Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Double Life, A Single Mission: A True Believing Prosecutor

by Robin Sax

OK, I’ll admit it. My kids know that they can’t pull any of the usual tricks when it comes to their Mom. Why? Because I happen to be a D.A. At the end of the day when I arrive home, my briefcase stuffed with cases of wayward children and adults, I have to shift gears from “Robin Sax, D.A.” to become, simply, “Mom” to three kids, ages 5 through 17.

Except that in some ways, I don’t shift gears.

I guess the force that drives me to be the best I can be at what I do –seeking justice for my clients, L.A. County’s residents—also drives me to be the best (but not perfect, 'cause there is no such thing) parent I can be. After fifteen years on the job, I’ve seen enough examples of flawed parenting and its consequences to have a good idea of what works, and what doesn’t when it comes to kids.

But these flaws don’t just pop up in court—I’ve seen the same mistakes and their outcomes in every community I traverse, regardless of income bracket. And I traverse a lot!

If you follow me after I drop off my kids each morning, you’ll understand why they toe the line –even when they don’t necessarily want to—and show me the love and respect that, as a parent, I deserve, just as you do.

After I leave the kids at school, I head east to L.A.’s Criminal Court Building (the CCB). As I drive, the landscape changes dramatically--Starbucks is replaced by bail bonds shops; billboards shift from English to Korean, to Spanish, to Japanese; people go from waiting at bus stops to being passed out at bus stops. During this ride, I think about how lucky I am that my kids have no concept of the life I am about to enter—that is, assuming I get to court on time!

Few people can wrap their minds around how a Los Angeles west side mom can go downtown, work in the trenches of the Los Angeles crime scene, and come back to “safe territory,” then go back out and do the same thing the next day.

My “co-madres” (other moms) in my personal life cannot picture my court life and my colleagues cannot fathom the details of my private life. And yet, in both of these environments, I find myself dealing with complaints about the growing problems adults are having with kids today. I’ve come to realize that there are far more similarities between these seemingly “polar opposite” worlds than one might imagine.

If you were to take a peek into my kids’ classrooms, you would find that they attend school with the offspring of celebrities, agents, athletes, and other influential folks, including a state senator, a football team owner, and a few highfliers from the Fortune Top 100.

To many of you, this will seem pretty impressive. But parenting these more privileged kids involves dealing with the same types of problems that confront other parents--low self-image, family problems, academic pressures, student rivalries, to name just a few. Walk into my courtroom on any day and you’ll find that these themes—so familiar to every parent--come up in the children’s cases I handle.

Because I work so closely with kids, my family is convinced that somehow I have superpowers that allow me to see things and know things that other parents can’t possibly see or know. They assume I have night vision, surveillance skills--even a built-in lie detector.

The fact is, I don’t have super powers or secret information. Nor do I have night vision or a built-in lie detector--but I love the fact that my kids think I do. My powers come in the form of skills and techniques learned from living in the trenches of the real world of conflict and crime.

As Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, California, it’s my job to uncover the truth in some of the meanest and messiest situations conceivable and to try to ensure that justice is done. In order to protect the most vulnerable of victims--kids--I interview, investigate, uncover facts, and evaluate evidence.

Sometimes I prosecute, argue, and convict. Sometimes I cut people a break, offering alternatives to jail or fines. Sometimes I simply wait for further developments.

In brief, I live and thrive in a world of investigation, conflict, and resolution. My world is the world of discipline, fairness, and making sure that the best interests of children come first.

When I tell people that I spend my days prosecuting child molesters, a barrage of questions ensues: “How do you do it?” . . . “How do you sleep at night?” . . . “How do you trust anybody with your own kids?” . . . And finally, “I could never do your job.”

But the fact is, I believe that being a D.A. is the greatest job in the world. I love my work and I love that I never need to compromise my values.

So how do I merge both of my worlds? Since I’ve made a career of assessing what is in the best interest of society, It’s only logical that I would extend this theory to how I raise my own children.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Will We Ever Learn?

by Diane Fanning

Will we ever learn that the phrase "he paid his debt to society" is an irrelevant concept when applied to pedophiles?

Last week, Gilbert Gauthe made the case for permanent confinement of these types of sex offenders. Gauthe was the priest in Louisiana who heralded the beginning of the Catholic sex scandal as the first in the country to face multiple charges of child molestation. In 1985, he admitted that, over a five-year-period, he raped and sodomized thirty-seven altar boys, ages six to thirteen. He abused them on the altar, in the confessional and everywhere else. Thirty-seven!

He was convicted on eleven counts of crimes against nature with children and eleven counts of pornography involving a child. His punishment for scarring these innocent children for life? He served nine years of his 20-year sentence before his release in 1995.

Debt paid? Felon rehabilitated? Not hardly. In 1997, he was no longer a priest but he certainly was still a pedophile. He was arrested for fondling the genitals of a 3-year-old boy in Polk County, Texas. What did he get for that offense? He was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of "injury to a child" when Louisiana failed to forward his criminal records to the court. Gauthe’s sentence: seven years probation. It boggles the mind.

In 1998, a woman stepped forward with the accusation that Gauthe raped her seventeen years earlier when she was just twelve years old. Gauthe was arrested and returned to Louisiana where he spent two years in the Lafayette jail before the charges were dropped and he was released. It seems that the prosecutor, in making the 1985 plea bargain, wrote a very broad immunity agreement that shielded Gauthe from any additional charges for child molestation offenses committed before that date in the Vermillion Paris. He walked out the front doors of the jail to face the jeers of a crowd gathered to protest his regained freedom.

Gauthe still had four years of probation to serve in Texas. He returned to the state and, worked in
Conroe, just north of Houston, driving the elderly to appointments in a commuter van. After keeping this job with The Friendship Center for about two years, his employers learned about his past from reporters who had tracked down the pedophile and asked the agency about their driver. He was fired.

Soon after that, he moved south of Houston to La Marque. He found a job working for a limousine company. Nobody's sure how long he was living there on the property of his employer since he did not report his whereabouts to the probation office as required. But intrepid reporters at KTRK-TV found and attempted to interview him. Their efforts came to the attention of the police who noticed that the 62-year-old Gauthe was in violation of the law that requires him to reaffirm his personal data, including his address and employment every ninety days for the rest of his life. When confronted, Gauthe complied with the reporting rules and went on the list of sex offenders in the area. With that accomplished, he moved, without giving authorities the required seven day notification.

Detective Geoff Price--our new hero--tracked him down to Galveston Island State Park. He was living in his recreational vehicle in this target-rich area for a pedophile. Gauthe lied to the officer about his continued employment. Last Wednesday, Price hauled Gauthe off to jail where he belongs.

If he is convicted of failing to register as a sexual offender, Gauthe could receive up to a 20-year sentence and a fine of $10,000.

Who cares about the fine? Keep the money, honey--just lock up this destructive jerk for the rest of his natural life.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Staged Murder - Similar to '80s Serial Killings

New York - Tonight marks the opening of the world premiere of "The Judas Tree," an unusual crime musical by Mary Fengar Gail. The inspiration for this play about a fictional Latina landlady was the real-life serial killer Dorothea Puente.

Puente (pictured below) committed her first murder when she killed her business partner Ruth Monroe in Sacramento, California, in 1982. She got away with that crime when the coroner ruled it a suicide but a month later she went to jail for drugging elderly people in order to steal from them. Although the judge who issued her sentences of five years in prison banned her from the company of the elderly, she started a correspondence with 77-year-old Everson Gillmouth while she was still behind bars. When she was released in 1985, Gillmouth picked her up. He planned to marry her. He gave her access to his checking account. He didn’t survive the year. His body was found in January 1986, beside the Sacramento River. His corpse lingered in cold storage until he was identified three years later. With this murder, Puente joined the list of the black widow killers.

With Gillmouth out of the way, Puente set up a business in a big Victorian house, in a neighborhood gone to seed, just two blocks from the governor’s mansion. She went into business renting rooms at cheap rates. Social workers soon counted on her for the placement of difficult homeless clients on their case management lists. Many of these individuals were elderly—in direct violation of Puente’s parole. But no one complained.

And no one was surprised when her lodgers suddenly disappeared. They were elderly or sickly or addicted to drugs. Puente displayed concern for their well-being and checked up on them when they took to their beds. No one realized that they were ill because they’d been poisoned by their kindly landlady.

People did notice the nasty smell. Puente claimed the odor was caused by dead rats under the floorboards, backed up sewer lines, and the fish emulsion she used to fertilize her well-maintained garden. Everyone in the neighborhood accepted her excuses. With each former tenant planted in the flower bed, Puente’s discretionary income increased allowing her to buy expensive perfumes and dresses and get a face lift. At the end, she was raking in $5000 a month in government checks written to the people she murdered.

When a missing persons report sent investigators to her boarding house on November 11, 1988, they discovered a disturbed patch of earth in the backyard. They found seven decomposing bodies in Puente’s beautiful backyard flower garden. She was ultimately charged with murdering nine of her boarders in order to steal their Social Security checks.

The jury hung on six of the charges but found her guilty on three of the homicide counts. She is now serving life without parole in the largest female prison in the country, Central California Women’s Facility near Chowchilla.

Her despicable crimes gave birth to a play that is part courtroom drama and part macabre romance--filled with Latin-influenced music and punctuated by dancing corpses. The New York Times calls it "a mythical play of operatic proportion," characterizing the world premiere as "a tale of magic, murder and seduction." MultiStages Theatre says it's a "multidisciplinary feast for the senses."

"The Judas Tree" runs from April 24 through May 11 at the CSV Cultural Teatro La Tea in Manhattan. Directed by Lorca Peress. For tickets and more information, visit here.

Scientology: Church or Domestic Terrorist?

by Stacy Dittrich

I have been chipping away at my latest CeeCee Gallagher book in which CeeCee investigates a religious doomsday cult. During my research phase, which entailed the awful task of researching every cult known to man, I came across the FBI report Project Megiddo. The project was directed at doomsday religions prior to the new millenium, and I was a little surprised to see a reference to Scientology in it. Since I wasn't completely informed about the group, I furthered my research. In speaking with my own contact at the FBI, I learned that cults fall under Homeland Security as potential domestic terrorists. Needless to say, in my research of Scientology, I was disturbed on so many levels it's difficult to know where to begin. I always wondered why my glorious ancestral home of Germany rejected it; now I know why. First and foremost, is the ongoing classification as the cult as a "religion" or a "church." Here's what my dictionary says:

Church: Building for Christian worship, a whole body of Christians

Religion: Service and worship of God

Nowhere in my research did I see anything resembling God or Christianity in Scientology. Read on:

Cult: A faddish devotion (bingo!)

The media put such an emphasis on referring to displaced Katrina residents as "refugees" politically incorrect, I'm surprised this wording is still continued for Scientology-considering it's mentally unstable founder considered it a "business" to begin with. Project Megiddo explained the "Lethal Triad" of cults and how, if the components of the triad are met, the cult is deemed a danger to society. ie Scientology. Here are some facts about the founder of the cult, L. Ron Hubbard, and what the Scientologists say about him . . .

Scientologists: Hubbard was a nuclear physicist

Fact: Hubbard dropped out of college in the 2nd year after receiving F's in most courses

Scientologists: They shun psych drugs

Fact: Hubbard was found with Vistaril (psych drug) in his system when he died

Scientologists: They reject homosexuality as perversion

Fact: In 1967, Hubbard bought a small fleet of ships he called the "Sea Organization" and deemed himself "The Commodore." With that, he was attended by a large harem of teenage girls--"The Commodore's Messengers"--dressed in tight white pants that bathed and fed him" (a sexual predator in my book)

Scientologists: They reject homosexuality

Fact: Hubbard's own son was a homosexual, and died under mysterious circumstances--suicide or murder

Hubbard's a genius

Fact: Scientology started out as a science fiction book that was so bad he couldn't get it published, so he decided to start a religion. He was quoted as saying, "The easiest way to make a million dollars is to start your own religion."

Scientologists: They deny being a cult

Fact: In 1946, Hubbard and Jack Parsons (an associate of occultist Aleister Crowley) engaged in ritual magic including sex magic rituals called the Babalon Working; a ritual derived from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. . . . Some experts believe he based many Scientology teachings on this

Scientologists: Hubbard was a U.S. Intelligence Agent put undercover to end Parsons sex rituals

Fact: Ummm, nooo.

Bottom line: L. Ron was a fraud, mentally ill, sexual deviant, who possibly had his own son murdered. In addition, they are dangerous. Read this account from the BBC who took on Scientology:

On May 12, 2007 Journalist John Sweeney of BBC Panorama made highly critical comments regarding Scientology and its teachings, and further reported that since beginning an extensive investigation he had been harassed, surveilled, and investigated by strangers. Sweeney wrote, "I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnight, denounced as a "bigot" by star Scientologists and chased round the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers. Back in Britain strangers have called on my neighbors, my mother-in-law's house and someone spied on my wedding and fled the moment he was challenged." In another passage, "He [Scientology representative Tommy Davis] harangued me for talking to […] heretics. I told him that Scientology had been spying on the BBC and that was creepy." And in another passage, "In LA, the moment our hire car left the airport we realized we were being followed by two cars. In our hotel a weird stranger spent every breakfast listening to us."[190][191]

The Church of Scientology called John Sweeney's documentary (first aired May 14, 2007) into question and produced its own documentary in which it claimed to have documented 154 violations in the BBC's and OfCom's guidelines. [192]

In a small attempt to give Scientology the benefit of the doubt, I went further and found this:

Some past traumas may have been deliberately inflicted in the form of "implants" used by extraterrestrial dictatorships such as Helatrobus to brainwash and control the population. Hubbard's lectures and writings include a wide variety of accounts of complex extraterrestrial civilizations and alien interventions in earthly events, collectively described by Hubbard as "space opera." There is a huge Church of Spiritual Technology symbol carved into the ground at Scientology's Trementina Base that is visible from the air. Washington Post reporter Richard Leiby wrote: "Former Scientologists familiar with Hubbard’s teachings on reincarnation say the symbol marks a 'return point' so loyal staff members know where they can find the founder’s works when they travel here in the future from other places in the universe."

Hmmm . . . reminds me of another cult. Heaven's Gate (Gate Leader Marshall Applewhite pictured left, and Hubbard pictured right) believed in the power of extraterrestrials as well.

Another Fact:

The Cult Awareness Network famously received more complaints concerning Scientology than any other group. They therefore listed the Church of Scientology at the top of their cult list, until they went into bankruptcy from suits initiated by Scientology (1996). Ultimately, they were bought in Bankruptcy Court by the Church of Scientology (1997).

Punishing myself further, I watched a video featuring the deranged poster child (Yes, Tom Cruise) promote Scientology. Watch video here. I find it interesting that Cruise, raised a Catholic and turned his back on it years ago, seems to specifically target Catholic women as a "mate," in an attempt to exert total control and give God the middle finger. "Ha! Grabbed me another one!" Like the video in which Cruise seems to have a psychotic episode right before your eyes (it's really rather disturbing), their own Web site is worse. To read it, I wonder what logical person living in reality could possibly relate to this, let alone believe in it?

In the video, Tom Cruise states, "We are the authority, we are the ONLY ones who can rehabilitate criminals." Sorry, Tommy, this makes me angry. Next sex offender I deal with that brutally rapes children, I'll send your way. You can rehabilitate them, and then have them babysit your daughter and see how much you "believe."

The Cult of Scientology has faced allegations of member suicides, deaths, and psychotic breaks-a.k.a., cult . . . cult . . . cult . . . cult They are dangerous. I hope the government won't wait twenty years to dissolve the sect like they did the recent polygamist ranch. Once they do, I predict the stories that come out of this domestic terrorist cult will be horrendous--extortion; sex crimes; theft by deception; practicing medicine without a license; obstructing justice; assault; abduction; and other crimes, none of which would surprise me. I look forward to future-- federal--indictments.

(Tom Cruise) (Jim Jones)

Justice Anderson of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, an extremely intelligent individual, said this: " Scientology is evil; its techniques are evil; its practice is a serious threat to the community, medically, morally, and socially; and its adherents are sadly deluded and often mentally ill (I would insert Tom Cruise here) . . . It is the world's largest organization of unqualified persons engaged in the practice of dangerous techniques which masquerade as mental therapy. . . ."

To answer your question, Mr. Cruise--No, I'm NOT on board. . . . Sue me.

As always, this is just my opinion.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ink Blotter

Ink Blotter

In last week's Ink Blotter we discussed the case of 12-year-old Becca McEvoy (pictured left) after Becca's story was written about by sex-crimes prosecutor and WCI contributor Robin Sax. WCI thinks this case deserves more attention and we hope you join us today to continue the discussion.

Other WCI Blogs inked this past week include our Mystery Man--jury and
trial consultant, Robert Hirschhorn; the jury "de-selection process" by contributor and murder prosecutor Donna Pendergast; and the opening this past Thursday of the New York stage production of The Judas Tree. Contributor Diane Fanning told us the story behind the play which is based on real-life female serial killer Dorothea Puente.

On Wednesday, Kathryn Casey wrote about the subject of polygamy and the recent raid in Eldorado, Texas, of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints) compound. Andrea Campbell posted on the FBI's use of billboards featuring most wanted fugitives. And Pat Brown brought us the story of Cheryl Cottle, the apparent Black Widow who married the transplant recipient of her previous husband's heart. Finally, Donna Weaver dismantled the complex issue of the FBI's mishandling of confidential informants, an insidious issue that resulted in murder charges against former FBI agent John Connolly and others.

So please stop by WCI later this afternoon and let's talk about what's on your mind.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mystery Man - Robert Hirschhorn

by Robert Hirschhorn

Twenty-four years ago, I was a young criminal defense lawyer with an impossible case. I went to my mentor and asked him what I should do. He said to call Cat Bennett. I asked him who she was and he told me that she was the best jury consultant in America. When I asked him how she was going to be able to help, he told me to stop asking such stupid questions and to call her. I did, she agreed to help, we won the case, and I told her that she changed my life.

When Cat died in 1992, I had to decide whether to go back to practicing law where I could make a lot more money or to keep Cat's mission and message alive. I felt the latter was so much more rewarding. I'm pleased to share with you a snapshot of what I do.

When selecting a jury in a murder case, you first have to make an intelligent and realistic decision on what would constitute a win. If the prosecution has a weak case (i.e. - no physical or DNA evidence) or there is a strong defense (e.g. - self defense), obviously we want a jury that has the courage to find the defendant not guilty. In some cases, the best possible outcome, given the facts, is a hung jury. In other cases, the facts may compel a jury to convict.

What's unique about Texas is that the judge or the jury can assess the punishment to be imposed. (Prior to trial the defense must elect who should impose the sentence.) So there are some murder cases where you are expecting the jury to convict but you hope they will be lenient in their sentence (e.g. - "mercy killing" situations or "heat of passion" crimes).

To pick a winning jury, the first thing you have to remember is that you don’t get to pick who you want on the jury. Instead, what occurs is a de-selection process. That is, that lawyers get to eliminate those jurors who express a view or opinion about the case, the defendant, or the law, which indicates they cannot be fair. Removing a juror for this reason is called a challenge for cause. There is no limit to the number of challenges for cause that either side can make. It is completely up to the trial judge to decide if a juror should be removed for this reason.

Jurors can also be removed by virtue of a peremptory strike. In a murder case, the prosecution and the defense can each eliminate up to ten jurors for whatever reason they want. A lawyer doesn’t even need to state a reason for exercising a peremptory strike on a member of the jury panel, so long as the attorney did not strike the juror because of the juror’s race.

The question becomes: Who do you want to have left on the jury after challenges for cause and peremptory strikes? As a general rule, if we are running a technical defense, we like cerebral and analytical thinkers. If we are running a “put yourself in our shoes, what would you have done” defense, we like more emotional and spontaneous jurors.

Having said that, for the past twenty years, we have been constantly telling lawyers that
jury selection is art, not science, and that it is a mistake for lawyers to stereotype jurors. Henry Wade, the Dallas County District Attorney, many years ago taught an entire generation of prosecutors to “never take a juror whose job starts with the letter P - painters, plumbers, prostitutes.”

As ridiculous as these stereotypes sound, some lawyers still to this day follow them as the gospel. Some criminal defense lawyers stereotype jurors based on religion, race, age, education, and gender. We teach lawyers that jurors make decisions based on their value system and life experience.

Thus, if you want a great jury for a murder, you must first determine your goal, how you intend to accomplish your goal (we call that “the message”) and then comes the critical goal, with our help, of matching the message to the messengers: the jury. If you're interested in learning more, please visit our Web site here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mystery Man - Clue Box

Last week's Mystery Man was a private investigator, a detective who works behind the scenes, uncovering evidence in cases. Up next, we have a man whose work is mostly inside courtrooms, where he gathers information about you. This Mystery Man began his career as a criminal defense lawyer. What started as a nightmare of a case twenty-four years ago ended up opening the door to the career of his dreams: a trial and jury consultant.

His record of success in the nation's toughest cases is as inexplicable as his knack for picking a jury favorable to his clients, men and women whose lives have been on the line. His impressive roster of clients includes Mercedes-Benz murderess Clara Harris . . . former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison . . . Enron CEO Ken Lay . . . accused sexual batterer William Kennedy Smith . . . Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols . . . and Robert Durst, the billionaire recluse who was found not guilty of murder after testifying that he'd shot, dismembered, and disposed of the body parts of his neighbor. And if the Durst acquittal seems an anomaly, consider another death penalty dismemberment-murder case that our Mystery Man helped win an acquittal on, one of two federal defendants who were spared the death penalty.

Tomorrow's guest contributor has written and co-authored several books and has also published articles. If you need another clue, it might be sitting on your shelf. Our Mystery Man can be found in a number of true-crime books. You've read his name countless times in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. And you've seen his face on Good Morning America, America's Talking, Cochran and Company, Court TV, CNN Morning News, Dateline NBC, MSNBC, 48-Hours, Rivera Live, the Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as many others.

He lectures throughout the United States to lawyers and judges on effective techniques of jury selection. As you read this, he is returning from Los Angeles after delivering a speech to the California Public Defenders.

This Saturday, he'll give you the nuts and bolts of his specialized profession and tell you how it all began. So check back here tomorrow. And take a good look at his photo. Maybe you'll recognize him the next time you're on a jury panel. If so, he'll know all about you. Don't miss your chance to learn something about him when we unmask our next Mystery Man.

Jury Deselection

by Donna Pendergast

Have you ever been a part of the jury selection process or sat through a jury selection and wondered what was really going on behind the scenes? Why does the prosecutor ask the questions that she/he asks? What are the papers that the attorneys are looking at? Why do the attorneys kick off the persons that they do? What are the attorneys looking for and why?

The jury selection process is targeted towards selecting jurors who can decide the case without bias against any of the involved parties. But that doesn't mean that both sides won't be trying to select jurors who are likely to be sympathetic to their respective side or spin on the case.

Jury selection (also called
jury deselection by many) is a science. Both sides analyze and interpret clues to determine who is likely to be sympathetic to their case and who is likely to be sympathetic to the opponent's case. As much as an attorney picks who serves on their jury, they are also picking who doesn't serve as well.

The jury selection/deselection process begins for the attorneys before prospective jurors ever walk into the courtroom. The background questionnaires that most jurors fill out when their summons comes in the mail are summarized in a list provided by the court to attorneys. Accordingly, the attorneys know a little bit about potential jurors before the questioning ever begins. Basic information like occupation of the prospective juror and spouse, prior contacts with law enforcement, and affiliation with agencies conducting the investigation are all things that the attorneys are looking at early on in an effort to get a feel for each prospective juror.

In an especially high-profile trial where there is a "hot button" issue or where there has been a great deal of pretrial publicity, potential jurors may also be given a more extensive questionnaire that delves more deeply into potential biases and prejudices specific to the case. In a
murder case that I tried where a man was murdered after revealing a surprise gay crush on another man during the taping of an episode of "The Jenny Jones Show," the in-depth questionnaire probed deeply into the potential jurors' attitudes about homosexuality. More recently in trials that I have prosecuted, questions about extramarital affairs, the alleged promiscuity of a victim, and pretrial media coverage were all put into the more in-depth questionnaires that the prospective jurors were required to fill out well in advance of the trial.


The scrutiny begins from the moment that a jury pool walks into the courtroom. Attorneys look to things like dress, demeanor, even the reading material brought into the court by the prospective jurors to assess overt as well as subtle clues that may give insight as to the personality of the juror. The attorneys try to interpret these clues to determine who may be favorable to their side and who may not be favorable.

The purpose of questioning jurors is to get the jurors talking and to elicit as much information as possible. Although the exact procedures for questioning jurors will vary by jurisdiction, the goal remains the same. The attorneys on both sides will ask questions of the jurors in a manner calculated to gain as much information as possible to allow for deselection of unfavorable jurors and retention of favorable jurors. Through the questioning process the attorneys are attempting to understand who the jurors are as persons and what is important to them as individuals in an effort to evaluate how a potential juror may react to the facts of the case at hand.

Through questioning of the potential jurors both sides also attempt to educate the members of the jury panel as to the facts and the law pertaining to the case in a favorable way. The attorneys do this by explaining the law while sizing up the prospective jurors' comfort levels as they respond to questions pertaining to the attorney's explanations of the law and hypothetical questions. The prosecution will seek to diffuse deficiencies in their case by this process of educating jurors on the law while the defense will be attempting to highlight the problems or deficiencies in the prosecution's case.

It is also imperative during questioning that an attorney gain credibility with the jury. As much as an attorney is picking a jury, the potential jurors are picking an attorney as well. It is important that the attorneys present themselves in a manner that instills confidence in the prospective jurors so that the jurors will trust them. It is the hope of the attorneys that as the trial progresses the jurors will look to them as someone who is trying to bring out the truth. When questioning potential jurors the attorneys must also be careful about how they elicit sensitive or embarrassing information in the presence of the whole jury panel to avoid alienating potential favorable jurors.

As jury selection/deselection progresses the attorneys are also trying to assess how potential jurors may interact together. The dynamics of who will be a leader and who will be a follower as well as how different personalities may interact together are all important considerations for the attorneys to evaluate as they strategize on how to use their preemptive challenges tactically.

Preemptory challenges allow an attorney to reject a prospective juror without giving a reason as long as the rejection is not based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. The number of preemptive challenges granted to each side is the same but varies in accordance with the severity of the charges. The court rules determine how many charges are allotted to each side. In more serious criminal charges such as homicide, each side gets more preemptive challenges than they do for trials on less severe charges.

Both sides in a criminal trial are granted an unlimited number of challenges for cause. A challenge for cause is exercised by an attorney when they can articulate a reason why a juror cannot be fair and impartial in a specific case.

It has long been understood that jurors come into a courtroom with preconceived opinions formed as a result of their life experiences. Jury selection/deselection seeks to ensure that both sides have an opportunity to screen a jury pool and ask questions that will uncover juror bias.

So the next time that you report for jury duty, report with the knowledge that you are indeed being watched and scrutinized for clues. If you get
kicked off of a jury don't take it personally, there may be reasons known to the attorneys that make you an unsuitable juror for one case but may make you the perfect juror for the case in the courtroom next door.

Statements made in this post are my own and not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Polygamy Revisited

by Kathryn Casey

“It’s not like being born in the U.S. It’s like being born in another country,” says Joseph, who more than a decade ago fled a polygamous town in Utah. “I think of my life like being caught up in the Holocaust.”

The recent raid in Eldorado, Texas, of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints) compound, in which more than 400 children were removed from their homes and taken into CPS custody, brought back strange memories. Eighteen years ago, Ladies’ Home Journal sent me to the side-by-side polygamous enclaves of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. The reason: to report on a sensational adoption battle over the six children – four girls and two boys – of Brenda Thornton, a woman who died of breast cancer. On one side were the children's biological aunts, Thornton’s two sisters, and on the other polygamist Vaughn Fischer and his first wife, Sharane.

For those of you unfamiliar with the way polygamy works, a man legally marries a first wife and then joins with subsequent women into “spiritual marriages.” Six weeks before her death, Brenda Thornton had entered into such a “spiritual marriage” with Vaughn Fischer, becoming his third wife. Before dying, she signed papers to allow him to adopt her children from a previous marriage. Although Thornton’s sisters fought hard, they were outmatched monetarily by the Fischers, whose battle was financed by their church. In the end, Vaughn and Sharane were given the right to adopt Brenda Thornton’s children by the Utah Supreme Court.

I’ve never forgotten my days in Hildale and Colorado City. They were desolate, windblown and unfriendly places. There were no restaurants or hotels, because the folks there didn’t want strangers visiting. Some men had more than a dozen wives. In a main house, they lived with their first, second, perhaps even a third wife, and their combined children, while around the perimeters of their properties other wives and children lived in small cottages. In the Fischer household, a schedule posted on the refrigerator tracked which nights Vaughn slept with which wife.

There’s so much I remember, but especially the children. It was summer, and in the more than ninety-degree heat, boys played basketball in long pants and long-sleeved shirts and the girls were dressed in handmade, cotton, pioneer-looking dresses, despite the heat wearing slacks underneath to ensure modesty. And the children were everywhere, swarms of them on swings and in playgrounds, laughing and smiling. But they scattered whenever I approached like tumbleweed in a dust storm. I was an outsider, and they’d been taught from birth to stay away from outsiders. Outsiders wouldn’t understand their lifestyle, their culture. Outsiders were the enemy.

Recently, watching the news coverage of Eldorado, I thought about the children of polygamy yet again. Much attention has been given, as it should be, to the abuse of the young girls, married off at tender ages to men decades older, at times their biological relatives. I wondered, too, about a subject that has gotten less press: what it's like for the boys. To find out, I made a few telephone calls. Eventually, I connected with a man in his thirties who grew up in polygamous households until the age of nineteen. He agreed to talk. For our purposes, I’ll call him Joseph.

KC: When you look back on your life, what do you most remember?

Joseph: The way we were all indoctrinated, brainwashed. The mind control used on us. When I went to the Holocaust museum in Washington a few years ago, I realized they were many of the techniques used by the Nazis--sleep and food deprivation, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse.

KC: Was this type of abuse prevalent in the community?

Joseph: I can only speak to the house I grew up in. The father was in complete control, and there was abuse at every level. We had no one to go to, no one to complain to.

KC: What did they use to control you?

Joseph: He distorted our sense of reality. We suffered horrible punishment if we didn’t do what we were told. The father was a brutal dictator. From early ages, we were told that if we didn’t do what he wanted, including the incestuous behavior, we would never get to heaven.

KC: What happened when you began coming of age?

Joseph: From the time we’re kids on, boys and girls are told that we’re not to have normal relationships. Talking to a girl is a no-no. God doesn’t like boys to talk to girls. It’s not allowed.

KC: What made you decide to leave?

Joseph: For polygamy, they want to keep the girls. By the time we’re teenagers, the leaders have decided which of the boys they’ll keep and which they’ll get rid of. They keep the ones who do what they’re told. Boys who aren’t chosen are forced out.

KC: How?

Joseph: They put a lot of pressure on, a lot of abuse.

KC: What we’re talking about is that there aren’t normally five or ten women to every man. To get the percentage of women to men high enough for polygamy, the leaders have to drive out some of the boys?

Joseph: Yes. They begin harassing the boys they don’t want at a young age, so eventually the boys just give up and leave, even though it’s the only home they’ve ever known. They have to leave their parents, brothers and sisters behind. I dropped out of school young, because they made it so hard for me.

KC: Do you hear from your siblings?

Joseph: No. I’m the only one who left. But when you’re born into it, you don’t know any better. Our mom was a child bride, married off at sixteen.

KC: What do you think about what’s going on in Eldorado, Texas?

Joseph: I’m behind Texas, because of the abuse I’ve suffered. I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing there.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Coming to a Highway Near You

by Andrea Campbell

The face of technology is changing the way the "most wanted" list is delivered. You must admit, a couple of decades ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list had a different look. According to Rex Tomb, a former chief of the FBI’s Investigative Publicity Unit, the FBI list is evolving with the times. “In the 1950’s, it was bank robbery,” Tomb says. “Now, you see bin Laden up there.”

The grainy mugshots, once the mainstay of post-office art, are being replaced with newer, more hip ways of finding the world’s worst offenders. So, yes, in 1998, after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa, Osama bin Laden made the list and changed the way we look at serious crime. Today the FBI has taken steps to employ and exploit every opportunity to get the word out on who they want the most.

Billboard lovelies

Now the FBI will be featuring top fugitives on billboards of twenty American cities including Akron, Des Moines, and Miami, and on to Newark and Los Angeles--a coast-to-coast sweep of the hottest felons at large. A billboard deal with Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, Inc. is donating the space and will give access to about 150 electronic billboards, according to FBI spokesperson Chris Allen.

Currently in Los Angeles, the face of suspect Emigdio Preciado Jr. is on display throughout the city, right along with ads selling cars and perfume on the side of highways there. Preciado is accused of the attempted murders of two sheriff’s deputies. Another suspect, Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean, who was wanted for the murder of pregnant Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, was on the list, but was just recently picked up in Mexico, so his image has probably already been replaced with some other highly wanted fugitive.

America’s Most Wanted international

The popular America’s Most Wanted TV show is cementing its broadcast alliance with the FBI in that now the TV show will solicit "tips" from similar programs in countries such as Israel, Hungary, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands.

A YouTube for bad guys

In addition, the FBI now has video of the most recent sightings of some fugitives on its Top 10 Web site. Take a walk here to check it out:

Photo success

You can’t argue with results either, because out of the 489 fugitives who had appeared on the list since 1950, 458 have been located, and at least 150 of them are off the streets because of the help from citizens like you and me. The FBI needs more eyes, more than ever, because they are hunting for approximately 12,000 fugitives at a time.

Interesting site

If you’ve never been to the FBI Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives site, you’re in for a treat. A lot of times when heinous criminals are caught, the comments from citizens are mostly that they wouldn’t have guessed that someone who looked so "normal" (the guy-next-door syndrome) could do something so atrocious. Jeffrey Dahmer's neighbors thought he was such a nice young man!

A great example of this phenomenon is with Jason Derek Brown:



When you read his description, you may be floored:

Occupation: Golf Equipment Importer
Nationality: American
Scars and Marks: None known

Brown speaks fluent French and has a Masters Degree in International Business. He is an avid golfer, snowboarder, skier, and dirt biker. Brown enjoys being the center of attention and has been known to frequent nightclubs where he enjoys showing off his high-priced vehicles, boats, and other toys. He has been described as possibly having bisexual tendencies.

Brown has ties to California, Arizona, and Utah. In the past, he has traveled to France and Mexico. Additionally, he may be in the possession of a Glock 9mm and a .45 caliber handgun.

And take a look at James J. Bulger, who looks like someone’s grandpa:


These are just two of the infamous in pictures. And you know, they are probably so successful because of the way they look. But if you can get beyond the mask and help the FBI locate them, and it results in their arrest, a cool $100,000 may be your reward. Just doing my bit for the government. Now you keep your eyes open, y'all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Matter of the Heart

by Pat Brown

A love story, perfect for a made-for-television movie of the week, is rapidly becoming more suited for an HBO murder mystery special. Cheryl Cottle married Sonny Graham, the recipient of her previous husband's heart, and with this wonderful gift carried from one husband to the next, the story should have ended with some cloyingly sweet song about "Hearts that Bind Us Together in Love, " or some such drivel. Even the fact that Cheryl's first husband shot himself to death shouldn't ruin this endearing story, for from the sad end of one marriage came the happy start of another.

Unfortunately, her marriage to Sonny ended the same way with something equally as nasty in the woodshed. Sonny was found with a shotgun wound to the throat, a scenario eerily similar to the untimely death of the earlier husband/heart donor. Originally Sonny's death by gunshot was ruled self-inflicted, but now the police are having second thoughts about the manner of death. I would have to believe commonsense stepped in when they started checking out the circumstances of this not-s0-fairy-tale ending.

It turns out Sonny is Husband Number Five for Cheryl (pictured right with Sonny). She runs though them rather quickly, one way or the other. At the time she married the sixty-five-year-old Sonny, Cottle was thirty-eight years old. I guess it doesn't much matter about age when you know your husband isn't going to be hanging around that long anyway, regardless of how he makes his exit. However, I think the police are going to be looking mighty closely at just how the two dead husbands enriched Cheryl's life. Sonny was surely a generous fellow; he bought Cheryl and her kids a nice house before they were even married, and somewhere around that time, or shortly thereafter, she married Husband Number Four. That marriage lasted but a short time and as soon as it ended, Cheryl hurried on to marry Sonny. Then, after four years of wedded bliss, the always optimistic and cheerful Sonny "ends his life." Does Cheryl stand to inherit a whole lot of money upon Sonny's death, or is there a hefty life insurance policy on Husband Number Five? Or does she simply have another man waiting in the wings? Or is Cheryl truly a grieving widow?

While there is not yet any evidence of any wrongdoing and Cheryl Cottle may simply be a woman burdened with incredibly bad luck, there are enough red flags to make one want to investigate the death of Sonny and the previous "suicide" of Terry Cottle a bit more thoroughly.

What comes quickly to mind is the possibility Cheryl Cottle is a "black widow." She is in a very common profession for female serial killers - nursing. Cheryl is a licensed practical nurse who has worked in a prison infirmary and for hospices (one of which is involved in a lawsuit with Cheryl). The Georgia investigators no doubt will be doing a check of deaths in these hospices to see if any of the patients died of an earlier and odder death than was expected, even for one terminally ill. They will also want to know if Cheryl "befriended" any of these dying people and, if in doing so, she walked away with some financial gain that may have been intended for family members (cash, jewelry, etc.).

It is rare for lightening to strike twice in the same place, and for Cheryl Cottle to lose two out of five husbands in the very same way makes one just a little more than suspicious. I would be very surprised indeed to find out that both these men committed suicide and that Cheryl had no hand in their deaths. I look forward to the results of the police investigation.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Hot Time in the Old Town

by Donna Weaver

What do you do when a former FBI agent is charged with murder? Why, have a fundraiser, of course! Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr wrote a tongue-in-cheek top ten list of things overheard at a fundraiser for former FBI agent John “Zip” Connolly. The fundraiser, or "time," was held at the South Boston Yacht Club in late December 2007. The party, attended by about thirty loyal Zip supporters, was ostensibly to raise money for Connolly’s defense for his upcoming murder trial. "In Zip’s case," columnist Carr wrote, "justice delayed is not justice denied. It’s an absolute imperative."

With a little help from his friends, Zip is certainly giving it his best shot. According to the seven-page criminal court progress docket, the first-degree murder trial date has been reset eight times for Connolly (pictured above during a recent Miami court appearance). Now scheduled for September 8, 2008, Connolly's latest appearance was set before Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Barbara Areces on March 17, until Areces recused herself in January after it was discovered she edited a court hearing transcript because it was not consistent with an audio recording of the proceeding.

Apparently, Connolly is trying to pass the time as he sits in jail serving his present prison sentence. In 2002, Zip was sentenced to ten years for racketeering and obstruction of justice. The convictions stemmed from his relationship with his top confidential informants, James "Whitey" Bulger and Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi. Flemmi is presently serving a life sentence for ten murders. Bulger (pictured right) has held a place on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List since Connolly tipped Whitey of his imminent arrest allowing him to escape. The 1995 indictment was for racketeering influenced and corrupt organizations (RICO) - murder (18 counts); conspiracy to commit murder; conspiracy to commit extortion; narcotics distribution; conspiracy to commit money laundering; extortion; and money laundering.

The mishandling of confidential informants by Boston FBI agents and supervisors has been called by U.S. Congress "one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement."

In the late 1970s and early '80s, agent Connolly was supervised by John Morris, the head of the FBI's Boston organized crime squad. Morris oversaw the cultivation of Whitey Bulger and Steve Flemmi as confidential informants. Granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony during 1998 federal court hearings in the mishandling of the CIs, Morris confirmed the allegations of FBI misconduct, admitting that he had alerted Flemmi and Bulger to an investigation targeting bookmakers in 1988, and had asked a federal prosecutor to keep them out of a 1979 indictment for fixing horse races. Morris further admitted that he told Connolly about an informant who had implicated Bulger and Flemmi in a murder, fully expecting this valuable tidbit of information would get back to the FBI’s star mobsters. The informant was subsequently murdered.

It was further discovered that Connolly's FBI supervisor, John Morris, accepted $7,000 in bribes and some wine from Bulger and Flemmi two weeks before coming to South Florida in 1984. There, Morris headed a Special Administrative Investigation into the criminal activity of another notoriously corrupt former FBI agent, Dan Mitrione Jr. Agent Mitrione was convicted of violations of the bribery statute and of drug trafficking in March 1985. Mitrione went bad while heading Operation Airlift, a major undercover drug smuggling investigation. Immediately after resigning from the FBI in June 1983, Mitrione became business partners with his confidential informant, Hilmer Sandini.

My husband, Gary, disappeared a few months later. It is believed Gary saw too much, and was executed. I am not at liberty to name the prime suspect in Gary's murder, but if you read the story, you may not find it hard to guess. Despite the FBI's involvement in Gary's disappearance, his name did not come up once in John Morris' investigative reports. And Gary was not the only person to disappear and be murdered during the Airlift debacle.

Choosing to protect his star informants at all costs has led to Connolly's latest troubles. In May 2005, the former FBI agent was himself charged with murder in the 1982 slaying of John Callahan, an accountant for World Jai Alai in Miami. Morris and Connolly allegedly supplied information to Bulger regarding Callahan being questioned in the 1981 murder of World Jai Alai's recently deceased owner, Roger Wheeler. Callahan was shot to death. His body, with a dime placed face up on his chest--an Underworld symbol of a snitch--was found in the trunk of his car parked in a Miami parking lot. As part of Whitey’s plan to branch out in Florida, Callahan had been skimming profits from World Jai Alai. Wheeler suspected Callahan was cooking the books and ordered an audit in 1981. Before the audit was completed, Wheeler was shot and killed.

Connolly is not the first Boston FBI agent to be charged with homicide. Another retired Boston FBI supervisor and boyhood friend of Whitey Bulger, H. Paul Rico, was employed by World Jai Alai as a security consultant at the time of Roger Wheeler's murder. Rico was alleged to have set up the hit on Wheeler, but in Jan. 2004, soon after his indictment for Wheeler’s murder, Rico died in prison just days before his trial. Rico also framed four men for a 1965 murder they did not commit in order to protect an informant. Joseph Salvati and Peter Limone were both exonerated after spending 30 years in jail. Louis Greco and Henry Tameleo both died in prison before they could be cleared. When asked by a congressman in 1997 if he felt bad about framing the four men, Rico replied,“Whaddaya want from me, tears?"

The mishandling of confidential informants in Boston is a cancer that has grown untreated within the FBI for more than thirty years. It is time for the DOJ to acknowledge the existence of this cancer, and its consequences. To say they need to do much better is an understatement, but the only way to do better is to figure out what you did wrong. However, I'm not sure that is the FBI's intention.

Several civil suits have been brought, and won, against the DOJ and the FBI by families whose loved ones were murdered or wrongly imprisoned for murders they did not commit stemming from the corruption in the Boston office of the FBI. But the Justice Department continues to appeal the judgments made in favor of the plaintiffs. During the recent civil trial involving the four wrongly imprisioned men, Justice Department lawyers argued the FBI had no duty in the 1960s to share the information it had showing the men were wrongly accused. Justice Department attorney Bridget Lipscomb was quoted as saying, "If you find for the United States on the malicious prosecution claim, the remaining claims go away."

What the Justice Department and the FBI need to know is these "claims" are people who lost years of their lives, and in many cases, literally lost their lives, leaving their grieving families alone with nowhere to turn for help. The claims will not go away, Ms. Lipscomb, because we are not going away. The FBI is not above the law. They are not exempt from obstruction of justice or from committing murder-- just ask John Connolly.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ink Blotter

Ink Blotter

Today's Ink Blotter is whatever you want it to be. One of our readers, Cherry Simpson, expressed interest in discussing the Becca McEvoy case, which we
featured in a post last Thursday. Good choice, Cherry. Unfortunately, our most knowledgeable contributor on that case, Robin Sax, is unavailable today. But please open the discussion. First, listen to Robin discuss the case on Scared Monkeys radio with outraged friends and family of Becca McEvoy here. Then tell us how you see it. In the upcoming week, we will respond to your thoughts with our own impressions in the live chat box.

Post-chat update: This afternoon, Robin Sax was able to make an appearance, as was Scared Monkeys host Dana Pretzer--both authorities on the Becca McEvoy case. Thanks to Dana for getting the ball rolling today. And for helping the conversation pick up speed, thanks to WCI contributors Kathryn Casey, Stacy Dittrich, and Diane Fanning. The panel that took shape this afternoon was ideal for the subjects covered, which included the polygamists in Texas. All the women who participated in our live chat have prosecuted, arrested, and/or written on sex offenders.