FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

June 2010 Archives

2 Tampa Officers Shot During Traffic Stop

What should have been a routine traffic stop for not having a visible license plate escalated into the shooting deaths of two Tampa Police officers. Authorities are now in search of 24-year-old Dontae Rashawn Morris who is believed to be the gunman, reports.

Morris is the second person of interest in the case, as police believe that Cortnee Brantley was the driver of the vehicle. Officials say that, at the time of the incident, Morris was the passenger who shot the officers. Authorities are offering a $30,000 reward offered for his capture.

Teacher Stephanie Ragusa Sentenced to 10 years

A judge sentence Stephanie Ragusa to 10 years in prison and said she broke student-teacher trust by preying on young boys. Stephanie Ragusa, a 31-year-old teacher was convicted of having sex with two of her students and labeled as a sexual predator, ABC News reports.

The two boys, ages 14 and 16, were students she met while teaching middle school. The mother of the 14-year-old boy said she felt like Ragusa targeted her victims. Ragusa pleaded guilty to three counts of lewd and lascivious battery, and two counts of having unlawful sex with a minor.

Charges in Pregnancy Scam, Baby Stealing Case

After 9 months of stuffing a pillow inside her clothes, forging birth certificates and attending baby showers it was time for Stephanie Foster to produce a baby.

But Stephanie Foster's elaborate fake pregnancy scam, including plans to steal a newborn to pass off as her own, didn't quite work out the way she imagined, the reports.

Baltimore Rape Cases Draw Concern

The Baltimore Police Department has a lot of sorting out to do as the city's rape statistics and investigations have drawn concern.

Baltimore has the largest percentage of rape cases that police conclude are false or baseless of any city in the country, the Baltimore Sun reports. In addition, the increase in unfounded cases comes as the number of rapes reported by Baltimore police has plunged -- from 684 in 1995 to 158 last year, a decline of nearly 80 percent.

Police Prepare for Mehserle Jury Verdict Fallout

As the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the BART police officer charged with the shooting death of Oscar Grant last New Year's Day, begins to draw to a close, law enforcement, community activists and city officials in Oakland and San Francisco are bracing for the possible reaction to the jury verdict. Although the shooting occurred in the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, Ca, the trial is taking place in Los Angeles. Authorities expect the biggest reaction to a not guilty verdict to come in the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Mehserle testified in his own defense that Oscar Grant was shot after he mistakenly pulled his gun rather than his Taser while trying to arrest Grant. Grant was shot in the back and later died of his injuries. Despite the fact that the defendant is white and the victim was black, there are no African-Americans on the jury.

73% Support Legalized Medical Marijuana

As has been covered extensively on this blog, many states have moved to legalized medical marijuana. Recently, the city of Los Angeles has made moves to control and limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up. While national acceptance of medical marijuana has consistently grown, and now enjoys the support of 73% of Americans, the opinion regarding the full legalization of the drug still has the country divided.

On June 25, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press announced numbers from a new survey regarding the legalization of pot. The numbers are not too far apart, with 41 percent supporting overall legalization, and 52 percent saying it should remain an illegal substance. The trend however, is moving toward legalization, as evidenced by the change in opinion during the last several decades. Pew notes that in 1987, only 16 percent of those polled supported the legalization of marijuana, but by the year 2000, that number had climbed to 31 percent.

Murder Charges in Car Crash that Killed Nun

Sister Mary Celine Graham now answers to a higher law after she was struck and killed recently by a speeding getaway car, but the two robbery suspects responsible for her death are facing criminal charges.

William Robbins, 18, and Dyson Williams, 20, face second-degree murder and robbery charges, the CBS News reports.

LA Marijuana Dispensaries See 2 Killings on Same Day

Police are investigating two killings at pot shops in the Los Angeles area.

Police say they do not know whether the fatal shooting at the two medical marijuana dispensaries are connected, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Apparently, during a robbery attempt a medical marijuana dispensary one employee was killed. Police say the owner of another medical marijuana dispensary found the body of an employee. The motive of the second killing is unclear, officials said.

Murder Convictions Upheld in Head-On Collision Case

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal said there was substantial evidence for a finding of implied malice when Nicola Bucci sped up a hill on the wrong side of the road in a no-passing zone to get around a semi-tractor trailer, slamming into an oncoming car and killing two children in a 2006 crash.

The appeals court supported the the jury's conclusion that Nicola Bucci knew he was endangering lives and upheld second-degree murder convictions and a sentence of 23 years to life, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Kwame Kilpatrick Indicted on Federal Charges

Legal troubles continue to mount for ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is already in state prison for a probation violation stemming from an obstruction of justice charge related to lying under oath about an affair with his chief of staff. Kilpatrick has now been indicted on federal fraud charges.

Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was indicted on 19 counts of federal fraud and tax charges and could be sentenced to 20 more years in prison, the Associated Press reports.

Mom Charged With Felony in Wandering Child Case

Ana Laura Rendon's 2-year-old daughter was found barefoot and crying more than a mile away from home. She now faces a felony charge in the wandering child case.

Now Ana Laura Rendon, 23, of Petaluma California faces a felony child endangerment charge, the Press Democrat reports.

Prosecutors upgraded the original charge from a misdemeanor to a felony. The 23-year-old mom pleaded not guilty to a child endangerment charge through an interpreter.

Suspect in SunTrust Bank Robberies Caught

The SunTrust Bank robbery streak came to an end as police arrested a person who is suspected be involved in six bank robberies during the past 8 months.

James Milton Earquhart, 50, has been charged with six counts of robbery after allegedly managing to take more than $180,000 from SunTrust and Wachovia banks. In addition, he was charged with attempted murder and assault with the intent to kill, reports.

Blagojevich Corruption Trial Turns to Wiretaps

The corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich turned its focus to federal wiretaps as his former chief of staff John Harris took the stand.

The jury listened to secretly recorded conversations between John Harris and Rod Blagojevich about the possibility of the former governor getting something in exchange for appointing a friend of the president to his old Senate seat, the Associated Press reports. Blagojevich was hoping to appoint Obama's successor in order to land himself a high-profile post in Washington or overseas.

The jury listened to wiretaps of rambling conversations from the fall of 2008.

10 Charged in Lakers Victory Riot Violence

The Lakers NBA Championship win over the Boston Celtics not only brought out adoring fans but vandals too, as many were charged in LA riot violence.

Charges were filed by the Los Angeles city attorney's office against 10 people for their role in the violence and vandalism after the Lakers team victory, the Associated Press reports.

Guilty Plea in Times Square Bomber Case

Although Pakistan-born U.S. citizen Faisal Shahzad entered a guilty plea to an attempted Times Square bombing he was unapologetic for his actions.

Calling himself a "Muslim soldier," car bomber suspect Faisal Shahzad entered a guilty plea to 10 terrorism and weapons counts, some of which carry mandatory life sentences, the New York Times reports.

In court the 30-year-old Times Square car bomber suspect described himself as, "part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people," and admitted receiving training to build a bomb to wage an attack on the U.S.

OnStar Technology Leads to Accused Murderer's Arrest

Thanks to GPS communications systems and Onstar technology police have arrested Bryan Ashline, a young father, in connection to a double homicide in the Village of Bath New York.

Bryan Ashline, 23, was arrested on Father's Day and is a suspect in the slaying of a 25-year-old woman and their 3-month-old son, the Daily Star reports.

Police converged on the rest area of Interstate 88 shortly after an OnStar technology signal from a 2010 Chevrolet Impala driven by the murder suspect was detected, Sgt. Gary Leahy of Troop C said.

Desiree Fontaine Arrested on Shoplifting Charges

It looks like a case of sticky fingers for Connecticut television traffic reporter Desiree Fontaine who was arrested on shoplifting charges.

Desiree Fontaine, a 33-year-old traffic reporter is accused of shoplifting more than $100 worth of merchandise from a department store, The Hartford Courant reports.

Alleged Car Bomber Faisal Shahzad Indicted

Times Square car bomber suspect Faisal Shahzad was charged with multiple counts of terrorism and weapons charges.

In an indictment handed down by a grand jury, Faisal Shahzad was accused of receiving explosives training and financial help from the Pakistani Taliban, the Associated Press reports.

Authorities: Texting While Driving Ban Tough to Enforce

Authorities say the new texting while driving ban in Georgia will be difficult to enforce.

It will be up to police officers to observe violations by drivers and then explain exactly to the judge what they saw, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

The new law goes into effect on July 1, making it illegal to read, type, or send a text message while driving.

CA First Time DUI Offenders Get Interlock Devices

California is set to begin a pilot program which requires drivers with DUI convictions, even first time offenders, to use new interlock devices.

The experimental program will begin on July 1 and convicted drunken drivers will have to test their breath for alcohol with an interlock device before they can start their vehicles, the Contra Costa Times reports.

Georgia Guns Linked to Crime Scenes in Other States

A new report issued by an anti-gun group shows that guns from Georgia are linked to crime scenes in other states.

The report released by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence uses information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the ATF), which shows that guns sold in Georgia were recovered at more crime scenes outside its borders than any other state, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

As previously discussed, Georgia has been looking at overhauling its gun laws.

Boston Sees its Biggest Pot Bust in City History

Edgar Gonzalez may go down in history, as his arrest led to what prosecutors are calling the biggest pot bust in Boston's city history.

The arrest of Edgar Gonzalez led Boston police to the single largest seizure of marijuana with nearly a ton of pot found in his apartment, CNN reports.

Authorities said the 40 bales of marijuana wrapped in plastic stacked to the ceiling in his apartment are a "high quality" product with a street value of about $4 million.

Ronnie Gardner to Be Executed by the Firing Squad

Editor's Note: Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by a Utah firing squad just after midnight on Friday, June 18.

Like sands through the hourglass, the remaining moments of Ronnie Lee Gardner's life slowly drip away. Shortly after midnight tonight, Gardner will be blindfolded, strapped to a chair and will have a target placed on his chest. Five marksmen will fire from a distance of 25 feet, with one having an "ineffective round." 

Just hours from his imminent execution, Gardner and his attorneys have requested that Utah Governor Gary Herbert issue a temporary stay of execution. The three page request is currently under review. Gardner has also filed a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and has a petition before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.  

Gardner ate his last meal on Tuesday night -- steak, lobster, 7-Up, apple pie and vanilla ice cream. He will be shot as punishment for the 1985 fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during a botched escape attempt. He was also convicted in the 1984 killing of Melvyn Otterstrom. The firing squad execution might sound like a made for TV movie, but it is quite real. 

State Regulators Reject CA Lethal Injection Guidelines

State regulators have rejected a proposal by the California Department of Corrections to revise lethal injection guideline procedures, now adding further delay in resuming executions, which have been on hold since 2006.

The Office of Administrative Law outlined several reasons for its decision not to accept the state's recommended lethal injection guidelines and has given corrections officials until October 6 to resubmit their proposal, the Fresno Bee reports.

As previously discussed, the revised execution guidelines were aimed at making changes in the death chamber procedures and address concerns over whether the three drug protocol constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Lawmakers Ponder Rule Changes Post Rod Blagojevich

After ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama's seat, it has led some states to change the ways U.S. Senate vacancies are filled.

So far, lawmakers in at least 15 states are advocating to strip governors of their power to replace senators when an incumbent dies or leaves office midterm, turning over that power to the voters, the Associated Press reports.

Currently, under the U.S. Constitution, House vacancies are required to be filled by elections, but states are allowed to choose how to fill Senate vacancies.

NY Senate Rejects Microstamping Handgun Measure

The New York Senate rejected a measure for microstamping handguns.

The bill requiring microstamping technology on semiautomatic pistols was supported by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg along with police officers and other local leaders from around the state, the Albany Times reports.

CA Bill Gives Youthful Offenders a Second Chance

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to abolish the sentence of life without parole for youthful offenders in nonhomicide cases has prompted California lawmakers to look at more reforms needed in juvenile sentencing.

The state has about 250 lifers who as teenagers participated in crimes involving homicides. SB 399 is new legislation that could give them a second chance, the Associated Press reports.

Ohio Addresses Budget and Prison Population Problems

Ohio is thinking through ways to address its corrections budget and prison population problems.

A new study released by a Washington, D.C. think tank also may provide some insight on how to help states save $15 billion if they were to place half of their non-violent criminals probation or parole instead of in prisons and jails, the Dayton Daily News reports.

The Center for Economic Policy Research released its study as Ohio is trying to reduce a $1.78 billion corrections budget and cut the prison population. Currently, the prison population is at 51,000 and is designed for 38,665 inmates.

U.S. Cracks Down on Southwest Border Drug Trafficking

In an effort to fight the Mexican drug trafficking operations on the country's Southwest border, the Obama Administration has delivered a blow to transportation networks controlled by major Mexican drug cartels moving drugs, guns and money. The operation was a huge dragnet which netted tons of drugs and hundreds of suspects, and was a part of two-year, multi-agency effort to crack down on drug trafficking.

The operation, dubbed "Project Deliverance," involved law enforcement raids across 16 states and a massive takedown, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Supreme Court to Review California Prison Plan

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger regarding the state's court ordered prison plan to reduce the inmate population by 2011.

The justices agreed to hear the state's appeal of the federal court order to cut its prison population by 46,000 in order to relieve its problems with prison overcrowding, the Associated Press reports. The court will review the case and decide whether the state must trim its prison population. The cuts would reduce more than one-fourth of California's prison population.

Lawmakers Consider Microstamping to Solve Violent Crimes

New York lawmakers are considering a new measure that would require microstamping technology on semiautomatic pistols as an effort to help police officers solve violent crimes.

Supporters say micorstamping technology is smart legislation and allows local officials to look to the potential of shell casings for answers in crime investigations, the New York Times reports.

Microstamping technology imprints tiny markers on shell casings - markers that identify the weapon's make, model and serial number. That information could potentially help police connect crime scenes to guns and ultimately, to the criminals.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Ease Security Measures

Is ICE cooling off?

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are offering art classes, bingo and continental breakfast on the weekends at several privately owned detention centers and many immigrant advocates are pleased, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The changes are a part of the Obama Administration's promise to overhaul the nation's immigration detention system and include relaxing some security measures for low-risk detainees. The goal is to make detention system less penal and more humane, officials said.

Drunk Driving Cases Challenged by Flawed Breath Tests

Have you ever worried about taking alcohol breath tests?

Well, it looks like the 400 people rounded up by the Washington D.C. police had a good reason to. Many of them, including half that went to city jails, were convicted of driving while intoxicated based on inaccurate results collected in the fall of 2008 from breath test machines, the Washington Post reports.

Utah Readies the Firing Squad for Ronnie Gardner

On June 18, convicted first-degree murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner will be strapped to a chair and shot four times. A fifth shooter will fire a blank. In this modern age, why would the state of Utah execute a person in such a manner?

Because Gardner asked for it. "I would like the firing squad, please," Gardner stated in April.

The case has brought forward profound opinions from many angles about the firing squad method, and capital punishment in general. Perhaps that is exactly what Ronnie Gardner wants.

CO Gov Bill Ritter Signs Regs for Medical Marijuana Use

Medical marijuana is legal in Colorado. Now what?

That's the question Gov. Bill Ritter is looking to answer by signing new statewide regulations for medical marijuana use, the Associated Press reports.

The bills take effect immediately and Colorado's medical marijuana industry will be required to follow the regulations.

Police: Follow Marijuana Dispensary Laws or Face Closure

LA pot shops are being told they must follow the city's new marijuana dispensary laws or face closure.

The City of Los Angeles is keeping its word to go after hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries it calls illegal and police will begin cracking down on clinics that are not in compliance with the marijuana dispensary laws, Associated Press reports.

City officials have begun take tally of those medical marijuana dispensaries refusing to close in defiance of a new ordinance because the deadline has arrived for illegal medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down or possible civil fines or criminal charges.

Joran van der Sloot Charged with Murder and Extortion

Joran Van der Sloot, previously a murder suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway and suspect in last Wednesday's murder of Stephany Flores Ramirez in Peru, was arrested Thursday in Chile. Van der Sloot, of Dutch nationality, is suspected of killing 21-year old Ramirez in Lima, Peru.

Ramirez was found dead in Van der Sloot's hotel room in Lima, the same day he entered Chile. Ramirez's body was found in Room 309 of the Hotel Tac according to police. She had been violently hit in the head, and her neck, torso and back, according to Peruvian police. Interpol has stated that Van der Sloot will now be extradited to Chile to face the accusations.

CA State Senate Approves Cost Savings Medical Parole Bill

The California State Senate recently approved a cost savings bill to save millions of dollars and release the state's sickest inmates on medical parole.

California's latest cost savings strategy is aimed at helping to close yet another budget deficit by fiscal year's end, the Associated Press reports. The state is facing a $19 billion budget deficit.

Under the measure, the parole board also be allowed to send severely disabled inmates to outside facilities without posting guards around the clock.

CA State Assembly Pass New Sex Offender Law

As we have discussed, Chelsea's Law would lock up some child molesters for life, without the possibility of parole. The new sex offender law recently cleared the California State Assembly.

The Assembly passed bill AB 1844, known Chelsea's Law, on a 65-0 vote, the Associated Press reports. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego) and would put some child molesters in prison for life after a first offense.

It now goes to the state Senate.

Corruption Trial Underway for Former IL Gov. Rod Blagojevich

The corruption trial of former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich is underway in a federal courtroom in Chicago, Illinois.

The trial marks the beginning of what is expected to be an 18-month ordeal for Rod Blagojevich. Two senior members of President Barack Obama's administration have also been subpoenaed as witnesses in the trial, CNN reports.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett have been subpoenaed, officials said.

CA Assembly Passes Bill to Ban Open Display of Guns

The California Assembly voted recently to ban the practice of open display of guns.

This means open display of a weapon by gun carriers in public places would be banned.

Assembly Bill 1934 would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in jail, to carry an exposed handgun in a public place, the Los Angeles Times reports.

New Ohio Bill Would Pay the Wrongly Convicted Faster

Ray Towler, a wrongly convicted Cleveland man recently released from prison, has enjoyed some of the perks of his new found freedom but has not experienced any financial relief. He has he not yet received any of the $1.4 million owed to him.

But lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require the state to pay wrongly imprisoned people, including Ray Towler, 50 percent of their mandated compensation within 60 days of their release from prison, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

NYPD Sued over Stop and Frisk Computer Database

The New York Police Department is facing a lawsuit over its internal computer database of names collected from a stop and frisk program.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit arguing that the computer database is an unconstitutional cyber-warehouse of millions of names (and addresses) of New Yorkers, most of them minorities who were stopped and frisked but cleared of criminal charges, the New York Times reports.

Manhattan D.A.'s Office Forms Crime Strategies Unit

The Manhattan District Attorney's office has created a new Crime Strategies Unit that will rely on a new computer database to spot crime trends.

The new computerized crime-tracking system is designed to help prosecutors unearth crimes, spot broader crime trends and make better decisions when handling defendants, the New York Times reports.