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Italian Court Throws Out Murder Convictions Of Amanda Knox, Ex-Boyfriend

Amanda Knox, who maintained that she and a former Italian boyfriend were innocent in her British roommate’s murder, was vindicated Friday when Italy’s highest court threw out their convictions, the Associated Press reports. The decision ends the 7½-year legal battle by Knox, 27, and Raffaele Sollecito, 31, to clear their names in the gruesome 2007 murder and sexual assault of British student Meredith Kercher. Knox recently has been a reporter for the West Seattle, Wa., Herald. A panel of Italy's Court of Cassation panel deliberated for 10 hours before declaring that the two did not commit the crime, a stronger exoneration than merely finding insufficient evidence to convict.

Had the court upheld the pair’s convictions, Knox would have faced 28 ½ years in prison, if she had been extradited, while Sollecito had faced 25 years. The case attracted widespread media attention due to the brutality of the murder and the allegations that the young American student and her new Italian lover had joined a third man in stabbing to death 21-year-old Kercher in a sex game gone awry. Though it cleared Knox of murder, the court  upheld a slander conviction against her for wrongly accusing a Congolese-born bar owner in the murder. The court reduced the sentence to three years. Because Knox already spent nearly four years in Italian prison, she won’t have to serve that time. 

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US System Has Checks Against Rogue Airliner Pilots

Flying is safer than ever before, yet in this era of locked cockpit doors and pilot screening, authorities said Thursday that a single aviator was able to deliberately crash a commercial airliner in the French Alps, says the Washington Post. The disaster has raised questions about how pilots are evaluated and how airlines can be sure that such a horrifying, if rare, event won’t reoccur.

Aviation security experts say what unfolded on Germanwings Flight 9525 could not have happened on a U.S. airliner because of strict security procedures adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Cockpit doors were strengthened, and airlines now lock them at all times, with most doors requiring security codes known only to a handful of people onboard. Moreover, U.S. pilots cannot be left alone in the cockpit — the fatal error that investigators say doomed the Germanwings flight. “It’s just a common-sense issue,” said aviation security expert Glenn Winn. “If you have a two-person cockpit, you don’t leave [one of] them alone up there.”

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Pilots Are Rarely Screened for Mental Problems

Despite U.S. and international regulations requiring that airline pilots be screened for mental health problems, little effective, real-world checking takes place, reports the Associated Press. The crash of a German airliner has raised questions about the mental state of the co-pilot. Authorities believe the 27-year-old German deliberately sought to destroy the Airbus A320 as it flew Tuesday from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.

In the U.S., the FAA requires that pilots receive a physical exam by a flight surgeon at least annually. A U.N. agency that sets global aviation standards also requires that pilots receive a periodic medical exam, including a mental assessment. Technically, doctors are supposed to probe for mental problems, but pilots said that's usually not how it works. Bob Kudwa, a former American Airlines pilot and executive, said, "They check your eyes, your ears, your heart--all the things that start going bad when you get older. But they don't do anything for your head, no."

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Payday Lenders Dole Out Cash to AL Politicians

President Obama urged reforms in the payday and title loan lending industries Thursday during a speech in Birmingham, Ala. Twenty-two states have already regulated the industries. But in Alabama the industry has protected itself from state-level reforms by dumping loads of cash into the campaign accounts of Alabama lawmakers, reports AL.com. And those campaign donations have been targeted strategically to key leaders in the legislature and to members of important committees where reform proposals have died in recent years.

In the Alabama Senate, banking committee members collectively received more than $116,000 in the last election cycle from the lending industry. Every member got something, although some got more than others. State Sen. Slade Blackwell, who chairs that committee, received more than $25,000. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh got $43,000 during the last cycle. In the Alabama House, the industry spread more than $59,000 among the Financial Services Committee members and gave $37,835 to Speaker Mike Hubbard during the last two years. All together, lenders gave more than $475,000 to lawmakers during the last election season.

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FBI Foils Illinois Guardsman's ISIS Terrorism Plans

Authorities arrested an Illinois Army National Guardsman after he attempted to travel to Libya and fight with the Islamic State and join his cousin in a plot to attack a U.S. military installation and kill scores, the Washington Post reports. Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that Hasan Rasheed Edmonds, 22, and his cousin Jonas Marcel Edmonds, 29, both of Aurora, Ill., were charged with conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
FBI agents intercepted Hasan Edmonds at Chicago Midway International Airport on Wednesday evening before he was able to board a flight to Detroit and ultimately make his way to Cairo via Amsterdam. His cousin was taken into custody without incident at his home after taking Hasan Edmonds to the airport. The two men appeared in federal court Thursday where a judge ordered them held. Prosecutors said Hasan ­Edmonds, a specialist in the Illinois Army National Guard, came to the attention of the FBI late last year when investigators learned that he intended to use his military training on behalf of the Islamic State.

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Prop 47 Prompted a Justice Reform 'Earthquake' in CA

The Nation says California's approval of Proposition 47 last November amounted to a reform "earthquake" in the world of criminal justice. The tremors have reached as far as Texas and New York, where prison reformers are looking at Prop 47 as a model for their own proposals. By reclassifying six low-end drug and petty theft felonies as misdemeanors, Prop 47 removed an estimated 40,000 people per year from the prison pipeline. Most of these men and women initially serve only a few months, but the consequences—restrictions on employment, barriers to access to government benefits and a high likelihood of reincarceration—last a lifetime.

The reform was designed to invest the savings, estimated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office to be up to $200 million annually, in mental health programs, drug treatment, early education and other infrastructure. Prop 47 also allows an estimated 10,000 prisoners to petition judges to reduce their sentences based on the new reclassification of their crimes. Perhaps most important, it allows all state residents who have been convicted of one of these felonies to apply to get the crimes removed from their records. By some calculations this will dramatically improve prospects for more than 1 million Californians.

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Air Marshal Service Is Target of Misconduct Probe

Faced with a Department of Justice investigation into the men and women charged with protecting U.S. commercial flights from terrorism, former and current air marshals are coming forward to describe a “wheels-up, rings-off” culture rife with adultery, prostitution and other misconduct, according to the Center for Investigating Reporting (CIR). Former air marshals who worked in the service’s Orlando field office say managers directed subordinates to modify assignments for the bosses’ benefit. That included supervisors jumping on flights or bumping air marshals off missions so they could play golf in Scotland, travel to exotic locations or meet a lover.

Around the country, others tell similar stories. They say managers flew around the globe at little personal expense and even padded their paychecks, under the guise of so-called check rides to monitor air marshals’ job performance. CIR reported last month that an investigation into misconduct may involve dozens of employees of the Federal Air Marshal Service and manipulation of marshals’ flight schedules for personal gain. The report sparked a House oversight committee investigation. The Senate homeland security committee has begun a preliminary inquiry as well.

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PI Gathers Dirt on Reporter, Professor After NYU Story

A journalist who wrote an article revealing the exploitation of migrant workers building a New York University campus in Abu Dhabi, as well as a professor quoted in the story, have become targets of a private investigator working for a mysterious secret client, reports the New York Times. The investigator, Loren Berger of New York, has been making inquiries about the NYU professor, Andrew Ross, and the reporter, Ariel Kaminer, who wrote the story for the Times last year. Berger said she did not know the identity of her client.

“The university has no knowledge of this and no involvement,” John Beckman, an NYU spokesman, said in a statement. “It’s reprehensible and offensive on its face, and we call on whoever is involved to desist immediately.” An embassy spokesman for the United Arab Emirates, which has a record of striking back at those critical of migrant labor conditions there, did not respond to inquiries. On Jan. 29, Berger called Susan Fraiman, a professor of English at the University of Virginia who had written critically about some of Professor Ross’s academic work. Berger “said something like, ‘We’re looking for people to comment negatively,’ ” Fraiman recalled.

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Report: Colombian Drug Cartels Hosted DEA 'Sex Parties'

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officers in Colombia allegedly participated in sex parties with prostitutes paid for by local drug cartels and received money, gifts and weapons from the groups they were investigating, reports the Miami Herald. Citing Colombian police officials, a report released Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General said at least nine DEA agents “solicited prostitutes and engaged in other serious misconduct while in the country.”

The 131-page report looked at allegations of misconduct from 2009 to 2012 in the Department of Justice’s law-enforcement branches, including the FBI, the DEA, the ATF, and the U.S. Marshall Service. The report found that local Colombian law officers allegedly arranged “sex parties” for DEA agents with prostitutes over the course of several years. Those parties were held at the agent’s government-leased quarters and were allegedly paid for by local drug cartels.

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Appeals Court to Consider CA Gun Restrictions

A federal appeals court will reconsider last year's controversial ruling that would have dramatically loosened California's restrictions on carrying concealed firearms, reports the San Jose Mercury News. In a brief order filed Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to take a second look at the so-called Peruta case with a special 11-judge panel. The order effectively scraps a February 2014 decision that invalidated the San Diego County sheriff's strict guidelines for concealed-carry gun permits. The order temporarily preserves similar limits in the Bay Area and elsewhere enforced by local sheriffs.

The court will hear arguments in this and a similar case from Yolo County the week of June 15. A 9th Circuit panel, divided 2-1, found that San Diego County's restrictions violated the Second Amendment rights of private citizens to carry a gun for self-defense. Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, one of the court's most conservative members, wrote the decision, which drew a dissent from Chief Judge Sidney Thomas. Gun rights advocates, including the California Rifle and Pistol Association, challenged the law on behalf of Edward Peruta and several other San Diego County residents.

 

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