Archive for May, 2009

Suspected Serial Killer Nabbed with DNA

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Los Angeles—DNA evidence has led L.A.P.D. cold case investigators to arrest a man they believe may have been responsible for killings dating as far back as 1955.

L.A. Police Chief William Bratton said that John Floyd Thomas Jr. may be one of the worst serial killers in the history of the nation. Police will be using DNA, computer software and other technology, which was unavailable at the time of the crimes, to confirm their suspicions that Thomas killed at least 30 women and raped many more.

Thomas is currently only charged with two killings, one in 1972 and one in 1976, but prosecutors are expected to add more charges to that list when Thomas is arraigned later this month.

Police are calling Thomas, who is now 72, the “Southland Strangler” after the neighborhood in which his criminal activity was centered. He was arrested “a number of times between 1955 and 1978” for burglaries and sex crimes, and served a total of 12 years in prison, but has had a clean record for the last few decades. Thomas was working as an insurance adjuster before his arrest in April.

He was identified after being asked to submit a DNA sample, in keeping with California law, because he is a registered sex offender. When he came into to have the inside of his cheek swabbed, police say, he was very cooperative. Later, Thomas’s sample was matched to evidence taken from a rape kit gathered after the 1972 rape, beating and strangling of 68-year-old Ethel Sokoloff.

DNA evidence gathered in 2004 confirmed that the same man who killed Sokoloff also killed 67-year-old Elizabeth McKeown in 1976.

The death of Maybelle Hudson, 80, who was beaten, raped and strangled in her Inglewood, California garage, has also been connected using DNA evidence to three other deaths in the L.A. Area in the 1960s and 1970s. At the time of the murders, police were calling the suspect the “Westside Rapist” but were unable to capture him.

Thomas’s criminal background and the proximity of his home to the murder locations, as well as other evidence, suggests that he may have been the “Westside Rapist” as well.

Police detectives are using computer databases and software in order to determine “what the patterns were,” said Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Charlie Beck. “A lot of work has yet to be done,” added Beck.

Thomas has been married five times but is currently single. He will be arraigned on May 20th.

Lawsuit Against Boeing Unit Will Go Forward

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Earlier this week, a lawsuit which alleges that a division of Boeing Co. helped United States operatives to abduct terrorism suspects and send them abroad to be tortured was revived by a federal appeals court.

Named in the suit is Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a unit of Boeing. The company is accused of providing flight planning and logistical support to a program of the Central Intelligence Agency called the “extraordinary rendition” program.

Extraordinary rendition is a name used for the extrajudicial transfer of a person from one sovereign state to another, usually for purposes of interrogation. In this program, the United States will move a suspected terrorist or other criminal to a country which is known to use especially harsh interrogation techniques, even torture. Critics of the extraordinary rendition program call it “torture by proxy,” and the knowing transfer of a person to a country which engages in torture is illegal under United States law.

The case against Jeppesen was brought by five men who claim to have been abducted by U.S. operatives, sent to other countries, and subsequently tortured. They are seeking monetary damages from the company, although the amount is unspecified.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have warned that the lawsuit, should it go forward, will threaten national security. Last year, a federal trial judge dismissed the case, agreeing that the subject of the matter was a state secret.

Earlier this week, however, San Francisco’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this dismissal, saying that the case was still in the early stages and should not be dismissed at this point. It also stated that the CIA and other governmental departments should not be immune to judicial scrutiny. The appeals court did allow for specific pieces of evidence in the case to be protected, however, as state secrets.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the five men bringing suit. “Our clients, who are among the hundreds of victims of torture under the Bush administration, have waited for years just to get a foot in the courthouse door,” said Ben Wizner, an attorney with the ACLU.

Spokepersons for both Jeppesen and the U.S. Justice Department said that they were reviewing the decision and had no comment.

Retesting of DNA at issue for convicted Alaskan felon

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Oral arguments were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court recently in the case of a man who was convicted in 1993 of the rape and assault of a prostitute.

William Osborne, whose lawyers decided at his original trial not to seek more stringent DNA testing, fearing that it would work against their client, is now seeking retesting of his DNA in the hopes that it will lead to his exoneration.

The federal government is being asked to declare the constitutional right of convicts to request that their DNA evidence be retested post-conviction, in order to overturn that conviction. Opponents say that a federal ruling, however, would not make much difference in the matter, since all but six states already guarantee the right to retesting. Alaska is one of the states that does not have such a constitutional right in its statutes.

Complicating the matter, however is the fact that Osborne refuses to claim innocence, as well as the fact that he has previously confessed – not just once, but twice – to the crime. A number of the Supreme Court justices questioned the logic of granting a constitutional right to retesting when the convicted man does not attest to his own innocence in the case.

The recent oral arguments centered around the fact that Alaskan law maintains Osborne’s right to seek retesting of his DNA only if he does claim innocence, which he has not yet declared.

Moreover, as Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out, the right to retest DNA evidence might be the beginning of a slippery slope. “I’m trying to figure out what the limit of the constitutional right you’re asserting is,” said Roberts, adding that this could open the possibility of retesting other evidence, such as fingerprints. He also expressed concern that this would require states to maintain DNA evidence in storage against future requests to retest it.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who was the most vocal in his opposition of the proposal, said that to guarantee this right would allow the convicted felon to “game the system.”

Neil Katyal, deputy solicitor general, was arguing for the first time before the Supreme Court. He called this case, with it unusual elements, “a particularly poor candidate for recognizing a new constitutional entitlement.”

CIA Will Assume Security Positions at Overseas Prisons

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Washington—The CIA will no longer employ private contractors to fill security jobs at secret overseas prisons, say agency insiders.

Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA, has made the decision to end the agency’s use of contractors at the prisons, which are currently empty. No new prisoners have been taken at the facilities since Panetta took office in February, and the CIA is making preparations to permanently close the prisons.

Nevertheless, the memo states, the CIA maintains the prisons so that it may, if necessary, detain and interrogate international prisoners. Should this occur, the interrogators will no longer be private contractors, but will instead be government employees. After interrogation, any prisoners will either be returned to their home countries or any countries which may have legal claims against them, or taken under the jurisdiction of the U.S. military for further judicial action.

This move is a cost-cutting one, expected to save up to $4 million. The CIA did not comment on which contracting company or companies had previously been employed to provide security at the prisons.

Between the years of 2002 and 2006, the Central Intelligence Agency had held and interrogated fewer than 100 prisoners, according to former Director of the CIA, Michael Hayden, in a statement before Congress last year. It utilized harsh methods of interrogation against approximately one-third of those prisoners. The now-notorious waterboarding—which is form of interrogation meant to simulate drowning—was used in the cases of three prisoners.

The White House, as well as Congress, have begun reviewing the Bush administration’s sanctions of CIA detention and interrogation practices, which came under widespread criticism by pundits and citizens alike during the final days of the Bush White House. At issue is the legality of waterboarding, as well as other forms of interrogation, which critics say amounted to torture.

Upon taking office in January 2009, President Barack Obama made the closure of several secret overseas prisons under the CIA’s jurisdiction, as well as the closure of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, one of his first executive acts. He also decreed an end to any interrogation practices by the CIA which employed methods harsher than those used by the U.S. military.

Central Intelligence Agency employees were informed of the change in security personnel policy in a memo sent out last week by director Leon Panetta.

Will Microsoft’s Latest IP Loss Stick

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

NEW YORK–The Bill Gates-founded Microsoft Corporation is in a familiar position on Wednesday. A Rhode Island federal jury found Microsoft guilty of infringing Uniloc’s software security patents and ended with a demand that the company pay $338 million. Microsoft has seen such a demand before, but often escapes it. The question on many minds is whether they will actually pay this time around, or escape on appeal.

Uniloc’s lawyers—Paul Hayes and Dean Bostock at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, and Popeo—finished with a huge win. The loss was handed to a Fish & Richardson team headed by Frank Scherkenbach.

Microsoft has been on the list for patent infringement various times, but this was the fifth-largest verdict in history, said the Mintz lawyers.

The corporation actually holds the record for being ordered, by a San Diego jury, to pay $1.53 billion for infringing on Alcatel-Lucent’s patents for MP3 digital audio technology. Another case ended with $512 million to Alcatel-Lucent and $521 million won to Eolas Technologies Inc.

Microsoft has had luck with the appeals court in eliminating the verdicts. The $1.53 billion verdict was overturned. Microsoft appealed the $521 million verdict and eventually settled with Eolas for $30.4 million in 2007. The appeal for the $512 Alcatel-Lucent decision is on appeal now.

“Microsoft has certainly seen some large verdicts against it in the last few years,” observed Stephen Akerley, a patent litigator with O’Melveny & Myers, who wasn’t involved with this week’s case. “However, there are always appealable issues in these cases. And if you look back, Eolas ultimately settled, Alcatel-Lucent is still going on—it’s impossible to tell where this case will end up.”

Microsoft emailed a statement and said that they are “very disappointed in the jury verdict. We believe that we do not infringe, that the patent is invalid, and that this award of damages is legally and factually unsupported. We will ask the court to overturn the verdict.”

Fish & Richardson has represented Microsoft against Alcatel-Lucent in both cases, at trial and on appeal. A spokesman said the firm has no comment.

Obama to Seek $83.4 Billion for Iraq, Afghan Wars

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Before he was elected, Barack Obama was a harsh critic of the Iraq war. He voted against then-President Bush’s war spending bill in 2007, after which Bush used his veto in order to force Congress to remove a withdrawal timeline from the $99 billion measure.

Now President Obama is asking for $83.4 billion for United States military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This amount would make the costs hit almost $1 trillion since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001.

In his decision to ask for more funds, President Obama cited threats from al Qaeda and a resurgent Taliban.

The official request will be sent to Congress on Thursday afternoon, said budget office spokesman Tom Gavin. Congressional aides briefed over the request in order to devise the overall cost in privacy.

The upcoming request will call for more than $7 billion in foreign aid and $75.5 billion for the military. Obama announced plans in February to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq on a 19-month timeline, but these additional funds would serve to extend the war into the fall.

If approved, the Obama push would bring the budget in 2009 to approximately $150 billion, a decrease from the $171 billion cost spent in 2007 and the $188 billion approved in 2008, when Bush increased the military operations in order to combat the Iraq insurgency.

“We face a security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan that demands urgent attention,” he said in a letter to Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, urging lawmakers to approve his request swiftly.

“The Taliban is resurgent and al Qaeda threatens America from its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border.”

The request also includes funding for other national security priorities of the administration, including assistance for anti-drug efforts in Mexico, security assistance in Lebanon and closing down the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat, said he was very worried about by Obama’s plan to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, and was not a guaranteed “yes” vote for the supplemental.

“I was against the war in Iraq from the very beginning, and I don’t want us to make the same mistake the second time,” McGovern told Reuters.

Airport Employee Arrested on Drug, Weapons Charges

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Palm Bay, FL—A security officer who worked at Orlando International Airport was arrested this week on drug and weapons charges.

The man, who is employed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, had allegedly been involved in illegal drug trafficking for a long time.

The home of Timothy Monroe, 41, was targeted by a SWAT team and special investigations agents early Wednesday morning. Monroe was not at home when the search was conducted, but several children, ranging in age from one to sixteen years old, were present. When Monroe arrived home a while later, he was arrested.

The charges include trafficking cocaine, possession of cocaine with intent to sell, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of marijuana with intent to sell and possession of paraphernalia.

Monroe, who worked as a security officer at the Orlando airport, was the subject of a three-month long investigation by authorities, who were originally alerted to his possession of both drugs and weapons by an anonymous tipster.

Agents seized a quantity of contraband at Monroe’s home. The items confiscated include a .410-caliber shotgun, a Kel-Tec pistol, a semiautomatic pistol, and approximately 100 rounds of ammunition for the gun. Agents also seized 40 grams of powder cocaine, 65 grams of marijuana, divided into smaller amounts and packaged in individual baggies as though ready to sell, more than $6,000 in case, some vehicles, and some paraphernalia items, said police.

The Transportation Safety Authority, in conjunction with police, is looking into whether Monroe’s position at the airport was tied to the drug trafficking activity.

Said Yvonne Martinez, Palm Bay Police Department spokesperson, “What he does for a living is enough to raise concern and is something that should be looked into. He’s the last point of security before people get into the air terminal.”

An undercover officer who was involved in the investigation described Monroe, who has lived in the area for many years, as a “mid-level” drug dealer.

Monroe was taken to Brevard County Detention Center. He is being held without bond pending charges and an investigation.

Women Indicted in Fake Funeral Scheme

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Los Angeles—Two women, a phlebotomist and a mortuary worker, have been charged in an insurance fraud scheme involving fake funerals.

Faye Schilling, 60, and Jean Crump, 66, are accused of having staged sham funerals in order to collect on life insurance policies. Authorities say the two purchased policies, waited for them to mature, and then held fake burials or cremations.

The identities of real people may have been stolen, and death certificates forged, although there were no actual bodies involved. In one instance, say investigators, the women held a funeral at a Long Beach mortuary, loading a casket with heavy items in order to make it seem as though it held a human body. They then purchased a cemetery plot, held a funeral, and buried the casket. Later, however, fearing that the ruse would be discovered, the women requested an exhumation and then filed paperwork claiming that the remains had been cremated and scattered at sea.

Schilling, a phlebotomist, and Crump, who works at a mortuary, are said to have received payments on life insurance policies and other funds totaling $1 million. Allegedly the women also garnered money from financing companies in order to pay for inflated funeral costs.

Additionally, Crump is said to have offered a $50,000 bribe to a doctor, so that he would verify a fake death certificate by lying on medical records.

The scam goes beyond these two women, however. Authorities say that two other women – Barbara Lynn, 54, a Los Angeles notary, and Lydia Eileen Pearce, 37, a mortuary owner from Long Beach – were also involved in the fraud and had already pleaded guilty on related charges. More arrests, the police added, would likely follow.

People who had been approached and asked to join the scheme reported the women to federal agents, who then began an investigation.

Crump and Schilling were released after posting $10,000 in bail. An arraignment is scheduled for April 23rd. Although neither Crump nor her attorney could be reached for comment, Schilling issues a statement on Wednesday after being contacted by the Los Angeles Times. In it, she called the indictment “a lie” and added that “That’s not my line of work, that’s not something I do.”

A special assistant to the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Anthony Montero, said of the case, “The level of deception is shocking.”

Pirates Seize U.S. Cargo Ship, Crew

Monday, May 25th, 2009

The United States government is hard at work, responding to a pirate attack against American citizens—the first in recent times. The Obama administration is speaking with the shipping company in order to find out the answers to many questions regarding the American-flag ship, which was hijacked off the coast of Somalia.

A senior Navy official in Washington is working with the administration in order to find out the “who, what, why, where and when” of the attack, say Pentagon respresentatives There was a crew of approximately 20 people aboard the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama.

Officials refuse to comment on the plans that the United States has in order to release the ship from the Somalian pirates. The ship was said to be carrying emergency relief, from Salah in Oman to the Kenyan port of Mombassa via Dijbouti, when hijacked. The attack occurred in the Indian Ocean, 400 miles east of Mogadishu.

A new strategy by the Somalian pirates is being recognized for the rise of ships seized—six within one week. The Somalians are operating warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden, but their range extends much further than the immediate vicinity of the Gulf.

It is unclear as to whether or not the pirates knew that the ship they were hijacking contained Americans. Some sources have claimed that all crew members on board the ship at the time of the hijacking are now safe, but this information is still unconfirmed.

“It’s a very significant foreign policy challenge for the Obama administration,” said Graeme Gibbon Brooks, managing director of the British company Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service Ltd. “Their citizens are in the hands of criminals and people are waiting to see what happens.”

When asking whether the United States military will take action, Commander Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the United States Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, reported that they are monitoring the situation closely, but they are unable to speculate or confirm future military action. She added that this is the first pirate attack “involving U.S. nationals and a U.S.-flagged vessel in recent memory.”

Experts say that American citizens have not been subject to a pirate attack in over 200 years.

The pirates of Somalia are notorious, but have been missing from the news for the first three months of this year because a massive international naval force moved in.

Before this hijacking, Somali pirates were holding 14 vessels and about 200 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The Maersk Alabama is a Danish-owned, U.S.-operated, 17,000 container vessel.

Fleetwood Group Sues Lawyer and Firm over Legal Advice

Monday, May 25th, 2009

PORTLAND—The famous Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood, Cape Elizabeth accountant Joseph McNulty, and three of their business partners are suing a Portland lawyer and his firm. The legal battles concerns previous legal advice given to the group.

The United States District Court received the suit that was filed last week, in which the partners allege their former attorney, Paul McDonald of the firm Bernstein Shur, did not give the group the correct advice when prompted during a long-lasting tussle with the British Broadcasting Corporation.

When Fleetwood Mac asked McDonald if they could be individually liable for the BBC division’s attorney fees, McDonald told them there was “no chance.”

The new lawsuit accuses McDonald of withholding the knowledge that the group is personally liable for $4.5 million in legal fees sought by the BBC under British law. The group now seeks unnamed damages from McDonald and Bernstein Shur for negligence and other claims, because they agreed not to appeal the bankruptcy court decision in order to keep the BBC away.

McNulty and Fleetwood claimed that the British Broadcasting Corporation did not fulfill the group’s entitlement to their rights for hundreds of rare music recordings in the BBC archives—including unreleased material by Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and the Beatles. They lost the case in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court last year.

The general counsel for Bernstein Shur retaliated, saying there was no negligence of misrepresentation by McDonald.

Peter J. Rubin said Fleetwood, McNulty, Arman Mouhibian, Robert Lieb and Carl Stubner are trying to avoid paying a $910,000 bill they owe Bernstein Shur.

“These are five individuals who lost their case, they owe us a lot of money, and they don’t want to pay,” Rubin said. “I believe that the documents and other evidence will clearly prove that their claim has no merit.”

“Mr. McDonald did not advise them that they could not and would not be held liable for the BBC fees,” he said. “Among other things, he informed them they should consult with English counsel to get an answer to that question.”