December 19, 2008
Kidnapping and Murder Mystery Solved 27 Years Later
Twenty-seven years have passed and they're all together again, the family, detectives, a photo of Adam.
And the emotion is just as strong.
Adam's Father, John Walsh says, as he clears his throat, "For 27 years, we've been asking. Who could take a six-year-old boy and murder him and decapitate him? Who? We needed to know. We needed to know. And, today we know! The not knowing has been torture. But that journey's over."
It was a journey that started here in 1981.
Walsh has asked himself over and over, "Who would kill a six-year-old child?"
After two weeks, the child's head was discovered in a canal, but his body... never found.
Police had their suspect, a serial killer named Ottis Toole. The drifter ended up on death row for three other murders, confessed to more than 100, including Adam's. But most of those confessions were false.
At one point, another serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, was a suspect based on some witness descriptions. He was living in South Florida then but police interviewed him, and ruled him out.
They did have a piece of bloody carpet from Ottis Toole's car which was never DNA tested, and then, lost. But Toole's niece said in 1995, while he was on his deathbed in prison, he again confessed to killing Adam.
Now, after a fresh review of the entire case, police say they are convinced he was their man.
Hollywood, Florida Police Dept. Chief Chadwick Wagner, said, "In three decades, Ottis Toole has been the suspect. From confessions to sightings to witness interviews. It's all there."
Adam's Mother, Reve Walsh said, "There's no words to tell you how I feel. Listening to the words that came off Chief Wagner's lips, just penetrate my soul." [Mark Godsey]
Marijuana Law Comes With Challenges
Last month, voters approved a statewide measure decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Now, wary authorities say, comes the hard part. They are scrambling to set up a new system of civil penalties before Jan. 2, when the change becomes law. From then on, anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana will owe a $100 civil fine instead of ending up with an arrest record and possibly facing jail time.
It sounds simple, but David Capeless, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said the new policy presented a thicket of questions and complications.
One of the most basic, Mr. Capeless said, is who will collect the fines and enforce other provisions of the law. For example, violators under 18 will be required to attend a drug awareness class within a year, but it is unclear who will make sure that they do so. The fine increases to $1,000 for those who skip the class.
A complicating factor, said Mr. Capeless, the district attorney in Berkshire County, is that state law bans the police from demanding identification for civil infractions.
“Not only do you not have to identify yourself,” he said, “but it would appear from a strict reading that people can get a citation, walk away, never pay a fine and have no repercussion.”
Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, says he anticipates that many violators will lie about their identities.
“You can tell us that you’re Mickey Mouse of One Disneyland Way,” Mr. Sampson said, “and we have to assume that’s true.”
The authorities, he said, will also have to be sure that the substance they hand out citations for is marijuana, which will involve sending it to the State Police crime laboratory. [Mark Godsey]
Call for Presentations and Workshops
Submissions Due: January 30, 2009 before 7:00 pm, Eastern Time
Theme: Solving Problems with Geography and Technology
View the call for papers
Please note: The Tenth Crime Mapping Research Conference was originally scheduled for March 2008. If you submitted a paper at that time, it will be counted. If you want to update your original submission, make a note that you are updating a previous submission.
NIJ Conference 2009 * June 15–17, 2009 * Marriott Crystal Gateway * Arlington, Virginia
Stay Connected with NCJRS! Register Now! Free registration with NCJRS keeps you informed about new publications, grant and funding opportunities, and other news and announcements. To register, visit: http://www.ncjrs.gov/subreg.html [Mark Godsey]
December 18, 2008
To Catch a Thief
Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion fraud is giving politicians and investors who failed to diversify another excuse to blame too little enforcement in U.S. financial markets. Talk about compounding a case of misplaced trust. The real lesson is that financial enforcement nearly always fails to protect investors, and this Ponzi scheme is merely typical.
Since 2000 and especially after the fall of Enron, the SEC's annual budget has ballooned to more than $900 million from $377 million. (See the nearby chart.) Its full-time examination and enforcement staff has increased by more than a third, or nearly 500 people. The percentage of full-time staff devoted to enforcement -- 33.5% -- appears to be a modern record, and it is certainly the SEC's highest tooth-to-tail ratio since the 1980s. The press corps and Congress both were making stars of enforcers like Eliot Spitzer, so the SEC's watchdogs had every incentive to ferret out fraud.
Yet they still failed to nail Bernard Madoff. Since at least 1992, when the SEC sued two accountants peddling Madoff investments while promising sky-high returns, the commission missed opportunities to dig deeper into his operations. In 1999, trader Harry Markopolos wrote that "Madoff Securities is the world's largest Ponzi Scheme," in a letter to the SEC. More recently, multiple SEC inquiries and exams in 2005 and 2007 found only minor infractions.
Under New York law, meanwhile, Mr. Madoff had to register as a broker with the Investor Protection Bureau of the office of the New York Attorney General. The New York AG is among the most powerful state securities regulators in the country, because the Martin Act allows him to pursue criminal convictions without having to prove criminal intent. Yet neither current AG Andrew Cuomo nor Mr. Spitzer appears to have had a clue about Mr. Madoff's conduct. [Mark Godsey]
Showdown over DNA lab reflects national debate
In June, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas made a bold grab for a crown jewel of local law enforcement: the DNA unit of the sheriff's crime lab.
With the lab's director out of town and the sheriff recently deposed by corruption charges, Rackauckas submitted a brief agenda item to county supervisors two business days before their regular meeting.
"Our aim is to make significant changes in the way forensic DNA analysis is conducted," Rackauckas wrote. The D.A.'s office is "the only organization capable of harnessing the vast potential of forensic DNA technology."
The move capped a three-year tug of war for control of DNA analysis in a historically conservative county where putting criminals behind bars can bring substantial political rewards.
"I have never experienced anything like it in more than 30 years of law enforcement," recalled Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who took over the department in the midst of the battle. "I couldn't get my brain around it, and no one I've spoken with could either."
To end the bickering, one member of the Board of Supervisors proposed putting the county's entire crime lab in the hands of an independent agency headed by a scientist. But, in the end, the board split control among the political players: the D.A., the sheriff and the county chief executive.
The power struggle in Orange County is a sign of an intensifying national debate over who should control forensic science -- a question that has taken on new importance with the explosion of genetic evidence. [Mark Godsey]
Lethal Injection and the Problem of Constitutional Remedies
Many states' lethal injection procedures contain serious flaws that create a significant risk of excruciating pain, but, more often that not, courts uphold those procedures against Eighth Amendment challenges. This Article argues that remedial concerns significantly shape - and misdirect - courts' approaches to lethal injection. Many courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees, fear that any lethal injection remedy would unduly burden the state and interfere with executions. Accordingly, they sharply limit the underlying Eighth Amendment right.
This Article contends that these remedial anxieties are misplaced here. Lethal injection procedures are not only dangerous but also the product of troubling political process failures. Accordingly, far from deserving judicial deference, states' systemic lack of attention, transparency, and democratic deliberation require court oversight. Moreover, contrary to common wisdom, lethal injection actions seek only modest relief that would make executions much safer without interfering excessively in state affairs.
In allowing mistaken remedial concerns to dissuade real engagement with the merits in these cases, judges are abdicating their constitutional responsibility to oversee state practices threatening individual rights. Courts may instinctively look to remedial issues when determining the scope of a constitutional right, but, given that they do so, they should consider those issues more carefully. As criticisms of public law injunctions have increased, some judges have overlooked their obligation to hold states accountable for unconstitutional procedures, particularly when state officials insulate those procedures from democratic processes. Until courts adopt a more nuanced approach to constitutional remedies, they will continue to under-enforce some constitutional rights and effectively bless inhumane practices.[Eric Berger] [Mark Godsey]
December 17, 2008
Washington Council Enacts Tough Gun-Control Measure
Nearly six months after the Supreme Court put an end to the District of Columbia’s decades-old ban on handgun possession, the City Council here passed a sweeping new ordinance on Tuesday to regulate gun ownership.
The legislation would require all gun owners to receive five hours of safety training and to register their firearms every three years. In addition, they would have to undergo a criminal background check every six years.
Councilman Phil Mendelson, who helped draft the bill and shepherd it through the Council, called it a “very significant piece of legislation that borrows best practices from other states.”
Opponents said the legislation flew in the face of the Supreme Court ruling in June.
“The D.C. Council continues to try to make it harder and harder for law-abiding citizens to access this freedom,” Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, told The Associated Press.
Since the Supreme Court struck down the district’s handgun ban, the Council had stitched together a series of emergency measures to regulate gun ownership. Those included allowing residents to keep handguns in their homes, but only if they were used for self-defense.
This fall members of Congress sought to pass a bill that would have rolled back some of the temporary restrictions, but it stalled. [Mark Godsey]
1,500 criminals with sealed records rearrested
About 1,500 convicted criminals who were given a fresh start by getting their court records shielded were arrested again over the past two years, according to a newspaper analysis of state records.
That's around 11 percent of the number of first-time nonviolent convicts granted deferred ajudication under a 2003 sealed records law, The Dallas Morning News reported in Monday's editions. Under the law, the records are sealed from most employers, apartment managers and those not in law enforcement as long as they stayed out of trouble.
"It's sound public policy to give people a second chance," said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the law's author.
At West's request, the Department of Public Safety tracked the behavior of those who invoked the law to determine whether the program was working. The Dallas Morning News obtained the statistics under a state public information law.
DPS reported that of 14,116 offenders granted the "nondisclosure order," 1,544 were charged with new crimes in 2006 and 2007. About 250 of those new crimes were violent, including six murders or manslaughters and 100 family member assaults.
"Wow, that's a pretty high level of recidivism for a category that the Legislature was claiming were rehabilitated and not a danger to society anymore," said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. "I'm surprised that there are so many violent crimes."
But Keith Hampton, an Austin defense attorney applauded the program, noting that the vast majority of offenders avoided rearrest in the first year or two after they're freed.
"In the age of the Internet, where accusations cling on people the same way the scarlet letter did 300 years ago, these nondisclosures are really, really significant," said Hampton, who heads the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association's legislative committee. [Mark Godsey]
What the Alleged Misdeeds of Rod Blagojevich Teach Us About Lawful Politics
The allegations in the criminal complaint filed last week against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich portray a level of corruption that is shocking even by the standards of a state in which four prior governors have served time in prison. If proven, the charges will almost certainly result in Blagojevich becoming the fifth.
Among the most tawdry of the allegations in the complaint are these three: (1) Blagojevich pressured the Chicago Tribune to fire editors and writers responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich, in exchange for gubernatorial assistance with the sale by the Tribune of the Chicago Cubs; (2) Blagojevich attempted to extort campaign contributions from people and entities, including a children's hospital, in exchange for government contracts, grants, and regulatory approvals; and (3) Blagojevich conspired to extract lucrative positions for himself and his wife in government or the private or non-profit sectors in exchange for appointing a U.S. Senator to fill the seat vacated by President-elect Obama.
It is tempting to see Blagojevich as just a criminal who happened to become Governor of Illinois. Certainly, the brazenness of his conduct suggests more than run-of-the-mill political corruption. Blagojevich knew he was being investigated for "pay to play" schemes, but persisted with them anyway.
Nonetheless, the alleged misdeeds of Blagojevich differ only in degree, not in kind, from conduct that is perfectly legal. In examining what was wrong with what he did, we therefore may see the deep flaws in our regular politics. Watching Blagojevich is like looking in a funhouse mirror: the reflection, while exaggerated, is nonetheless real.
The Tribune Shakedown and the First Amendment
Blagojevich's alleged shakedown of the owner of the Chicago Tribune was not merely a violation of the criminal law. It also appears to have violated the First Amendment. The government may not condition a benefit on the relinquishment of a constitutional right.
Yet the "unconstitutional conditions" doctrine is notoriously difficult to apply in First Amendment cases, given the competing constitutional principle that permits government to favor some messages over others. As I explained in a column about a free speech case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, the First Amendment does not require the government to be neutral among the messages it itself conveys. [Mark Godsey]