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Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals: Is Alcala Smart, Or Is The System Stupid?

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Much is being made about Rodney Alcala’s allegedly superior intelligence. I don’t buy it any more than I buy it when defense attorneys wave a piece of paper in the courtroom and claim their client is mentally challenged and thus deserves a break.  It’s just theater.  Alcala’s a haircut with cheekbones: his IQ, whatever it might be, matters far less than the pro-offender sentiments of the era when he was first tried, and re-tried.

It certainly didn’t take a rocket scientist to play the California criminal justice system for a fool back in the 1970′s.  Unfortunately, in many ways, the same is still true.

Here are ten specific breaks the system gave Alcala, breaks that either enabled him to add to his body count or torment the families of his victims.  Such breaks weren’t reserved for serial killers with MENSA memberships, which is why places like L.A. were so fatal for all sorts of women.

How fatal?  Seven, or fifty, or even 100 women and girls, depending on how much evidence Alcala provides and the police uncover with the massive public appeal for assistance now underway.  Again, I have to ask: why weren’t these pictures distributed to the public decades ago?  Why were families forced to sit in limbo while authorities had hundreds of photos linking a known sadistic rapist and murderer to scores of unidentified women and girls?  I’m sure the police, given adequate resources, would have worked these cases.  But we’ve never given police adequate resources.  We still don’t charge even serious offenders with the totality of their known crimes.

Still it’s a tribute to reformers that some (though not all) of these fatal justice system errors would not occur today.

#1: Judicial Leniency, Indeterminate Sentencing Sets a Killer Free, 1971

Rodney Alcala was 25 in 1968, when he was caught in the act of raping and beating an eight-year old child to death.  That’s a chilling number, 25.  Kidnapping from a public place, the brutality of the rape, the extreme violence — all are hallmarks of an experienced, brazen killer who had escalated his behavior long before that crime.  If Alcala conformed to typical patterns (and there’s no reason to believe he did not), he probably started sexually victimizing girls and women around the time he reached puberty, a full decade before he attacked “Tali S.”  That’s potentially a lot of unnoticed crimes:

His first known attack was in 1968, when he abducted a second-grade girl walking to school in Hollywood, using a pipe to badly bash her head and then raping her — only to be caught red-handed because a Good Samaritan spotted him luring the child and called police. When LAPD officers demanded he open the door of his Hollywood apartment on De Longpre Avenue, Alcala fled out the back. Inside, police found the barely-alive, raped little girl on Alcala’s floor. It took LAPD three years to catch the fugitive Alcala, living under the name John Berger in New Hampshire — where the glib and charming child rapist had been hired, disturbingly, as a counselor at an arts-and-drama camp for teenagers.

Attempted murder, plus kidnapping, plus rape of a child, plus absconding.  Seems like he’d never see the light of day again.  Unfortunately, for future victims at least, pro-offender psychologists and other activists had so infiltrated the criminal justice system in California that the horror of Alcala’s crime was ignored by the courts.  From the moment he appeared in some California judge’s courtroom, he ceased to be a (failed) killer and child rapist.  He became a client and recipient of social services, a victim needing guidance, rehabilitation, “education,” and counseling.  It’s a soul-sickening travesty, one that deserves more exposure:

When Alcala was caught hiding out under the assumed name Berger on the East Coast [in 1971], a conviction for brutally raping a child in California was not a guarantee of a long prison sentence. California’s state government of that era had embraced a philosophy that the state could successfully treat rapists and murderers through education and psychotherapy.  The hallmark of the philosophy was “indeterminate sentencing,” under which judges left open the number of prison years to be served by a violent felon, and parole boards later determined when the offender had been reformed. Rapists and murderers — including Alcala — went free after very short stints. He served a scant 34 months for viciously raping the 8-year-old, who is known in official documents only as “Tali” . . . Deeply controversial, “indeterminate sentencing” was ended by then-governor Jerry Brown. But by that time, Alcala was free. . . . Retired LAPD Detective Steve Hodel, who investigated Alcala’s rape of Tali, recalls, “My impression was that it was his first sex crime, and we got him early — and society is relatively safe now. I had no idea in two years [he would be out] and continue his reign of terror and horror. I expected he was put away and society was safe. … It is such a tragedy that so much more came after that.”

“Education and psychotherapy.”  For raping and trying to kill a little girl.  It is important to understand that these highly educated “experts” were not simply trying to grope towards to some psychological discoveries that would only be discovered later.

Knowledge that murder is bad, for example, pre-dates 1971.

As I’ve written previously, I believe Alcala would have received a more severe sentence if he had just bludgeoned the little girl, instead of raping her and bludgeoning her.  I suspect the rape actually acted as a mitigating factor, turning him into a victim in the eyes of the people empowered to run our courts.  For when a prison psychiatrist found him “considerably improved” and ready for release less than three years after being convicted of attempted murder and child rape, that psychiatrist was undoubtedly referring to the fad psycho-sexual therapies in use at the time — and still being promoted by many academicians and practitioners today.  Like Dr. Richard Rappaport, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCSD Medical School, San Diego, who testified in Alcala’s most recent trial that Alcala should not be held responsible for serial sex murder because he just can’t help enjoying . . . sexual murder.

#2: Parole Board Leniency, 1974

It takes two to tango: a judge who refuses to hold a sick predator responsible for his crime by giving him an indeterminate sentence, and then a parole board that decides the “rehabilitation’s taken.”  Who served on that parole board in 1974, the one that decided to cut Alcala loose?  I’d love to see the transcript.  If anyone would send it to me, I’ll post it.  This wasn’t some gray-area first offense.  I wonder why the media hasn’t sought out these people and asked them why they let Alcala go.  As public servants, the parole board members should feel obliged to revisit such a devastating error.  A year’s worth of such decisions would make interesting reading — and yet one more interesting corrective to mythic beliefs that our country is too harsh on criminals.

#3: Prosecutorial/Judicial Leniency, Not Believing a Victim, Failure to Punish Recidivism, 1974

After the parole board cut him loose, it took Alcala two months to get caught with another child.  Two months.  Or, possibly, less:

In 1974, two months after he got out of state prison, Alcala was found at Bolsa Chica State Beach with a 13-year-old girl who claimed he’d kidnapped her. He was convicted only of violating parole and giving pot to a minor, however . . .

A convicted, violent, child rapist is found with a 13-year old girl who tells police she has been kidnapped.  What happens next?  Somebody doesn’t believe the child.  Who?  The judge?  The prosecutor?

#4: Parole Leniency, 1977

Alcala served another short sentence, and was apparently declared “re-reformed.”  Then a parole officer cut him some breaks.  It makes you wonder: was there anyone, anywhere in California’s criminal justice system, outside police themselves, who harbored a negative attitude towards violent offenders?

[T]wo years later, upon his second release from prison, the law went easy on Alcala again. His parole officer in Los Angeles permitted Alcala, though a registered child rapist and known flight risk, to jaunt off to New York City to visit relatives. NYPD cold-case investigators now believe that one week after arriving in Manhattan, Alcala killed the Ciro’s nightclub heiress Ellen Hover, burying her on the vast Rockefeller Estate in ritzy Westchester County.Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, who hopes during the current trial to put Alcala permanently on death row for Samsoe’s 1979 murder and the slayings of four women in the Los Angeles area, says: “The ’70s in California was insane as far as treatment of sexual predators. Rodney Alcala is a poster boy for this. It is a total comedy of outrageous stupidity.”

#5:  Social Leniency, 1977 – 1979: The Polanski Effect

It really does take a village.  Between the time Rodney Alcala was released from prison on his second child offense charge, and when he was captured after the murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe, it seems that nobody he encountered (outside the police) felt it was right to judge him for — oh, little transgressions like trying to murder a young child he was raping, or being a suspect in several other murders, or being investigated in the Hillside strangler cases, or ending up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.  Surely, FBI agents and other detectives approached Alcala’s co-workers and employers when he was being investigated for these crimes; surely his family and friends and professional acquaintances knew about the rape and beating of the 8-year old child.

So why did the L.A. Times choose to hire him anyway?  Why didn’t his supervisors there act on the knowledge that he was circulating his home-made child porn to co-workers?  Why did the Dating Game producers allow a child-rapist on their show?  Why did Alcala have such success in high-end social circles, in the art world, and with celebrities such as Roman Polanski?  Well, that one’s pretty easy to answer.

Was Alcala’s social success, in fact, based on his status as a “sexual outlaw,” being “persecuted by the pigs”?  Such was the argot in newsrooms and art circles, after all.  Funny how all the people who knew him then are so tight-lipped now: it sounds as if he really got around, between slaughtering young women:

1977  Ellen Hover, Jill Barcomb (18), Georgia Wixted (27)

1978  Charlotte Lamb (32), Monique H. (15), Jill Parenteau (21).  And more to come.

#6: Yet More Judicial Leniency, and Help From Mom, 1979

Another kidnapping and rape, another lost chance to get Alcala behind bars.  The police catch ‘em and the courts let ‘em go, leaving two more girls dead.  This type of behavior from the bench, sadly, continues today:

Alcala’s alleged reign of terror might have been halted in early 1979, when a 15-year-old hitchhiker called police from a motel in Riverside County to report she had just escaped from a kidnapper and rapist. Although Riverside police quickly charged Alcala with kidnapping and rape, a judge set his bail at just $10,000, paid by his mother. While free, police say, Alcala killed 21-year-old computer keypunch operator [Jill] Parenteau five months later in her Burbank apartment. The killer cut himself climbing through her window, and prosecutors now say Alcala’s rare blood type has been matched to the blood remnants.  Six days after Parenteau’s slaying, Robin Samsoe disappeared, a child-snatching that sent fear rippling through safe, quiet Southern California communities. Samsoe’s friend Bridget told police the two swimsuit-clad girls were approached that day by a photographer who asked if he could take their pictures. The man was scared off by a suspicious neighbor, but shortly after that, Bridget lent Samsoe her yellow bicycle so that Samsoe could make it to ballet class. Samsoe was never seen again.  Detectives circulated a sketch of the mysterious photographer to the media, and a parole officer recognized his parolee Alcala. Twelve days after she vanished, on July 2, 1979, Samsoe’s skeletal remains were found by U.S. Forestry Service rangers. Alcala was arrested on July 24 at his mother’s house in Monterey Park.

#7:  Criminal Appeals, 1984

Alcala was found guilty of murdering Robin Samsoe in 1980 and was sentenced to death.  But that verdict was overturned in 1984 by the California Supreme Court.  The court found that the jury had been “unduly prejudiced” when prosecutors introduced information about about the rape and attempted murder of the 8-year old child in 1968.

Evidence of prior crimes is sometimes admissible at certain times, so long as the priors are materially similar to to crime being tried.  For instance, is raping and trying to murder an 8-year old girl at all similar to raping and murdering a 12-year old girl?  There’s a four-year difference in the ages of the victims there, and a higher success component on the whole “murder” thing.  I’m sure, however, that the California Supreme Court could not have overturned Alcala’s death sentence on such a frivolous distinction.  It must have been some other frivolous distinction.

#8: Criminal Appeals, 2001

This time, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals got a piece of the action.  They decided that, because one witness’ testimony from a previous trial was read from the stand without the witness being in the room, the entire second trial, which doubtlessly cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars to re-try, simply had to be tossed out because of this.

What’s the matter with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals?  Richard Posner says they’re just too large for their own good, with too many different justices thinking together, and he’s got a well-known large brain that thinks in perfect unison with itself.  Me, with my quotidian little intellect, I think they just never saw a serial killer appeal they couldn’t bleed for, since they don’t have to, like, literally bleed, like the victims.  Not a very elegant argument, I know, but maybe it would pass muster before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

#9: Alcala’s Exclusive Access to the Courts, 1979 – 2010

With his denim pantsuit aesthetic and not-very-bright courtroom performances, Alcala doesn’t really present as a brain trust.  But he doesn’t need to be one.  And defendant can tie up the courts — and further devastate victim’s families — with frivolous lawsuits and endless appeals designed to catch certain activist judges’ eyes:

Alcala has spent his time behind bars penning You, the Jury, a 1994 book in which he claims his innocence and points to a different suspect; suing the California prisons for a slip-and-fall claim and for failing to provide him a low-fat diet; and, according to prosecutors, complaining about a law that required he and other death-row inmates to submit DNA mouth swabs for comparison by police against unsolved crimes. Alcala is still as cocky as ever — bold enough to represent himself in the trial for his life, now unfolding in Orange County. And why not? He has a talent for mining legal technicalities and has repeatedly enjoyed success with appellate judges.

Orange County prosecutor Matt Murphy likens Alcala to a video game villain that keeps coming to life and says that the appellate courts have hit restart on this real-life murderous villain’s rampage through the system. The families of the victims as well as those close to the investigation criticize the decisions as misguided political statements by justices who opposed the death penalty and ignored the facts of the case. For Murphy, who tried the latest Samsoe case, each decision to overturn stripped away more evidence from his arsenal against Alcala. And for Robin Samsoe’s family, the legal setbacks have altered the course of their lives, ripping through like aftershock upon aftershock following a devastating earthquake. . . Samsoe’s mother [Maryanne Connelly] spoke eloquently about the hardships she has endured in the 31 years since her daughter’s murder, waiting for justice that never came. . . Meanwhile, her daughter’s killer has spent most of his life in prison, and has perfected the art of working the system to his advantage, filing lawsuit upon lawsuit when he felt his rights were violated while in custody – such as a civil suit against an investigator who did not respond to a request for discovery within 10 days. In fact, a contempt case against the Orange County Jail is still pending. . . Connelly wonders where her rights were, while the man who killed her daughter became comfortably institutionalized. This inequity has become the rallying cry of all the victims’ families, as well as victim’s rights advocates, who say the system has coddled a vicious killer while failing victims’ loved ones.

If the victims’ families had the same rights as Alcala, they could sue him for mental cruelty.  Where such a trial could be held is a difficult question, because his co-defendant would be the justice system itself.

#10: Turning the Courtroom into His Last Killing Field, 2010, and Beyond

“He was blowing kisses at me across the courtroom, and I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Connely said. “And I thought I was going to go crazy, you know. And I reached into my purse and I was going to grab it, you know, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this.’”

That’s Marianne Connelly, speaking recently about Alcala’s 1980 trial for the murder of her daughter: back then, she once brought a gun to the courtroom to shoot Alcala.  I doubt anyone would have blamed her then, and they certainly wouldn’t blame her now, after thirty more years of sitting in courtrooms watching Alcala toy with her, and other victims, for fun.

Where was the judge while Alcala was blowing kisses at his victim’s mother?  Did that judge feel his hands were tied, thanks to our perverse appeals system?  Or did he simply not care?  Why did he allow the defendant to behave that way?

This unique, public humiliation and torture of crime victims is one thing that has not changed in 30 years.  From the most recent trial:

Robin’s brother Tim Samsoe, 44, said the worst thing was watching Alcala perk up in court every time he got the chance to see old photographs of his alleged victims.  “You see the gleam in his eye,” said Samsoe. “He’s enjoying this again.”

According to prosecutors, Alcala always enjoyed torturing his victims:

[Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt] Murphy told the packed courtroom that Alcala took his time terrorizing his victims by choking them with his bare hands, waiting for them to wake up at least once, then strangling them again — sometimes using shoelaces or panty hose. “It is a staggeringly horrific way to die,” exclaimed Murphy. “There is ample evidence the women put up some resistance….He gets off on it. It was fun.”  Once they were dead, Alcala allegedly [he has since been found guilty] would then pose their bodies.

Now the only victims he has access to are the relatives of the women and children he killed:

Robert Samsoe, who was 13 when his little sister was slain, tells L.A. Weekly, “I don’t have any faith in the system. Some people, they are just afforded all the chances in the world. Alcala has cost the state of California more than any other person because of his lawsuits. And they treat him like a king. Everybody is walking on pins and needles around him.

Alcala dragged out his latest trial for weeks, representing himself, attacking victims, rambling on and enjoying himself.  If this judge felt he simply had no power to prevent such behavior, he should now take steps to do something about the warped system of which he is a part.  When is enough enough?

At the trial’s close, Alcala forced family members to listen to a recording of Alice’s Restaurant, a move that nearly drove one columnist to violence.  Frank Mickadeit, of the OC Register, wondered how family members could hold themselves back:

To make the family and jurors listen to somebody, even Guthrie, sing: “I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and guts and veins in my teeth”? I guarantee you, that made nobody in the room think about how horrible Alcala’s death might be, as was apparently his intent. . . In all the years I’ve covered trials, I’ve never once wanted to personally wreak vengeance on a defendant. I can dissociate along with the hardest of professionals. But at Minute 50 on Tuesday, Murphy got me to go to that unprofessional place, where the father, brother and uncle lives.  I think it might have been one young woman’s morgue-photo – a head that was missing a third of its face because Alcala had bashed it away with a rock.  I stared hard at the back of Alcala’s tan sports coat, where the collar met the unruly mass of gray curls that cascades down his back (Arlo-like, if you must know), and I thought hard about that 15 feet between me and that thin neck. A cat-like leap, a bound, a forearm-lock, a snap – he’d never see me coming. The burly deputy sheriff between us would, though, so there was no chance even if I had indulged my momentary fantasy.  I looked to my left. Immediately across the aisle from me was Robert Samsoe, Robin‘s brother – roughly my age and size. He was wearing jeans, penny loafers and white socks, and I could see his right foot tapping nervously during these last 10 minutes of Murphy’s closing. The photo of another victim, her lower lip torn away, flashed up. Murphy hadn’t even begun recounting Robin’s death yet. . . Mercifully, there are no morgue photos of Robin, at least not in the sense that there are of the other murder victims. When they found Robin, just a skull was left – albeit a disfigured one from where Alcala had bashed in her teeth.  Robert Samsoe didn’t leap out of his chair and break Rodney Alcala’s neck, as part of me would have like to have seen.

Of course he didn’t.  The victims figured out long ago that they are not actually people, with human rights, including the right to dignity, in the eyes of the law.  The only person in that courtroom whose rights were being protected was Rodney Alcala.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Criminal Appeals: Why Was Serial Rapist Ali Reza Nejad Out on Bond?

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The good news: U.S. Marshals in Houston caught violent serial rapist Ali Reza Nejad after he slipped off his ankle monitor and fled Georgia upon hearing that the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed his conviction and 35-year sentence last week.

Nejad, Before and After Dye Job

The bad news? Violent serial rapist Ali Reza Nejad was allowed to stroll out of prison after being convicted of two rapes, while his case worked its way through the ridiculous and expensive appeals process in Georgia’s horribly overburdened courts.

More bad news? We all paid for Nejad to play Georgia’s horribly overburdened court system from the comfort of his own home.  Then we paid to track him down again after he fled.  Why on earth didn’t anybody in a position of authority bother to think through the potential effect of the Supreme Court’s negative ruling on this crazy serial rapists’ state of mind and go pick him up, or at least put him under constant surveillance, before he found out that he was heading back to prison for the rest of his adult life?

And why was he allowed out of prison to await appeal on frivolous grounds, anyway?  All rapists are dangerous criminals, but this guy qualifies as central-casting-woman-loathing-sexual-sadist-armed-with-a-gun-escalating-and-stalking-prostitutes-dangerous.

~~~

Criminal Appeals

Nejad appealed his conviction on two grounds: the perennial ineffectual counsel claim, and his lawyer’s insistence that there is some gray area in defining a gun as a deadly weapon.  None of this was about whether Nejad did, indeed, pull guns on women and rape them: it’s just meaningless technicalities piled one on top of another until the courts can’t function or somebody slips up and lets a serial rapist like this back onto the streets.

(I can’t link directly to the pdf files for the Georgia Appeals Court decision that led to Najad being wrongfully released or the Georgia Supreme Court decision that reversed the overturning of his trial verdict and sent him back to prison, but you can access the pdf files by typing Najad v. State.)

As to the first claim, famous-defense-attorney-type Brian Steel, who has been practicing criminal law in the courts and on front pages in Georgia for a very long time, insisted that he had both completely and repeatedly lost the capacity to function as even an ordinary lawyer, let alone a really famous one, throughout the entire trial.

An Appeals Court judge devastatingly called Steel out on this fiction and expressed concern that what the lawyer might be trying to do was perpetrate fraud.  It’s worth reading this and pondering the court’s suggestion that defense attorneys are knowingly front-loading their representation of clients with errors in order to get them off later, when there’s no other expectation of acquittal.  Ugly stuff:

SMITH, Presiding Judge, concurring specially.
I concur fully in the majority opinion, but write separately to point out an area
of increasing concern in claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Trial counsel’s
testimony in this case demonstrates a worrisome trend with serious implications for
the bar
and the administration of justice.
Taking the record on appeal at face value, we are presented with several
possible and equally questionable explanations for trial counsel’s testimony at the
hearing on the motion for new trial. Trial counsel may, despite his many years of
experience, simply have been unaware of the well-established rule of law governing
a defendant’s right to testify. Or he may have in fact so instructed his client in order
to provide a ready-made reversible error on appeal in the event of a conviction. Or
he may have testified untruthfully at the hearing on the motion for new trial in order
to provide his former client with a basis for reversal of his conviction.
None of these possibilities, which are by no means exhaustive, reflects well
upon trial counsel. Whether he is so incompetent as to call into question his ability to continue in this area of practice, or whether he has conducted himself in such a manner as to perpetrate a fraud upon the court, is not for us to say.
But we view any of these possibilities with alarm. The trial court was similarly concerned, asking trial counsel, “Don’t you think you have some responsibility to the system?”  Typically, trial counsel in such situations testify primarily to the factual details of their conduct and decisions, and admit errors only with reluctance and with due regard for their professionalism and pride in their work. The developing trend of emphatically and even eagerly testifying to one’s own incompetence or misconduct is dangerous to the administration of justice, particularly if it is allowed to continue without any consequences for the testifying trial counsel.

There are no consequences, no matter what the defense bar does, or lies about doing.  That’s why we have so many rapists and murderers walking the streets.  Beginning, middle, and end.  We’re all at their mercy, in a system they have been jerry-rigging for half a century.

The Georgia Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision, reversed the appeals court on the determination of incompetent counsel.  They observed that nobody has a positive duty to continually inform a defendant that he may, in fact, testify.

They also reversed the appeals court’s ruling that the jury should have been asked to decide whether holding a pellet gun to someone’s head is assault with a deadly weapon.  It’s extremely settled law that wielding a gun, even a pellet gun, that way is assault per se with a deadly weapon.  I’m surprised that appeals court agreed with Nejad’s lawyer on this matter.  Here is the Supreme Court:

During the jury instructions concerning the two counts charging Nejad
with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the trial court informed the jury
that the crime is committed when the accused, with a deadly weapon, places
another person in reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent
injury.
The trial court then told the jury that “A pellet gun in the shape of an
automatic weapon is per se a deadly weapon.” The Court of Appeals ruled it
was error to give the “per se” charge, reasoning that a pellet gun is not a per se
deadly weapon and it was for the jury to resolve whether the manner and means
by which it was used made it a deadly weapon. Nejad v. State, supra, 296 Ga.
App. 163 (2).  A firearm is a deadly weapon as a matter of law. Wyman v. State, 278 Ga.
339 (4) (602 SE2d 619) (2004). A firearm pointed at a victim and reasonably
appearing to the assault victim to be loaded is a deadly weapon as a matter of
law, regardless of whether it is loaded and, under such a circumstance, the trial
court does not err when it takes the issue of “deadliness” from the jury.

So there you have it. Ali Nejad picks up prostitutes, rapes them at gunpoint, and does the same to so many women that word gets around on the streets.  The police catch him, being excruciatingly cautious to protect his rights in the process; the courts try him, being excruciatingly cautious to protect his rights in the process; the case is decided by jurors being excruciatingly cautious to protect his rights in the process — and then the moment he is convicted, the free-for-all game-playing begins.

From the moment jurors return a guilty verdict, everything’s perpetually up for grabs, at our expense.  As the manipulations by the defense bar grow more and more extreme, judges and prosecutors can only protest impotently.  We’ve designed a system in which defense attorneys can say anything, do anything, cost the rest of us anything, intentionally throw a trial, intentionally bankrupt the courts — but they cannot be held responsible for this conduct.

I predict that the only people who will be blamed for the Nejad debacle are the people who would have kept him in prison in the first place: the officers tasked with monitoring him after a judge let him go free to await the outcome of the appeals process.  They don’t deserve any blame.  They caught Nejad, twice now.  It’s the rest of the system that has failed to keep the public safe.


Admissability of Evidence, Assignment of Blame: The Paterson, NJ Rape Case

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Man rapes, tortures five daughters, impregnates them repeatedly, forces them to deliver babies at home.

Administers beatings with steel-toe boots, wooden boards.  Withholds food, doles out extreme psychological torture.

Flees authorities.  Keeps the young women captive for decades.  For their lifetimes.  Receives probation after getting caught once.  Some of the babies die.  Daughters, wife forced to secretly bury them.

But what about the admissibility of evidence?  Isn’t that what’s really important here?

AP — A New Jersey man with apocalyptic visions is accused of years of terrorizing his family, raping his five daughters and impregnating three, beating his children with wooden boards and even moving at one point to avoid child welfare investigators.  The nightmarish picture of a family subjected to more than a decade of threats and violence and largely cut off from the outside world is emerging in a state courthouse where prosecutors are preparing to have the man stand trial five times, one per child victim. . . . In her testimony, his daughter described experiencing and witnessing beatings administered with wooden boards and steel-toed boots. She said minor transgressions often were punished by the withholding of food.   The girl’s mother testified some of the babies were delivered at home and never received birth certificates, and said in at least two instances babies who died in the home were buried without authorities being notified.  The children were home-schooled, she said, and were discouraged from interacting with other kids.  “No one really asked questions of each other because somebody would tell on somebody and somebody would get in trouble,” she said.  Even after she became aware of sexual abuse, she said she was too frightened to confront him.  “I was afraid to ever accuse him of being demented, or being a pedophile. I knew the word but I wouldn’t dare use it because it would result in a beating,” she said. “I’m sure my not standing up to him didn’t help the kids. They felt disempowered also. There was just a lot of fear. Everybody was threatened.”  Daryl Pennington, an attorney representing the defendant, did not return messages seeking comment

Now, wait for it . . .

Attorneys are scheduled back in court on Friday, when state Superior Court Judge Raymond Reddin is to rule on the admissibility of the wife’s testimony.

It’s the system, not Judge Reddin’s fault, but they will spend more time in that courtroom quibbling over rules of evidence than talking about the crimes themselves.  Such is our justice system, after fifty years of defense-driven exclusion of evidence rulings.  The truth, the whole truth, about what this man has done will unavoidably take a back seat to our sickening and criminal-biased criminal procedural rules.

So who, other than the defendant, is at fault?

Usually, the media’s default angle in a case like this is the “failure of child protection authorities” line.  But is it really the child protection workers who failed when the court lets him go?  In this case, child protection did their job by getting this animal into a courtroom and at least temporarily removing one of his children from the home.  They some judge cut him loose.

Many reporters view child protection workers as fair game — prosecutors and judges, not so much.

Refreshingly, the AP reporter here does not point fingers at the child protection workers and call it a day.  He seeks comment from the prosecutors in the previous case, where the offender was permitted to walk away from extremely serious charges.  However, the reporter doesn’t name the judge who delivered such a lenient sentence.  Maybe the prosecutors were asking for more time.  Maybe it was the judge’s fault.  Maybe both the prosecutor and the judge wanted to throw the book at this man, but they were constrained by a system that still makes it difficult to hold people responsible for crimes committed against their own children.  Here is the AP account:

As the first [rape] case nears trial, questions have been raised about whether state authorities could have put a stop to the abuse sooner. Some of the crimes are alleged to have occurred while the family was under scrutiny by the state child welfare agency, and after the father had been arrested and pleaded guilty to assault and child endangerment.

During that time, child protection authorities has already brought the man to court.  His success in essentially beating the charges (mere probation, despite fleeing, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, abuse) cannot be laid at their feet.  Doubtlessly, beating those charges empowered the abuser.  I’m sure the child protection workers feared for his daughter’s lives after the court cut him loose.  Then, this:

Arrested in 2006, [the defendant] stands accused of raping five of his daughters, three of whom are believed to have given birth to a total of six children. He is being held on $1 million bond.  Having been ruled competent to stand trial earlier this year, he faces 27 charges including aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, lewdness, child endangerment, aggravated criminal sexual contact and criminal sexual contact.

He is back in jail now, awaiting trial, but this man was out of jail on bail for the 2006 rape charges for a very long time.  NorthJersey.com has more troubling details about his time out, below.

If the defendant was being evaluated for mental competence, for such serious offenses — five young rape victims, three repeatedly impregnated by him — and if the question was whether he even had the ability to control this behavior (shades of the twinkie excuse of sexual assault), and if his wife and daughters had been tortured by him and were terrorized by him, and he believed their lives were his to destroy, what the hell was he doing out of prison for five minutes, let alone 3+ years, while being “evaluated for psychological competence”?

What type of system says to a serial rapist and torturer: OK, you may not be able to control your rapin’, torturin’ behavior, so we’re going to cut you loose while your lawyer drags out the process of getting you checked out by the yours-and-mine shrinks?

Our system.  I wonder how many other little girls this rapist was able to “get” while awaiting trial this time.  We know some of what he did the last time he walked away with a slap on the wrist:

Authorities say the assaults began in the mid-1980s and lasted until 2002, when the parents separated, and occurred at residences in Paterson, East Orange, Orange and Eatontown. . . According to court records and published reports, the girls’ father was arrested in 2000 and charged with kidnapping for allegedly trying to take three of his children from state custody at a Monmouth County medical center. He posted bail and later pleaded guilty to assault and child endangerment and was sentenced to a year’s probation. Prosecutors in Passaic County say one of the daughters, then in her early teens, was raped as late as January 2002.  New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements.  But the man’s wife and one of his daughters testified that the agency had indeed removed at least one of the children from the family’s home, and that the family had temporarily moved, first to Jersey City and then to Florida, to avoid the agency’s investigation.

Who was the judge in the 2000 case?  What does he or she have to say about the decision to give him probation for such serious offenses?

NorthJersey.com has more information about the 2006 bail decision. The defendant has been out on bail for years and was only remanded six months ago.  Read this horrifying passage carefully:

It is a complicated series of events that led a state Superior Court judge in Paterson to remand [the defendant] to the Passaic County Jail on Sept. 24 after having been free on $500,000 bail since his 2006 arrest. [He] is awaiting trial on charges he sexually assaulted his daughters and deliberately impregnated them.  [The defendant], 50, committed the sexual assaults from 1985 through 2002 in Paterson, East Orange, Orange and Eatontown, according to prosecutors. Authorities have described him as a “blueblood,” or someone who believes in keeping his bloodlines pure, and that the assaults were a disturbing attempt to create “purebred” offspring.  A hearing is scheduled before state Superior Court Judge Raymond Reddin in Paterson on Tuesday to determine how to deal with the matrix of factors that have made and could continue to make the $280,000 home he used as collateral for his bail insufficient. [The defendant] will remain in jail as long as the matter is unresolved.  What led to the suddenly precarious status of [the defendant's] bail was that prosecutors noticed the defendant was apparently accompanied by a woman and a young child at a recent pretrial conference before Reddin last month, said Joseph Del Russo, Passaic County chief assistant prosecutor. Defendants in sexual assault cases — as a condition of bail — are often ordered not to have contact with small children. Prosecutors checked to see if such a no-contact order was part of [the defendant's] bail conditions set back in 2006. As it turns out, it was. But that became a side issue when prosecutors noticed an even bigger problem, Del Russo said.  “We began to discover that his original bail posting — that is, the original process of posting bail with the County Bail Unit — was flawed,” Del Russo said. The most glaring problem, Del Russo said, was that proof that the property [the defendant] owned was worth $285,000 and was unencumbered — meaning no liens against it — was misleading. The document providing that proof was actually a title search produced by the seller of the property, according to Del Russo.

Let me attempt to reign in my disgust here long enough to paraphrase:

This child-raping animal has been walking free for 3 1/2 years while his attorneys successfully deflected his trial on multiple rape and torture charges.  By now, the defendant is so unworried about consequences that he actually showed up in court with a woman and young child — knowing full well that by having the child with him, he was violating his bail conditions in a child-rape case — in front of law enforcement, the prosecutor, and the judge.

However, the revelation that the child-rapist had another child under his control isn’t what landed him in jail again.

No, the endangering-another-innocent-child-after-impregnating-three-of-your-daughters-six-times-and-raping-two-others isn’t the problem.  Oh, heck no.  That, according to the reporter, the courts can swallow.  Regarding that, they’re good with the guy being out on the streets indefinitely.  Another two or three years, at least.

So what’s this bigger problem than child rape?  Real estate valuation.

The quote bigger problem unquote is that the child-rapist’s house, which he put up for collateral for bail, has some title issues and needs to be reappraised.  Yes indeed, that’s far more relevant than letting a child-rapist traipse out of the courtroom with another little baby in tow:

The most glaring problem, [Passaic County assistant prosecutor Joseph] Del Russo said, was that proof that the property [the defendant] owned was worth $285,000 and was unencumbered — meaning no liens against it — was misleading. The document providing that proof was actually a title search produced by the seller of the property, according to Del Russo.”The seller produced for [the defendant] a title search that showed the house was paid for — free and clear — and unencumbered,” Del Russo said. “Instead of [the defendant] showing his interest in the property, he showed us a document from the seller, rather than from him. So we don’t know, when he brought the house, whether he had a tax lien that followed him, or if he took a second mortgage on it. It was certainly misleading, let’s put it that way.”

Pardon me for being blunt, but shouldn’t the prosecutor be raising hell about the fact that the child rapist has a little child in his custody instead of prattling on to the media about real estate minutiae?

To heck with the mental state of the defendant: unless the NorthJersey.com reporter got the story very wrong, the heads Passaic County authorities need to be examining are the ones on the northern end of their own necks.  While the rest of us examine our hearts.  Doesn’t child rape matter?  Child rape.  Impregnating your daughters, over and over again.  Forcing them to give birth in front of you, for the love of God.  Making them bury their babies in secret.

Kicking their little bodies with steel-toed shoes.  Between rapes.  The prosecutor is busy talking about real estate?

~~~

Whenever I read a story like this, I wonder at the lack of outrage.

  • Where are the campus rape activists and the N.O.W. activists, with their “take back the night” marches and “teach-ins” and glossy “no-means-no” leaflets?  Is that all just . . . self-serving theatrics?
  • Where are the legal activists and law school students and law professors who pour millions of dollars and thousands of hours into investigating perfectly legitimate convictions every year because “every single injustice is unacceptable” . . . unless, of course, it is injustice absorbed by the victims of crime?
  • Where are the across-the-disciplines academics who never met a violent offender who didn’t simply titillate them?  Do they ever doubt their loyalties, ethics, or research claims, looking at a case like this?
  • Where are the tough-on-crime politicians?  Are conservatives still playing shy on child molestation because their “pro-family” constituents don’t like the state messing with private lives?  Are the “dad’s rights” deadbeats whining about attacks on the patriarchy again?  The small government purists linking arms with the A.C.L.U. to denounce prison costs?
  • Where are the crusading journalists, especially self-styled experts like Dorothy Rabinowitz, who has been dining out on the story of two (two!) bad child rape prosecutions from two decades ago, although no pattern of wrongful prosecution was ever uncovered (because none existed)?  Rabinowitz’s large-print account of the Amirault and Michaels cases has done immeasurable damage to the ability of prosecutors to convince jurors that a child has been raped, yet Rabinowitz has never revisited her own claims that these anomalous cases represented anything other than a real good chance to present herself as some sort of breathless freedom fighter.  “Like lightning, the charge could strike anyone” she trilled.  With no supporting evidence.  Because there was none.  This shameful chapter in the usually reliable Wall Street Journal’s history, and Rabinowitz’s histrionic, projection-heavy, thin-on-facts book, No Crueler Tyrannies, could both use an honesty makeover via some attention to the unfolding Paterson case, which has far more in common with the  average child molestation case than the handful of decades-old cases Rabinowitz still rails about.

You know, in the interest of opposing cruel tyrannies.

Criminal Apologetics and Bizarre Technicalities in St. Pete: Blaming Cops for Criminal Acts

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I didn’t have to look far to find today’s dreadful example of the media blaming anyone except criminals for criminal acts.  In the St. Pete Times today, Howard Troxler, a normally reasonable man, wanders far down an ugly path by questioning the recent conviction of a knife-wielding repeat offender on two grounds: the purported reputation of the officer who confronted him, and some trumped-up technicality about types of knives that should be considered weapons.

Troxler apparently feels that police officer Joe Ardolino is permanently tarnished because, in 2003, he was involved in a car chase (of a violent, prolific offender) that ended in the suspect’s death.  Never mind that Ardolino was cleared in the incident, as he should have been: once charged, always guilty, at least when it comes to the police.  Troxler crosses a troubling line when he impugns the officer in the subsequent murder of a fellow officer:

Ardolino was the deputy who made news in 2003 for a chasing a traffic violator through the Lacoochee area of Pasco County until the driver crashed into a palm tree and died. The resulting racial tension contributed, a month later, to the mistaken-revenge murder of Sheriff’s Lt. Bo Harrison.

Joe Ardolino is in no way responsible for the murder of Lt. Bo Harrison.  Ardolino was chasing a suspect; the suspect crashed his car and died; the suspect’s family swarmed the scene, practically started a riot, and accused the police of killing him.  Later, Lt. Harrison was assassinated outside a nightclub.  Calling it a “mistaken revenge murder” is unbelievably inappropriate.  When someone aims a semi-automatic at an officer’s head and pulls the trigger, where does “mistake” enter in, no matter what the defense argues in court?  The killer is responsible for murdering the officer.  Full stop.

After Reed crashed his car, Ardolino tried to revive the suspect while being threatened by a hostile crowd; he was cleared of wrongdoing, and yet, in the eyes of the St. Pete Times, he still must be guilty of something.  Here are some details from the 2003 incident:

[Michael] Reed’s family members said he leaves behind a girlfriend and a 11/2-year-old daughter, Mykeia. Friends said he was quiet and liked to visit Rumors nightclub.

The suspect’s family said he was “quiet.”  His criminal record, of course, tells a different story:

Records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show Reed was arrested at least eight times since 1994 on charges ranging from vehicle theft to burglary to cocaine possession with intent to sell. In 1996, when he was 17, he was one of two men who took part in the early morning robbery of R & J Foods that left three people hospitalized with gunshot wounds. A judge sentenced him to 41/2 years in prison in connection with the incident.

[And, once again, we have a criminal who might still be alive if a judge had taken seriously an armed robbery that left three people shot.]  Anyway, this is what Ardolino was doing as the suspect’s family threatened him:

The scene of the crash had turned tense as 75 to 100 people yelled threats, profanity, and racial insults at deputies, according to the Sheriff’s Office. . .

Reed had been hurled through the front windshield of his white Chevrolet and was hanging off the car’s hood. His left ankle was hooked on the car’s antenna. Ardolino put a handcuff on Reed’s left hand. After checking Reed for breathing and pulse and finding none, Ardolino began giving Reed chest compressions. After several compressions, Reed began trying to breathe.

Ardolino checked again for a pulse and found one. He unhooked Reed’s leg and laid him on the ground beside the car.

“I then heard Mr. Reed’s breathing become labored,” Ardolino’s report said. “His teeth were tightly clenched together, and he was sucking air through his teeth.”

Ardolino pried Reed’s mouth open and tilted his head so that fluid could drain from his mouth.

“He then continued to breathe while I held his mouth open,” Ardolino wrote.

The crash happened at 6:22 p.m. Ardolino arrived at the scene one minute later, and the chief of Tri-Community Volunteer Fire, Mike Morgan, arrived at 6:27 p.m., according to sheriff’s spokesman Powers.

Ardolino reported that when fire rescue arrived, he briefed an unspecified paramedic on Reed’s condition.

“He took over administering aid,” Ardolino wrote.

This is called a police officer doing his job in the face of extreme danger.  Witnesses said the officer was being intimidated and was outnumbered.  This is called a sacrifice.  Cops are put into dangerous situations all the time; they are forced to deal with dangerous people all of the time; they are investigated and accused and interrogated constantly, and yet they still show up and do their jobs: that’s the curiosity of it.

So, four years later, Ardolino gets called to a dangerous domestic violence scene.  The offender, Steven Miholics, who had already been to prison for child abuse (as I’ve said, you have to do a lot to a child to end up in prison), kicked his way into a house.  He armed himself with a knife.  His terrorized family managed to call the police.  Ardolino showed up and confronted the man, who lunged at him.  Ardolino shot him.  Miholics survived, was prosecuted, and was sentenced to 15 years.  As he should have been.  Now he wants that reduced to a one-year sentence because the knife he was holding was dull, and Troxler thinks he has a point.

Picture the scene of the domestic violence call, the knife, the split-second decision the officer must make.  Here is what Troxler thinks of it:

On appeal, Miholics’ new lawyer raised the issues both of allowing the deputy’s testimony and whether Miholics could have been legally convicted of a “deadly weapon” assault in the first place.  State law had been changed in 2006 to exempt a “blunt-bladed table knife” from the definition of a weapon. For Miholics, this could have meant the difference between a year in jail and 15 years in prison . . . This man Miholics has struck out in every way — his record, his choice to wield a knife and spatula as he met the Pasco deputies, his decision to fire his lawyer at a crucial juncture. I do not think many people will feel sympathy for him. And yet, as I said, these twists are worth noting.

“These twists are worth noting”?  Oh, don’t be shy.  By the lights of newspaper columnists, no offender should ever stop appealing any verdict, no matter the evidence, no matter the cost, no matter the ludicrousness of the grounds, no matter the disruption and danger and suffering of the victim.

Prisons should just be big bingo halls where every offender gets endless bites at the apple until they scamper out the door.

“Twists are worth noting”?  Justice be damned, more like.  Does Troxler believe that a police officer confronting a man with a violent record, at a very chaotic home invasion-domestic violence scene, should pause and say:

“Hey, wait a minute, that might be a blunt-bladed knife.  If I shoot the guy trying to stab me with it, I could get into trouble because some defense attorneys convinced the State of Florida to exclude blunt-bladed knives from the legal category of “deadly weapons.”  So since I can’t quite see from here how sharp that knife is in that crazed aggressor’s hand, I’ll just try to back out of the kitchen without getting killed so I can stay on the safe side with the courts.”

This is what we’re asking of officers, among a thousand other stupid, dangerous things.

Also stupid?  Suggesting that somebody who terrorizes his family, invades a house, and lunges at a cop with a knife should only get one year in prison.

Troxler manages to squeeze an impressive amount of responsibility-deflection into one column:

  • He brings up officially discredited claims against Officer Ardolino from 2003 to question his credibility in the 2007 case, rather than blaming Reed for his own criminal acts back then and the crowd for threatening the officer as he tried to save the offender’s life.
  • He claims that the judge should not have let Miholic represent himself (something Miholic had a right to do, and chose freely), suggesting that Miholic was incapable of bringing the defense that the officer “overreacted” to Miholic’s knife because its blade was dull (Here Troxler chomps at the bit to re-try the case on grounds that don’t even apply because there was no question that the shooting was justified — does no condemnation of police ever satisfy the appetite to condemn police?  Ever?).  Amazing.  And sloppy.
  • He blames the prosecutor and judge for the “deadly weapons” charge, rather than blaming Miholic for lunging at an officer with a knife.
  • He points a finger at Officer Ardolino for Lt. Bo Harrison’s murder, rather than blaming the murderer.  That’s disgraceful.

Quite a list.  Here are the people Troxler doesn’t hold accountable:

  • criminals who shoot people in robberies and flee from police
  • people who wrongfully accuse officers and threaten their safety
  • people who kills cops
  • people who lunge at cops with knives

Detect a pattern?

Tragically, the justice system reinforces this deflection of responsibility every time they permit defendants to make absurd arguments about things like the relative dullness of their knives.  Every cop responding to a call for help has to remember that the courts are stacked against them in this way, and a thousand others.

Imagine a world where, instead of advocating for the release of people like Miholic, Howard Troxler writes columns advocating for the legislature to change that dangerous and wrong-headed “blunt-bladed table knife” law.  No?  I didn’t think so.