Oklahoma Forensic Anthropologist Analyzes Criminal Evidence in Famous Cases

August 6, 2009

Not often do criminal defense lawyers face expert witnesses in the field of forensic anthropology.  This is a field requiring years of tedious work on just one subject, and there are few people who qualify in the field as experts.  Clyde Snow is one of them, and he lives in the Oklahoma City area.

Snow, whom some call the “father of forensic anthropology,” has confirmed skeletal remains of such well-known figures as Tutankhamun, the king from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, Dr. Joseph Mengele of Nazi war-crime infamy, and those of President John F. Kennedy.

Snow served as a consultant on the remains found under the house of John Wayne Gacy, who murdered 33 boys and young men from 1972 to 1979 in suburban Chicago.  He found that all but one of these victims had been suffocated, some with plastic bags over their heads and others with ligature strangulation.

Snow even investigated Kurdish deaths in Iraq and testified in Saddam Hussein’s trial.  In 1991, after the first Gulf War, Snow went to Kurdistan, sponsored by Middle East Watch to document some of the gas attacks Hussein ordered in 1988 and 1989.  With a team of Argentine, Guatemalan and Chilean forensic anthropologists he had trained over the years.  They exhumed some mass graves and examined and documented the skeletons.  They took samples from bomb craters in a village that had undergone a chemical attack on which several people were killed and many injured.

The investigators sent the samples to Porton Down in England for analysis.  They found there were traces of serum gas.  This was important to prove that a complex chemical like serum had persisted long enough to be traced, but no one suspected at that time that this evidence would ever be used in any court proceedings.

Nearly 15 years later Saddam Hussein was brought to trial in Iraq.  Snow was called as a witness for the prosecution and asked to present this evidence. And, unlike any other trial Snow had testified in, the accused himself was allowed to cross-examine Snow.  Saddam immediately challenged Snow.  He said Iraq was full of mass graves and asked how Snow knew that ones I had described were not those of Sumerians from thousands of years ago.

Snow had a powerful answer.  He pointed out that the Sumerians had a rich civilization but not likely so advanced that its people wore digital wristwatches such as those found on the Kurdish skeletons.  Furthermore, it was unlikely that the wristwatches of Sumerians, if that is what they were, would all have stopped on August 28, 1988.  Of course, Saddam Hussein went on meaninglessly after that, and the judge had to have him sit down.

During training of his forensic team some of students he was training in Argentina would break down with emotion at a mass grave or morgue.  Snow had to give them some tough love at that point, insisting they cry at home to allow them to go on with their work, to perform professionally regardless of the obvious human tragedies they were witnessing.  But they can have some fun, as well, like when they searched for bodies of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

In the Bolivian village of San Vicente, they found a graveyard where the two were supposed to be buried.  They exhumed two skeletons and took one of them back to the United States.  There they extracted DNA, which excluded either Butch or Sundance on genetic evidence.  It turns out the skeleton was that of a German named Zimmerman, an engineer in a mining company in Bolivia. He had died about the same time by accidental gunshot.

At the age of 81, Snow continues.  Most recently he has been testifying in a trial regarding the alleged extrajudicial executions in 1998 of hostages-takers in the siege in the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru. Snow is a true professional, contributing much to the criminal justice system over the years,  and we Oklahomans are proud to claim him as one of our own.

Advertisements

Cheating Prosecutors May Face Rare Penalties As Conviction is Reversed and Justice Department to be Investigated

April 27, 2009

It is not unheard of for the prosecution to cheat, hide evidence, manufacture evidence and generally manipulate the justice system to achieve injustice.  But in the case of former United States Senator Ted Stevens Republican-Alaska, not only was the ill-gotten criminal conviction dismissed but the Judge has vowed to investigate the Justice Department.  This is rare on both counts, especially for a Judge to pursue sanctions beyond the routine tongue-lashing.

“In nearly 25 years on the bench, I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case,” United States District Judge Emmet Sullivan said, as he spoke for 14 minutes with thinly-veiled anger.  The trial of the former Alaska Senator was held in the District of Columbia, where Judge Sullivan sits.   Judge Sullivan appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Justice Department lawyers who prosecuted Senator Stevens.  They repeatedly withheld evidence from Senator Stevens’ lawyers during the trial.  The trial resulted in Stevens’ conviction last October for lying on federal disclosure forms about gifts and home renovations he received from wealthy friends.  The rules of federal procedure provide for the appointment of a special prosecutor for contempt investigations, but is rarely done.

Judge Sullivan, appointed Henry F. Scheulke III of Washington, D.C., to investigate contempt and obstruction by the Justice Department lawyers.  Mr. Scheulke is a former prosecutor and experienced defense attorney who oversaw a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and influence-peddling allegations in 1989 against former New York Senator Alfonse D’ Amato.  Scheulke will investigate six career lawyers with the Justice Department, including the William Welch, chief, and Brenda Morris, deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section, an elite unit that deals with official corruption.  The other lawyers to be investigated for possible criminal charges are Joseph W. Bottini, James A. Goeke, Nicholas A. Marsh and Edward P. Sullivan (no relation to Judge Sullivan or to Brendan Sullivan, attorney for Senator Stevens).

The judge said the matter was too serious to be left to an internal investigation by the Justice Department, which had dragged its feet, he said, before looking into the misconduct.  He criticized Attorney General Michael Mukasey for not responding to complaints.  The said reaction of the Justice Department was “shocking but not surprising.”  Of course, this is the usual result of charges of misconduct by the prosecution: File 13.  Nothing ever happens, the prosecutors know nothing ever happens, so what disincentive is there not to do again.  It is similar to police who manipulate evidence: they only rarely suffer any penalties for their constant corruption of the justice system.

But Judge Sullivan did not let die the wrongdoing of these prosecutors.  He called on Attorney General Eric Holder, who dismissed Senator Stevens’ conviction on April 1st in recognition of his department’s ill deeds, to retrain all prosecutors in the Justice Department.

Some observers have remarked that, notwithstanding the wrongdoing of the Justice lawyers, there was a healthy amount of evidence incriminating Senator Stevens.  These observers suggest he has not been convicted, but he really doesn’t look innocent of wrongdoing.  Senator Stevens was defeated in his Senate reelection campaign days after the guilty jury verdict in this trial.

Regardless of the guilt or innocence of this Senator or a thousand other accused citizens, if the United States Justice Department, and its elite Public Integrity Section no less, cannot carry out its work in an ethical manner, our system of justice is corrupt.

During the five-week trial, the prosecution lawyers were repeatedly forced to admit they had not turned over materials to the defense.  Judge Sullivan even said then,“How does anyone have any confidence that the Public Integrity Section has any integrity?”  But the judge overruled defense objections, as always happens, and allowed the prosecution’s tainted case to go the jury.  Not surprisingly, the jury found the Senator guilty.  However, the surprise came when Judge Sullivan then threw out the jury verdict.  The still-further surprise came when the Judge gave notice that the wrong-doing prosecutors would not just go home to cheat again in their next trial.  This time they might have to pay some penalty for wrongdoing—for a change and for the better.  It’s about time.


Roman Polanski & Sex Charge Conviction

February 28, 2009

The famous movie director, Roman Polanski, failed in his attempt to overturn his 30 year-old conviction for having sex with a minor.  Los Angeles, California, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza decided against Polanski but said he would reconsider if Polanski returned to the United States to appear before the court by May 7th.  Polanski fled to France in 1978 and has been gone ever since.

Polanski is now 75 years old.  He is famous as the director of such movies as “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Chinatown”, and “The Pianist.”

Polanski, in his attempt to overturn his conviction, claims the judge to whom he pled guilty in 1978 improperly coached the prosecutor in the case.  There might be something to that claim.  Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney David Wells spoke of his contacts with that Judge, who is now deceased, in the documentary film “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”  Judge Espinoza in deciding against Polanski last Tuesday even said, “”It is hard to contest that some of the conduct portrayed in film on that documentary was misconduct.”

But there is a roadblock before getting to the merits of Polanski’s claim.  That roadblock is Polanski’s absence.  Indeed, prosecutors have successfully argued that Polanski has no right to challenge anything or be heard by the court on any matter because he has no “standing” before the court.  This is a long-standing concept still very much alive in the courts.  One must have standing to be heard on the matter at hand, and Polanski’s having fled and never returned vitiates his standing before the court.

The same is true in Oklahoma today.  If a defendant escapes or runs off while a criminal charge is pending before the court, the court would not hear a lawyer on that person’s behalf until the person surrender to the court, submitted to the court’s personal jurisdiction.  Prosecutors typically refuse to negotiate about a case when the defendant is at large for the same reason. Until the defendant comes before the court, no deals.

Polanski was originally indicted on six charges, including rape, for having sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and drugs.  He insisted the sex was consensual but pleaded guilty to a single count of having sex with a 13-year-old girl, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  He put his faith in the judge to give him a fair sentence, and spent 42 days incarcerated for psychiatric evaluation in 1978.  He then fled before the judge could sentence him because he became convinced the judge intended to send him back to prison, contrary to a plea agreement he had made with prosecutors.

Polanski is a citizen of his France, where he resides, and cannot be extradited to the United States.  However, he faces arrest if he ever returns to the United States, and he is obviously trying to clear that up.

Polanski’s attorneys had sought to disqualify the entire Los Angeles County court system from hearing this matter, but that request was rejected earlier this month by a California appeals court.

Polanski has an interesting past for other reasons.  His mother was killed in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.  Polanski also has a link to Mr. “Helter Skelter”, Charles Manson.  It was Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, while pregnant, who was attacked in their Beverly Hills home by the Charles Manson gang in 1969, while Polanski was out of town on business.  They wrote “Helter Skelter” in blood on the walls of the home.  Polanski directed four actors to Oscar-nominated performances: Ruth Gordon, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and Adrien Brody.  Polanski himself won the Oscar for his direction in 2002 for “The Pianist,” which he made in Europe.  Polanski’s friend, Harrison Ford, flew to Paris to present the award to Polanski, who continued to stay out of the United States to avoid being arrested.


Another Corrupt District Attorney Makes Citizens Pay

January 17, 2009

Harry Connick, then the New Orleans District Attorney, wrongfully convicted a man named John Thompson in 1983. Thompson spent 18 years on death row but eventually was proved to have been wrongfully convicted. Then Thompson sought compensation in federal court for this injustice. The jury awarded Thompson $15 million, but the District Attorney’s Office is now making noises about taking bankruptcy because it cannot pay the judgment.

Harry F. Connick , now deceased, was no stranger to controversy. The father of the well known jazz singer, Harry Connick, Jr. Harry F. Connick had been put on trial in 1990 himself. The then-District Attorney since 1974, was tried in federal court for racketeering by aiding an illegal gambling operation. Connick was accused of returning to the big time gambler, Walton Aucoin, gambling records that had been seized in a 1988 raid. The trial was originally prosecuted by the local U.S. Attorney, who had worked for Connick, John Voltz, who then recused after accusations of his personal bias against Connick. Besides Aucoin, six other defendants included gamblers Wilson Abraham, a New Orleans businessman and customer of Aucoin, who lent Connick $15, 000 in a political campaign and actor Paul Burke, Palms Springs, California. Connick was acquitted, although all the other defendants were convicted.

Nor is the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office a stranger to controversy. In October, 2007, Eddie Jordan, the then-District Attorney resigned from office, pressed by a $3.7 million dollar race discrimination civil rights verdict against his office that threatened to shut down the office. Jordan had already faced criticism for dismissal of high-profile murder cases, mass resignations in the office, and failure to prosecute crimes n a city with the nation’s highest murder rate, especially the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. The race discrimination judgment came from the 2005 federal court case in which the jury found he had, as accused, discriminated against the 43 white employees whom he fired because of their race. Only after Eddie Jordan had resigned from office did state and city officials help pay the $3.7 million judgment. Ultimately, the State of Louisiana agreed to pay $1.6 million, the city of New Orleans agreed to pay $1.1 million, and the District Attorney’s Office pay $600,000 to satisfy the judgment.

Now the facts of the latest verdict against the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office for the wrongful conviction of John Thompson. Thompson had had his execution postponed half a dozen times until it was discovered he did not commit the armed robbery of which he was convicted. Then it was revealed prosecutors at his trial had hidden blood tests that proved he had not committed the robbery. Put on trial again for the murder of Raymond Liuzza, Jr. Thompson at this latter jury trial used all the evidence the District Attorney had hidden from the jury in the original trial, and the jury acquitted him after only a half-hour deliberation.

Now exonerated from having committed the crime yet imprisoned for 18 years by the wrongful acts of the District Attorney’s Office, Thompson filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court. The jury decided in favor of Thompson and award him $15 million. The present District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, defended that lawsuit and now must come up with a way to pay for it. Cannizzaro did not do himself proud when arguing to the appellate federal court that Thompson did not deserve this $15 million in the trial court. Canizzaro argued to the appellate court that death row wasn’t really all that bad, that Thompson had been allowed all that gotten to watch TV and play chess and all his medical care was taken care of as he waited for execution date after execution date to be re-set.

The appellate court remarked that the District Attorney presented a “misleading, rosy picture” of life on death row. The court knew that Thompson had spent nearly two decades of his life in the Angola prison in a six-by-nine foot cell without windows or air conditioning for 23 hours a day. The court heard evidence describing the prison with screaming out at all hours of the day and night, and with inmates who hurled human excrement and “the stench that permeated” the joint. Thompson received four visits a year from family members, but was otherwise left to himself to contemplate his impending execution. Experts testified that Thompson suffers from post-traumatic stress. No surprise there. So the District Attorney’s Office followed up the railroading of John Thompson with an attempt to cover up the extent of their wrongdoing.

Caught red handed now, with no where else to hid its crimes, the New Orleans District Attorney is now asking the State of Louisiana to grant his office permission to seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy.


Who’s Protecting the Accused from Government Erasing Evidence?

October 22, 2008

The state and federal governments in their many prosecutions have been caught breaking the rules. One of their favorite rules to break is one that can win them a conviction that should not be. Prosecutors like to hide or destroy evidence that would help acquit the accused. It seems natural that would naturally be the evidence they would want to keep away from the jury, but that is one of the biggest no-nos in the criminal justice system.

The prosecution is not supposed to put innocent people in jail. More strongly, the prosecution is not supposed to knowingly put innocent, or people of questionable guilt, in jail. That is why there are rules against it. Oklahoma City chemist Joyce Gilcrest put more than a dozen innocent men on death row. Isn’t that horrifying? Not to prosecutors.

Now the United States Government has done it again. In trying to trap one of the biggest possible fishes, a sitting United States Senator, the Department of Justice has gotten caught erasing evidence. In the trial of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, the government prosecutors redacted (blacked out) information from FBI notes about an interview of witness Bill Allen. The Senator’s immediately demanded dismissal of all charges based on the government’s misconduct.

The trial judge, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, declined to dismiss, of course. The government rarely pays for its errors, and that is likely why such dirty tricks continue on both the state and federal level. The judge chastised the government severely, of course, but the government’s case stayed alive. The judge also ordered the original versions of all the other witness interviews associated with the case to be sure nothing else has been redacted. The defense will need four days to go through all that material.

The redacted notes are from interviews of Bill Allen, the government’s star witness against Senator Stevens. The defense had originally received only the redacted notes, and the defense says the new information, that which was redacted, directly contradicts Allen’s testimony earlier, namely that Senator Stevens never paid for any of the renovations to his home.

The newly revealed notes show Bill Allen told the FBI he did not send a bill to Stevens for the improvements to Stevens’ home, despite Stevens’ requests for an invoice, because Allen thought Stevens would pay the bill if sent one. Allen did not want Stevens to pay. This is the heart of the government’s case.

The trial judge was particularly troubled because someone for the government deliberately covered up this evidence. Referring to the section of the FBI that has investigated and brought the case to trial, Judge Sullivan asked, “How does anyone have any confidence that the Public Integrity Section has any integrity? I don’t have that confidence.”

Senator Stevens is accused of accepting gifts totaling $250,000, including the free improvements to his home, and failing to disclosed them on the Senator’s annual Senate financial disclosure form.

“The trial is broken,” Robert Cary, one of Stevens’ attorneys said in asking the judge to declare a mistrial. However, in overruling the motion, the judge noted that much of the trial, including the cross examination of Bill Allen, had not yet taken place, so the defense could still use this ammunition in the trial. The defense countered that this new information changed their whole theory of the case, all the presentation of the case from the start, including opening statements.

Prosecutors are charged with the ethical duty, not only of prosecuting the guilty, but of seeking justice. This includes not prosecuting people they know or strongly suspect are innocent. The best known court decision on this point is Brady vs.Maryland , a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1963. Most prosecutors keep that in mind and stay above board, even if it means they will lose a case. That is the professional way. But it still happens too often that prosecutors do get caught hiding or destroying evidence. It continues to happen partly because of the competitive nature of prosecution, but also because the penalties are so light when they do get caught. If the penalties were truly heavy for such conduct, if the judges really had the courage to punish such behavior, prosecutors would be less willing to cheat.

Unfortunately, this leaves the accused in the position of fighting against unfair odds, and the need for an experienced, talented lawyer is absolutely essential. For someone facing a criminal charge I’ve provided  educational information on my site at  http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com to help you  make critical decisions and I invite you to educate yourself to protect your rights.


Barry Bonds Indicted by Federal Court

December 7, 2007

Barry Bonds, the outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, the record holder for most career home runs in professional baseball, has been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice.  Finally.

As everyone watched Bonds approach Hank Aaron’s record number of home runs, many said his record should have an asterisk next to it.  The record wasn’t broken fairly, they said.  But until now, Barry Bonds taking steroids or human-growth hormones was just a rumor.  Indeed, Bonds appeared before the United States Congress and testified he had never taken any such thing.  So, till now, Bonds supporters could rightly say: There is no proof of cheating.  Now Bonds supporters will have to wait for a federal jury to decide.

Bonds disdainful attitude made him a favorite for fans (and the media) to hate.  He acted special to everyone, his fellow players included.  Bonds dared any and all to take him on.  It is the federal government which has finally done so.  Fans questioned how the 36-year old Bonds went in the year 2001 from 49 home runs to 73 home runs the following year.  Bonds was an excellent batter before that, but the change was dramatic.

What business does the federal government have in this baseball business?  So what if professional athletes are cheating?  Whether the government has a legitimate involvement in this aspect of the “drug” business, Bonds is not accused by the federal grand jury of taking illegal drugs.  Bonds is accused of lying to Congress under oath: Perjury and Obstruction of Justice.

Once again, the cover up is what gets people in trouble.   The Watergate scandal brought the resignation of President Nixon, but Nixon was never accused or suspected of knowing about the original burglary of offices that started the whole thing.  Nixon was proven to have covered up the burglary.   He lied and deceived Congress and the American people about the burglary and his efforts to cover it up.  That was enough.

President Bill Clinton got into similar problems in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  It wasn’t just the issue of his moral behavior but whether Clinton committed perjury or lied to the American in covering up the scandal.

So now Barry Bonds, who did not have to testify before Congress, chose to do so.  Why did Barry Bonds’ lawyer allow Bonds to do that?  To decline to testify may have looked bad to the public.  To take the Fifth Amendment makes a person “look guilty” to the public.  So fear of making a bad impression on the public drives people to abandon their Constitutional rights to stick their heads in the noose.

This is the same impulse that drives people every day in America to abandon their Constitutional rights whenever a police officer asks them to give up their rights to question them or search their vehicles.  Rather than say, “No. I would like to keep my Constitutional rights.  I would like a lawyer present with me before I make any statements and you need to get a search warrant to search my private property”, these people say, “Sure.  I hate to look guilty to you, officer, so you can have my Constitutional rights and I will start answering your questions and search my vehicle as much as you like.  Go ahead.  Question away.  Ransack away.  Don’t let my right to remain silent or my right to privacy under the United States Constitution interfere with anything you may have planned today.”

The framers of our United States Constitution gave us the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment and the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment.  But if we give away those rights, then we have only ourselves to blame.  Regardless what impression it might make on observers, regardless that some may say “That makes you look guilty”, you must declare your rights to keep the benefit of them.  Unlike Barry Bonds, who was too sure he could out-fox the federal government, too sure he was smarter than everyone else.

Of course, Bonds may well ultimately be found not guilty by the jury in his trial, but he could have avoided even being charged if he had just chosen not to volunteer to testify before Congress.


Dog Fighting Prosecution of Michael Vick, Star Quarterback

August 20, 2007

Michael Vick, the star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons professional football team, has reportedly decided to plead guilty to federal charges filed against him. Vick was accused of running a dog-fighting gambling operation.

Reportedly, Vick will accept a plea bargain which will result in his spending about a year behind bars. For a few weeks, while the charges were pending, Vick was silent. The public could watch the federal government build the pressure on Vick to plead guilty.

However, a month ago, one of Vick’s co-defendants in the case had entered a guilty plea and, in order to obtain leniency in his own sentence, promised to assist federal prosecutors in their case against Vick. Then, two more of the Vick’s fellow defendants in the case entered guilty pleas, both of them also agreeing to testify on behalf of the United States Government against Vick.

The fact that investigators had discovered extensive dog kennels and arguably other evidence of dog fighting on Vick’s private property was not a good start for Vick. There was likely other evidence, but then to have three of your fellows line to testify against you was typical of the pressure the federal government puts on those it accuses of crimes.

To up the ante further, the federal government was threatening to file a superceding indictment against Vick if he did not plead guilty by last Friday. That superceding indictment was supposed to accuse him of running a criminal enterprise, accusing Vick of a violation of R.I.C.O. (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act), so the five year maximum sentence Vick now faces would have been considerably increased, making the plea bargain much more appealing than his other alternatives.

R.I.C.O. (as many are probably wondering what that is) was enacted by Congress to go after organized crime, the Mafia. But once on the books, as usual, federal prosecutors got creative. They have used the law whenever they can, and often file or threaten to file it in order to bring pressure on any accused to plead guilty to lesser charges.