Oklahoma prosecutor Tim Harris stood before jurors deciding Michelle Murphy’s fate and told them police found someone’s blood near her slain baby’s body, blood he implied could be hers. What he didn’t tell jurors is that as the trial started in 1995, he had an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation report that said Murphy’s blood type was different than the type found at the scene. That test determined DNA found at the scene was not hers, contradicting Harris’ implication to jurors. A Tulsa World investigation shows the state of Oklahoma relied on faulty blood analysis, the dubious testimony of a troubled 14-year-old neighbor and an unrecorded, incriminating statement to convict Murphy, who spent 20 years in prison. All three elements were so problematic they should have been challenged in court.
Jurors never heard other evidence that might have given them reasonable doubt about convicting Murphy. Harris maintains that the report didn’t exclude Murphy as the source of the unknown blood found at the scene, based on forensic science “at the time.” Pete Messler, the former Tulsa County special district judge who presided over Murphy’s preliminary hearing, called her murder conviction “the biggest miscarriage of justice” in his 40-year legal career. “The bottom line is that in this whole trial, anybody who ever had anything to do with it, they were honorable — every one of them were honorable, good lawyers,” Messler said. “Some of them just made some big mistakes.”
A federal jury awarded a record $4.65 million to the family of a homeless street preacher who died during a struggle with deputies in Denver's downtown jail while trying to retrieve his shoes, the Denver Post reports. The verdict came three months after the city agreed to pay $3.25 million to another former inmate who was choked by a jail deputy and scalded by inmates. It came one month after a a jury awarded nearly $2 million to a family targeted in a mistaken police raid.
Marvin Booker, 56, died on July 9, 2010. Four deputies and a sergeant shocked him with a Taser, put him in a "sleeper hold" and lay on top of him in an effort to control him during booking. City officials have not decided whether to appeal the judgment. In addition to the jury awards and settlements, the city has been embarrassed this year by a string of excessive-force cases that helped lead to the resignation of Sheriff Gary Wilson. "I think the Colorado community is finally saying enough is enough," Booker family attorney Mari Newman said. "It seems like the police can't police themselves. If law enforcement doesn't do something then the community has to step in. I definitely think this is a wake-up call for the city of Denver."
Arizona must significantly improve health-care and mental-health-care treatment for about 33,000 prison inmates under a proposed settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought in 2012 by prison-rights groups, the Arizona Republic reports. That suit charged that the state unconstitutionally denies adequate care to inmates in state prisons and routinely keeps mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement under brutal conditions. Under the settlement announced yesterday, the state does not admit any wrongdoing.
The settlement would reduce the amount of time mentally ill inmates spend in solitary confinement and would restrict guards' use of pepper spray to control those inmates. Spray could be used only to prevent serious injury or escape. Corrections also agreed to meet more than 100 separate health-care performance measures and to allow attorneys for the prisoners to monitor compliance. "This has been a broken system for a long time," said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. "This settlement will help ensure that prison inmates get the care they need." The likely cost to the state couldn't immediately be determined.
Seattle police officers have taught officers elsewhere how to run a “hotel op,” an Internet sting designed to catch men who buy sex. Since June, says the Seattle Times, Seattle police and six other King County law-enforcement agencies have conducted similar stings as part of a program Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is announcing today. The grant-funded, national “CEASE Network” is aimed at holding men accountable for fueling the demand side of the sex trade and at deterring them by increasing their risk of getting caught. Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) started in Boston, Denver and Seattle this year, with seven more cities, including Portland, Chicago and Phoenix, set to launch their own initiatives this month.
Increased stings, most of them online, are part of the effort, known locally as the “Buyer Beware” program, which has an overall goal of decreasing local demand for prostitution by 20 percent in two years. “The Internet has caused an explosion” in sex buying, said Lina Nealo of the Massachusetts-based Demand Abolition, which is providing the $80,000 in funding each year of the two-year initiative in King County. “The Internet has really made it risk-free to buyers … It’s created a market that wasn’t there before, men who wouldn’t go on the street to encounter someone who was prostituting,” Satterberg said. “They’re comfortable on the computer, and with a couple clicks of a mouse, they can order someone up for sex.”
President Obama will not nominate a replacement for Attorney General Eric Holder until after the Nov. 4 midterm elections, McClatchy Newspapers reports. White House officials say they do not want the nomination to become an issue in the contentious elections. Senate Democrats, who are fighting to maintain their majority, asked Obama to hold off on the announcement. Holder announced his resignation Sept. 25, but agreed to stay on until his successor is confirmed.
Republicans were quick criticize the decision. “This timing shows, once again, that the President and Democrat Senate leaders are willing to play politics with important policy decisions,” Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
An unusual lineup of three U.S. Supreme Court justices yesterday scolded the majority for refusing to resolve a long-running dispute over judicial discretion in sentencing, reports the National Law Journal. The court declined to hear a case that asked for a ruling that in deciding on a sentence, federal judges should not be able to take into consideration conduct for which the defendant was acquitted. In 2007, several justices said the issue should be taken up if a case that clearly presented the question came to the court.
"This has gone on long enough," Justice Antonin Scalia said. "The present petition presents the non-hypothetical case the court claimed to have been waiting for." Justices Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed. In the case, a Washington, D.C., jury found three men guilty of selling small amounts of cocaine and acquitted them of racketeering and conspiracy charges. Yet when U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts sentenced the three, he said he “saw clear evidence of a drug conspiracy,” and sentenced them to 18, 16 and 15 year terms, four times higher than the highest sentences given for others who sold similar amounts of cocaine.
The peacemakers arrived on a Sunday, a little more than a day after Michael Brown’s shooting. They introduced themselves to police and city officials that afternoon. They met with Brown’s family late that night. The two, mediators with a secretive unit of the U.S. Department of Justice called the Community Relations Service, were the first federal officials to arrive in Ferguson, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Since then, as many as eight have worked behind the scenes in Ferguson daily. They’ve held dozens of meetings with police, residents and community leaders, nearly all of them in secret. The agency is playing what may prove the most important role of any in Ferguson: persuading apprehensive residents, overwhelmed city officials, angry protesters and frustrated police to sit together and talk. “God bless them,” said Patricia Bynes, a Democratic Party leader for Ferguson, and a presence on Ferguson streets since Brown’s shooting. “Right now, it’s almost like they’re herding cats.”
Brian Fletcher, former mayor of Ferguson, Mo., says its residents are tired of the constant protesting, tired of the noise and tired of feeling intimidated, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That’s the reaction many protest leaders said they are hoping for, nearly 70 days after police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown, 18. Since then, protests have sprung up around the region. Yesterday, protesters fanned out across the metro area for their “Moral Monday,” the fourth day of noisy demonstrations over race relations and police conduct that attracted activists from across the U.S.; 49 people were arrested at two separate events in Ferguson that unfolded during a driving midday rainstorm.
Fletcher, like many others, says it’s hard to remember what it felt like to live in Ferguson before the city became infamous. Fletcher, who is white, acknowledges that persistent racial tension underlies Ferguson’s new reality. “I think quite frankly, Caucasians are intimidated by protesters who think that if they can make Caucasians feel uncomfortable, they can change the rules. And it’s working,” Fletcher said. A number of black people also feel uncomfortable. Pam Peters has lived in Ferguson for 37 years. “I don’t like the way people are talking about Ferguson now,” she said. “We are good people. We are tired of the protests.”
In 2012, a handcuffed and shackled inmate at Alabama's St. Clair Correctional Facility was punched in the head, face and ear and stomped on by a corrections officer, charges a new federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. The suit says inmate Joseph Shack suffered from ruptured ears that lead to hearing loss, a fractured thumb, internal bleeding and fractured ribs. "This is what I do to a [N-word] that tries to tell me how to do my job," the officer allegedly said at a disciplinary hearing. The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery law firm, is filing a class-action lawsuit today on behalf of inmates it says are subject to dangerous conditions and high rates of violence.
The firm says poor leadership, frequent verbal and physical abuse by officers, overcrowding, chronic lapses in security, broken locks on most cell doors, and illegal drugs and contraband brought in by officers has contributed to a culture of violence at the prison. Initiative director Bryan Stevenson said there have been six homicides at St. Clair in the past three years. The most recent was in June, when Jodey Waldrop, 36, was stabbed to death in his prison cell by another inmate during lockdown hours. The facility also has some of the nation's highest homicide rates. Federal data shows the average homicide rate in state prisons is 5.4 per 100,000 inmates. At St. Clair in 2012, that figure was 75.6, 77.7 in 2013 and 232.4 this year.
Black male teenagers are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than are white males, says a study by ProPublica reported by the Christian Science Monitor. Between 2010 and 2012, there were 1,217 deadly police shootings reported to the FBI. Black males between the ages of 15 and 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million; for white male teenagers, the rate dropped to 1.47 deaths per million.
The issue was brought to stark national attention on Aug. 9, when Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson. ProPublica looked at more than 12,000 incidents of police homicide reported between 1980 to 2012. In 77 percent of cases where the cause of incidents were “undetermined,” the person shot was black. Between 2005 and 2009, 62 percent of cases reported "officer under attack" as the cause. The study comes with an important asterisk. ProPublica notes that the federal data, which are self-reported by police departments, are “terribly incomplete.”