taken away his weapons and recommended that his firearms license be revoked. When investigated by both his employer and the FBI in 2013, he claimed that he only said those outrageous things so that his co-worker would stop teasing him about being Muslim. The FBI determined that he did not pose a threat.

WHAT HAPPENED

Florida Governor Rick Scott recently removed newly elected Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Loyd case. Loyd is charged with two counts of First Degree Murder for shooting and killing police officer Lt. Debra Clayton and Loyd’s pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon. The case was re-assigned to state attorney Brad King, who prosecutes in neighboring Florida counties. Scott claims that the reason he removed Ayala is because she “won’t fight for justice.” He points to her comments concerning the death penalty as support for his extraordinary move. She allegedly stated that the death penalty causes too much pain for victims’ families and that it was not an effective deterrent. Additionally, she allegedly made it clear that not only wouldn’t she be seeking death for Loyd, but she wouldn’t be seeking the death penalty in any future case during her entire four years in office. Regarding seeking the death penalty in future cases, she stated, “I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice.”

Scott initially attempted to get Ayala to recuse herself from the Loyd case. When she refused, he took the case away from her.

INTRODUCTION

It was an eerie feeling. As I walked into Terminal 2 of the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport, just days after the horrific shooting, I was consumed with emotion. It hit me that I was in “The room where it happened.” (Yes, even when describing something dark and emotional, “Hamilton” references still flow out of me) There was an overwhelming presence of media and law enforcement both inside and outside of the terminal. I was headed to Minneapolis for an appearance in federal criminal court. My return flight on Delta Airlines into Fort Lauderdale was the exact one the shooter had taken just days earlier. This case still consumes me. I find myself frequently discussing it with friends and colleagues. I’ve chosen to write this article because I’ve found from my discussions that there’s a lot of misinformation concerning this case. Also, there are many wondering what will likely happen to the shooter, Esteban Santiago. To best be of service in this article, I’ve attempted to answer the most common questions that I believe are on the minds of most people at this time.

QUESTIONS

Imagine that a brutal rape and murder is committed. Shortly thereafter, an arrest is made. At the accused’s trial, the most significant piece of evidence comes from the prosecutor’s expert, who testifies, “The hair found at the murder crime scene matches perfectly to the hair sample taken from the defendant’s head.” Based primarily on that trial testimony, the accused is convicted and sent to death row. What if the testimony was later found to be “junk science?” What if that same expert provided similar testimony in numerous other trials involving defendants accused of similar violent offenses? Worse, what if numerous other “experts” provided similar flawed testimony in hundreds of other cases?

Unfortunately, the hypothetical described above is a reality. It was just revealed by both the FBI and Justice Department that for more than a two decade period before 2000, almost every “expert” in their forensic unit provided flawed testimony in just about every trial in which they provided evidence in criminal cases. They would systematically come into court and claim that they were certain that hairs found at the crime scene matched that of the defendants’. Additionally they bolstered their claims in front of the juries by citing incomplete or misleading statistics. 26 out of 28 FBI microscopic hair comparison “experts” are involved in this appalling scandal. Those examiners provided flawed testimony in 95% of the 268 criminal trials reviewed to date. The cases being reviewed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project include 32 people sentenced to execution. Of the 32 sentenced to death, 14 of those have already died in prison or have been executed. As many as 2500 cases could have been affected. It’s important to note that the bogus testimony wasn’t the sole evidence of guilt in all of the cases. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are examining each case individually to determine whether they may be dealing with an innocent defendant. Four defendants were already exonerated.

The question now is how will judges and prosecutors respond to this, one of our nation’s largest criminal justice scandals. The FBI and Justice Department claims that they are sparing no resources to ensure justice for those defendants affected by this. The FBI revealed that until 2012, there were no written standards governing the proper way for their “experts” to explain results while testifying in court.

I’ve been cringing a lot lately.  It seems most of the time when I hear folks, including so called “legal experts,” provide opinions concerning the Dunn murder trial, my body physically reacts.  I’m amazed at how many passionate and elegant speakers are disseminating misleading and even, inaccurate information concerning this “high profile” case.  I wanted to take a moment to provide you with my take on it.  There are some important lessons that can be learned.  Take what you like and leave the rest.

Lesson One

Trials aren’t about justice.  I subscribe to Aristotle’s definition of justice, which is, “Like cases being treated alike.”  Within a short period of time into my two decades in the criminal justice arena, I realized that there was no justice.  While that was the goal for some, I didn’t see that occurring as a rule.  The outcome of criminal cases hinges upon a myriad of factors.

Just hours before white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin was scheduled to be killed via lethal injection, U.S. District Judge in Missouri, Nanette Laughreyin, granted stay of execution, citing concerns over Missouri’s new execution method.

Franklin is challenging Missouri’s drug choice of pentobarbital for the lethal injection procedure. He argues that the use of this drug violates his eighth amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. The federal judge ruled that the lawsuit filed by Franklin and 20 other death row inmates challenging Missouri’s execution procedure must be resolved before Franklin is definitively put to death by lethal injection.

Franklin is allegedly responsible for murdering 22 people between 1977 and 1980. Franklin confessed to many murders and was convicted of eight murders total — two in Cincinnati, two in Salt Lake City, two in Madison, Wisconsin, one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and another in St. Louis, Missouri.

On July 7 approximately a week after being married, Jordan Linn Graham was accused of murdering her husband by pushing him from a cliff. Graham did not report the incident when it occurred. She initially told police Johnson had left in a dark vehicle the night of July 7 with unknown friends. She later changed her story and told the interrogator that she lied but that Johnson’s death was an accident.

“I was afraid that they weren’t going to give me a chance to explain things and they were just gonna kind of put me in handcuffs and take me away right there and say that I had committed a crime or that I had planned this to kill somebody,” she said.

Her trial was postponed after prosecutors told her defense attorney they discovered new evidence that her husband was blindfolded before being pushed from the cliff. If the prosecution does in fact possess’ evidence that suggests her husband was blindfolded when pushed off the cliff, the government’s case for premeditation, first-degree murder becomes extremely strong. However, Graham’s defense attorney says that the prosecution has no evidence regarding the use of a blindfold. The defense attorney, however, still expresses that he is unprepared to continue for the trial scheduled for December.

Authorities charged 14-year-old Philip Chism Wednesday, with the murder of Colleen Ritzer. Ritzer’s body was found on Tuesday behind the school where she taught, after a search when she didn’t return home from work that day. All seven schools in the Boston town were closed Wednesday as a result of the investigation. It wasn’t clear why the district closed all of its schools after the discovery of Ritzer’s body.

Chism was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Salem, Massachusetts. He is being charged with murder charge and was ordered to be held on no bond. Since Chism is underage, it is up to a grand jury to determine if he will be charged as an adult.

Authorities found Ritzer’s body after discovering blood in a second-floor bathroom of Danvers High School, where the 24-year-old taught math.

Florida authorities on Saturday evening arrested two convicted murderers, Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, who forged release documents and escaped from prison.

They were taken into custody at 6:40 p.m. at Panama City’s Coconut Grove Motor Inn. The two men appeared in court Sunday morning at the Bay County Courthouse in Panama City.

The state Department of Corrections who incorrectly released the two inmates said little about the arrests, however, they insist it was not their fault. Family members of both men spoke out requesting that they turn themselves in to authorities. Walker’s mother said, “We just want you to surrender yourself to someone you trust who will bring you back in safely.” Both families denied any knowledge of the escape and told investigators and reporters they first learned of the releases in telephone calls from the Franklin Correctional Institution informing them that they could pick up their family member.