FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

January 2012 Archives

It wasn't a leap of faith that killed the neighbor's cat -- it was a Texas pastor who threw the cat off a bridge, police say.

Pastor Rick Bartlett, 55, of Bastrop, Texas, faces animal-cruelty charges in connection with the alleged crime that also destroyed a young girl's faith, Austin's KVUE-TV reports. "She knows the man who did this is a pastor ... and she said, 'I don't believe in heaven anymore,'" the girl's mother said.

The 5-year-old girl was distraught over her 12-year-old cat Moody, whose corpse was found on the banks of the Colorado River. So how did she know the pastor killed her cat?

Pardoned Murderer Joseph Ozment Found in WY

Officials have located Joseph Ozment, a convicted killer pardoned by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour earlier this month. Law enforcement had been looking for Ozment since Attorney General Jim Hood decided to challenge Barbour's pardons in court.

He was supposed to appear at a hearing last week, but failed to show. Instead, he remained hidden in Wyoming where he and his girlfriend used different names.

Lest there be any question, the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause still applies to medical marijuana. A federal judge has ruled that federal laws trump Montana's state laws about medical pot, and patient advocates aren't pleased.

"It's disappointing to see how the states have essentially paved a path for citizens to engage in what they believe is lawful activity, only to set them up for federal intrusion like this," a lawyer for the Montana medical-marijuana patients told the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy dismissed the pot patients' lawsuit claiming Constitutional violations in raids by federal agents last year, the AP reports. Malloy also rejected their argument that a Justice Department memo promised the feds would not press charges.

Will Sex Abuse Laws Change After Penn State?

State lawmakers are heading back to work this month, and many of them are considering ways to prevent another Penn State.

Mandatory reporting laws are the issue du jour this session, and at least 12 states have already drafted legislation. If passed, those bills would extend coverage to athletic coaches, licensing boards, camp counselors and employers.

In some jurisdictions, everyone will become a mandatory reporter.

A convicted New York City con artist's "Return-A-Pet" scam has come back to bite him.

Eric Stein, 53, of Manhattan, faces charges of mail and wire fraud in connection with the scam that made him at least $500,000 richer, the New York Daily News reports.

Stein allegedly sold investors on his "Return-A-Pet" business, which Stein -- using a fake name -- said would reunite heartbroken pet owners with their lost animal companions.

It may have sounded like a moneymaker -- but the doggone business wasn't real.

Is Greg Kelly of 'Good Day New York' a Rapist?

Fans of talk show Good Day New York might have been surprised this morning to learn that a woman has accused co-host Greg Kelly of rape. The victim walked into the city's 13th precinct late Tuesday night to report the incident, which she says happened in a lower-Manhattan law office where she works.

The woman claims to have had drinks with the 43-year-old Kelly -- son of NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly -- after meeting him on the street. The pair then proceeded to the law office, where the alleged rape occurred.

The entire incident is said to have happened on October 8. Will this delay affect the district attorney's decision to prosecute the Greg Kelly rape case?

SF Sheriff, Prosecutor Arrested for Domestic Violence

Things are amiss with San Francisco's law enforcement leaders -- they keep getting busted for domestic violence. In fact, police have arrested both the new SF sheriff and an SF prosecutor in just the last month.

The latest of these arrests occurred over the weekend and involved Assistant District Attorney Sanaz Nikaein and her husband. The divorcing couple is apparently living as roommates and got into a fight.

The fight ended when each made a citizen's arrest against the other, according to Nikaein's attorney, Tony Brass.

The City of Chicago must pay $25 million to a man in what lawyers say is the largest-ever U.S. jury award in a wrongful-conviction case. But Thaddeus "T.J." Jimenez may soon be back in prison for a separate offense.

"Sometimes the criminal justice system makes a mistake," Jimenez's lawyer said after the record jury award, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "In this case, we proved that's exactly what happened."

Jurors on Tuesday awarded $25 million to Jimenez, who was just 13 when he was arrested for a gang-related killing in 1993. Jimenez was convicted and spent 16 years in prison before the case against him fell apart.

My Paxil Made me Rob a Bank

Georgia defendant Feliz Vega Jr. is using a unique defense during his trial. He claims his criminal actions resulted from his anti-depressant medication, Paxil. So the bank robbery that he allegedly committed? He couldn't have formed the requisite criminal intent.

Vega's attorney Peter Johnson plans to call expert witnesses to bolster his legal argument.

Johnson will essentially argue that his client was mentally incompetent at the time.

Cops Go High-Tech to Stop Poaching

Fish poaching is serious -- and illegal -- business. Police in Maryland are now armed with new poaching laws and high-tech equipment to battle the problem.

This is good news for fisherman. Last year the state had to shut down the fishing season early. Poachers had taken 13 tons of striped bass.

Fishermen who were legitimately trying to make a living were out of luck. Biologists were called in to analyze the potential damage to the area.

Cops Need Warrant to Track You Via GPS

Is warrantless GPS tracking legal?

We asked this question back in November, and on Monday, we were given an official answer. Sort of.

The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that secretly placing a GPS tracking device on a suspect's vehicle is a "search" under the 4th Amendment. And if police want to carry on this type of search for an extended period of time, it's advisable they get a warrant.

A New Jersey babysitter sexually assaulted a 5-year-old girl in her care and streamed videos of the abuse online, prosecutors allege.

Jennifer Mahoney, 32, faces three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in connection with her alleged sex-assault videos, the Associated Press reports. The charges are "shocking in their depravity," a federal prosecutor told the AP.

Mahoney and the 5-year-old girl allegedly appeared in three pornographic videos, sent by video chat and by cell phone. Court documents reveal the extent of the alleged abuse:

CA Boy, 10, Charged with Murder of His Friend, 12

A 10-year-old has been charged with murder and felony assault. The San Diego child is accused of killing 12-year-old Ryan Carter Monday afternoon.

Carter died about an hour after the fatal stabbing. His family was told that the 12-year-old boy was trying to break up a fight, according to NBC San Diego.

The victim and the defendant were supposedly close friends. A neighbor said he didn't think the killing was intentional.

Tuesday was just terrible for Professor Gamal El-Zoghby. First his house caught fire -- and then firefighters found his alleged stash of child pornography hidden in the ceiling.

Firefighters discovered the child porn while battling a fire that engulfed El-Zoghby's home in Eagleswood Twp., N.J., the Press of Atlantic City reports. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

As crews worked to keep flames from spreading, they made a startling discovery: Pictures of child pornography began to fall from the ceiling.

7 Teens Arrested in Viral Chicago Beating

Seven teens were arrested Wednesday for their part in the Chicago beating that went viral. The YouTube beating suspects include a 15-year-old girl, two 16-year-old boys, and three 15-year-old boys. Raymond Palomino, 17, was charged as an adult.

The rest were charged as juveniles. They all face counts of robbery and aggravated battery.

The brutal beating was filmed and uploaded onto YouTube. The video is more than three minutes long. The teens are shown punching and kicking the 17-year-old victim.

Most of the perpetrators wore hoods and masks, making it harder for police to identify the suspects.

California businessman Young Lee made a name for himself serving frozen yogurt. Now the co-founder of Pinkberry may have to serve prison time, after he was arrested for a brutal attack on a homeless man.

Police and FBI agents arrested Lee, 47, at Los Angeles International Airport after he returned from a trip to his native South Korea, Los Angeles' KNBC-TV reports. Lee is being held in lieu of $60,000 bail.

A warrant had been issued for Lee's arrest on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. The alleged attack took place in June, and involved a defenseless homeless panhandler.

Why Do People with Plenty of Money Shoplift?

Maybe they do it for the thrill. Maybe they do it because they have a compulsion. Many might wonder why rich people shoplift. It's not like they don't have the money to pay for the goods they pilfer. And for whatever reason, some seem unafraid of breaking shoplifting laws.

Take a look at some recent shoplifters. British celebrity chef Worrall Thompson was recently caught leaving a Tesco with onions, a sandwich, cheese and wine.

California Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi was nabbed leaving a Neiman Marcus store with $2,500 of clothing in tow. Hayashi's attorney later said her judgment was impaired because of a brain tumor.

VA Boy, 5, Stabs 3 People Over Juice Box

Some 5-year-olds throw tantrums. Some throw toys. And some just stab bystanders when deprived of their juice box.

You read that right -- a juice box stabbing. Police in Ruckersville, Va. took a 5-year-old boy into custody on Monday afternoon after he stabbed two children and an adult with an "edged weapon."

Neighbors claim the stabbing occurred during an altercation over a juice box.

US Murder Rate Drops to 50-Year Low

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's annual list of the Top 15 causes of death in the United States has a surprise this year:

For the first time since 1965, it doesn't include murder.

Though some might be inclined to blame pneumonitis for the lack of inclusion, the fact is that the U.S. murder rate is at its lowest since 1962. Crime statistics covering the year 2010 show that there were only 5.3 homicides per 100,000 persons.

10 Amish Men Jailed Over Buggy Fines by KY Judge

A legal skirmish over Amish buggies has resulted in jail time. A group of around 10 Amish men were sentenced this week after they refused to pay fines. They had decided not to place orange reflective triangles on their Amish buggies.

The Kentucky men are a part of a conservative group known as the Swartzentruber. Members group live modestly. They don't have electricity or plumbing.

The orange reflective triangles were simply too flashy. The religious men said placing the triangles on their buggies would violate their beliefs, according to the AP.

Woman Jailed for 10 Days for Her Messy Yard

Being sloppy can net you prison time. South Carolina woman Linda Ruggles learned this lesson the hard way. She was recently jailed over her messy yard.

Ruggles, 53, was cited for a "clean lot violation" by her town. The penalty was $480.

Ruggles was unable to pay the fine. Her photography business faltered in 2008 due to the economy. She soon fell behind on her bills, including her mortgage and taxes. She also faced foreclosure.

Vegas Priest Stole $650K to Feed Gambling Habit

A federal judge sentenced Las Vegas priest Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe, 59, to three years in prison earlier today.

The Roman Catholic priest pleaded guilty in October to embezzling $650,000 from the gift shop, candle collection, mission and prayer funds at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Summerlin.

He allegedly used the funds to support his gambling habit.

The only suspect in the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway, Joran van der Sloot, was sentenced Friday to 28 years in prison for murder in Peru. But what about efforts to extradite him to the United States?

A judge in Peru today sentenced Van der Sloot for killing a Peruvian woman in 2010, Reuters reports. The murder of Stephany Flores took place five years to the day after Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba.

Aside from his murder trial in Peru, Joran van der Sloot faces federal extortion charges in the United States. But it's not clear when van der Sloot will face justice in a U.S. courtroom, if ever.

Woman Sends Nude Photos to Ex-Lover's Wife, Neighbors

Is sending nude photos a crime? Apparently it's not in Texas under certain circumstances. A jilted lover sent nude photos of her ex to his wife and neighbors. It may have been her own special sort of revenge.

The photos were of the married man smiling while exposing himself to the camera. The letters were addressed to a "Ms." with a return address in Pasadena, Texas.

The photos contained a vulgar writing on the back. It was a "sexually suggestive caption," according to KPRC-TV.

Rutgers Prof. Arrested for Child Porn Videos

Gavin Swiatek, a biochemistry instructor at Rutgers University, has apparently been using his office hours to download hundreds of videos depicting child pornography.

Police carried out the Rutgers child porn raid on Tuesday, arresting Swiatek at his Hillsborough, N.J. home. They also seized his personal and university-issued computers.

Those computers were Swiatek's downfall -- police were able to track him down through the peer-to-peer file sharing network he used to download and trade the illegal content.

Marine Urination Video Proof of a War Crime?

The Marine urination video may be evidence of a crime, according to a senior military official. The 39-second video depicts four men in Marine combat gear. They are shown apparently urinating on three dead bodies on the ground.

The uniformed Marines joked with each other in the video. "You got it on the video?" one asked another. The response: "Yeah." Another man chimed in with "Golden, like a shower."

It's unclear where the video was shot or who posted the clip. But officials say that it was likely filmed in Afghanistan.

A New York City taxi driver arrested for raping a woman in his cab fell for a DNA trick often seen on TV crime shows, police sources say. The alleged taxi driver rapist is also under investigation for a second assault, the New York Daily News reports.

Police posed as taxi inspectors and asked to meet with cabbie Gurmeet Singh, 40, about a work-related issue, sources tell the Daily News. The cops were really investigating an alleged taxicab rape in September, when a witness jotted down a partial medallion number that led police to Singh.

The officers offered Singh a glass of water at the meeting, and Singh drank from it. As is often seen on TV, the undercover cops "kept the cup and got his DNA" from saliva residue, a source tells the Daily News.

Miss. Pardons Blocked by Judge After 5 Murderers Freed

A Mississippi judge issued a temporary injunction that forbids the release of 21 pardoned prisoners. This after outgoing Mississippi governor Haley Barbour pardoned some 200 inmates this week, including murderers and rapists.

During his last minutes in office, Gov. Barbour pardoned about 200 state inmates -- a number that far surpasses any governor in recent history. The list includes 14 convicted murderers; 2 dozen statutory rapists; and persons convicted of drug crimes, driving under the influence, burglary and armed robbery.

Several convicted murderers have already been released, CNN reports.

Mississippi's legal showdown moved swiftly into the night. Circuit Judge Tomie Green issued an injunction late Wednesday at the request of Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

An Illinois man linked to an elaborate LinkedIn fraud is facing an enforcement action by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC accuses investment advisor Anthony Fields of Lyons, Ill., of trying to hawk more than $500 billion in securities by using LinkedIn and other social media sites, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The securities were bogus, and Fields didn't even have proper credentials to sell them, the SEC alleges.

Though Fields was apparently acting alone, the practice of using social media like LinkedIn for fraud is on the rise.

1/3 of Child Sex Abusers Are Other Children

Child sex abuse has always existed, but in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it has renewed its status as a major issue of public concern. Parents have begun to fear teachers, coaches and babysitters. Legislators have responded with promises of tougher sentences and police vigilance.

But did you know that 35.6% of sex offenses committed against minors are also committed by minors? Approximately 1/3 of known cases of child sex abuse involve child-on-child sex abuse.

IL Man Gouges Uncle's Eyes in Fight Over Remote Control

Illinois man Exulam Holman gouged out his uncle's eyes during a fight over a TV remote, according to authorities.

The grisly crime occurred on New Year's Eve. Police responded after they received a 911 call from the injured uncle, who managed to call authorities after the attack.

Officials found the victim in the basement area after they heard moaning. His eyeballs were pulled out of his sockets and his face was covered with blood.

A Connecticut paramedic accused of raping an unconscious woman in an ambulance is due back in court next week. Mark Powell, 49, of North Haven, Conn., turned himself in Jan. 5 in connection with the alleged ambulance rape early Christmas Day, the Associated Press reports.

Powell was alone in the back of an ambulance with the 22-year-old woman, who had suffered a concussion at a holiday party about 3 a.m., police told the AP.

The woman woke up to find Powell raping her as the ambulance raced toward a hospital, police said.

Dad Jailed Over Teens Drinking at His House

Are you sure your minor kids are holding a tame, alcohol-free party? You might want to double check. Just ask Bill Burnett. The Stanford professor was arrested on 44 counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors over a party thrown by his teen son.

Burnett and his wife hosted the party for their son and his friends after Thanksgiving. The parents bought chips and soda. They said they made it clear that no alcohol was permitted.

Later that night, the Burnetts were surprised by a visit from police. Officials had received a report that children were drinking in the Burnetts' house. A search found that the 16- and 17-year-old party-goers had snuck in some alcohol.

Burnett was arrested.

Police in New Jersey arrested a 14-year-old girl in connection with posting a Facebook threat about plotting an attack at her high school.

The girl allegedly posted a message on her Facebook wall that asked for help in attacking Ramapo High School in Bergen County, N.J., New York's WNBC-TV reports.

Someone saw the girl's post and told a teacher, who then contacted authorities. Police arrested the girl, whose identity was not disclosed, at her home in nearby Wyckoff.

The girl's Facebook threat read, "I'm going to launch a terrorist attack on Ramapo High School. Hit me up if you want to join me," Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox told WNBC. "That comment is a terroristic threat comment," Fox said.

For the first time ever, the FBI's definition of rape now includes male rape. The change could affect the prosecution of sexual assaults nationwide.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the expanded FBI rape definition Friday, The Washington Post reports. It's expected to cause a rise in reported rapes across the country.

While most state laws already define rape in broad terms, the FBI's rape definition hadn't been changed since 1929, the Post reports. The FBI's old definition of rape was "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will."

Van der Sloot to Confess to Murder in Peru?

Joran Van der Sloot confessed! No -- not to the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway. He has publicly admitted to the 2010 strangulation of Stephany Flores in Lima, Peru.

When questioned by a Peruvian judge on Friday, Van der Sloot said he'd like to offer a "sincere confession" but needed more time to think.

He long ago admitted that he became enraged when he found Flores looking at his laptop, which contained information about the Holloway case.

Pellet Gun Gets TX Boy, 15, Shot Dead by Cops

Questions of excessive force are being raised in the police-related death of 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez, Jr. Police were called to Cummings Middle School in Brownsville, Tex. on Wednesday after the 8th-grader displayed a gun.

Officers found the teen pointing what appeared to be a semiautomatic weapon. When he did not comply with multiple requests to drop the gun, they shot.

It was only later they determined that Gonzalez was armed only with a pellet gun.

More 'Toxic Tush' Butt Injection Victims Surface

South Florida's "Toxic Tush" case might have more victims than previously thought. Oneal Ron Morris, known as "The Duchess," performed unsafe butt injections on victims seeking cosmetic enhancements. Many of her clients were from South Florida's transgendered community.

But now, victims as far away as Indiana have come forward. In total, there may be as many as 30 victims.

The case made national headlines when two women nearly died after the dangerous injections. It turns out "The Duchess" was actually using toxic substances including "Fix-a-Flat."

Can I Shoot a Burglar in Self Defense?

A widowed teen mom in Blanchard, Okla. made a tough decision on New Year's Eve when she shot and killed a man trying to break into her home.

Sarah McKinley, 18, was home alone with her 3-month-old son on the afternoon of December 31 when she saw two men trying to force their way in. She grabbed her shotgun and called 911 for help.

And then she asked the emergency operator if she could shoot the intruders.

A New York man accused of lobbing Frappuccino firebombs at Muslim and Hindu religious sites faces arson and hate-crime charges.

Police arrested Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, of Jamaica, Queens, in connection with a series of attacks on Sunday, the website Gothamist reports. The firebombings targeted five buildings, including a mosque and a home used for Hindu religious services.

Lengend confessed to the attacks and made "broadly anti-Muslim statements" during questioning, a police spokesman tells Reuters.

Lengend used Starbucks Frappuccino bottles to make Molotov cocktails in at least four of the five firebomb attacks, police said. No one was hurt, but one home was severely damaged.

Squirrel Monkey 'Banana-Sam' Stolen from SF Zoo

A squirrel monkey from the San Francisco Zoo named "Banana-Sam" was stolen last week. The squirrel monkey theft even encouraged zoo officials to ramp up security during the holiday weekend.

The break-in occurred either late Thursday or early Friday. The vandals cut netting around the squirrel monkey pen. Two security guards were on patrol in the 100-acre zoo at the time.

Turn Over Your Pot or Go to Jail, Cop Tells Teens

Can the police decide not to arrest someone who has committed a crime?

Yes, and approximately 250 California teens are probably very happy that such police discretion exists. The group of high school students was pulled over while recently en route to Utah for a ski weekend. A convenience store clerk had spotted them smoking pot.

Though Elko Police Chief Don Sumwalt found pipes, bongs and several pounds of marijuana on the 5 buses, he offered them a choice:

Give up the pot or go to jail.

'Traffic Amnesty:' 1/2 Off Some CA Traffic Tickets

Got overdue traffic tickets? If you live in California you may be able to take advantage of the state's one-time traffic amnesty program.

Stuck in a never-ending budget crisis, the state has launched the program in an attempt to raise revenue. Between January 1, 2012 and June 30, 2012, you can get rid of some overdue traffic tickets for half-off.

The discount does not apply to parking tickets and citations given for driving under the influence or reckless driving. The following conditions also apply:

Abortion Doctors Charged with Murder

Two out-of-state abortion doctors have been charged with murder under Maryland's fetal homicide law.

Dr. Steven Brigham, 55, of Voorhees, New Jersey, was arrested Wednesday night. Dr. Nicola Riley, 46, was arrested in Salt Lake City, Utah. Both are awaiting extradition hearings.

Brigham was charged with five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder, and a count of conspiracy. Riley faces a count of first degree murder, a count of second-degree murder, and a count of conspiracy.