Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Shame Of Lorain, Ohio - Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen Convicted Of Non-Existent Crimes

The Shame Of Lorain, Ohio - Nancy Smith And Joseph Allen Convicted Of Non-Existent Crimes
By Lona Manning
Justice Denied

Margie Grover brought her 4- year-old daughter Nicole to a Lorain, Ohio hospital on May 7, 1993. She claimed that her daughter, who attended the Lorain Head Start had come home and said, “We didn’t go to school today.” Furthermore the anxious mother said that Nicole told her that the bus driver, Nancy Smith, had taken the children to see a man named “Joseph,” who tied her up, taped her eyes, and molested her with a stick. Grover said she found a piece of a branch in the girl’s clothing.

Officers attending at the hospital noted that most of the information was provided by the mother and the attending nurse, not by the little girl herself. The officers reported that Nicole was physically unharmed. The case was assigned to Detective Tom Cantu of Lorain’s Youth and Gang unit. Cantu, a 20+ year veteran of the Lorain PD and an ex-Marine, was named 1992’s Ohio “Policemen of the Year” by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

When Cantu started the investigation, he had an accused person, her unknown accomplice by the name of “Joseph,” an unknown crime scene location, and a definite date. It was clear to Cantu that the incident couldn’t have happened as Nicole (or was it her mother?) described.

Smith’s bus log and the odometer readings confirmed that she had driven her usual route on May 7, and Nicole’s teacher had marked Nicole “present.” Sherry Hagerman, the aide on Smith’s bus that week, confirmed that nothing had happened. At the time of the incident Smith had gone to her second job, driving for the YMCA Meals-onWheels program. Her supervisor confirmed that Smith was a reliable driver and she had shown up for work as usual that day. Cantu spoke to Smith’s co-workers, neighbors, and friends. They scoffed at the idea that Smith was a child molester. She was a single mother with four teenage children and she had three part-time jobs that often kept her working for 12 hours a day.

Cantu interviewed Nicole on May 13, but most of the information came from her mother, who insisted that her daughter was telling her a lot of details at home.

In front of Cantu, however, Nicole hesitated, saying, “I forgot,” “I don’t remember that,” and “Can we go home now?” After repeated questioning she finally agreed that she had seen ““Joseph’s” pee pee.”

Cantu went to the Head Start school on May 25 and questioned 11 children, aged 3 to 5 who were on Smith’s bus route. His police report for that day notes, “The children were questioned if Nancy had ever touched them in a bad way, or in any way which would hurt, or upset them, and each one stated that she has never touched them. The children were asked if they knew anyone named “Joseph,” and they all indicated that they did not. All of the children stated that they liked Nancy and that she was nice.”

Nicole’s mother had been spreading alarm to other Head Start parents who then questioned their children. Had they heard of “Joseph”? Had they been taken to “Joseph’s” house? Cantu said that from the jumbled descriptions of “Joseph,” he couldn’t tell “if the guy was white, black, or a white guy with black spots, or a white guy with black spots” One child said “Joseph” was a white man who painted his head and hands black. Several others said “Joseph” had blue eyes.

Cantu suspected that parents heavily influenced the children’s testimony. “One day they tell you one story, then they go home, and all of a sudden they have the same story.” Cantu recalled, “I took the kids to different houses where they said this thing happened and none of it panned out.

The kids gave descriptions of the interior of the house and different pictures that might have been in the house, [but] any house we went into, nothing matched anything the children stated.” He canvassed the neighborhood and asked if anyone had seen a bright yellow school bus parked there all afternoon. No one had.

Less than two weeks into the investigation the mayor summoned Cantu to his office and when he arrived Grover was already there complaining that no arrest had been made. Cantu got “into a tiff” with her, but he recommended proper police procedure. “I even told the mayor, ‘just because somebody accuses, they say Nancy Smith did it, I have to prove she did it, I can’t arrest her on your say-so.’” Cantu concluded, “There is no proof that a male suspect named “Joseph” exists at the present.” The Head Start semester ended on May 27 with a picnic in the park.

The day afterwards, Grover, who had her identity concealed, appeared on a local newscast with the dramatic claim that a molester was stalking the Head Start kids — and nobody was doing anything about it. She said she wanted, “someone to do something about this case and get the ball rolling.”

She named a suspect, a white man her daughter had pointed out when he was cutting the grass outside his house. (He was soon cleared.)

After the accusations became public, Cantu took Smith for a lie detector test , which showed “she didn’t do that crime any more than me or the guy that gave the test.” Cantu concluded that there was no case against Smith, “There is no proof that a male suspect named “Joseph” exists.... all of the victims in the case have been interviewed with much inconsistency and lack of good evidence.” Shortly after Cantu made his recommendation that the investigation against Smith be concluded, he was promoted to sergeant and transferred out of the Youth/Gang unit.

The Lorain PD then assigned five officers to a special Head Start task force. The questioning of the children began again. One of those police reports states, “Amy was asked, did Joseph make you touch him? Amy stated, ‘No.’”

When Child Protective Services interviewed Nicole in May, she denied that anyone had touched her. After several months and more interviews, she agreed with detective Eladio Andujar that Nancy and “Joseph” had molested her.

Preschooler Johnny Givens got involved in the case at the end of May. His mother had seen the news reports and she remembered that her son had complained of a sore bottom the previous winter. The police report states, “[Johnny] was questioned if Nancy ever did anything to him, or if she had ever touched him, or ever touched his penis... [Johnny] stated that she had never done anything to him, and had never touched him in any way...”

Two weeks after Grover appeared on the local news, 4-year-old Jason Andrews’s mother reported that her son had told her he’d been molested right on the bus by someone named Alan. The police report notes: “He also stated that Alan looked like...Story continued HERE.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Supreme Court says double jeopardy does not protect against murder retrial

Supreme Court says double jeopardy does not protect against murder retrial
By Robert Barnes
May 24, 2012
Washington Post

Arkansas may retry a man for murder even though jurors in his first trial were unanimous that he was not guilty, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Alex Blueford, who is accused of killing his girlfriend’s 1-year-old son, is not protected by the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause, the court ruled in a 6 to 3 decision.

Because the judge dismissed the jury when it was unable to reach agreement on lesser charges, Blueford was not officially cleared of any of the charges, the majority said, and thus may be retried.

“The jury in this case did not convict Blueford of any offense, but it did not acquit him of any either,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote.

The decision brought a sharp dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.

“Blueford’s jury had the option to convict him of capital and first-degree murder, but expressly declined to do so,” Sotomayor wrote. “That ought to be the end of the matter.”

The Double Jeopardy Clause is found in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, and commands that no person shall be “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same offense.

Blueford was tried for the death of Matthew McFadden Jr., who died in 2007 from head injuries. Arkansas prosecutors said Blueford intentionally caused the boy’s death, while Blueford maintained that he had accidentally knocked the child to the ground.

Blueford was charged with capital murder, although the state waived the death penalty. At trial, the judge instructed jurors that if they had reasonable doubt about whether he was guilty of capital murder, they should next consider the charge of first-degree murder. If they found reasonable doubt about that, they should then consider manslaughter, they were told, and after that, negligent homicide.

The jurors’ final option was to acquit Blueford of all charges.

After a few hours of deliberations, the jury reported that it might not be able to reach a decision. The forewoman told the judge that the jurors were unanimous against capital and first-degree murder, had split 9 to 3 against manslaughter and did not vote on negligent homicide.

The judge sent the jurors back for more deliberations, but half an hour later the forewoman reported no verdict. The court declared a mistrial.

All agree that Blueford can be retried on charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide, but Blueford claimed the murder charges were off the table because a jury had rejected them.

The Supreme Court majority disagreed...

Prosecutors in botched case against Sen. Stevens suspended

Prosecutors in botched case against Sen. Stevens suspended
By Kevin Johnson
May 24, 2012

Two Justice Department trial lawyers involved in the botched corruption prosecution of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens have been suspended without pay for "reckless professional misconduct'' in failing to disclose critical information to the senator's defense team.

Joseph Bottini, an assistant U.S. attorney in Alaska, was suspended for 40 days and James Goeke, an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington state, was suspended for 15 days, according to a summary of the findings released today by the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility.

The full 672-page report of the Justice Department's internal investigation was submitted to the Senate and House Judiciary committees.

The findings come two months after a special investigator appointed by federal Judge Emmet Sullivan found that the Stevens prosecution was "permeated by the systematic concealment'' of evidence favorable to the defense.

A jury convicted Stevens, a Republican, in 2008 on seven counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure statements. Days later, Stevens lost his re-election bid. In 2009, Sullivan threw out the conviction. Stevens died in a plane crash in August 2010.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Court asked to discipline ex-prosecutor overseeing bailout

Court asked to discipline ex-prosecutor overseeing bailout
By Brad Heath
May 18, 2012

Maryland regulators are asking the state's top court to discipline a former federal prosecutor — now helping to oversee the government's $700 billion bailout — for a secret arrangement targeting a prominent banker who had not broken the law.

Their request comes nearly five years after Justice Department officials were alerted that the lawyer, John Sellers, had reached a secret agreement with American Express' international banking arm barring the company from rehiring its former top executive. The department later withdrew that agreement and said in a rare public letter that it had no evidence that the banker, Sergio Masvidal , had done anything illegal.

The case is one of only a handful over the past decade in which state authorities in charge of regulating the legal profession have sought to discipline a federal prosecutor. It comes as lawmakers have expressed concern about the Justice Department's handling of misconduct by its attorneys. In April, a Senate committee said it "questions the judgment of the Department" in assigning some of the prosecutors responsible for the tainted corruption case against former senator Ted Stevens to other high-profile investigations.

An internal Justice Department probe concluded in October 2010 that Sellers had committed "reckless" misconduct by not telling his supervisors or a federal court judge about the side agreement. Sellers left the agency before it could take any action against him ; he landed a new job as an attorney for the special inspector general overseeing the federal bailout, state and federal records show .

A USA TODAY investigation in 2010 found that federal prosecutors rarely risk losing their jobs for misconduct, and that actions by state regulators are uncommon.