Archive for October, 2009

Convict Sues Former Hostage Over Ice Cream Truck Cost

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Portland, OR—A convicted killer is suing a man he once took hostage – and he’s winning.

The latest twist in a case which has garnered headlines from the beginning involves Tremayne Durham, a New York man who decided to open an ice-cream business and who custom ordered a musical ice cream truck. After paying $18,000 for the truck, Durham apparently changed his mind and requested that he be allowed to return the truck and receive a refund, but the owner of the company refused. Durham took matters into his own hands, traveling to Oregon with a gun in June 2006 in order to get revenge. He shot a former employee of the ice-cream truck company, Adam Duane Calbreath, 39, in the head, using a pillow as a silencer. During the incident, he also held hostage Rob Chambers, the company’s owner, while holding a gun to Chambers’s stomach.

“’Look at what you made me do,’” Chambers recalls Durham telling him. “’I’ve been robbing and killing people to get to you.’”

Durham made a plea deal with prosecutors, who wanted the victims’ families to avoid a protracted and emotional trial. As part of that deal, he received a meal of fried chicken from both KFC and Popeye’s, as well as Haagen-Dazs ice cream. He also brokered a post-sentencing meal of pizza, lasagna, calzones and more ice cream. In exchange, Durham received a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of release after 30 years, and agreed not to appeal. Had he been convicted and given either the death penalty or life in prison, according to legal experts, Durham’s appeals could have lasted decades and cost the state over $1 million.

Yet Durham hasn’t given up on the idea of getting his refund for the ice-cream truck. He’s suing Chambers for the $18,000 value of the truck, as well as for the travel expenses he incurred when he traveled to Oregon with murderous intent. Chambers, who is at risk for losing his business and being evicted, can’t afford a lawyer; he initially ignored communications from the court, after which an arbitrator ruled against him. A new hearing is scheduled in the matter, however, and Chambers plans to attend, representing himself.

“I’m not going to be the victim in this anymore,” Chambers said.

Durham, who was a convicted rapist before the murder and hostage incident took place, is incarcerated in an Oregon prison.

West Virginia Rape Victim Says She Fabricated Story

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

In 2007, Megan Williams’s story made headlines, when the then-20-year-old told investigators of the brutal rape, beating, and torture she was forced to endure in her West Virginia home. Two years later, Williams is recanting her story, and is saying the whole story was made up, as a way to get back at her abusive boyfriend.

The horrific tale drew support for the victim from all areas of the country, and the media reported throughout the trial of the six defendants accused of the brutal attack against Williams. Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton wanted the accused to stand trial for hate crimes as well. Williams is black; all of the accused attackers are white.

Williams’s lawyer says she has not been pressured into the confession, and went into it knowing that she could very well face criminal charges for fabricating her story. Each of the defendants plead guilty and were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison. A seventh suspect was not sentenced. None of them have filed appeals or have expressed interest in doing so. Police say that while they are used to having criminals recant confessions of crimes, having a victim recant a story is very rare.

“What Williams initially told the told the police is substantiated by overwhelming evidence against them,” said Brian Abraham, a former district attorney who prosecuted Williams’ case. “They confessed to their own crimes and made statements against each other. And everything they said was further substantiated by physical and forensic evidence.”

The victim’s mother described her daughter as “slow,” and Abraham has also said she is a “special-education type student.” Investigators were cautious of her ability to testify and remember facts, and decided to let the physical evidence speak for itself – which it did.

“They were all interviewed separately,” said Logan County Sheriff Eddie Hunter. “None knew what any of the others were saying. And all their evidence went along with exactly with what the others were saying.”

Williams initially told investigators that she had been beaten, stabbed, raped and forced to drink urine and eat animal feces. Valencia Daniels, Williams’s personal aide, told The Associated Press that the young woman goes back and forth about the allegations, upholding her story at times, while other times denying it completely.

There is no word yet if any of the six convicted will appeal following Williams’s confession.

Charges Dropped for Chicago Teen Murder Suspect

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

CHICAGO – A Chicago teen is breathing easier this week after police dropped the charges against him for the murder of 16-year-old Derrion Albert in September.

Eugene Bailey, 17, was brought into custody after investigators reviewed eyewitness tapes and testimony concerning Albert’s brutal beating outside of Christian Fenger Academy High School on Chicago’s south side. Bailey came forth even before he was a suspect, trying to help investigators with the case. After seeing tapes, investigators thought they identified Bailey in the video, although the teen told them it wasn’t him.

An investigation then moved forward into Bailey’s home, where police searched for clothing matching that of the person on the tape. When they could not find any evidence or proof that Bailey owned that type of clothing, they released him back to his mother.

The initial incident started as a street fight between two rival gangs; while trying to help disburse the groups, Albert was caught up in the fight, and beaten with a railroad tie. Bailey said he considered Albert a “good friend” and had no part in his murder.

“I’m just happy to be out,” Bailey said. “I’m just blessed to have my freedom.”

“While the charge against Bailey was brought in good faith based on witness accounts and identifications, additional information has developed during the ongoing investigation that warranted dismissal of the murder charge against Bailey at this time,” said a statement released by the Cook County prosecutors office.

While her son was being held, Bailey’s mother, Ava Greyer, said she received an eviction notice from her landlord, but has since received an apology and is not required to move out.

“We all talk about what is what out here and point fingers at one another,” Greyer said. “These kids need something to do. … But at the same time, we need to sweep around our doorsteps and see what we can do as a community to keep this from happening to somebody else’s child.”

The incident has prompted local and state authorities to look more closely into gang-related violence in Chicago, which is known for its violent areas; more than 30 teens were killed last year in Chicago alone. Earlier this month, President Obama sent Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder to Chicago, where they met with the mayor and other community leaders to discuss possible remedies for violent youth crime.

Travolta Extortion Case Ends In Mistrial

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Two people, accused of attempting to extort actor John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, following the death of their teenage son, have been ordered by a judge to stand trial again.

A mistrial was declared on Wednesday, after the jury had deliberated for eight hours in the case of ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne and his attorney, Bahamian senator Pleasant Bridgewater. The two had allegedly requested $25 million from the celebrity couple in exchange for not releasing private information surrounding the death of 16-year-old Jett Travolta in the Bahamas in January.

Lightborne, who was among the paramedics who were called to treat Jett, is accused to having threatened Travolta and Preston with a document which released emergency providers from liability after the family refused an ambulance ride to the hospital. Travolta, a pilot, had initially desired to fly the boy in his private plane to a Florida hospital to be treated. Later, while riding in the ambulance, they changed their mind and decided to take the teenager to a hospital in nearby Freeport instead. Lightborne and Bridgewater claimed that this change of heart contributed in part to Jett’s death, and threatened to take stories about the signing of the release document to the press, which would have implicated the family.

Jett Travolta was autistic, and sufferd a deadly seizure while the family was on vacation on Grand Bahama island. He was discovered, unresponsive, by a nanny.

During the trial, Travolta’s attorney, Michael McDermott, also testified, saying that Bridgewater had told him that the “document would show [Travolta] killed his son or was negligent in the death of his son,” and had demanded first $25 million, then lowered the amount to $10 million.

The trial of Lightborne and Bridgewater had lasted about a month, and had included testimony from Travolta. The testimony phase had been completed, and jury deliberation had begun, when information was leaked to the press and to participants at a convention for the Progressive Liberal Party, of which Bridgewater is a member, that a verdict had been reached.

The jury emerged from the deliberation room and its foreman requested more time to deliberate, but instead Judge Anita Allen decided to “err on the side of caution,” and discharged the jury.

“About two hours ago, there was an announcement at a particular political party,” said Allen. “It leaves the impression that there may have been a communication in the jury room. I am going to discharge you from returning your verdict.”

She also ordered a retrial.

Obama Administration Issues New Marijuana Policy

Monday, October 26th, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced on Monday their decision to forgo sanctioning suppliers of medical marijuana in states where the practice of selling the drug is legal.

Justice officials told The Associated Press that the policy outlines rules for prosecutors, who will be told that it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana when those people are in accordance with state law. Officers are still encouraged to go after those who violate these laws, or who are using their service to cover up for other crimes.

The new policy is a turnaround from the Bush administration’s policy, which stated intent to follow federal law and pursue medical marijuana facilities no matter what the state law was pertaining to the practice. Currently, 14 states allow the sale and/or use of medical marijuana, notably California, which has been at the center of this controversy for years.

The new three-page memo was released to federal prosecutors in the 14 states with medical marijuana laws, as well as top FBI and Drug Enforcement officials, on Monday. Unnamed officials speaking on a condition of anonymity told reporters that the memo will emphasize to prosecutors their wide discretion in choosing cases to pursue, while making clear that those in accordance with state laws should not be punished.

“This change in policy moves the federal government dramatically toward respecting scientific and practical reality,” said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

The move has excited those in favor of marijuana policy reform, and on the other side, has angered those who have been fought endlessly for the War on Drugs. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws released a statement about the DEA memo, saying it is a “major departure in the so-called war on drugs” and “a major victory for citizens who support cannabis law reform.”

Still, Steve Cooley, a county prosecutor in Los Angeles, still intends to target medical marijuana facilities in his city despite the DEA memo. In Los Angeles alone, there are an estimated 800 medical marijuana facilities – up from only four in 2005 – more than any other city in the nation.

Cooley plans to target stores who are profiting and selling to people who don’t qualify for medicinal marijuana.

“All those who are operating illegally, our advice to them is to shut down voluntarily and they won’t be subject to prosecution,” Cooley told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Parents Hope For Acquittal in Knox Murder Case

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

The actions of an Italian court are giving hope to family and friends of Amanda Knox, a Seattle native who is being held in an Italian jail on charges of killing her roommate Meredith Kercher in 2007.

The Italian court has forgone an opportunity to re-evaluate evidence in Knox’s trial. This can mean that the court is confident that the evidence is sufficient for a guilty verdict, or that they are confident that she is not guilty, and are proceeding towards an acquittal and dropping the charges against her.

Knox, along with her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, contest the media’s portrayal of them as killers and say they are innocent. The pair were criticized by the media following Kercher’s death and during the investigation, for their demeanor throughout the process. Knox has testified that she was not at her apartment the night of the murder, although DNA evidence from the crime scene seems to dispute that fact.

A third suspect, Rudy Guede, was indicted in a separate trial, found guilty, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He is currently seeking an appeal. A fourth suspect was questioned and then released after investigators were able to prove his alibi.

Prosecutors have told reporters that both Knox and Sollecito have given separate statements to investigators that are contradictory and confusing. Evidence against the two includes a bloody footprint from a shoe next to Kercher’s said to have come from Sollecito, traces of blood belonging to both Knox and Kercher mixed together in a bathroom adjacent to the room where Kercher died, and a bloody knife with both Knox and Kercher’s DNA on it.

Appearing on Larry King, Knox’s mother Edda Mellas said that friends and family told Knox to leave Italy after the murder, to return to Seattle or stay with relatives in Germany. They say Knox refused, in order to stay behind and help with the investigation, to prove she had nothing to do with it.

“Many people asked her to leave, but she said no. ‘I’m going to stay. I’m going to try and help. I’m going to try and finish school,’” Mellas said.

“We have to believe that what they’re hearing in court – and it’s so clear that she had nothing to do with it — then they’ll come out with the right answer,” Curt Knox, Amanda’s father, told Larry King. “I mean, that’s – that’s what we have to believe.”

Radio Host Sees Justice for Ancestors after 94 years

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Nationally syndicated radio host Tom Joyner first found out about his family’s past while participating in a PBS documentary, “African American Lives 2,” in 2008. Joyner, who hosts the daily “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” was being interviewed by esteemed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who discovered that two of Joyner’s great-uncles had been convicted of murder, and were wrongfully put to death by electrocution in South Carolina in 1915.

Joyner explained to Gates that he had no knowledge of why his grandmother left South Carolina. “All I know is she left home and she ended up in Florida and she didn’t stay in touch with her people, either,” Joyner says.

The revelation sparked a year-long search for justice by Joyner, who has been lobbying with the South Carolina government to issue a pardon on the two men for the nearly century-old crime. Joyner’s great-uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, were convicted of killing a veteran of the Confederate army in 1913.

A board voted 7-0 on October 14th to pardon the men and clear their names. It is a landmark decision, marking the first time South Carolina’s history that a posthumous pardon in a capital murder case has been issued.

“It’s good for the community,” Joyner told reporters. “It’s good for the nation. Anytime that you can repair racism in this country is a step forward.”

He went on to say that while the decision cannot bring back his family members, it will help to provide closure to his family. “I hope now they rest in peace.”

Researchers have since found that the Griffin brothers once owned 130 acres of land and were well-known and liked throughout their South Carolina community. They were convicted of killing John Q. Lewis, a 73-year-old veteran of the Civil War.

Although records show that other suspects were pursued by the police, it is thought that the sheriff did not want to pursue them further, fearing a radical and scandalous decision in open court. Lewis was thought to have had an affair with a woman, and the woman and her husband were looked at as potential suspects, but were never arrested.

Joyner is not resting with the decision, however. He still plans to do more research into the lives of his uncles and their relationships with the community, and what happened to all of the land they once owned.

“Until we can repair some of the deeds of the past, we can’t really look forward,” he said.

Arizona “Sweatbox” Claims Third Victim

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Flagstaff, Ariz. – What was supposed to be a spiritual retreat turned into a deadly fiasco in early October in Sedona, Ariz. Two people died initially on October 8, prompting an investigation into the situation. A third woman died a week and a half later from complications stemming from her use of a “sweatbox” at the retreat.

The third victim, Lizabeth Neuman, 49, was from Minnesota, and a mother of three. She passed away at Flagstaff Medical Center on October 17, almost 10 days following the initial incident at the Sedona-area resort. The other victims have been identified as James Shore, 40, from Milwaukee, and Kirby Brown, 38, from New York.

Individuals attending self-help expert James Arthur Ray’s “Spiritual Warriors” program were inside a crude “sweatbox,” a dome-like structure made of tarps and blankets; inside, hot rocks and water were used to create steam, creating a sauna-like experience. Inside, program participants were to take part in a ceremonial sauna used by Native Americans and other cultures.

Law enforcement officials say that between 55 to 65 people were in the “sweat lodge” for nearly two hours before anyone fell ill.

Jonathan Ellerby, an author who is familiar with sweat lodges but did not participate in the Sedona retreat, told the media that it is a tradition that has been used for thousands of years in countries across the world.

“This has been going on for thousands of years because it works and because it’s safe,” he said. Still, Ellerby cautioned that the person running the lodge must be experienced and properly trained. “One of the mistakes that you very often hear from people who try to create home-made ‘sweats’ is that they will use materials that are inappropriate and not understand the consequences.”

The ceremony is a process of detoxification, along with emotional and spiritual cleansing and purification. Ellerby said that fasting is sometimes done as part of the sweat lodge experience, which could have contributed to the deaths and injuries.

Authorities are unsure if Ray was qualified to run such an event, and have begun a homicide investigation into the deaths of the three victims, but have said it could be weeks until information is found and able to be released. In addition to the three deaths, 18 other participants were treated for injuries due to being in the sweat lodge. They have since been released from the hospital.

A self-proclaimed philosopher, Ray is a well-known instructor and developer of programs claiming to teach individuals how to create wealth from all aspects of their lives: financially, mentally, physically and spiritually. He is a frequent guest on popular shows such as Today, Oprah, and Larry King Live.

Settlement Reached in Metrolink Rail Suits

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Los Angeles—Most of the lawsuits brought by families of victims of a deadly rail disaster in California will be settled by the commuter rail agency involved.
The agency, Metrolink, has agreed to settle almost 90 of the cases, including 15 serious injury claims and nine wrongful death suits. The total cost of these will be approximately $30 million.

The accident occurred in January 2005 in suburban Glendale, California after Juan Alvarez parked a gas-soaked SUV on the train tracks in an effort to commit suicide. The Metrolink train, which its engineer claims was traveling too fast to stop in time, impacted the SUV, then derailed and struck not only a parked Union Pacific locomotive, but also another Metrolink train, which was traveling in the opposite direction. Eleven people were killed in the accident, and another 180 were injured.

Alvarez, who has admitted that he drove his Jeep Cherokee onto the tracks in order to commit suicide, survived the crash. He jumped out of the way just before the train hit his vehicle. Last year, Alvarez was convicted of murder for his role in the deaths of the commuters, and sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms in prison.

Jerome Ringler, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to discuss the cases which remain under negotiation, because he doesn’t want to affect the settlements. If the trial in the remaining cases goes forward, Ringler plans to argue that the accident could have been prevented if the engineer had applied the emergency brake. Data from the train showed investigators that the engineer applied the service brake for six seconds, rather than hitting the emergency break immediately.

The Metrolink system is operated by five county transportation agencies which comprise the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. Last year, another Metrolink train accident killed 25 people after the commuter train collided with a freight train in suburban Chatsworth.

A federal investigation into the Glendale accident uncovered various safety violations, among them the fact that the train’s engineer sent a text message just seconds before the collision occurred.

Co-counsel in the civil case, Brian Panish, gave a statement after Metrolink agreed to settle the bulk of the cases. “With the current momentum to resolve the remaining cases, we believe settlement of all cases is a high probability,” he said in the statement.

The derailment, which happened during the morning commute, resulted in a tangle of rail cars. Workers from businesses in the surrounding area hurried to help rescue injured people before authorities reached the scene.

Two Murder Convictions in Brinks Heist Case

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Oakland, CA—Two men have been convicted of various charges after robbing a Brinks armored truck and killing its guard in 2006.

Clifton Wherry, 31, who was employed by Brinks as a truck driver, is said to have masterminded the heist, which also involved Dwight Campbell, 26, and William Stallings. In his closing statement, Prosecutor Mark Jackson called Wherry the brains of the operation, and Campbell the muscle.

During the robbery, which netted $1.2 million in cash, the driver of the truck, Anthony Quintero, was shot and killed. Initially, Campbell claimed that his gun went off by accident when Wherry suddenly stopped the truck.

According to Brinks procedure, the driver of any armored truck who is accosted by an armed man is supposed to sound an alarm, but Wherry did not do that. Prosecutors alleged that this act was intentional, and that the driver furthermore gave his dispatcher inaccurate information about the robbery’s location, in order to give the other men adequate time to escape.

Wherry’s lawyer, Tony Serra, admitted that Wherry failed to sound the alarm, but claimed that he had been “petrified with fear” during the robbery. He also accused prosecutors of having cut a deal with Stallings, allowing him to evade a murder charge after he returned most of the stolen cash. Prosecutor Jackson denied any knowledge of a deal with Stallings, and said the case against him is pending.

Wherry and Campbell were both convicted of first-degree murder, as well as of the special circumstance of committing a murder during the course of a robbery. They could face life in prison, with no possibility of parole. Both men are scheduled to be sentenced on December 11.

The jury, which was composed of eight women and four men, deliberated for two days before handing down the verdicts in the case. Relatives and friends of Quintero, a former Marine who was 24 at the time of his death, were in the courtroom to hear the jury’s decision, and many of them cried.

Stallings and Campbell were also former Marines, who had served together in Iraq. Campbell, who had had difficulty finding work after being honorably discharged from the military, was allegedly lured into the robbery scheme by Stallings, and that he believed he would only be required to transport some money.

Describing Wherry, attorney Serra said that he not only did not know that a robbery would occur, but that he was “almost like a choir boy.”