FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

November 2009 Archives

White House Dinner Crashers: What Charges May Apply?

The Virginia couple who crashed last week's White House dinner may now face possible charges for lying to federal officers.

At President Barack Obama's first state dinner, the couple actually shook hands and talked to him in the receiving line.

Lethal Injection: First Death Row Inmate to Get Single Shot

Kenneth Biros will be the first Ohio death row inmate executed under the state's new one-drug method.

He also will be the first to undergo the new method as it has never been tried before on any U.S. death row inmate.

Immigration Fraud: 10 Indicted in Sham Marriage Scheme

Several former and current Cook County Traffic Court employees were among those charged in allegedly arranging sham marriages to evade U.S. immigration laws.

Allegedly at the helm was, Maria F. Cruz, formerly of Chicago and a one time traffic court worker. She allegedly doubled as a fake wedding planner who helped recent immigrants become legal residents, possibly shaving years off the typical wait for citizenship, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Judge Rules Tennessee Guns in Bars Law Unconstitutional

Tennessee bar-goers whose first question is "may I take my gun?" received a bit of a setback this week.

A judge ruled that the new Tennessee gun law allowing licensed handgun owners to bring their weapons to restaurants and bars that serve alcohol is unconstitutionally vague.

Since Tennessee has no legal definition to distinguish bars from restaurants, Claudia Bonnyman, sitting in Davidson County chancery court, said the statute was "fraught with ambiguity," the Associated Press reports.

St. Louis gets tough on first offense DWI

Prosecutors in St. Louis are handing out stiffer penalties for drivers charged with their first DWI.

The move is intended to help area leaders become more consistent in how they treat first time DWIs, the St. Louis Dispatch reports.

Plea Bargain Ends Heather Ellis Checkout Line Fiasco

A black school teacher accused of cutting in line at Walmart pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors.

Ellis, 24, insisted that her guilty plea was a victory, the St. Louis Dispatch reports. But the plea deal was the same one that prosecutors had offered before the racially tinged trial began last week.

New FBI Hate Crime Statistics Released

As we discussed previously, President Obama signed a new hate crimes bill last month.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act was the first expansion of federal civil rights laws since the mid-1990s. It extends federal protections to include people who are victims of violent crimes because of their sexual orientation, gender or because they are disabled.

This week, the FBI made its annual release of hate crimes statistics.

Workplace Burglaries Up in Down Economy

In the down economy, stick-ups and burglaries at work are on the rise.

Many thieves have become more brazen in their attempts at high stakes burglaries. 

They have now set their sights on stealing from corporate offices and workplaces, instead of residential burglary or robbing convenience stores.

Gitmo Prisoners: Where to Hold Military Tribunals?

The Obama administration plans to close Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and begin prosecutions.

So now where will the Gitmo prisoners be transferred and housed?

Perhaps to an empty state prison in Thomson, Illinois -- 150 miles west of Chicago.

Sex Offenders in Nursing Homes: IL Law Falls Short

A gap in the Illinois law is part of the reason why most sex offenders living in nursing homes aren't listed on state police's online registry.

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune found facility administrators don't have to divulge the identities of sex offenders living in the homes. Instead, the law only requires homes to inform people of the state police online registry, which allows them to search for sex offenders by name (if known), city, county and ZIP code.

Michigan Man Accused of Killing Son over Sister Abuse

Jamar Pinkney Sr. lost control.

Fueled by anger when he heard disturbing news about his son having inappropriate sexual contact with his 3-year-old half sister, he reacted with rage.

Investigators say that rage could be why Pinkney allegedly made his son strip his clothes off and kneel in a vacant lot before he was killed by a single bullet execution style, CBS and the Associated Press reports.

New York Assembly Passes Tough New DWI Law

A new bill requiring ignition interlock devices for everyone convicted of driving while intoxicated is expected to reach the New York State Governor's desk this week.

The measure has passed the State Assembly and now needs a nod from New York's Senate.

Obama, the Death Penalty and Military Executions

President Barack Obama has drawn criticsm lately not only for his administration's decision to go forward with the New York trial of the professed Sept. 11 mastermind but for his opinion that if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is convicted he will face the death penalty.

Last week in the media, Obama said he is "absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people will insist on it and my administration will insist on it."

Where was Shaniya Davis Killed? Jurisdiction is Key

Investigators are still searching for clues about why and where a 5-year-old North Carolina girl was killed.

The body of Shaniya Davis was found on Monday on a rural road about in Lee County, about 30 miles northwest of Fayetteville.

Authorities need to determine where the killing occurred to in order to add new charges in the slain girl's case, CNN reports. These charges won't be added until the question of jurisdiction is answered.  

Anthony Sowell Case: Did Cops Ignore Attacked Woman?

New information has come to light about Ohio serial killing suspect Anthony Sowell.

A woman who claimed she was attacked and raped by Sowell in his house last year says the police did not take her seriously.

Teen Enters Not Guilty Plea to Killing 4 Year Old

The 14-year-old accused of molesting and killing a 4 year old and stuffing him in a dryer plead not guilty today Fresno County Superior Court.

As discussed in a previous FindLaw Blotter post, Raul Renato Castro is being charged as an adult in the October 30 killing.

Military Mom Refuses Deployment to Care for Baby

Army cook and single mom Spc. Alexis Hutchinson had to choose between serving her country or the responsibility of being a new mom.

That tough decision now has left Hutchinson, 21, of Oakland, CA possibly facing criminal charges for refusing Afghanistan deployment.

Teacher Charged with Terroristic Threats against Student

A Georgia high school teacher is under suspicion of making terroristic threats against one of his students, and has been accused of attempting to place a hit on the 16 year-old boy.

Randolph Forde, a 10th-grade special education teacher at Mundy's Mill High School in Clayton County, was arrested last month on suspicion of trying to persuade another student to kill a 16 year-old, the Associated Press reports.

He could lose his job.

Race and the Heather Ellis Case

Hundreds of people will participate in a rally in Kennett Missouri today for Heather Ellis, a young black woman accused of cutting in line at Walmart.

The incident three years ago set off a racially charged dispute and now Ellis faces a trial that could send her to prison for 15 years.

The Associated Press reports that witnesses told authorities that Ellis cut in front of waiting customers at the Walmart in Kennett on Jan. 6, 2007 and became belligerent when confronted, according to court filings.

Lethal Injection: Ohio Adopts Single Shot Protocol

Two months after Ohio had to stop a botched execution, the state now has become the first to adopt a new single drug lethal injection protocol.

Ohio, unlike 35 other states that use lethal injection, switched to a single drug, rather than a three drug cocktail in its death penalty procedures, according to the New York Times.

Cult Leader Tony Alamo Sentenced to 175 Years

The victims of evangelist Tony Alamo, who was convicted of taking five underage girls across state lines for sex, showed him no mercy.

U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes acknowledged their sentiments at the sentencing hearing.

On Friday, the judge sentenced the Texas minister to 175 years but said he hoped a greater judge would have mercy on his soul for his sex crimes.

Missouri Family Charged in Sordid Child Sex Abuse Case

A judge charged five member of a Missouri family yesterday in a bizarre sex abuse case involving a string of child abuse allegations.

The men, Burrell Edward Mohler Sr., 77, and his four sons were charged with forcible sodomy, rape of a child younger than 12 and use of a child in a sexual performance.

The 911 Attack vs the USS Cole Bombing

Who gets a civilian versus a military trial and why?

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other alleged plotters of the 911 attack will be tried as terrorists and criminals in a federal court, the US Attorney General announced today.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who along with four other detainees is accused of planning the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen, will go before a military commission.

In addition to wondering what evidence in any of these cases will have to be tossed out due to having been obtained through "enhanced interrogation tactics" that violated international torture laws, many are wondering why some alleged terrorists will be tried in federal court, while others will get a military tribunal.

Facebook Alibi: Social Media as Defense Evidence

As discussed in FindLaw's Legally Weird, a teenager in New York recently was saved by a playful message posted on his Facebook page.

Rodney Bradford, 19, wrote that he was craving pancakes on his Facebook status. His Facebook evidence of an alibi prevented him from being charged with robbery.

Balloon Boy Hoax: Heene Parents to Plead Guilty

The couple behind last month's balloon boy hoax will plead guilty Friday to some charges in order to keep the family together, their lawyer said.

According to the Associated Press, Richard Heene will plead guilty in the alleged hoax to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony charge and his wife Mayumi will plead guilty to false reporting, a misdemeanor.

Massachusetts Prison Mental Health Suit Continues

Formal negotiations to settle a civil law suit officially broke down between lawyers for Massachusetts prison officials and the Disability Law Center.

Apparently, negotiations fell a part after stalled plans to build special treatment units for hundreds of seriously mentally ill inmates.

California Death Penalty an Empty Threat, Legal Experts Say

Maybe a death sentence isn't so bad for the more than six hundred California inmates facing capital punishment.

The state not only has the nation's largest death row population but a wait list with long delays. The appeals process can last decades.

Shocking Interrogation Room Video of Teen Killers Released

Shocking video footage from an interrogation tape of two of convicted teenage killers was released Tuesday.

The tape shows the police interrogation of 16-year-old Daniel Russell and 16-year old Calvin Pearson, just 3 days after they had broken into the North Sacramento home of a 90-year-old woman and beaten her to death using her cane.

Madoff Auction: Personal Items of Fraudster up for Grabs

Going once... Going twice... Sold to the highest bidder!

The U.S. Marshals Service is selling jewelry and other items from the disgraced financier Bernard Madoff.

The auction Saturday in New York City is a part of the continuing effort to raise money for the victims of Madoff's Ponzi-scheme.

Cailfornia DUI Laws under Criticism

California's DUI laws that allow repeat offenders to get licenses has raised brows for some legislators.

Under state law, drunken drivers have to hurt or kill someone before they permanently have their license revoked.

Supreme Court Puts Robert Van Hook Back on Death Row

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday reinstated the death sentence of a Ohio killer convicted of murdering a man he met in a gay bar.

This overturns a decision last year by a federal appeals court in Cincinnati that ruled the lawyers who represented Robert J. Van Hook, 49, during the sentencing phase of his trial in 1985 failed to do an effective job.

Nidal Malik Hasan and Military Death Penalty

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused Fort Hood gunman who last week opened fire in a processing center on the base, killing 13, now will likely face a long and complicated legal proceeding.

As he lay injured and under heavy guard at Fort Sam Houston, Hasan could become the first serviceman executed through military death penalty in almost 50 years.

California Law on Reporting Child Deaths Falls Short

California's new law designed to bring much-needed transparency into the process of disclosing information about child deaths falls short of legislators' intent.

The L.A. Times describes how the law known as Senate Bill 39, aimed at allowing public scrutiny of fatal child abuse and child neglect is unevenly enforced and leaves many unaccounted for.

Florida Missing Baby Found: Mother & Babysitter Charged

A Florida woman, Chrystina Lynn Mercer, was arrested and charged Thursday for taking part in the abduction of her the 7-month-old daughter. The child's babysitter, Susan Elizabeth Baker, was also charged in the alleged conspiracy.

Mercer was charged today with giving the infant to Baker, a woman who was a suspect in the disappearance of her own son 22 years ago, according to ABC News

The missing baby, Shannon Lea Dedrick was found alive in a large box under Susan Elizabeth Baker's bed.

Report Blasts Phillip Garrido Parole Supervision

Jaycee Dugard was allegedly abducted, sexually abused and held captive for 18 years in a concealed compound at the back of residence of convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido.

Now, a new report released by a governmental watchdog agency blasts parole officials who missed repeated opportunities to discover Dugard and Garrido's other victims.

Teen Killed Boy and Put Him in Dryer, He Says

A 14-year-old boy from Central Valley California faces charges as an adult for killing 4-year-old Alex Christopher Mercado and stuffing him in a dryer.

The Associated Press reports that Raul Renato Castro told investigators he drowned Alex Christopher Mercado, his 4-year-old neighbor, in a bathtub then hid the murdered boy in a dryer because the child was going to reveal the teen molested him, according to an affidavit released when he appeared in court Wednesday.

Diversion Program for Mentally Ill Launched in Miami-Dade

Instead of mentally ill people awaiting trial behind bars or on the streets, Miami-Dade courts are taking a different approach.

The courts have rolled out a new pilot program for mentally ill people which allows prosecutors to drop felony charges if defendants finish one year of treatment.

The program is featured in the Miami Herald, which explains how it works.

Anthony Sowell: 10 Bodies in House and Yard, So Far

Convicted Ohio rapist Anthony Sowell was ordered held without bond today during his first appearance in court on charges for five aggravated murder counts.

So far, a total of 10 bodies have been discovered in the basement, buried in the backyard, in an upstairs living room and in the crawl space of his Clevland home, the Associated Press  reports.

After Sowell's court appearance authorities said they will continue their investigation and tear apart walls inside the house in search of more evidence or bodies.

As Sowell was a registered sex offender required to keep regular contact with police, many are wondering how he may have been allowed to embark on such a gruesome series of murders, keeping bodies stashed all over his property, and not have anyone notice.

Jessica's Law Gets California Supreme Court Review

This week Jessica's Law, which was designed to keep convicted sex offenders from living near parks or schools, is coming under review by the California Supreme Court.

The law severely restricts where sexual offenders can live after they are released from prison.  Those convicted of rape or child molestation or even misdemeanor indecent exposure cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school or a park under its provisions.

The state Supreme Court is looking at the cases of four ex-convicts as it considers whether the residency restriction contained in Proposition 83 is so broad and intrusive that it violates the constitutional rights of registered sex offenders, the San Jose Mercury News  reports.

California Crackdown on Biking While Intoxicated

The California Highway Patrol is cracking down on cyclists under the influence.

Police have begun to cruise streets looking for bicycles (and cars) being driven erratically or in a way that suggests impairment, such as weaving or crossing a center line.

CHP officers recently charged seven bicyclists with riding under the influence during a one-night crackdown in Sacramento, reports USA Today.

Anna Nicole Smith Death: Boyfriend & Docs to Be Tried

Anna Nicole Smith's former long time boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, along with two of her doctors, will stand trial later this year for illegally supplying the deceased star with drugs.

The Playboy model died of an overdose from a cocktail of prescription drugs in 2007. Smith died in a hotel room in Florida shortly after the birth of her daughter Dannielynn and the death of her adult son Daniel also from a drug overdose. She was 39.

See this previous post for information on the charges originally filed against Stern and two doctors who treated Anna Nicole -- Khristine Eroshevich, 61, and Sandeep Kapoor, 40.

As reported by the L.A. Times, after a 13 days of preliminary hearings, the judge in the case ruled that all three defendants will stand trial. It should be noted that the level of proof prosecutors must to show in order to proceed to trial is far lower than what they will need to prove to secure convictions.

Bystander Education: Schools Target Inaction

The gang rape and beating of a 15-year-old girl after a Richmond High School homecoming dance has caused a lot of pain not only for the victim but for the entire community.

The case sparked nationwide media attention and public outrage after learning that as many as 20 people witnessed the rape or knew about the incident and did not report it.

No one called police until a woman who was several blocks away heard people who heard people discussing what was occurring and notified the police.

Now, students and teachers will have to find a way to come together and heal.

Some educators say, bringing bystander-awareness programs to schools is a good start.