Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vicious Streak of Casey Anthony Defense Team

Defense attorney Jose Baez displayed a vicious streak of cruelty in the courtroom Wednesday during the Casey Anthony trial. He seemed to suppress a bubble of diabolical glee as he tried to trip up his client's father. The direct examination brought to mind someone stabbing pin after pin into a voodoo doll representing his enemy.

Baez mocked George's suicide attempt, ridiculed his emotional responses to Caylee's disappearance and death, and accused him of child sexual molestation.

Baez's questions were tricky, like the old stand-up comedy line, "When did you stop beating your wife?" He used that tactic again and again. Baez pointed to George's July 2008 statement to police where he described his experiences smelling decomposition for 10 years when he was a law enforcement officer. Baez zeroed in on the event in the woods, where a volunteer team searched. Then he asked George how he knew his granddaughter's body would be found in the woods.

Baez referred to the Anthony's many media appearances and asked, "All those media appearances stopped when the allegations of abuse came up, didn't they?" George fired back. "I believe, sir, that was done by you, sir."

At another point, after George denied sexually abusing his daughter, Baez asked, "You, of course, would never admit to molesting your child, would you?" George denied abusing his daughter.

Throughout the ordeal, George Anthony cried over his granddaughter Caylee. And he stood up for her. When Baez asked him about this public protestations and belief in his daughter Casey's innocence, George told the court he did not want to believe, at that time, that his daughter was capable of killing her daughter.

George insisted that he wanted to talk to media about his missing granddaughter and other missing children. He said, "Unfortunately, it seemed, every time the media came around, the focus was on my daughter and not on my granddaughter Caylee."

Before George took the stand, Casey's mother, Cindy Anthony, demonstrated a change of attitude, too. It seemed to surprise Baez that Cindy was no longer willing to lie for the defense. She denied ever knowing anything about her son Lee visiting Casey's bedroom at night.

Maybe they now both clearly understand that the most important matter before the court is justice for Caylee.

Fanning is the author or Mommy's Little Girl, the first book released about the Anthony case.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trials: Truth, Expectation and Reality

As much of the country watches transfixed, the Casey Anthony trial lumbers on. For a host of reasons, this trial has caught the attention of viewers who wouldn’t normally take the time to get caught up in these very public high profile cases. As a legal commentator, I have been privileged to cover almost every day of this spectacle for one program or another. As I watch it unfold, I am struck once again by the reality that at the end of the day we will still not have the answers we seek.

I was a felony prosecutor for ten years in metropolitan Atlanta. Needless to say, we were a busy office. I handled homicides, hate crimes and high-profile cases. I have taken to trial and to task a host of serial rapists, spree killers, armed robbers and death penalty defendants. I am acutely aware of the old adage that “a trial is a search for the truth.” However, I think most of the public tends to forget the middle of that phrase, “a search.” Any good trial attorney will tell you that by the time the verdict comes in we have usually only uncovered a fraction of the truth, and it is usually the truth according to one side. Despite our best investigative efforts there are just some things we will never know.

So many court watchers have tuned in to this trial to get the answers. Answers to the questions we have all been asking for three years now. How can a loving mother not report her child missing? How can that same mother go out and party like a rock star while her little girl is missing? How can she continuously lie to the very people who are trying to help her find her missing child?

Since the blockbuster opening by defense attorney Jose Baez, we now have a whole host of other questions. If this was indeed an accident, why would you let your client rot in jail for three years? If this was indeed an accident, why would you let your client face the death penalty? If your client was so sexually abused as a child that she turned into a liar of epic proportions, why would you not welcome the opportunity to have the state’s psychiatrists examine her?

As I watch this tragedy progress through its next phase, I know that when it all comes to its sad conclusion we still will not have the answers we seek. I fear, however, that most of the general public is still watching with unrealistic expectations. They want to believe that there is a reasonable explanation for what happened to this precious little girl. They want to believe that there must be a reasonable explanation for how a family becomes this dysfunctional. Ultimately, we will see only what they want us to see. That’s a hard pill for most people to swallow. It is, however, the difference between expectation and reality when it comes to criminal trials. We want answers. It is the natural human curiosity when we encounter such inexplicable behavior as we have seen in this defendant and her family. Sadly, we will all be disappointed when the jury files out to deliberate and there is no more evidence to be entered.

I used to tell all of my victims at the beginning of the process, “I will fight like hell to get you justice but I won’t be able to get you answers to all of your questions.” Of course, the biggest question of all is, “Why?” I also told them no matter what answer was given to that question, it wouldn’t be good enough.

I have yet to come across an answer as to why human beings can murder, rape and rob each other that satisfies me. People used to ask me what I did for a living when I was a prosecutor and I would tell them “I wade around in the depths of human degradation all day long.” That was the most accurate and honest description I could come up with to explain spending my days looking at autopsy photos and asking little five year old children, “what did daddy do to you?”

The truth is that you didn’t meet me unless and until some terrible tragedy had been thrust upon you.

So, as we watch with a mixture of horrified curiosity and sad dread, we must all keep in mind that at the end of this all too real human drama we will have more questions than answers. We must not set our expectations too high or we will come away feeling cheated and deflated.

That is the sad difference between expectation and reality. That is the world of a criminal prosecutor. It is by far the best and most fulfilling job I ever held. And yet, it broke my heart every day like nothing else ever could.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Medical Marijuana: The Voters Have Spoken

The stories are heartbreaking. Young mothers fighting to survive the ravages of breast cancer and the nausea of chemotherapy; seniors struggling with the tremors of Multiple Sclerosis. Illness has touched all of our lives in one form or another. Whether it is cancer, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, or even Alzheimer’s, we have all seen people live in pain. I am not talking about minor “ouchies”–this is chronic pain: debilitating headaches, inability to eat, swallow–pain that makes the one suffering just want to curl up in a ball and die.

Doctors have an arsenal of drugs to try to help those patients, medications like OxyContin, Vicodin, Valium, and Morphine–powerful drugs that come with serious side effects like addiction. These drugs often don’t even work to erase the pain, leaving the patients in a hazed out prescription cloud.

As a society, we have all become very well versed in caring for our bodies. Eat healthy, exercise, watch your red meat, a glass of red wine is okay, as is dark chocolate. We’ve even become more open to alternative medicine such as acupuncture or homeopathic remedies, which are now are seen as real options. But not, it seems, when it comes to the use of medical cannabis – otherwise known as therapeutic marijuana.

Why do people have so much trouble with therapeutic cannabis? Many people see their mission in life is closing down cooperative after cooperative, collective after collective, and dispensary after dispensary. What’s worse, these people are our community leaders–elected officials, city councils, small town mayors. It’s mind-boggling, frankly.

California voters spoke in 1996 when they approved Proposition 215 allowing for therapeutic use of cannabis. The people have spoken, and yet their voices go unheard. The political nonsense doesn’t even end there. The government itself has acknowledged the benefits of therapeutic cannabis. Yep. None other than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services took out a patent based on research done by the National Institute on Health. Patent number 6,630,507 states unequivocally that cannabinoids are useful in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of diseases including auto-immune disorders, stroke, trauma, Parkinson's, Alzheimer’s, HIV dementia.

So, the voters have voted and the government has acknowledged that patients can get relief and yet the courts are clogged with the day-in, day-out state/federal war over this issue. Give me a break. Isn’t there a better project for a city or county to worry about than therapeutic cannabis? Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting every farmacy is legit. But how about some standards, regulation, or at least some recognition for the people that do play by the rules?

A better example of the rub and constant governmental shut down than a case in the little city of Temecula in Riverside County. Despite the California law enactment in 1996, and an additional Senate amendment passed in 2004, Temecula unilaterally decided to ban dispensaries in the city of Temecula in 2006. Per the report that was done at the time, city staff members justified their ban by saying that there is nothing in state law that requires Temecula to allow dispensaries within its boundaries.

Doug Lanphere, tireless advocate, and the force behind Cooperative Patients’ Services, or CPS, in Temecula, is insistent on dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. He has carefully studied all of the Department of Justice requirements and prides himself on CPS’s undisputed class act collective. He is happy to oblige in insuring patients can be treated, and the city’s concerns dealt with. He has voluntarily submitted himself to various law enforcement agencies to walk through, and approve the collective, as well as offered time and time again to meet with city officials, and police representatives in order to work together in the mutual interest of serving their community.

Colleen is a member of Doug’s cooperative and she is what keeps him awake at night–trying to figure out how to keep his doors open despite legal attack after legal attack by the city of Temecula. For Colleen, and every other suffering patient, I say give them the choice to do what the California legislature allows. Let them have access to the therapeutic cannabis. If it can help, who are we to remove that chance for some relief, and perhaps even some quality of life.

CPS has an important function in Riverside County. Unlike Los Angeles, San Francisco or other areas known for “lax” drug rules, Temecula serves a small desert community where many people move to the dry heat specifically to assist in their health matters. Patients like Colleen, a nurse, who has found cannabis the only way to beat back the agony of her ruptured spinal discs. From her morphine haze she called cannabis the only treatment that gave her some sense of quality of life, something opiates could not.

So I ask you; isn’t time to listen to the voters and let those who are ill be comforted with the therapy that works?

To stay up on CPS and therapeutic cannabis follow on Twitter at @coop420cps

photo credits: Goodnight London and harminder dhesi photography

Monday, June 27, 2011

Does She or Doesn't She Want to Testify?

I, for one, think Casey Anthony wants to testify. But should she?

Casey is the decider, not her defense team. Many people believe that the decision for a client to testify is solely the lawyer's prerogative. Yet, legally, the decision rests with the client, taken under the lawyer's advisement. If the lawyer knows the client will lie willfully on the stand, however, the lawyer must in-camera inform the court and may have to withdraw. In a trial where many viewers might expect Casey Anthony to stand and confess, there are others who anticipate her remaining sullen and silent--as she has consistently been so far. The world is riveted by this case, wondering whether she will, or will not, testify, while legal commentators constantly debate the question, "Should she, or shouldn't she?"

The nearly uniform opinion of the legal analysts is that she should not testify. This is because they believe she is a chronic, habitual liar. It is also because this is a case for the defense to raise reasonable doubt; to call a particularly weak defendant just might upset the applecart. Calling Casey to the stand could do far more than that. Recall the epic cross-examination question in the film Witness For the Prosecution? "Were you lying then, or are you lying now, or are you just a contemptible, habitual liar?"

Or consider the Latin phrase, Falset in unum; Falset in omnibus. False in one. False in everything. In some jurisdictions, and in any event in jurors' minds, if a witness testifies falsely, all the testimony can be disregarded. And if this defendant testifies falsely--which she will be judged to have already done considering evidence of her contemptible history of lying--a death-penalty verdict could become a reality, where, at this time, it is only a distant possibility in her mind.

Many have correctly discussed the fact that the defense bears no burden of proof. True, indeed. Also, that there is no need for the defense to provide evidence about the drowning theory in the Casey Anthony case. False. Falset in unum. Once the defense asserts that certain evidence will be adduced in the trial, the court accedes implicitly that there is good-faith basis for the assertion.

Opening statements can be looked at as tables of content, coming attractions and road maps of what the evidence will show. They are not supposed to be flights of fantasy, conjecture or full of hopefulness with regard to the evidence. Many say Casey need not testify. Falset in omnibus. As a legal commentator, I believe Casey Anthony has to testify. There is no evidence of a drowning accident, nor of sexual abuse, nor will there be, unless Casey Anthony, herself, takes the stand. If she doesn't, the prosecution should ask that the defense's opening remarks be stricken. With that, the defense team could be tainted as well by the inference evoked by the web of lies, leaving it without its primary defenses of accident and abuse.

Does she or doesn't she want to testify? Should she or shouldn't she testify? Will she, or won't she testify? I believe that only Casey knows. But, as we all know, she has been wrong before.

Friday, June 24, 2011

We Need A New Drug Policy

by Diane Dimond

Forty years ago this month President Richard Nixon declared his "War on Drugs." Now, four decades later can we honestly say we’ve got a handle on the problem?

No, of course we can’t. The drug scourge continues with its ever increasing criminality and murderous violence. It heaps economic hardships on families, communities and prison systems. Our decades' long drug war gives off the stinking scent of failure and the undeniable conclusion that the way we’ve tackled the problem so far just isn’t working

So how long do we keep doing the same old things before we change course? Isn’t it time for a radical shift in strategy to try to lessen the impact illegal drug trade has had on all of us?
You might think that the conservative Nixon, the president shamed by Watergate, ordered up a callous punishment-oriented drug control policy. But he didn’t. Richard Nixon’s $155 million War on Drugs budget (back in 1971) earmarked two-thirds of the money to go for treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts.

Somewhere along the line each succeeding president lost sight of the idea that if you can cut back on the demand for illegal drugs you can cripple the violent trade that sprouts up to supply it.

Today, most of our anti-drug budget goes toward interdiction efforts and punishing people. Two years ago, the White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske said the War on Drugs was over, but it sure feels like we’re still waging very expensive combat against an elusive problem that just keeps growing.

So, back to the reports I read. The first was from an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is a group of current and former front-line responders to the war on drugs. Its members are police, prosecutors, judges, FBI and DEA agents, corrections officials, military officers and others who know firsthand what it is like to wage this never-ending war. They embrace the idea of radical change, fully admitting that everything they have done in their law enforcement career was for naught when it comes to stemming the tide of the illegal drug trade and the abuse of those poisons. They passionately urge lawmakers to embrace the idea of legalizing, regulating and taxing these drugs

I know it sounds revolutionary. But imagine the chilling effect it would have on, say, the Mexican drug cartel. If there’s no more profit in smuggling drugs across the border into the United States their violent gangs would lose power and control. The tens of thousands of drug related murders each year would dwindle. America’s tax coffers would get much needed infusions. Drug addicts could get proper medical help in weaning themselves off their drug of choice. Why, they might even become contributing taxpaying citizens.

LEAP isn’t the only group of knowledgeable people calling for this radical move. Earlier this month a group of internationally known dignitaries including former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volker, former presidents of several countries and the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan endorsed the idea. In a report from their Global Commission on Drug Policy they labeled the War on Drugs a failure and encouraged nations, worldwide, to pursue the idea of legalization, regulation and taxation

Hey, it worked with booze when we lifted prohibition back in the 1930’s. Why wouldn’t it work now?

I recently wrote in this space about how state lawmakers have courageously stepped up to the plate to pass their own immigration laws after Washington’s monumental failure to act on that issue. Same thing here with the nation’s drug related problems. While Congress wallows in budget battles and sex scandals, 16 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing medicinal marijuana for those with doctor’s prescriptions. 14 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot.

For some inane reason, the Department of Justice Department silently and consistently continues to raid legal growers, registered medicinal marijuana clinics and patients who find relief from marijuana. The DOJ has conducted nearly 100 such raids in so-called "legal" states, according to LEAP’s report. That’s about double the number of such raids during the President George W. Bush years.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want my taxpayer dollars going for police actions against legally approved operations. What a waste of money.

The day of total drug legalization will come – just as it did with alcohol. The question is: How many more multiple billions of dollars will we spend before we finally see it’s the logical way to go?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is Confession Real in Shooting of Rapper Tupac?

Jimmy "Henchman" Rosemond
Something stinks in River City, namely the bold words of a convict named Dexter Isaac who, on the eve of what would have been rapper Tupac Shakur’s 40th birthday, “confessed” to shooting Tupac in November 1994 during a grab-and-run armed robbery at a recording studio in New York City.

Tupac survived that shooting. With him that winter night was rapper Randy “Stretch” Walker, who a year later was shot and killed driving a vehicle. Two years after the Quad Studios event, Tupac, too, was killed in a car-to-car shooting, which remains unsolved but is widely believed to have been carried out by the Crips street gang out of Compton, California.

Isaac chose to announce his so-called confession on, a popular rap site. Isaac, in his grand confession, claimed he was paid $2,500 by Czar Entertainment founder James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond to pull off the stunt. Isaac also claims he kept “the gold chain” he and a supposed accomplice yanked from Tupac’s neck. The problem with that claim is everything Isaac has said can be found in newspaper accounts of the ’94 shooting. Another problem is that several gold chains, not just one, as Isaac stated, were stolen from Tupac that night.

Isaac’s confession doesn’t add up, and I, for one, am not buying it.

Here’s what actually played out in the late-night hours of November 30, 1994: Tupac was wearing $35,000 worth of jewelry, including two rings, as he and his buddies walked into Quad Recording Studios in Times Square so Tupac could help out a lesser-known performer by rapping on his CD. Hanging out just inside the studio lobby was a man, while another stood outside, both wearing Army fatigues. They jumped all four people, grabbed $5,000 worth of jewelry and chains off Stretch’s neck, then yanked the jewelry from Tupac’s neck.

One of the men grabbed Tupac’s hand and pulled two rings from it. Tupac was shot only after he went for his gun, and they weren’t fatal shots. The perpetrators disappeared into the night.

Tupac didn’t know until earlier in the day that he’d be at Quad studios. Singers are often asked to backup other singers and appear on their CDs, so Tupac, for a fee, agreed at the last minute to help an up-and-coming rapper by performing on one of his tracks. That rapper had nothing to do with Rosemond, and neither did Tupac.

And what did Rosemond have to gain by rubbing out Tupac? The answer? Not a thing.

We’re led to believe by Isaac that Rosemond told him to “Find Tupac, steal jewelry off his neck, keep the jewelry, shoot him, and, in return, I’ll pay you $2,500 for doing it. But give me Tupac’s diamond ring for my girlfriend.”

Hooey, I say. Rosemond doesn’t have a motive. But Isaac does, and that’s cooperating with the feds in a drug-related case against Rosemond where Isaac has reportedly been named as an accomplice. To get himself off the hook, he’s ‘fessing up. Rosemond’s no angel, and I’m not defending him. But facts are facts.

Robbery was the obvious motive for whoever robbed and shot Tupac. Police, however, didn’t check pawnshops for the stolen jewelry and closed the case 30 days later because, as NYPD Detective George Nagy told me two years after the shooting, “Tupac and his attorney wouldn’t talk to us.” So police closed the case.

As for Rosemond, who’s had a federal warrant out for his arrest on drug charges since mid May, was recently taken into custody by federal agents as he left the W Hotel in New York City’s Union Square. Rosemond’s attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, called the shooting accusation a "flat-out lie," telling Reuters news service that Isaac invented the story to help authorities build their case against Rosemond.

"This is not [Isaac] being a good soldier or clearing his conscience. It's a desperate 17-year-old attempt to reduce his sentence," Lichtman said.

As for 46-year-old Isaac, he’s serving life in prison, for an unrelated murder conviction, at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, which houses federal inmates. NYPD’s Paul Browne told CBS News that his department was looking into Isaac’s claim, and, if it’s determined it’s legitimate, police will interview Isaac.

I’ll be flabbergasted if it pans out. If a man walks into a police station and says, “I shot Tupac Shakur,” the obvious answer would be, “Prove it.” The burden, in this case, lies with the person making the claim.

Scott is the author of The Killing of Tupac Shakur.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly: Update on Anthony Graves

by Rachel Davis
Editor, Women in Crime Ink

The story of Anthony Graves, an innocent man who spent 18 years in prison for murders he did not commit, has been featured many times on Women in Crime Ink by defense attorney and regular contributor Katherine ScardinoIn 1994, Anthony Graves was wrongfully convicted of capital murder in a small Texas town.

Eighteen long years later, the charges against him were dismissed and he was released as a free man. Despite the fact that no amount of money can replace nearly two decades of an innocent man's life, Anthony Graves certainly deserved compensation from the State of Texas for his wrongful imprisonment. Unfortunately, the Texas comptroller denied Anthony's claim for compensation based on a technicality in the order of dismissal for his case. Now, a change has finally come and Graves will get the $1.4 million dollars owed to him for the years of his life that were lost.

Last Friday, June 17, 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a bill that helps ensure exonerated individuals, like Anthony Graves, will receive compensation from the state for time spent wrongfully imprisoned. HB 417 will effectively close the loophole allowing for denial of compensation claims based on technicalities, such as the one in Anthony's case, where the lack of the words "actual innocence" from his dismissal order precluded him from receiving compensation.

This amendment to Texas compensation laws will allow exonerees to receive $80,000 for every year they were wrongfully imprisoned, provided that they are granted relief in accordance with a writ of habeas corpus (or a demand for proof of evidence of a crime), that the charges against them are dismissed, and that the dismissal is based on an affidavit from the prosecutor that they believe the person to be innocent. The law also allows for exonerees the option to enroll in healthcare coverage provided by the Texas department of criminal justice at the same cost an employee of the TDCJ would pay.

Although the wheels of justice turn slowly, the State of Texas has finally done its part, as required by law, to compensate Anthony Graves for his wrongful imprisonment. Hopefully, this law will also allow for retribution to other exonerees with legitimate claims to compensation.

But as time passes and the story of Anthony Graves' horrific journey to and from death row slowly fades out of the media limelight, let us not forget that Anthony is not the only person to be wrongfully convicted, but is one of the lucky ones whose freedom was restored. No amount of compensation will ever return to Anthony those 18 years.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It Really Was Weiner’s Weiner

by Katherine Scardino

In May I wrote about the seemingly overload of male "pigs” - defined as men who had too much power and not enough common sense. I asked you at the end of that post in Women in Crime to “stay tuned. I’m sure there’s more!” And, sure enough, along comes this weirdo Congressman from New York, Anthony Weiner. I admit that I did look at the tweeted photo of his covered weiner and was totally unimpressed. But, what makes Mr. Weiner interesting to me now is that he was sexting, which I also wrote about last February, asking how did we, as a nation, get to the point that having sex via satellite was, well, sexy?

Early on, when the scandal first became news for almost all breathing Americans over the last several weeks, I felt that he should stick it out (no pun intended...) and keep his job. He was elected to Congress by the citizens of New York, and I did not see that anything he had done was really any of my business - taking into account that sexting has become somewhat routine for a large portion of the population of the United States. I believed that if the citizens of New York wanted him out of office, they should do so by their vote.

Then, things got a little more serious. As I understand there were several tweets to various women that were more than a little suggestive. I have not read them, but I would love to read the words and form my own judgment as to whether they are truly offensive to the general public, and really, whether the general public has any business reading them or, for that matter, looking at any private photograph that he has tweeted to “friends." Do these stupid, irresponsible, personal acts interfere with his job? Did we all think the tweets were so offensive because he is a married man? And, married less than a year to a very beautiful, successful woman. Does that fact change anything for us?

I noted that his wife was not “standing by her man” in any of his comments to the press, and especially during Mr. Weiner’s press conference when he officially resigned his position. I read in an article recently that women today are not like the women of ten years ago or longer. Women no longer feel the need to suffer embarrassment and ridicule just because they are the “loyal wife.” Strong, successful women today look at these men and can actually make individual judgments about the stupidity of their husbands and decide they do not wish to play the game. I give you Maria Schriver Schwarzenegger as a perfect example. Granted, her husband, the Governator, committed acts that were a bit more serious than Mr. Weiner and his weiner. But, nevertheless, she did not even make an attempt at excusing him or standing with him at any public announcement. I, personally, commend these women. Sometimes, spouses do such irresponsible, illogical and basically dumb things that it overcomes any thought of loyalty.

But, I want to talk a little more about sexting. Would someone out there please tell me why sexting is a happening thing now and especially why is it occurring among our young people? Can they not find a bed? Or the back seat of a car, as I recall... (no more about that!) But, at least my transgression with a high school football star was in person and not via satellite. Is it because the younger generation has grown up with social media: emails, text messaging, IM’s, Facebook, Twitter and now Skype, and that all emotions in any kind of relationship are relayed via these non-personal methods? Is there anyone out there who still believes that a personal conversation is better when  it is actually personal? That sex is really better when it is done in a prone position of some kind on some sort of flat surface - and in the privacy of someone’s home, car, kitchen, back yard, pool, hot tub, floor, etc...

If we are all involved in the computer relationships, how much do you learn about being social and about interacting in society with another student, teacher, parent, employer? Can these kids even talk? I know a young man, now age 25, who grew up in his room in front of a computer. And no, it is not one of my sons! For years, he could not speak in person except for an occasional grunt. We had to learn which sound was a positive sound and which was a negative sound. Over the last few years, he has matured and gotten a little better, but it is still definitely troublesome for him to speak aloud to another human.

But, back to Anthony Weiner. For people in public office, I would imagine that satellite communications of all kinds are a godsend to politicians. Think how many people they can reach via email and other methods of communication - all without leaving their desk. The idea of sending a photograph of a private part was not envisioned by the creators of these new methods of communication, but it became too easy.

So now, ex-Congressman Weiner, you have lost your job and perhaps your pregnant wife as well. But, why was he railed on so hard? Dare I even mention John Kennedy? He had sex with any person with the appropriate equipment, and some even in the White House, his home where Jackie and the children also lived. No one said anything about any of that activity until after his death. Or, Franklin Roosevelt, whose true love was not really Eleanor, but instead her one time social secretary Lucy Mercer, with whom he carried on a 30 plus year affair. The list goes on and on: Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gengrich, Eliot Spitzer.  And, I have not heard any news reports for weeks now about Arnold Schwarzenegger. And, who - or where - is Mark Sanford these days? So, why the big deal about Anthony Weiner? What do you think?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Many Innocent Victims of Incest

Susan Smith placed her young children in a car and let it roll into a lake in 1994. She hid the facts, blamed someone else and was later found guilty and is currently serving a prison sentence. Casey Anthony is currently on trial for the disappearance and subsequent death of her two -year old daughter Caylee. Immediately after her daughter’s disappearance, Casey hid the facts and blamed someone else. Both women claim to have been incested by their fathers for several years of their childhoods and into their adulthoods, and it is this connection and the similarities of their alleged crimes that I want to think about.

Incestuous relationships create a confusing and traumatic situation with the child in all cases. The bond with the incestuous parent becomes confused between the normal attachment that a child feels for a parent as caregiver and the additional sexual attachment. There is no such thing as mutually consensual incest and there is no outcome to such situations other than trauma.

One of the major psychological findings about children involved in incestuous relationships with their parents is what’s called an insecure attachment style. Okay, quick primer on attachment. Attachment is the word we use to describe the bond between parent and child in childhood, which later translates to how well the individual is able to bond in adult relationships. The Attachment Bond Theory was created by an English Psychiatrist named John Bowlby and an American Psychologist named Mary Ainsworth in the 1960’s.

Ideally, a child will be securely attached and able to create meaningful relationships and feel empathy for others as they mature. Secure attachment is the result of parenting that is child focused with an awareness of the child’s emotional world. Everything else falls under a large umbrella called insecure attachment and includes avoidant, ambivalent, disorganized and reactive attachment styles. Avoidant attachment is the result of unavailable or rejecting parents and leads to adults who are avoidant of intimate relationships, rigid and critical. Ambivalent attachment occurs when parenting is inconsistent and even sometimes intrusive. Ambivalently attached children grow up to be anxious and insecure adults who can be controlling, blaming, and erratic. Disorganized attachment is the result of parents who ignore their children and even can behave in frightening or traumatizing ways. Children raised this way can become chaotic, insensitive abusive adults, who in spite of their behavior, desperately crave security. Finally, reactive attachment is the result of extremely unattached or malfunctional parenting and often results in adults who are incapable of forming relationships. Okay, primer done.

So, as I mentioned, ideally we raise our children to be securely attached individuals who will later pursue and nurture healthy adult relationships. Where incest is involved, as alleged in the Casey Anthony case, there is no chance for secure attachment. The very act of molestation discounts awareness of the child’s emotional needs. As we have seen in the case of Susan Smith and other women who have committed similar crimes, the sad reality of attachment dysfunction is that it trickles down to the person’s own relationship with her children, or in other words, the inability to attach includes the inability to attach to biological offspring. 

In both the Casey Anthony and the Susan Smith cases the immediate reaction of the women seemed to be detachment and dissociation from the reality of the loss of their child. They seemed emotionless when talking about their missing children and appeared to be cold and callous. Additionally they resorted to primary defenses of blaming others and perhaps hoping that they could get away with, well literally murder, if they simply pretended the crime didn’t happen. It’s a very childlike way of reacting, like deflecting responsibility for a broken lamp. This immaturity can also be the result of insecure attachment as their primary focus in growing up might have been survival in a chaotic home, a home that allowed incest for example, instead of being nurtured through maturity in a healthy way.

Is insecure attachment an excuse for killing your children? No. emphatically, no. However, knowing that there is an explanation that can serve to clarify why such a nightmare can and does happen, can help us to feel like the world is a bit more organized, and can remind us as parents how important it is to be good and attentive caregivers. Our children require us to see them, to acknowledge and respond to their emotional worlds in nurturing ways, to hold reasonable and steady boundaries within which they will push and eventually become their own person. Unfortunately, it is way to easy to create children and much, much more difficult to create highly functioning people.

Friday, June 17, 2011

When Innocence Is Not Enough

Julie and Joel

If your child were murdered and you were charged with committing that homicide but you knew you were not the perpetrator, how do you cope with knowing that your innocence simply was not enough to pull you out of the vortex of a criminal justice system operating in an alternative reality?

Can you imagine anything worse ever happening to a parent?  I can't.

It is what happened to Julie Rea after the murder of her ten-year-old son Joel Kirkpatrick.  She described the intruder in her home.  She suffered injuries that the emergency room doctor said could not have been self-inflicted.  She passed lie detector test.  Law enforcement did not believe her. 

Represented by an inexperienced, court-appointed attorney, she was convicted and sentenced to 65 years in prison.

Initially, I did not believe her, either.  I did not place any credibility in what was said by Julie, her friends, her family or her attorneys.   Then, I heard the prosecutor speak.  He said that there were no stranger fingerprints in the house; that no stranger would come into the house to kill a child; that the violence of the crime proved the perpetrator was someone very close to the child; and that a person does not come into someone's home without a weapon and pull a knife out of the kitchen drawer and use it to kill.

That's when I knew Julie Rea might not be guilty because I'd been interviewing serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells for my book Through the Window.  He did all those things at crime scenes.  I didn't suspect him then but thought someone just like him could have committed the crime. 

When I wrote to Sells about what the ridiculous things the prosecutor said, without any details of names, places or dates, he wrote back asking if the crime was committed a couple days before his murder of Stephanie Mahaney in Springfield, Missouri--maybe on the 13th.  That was how his confession began.  Still, I was skeptical until Bill Clutter, investigator for the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, found corroborating testimony in the town of Lawrenceville, Illinois.

Julie Rea and Diane Fanning
From that moment on, I was convinced and was determined to do what I could to help find justice for Julie Rea.  The Center for Wrongful Convictions and an extraordinary Chicago defense attorney, Ron Safer, became involved.  Julie got a new trial and was acquitted of the crime.  Just last month, she received a Certificate of Actual Innocence from the State of Illinois. Julie handed me the Defender of the Innocent Award from the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project--definitely the highlight of my career as a crime writer.

Whenever anyone maligns the True Crime genre or is dismissive of my writing, I will always think of Julie and the role my book played in her tragic story.  It is just one example of why I think the genre makes a significant contribution and why I feel compelled to keep writing it.

But still something was missing and that was Justice for Joel.  After his murder, if the sheriff's office would have paid any attention to reports of a suspicious stranger in town, maybe deputies could have found Tommy Lynn Sells before he killed again.  But, instead, they myopically focused on proving Julie's guilt, hid some evidence from the defense and ignored anything that did not fit their theory of the case.

Today, even though the state has completely exonerated Julie Rea, the State's Attorney's Office refuses to investigate further--refuses to find Justice for Joel.

This Sunday night, on the Investigation Discovery channel, at 10 pm Eastern, On the Case with Paula Zahn presents A Mother's Nightmare, the story of Julie Rea, her son Joel and the many people including me, who stood up to find Justice for Julie and Joel.

Throughout the trial of Casey Anthony, Diane Fanning, author of Mommy's Little Girl, writes daily about the the pursuit of Justice for Caylee Anthony on her blog, Writing Is a Crime.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thank You, Dr. Kevorkian

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t remember holding my stricken mother’s hand as she laid on a special hospital bed we had set up in her living room. It was there she took her last breath. Almost every day I think about how my father died in the bedroom of the home he loved so much. Both my parents passed away exactly how they lived – on their own terms. 

They wanted no heroic measures to prolong their lives and they adamantly told me – their only child – that they did not want to die in a cold, impersonal hospital room. They made me promise to abide by their wishes. And just in case, they signed a living will putting it all in writing. I thank Dr. Jack Kevorkian for that. He started the national dialogue about death that opened up the topic for discussion in my household.

When Kevorkian started down the path that ultimately earned him the nickname “Dr. Death” it was the early 80′s. He wrote a series of articles on the ethics of euthanasia for a German journal called Medicine and Law. In 1987, he hung out a shingle in Michigan as a physician available for consultation on “death counseling.” His first publicly revealed assisted suicide occurred in 1990 when he helped an Alzheimer’s patient take her life. She, like many other of his patients, was not terminal. But, she was suffering and for Kevorkian that was enough. 

“What difference does it make I’d someone is terminal,” he once said during an interview with CNN. “We are all terminal.” Truer words were never spoken. 

Jack Kevorkian, the son of Armenian immigrants, believed every person held the ultimate decision making power over their own life and death should be a dignified event. Yet, his legacy will likely be focused only on his stand on physician assisted suicide. Once asked what it felt like to take someone’s life Kevorkian said, “I didn’t do it to end a life. I did it to end the suffering the patient’s going through. The patient’s obviously suffering — what’s a doctor supposed to do, turn his back?"

Kevorkian wasn’t perfect in his judgment, as he assisted more than 130 people to end their lives, but I’m not one that believes he had self aggrandizement in mind. Like my parents, Kevorkian believed a mentally competent patient should always be in charge of his or her fate. The justice system may have branded him a criminal but it is clear he singlehandedly made generations of both young and older Americans think about their final moment.

When Kevorkian began to publicly preach about “the right to die” in Michigan in the early 90′s my parents in Albuquerque, New Mexico became disciples. Both Mom and Dad were the type who didn’t use twenty words if ten would do. They sat me down and bluntly told me they believed they – alone – should be in charge of their own lives right up until the moment of their deaths. They showed me their living will and made me promise.

My parents never faltered in their resolve – not even after Dr. Kevorkian had his medical license pulled by the state of Michigan or after he was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison on second degree murder charges in 1999. Kevorkian’s book Prescription: Medicide, The Goodness of Planned Death was in my father’s library. Included within was Kevorkian’s idea that executed prisoners should be put to death in a certain way so as to preserve their organs for donation to others. You see, he wasn’t all about death. 

By the time Kevorkian was released from prison on parole in June 2007 on his promise that he would never assist in another suicide both my parents were gone. But their life and death lesson remains indelibly etched in my soul. Because I watched them depart this earth marching to the drummer of their own choosing, I find I don’t fear death like I used to. I’m now able to look at it as a next adventure.

It’s ironic to think that at the end of his life Dr. Kevorkian did not choose the course toward death that he’d preached to so many. He died in a hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan after a month long battle with kidney problems and pneumonia. He was 83. He never married and had no children. His life became all about the death of others.