Archive for July, 2010

16 Arrests Made In Colorado In Connection With Gangs, Drugs

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Sixteen people have been arrested in Greeley, Colorado on various drug and gun charges, after a 30-month investigation by the FBI and a raid conducted jointly by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, the Greeley Police Department and the Weld County Sheriff’s Department.

Those who were arrested are suspected gang members and associates, and have been arrested and charged with federal indictment for sale and possession of methamphetamines and cocaine, as well as for being felons in possession of weapons.

During the investigation, authorities seized over $500,000 worth of amphetamines, including over 6 pounds of 100 percent pure methamphetamine; crack cocaine, marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms. Also seized were 21 firearms, including three sawed-off shotguns and an SKS assault rifle.

A representative of the FBI, Denver Special Agent-in-Charge James Davis, said that the drugs came from Mexico and may have been bound for other cities. He was uncertain whether any Mexican drug cartels were involved in the operation.

In all, 46 people have been named in over 200 federal indictments in connection with this case. Thirty-eight of those have been arrested, including the 16 recent arrestees. With the exception of the eight fugitives, all of the suspects have either been arrested since April, or were already in custody on unrelated charges.

Four of the suspects have been charged with distribution in a school zone, three have been charged with distribution while a minor was present, and one was charged with dealing drugs from their home. The suspects are being held in a federal jail in Denver.

Authorities also said that the citizenship status of the individuals involved in the indictments would be checked, and that the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office would be contacted in the event that any illegal immigrants were discovered.

The suspects could face 10 years to life in prison, as well as $4 million in fines, if convicted on the federal drug charges.

The Greeley Regional Anti-Gange Enforcement, or RAGE,Task Force spearheaded both the investigation and the recent raids. Officers with RAGE had contacted federal officials two years ago, after developing drug connections as part of a years-long investigation into the ties between the gang and drug worlds. Authorities declined to comment on what gangs the suspects may have belonged to, but did say that they were among “some of the most dangerous people in northern Colorado,” according to Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner.

Man Who Beat Teenagers To Death With Bat Claims Insanity

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

A man who is standing trial for having savagely, and fatally, beaten his cousin and another teenager with a baseball bat claims that he was suffering from borderline personality disorder.

Jonathan Nodal, now 23, is facing life in prison for the murders of his cousin, Justin Morejon, 18; and Morejon’s girlfriend, Karen Urbina, 16 in 2002. The trio had been painting Morejon’s bedroom and sharing a spaghetti dinner peacefully, until Nodal, then 17, broke a drinking glass. That’s when he snapped, say prosecutors.

Although Morejon began to clean up the broken glass and reassured Nodal that it wasn’t a problem, Nodal nevertheless flew into a rage. He grabbed a black aluminum baseball bat from a bag and bashed Morejon on the head with it, then began beating Urbina. When Morejon tried to escape from the house, his cousin hit him repeatedly with the bat, eventually killing him. He then tracked down Urbina, who was in the kitchen, and killed her as well—despite her pleas with him to stop. According to prosecutor Marie Mato, he then put his hand over Urbino’s mouth and nose to make sure that she was no longer breathing.

The accused killer called Miami-Dade police, telling them at first that a “black man” in a sports jersey had broken into the house and killed the teenagers. His story didn’t hold up, however. First, the 911 call hadn’t made much sense; Nodal had told the dispatcher that he had fallen asleep in the kitchen, only to wake up and find the intruder beating his cousin’s girlfriend, but he couldn’t remember when this had taken place. The fact that his clothes were covered in blood was also suspicious.

After being questioned by detectives for several hours, Nodal confessed to the beatings. Later, blood spatter patterns would reveal that he had been close to the victims during the crime. Now his attorneys say that although Nodal did use the bat to beat the two teens, he had been insane at the time, suffering from borderline personality disorder.

Nodal was tried two years ago for the murders of Morejon and Urbina; in that trial, jurors rejected his insanity defense and found him guilty. The conviction was thrown out, however, because an earlier judge had neglected to order neuropsychological testing for the accused.

Nodal, a high-school dropout, faces life in prison if he is convicted on the two counts of first-degree murder. If acquitted by reason of insanity, he would probably be sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he would live out his life under court supervision.

Dallas Man Convicted In Cold-Case Rape, Murder of Student

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

A jury in Dallas County weighed in this week on the rape and murder of a Southern Methodist University Student that occurred over two decades ago.

After deliberating for only about an hour, the jury returned a verdict of guilty for Donald Andrew Bess, who killed 20-year-old sorority girl Angela Samota by stabbing her over a dozen times. Bess, who is now 61, is already serving a life sentence for another rape in the Houston area.

Samota was murdered after a night spent dancing at clubs with her friends, according to testimony. She stopped to visit her boyfriend, Ben McCall, on the way home, at approximately 2 a.m. McCall had to work the next day, however, so the pair chatted briefly, and then Samota left and went home to her off-campus condominium. A little while later, Samota telephoned McCall to tell him that a stranger was in her apartment, asking to use the telephone and the bathroom. Saying that she would call him right back, she hung up. That was the last that McCall—or anyone—heard from Angela Samota.

According to the coroner’s report, Bess raped Samota—his semen was found inside her—and then stabbed her 18 times in the chest. Ten of those stab wounds were through the young woman’s heart and lungs. Authorities believe that Bess used one of the knives from Samota’s kitchen during the attack, although the murder weapon was never recovered.

McCall called his girlfriend several times, but never got an answer; he then drove the condo and banged on her door, again receiving no response. Police arrived on the scene and entered the apartment, where they found the student’s body on her bed, naked and bloodied.

The case had grown cold until Samota’s sorority sisters asked police to re-open it. In 2008, DNA testing linked Bess to the crime, and he was charged with the rape and murder.

Defense attorneys Robbie McClung, Richard Franklin and John Tatum did not attempt to deny the fact that DNA evidence recovered from the semen pointed to Bess, but they did try to cast doubt as to the connection between the sexual contact and the murder.

“Do we have to become such a knee-jerk society that just because we find semen, does it mean that person is a murderer?” asked McClung during closing arguments. Yet the jury agreed with lead prosecutor Pat Kirlin, who faced Bess and said, “You and no one else … are responsible.”

Bess has not yet been sentenced. Defense attorneys are expected to ask that the jury take into consideration the convicted man’s ill health, including a recent heart attack that delayed the trial for several days.

Pakistani Officials Detain American Allegedly Hunting Osama bin Laden

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

An American man who allegedly wanted to capture and kill Osama bin Laden in order to avenge the 9/11 terrorism attacked is being detained in northern Pakistan, say authorities.

Gary Brooks Faulkner, 51, was armed with a pistol and a 40-inch sword as he tried to cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He was apprehended in a forest in the Chitral region, while traveling to the nearby Afghan region called Nuristan. Bin Laden is suspected by Western intelligence of hiding in the 2,400 kilometer-long, mountainous border area to which both these regions belong. Pakistani officials, however, deny the idea that bin Laden has evaded capture by hiding out in their country.

The mountains of Chitral are a popular destination for adventurous hikers from the West, and one of the few areas of Pakistan that is considered safe for tourists.

Mumtaz Ahmad Khan, the top police officer in the Chitral region, said that he and his colleagues laughed when Faulkner told them that he intended to kill bin Laden. When they discovered that he was not only armed but also carried night-vision equipment, however, they realized that he was serious about his mission.

“I think Osama is responsible for bloodshed in the world, and I want to kill him,” Khan quoted the American suspect as saying. Faulkner was taken to the nearby city of Peshawar and is being questioned by intelligence officials, but has not been charged.

Faulkner had checked into a hotel in the Chitrali town of Bumbrate on June 3, and was assigned a police guard, like most foreigners visiting remote parts of Pakistan. When he checked out of the hotel without informing authorities, said Khan, they began a search for him.

Faulkner also had Christian literature and a small amount of hashish—perhaps enough for a joint—when he was captured. According to his sister, he suffers from polycystic kidney disease and requires dialysis treatment every few weeks.

Deanna M. Faulker, of Grand Junction, Colorado, said that her brother wasn’t in danger of dying anytime soon unless he did not receive treatment, and therefore she doubted that his intention to travel to Afghanistan constituted “a hurrah thing.” She said that Faulkner was very religious but did not offer specifics.

Bin Laden is believed to have masterminded the terrorist attacks which took place on September 11, 2001. Since that time he has evaded a manhunt by the United States, which is offering a reward of $25 million for information leading to his capture. Many people believe that the terrorist leader is already dead.

Jury Finds Man Guilty, Not Insane, In Mother-Daughter Stabbing Case

Monday, July 26th, 2010

A man who stabbed a woman to death and wounded her mother, then claimed insanity, has been found guilty by a Cincinnati jury.

Sean Noakes, 41, has been diagnosed with severe depression and antisocial personality disorder, and has also told doctors that he heard voices and had hallucinations. He had also been released from a mental health facility just three weeks prior to the attack. Nevertheless, the jury decided that Noakes’s history of mental illness and drug abuse did not absolve him from the murder of Sharon Gette, 51.

Noakes attacked Gette and her mother, 72-year-old Barbara Rodgers, during a visit to their home. Rodgers testified during the five-day trial that Noakes had often visited the two women, to chat or to sell Gette cheap cigarettes. On June 9, 2008, however, he stayed so long that Rodgers got “antsy.” She offered him a bowl of chili, then sat down to read the newspaper; the next thing she knew, Noakes was stabbing her repeatedly.

When she called for her daughter, who had been sleeping in a bedroom, Noakes went after her. Although Rodgers was able to call 911 and summon help, Sharon Gette died of six stab wounds en route to the hospital. Noakes changed his shirt and tried to wash the blood off his arms, neck and legs, then went to a Longhorn steakhouse, where he was apprehended several hours later. When authorities arrested him, he asked how many murders he was being charged with, and then said that he didn’t know why he stabbed the women.

During the trial, psychiatrist called as a witness by the state said that Noakes should be held criminally responsible for his crime, and although defense attorneys called several mental health professionals to the stand, all of whom had treated Noakes, none said that he was insane when he attacked Gette and Rodgers.

Noakes’s attorneys had asked the court to find him not guilty by reason of insanity. He could have been found guilty but mentally ill, in which case he would have been certain to receive mental health care while in prison. Instead, the jury took just over an hour and a half to find Noakes guilty of murder and attempted murder, for which they recommended two consecutive life sentences. Ohio state law says that Noakes could be eligible for parole in 18 years. He will be sentenced in August.

U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear California Prison Overcrowding Case

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

The United States Supreme Court said recently that it will review California’s appeal of a court order that would move or release nearly 40,000 inmates from that state’s 33 prisons, after a special federal court panel ruled last year that overcrowding in the prison system has led to inadequate health care, which violates the constitutional rights of inmates.

This is the latest development in a decades-old legal battle, with lawsuits filed that date back to 1990. These suits include court findings of unacceptable prison conditions with regard to mental and medical health care. One federal judge has estimated that incompetence in the prison medical system resulted in one inmate death per week.

Since 2006, the prison health care system has operated under a court-appointed receiver’s authority.

A three-judge panel ruled last August that the prison system needs to reduce its population in order to improve inmate health care. The California prisons have a total capacity of about 80,000 but has been housing more than twice that number in recent years. Currently, there are approximately 149,000 inmates in the state. In January, the federal judges accepted a plan proposed by the administration to reduce the number of state prisoners to 110,000.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has protested the decision, saying that federal judges should be allowed to mandate the release of state prisoners.

“California should be able to take action on its own to keep its citizens safe without interference from the federal courts,” said his spokesperson, Rachael Arrezola, in a statement.

Now, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear California’s appeal.

California has been complying with the court order, which wants the reduction made by 2011, even while appealing it in the judicial system, in part by making changes to its policies regarding sentencing and parole and transferred some inmates to other states. Its proposal for reducing the inmate population also includes early release of some non-violent prisoners, diverting some 20,000 people either to local jails or to house arrest, building a new prison medical facility, and sending inmates to private prisons located in other states. To date, 8,500 prisoners have been transferred out-of-state. In addition, California plans to retrofit existing structures, or to build new ones, to better accommodate the prison population. These moves have been complicated by an effort to reduce the prison system’s budget in the wake of the state’s recent fiscal shortfalls.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case during its next session, which begins in October.

Alleged Iraq War Criminal Released From Confinement Pending Appeal

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

A Marine Corps sergeant who is accused in one of the Iraq war’s biggest war crimes cases has been released from custody.

Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III is accused of having led a squad of seven troops who killed an unarmed, 52-year-old Iraqi man after dragging him out of his home in the village of Hamdania. The men then planted an AK-47 and a shovel near Hashim Ibrahim Awad’s body, in order to make it appear as though he was an insurgent. Hutchins has said that he was not with his squad, and that he never learned that Awad was not an insurgent until after an investigation into the 2006 killing had taken place.

Hutchins, who stood trial in 2007, was originally sentenced to 14 years, but that was later reduced to 11 years. In April, however, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington ruled that he had not been given a fair trial, since his lead defense lawyer left the case just before the trial began. They threw out his murder conviction.

The Navy is appealing that decision, and prosecutors had wanted Hutchins to remain in confinement while the appeals were ongoing, but in a surprise decision, a judge released him from the brig at Camp Pendleton on Monday, after hearing arguments from his attorney that the sergeant is a family man who does not pose a flight risk. Hutchins called his family and his 5-year-old daughter, Kylie, before going to a Taco Bell with his lawyer.

There are several options that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces must now consider in Hutchins’s case. It can reverse the ruling of the lower court, and reinstate the conviction and the sentence—in which case the Marine could appeal to the military’s supreme court. The appellate court could also opt to affirm the ruling and send the case to Camp Pendleton, for a new trial. Hutchins would get credit for time served if he is again convicted and sentenced. A third option would be to keep the conviction, but order a new sentencing hearing.

Both sides will make their argument to the higher court this fall; it could take until 2011 before that court reaches a decision in the matter.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, speaking with the Marine Corps Times last year, said that he feels Hutchins was responsible for orchestrating the murder and the ensuing cover-up, and that he should therefore serve out his entire sentence.

Officer Faces First-Degree Murder After Shooting Man Outside Club

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

A Baltimore police officer has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of an unarmed man outside of a nightclub.

Officer Gahiji A. Tshamba, 36, was off-duty when Tyrone Brown, a former Marine from East Baltimore, approached Tshamba’s female companion and began touching her inappropriately, according to witnesses. Tshamba’s attorney, Adam Sean Cohen, said that Brown, 32, was touching the woman on her genitals and buttocks. Other witness, including Brown’s sister, called the contact playful, and say that Brown apologized.

Tshamba grew angry, drew his weapon, and dared Brown to “do it again.” He identified himself as a police officer and then began shooting, firing a total of 13 rounds from his service weapon. Brown was shot 12 times.

Several witnesses, including some who were accompanying Brown as well as two independent witnesses, have said that Brown had his hands in the air as Tshamba fired the weapon.

Prosecutors issued a warrant for Tshamba’s arrest the next afternoon, hoping to arrange a surrender that night, but Tshamba remained at large for more than 24 hours. Police mobilized dozens of officers to track him down,and printed and distributed fliers in some of Baltimore’s busiest neighborhoods.

Tshamba turned himself in over the weekend. During a court appearance, District Court Judge Ronald A. Karasic ordered the decorated veteran held without bond and told him to turn over his passport and any firearms in his possession.

Cohen defended his client, saying that he feared for his life and was simply “doing what he had to do.”

“If one shot doesn’t work, if two shots don’t work … you fire until the threat is gone,” said Cohen, speaking to reporters outside Central Booking.

Tshamba had previously received commendations for his work as a police officer, including once having saved a child who was being held at knifepoint. Yet in another instance, he shot and wounded a man after getting into an argument while drunk.

The shooting was later ruled justified, but Tshamba was suspended from the force for a week because of the intoxication. He was also involved in a car accident the following year, despite not having insurance or a valid registration.

NBA’s Walker Will Go To District Court for Gambling Debts

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

A former NBA player will appear in Clark County (NV) District Court later this month, after failing to repay $900,000 in gambling debts.

Antoine Walker was charged in July 2009 with three felony counts of writing bad checks, related to gambling debts he had incurred at Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood and the Red Rock Resort. In November of that year, he had waived his right to a preliminary hearing, with the understanding that he would begin making monthly payments toward the debt. Prosecutors say that the former all-star has paid approximately $135,000 of the total sum.

Walker appeared in Las Vegas Justice Court this morning, before Justice of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson, who set a date for the basketball player to appear

“So sir, you already did unconditionally waive your preliminary hearing back in November,” she said. “All we’re going to do today is just send this up to district court.”

She added that there were only two possibilities for Walker.

“You will either get it resolved and pay the restitution—I assume if it is paid it will ultimately be reduced—or you’ll go to trial or otherwise deal with it up at district court.”

Walker declared bankruptcy in May, 2010, claiming assets of $4.3 million and debts of $12.7 million. The bankruptcy filing listed four pieces of real estate among Walker’s assets, including a $2.3 million Miami home that is underwater with a mortgage of $3.6 million, as well as three properties in the Chicago area, including one listed with a value of $1.4 million.

Walker, who did not speak during the hearing, has played with several different NBA teams. He won the NBA championship while playing for the Miami Heat, and was a three-time all-star for the Boston Celtics. In 2008, he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He also played briefly in Puerto Rico during the 2009-2010 season. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Walker has been training at the University of Louisville with coach Rick Pitino, under whom he played at the University of Kentucky in the mid-1990s, and has been staging a comeback.

This is not Walker’s first brush with the law; in January 2009, he was arrested in Miami Beach on suspicion of drunk driving. He had been driving without headlights, and the arresting officer also noted a strong odor of alcohol in the car. That case is still pending.

The criminal charges in the casino-debt case could land Antoine Walker in prison for up to 12 years if he is convicted.

Cop Gets 15 Years for Conspiring with Crack Dealer

Monday, July 19th, 2010

A police officer who protected a crack dealer has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, bank fraud and obstruction of justice.

Luis Batista, 37, was hired by the New York Police Department in 1997, working first as an undercover officer in Manhattan, then as a precinct detective in the Williamburg, Brooklyn-area 90th Precinct. During his early days on the job, he befriended Virgilio “Checo” Hiciano, a large-scale cocaine and crack dealer—and began feeding him information that would help him avoid arrest.

Hiciano ran a drug dealing enterprise that was just a stone’s throw from a public school, and held control over the block with the help of his police officer friend. Batista warned the dealer of impending police actions. The two friends reportedly went out dancing and drinking together at Latin music clubs, even celebrating when Batista was promoted to detective.

Batista only asked Hiciano that no drug deals be conducted in front of him, as a matter of “respect.”

In 2006, after suspected that he might be the target of an internal investigation, Batista convinced a member of the New York Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau to obtain a copy of the investigation report. Sergeant Henry Conde, the officer whom Batista approached, testified during the trial that he had revealed that Batista was under investigation for reportedly having sex with multiple women and using cocaine in a Brooklyn hotel. Conde also said that although he knew obtaining the report was against police department regulations, he wasn’t aware that it was illegal.

Batista later tried to spin his relationship with Hiciano by claiming the dealer was a confidential source, and by trying to convince his supervisor to back him up.

The supervisor, however, was aiding the Internal Affairs department by wearing a wire and recording hours’ worth of conversations with Batista.

Haciano has pled guilty to narcotics and firearms charges, but has not yet been sentenced. He did testify aginst Batista at trial.

Batista was found guilty by a federal jury, in October, of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, obstruction of justice and bank fraud. The bank fraud charges stem from Batista’s having forged mortgage documents in order to help his brother obtain a mortgage and a home in Nassau County. Last week, Batista was sentenced to 15 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Dora L. Irizarry.