Archive for February, 2010

Arrest Made After Hoax 911 Call Prompted Turnpike Traffic Stop

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Newark, NJ—An arrest has been made in the case of a 911 call that claimed teenagers had brandished weapons at a turnpike rest area.

The ensuing traffic stop, during which state troopers drew their rifles, has caused claims of racial profiling, as the van that was stopped was full of minority teenagers from Queens. The 11 teens, who were accompanied by three chaperones, were returning from a field trip to Howard University. Safe Space NYC, a social service agency that helps disadvantaged children get out of the foster care system, had organized the trip.

One of the teenagers who was riding in the van, Rodney Tanzymore, allegedly made the call to authorities which led up to the traffic stop. According to state police, Tanzymore—who gave him name as “David Smith,” and who was calling from an emergency cellphone of the kind that can only dial 911—said that passengers of the van had brandished handguns while stopped at a turnpike rest area. Although describing the van, “Smith” did not, however, indicate that he was a passenger on it.

Police have not commented on a possible motive.

Tanzymore, 19, was arrested at his home in Queens, N.Y., on Monday. He was charged with causing a false public alarm—a charge which carries up to five years in prison.

Surveillance tapes which were released by state police in December show the van being stopped, and the riders and driver being evacuated at gunpoint. They were then handcuffed and ordered to sit on the guardrail on the side of the road. The incident took place on the New Jersey Turnpike in Hamilton Township.

Some of the teenagers who were involved in the traffic stop later said that they were frightened by the officers approaching them with their weapons drawn. Others have been quoted as suggesting a racial motivation for the stop.

The controversy comes just months after the federal government ceased overseeing the state police. The oversight, which had been ordered by the courts, was a result of another turnpike traffic stop, during which three unarmed minority men were shot by troopers.

A supervisor allegedly informed the responding troopers that the situation was “high risk,” which they cite as the reason for approaching the van with their rifles drawn.

Spokespersons for the state police department say that their officers used the proper protocol, and acted professionally and appropriately, during the traffic stop.

NYPD Officers Acquitted in Subway Sodomy Case

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Jurors in a controversial sodomy case in New York City have found three police officers not guilty on various charges.

Standing trial were Officers Richard Kern, Andrew Morales and Alex Cruz. Kern was accused of attacking and sodomizing a drug suspect on a subway platform, while Morales and Cruz were charged with having covered up the crime.

The incident took place in October 2008, when Michael Mineo—a self-professed member of the infamous Crips gang who has a previous criminal record and who admits to being a drug user—was smoking marijuana on a Brooklyn street. When police officers approached him, he ran, but the officers caught up with him in the subway station. After being handcuffed, Mineo claims, he was sodomized with a baton by Kern. Afterwards the officers dragged him to a squad car, but changed their minds about arresting him because they feared the repercussions of their actions.

Mineo went to the hospital for treatment of injuries he allegedly sustained during the encounter, and later returned for further medical treatment for an abscess.

The officers on trial countered that they released Mineo, despite the fact that he had a warrant out for his arrest, because marijuana possession arrests are low on the department’s priority list.

Initially, the NYPD was skeptical about Mineo’s account of what occurred, and never removed the officers from their active duty assignments.

Although a transit system police officer, who was an eyewitness to the event, testified for the prosecution, the jurors in the case delivered a handwritten statement to court officers saying that they could not find the officers guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Mineo’s testimony, which was often agitated and emotional, also lacked substantive credibility. He had told jurors that he was not carrying identification, but one of the exhibits produced by the defense team showed a photograph of Kern inspecting an ID card that Mineo had handed him.

The Assistant District Attorney in the case, Charles Guria, made the argument that Mineo should not be penalized for his criminal past and his gang membership. If he were, Guria said, “anybody who has ever made a mistake in their past can never go to the law.”

Kern was charged with aggravated sexual abuse, and could have served as many as 25 years in prison had he been convicted. Officers Morales and Cruz would have been eligible for up to four years in prison, if they had been found guilty on charges of hindering the prosecution.

Suspect in Subway Bombing Plot Pleads Guilty

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

New York—A man with ties to the terrorist organization al-Qaida, who built homemade explosives with the intention of using them in the New York City subway system, has pleaded guilty in a federal court.

Najibullah Zazi, 25, is an Afghan native and a former shuttle driver at the Denver International Airport. Along with two former high school classmates from Queens, Zazi traveled to Pakistan in 2008. He has admitted to making the trip in order to join the Taliban, but says that instead he was recruited by the al-Qaida network and subsequently entered a training camp for the terrorist group.

In 2009, Zazi bought beauty supplies, including acetone, in order to manufacture approximately two pounds of an unstable, but powerful explosive—triacetone triperoxide, or TATP. This substance is often used as a detonator to set off even more powerful explosives.

After cooking up the homemade bomb materials in a Colorado hotel room, Zazi embarked on a cross-country drive to New York, arriving shortly before the eighth anniversary of the September 11 terrorism attacks. By making that trip, he aroused the suspicions of authorities, who then arrested him.

Zazi has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support for a terrorist organization. If convicted, he could face a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to some sources within the law enforcement community, Zazi gave information about the plot to his attorney and to federal prosecutors in what is known as a proffer session, which usually signals the start of a plea deal. One such source said that Zazi agreed to cooperate after learning that his mother could face criminal immigration charges.

One of the other men who traveled to Pakistan with Zazi and who is allegedly involved in the plot, Zarein Ahemdzay, has been jailed on charges of lying to the FBI about contact he made with Zazi. A third, Adis Medunjanin, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and remains jailed.

All three men are to appear in federal court in Brooklyn later this week.

There are other individuals who have been charged in the incident, including an imam whose bail was set at $1.5 million after he, too, was charged with lying to the FBI. Zazi’s father was also charged with attempting to hide evidence, including chemicals, but he has been freed on $50,000 and allowed to return to his home outside Denver. Zasi’s uncle has reportedly been arraigned in secret on a felony count, which has led to further speculation about a plea deal being brokered for Zazi.

Alaska Man Sentenced In Killing of Neighbor, Another

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Anchorage, AK—A man who admitted to the 2007 killing of his neighbor was sentenced to life in prison, but not before engaging in a verbal spat with the sentencing judge.

Joshua Alan Wade was sentenced to 99 years in prison for the murder of Mindy Schloss, a nurse practitioner. Schloss, 52, was bound, gagged, kidnapped and shot, then left in a wooded area near Wasilla, AK.

Wade also admitted to having murdered another Anchorage woman, Della Brown, 33, by hitting her in the head with a large rock. He then left her partially clothed body in an abandoned shed. Wade made this admission in a signed plea agreement for the Schloss killing, although he had earlier been acquitted of Brown’s murder. An Anchorage jury had found him not guilty of that crime in 2003, but did find him guilty of tampering with evidence. Wade received six and a half years in prison, and it was just months after he was released from this sentence that he attacked Schloss.

State Superior Court Judge Phillip Volland sentenced Wade to 99 years for Schloss’s murder, and additionally required that the parole board make him serve at least 66 years. If he is granted parole at that time—at age 95—he must be turned over to the federal authorities to serve out the remainder of a life sentence for murder committed during a carjacking.

This requirement was handed down by a federal court judge, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline, who went on to describe him as a coward, as well as selfish and heartless.

To this, Wade responded angrily, “Don’t push it, man.”

The judge said, “I’m going to push it,” and Wade reiterated his threat. Beistline used this outburst as an illustrative example of Wade’s dangerous personality, and as a defense of the lengthy sentence.

Earlier, Wade had offered apologies to both the state Superior Court and the federal court, saying that he deserved much worse. He blamed childhood caretakers, who sexually abused him beginning when he was five years old, for the path of “destruction and failure” which his life followed. He became addicted to marijuana and turned away from religion.

“I chose not to deal…with those abuse issues, chose instead to bury them and allow for it to fester and build into a murderous rage which ultimately resulted in a lot of pain and suffering for others,” said Wade at his state court sentencing, which took place on Wednesday.

After 16 Years in Prison, Innocent Man Set Free By State Panel

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

The country’s only panel dedicated to proving the innocence of convicted people has won a groundbreaking case.

The North Carolina Innocence Commission is the only state-run agency that works to overturn wrongful convictions, and this week it helped free Greg Taylor, a man who spent more than 16 years in prison for the murder of a prostitute.

The case began in 1991, when Taylor and a friend, Johnny Beck, drove an SUV into a wooded cul-de-sac area to smoke crack cocaine. When they tried to leave, the vehicle got stuck, and so the two men walked towards the main road to hitch a ride. On their way, however, they found a body—that of Jacquetta Thomas. When Thomas’s body was later discovered, authorities pinned the crime on Taylor, despite a lack of evidence to show his involvement in the beating death. Several eyewitnesses who testified against Taylor at the time have since recanted their testimony, leaving only a jailhouse informant and a woman who was admittedly high on crack cocaine, beer and wine at the time of the incident to maintain that Taylor was involved.

The most critical piece of evidence that helped exonerate Taylor was the statement of a State Bureau of Investigation agent. Duane Deaver said that complete blood test results, per policy of the bureau, were excluded from the lab reports that were admitted during Taylor’s initial trial.

Taylor steadfastly refused either to confess to the crime, or to testify against Beck in return for a plea deal. Instead, he served time—over 16 years’ worth. He was freed this week by a three-judge panel, after six days of arguments and testimony.

The North Carolina Innocence Commission was established in 2006 by that state’s lawmakers, and remains the only such state-run agency in the country. Only three cases of the several hundred that have come up for review by the committee have made it to a hearing before its commissioners, and only one other besides Taylor’s has come before a three-judge panel. That case was rejected.

After his handcuffs were removed, Taylor embraced his daughter, Kristen Puryear, and the son-in-law he had never met, and said that he was looking forward to a home-cooked meal. He also received an apology from Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, whose office had effectively kept Taylor locked up, and who told the freed man that he wished all the evidence had been available at the time of his trial.

Two Men Charged in Internet Rape Case

Friday, February 19th, 2010

The popular classified advertising Web site, Craigslist, may be tightening its regulations for those who wish to post under its “adult services” category, after two men who corresponded through the site were arrested for rape.

The crime began when Jebidiah James Stipe, 27, allegedly posted an advertisement on Craigslist, posing as his ex-girlfriend and soliciting an encounter to fulfill a rape fantasy. “Need a real aggressive man with no concern for women,” the ad read in part. It also contained pictures and some personal information about the woman, whose name has not been released.

After the woman complained to Craigslist and the Natrona County Sheriff’s Department, the advertisement was taken down—but not before Ty Oliver McDowell, 26, saw it and took down the contact email that it included. He began corresponding with someone whom he thought was a woman with a rape fantasy, but was instead Stipe. Stipe, a private first-class in the U.S. Marine Corps, was attempting to exact revenge on his ex-girlfriend by posting the ad on Craigslist.

According to authorities, McDowell assaulted the woman at her front door, raped her at knifepoint, and left her bound on the floor. He is now facing three counts of first-degree assault, one count of aggravated burglary and one count of kidnapping.

McDowell reportedly waived his right to remain silent when arrested, and spoke with deputies about his involvement in the case. Although admitting that he went to the woman’s home, assaulted her and had sexual contact with her, he also said that he thought the encounter was consensual because it was simulating a rape fantasy.

Stipe is charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree sexual assault, and will also face disciplinary action by the USMC. According to a Marine Corps spokesperson, Stipe “was being processed for administrative separation as a result of a pattern of misconduct at the time of his arrest.”

Craigslist agreed to begin charging for “adult services” advertisements, and to require a valid phone number for those placing the ads, in 2008, as part of an agreement with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The site, which has categories for buying and selling items, job postings, and personals, is mostly free. The new regulations are meant to curtail the number of illicit ads, but this is the second case in less than a year in which Craigslist has made headlines. Last April, a former medical student named Philip Markoff used the site to meet several young women, whom he attacked. One of them, Julissa Brisman, was shot and killed during an encounter with Markoff.

Craigslist has been cooperating with investigators in Casper.

Professor in AL Shooting Had Been Investigated In Past Criminal Probes

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

The Alabama professor who is named in the shooting death of three colleagues during a faculty meeting had a questionable past, say investigators, although she had never been charged with a crime.

Amy Bishop, a neurobiology professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, drew a gun during a faculty meeting and fired, hitting six people. Three of her colleagues died on the scene, and the others were hospitalized. Two of the survivors remain in critical condition.

In the wake of the violence, investigators are learning that Bishop was the subject of two previous criminal probes. In 1986, authorities say, Bishop shot and killed her 18-year-old brother during what was ruled an accident. At the time, she told police that she was attempting to learn how to use the gun when it accidentally went off. Questions about the investigation into that incident have since surfaced, because Bishop fired once into a wall before shooting her brother, and then into the ceiling.

Bishop and her husband, James Anderson, were also questioned in 1993, after a pipe bomb was sent to the office of one of Bishop’s colleagues. The bomb, addressed to Dr. Paul Rosenberg at Children’s Hospital in Boston, never went off, and no charges were filed. According to one mutual coworker, Bishop and Rosenberg had been embroiled in a public dispute shortly before the bomb was delivered.

University officials are holding meetings to determine whether there was anything in Bishop’s files that might have provided clues to her behavior, in part because of pressure from the victims’ families. However, some say that because Bishop was not charged with a crime in either of the previous investigations, nothing in her background check would have been a red flag to the committee that hired her in 2003.

Anderson did tell reporters that he and Bishop had recently gone together to a shooting range for target practice. He also said he did not know where she had acquired the gun which was used in Friday’s slayings; investigators had previously said that Bishop did not have a permit for that weapon.

No motive has been named in the fatal shooting, but some of Bishop’s colleagues have reported that she was unhappy about having been denied tenure by the university. Bishop, who was Harvard-educated, was an associate professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Bishop has been charged with one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder. If she is convicted on the capital murder charge, she could face the death sentence under Alabama law.

Millennium Bomber Got Off Too Easy, Says Panel

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

A man who attempted to bomb LAX a decade ago received a too-lenient sentence, said a federal appeals court this week.

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was divided, but rules that Ahmed Ressam deserved a longer prison term than he had originally received.

Ressam, a terrorist with links to al-Qaida, was arrested in 1999, and convicted in 2001, for crossing the Canadian-U.S. border near Victoria with a rental vehicle full of electronic timers, powders and liquids—materials that could have been used to make a powerful bomb. Ressam, who had been trained in Osama bin Laden-sponsored terrorism camps, intended to set off a suitcase bomb in the Los Angeles International Airport.

Ressam initially cooperated with federal authorities, currying favor in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence. After the attacks of 9/11, Ressam offered crucial information on al-Qaida operations in Europe and North America, and some of his intelligence led to the capture and prosecution of key terrorist leaders.

Two years later, however, he stopped cooperating. He was found by a court-appointed psychiatrist to have suffered a breakdown stemming from repeated interrogations and solitary confinement. At his sentencing, in 2008, Ressam denied all of the claims he had made to the United States government, claiming that the FBI and attorneys had put words in his mouth.

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour sentenced Ressam to 22 years, but this sentence has been deemed inadequate by the appeals court. A 72-page ruling written by Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon criticized Coughenour for failing to address the arguments presented by federal prosecutors, wnad for issuing a sentence that did not meet guidelines, which would have indicated a minimum of 65 years.

The ruling also ordered that a different federal judge handle the re-sentencing, due to Coughenour’s “too entrenched” views on the case. The appeals court also indicated that the initial 22-year sentence failed to “protect the public.”

Coughenor had setenced Ressam earlier, in 2005, but that sentence was thrown out by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the judge had failed to cite for the record the reasons why he diverged from applicable sentencing guidelines.

Ressam, an Algerian native who was recruited by al-Qaida operatives in Montreal, could be resentenced as early as later this month. The federal public defender representing him said that he plans to ask the appeals court to rethink its decision, and to petition the Supreme Court if necessary.

Police Respond To Officer’s Slaying, Give Chase for 50 Miles

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Gilbert, AZ—In what can only be described as the dramatic pursuit, over 50 law enforcement officials and dozens of police vehicles mobilized to capture two fleeing suspects after an officer was fatally shot.

The incident began when Lt. Eric Shuhandler stopped a work truck with obscured license plates, at about 11 p.m. Thursday. After learning that the passenger, Christopher A. Redondo, had a warrant out for his arrest, Shuhandler called for backup and then approached the passenger side of the vehicle. He was shot in the head by Redondo.

The driver of the truck, Daimen Irizarry, was then responsible for leading officers from multiple law enforcement agencies in a high-speed chase that stretched for 50 miles.

Witnesses to the shooting not only called 911, but also used the radio in Shuhandler’s patrol car to contact his dispatcher and other police officers. Some officers who were already en route to the scene took up the chase immediately, and although the first pursuer’s car was stopped by gunfire from the suspects’ truck, other police kept on.

Officers from a total of five law enforcement agencies—Mesa and Gilbert Police Departments, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and sheriff’s deputies from Pinal and Maricopa Counties—eventually joined the chase up into a mountainous region near the small mining community of Superior, Arizona. During the pursuit, the two suspects continued to fire at the officers’ cars, and to hurl tools and the tank of an air compressor from the truck, in an attempt to stop the cops.

In all, six police cruisers were struck by either bullets or the thrown objects, and two cars were involved in a collision at the chase’s conclusion, but no other officers were injured or killed.

The pursuit ended when the men stopped the truck, jumped out, and engaged the officers in a gun battle. They fired several rounds before being felled by police bullets. Both men are expected to survive the gunshots they sustained. They were taken into custody and hospitalized with non-life-threatening wounds in the lower extremities.

Redondo, 35, had been imprisoned on aggravated assault and other charges, and had been released in June 2008. Court records show that Irizarry, 30, pleaded guilty to assault in 2004 and was sentenced to probation. He, too, had a warrant out for his arrest.

The slain officer, Lt. Shuhandler, was a 16-year veteran of the force and a father of two.

Manson Family Member Approved For Parole

Monday, February 15th, 2010

A member of the Manson “family” has been recommended for parole after spending almost four decades behind bars.

Bruce Davis, 67, was convicted of two murders in the early 70s, and has been in prison since 1972. Now a two-member panel of the Board of Parole Hearings will recommend that he be set free, and the decision will go to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

Davis was convicted on murder charges for his role in the killing spree which took the lives of two men, musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea. Although Davis did not kill either of the men—in fact, he refused an order given to him by Manson to chop off Shea’s head—he did slash Shea on the shoulder and drove the car to the home in Topanga Canyon, outside of Los Angeles, where Hinman was killed. Davis was also on the scene when Shea was killed, at a communal home near the San Fernando Valley where the cult members lived.

Davis was not involved in the killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate, or in the six other slayings committed by other members of the Manson family.

During his time in prison, Davis became a born-again Christian and earned both a master’s degree and a doctorate in philosophy of religion. He also married a woman whom he met through a prison ministry group, and the two have a grown daughter.

The only other paroled Manson family member, Steve Grogan, was released in 1985 after helping investigators find Shea’s burial site. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, another Manson follower who attempted an assassination on President Gerald Ford, was released from prison after serving time. Charles Manson and two other followers, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, remain in prison for the Tate killings. A third cult member involved in those killings, Susan Atkins, died last year, shortly after being denied parole.

Davis had been denied parole 23 times in a row, because he refused to acknowledge the full extent of his participation in the crimes. During the most recent parole hearing, however, Davis said he knows now that he helped encourage others to commit the murders.

“I was responsible as everyone there,” he told the board members.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles county could petition the governor to reject the parole, if he deems it a threat to public safety, but it is unclear whether this petition will be filed or if Davis will be allowed to go free. If he is paroled, he plans to live with his family in Grover Beach and work at a landscaping job.