FindLaw Blotter: June 2009 Archives
FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

June 2009 Archives

Authorities Turning to Possible Madoff Accomplices?

Efforts to Unravel Fraudulent Scheme, Recoup Losses Continue

It looks like the punishing sentence handed down on Bernie Madoff may just have been one cellhouse door closing, while others may be opening up to take in new crooks. An AP source indicates that authorities are looking at charging ten more people, although a reuters story indicates that the investigation is closer to its beginning rather than its conclusion.

The source told Reuters:

"There will probably be more people charged," the law enforcement source said. "It is likely to be 10 or more, but it is going to be a lengthy process that could take months or more."

Hard Labor Gets a New Meaning?

Shackling Pregnant Inmates Draws Lawsuits

Former Washington state prison inmate Casandra Brawley had to go through tough labor while serving her prison time back in 2007, but it had nothing to do with her sentence. No, according to a lawsuit filed last week, Brawley was actually nine months pregnant during her 14-month stay in prison (she has a felony drug and theft record) when she went into labor. One might think that a nine-month pregnant inmate in the middle of active labor is not exactly the greatest flight risk, but Washington correctional authorities might have disagreed ... at least back then anyway.

After Brawley went into labor during dinner, she alleges she not only got shackled for the ride to the hospital, but then was shackled to her hospital bed even after receiving her epidural. For anyone unfamiliar with epidurals (not that I have been on the receiving-end) the traditional sort tends to anesthetize the lower body, which might make it a bit of a challenge to walk, much less run away. Brawley herself simply noted, "I thought it was kind of strange because I couldn't feel my feet".

No Sympathy for Madoff's "Tragic Mistake": Gets 150 Year Sentence

In a ruling that brought courtroom whoops and cheers, Bernard "Bernie" Madoff got himself a sentence of 150 years in prison today for his part in a "staggering" multi-billion dollar fraud known as a Ponzi scheme (read here for more on what a Ponzi scheme is). The AP reports that the sentence, which could assure that Madoff will live out the rest of his days in prison, was intended as "a symbolic message to potential imitators and to victims who demanded harsh punishment."

Arguments that the "victims of fraud were seeking mob vengeance" were rejected by the judge, which isn't much of a surprise, after all, the guy swindled a "mob"-ful of people. Madoff himself actually spoke on his behalf, for all the good it apparently did. It probably didn't help much that he referred to his blatant fraud as a "problem," "an error of judgment", and "a tragic mistake." That probably doesn't really sound like accepting responsibility to a court, and almost certainly not to the victims.

The Dummy Files: A Mom's "Love", Keyed in on Trouble, and More

This week's installment of the Dummy Files features some definitely not-so smooth criminals, who swiftly (and, sometimes, directly) brought the law's attention onto themselves:

Keying Car a Really Bad Move. If police reports are accurate, a New York woman who found her car blocked by some police officers' patrol car apparently really needed to get to work. The Post-Standard reports that 23-year-old Daphne Diaz proceeded to call 911 to report her "emergency". OK that's pretty bad, perhaps enough to throw another notch up on the bad 911 call list. But wait! She wasn't quite done. She located the cops (who were apparently investigating an unrelated complaint) and insisted they move their car. After she was told they would be done in a few minutes, she figured it was time for some payback, and allegedly keyed their car. Too bad some witnesses told police, and I'm guessing she didn't make it to work on time, particularly in light of reports indicating "[p]olice confiscated her keys and cell phone as evidence".

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Run. A security guard in California reports "someone acting suspiciously in a workout room that was supposed to be closed and locked." OK, sounds a bit weird, but maybe someone just really felt guilty about a few extra added-on pounds? Well, police in Orange County, California, found one situation that appears to have been far more weird, to put it lightly. Looking into the gym they saw a guy "in a miniskirt, bustier, fishnet stockings and heels -- hiding behind exercise equipment while watching an adult film on a laptop." Don't worry, there may be an explanation! Police found "marijuana, methamphetamine and pipes in his backpack". Doubt that will be much help as far as criminal charges go, however.

Former Cop Gets Life in Firefighter Murder Case: The Limits of Self-Defense

A former Rhode Island cop, Nicholas Gianquitti, was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for second-degree murder, and the case may provide an exemplar on the limits of self-defense law.

The tragic case arose, as is unfortunately, too often the case, out of something relatively trivial. In May of 2008, some kids at a neighbor's place accidentally hit a tennis ball into Gianquitti's car (he'd had his issues with neighborhood kids before). Gianquitti cursed at the children, but was confronted by his neighbor, James Pagano, a firefighter.

Then came some heated words, then punches, and finally, the worst possible outcome ... a fatal gunshot. Pagano, the firefighter of 15 years, reportedly ended up lying mortally wounded in a street. Gianquitti never denied shooting Pagano, but claimed he only did so in self-defense, testifying that he only shot Pagano after the latter came up to Gianquitti's house and punched him in the face.

Atty. Gen. Holder Says Hate Crimes Legislation Wouldn't Deal with Speech

A Glaring Omission?

According to a CNN story, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today suggested it is necessary to "address a rising tide of criminal activity fueled by bias and bigotry" by passing federal hate crimes legislation. The bill, known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would expand "federal protection against hate crimes to cover disability, gender and sexual orientation".

Still, in trying to convince opponents to support the bill, Attorney General Holder specifically noted "that any federal hate crimes law would be used only to prosecute violent acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs." In other words the law would address acts of violence, not speech. However, some may be wondering why the law doesn't take a harsher view on certain speech, particularly that which incites violence based on bias. After all, CNN reports that Hal Turner, a blogger and online radio host, got arrested yesterday (again) after supposedly threatening some federal court judges.

Grandma Says Mom Captured with Fugitive Sex Offender BF Won't See Kid

How Change of Custody May Have Played Key Role in Capture

It's probably not going too far out on a limb to call this yesterday's no-brainer decision of the day. The winner? Mary Watson, the grandmother of 4-year-old Haylee Donathan, the girl who up 'til Tuesday had been missing 27 days in a highly publicized Ohio case. Haylee was finally found Tuesday in California after being taken across the country by her mom with her sex offender boyfriend Robbie Potter (who, by the way, happened to be a fugitive). Grandma Watson announced yesterday that she won't be letting Haylee go back to her mom, Candace Watson, and will do whatever social services says. Phew! At any rate, CNN's article did point out an interesting aspect of Haylee's case, specifically, that in order to issue an Amber Alert, police had to have grandma Watson obtain temporary court-ordered custody of Haylee.

For more than 50 years, Doris Payne operated as one of the smoothest jewel thieves we'll ever know. Any smoother and we'd likely never have known of her work. Yesterday, in a Palo Alto, California court, however, she pleaded guilty to the theft of a $30,000 diamond ring from a local Nieman Marcus. Her plans after she gets out? Get together with Halle Berry, who is slated to play Miss Payne in a movie about her life.

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, Miss Payne pleaded guilty to grand larceny for lifting the ring from Nieman Marcus in 2005. She got a two year sentence, which appears likely to be reduced due to time served and good behavior.

According to a 2005 AP portrait of Miss Payne, her methods remained the same since she began "acquiring" precious jewels in her 20's. Peruse advertisements for posh jewels, fly to the store offering them, go in well dressed and ready to spin any number of tales about why she was shopping for diamonds, try on one piece, then another -- no wait, those other earrings -- let them know she may come back after thinking it over, and voila -- she's off into an awaiting cab with a smile (and the day's most valuable piece of jewelry in her pocket).

No threats, no violence, no breaking jewelry cases. Just simple charm, a soft southern style, amiable and knowledgeable chit-chat, and some high end jewelry sleight of hand. She's been dubbed the "Grandmother Thief," however that name hardly does justice to her methods or how prolific she's been.

Mom Pleads Guilty in Drunk Breast-Feeding Case: "BWI" Prosecutions Ahead?

So a ground-breaking case (and I use that term loosely here) in North Dakota has just about run its course. Stacey Anvarinia, 26, pleaded guilty to felony child neglect after breast-feeding her baby while drunk, or "extremely drunk" to be more specific. Lest anyone start to worry however, this type of drunk breast-feeding offense is probably not going to be high on prosecutors' and cops' radar, particularly considering the circumstances of the case.

Cops in Grand Forks were initially called to Anvarinia's house on a domestic disturbance call involving her boyfriend, where they noticed Anvarinia was slurring her speech and breastfeeding at the same time. So they double-checked with a hospital, and confirmed that, nope, breast-feeding while intoxicated is "not good" for a child. So they notified the breast-feeding mother, who mind-bogglingly continued to try and do it, landing herself the aforementioned charge.

Report Suggests Prison Rape, Often By Corrections Staff, Widespread

Will States Implement Suggested Standards?

Prison rape has sometimes been viewed as an "inevitable feature of confinement", but a report from the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission makes clear that the problem is actually a pervasive blight on the justice system, one "with life-altering consequences for victims." Indeed, survey results suggest that over 60,000 inmates across the nation were sexually abused in a 12-month period. Perhaps just as alarmingly, more prisoners reported abuse by staff than abuse by other prisoners!

The report's summary had the following 9 key findings, noting the urgent need for action:

Chris Brown Pleads Guilty, Gets "Celebrity Justice"?

The perception that celebrities receive a different kind of justice than the rest of the world is probably shared by many. So why should Chris Brown's reported plea deal, where he gets no jail time on a felony assault charge, be any surprise? Well, perhaps some people expected that maybe, just maybe, the alleged "beating, choking and biting" of young pop star diva Rihanna might be enough to garner him at least a brief taste of the jail life.

Well, nix that idea. A judge in L.A. yesterday accepted Brown's plea deal whereby he avoid jail time in exchange for 5 years of probation and 6 months of community service (to be fair, that's a lengthy probationary period). So, it looks like folks in his home state Virginia might be able to look forward to some cleaner streets and walls courtesy of Chris Brown, who was told he'd have "to get his hands dirty" by doing work similar to cleaning up roadside trash and graffiti.

Reliability of Shaken Baby Syndrome Diagnosis Questioned

The Inherent Hazards of Forensic Science, Expert Testimony

Shaken Baby Syndrome. The term may bring to mind stories of horrifying child abuse, whether it be by a frustrated parent or abusive nanny or babysitter. When an individual is convicted of child abuse (or worse) in a case involving Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS), many people probably get a good feeling in their gut that justice has been served.

However, an article on the The Crime Report by Maurice Possley suggests that soon-to-be-released research may be calling into question thousands of convictions based on diagnoses of SBS. Possley suggests this is particularly alarming because this is one of the areas of criminal law where a diagnosis can be the "basis for the prosecution". To put it a different way, without a diagnosis of SBS, convictions in these types of cases may not have been secured.

Supreme Court to Review Law on Civil Commitment of the "Sexually Dangerous"

Child molesters, rapists, sexual predators and the like are often, with good reason, considered to be amongst the worst of the worst of criminal offenders. Severe sentences are the norm for these types of offenses, but many people feel even lengthy jailtime is sometimes not enough. The Supreme Court today announced it will consider the constitutionality of a part of a federal law that allows for "sexually dangerous" inmates to be put away indefinitely via civil commitment, even after they've completed their sentences.

Criminal law reserves serious sentencing penalties for sex offenders, acknowledging both the harm done to victims by the crimes, plus the likelihood of re-offense. However, these jail terms, lengthy as they may sometimes be, do come to an end in many cases. As a result, some states and recently the federal government have enacted laws that permit the civil commitment of certain previously convicted individuals, usually sex offenders. Civil commitment allows for such individuals to be removed from society for extended periods of time, for purposes of both protecting society and rehabilitation.

The Dummy Files: Jailhouse Bar Mitzvah, Dodgeball Choker, et al.

This week's file o' folly features some sensitive, and some perhaps not-so-sensitive, individuals in positions of authority, plus also a somewhat misdirected call for help:

Careers in "The Tombs"? A high level correctional official in New York probably wasn't in a celebratory mood this week after resigning his position for having thrown a bar mitzvah. Throwing a bar mitzvah is totally cool, unless, I guess, it happens to be in a correctional facility and, oh yeah, for an inmate's son. It was apparently a pretty lavish affair with over 60 guests, catering, and live music. CNN reported on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's take on the matter during a morning radio show, where he said he couldn't give out any details about the investigation, and said simply, "As they say, oy vey."

In Need of Help. Billy Floyd Morris, an Alabama 33-year-old, thought his roomies were ripping him off. He did what any reasonable citizen would do, that is, he called the cops. Well, in these particular circumstances, Billy Floyd, might not have thought his course-of-action through entirely, or may he wasn't thinking straight at all. When police got there, they found a fully operational and running meth lab. To walk free, Billy Floyd Morris will need to make $1 million bond on the drug charges he faces.

Yesterday, a New York Man was charged for dressing up like his mother. Well, dressing up like his mother for six years in order to collect $117,000 in government benefits. Along with grand larceny, he has been charged with criminal impersonation. When does impersonating someone else become criminal?

According to the AP, Thomas Parkin has a close relationship with his mother... as in Anthony Perkins, 'Psycho' close. Parkin claims to be his mother (citing the fact that he held her as she died). Authorities claim he "became" her in order to keep cashing in on government benefits after she died in 2003. He allegedly collected $65,000 in housing subsidies and $52,000 in social security payments in her name.

Things may have gone better for Parkin had he been a little more cautious. Instead, in a dispute over his mother's old house (in which he lived), he decided to sue its new owner on his (dead) mother's behalf. This alone was likely a step too far, but he went further. During the litigation, he contacted the District Attorney to accuse the other side of fraud.

The other side happened to also report Parkin for fraud, which led to a meeting set up by investigators. Though the investigators already knew his mother had passed, Parkin showed up in full form -- "wearing a red cardigan, lipstick, manicured nails and breathing through an oxygen tank," according to prosecutors.

As Parkin and his alleged accomplice have found, New York, like many states, has criminal impersonation statutes (in addition to grand larceny laws).

Supreme Court Says No Constitutional Right to DNA Testing for Convicts

It's not unusual to hear news stories about individuals who have languished in prison for years to be freed based on exonerating DNA evidence. Similarly, although they might not get as many headlines, the value of evidence from DNA tests for law enforcement and the prosecution in pursuing and establishing the guilt of a defendant is tough to dispute. In a close 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court today announced that there is no constitutional right for someone who has been convicted of an offense to get access to the prosecution's evidence to perform DNA testing.

The case involved a violent sexual assault in Alaska, of which William Osborne was found guilty by a jury. After his conviction, Osborne asked for certain DNA evidence to be tested, but was shot down in courts at various times for various reasons, one big one being "that Osborne had confessed to some of his crimes in a 2004 application for parole" and in front of the parole board too. The end result was that Osborne ended up bring a lawsuit under civil rights laws claiming the constitution gave him a right to the DNA tests he wanted. He actually prevailed in the lower courts, which found that just like getting evidence from the prosecution before trial, Osborne had a constitutional right to obtain the same after conviction.

Connecticut lawmaker James O'Rourke will not face charges in a case where an intoxicated woman acquaintance, to whom he gave a ride to late at night, ended up being found dead of hypothermia after running away from his car, barefoot, and in the snow.

At first reading, the circumstances surrounding the death of 41-year-old Carol Sinsigalli may seem pretty suspicious, or at least odd. Still, a report released by the State's Attorney explained the reasons why O'Rourke would not face a charge of criminally negligent homicide. But a close look at the report may raise some tough questions about the extent that society could, or perhaps should, expect people to take actions to protect others.

First off, the report explained that for someone to be criminally negligent, someone has to have owed the victim a "duty" (or obligation) to protect them. In this case, the report found that O'Rourke didn't have any duty to protect Sinsigalli as "[n]o Connecticut case has been found that states that a person assumes a duty to protect an intoxicated person by agreeing to drive that person home." Further, the report explained the facts didn't support holding O'Rourke responsible, particularly considering that:

Can a Hoax Blog Result in Criminal Charges for Blogger?

The Rebeccah Beushausen "Story"

Rebeccah Beushausen was a woman whose sad story about her unborn child engendered great sympathy from a wide Internet audience. But it turns out, the AP now reports, that her story turned out to be an elaborate hoax. The AP summarized the gist of Beushausen's blog-based yarn, as stating she was "an unmarried mother who chose to carry her child who is now terminally ill to term rather than have an abortion because of her deep Christian faith."

Beushausen even shared the medical name of her baby's diagnosis, Trisomy 13 syndrome, which per the story is "a chromosomal defect that can cause severe mental retardation and death." Needless to say, Beushausen garnered much sympathy with the story, to the tune of over 1 million hits to her blog. Well, the jig is up now after she wrote about her "child's" birth and posted some pics up last week. Someone noticed it was a doll, and by now Beushausen has apologized in full (via her blog of course).

Cop Pulls Over Ambulance: Now Facing Job Loss and Lawsuit?

Trooper v. EMT Encounter Results in Attorney Media Battle

An Oklahoma state Trooper is under fire, figuratively anyway, after possibly picking the wrong vehicle to pull over. In an incident last month, Trooper Daniel Martin was responding to a call for backup when he says an ambulance failed to yield to him, and worse, Martin thought he saw the driver flip him "an obscene gesture". So he pulled over the ambulance for failing to yield. But that's when things may have gotten a bit out of hand because it turns out that the ambulance was taking a patient to the hospital, the AP reports.

After the traffic stop, paramedic Maurice White Jr. jumped out of the back and demanded that Martin talk to him, and not the driver of the vehicle. Well, to make a long story short, things escalated and Martin ended up trying to arrest paramedic White, all while a patient sat in the back of the ambulance.

Fortunately for Trooper Martin, the patient in the ambulance appears to have ended up no worse for wear from the incident, as she got to the hospital, received treatment and was later released. But the more troubling release, at least for Trooper Martin, was that of cell phone video the patient's son took of the incident.

Supreme Court Rules in Immigration, Aggravated Felony Case

The Unforeseen Consequences of Criminal Proceedings

The Supreme Court today may have limited the role a jury must play for aliens facing deportation based on certain past criminal offenses. Pretty much everyone knows that getting convicted of a criminal offense can bring with it serious consequences ranging from jail or prison time, to fines and/or job loss. But for aliens (including lawful permanent residents) facing criminal charges, today's ruling may further emphasize that what goes on during their criminal proceedings can lead to later consequences they might not expect.

Immigration law allow for the deportation of aliens convicted of an "aggravated felony". Immigration laws go on to list various crimes and types of crimes that qualify as these aggravated felonies, and sometimes the language in those definitions can set a hard line for when a crime will become aggravated in nature. The language that the Supreme Court addressed today, for example, dealt with crimes of fraud or deceit and makes an alien deportable if such a crime involves a loss of more than $10,000 by the victims.

The Dummy Files: Freedom to Look Good, Shackled Racing, and More

Because there's so much "good" stuff that goes on in with criminals and the justice system, FindLaw's Blotter will be closing out each week with the best of the worst, so to speak. Yes, this will be the stuff that makes you wonder just how the criminal brain and justice system work, or (more likely?) how they fail to do so. And with such fanfare, the Dummy Files are open:

With friends like this...: After a night of drinking, two buddies in New Hampshire ended up arguing over a whopping $10 bar tab. No big deal right? Well, one of them allegedly ended up on the hood of the other's car, with the other driving... If that's not bad enough, the suspect supposedly bailed only to come back later to drive over the lawn, lawn statues (left up to our imagination), and hit a light post, a garage door, and oh yeah, the first victim's dad (only minor injuries there, thankfully). The suspect got charged with two counts of first-degree assault, reckless conduct and criminal mischief. Yeah, no DUI apparently. Maybe the guy wasn't over the legal limit? Somehow, that just doesn't seem to fit in with the story...

A Cry for Help? A Pennsylvania man found himself under arrest after allegedly speeding in a police station parking lot, parking between two marked police cruisers (in a reserved spot), then throwing back his seat to take a nap. An officer who saw the guy park, noticed an empty vodka bottle on the floor of the car and proceeded to locate a pipe with traces of marijuana. There really isn't a whole lot to be said on this one, but a DUI charge was definitely involved.

What Led to "Clark Rockefeller" Conviction and Sentence for Kidnapping Daughter?

Closing up the sad, weird story of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka "Clark Rockefeller", CNN reports that Gerhartsreiter has been convicted of kidnapping his own daughter and of assaulting a social worker, to boot. Further, he has been sentenced to between four and five years in prison.

The kidnapping plot was allegedly hatched after Gerhartsreiter lost custody of his daughter, Reigh, to his former wife, Sandra Boss. The defense had countered that not only did Gerhartsreiter lose custody, but also apparently, his mind. Indeed, the CNN story noted that two experts testified that "Clark" was delusional and legally insane at the time of the kidnapping, which occurred during a supervised visit. However, the defense's claim of insanity appears to have fallen short in the ears of the jury.

At this point, it's unclear what effect, if any, testimony provided by his Ivy-league educated ex-wife regarding his sanity had on the jury's decision. We had previously detailed the somewhat odd testimony she gave where she disputed pointed questions by defense attorneys regarding whether Gerhartsreiter was delusional. She had instead suggested Gerhartsreiter was often simply not a nice guy, "The defendant was often very unpleasant -- lack of empathy, anger, control issues, absolutely. I'm not a psychologist, but he was hard to live with".

Victims of child abuse often have to face years of, if not lifelong, consequences from child abuse. A decision out of the Supreme Court of New Jersey might allow for victims of child abuse in that state to obtain some justice and compensation via the court system, even if the criminal justice system may not do the same.

The case involved the time limit for bringing lawsuits against a defendant under the state's Child Sexual Abuse Act. The unidentified plaintiff alleged that Kenneth Voytac, his stepfather, sexually abused him on numerous occasions starting about 20 years ago (when plaintiff was about 10 years old). However, although he was aware of the incidents, he didn't bring suit until much later, when he claims to have made a connection between the abuse and his psychological injuries.

Generally, each state's laws set time limits called "statutes of limitations" for bringing various types of lawsuits, including those alleging physical and/or emotional injury. The trial court found that plaintiff in this case didn't bring his lawsuit in a timely manner, and dismissed his complaint. However, in its decision, the Supreme Court of New Jersey outlined a test for determining whether a victim of childhood sexual abuse has brought their lawsuit under the Act too late.

An inmate in Colorado who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a guard was awarded over $1.3 million by a judge who appeared to be fed up with the Colorado Department of Corrections' failure to properly enforce its policy on inmate sexual abuse. A story by the Denver Post reports that although the inmate settled out of court with the Department of Corrections for $250,000, the judge felt that the "DOC does not effectively enforce a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse of inmates" and that was "one reason he set the damages so high."

Although the monetary award is a form of justice for the victim, some might wonder whether the money was sufficient punishment for the guard's misconduct? Shouldn't this guy be in prison too? One might think that if a serious sex offense (much less multiple instances) was involved, a long jail term would be likely.

100 Year Sentence for Teen Sex Offender with 47 IQ: Concurrent Sentences Fair?

A sentence of 100 years in prison was handed down for mentally disabled Texas teen Aaron Hart after he pleaded guilty in his sexual abuse case. The case has raised some serious questions not only about the length of the sentence, but as to whether a viable alternative was available, too.

The AP provided background on the story as follows:

"Aaron Hart, 18, of Paris, was arrested and charged after a neighbor found him fondling her stepson in September. The teen pleaded guilty to five counts, including aggravated sexual assault and indecency by contact, and a jury decided his punishment."

Sex offenses against children are amongst the most heavily punished crimes in the books, generally speaking, but even the jury in this case apparently didn't expect what was eventually handed down to Hart. Jurors indicated that "they sent the judge notes during deliberations in February, asking about alternatives to prison, but didn't get a clear answer. They believed the judge would order concurrent sentences, jurors said."

A former Georgia Tech student has been found guilty by a judge of "conspiring to provide material support to terrorism in the United States and abroad", reports CNN. However, Syed Haris Ahmed's dad feels his son was convicted based only on what was going on in his mind. CNN reported the father's take:

"He went on to say that Ahmed did not do anything physically, but in the United States, if you think something, you are guilty. Syed Riaz Ahmed said he doesn't believe that his son ever would have carried out illegal acts."

The word conspiracy usually makes people think of furtive planning and scheming, and for that reason people sometimes imagine that conspiracy offenses simply involve groups' plots of one sort or another.

Arkansas Recruiting Center Shooting Suspect Says Actions Justified, Not Murder

Justifiable Homicides and the Law

Abdulhakim Muhammad, the suspect in the Arkansas shooting at a military recruiting center, says he's no murderer because his now-admitted actions had a "justified reason" (the AP story has more background). Muhammad (born Carlos Bledsoe) told the AP in a phone call from jail, "I do feel I'm not guilty ... I don't think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason." Muhammad said his acts were "retaliation" for the U.S. military's actions against Muslim men, women, and children abroad. Well, this seems like a real nice opportunity to explain the concept of what a justifiable homicide might be, and to clarify what it most certainly is not.

Each state has its own laws on what qualifies as a justifiable homicide, but there are some common grounds. The most obvious and well-known one is probably self-defense, but some people may have some misconceptions about how far self-defense can go. Sticking to Arkansas, a homicide can be justifiable in defense of a person if someone reasonably believes that the other person is committing or about to commit a serious crime involving violence or force. It can also be justified if someone reasonably believes the other person is about to use illegal deadly force. Domestic abuse can sometimes also be a justification under Arkansas law.

What happens to you when you lie to federal regulators about a secret deal you struck to prevent competition on medication used by tens of millions of people? Evidently, you get sent to the blackboard. Former Bristol-Myers Squibb executive Andrew Bodnar didn't get any jail time, but was ordered by a federal judge to write a book.

The good new for Dr. Bodnar is that he won't have to write "I will not violate antitrust laws and then lie to the Federal Trade Commission about it" 1000 times. Instead, as reported by Bloomberg, in addition to two years probation and a $5,000 fine, D.C. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina commissioned a Bodnar penned opus on the topic of how to not end up like Andrew Bodnar. "Perhaps it will be inspirational," said the judge.

Price fixing or monopolization might be topics more up Dr. Bodnar's alley. His charges result from a deal cut between Bristol-Myers and a company called Apotex over the blood-thinning drug Plavix. Bristol-Myers makes Plavix, which 48 million Americans reportedly take everyday.

Traditionally, a drug maker with a valid patent has the exclusive right to make that drug until the patent expires. Toward the end of a patent's life, drug makers often contend with generic drug makers eager to offer the drug at much lower prices. Unless...

A veteran LAPD detective faces charges of murder in what may have been a case unnecessarily gone cold. The AP reports that Stephanie Lazarus, 49, is scheduled to face a judge today on charges that way back in 1986 she broke into victim Sherri Rae Rasmussen's condo, and beat and shot her to death.

Why would a detective murder someone? Well, although it is somewhat unclear at this point in time, it may have been as basic as jealousy considering that Lazarus had once dated Sherri Rasmussen's husband, John Ruetten.

The case has raised questions about how it was handled by police and whether they may have turned a blind eye to the possibility that one of their own may have committed such a heinous act. For their part, police have explained that Lazarus wasn't a suspect because detectives thought that a couple of robbers in the victim's neighborhood were to blame.

With the economy down, car torchings are up. Well, not all cases involve an automotive blaze of glory, but more and more people are faking the theft and/or destruction of cars they can no longer afford in order to collect insurance money. The few thousand dollars in upside to such a scheme are almost assuredly outweighed by the multitude of consequences should it not turn out as planned.

The LA Times cites the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB) to report that the first quarter of 2009 saw a 27% increase nationwide in suspicious vehicle fires and arsons over last year, and a 24% increase in "owner give-ups" (cars intentionally left or destroyed by owner). Tough to prove owner give-ups pale in comparison to the number of cars reported stolen. The Insurance Information Institute , identifies the top cities for auto give-ups as Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, L.A. and Chicago.

As detailed in the Times, some owners behind on payments have gone for the insurance payout instead by either orchestrating a flame or cliff-dive induced death for their car, or making an arrangement for someone to "steal" the car.

Though it screams bad idea at the outset, here are some reasons not to do it (in addition to physically harming yourself or others):

"Craigslist Crimes" Piling Up: Will Recent Horrifying Examples Spur Action?

The hits just keep on coming against Craigslist it appears. By now, most people have probably heard about the so-called "Craigslist killer", Philip Markoff, who is alleged to have arranged for meetings with individuals advertising on Craigslist while targeting them for robbery. Over the course of just the last week, however, two stories may well have blown that one way out of the proverbial water, at least if depravity is the measure.

First came the story of not-so-loving husband "Travis" of North Carolina who allegedly hired someone on Craigslist to rape his wife while he watched (his name was withheld to protect his wife/victim). Then if that wasn't bad enough, over the weekend CNN reported on Korena Elaine Roberts of Oregon, who police suspect lured pregnant 21-year-old Heather Megan Snively to a horrifying end, apparently in the hopes of stealing her unborn child (the child tragically died, too).

Ultimate Facebook Betrayal? Suspect in Fatal DUI Gets Nailed With Online Pics

The hazards of online social networking have been well-documented of late, particularly in regard to the potential workplace consequences of putting some less-than-flattering pics. But a story today may have highlighted yet another perhaps unexpected danger, that of police, parole officers, and/or judges checking out photos you post online. For 20-year-old Erika Scoliere of Ohio, some online pics of her may have showed particularly poor judgment on her part.

You see, Scoliere was actually out on bail pending trial on DUI-related charges, and not just any DUI charges either, Erika Scoliere is charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI. It's probably not hard to see where we're going by now ... but anyhow, as a condition of being out on bail, Scoliere had been ordered to stay away from alcohol and folks drinking alcohol (this is not uncommon).

Raymond Oyler, Arsonist, Gets Death Penalty for Setting Forest Fire?

Raymond Lee Oyler, an arsonist in California who set a wildfire in Southern California, got sentenced to death today for murdering five firefighters who perished trying to keep the blaze away from a home. Many people hear about arson murder in the context of people setting fire to structures with individuals inside. But they might be surprised to know that even setting a wildfire relatively far from civilization could still lead to the ultimate punishment under the law.

Under California law, someone can commit the crime of murder even if they don't specifically intend for a person to die, but instead act without "considerable provocation" or with an "an abandoned and malignant heart". Further, under the state's death penalty laws, both arson murder and firefighter murder can make someone eligible for the death penalty (assuming a defendant knew or should have known the status of the victim). The article noted the judge's findings at sentencing regarding aggravating and mitigating circumstances in this case:

Prosecutors in Florida have decided to charge four teenage boys as adults in a case involving horrifying allegations of sexual assault against another teenage boy. Noteably, CNN's story named all four boys, specifically because they were charged as adults. As a result, those boys may have to live with the stigma of the allegations for all their lives, regardless of what the eventual result in the case may be. This is probably even moreso in the Internet age where search engines put information on someone's name just a few keystrokes away.

Although to a lesser degree than the teens in that highly publicized case, people with convictions on their record nevertheless face a potentially lifelong "branding" of being convicted criminals. This consequence of the legal system is entirely intentional, of course, but it does present significant challenges with respect to former convicts' and arrestees' career options, hiring decisions about them, and perhaps even where one lives. However, there is a process in many jurisdictions called expungement by which such records could possibly be legally erased.

DUI Duo: 1 Ride Brings 2 DUIs; First Offender Program Basics

A Pennsylvania couple recently learned the hard way that one ride home can lead to more than one DUI. The pair has agreed to enter a DUI first offender program. In many states, first offender programs allow people to save in legal costs and keep the DUI off their record.

In the early morning hours of April 5, Robert and Tina Kotoff, of Daugherty Township, Pennsylvania, may have thought they got home safely and without incident... if a brief encounter with a tree could be ignored.

To their chagrin, however, somebody called the cops and they've both been hit with DUI charges. How both, you might ask? Well, though it may seem a good idea to change drivers after one hits a tree, the switcheroo is not so good if the second driver is also drunk. According to the AP, this was the story with the Kotoff's. Though witnesses saw Ms. Kotoff driving the car into a tree, the allegedly boozy Mr. Kotoff drove the car from the tree to the mobile home park, where police subsequently found all.

New Ohio Lethal Injection Procedure Used on Killer

Daniel Wilson, a man who burned a woman alive after locking her in the trunk of her car, was executed in Ohio today. According to Reuters, the execution involved the use of a new execution procedure or protocol which the headline referred to as the "set-to-die" procedure.

That term might be a little confusing, because what the new procedure actually entails is a prison warden checking to make sure an inmate is "set to die" after they have been sedated by calling out the inmate's name, shaking his or her shoulder, and giving them a pinch to the upper arm. Of course, being set to die actually means that no response must be received from the inmate before they can get executed. This is because recent death penalty challenges to lethal injection have focused on the possibility that inmates undergoing the penalty were conscious and/or suffering from the administered protocol.

Dunkin Donuts Bans and Jail Tours: Alternative Sentences?

A couple of stories about unusual sentences being handed out in New Hampshire...First, 34-year-old mom, Meredith-Leigh Pulkkinen-Walton, who kicked a police officer got a suspended sentence, and will be required to write a letter of apology plus take a tour of the county jail. Jail tour, not bad, but here's one N.H. sentence to top it. After pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of shoplifting coffee from a Dunkin' Donuts, Matthew Anderson, 20, got himself a suspended sentence, a fine, and a hefty 2-year citywide Dunkin' Donuts ban.

As can be seen from those two examples alone, judges can get pretty creative when imposing sentences. Although those are pretty unusual, the following are some common types of alternatives to jail sentences:

The things that come out of trials ... The ongoing headline-grabbing kidnapping trial of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, certainly better known as "Clark Rockefeller", grabbed a few more today with testimony from his ex-wife, 42-year-old Sandra Lynn Boss, which at times might have bordered on the absurd. In turn this probably leads some to wonder why this stuff was even being brought up, but first the good stuff...

CNN reported that Sandra Boss, who clearly put the proverbial food on the table in the relationship with her $1 million salary (despite his storied name, "Rockefeller" didn't seem to ever make any money), saw a few things about Gerhartsreiter that might have raised eyebrows for others, but not her. Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner grilled her at length on her ... oversights:

Securities Law Basics: Common Types of Securities Wrongs

In the latest news on a seemingly unending string of corporate-execs-gone-wrong, a jury yesterday apparently did not buy what Charles Conaway, the ex-CEO of Kmart Corporation, was selling to them in his trial for civil securities fraud. According to NPR, the jury found Conaway guilty of making misleading statements to investors prior to the giant retailer's bankruptcy. Although news headlines seem to almost constantly pour the heat on corporate executives (for reasons ranging from alleged ineptitude to criminal activity), there are actually a number of other players in the securities landscape that can and do face liability for wrongs under securities laws. Aside from con artists (which surely deserve a post of their own), here are some common securities abuses and the players at issue:

Company Abuses

These abuses happen at the hands of companies, as well as individuals within companies. The following are three common types of securities misdeeds within this class:

Scott Roeder, Suspect in George Tiller Murder: Example of Domestic Terrorism?

Catching up on news over the weekend that controvertial late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered over the weekend while ushering at church, the case has raised questions about the suspect Scott P. Roeder, such as whether this possibly was a foreseeable act by a "homegrown terrorist", and whether other groups foster or even encourage such assassinations.

FindLaw's Common Law blog had previously looked at Tiller's misdemeanor trial where he had been accused of breaking Kansas law by allegedly failing to get an independent doctor's second opinion for late-term abortions. Tiller ended up getting acquitted by a jury on those charges, but it is unknown whether this played any part in triggering the killing.

What is suggested, however, is that Roeder had a long-time interest in Tiller and perhaps a highly questionable background, the AP noted:

FBI: Violent Crimes and Property Crimes Down in 2008

An Unexpected Result?

Here's something to break up the apparent string of bad news seeming to flow forth from the Blotter. The FBI says that both property and violent crime is down across the country for 2008. This marks the second year in a row of dropping crime rates, to boot.

The findings are from the FBI's Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report which tracks statistics submitted voluntarily by law enforcement agencies across the nation. An FBI story provided the following highlights:

  • All four of the violent crime offense categories declined nationwide: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter (down 4.4 percent), aggravated assault (down 3.2 percent), forcible rape (down 2.2 percent), and robbery (down 1.1 percent).