Elizabeth Diane Downs, Oregon's notorious child-killer, is due for another parole hearing tomorrow, The Oregonian reports. Sentenced in 1984, Downs is serving a life sentence plus 55 years for killing her 7-year-old daughter severely wounding her 8-year-old daughter Christie Ann and 3-year-old son. Her story is told in the movie "Small Sacrifices," based on a book by Ann Rule.
She complains that when the movie is shown on television, "people want to kill me." Downs is arguing that her sentence is invalid because it was based on a diagnosis of "severe narcissistic personality disorder." That condition is no longer recognized by U.S. psychiatrists.
Local jail populations are declining around the nation, says a Pew Charitable Trusts study quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The high cost of keeping people in jail has communities looking at alternatives to incarceration that still maintain public safety, says "Local Jails: Working to reduce populations and costs," from the trust's Philadelphia Research Initiative. County jails are used mostly to hold defendants awaiting trial and convicted offenders serving short-term sentences or awaiting transfers to other prisons.
The Pew report found average jail population in more populous communities nationwide down 2.3 percent in 2009 from the previous year. "It is too soon to tell whether this one-year dip is the start of a new trend, but many jurisdictions seem intent on reversing the population growth of prior years," the study said. The number of prisoners in Pittsburgh's Allegheny County jail dropped by an even larger amount, said Warden Ramon Rustin. Jail commitments in 2009 totaled 18,141, down almost 11 percent from 2008's total of 20,383. Rustin credited the county court's Pretrial Services Department for helping to reduce the number of prisoners sent to the jail. Last year's decline in local jail commitments follows a decade of increases. Between 1999 and 2008, jail populations climbed 30 percent nationally.
In a ruling that likely will have far-reaching implications for about 150 priest sex abuse cases pending or tied up in bankruptcy court, a Dover, Del., jury found that St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic parish was grossly negligent in its failure to properly supervise then-priest Francis DeLuca and is responsible for at least $3 million of $30 million in damages awarded to John M. Vai, who repeatedly was molested as a teenager in the 1960s, reports the Wilmingon News-Journal. The parish also may end up owing Vai more after the Kent County Superior Court jury rules on potential punitive damages.
On the stand, Vai, 58, told a jury that his case was not about the money but about getting the truth out and getting compensation for the loss of his childhood. Vai said Wednesday he was pleased with the outcome and that the jury believed his account. "Personally, I feel some of the weight is relieved," he said. Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly issued a brief statement in which he again apologized on behalf of the diocese to Vai and all other victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. He also said he was "disappointed that the jury found the people of St. Elizabeth liable for the acts of Francis DeLuca" and said it is "unfortunate" that they will have to pay for DeLuca's "criminal and sinful acts" from more than 40 years ago.
Iowa law does not require school districts to report student abuse when it happens from their own teachers — even though licensed school employees are considered mandatory reporters of abuse, reports the Des Moines Register. The way districts handle abuse cases stems from an opinion by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller's office regarding the state's mandatory reporting law. In 1979, Brent Appel, then an assistant attorney general and now an Iowa Supreme Court justice, said the law pertains to abuse by people responsible for the care of children. That does not include teachers, he wrote.
The decision and lack of subsequent action by lawmakers made Iowa the only state to keep parents or others from reporting child abuse by teachers to the Iowa Department of Human Services, said Kathy Collins, a retired lawyer with the Iowa Department of Education. Parents can, however, report alleged abuse by teachers to police. If parents contact the Department of Human Services regarding teacher abuse, the agency refers them to police, a department spokesman said. "Many made it known to their legislators that they were not happy," Collins said. "The teacher is obligated to file a complaint against (the parent), but the shoe doesn't fit the other foot."
Because of privacy laws, the Internal Revenue Service won't give law enforcement information that could lead to apprehending child abductors, says the New York Times. The laws, enacted in the 1970s to prevent Watergate-era abuses of confidential taxpayer information, have exceptions allowing the IRS to turn over information in child support cases and to help federal agencies determine whether an applicant qualifies for income-based federal benefits.
Guidelines on handling of criminal cases pose obstacles for parents and investigators pursuing a child abductor — even when the taxpayer in question is a fugitive and the subject of a felony warrant. "It’s one of those areas where you would hope that common sense would prevail," said Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "We are talking about people who are fugitives, who have criminal warrants against them. And children who are at risk." About 200,000 family abductions are reported each year in the U.S., most stemming from custody disputes between estranged spouses. About 12,000 last longer than six months and involve parental abductors who assume false identities and travel to escape detection.
Friends and family worried that 10-year-old Zahra Baker of Hickory, N.C., was in danger, says the Charlotte Observer. They saw bruises and a black eye. They questioned her parents. They reported suspected abuse to the Department of Social Services. Police believe the missing girl whose story has captured worldwide attention is dead. They are investigating her disappearance as a homicide and last week jailed her stepmother, who they say admitted writing a phony ransom note. As the search for the girl entered its second week, the case raises fresh questions about North Carolina's long-troubled child protection system.
The state's own reviews show it's not uncommon for children to die in North Carolina under suspicious circumstances while their families are under state supervision or had recent contact with social workers. At least 137 children died during a recent five-year period in cases where abuse or neglect were suspected to have contributed - even though the state social services department had contact with their families within 12 months before they died, the Observer found. That's up from 119 deaths during the prior five years. And it comes at a time when child deaths overall in the state are at a record low. Most of the 137 died from illnesses or accidents, but at least 26 became victims of homicide, usually committed by relatives or caregivers.
All of North Carolina's new law enforcement officers should be required to undergo specialized training on child death scene investigations, the state's medical examiner and a legislative task force say, according to the Charlotte Observer. The proposal is among several prompted by an Observer series this year, "Cradle of Secrets," that looked at five years of sudden infant death syndrome cases in North Carolina and found that police frequently fail to investigate the deaths thoroughly, if at all.
Tom Vitaglione, co-chair of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force, and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch now want the state to hire trained death scene investigators and put them in regional offices so they can respond to infant and child deaths. North Carolina doesn't have full-time trained investigators to send to most infant deaths, but a growing number of jurisdictions nationally do. Also under consideration: finding ways to push more police to use state-issued checklists when they go to death scenes. The six-page checklists could help many officers do a more thorough job, experts say. They're now optional. "I think we need standards," said Brett Loftis, a task force member and Charlotte children's rights advocate who supports the new efforts. "The inconsistency with how deaths are being handled across the state is cause for concern." The Observer's series found that most N.C. cases of SIDS, considered a natural and unpreventable death, contained evidence that suggested the babies actually might have suffocated. At least 69 percent of SIDS babies over the five-year period were in risky sleep situations. That included infants sleeping with one or more adults, on couches, adult beds, pillows and comforters, or face down.
A crackdown on child sex trafficking is being pushed by a growing movement of women's groups, celebrities, human rights activists and state officials, reports USA Today.This month, 22 state attorneys general called on Backpage.com, a classified-ad website, to close its adult-services ads after Craigslist was prodded to do so.In New York City last week, actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher announced their "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" campaign against child sex trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting.
In St. Louis, a lawsuit was filed against Backpage.com, claiming it helped a pimp prostitute a 14-year-old girl. The new efforts paint child prostitution as modern-day slavery, arguing it's a human rights issue rather than a free-speech one. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimates that at least 100,000 American children are victimized each year, often beginning at ages 11 to 14, by criminal networks.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday announced a $5.5 million "Defending Childhood" initiative designed to address the exposure of children to violence as victims and as witnesses. The funding, which will support the development of programs and projects on the subject, would increase to $37 million under President Obama's proposed 2011 budget request.
The initial funding includes planning grants for eight demonstration sites to support the development of comprehensive community-based strategies to prevent and reduce the impact of children's exposure to violence in their homes, schools, and communities. The eight demonstration sites are Boston, $160,000; Portland, Maine, $160,000; Chippewa Cree Tribe of Montana, $153,210; Grand Forks, N.D., $159,967; Cuyahoga County, Ohio, $157,873; Multnomah County, Ore., $159,349; Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, $159,534, and Shelby County, Tenn., $159,099.
Los Angeles County officials have failed to follow state law that requires them to publicly disclose child fatalities resulting from abuse or neglect, reports the Los Angeles Times, citing an independent audit released Monday. The violations involve "potentially dozens" of child fatalities, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. He said the audit indicates "an intent to withhold information from the public" by the Department of Children and Family Services.
The finding by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review comes amid a growing debate about whether child welfare officials are underreporting deaths of children whose families previously had come to the department's attention. In the audit, Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Office of Independent Review, noted a dramatic change last year in the amount of information released by the department, with disclosure in only four of 18 cases. Gennaco said the pattern has extended into 2010. The Times has been denied in repeated public records requests for information.