Monday, September 24, 2012

Missed Opportunities In Robert Zimmerman's Apology




He had a message and he chose to come to Fox 11's Good Day LA to give it.   The message was an apology written months ago, tweaked over the course of time, but delivered succinctly today.  “Less is more,” laser focus, and cause no damage were apparent tenants to the PR strategy.  His written apology and even his interview seemed to echo the philosophy that less said, less damage. But in his efforts to do no harm did he miss opportunities to influence the court of public opinion?

The George Zimmerman case (or Trayvon Martin case depending on your vantage point) has become the quintessential race case of the century.  The divisiveness of race is not just amongst the public but the players as well.   Prosecutor Angela Corey articulated from the beginning that this was a killing that was motivated by race.  On the flip side, others believe that it’s the media that made this case of race—a theory seemingly supported by the news organization that edited the tapes of the 911 call. 

The Zimmerman family has their view as expressed by RobertZimmerman on Good Day LA -- George Zimmerman is not a racist, not a murderer and acted in self defense.  Robert Zimmerman says he believes in the “system” and no wonder why—his brother is enjoying freedom out of on bail, the defense was able to get a judge recused, and he has a legal team working around the clock both virtually and in realtime. But if you really believe that the justice system is about exposing the truth does today’s apology illuminate what actually happened on Feb 27, 2011?  Are we any closer to the truth? Or have we just witnessed the Zimmerman family attempting to gauge the temperature of the public with a little toe dip in the LA Court of public opinion?   Here is the missed opportunity: when the facts are hot and you deliver cool you miss an opportunity to change the temperature. 


What today did do was offer us a glimpse of what may be yet to come.  Robert, who is a near double of George, was as poised as George was during bail hearing number one.  He was mild mannered, spoke in a low tone, and didn’t so much as flinch, blink, or utter one “ummm.”  If I was a betting woman, I’d put money that the Robert Zimmerman we say today on Good Day LA will be a very similar George Zimmerman come the Stand Your Ground hearing in 2013.  While a little bizarre, he will be tough to move, difficult to hate, and will remain as calm, cool and collected as his older bro.  But remember, there are no read statements and controlling parameters of an interview in the court of law.  There is cross examination, impeachment, and bad acts that will come to play. 

But did Robert Zimmerman seem truthful?  Will George?  Truth matters.  It’s what this case will rise and fall on.  And ultimately decisions will be based on the version of the truth presented by GeorgeZimmerman and whether his rendition is deemed credible.  There is no other he to the “he said” as he Trayvon is dead.  So in order to reach conclusions we are looking to things far outside of the case to determine credibility.  We look at what is said in court, representations made to lawyers about funds from a website, and now we can include his brother Robert’s apology. This interview, though may seem unmoving, says well scripted, well poised answers don’t enhance credibility. Blunt honesty, admissions of error, and humanness do. Another missed opportunity.


And finally I felt like something was missing? How can you be calm, cool, and collected if you believe you were acting in self defense and are accused of murder?  Wouldn’t you be a little irate?  You heard Robert Zimmerman say that George had the crap beaten out of him to the point where his ears were bleeding for a day after the alleged attack yet his brother still can offer an apology.  On the flip side, if the Zimmermans are truly apologizing where was the telltale sign of remorse--empathy?  Where was the acknowledgement of the one undisputed reality—that Trayvon Martin died at the hands of George Zimmerman .  This was not a case of “passing away” like Robert stated.   Either way got neither adamant self defense nor heartfelt apology.  For a case that is all about emotion, it was the one ingredient that was absent here today.  Robert Zimmerman missed the opportunity to show us the behind the curtain, give us the real deal, and make us want to accept his apology.


I have not heard one person say that they were swayed or moved by Robert Zimmerman and his apology.  I supposed if “cause no harm” was the only goal (which I doubt it was) maybe just that and only that was accomplished. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Monster in Our Midst: Missed Opportunities



Like many of you, I am blown away by the Mark Berndt case, a story broken by Gigi Graciette, which occurred right here in my hometown of Los Angeles.  Mark Berndt, is the Miramonte school teacher who is accused of 23 counts of sex abuse against children.  The case stems from a hero (and law abiding) film processor who reported suspected child abuse to law enforcement.  The facts are as heinous as any I have ever seen.  Some 23 students (that we know of) were allegedly victimized in the grossest of gross ways.  The abuse was done under the auspices of a game where many of his 8-year old third-grade students thought they were drinking some sweet treat from a spoon which later turned out to be semen matching Berndt’s DNA.  The students were photographed with their mouths bound and many had Madagascar cockroaches on their faces.  Yesterday we found out that there was an investigation of him for sex crimes some 20 years ago, and nothing was done by way of prosecution.

Criminals, most often, are not caught until after the crime has been committed.  Law enforcement is reactive -- not proactive.   So when we hear about a crime, and find out that the criminal was earlier in police grasp, we get sad and we get angry.  These are what I call “missed opportunities,” like Lily Burke, a beautiful 17-year old girl, murdered by a three-striker out of custody on a “clerical error”; Jaycee Duggard, living under the thumb of a registered sex-offender parolee for years and years; and Anthony Sowell, who murdered 11 women in Cleveland seemingly at will, while on parole for rape.

I am a former prosecutor.  I am a staunch victim rights advocate, mostly for women, who are often ignored, neglected or worse by the very people sworn to protect them.  I am writing this column to save a girl, save potential future victims, and to call to your attention to a monster in our midst, known to law enforcement, but thus far a missed opportunity.

You have never heard of him, but Ronny Whitter is a registered sex offender convicted of rape, child abuse and kidnapping.  Paulani Hockenhull fled from this man 16 years ago, when their daughter, Nohea, was two years old.  She left Hawaii and came to California, then Phoenix, for a safer life for Nohea.  For 16 years, she was away from this monster, but he found her through that newly minted 100 billion-dollar company, Facebook.

Ronny Whitter found Nohea by using his 14-year-old daughter’s Facebook page.  He made Nohea feel that she had found the long lost father she never had.  On her 18th birthday, Whitter flew out from Hawaii to Phoenix.  He took her out, bought her gifts and promised her he would be the father she never had.  He convinced her that she should move to Hawaii with him.  Mesmerized by the idea of living in Hawaii with a father who truly loved her, she agreed to move to Hawaii.

In January of 2011, he picked her up.  Before their departure he took her to a hotel room for 7 days where he groomed and eventually had sex with her for most of the nights.  During the day be became her doting father.  Nohea told police she first resisted, but then put up with the sex because he was so loving during the day.  Once in Hawaii, he moved her in with his family (a wife and three minor children) where his horrible behavior continued.   He had sex with her behind his wife’s back, and when he and Nohea argued, he assaulted her, threw her on the ground, and broke her foot.  She was hospitalized.   Nohea called her mother and left Hawaii.

She made a police report to the Phoenix Police Department on April 1, 2011.  She told her story through her tears, maintained eye contact, and was credible.  She called Whitter as the police listened in.  When she told her father she may be pregnant, he replied that her pregnancy test came back negative.  He did not deny having sex with her.  In another call, he admitted he fractured her foot. 

It is almost 1 year later –NO CHARGES HAVE BEEN FILED.  Putting aside how disgusting it is for a father to stalk, find, contact, mislead, and have sex with his 18 year-old daughter (he was smart enough to wait until she was no longer a minor under the eyes of the law), where are the felony assault charges for the broken foot?  How about felony incest?  What about rape charges, and believing the victim when the father is an abusive, conniving rapist criminal who lives with other minor children and is a constant threat to them?

The questions are endless and the answers are none.  I have personally contacted the Phoenix police Department with the hopes of holding Whitter accountable.  And what do I get? A big fat nothing.  No response to my letters, no answers to the victim, and certainly no justice. 

While the media is not where we should seek justice, if law enforcement fails, it is the media who puts a glare on that failure, and gets the word out, if only to give law enforcement a second chance at a missed opportunity.  Today, Nohea and I did just that.  Nohea came on Good Day Los Angeles to discuss her story, her case, and tonight we will discuss it more in depth in a special on MYfoxla.com, where we will discuss the missed opportunities in both the Marc Berndt as well as the Ronny Whitter case. 


Please do not let this be another missed opportunity and watch MYFOXLA PRESENTS Tonight at 10:30 PM PST, Channel 11; more details at myfoxla.com


Friday, December 9, 2011

Internet Sleuthers are Secret Sauce to Crime Solving

Detectives work for police departments, private investigators work for citizens or lawyers but sleuthers work for any given “cause” or case. Internet sleuthers are not necessarily new but they are certainly the secret sauce that gives hope to victims, provides clues to investigators and insures that criminal investigations stay alive and well.

Internet sleuthing has helped solve some of the highest profile criminal cases in recent history. Take Casey Anthony for example; it was sleuthers who found the pictures of her partying on the bar over beers bottle during the time one would expect her to be frantically searching for her missing daughter Caylee. Those pictures found on photobucket.com by civilians were a major break in the case. Through those pictures, not only did the whole world see that Casey Anthony was partying while Caylee was missing but also that her accounts of what occurred were quickly impeachable and she was stuck with a story told in photos.

From murders to missing persons to rapes to kidnaps there are online eyes who are evaluating the evidence, criticizing theories, and solving crimes utilizing tools like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter that many use to simply stay in touch with high school friends.

Some of the most famous people in this online crime community are names that may be new to you but are legends to crime fighters. A few of them are Tricia Griffith who runs websleuths.com, Levi Page of the levipageshow.blogspot.com, Red and Dana Pretzer of scaredmonkeys.net, who take their own personal UNPAID time to provoke discussions, ask questions, and diligently analyze each and every piece of available information in order to catch the bad guy or at least shed light on some of the nation's darkest crimes.

Sleuthing merely requires a computer and an internet connection. No uniform required. Most sleuthers are curled up in their pj’s and do their work while sipping coffee. Don’t laugh… even law enforcement takes these armchair detectives seriously. Just ask Tricia, Levi, Red or Dana. Don’t believe me? The subpoenas and calls from law enforcement speak for themselves. Law enforcement has quickly learned that on line sleuthers have data that even the police don’t have…and that is intel on the people who check out the sleuthers on line. Cops have not only found value in the discussions but potentially more valuable are the IP addresses and info on the people who visit these sites.

I have seen the value of sleuthing, and therefore have become a sleuther myself. In representing several of the victims in the Long Island Serial Killer Case, I created and continue to maintain two websites on the case (http://www.findshannangilbert.com/ and http://findmeganwaterman.com/home/). Besides providing information and areas for people to email tips, I can see who visits my site on a daily basis. Why is that important? I have long believed that this case has stayed alive only because the media took an interest in it. Once they took an interest the police did. How do I know this? My websites. A&E airs the documentary, the documentary raises questions, media outlets start covering the case and guess who is on my website today? The State Department, the FBI, and the police department are just a few.

Who else do I think is on these sites? The killer. Killers are narcissistic people who love to read about themselves and take an active interest in their own case. I saw this when I represented Samantha Spiegel in the John Mark Karr case and I believe that could be happening in the Long Island Serial Killer Case as well.

Sleuths are ahead of the curve in that unlike cops, they believe there are invaluable bits of telling evidence that criminals trail all over the internet everyday. Let’s face it, your average fuddy-duddy, coffee addicted detective is not necessarily the best source for the latest internet trends. You don’t expect “Columbo” to know the ins and outs of Facebook, Photobucket, Twitter, Find My iPhone App, ask Siri, or anything else that sounds like social media. Unfortunately most officers are still caught up with hard evidence like fingerprints and blood splatter analysis. But if you ask me, it’s a mistake for police to fail to investigate internet intel as closely as they do other things.

By having such a narrow focus, investigators leave behind a world of evidence that sleuths are all too happy to dive into. Aptly put by Kimberly Wilson of The Oregonian regarding the disappearance of Kyron Horman, “Feverish website owners and their volunteer acolytes tap into theories, plot time lines, parse media reports, truth-squad comments and study aerial maps, all in an effort to solve what has baffled the pros…”

Tonight on myfoxla.com we will be dissecting the good, the bad, and never heard stories and breaking news that happens online in the world of crime. We will discuss the hottest cases trending in the sleuthing world including ones that you would think are long cold. These include The People’s Court Case (Michelle Parker), The Long Island Serial Killer Case, Robyn Garnder the 2nd missing Aruban case, and even Jon Benet Ramsey. Liz Habib will host Darren Kavinoky and I when we discuss these cases as well as the effect the internet and sleuthers have on criminal justice.

Hear the armchair detectives and experts themselves; Levi Page, Tricia Griffith, and Pat Brown will be on online tonight from 9-10:30pm and we will culminate with an on air special on KTTV Fox LA from 10:30-11pm. For links and more information, do what the sleuthers do and click here: http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/story/web-chat-internet-sleuthing-20111209

Sunday, November 27, 2011

(de) OCCUPY LA: There's Somethin Happen Here What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear


I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" declared the lifer news anchor Howard Beale in the 1975 film classic Network.  A movie ahead of my time but the message I certainly understand. I have been occupied with Occupy.

Following Mayor Villaragoisa’s order to activists to decamp from City Hall no Angeleno can help but evaluate their stance on Occupy LA and wonder what will happen at 12:01 AM.  Two questions are repeated:  What’s going to happen?  Where the Occupy protestors go?   

What will happen is easy.  The Occupiers will be forced to vacate their camp – the police will move them out.  But what about after they are decamped?  What happens to the things the Occupiers stand for?  Will they be able to continue to assert their beliefs?  Or will the eviction from their camp mean the end of their protest?

But as I sit here I can’t help wanting to break out into my inner UCSB liberal self, holding hands and singing kumbaya.  But instead, Buffalo Springfield’s 60’s lyric seems way more apropos to Occupy.; “There’s somethin’ happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” 

Occupiers have achieved one thing -- they have our attention.  And thanks to the City of Los Angeles -- the Mayor, the police, LA City Council Members, etc. -- they were allowed to use City grounds to make their point.  But now what?   

We all understand that the Occupiers are mad, but about what?   I mean, specifically -- what are Occupiers mad about?  And after you tell me that, please tell me -- what do the Occupiers exactly want?  To me, Occupy has failed to do anything more than occupy -- and as such I am left no choice but to stand by the City in its decision to decamp.  The City may do so not only legally but ethically as well.

My best guess is that the Occupiers represent the 99% of America that feels at an economic disadvantage to the top 1% of American wage earners.  And I must admit that I am not a member of that 99% for definitional purposes.  But I know financial pressure.  I know the job market and I have spent a career advocating, serving and protecting the 99%.  I get the cause and I get the issue.   

I am all for protest, free speech and providing those who choose to protest every protection under the First Amendment – letting voices of dissent make their point is one of the things that makes this country great.   However, Occupiers, you must now listen to our Mayor…as he did you.

The Mayor unequivocally delivered both a message and a plan of action.  He stated,  "The movement is at a crossroads.  It is time for Occupy LA to move from holding a particular patch of park land to spreading the message of economic justice and signing more people up for the push to restore the balance to American society." 

Occupiers, maybe if you had not only a message but also an actual plan the Mayor and the rest of us could stand behind what appears to have become an unsanitary slumber party at City Hall.  But you have put forth no plan, and the Mayor is now forced to act.  That park doesn’t belong to you -- it belongs to all of us.  So, Occupiers, what happens next is up to you. 

How you going to play it?  Do you know?  Who decides what the next step is?

You have done a great job raising awareness and bringing an extremely important message of economic inequality to the table.  But I can’t take issue with the City of Los Angeles saying it’s time to pack up when there is no end in sight.  And like I do when I am confused about my stance, I simply look to the law. 

The First Amendment allows for the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to that end.  But, there is no right in the Constitution that permits day in and day out sleepovers and camp-outs in city owned/public property.  There is no right to loiter nor right to trespass that appears in the Constitution. 

The City of Los Angeles’ position has been that the City would not interfere with Occupy to show its support for the cause.  In doing so, however, the City did not somehow abdicate its rights to provide a safe and sanitary park for all citizens to enjoy.  The City has the right to enforce the laws of the land and to order people to disperse when the peaceful assembly has become a nuisance, a public health issue, or has created danger.

"The goal is to do this as peacefully as possible," Chief Beck said.  But some Occupy protesters have already indicated that they will resist eviction from the City Hall park.  So now that we are less than 4 hours away from decampment time what’s gonna happen?  

Cops are doing NOTHING today but keeping a watchful eye.  Both sides (cops and Occupiers) are saying what happens depends on the actions of the other.  By tomorrow we can expect about 300-400 police officers at the scene.  The number of folks coming to protest remains largely unknown though there was a Facebook page inviting 26,000 people to a Eviction Block Party.

Inside law enforcement sources say that the Occupy decampment plan is to be dictated by the number and demeanor of the protestors.  The mantra is that the crowd will dictate police action -- not the other way around.  Internal police meetings (roll call as well as internal emails) suggest that LAPD and LASD are specifically discussing how now to have a “Davis”.    

As such, I am told that they will NOT use pepper spray as a subduing mechanism -- but any escalation may warrant a change of ground rules.  For now the police are relying on traditional means per protocol for people who don't disperse.   However, there is word that there may be other nonviolent means that police could use should the situation start to get out of hand. 

They will arrest people who are committing clear crimes – using drugs, alcohol, or flagrantly disturbing the peace. If the number of protestors grows so large to require dispersement, police will physically lift people and take them into police cars to remove them from the scene.  Even this however, according to an internal police email, will not be done without SUPERVISOR permission. 

Law enforcement is anticipating that some folks will be easy to get to remove from the scene as they commit crimes in front of the police that will justify arrest.  Those protesters who are peeing in public or using drugs and alcohol, people who have known warrants out for their arrest – those people will be removed first.  The next round of people to be removed will be the ones considered trespassers, loiterers and obstructers.  Finally, there will come an official time set to say “move it or arrest” -- we do know that time will come and police are hopeful that it will be as drama-free as it was at the Occupy march a week ago.  

So, LA Occupiers we know what the police are going to do.  We know how they are going to do it and their message is pretty darn clear, “It’s time to vacate the premises.”  They made a decision, have a plan, and will implement in only a few hours. 

You have been on the lawn for 7 weeks.  My question to you is if you are fighting to stay then please tell us what you are saying and what you want. 

And while I can’t find a clear message for what Occupy the movement stands for I did find a number of resources on the Occupy LA website.  Here they have provided things you can do to Stop the Eviction of Occupy LA.  Occupiers are calling for people to show up on 11pm on Sunday night in solidarity and have generated a petition to stop the eviction.  “Take the time to sign it, tweet it, and pass it along to your friends, “ they say.      http://www.change.org/petitions/mayor-villaraigosa-stop-the-eviction-of-occupy-la

They further encourage supporters to email the Mayor and Council Members too!

Antonio Villaraigosa:  mayor@lacity.org (213) 978-0600 or (213) 978-0721
District 1: Ed Reyes: councilmember.reyes@lacity.org (213)-473-7001
District 2: Paul Krekorian: councilmember.Krekorian@lacity.org (213)-473-7002
District 3: Dennis Zine: councilmember.zine@lacity.org (213)-473-7003
District 4: Tom LaBonge: councilmember.Labonge@lacity.org (213)-473-7004
District 5: Paul Koretz: paul.koretz@lacity.org (213)-473-7005
District 6: Tony Cardenas: councilmember.cardenas@lacity.org (213) -473-7006
District 7: Richard Alacorn: councilmember.alarcon@lacity.org (213)-473-7007
District 8: Bernard Parks: councilmember.parks@lacity.org (213)-473-7008
District 9: Jan Perry: Jan.Perry@lacity.org (213)-473-7009
District 10: Herb Wesson Jr.: councilmember.wesson@lacity.org (213)-473-7010
District 11: Bill Rosendahl: councilman.rosendahl@lacity.org (213)-473-7011
District 12: Mitchell Englander: councilmember.englander@lacity.org (213)-473-7012
District 13: Eric Garcetti: councilmember.garcetti@lacity.org (213)-473-7013
District 14: Jose Huizar: councilmember.huizar@lacity.org (213)-473-7014



(PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS LEMIRE)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Thank You to Bob Costas and Jerry Sandusky, Too

I gotta send a big thank you to Bob Costas. Upon hearing NBC was doing this interview, I was pissed that your show was going to be a platform for Jerry Sandusky. However, I think the the surpisingly bad interview will only be helpful for justice in the future. You did a bang up job, asked excellent questions, and gave us an opportunity to hear from the alleged pedophile himself in an a way that I would not have predicted. The 10 minute or so phone interview did nothing to change my view of the horrific case at Penn State U and the alleged crimes of this horrific man. But unexpectedly the interview gave me and the prosecutors more corroboration.

This may sound strange but I am also sending a big "thank you" to Jerry Sandusky, for being so darn typical, that is typical of the words of a predator. Your answers and lack of answers were telling. I particularly enjoyed how you did this as a phone interview not allowing anyone to judge your facial expressions and lack thereof in order to really assess your credibility. You, like every other accused deserve a vehement defense and are entitled to every protection of the law in a court of law. But last night you chose to play in a place that doesn’t have the same legal protections. You played in the court of public opinion via the media and in my view convicted yourself while also previewing the legal case to come. For your sake, I hope the legal decisions and tactics are more strategized, more believable and more helpful as last night’s showing was pathetic for both you as an individual and despicable for the defense of your case as a whole. I mean, who puts their client on the tv (even via phone) for an interview at all? Did Amendola and Sandusky not hear about the Conrad Murray taped interview? There is a reason that we have the 5th Amendment. I still have not seen an interview yet where anyone thinks this helped your case. Frankly, I could care less if you and your lawyer make ridiculous decisions and chose to yap despite the protections of the 5th Amendment.

We have learned a lot from the Grand Jury Indictment but the tidbits we saw in Bob Costas’ interview were the most insightful and telling. To his demise, Sandusky may have implicitly divulged key facts about the defense strategy and offered a sneak peak into what’s ahead in the legal battle.

Many of you have emailed, tweeted, and facebooked me, etc saying “creepy”, “gross”, “disgusting”. Many had that feeling but let me point you to the specifics so you understand why.


1. INTERVIEW WAS VIA PHONE:
This was an interview where we merely heard the voice of the accused. He had no affect, no emotion, and no face. There is no doubt that this was intentionally orchestrated. Trust me, NBC can find an optic wire to satellite him, or Skype would have worked too. The ability to believe and trust comes from things like eye contact, sincerity, and facial expressions. Without having that benefit we can only assume he either had none or even worse had facial expressions and affect that his attorneys were so concerned about that they hid him.


2. THE “UMs” AND THE “UHs”
Even without the “tells” of facial expressions, the interview still painted a very eerie picture. There were countless times when Sandusky stumbled and seemed to be searching for the words while being asked the most basic of questions.

How hard is it just to say no?
BOB COSTAS: Are you sexually attracted to young boys, to underage boys?

JERRY SANDUSKY: Am I sexually attracted to underage boys?

BOB COSTAS: Yes.

JERRY SANDUSKY: Sexually attracted, you know, I enjoy young people. I love to

be around them. But no I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.


“An innocent person doesn’t have to repeat that question and then parse it, ” said a Joel Achenbach a Washington Post blogger.   "The innocent would have said, simply, “no!”  he added. 

Same thing happens here:

BOB COSTAS:
Do you feel guilty? Do you feel as if it's your fault?

JERRY SANDUSKY:
Guilty--?

How hard is that to answer that question? I mean really!!!

NBC touted the interview as breaking-silence but there were certainly pauses and long moments of silence. Silence may not be used against you in a courtroom but it can in a TV interview. Silence can either be seen as a tacit admission, a sign of inability to answer, shame, or even guilt. When asked what he has to say about those who see him as a monster, Sandusky struggled to come up with a response, almost conceding to the label. “I don't know what I can say or what I could say that would make anybody feel any different now. I would just say that if somehow people could hang out until my attorney has a chance to fight, you know, for my innocence. That's about all I could ask right now. And you know, obviously, it's a huge challenge,” he said.

3. LACK OF SINCERITY
More than one time, Costas asked why several unrelated people over the span of years would falsely accuse Sandusky of the same pattern of misconduct. Nearly each and every time, Sandusky responds, “You’d have to ask them.” No, Mr. Sandusky, YOU were asked for a logical explanation as to why so many unrelated people would have varying accounts of the same abusive behavior on different occasions. On the surface, Sandusky was a revered football coach for a Division I school and a very charitable man. Why would several people who don’t know each other wrongly accuse Sandusky of the most heinous acts? The only answer Sandusky could come up with was to divert the question and victimize himself. Thank you Bob Costas for pointing out the lack of sincerity in Sandusky’s response by stating that he must just be the “unluckiest and most persecuted man that any of us has ever heard about.”

4. PASSING THE BLAME
Another classic maneuver for a perpetrator to separate himself from any future guilt is blame. Sandusky already set up the blame and strategy to be on his lawyer. In his words, “if somehow people could hang out until my attorney has a chance to fight, you know, for my innocence.” What words were noticeably absent? - “The truth will come out,” “I will be exonerated,” and “This is a terrible injustice.” That was far from what we heard. What he gave were long pauses, ums, and stumbling to denounce that he’s sexually attracted to young boys. Translation of that is I am guilty and I hope my lawyer can get me out of this jam. And what message was also received but not stated…I am taking this to trial to save myself and maybe even save those who tried to save my ass. Hell, he must think he has nothing to lose.

While I could continue to analyze the telltale moments of the interview, the single most important aspect was that it provided great intel and a heads up to the prosecution of what’s to come. Joseph Amendola stated: “We expect we're going to have a number of kids. Now how many of those so-called eight kids, we're not sure. But we anticipate we're going to have at least several of those kids come forward and say this never happened. This is me. This is the allegation. It never occurred. In fact, one of the toughest allegations -- the McQueary violations -- what McQueary said he saw, we have information that that child says that never happened. Now grown up... now the person's in his twenties.”

Ladies and gentleman, you may remember the McMartin case here in my City of Angels. To remind you I quote Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMartin_preschool_trial“The McMartin preschool trial was a day care sexual abuse case of the 1980s. Members of the McMartin family, who operated a preschool in California, were charged with numerous acts of sexual abuse of children in their care. Accusations were made in 1983. Arrests and the pretrial investigation ran from 1984 to 1987, and the trial ran from 1987 to 1990. After six years of criminal trials, no convictions were obtained, and all charges were dropped in 1990. When the trial ended in 1990 it had been the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history. The case was part of day care sex abuse hysteria, a moral panic over satanic ritual abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s.”

Think I’m kidding? Sandusky supporters are already commenting all over the blogosphere even on pennlive.com, a comprehensive website featuring news, sports, entertainment, and information about Central Pennsylvania. Like Creole Chavez said, November 11, 2011 at 6:35PM, “Maybe Sandusky is highly likely to be guilty, but the McMartin preschool was burnt to the ground too. It was also later proven to be all LIES. That is why folks need to rant here and not go vigilante. It tends not to turn out well. No sense in someone that thinks they are helping to add to the fire. Eric Rudolph did not help the pro-life crowd. Yes, be angry and scream, but do no harm. Enough physical harm has already been done. Roll Tide.”

As AP columnist, Mac Engle so aptly stated, “Nothing in this approximately 10-minute interview is apt to change the public's perception that Sandusky's behavior is anything other than amoral, criminal and sick under any code in any society. For the sake of argument, let us assume that the very worst act Sandusky committed is that he showered with young boys, and that he touched their legs without sexual intent. As a parent, I would want to know this so I could make my own judgment and take appropriate action. This is black and white. This is not horseplay. There is no oops. There is no misunderstanding. Get out of my kid's shower. And don't you lay a finger on my kid, you repugnant creep.”

So a big thank you to Bob Costas. You helped those who will prosecute Sandusky have a preview of how the defense will present its case. You let us hear the words of this accused pedophile failing to change the minds of the public. And hopefully, each child who was abused (especially the ones that could have been spared had the mandated reporters reported) will be able to say thank you, too if this interview is replayed in a real court for a juror to hear.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Michael, Casey, and Nancy ...

Casey Anthony, Michael Jackson, Nancy Grace … It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke doesn’t it?
I wish I could say it was. But it’s not only NOT a joke but it’s crux of a legal argument. 


Imagine this --The King of Pop -- now being mentioned in the same sentence as -- wait for it, ‘Tot Mom.’


That’s right Casey Anthony is casting a giant shadow in a courtroom thousands of miles away from her Florida legal extravaganza.


Lawyers representing the doctor accused in the Jackson drug overdose case, demanded jurors be sequestered in this case. Why? Because, they say, interest in the upcoming Conrad Murray trial will be bigger than, wait for it - the Casey Anthony trial. Murray’s Lawyers have even gone on to say, “There is a reasonable expectation that Dr. Murray’s trial will be the most publicized trial in history.”


Now, let me say I don’t disagree. Some of you may actually remember I left the Los Angeles County DA’s office because of this case. I knew on June 25, 2009 (the day Jackson died) what lawyers are arguing now. This case would receive gavel-to-gavel coverage. Now before you balk about my self-promotion, think about it, our society is OBSESSED with crime, obsessed with celebrity, obsessed with drama, characters, LA, so it’s the perfect story. Knowing this was going to be the biggest case of my time, I was NOT going to miss the opportunity to opine, as I actually have the skinny, the insight, and know the nuances of my former office. The LA District Attorney’s office -- the players, the case, the evidence, and strategies -- will all be under intense scrutiny. Who better to cut through the hype than a former DA like me?


OJ was called ‘the trial of the century,’ but that was before the world-wide-web. OJ was covered via good old fashion cameras, radio, and reporters. But that was before Nancy Grace, bloggers, tweets and status updates. And Casey proved it – minute- by -minute coverage paid off with sky-high ratings.


And she wasn’t even famous.


When everybody’s jaws finally returned to normal after the Anthony not guilty verdict, the experts began discussing what kind of impact this case would have on the jury system. I was one of them. Was I surprised by the Anthony verdict? Not really. I know what it’s like to stand up in front of a packed courtroom for a big trial. I know what it means to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, and never discount the burden of proof, something I think the Florida prosecutors did.


And this one IS going to be big. I just hope that the DA in LA doesn’t watch too much of its own press, drink too much of their own Kool-Aid, or get too cocky, like the Florida prosecutors did. This case, while seemingly easy on the surface, is actually TOUGH. There are many legal nuances presented by a case involving a drug like Propofol. Then, there is the question of whether Michael was responsible for his own demise or not. And even with the best lawyers, a smart judge, a good jury, the DAs will have to do their job. And they will have to do it even better than they think.


Turns out Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor didn't buy any of the defense team's arguments, saying he didn't want jurors to feel like "inmates." He even said no to keeping cameras out of the courtroom.

And whether you agree or not, one must ask how much does the analysis, the talk, and the hype affect the case. Was Casey Anthony acquitted because her case got too much attention? I mean her jurors were sequestered after all.

Judge Pastor probably summed it up best.  "Yes, there will be talking heads," he said, "frequently talking heads are talking through other body parts than their heads. " I bet Nancy Grace couldn't have come up with that one!

Face it people, circumstances impact all cases. Rampart haunted LAPD for years, Kobe Bryant and the DSK cases affect all rape cases. We are a knowledgeable society, and we will weigh in. But are we weighing in fairly? I mean how crazy is it - the “People versus Dr. Conrad Murray” is being dubbed the, ‘The Jackson Trial.’ Michael’s family will be seated in that courtroom day-in and day-out. His parents, siblings and his children will watch, as Michael is once again center stage. His health, use of drugs, odd behaviors, and yes, the condition of his body after death, will be exposed for all to hear. TV, analysis or not, these circumstances will affect the case just as much as a camera, and yes, even Nancy Grace.


The prosecutor in this case, Deputy District Attorney David Walgren is a darn good lawyer. He’s fair, and hard working, but in this post-Casey Anthony era, does he stand a chance? The evidence as laid out so far, seems to put Murray in a heap of trouble. But we’ve all seen what reasonable doubt can do to a jury. After Casey, I called for professional juries. The idea isn’t a new one, but it may be worth looking at. With 24 hour, 7 days a week coverage of a case like this one, what pressures will Murray and his defense team face? What about the DA and his team? Can justice prevail? I don’t know about you, but I’ll be watching, tweeting, and Facebooking just as I’ve planned since 2009.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

DENIAL IN NAPLES: THE STEVEN NOYES CASE



One would think that in the year 2011, given the advances in technology, communication, and social awareness, child sexual assault would not only be accepted as something that exists but should at this point be known as a crime that takes a particularly skilled type of perpetrator to commit. Yet, everyday very smart, caring people put theirs and other children at risk by not accepting the very harsh realities of child sexual assault. 

Today’s case of denial begins in the tight-knit Naples, Florida community at a school dedicated to Christian values where a young 9 year old -- herein referred to as Doe did as we hope any child would -- reported that her beloved teacher Steven Noyes touched her. Yet as the news spread throughout the school community, as is often the case, a loud group of disbelievers, naysayers, and deniers made their voices heard.  It is the children of those people that I am most concerned for.

What motivates those members of the school community jump to the teacher's defense? Why do people in these cases automatically disbelieve the victim and support the teacher? Is it possibly because the parents cannot stomach the image of a teacher being a sexual predator? Is it all about denial? Are these people naïve or are they cruel? Eternal optimist that I am, I'm betting on naïve.  So as we sit here and pat ourselves on the back about how far we have come when it comes to sexual assault, I say it's time to accept the facts:
  • When society accepts the myths surrounding sexual abuse, it assists sex offenders by silencing victims and encouraging public denial about the true nature of these assaults against children.
  • Even "really great" and "really nice” teachers can be sexually inappropriate. As a matter of fact, the "nicer" the teacher is the more likely that the teacher is using charm and kindness as a way to groom and seek victims.
  • Statistics show that the number of false allegations of sexual assault are far less than the number of truthful allegations of sexual assault. Yet, the default mode is to disbelieve, rather than to believe, the victim.
  • 1 in 4 women will be assaulted in the course of her lifetime. It is because of the blame, denial, and fear that many do not report the crime.
  • Not everyone who comes in contact with a child molester will be abused. In truth, sex offenders tend to carefully pick and set up their victims.  Thus, while sex offenders may feel driven to molest children, they rarely do so indiscriminately or without a plan.
  • Sexual assault survivors are never responsible for the attack, no matter what, no matter how much alcohol was consumed. Responsibility lies with the perpetrator; the survivor is never responsible for the assailant's behavior.
THE PEOPLE
Jane Doe  is an outgoing, kind girl, who still to this day doesn’t even get the sexual nature of a breast-touch, or even breasts as sexual body parts.  She had loved the Village School of Naples since she started there in kindergarten. 
Her parents are the kind of folks you’d want in your community and in your school-- trust me, you’d want them as your friends. They are church going, softball playing parents who take pride in their value-driven life. In fact, they chose Doe’s school because of its mission of, “educating the child’s mind, body, and spirit through Christian values in an ever-changing world.” 
Since the day they were made aware that Doe’s allegations had been reported to the school, they’ve felt anything but Christian values.  And the fact that Doe had to suffer the molestation wasn’t  enough; the teacher and the school decided to question Doe’s story. Interestingly it didn’t happen right away… no the questioning came right before the school was getting a visit for re-accreditation.  Hmm… coincidence? 
The teacher’s name is Steven Noyes, a one-time Golden Halo honoree, who has responded to the investigation by hiring a criminal defense attorney who hijacked the investigation. Noyes refuses to answer questions and refuses to take a polygraph--leaving the sheriffs who want to get to the truth no choice but to suspend the investigation until Noyes changes his mind. Thankfully there is no statute of limitations on child sexual assault, so if Mr. Noyes is faced with another case --therefore corroboration -- this case should come back to haunt him.

THE INCIDENT
The facts of the case are not much different than any other sexual assault.  That is, a a sexual assault that was reported early in the cycle of abuse like Doe’s.  After all, a perpetrator doesn’t just start with out with intercourse or oral copulation.  No--they start slow. They groom and groom to test the “loyalty” and vulnerability of their victim.
Just after Christmas 2010, Doe was in her homeroom class working on her math homework and got stumped on a long division problem. She asked her teacher for help. She went up to her teacher’s desk, and that’s when it happened.

As Doe tells her mother and father, the teacher began helping her with her first question. He put his hand under her dress and on her knee. Then, he reached his hand up her back and under her shirt, coming around the front to rub her chest. He kept his hand there while he helped her with three other math problems.

Afterward Doe didn’t protest. Instead she thanked Mr. Noyes and returned to her seat. She didn’t understand what just happened to her, but she couldn’t push one thought from her mind. When she went home that night, Doe says she still feels her teacher’s hand on her chest. It’s a horribly vivid sensation she can’t shake. As Doe’s mother was getting ready for our courthouse press conference, she told me “Doe still feels that hand--to this day."


THE AFTERMATH

The parents didn’t panic, but they simply wanted answers, direction, and support. They didn’t call lawyers or press instead they approached the head of the school, Ginger Sauter, a woman they’ve gone to church with for years, as a friend. Ginger told them, “this is all my fault, I shouldn’t have let him hug the children.”

Then things quickly turned from bad to worse. A criminal investigation began on January 21, 2011, two days after the incident, conducted by an officer from the Collier County Sheriff’s Department. On January 28, the investigator received a phone call – not from Stephen Noyes, but from his criminal defense attorney – who informed the officer that Mr. Noyes, “would not be answering questions, or submitting to a polygraph examination."
On February 1, the same officer paid a visit to the Doe’s home. The little girl bravely met with the investigator, even agreeing to wear the same dress she wore to school that day. She even allowed him to photograph her in it.
Then the officer informed Doe’s mom the investigation had gone as far as it could.  He told the family that he could find no other leads, no other child to corroborate Doe’s story, and with the suspect, ”not agreeing to speak to me,” there was nothing further he could do. And so, the case would be suspended.  So sad, how this suspension somehow provides some people with an excuse to think that this crime couldn’t have occurred. As if the abuse and aftermath was not enough, The Village School of Naples added salt to the fresh wound.
The school doesn’t sit the family down to discuss what to do next. They church pastor, closely associated with the school, does not come to administer spiritual support to the family, instead the Village School quietly expelled little Doe from school!  How’s that for child-centered education? The teacher was allowed to return to his job. Imagine. You did the right thing and they don’t believe you.  In a blink of an eye, you go from honor student, to expelled student.
THE LAWSUIT


Child sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions in schools throughout our nation and has become an alarmingly frequent occurrence. The cases that are surfacing almost daily serve as a wake-up call to everyone in America to protect our children.

The teacher, Steven Noyes, is by all accounts "beloved” and has a clean record. The same scenario goes for the priests who sexually abuse children and all of the other people who choose careers working with children, only to groom them and then sexually abuse them. That’s the typical M.O. of a child abuser. And yet it is the priest, or the accused teacher, who often is believed over the victim.


The day of our news conference, as Doe’s parents nervously walked up to the podium of microphones to face those cameras, there was a taint of disbelief in the air, as though someone had convinced the reporters covering this lawsuit Doe had made-up this story. The questions from the press came fast and furious.

"Wasn’t there a complete investigation?"

"Didn’t they close the case due to lack of evidence?"

I answered one by one.

"No the investigation isn’t over, it was suspended when Mr. Noyes refused to answer the sheriff’s questions."
Some of the questions came from a man standing among the press core.  Well-dressed and well coiffed despite the heat, we learned he was criminal attorney Jerry Berry. Berry began shouting his comments from behind the line of cameras.
I invited him up so he could speak his mind.  He began to attack us--for filing a lawsuit, for holding a press conference, and worst of all the press seemed to go along with this approach. Yes, they wanted to know, why do you want to sue the school. 

This is the story of a father who believes, and is standing up for his little girl. It’s about a mother who wants to make sure no other child goes through the pain and suffering her daughter has. The goal in filing a suit is to get answers, to hold the school accountable; to make sure that this case is not simply swept under the rug.

It is our goal to have a safe forum for people to come forward as we know that there are likely other victims out there. My co-counsel Jeff Herman said it best, “Now we wait for the other girls to come forward. The ones who also know they were touched inappropriately, but suffered in silence."

Our suit describes what happened to Doe. Over the years, Noyes reportedly the “hugging” teacher essentially groomed his young victim. He showered her with affection, drew her close and built a relationship based on trust.
Doe’s parents told me they feel he groomed them too with signs of friendship over the years, all the while insinuating Doe closer and closer into his circle. They remain solid in their conviction they are doing what’s right. And their daughter gives them the strength to do it. After she won an award in her new school, she said, “see mommy, God rewards good people.”
I hope so. I really do.

Friday, May 6, 2011

California Department of Corrections Misses Another One

March 25, 2011.

A six-year old girl innocently plays hide-and-seek with friends outside her Boyle Heights home.

Just another day in Los Angeles.

Then, the unspeakable happens.

Remember the catchphrase of summer 2009? "Missed opportunities," a term coined by Sheriff Warren Rupf when he tried to wiggle out of the most embarrassing clusterf*#ks and examples of parole/Department of Correction ineptitude in recent history.

In case you don't remember, he was the sheriff who tried to pass off mistakes made by the California Department of Corrections as, 'missed opportunities.' Those missed opportunities led to eighteen years of hell for a young woman named Jaycee Dugard.

According to police and parole reports, Jaycee was enslaved, raped, and forced to bear and raise children in a makeshift tent under lock and key by a parolee named Phillip Garrido. While many consider the Dugard case such an extreme case, and not the norm, there are too many stories of "missed opportunities" everyday in this country.

It happened that day when a little girl's innocence was forever shattered. Her game of hide-and-seek ended when a man lured her to the nearby Sheridan Elementary School. Her playmates knew something was wrong and immediately alerted her family. The child's uncle rushed to the school, and with the help of the janitor, he found his niece, chased down the suspect, and held him for custody.

Now for the kicker: the suspect accused of rape was out of prison on parole. He is identified as Edward Gonzalez, 28, hardcore gang member on parole for assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to commit great injury.

The questions are many and the answers are few.

Gonzalez is a parolee with a record dating back to 2005 and possibly even longer. He has been classified as a "High Control Supervision" case, a multi-termer with an extensive criminal arrest history for very violent criminal offenses.

What does all that mean? It means: watch him! This guy has a proclivity for violence! He is on our radar. We know about him. We have knowledge and knowledge is power.

There is no ambiguity in his record. His criminal history speaks for itself. Gonzalez was released on parole on Feb 18, 2009. By June of that year, he was in trouble for criminal threats, battery on a spouse/child, and for absconding parole supervision.

You would think enough is enough, forget it. Gonzalez was given another chance after he violated parole again in September 2010, not to mention the other parole violation in June 2010. More chances to ruin more lives.
Clearly the California Department of Corrections has failed to maintain their mission statement.

The California's Governor's Budget 2011-12 web page the CDCR's mission clearly,

"The mission of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is to enhance public safety through safe and secure incarceration of offenders, effective parole supervision, and rehabilitative strategies to successfully reintegrate offenders into our communities."

What's worse? This vicious attack happened at 7:45 PM on a FRIDAY. Yes, a Friday. Why was the school unlocked after hours?

The school has directly violated the LAUSD policy in keeping school grounds locked after hours. As stated in their own policy guidelines :
BUL-2426: Closing the Site
• Close and lock all interior and exterior doors, windows and transit
openings.
• Turn off air conditioning and heating units, fans and office machines.
• Free alarm sensors of ALL obstructions, including mobiles or other moving
objects.
• Just prior to departure, notify the School Police Department and turn on the
intrusion alarm system.

Despite this clear violation of school procedure LAUSD officials have refused to comment or support the family and community members affected by this heinous crime. Hmmm... worried about a lawsuit coming their way?


Whether it is the notorious headline-grabbing Dugard-Garrido case, or the less publicized rape in Boyle Heights, these are examples of bad guys committing crimes while on the radar of law enforcement. These are the criminals we know about, the ones we rely on society to protect us from, but instead they are released early, sentenced improperly, monitored ineffectively, or simply fall through the cracks only to reemerge to victimize again.

So as I evaluate the recent "missed opportunity" I ask the same questions you ask: why does this happen, how is it possible, where did the system break down, what are we going to do about it.

It's mind-boggling that when the "worst of the worst" have been identified there still are missteps and glitches that allow them to reoffend.

So is there a way to make it stop? What will force law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, parole agents etc, to make sure that they do their job?

Personal accountability.

What kind of accountability is expected of clerks, producers, DCFS workers, and the like?
What type of deterrents, checks and balances are in place to make sure innocent people don't get hurt or killed? Clearly, it's time we as society say "no" to mediocrity and hold those who slack off -- letting potential killers slip through the system -- accountable for lives that are lost or injured as a result of "clerical errors."

Just ask a six-year-old little girl in Boyle Heights.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Will Charges Be Filed Against Lindsay Lohan?

There are two different issue to consider in the latest Lindsay Lohan incident (a possible assault charge against her from a run in with a female worker at the Betty Ford Rehab Clinic last night). First issue: are there going to be charges in this case, and second: is this going to be a violation of her probation. Either one could land her back in custody.


This is a "she said/she said" kind of situation so it is all about credibility here. Lindsay Lohan does not have very good credibility, so the issue is now going to be, is this worker, Dawn Holland, credible? The worker, Holland, was just fired because she broke the confidentiality rules at the clinic. There are rumored allegations that Holland has a former assault charge against her husband, which also goes toward her credibility.


Anytime that there is a confidential situation with leak of information, there is going to be a mark against credibility. Here also though we have a drug addict, Lohan, who will go to any desperate measures to be able to use and abuse drugs. We have someone who has lied to the court before, someone who has done very little to stay out of jail. So in a credibility call, it is hard predict where the truth will come down.


Lohan was only two weeks away from her end of the stay. It is hard to believe that she would risk everything by sneaking out, according to what many witnesses are saying, since she did not have permission to leave the clinic that night. If she sneaked out and used drugs, it would make sense why she refused to take a test and became agitated with Holland. Judge Fox specifically kept Lohan in custody to make it through the difficult time of the holidays, ending her stay on January 3rd. 


Although some may want to believe Lohan is now cured after her rehab stay, it seems consistent with her continued addiction that she is relapsing again. After several months in rehab, why is she resorting to this kind of behavior? Is she really taking it all seriously? No one seems truly convinced that Lindsay Lohan has been cured. She has not admitted she has a problem. It seems she is utilizing rehab as a way of avoiding jail.  Bar-hopping and drinking is is not on the Betty Ford list of approved activities. However, they have given Lohan opportunities to have day passes because these are markers that Betty Ford uses to test how well a patient is committed to the process. Lohan had permission to shop, but not to drink.


Lohan is probably going to be facing a Judge, yet again, and possibly even facing now criminal charges. The real problem is, from a PR point of view, that Lohan is on the defensive once again. Until she really takes an offensive approach to her problem, she will always be steps behind. If this assault allegation and violation has anything to do with drugs or alcohol, and that is proved, Judge Fox will put Lohan back in custody.

_____