Tuesday, March 18, 2008

OD'ing on Power

Hunt for Justice by Cynthia Hunt

Justice has a way of catching up to people.

I found it more than ironic that disgraced former Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal (pictured left) is now citing memory problems caused by prescription drugs as the reason he deleted thousands of e-mails subpoenaed in a federal lawsuit in Houston. Rosenthal, who was considered the most powerful prosecutor in Texas just a few months ago, now faces a possible federal contempt citation over the deleted emails.

Racism, Adultery & Pornography found in District Attorney's E-mails

Other Rosenthal e-mails released as part of the lawsuit pushed even Houston Republicans to demand that their fellow Republican resign. The most controversial e-mails were racist jokes. One e-mail entitled “Fatal Overdose” had a picture of a black man flopped out on a sidewalk surrounded by chicken bones and watermelon rinds. Other emails contained sexually explicit video clips.

Then there were the e-mails of an illicit nature that the married district attorney sent to his secretary with whom he admits having an affair. Yes, this is the same Chuck who wears a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet around the courthouse. We all know Jesus had a few things to say about hypocrisy.

Rosenthal Blames Memory Problems

Now Rosenthal wants a black U.S. district judge to believe that memory problems caused him to delete e-mails in this civil rights lawsuit. Rosenthal has also testified that, oops, the memory problems caused him to testify incorrectly in this trial—opening him to a perjury charge.

Rosenthal is pushing the limits of even the most judicious, slow-to-decide among us.

Has Rosenthal Forgotten Andrea Yates Faced More than Memory Problems?

This is the same district attorney who charged Andrea Yates (pictured below) with capital murder. Yates is the Houston, Texas mom who drowned her five children in the family bathtub in 2001. The same D.A. who then pursued the death penalty against this sick woman.

Back then, Rosenthal chose to ignore the overwhelming evidence that this mother was suffering from the most serious kind of mental illness—a psychosis which is a complete loss of contact with reality. Evidence proved Yates was seeing images and hearing voices that didn’t exist and that she believed she had to kill her kids to save them from hell.

I was there reporting from the scene the day Yates drowned her five kids. Journalists quickly discovered Yates had been recently released from a mental hospital—not because she was well but because her health insurance company demanded that she be discharged.

I pursued this story for months looking for the darkness in Andrea Yates. Despite my dozens of attempts, I couldn’t find a single living person who had anything bad to say about Andrea—not one. The prosecutors couldn’t find anyone either. Heck, you could throw a rock within 10 feet of me in any direction and find someone with a criticism of me. Yet this killer had nothing but a stellar record of kindness and goodness dating back to childhood.

She also had a long and well documented record of mental illness and suicide attempts. On that tragic day, she was described as mute, walking in circles, and pulling her hair out.

The county’s own psychiatrist, who examined Yates immediately after the murder and for the year following the crime, concluded Yates was completely insane. That didn’t matter to Rosenthal.

During the trial, medical imaging proved Yates’ repeated psychosis had left the former high school valedictorian and nurse with brain damage. Her rambling jail cell letters to her mother with misspellings of common words supported that evidence.

Famous Hollywood Psychiatrist also Faced "Memory Problems" & Lied

Rosenthal and his team of assistant district attorneys swept into the courtroom and paid famous forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz $50,000 in taxpayer money to testify that Yates knew what she was doing when she drowned her kids and that she understood it was wrong.

He also incorrectly testified that he had consulted on an episode of Law & Order that followed this same plot line—mother drowns kids but gets off because jury finds her insane. Rosenthal’s prosecutors told the jury that Andrea Yates loved the show Law & Order and lifted her murder plot from the show. The jury convicted her and sentenced her to life in prison.

Now we know that Dietz lied to the jury. There was no such episode of Law & Order. The conviction was overturned. Yates was tried again four years later and found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Under Rosenthal’s leadership, hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money was wasted and even many die-hard death penalty advocates were a little sickened by his handling of the Yates' case.

My Memory of the Good Rosenthal

As a citizen of Harris County, I once contacted Rosenthal’s office because I was being threatened by a man. A judge had issued a restraining order against the man, but as a reporter I know how those often come just before the woman is killed.

I spoke to Rosenthal himself and he was quick to make me feel safe. He also listened to my situation and said he would file charges as soon as the law allowed him. That was the Chuck Rosenthal who was tough on criminals—the one victims loved—the one who used the law to nail the bad guys.

Remember This, Chuck

Yates’s medical records and experts proved that her treating psychiatrist, a man who obtained his medical degree in Pakistan, had given her enough strong psychotropic drugs during the weeks leading up to the murders to drive a sane person to kill. Now Chuck Rosenthal wants us to believe prescription drugs caused his brain to have memory problems, which caused him to possibly commit two crimes—lying to a jury and destroying evidence. Is he crazy?


Donna Weaver said...

Excellent piece, Cynthia! Rosenthal's over-jealous prosecution of Andrea Yates seemed nothing more than grandstanding to me. Now it appears his hypocrisy knows no bounds!

I'm not familiar with the laws of the State of Texas, but I wonder if these developments will open the door for a review of any other cases looking for grounds for appeal, or even allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Blimeyhecks said...

No, not crazy, just desperately trying to wriggle his way out of it. I would love to know what these 'prescription' drugs are, that can cause one to act so irrationally? Perhaps the same ones that Heath Ledger took?!

Cynthia Hunt said...

Donna I also wonder if these developments will affect other cases. I am sure there are plenty of smart attorneys trying to work on that one.
Thank you for the kind words!Writing my my first blog made me more nervous than any TV story ever did.

Unknown said...

Thanks for writing about Rosenthal. I have for quite sometime believed him to be the embodiment of all that was wrong with some prosecutors--winning at any cost becoming more important than truth and justice.
We need more DA's like Craig Watson in Dallas County who stopped the old policy of promoting solely on conviction rate and brought in the Innocence Project to help indentify possible cases of wrongful conviction for further testing and investigation.

Wendy Roberts said...

Crazy like a sicko fox. Thanks for the great post!

Kathryn Casey said...

That's true, Diane. There should be balance in any DA's office. The offices where win/loss stats decide promotions are bad for everyone, including victims who want the RIGHT guy/gal behind bars, not just one it's easy to convict. The score keeping makes it risky to take on the tough cases. What ADA wants to risk a loss when it can cost a promotion?

Anonymous said...

There is indeed a God! It is about time this worm gets what is coming to him. He probably doesn't feel the least bit guilty about Yates, etc. Most DAs like him say that he isn't the one that convicted the person, 12 peers did. That is how they rationalize this pathetic behavior. People like him don't deserve to be in a position of power.

Jan C said...

It seems there comes a point where winning becomes more important than justice. "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Lord Acton

Kathryn Casey said...

This is a really interesting case, because for the most part the prosecutors are the heroes. I can't tell you how many I've met who could be making way more money as defense lawyers but stay on because they feel needed and that they're doing good for their communities. It takes a special person to be a good, fair prosecutor. (Kudos to the two we have in our group.)

Chuck Rosenthal is the prosecutor in my first book, THE RAPIST'S WIFE. He was great as a prosecutor. Really fine. I can only think that the power of the D.A.'s office got to him. It's really sad.

Cynthia Hunt said...

Kathryn, I couldn't agree with you more that prosecutors are heroes. The great ones I know seek justice first and never consider it a win or lose game. Chuck's fall is tragic. That's why I wanted to point out my experience with him as a citizen. I appreciate your thoughts and will get your book and read it!

andy kahan said...

Trying to get a read on Chuck was often quite difficult and enigmatic.
There is a case I am working on with a victims family trying to get a murder suspect extradited from the friendly confines of Venezuela in which state officials there are willing to turn the suspect over in return for no more than a 30 year sentence. All parties agreed to the conditions with the exception of Chuck who stated he does not want to set a precedent by cutting a deal.

Well guess what Deals are cut everyday at the court house where 95 percent of cases are plea-bargained out, hence this is simply an international plea bargain. Due to Venezuelan staute of limitations we have less than 2 years to bring him to justice or else he will walk.

Hopefully, a new DA will see it the way all parties have and give this family some semblence of justice.

Pat Brown said...

I think there is a big difference between being good at one's job and being a good man. Some doctors are fine surgeons but are trolling the net for teenage girls. My sons' coach was fabulous strategist when it came to baseball and very good with the boys (until he got put away for bringing the boys back to his house for games that weren't sports related).

Rosenthal may be a tough man when it comes to prosecuting and so he did a fine job but this doesn't make him ethical, moral, or trustworthy.

Sadly, often the very personality traits that make folks good at their jobs may also be their downfall. One has to appreciate those people who are both excellent at their jobs and decent people as well.

Donna Weaver said...

Hi Andy,

I know of the case you refer to. I am not an attorney, but I'm familiar with some of the complexities of International Law in a case similar to this one. I have a question for you. Why was the decision to extradite and prosecute left up to the sole discretion of the DA? It is not necessarily the DA's decision. Although the murder is a State offense, the USAM Title 9 amply provides for jurisdiction to be deferred to the US Attorney. The process begins with a formal request made through the DOJ Office of International Affairs. It is my understanding that this is the only way to do it pursuant to US law, whether or not there is a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries. In this case there is not, but the Venezuelan government has already agreed to cooperate under the condition of the sentencing guidlines. Have you tried appealing to the US Attorney and the OIA? It worked in my case.

andy kahan said...


It is our understanding that Federal Authorities can not intervene unless the District Attorney's Office signs off on the deal offered by Venezuelan Officials. On the positive side I spoke with one of the prosecutors this morning who agreed to bring up the offer to the interm district attorney after a proper honeymoon period. Hopefull, he will see it the way 99.99 percent of rational and logical people see this situation.

Kathryn Casey said...

Hope so, Andy. Sounds like this is a case that could be put to rest by applying even a little reason. Good luck with it.

Levi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Levi said...

It looks like I am in the minority on this one. I'm not defending Mr. Rosenthal, because his behavior is stupid, and his excuse is even more stupid. Excuses are like backsides. Everybodys got one and they all stink.

But by Texas law, Andrea Yates should be in a prison right now. The law is clear. If the defendant knows right from wrong, they are NOT legally insane and should be found GUILTY. Andrea's statements saying she was going to hell for what she did, shows she knew right from wrong.

I think a lot of people felt sympathy for her because we often look at WHY a killer kills, and when we see a murderer that isn't evil, it makes us feel better. Because we hate evil. But the criminal justice system isn't about feeling better. It isn't about WHY a killer killed. It is about punishing crimes. Anyone can see with Yates, that the engine's running but nobody's driving. But because she is ill, doesn't mean she is legally insane. She did not meet the legal standard of insanity.

I'm not saying there is no room for mercy in the criminal justice system, there is. I agreed with the first jury that she was guilty, and I agreed with their decision of voting NO on the death penalty.

SENTENCING is when I think the mental illness argument was valid and should have been used as a mitigating factor.

Everyone can start throwing food at me now, I know that my opinion on Yates isn't that popular.

But the law is the law, and I think it is a good law. It would set a dangerous precedent if the insanity law wasn't black and white. I bet there are a lot of murderers, especially women murderers in Texas, and really everywhere, that will look at the Yates case and will use insanity as an excuse if they decide to murder their children.

**Ducking for cover. LOL ;-)

Anonymous said...

If she really is nutty then the biggest punishment she will incur is getting better. Who would want to get better? Then you would have to live with the knowledge that you murdered your children. How does one get past that? I can't imagine. Then again I am not a sandwich short of a picnic.

I was reading a book last week and the author (the book eludes me at this moment) made an interesting point. He said the only difference between criminals and LE is that LE chooses to be honest. In other words they have to have the same thought patterns or how could the law catch the criminals. Which leads me to believe that people in a position of authority with the law have more of a tendancy to slip over the edge because they are sure that they know how not to get caught. Of course there is always someone out there that is smarter.... then you also have the complete idiots that just think they are smart (like peterson).

Donna Weaver said...

Hi Levi!

Nice to see you here, thanks for coming! No need to duck for cover. LOL We welcome thoughtfully stated opposing viewpoints-makes for interesting, lively discussion. :-) I hope you visit often.


Donna Weaver said...

Thanks for the reply, Andy. Best of luck on the case and to the Ruiz family. May they find justice soon.


Kathryn Casey said...

txmichelle, I interviewed Yates's mother for People magazine a couple of years ago. She said that Andrea has only been able to talk about the children in the past couple of years. Early on, before she was properly medicated, when she'd think of them, she went into deep depressions. (Obviously, not surprising.) She's repeatedly been suicidal, as recently as a few years ago when she was taken off her antipsychotic meds while in prison.

I've heard that theory about LE and criminals a lot over the years and tend to discount it. I've interviewed forensic psychiatrists who tell me that in general they are similar in only a couple of areas, like being risk takers.

A lot of it boils down to why folks go into LE. Most are looking for a decent paying job where they can help folks. There are, of course, the exceptions. It's those attracted by the power of a badge who can be dangerous.

BuQue Lady said...

To Donna W.

Andy K. doesn't even want to begin dealing with US Attorney Johnny Sutton with his Venezulan case. He might end up in jail with the family he's seeking justice for, too.

Just look at what good ole boy Johnny Sutton did to US Border Agents Compean and Ramos when they tried to capture a Mexican drug smuggler?? They're still in prison.