Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Yes, Bonnie Dumanis. They're letting a convicted murderer go free.

In an effort to defend her prosecution of Cynthia Sommer, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis wrote a few days ago:

"How could a convicted murderer suddenly walk out of jail a free woman?"
(See San Diego Union Tribune April 25, 2008 at http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/op-ed/20080425-9999-lz1e25dumanis.html)

Sounds scary, doesn't it? The implication seems to be that a dangerous person whom Bonnie got sentenced to life in prison is now prowling the streets, a danger to us all.

No. It's Bonnie herself that seems to be the danger. She's developed a bad habit of prosecuting people for crimes they didn't commit.

DNA Frees Man After 27 Years in Prison

A Dallas man who spent more than 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit was freed Tuesday, after being incarcerated longer than any other wrongfully convicted U.S. inmate cleared by DNA testing.

James Lee Woodard stepped out of the courtroom and raised his arms to a throng of photographers. Supporters and other people gathered outside the court erupted in applause.

"No words can express what a tragic story yours is," state District Judge Mark Stoltz told Woodard at a brief hearing before his release.

Woodard, cleared of the 1980 murder of his girlfriend, became the 18th person in Dallas County to have his conviction cast aside. That's a figure unmatched by any county nationally, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

"I thank God for the existence of the Innocence project," Woodard, 55, told the court. "Without that, I wouldn't be here today. I would be wasting away in prison."

Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high. That does not include Woodard and at least three others whose exonerations will not become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals formally accepts the ruling of lower courts that have already recommended exoneration.

Woodard was sentenced to life in prison in July 1981 for the murder of a 21-year-old Dallas woman found sexually assaulted and strangled near the banks of the Trinity River.

He was convicted primarily on the basis of testimony from two eyewitnesses, said Natalie Roetzel, the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. One has since recanted in an affidavit. As for the other, "we don't believe her testimony was accurate," Roetzel said.

Like nearly all the exonorees, Woodard has maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. But after filing six writs with an appeals court, plus two requests for DNA testing, his pleas of innocence became so repetitive and routine that "the courthouse doors were eventually closed to him and he was labeled a writ abuser," Roetzel said.

"On the first day he was arrested, he told the world he was innocent ... and nobody listened," Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, said during Tuesday's hearing.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

After prosecuting the innocent Cynthia Sommers, Bonnie Dumanis moves ahead in her apparent quest for the Mike Nifong award

I don't understand why Bonnie Dumanis isn't investigating where the arsenic in some tissue samples came from. Dumanis is more and more exhibiting a resemblance to Paul Pfingst (who prosecuted Stephanie Crowe's 15-year-old brother), Ed Miller (who prosecuted Dale Akiki) and Mike Nifong (who prosecuted the Duke LaCrosse players). It's one thing to make a mistake. It's another to keep prosecuting an innocent person just to gain political capital as your mistakes grow from simple errors into abuse of the justice system.

How about putting Patrick O'Toole charge of finding out who put the arsenic in some of the tissue samples? He should have some time available now that a jury has found Chula Vista councilman Steve Castaneda not guilty of Dumanis's politically-motivated charges of perjury during an investigation that found no crime.

From CNN.com
by Beth Karas, In Session correspondent
April 21, 2008

"When I interviewed Cindy Sommer at the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility here a week ago, neither one of us had any idea that she was spending her last days behind bars. She was a free woman four days later...

"...As I look back on the developments in her case from her conviction in January 2007 to her release last week, lessons come to mind from my years as a DA in Manhattan. A senior DA took me aside during my first year and told me to watch the old Western movie, “The Oxbow Incident,” which deeply moved him. In the movie, based on the book, three innocent men were lynched by a mob when law and order were abandoned.

"My colleague wanted me to understand the immense power of a prosecutor and the need to reign in a “rush to judgment” mentality. He emphasized that doing justice doesn’t always mean trying to secure a conviction but doing what’s right whether it’s lowering the charges or dismissing them outright.

"Sommer’s case may not have been a classic rush to judgment since there wasn’t even a criminal investigation until 15 months after Todd Sommer’s death. Moreover, Sommer wasn’t arrested until November 2005, more than three years after her husband’s death. Despite the holes in the prosecution’s case—the most glaring being no link between Sommer and arsenic—a jury of twelve San Diegans found her guilty. She was facing a sentence of life without parole.

"San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis says the system worked in Sommer’s case. When they recently found more tissue samples of her late husband, the D.A. sent them for testing at a private lab. The absence of arsenic in the tissues led to Sommer’s release last week. The most Dumanis will now say is that there is reasonable doubt. She won’t go as far as Roy Cooper in North Carolina when he declared the three former Duke lacrosse players innocent. But in the eyes of many who followed her case closely, Sommer has now been totally exonerated."

Click here for CNN link.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Who's afraid of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz?

Too many people are terrified of being sued. Being sued is really not so bad. I should know; I'm being sued for defamation by Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz.

What is terrible is when people are silent about wrongdoing for fear of being sued. It seems to me that people like the partners at Stutz law firm are trying to turn every neighborhood into the kind where criminals rule the roost and witnesses are afraid to testify.

Elly Dotseth wrote a letter to Voice of San Diego on April 16, 2008 saying:

"...people in our supposedly free country have begun to keep quiet from fear of being sued or blackballed in some other way. I have recently spoken out in criticism of the way the NTC Foundation is handling leases with nonprofit arts groups, and despite the reply from the director, I stand by my criticism. If he were to sue me, though, that would really be horrific."

Here is my response to Elly:

Kudos for standing up to the McMillin/NTC Foundation, and please be assured that it is not so bad getting sued when you have nothing to hide and the big guys that are suing you have plenty to hide. You simply file an answer, then go down to the courthouse and get a deposition subpoena that has been signed by the Clerk of the Court. Make some copies, fill them out, and serve them on the people who are suing you. They filed the lawsuit, so they had better be prepared to testify under oath and produce documents. If they fail to do so, you file a motion to compel that looks something like THIS.

Former Justice official charged in Abramoff lobbying probe

Stories like this are just the tip of the iceberg, in my opinion. Too many prosecutors are politically-motivated.

By Erica Werner
April 21, 2008

WASHINGTON – A former high-ranking Justice Department official was accused Monday of criminal conflict of interest in the latest case stemming from the investigation of disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Robert Coughlin was deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department's criminal division – the same division handling the Abramoff probe – before resigning a year ago, citing personal reasons. He was due in federal court in Washington on Tuesday for a plea hearing.

Prosecutors accused Coughlin in court papers Monday of providing assistance from 2001-2003 to a lobbyist and the lobbyist's firm while receiving gifts from the firm and discussing prospective employment there.

The lobbyist isn't named but The Associated Press has previously reported that Coughlin was lobbied during the period in question by Kevin Ring, a member of Abramoff's lobbying team who also is under investigation. At the time Coughlin worked for the Justice Department's office of legislative affairs and its office of intergovernmental and public liaison, and Ring worked for Abramoff's Greenberg Traurig firm.

Coughlin talked with Ring about going to work for Greenberg, according to an attorney with knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Ring also provided Coughlin with meals and tickets to events, the AP has reported.

Attorneys for Coughlin declined comment and Ring's attorney didn't immediately return a call for comment.

The investigation of Coughlin's conduct was handled by federal prosecutors in Maryland because of his ties at Justice Department headquarters. The document filed in court Monday is known as an information and is normally filed as part of a plea deal.

Ring and Coughlin worked together for John Ashcroft when he was a Republican senator from Missouri, before he became attorney general in 2001. Ring lobbied Coughlin and other Justice Department officials on a variety of issues, including getting federal money for a jail for the Choctaw tribe.

The Justice Department probe of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists has led to convictions of a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles. At least one current member of Congress, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., remains under investigation.

Ring worked for Doolittle, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this year, before going to work for Abramoff.

Abramoff is serving prison time for a criminal case out of Florida and has not yet been sentenced on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the influence-peddling scandal in Washington.

Associated Press writers Lara Jakes Jordan and Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Patrick O'Toole goes looking for a friend--and finds one!

Patrick O'Toole, head of the Public Integrity Unit in Bonnie Dumanis' San Diego District Attorney's office, has been having a hard week. He's been trying to convince a juror that when Steve Castaneda asked how much a condo would cost, that proved he intended to buy one. And that even though O'Toole didn't uncover wrongdoing during his lengthy investigation, Castaneda should be convicted of perjury FOR SAYING HE DIDN'T INTEND TO BUY A CONDO, WHICH HE, IN FACT, DID NOT BUY.

So you can see how O'Toole would be going around scouting up someone who would make him look professional.

O'Toole found Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad, who agrees that O'Toole needs not one, but TWO, grand juries to help him find public officials who might say something he disagrees with during grand jury proceedings.

Martin Garrick is the sponsor of the two-criminal-grand-juries-for-San Diego bill, who apparently thinks that San Diego prosecutors have done such a fine job with the Public Integrity Unit and cases such as the indictment by a grand jury of the innocent 15-year-old brother of murder victim Stephanie Crowe, that we really should skip preliminary hearings more often.

After all, who needs a judge deciding if prosecutors should go to trial?

Garrick and O'Toole seem like petty, malicious versions of Don Quijote, tilting at people who oppose their favorite politicians.

They say a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Maybe Martin Garrick thinks there are too many ham sandwiches walking around free.

Or maybe he needs another grand jury to investigate Cheryl Cox?