Archive for November, 2009

Guilty Verdict in Anchorwoman’s Rape, Fatal Beating

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Little Rock, AK—The trial of a man accused of beating a television anchorwoman to death has ended with a conviction.

Curtis Lavelle Vance, 29, was also convicted of residential burglary, rape and theft of property. The attack took place on October 20, 2008, when Vance, who was looking for laptop computers to steal, entered Pressly’s home by means of a doggie door. He raped Pressly, then beat her savagely with a wooden-handled garden tool when she attempted to fight back. Pressly’s left hand was broken, her face crushed beyond recognition, and her hair matted with blood. During the trial, a medical examiner testified that Pressly’s face was broken “like an egg,” and some people in the courtroom broke into tears at the graphic testimony of the anchorwoman’s condition. Pressly, 26, never regained consciousness and died five days after the attack.

Pressly was discovered by her mother, Patti Cannady, after she failed to respond to a wake-up telephone call that Cannady was accustomed to making at 3 a.m.. Pressly, the anchor of KATV’s “Daybreak” program, was also an actress who had played a small role in the President Bush biopic “W.”

According to prosecutors, DNA evidence linked Vance not only to the attack on Pressly but also to another rape, that of a schoolteacher in Marianna, AK, a town about 100 miles from Little Rock. Vance has pleaded not guilty in that case, and his lawyers say that police fooled Vance into giving false confessions. Yet he also went willingly with police to the Marianna police station in order to give a DNA sample. During questioning, Vance reportedly was friendly and cooperative, but also gave a number of conflicting and even contradictory statements and explanations of the attack. At one point he claimed that two other men had committed Pressly’s beating while Vance was outside moving his car; another time he described how she held up her arm to deflect the blows from the garden tool, and then talked about how he threw the tool out of his car window and into the Arkansas river.

Documents obtained from the Department of Human Services in Arkansas showed that Vance had had a troubled youth; his mother, a crack addict, had left her children with their grandmother and lived in a homeless shelter.

The jury is expected to decide today whether Vance will face the death penalty for his crime, or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Orlando Shooting Spree Perpetrator Held Without Bond

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Orlando, FL—A man who is accused of embarking on a shooting spree which killed one person and wounded several others is being held without bond after appearing in court over the weekend.

Jason Rodriguez, 40, allegedly shot several people on Friday morning at an Orlando office where he had once been employed. According to Lt. Louis Tanzi, violent crimes section commander for the Orlando Police Department, Rodriguez entered the reception area of Reynolds Smith & Hills, an architectural and engineering firm, produced a handgun and fired two shots at an employee who was standing next to the receptionist’s desk. That employee died. Rodriguez, who was said to have been recognized by several former co-workers, then went into a common work area and fired more rounds from the handgun, thereby injuring several other employees.

Rodriguez fled the scene, but later surrendered to authorities at his home. Described as a “disgruntled former employee” by several people who work at Reynolds Smith & Hills, Rodriguez had been hired at the company in 2006 as an “engineer one,” or beginning engineer. Yet after 11 months of poor performance, Rodriguez was fired from his engineering position at the firm in June 2007. He had not been seen at the company’s office since then, nor had anyone at the company heard from him, until this outburst. Rodriguez, who recently filed for bankruptcy, told police that after his employment with Reynolds Smith & Hills, he was unemployed for a year and a half, then found work at a Subway fast food restaurant, but was still unable to make ends meet. He blamed his former supervisors at the architectural firm for hindering his attempts to get unemployment at that time.

After the attack, Rodriguez apologized to police while being taken into custody, saying, “I’m just going through a tough time right now, I’m sorry,” yet denied his guilt as he passed reporters out said the police station. When asked by a reporter why he had alleged fired the shots, Rodriguez said, “They left me to rot.”

During the two-minute court proceeding, Rodriguez said little more besides his name. Judge Walter Komanski, who presided, said that the court had found probable cause and factual basis for the arrest of Rodriguez, and that he would be held without bond on a charge of first-degree murder.

The five victims who were wounded in the shooting incident remain in stable condition, according to police spokespeople.

Teens Who Set Boy on Fire To Be Charged As Adults

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Fort Lauderdale, FL—On Monday, three teenage boys who are accused of having deliberately set another teenager on fire will be not only charged as adults, but also charged with attempted murder, according to prosecutors.

The incident occurred on October 12, when the boys allegedly doused 15-year-old Michael Brewer with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire with a cigarette lighter. The group had argued with Brewer over a report of a stolen bicycle. According to witnesses who spoke to police, the boys called Brewer a “snitch” as they poured the alcohol onto his body and used the lighter to ignite it.

Brewer remains in critical condition in a Miami hospital, with burns over 65 percent of his body. He has been unable to speak with the police or the media, both because he is heavily sedated and because he is on a ventilator which helps him to breathe, but does not allow him to speak. Covered in bandages which must be changed daily in a process that takes four hours, Brewer is reported to be recovering, albeit slowly.

The three teens, who will each face one count of attempted murder in the second degree, are Matthew Bent and Denver Jarvis, both 15, and Jesus Mendez, 16. Two other boys have been taken into custody in the incident, but have not had charges filed against them by the state attorney’s office. The boys, who are 13 and 15, were charged earlier, with aggravated battery, in juvenile court. They have both been released from custody. The 13-year-old is Denver Jarvis’s brother.

Maria Schneider, assistant state attorney in charge of Broward County’s juvenile unit, said that the the investigation is ongoing. “This is a very active, ongoing investigation,” she said. “As additional information becomes available, then we have the option to revisit our filing decision.”

According to prosecutors, the three teenagers who were charged Monday as adults will most likely be arraigned next week.

The mother of one of the boys, Sherry Jarvis, issued an apology to the Brewer family last week. “This is a horrible incident that never should have occurred,” she said. “And we pray for Michael’s recovery every day.”

The Jarvis family has received death threats as a result of the boys’ alleged participation in the attack. According to the family’s attorney, the 13-year-old Jarvis son will not be returning home, but will be staying with relatives out of the area.

Man Who Stabbed Pregnant Muslim Woman Sentenced to Life

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Dresden, Germany—A German man was found guilty on murder charges stemming from a courtroom incident in which he stabbed a pregnant Muslim woman.

Alexander Wiens, 28, confessed during a court hearing in July that he had stabbed an Marwa al-Sherbini, but said that it was not a premeditated crime, and that he did not kill the Egyptian woman because of her faith.

Al-Sherbini, 31, had filed a complaint against Wiens in 2008, in which she alleged that he had insulted her with racial slurs and epithets, calling her a “terrorist” and “Islamist.” The attack happened when the two appeared together in a Dresden courtroom for a hearing on the matter, in which al-Sherbini was scheduled to testify against Wiens.

Yet because of Germany’s courts’ lackadaisical security measures, Wiens had been allowed to bring a kitchen knife with a 7-inch blade into the courtroom, which he used to stab al-Sherbini at least 16 times. When her husband Elwy Okaz, a scientist conducting research in Dresden, stepped in to try and save her, Wiens also stabbed him several times. He suffered serious injuries. Additionally, the couple’s 3-year-old son witnessed the attack in the courtroom.

Wiens was also tried and convicted for stabbing Okaz, on charges of attempted murder. His attorneys had sought a lesser conviction of manslaughter, but to no avail.

Said prosecutor Frank Heinrich, “It’s clear that his motive was hatred for Muslims. Like a maniacal, cold-blooded killer, he started stabbing the woman and her husband, who was trying to protect her.”

Wiens declined to respond in court.

The killing had trigged outrage among the worldwide Muslim community. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had expressed condolences privately to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but did not make a public statement about the incident. This contributed to what Egyptians perceived as a racist and anti-Muslim response on the part of Germans in general. Demonstrators outside of the courtroom where Wiens was sentenced carried signs that read “the death of Marwa is the result of Islam hunting” and “stop the Islam hate in Germany.”

Wiens was a Russian-born German citizen who has lived in Germany since 2003. He has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of early release, a term which is considered relatively severe by German standards. Most convicted murderers are sentenced to life in prison, but are eligible for release after 15 years behind bars.

Supreme Court to Argue Constitutionality of Juvenile Life Imprisonment

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Washington—The Supreme Court will debate today over whether or not it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment to sentence juveniles to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for a non-homicide crime.

The death penalty for juveniles was struck down in 2005, by a vote of 5-4, in part because of the justification that children are different from adult criminals, and that execution represents a much different punishment than incarceration. Then, the justices said that juvenile offenders are “substantially less culpable” because of their “youth and immaturity.” Citing impulse control, peer pressure and an inability to think actions through to their potential consequences, the court denied the legality of putting juveniles to death because of the permanency of this punishment.

While no state legislature has ever directly authorized life sentences without the possibility of parole for youth offenders, some states have made it easier to try those children as adults. Florida is one such state, in which any age offender may be tried as an adult. Additionally, Florida and other states have upped the number of non-homicide crimes that can result in a sentence of life without parole. These two factors account for the high number of juvenile offenders who are being put behind bars for life. Representatives for the state of Florida claim that these measures, which we put in place in the 1990s in order to help stem a tide of juvenile crimes, have been effective.

Nineteen states have filed a brief that supports sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without parole, in non-homicide cases.

Two cases, both from Florida—the state with 70 percent of the country’s juveniles who are serving life terms without parole—will illustrate the complications of this issue. The first is that of Terrence Graham, who was 16 when he pleaded guilty to armed robbery. He served one year in jail, was released on probation, and was arrested after an armed home invasion. The judge in his case sent Graham, who was then 17, to prison with no possibility of parole, ignoring the recommendation made by the Department of Corrections that Graham be sentenced to only four years in prison. Graham’s lawyer is claiming that the sentence for armed burglary, since it represents more than double the average murder sentence in Florida, is disproportionately severe.

The other case involved Joe Sullivan, who was 13 at the time of his conviction for raping a 72-year-old woman. Although he had a record which included several misdemeanors, this was Sullivan’s first felony. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole by a judge who described him as “beyond help.”

Opponents of this trend point to rehabilitation programs, and the evidence that once easily pressured teenagers can grow up to do good and forswear a life of crime. The Supreme Court will decide now whether to require that states give them the chance to do so outside of prison walls.

Salvadoran Woman Sues Sheriff’s Department over Detainment

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Baltimore, MD—Two immigrants’ right groups are assisting a Salvadoran woman who claims that she was unconstitutionally detained and interrogated last year by the Frederick County, Maryland sheriff’s department.

Roxana Orellana Santos was sitting on a curb eating her lunch when two deputies began questioning her. According to a lawsuit filed in court by Orellana Santos, the deputies had no probable cause to question or detain her, but did so simply because of her Hispanic ethnicity. The officers had difficulty communicating with Orellana Santos, because she speaks little English, but asked her about her immigration status. Orellana Santos was then taken into custody, transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and detained for five weeks, although not charged. She was released on humanitarian grounds in November 2008. The incident occurred on October 7.

Now Orellana Santos is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages in the lawsuit which names both the Frederick County sheriff’s department and federal officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Despite having committed no criminal offense under Maryland law, Ms. Orellana Santos was detained, taken into custody and subsequently transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” states the complaint.

Under an arrangement known as a 287(g) agreement, local law enforcement officers may not inquire about a person’s immigration status unless there is a crime being committed. In Orellana Santos’s case, her complaint alleges, the officers had no probable cause and therefore no reason to arrest her.

The 287(g) agreements were initially conceived as a way to free up overcrowded court dockets and prison cells, by deporting criminals who are in the country illegally. Opponents, however, say that local officials sometimes abuse the privilege and use the freedom of 287(g) partnerships to profile and expel undocumented immigrants.

The agreement also stipulates that any officer who makes an arrest must be trained and certified in the proper procedures, but according to court documents filed on behalf of Orellana Santos, the arresting deputies in her case were not certified.

Orellana Santos is being assisted in her suit by two groups which lobby for immigrants’ rights, CASA de Maryland and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

It is unclear what Orellana Santos’s immigration status is, and her lawyer has refused to comment.

Settlement Reached in Adult-Diaper Construction Case

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Philadelphia, PA—A gender discrimination suit that centered around the lack of adequate restroom facilities for female construction site employees has been settled out of court.

Lisa Drozdowski, 37, claimed that the construction company for which she works, Danella Construction Corporation, refused to provide her and other female employees with portable toilets or other adequate amenities. She was granted a settlement of $150,000 in a suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Four other women, who were also female employees of Danella, will split a settlement of $50,000 for damages in a gender discrimination case, according to a consent decree filed in federal court recently. The decree is pending judicial approval.

Drozdowski claimed in her suit that although the male construction workers on sites could urinate in holes or behind backhoes or other construction vehicles, she was obliged to walk a quarter of a mile to reach her car, then drive for an additional five or 10 minutes to find a public bathroom.

When other female employees were present, she said, they could help shield one another from passing traffic and from coworkers by holding up blankets for one another. Several times, however, Drozdowski was the only woman on the site and was denied a bathroom break until it was too late for her to find a public toilet. Several times she urinated on herself, so she began wearing Depends adult diapers to work in order to keep her job. At the time of her employment with the company, Drozdowki was a single mother of three children and needed the construction job in order to support her family.

Drozdowski, who began working as a flagger for Danella in 2005, also alleged that she was denied a laborer’s position, and that management told her the company did not hire female employees for laborer positions. The company stopped calling her for jobs in 2006. A claim for retaliation was included in the lawsuit that was brought by the Equal Opportunity Commission.

Danella’s attorney, Sandra A. Girifalco, issues a statement in which the company flatly denied the claims of discrimination. “No one, male or female, was ever denied the opportunity to go to a restroom when the need to go was known,” read the statement, in part.

The statement also said that the company entered into the settlement in order to stop “expensive and distracting” litigation.

Reward Increased in Slaying of Seattle Officer

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Seattle, OR—Despite a reward for information, and the public outcry for justice, the killer of a Seattle policeman remains on the loose. Now the Seattle police union’s president is speaking out.

“This does not happen in Seattle,” said Police Guild President Richard O’Neill in an interview, speaking of the unprovoked shooting of Officer Timothy Brenton and student officer Brit Sweeney last Saturday night.

The two officers were looking over the details of a recent traffic stop while sitting in a parked patrol car, approximately 10 p.m. Another vehicle pulled up next to their patrol car, and shots were fired from inside that vehicle.

Sweeney, according to recently released transcripts, called in to her dispatcher to report that shots had been fired, and then said, “My partner is dead.” Although she had been grazed by one of the shots, which tore through her uniform and through her protective vest, Sweeney was able to fire at the attackers’ vehicle but was unsure whether any of her bullets managed to strike it.

A spokesperson for the Seattle police department says that they are reviewing the videotapes made by dashboard cameras on nearby patrol cars, with the intention of gaining more information about the attackers’ vehicle. The police believe that this vehicle was a light blue, silver or white compact or subcompact car.

Crime Stoppers has issued an award for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case, and recently upped that award to $85,000. This is the first intentional shooting of a Seattle city police officer since 1994, said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, as he described the incident as a “cold-blooded” shooting.

Brenton, who is survived by a wife and two children, ages 11 and 8, had served on the Seattle police force for nine years. The 39-year-old came from a family of police officers, and both his father and uncle are retired from the force.

Law enforcement officials have pledged to do whatever it takes to catch the responsibly party or parties in the fatal shooting incident. Said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels at a press conference on Sunday, “We will not rest until the assailant is brought to justice.”

Pair Arrested, Charged with Stealing 1,000 Pieces of Luggage

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Phoenix, AZ—An arrest has been made in the case of two people suspected of stealing hundreds of pieces of luggage from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Keith Wilson King, 61, and Stacy Lynne Legg-King, 39, were arrested on Monday on charges of theft of property and possession of stolen property. Legg-King was also arrested on suspicion of tampering with evidence.

Police said there were so many pieces of luggage at the King residence that they could only estimate the number, which they put at around 1,000. They also said that the interior of the house was in disarray, with many pieces of luggage, numerous items of clothing and even garbage scattered around.

Phoenix Police Detective James Holmes called this situation a “livelihood” for the pair. “There’s a lot of luggage and there’s a lot of victims,” he said.

King was first arrested on a misdemeanor charges several weeks ago, after he was witnessed parking his car at the airport and taking a suitcase from one of the baggage claim carousels. He was released, but police began surveilling him.

On Monday, police followed King back to the airport, where they saw him take another piece of luggage and return to his home with it. They searched the house on Tuesday and made the startling discovery that King and Legg-King had apparently been stealing baggage for some time, although they would not hazard a guess as to how long the thefts have been happening. Investigators are unsure of whether anyone else is involved; any identifying luggage tags have been removed.

In a court document, Officer Kendall Goo wrote, “The amount of luggage being stored inside of the residence was almost surreal.”

A spokesperson for the Phoenix airport told reporters that the airlines had all ceased checking passengers’ baggage claim tickets, which had once been common practice, sometime in the last 10 years. The elimination of these checks had apparently been instituted in order to cut costs.

“We’re evaluating a lot of different possibilities,” said Deborah Ostreicher, explaining that law enforcement and airport officials are collaborating to determine a new security policy at the airport. Airlines and airport security personnel will discuss the possibility or checking passengers’ baggage claim tickets once again.

Airport security experts advise travelers never to put medications, cash, jewelry, electronics or other valuables inside their checked baggage, to lock their bags, to clearly mark their bags, and to retrieve their luggage as soon as possible after landing at their destination.

Judge Orders Redaction of Documents in Polygamist’s Sexual Abuse Case

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Eldorado, TX—A judge presiding over the hearing of polygamist and accused child abuser Raymond Jessop has ordered that some documents be redacted.

The document in question shows that Jessop, 38, had four or more wives who were either nursing or pregnant at the same time. District Judge Barbara Walther ruled that this document, as well as others which proved his multiple marriages, not be shown to the jury in this trial.

Raymond Jessup is currently on trial for sexual assault of a child in the case of one of his wives, who was allegedly 15 at the time of the marriage and gave birth to Jessop’s baby at the age of 16. Jessop will stand trial later on bigamy charges, at which point documentation of his multiple marriages may be more germane and therefore admissible at trial.

Walther recommended that a list, removed from the records at the Yearning for Zion Ranch, of which Jessop was a member, should be redacted in order to conceal the names of other families, as well as other alleged wives who were either pregnant or breastfeeding at the time when the alleged victim gave birth, in 2005.

Authorities raided the YFZ ranch in April 2008, removing more than 400 children and placing them in foster care. The children have been returned to parents or other relatives, but a large amount of documentation, as well as results from DNA tests, have been used as building blocks in the criminal cases against 12 men. Jessop is the first to go to trial.

Also disallowed at trial will be dictations given by Warren Jeffs that do not concern Jessop and the alleged victim. Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who is currently serving prison time for being an accomplice to rape, is considered a prophet by other sect members. He has made many recordings discussing religious teachings and orders about the YFZ Ranch.

Other controversial documents, which the judge did not immediately rule, include photos of alleged wives standing next to Jessop and church marriage certificates which show that Jessop was married on the same day to both the alleged victim and another woman. The child sexual abuse case hinges on whether or not Jessop was legally married to the girl, who is now 21.

The Fundamentalist Church broke away from the centuries-old Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which neither condones polygamy nor recognizes the sect.

Jessop has pleaded not guilty. If he is convicted of the sexual assault of a child, he could face up to 20 years in prison.