Thursday, October 30, 2008

Westchester Guardian/Jeffrey Deskovic.

Jeff Deskovic

Wrongful Convictions Just
Keep Coming Out, Part 5


Many people believe that wrongful convictions-which is defined as when innocent people are found guilty and sent to prison for crimes that they never committed, are rare. In fact, they are more common than most realize. According to a statistic in Oprah magazine, there are currently two million-plus people enmeshed in the criminal justice system in one way or another; in prison, on parole, or on probation. If just five percent of those people are innocent, that number would be staggering.

It is not far fetched to believe that that is the case. However, there is good reason to believe that the number is much greater than that. Here are some of those reasons: Across the country, there have now been 223 people who have been proven innocent by post conviction DNA testing. DNA is only available in 10% of all serious felony cases. Yet the systemic deficiencies which lead to wrongful convictions in the DNA cases are present in the non-DNA cases as well. It is just that there is no biological evidence to test.

Additionally, according to e Innocence Project, a full third of the cases that they look into which involve DNA have to be closed because the DNA has either been destroyed or lost. Were that not so, the number of cases which were exposed as wrongful convictions would be considerably higher. It is much more difficult to prove innocence through methods such as finding new evidence, uncovering evidence
which had been hidden from defense attorneys by prosecutors, and eyewitness identification recantations, particularly given the fact that lawyers who have the means and the will to take cases for free are rare, and that it is even more difficult to find investigators
who will do the leg work necessary to uncover evidence.

Hence, many wrongful convictions will never be uncovered. Over the course of the sixteen years that I was wrongfully incarcerated,
I did time with six people who were proven innocent before I was: Lazaro Burts, Sami Leka, Dennis Halstead, John Kogut, Jose Morales, and Reuben Montalvo. Roy Brown and Sam Swift were cleared after me.

In order to demonstrate that wrongful convictions are more common than most of us realize, I began the series Wrongful Convictions Just Keep Coming Out several months ago. This is the fifth installment of that series. As more cases come out, I will keep reporting them.


James Owens

James Owens was wrongfully convicted of a murder in 1987 and served twenty years in prison in Maryland before being proven innocent by DNA. The facts of his case are taken from an article by Melissa Harris published in the Baltimore Sun on Oct. 16, 2008: “Twenty years
after a jury convicted James L. Owens of a murder he said he didn’t commit, prosecutors yesterday dropped all charges against him in his retrial, making him the seventh person in Maryland to be ordered freed because of DNA evidence. Owens’ and Thompson’s attorneys say that the men were convicted on a false confession, and unreliable science and jailhouse informants.

The key to Owens’ freedom was a sample of genetic material taken from the victim 20 years ago, before DNA testing was available,
which was saved by the medical examiner’s office and tested in 2006. The new analysis showed that the genetic material didn’t come
from Owens or James Thompson Jr., who testified two decades ago that he was present when Owens raped and killed Colleen Williar,
24, in her bed in Southeast Baltimore. Five witnesses, including two jailhouse informants, were dead. Thompson, who recanted
his testimony almost immediately a er the 1988 trial and whose conviction in Owens’ slaying is on appeal, was refusing to testify. And Baltimore police destroyed the other physical evidence in the case, including the alleged murder weapon and pubic hair collected from the victim’s body, because the case had been closed so long ago.

Prosecutor Cohen initially objected to the release of the sample for testing, but he joined the defense’s request for reconsidering the case after the results came back. Owens, the first person sentenced under the state’s life without the possibility of parole statute, remained locked up in the meantime. Yesterday, Cohen declined to say whether he believed Owens was innocent. He also declined to say whether he would agree to a new trial for Thompson, 49, who is serving a life sentence, because his appeal is pending before the state’s highest court.

The victim’s mother, Carolyn Case, cried as Cohen announced the decision to drop the charges. She said the victim’s brother had been one of the people who discovered Williar’s nude body, stabbed and beaten in her O’Donnell Heights row house Aug. 2, 1987. She said he later committed suicide. ‘They’re both as guilty as can be,’ Case, 65, said, referring to Owens and Thompson. ‘Everyone has forgotten about my daughter. ... I have a life sentence.’ Outside of the prison, James Owens said ‘You can’t give me that time back. You can’t give me that back. That’s all I got to say.’Thompson, who worked at a gas station, first appeared as a witness in the case. He had come forward with the murder weapon, a switchblade knife, after police posted a $1,000 reward for information. During questioning, police accused him of participating in the crime, and to save himself, he fingered Owens, Thompson’s attorney, Suzanne Drouet, told The Sun in 2006.

But while on the witness stand, Thompson, to the defense’s surprise, provided information putting him at the scene of the crime. Mercer said police coerced Thompson’s statement by implying that he was in severe trouble but that he could avoid charges by helping convict Owens. After Owens’ trial, however, Thompson was charged. A key piece of evidence at his trial was forensic testimony matching pubic hairs found at the scene to Thompson. However, Cohen acknowledged yesterday that the analysis done in the late 1980s is no longer considered reliable enough to match a hair to a specific person.

Mercer said that the sample, which he said was of sperm, has been used to clear one other man detectives identified as a suspect early in the investigation but that it could not be used to positively identify the killer. ‘The profile is of the paternal DNA, which is passed from father to son like a last name,’ Mercer said. ‘It’s only going to put the perpetrator within a paternal line. It’s useful to exclude suspects but not include them.’

Joseph White

Joseph White served 19 years in prison for murder and rape of Helen Wilson in Nebraska before being proven innocent by DNA on October 14, 2008. The facts of his case are taken from The Journal Star on Oct. 15, 2008: “DNA tests weren’t available in 1989 when authorities arrested six people in connection with Wilson’s murder. To avoid potential death penalties, four of the defendants quickly agreed to testify against White in exchange for prison terms. As a group of hard partying drug users, the co-defendants said they broke into Wilson’s apartment to rob her either late on Feb. 5 or early on Feb. 6, 1985.

The jury heard brutal details about how White and Winslow took turns raping the woman while Ada JoAnn Taylor placed a pillow over Wilson’s face.Three who testified, James Dean, Debra Shelden and Kathy Gonzales, each received 10 years in prison and all were released in about four years. Taylor, who also testified for the prosecution, was sentenced to 10 to 40 years in prison and she remains in minimum security today.

A jury convicted White of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison. In Nebraska, a life sentence for first-degree murder means an inmate cannot be paroled. Winslow, who maintained he didn’t remember being in Wilson’s apartment, pleaded no contest to aiding and abetting second-degree murder and he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Winslow’s attorney, Soucie, who works with the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, said the co-defendants lied on the stand. He faulted the prosecution for cutting ‘sweetheart deals’ with them in order to convict the one defendant who refused to accept a plea bargain. When Winslow saw White get convicted, he accepted his own plea deal, Soucie said. A state law that took effect in 2001 allows people convicted of serious crimes to seek DNA testing if it could potentially exonerate them.

Judge Johnson denied the first motions by White and co-defendant Winslow to get the tests, but the Nebraska Supreme Court later reversed her ruling. The first batch of DNA testing done at the University of Nebraska Medical Center last summer excluded both men. A second batch, involving an additional 43 samples, also excluded them. In addition, DNA found in the apartment did not match the other male co-defendant, nor did it match any of the women co-defendants. What’s more, their original witnesses are falling apart.

In an interview with the Journal Star in August, JoAnn Taylor said she lied on the stand to save her own life. Stratton said Wednesday he and Soucie contacted several of the remaining co-defendants, who also said they perjured themselves. District Judge Vicky Johnson ordered White released on his own recognizance. The prosecution has six months to decide whether to retry him for the rape and murder of 68-year-old Helen Wilson.

Judge Johnson made a second ruling Wednesday that will likely benefit Thomas Winslow, one of White’s co-defendants in the case. The judge ordered Winslow, who is currently serving a 50-year prison term, to be re sentenced. His attorney, Jerry Soucie of Lincoln, will ask the judge on Friday to sentence him to time served. Winslow also has been in prison since 1990. The judge’s rulings followed a hearing about the extensive DNA testing of blood, semen and hair found in Wilson’s downtown Beatrice apartment. The results pointed to a single male
perpetrator and they excluded White and Winslow as that perpetrator. Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Corey O’Brien said in court Wednesday that the test results don’t mean White and Winslow are innocent. They may have still been present while Wilson was raped and suffocated. But at the same time, an absence of their DNA in the apartment casts serious doubts on the eyewitness testimony that helped convict the men.

‘Would it have affected my decision as a juror?’ O’Brien asked. ‘I would be lying to this court if I said it wouldn’t have.’ Gage County Attorney Randall Ritnour said Wednesday the Beatrice Police Department, the Gage County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol have already reopened the investigation. ‘It’s pretty much all hands on deck,’ he said. The victim did what she could to help indirectly identify her assailant. Wilson’s struggles must have injured the man and he left behind blood droplets that provided his complete DNA profile. One modern resource investigators have is a federal database of DNA linked to known violent criminals. The county attorney declined to say whether the DNA obtained from Wilson’s apartment has been compared to the database.

Analysis

It is important to review wrongful convictions in order to understand more fully the need for legislative reform. I will start with the Owens’s case. False confessions, which have been the cause of wrongful convictions in 25% of the now 222 DNA proven wrongful conviction, rears its head. Incentivized witnessing, which is when a witness receives a benefit in exchange for testifying against a defendant, is present in
this case as well. Nationwide it has caused wrongful convictions in 15% of the now 222 DNA exonerations. Police destroying evidence, in this case, highlights the need for a standardized evidence preservation system. Prosecutor Cohen’s refusal to acknowledge Owens’ innocence represents a continuation of the pattern of many prosecutors, even after new evidence is brought forward establishing innocence, not to acknowledge that innocence. Notwithstanding that declining, it seems obvious to me: the DNA proved that the testimony of Thompson was, as he himself said immediately afterwards, false, and that somebody else raped and murdered the victim.

This case also illustrates that we should not be lulled into a false sense of security regarding a conviction’s validity due to the presence of a lot of unreliable evidence. Stated differently, unreliable evidence does not suddenly become stronger simply because there is a lot of it. With respect to the co-defendant, Thompson, initially coming forward with what was purported to be the murder weapon in order to collect the $1000 reward, and then having the police turn on him, it is somewhat reminiscent of the case of Ellen Reasonover which I covered previously
in The Guardian. Reasonover called the authorities to report that she might have seen the perpetrators only to have them turn on her and ultimately arrest her for it.

If that is going to be the attitude of the police when people come forward to give helpful information about a crime, then citizens, in turn, will have to rethink doing so. It is a sad day indeed when people have to remain silent about a crime in order to protect themselves from police turning on them and being falsely charged.

Yet another common theme present in this case, which has occurred in many other cases, involves the victim’s family members, having originally been told by the police and prosecutors that the defendant committed the crime and then believing it for years, being unwilling to accept once and for all that it has been proven that the defendant is innocent.

In the White case, we see the importance of giving prisoners the right to DNA testing at any stage of the process, and the extreme importance of judges granting defense motions seeking DNA testing. There is nothing to lose by allowing testing; either the results will confirm guilt or it will prove innocence. It is inexplicable that every state in the country does not have a law on the books guaranteeing prisoners the right to testing.

The theme of incentivized witnessing being unreliable shows its head in this case. The case also shows how the death penalty is connected with injustice in more than just one way. There was an unusually large amount of DNA-testable material in the case. In light of none of it matching any of the people charged in the case, it seems clear that all of them were innocent. Yet due to the fear of being executed, they pled
guilty to crimes that they did not commit and falsely testified against White. Were there no death penalty involved, maybe they would not have done so. Additionally, this case reaffirms the idea that innocent people can be found guilty of capital murder and thus be exposed to the
possibility of execution. White is very lucky in that he was not sentenced to death.

The theme of prosecutors being unwilling to admit that a defendant is innocent even after evidence of their innocence surfaces, again shows its head. There were 43 samples of DNA in the second batch tested alone, to say nothing of the first batch. What more does the prosecutor
want, or does innocence simply not exist in his mind once an arrest has been made?

In many cases where DNA shows the defendant’s innocence but does not initially identify the real perpetrator, the police do not attempt to solve the crime. I would like to applaud the police department for reopening the case and looking for the real perpetrators. One good thing about all of that DNA having been gathered and preserved is that once evidence is developed to give probable cause to the belief that that person committed the crime, DNA testing can be done to either show guilt or innocence. I would like to see the criminal justice system be more scientific about the search for the truth, rather than about winning at all costs, adversarial, and based upon speculation or inference.
That is why it is so important for reforms to be passed by our legislators across the country.

Westchester Guardian/Catherine Wilson.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

Fundraising in a Recession

As the market drops and the economy plunges, and area residents lose their jobs and savings, the need for emergency assistance increases.
Local not-for-profits are already experiencing greater requests for aid and planning for more increases as the winter approaches.

Abigail Adams, the Director of Communications for the Westchester Chapter of the Red Cross, spoke to The Guardian about her agency’s
concerns. “No matter what, our work has to continue,” Adams said. “But we’re expecting a lot more responses this winter as people seek
alternative heat sources”. The Red Cross fears that local residents will turn to space heaters and wood replaces for heat for their homes, increasing the risk of fire.

To meet the increased need, the Red Cross is pursuing additional sources of funds. A new “Red Cross Fundraising in a Recession Motors” program will allow individuals to donate their vehicles to the organization. Over ninety-one cents of every dollar donated goes to our programs,” Adams noted.

“We keep our costs down because 96% of our staff are volunteers”. Those volunteers are already being stretched to their limits. “Last year,
the Red Cross deployed 12,000 volunteers nationwide,” Adams said. “This year, the Red Cross deployed 12,000 volunteers last month alone”. National disasters like the hurricane in Galveston, Texas are straining Red Cross funds. “Unfortunately, the recent news on the economy has taken the continuing devastation in Texas off of the front pages,” Adams said.Making potential donors aware of the need is one of the challenges not-for-profits face. However, potential donors should not confuse awareness of a problem with the degree of need Some not-for-profit’s ad agencies are simply better at ‘getting the word out’. A donor can determine legitimate need by reviewing the organization’s ratings and programs on websites such as www.CharityNavigator.org and www.GuideStar.org.

Not-for-profits are also required to file annual tax returns, Form 990, with the Internal Revenue Service and submit annual lings with the
New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau. According to the Attorney General’s website: “The Attorney General’s Charities
Bureau is responsible for supervising charitable organizations to insure that donors and beneficiaries of those charities are protected from unscrupulous practices in the solicitation and management of charitable assets.

The Bureau also supervises the activity of foundations and other charities to ensure that their funds and other property devoted to charitable purposes are properly used, and protects the public interest in charitable gifts and bequests contained in wills and trust agreements. The Bureau also maintains a registry of charities and fundraising professionals.”

Anyone donating to a charity that is registered in New York State may obtain a copy of the charity’s annual ling directly from the AG’s
office: New York State Attorney General, Charities Bureau FOIL Officer 120 Broadway New York, NY 10271 A rule of thumb for analyzing a charitable organization is to check how much of the funds raised is being used for programs. An efficient charity should keep its administrative and fundraising expenses to less than 25% of its budget. However, many charities, like the local branch of the Red Cross, are well below that guideline, only 4%. A charity may legitimately need to spend more on administrative expenses; museums need security and insurance to guard their collections, costs that are classified as administrative; whereas food kitchens average less than 2% in overhead costs.

Since the operations of not-for profits vary widely, a donor considering which not-for-profits to support should review them side by-
side. The Guardian took two well-known charities, Covenant House, and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and compared them. Covenant
House received only a one star rating from Charity Navigator vs. four-stars for Komen. Covenant House’s fundraising and administrative
expenses are 40% of its budget, a cause for concern, but the salaries of the top three administrators only ranged from $139,000 to $161,000,
indicating the organization was trying to keep costs down. But numbers alone don’t determine where an individual should donate their
funds. A contributor to Covenant House might deliberately overlook the high fundraising costs since the agency is the only one addressing
the needs of ‘throwaway children’ in many communities.

In comparison, Komen’s fundraising and administrative expenses were 17% of its budget, but the top administrators had salaries ranging
from $208,000 to $513,000. A closer examination of Komen’s financials revealed the organization has over $92 million in cash, $62 million in
investments, and another $35 million in pledges receivable, almost $200 million in total reserves. Their website claims the Komen “Race
for the Cure”, a series of fundraising races, is “the most successful fundraising and education event for breast cancer ever created,” but
their financial statements reveal that while the “Race for the Cure” raised $1.9 million, the expenses to run this race exceeded $2 million, for a
$148,000 loss for this event.

Fundraising materials from not for-profits are written emotionally to induce contributions. But donors should analyze these materials clearly,
and double-check the facts, before determining where to contribute their funds. In a message from Komen’s founder, Nancy Brinker, she
states, “Cancer already claims twice as many lives as AIDS worldwide. At least seven million people die of cancer each year and close to 11 million new cases are diagnosed. That’s more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined”. Ms. Brinker fails to note in that message that her organization only deals with breast cancer, not all cancers. And that many cancers have a lower fatality rate than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

According to the Center for Disease Control, breast cancer diagnoses are falling from 211,000 in 2004 to 182,460 in 2008. Thanks to improvements in treatments, the death rates are also falling; breast cancer now ranks 7th among all cancer deaths. Compare this to Alzheimer’s, which is currently the 6th cause of all deaths, a ranking that will rise as the “Baby Boom” generation ages. Given greater
survival rates from cancer and heart disease, individuals are surviving those diseases and now living long enough to develop Alzheimer’s
and other forms of dementia later in life, one in every two seniors over the age of 85 is afflicted.

But the funds raised by these organizations does not correlate to the risk to the public: Komen raised $275 million last year, up from $162 million in 2006, for breast cancer, a disease that affects one out of every eight women, while the Alzheimer’s Association only raised $80 million for a disease that can potentially affect one out of every two individuals, men and women, if they simply live long enough.

Based on such confusing data, most donors contribute their funds where their interests and empathy lie. An area woman, with a family
history of breast cancer, would probably donate to Koman, despite their huge cash reserves, whereas local Baby Boomers, hoping to live well
past 80 years of age, would probably opt to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association in the hope that a cure can be found before they reach the high risk years. However, some local residents may be taking the approach of funding other interests.

Not-for-profits pay no state, local, property, sales, or federal taxes. But governments need money to operate. Therefore any tax write offs
a charity receives are moneys that have to be made up elsewhere, in higher taxes from local residents. Taxpayers are thereby subsidizing
the activities of the not-for-profits and religious organizations. Individuals willing to donate funds should make sure that the causes are
legitimate and the not-for-profits is not a front for another agenda or the founder’s personal needs.

This reporter recently attended the annual fund-raiser for the Westchester Hispanic Coalition at the Crowne Plaza in White Plains. According to their Executive Director, the purpose of the fundraiser was to “celebrate the culture and customs of the Latino community who have made their homes in Westchester”. Fundraising events also allow the organizations to honor the efforts of their volunteers and supporters who work long hours for no financial gain.

WHC honored three outstanding area women, Maria del Monte, an executive with Fuji Film, Maria Kercado, a VP with local union 1999
SEIU and an advocate for low wage workers, and a renown Westchester woman, Isabel Villar, the head of El Centro Hispano and a life-long advocate in White Plains.

Fundraising events also allow supporters to contribute to an organization in fun ways. At the WHC gala, several local restaurants showcased
their culinary skills by contributing food and staff for the evening: Sonora of Port Chester, Exotic Foods Catering of Peekskill, Mesun Los
Espanoles of White Plains, Antun’s of Elmsford, and the Crowne Plaza. The evening had an EPCOT feel to it as attendees went from table to table sampling the delicacies. WHC also provided entertainment: dancers who portrayed the range of music from a variety of Caribbean islands.

The gala showcased the talents of Danza Fiesta, Baile y Teatro Puertorriqueño, a group that is part of the not-for-profit organization, Diversity in Arts and Nations for Cultural Education, Inc. According to Sandra Arboleda of WHC, “Danza Fiesta’s mission is to use the worldwide language of dance to promote Puerto Rican folk dance as a medium to educate people in the United States on the historical aspect of the Puerto Rican culture, music and traditions”.

At the event, Danza Fiesta had the crowd at the Crowne Plaza dancing to the rhythms of the Caribbean. Local merchants also contributed
to the fundraising event by donating merchandise and services for the “Silent Auction” portion of the evening. At the WHC event, attendees bid on items ranging from gift baskets to an autographed photo of the last game at Yankee Stadium signed by Derek Jeter. Celebrities are one of the largest sources of donated items for fund raisers. The bidding for these items takes on a festive mood as attendees egg each other on to bid higher. This reporter successfully outbid WHC’s executive director for a much-needed spa treatment graciously donated by Adriana’s Spa in Eastchester.

So, while funds may be tight, and the need for help is growing, local residents can still effectively help their community and even have fun
doing so. As Abigail Adams of the Red Cross noted, “our volunteers are a wonderful group of people”. Volunteering your time, attending a
fundraising event, or simply writing a check to your charity of interest, are all effective ways of helping your neighbors in this time of increased need. Getting involved directly with an organization is one way to see how your time and money is being used effectively. But for those individuals who cannot spare the time to volunteer, the state government and national watch groups will assist you to determine where to best use your contributions.

Westchester Guardian/The Advocate.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Mayor Amicone Fails To Attend Yonkers Events
Reflecting Community’s Concerns And Priorities


A Workshop On Undoing Racism
Saturday, Oct. 18th

Saturday morning, October 18th, The People’s Institute For Survival And Beyond, under the capable, tutorial leadership of founders David Billings and Ron Chisom, conducted a workshop designed to uncover “solutions to address the impact of institutional/structural racism on our local communities.”

Founders and keynote speakers, Billings and Chisom, opened the session at the Riverfront Library, which was attended by some 100 community activists, educators, and local political figures including Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick, and State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins. As advertised, the keynoters offered “An Analysis Of The History Of Racism In The United States,” distinguishing between personal prejudice, discrimination, and institutional racism.

Following the initial presentation of more than an hour, and a break for lunch, it was decided that four separate workshops intended to deal with Criminal Justice, Education, Housing, and Immigration Issues as related to institutional racism that were originally scheduled to be presented simultaneously before individual smaller groups dependent upon attendees’ preferred area of interest, would instead be presented in consecutive order before the entire group.

Attorney Mayo Bartlett discusses implications of institutional racism in the Criminal Justice System Attorney Mayo Bartlett, of Young & Bartlett, White Plains, engaged in criminal defense and civil rights law, a former assistant DA in the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, gave a very revealing account of two cases that he happened to be assigned at the same time involving two young male, one from Mount Vernon, who was Black, and another from Bronxville,who was Caucasion.

Each was eligible for Youthful Offender treatment under the law,and neither had a prior record.Each had committed the same offense under strikingly similar circumstances.In the case of the Black youth, no application had been made to seal the file and/or adjudicate the matter in chambers, ordinarily intended to preserve confidentiality.

The District Attorney’s Office was offeringa felony plea plus five years of probation to the youth from Mount Vernon, but a misdemeanor plea, and three years’ probation, to the Bronxville youth. Bartlett explained that he went to his superior expressing his concerns about the different treatment the youngsters were getting, and that his superior then turned around and made them both plead to felonies, with five years’ probation. Bartlett said, “In order not to have institutional racism, we must apply the Law equally in every community of the County.

Heartbroken Loved Ones Of
Young Men Senselessly Murdered
Mourn And Celebrate Their Lives
Sunday, Oct. 19th


Sunday afternoon, October 19th, a memorial service was held at the YWCA in downtown Yonkers, that was a gathering of family and friends of young males who had been killed in the City over the last couple of years. The lives of four such individuals, their stories, and photos,
were presented as family members and clergy spoke out against violence.

The program was entitled, Week Without Violence. It was a “day of remembrance,” an interdenominational candlelight service. The four decedents remembered were: Tyrone Stephan Bergmann, Charles Anthony Taylor, Martin Antonio Perez, and Oumar Zongo, and,
as the program stated, “Other Community Residents Who Recently Lost Their Lives To Needless And Senseless Acts of Violence.”

Speakers included Yejide Okunrivido, Esq., Yonkers YWCA President, State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, City Council President
Chuck Lesnick, Rabbi Gerard Cohen, Father Joseph Espaillat, of St. Peter’s Church, Minister Adrian Holmes of Resurrection Deliverance Church, Pastor E. Vanderpuije of The Divine Revelation Fellowship, and Imam Issa, Misjid Al-Houda, each delivering an obituary and words of comfort for the loved ones of the deceased victims.

Virginia Perez, the sister of Martin Antonio Perez, who is attempting to organize a Neighborhood Watch Program, delivered a particularly impassioned statement.

As the obituaries were presented, images of those who had died by senseless violence were projected on a screen beside the nearly 100 persons in attendance, evoking frequent emotional responses.

Westchester Guardian/In Our Opinion/Our Readers Respond.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Our Readers Respond...

A&P Buys And Closes Competitors’ Stores


Dear Editor:

When A&P bought Pathmark from Ahold, a Dutch company, in February 2007, it began to close more stores. In Mount Vernon, for example, where A&P had its own store and a Pathmark, with another A&P in nearby Bronxville, it decided in early 2008 not to renew its lease.

A&P had bought Shopwell and Waldbaum’s in November 1986 but it failed to file its pre-merger report with the FTC for Waldbaum’s, so A&P was fined $3 million for conducting a “sham transaction.” In December 1988 the New York State Attorney General told A&P to
close three stores in Westchester to increase competition following its two purchases, so A&P closed stores that competed with its own stores, including the Waldbaum’s in Mount Vernon. The Shopwell in Mount Vernon was changed to an A&P. Surplus funds in these companies’ pension funds were used to pay for these and future purchases.


When A&P bought Food Emporium in 1996 there were 23 A&P stores and 10 Food Emporiums in Westchester. In the 2008 Yellow
Pages there are seven (including the “terminal” Mount Vernon store) A&Ps, six Food Emporiums, five Pathmarks, and four Shopwells for a
total of 22 stores. There are 42 competitors with three or more stores, including Stop & Shop (7, owned by Ahold), Shoprite (6), D’Agostino
(5), 7-11 (5), Foodtown (4), DeCicco (4), C-Town (4), Met Food (4), and Gristede’s (3). In 1990 there were 98 supermarket chain stores in
Westchester, including 45 A&P/Waldbaum’s/Shopwell stores.


Charles Roda, Mount Vernon


Reader Smitten With Governor Palin


Dear Editor:

What is it about Sarah Palin that so infuriates some people? The Governor is a recognized reformer with an outstanding record of
accomplishment. She is a mother, former mayor, who has excelled and risen to the highest office in the state of Alaska. Well-versed in
the field of energy consumption and its various facets, and with an 85% approval rating among the residents of her state, Sarah Palin is
considered to be the most popular governor in America. And, yet, in typical liberal fashion, Fred Polvere, in the October 16th edition
of the Guardian, demeans and mocks the Governor with his feeble attempt at folksy jargon and stereotypical sarcasm.


Since accepting John McCain’s offer as his vice presidential running mate, Governor Palin has been subjected to what is considered
to be some of the most malicious and outrageous of indignities directed at any political figure in recent memory. Even her family has
suffered, and has had to bear the brunt of extreme intolerance and vilification. This is not the America I know.


Perhaps Mr. Polvere, in a rare effort to be fair and objective, will enlighten the readers with a bit of his wisdom concerning Senator
Biden, or better known in some circles as the gaff machine. Has anyone noticed as of late how the press has been ignoring the Democrat vice
presidential nominee? I believe it’s for fear of embarrassing their candidate, the ‘chosen one’. What was that again, oh yeah, to paraphrase
Senator Biden, the American peoples’ interest can best be summed up in a three-letter word, “JOBS”. One wonders if he can spell potato?


Proverb says, “He is so full of himself that he is quite empty.” So, again, I must ask what it is about Sarah Palin that so infuriates liberals,
and yes even some conservatives. Is it her success, folksy charm, her hunting and fishing expertise, perhaps her good looks and vivacious
personality? Let’s see now, how about all of the above?


Bob Pascarella, The Bronx

Reader Takes Issue With Rockland County Judge Linda Christopher

Dear Editor:


Hello, sir. I am involved in matrimonial litigation in Rockland County before Judge Linda Christopher. I was the plaintiff in the action. Judge Linda Christopher relieved my attorney from being my council because he took a position with the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office, as a Senior Prosecutor, hence leaving me without counsel to continue with my civil litigation.

I never filed a Note of Issue to pursue the civil litigation because it would have placed me at a serious disadvantage of selfrepresentation.
On September 19, 2008, I received a correspondence from the Defendant’s attorney, Mr. Wayne Gavioli, Esq. stating, “At the court’s request I have prepared a Note of Issue and enclosed five copies of the above matter which you, as Plaintiff, must file with the Rockland County Clerk pursuant to Rule 202.21 Uniform Rule Trial Court.” I was skeptical of this correspondence because of the fact it stated
that at the Court’s request he was preparing the notice for me. Since when does the opposing counsel fill out official court documents
for the opposition?


On September 31, 2008 we, the parties involved in Linda Christopher’s court when she asked me if I had filed said notice, she went on and stated that if I had not or do not file the Note of Issue my complaint would go to the bottom of the pile and there could not be a proceeding. I stated, “Okay, I do not wish to file at this time.” At that moment she directed the opposing counsel to file their own Note of Issue and she was going to proceed with a hearing on their cross-complaint, and adjourned the hearing for 2pm that afternoon.

Needless to say I was never served with an Affidavit Of Service nor was the Law Guardian or my 18B custody attorney. Sometime in early September an agreement was signed by both parties and counsel where the Defendant agreed to Constructionive Abandonment, so the issue of cause was already settled, as was noted on the record by Judge Christopher. To my astonishment Judge Christopher switched the
former stipulated agreement and now made the fault on myself for Constructive Abandonment.


Judge Christopher made me take the stand to be cross-examined, and ignored my request for a jury trial. This trial conducted and held under the direction of Judge Linda Christopher was a total abomination of my Due Process Rights and undermines the American Judicial System. I have filed a formal complaint with the Commission on Judicial Misconduct. This matter is now adjourned until November 2008.

Rockland County courts are out of control. Outside governmental intervention needs to look into the egregious actions of this elected official. This trial is a travesty of American Justice and needs to be exposed.

Michael Kelly

In Our Opinion....

Mayor Gordon And the Pleasantville Village Board Need To Put Their Thinking Caps Back On

The way we see it, all four trustee members of the Pleasantville Village Board, as well as Mayor Bernard Gordon, need to put their thinking caps back on before their disconnect with their constituents grows any wider. At their work session three weeks ago, which We attended, some 60 residents made their position very clear that they were most unhappy over the fact that Detective Sergeant Stephen Bonura was under suspension for more than five months, out of service to the Village, and particularly its youth.

Bonura, who served as the Senior Youth Officer as well as the head of the Detective Bureau, had made a comment to a newspaper reporter
back in May that was critical of the Westchester District Attorney’s Of-fice’s handling of multiple repeat offender, convicted felon, Kahill Gonzalez. He expressed the opinion that the Assistant DAs had cut too easy a plea bargain with Gonzalez, once again, in exchange for information. He pointed to the fact that prosecutors had cut deals with the repeat offender in the past that set him free to go out and commit more offenses, some involving guns and violence.

A 27-year veteran of the Force, Bonura had, in fact, served as spokesperson for the Department until his suspension. To add further concern
to residents’ list, Detective Bonura’s fellow detective, Michael De-Maio, also a youth officer, had been demoted in connection with the
Gonzalez case and had left the Department and gone to work for the Ossining Village Police.

Not one of the residents who showed up to the Board’s work session three weeks ago voiced any objection to Detective Bonura’s having spoken
up against the DA’s handling of Gonzalez, on behalf of their safety. Their concerns centered solely on the loss of Bonura’s services to their
community and, specifically, to their adolescent population.

From our perspective, Pleasantville Police Chief Anthony Chiarlitti’s response to Detective Sergeant Bonura’s comments was excessive and
poorly calculated with respect to the welfare and well-being of Village residents and business operators. Just how fearful of reprisal from the
DA was the Chief? Did he expect his spokesperson to lie, by way of covering up the DA?

Sadly, this whole affair smacks of the very thing that is most wrong in the relationship of Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore with
any number of the 43 individual police departments in the County. The emphasis is not on protecting the safety and well-being of residents,
but, rather, on protecting their’s and the DA’s job.




Westchester Guardian/The Court Report/Rui Florim/Janet Difiore.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Once Again, DA DiFiore Punishes Still
Another Victim Of Yonkers Police Brutality


The Guardian, in its August 14, 2008 edition, revealed that District Attorney Janet DiFiore was proceeding to prosecute a man, Rui
Florim, who was so badly beaten by Yonkers police officers two and a half years earlier, that it required 70 stitches and staples to close
the wounds to his face and head, not to mention five days in the Intensive Care Ward at St. Joseph’s Hospital.


We pointed out the fact that she had pursued a similar mode of operation with respect to Irma Marquez, the woman who Yonkers Police Officer Wayne Simoes had nearly killed by body-slamming her on the hard tile floor of a bar and grill on Palisade Avenue in Yonkers at 1:30am after her niece, who was struck on the head by another patron, passed out on the floor, requiring emergency medical attention.

Marquez was prosecuted, but acquitted of all charges following a jury trial. It did not matter to DA DiFiore, who had been shown the security camera videotape that clearly established Marquez’ innocence and the brutal insanity of Officer Simoes’ assault on her. It did not matter to DiFiore what had actually occurred because she had a predetermined response with respect to any and all cases of police brutality involving Yonkers police officers: Cover up the misconduct, both civil and criminal, of the Yonkers Police, and, charge the innocent, brutalized civilian victim.

That Guardian report, indicating that Florim had filed a federal lawsuit against the six police officers who beat him, the Commissioner,
and the Department, was two and a half months ago. Last Tuesday, word came down that Rui Florim had been indicted. That move was
like the behavior of a jackass, both stubborn and stupid. However, we must consider the source, and the motive.

It is indisputable that Janet Di-Fiore is unfit to be District Attorney for a whole host of reasons, perhaps none more obvious, and
disabling, than her incestuous relationship with the Yonkers Police Department; the Department that openly endorsed her; the Department that sponsored the rally at the Polish Center for her; and, the Department that provided “security” for the 330 voting machines ordered
impounded for her incredibly three days before the election of 2005.

If her conduct, in case after case of Yonkers police brutality, points to some unnatural power that that police department holds
over her, it’s only because they do. And, it’s not just about her “installation” as District Attorney three years ago, but other issues involving Janet DiFiore and the City of Yonkers as well.

Why else would she spit in the face of Justice, and proceed, more than two and a half years after the incident at Tyrone House, a bar near
the waterfront in Yonkers, to bring about an indictment charging Rui Florim with First Degree Assault, Second Degree Assault, Third Degree
Assault, and Second Degree Robbery. What, other than Florim’s recent filing of charges in Federal Court, has occurred to bring about his sudden indictment on trumped up charges? Her move was clearly retaliatory; an abuse of process designed to assist the six rogue Yonkers
cops, Commissioner Hartnett, to whom she owes other favors, and Mayor Amicone, with whom she is mixed up in other misbehavior in
retaliation against the Westchester Guardian, its Publisher and its Editor-In-Chief.

It was crystal clear that DA Janet DiFiore, even after viewing the shocking Marquez videotape, had absolutely no intention of prosecuting
Yonkers Police Of-ficer Wayne Simoes. In fact, were it not for the repeated public exposure of that tape, the federal prosecutors might
not have sought and achieved the indictment they now have against him for one count of Assault in violation of Ms. Marquez’ civil rights.

One cannot dispute attorney Jonathan Lovett’s observation two months ago at the time he filed a federal suit on behalf of Mr. Florim. Lovett
declared, “The DA is affirmatively encouraging police brutality.” As if to prove her mentality, it’s not as though she affords other police departments this same kind of wrongful protection, this same kind of cover. Consider her handling of Officer George Bubaris, of the
Mount Kisco Police Department, earlier this year. She sent her assistant DAs, including James McCarty, into court, “with their tanks on empty,” believing she could convince a jury that Bubaris was responsible for the death of Rene Perez, without a shred of evidence.

Consider, too, the secretive and disrespectful handling, from the very start, of the killing of Mount Vernon Police Officer Christopher
Ridley, her total manipulation of the grand jury; refusing to let them hear what many eyewitnesses, within a few feet of the incident,
reported; leaking out information on Officer Martin, while withholding information on his three fellow County Police Officers; redacting
portions of videotapes, and not releasing any tapes to the public. And, finally, refusing to return Christopher’s clothing and personal
effects to his family.

Back on August 14th we declared that the FBI and Justice Department needed to get involved. We asked, “How many more innocent men, women, and children must suffer under this sick, unjust scheme before DA DiFiore is apprehended and removed?” It is not unreasonable
to conclude, in light of her continuing, and predictable, cover up of Yonkers Police Brutality, that she has become a menace to public safety.
Numerous other innocent individuals have had violent experiences with the Yonkers Police, over the last three years, similar to what Marquez and Florim reported, with similar, if not identical, outcomes.

It is known to The Guardian that James McCarty, one of DiFiore’s top-level assistants, has been hard at work engaged in prosecutorial
misconduct, over the last two months, since the ling of Rui Florim’s civil action in federal court, attempting to intimidate and influence witnesses, amongst other forbidden acts. It is appalling that even when “caught red-handed”, such self-serving betrayors of the Public
Trust escape, free from any consequences.

One who would enforce the law must live by it!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Westchester Guardian/Jeffrey Deskovic.

Jeff Deskovic

State and Federal Governments Need To
Overhaul Their Broken Public Defender Systems


In a criminal prosecution, the defense attorney plays an important role. As I have previously written, the role of the prosecutor, by way of both job description and morality, is not supposed to be simply to win a conviction, but, rather, to seek the truth and help bring about justice. Sometimes that will mean dismissing charges because it becomes clear that the person who has been accused and arrested is actually
innocent. Such a realization may require a prosecutor to not oppose a post conviction DNA test, nor fight an appeal because his office has come to realize that there is a legitimate issue of law and/or fact impacting upon the fairness of the trial.


Although many district attorney’s offices, and many individual prosecutors fail to live up to this aspect of their work, instead pursuing a win-at-all-costs approach, it is worth reminding everybody, including prosecutors, that seeking truth and justice is an essential part of their mandate. After all, innocent defendants are a part of “The People” that the prosecutor is sworn to protect.

When a prosecutor, based upon a careful review of the evidence and circumstances associated with the gathering thereof, believes that the defendant is guilty, then it is their job to do everything within their power, that is both ethical and legal, and without seeking to violate a
defendant’s rights, to convict. That belief, which is supposed to be arrived at through an objective conclusion, might be correct or mistaken.


That is why the role of a defense attorney is very important. It is their job to defend their client and to represent his or her interests, seeking the best possible outcome for them. It is only through quality representation that cases have the best chance of turning out justly. It is well
known that wealthy people can generally afford the best legal talent. As for those who can’t afford an attorney, one must be provided for them by the court. Sadly, the representation that the poor receive is often inadequate. The thrust of this article is to look at the current sad state of public defense. I believe that the general public would be shocked if they knew how things really are. I am hopeful that upon reading this column, some of you will see fit to contact both your State and Federal Representatives to insist that they do something about the pervasive problems with public defense.


Although it is true that there are any number of quality public defenders, it is not true, generally. As the United States Supreme Court stated in the landmark decision Gideon v Wainwright, paraphrased, “...without a quality attorney, though an indictment is not valid, a lay person could be prosecuted based upon it; though the evidence is not legally sufficient, he could be convicted based upon it.” Similarly, without a competent attorney, even though a defendant is innocent, he could be convicted.

Having a defense attorney thoroughly investigate the facts of a case, locate witnesses, make an opening statement, cross examine witnesses to test their credibility, object to rulings which could prejudice a defendant’s case, review evidence, possibly put on a case for the defense, and make a closing argument that sharpens and clarifies the issues, is crucial to a proper outcome.

The idea that inadequate legal representation could lead to a wrongful conviction is no mere theory; it has happened before. One of the worst cases of wrongful conviction caused, at least in part, by ineffective assistance of counsel, was that of Jimmy Bromgard. According to The Innocence Project’s website, these are the facts of his case: “On October 1, 2002, Jimmy Ray Bromgard became the 111th person in the
United States to be exonerated by post conviction DNA testing. Bromgard spent fourteen and a half years in a Montana prison for a crime he did not commit - the rape of an eight-year-old girl.


On March 20, 1987, a young girl was attacked in her Billings home by an intruder who had broken in through a window. She was raped vaginally, anally, and orally. The perpetrator fled after stealing a purse and jacket.

The victim was examined the same day. Police collected her underwear and the bed sheets upon which the crime was committed. Semen was identified on the underwear and several hairs were collected from the bed sheets.

Based on the victim’s recollection, police produced a composite sketch of the intruder. An officer familiar with him thought Jimmy Ray Bromgard resembled the composite sketch. Bromgard eventually agreed to participate in a lineup, which was also videotaped. In the live proceedings, the victim picked out Bromgard but was not sure if he was the right man. After the victim was shown the videotaped footage of Bromgard, she said she was “60%, 65% sure.”

When asked at trial to rate her confidence in the identification without percentages, she replied, “I am not too sure.” Still, she was allowed to identify Bromgard in court as her assailant. Bromgard’s assigned counsel never objected to the in court identification. At trial, the prosecution’s case revolved around the identification and the misleading testimony of the state’s forensic expert. The semen found on the victim’s underwear could not be typed, so the forensic case against Bromgard came down to the hairs found on the bed sheets. The forensic expert testified that the head and pubic hairs found on the sheets were indistinguishable from Bromgard’s hair samples. He further testified that there was less than a one in ten thousand (1/10,000) chance that the hairs did not belong to Bromgard.

This damning testimony was also fraudulent: there has never been a standard by which to statistically match hairs through microscopic inspection. The criminalist took the impressive numbers out of thin air. Bromgard’s defense counsel was woefully inadequate. Other than the forensic evidence, the only other physical “evidence” was a checkbook from the victim’s purse that was found on the same street where Bromgard lived.His attorney did no investigation, hired no expert to debunk the state’s forensic expert, filed no motions to suppress the
identification of a young girl who was, according to her testimony, at best only 65% certain , gave no opening statement, did not prepare a closing statement, and failed to file an appeal after Bromgard’s conviction.


Bromgard testified that he was at home and asleep when the crime occurred. None of his fingerprints were found in the house, nor were any found on the checkbook that was discovered on his street. Nevertheless, Bromgard was convicted in December 1987 of three counts of sexual
intercourse without consent and sentenced to three 40 year terms in prison, to be served concurrently.


The Innocence Project began working on Bromgard’s case in 2000, the same year Bromgard was turned down by the parole board, in part because he refused to participate in the sex offenders program in prison. Students located the evidence and worked with Bromgard’s post conviction attorney to have it released for testing.

Prosecutors consented to testing and had the victim’s underwear sent to a private laboratory for testing. The results indicated that Bromgard could not have been the contributor of spermatozoa found on the victim’s underwear.

Jimmy Ray Bromgard was eighteen years old when he was convicted of this brutal crime. He spent fourteen and a half years in prison
before DNA testing proved his innocence. The ACLU has already filed a class action lawsuit against the indigent defender system in seven
Montana counties for not providing adequate counsel for indigent clients.”


The problem of inadequate legal representation occurs throughout the country, including New York. I was wrongfully convicted and spent many years in prison for a rape and murder which I did not commit. My conviction was the result of widespread misconduct by police, prosecutors, and so-called forensic experts.

In addition, however, I was the victim of a criminal defense attorney who did not do his job, so that I know, first-hand, the problems of inadequate defense counsel. The following quote from well-known attorney Stephen Bright, who is the president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, is very telling “The death sentence - not for the worst crime, but for the worst lawyer.”

According to The Innocence Project’s website, “A review of convictions overturned by DNA testing reveals a trail of sleeping, drunk, incompetent and overburdened defense attorneys, at the trial level and on appeal. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Innocent defendants are convicted or plead guilty in this country with less than adequate defense representation. In some of the worst cases, lawyers have: slept
in the courtroom during the trial; been disbarred shortly after finishing a death penalty case; failed to investigate alibis; failed to call or consult experts on forensic issues; and failed to show up for hearings. It’s not shocking to learn that many of the 218 DNA exonerees were represented by public defenders at trial. They were all innocent, but they all lost. In some cases, overburdened, inexperienced and underfunded public defenders were simply not equipped to stand up against the state. And the system hasn’t improved much in the last three decades. It wasn’t always the lawyer’s fault, of course. In many cases a talented defense attorney did all he or she could to represent their innocent client, but lost to a broken system that convicts the innocent based on flawed evidence.


Indigent defense in the United States is a state-by-state system with no national standards. Criminal defendants are often forgotten when it comes time to trim a state budget, and indigent defense services most often feel the pinch. A recent report on Michigan’s indigent defense services found a system that is wholly incapable of upholding a defendant’s Constitutional right to adequate defense counsel. The report, prepared by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, found: “… judges handpicking defense attorneys; lawyers appointed to cases for which they are unqualified; defenders meeting clients on the eve of trial and holding non-confidential discussions in public courtroom corridors; attorneys failing to identify obvious conflicts of interest; failure of defenders to properly prepare for trials or sentencings;
attorneys violating their ethical canons by not zealously advocating for clients; inadequate compensation for those appointed to defend the accused …” In addition to the above, I believe that many people would be shocked to learn that in some legal scenarios, despite their importance, poor people do not have the right to assigned lawyers, and often courts decline to use their discretion to assign them: post conviction proceedings, in which a defendant is arguing to reverse his or her conviction based upon newly discovered evidence, a retroactive change in the law, or any other issue which could not be raised on appeal; a Petition for a Writ Of Habeas Corpus, which is when a state prisoner is arguing that his or her conviction is running contrary to the United States Constitution and which involves particular rules and procedures peculiar to the federal court system and thus are unfamiliar to many prisoners and non-lawyers.


As crazy as it may sound, during the appeals process in death penalty cases, some states do not provide attorneys to the condemned as a matter of right. Thomas Arthur, who I wrote about recently, missed several deadlines during his appeals as the result of not having a lawyer.
In almost all of the DNA-proven wrongful convictions, and in many of the non-DNA ones, innocence was proven long after the appeals process had been exhausted. However, once the appeals process has run its course, the state no longer provides attorneys. That means that
wrongfully convicted prisoners whose appeals have been exhausted must somehow try to find an attorney who is willing to work pro bono, for free, and someone to investigate, as well, in the hope that, together, they will find some evidence of innocence that was previously unknown. It is very difficult to do so.


It is impossible to know how many cases have been affected by ineffective assistance of counsel. Firstly, many cannot find attorneys to work on their cases without compensation. Secondly, the legal standard by which courts review ‘ineffective assistance of counsel claims’ places such a high bar to be overcome that, in many instances, appellate attorneys avoid such issues. Even when the issue is raised, however, courts are reluctant to rule in a defendant’s favor, even when it is plain for anyone to see that a person did not receive competent representation.

Sleeping during court proceedings, failing to object to critical errors of law, conflicts of interest, and other circumstances mentioned above, were not enough for appellate courts to rule that a defendant did not receive effective representation. The causes for such rulings, in part, are due to court’s refusal to function as neutral arbiters; instead seeing themselves as a part of law enforcement whose job is to ‘protect the public’ and therefore to sustain convictions by any means possible. Additionally, judges are lawyers, after all, who are familiar with the attorneys in question from their previous practice and may be unwilling to step on their toes.

There are a number of reforms that should be enacted throughout the country to ensure that the poor receive good legal representation. Firstly, each state should have only one public defender system throughout the entire state, rather than the way things are now, with each county having its own system. Under a statewide system, there would be greater oversight and quality control. This measure is advocated
by The Spagedenberg’s report entitled The State Of Indigent Defense In New York, which was a study commissioned by current New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye. Attorneys who have been found to have previously rendered “ineffective assistance of counsel’ should no longer be
employed by any state to do so, for to do so is to set the stage for future injustices. Prosecutors and public defenders should both receive equal pay so that all the best legal talent doesn’t go over to one side. Built-in handicaps which hinder even the most well-intentioned of public defenders must be removed. For example, there should be a limit on the number of cases that a defense attorney can be given at one
time. In the Bronx, for example, it is not unusual for a public defender to represent as many as 120 clients at any given time.


There must be an economically-even playing field between public defenders and prosecutors. Currently, the prosecutor has an almost unlimited budge and a huge staff, and can afford to hire experts to help him review evidence and prepare cases, whereas public defenders have limited staff, and often must resort to asking a judge for the assignment of experts. Judges frequently deny such requests because they feel pressured to keep down the costs of trials. In conclusion, I believe that everybody deserves competent legal representation, whether the defendant is innocent or guilty, because it is only through such a system that justice will be served. It is not just when a guilty defendant is overcharged or receives a penalty greater than the facts justify. Equally important, it is only through good attorneys that the innocent can be
found not guilty or have their wrongful convictions exposed as such.


The federal and state public defender system is in a shambles. There are some quality public defenders, to be sure. However, there are built-in handicaps, as above reviewed, that hinder even the most well intentioned quality public defenders. The reforms I am advocating for can be implemented. Whether the political will to do so exists, however, is another question. Unfortunately, it is not a popular cause, the seeking of funding for public defenders, because the public perception is that it is wasting money to help criminals. Yet, not everybody that is arrested is guilty, and without an even playing field, it throws the accuracy of every verdict and the outcome of every case, potentially into question.

As a society, we collectively lose even when someone does not receive competent representation, whether innocent as referenced above, or guilty but in receipt of a much greater penalty than they deserve, if for no other reason because the injustice lowers us to the level of the offender.





Westchester Guardian/Catherine Wilson.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

The AMVETS Bridge Revisited

On February 14 of this year, The Guardian ran an article on the AMVETS Bridge across the northbound (easterly) side of the Croton reservoir on the Taconic State Parkway, asking What Is The State DOT Covering Up? As noted in that article, this bridge was built in 1931, which makes it 24 years older than the Tappan Zee Bridge, completed in 1955.

According to Westchester County Planning Department estimates, as many as 75,000 vehicles cross this bridge daily, a total of over 27 million vehicles annually.

Joan Dupont, the Hudson Valley Regional Director for the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), reassured The Guardian
in February that, “DOT has a contractor scheduled for this Spring – they are currently working on obtaining environmental permits.

This bridge is to be cleaned and painted and will receive repairs to the steel structure. This bridge was inspected over the past two years as part of the state’s routine inspections and the repairs are being made as a result of that inspection.” Despite those
reassurances, preparations for this work only commenced this month.

Given the age and condition of this structure, and the obvious concerns first raised by The Guardian eight months earlier, Putnam County Legislator Tony Fusco held a press conference two weeks ago under this bridge to call attention to the deterioration of The AMVETS Bridge Revisited the structure.

A cursory glance at the steel beams revealed severe rusting in parts as well as obvious signs of corrosion. Fusco reached out to his Westchester and New York State counterparts, Westchester County Legislators George Oros and Mike Kaplowitz; New York State Assemblyman Greg Ball and New York State Senator Vincent Liebell, respectively, to join him in pressuring NYSDOT to commence maintenance and repair work on this bridge immediately.

According to Fusco, “A 2007 report by the NYSDOT classified the bridge as ‘functionally obsolete’, while giving it a dismal safety
rating of 4.0 and called its floor beams ‘paper thin’ and depicted rot that has eaten right through some of the main floor support beams.” Fusco is concerned with the delays to date with this project and the priority with which the work is being completed. “While the northbound bridge is slated for $12 million in repairs over the next year, the only visible work that has begun thus far is preparation for paint,” he noted.

“The AMVETS Memorial Bridge is in dire need of the repair, and the people have a right to know the extent of the plans,” Fusco added. He thanked the Guardian for our original article exposing the condition of this bridge and the level of traffic that crosses it daily.

Fusco is now calling for a joint hearing of the Westchester Legislature’s Safety Committee with the Putnam Legislature’s Physical Services
Committee to hear testimony on this issue from the bridge inspectors and engineers from the
NYSDOT.

According to the November 2007 inspection of this bridge, it is currently being inspected every two years.

The latest inspection noticed:

• Vertical suspenders have packed rust with section loss;

• Other areas have scattered paint peeling and surface rust, with negligible section loss;

• A structural flag was issued for 80% to 90% section loss in the web over the bearing area;

• Joint sealing material is deteriorated along the entire joint and missing a large chunk in middle lane; concrete spalling on underside of joint, at location of the missing sealing material, has created a potential for deck failure which constitutes a safety hazard for
vehicles;

• Floor beams have severe corrosion on their top and bottom flange angles and web plates, particularly in areas adjacent to connection to vertical suspenders.

Given the above negative inspection, The Guardian contacted Ms. Sandra Jobson, NYSDOT Region 8 Public Information Officer for further information about the scheduled repairs. According to Ms. Jobson, the NYSDOT is indeed commencing preparations for the repairs and maintenance needed for the AMVETS Bridge at present. “We are currently containing the upper portion of the bridge and will complete painting here this fall,” Jobson noted.

“We are also starting the steel repairs to the underside of the bridge this fall and will continue these repairs into the Spring. Once the repairs are completed, we will then contain the bottom of the bridge and paint this area.” The entire project has a $12 million budget: $6 million for the painting, and $6 million for the steel work.

Jobson noted that this bridge has been moved up to annual inspections. “The public should be aware that New York State has a high record of bridge safety,” she noted; federal statistics support this claim. “Drivers shouldn’t confuse maintenance with safety. If we (NYSDOT) believe a bridge to be unsafe, we will close it immediately.

Our engineers also may recommend to lighten the load on a bridge until repairs can be finished,” Jobson claimed. “In Stony Point, we have reduced the rate of traffic over the Cedar Brook Bridge on Route 9W until repairs are completed. The engineers have only allowed one lane at a time to be open; the traffic alternates to reduce the load and stress on the bridge”.

Weather and stress are the biggest culprits for bridge failures. “We (NYSDOT) use salt on our bridges in winter, so that causes the rust that the public sees,” Jobson said. “Bridges are also subject to stress from the volume of vehicles crossing them and the weight of those vehicles; engineers call that dynamic load. Dynamic load is difficult to analyze but fortunately with the AMVETS Bridge, we don’t have heavy truck traffic which exacerbates this problem.”

Local representatives, such as County Legislator George Oros, are concerned about the bureaucracy of the NYSDOT that often delays projects and eliminates necessary measures.

Oros is calling for sensors to be placed on this bridge to emit warnings when the integrity of the structure is in jeopardy. Fusco is calling upon Albany for funding to provide these sensors.

“This bridge wasn’t designed for today’s traffic, and it is over 70 years old,” Oros noted. “We need sensors to give us a warning if there are any problems. And, given the volume of traffic, we need the NYSDOT to continue to inspect this bridge annually after the repairs are completed”.

Of concern to all of our local legislators is the low ranking of 4.09 that the AMVETS Bridge received in its last inspection. The Federal rating system for bridge structures is:

9. Excellent Condition.

8. Very Good Condition: No problems noted.

7. Good Condition: Some minor problems.

6. Satisfactory Condition: Structural elements show some minor deterioration.

5. Fair Condition: All primary structural elements are sound, but may have minor section loss, cracking, spalling, or scour.

4. Poor Condition: Advanced section loss, deterioration, spalling or scour.

3. Serious Condition: Loss of section, deterioration, spalling, or scour have seriously affected primary struc-tural components. Local failures are possible. Fatigue cracks in steel or shear cracks in concrete may be present.

2. Critical Condition: Advanced deterioration of primary structural elements. Fatigue cracks in steel or shear cracks in concrete may be present or scour may have removed substructure support. Unless closely monitored it may be necessary to close the bridge until corrective action is taken.

1. Imminent Failure Condition: Major deterioration or section loss present in critical structural components, or obvious vertical or horizontal movement affecting structure stability. Bridge is closed to traffic, but corrective action may put bridge back in light service.

0. Failed Condition: Out-of-service; beyond corrective action.

There are five ratings areas for each bridge: The deck, superstructure, substructure, channel, and channel protection and culvert.

In addition to the above conditions for the structure itself, when inspecting the channel under the bridge, an inspector will determine if the banks are protected or well vegetated, the existence of any cracks or deterioration in the culverts, if river control devices and embankments are sound, the presence of debris and erosion, and any lateral movements or changes in the channel flow. Federal guidelines note that when inspecting a bridge, “The inspector needs to consider the condition of the entire bridge”. Source: Federal Highway Administration’s “Bridge Inspector’s Training Manual.”

Given the thousands of miles of roadways and bridge lanes in our area, the NYSDOT does appreciate input from concerned residents. “We
want people to feel free to contact us if they see something on our roads and bridges or if they have any questions or concerns,” Jobson said. The NYSDOT website, http://www.nysdot.gov/, provides contact information for all areas of the state and, in addition, lists all projects, past, present, and future, for each of the DOT regions; Westchester County is in Region 8 – Hudson Valley. This site lists 12 projects that are currently “under construction” in the area, including the preparations for the repairs and maintenance to the AMVETS Bridge.

The NYSDOT also has 31 projects in development for the Hudson Valley, including much-needed Metro North grade crossing improvements at Green Lane in Mount Kisco. Local residents can access project budget information, project status, and inspection reports on this website as well.

One way to slow down the deterioration of our local bridges is to reduce the stress placed on these structures. As more local residents are driving less and switching to smaller, lighter-weight cars, and more public transportation to keep their gasoline bills down, the result may also be fewer costly repairs for our state’s infrastructure, and longer lives for our bridges. The AMVETS Bridge, in particular, is one that the NYSDOT
wants to preserve as long as possible.

“It’s on the National Register of Historic Places,” Jobson boasted. “This bridge is beautiful. We (NYSDOT) want to do as much as possible to preserve its beauty along with its safety.” As Legislator Fusco noted, “They just don’t build bridges like this anymore
”.

Westchester Guardian.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Voter Complaint Advisory.

U.S. Department of Justice

United State Attorney
Southern District of New York

For Immediate Release

United States Attorneys available to receive Election Complaints.

Michael J. Garcia and Benton J. Campbell the United States Attorneys for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, respectively, announced today that special telephone numbers have been set up to receive complaints of possible violations of federal election laws relating to the upcoming general elections in New York City and other counties in their districts.

The United States Attorneys said that their Offices will be available to receive complaints at the following numbers on Tuesday, September 9, 2008: (212) 637-0840 (for Manhattan, Bronx, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan and Westchester counties).

Westchester Guardian/The Advocate.

Thursday, October 23, 2008



The Advocate

Richard Blassberg



Reflecting Upon Montrose Hospital Amidst
All Of The Controversey Over Its Future




In 1968, at age 27, together with my wife, 26, and my parents, in their early 50s, as well as our son, who wasn’t quite five years old,
we set upon a family enterprise, an exciting adventure, acquiring a 19-room Georgian Colonial home set on eight and a half acres of clear
land, the centerpiece of a 72-acre estate, for the specific purpose of opening a VA community-care home. Our Brewster adventure would
last more than 18 years, during which time some 47 different emotionally disabled veterans came to live with us from Franklin Delano Roosevelt Veterans Hospital at Montrose; the hospital whose fate is now the subject of increasingly heated disagreement.


At any given moment, there were approximately 1200-1500 veterans, most suffering with psychiatric disorder, living in the dozen and a half residence buildings on the Montrose campus. The overwhelming majority of patients were diagnosed with one form or another of schizophrenia.


The hospital, if memory correctly serves, had opened some time in the early ‘50s, and the availability of effective psychotropic
medications was merely a prayer until 1965. Early drugs, thorazine, stellazine, and the like, tended to turn those who had been acting out
into zombies, more manageable in some respects, but clearly not prepared to re-enter the community without close supervision, and, often
beset with serious physical and pschological side effects.


At its peak, The Community Care Sponsors Program from Montrose involved some 105 participating homes caring for, perhaps,
seven to eight hundred veterans, who continued to receive medical and social work services, on an outpatient basis, at “Montrose”, as the
hospital came to be known. The homes were opened in seven counties, gradually radiating out from the Peekskill area, where there
were several, into Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland, Orange, Ulster, and as far away as Columbia County.


Our home in Brewster was unusual given the fact that my wife and I were as young as we were. Most of the homes in existence, when we
entered the program, were owned and operated by middle-aged couples, or individuals, many of whom were retired former nurses, social
workers, or caregivers of one sort or another. For some, such as the operator of a dude ranch in Dutchess County, the veterans were merely
warm bodies, steady tenants.



The homes essentially fell into two categories, small ones, with perhaps one to six veterans, and big houses, such as our own, with as
many as 20. Such large operations were more like communes, or boarding houses for purposes of zoning. Many of the larger homes saw their
share of interaction with local zoning and planning boards, and we were no exception.



With the coming of the ‘70s, the State Department Of Mental Health, and the personnel controlling the State Mental Hospital facilities,
in part because of the advent of psychotropic compounds, medications that could be self-administered or distributed by lay individuals, now responded to governmental and social pressures to virtually “empty out State hospitals across the state. They saw our successful VA program, and were determined to cut costs; and, in their haste, the State, unfortunately, did little to nothing by way of establishing post-institutional housing, or af-ter-care facilities, and programs for the thousands of long-term, chronically-ill, mental patients they proceeded
to release into unprepared communities across the state.


In the meanwhile, the VA Community Care Program would find greater resistance to the establishment of sponsoring houses, caused,
in large measure, by the enormous problems being generated by the State Department of Mental Health. Then, in 1976, the Montrose program misguidedly overreacted to the burning down of one of the older, less-well-maintained, homes in Peekskill, where, fortunately, there
was no loss of life.



Nevertheless, VA bureaucrats, without justification, suddenly went about pulling people from the larger homes, despite their compliance
with the National Fire Safety Code. That “cover their own” move was devastating to the larger homes in the program such as our own,
who had never so much as had a fire in a wastebasket.


A program that had been increasingly unrealistic in terms of sponsor compensation, now cast many of their finest community homes into
bankruptcy, homes that one year earlier were identified as models for emulation across the country by the VA Regional Office, were searching for ways to remain afloat. And, at the same time, the VA was failing veterans and their caregivers in other important areas as well.


The Kingsbridge VA Hospital, in the Bronx, where veterans from the Montrose program were forced to go for any significant medical evaluation and/or surgical procedure, had deteriorated into a filthy, over-crowded bedlam, with raw garbage piled in hallways and patients infected and unattended for long periods. Veterans dreaded having to go there. Back in Montrose, although there were many dedicated nurses
and social workers who treated residents like family, it was also true that psychiatrists, physicians, and psychologists were often ncompetent, poorly trained, and poorly paid practitioners, many sticking it out for their government pensions. Many veterans receiving
outpatient care quietly understood and accepted the notion that their treatment was likely to be inferior to what they would have received
in a private hospital.


Orderlies and aides were another situation altogether at Montrose. While many were fundamentally decent, helpful individuals, there
were those who took advantage of veterans, both on the grounds and in the community.


The veterans who lived at Montrose, as well as in the communities serviced by Montrose, spanned many conflicts, from World War I
through World War II and Korea and, ultimately, in the mid-70s, from Vietnam. From a sponsor’s point of view, the Vietnam Vets were clearly a “different breed of cat.” I, for one, never accepted any to live amongst our residents. We were concerned, as were most sponsors, that those who came home from Vietnam had been exposed to drugs, and somehow would not fit in, socially with older men, many of whom had seen little, if any, combat, but had endured many years of institutionalization, some for 25 years and longer, without beneft of psychotropic medication. Vietnam Vets were clearly getting the short end of the stick in the Montrose program as well; and, they were more
savvy, more combative, with respect to their entitlements, than those who had come before them.


The vast majority of those who came through Montrose Hospital were veterans who never should have been accepted into the Armed
Services. The notion of “shellshock” was largely mythological. And, the old bugaboo VA concept of “service-connected vs. non service-
connected” as applied to whatever disability a veteran might muster out with, was often as mythological and nonsensical.


The second most heavily decorated veteran of the Second World War, Frederick W. Unger, lived with us for 16 years until we closed our
doors in 1986. Fred was a Front-Line Observer, who was documented to have killed more than 200 enemy soldiers in face-to-face combat
in both the First and Third Armies; having fought all through Africa and Italy with General George Patton, only to be transferred for service
under General Dwight Eisenhower, participating in the D-Day landings at Normandy, and walking halfway across Europe, to Berlin. He was
virtually a “killing machine” who went from Buck Private to Captain in a series of battlefield promotions. Fred turned down an early furlough, telling famous war correspondent Bob Considine, “I want to see this through with my men.”


When the war ended, he went back to work driving a bus for the City of New York for $1 an hour, six days a week. Because he worked
for more than a year before all that he had done finally caught up with him, causing his hospitalization, he was irreversibly adjudicated by the
VA as having a “non-service-connected” condition. Between 1968 and 1986, his monthly ‘pension’ went from $165 to $225.


Another of our veterans was clearly psychotic before entering the Army. He spent the entire Second World War in Fort Dix, New
Jersey, guarding German and Italian prisoners of war, often taking them to movies and other forms of entertainment. Upon discharge
from the Army, his condition was adjudicated “service-connected”. Between 1968 and 1986 his monthly tax-free disability check went
from $225 to $1895.


There were those sponsors who prided themselves in filling their homes exclusively with service-connected cases. However, we never
made our determinations based on a veteran’s ability to pay, but rather on how well they might fit, and how comfortable they might feel living with those veterans already in our home, and with our family. With respect to the current status of the Montrose campus, notwithstanding the proposal for private residential development, I would hope that services to veterans would be increased at the site
rather than chasing veterans in need of essential care all the way up the river to Castle Point. What, after all, is the logic of establishing
medical treatment and residential facilities in a location that is more sparsely populated and much further from the majority of veterans
needing such services?


For more than half a century, Montrose has been associated with veterans’ care and services. And, those services at that location are
now exactly what is needed, more than ever, to be expanded, and not curtailed and/or removed, to a more remote location.

Westchester Guardian/In Our Opinion/Our Readers Respond.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Our Opinion...

Not Even A President

They say ‘those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes’. In the summer of 1974, President Richard Milhaus Nixon was locked in a fierce struggle with Congress with respect to what came to be known as the Watergate Tapes. Not quite two years earlier, he had been re-elected to a second four-year term, winning every single state but Massachusetts.

With Nixon, it was really about image vs. reality. He was an essentially cold individual, in hindsight a very self-destructive control freak, constantly seeking admiration and approval. Unfortunately, he had surrounded himself with a very obedient, ethnically-homogeneous Cabinet, with few exceptions, who marched, for the most part, in lockstep behind him, carefully avoiding the cracks.

With the single exception of Transportation Secretary Volpe, virtually every other close Cabinet advisor was of Teutonic extraction; Haldemann, Erlichmann, Colson; even Henry Kissinger was Dutch. And, so, when the Watergate operation, an unnecessary clandestine bugging of the Democratic National Campaign Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., gradually continued to come to light under relentless pressure from the media and, ultimately, Congress, it was natural for Nixon, and his
advisors, to adopt a “Fuehrerbunker” strategy.

What could have been dealt with effectively, early on, by the dismissal of several low-level operatives, with perhaps a million dollars in hush money, and damage control, would, instead, become a worsening dilemma as Nixon was sucked ever more deeply into the coverup. Ultimately, 70 members of his Administration, including the Nation’s top law enforcer, Attorney General John Mitchell, would be compromised and sent to prison.

By August of 1974, despite so many recent great achievements in foreign affairs: The opening of Communist China; the successful Arms Limitation Summits with the Soviet Union; the negotiation of peace in Vietnam; Richard Nixon was standing on the verge of resignation, having failed to convince Congress, the Supreme Court, and, most importantly, the American People, that he could invoke Executive Privilege and legally withhold the ultimate evidence, proof of his active, hands-on involvement in the Watergate Coverup.

With his unprecedented resignation on August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon reaffirmed the Constitutional reality, “Not even a president may withhold evidence in a criminal trial.” One would have thought, from that day forward, the concept would be a settled matter. It is important to understand that the concept applies both to inculpatory, and exculpatory, evidence, information which, when put before a trier of fact, would tend to establish either one’s guilt or one’s innocence.

So, who granted Jeanine Pirro and Janet DiFiore the power to violate the Constitution as even a president, at the height of his popularity, could not get away with? By what Divine Right have they, and do they continue to, deny innocent citizens the protections laid into law by our forefathers’ and mothers’ blood and tears?

In 1974, Pirro and DiFiore were young adults, either in, or about to enter, law school. Neither of them have any legitimate excuse for failing to have grasped Richard Nixon’s hard-learned lesson. Neither of them had the right to withhold and/or continue to withhold, relevant evidence in even a single criminal trial, much less scores of them, sending innocent individuals to prison and then keeping them there.

Every right-thinking, and thoughtful, resident of Westchester knows the Richard DiGuglielmo and Anthony DiSimone cases are but the ‘tip of the iceberg’. When will the People of Westchester and the Defense Bar come forward and demand that federal authorities bring the operations of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, for the past 15 years, under investigation for human and civil rights violations?


Our Readers Respond...

Former Chair Of Yonkers Board Of Assessment Urges City Officials To Protect Interests Of the People

Dear Editor:

On Thursday, Oct. 16th, a public hearing was held by the YIDA to consider a request by Brooks Shopping Centers, LLC and another entity for sales and use tax exemption, mortgage recording tax exemption and a partial real property tax abatement.

First, it is gratifying to know that the City is in such a strong financial position in spite of Mayor Amicone and his oft-repeated warnings of bad times next year (2009).

The Cross County S/C, 71.1 acres, 1,250,000 square feet of prime real estate is one of the two top taxpayers in the City, I believe. And Yonkers has been very good to this business. But has the Marx and Brooks organizations appreciated that?

As a member and Chair of the Yonkers Board of Assessment Review from 1975 to 2006, I believe that every year the CCSC filed protests to have their assessments reduced. Absent necessary information their requests were denied, so they would sue the City. And they never lost, receiving millions in returned property tax payments.

Though not legally bound not to protect their assessments, I urged for almost the entire time I sat on the Board that a prospective client and the IDA try to negotiate from the “client” an agreement, a “gentlemen’s agreement” that they would abide by the assessment they consummate the deal with for a fixed period. This is something other municipalities have successfully done. To my knowledge this was never considered or acted on by our IDA Board.

Since most IDA Board “Public Hearings” are held at times where public participation is difficult and the nature of this IDA Board’s meeting is pro forma, rarely is it covered by the press or is the public aware of the decisions. These decisions almost always favor the applicant, whether a small local business looking
for help to expand, or an international multi-million dollar chain with million/billion dollar bottom lines.

Not all “deals” arranged by the YIDA succeed and rarely, if ever, do we hear of those that failed. And some have failed with extensive losses to the taxpayers. And don’t be taken in by the old refrain that “It is not Yonkers taxpayer money”.

I do not know how anyone can characterize federal/state loans, federal/state grants for instance as anything but taxpayer money. From someplace in the USA.

It seems to me as anxious as this administration is for development and granted, it is worthy in some instances, this time and this economic cycle warrants prudence in the decisions regarding such business decisions as granting partial or full real property tax abatements.

I urge the Board of the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency to consider very carefully what they are about to do. Although “independent” they do have a duty to the taxpayers of this City. And the Chair of the IDA, especially wearing two hats, must take the total picture into consideration.

Sid Sloves, Yonkers

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