Thursday, August 28, 2008
When Women Are
Wrongfully Convicted, Part 2
Last week, in Part 1, I wrote about the subject of women being wrongfully convicted, hoping to raise awareness about the subject. I analyzed the cases, and spoke about some of the hardships that are peculiar to women when they are wrongfully imprisoned. In Part 2, it is my intention to explore a few more cases, in order to provide evidence that women are wrongfully convicted more often than most of us would believe.
Paula Gray was wrongfully convicted of Murder, Rape, and Perjury in Illinois and served 9 years in prison before being exonerated in 2002. The facts of her case are taken from The Center On Wrongful Conviction’s website: “Paula Gray was the key figure in the prosecution of the men known as the Ford Heights Four, who were convicted of the 1978 abduction and murder of Lawrence Lionberg and Carol Schmal and the rape of Ms. Schmal. Gray and the men became suspects in the case after Cook County Sheriff’s Police received a tip from Charles McCraney, a man who lived in a run-down public housing development in East Chicago Heights, a poor south suburb of Chicago. Based on McCraney’s claim, police questioned Gray, who was only 17 and borderline mentally retarded, over two nights in motels before she confessed. Then she was taken before a grand jury, where she testified that she had been present when Kenneth Adams, Verneal Jimerson, Willie Rainge, and Dennis Williams repeatedly raped Ms. Schmal and then shot both victims to death.
Gray soon recanted her confession, which contained only two purported facts that were not known to the police — and both of those assertions ultimately were shown to have been false. Upon her recantation, however, Gray was charged both with the rape and murders and with perjury. She was tried simultaneously with Adams, Rainge, and Williams in the same courtroom before the same judge, but by a separate jury.
The charges against Jimerson could not be pursued at that time because without Gray’s testimony there was no evidence against him. McCraney had not placed Jimerson at the scene. The convictions of the remaining defendants rested primarily on McCraney’s testimony and the testimony of an informant, David Jackson, who falsely claimed to have heard Williams and Rainge talking in jail about how they committed the crime.
Forensic evidence — later shown to have been false in one regard and unreliable in another — also was presented by the prosecution. Adams was sentenced to 75 years, Rainge to life, Williams to death, and Gray to 50 years for the murders and 10 years, concurrently, for perjury.
After Rainge and Williams, but not Adams, won new trials in 1982 based on ineffective assistance of counsel, Gray agreed to testify against them and Jimerson in exchange for her release from prison. Jimerson was then charged, convicted, and sentenced to death.
Although McCraney originally had not placed Jimerson at the scene, he did so at the trial. Rainge and Williams then were retried and convicted based on the false testimony of Gray and McCraney.
Rainge was sentenced to life without parole, Williams to death. Jimerson’s conviction was reversed in 1995 based on prosecutorial misconduct; the prosecutors had failed to correct perjury by Gray, who had falsely stated that she had been promised nothing in exchange for her testimony. Now lacking credible evidence against Jimerson, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office agreed to DNA testing.
Meanwhile, Northwestern University journalism students working under Professor David Protess found a police file showing that, within a week of the crime, a witness had told the Sheriff's Police they had arrested the wrong men. The witness said he knew who committed the crime because he heard shots, saw four men run away from the scene, and the next day saw them selling items taken from the robbery of the
victims. As a result of police and prosecutorial misconduct, however, the report had not been turned over to the defense prior to trial as required by Brady v. Maryland, 373 US 83 (1963). One of the men identified by that witness was by then dead, but the other three ultimately confessed. Then the results of the DNA testing conclusively established the innocence of the Ford Heights Four and corroborated the confessions.
The Ford Heights Four then filed civil rights suits against the Cook County Sheriff’s Police. rough the discovery process in that litigation, it became apparent that Gray’s false confession had been coerced. The police misconduct prompted Cook County to settle the men’s claims for $36 million, the largest such settlement in U.S. history. In July 2001, Gray’s conviction was thrown out with a lengthy opinion by Circuit Court Judge William D. O’Neal.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office appealed the ruling, but the appeal was rendered moot in November 2002 when Illinois Governor George H. Ryan granted her a pardon.”
Marci Stein was wrongfully convicted in 2001 of engaging in sexual relations with three teenage students in Westchester New York and served four years in prison before being freed.
Ms. Stein was a teacher at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose in 2000, when allegations surfaced that she had had sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old student and had performed oral sex on two other boys during tutoring sessions at her home between April 1999 and January 2000. She was found guilty of felony charges that included statutory rape, sodomy and sexual abuse.
Her conviction was overturned because then Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro’s office failed to turn over evidence to her lawyers of the fact that two of the teenagers were seeking damages against the school district, which went to the matter of credibility, in that the witnesses had a motivation to a lie which Stein had the right to have the jury consider, because this went directly to the matter of guilt and innocence.
Speaking to the information’s relevance, The Appellate Division wrote that the information was “highly relevant’’ to their credibility. In fact, the two students collected $220,000 in a civil action against the school district. "The failure to turn over this evidence
was aggravated by the prosecutor’s argument during summation that there was no evidence that the complainants were bringing civil lawsuits as a result of the defendant’s conduct. There is a reasonable probability that this failure to disclose affected the outcome of the trial.’’
Traumatized and unwilling to trust her fate to a jury system that had already wrongfully convicted her once, and desperate to regain her freedom and move on with her life, Stein pled guilty to endangering a child and was immediately released.
Gloria Killian was wrongfully convicted of murder and served 18 years in prison before being released in 2002. The facts of her case are taken from a March 2008 report by Death Penalty Focus, published on www.deathpenalty.org.
“In 1986, Gloria Killian was convicted of “master-minding” the 1981 First degree robbery-murder of Ed Davies and was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison. The district attorney intended to seek the death penalty for Killian– as he had successfully won a death sentence for her co-defendant Stephen DeSantis. in 1983.
But because of the California Supreme Court ruling in Carlos v. Superior Court the maximum sentence he could seek was 32 years to life. Carlos was reversed soon after Killian was sentenced. The charges were based solely on the testimony of career criminal Gary Masse,
who had just been sentenced to life without possibility of parole for his role in the same murder-robbery. In a deal with the District Attorney, Masse named Killian as the mastermind of the robbery in exchange for a reduced sentence. The co-defendant, De-Santis, testified in his 1983 trial that Killian had nothing to do with the crime, and that he had never even met her. At Killian’s trial, Masse denied making a deal with the District Attorney and the prosecutor reinforced Masse’s untruthful testimony during his closing argument. Shortly after the
trial, Masse wrote a letter to the prosecutor demanding that his sentence be reduced - as promised - because he had successfully
lied for him. Masse then in fact had his sentence reduced from life without parole to life with the possibility of parole. The letter from Masse was never disclosed to the defense.
It was discovered years later by attorneys for DeSantis. In 2000, Masse admitted to federal magistrate Judge Gregory Hollows that he had lied during Killian’s trial, but shortly thereafter Judge Hollows recommended to U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell that Killian’s conviction be upheld; and Burrell agreed saying that the perjurious statements were harmless.
In 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Killian’s conviction saying that it was improperly based on the false testimony of Gary Masse. Ninth Circuit Judge Michael D. Hawkins called his testimony “thoroughly discredited.” Killian was released in 2002 after serving over eighteen years- five of those years after the letter from Masse had been discovered.”
Analysis Of The Wrongful Convictions
I prefer to review the causes of the wrongful conviction, as cases in point as to why we need legislation to prevent future wrongful convictions.
False confessions, which are far more common than people realize-being the cause of 25% of the now 218 DNA proven wrongful convictions, was the cause of Gray’s wrongful conviction, as well as those of her co-defendants.
Prosecutorial Misconduct and the withholding of evidence favorable to the defense, in legal jargon referred to as Brady material, which often is related to guilt and innocence, again rears it’s ugly head in the Stein case. The habit of engaging in misconduct and withholding of Brady material, has gone on in the Westchester District Attorney’s office for quite a long time. I would like to know why prosecutor Laura Murphy, who withheld the evidence from Stein’s Attorneys, and lied to the jury in her closing remarks, still remains employed as a prosecutor in the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office. In any other line of work, an employee who was found to have broken the
law while working at the job would have been fired. Why should their status as Of-ficers Of The Court entitle them to different treatment? In my view, any district attorney looking to make a clean break with prosecutorial misconduct of the past would fire them based upon their proven conduct, due to their being unworthy of future public trust. This is no game; this is people’s lives we are talking about here.
Of course, the Stein case is by no means the only instance of this type of lawbreaking, occurring in that Office. My sense of justice is offended, and I am still stunned, by the brazen withholding by former prosecutor Clement Patti of the 52 boxes of exculpatory evidence that
was withheld from Anthony DiSimone’s attorneys, showing that another person committed the stabbing murder for which he served seven years in prison. It is morally wrong that prosecutors such as these will get away with their crimes, as will other prosecutors who do this in
the future, because there currently is no law allowing the prosecution of those who break the law and inreperably alter the lives of people as a result.
In the Killian case, we see that incentivized witnessing, which is when a person receives a reduced sentence or a reward in exchange for testimony against another person, is the cause of this wrongful conviction. As I have mentioned before, this has caused wrongful convictions in 15% of the now 218 DNA proven wrongful convictions. We also see just how slow the wheels of justice are to release people by her remaining in prison for five more years after the proof that the witness was allowed to lie on the witness stand surfaced, and how often
appeals are rubber stamp denied. What was the federal magistrate thinking who recommended that the withholding of the information was “harmless”, not to mention the district judge who accepted this recommendation?
I really wish that federal judges would take a lesson from this case and please pay careful attention to the issues raised in front of them,
and not simply find ways to uphold convictions by any means necessary.
These cases round out six that I have reviewed recently pertaining to incidents of women being wrongfully convicted. As mentioned above, I wrote this two-part series to illustrate that women are, in fact, wrongfully convicted. The words of Lynn DeJac, who served 12 ½ years, haunt my mind: “You know that I am not the only woman who has been wrongfully convicted. I am just one of the lucky ones.”
Her point is that there are other women who have been wrongfully convicted, whose cases we simply don’t know about and may never know about, because they have not been cleared. Usually there is no DNA to test in cases where a woman is a defendant, and it is infinitely harder to prove innocence through other means, especially considering that it is difficult for the poor to obtain quality legal representation,
given that public defenders are generally not that good, and that the number of attorneys willing to take cases for free is limited.
The women mentioned came from a variety of different backgrounds. Stein was a schoolteacher, Killian was a paralegal who was on her way to becoming an attorney, Gray was 17 and borderline retarded; Joyce Brown, whose case was covered in the previous issue of The Guardian, worked in a fur company; Ellen Reasonver was a would-be good Samaritan who reported possibly seeing the people who committed the
murder that she was ultimately wrongfully convicted of; Betty Tyson was a prostitute. My point is that it can and does happen to women of all walks of life. There is no path of life that one can go down which will guarantee that this could never happen to you, regardless of your gender.
The Guardian Speaks With Mount Vernon
Police Commissioner David Chong
In light of the spate of violent street crime, shootings and stabbings, over recent months on the South Side of the City of Mount Vernon, we asked to meet with Mount Vernon Police Commissioner David Chong to discuss current policing concerns and to get his take on problems and solutions. We posed the question, “The City, for its size, 4.4 square miles, would seem to present a management problem with respect to street violence and killings. What is particularly unique about the City, from a policing perspective?”
Commissioner Chong quickly said, “We have more youth per capita than anybody else. We are eighty thousand-plus people on top of each
other, and with economic conditions what they are right now, I see an ever-rapidly-increasing number of youngsters on the streets.” To emphasize his point, Chong said, “No good can occur when young people are on the street between 1am and 5am.” He went on to point out the fact that, under New York State law, police cannot treat groups of young people, milling about on the street, as they might treat adults; they cannot be charged with violations such as Disorderly Conduct in cases of street gatherings and disorder.
He went on, “We are dealing with lots of social and economic issues outside the scope of police authority. If they cannot be apprehended
for gathering on the streets, where do I put them?”
We then asked, “Since most of the killings seem to involve young Black men, is it a gang turf conflict; Bloods v. Crypts thing, or have the
knifings and shootings been unrelated, independent incidents?”
Chong responded, “It’s a little bit of each. Unfortunately, among today’s youth, guns are a fashion statement.” Changing gears slightly, he said, “Young people are not turning in their guns.” The Commissioner was referring to the dismal results achieved by so-called gun-buyback programs run by the County, and some Westchester municipalities, including Mount Vernon.
Focusing more on recent developments, we asked, “How has placement of your Mobile Command Unit aided specifically on the South
Side?” Chong confided, “Basically it gives the people a sense of security and closeness to the police because it is so large and so visible.” He added, “Our mounted patrols tend to be noticed as well.”
Then, pausing momentarily, he explained, “We want to stabilize the community and, at the same time, send a message to those who would continue to cause problems that we are out there, and we will apprehend them.”
He went on, “The message is, ‘If you commit a crime of violence in the City of Mount Vernon, you will be brought to justice.’” The Guardian then turned to specific serious concerns that demand long-term planning and persistent attention, asking, “What is your fundamental strategy for controlling gun traffic into the City, as well as drugs? How are you interdicting them?”
The Commissioner smiled, and said, “Without being too specific, let me say our message, in this regard, is, ‘If you are caught with a gun or felony drugs, you will be sent away for a long time.’”
Reflecting for a moment, he added, “Guns have no conscience, and there is no recovery. Also, guns kill twice; the victim and the shooter.
Our young people, over the smallest disrespect, come too quickly to horrendous violence. They possess no skills in conflict resolution.”
We then observed, “Many urban youths behave as though they can squander their future,” to which Chong responded, “There is a common
urban experience that we are seeing in cities across the state and the country. Kids today are living their future. Please understand it gives me no pleasure to put felony records on these young people. What some of them do today forecloses their options for the rest of their lives.”
Guardian publisher Sam Zherka had passed along a question for Police Commissioner Chong: “Would a large-scale program, perhaps funded by the federal and/or state government, that would place street-monitoring cameras in high-crime areas make a significant difference?”
The Commissioner responded, with a resounding “Yes! Tell Sam it’s a great idea.” He then explained, “With the latest ShotSpotter Technology, six units, strategically mounted, would be great.”
ShotSpotter is a network of noise sensors that responds to gunfire, identifying and pinpointing the source and location, guiding police
on patrol to the crime scene quickly enough to more effectively deal with victims and shooters alike. Presently in use in Washington, D.C.,
the sensors are about the size of a coffee can, easily hidden atop buildings.
It can identify gun-fire as far as two miles away and pinpoint the location within a few feet. The Commissioner explained that six such units, and all of the patrol car and base equipment connected with them, might cost about $1 million and would be an excellent project for a federal grant. He indicated that, once up and operating, ShotSpotter would become a “great deterrent to gun-related violence.”
Turning in a different direction, The Guardian asked, “Does your Department sponsor a P.A.L. program?” The Commissioner’s answer was, “It doesn’t exist now, but I would like funding to do it.” He acknowledged that part of the problem is that such a program would
also require a lot of volunteer personnel, something in short supply these days.
Commissioner Chong, who came on board to lead the present 207-member Mount Vernon Police Force, in May of 2006, explained that he had committed himself, at the time, to four principle goals:
• Reduction of crime;
• Bringing back police department morale;
• Professionalizing and modernizing operations;
• Community outreach.
Chong indicated that he felt the Department has made significant progress in each of those areas, but that there is still much to be done. David Chong is clearly a man with a mission. Coming along on the heels of several rapidly-failed predecessors, he has already achieved numerous
significant departmental innovations and improvements while elevating the morale of the Department in little more than two years.
Most significantly, he is a Commissioner who was a real cop, one who believes in Constitutionally-sound law enforcement. Chong’s appointment by Ernie Davis, we suppose, proves Ernie wasn’t all bad. Most importantly, in Mount Vernon, a City hanging in through difficult times, Commissioner Chong just doesn’t talk the talk; he walks the walk as well. He is there at every major crime scene, every event,
hands-on and thoughtful. And, he likes nothing better than walking the beat, meeting and speaking with older and young folks alike; showing respect and earning it.
Tony Sayegh Seeks Seat on
Eastchester Town Council
Tony Sayegh is running in the Republican primary on Tuesday, Sept. 9, for the opportunity to run for a seat on the Eastchester Town Council in he general election. Sayegh believes the Board needs an independent voice, along with the perspective of someone who owns and manages a small business, on issues confronting the community. “I will vote for what I believe is best for the community, even if it means going against my colleagues,” he says.
“I think it is time to give voters the choice, and not restrict choice, to a group of four people. I’m running against someone who is the third handpicked member of the board. He is a nice and decent person,” Sayegh explained, “but he has not shown any independence on the Board. This is the third person who has been appointed to the board in five years. Over 8000 Republican voters should at least have a choice of who represents our party on the ticket.” Frederick Salanitro, Esq., filled the seat vacated when Rocco Cacciola become the Tax Receiver for Eastchester.
“We need a board that is talking about creating efficiencies in government; that will create savings for taxpayers along with cuts in some discretionary spending, rather than finding ways to spend more money,” he stated. “If elected, I would be the only small business owner on the
Board. And, I think the Board needs the input of someone who owns and manages a small business. In government, if you start treating taxpayers money like your money, you have completely lost sight of the role of government.”
Sayegh first became a candidate for public office in 2002, when he ran for the 88th Assembly District, receiving the largest percentage total of any Republican in the district in over a decade. Democrat Amy Paulin currently represents the 88th Assembly District. Sayegh subsequently ran for Trustee in the Village of Tuckahoe and was eventually named Deputy Mayor. He won a second term, garnering over 65% of the vote.
“The most important thing that happened in Tuckahoe, while I served on the Board, that I would like to bring to Eastchester, was public dialogue, to add transparency, that I believe is critical to good government,” he said. One innovation that Sayegh is especially proud of was taking the Village Board meeting out of Village Hall, to venues that drew greater attendance, such as churches and community centers. On a few occasions, attendance reached 100 persons or more, a dramatic increase over the more usual 6-10 regulars at Village Hall.
Sayegh believes the success of his two terms in Tuckahoe was the result of running as an advocate of “good government” and implementing “best practices,” rather than following a partisan agenda. His slate re-instituted Fireworks at the Parkway Oval, and controlled operating costs by working with department heads to economize; enhancing revenue while holding the line on taxes. Sayegh served on a board that secured over $1 million in grants to improve streetscapes in Crestwood and village parks. They also obtained traffic safety devices, successfully lobbying the State DOT for a traffic light on Route 22 and Winter Hill Road.
Tony Sayegh, who will be 32 in October, grew up in Eastchester, and graduated from The George Washington University, with a BA in Political Science and a Masters of Public Administration, with a concentration in state and local government. Sayegh completed his graduate work as a Presidential Administrative Fellow, the highest fellowship honor GWU confers. He has worked for Jack Kemp, Susan Molinari and Nick Spano.
From Jack Kemp, Sayegh learned, “That politics is really about ideas and when you run for office, it should be with a set of core principals guiding you. Jack Kemp has real clarity and purpose. Kemp feels that America should be the country of hope and growth and opportunity, and that coincides with the principals I learned, growing up as a first generation American.
That is what America is all about.” “I interned for Nick Spano when Eastchester was a part of his district. I learned, from Nick, the importance of constituent service as an integral part of being an effective public servant. People are truly putting their trust and hope in you as an elected of-ficial. You need to be accessible to people and responsive to their needs,” Sayegh said.
“Working with Susan Molinari was a great combination of the experiences with Nick and Jack Kemp. Susan was someone who understood the power of communication,” he added. “It was wonderful to see how Susan connected the dots for people, how she translated them into something people could understand. She had a real sensitivity to people. Susan never forgot that people back home were being affected by her decisions.”
Sayegh believes, “Government, on a local level, needs to provide the services most necessary to preserve the safety and quality of life of all residents while supporting other goals including improving infrastructure, and enhancing programs, for our children and our senior citizens. But, as a council member, my primary job will be to respect my fiduciary responsibility while coming up with budgets that support your goals.”
He further stated that, “Another responsibility of government is to hold other elected bodies responsible. Westchester County government needs to down sized, not necessarily eliminated; but put on a very strict diet. I can’t comment on specific numbers, but most of the budget is not discretionary.
It comes down from the state to be distributed to the municipalities. So why do we need so much government, to act as a conduit to the municipalities?” “You need a County Executive, you need a County Clerk and you need a District Attorney, but what is the role of the County Legislator? They are injecting themselves into the role of a ‘big brother’ and telling people how to conduct their lives. I prefer that they keep their eye on the bloated budget.”
Sayegh concluded, “Here’s the bottom line: We have to start remembering that tax revenue comes from real people, not a blind trust. Someone’s life is being affected every time we raise taxes. Couple that with what we know about the direction of the economy and our obligation to taxpayers
is to spend the next year protecting them. I don’t see anyone doing that, and I will. We need more than a watchdog. We need someone who will actively take the lead in bringing needed change to government.”
If elected, Sayegh would campaign to market Eastchester as a vibrant, charming community and lobby the state for money to enhance the business
district. Tony and his wife Maria were both raised in Eastchester, and their four children are enrolled in Tuckahoe public schools. The Sayeghs attend St. Joseph’s Church in Bronxville.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo
Stops Internet Child Porn At Its Source
Declares, “We Are Focused On Real Problems For Real People”
Last Monday, August 18th, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, accompanied by several members of his Office, made an appearance at the New Rochelle Public Library. Appearing energized and lean, Cuomo was greeted by a panel of 12 parents, teachers, school officials, PTA members and Mayor Noam Bramson. Cuomo’s appearance was one of several around the state to raise awareness of his
Office’s ongoing campaign to rid the Internet of child pornography.
Cuomo announced that eight more Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had joined 10 who had already come to an agreement with his Office to eliminate child pornography sources, all websites and newsgroups; major suppliers of illegal images.
Those ISPs servicing the lower Hudson Valley, who have come on board, agreeing to combat online child pornography, just three weeks following Cuomo’s forwarding of letters and subpoenas, include: Frontier/Citizens, Covad, Localnet, Access Highway, Best Web, Wild Blue, Cloud 9, and Media-Com. They joined AT&T, Com-Cast, America On Line, Verizon, Road Runner, Sprint, EarthLink, Cablevision, United On Line, and HughesNet.
Cuomo’s principle purpose in meeting with parents and school personnel was to directly disseminate information regarding the latest developments in his Office’s assault against online child pornography, and, to familiarize them with his Office’s new website,
www.nystopchildporn.com, which provides information regarding those ISPs that have signed agreements to purge access to child porn, and
those that have not. The site also provides contact information as well as other assistance for those parents and concerned citizens, who might wish to encourage those providers who have, not as yet, made a committment to join the effort, to do so.
Cuomo told those gathered, and the media present, “We are focused on real problems for real people.” Referring to the “terrible, vile, criminal acts,” involving children that are depicted on the Internet, he explained that he had concluded, “Rather than investigating the users, we are going after the suppliers.” He compared the problem to the pushing of illegal drugs, declaring, “The supply networks are the Internet companies, and child pornography footage is crime scene evidence.”
Cuomo proudly announced, “The largest Internet companies have turned it off: AT&T, Com- Cast, Verizon. We are working our way down the list. We have a legal case and a legal theory. You have a choice; you can either pick an Internet company that transmits child pornography or one that doesn’t.”
The Attorney General went on, “Helping consumers make an informed decision is a valuable and meaningful service the Attorney General’s Office performs. A child, on their bed with a laptop, can be in any neighborhood. And, those who would harm our children are very good at seducing children into a conversation.” Cuomo made a point of telling the group, “Face-Book and My Space are used to get kids to take photos of themselves.”
He assured parents, “Because of our actions, New York fami-lies can rest easier knowing that their Internet providers are acting responsibly and taking the necessary steps to eliminate child pornography. The agreements in Westchester and the Hudson Valley are effectively turning off the faucet. New York continues to set the standard when it comes to protecting children.”
Cuomo’s present effort was the outgrowth of a six-month investigation by his Office into the sources of child pornography; reviewing
millions of images and uncovering 88 different newsgroups that contained more than 11,000 sexually lewd photos, in some cases involving
children being raped.
Involved in their undercover investigation, the Attorney General’s staff developed a new system for identifying online content containing child pornography. The method enabled investigators to filter through tens of thousands of online files at a time, quickly revealing which Internet service providers were providing access to child pornography images.
One parent queried, “Kids are progressing to smart phones, Internet on the phone as smart phones are becoming price-competitive. How
do we deal with that?”
Cuomo responded by describing a recent conversation he had had with his 13-year old daughter Kara, who told him, “I have a right to privacy.” He admitted that it was not a simple matter to deal with, as children, such as his daughter, enter into adolescence and express
notions of privacy rights and the right to communicate freely. He referenced the DARE program and anti-drug campaigns that have
worked well with teens, but admitted that the issue was tough, suggesting that a parent needed to assert their position and alert their children
to the dangers.
The agreements with 18 ISPs in the lower Hudson Valley, including Westchester, are merely the latest in a multipronged approach by the Attorney General. In May 2007 Cuomo worked with law enforcement agencies to investigate sex offenders who had been found on My Space. In October it was Face Book announcing a new agreement to enforce safeguards to protect children and adolescents from sexual
predators, obscene material, and harassment.
Between January and May of this year, Attorney General Cuomo, and his Office, succeeded in sponsoring, and getting passed into law,
what some have described as “the Nation’s most comprehensive legislation to dramatically enhance protections for children from sexual predators on the Internet.” Titled The Comprehensive Electronic Security And Targetting Of Online Predators (E-stop), it was passed
unanimously by both the Assembly and the Senate, and signed into law in May of this year.
Cuomo concluded his remarks before the New Rochelle group by saying, “It’s an ongoing process. It’s not a finite universe, and that is why the process must be an ongoing effort.”
In Our Opinion...
An Act Of Wisdom And Courage
We have no problem with Mount Vernon Mayor Clinton Young’s appointment of his sister, Mary Young, to the post of Commissioner of Management Services, coordinating communications between City departments and dealing with vital data. In fact, we applaud his decision to do so, and view the appointment as a very positive and promising development. It is not about nepotism.
Historically, in national politics, one example of the wisdom and the courage needed to make such an appointment that comes immediately to mind was the appointment by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy of his brother, Robert, to the position of Attorney General.
As in the case of Mayor Young’s sister Mary, Bobby Kennedy had run his brother’s remarkably successful campaign; electing John as the first Roman Catholic President of the United States, against the odds, in 1960.
Assuming the appointee possesses the skills, experience, and motivation needed to successfully perform the day-to-day functions of the position; and, there is no doubt of that in Mary’s case, there is much to be said for the appointment of a sibling by a chief executive officer, whether in government or in business. Clearly, from the perspective of management and operations, it is difficult to distinguish a significant difference; as more and more today we find ourselves speaking of the “Business Of Government,” and rightly so.
Without waxing unnecessarily sentimental, for those having lived through the Kennedy campaign and the three remarkable years of Camelot that followed, as adults, it is not a stretch to recognize the fundamental similarities in the challenges faced by that groundbreaking administration, and those confronting Mayor Young. For, as we all too painfully came to discover as a nation, then, there were powerful, covert forces heavily dependent upon the corrupt Industrial/Military Machine, deeply invested in the operation to bring down the efforts of the Kennedy Administration, by whatever means, even as there are those who, for years, have depended upon the now increasingly evident corrupt Davis Machine.
For those who grew fat off Ernie’s willingness to “look the other way,” and, perhaps, as may be revealed in due time, play a more affirmative role; for those operatives the new Administration in City Hall remains a bitter pill to swallow. The now-dismissed, frivolous, $600
million federal lawsuit notwithstanding, there continues both an overt and a covert action intent on sabotaging and embarrassing Mount Vernon’s new City Administration. That having been said, all other credentials having been satisfied, the single-most significant quality Mary Young brings to her position is her unquestionable loyalty to her brother, the Mayor of Mount Vernon, and his 24/7 mission to turn that city around.
The tasks that lay ahead are daunting, to say the least. Not only must the new Administration bring new business and financial vitality to strengthen the tax base in a municipality with limited available space and incredible numbers of existing tax-exempt properties, but it must also repay $1.7 million to the federal government that the previous administration misappropriated from HUD.
The People of Mount Vernon have twice made their position very clear at the ballot box. On the one hand, they expressed their disappointment and dissatisfaction with the plight and the direction of their City under Ernie Davis, while, at the same time, placing their
faith and their trust in Clinton Young; in part based upon his own good record, and in part based upon his family’s history of public service to their community. On the other hand, those same people twice made a strong statement, also at the ballot box, each time rejecting the proposed school budget. They were telling those in control, “Look, we’re giving all that we can in taxes and we’ve got no more to give.”
In light of all of the above, we recognize the Herculean task, and the kind of dedication and loyalty that will be required to turn, not only the financial circumstances, but the spirit and the day-to-day lives of so many individuals, young and old, around. With that compelling
mandate in mind, we endorse the Mayor’s appointment of his sister Mary to the Office of Commissioner of Management Services, and wish her, and all of the Administration’s appointees great success in their efforts.
Our Reader's Respond...
Reader Complains Of Toxic Mold Cover-Up
I live at Pinecrest Manor in Mt. Kisco NY. I am writing to inform the public that there is toxic mold in most of the townhouse apartments due to past flood cover-ups and improper remediation of the mold.
We know “mold is everywhere” and there are “hundreds of types of mold” in the environment and according to Google searches there are 40 or so types that could be in your home and not cause a health risk. Our problem is: aspergillus, penicillin and Stachybotrys, the latter being the deadliest. My apartment was originally tested by Lighthouse Environmental Consultants of Patterson, New York. They found reason to do an air quality test, finding mold on my stair landing baseboard, and high moisture reading levels in my living room.
Pinecrest followed up, after I insisted, with LEW Corporation, out of Mountainside, New Jersey, and they also found mold and high levels,
but Mr. Krueger refused to give me the details, because Pinecrest told him not to talk to tenants about their levels/report. I showed the report to another agency and to my allergist, who told me to leave the apartment immediately! I wish I would have listened then, now my lungs are in danger of being scarred. When in the apartment I feel in danger, breathing is almost impossible. I have had other people come in and
say they can’t breathe, the air is bad. Because of this my 11-year-old suffers with severe headaches and asthma, I have been sleeping in my
car! I will only enter if I can’t find a place to shower!
More than half of the tenants and their children are sick with seizures, intestinal disease, IBS, yeast infections, asthma, thyroid disease, bromyalgia, respiratory related illness, headaches, memory loss. It is no coincidence that approx. 75 families and about 60 senior apartments, most of us in the townhouses are sick, in fact most of us believe it is Interstate Realty’s/Foresight Affordable is making the mold issue look less severe than it is. In fact they have been “ fixing” some mold-infested apartments, (and we have photos), with paint cover-ups and they are not doing what was suggested in the reports which is to hire mold professional remediators, not poor maintenance, who has no idea how toxic this mold is!
Why would we allege such allegations? Management, Mr. Schindig, particularly, has known about this problem for years and continues to this day to get back lab reports stating an apartment has extremely high levels of mold that is toxic. He continues to withhold the reports from tenants, (so there is no “proof ”), accept him putting tenants in hotels while work was done, and then sending his maintenance men in to “redo” the area that is in question.
I witnessed a few “cleanups” and they are not being done properly, nor are the workers protecting their families by not wearing proper clean-up gear. They have no clue as to how “airborne” these stachybotrys spores can be!
I recently had a victim of this type of mold contact me. She had a problem with mold at work; in fact she sued and won her case in court. She was gracious enough to place my daughter and me in a hotel for a few days so that we would not have to sleep in the car. She informed me that I should desert all of my belongings: clothes, shoes, bags, computers, EVERYTHING IN YOUR HOME, because they carry the spores and you may keep getting sick even in the new environment, if you carried something with you.
I was also told I will have to detox the body and hope it is not too late. Most people are naive to this type of mold and the health issues it can cause. I used to do stand-up comedy but because my memory has diminished in the last few years, I passed up gigs at top clubs. I am not a smoker; eat organic when I can, try to walk everyday to build my lungs back up. I was very healthy, until a few years ago. I kept having severe allergic reactions and allergies, finally the emergency room insisted I follow-up with testing.
You can imagine my shock when the allergist informed me I had asthma most likely due to mold! I just want to live in a place that has good air quality. Is this to much to ask?
We live in “Sub wedged” housing which was build with substandard materials and it is believed that because no moisture proofing was done when this place was built nor when it was sold, or repaired, we are reaping the unhealthy effects from the mold caused by previous and current flooding. We would like to know how these buildings passed inspection.
To my knowledge, there has been only one apartment that had men in white suits do “cleanup”, and that apartment has since had other issues (sewer backup in the kitchen sink). Management will fool you by telling you they have “another” apartment available until they do cleanup, in reality, you are moved to a place that was improperly cleaned and begin to have the same illness the last tenant had! A few of the tenants who had this issue showed me their “new” place, which had severe mold!
One apartment was condemned by the Board of Health because of past flooding, sewage and mold. The apartment was so bad there were maggots under the carpet! Tenants are dealing with severe headaches and asthma; we are now trying to prove that the other illnesses are related to this mold and we will hold all responsible accountable!
I allege a cover up by management! Currently, I and others are taking legal action. How do you tell an 11-year-old basketball player, sorry you have asthma and headaches due to mold?
Some families in the complex have Section 8/ HUD and they should be held accountable because they knew of the problem for over 9 years! If you check town records, complaints of floods were put in years ago, and these apartments still passed inspection. One family case is in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately no matter how much money they “win” or “settle” for, they could never get back their children’s health or new lungs!
Some websites to look at and see for yourself: www.doctorfungus.org.
Alicia Torres, Mount Kisco
Unattended Dangerous Yonkers Intersection
I have a complaint to make about the pedestrian crossing lights at the intersection of Kimball Avenue and Yonkers Avenue. This is a very dangerous intersection that lacks functional pedestrian crossing lights.
At this location, one side of Yonkers Avenue has three lanes, and the other side two lanes. When the light turns red on the Kimball Avenue side, the crossing lights stay red; as a matter of fact they always stay red. Only recently I found out that one has to press the button to activate them, meaning that the lights are not programmed to change automatically like in other cities.
When crossing the street from the side of the Shell gas station towards Wachovia Bank, which is directly opposite the gas station side, there are no lights in place for the pedestrians to cross. Cars that turn do not yield to pedestrians; instead they will try to cut you off. This danger is compounded with cars that also turn on the opposite side. At the beginning of December 2007, I called the Mayor’s Office and registered a complaint; this office does not give complaint numbers for accountability.
Today, this problem still exists; like many other problems in Yonkers, it shows a systemic and gross inefficiency from the city’s leadership and its infrastructures. Two weeks ago another problem surfaced. The diner that is adjacent to the Wachovia Bank installed an entry sign and an exit sign for access to its parking lot. The problem is that cars drive through the sidewalk from Yonkers Avenue at very high speeds, without regard for pedestrians. Two weeks ago my wife and I were almost hit by a speeding car that made a sharp turn on Yonkers Avenue
into the diner’s parking lot.
Before someone gets seriously hurt, can you kindly look into this matter, because the City of Yonkers can’t.
Anthony Ferreira, Sunnyside, NY
A Mother Cries Out For Justice
Dear Judge Klein, Judge Nicolai and Judge Davidson: The Family Court has a pattern of being the culprit in denying visitation to me, which
is only hurting my son Corey. When Judge Devlin was the Judge at the time he permitted the Law Guardian, Terry Daniele, to make a circus of his Court. Whenever a trial was scheduled in 2007 Judge Devlin allowed postponement after postponement.
As of December 2006 visitation was decent, not great, but at least I had periodic time with Corey which we both enjoyed. Then that Sunday in December (12/17/06) when Joel(Corey’s father) became real angry that I wanted to take Corey to a NFL (Giants game) and returned Corey home about two hours later than normal, the entire Family Court system caved in upon me.
After the “football game” incident Joel (Rist), Cory’s father, went to Court. He was upset that Corey wanted to go to this football game. Mr. Rist thought he looked like the “bad” guy because Corey was upset that his dad would not let him go to the NFL game. So, Ms. Daniele allowed the Court to immediately stop normal visitation because of this dispute.
Ms. Daniele has done everything in her power to delay and deny visitation to me. And, of course, Judge Devlin allowed Ms. Daniele to “run circles around him” and Judge Devlin just kept permitting delays in the visitation trial. Does the fact that Ms. Daniele was listed as the largest contributor to Judge Devlin’s (unsuccessful) 2007 election campaign have anything to do with the control she had over Judge Devlin?
Who knows, but the results speak for themselves. From January 2007 through December 2007, when Judge Devlin finally had to leave his position as Judge, any attempt at a trial had been delayed for various reasons, none of which were the fault of me, Corey’s mom. Yet these
delays led the new judge, Judge Klein, to be concerned about how Corey may act in my presence because he was not having normal visitation with me.
Even as late as October 2007 I still had some visitation with Corey. Then, because of miscommunication I was not aware that Corey was permitted to visit with me in early November 2007. Again Mr. Rist runs to the Court and he and Terry Daniele stop all visitation.
Now it is July 2008. It has been nine months without visitation, except for the supervised visits at the YWCA, and I was forced by the Family Court to pay $5 for each visit. And the first meeting at the YWCA was actually fine. Corey and I spoke a lot and laughed together. Then the second meeting at the YWCA and all the meetings after that Corey was withdrawn. There is influence only by one person who could have changed Corey’s mood of this whole situation, and that is Corey’s father (and also probably Terry Daniele).
In 2008 Judge Klein has taken over with a fresh start, or at least that was his intent. The trial began on May 27, 2008. Judge Klein asked all parties on May 27, 2008 when setting dates for the rest of the trial if everyone can make the dates of July 30, 2008 and August 22, 2008 so the trial could be complete and normal visitation could then resume after trial with Corey and me. All attorneys and parties agreed that 7/30 and 8/22 were fine. Now Terry Daniele or Mr. Rist’s attorneys cannot make either of those dates. So three more months of no trial. This is disgusting.
Yet the morning of 7/30/08 Law Guardian Daniele informs everyone that something (again) has come up. Whether it is true or not, this is a pattern of intentional delay by Terry Daniele. She apparently is doing everything in her power to “delay”, “delay”, “delay”. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is what is really happening in this case and Ms. Daniele knows the longer Corey goes without seeing me the easier it
will be to convince Corey he does not need to see me. He is an 11-year-old child. Impressions mean a lot. I’m sure his dad is not telling Corey anything nice about me these last two years. There is no encouragement to Corey by the Law Guardian or father to see his mom. They both blame Corey that Corey does not want to see me. All I can say is that any time when Corey was over the house he was always having fun.
We would play ball together or watch Yankee games together, etc. These are things that Corey likes to do. He does not like being at the YWCA with a stranger looking at us.
Judge Klein wanted to restore visitation knowing that the best interest of any child is to be with both parents. Yet Judge Klein realized the delays caused by Judge Devlin and Terry Daniele could certainly have impacted the way Corey thought about this whole situation. All this time passing and Mr. Rist is still being vindictive. He never encouraged Corey to call me even though I called Corey many times. Mr. Rist would have Corey’s personal phone set to not allow any messages. So any time I called to speak to Corey I could not even leave a message.
Mr. Rist’s hatred for me is so obvious that even on Corey’s fifth grade graduation, in June 2007, Mr. Rist had Corey play hooky from graduation solely to deny Corey to see me, because Mr. Rist knew I’d be at the graduation. Also, Mr. Rist has refused to put me down as an Emergency Contact person on Corey’s school records. I hope Judge Klein can see this pattern. Mr. Rist does everything he can to keep Corey away from me. And if the Law Guardian really cared about the best interest of Corey she, too, would want an immediate trial. What is she afraid of? She is afraid that Corey will eventually be able to have an involved life with two parents that love him. But, Ms. Daniele does
not want happiness for Corey so she uses the Court system of delaying tactics. Judge Klein, you need to remove Terry Daniele as Corey’s Law Guardian. She is the Cancer of this case.
I am ready for trial. But, Judge Klein, every time you allow a delay it delays Corey and me the chance to being together, in a normal setting. Meeting for an hour at the YWCA is certainly not something any child would look forward to. You even said it, Judge Klein, you were concerned that Corey has been kept away for so long you were afraid of how he would act when he and I did get together.
So, as Judge Klein now permits delays, who is the loser, Corey. But does anyone really care? No, because the delays accomplish the goals of Mr. Rist and Terry Daniele. Do I have to wait until Corey is graduating Middle School before I can see him, that is, if Mr. Rist doesn’t keep Corey away from that graduation, too?
Aren’t we all eager to see how long the Westchester Family Court can delay and deny me “My Day In Court” so that I am continuously denied my parental right to be with my son, Corey?
I am requesting that the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigate the Westchester Family Court system. It seems that everyone involved is simply trying to deny me “my day in court.” This leaves Mr. Rist and Law Guardian Daniele doing all the child upbringing of Corey and gives me no say at all. Everyone should know that Mr. Rist has either sold or closed his local business and this is probably all an attempt by him to leave the New York area and fully deprive me of being able to act as a parent to Corey.
Now the Family Court is asking me to go to therapy with Corey and make me pay $50 a week to the therapist. The Family Court knows I cannot afford this and I have been required to spend money on other items. Terry Daniele insisted on a hair follicle test back in January 2007. It cost $400. Obviously the test was negative but the Family Court wants to keep me away from Corey by trying to make me spend money
I do not have. I love Corey and want to get this trial done so I can be with Corey.
Dawn Schroeder, Montrose
Editor’s Note: While it must be recognized that the account of this reader is but one side of the story, nevertheless, the experiences that she relates are all too familiar to far too many residents of Westchester County who have had the grueling misfortune of having to deal with the Family Courts and the Matrimonial Part of Supreme Court. Where there is so much smoke, there is obviously fire. It would seem the spouse with the money and/or political connections always rules the day.
The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
Federal Grand Jury Indicts Yonkers Police Officer
For Use Of Excessive Force Against Civilian
MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the indictment of Yonkers Police Department officer WAYNE SIMOES for violating the civil rights of IRMA MARQUEZ by using excessive force against her, resulting in bodily injury.
SIMOES was arrested on June 27, 2008, on a federal criminal Complaint, and was subsequently released on bond pending trial. According to the Indictment and Complaint filed in White Plains federal court: On March 3, 2007, SIMOES and several other police officers responded to a radio call to a restaurant in Yonkers, New York. While there, SIMOES walked over to MARQUEZ, grabbed her around the waist from behind, lifted her into the air, and threw her, face down, to the floor, before handcuff-ing her. MARQUEZ was hospitalized and suffered a broken jaw as well as lacerations and contusions to her face and body as a result of SIMOES’ use of force. SIMOES’ conduct was captured on videotape and witnessed by other officers.
The Indictment charges SIMOES with one count of violating federal civil rights laws, which make it a crime to willfully deprive a person of rights secured and protected by the Constitution of the United States, in this case the right to be free from the use of excessive force by a law enforcement officer in the course of an arrest, stop, or seizure. If convicted, SIMOES faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
SIMOES, 38, is a resident of Yonkers, New York. Assistant United States Attorneys JASON P.W. HALPERIN, ANNA M. SKOTKO, and BENJAMIN H. TORRANCE are in charge of the prosecution. The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and
the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Indictment Has Broad Implications
Immediately following last Tuesday afternoon’s announcement by the United States Attorney’s Office of the indictment of Yonkers Police Officer Wayne Simoes for the “willful assault” of Irma Marquez, in violation of her Constitutional rights, The Guardian was in contact with Ms. Marquez’ attorney, Gary Certain, of New York City. Mr. Certain gave us the following formal statement: “On behalf of Irma Marquez, and her family, we are very pleased with the federal grand jury indictment of Officer Simoes.
The United States Attorney’s Office, and the grand jury, should be commended for taking a stand against police brutality when Mayor Amicone, and the Yonkers Police Department, willfully chose to ignore the obvious. We hope that this indictment will pressure the Yonkers Police Department to take immediate action to terminate Officer Simoes.”
Asked about his client, Ms. Marquez’, present condition, Attorney Certain said, “She’s got a lot of problems. She requires seven to eight hours a day of therapy and attention for her head injuries; her memory loss, and her damaged thought processes, including cognitive losses.”
He then added, “She continues to have a blurred visual field in her right eye and serious problems with her jaw that was fractured, including alignment and clicking problems.”
After four attempts to obtain a statement Tuesday from Yonkers Police Commissioner Hartnett, finally, late in the afternoon, The Guardian was told, by a spokesperson, “The Police Commissioner will not be issuing a statement. And, you can call the United States Attorney’s Office for a comment.”
Reached by The Guardian earlier, Lucian Chalfen, chief spokesperson for District Attorney Janet DiFiore, stated, “There will be no statement from DA Janet DiFiore on the Simoes indictment.”
The indictment of Yonkers Police Of-ficer Wayne Simoes by a federal grand jury last Tuesday, August 19th, is a development with broad and powerful implications, not merely for Officer Simoes and the innocent woman he very nearly killed, but also for Mayor Amicone and his appointed Police Commissioner, Edmund Hartnett, as well as for Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore.
Given the irrefutable visual evidence from the concealed security camera at the scene of the incident, there can be little doubt that Officer Simoes’ willful and unprovoked brutality was the cause of the severe injuries inflicted upon Irma Marquez on March 3, 2007 from which she continues to suffer extreme pain and disablement, nearly 1½ years later. In light of the indictment, Simoes should be immediately suspended without pay.
As regards Police Commissioner Hartnett, our advice to Mayor Amicone is simple and to the point: Mr. Mayor, you have insisted upon
living in utter denial with respect to the extreme brutality of your police department. The Westchester Guardian has attempted to bring about reasonable and constructive dialogue and responses from you and your Police Commissioner from as far back as our Sept. 21, 2006 edition headlined, “Mother, 72, Daughter, 49, Charge Yonkers Police Brutality.” However, your combined response to that groundbreaking article, and numerous other subsequent reports, was to steal and destroy our distribution boxes; acts of complete criminal irresponsibility.
We now say, Mayor Amicone, you hired him, and now you must fire him as your last official act before you tender your resignation. As for District Attorney Janet DiFiore, clearly not installed by the citizens of Westchester, and just as clearly not committed to their welfare and well-being; she was shown the very same videotape seen by the federal grand jury who indicted Officer Simoes. She had access to all of the witnesses, the federal prosecutors and grand jurors had access to. And, yet, she decided to prosecute the victim, Irma Marquez, on trumped-up charges in May of this year, nearly one-year after knowing the truth, much as she continues to prosecute Rui Florim and dozens of other victims of Yonkers Police brutality. It’s all about her incestuous, political relationship with the Yonkers Department.
In a case such as the Marquez case, behavior of the kind DA DiFiore has manifested, goes far beyond the realm of “garden variety” prosecutorial misconduct. In truth, her actions are clearly in criminal co-conspiracy, after the fact; in a misguided, Abuse Of Process obviously intended to cover up the horrific, felonious acts of Yonkers Police.
A mere resignation from office by Janet DiFiore will not suffice. She must be fully investigated with respect to her totally inappropriate handling of police misconduct, not only as regards the Yonkers Police Department, but also the Harrison Department, and others as well. The FBI and the Justice Department have no other choice in this most serious matter.
Dr. Cavallo Diagnoses State of Westchester Politics “Sickly”
Calls DA Janet DiFiore’s Performance One of His Greatest Disappointments
Unfortunately, the state of Westchester County politics is sickly. We are in a very precarious state since the Democratic Party in Westchester County has sought to consolidate power and create a one-party, autocratic political environment. This should cause great political alarm to those citizens who are struggling to make ends meet in these difficult economic times, particularly for the middle- and working-class families who bear the heaviest proportionate burden, as well as those who care about how effectively, and how much, of our hard-earned taxpayer money is being spent without political repercussions.
Let me explain what I mean. When the Republican and Democratic Party each share political power, there is a healthy system of ‘checks and balances’ which works to ensure that the citizens, and their hard-earned tax dollars, are adequately protected from waste and abuse by government officials.
As it stands right now, with the County Executive, District Attorney, and 13 of 17 members of the County Legislature all Democrats, the balance of power has tipped dangerously to one side of the scale, and citizens are increasingly powerless to hold elected officials fiscally accountable. This dangerous trend severely undermines true democratic government and needs to be stopped and reversed. Otherwise, Westchester County will eventually become a place where only the super rich or the very poor live. None of us want that.
Examples of the County’s egregious waste of taxpayer money abound but, as an example, Gary Kriss, who already earns a whopping $150,000 as chief advisor to Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Bill Ryan, was called out by the press for purchases just short of $13,000 In unnecessary high-tech computer gadgets and soft- ware, not to mention an additional $10,000 in taxpayer-reimbursed cell phone bills, and even a cigar purchase at taxpayer expense. Does this sound like a fiscally-restrained way to use taxpayer money? In an era, where people are spending $60, $70 or $80 for a single tank of gas; not to me. No wonder grassroots political movements have started to get momentum from within the Democratic Party establishment, seeking to explore whether the size of County government should be dramatically reduced or completely abolished, as it was, for example, in nearby Fairfield County, Connecticut. I do not know if this is the solution to the problem, but it certainly needs to be looked at and evaluated.
Perhaps leaders such as Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Bill Ryan should tread lightly in this political and economic environment before seeking to ram a 90% salary increase down the throats of a now veto-proof Democratic legislative majority which spends nearly $2 billion of our money each year. Strong and well-qualified Republican candidates, in particular, are urgently needed. The Republican Party leadership should use this opportunity to run qualified candidates who advocate for and actually implement real political and cost-saving reforms to benefit all citizens of Westchester County. Talk is cheap; the people want action and should elect those candidates who are most likely to deliver.
To be completely candid, one of my greatest disappointments as Chairman of the Independence Party here in Westchester County is District Attorney Janet DiFiore. As the voters in Westchester County will remember, in choosing to join with our Republican Party friends back in 2005, the Independence Party endorsement provided the margin of victory in her narrow vote margin over Tony Castro. It was really disconcerting to me that, after getting elected three times with Republican and Independence Party support, first as a County Court Judge, then Supreme Court Justice, and then Westchester County District Attorney, Ms. DiFiore showed her true colors in being a disloyal turncoat to the very people who worked so hard to support her, raised money for her, and got her elected, by changing her party registration to Democrat in the middle of her term of office.
As the people may also remember, our District Attorney, during the 2005 campaign, strongly blasted her opponent, and the Democratic Party, for not knowing how to fight crime here in Westchester County. Yet, just 1-1/2 years later, last summer, out of left field, she changes her registration and tells the people back in August, “…the principles of the Democratic Party are closely aligned with my views.”
The way I see it, she ran over to the Democratic Party in 2007 because she knows that her performance as District Attorney will not get her reelected if she runs on her record with Republican and Independence Party support in 2009. In case anyone was wondering, the last Democratic District Attorney to serve here in Westchester was a guy named William Platt, back in 1895, more than 100 years ago. I guess that gives some idea as to how afraid the DA was to stay a Republican! As I see it, in taking an objective look at the crime statistics so far, the DA had reason to panic, more than two years before having to stand for reelection.
Despite the fact that there are well over 3,000 full-time sworn and civilian law enforcement personnel Countywide, our present District Attorney, Janet DiFiore, has been largely ineffective in combating crime, particularly violent crime, here in Westchester County, during her time in office.
While she is certainly big on announcing new flowery initiatives to ensure positive public relations for her office, such as her “Prom and Graduation Safety Summit Aimed at Parents” and her “Mothers Against Violence Encouraging Responsibility in Community Kids”, they seemed to be concerted efforts to distract the citizens of Westchester County from her inability to oversee more “nuts and bolts” crime-fighting during her time in office.
For example, the taxpayers of Westchester County might be surprised to know that the amount of reported murders, rapes and aggravated assaults, were all up in 2007 over 2006 levels when DA DiFiore came into office. People might also be surprised to learn that Westchester County’s per capita 2007 rate of violent crime was approximately 50 percent higher than that of our suburban neighbors in Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk Counties, almost 3½ times that of Putnam County, and just slightly better than Staten Island, one of the five counties of New York City.
I think that District Attorney DiFiore has some explaining to do to her constituents. Perhaps the reason for the increase in violent crime can be explained by the amount of felony arrests, both for drug and violent felonies, which were down significantly in 2007 over 2006, as well as felony DWI arrests, which were down in 2007 almost 20 percent from the year before. Our citizens should also know that the felony arrest conviction rate here in Westchester County slipped below 80 percent, actually 79.4 percent in 2006, for the first time in recent memory, under DA DiFiore’s tenure. It is all right there, in black and white, on the Division of Criminal Justice Services website, for all to see.
Aside from violent crime going up, and the conviction rate going down, here in Westchester, the DA seems to have some critical internal communication problems in her Office as demonstrated in the Ridley, Marquez, and Florim cases. It’s not me who is saying it; it is a current ADA in her office, as well as County Court Judge Rory Bellantoni in his opinion in a case called People v Schelenbach. In that case, Judge Bellantoni granted a criminal defendant’s motion to dismiss an indictment charging multiple counts of sexual abuse and forcible touching, in the interests of justice. The motion took place after the DA’s Office had reduced an initial “D” violent felony plea offer down to the possibility of outright dismissal, over an approximately 7-1/2 month period, and then, suddenly did a complete about-face and requested an immediate trial.
Judge Bellantoni said, “For the People to withdraw an offer, cease negotiations and demand a trial as charged, after months of negotiating towards a non-criminal disposition or outright dismissal, would have a negative impact on the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system, particularly where the resolution is otherwise appropriate, but is being withdrawn because of an internal breakdown in communication within the District Attorney’s Office.” Judge Bellantoni went on to say in the Schelenbach case that there is an erosion of public trust in the DA’s Office.
It’s no wonder that morale at the DA’s Office is so low among the ADAs and support staff.
All in all, the DA’s record of personal and professional disloyalty to her supporters, questionable competence in fighting violent crime here in Westchester County, particularly compared to other suburban counties in the New York City metropolitan area, and communication breakdowns in criminal prosecutions out of that Office, should give people cause for concern when they evaluate their choice for Westchester County District Attorney next year.
During the months ahead, the Independence Party will make a concerted effort to double our current Party registration and continue to seek out highly qualified candidates who believe in the calling of public service and good government, whether in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches, candidates who will serve the people of Westchester County with dedication, enthusiasm, and the highest level of professional competence. That is my mission as a civic leader and Chairman of the Independence Party.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
When Women Are
Wrongfully Convicted, Part 1
When those of us who are familiar with the World Of Wrongful Convictions think about the subject, we reflexively think about men to whom it
has happened. Since most of the stories that reach the headlines have pertained to men, this is not at all surprising. Yet women are not immune to wrongfully conviction. This two-part series is intended to raise awareness about the subject of women being wrongfully convicted.
I will review cases of women convicted wrongfully, and explore the impact of that circumstance on a mother, both from her perspective and the
perspective of her children. Hopefully, some insight may be gained with respect to what went wrong and what changes are needed in both the criminal justice and judicial systems to prevent future instances.
Betty Tyson was wrongfully convicted of murder in Rochester, New York, and served 25 years in prison before being proven innocent. She was New York State’s longest-serving female prisoner.
The facts of her case have been taken from a story published in e New York Times by Associated Press writer Ben Dobbin in March of 1999:
“Tyson was convicted in the slaying of Philadelphia businessman Timothy Haworth, 52, a consultant to Eastman Kodak Co. He was apparently soliciting a prostitute when he was strangled in an alley the night of May 25,1973. She was found guilty based on a confession. Her conviction was dismissed after a judge ruled that evidence of her innocence had been unlawfully suppressed. That evidence was that a police interview report
in which one teen-ager initially said he never saw Ms. Tyson with the victim was never turned over to the Defense, which contradicted his testimony at trial.
Further, by way of newly discovered evidence, he provided a 15-page affidavit in which he told of how at 16 years of age he was threatened for seven months while in jail, and how he was fearful that he would be charged with murder if he didn’t say he saw Tyson with the victim.
In addition, new evidence surfaced that two counselors that worked at the jail observed that Tyson was covered with welts and bruises shortly following her ‘confession’, which supported her contention that her confession was false and had been beaten out of her. It is important to note that the chief detective, who died in 1981, was investigated at least 10 times for allegedly abusing suspects, resigned in 1980 a er fabricating
evidence in an unrelated case.
In her lawsuit filed in 1999, Tyson, then 50, maintains she was robbed of her freedom, her wages, and her ability to bear children. She underwent a hysterectomy in prison and claims she would have gotten better medical treatment in a regular hospital.”
Joyce Brown was wrongfully convicted of aggravated robbery and spent nine years in prison in Dallas, Texas, before being cleared on Nov. 4, 1989.
The facts of her case are taken from the Fort Worth Star Telegram: “Brown was a receptionist at a fur company, and was convicted of robbing
another fur company, Fine Furs by Rubin, in which the proprieter was fatally shot. At trial, police said that the getaway car in the robbery had been rented in the name of Joyce Ann Brown, of Denver, and the widow of the proprieter identi-fied her and another woman as the robbers.
Police also identified a fingerprint of Brown’s on a coat hanger. Another witness claimed that Brown made a jailhouse confession to her. A joint request by both the Defense and the Prosecution to overturn her verdict resulted in the Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals throwing out her conviction.
The jailhouse informant had lied to a police officer in an unrelated case six months prior, but that information was never turned over to her defense attorneys. When she was released, Mrs. Brown said, ‘It’s like a dream come true. For nine years, five months, and twenty four days
it’s like I have been in the Twilight Zone. Now I’ve stepped out back into the land of the living with my family. My biggest regret is that I couldn’t be here when I lost my stepson to suicide. I lost all the youth of my daughter, all the dreams down the drain.’
Her daughter, Koquice Spencer, speaking to the impact that her mother’s wrongful incarceration had on her growing up, said that as a child, she went to see her mother in prison anytime someone she knew would make the trip. Remembering being an 11-year-old the year her mother was taken to prison, and that she didn’t understand what was going on. Schoolmates would ask her ‘Koquice, where is your mother?’ Spencer said she asked her mother once whether she robbed the fur store, and that her mother said ‘Mama didn’t do this. I’ll be here to take care of you shortly.’ That ‘shortly’ turned out to be nine years.”
Ellen Reasonover served 16 years out of a fifty-year prison sentence in St. Louis for a murder she did not commit. The account of her case are taken from an article written by Hans Sherer in the magazine Justice Denied: “Early on the morning of January 2, 1983 Ellen Reasonover ran out
of change while at a laundromat. She went to a nearby gas station to get some change and it happened to be the one where James Buckley worked and it was on the morning he was murdered. Ms. Reasonover couldn’t find an attendant to help her, so she went to a convenience store to get the change she needed. When she learned the next day there had been a murder at the gas station, she called the police to describe two men she had seen there and the vehicle they were driving.
She was rewarded for her desire to be a good Samaritan by becoming the chief suspect in James Buckley’s murder. The only evidence presented at trial against Ellen Reasonover was the testimony of two women with long criminal histories. The two women, Rose Joliff and Mary Ellen Lyner, had been in a cell with Reasonover a er her arrest. They both testified they heard her admit she had murdered James Buckley. However, five other
women jailed with Reasonover, including three in the jail cell with her at the same time as Joliff and Lyner, testified they didn’t hear Reasonover say anything incriminating.
At trial, the prosecution denied that it had agreed to exchange anything of value with Joliff and Lyner for their testimony.” The case was riddled with inconsistencies that simply could not square with the guilty verdict, such as: 1) No witness placed her at the scene of the murder; 2) There was no physical evidence found at the gas station linking her to James Buckley’s murder; 3) She was not found with, or linked to, the murder weapon; 4) The prosecution said her motive to murder Mr. Buckley was to rob the gas station, yet no money was taken from the cash register and nearly $3,000 was found in the gas station’s unlocked safe. Nonetheless, she had been convicted and remained so until it was overturned by a United
States District Court.
Ms. Reasonover’s conviction had made her eligible for the death penalty, and she had come within one vote of receiving it. Explaining what had happened in Reasonover’s case, prompting the overturning of the conviction, United States District Court Judge Hamilton wrote: “The prosecution’s failure to turn over evidence favorable to the defense rendered trial fundamentally unfair and deprived her of her rights under the Due Process Clause.”
Reasonover’s conviction was overturned in part because the Prosecution withheld two exculpatory audio tapes from the Defense in violation of pretrial discovery requirements. Those tapes were secretly recorded by police before her trial. Reasonover’s unwavering statements of innocence on the tapes corroborated her later testimony in court and undermined the testimony of the Prosecution’s two “star witnesses”.
One tape was of a conversation between Reasonover and Joliff four days after the Prosecution alleged that she confessed to Joliff. Reasonover repeatedly expressed her innocence on the tape and Joliff didn’t challenge her by making any mention of a previous confession. The other tape was secretly made in jail when Reasonover and her boyfriend, Stanley White, were placed in cells next to each other after they were initially arrested for questioning about the murder. In that conversation, which they did not know was being taped, they repeatedly expressed bewilderment
at their arrest and stated more than twenty times that they were innocent of having anything to do with anyone’s murder. Mr. White was questioned but not charged. The existence of the first tape was discovered in 1996, and the existence of the second was uncovered in June of 1999 when it was found in a box marked “Prosecutor’s Files.”
It also later came out that the prosecution’s denial that it had agreed to exchange anything of value with Joliff and Lyner for their testimony was false. Years after Reasonover’s conviction, it was uncovered that the prosecution paid Joliff in cash for her testimony, and Lyner was rewarded by having charges of participating in a major credit card scam dropped. Writer Sherer, in his Justice Denied article, included the following: “The
former prosecutor, Steven Goldman, who orchestrated Ellen Reasonover’s conviction, expressed disappointment with Judge Hamilton’s ruling.
Goldman contends that Ms. Reasonover was accorded a ‘fair trial’ and she should still be in prison. After being falsely imprisoned and kept from raising her daughter from the time she was two years old, Ellen Reasonover describes Goldman as ‘an evil man with no conscience and no heart.’ She also wondered out loud,in a rhetorical fashion, ‘I’m the victim here. Who’s going to prosecute him?’” When a woman is wrongfully convicted,
there are most often clear differences as compared to the circumstances involving a man. For one thing, men do not have the biological clock that women do. Thus, a woman may pass the time period in her life in which she is capable of bearing children. Those who have already had children must deal with the experience of separation, as in the case of Joyce Brown, who was taken from her child, leaving the child confused and traumatized. Because children are more likely to spend daytime hours with their mother, the children of imprisoned mothers may be vulnerable to cruel teasing by other youngsters.
The experience of being forcibly separated from one’s children and family, the emotional pain, and the missing out of all of the precious moments as one’s child grows up and goes through the stages of life, is, to my way of thinking, tantamount to kidnapping. As such, in cases that involve prosecutorial or police misconduct, it seems obvious that financial, as well as incarcerative, penalties are needed. The absence of legislation providing for such preventative penalties seems both criminal and a carte blanche opportunity for rogue prosecutors and police officers to continue to engage in misconduct.
Analyzing what went wrong to cause the wrongful convictions in the above cases, one discovers common themes that continue to raise their ugly
heads. Once again, such tragic accounts illustrate the need to pass reforms that would prevent such misconduct from continuing to occur.
Incentivized witnessing, when witness’s receive rewards in exchange for falsely testifying against other people, played a role in both Reasonover’s and Brown’s wrongful convictions. Nationwide, incentivized witnessing has resulted in 15 percent of the now 218 DNA proven wrongful conviction cases. Prosecutorial misconduct, specifi-cally the withholding of evidence of innocence, in legal jargon referred to as Brady Material was a common thread than ran through these cases and further underscores the need for incarcerative and financial penalties for both state and federal prosecutors and law enforcement. Without them, there is nothing to hold rogue police and prosecutorial misconduct in check. They
have, in effect, the opportunity to do whatever they want, with no penalties. The irrevocable connection between wrongful convictions and the death penalty is again reiterated. Reasonover came within one vote of getting it, and Tyson could have received it had New York had a death penalty in place.
It is important to understand that in almost all reversed wrongful conviction cases it was concerned citizens, advocates, and non-profit organizations, such as Centurion Ministries, that worked to obtain the freedom of the wrongfully convicted. That is not an indication that the System, in any way, was working, or that it caught it’s own errors.
It is both sickening and appalling that as of this moment not one single reform has been passed in order to prevent wrongful convictions here in New York State, and that many other states also continue to lack them. I believe that it will take a political shakeup to get the needed legislation.
Accordingly, between now and November, I will be compiling information on the positions and stances of various elected officials, and those seeking office, with respect to wrongful convictions. I will not simply be echoing statements that have been made, but will be looking at the
voting records and actions of as many elected officials as possible. I sincerely hope that concerned citizens will take that information into account come November.