Thursday, June 30, 2011

I'm feeling peevish

so allow me to note one of my biggest, never before mentioned pet peeves. I really, really hate being asked, "What are your plans for [tonight] [this weekend] [holiday x]?"

Unless you're inquiring because you're wondering if I'm available to do something, just don't ask. It can't lead to a comfortable conversation. Either we will wind up talking about our separate plans, thus highlighting that we aren't really part of each other's social circles. Or I will have no plans to speak of, which is never something a single gal wants to admit. If I have to spend another evening or weekend or holiday alone, at least don't make me say it out loud.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rethinking shaken baby syndrome

Frontline tonight covered a topic near and dear to my heart. They examined the growing suspicion about those convictions achieved under the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Ok, so technically I haven't watched it yet. I got distracted and forgot to watch it. And by distracted, I mean I was sitting outside on my hammock with a beer and my dog. (Everyone should buy a hammock before dying. You will not regret it.) But I set the DVR to record the replay.

Anyway, I encourage all of you to watch it, and do your own research into these "shaken baby" cases. Fortunately, I have never had to handle one of these cases where a baby mysteriously dies and someone must be found to be responsible. I can't imagine the heartbreak of first losing a child and then being accused of causing that child's death. The defense bar has always been suspicious of shaken baby syndrome, but nobody much pays attention when it's just defense lawyers complaining about convictions. Finally, though, there is starting to be some real movement in the medical community towards acknowledging that shaken baby syndrome might not be what those who first came up with it thought it was. That the injuries associated with sbs can be caused by far less force than they had thought.

Of course, some people actually do abuse children, even to the point of death. But sometimes tragedies happen and no one is to blame. We need to be very careful not to confuse the two categories of cases. So the more light medical experts can shed on shaken baby syndrome, the better.

Monday, June 27, 2011

In which I admit defeat

Oy, if anything will ever cure me of my "Something is wrong on the internet"itis, it'll be the Amanda Knox case. If you saw all the comments that came in on my lone post about that case, or even looked through some of them, you might have some idea what I'm talking about. Somehow, this case has spawned some of the craziest internet battles I have ever witnessed. There appears to be a group of people, not necessarily even connected to the victim or each other, who have made it their business to find every website that discusses the case and overwhelm them with comments. Those comments are filled with half-truths, misrepresentations, and outright lies. And then there are people on the pro-Amanda side and those two groups hate each other. With a passion. And they have this rolling internet battle that ranges all over.

So when the Amanda Knox "guilters" as others have dubbed them started coming to my quiet little blog and were soon followed by the pro-Amanda folks, I got curious. I'd always thought Knox was most likely innocent, that Preston book about the Florence serial killer strengthened that sense, but it's the insane ramblings of the guilters that have absolutely pushed me over the edge. They go around the internet, spreading the same lies, over and over. No matter how many times those lies are debunked. They keep claiming the evidence is more than what it actually is. And I can't correct every one of them. It's kinda driving me nuts.

What's most frustrating is how the lies have seeped so thoroughly into the national subconscious that even educated, well-informed people believe them. My friend, A, lives in Seattle and assumes that Amanda had something to do with it because of all the lies and varying stories she told. Except, she didn't. That's just a misconception that spread through the media. My sister, usually very well-informed on cases like this, seemed shocked when I said it wasn't even possible that Amanda was involved in the murder. Now maybe her shock was that I spoke in an absolute and I (usually) don't speak in absolutes. But I got the sense that it was more than that, that she's heard enough of the misinformation to have doubts.

Reputable news media is still, unfortunately, contributing to the misinformation. As Amanda's appeal heated up this week, I've seen stories on various cable channels and online. While they rightly say that the DNA evidence that allegedly tied Amanda to the crime has become suspect, they also helped perpetuate one of the biggest myths about the case. They said that there were now questions about whether Amanda's DNA really was on the murder weapon. But that knife wasn't the murder weapon. It just flat does not fit the wounds. Or the bloody imprint left by the knife at the crime scene. This random knife pulled from the drawer in Raffaele's kitchen had nothing to do with the murder. It would be nice if the media wouldn't call it the murder weapon when even the Italian prosecutors acknowledge it probably didn't cause the fatal wound.

Also, the BBC still has up and active on its website an article from December of 2007 that proclaims Amanda was lying about her claim that she was at Raffaele's house the night of the murder reading a Harry Potter book in German. The proof being that investigators found a German Harry Potter book at Amanda's house! As if there's only one Harry Potter book in the world... (How many copies do you have, M? I freely admit I have 3 Pride and Prejudices, 2 Emmas, and more Anne of Green Gables than you can shake a stick at. And I also have all of those on both my iPhone and iPad. As well as the Complete Works of Shakespeare. It's not that weird to have multiple copies of a favorite book.) So the BBC, one of the more respected news agencies in the world, still labels Amanda a liar. Except for this one thing: the police recorded it when they searched Raffaele's apartment in the week after the murder. And guess what is clearly visible on the video? A German Harry Potter book! (There are 7 in the series, you know.) So not only was she not lying, the investigators knew it when they released the photo of the HP book from Amanda's house, but still hoped the media would label her a liar anyway.

Now today there has been a lot of online chatter because there was a big witness testifying in her appeal trial today. The guy who actually committed the murder, shockingly, still refused to admit he did it and maintained he saw Amanda and Raffaele there. (Since that got him such a sweet sentence of only 16 years, did anyone really think he would own up now?) And on all of those message boards and comment-enabled cites, more of the same old nonsense is coming up. The footprints Amanda left in Meredith's blood (even though those spots tested negative for both blood and Meredith's DNA). The buying of bleach (didn't happen). The calling police after police had already arrived (except the time on the security camera used to reach that conclusion was off by about 10 minutes). The idea that she was a tramp who slept with 7 men in the 2 months she was in Italy (not true). And on and on and on.

It has reached a point where I have to admit I can't counter all the misinformation. And I know by posting this, I'm going to be inundated with more of it here. But it's driving me crazy. Because something is wrong all over the internet and I WANT TO FIX IT!!!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say Supreme Court Justices shouldn't go around physically attacking each other. Just when you thought the state of things in Wisconsin couldn't get any uglier or more divisive, we hear that one justice allegedly attacked another, putting his hands on her throat. (To some, it probably seems even worse because the allegation is that a man put his hands around the neck of a woman.)

Are we going to be resorting to duels soon? I hope they keep the physical assaults for conferences and leave the poor attorneys out of it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Casey Anthony fatigue

Oh, the Casey Anthony case is a clusterf**k. A circus. A sham. The kind of case that makes me want to rip my hair out, throw remotes across the room, and scream. And I'm not even talking about the evidence or guilt vs. innocence. I'm just talking about the process this case has gone through to get to this point, however many days deep we now are into the defense presentation of evidence.

The media storm has from day one made a mockery of Casey's right to a fair trial. Some television personalities have practically made a cottage industry out of this case. (Regular readers should know how I feel about the most prominent personality who has held this case in her mouth like a dog would a bone.) I've never had much faith in Casey's defense team, because I've always worried about their interest in media attention. There probably is a time and a place for using the media as part of a criminal defense strategy, but when in doubt, stay away. A defense attorney should definitely not speak to the media unless and until s/he has figured out the case, settled on a strategy, and has thought about how talking could help the case and how it could hurt. So, we've got my mistrust of the defense and then we have the judge getting so fed up with attorneys on both sides that he called a recess. I've seen plenty of heated exchanges between a prosecutor and a defense attorney but I've never seen one like that.

Now we've got the attorney for George and Cindy Anthony making inflammatory (and improper or even unethical?) statements about what his clients think of their daughter's innocence. I just saw him on Anderson Cooper trying to correct that problem. (And, no, there apparently is no news one can watch without seeing this case.)

I have no emotional investment in this case. I haven't much studied the evidence. I have no opinion. (Except, of course, that I don't want her to get the death penalty if convicted of murder because I never want anyone to get the death penalty.)

But someday, when I run law school, this case will be exhibit A on how not to conduct a criminal case. I might also encourage journalism schools to point to this case as the prime example of how not to cover a criminal case. For now, all I want is for this case to go away. I fear it can never be fixed or really fair because too much damage has been done. But it can go away and leave me to watch my Anderson Cooper in peace.  Ooh, and as a bonus, maybe when this case does finally, mercifully, go away, the vacuum it leaves behind will suck Nancy Grace up.

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should

So that didn't take long. Only a few days after splashing Whitey Bulger's face all over the news, they caught him. In reading the NYT story about his capture, one thing jumped out at me. The United States attorney in Boston said that Bulger could not face the federal death penalty but that it was an option in cases pending in Florida and Oklahoma.

Huh? Would either of those jurisdictions really try to seek the death penalty against this man? He's 81 years old. He has already exceeded average life expectancy. Getting to an actual execution date could take at least 10 years. And if the Feds or Massachusetts get him first, neither state could even start the process for some time. So even best case scenario, he'd be 90 or older before he could be executed. I wonder what the odds are of him even living that long.

Surely reasonable people can agree that this is a case where pursuing the death penalty would serve no useful purpose. It would waste tremendous time and resources and is highly unlikely to result in an execution. Now, I'm sure the US attorney was just answering a question, so there is no reason to assume either Florida or Oklahoma are going to pursue the death penalty. But if a reporter asked the question, you can bet other people are thinking about it, too. And that reporters in those states might ask the same question of authorities in those states.

I hope that both states recognize they can make far better use of their resources than to seek the death penalty against this man. Between the 3 jurisdictions, I'm sure they can figure out how to keep him incarcerated for the remainder of his natural life. Given his age, he's going to die of natural causes either way, so those 2 states might as well save themselves the trouble of pretending otherwise. They'd be saving a whole heck of a lot of tax-payer money as well.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Keep the faith...out of the criminal justice system!

I saw two stories today that raised in my mind the same concerns about religion being forced on people. By the court system, no less.

First, there is this case out of Mississippi where a judge faces disciplinary action for requiring individuals attend church services as a condition of bond. This particular judge isn't a lawyer (which seems like a bad idea to me) but the lack of formal legal education really can't absolve her of this error. Shouldn't we expect any judge to have a basic understanding of the Constitution, most specifically the Bill of Rights? One should not have to go through 3 years of law school to know the state cannot compel church attendance.

Then I saw this story out of my own state. Our Governor wants to connect every inmate released from prison with a faith-based mentor. It's enough to make me want to cry. I love the idea of personal mentors for every released inmate. The department of corrections staff just isn't equipped to provide that level of personal supervision for discharged inmates. The more personal attention parolees can get in transitioning from prison to the outside world, the better.

But the emphasis on faith is infuriating. This proposed program isn't out to rehabilitate parolees; it's out to convert them. Obviously, the faith-based mentors would not be, could not be, limited to the Christian faith. But it would be limited to mentors of some faith. Could I not volunteer to mentor a released inmate? I think I would be an excellent mentor, but I'm not a person of any faith, so am I out? More to the point, are inmates like me excluded from having a mentor? Or would they get mentors, but find themselves receiving a religion sales pitch when what they really need is job-training and advice on all the technological advances that have occurred since the last time they were on the outside?

The problem I have with faith-based initiatives is not cured by saying it's open to all faiths. Because faith-based initiatives are still not open to me. And by promoting faith-based initiatives, government is saying faith of any kind is better than no faith. But government doesn't get to say that. Frankly, this atheist is a little tired of being made to feel like there's no place for me or my kind in this state.

The idea promoted by the judge in Mississippi and my own Governor seems to be that turning to religion will cure all our ills. I would have hoped our judges and political leaders would have better, more substantive ideas than just turning to religion for everything. It's hard for this person of no religious faith to have faith that these folks have any good ideas of their own.

(Side note: please don't make the insulting mistake of thinking that people of no religious faith don't believe in anything. That point ought to be self-explanatory, but a nice, intelligent person once kind of blew me off by stating matter-of-factly that I don't believe in anything. I'm still kind of stunned that someone who knows me at all would say that to me.)
Oh, Newt, what did you expect? With a name like that, you kinda had to know you were cursed, right? You have now turned your campaign into a newt. It will not get better.

If I liked you, respected you, and cared about your dignity, I would advise you to give up. Now. But I don't. So pass the popcorn because watching the implosion of your presidential aspirations is fun.

Confirmation that I'm hard core

Two of my friends witnessed all of the critical moments of my arm break. They were there for the actual fall. They took me to the ER. Spent the night with me and took me back to the ER the next morning. They  were there the day I had surgery. So they witnessed all of the worst moments, including the most painful of all, the lidocaine injection right before the external reduction.

One of those friends is a St. Louis native, so he's a Cardinals fan. (He roots for the Royals when they're not playing the Cards, so he's not all bad.) Thus, he saw when Royal Wilson Betemit broke Albert Pujols' arm. This Cardinals fan assures me that I was much less of a wuss when I broke my arm than Pujols was. I didn't cry or swear or throw things or stomp my feet. I just asked for some water and a trash can (because I felt so queasy) and calmly made my way to the car.

So there you have it. Confirmation that when it comes to handling pain, I am harder core than an All-Star baseball player widely considered to be one of the (if not the) best player in the game.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A simple, money-saving suggestion

We spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system. Way too much money. And we spend our money in really stupid ways. We cut funding to education, Head Start, programs for at risk kids. We don't spend money on social services or mental health programs. And we couldn't possibly spend money on rehabilitation programs for inmates or ex-cons after they've been discharged. Spending money on those things would be cheaper than endlessly incarcerating people. Preventing crime is cheaper than dealing with the aftermath.

Then there's the fact that we have way too many crimes and incarcerate people for all kinds of silly things. But that's an entirely different rant.

The number 1 way we waste money on criminal justice? The death penalty, of course! Perhaps there is no better example of that than California. Where they have 714 people on death row but have only executed 13 people since 1978. California's system is just a big, bogged-down mess where they don't have anywhere near enough attorneys to handle the cases, among other problems. They've spent about $4 billion to kill 13 people. So just over $300 billion per death. Definitely cost-effective. And we all know how much money California has just lying around these days.

Might I respectfully submit, California, that you could really make a big dent in your budget woes by giving up on the death penalty? Commute all those 714 sentences to life. Stop pursuing new death sentences. Boom. Billions of dollars saved. You wouldn't need to find as many attorneys because non-capital cases don't require as many attorneys or as much expertise in the issues unique to capital proceedings. For the guys currently on death row, you'd cut half the issues out of their appeals. For cases yet to go to trial, you'd cut out a big phase of the trial and you'd eliminate the costliest part of the defense work, the mitigation investigation.

Unless you really want to go bankrupt, California, eliminating the death penalty seems like a pretty great place to start on your budget woes.

(And as a bonus suggestion, you might re-think your whole implementation of the three strikes law...)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Write away

Back in February, one of my quirky friends told me about a writer's workshop she wanted to attend over the summer, asking me to join her. I said, "what the hell, I'm in!" The more I work on my writing, the more effective I can be in advocating for my clients, after all.

So I called up my college roomie, who I hadn't seen in years. She's a writer, too. Pretty much on the spot, she said, "what the hell, I'm in, too!"

So this morning, the three of us made our way to the pretty little college town, chauffeured by my quirky friend's man friend. (We ride in style like that.)

It's probably a good thing I'm here for the weekend. Maybe now I can learn how not to write juvenile, naive, uneducated, stupid little blog posts that display my inability to understand the intricacies of criminal law...

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

David C. Baldus

Anyone who has studied the death penalty, follows the case law and research, has run across the work of David C. Baldus. My comprehensive exercise (comps), basically a senior thesis, in college was on the death penalty. Professor Baldus' work factored heavily into my paper.

I never met the man, never even came close. (If only I'd chosen Iowa instead of Wisconsin, but my heart was in Madison despite Professor Baldus.) But his work definitely affected me, inspired me. I couldn't let his passing go without comment.

In this time of sadness, I hope his family finds comfort in the fact that he did lots of good work on an issue he was passionate about. May we all be so lucky.

An ounce of prevention and all that

I know my state has no money. I know something has to be done to address that. I know that my governor and legislature only consider one side of the ledger and will only make cuts. I am frustrated beyond belief that they will not even consider raising any tax, eliminating any tax credits or incentives, or basically anything that might cause more money to come into the state's coffers. I find it so frustrating because there is a dogged unwillingness to think about the fact that maybe, just maybe, by continuing to just cut, cut, cut, we're shooting ourselves in the foot. Cutting off our nose to spite our face. Any other similar cliche you can think of.

In the Wichita Eagle today, I saw this story about various groups focused on crime prevention begging the County Commission not to cut their funding. But the commission doesn't have much choice because the grant they get from the state was cut by more than 2/3. The county commission doesn't have much choice as they just don't have the money. But the state legislature had a choice. They didn't have to slash funding of the Juvenile Justice Authority to such a degree that the JJA had to make such drastic cuts in its grants to counties.

Of all the things to cut spending on, I can't think of anything more short-sighted than to cut funding to crime prevention programs that work. The state is going to pay for that short-sightedness some day. And we're going to pay a whole heck of a lot more than the crime prevention programs would cost now. Why couldn't we spend $1 million this year to avoid spending ten times that much down the road? How hard is it to understand that it's a lot cheaper to prevent crime than to prosecute and incarcerate criminals?

Muslim schools in the US: good, bad, or indifferent?

This story on msnbc caught my attention. I confess, I hadn't given any thought to the idea of Islamic schools in the U.S., but it makes sense that they exist.

I am leery of any school built around a religion, Muslim, Catholic, or otherwise. I don’t think approaching education from one particular religious world view jibes with true academic rigor. That's my own bias toward religious schools, just to be up front about it.

Now, on to the point. I'm dismayed by the poll results at the end of this story. Over 60% of respondents expressed concern about the rise of Islamic schools in the US because it could encourage Muslim separatism.

I have to wonder: did anyone ever express that concern about Catholic schools and Catholic separatism? I know there was concern about JFK as a presidential candidate, that he would defer to the Pope. But certainly now, there is no such objection to Catholic schools that I've heard. The likeliest response is, "Well, Catholics don't blow people up." That argument for why Catholic schools don't raise the same concerns as Muslim schools might not go very far in the UK, especially Northern Ireland.

I don't think it's all that reasonable to fear that Muslim schools in the US could lead to a rise in Muslim separatism. We aren't talking about the kind of madrassas we've heard about in Afghanistan. But if non-Muslim US citizens react to Muslim schools with hostility and fear, well that just might create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The surest way to make a group feel like they're not wanted and thus separate themselves from the whole is, well, to tell them they're not wanted.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I think I have a new favorite judge

Once upon a time, a judge presided over a trial at which one side presented absolutely no viable case and then issued a lengthy, thoughtful, well-reasoned decision ruling against the side that had no case. The losers, having had no evidence and no argument on their side, turned their attention to the judge. It must be the judge's fault their failure to present evidence or any sound legal evidence led to them losing! Bad, biased judge!

Remember that? The Prop 8 backers put on a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad case and lost to no lawyer's great surprise. They then pitched a fit because the judge was gay. Eww! Gays are icky and bad, they said. We nice, good, straight people can't possibly be expected to have our cases judged by one of them! Ok, that's not quite what they said. I'm paraphrasing.

So the Prop 8 backers got a hearing yesterday, a chance to explain why Judge Walker's "sexual proclivities" meant he should have recused himself. Actually, by this time they had actually amended their complaint to make it clear they were not concerned about his proclivities, but about his long-term same-sex relationship which necessarily gave him a greater stake in the outcome of the Prop 8 case. Because if Prop 8 were found unconstitutional, the judge and his honey could finally get married just like they always wanted. Not that they could show that Judge Walker was itching to get married. And, of course, if Judge Walker had wanted to get married so badly, it seems like something he might have done in that 18-month window of time when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

It was an obnoxious, disgraceful argument to claim that Judge Walker should have recused himself because of his relationship. Happily, it didn't take long for the judge who heard the motion to issue his decision denying it. You can read it here. But I just want to include this one section because I love it so.

Alternatively, Defendant-Intervenors contend that Judge Walker should be disqualified
because his same-sex relationship gave him a markedly greater interest in a case challenging
restrictions on same-sex marriage than the interest held by the general public. The Court rejects this argument on two readily apparent grounds. First, it is inconsistent with the general principles of constitutional adjudication to presume that a member of a minority group reaps a greater benefit from application of the substantive protections of our Constitution than would a member of the majority. The fact that this is a case challenging a law on equal protection and due process grounds being prosecuted by members of a minority group does not mean that members of the minority group have a greater interest in equal protection and due process than the rest of society. In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right. One of the duties placed on the shoulders of federal judges is the obligation to review the law to determine when unequal treatment violates our Constitution and when it does not. To the extent that a law is adjudged violative, enjoining enforcement of that law is a public good that benefits all in our society equally. Although this case was filed by same-sex couples seeking to end a California constitutional restriction on their right to marry, all Californians have an equal interest in the outcome of the case. The single characteristic that Judge Walker shares with the Plaintiffs, albeit one that might not have been shared with the majority of Californians, gave him no greater interest in a proper decision on the merits than would exist for any other judge or citizen.
Amen, Judge Ware. Amen.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Defending the dictionary

I'm an appellate geek. I don't think this confession comes as a shock to anyone. I like arguing the law, not facts. I like sussing out what statutes and jury instructions really mean. I really believe that the difference between unless and until is huge and that it matters whether a statute says a or any. I'm also a bit of a dictionary geek. I consult the dictionary on my desk multiple times a day. I have the dictionary app on my phone and iPad. I think carefully about my word choice and regularly look to the dictionary to help decide which word I most want to use.

So I took note of this story in the NYT about the rising use of dictionary citations in Supreme Court decisions. Adam Liptak, some quoted scholars, and many commenters seem to think this is a really bad thing.

I must confess, I'm not sure I understand the brouhaha. I have cited the dictionary in at least two briefs. Once really was to make a point about the difference between "a" and "any." I had to make a point that the word choice made by the legislature mattered. We have to do that in almost every case, haggle over specific words. If the legislature doesn't specifically define a term, we are to presume the word has its commonly understood meaning. (Naturally, the legislature did not include "a" and "any" in its definition section...) So if I can't go to a dictionary for that, where am I supposed to go? I can't just assert that a word means what I want it to mean; I have to cite authority for my position. And on that particular word choice, Black's Law Dictionary wasn't particularly helpful, as that book is not in the business of defining basic words like articles.

I do understand Liptak's concern about cherry-picking from dictionaries. He notes that justices have cited 120 dictionaries. I would like to know if that 120 treats different editions of Webster's as separate dictionaries, though. When I cite, I look at multiple dictionaries, always the most commonly-used dictionaries. And, of course, my adversary is free to consult other dictionaries to find definitions that might disagree with the ones I have offered. It only hurts my case if I avoid a definition that includes a nuance harmful to my position. Instead, I would make my best case for why that definitional nuance doesn't mean my client isn't entitled to relief.

If I have to cite dictionary definitions, it stands to reason that courts have to consider them. Isn't consulting a dictionary preferable to creating a definition out of whole cloth?

In the law, words matter. Often little words you wouldn't think matter can make a big difference. The difference between "a" and "any" meant the difference between my client having 2 convictions or 1, so, no, it wasn't just nitpicking. Where would I have found my answer for that if not the dictionary? I did find a case from another state that supported my argument, but guess where that state's court had turned to help find its answer? A dictionary. And I don't understand why anyone would have a problem with that.

What say you? When the legislature and case law is silent on the meaning of a word, where should a lawyer or a court look if not to a dictionary? What am I missing about why citing the dictionary is bad or lazy or somehow intellectually lacking?

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Things I should stay away from, part II

We have already established that I should stop reading the local papers. Tonight, we can add Republican debates to the things I should stay away from. I made it through a lot. I didn't turn away when they talked about the economy, unemployment, taxes, medicare, etc. I disagreed with most of what they said, but not to the point of yelling.

But then they got to the gay questions. I am fairly certain my head actually did the Exorcist spinning thing. I stomped about the room. I used the f-word a lot. I scared my dog. It's not the gay marriage thing, exactly. I expected those answers. I fundamentally disagree with them and am appalled at how many of those allegedly conservative candidates would so willingly amend the Constitution over something as small as the definition of marriage. Doesn't seem quite in keeping with what the founders intended for the amendment process. It would never pass, so it's all just bluster anyway.

The more frustrating discussion came when the candidates were asked whether they would continue with "Obama's" repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (I use quotation marks because last I checked, Congress passed the repeal bill). They didn't all say they would undo the repeal, but with the exception of Ron Paul, they all gave the sense that DADT had been valid, shouldn't have been repealed, that there are in fact valid concerns with allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military without having to worry that something as simple as going on a date or referring to a significant other by name or a gender pronoun could get them kicked out.

For the last friggin' time, "allowing" gays to serve openly in the military is not a matter of special rights or social experimentation. It's just what should be the normal, natural way things are done. People who volunteer for the army and are willing to lay down their lives for their country should just be able to do so, regardless of which team they play for. And it's odd and unnatural to say if you play for Team Straight you can talk about it all you want but keep your trap shut if you play for Team Gay. So by repealing that odd, unnatural DADT rule, we've finally gotten to where we should have been all along. And hell no, we should never go back.

I just cannot comprehend any reason whatsoever why anyone thinks it's ok to say that gays should be treated differently, that they should be told their employment should be conditioned on remaining silent about their private lives, a condition not required of any other service members. I heard the word immoral a lot of times tonight, but not one of those candidates has any sense of morals that I can respect. Because DADT was immoral. Treating gays differently and then accusing them of asking for "special" rights when they want that differentiation to end is immoral. Asking anyone who puts on a uniform, picks up a gun, and fights for this country to lie about themselves if they want to put their lives on the line for all the rest of us is immoral.*

Every single politician, pundit, service member, or civilian who thinks otherwise should be deeply, deeply ashamed. Being gay is not immoral. Treating gays like they're sick, diseased, icky, or in any way less desirable than straights is immoral.

So, yeah, if that's what the Republican party has to offer, I want no part of it. And I really shouldn't watch any more of their debates.

*(And can I take a moment to give a huge shout-out to all the men and women who served in the military under DADT and were so committed to the idea of service that they were willing to live that lie? Talk about dedication to military service.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Amanda Knox and the serial killer

I haven't blogged much (or ever?) about the Amanda Knox case. But not because I haven't followed it or formed opinions about it. I have. (I've always thought the prosecution's theory was ludicrous and that the crime itself is most compatible with a lone-killer theory, which is what the evidence supports.) I just didn't really have much to add to the discussion, if there even is much discussion here in the U.S. Until this week when my college roommate gave me a book to read on the plane ride home. She, like me, is a prolific reader. But unlike me, she does not like to keep physical books lying around her house. (Our roommate relationship worked well because she didn't mind my clutter as long as it stayed on my side of the room. Her side was neat, mine wasn't, and there was never any discussion or nagging about it. I don't respond well to nagging.)

The book she gave me was about a serial killer. Naturally, I wanted to read it. (Apparently, it's said that I spend too much time thinking about criminal law and cases, but really, what the hell else have I got to do?) So when I got to the airport ridiculously early for my flight because that's what I do, I started to read The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. (And in case you were wondering, I scored a window seat for my return flight, too.) I couldn't put the book down and finished it Thursday night. (The stuff I had to do just had to wait.)

Now you might think that a book about the only serial killer Florence, Italy has ever known (at least in modern times) has nothing to do with Amanda Knox's case, but you'd be wrong. The murders themselves, to any rational observer, clearly have nothing to do with each other. But based on what I learned from this book and other sources, I've concluded there isn't much that's rational about the Italian criminal justice system. I challenge anyone who thinks it's even possible that Amanda Knox is guilty to read this book and come away with anything but the overwhelming sense that there's just no reason to think she did anything.

Starting from the beginning. In 1981, Florence realized it had a serial killer on its hands. Between 1981 and 1985, someone was killing young couples who were getting to know each other all the way in their cars in the hills above Florence. Soon, officers realized this killer had also killed a couple in 1974. Eventually, the killer, dubbed the Monster of Florence, killed 7 couples total. The gun from those murders had also been used in a 1968 murder. The gun had left one very unique characteristic on all its shells. So the clear, logical solution is that someone with access to the gun used in that '68 killing became a serial killer. Preston and Spezi, who have studied the case for years, have a clear suspect in mind and it's the same person I had in mind before they identified him.

But that seemingly obvious suspect has apparently never been seriously investigated by police or prosecutors in Italy. Why believe that only one person is behind a series of gruesome murders when you can create a conspiracy involving hundreds? Occam's razor is not a preferred principle in Italy.

Instead of accepting the idea that they had a lone-acting serial killer (so prosaic, so American), they decided there just had to be more to it. Not because there was physical evidence to show there was more than one killer. But just because. They managed to convict 3 people of the murders, even though those people clearly lacked the mental faculties to plan such murders and conceal their guilt. One guy even confessed, but apparently it's a big thing to be "in the know" in Italy. So it seems this guy would rather be in the know and in prison for murder than not be part of the action. His story just doesn't match the physical evidence at all. For his story to be true, one of the couples had to have been murdered on the Sunday night before they were discovered on Monday. But another, far more credible witness, provided testimony that meant the murders happened on Saturday. And the scientific evidence also makes it impossible the couple only died 12 hours before being discovered. (I will spare you the details.)

But instead of accepting the testimony of the credible witness and the expert on decomposition, the prosecutors doggedly stuck to their theory. They also dredged up some unrelated 1985 suicide, decided it was really a homicide, and created an elaborate story about how the body had been switched in 1985 and then switched again 17 years later when the body was exhumed. I'm a little fuzzy on why the body-swap was supposed to have happened, but, sure, that's what happened. And then, in 2006, the prosecutor charged Spezi, accusing him of being part of the grand conspiracy behind the murders who was now trying to throw off the investigation by finding that expert and generally questioning the course of the investigation over the past 20 years. Who other than someone deeply involved in the murders, after all, would be so interested in steering the investigation away from the conspiracy theory?

Happily, reason ultimately carried the day and the charges against Spezi were dropped. Largely because the prosecutors also targeted the American writer, a best-seller, who mobilized the global journalism community to raise holy hell about it. Not only was Spezi released, but the prosecutor and chief investigator pushing the insane conspiracy theory were both found to have abused their offices and committed all kinds of misconduct. The prosecutor was actually sentenced to 2 years, but that sentence was suspended.

So, what does all of this have to do with Amanda Knox? Well, the disgraced prosecutor behind the arrest of Spezi and the nutty conspiracy theory about the Monster of Florence case is the very prosecutor who handled Meredith Kercher's murder and came up with the notion that it was a sex game gone wrong. Once again, Occam's razor would suggest that the likeliest explanation for Kercher's murder really is that the guy whose DNA is all over the murder scene, whose bloody handprint was on the wall of the room, and whose hair was clutched in the victim's hand is the guilty party. But the prosecutor just didn't like that Amanda; he had a bad feeling about her. I mean, she was buying lingerie in the days after her roommate's murder! (Never mind that she was barred from entering her home, the crime scene, so had to buy new underwear.) And she was making out with her boyfriend and smiling! (If they're talking about the video clip I've seen, I see two sweet, subdued, stunned kids finding a little comfort in each other. But I'm just a silly, prosaic American.) So he decided she did it (and the boyfriend, too), evidence be damned.

In one last interesting twist, there's a prolific blogger in Italy who lives for conspiracy theories. I'm afraid to use her name because I fear she might be one of those who would look up every webpage that has her name on it and I really don't want this crazy lady e-mailing me. But here goes. Her name is Gabriella Carlizzi. I do not know the name of her website. She is really one of the architects of the Monster conspiracy theory. She thinks it's all related to this mysterious Order of the Red Rose, some super-secret order dating back to Florence's heyday in the Renaissance. In her mind, the red rose guys are the cream of the crop in Florence society and engage in all sorts of perverse and satanic activities when no one's looking. They got all those simpletons to commit the monster murders and take body parts of the female victims so they could use those body parts in their rituals. And, no, of course there is no physical evidence to support any of this at all. Well, except for the hexagonal stone piece found at one of the crime scenes that is clearly a conduit between this world and the underworld. Or a standard Tuscan doorstop. Depending on how you look at it. (At one point, they finally thought they'd found the lair used by this sect. There were skulls and bones there! The search revealed Halloween decorations...) So clearly Carlizzi never met a conspiracy nutty enough to find unbelievable.

Perhaps you're already seeing where she took this? If you guessed that in the days after Kercher's murder, Carlizzi suggested on her blog that it was connected to the Monster of Florence conspiracy, you're a winner! Apparently those red rose folks were getting itchy to get back to the killing and satanic rituals, so they decided to try a different kind of murder. Or something. And that Amanda Knox was involved. It was the very next day that the prosecutor charged Knox and her boyfriend. In the book, Preston and Spezi write of Carlizzi having a Rasputin-like hold over this prosecutor. In his case against Spezi, the prosecutor used quote after quote after quote from her blog to the court. Spezi apparently had some fun pointing that out in his rebuttal.

This woman has no credibility. A prosecution based on a fantastical theory she came up with has no credibility. A prosecutor who would be guided by her (and has already been found to have abused his office, etc.) has no credibility. And yet Amanda Knox was prosecuted by this man spouting a fantastical theory originally thought up by this woman. How could anyone think her conviction has any credibility?

So, no, I don't think Amanda Knox is guilty. I don't even think it's possible. I don't think there is any rational reason for any person to believe otherwise. All the stuff against her is hysteria, sound and fury signifying nothing. The physical evidence points to Rudy Guede. All of it. But, Sarah, you say, what about the knife with Amanda's DNA on the handle and Meredith's DNA on the blade? Oh, you mean the knife that isn't the freakin' murder weapon?? Of course a knife that Amanda used to cook could have her DNA on it and the miniscule amount of Meredith's DNA on it is much more consistent with either transfer (some of her skin transferred onto Amanda who then carried it to the boyfriend's house and got it on the knife) or contamination at the lab. Either way, it really doesn't matter because that knife wasn't the one that killed Kercher!

The prosecution's theory simply defies all logic, ignores the actual physical evidence, and refuses to accept the likeliest explanation. Having now seen that this is just what prosecutors do in this region of Italy (especially this prosecutor), spin out crazy huge conspiracy theories and get innocent people convicted of murder, I have no doubt that Amanda Knox has no business being in prison. And I seriously question whether I will ever return to Italy. Which is a shame because I really did love Florence. But you never know where or when a dead body might turn up and how far the conspiracy behind that body might reach.

Dr. Kimble didn't kill his wife and I do care

Ok, so I'm supposed to be working tonight. (Or should I say this morning as it's now 2 a.m.) I could have attended a block party or gone to the roller derby or watched "The Princess Bride" under the stars, but I didn't. I stayed home because I'm under double deadline. (Ok, so I went out for one drink, but I was only gone for an hour.)

Mostly this evening, I've been working. Which means I've been watching t.v., surfing the net, and puttering around my house. With the occasional jotting down of a brilliant thought thrown in. Tonight, I got lucky and found "The Fugitive" on t.v. Who doesn't love that movie? Harrison Ford at his Indestructoman best. Love it.

But tonight, while I was "working" and watching Harrison Ford refuse to die no matter how many times he plunged off a dam or fell through windows onto elevators below, I was reminded of a conversation I had on my college's computer message board back when this movie first came out in 1992. In those days before web browsing was the thing, we had quite the robust discussion board. One of the groups I frequently read and commented on was the movie forum. And at the time that "The Fugitive" came out, I distinctly recall one poster declaring it as ludicrous and a fatal flaw of the movie to think that anyone would be convicted of evidence on the scant, miniscule amount of evidence against Harrison Ford. Remember, there was no forced entry into Dr. Kimble's home, he was telling some outlandish story about a one-armed man, and Helen Kimble said something like, "He's trying to kill me. Richard, Richard." on her 911 call. This one poster kept insisting that he couldn't stand the movie because it was just beyond belief that anyone would be convicted and sentenced to death based on that evidence. I disagreed with him at the time, but I was just a lowly college student, so I didn't get far in convincing him he was wrong.

But because I am now "working" and have always suffered from "Someone is wrong on the internet"itis and I just watched the whole movie and I now have a decade of criminal defense work under my belt, I will now definitively state that Mr. Know-it-all on Vax was just plain wrong and I was right. People absolutely do get convicted on that kind of evidence. I have personally witnessed people getting mighty long prison sentences on less evidence than was presented against Dr. Kimble. And not  just poor defendants who couldn't afford high-priced lawyers and fancy experts.

The cold, hard truth is that so much of our criminal cases comes down to hunches. Police follow their hunches and sometimes they can get a little blinded by those hunches and then interpret all of the evidence in ways that conform to what they already feel in their gut happened. In Dr. Kimble's case, there was no sign of forced entry but he insisted he came in to find a one-armed man attacking his wife. Of course the police viewed that with skepticism and then viewed all future evidence with the thought in mind that the good doctor was trying to fool them. It is no surprise to me whatsoever, knowing what I know now, that a real man in Dr. Kimble's position would be charged. (Let's not forget, he was covered in her blood. Of course, he claimed that all got on him while he was fighting with the one-armed man and then valiantly trying to revive his wife...)

Juries act on hunches, too. We don't like to admit this, but it's true. Heck, many jurors may not even realize they're doing it. But they do. Haven't you ever watched one of those "48 Hours" or "Dateline" episodes where the jurors say they could just tell the defendant was guilty? I sure have. And I've seen plenty of cases where nothing can explain the guilty verdict except that gut feeling. They then view the evidence through that lens of the gut feeling.

So while it may not be believable that Dr. Kimble survived that fall off the dam or that he managed to sneak into the one-armed man's apartment without being seen by the cops swarming the block or that he took all those lickings and kept on ticking, it is entirely believable that he was convicted on the evidence presented. I am ready for your apology, Mr. Vax commenter whose name I either never knew or have long since forgotten.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My arm has now officially cost me over $1,000. That is one expensive roller skating outing.

That could have been a plane ticket somewhere warm or exotic. It could have been the materials for a fence. It could have been many nice shoes. Or a whole boatload of books. Or just a nice addition to my interest-bearing savings account.

Instead, it's an arm that can't lift over 5 pounds and will probably have limited range of motion for another year. At least I got a cool scar out of it.

UPDATE: As soon as I hit publish on this post, I went to check the mail. Guess what was in it? Another bill! At least this one was only $27.53. So only a pair of Payless shoes. Or yarn for a baby blanket. How many more bills are still to come?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Will they be providing the cake?

I should just stop reading the local news as all it does is aggravate me. I do not like the direction my state is headed.

(Side story: on my recent travels, I found a set of "cause" bracelets. They each say "I care about" on one side and then offer a variety of causes on the other side. I bought the one that said "the arts" and elicited gasps from the sales clerks when I explained that my state had recently become the only one not to have an arts commission.)

But I keep reading the paper. I really am a glutton for punishment. And today, I saw this: that our recently decimated, slashed, reorganized, and generally made useless Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services (SRS) is now going to focus lots of energy on encouraging marriage. Not successful family units or good parenting or stable homes. Just marriage. So all those single-parent families aren't desirable. And forget about families headed by same-sex couples 'cause of course, they can't really get married and marriage is the root of all that is good and pure in the world from the beginning of time. (We'll just agree to pretend that one man, one woman marriage has always been the be all and end all, even though deep down we all know that just ain't true.)

So, to recap, socialism (meaning any kind of sharing of sacrifice and burden) is bad but social-engineering is good. So much for keeping government out of private realms. I don't understand this administration's idea about the proper role of government at all. Government shouldn't be involved in funding the arts, regulating business (except, of course, the family planning business and abortion services), or limiting guns in any way. But government should micromanage the script a doctor must read to a patient contemplating abortion and should encourage marriage (but only of the opposite sex variety, of course).

I'm not opposed to marriage. (Well, ok, maybe I'm just the tiniest bit bitter about it, but I really don't begrudge anyone who wants to get married.)  But I'm not ok with my state so readily shoving marriage down our throats. A public relations campaign on the benefits of marriage? Really? Make it possible for people to get married, sure, but don't spend taxpayer money, my money, to encourage marriage. Especially not the agency that is charged with helping all children and families. Of all agencies, this one should not set the tone that one type of family is preferred to all others, is better.

It kinda makes me want to have a child out of wedlock. And I'd really like to answer some of their questions about my attitude toward marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and children born out of wedlock (which would necessarily include children born to same-sex couples).  Because I wouldn't mind giving them my two cents. I might even include the point that whatever money they're spending on this public relations campaign could have been much better spent funding arts programs for kids in Iola.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Maybe I'm a snob, but I don't think Southwest Airlines is for me. The whole no assigned seats thing stresses me out. I don't like the uncertainty of not knowing where I'm going. I don't like the pressure of having to guess who might be an acceptable seat neighbor. I really, really don't like not knowing for sure that I will have a window seat. I just want the airline to tell me where to sit, after allowing me to note my preference for a window seat.

I stress out enough about flying. While some in my family (Dad) claim to enjoy the "process" of traveling, I do not. I may like my destination, but getting there makes me cranky. Southwest's system only increases my crankiness. I don't think I will fly them again.

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