Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ATF official apologizes for mistakes in gun probe

ATF official apologizes for mistakes in gun probe
By PETE YOST, Associated Press
July 26, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — An official of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has apologized and told Congress he shares responsibility for mistakes in carrying out a controversial law enforcement operation in Arizona that resulted in high-powered weapons flowing into Mexico.

William McMahon, the head of ATF's western region, testified Tuesday that the agency had good intentions when it launched Operation Fast and Furious in 2009. But McMahon says that looking back, there are things ATF would have done differently.

McMahon, the highest-ranking ATF official to testify publicly about the operation, says he failed to keep close enough track of the investigation in Arizona. Fast and Furious focused on several Phoenix area gun shops and sought to develop cases against gunrunning ring leaders who had eluded previous tactics.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sexual abuse lies keep man in prison; courts refuse to hold new trial

Charles Farrar passed a polygraph and turned down a plea bargain, convinced he'd be acquitted at his 2002 trial. His earliest parole date is 77 years away.

Sacha Bruce, now 26, recanted her testimony shortly after Farrar's trial — and was attacked by prosecutors.

Sexual abuse lies keep man in prison; courts refuse to hold new trial
By Alan Prendergast
Denver Westword News
Jul 20 2011

They took away the children eleven years ago. They took away the family photos just the other day — 212 glossy images of kids now grown, of smiling grandchildren he's never seen or held.

Charles Farrar kept the pictures in his cell in the Sterling Correctional Facility, a collection that expanded with every letter, every precious word from his far-flung tribe. He's never made a secret of them. But men convicted of terrible crimes aren't allowed to have certain kinds of photos in their possession. So when a recent shakedown turned up a snapshot of his youngest grandson having his diaper changed, the kid just lying there exposed — well, that was the end of the pictures.

That's what happens when you're condemned to a mountain of time. Piece by piece, inch by inch, they take it all away. Your freedom. Your memories. Your ties to anything human.

But Farrar isn't a man who gives up easily. He's filed a lawsuit over the seizure of his "contraband" family album. The dispute has already cost him his clean disciplinary record, his job in the prison upholstery operation, and his place in an honor pod reserved for the best-behaved inmates in Sterling.

Farrar doesn't care. The pictures mean that much to him.

"Hope has been snatched from me so many times," he says. "They put me in here for life. Family is basically what has kept me going. The biggest reason I don't do away with myself is my kids. I want to make sure they're doing okay."

Family may be what keeps Farrar going, but it's also what put him behind bars. In 2002 an Arapahoe County jury found the former bakery worker guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault on a child after hearing the horrific story told by his oldest stepdaughter, Sacha. She testified that Farrar, often assisted by her own mother, had subjected her to more than a hundred instances of molestation, rape and sexual abuse from the age of eleven until she was fifteen. Judge John P. Leopold sentenced Farrar to 145 years to life — the kind of time usually reserved for serial killers, terrorists or Bernie Madoff.

Like many convicted sex offenders, Farrar has always maintained his innocence. Unlike most of them, he doesn't bother to hide the nature of his conviction, even though child molesters can expect brutal treatment from other prisoners. But what truly sets his case apart is the degree to which family members continue to support him, insisting that he couldn't possibly have done such a thing. And his staunchest defender for the past eight years has been the one person, other than Farrar and his co-defendant, who knows what really happened: his alleged victim.

Shortly after Farrar's trial, prosecutors dropped similar charges against Sacha's mother, Debbie, because Sacha refused to testify against her. A few months later, after Sacha turned eighteen, she went back to court and told a very different story.

She said that she'd lied, that she'd fabricated the allegations against Debbie and Charles so she could live with her grandparents in Oklahoma. That she'd made fools out of the cops, the social workers, the prosecutors, who not only swallowed her preposterous tale, but coached her on how to tell it better on the stand. And when she tried to call the whole thing off, two caseworkers and a prosecutor pressured her into sticking to her story and ignored her assertions that it wasn't true.

"I ultimately testified against my stepfather at his trial because I was scared by threats of being placed in a mental institution," she wrote in an affidavit submitted in court. "I have had trouble sleeping since I made these allegations. When I do sleep, I have nightmares about ruining innocent lives."

Sacha's explosive claims triggered a series of hearings before Judge Leopold. Prosecutors and social workers took the stand to deny any misconduct; relatives testified that they'd expressed doubts about Sacha's story to officials but had been told to keep quiet. If it had been a different sort of crime at issue, in any county other than Arapahoe — which has a formidable reputation for aggressively pursuing child sexual-assault cases — the new evidence might have made Farrar a free man. Instead, the case has become a long, tortuous gauntlet of legal wrangles and appeals, and Farrar remains in his cell.

In America's holy war on sex offenders, it's a matter of gospel to believe the children — no matter how improbable the claims, how inadequate the investigation, how suspect the credibility of the alleged victim. The children must be believed. Unless, of course, they change their story to something nobody wants to hear.

"This is a terrifying case," says attorney Mark Walta, who's worked on Farrar's appeals since 2003. "The prosecution's entire case was staked to this woman's credibility. But when you're dealing with someone who is more or less a pathological liar, you don't know where the truth starts and ends."

"It's crazy," says Craig Truman, the veteran criminal defense attorney who represented Farrar at trial. "I just find it amazing that some judge somewhere didn't say that without this girl, there's no evidence and he deserves a new trial."...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trial: Bullets at Katrina shooting match police weapons

In testimony last week, officer Michael Hunter, who has pleaded guilty to a role in the shooting, said Bowen at one point leaned over the concrete barrier and held his gun low while spraying five civilians with bullets.

Trial: Bullets at Katrina shooting match police weapons
By Kathy Finn
Jul 13, 2011

Bullets taken from victims of a fatal police shooting during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and from the scene match guns used by three of the police officers involved, a ballistics expert said on Wednesday.

Patrick Lane told a New Orleans jury that his analysis showed with "reasonable scientific certainty" that at least one of the bullets removed from the body of 17-year-old James Brissette matched the rifle fired by Sergeant Kenneth Bowen.

Other bullets or shell casings taken from the scene matched guns fired by officers Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso, the Louisiana State Police ballistics specialist said.

Bowen, Faulcon and Villavaso are on trial in federal court alongside Sergeant Robert Gisevius over the fatal shootings of Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Four other people were seriously wounded in the incident.

A fifth officer, Sergeant Arthur Kaufman, is charged with covering up the crimes through false reports, a planted gun and made-up witnesses.

The civilians had been walking on the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans as a dozen officers responded to an alert that police were under fire in that area. When the police arrived, they began firing without warning, witnesses said.

One group of civilians took cover in a walkway behind a concrete barrier while others ran to the opposite end of the bridge.

A number of witnesses have said that police, including homicide investigator Kaufman, collected no evidence from the scene. Many, including police officers, have also testified that none of the civilians had weapons.

Lane testified that shell casings found later at the bridge matched two AK-47 rifles, a Glock .40-caliber handgun and a shotgun used by officers that day.

In later testimony, the pathologist who performed an autopsy on Brissette said several bullets had entered and exited his body, then reentered at another point. Dr. Dana Troxclair said some wounds could have come from bullets ricocheting off a hard surface, such as concrete.

She said that given the angle of the bullets, the gun would have had to be low to the ground when fired.

In testimony last week, officer Michael Hunter, who has pleaded guilty to a role in the shooting, said Bowen at one point leaned over the concrete barrier and held his gun low while spraying five civilians with bullets.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Cory Maye To Be Released From Prison

Cory Maye To Be Released From Prison
Radly Balko
Huffington Post

MONTICELLO, Miss. -- After 10 years of incarceration, and seven years after a jury sentenced him to die, 30-year-old Cory Maye will soon be going home. Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell signed a plea agreement Friday morning in which Maye pled guilty to manslaughter for the 2001 death of Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones, Jr.

Per the agreement, Harrell then sentenced Maye to 10 years in prison, time he has now already served. Maye will be taken to Rankin County, Mississippi, for processing and some procedural work. He is expected to be released within days.

Maye's story, a haunting tale about race, the rural south, the excesses of the drug war, the inequities of the criminal justice system and a father's instincts to protect his daughter, caught fire across the Internet and the then-emerging blogging world when I first posted the details on my own blog in late 2006.

Shortly after midnight on December 26, 2001, Maye, then 21, was drifting off to sleep in his Prentiss duplex as the television blared in the background. Hours earlier, he had put his 18-month-old-daughter to sleep. He was soon awoken by the sounds of armed men attempting to break into his home. In the confusion, he fired three bullets from the handgun he kept in his nightstand.

As he'd later testify in court, Maye realized within seconds that he'd just shot a cop. A team of police officers from the area had received a tip from an informant -- later revealed to be a racist drug addict -- that there was a drug dealer living in the small yellow duplex on Mary Street. It now seems clear that the police were after Jamie Smith, who lived on the other side of the duplex, not Maye or his live-in girlfriend Chenteal Longino. Neither Maye nor Longino had a criminal record. Their names weren't on the search warrants.

Maye would later testify that as soon as he realized the armed men in his home were police, he surrendered and put up his hands. There were three bullets still left in his gun. But Maye had just shot a cop. And not just any cop. He shot Officer Ron Jones, Jr., the son of Prentiss Police Chief Ron Jones, Sr. Maye is black; Jones was white. And this was Jefferson Davis County, a part of Mississippi still divided by tense relations between races. Maye was arrested and charged with capital murder, the intentional killing of a police officer.

After a long series of delays, Maye was finally tried in 2004 in Marion County, Mississippi. Maye's family shied away from retaining Bob Evans, the Prentiss public defender, a decision they'd later come to regret. Instead, they pooled their money and hired Ronda Cooper, an attorney in Jackson who made a number of critical mistakes during Maye's trial. There were other problems with Maye's trial as well, including testimony from Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy on Jones. I'd later report on a number of questions about Hayne's workload and credibility as an expert witness. He eventually resigned from the National Association of Medical Examiners and was barred from doing any more autopsies for Mississippi prosecutors.

In early 2007, after reading about Hayne's case on a number of blogs, attorneys from the D.C. law firm Covington & Burling agreed to represent Maye pro bono. Maye's family also went back to public defender and defense attorney Bob Evans. (Evans would later be fired as Prentiss public defender for his decision to represent Maye.) In the fall of 2007, at a hearing in Poplarville, Mississippi, Judge Michael Eubanks threw out Maye's death sentence, finding that he had received inadequate defense counsel during the sentencing portion of his trial. Maye was to be taken off Parchman Penitentiary's Death Row. Eubanks resentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In November 2009, the Mississippi State Court of Appeals granted Maye a new trial, finding that he should have been permitted to move his trial back to Jefferson Davis County after his attorney mistakenly asked for a change of venue. In 2010, the Mississippi State Supreme Court upheld the order for the new trial, but on the grounds that Maye should have been permitted to offer the defense that he was defending his daughter on the night of the raid.

Strauss-Kahn Is Released as Problems revealed in prosecutor's office

Strauss-Kahn Case Adds to Doubts on Prosecutor
July 2, 2011

Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, seemed preoccupied when he sat down with two reporters last Monday. He already knew what the world wouldhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif soon learn: his marquee prosecution, the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was falling apart. Privately, his aides had told him they had discovered grave problems with the accuser’s credibility.

As the interview began, but before Mr. Vance was asked a question, he offered an unsolicited defense — not just of the Strauss-Kahn case, but of his overall stewardship. “Ultimately,” he said, “the success of a D.A.’s office, and of a D.A., is measured not in individual cases, but over time.”

“The cases you don’t read about,” he added, “define what the job of a D.A. really is.”

But that job has grown increasingly tumultuous. Since Mr. Vance took over 18 months ago, morale in some parts of the office has begun to sag, in part because of his firing of some prosecutors. Relations with one of the office’s key partners, the Police Department, have grown tense at times, with the agencies competing over many issues, including control of anticrime initiatives, officials on both sides say.

Mr. Vance’s predecessor, Robert M. Morgenthau, who became the pre-eminent district attorney in the country while holding the post for 35 years, was once a close ally of Mr. Vance’s, providing crucial support for his election in 2009. Mr. Vance worked for Mr. Morgenthau in the 1980s.

Now, Mr. Morgenthau, 91, rarely speaks to Mr. Vance.

Mr. Morgenthau has apparently become displeased with Mr. Vance’s management style and his revamping of the staff that Mr. Morgenthau put together, according to people who know both men well.

Mr. Vance’s supporters attribute the criticism of his tenure to people who are unsettled by his efforts to reinvigorate and modernize an office that his supporters say had stagnated under Mr. Morgenthau. They pointed out that only after Mr. Vance became district attorney were prosecutors given smartphones.

Still, the second-guessing of Mr. Vance’s leadership has intensified in the wake of a string of courtroom losses that culminated in the startling events last week, when prosecutors revealed their concerns about the honesty of the hotel housekeeper who accused Mr. Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault in May.

Even a member of the finance committee for Mr. Vance’s 2009 campaign, Gerald L. Shargel, a Manhattan defense lawyer, questioned how the case had been handled.

“What’s most curious is hearing the line prosecutors saying early on that they had a strong case, a very strong case,” Mr. Shargel said. “Obviously, they hadn’t looked very hard. I have enormous respect for Cy as a prosecutor, but this is like a series of bad dreams.”

A judge in Manhattan freed Mr. Strauss-Kahn from house arrest on Friday, and the case against him appeared to be collapsing.

In the weeks before that, Mr. Vance’s office failed to win rape convictions against two New York police officers accused of sexually assaulting a drunken woman (the officers were found guilty of lesser charges). And the most significant terrorism charges were dropped against two men accused of planning attacks against synagogues in the city, though serious counts remain.

Some of the most pointed complaints about Mr. Vance are emanating from the district attorney’s office itself, according to numerous interviews with prosecutors and other officials. They spoke on the condition that their names not be used, saying they feared reprisals.

Several said they worried that cases were often pursued with an excessive focus on whether they would generate publicity. Some said Mr. Vance had taken away the discretion of midlevel prosecutors, sometimes to the detriment of cases.

Those two issues, some prosecutors said, contributed to the difficulties in the case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund who had been considered a leading contender for the French presidency.

After Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, the district attorney’s office faced the question of whether to ask a judge to keep him in custody.

To do so, the office had to obtain an indictment within five days. The alternative was to agree to a bail package so that prosecutors could take their time investigating the case before deciding whether to indict, according to four people briefed on the matter.

In the end, Mr. Vance chose a quick indictment, drawing criticism that he had moved before he knew of the accuser’s background.

Prosecutors have said in court that they decided to seek the indictment and to keep Mr. Strauss-Kahn in custody to avoid the possibility of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s fleeing the country.

The case also unfolded as a rift had already developed between Mr. Vance and the chief of the office’s sex crimes unit, Lisa Friel. She stepped down last week under circumstances that were not entirely clear. It did not appear that her decision was directly related to the Strauss-Kahn case.

Early on, Mr. Vance took the case away from the sex crimes unit and gave it to two other experienced assistant district attorneys...

Strauss-Kahn Is Released as Case Teeters
New York Times
July 1, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest on Friday as the sexual assault case against him moved one step closer to dismissal after prosecutors told a Manhattan judge that they had serious problems with the case.

Prosecutors acknowledged that there were significant credibility issues with the hotel housekeeper who accused Mr. Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her in May. In a brief hearing at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, prosecutors did not oppose his release; the judge then freed Mr. Strhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifauss-Kahn on his own recognizance.

The development represented a stunning reversal in a case that reshaped the French political landscape and sparked debate about morals, the treatment of women and the American justice system. The case could also alter the political fortunes of Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, who is just a year and a half into his tenure and was facing his most highly publicized case to date.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, was considered a strong contender for the French presidency before being accused of sexually assaulting the housekeeper who went to clean his luxury suite at the Sofitel New York. After his arrest, Mr. Strauss-Kahn resigned his position as managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

From Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s first court appearance on May 16, Mr. Vance’s office expressed extreme confidence in its case. At that hearing, an assistant district attorney said that “the victim provided very powerful details consistent with violent sexual assault committed by the defendant.”

At another court appearance three days later, prosecutors said the victim “offered a compelling and unwavering story” and that the proof against Mr. Strauss-Kahn was “continuing to grow every day.”

Those accounts varied greatly from what prosecutors revealed on Friday, acknowledging publicly for the first time that the case was not as strong as they initially suggested. In a letter sent to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers and filed with Justice Michael J. Obus on Friday, prosecutors outlined some of what they had discovered about Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser.

Prosecutors disclosed that the woman had admitted lying in her application for asylum from Guinea; according to the letter, she “fabricated the statement with the assistance of a male who provided her with a cassette recording” that she memorized. She also admitted that her claim that she had been the victim of a gang rape in Guinea was also a lie.

The woman also admitted to the prosecutors that she had misrepresented her income to qualify for her housing, and had declared a friend’s child — in addition to her own daughter — as a dependent on tax returns to increase her tax refund.

Questions are sure to be raised about how swiftly and vigorously prosecutors proceeded with the case, as many in France questioned whether there was a rush to judgment with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

While prosecutors have not yet dismissed the case, Mr. Strauss-Kahn will now be able to move about the country more freely; although prosecutors will retain his passport, most of his restrictive bail conditions have been lifted. Under those conditions, he was required to stay in a Lower Manhattan town house under armed guard and wearing an ankle monitor. He could only leave for certain reasons and had to notify prosecutors when he left.

Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.

Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.

According to the two officials, the woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded.

That man, the investigators learned, had been arrested on charges of possessing 400 pounds of marijuana. He is among a number of individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into the woman’s bank account over the last two years. The deposits were made in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania.

The investigators also learned that she was paying hundreds of dollars every month in phone charges to five companies. The woman had insisted she had only one phone and said she knew nothing about the deposits except that they were made by a man she described as her fiancé and his friends...

Matt Flegenheimer and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.