Archive for October, 2010

Stabbing Suspect In String of Midwestern Attacks To Be Evaluated

Friday, October 29th, 2010

An Israeli citizen who is accused of having slashed or stabbed over a dozen victims in the midwestern United States in the past few months is in custody, and will be monitored for psychiatric issues, say officials.

Elias Abuelazam was arrested on August 11 at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, as he tried to board a flight to Israel. Amid tight security, he was transferred to Flint, Michigan where he will be held pending a continuing investigation into the stabbings. Currently, Abuelazam is only charged in one of the stabbings, although authorities expect more complaints to be filed against him.

Between May and August, Abuelazam is accused of having stabbed three people in Leesburg, Virginia; one man in Toledo, Ohio; and 14 others in the Flint, Michigan area. Most of the victims were African-American and male. Several of them were also developmentally disabled, according to police. The victims ranged in age from 17 to 60. Of the 18 total stabbings, five of them proved fatal; the fatalities have been identified as Michigan residents David Motley; Emmanuel Dent; Darwin Marshall; Frank Kellybrew and Arnold Minor.

Abuelazam is believed to have lured his victims close to his vehicle by asking for directions or assistance with the car, before attacking them.

During the span of time when the knife attacks were occurring, Abuelazam was arrested twice, once on July 29 for providing alcohol to a minor, and again on August 5 after a traffic stop. At that time, police found that he had an outstanding warrant for assault. They also discovered a knife and a hammer in his car—weapons that they now believe were used in some of the crimes.

Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell said that Abuelazam will undergo a psychiatric examination, to determine whether or not he is prone to attempting self-harm. He is being held 23 hours a day in a 8’x13′ cell in a restricted housing area of the jail, separated from the general population. Every 15 minutes, a deputy will check on him. The cell is also specially designed with “breakaway” furnishings, so that Abuelazam will not be able to hang himself.

Abuelazam is charged in Michigan with one count of assault with intent to commit murder, but authorities in that state stress that more charges are expected to be forthcoming.

Medical Office Raided After Osteopath Linked to Multiple Overdose Deaths

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

A Los Angeles area osteopath is under investigation after at least of her patients have died of prescription drug overdoses in recent years.

The Rowland Heights office of Dr. Lisa Tseng was recently searched by authorities, who suspect the osteopath of having improperly prescribed narcotics such as methadone, oxycodone and other powerful prescription painkillers. An affidavit sworn by DEA Special Agent Robert J. Harkins and filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, cited three cases in which individuals overdosed on prescription drugs that could be traced back to Tseng. In one, a young man had been prescribed the drugs directly by Tseng; in the other death, a 20-year-old acquired drugs from a dealer who allegedly got them from the doctor.

During the search, DEA and California Medical Board agents searched the Advance Care Medical Center to review patient files and the office computers, in order to glean some understanding of how Tseng practiced. Evidence presented in the affadavit presents conflicting pictures of Tseng; when undercover agents approached her, seeking particular narcotics—one wanting oxycodone for menstrual cramps—she refused to write the prescriptions. She also told an undercover agent that she “does not want a patient that takes painkillers for fun or to get high.”

Yet others have described the office as a “revolving door” that catered to young men seeking drugs, and said that Tseng has developed a reputation among addicts as a doctor who would write prescriptions without sufficient cause, for a $55 to $75 office visit fee.

A medical expert who was cited in the affidavit, after reviewing Tseng’s prescribing habits, said that it is “inconceivable that the pattern of prescriptions that he reviews comes solely from the legitimate practice of medicine.” Pharmacies, too, had reported to the DEA that Tseng had written an “unusually large number” of oxycodone and other scrips. In fact, a review of a state prescription database showed that Tseng had prescribed over 27,000 prescriptions for controlled substances—an average of 25 per day—over a three-year period.

Officials have suspended Tseng’s license to prescribe controlled substances, but not her license to practice medicine, pending the results of an ongoing investigation.

Tseng has denied any culpability, saying that the responsibility for proper use of the drugs lies with the patients themselves. “I was really strict with my patients, and I followed the guidelines. If my patient decides to take a month’s supply in one day, then there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Tseng, 40, has been under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration since 2007.

Former Inmate Suing Three L.A. Deputies For Sexual Abuse

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

A former Twin Towers Correctional Facility inmate is seeking $3 million in damages, mostly for emotional suffering he incurred during what he alleges was a sexual assault by three L.A. County sheriff’s deputies.

The accusation and civil suit stem from a 2007 incident in which Alejandro Franco, then 23, received a fresh uniform from the jailhouse laundry, then went to stand in line for medication. He noticed a bad odor coming from his pants, and asked to have them replaced. Former Deputy Kris Cordova agreed to let Franco get a replacement pair of pants, but drew the line a little later, when the inmate said he detected the same foul smell from his freshly laundered shirt.

“You trying to get over on me,” Cordova said, according to Franco’s recent testimony before a federal court jury. Franco swore at the deputy, but returned to his cell, considering the matter finished.

Later that night, however, Franco claims that Cordova and two other deputies targeted his cell for a random search, and took him to an empty rec room after cuffing him. There, Cordova allegedly asked why Franco had shown disrespect by swearing in front of other inmates. Franco also testified that Deputy Davie Chang punched him in the face. Chang and Cordova continued to hit him, while a third deputy, Anthony Pimentel, stood back and activated his Taser stun gun.

Franco said that the three deputies threw him onto his stomach, pulled down his pants, and used pepper spray on his genitals and anus, causing an intense and painful burning sensation that lasted throughout the night.

“I felt hollow inside,” said Franco, speaking of the pepper-spray assault, which he considered a sexual assault. “I felt as if I wasn’t there.

All three deputies took the stand in front of the federal jury, but pleaded the 5th Amendment to everything they were asked, drawing scorn from the plaintiff’s attorney.

“Cops tell the truth,” said Arnoldo Casillas. “Cops don’t plead the 5th.”

Attorneys for the deputies, however, argued that Franco experienced a dysfunctional childhood and was a drug abuser, leading to problems with depression and antisocial behavior in jail. They say that there is not sufficient evidence to prove the allegations against them.

Chang and Pimental have been relieved of duty with pay, while Cordova is no longer with the department. Felony charges of assault by a public officer are being considered against the three men, according to a spokesperson from the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Expatriate, Convicted of Killing Husband in Hong Kong, Asks for Case to Be Dismissed

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

An American housewife who was convicted of murdering her husband in Hong Kong, but who won a retrial, is now asking the judge in the case to dismiss all charges against her, according to her attorney.

Nancy Kissel was convicted in 2005 of the murder of her husband Robert, an investment banker who was a vice president in Goldman Sachs’ Asian division. The Kissel family had expatriated to Hong Kong in 1997. Kissel claimed in her defense that she had been subjected to sexual, physical and verbal abuse by her husband, a heavy drinker and cocaine addict, and said that on the night of his death, on November 2nd, 2003, the two had been struggling and arguing. After attempting to forcibly rape and sodomize her, said Nancy Kissel, Robert Kissel came after his wife with a baseball bat, saying, “I’m going to kill you, bitch.”

Kissel gave her husband a strawberry milkshake laced with sedatives, rendering him unconscious, then delivered five blows to his head with a heavy metal ornament, killing him. His decomposing body, wrapped in a rug and stashed in a storeroom of their apartment building, was found five days later. Nancy Kissel, who claimed at her trial that she could not remember striking her husband, was nevertheless found to have taken steps to cover up the crime, including ordering new bedsheets to replace the bloodied ones, having the storeroom cleaned out, and sending her domestic helpers to buy items like packing boxes and nylon rope.

Kissel pleaded not guilty to the murder during her 2005 trial at Hong Kong’s High Court, but was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Kissel, who is originally from Michigan, appealed the verdict, saying that the prosecution had used hearsay and other forms of inadmissible evidence, and that she had been improperly cross-examined. That 2008 appeal was rejected, but Kissel lodged another appeal with the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong in January 2010, which a five-judge panel upheld.

Kissel recently spoke out about her intention to ask for a permanent stay in the proceedings; she claims that the publicity her case has received will negatively affect the fairness of the retrial. A Hong Kong court will hear arguments in November on the application for dismissal of the case.

If the dismissal is granted, Kissel will be a free woman. If it is rejected, however, the retrial will take place in January 2011. Kissel has not applied for bail, as is her right, since the retrial was ordered.

Kissel has also admitted having an affair with an electrician whom she met when he was working at the couple’s Vermont vacation home.

Yet More Inmates Wrongly Released From County Prison in PA

Monday, October 25th, 2010

A privately run correctional facility in Delaware County, Pennsylvania is coming under fire once again for having mistakenly released inmates because of employee or clerical errors.

Earlier this summer, Taaqi Brown, 21, a murder suspect in custody at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, was released after a prison employee mixed up his name with that of his brother, Taariq, who was also being held there on minor charges, and who was scheduled to be released. After his mother told him that giving himself up was “the right thing to do,” Brown surrendered to Philadelphia police the next day. The employee who released him was fired.

Now, the United States Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force is searching for two others who were set free by mistake. David Wilson, 19, of Chester, PA was convicted in July of a firearms violation and was being held in Hill Correctional Facility pending his sentencing, which was to have taken place two weeks after his recent release. The mix-up in his case occurred because the prison never received a fax from the county Office of Judicial Report, letting them know that his bail had been revoked. Still, said prison Superintendent John Reilly Jr., an employee of the prison should have double-checked that Wilson was cleared for release.

“They don’t have a process in place to accurately accept all these documents,” Reilly said, referring to the thousands of documents relating to prisoner status that the facility receives every week. “It’s a longstanding problem with the records department being able to process the volume.”

Another prisoner, Ateia Polk, 32, of Philadelphia, because a prison employee misunderstood the judge’s order, thinking that “no bail” meant that the prisoner could leave without posting bail or bond. Polk had been in custody pending trial on robbery, assault and other offenses. She was accused of stealing jewelry from a beauty salon and threatening the owner with a hairpin.

The George W. Hill Correctional Facility is operated by the New Jersey-based Community Education Centers, which assumed operation of the county prison last year, after another operating group left its contract due to “financial under performance and frequent litigation.” Hill is the only privately run county prison in the state.

A spokesperson for CEC, Christopher Greeder, said that “the matter in under review and the company is working closely with the county,” but otherwise refused to comment.

According to a county official, two additional inmates have been wrongly allowed to walk free in recent months.

Burial At Sea, Without Coffin, Did Not Follow Protocol

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

The family of a man whose dying wish was to be buried at sea may face charges stemming from that burial, which authorities say was in violation of federal guidelines for the disposal of human remains.

Daniel Scott Laskey, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in early September, had requested that he be buried at sea off the Florida coast near Fort Lauderdale, where he loved to go fishing with his wife. Sharon Laskey, other family members and the family’s pastor drove from the Laskeys’ home in Hickory, North Caroline the next day, after placing the body on dry ice.

On September 10, they boarded a private charter boat and sailed approximately four miles offshore from Port Everglades, Florida. After saying their final goodbyes, the family buried Laskey—wrapped in plastic and weighed down with unidentified objects—in the sea. They then went fishing, in his honor, according to the Broward County sheriff’s office.

A boater found Lasky’s body, naked except for one sock, floating face down off the coast of Hollywood, Florida—about 20 miles away—the next morning.

Sheriff’s deputies searched for information about the body, and eventually found an obituary in the Hickory Daily Record for Laskey, which included the line: “Burial will be at sea.” The body was taken to Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office, where an autopsy was performed on September 12.

Human remains which have not been cremated may be interred in the sea; however, the method is strictly regulated. State and federal protocols deem that the body be placed in a coffin of non-corrosive metal, that the coffin be secured, and that it contain at least six 2-inch-wide holes drilled in its lid and base. These regulations are intended to ensure that human remains sink to the bottom of the ocean both quickly and permanently.

Furthermore, the Code of Federal Regulations requires that the burial take place at least three nautical miles from land, and in water that is 600 feet deep or deeper. Laskey’s burial was at approximately three and a half nautical miles; it is undetermined how deep the water is at the site where his body entered the sea.

It is evident, however, that the preparation of his body did not conform to the federal guidelines requiring a metal coffin. It is unclear if the grieving family has broken any laws, nor whether charges will be brought against them.

A spokesperson for the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Veda Coleman-Wright, said that Sharon Lasky was cooperative and forthcoming in describing how she and the others prepared Daniel Lasky’s body for the nautical burial, but that she did have a death certificate issued in North Carolina and a burial transit permit.

The body remains at the medical examiner’s office, pending instructions from the family.

American Hiker Jailed In Iran To Be Released

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

One of three Americans who has been detained in an Iranian jail for over a year will be released, according to media sources in Tehran.

Sarah Shourd, 32, was hiking in the Kurdistan region of Iraq with her fiance, Shane Bauer, 28; and Josh Fattal, also 28, when they allegedly crossed an unmarked border into Iran. The Iranian government has accused them of spying, and they have been in custody for more than a year. Shourd, who has been kept in solitary confinement, is allowed to see her fiance only twice a day, for half an hour at a time.

After a week’s worth of vacillation on the part of Iranian authorities, who first announced that she would be released at the end of Ramadan but then reneged, Shourd has been released on medical grounds. According to her family, she had a pre-existing gynecological condition and has also discovered a lump in her breast.

On Sunday, Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi announced Iran’s “readiness for the conditional release of one of the three U.S. citizens arrested for illegally entering the country,” adding that authorities had investigated the espionage charges against the hikers, and that the judge in charge of the case had issued indictments against them.

Experts on Iranian policy say that the timing of Shourd’s release is not coincidental, but is instead a public relations move on the part of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is traveling to the United States later this month for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

Upon the transfer of $500,000 in bail money to Iranian officials, Shourd will travel first to the Swiss Embassy, as Switzerland has been representing American interests in the negotiations to free the hikers, because the United States and Iran do not enjoy formal diplomatic relations.

A representative from the U.S. State Department, P.J. Crowley, spoke to reporters after the announcement of Shourd’s release, maintaining that she and her fellow hikers are innocent of espionage charges.

“We do not believe the hikers are guilty of any crime. Iran has had more than enough time to investigate and satisfy its questions about why these three individuals crossed an unmarked border,” he said. “We want to see this resolved. We are grateful to the Swiss and other countries that are working these issues on our behalf.”

$21 Mil Awarded in Pharmaceutical Lawsuit Over NSAID

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

A New Hampshire woman whose prescription pain medication resulted in a diagnosis of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis has won a $21 million dollar settlement from Mutual Pharmaceutical Co.

Karen Bartlett, 51, was prescribed Sulidnac—a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is marketed by the pharmaceutical giant Merck under the brand name Clinoril—for shoulder pain in January 2005. Just two weeks later, she began to experience skin problems, including red spots on her face, particularly around her eyes. Bartlett also experienced a sensation that she described as feeling like “pebbles” under her eyelids and in her throat. She was admitted to the hospital, her rash worsening, and was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrom and toxic epidermal necrolysis (SJS-TEN).

SJS-TEN is a potentially fatal disease in which an adverse reaction to a drug causes the patient’s body to burn from the inside out. The mucus membranes are particularly affected, as is the outer layer of skin. Bartlett’s case also involved the burning of her eyes, throat, stomach and lungs, which caused permanent disabilities, including legal blindness.

Bartlett spent over 100 days in five separate hospitals, including the Massachusetts General Hospital Burn Unit, and underwent a total of 12 eye operations to try to regain her sight. Now legally blind, she was escorted in and out of the courtroom by her husband, Greg, during the trial.

Her attorney, Keith Jensen, presented as evidence during the 14-day proceeding photographs, some graphic, of the ulcerated burns on Bartlett’s body and eyes. The jury deliberated for three days before ruling that the Philadelphia-based Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. should have known that Sulidnac was unreasonably dangerous to consumers, and was therefore liable for Bartlett’s injuries.

Sulidnac has the highest reported incidence of SJS-TEN of any NSAID, but remains on the market. In 2005, Mutual amended the warning label on the drug to include possible side effects, including Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

“This drug should not have been on the market when it was prescribed for Mrs. Bartlett and it shouldn’t be on the market now,” said Jensen after the verdict was read.

Bartlett had sought $4.5 million for past and future medical bills and lost earning capacity. Jensen urged the jury to award an additional $20 million to $30 million for pain and suffering and for loss of enjoyment of life. The total verdict, $21 million, represents the highest award in a New Hampshire product liability case, topping the next highest award, which was $13 million awarded in a construction accident case in 1993.

“Prince of Pot” Sentenced to Five Years In U.S. Prison

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

A Canadian marijuana activist, once known as the “prince of pot,” is now incarcerated in Washington State’s Federal Detention Center, SeaTac, serving a five-year term as part of a plea deal.

Marc Emery, 52, entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana in May, 2010. In July 2005, after an 18-month investigation, Emery and his two co-defendants, Gregory Keith Williams, 50, and Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek, 34, both of Vancouver, were charged by American authorities with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. These charges carried a minimum 10-year sentence and the possibility of life imprisonment, and so in 2009, Emery agreed to a plea bargain in which he admitted that he had operated a business selling marijuana seeds over the Internet and in his retail store, and agreed to serve five years.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez sentenced Emery—who was at one time among the U.S.’s most wanted international drug trafficking targets, and the only one from Canada—to a term of five years in prison minus time served.

The activist’s supporters have decried his prosecution and sentence, however, saying that they are politically motivated, because Emery donated most of his profits to marijuana legalization efforts in both the U.S. and Canada. They cite a 2005 press release issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency that called Emery’s arrest a “significant blow” to the movement to legalize marijuana.

Emery is the founder of several political parties, the Freedom Party of Ontario, the Marijuana Part of Canada and the British Columbia Marijuana Party, and has run for several public offices, including mayor of Vancouver, in 1996, 2002 and 2008. He founded a publication called Cannabis Culture Magazine and a video channel called Pot-TV. He has been the subject of several documentary films, and has made cameo appearances in many more.

Since 1995, Emery has been arrested at least a dozen times on charges related to his marijuana activism, not counting the raids on his Vancouver head shop, Hemp BC.

Williams and Rainey-Fenkarek pleaded guilty earlier this year to lesser offenses and were placed on probation in Canada.

Protestors gathered outside Seattle’s federal courthouse during and after the sentencing, and rallies to support Emery and the legalization movement are planned for September 18 in over 70 cities across the globe.

In a letter to the court, Emery admitted some culpability, while still holding fast to his ideals.

“It was my sincere belief that the prohibitions on cannabis are hurtful to U.S. and Canadian citizens and are contrary to the U.S. and Canadian constitutions. I was, however, overzealous and reckless in pursuing this belief, and acted arrogantly in violation of U.S. federal law. I regret not choosing other methods—legal ones—to achieve my goals of peaceful political reform.”

Death Row Inmate Asks For Stay of Execution on IQ, DNA Grounds

Monday, October 18th, 2010

A Kentucky inmate who would otherwise face execution on September 16th has asked a Kenton Circuit Court judge to stop that execution, on grounds that he is mentally disabled.

The motion for a stay of execution was recently filed by Gregory L. Wilson, 53, who also claims that he has the right to request DNA testing on evidence in his case, which involves a 1987 kidnapping, rape and murder.

Wilson and a female accomplice, Brenda Humphrey, kidnapped restaurant worker Deborah Pooley, 30, as she was arriving home late at night. Using a knife, Wilson forced Pooley into the backseat of her car and proceeded to rape her there as Humphrey drove the car to Indiana. Wilson tied Pooley’s hands with a lamp cord and strangled her to death before dumping her body in a wooded area near Indianapolis. He and Humphrey then went on a shopping spree using Pooley’s credit card, buying clothing, shoes, watches and gasoline. The pair was apprehended two weeks later, and Humphrey is currently serving a life sentence for her role in the crime.

Only a few months before Pooley’s killing, Wilson had been released on parole after two rape convictions.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed a death warrant for Wilson on August 25, although the issues involved in the motion for stay of execution have been pending since April.

Wilson’s attorneys are claiming that since an IQ test the man took as a teenager showed that he had an IQ of only 62, he is ineligible for the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2002 that to execute anyone whose IQ was below 70 constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The attorneys have also filed an inventory of physical evidence in the case that has not yet been tested for DNA, and are seeking to have that testing completed.

Wilson is additionally asking the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to rule that he has not yet reached the statuatory limitations on challenging some aspects of Kentucky’s protocol for execution. His execution, should it go forward, would be the first since that state adopted new lethal injection protocals, last May; seven months before, the Kentucky Supreme Court had halted all executions, citing problems with the existing protocol.

Beshear had originally been expected to sign two additional death warrants, but a shortage of one of the drugs used in Kentucky’s lethal injections, sodium thiopental, has caused a delay in these executions. The state executioners have only enough sodium thiopental—a fast-acting barbiturate which is used to render the inmate unconscious, before a drug which causes paralysis and one that causes cardiac arrest are administered—for one execution, and that dose will expire on October 1.