Thursday, April 30, 2009

National Crime Victims' Rights Week - Part II

by Lucy Puryear, M.D.

As evidenced by our readers' comments in Part I, my patient Elizabeth is not unique. There are many women who have been victims of incest, and other sexual assaults. As I see primarily women in my practice, I know their stories very well; but men are also victims of incest as well as victims of rape. Unfortunately their stories are often never heard due to shame and skepticism. It's been recently that we've come to know the darkness of priests assaulting young boys, revealing more about the impact of sexual abuse on men.

When I first began to see Elizabeth she was very anxious and depressed. Her depression was the primary problem and was potentially life-threatening. She was unable to eat and had lost a great deal of weight in a short period of time. She was tired all the time, felt guilty about all the trouble she was causing her mother, and believed that she had been a problem to her family for a long time. She thought that maybe they'd be better off without her around.

At the least, she said, "If I'm dead, the pain will stop. I'm so tired of trying so hard to be good enough, and always screwing up. I just don't want to be here anymore."

My first job in treating Elizabeth was to make sure that she was safe to be on her own and didn't need to be hospitalized for her own safety. I asked her, "Do you think about ways you might hurt yourself?" Fortunately, she said, "No. I just think about not being here anymore. Like if I could just go to sleep and not wake up, that would be great. But I couldn't do that to my mother. I think it would kill her."

Many people with depression have thoughts of death but no plans to actively hurt themselves. This is critical information in order to continue to treat someone as an outpatient. I started Elizabeth on antidepressant medication and recommended she see me once a week for therapy. I also referred her to the rape crisis center in Houston for support, and possible group therapy.

There are themes common to all incest victims and victims of sexual assault that I often hear in therapy. For Elizabeth, she had to deal with the shame and responsibility she felt for the abuse by her stepfather. She wondered, "Why didn't I tell him no, or run out of the room? Why didn't I tell my mom? She would have believed me and it would have stopped. He was mean to her too. Maybe there was part of me that wanted that? Is that possible? I always took the ice cream or candy afterwards."

As an adult looking back, a survivor of sexual abuse might find it hard to understand why s/he didn't say no . . . why s/he didn't run away . . . why s/he didn't tell someone . . . anyone. But a child's mind does not function like an adult's.

A child assumes that adults are there to protect them from harm. It's confusing when the stepfather you are told to love and trust hurts you. You want attention, but the attention is confusing. You are young and he is old; you do what you're told. And it doesn't stop because the person who tells you that he will kill your mother if you tell is more powerful than you and you believe him. You are small and he is big. And you're afraid that if you tell you might be taken away from your mother. So you pretend that there's no problem and you try to be really, really good. But as an adult you feel ashamed and guilty for your participation. You've forgotten how helpless you felt as a five year old. Elizabeth must learn to forgive herself for being five and doing the best she could at the time.

Women who are victims of sexual abuse often grow up feeling dirty and damaged. There is something broken in them that will color how others see them and treat them. It's why often women who have been abused will tolerate being partnered with another abuser. They believe that they are somehow worthless and when someone gets in close they will know how awful they truly are. The abuse, whether verbal or physical, makes sense.

Some women who are abused go on to lead ruined, damaged lives. Elizabeth was walking down this path with her promiscuity and drug and alcohol abuse. The unconscious belief is, If I treat myself this way I am making that choice, I am not powerless, what happened to me was not that big of a deal, I am in control.

If this behavior doesn't stop, lives become more and more desperate and sad. Many women though, like Elizabeth, tell themselves that they will not let the abuse ruin their lives, they will be successful and prove that they have value. But without therapy or some type of working through the abuse the feelings I have described remain. These feelings can have long-term effects on future relationships with friends and loved ones. They remain vulnerable and hurting.

Once someone has been through a traumatic event another traumatic event is much harder to process. It's as if the brain has been primed to respond to trauma. Elizabeth processed the rape in much the same way she internalized the sexual abuse. She believed that the rape was somehow her fault. That there was some flaw in her that made the rapist chose her. That if she hadn't been so stupid as to be walking alone at night, it wouldn't have happened. She had a hard time blaming the rapist for his actions; she was more responsible than he. The rape confirmed her fears that she was damaged and dirty. She didn't report the assault to the police because she was ashamed of herself.

Elizabeth and I spent many months together talking about how a child is not responsible for an adult's abuse. She didn't run away because she was confused and scared and didn't have the maturity to process other choices. She was a child, she was blameless. We talked about the sexual assault on campus being similar to what happened to her as a child. A man bigger and more powerful than she took control and abused her. At the time she was helpless to stop him. We talked about her allowing herself to be angry at her stepfather and the rapist for hurting her. She even allowed herself to express anger at her mother for not realizing what was happening to her as a young child and stopping it.

I am still seeing Elizabeth. She is no longer depressed and has graduated from law school. She is employed and volunteers as a child advocate at the court. We are working on her acknowledging her worth and value and allowing her to have a close relationship with a man who respects and cherishes her. That is still hard for her.

All stories are different and people react differently depending on earlier life experiences. But victims of sexual crimes are left with a particular set of feelings about themselves and their worth as women. There is healing for those feelings and women can recover and lead healthy and productive lives. It is an honor to work with these women and to help them to heal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

National Crime Victims' Rights Week - Part I

by Lucy Puryear, M.D

In honor of National Crime Victims' Rights Week, I would like to present a case of mine that tells the inside story of someone suffering from being the victim of crime. In Part One, I will present her story. In Part Two tomorrow, I will discuss the case and talk about the after effects of incest and rape. This is a real story, although details have been changed and identifying features altered to protect confidentiality.

Elizabeth was a young girl of three when her stepfather began molesting her. She doesn't remember much about those early years, but has vague memories of being scared at night and not wanting to be left alone with her stepfather. Her mother told her that she was frequently treated for urinary tract infections when she was little.

At the age of five, Elizabeth remembers her stepfather calling to her from the garage, "Come help me fix your brother's bike." She was both excited and uneasy. Excited that her stepfather was asking for her help and uneasy that she would be alone with him, away from the eyes of her mother. "Come on, we'll go for ice cream afterwards." It was the first time she remembers her stepfather putting his fingers inside of her and more. It wouldn't be the last.

The abuse happened until she was thirteen. It stopped when her mother and stepfather divorced and her mother and she moved out of town. She never told her mother or a teacher or her best friend. Her stepfather told her not to tell or he'd kill her mother. She believed him and kept her mouth shut.

Elizabeth got good grades in school, was in Girl Scouts, and sang in the church choir. No one ever asked her if there was anything wrong. No doctor ever questioned her urinary tract infections. Her mother never wondered why Elizabeth tried to avoid being alone in the house with her stepfather.

In high school, Elizabeth started getting in trouble. She started hanging out with the "cool" kids and would meet up with her friends to smoke pot before school started. Drinking and other drugs followed and her grades began to slip. Drinking and drugging were an everyday occurrence and sex with any boy who showed her some attention was not uncommon.

Elizabeth's mother couldn't understand why her daughter was acting so out of character. She had been a sweet child and always willing to do any chore that was asked of her. She never complained and seemed to get along with everybody. Although Elizabeth never seemed very popular or had friends over to the house, her mother thought it was just because she was shy and liked spending time with her mother. She considered them to be very close.

In college, things seemed to turn around. She was able to get a scholarship to a small college out of town. Elizabeth decided it was time to turn her life around and put the past behind her. She made great grades and some good friends. No more drugs or alcohol and no more promiscuity. She was determined to go to law school and make something of herself. She wasn't going to be a victim to what happened to her as a child.

In law school, Elizabeth was studying late one night in the law library. Constitutional law was her most difficult and most interesting class. She wanted to do well in the hopes of getting a prestigious clerkship.

"I wanted my mom to be proud of me again. I know I had let her down when I was in high school. I was a really bad kid and caused her lots of grief," she told me on her first visit to my office. "I was raped that night. I caused her grief again."

Elizabeth was referred to me three months after she was attacked and sexually assaulted by a man who accosted her as she walked across the semi-dark campus. She didn't recognize the man and was unable to recall any distinguishing features. She just remembered his voice telling her not to scream or he would kill her. She thinks he had a knife but was too frightened to check. When he finished he told Elizabeth not to move for an hour or he would come back for her. She lay there for what seemed like forever before she found the nerve to walk home. She did not report the assault to the police.

"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. "It was stupid of me to be walking alone that night. I was just asking for trouble, at least he didn't try to kill me. It could have been a lot worse."

Elizabeth had taken a leave of absence from law school and moved back home to be with her mother. She had not told the school about the assault, only saying that she was ill and would need to take some time off.

In my office I saw a woman severely depressed. She wouldn't look me in the eye, sat on my couch wringing her hands, and couldn't stop crying. She had lost twenty-five pounds in the last three months and was close to being hospitalized for the effects of malnutrition. Elizabeth kept repeating over and over again, "It's all my fault, it's always been my fault."

Please share your thoughts and feelings about Elizabeth and how you might go about helping her. In Part II tomorrow, I'll post my thoughts and relate how Elizabeth is doing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The East Mountain Triple Homicide

by Donna Pendergast

It's going on a decade since that night in May 1999, when three teens were gunned down in the East Mountains of Albuquerque, New Mexico while returning home from a graduation party in an incident that would later become known as the East Mountain Triple Homicide.

On May 29th, 1999, around 11:30 pm, 16-year-old Luis Garcia and his friends Kevin Shirley and Matthew Hunt, both seventeen years old, (pictured above Shirley, Hunt, Garcia) were murdered in a barrage of 24 bullets as they sat in Kevin's car at the intersection of Pinon Hills and Jennifer Drive.

Despite a massive investigation and a $100,000.00 plus reward the case remained a
mystery for years until 2006, when a 27-year-old drifter, Brandon Craig, was arrested after being identified by three individuals who claimed to have witnessed the shootings. Craig was charged with three counts of murder and three counts of child abuse on the basis of the statements made by the newly discovered witnesses.

The case went to trial last month. Key to the prosecution case were the witnesses that belatedly came forward with details of the murder: Craig's former girlfriend,
Jocelyn Schneider; Craig's cousin, Luke Morris; and an associate of Craig's named Jeffrey Moore. All three testified that they spent the afternoon of the murder getting high on drugs.

Per Schneider's testimony, during the course of that afternoon, the subject of a $500 drug debt that Kevin Shirley allegedly owed to Schneider came up in conversation. At some point, Craig, under the belief that he owned everything that Schneider owned, decided that he wanted to collect on that debt. Collecting that debt became a mission for Craig and the three drove to the party where Shirley was but left after Craig and Shirley argued over the money.

Schneider testified that after leaving, Craig decided to return to the party and confront Shirley again. Before they they could turn around they observed Shirley's vehicle heading in the opposite direction with Garcia and Hunt as passengers. Craig decided to chase Shirley's car and eventually cut it off blocking their path. He then went to the window and begin arguing with Shirley again. Craig then went back to Schneider's vehicle, pulled out a rifle and started firing into Shirley's car at close range.

On April 2nd, after a two-week trial, Craig was acquitted of all counts after two days of jury deliberations. Although some jurors later expressed misgivings about their decision, feeling that Craig probably was the shooter, they felt that there was too much doubt for conviction. Inconsistencies in the witnesses testimony, the lack of physical evidence tying Craig to the murders, and the unreliability of key witnesses who all had rap sheets of their own, all contributed to the not-guilty verdict. Other factors that didn't help were Schneider admitting to lying to a grand jury and sending text messages to Morris's sister asking for details of the crime so that they could get their testimony to match.

Reaction to the verdict has been mixed in the news and on Internet chat forums. Many are passionate about their opinion that a murderer walked free. Others are equally adamant that the system worked as it should with the not-guilty verdict being the end result of contradictory and sparse evidence. Whatever your opinion, the fact remains that not-guilty verdicts create as many questions as they do answers.

Did the State proceed with a case that they should have never charged because of the paucity of the evidence? In my opinion, the answer is no. When you have three witnesses saying pretty much the same thing that is a case that a jury needs to decide. In my experience there are always inconsistencies between witnesses testimony. That is why jurors in Michigan are instructed that people see and hear things differently and that they need to keep that in mind when determining whether a witness is being truthful.

Another question that has been asked is whether a person with a checkered past who has lied to a grand jury can be relied upon as a witness. I don't think that there is any correct answer to that question. Certainly a person who has made mistakes in the past can be reliable as a witness. More troubling is the issue of lying under oath to a
grand jury. The question has to be asked how testimony under oath in a trial can be relied on when the witness has lied under oath before.

A lot of Internet posters have speculated that the eyewitnesses would have had more credibility if they had been charged as aiders and abettors for their roles in the crime. That begs the real question of whether the key witnesses were aiders and abettors or were merely present at the crime, which does not make them culpable under the law.

A not-guilty verdict is always a reminder to police and prosecutors that we don't make evidence; we only do what we can with the cards that we are dealt. However, it doesn't take the sting out of a "not guilty" verdict on a case like the East Mountain triple homicide.

Statements made in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Classified for Murder?

by Michelle Feuer

I don’t usually end up in happy places without there being an unhappy story to match. Last week, my job producing for CBS 48 Hours Mystery brought me to a town that I love—Aiken, South Carolina. It’s beautiful horse country where the equestrian scene is one of the finest in the world. The horse farms blow your mind and the polo matches are inspired grace. Sadly, I was not in Aiken to enjoy polo, but to learn more about alleged Craigslist killer, Philip Markoff.

Why was I in the South when the story happened in Boston? Turns out that a young medical student named Morgan Houston was in Aiken studying for the medical boards and she gave the first interview to the Daily News about her old friend, Philip Markoff.

Markoff and Houston had attended the State University of New York together. On Thursday, when I arrived at her parents' house after a 6:00 a.m. drive from Atlanta, local reporters were swarming and the whole scene was out of character for the nice, conservative, and peaceful South Carolina town.

After a long, long day of chaos, she was ready to sit-down and chat with us for our "CRAIGSLIST: Classified for Murder?" show that aired on Saturday night. You can see excerpts of her interview with Richard Schlesinger on the 48 Hours Web site as well as photos she gave us of Markoff during his college days.

Another exclusive find by CBS was our interview with Trish Leffler, a Las Vegas masseuse who advertised her services on Craigslist. Leffler says she was bound with a plastic cord and robbed at a Boston hotel by Philip Markoff four days before Julissa Brisman’s murder. Check out the partial transcript of our interview with her here.

What blows my mind about Leffler’s story is that she says the police came and took all the evidence from the hotel room, plus her cell phone. Markoff and Leffler had communicated by cell phones prior to the robberies, and they had sent messages via computer on Craigslist. Could they have prevented Julissa Brisman’s murder at the Marriott four days later if they had simply checked the Craigslist account faster and more thoroughly? Also, Markoff was captured on security camera footage both at the Westin and at the Marriott. Did they not take the crime seriously because of the nature of Leffler’s job?

New York Magazine just came out with the article I wanted to write—the conversation with Megan McAllister, Markoff’s 25-year-old fiancée. McCallister has come out publicly already saying she believes her man and insists he was set up. I can’t wait to hear more from Megan. And I cant wait to see if police are able to find more crimes committed by Markoff.

This Month, We Remember . . .

by Donna Weaver

This month, we observe the anniversary of a national tragedy.
April 19th marked 14 years since the devastating act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by political extremist Timothy McVeigh and conspirator Terry Nichols that not only destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building (pictured left), but ended the lives of 168 innocent men. women, and children, injured over 800 people, and forever ravaged the lives of their countless loved ones . . . those who survived . . . and a nation. Who could forget the photo (below) that captured the heartbreak of senseless, sudden loss that day.

Hundreds gathered last Sunday at the site of the bombing to commemorate the day where 168 empty chairs sat on the grass in place of the building that once stood there. Loved ones of the victims and survivors read the names of each of those killed and the crowd observed 168 seconds of silence for each life lost.

Several pieces of important legislation were enacted by the U. S. government as a result of the bombing of the Murrah building and its aftermath. Among those, The Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, (AEDPA) was signed by Congress to "deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes.

Because the trials of the perpetrators and conspirators were moved out of state (from Oklahoma to Denver, Colorado), President Clinton signed the Victim Allocution Clarification Act of 1997, which allowed victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing, and those of any future acts of violence, to observe and offer victim-impact testimony at trials.

Clinton stated that "when someone is a victim, he or she should be at the center of the criminal justice process, not on the outside looking in."

Timothy McVeigh (pictured left) was arrested hours after the bombing for driving without a license plate and for carrying a concealed weapon. At his trial, the prosecution stated that McVeigh's motivation for the horrific act of domestic terrorism was his hatred of the U. S. government, which grew in part from the incidents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992, and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993. The April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing occured on the anniversay of the end of the 51-day seige in Waco in which 50 adults and 25 children died after federal law enforcement launched a fiery assault. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection at a U. S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on June 11, 2001. It was the first federal exection in 38 years.

Terry Nichols was tried twice, once by the federal government, and once by the state of Oklahoma. He was found guilty of the federal charges of conspiring to build a weapon of mass destruction and of eight counts of involuntary manslaughter of federal officers. He was sentenced to life without parole. Although the State of Oklahoma sought the death penalty for 161 counts of first-degree murder, the jury became deadlocked on the issue of death and Nichols was instead sentenced to 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.

A third conspirator, Michael Fortier, agreed to testify against McVeigh in exchange for a reduced sentence and immunity for his wife, Lori. In 1998, Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay a $200,000 for failing to warn authorities about the attack. Fortier was released from prison in January 2006, and is living under a new identity in the Witness Protection Program.

This month also marks the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre where teenagers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot and killed 13 others before taking their own lives on April 20, 1999.

As the country observes the beginning of National Crime Victims' Rights Week today, I ask you to not only remember the victims of these and other highly publicized tragic crimes, but the hundreds of thousands of others—survivors, homicide victims, missing persons, and their families and loved ones left behind. To commemorate Crime Victims' Rights Week as well as the last week of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month, Women in Crime Ink will feature other observance posts over the next several days from our contributors and from you, our readers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

One-Way Invitation to "Hell"

by Susan Murphy Milano

Rarely does a day go by when we are not inundated with the horrifying details of what some sexual predators are capable of doing to children, graphically laid out on shows such as Nancy Grace, Geraldo at Large, CNN News and local stations where we all live.

Victims are not taken at gun point. Instead predators are luring their young victims with a simple click of the mouse. Most parents remain computer illiterate, far behind their technology savvy children. Parents are not prepared to recognize the dangers waiting for their child on a computer or cell phone screen, similar to a one way mirror, into Hell.

As the Florida mother of 3 children, Jaemi Levine preached to each child the dangers waiting outside the walls of her 4-bedroom ranch home. Jaemi was a stay at home Mom, active in the P.T.A., Girl Scouts, and just about everything else related to her family. Her daughter Nicole had just celebrated her twelfth birthday. Nicole was your average pre-teen, playing the tuba in the high school band and a straight “A” student.

Jaemi was a vigilant parent. Always knowing at every moment where Nicole was and what she was doing and with whom, including monitoring her daughter’s online activities.

One night, Nicole went to hang out at a friend’s house to work on a report for school. While Nicole and her friends were on the computer, they took a break and headed onto a “Safe Site” approved for teen chat. Suddenly, up on the computer screen in an instant message, “Hi, I’m, lonely will you be my friend?”

Over the course of 3 weeks Nicole confessed private details to this new on-line friend of her life, the area she and her family lived in Florida where she attended Junior high school, to her favorite flavor of ice cream.

After gaining Nicole’s trust, the skilled child sexual predator convinced her they should get together and meet face to face.

Over the weekend Nicole asked her mother if she could walk to the bookstore 2 blocks from their home. " No Nicole, your sister is sick in bed and you know the rules about going anyplace by yourself. "Please Mom, Nicole begged, I'll only be gone for hour. I need to get a book for my homework assignment. After 15 minutes of debate her mother caved in to her daughters request. "Make sure you take your cell phone. If you are not back in exactly one hour, I will ground you for one week." Happily, Nicole kissed her mother goodbye and headed out the front door.

The hour passed, no Nicole. Frantically every 2 minutes Jaemi was calling Nicole’s cell phone, but she was not answering. Jaemi got into her car and drove to the bookstore and searched for her daughter. Jaemi continued to call and look for Nicole. Finally Nicole answered. She sounded strange. “Where are you?” her mother demanded. “Oh I’m almost home,” Nichole replied. But she was not. Jaemi called the cell phone again. It was the longest two hours of Jaemi’s life. Nicole walked out of the bookstore parking lot and into the car. Nicole was panicked and badly shaken. “I circled everywhere looking for you, who were you talking too?” Nicole had stared at the dashboard unable to look at her mother and respond. “Oh it was um, a 29 year-old man from Pakistan he just asked for directions.” Jaemi looked at her daughter in shock, “what if he had grabbed or hurt you?” Nicole tearfully replied, “I learned never to talk to older men on the computer.” Jaemi said, "my heart sunk down to my feet, knowing my daughter had already been raped."

Once inside the house, Jaemi Levine placed one call to 911 and the other to a friend of the family who was a child psychologist.

The day, the hour, the moment would forever be etched in the mind of both mother and daughter. First, police arrived and made a report followed by a detective removing Nicole's computer and taking it to an expert in capturing all conversations on the hard drive.

Two days later a Detective returned to Jaemi Levine's home with disturbing information. The 29-year old man from Pakistan was a known sexual predator who was part of a large human trafficking operation. They lure young girls. In Nicole's case, the man held her at knife point. This particular group of sexual predators video tape their victims (like Nicole) to show they are still virgins. And get the victim to meet them again where they are abducted and shipped overseas to a foreign country and sold as sex slaves.

Most young children are not as fortunate to escape with their life. Five years later, Nicole now 17-years old, speaks at schools presenting information about on-line safety and sexual predators.

And Jaemi Levine has worked to become a tireless advocate for families across the country, educating anyone whom invites her to speak in hopes that we read about one less tragedy with our morning coffee.

On Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Jaemi Levine, Founder of Mothers Against Predators, Inc., will be a guest on Justice Interrupted.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Justice in Iran for Jailed American Journalist Roxana Saberi

Hunt for Justice by Cynthia Hunt

Roxana Dreamed of Becoming a Journalist Who Helps America

She was a lot like me...but much more courageous.

We dreamed of being journalists, and the hard work and hard lifestyle it takes to be successful didn’t stop us.

We both started out as one-man bands which is TV news lingo for a reporter who has to shoot all her own footage—a reporter and photographer in one.

She was a one-man band in the large market of Houston, Texas. By then, I had experienced photographers, editors and engineers. They were needed to keep up with the fast competitive pace of Houston news.

Most TV reporters dream of making it to network news in New York City, but Roxana Saberi had a bigger dream than most journalists…much bigger.

Roxana dreamed of making a difference by reporting from a dangerous part of the world that most Americans don’t understand and don’t trust. Roxana grew up in Fargo, North Dakota with a mom from Japan and a dad from Iran. Her dad grew up in North Dakota but his birth in Iran gave Roxana dual American-Iranian citizenship.

At the tender age of 25, Roxana moved to Iran.
The former Miss North Dakota and top ten finalist in Miss America started wearing traditional Muslim dress so she could live in Iran and work as a freelance journalist for NPR, the BBC, and other prestigious news organizations. She started working on a Masters degree in Iranian studies and writing a book to explain the culture and people.

Now, six years later this beautiful, smart, hard working American journalist is locked up in Iran’s notorious Evin prison convicted of espionage. (Roxana's Dad Pictured Left Is In Iran Hiring Attorneys to Fight for His Daughter's Release)

Once again Iranian officials have proven why they cannot be trusted or underestimated.

Iranian Officials Arrested Roxana and Charged Her With Spying

On January 31st,
Iranian officials arrested Roxana and put her in prison. Roxana told her parents she was arrested for buying a bottle of wine. Buying alcohol is illegal in Iran. Iran’s foreign-ministry spokesperson said Roxana was being jailed for reporting without valid press credentials. Iranian officials had taken away Roxana’s press credentials but then allowed her to keep reporting for some time.

Iranian officials hinted for months Roxana would be released and then all of sudden Iran’s judiciary said Roxana was being investigated for passing information to American intelligence members. Then they claimed she confessed to this ridiculous allegation. Roxana told her dad they threatened to kill her if she didn’t admit to spying. Roxana was charged with espionage, convicted in secret, and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The verdict was "beyond belief."

Looking duplicitous as usual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday sent a letter to the judiciary calling for a fair appeal for Roxana.

Many experts believe Iranian officials are playing a
sick game of political chess with Roxana’s life. They think Iran has trumped up these charges against Roxana in order to get the United States to free five Revolutionary Guard members Americans found training insurgents in Iraq.

President Obama Should Secure Roxana’s Release

The White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both said they are deeply disappointed by Iran’s actions. I hope that behind those politically safe statements, the White House is putting the fear back in Iran.

I am outraged as an American and as a journalist.

Iran has had no fear of any repercussions from the United States for some time. They are moving forward with an aggressive nuclear program. Remember, President Ahmadinejad said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. We should all worry when a nation is building nuclear capability and has no fear.

Now a young journalist is locked up in an Iranian prison for using her pen to help Americans and the world at a critical time when we all need as much understanding of the Iranian people as we can get.

My longtime friend Ray Magnant was Creative Services Director at News 34 Houston where Roxana worked. He says she earned the respect of all who knew her.

“She was smart and very driven. She was one of the best reporters we had. You knew she wouldn’t stay in Houston that long because she was so smart. We knew she was destined for bigger stories.” Magnant said.

In an
exclusive interview with ABC News, George Stephanopoulos asked Ahmadinejad if he would release Roxana as a good will gesture. I suggest you take a deep breath so you don’t blow a gasket or vomit when you read his response.

"I think Mr. Obama, as a sign of change and also to encourage friendship, should allow laws to be processed fairly and allow the judiciary to carry out its duties," Ahmadinejad said.

How dare he say President Obama, the leader of the free world, should just sit by while Iran trumps up charges and convicts an American journalist of espionage. President Kennedy once reminded Americans that the only job protected by the constitution is that of journalists. Journalists are crucial to justice. Nothing sanitizes like a pen writing the truth.

As for the White House, I can only hope they are using Big Stick Diplomacy which calls for speaking softly in public as to not worsen the situation while carrying a big stick and threatening Iran behind closed doors.

For now, I
urge all Americans to contact the White House and let the president know you want strong actions that will bring Roxana home. You can visit the website dedicated to freeing her to follow her case and the fight for her. As we sit in our comfortable American homes, Roxana is starting a hunger strike today from prison doing what little she can to fight for her own freedom.

Courageous indeed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On a lighter note... Can Madonna Sue?

by Laura James

The women who contribute thoughtful essays to this crime and justice site are serious professionals who grapple with profound and controversial legal questions. Hopefully they'll indulge me for considering a relatively frivolous legal issue today.

Some are
honestly wondering about the legal ramifications of Madonna's recent fall from a horse, which her publicist blamed on an aggressive paparazzo. Her injuries, thank goodness, don't seem serious. But the incident offers a chance for a bit of exposition and education on the laws of personal injury. Can she sue? Would she win? Could she collect? The answers are sure, maybe, and probably not.

Can she sue?

Anyone with a hundred-dollar bill can file a lawsuit. The Material Girl didn't earn that moniker for nothing, so this one is a gimme.

Would she win?

Assuming that what her publicist says is true -- a photographer jumped from some bushes and scared her steed -- she'd have a pretty good case. If it came down to a he-said-she-said debate, she could get to a jury with it, and the jury would decide who is telling the truth.

Everyone, everywhere, at all times, has a "duty" under the law to act as a reasonable person would act in the same situation. That legal standard is vague, and it's usually up to a jury, and not a judge, to decide whether someone's actions were reasonable under the circumstances. I don't think it requires anything more than common sense to know that startling a horse can cause injury to its rider.

The department that rendered aid to her is releasing its
own opinion on the matter. I found their statements rather curious. If Madonna said nothing to them about the photographer, that is neither here nor there. In the usual trip-and-fall, there's no reason for a responder to deeply delve. "How did this happen?" "I fell from my horse." That's as much of a conversation as I'd expect to see reflected in a police report.

Could she collect?

Assuming the jury believed Madonna's version of the dustup and gave her, say, a small verdict to compensate for a few hundred dollars in medical bills and a day or two of mild pain and suffering, collecting would probably be a challenge.

The press says he was a freelancer. Since he had no regular employer that could also be held accountable for his actions, there would be no insured corporate deep pocket to shake down. As a private person, he might own a home and might have homeowner's insurance. But it probably isn't much, and it might not cover such a claim since it arose from his line of business. Most homeowner's policies have limits or exclusions when you're sued because of the work that you do.

Believe it or not, as a rule lawyers do not like to pursue the personal assets of tort defendants (unless they've done something particularly egregious, and even then, I don't know many lawyers who would push to collect personally from an uninsured or underinsured person). If the jury did slam the fellow with a large verdict, he would have the option of filing for bankruptcy and blowing out the judgment there.

So even if Madonna did win a lawsuit against the fellow, she'd probably have a devil of a time getting any money from him. That's not to say I wouldn't take the case. If she needs a lawyer to handle the claim, gosh, I'm available!

Bottom line: While Madonna has credibility problems in general and a lifestyle that most people disdain, the paparazzi aren't doing much better these days in the court of public opinion. Given all the times when some jerk of a photographer sued a star for some stupid dustup, it might be fun to see the shoe on the other foot.

Monday, April 20, 2009


There is no other crime—not even murder—that worries and sickens parents more than child sexual abuse. Parents wonder how to protect their children when almost every day the news reports another incident of someone in authority arrested on suspicion of child abuse. Addressing offenders found in clergy and teachers to family members themselves, former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney and WCI contributor Robin Sax answers those terrifying questions that parents are sometimes afraid to ask. Predators and Child Molesters: What Every Parent Needs to Know to Keep Kids Safe, A Sex Crimes DA Answers 100 of the Most Asked Questions is in bookstores now and is a must-have for parents everywhere.

With a foreword by Marc Klaas, founder and president of KlaasKids Foundation, this straightforward and clearly written guidebook answers one hundred of the most asked questions that Robin has encountered in her fifteen years of experience as a sex crimes prosecutor. From the definition of abuse to profiles of predators, to how to report an incident and to whom, Robin provides practical, reassuring, and appropriate information.

For ease of use, the book is organized into six major sections:

  • Recognizing Predators: Molesters, Pedophiles, and Opportunists
  • Talking to Kids About Risks and Identifying Potential Problems
  • Recognizing Abuse
  • Reporting Sexual Abuse
  • Going to Court
  • Healing and Moving On

Predators and Child Molesters is already debuting to rave reviews:

“Finally! A hard-hitting Q&A on predators and child molesters. Sax's book is a must read for anyone concerned about the safety and well being of America's children. As a former felony prosecutor of crimes on children, this is Crime & Prevention 101 . . .”
Nancy Grace, host of CNN Headline News' Nancy Grace

"Child Molesters and Predators" answers everything you wanted to ask and tells everything you need to know to prevent your worst nightmare and possible lifelong torment for your child. Sax writes in an easy to read format providing practical answers for keeping youngsters safe. This is a must read for every parent or anyone who cares for kids.
Mark Goulston, Huffington Post

Robin Sax makes it clear that prosecuting children against possible sexual assault begins with every parent in the home. Teaching preventative measures should be as important as teaching children to dial 911.

Predators and Child Molesters is available in bookstores now and online. Robin Sax can be seen frequently as a legal commentator on CNN’s Nancy Grace, Larry King Live, and Fox News covering criminal cases and trials. You can also hear her weekly on Justice Interrupted Blogtalk Radio where she covers the latest news in crime with WCI contributors Susan Murphy-Milano and Stacy Dittrich. Robin Sax resides in California with her husband and three children.

Also out this month: Reaching The Bar: Stories of Women at All Stages of Their Law Career. A comprehensive look into the lives of women lawyers, each chapter is introduced by Robin Sax, who also edited Reaching the Bar.

Congratulations, Robin!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Risk Assessment and the Courts

by Karen Borders, Guest Contributor

The most important thing in family law court is keeping stability in children’s lives. Parents get caught up in their own struggles and forget about the impact upon their children when their home life is thrust into the courtroom. More often than not, the children become the pawns in the “game” the parents call divorce. It is nothing more than a strategy to “get” or “win” more, but no one wins in family court, certainly not the children.

The courts try to protect the children by not having them testify and having them talk with a child custody evaluator to try to ease their stress by not being brought into the courtroom. In reality, the children are in the middle of the battle. They are often used as the voice box for the parents, delivering messages back and forth, because the parents can’t bear to speak to one another. No one bothers to think about the negative impact these decisions have on the children who must deliver the messages and then endure the reactions from the “other” parent.

When did society force our innocent children to be treated so harshly and with such a lack of respect? Maybe it would be better to put them on the witness stand as they do in Canada and London. It is the parents who still “dangle their kids like carrots” to hurt the other parent.

Maturity is not often exhibited in family law court. It usually is put on the shelf while the adults—who once loved each other enough to marry and have children—display a pure hatred for one another. One might question if they were ever in the same relationship or had ever cared for each other. Divorce is ugly. What divorcing parents do to their children is even uglier.

I have seen this myself up-close and personal. I tried to be the better parent, to "get along.” The problem is that it takes two rational people to get along with one another for the benefit of the children. It is impossible to do, without the cooperation of a second party. One party can influence the children in a positive way and the other in a negative way, but how can the court tell who is providing which influence? That is the question the court deals with on a daily basis and this is what clogs the system.

The court decided to bring mental health professionals into the equation to try to determine the facts and what would be best for the family. The court calls this process a Child Custody Evaluation, referred to as a "730 Evaluation" in California. Court administrators attempt to ascertain what is really going on and where the children would be best suited to thrive. They also need to decide what is in the “best interest” of the children. We are still searching for how to reach that answer without being any closer to solving the problem after over 30 years of doing things the same old way.

The court sends family members to mental health providers to talk about their family issues and what is happening with their relationships. The evaluators are charged with the duty of figuring out what is going on within the family unit and then determining a child custody plan which they figure is in the “best interest” of the children.

The problem comes when there are any allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, or child sexual abuse. Then the evaluator needs to try to determine if the allegations are true or false. The next problem is the evaluators are not trained investigators and do not know how to investigate these criminal allegations nor do they have training in how to determine if their clients are untruthful.

Evaluators are trained to believe their client’s reality is what the client tells them and not to question what they are told. Therefore, when the evaluator believes what the client tells them, then the problem is that both parents must be considered to be telling the truth. When stories conflict, as they do more often than not, the end result is that the evaluator does not know who is telling the truth.

Then we get to the children. We tell children to tell the truth and try to teach them to tell the truth. But when we are dealing with divorce, the paradigm changes. When parents use their children, they talk to them about things which are inappropriate. They make comments that they want the kids to repeat to the evaluator who conducts the child custody evaluation. Then the children repeat some statements and forget to repeat others. The evaluator does not know what the truth is as s/he must accept statements from both sides as truth because s/he is unequipped to detect deception or to conduct an independent investigation.

Now some evaluators will use personality assessment testing and other measures for the parents involved in the divorce process. These tests show if there are any personality disorders, mental disorders, and sometimes they try to determine if there is a propensity to use alcohol or drugs. What happens after you find out this information? If one parent has a personality disorder or mental disorder, does that in and of itself preclude them from parenting their child? Of course not. There are other factors which have to be taken into consideration.

If a parent has a propensity to use alcohol and/or drugs, how do you prove they are using or that it is affecting their parenting? Parents generally don’t admit they abuse alcohol or drugs, so the testing would not be useful to the evaluator.

The evaluator then has to write a report to the court, which has recommendations on parenting plans and schedules. The report is used by the judge to assist in making the decision about the visitation. Unfortunately, this does not solve the issues, and the parent who is not happy with the results can request their case be evaluated by another specialist. In California, this is called a 733 Evidence Code-Review of a Child Custody Evaluator’s Report.

Most often, evaluations are requested by one or the other parent on a yearly basis for one reason or another. This can cause a backlog in the court system and is not very efficient, as it is costly and does not accomplish the intended purpose. On the other side, the children get subjected to being put in the middle of the parents' ongoing battle and can find stability difficult, if not impossible.

Children deserve stability in their lives. They do nothing to deserve the wrath of their parents or to be put in the middle of fighting. The “best interest” of the children is to come to a quick resolution of the truth of what is really going on in the family. If there are allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, or child sexual abuse then those questions have to be addressed first and foremost.

Is an evaluator qualified to answer or to investigate those allegations when they believe whatever their clients tell them is true? Can they determine the truth from a lie or are they in place to put together parenting plans?

Evaluators were never put in place to investigate allegations of abuse, yet they deal with these issues on a daily basis. Children are placed in their care and their futures in their hands, when the larger issues of their safety and welfare must be addressed. If an evaluator is not able to determine if the abuse allegations are true or false, then how can they determine a parenting plan?

When evaluators cannot determine what is really going on in the family, they are more likely to keep the case open for further evaluation, to review the family at a later date to see if there have been any changes. The problem with this plan is if the abuse allegations are not true, the children are then being subjected to being estranged from the alleged abusive parent without any justification. This can cause a parent to be away from their children for upwards of a year without any evidence against them. Then if they somehow get visitation after that time period, they have to be reunified with their children who they have now been alienated from due to the extensive time period apart.

Child Protective Services (CPS) is often involved. However, sometimes there is not any physical evidence to prove or file a criminal case. This does not mean the abuse did not occur. CPS might close their case "unsubstantiated," which simply means they could not prove or disprove the case.

These children and the possible domestic violence victims deserve to have an investigation to determine if the abuse did or did not occur, during the evaluation process. If domestic violence did occur, then there are specific court mandates which the judge must enforce. We are talking about people’s lives and the futures of the children. These decisions will affect them for the rest of their lives. This is not something to take lightly. It is something to take seriously and to put every effort into doing correctly and to the best of one’s ability.

The answer to the investigative needs for the family law courts is the Family Violence Risk Assessment (FVRA). The assessment is an investigative procedure which is able to investigate the allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, and child sexual abuse to determine the past, present, and potential future risk to the children and parents. The assessments provide evidence based reports in a timely manner, 6-8 weeks, as compared to the normal assessments which on average can take 4-6 months, or sometimes as long as 1 year or more. The assessments provide a final resolution and eliminate the need for expensive yearly annual evaluations.

The Family Violence Risk Assessment (FVRA) program is conducted by experienced investigators and mental health specialists, most Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) and Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs), all specifically trained in these fields. The program is conducted by a collaborative team under the supervision of John McLaughlin and myself. Combined, our firm has over 50 years' experience in law enforcement and mental health evaluations in family violence and child custody issues. The team also includes mental health professionals with Child Protective Services and other child welfare departments. Our experts have extensive experience testifying in criminal, civil, juvenile, and family courts, as well as forensic interviewing. The firm's team and its FVRA program qualify under the Domestic Relations Investigators, California Family Code 3110.

A Family Violence Risk Assessment is not a Child Custody Evaluation. However, we qualify as experts under Evidence Code 730. This is an investigative/assessment process rather than an evaluation. FVRA determines if there is a risk for future abuse or violence based on statistics and probability. It does not provide recommendations to a specific custody plan, but can be used in lieu of or as a compliment to a Child Custody Evaluation. Once there is a determination of risk, the Judicial Officer can then apply child custody plans based on established child custody guidelines.

These evaluations are not costly and are charged to the parents just like the Child Custody Evaluations. They actually end up costing less in the long run because it stops families from going through additional unnecessary evaluations over the years. Once a FVRA is conducted, there is no need to conduct another assessment because the risks to the children/parent(s) have already been established. This stops the game playing in family court and frees up court time for more important issues. This also helps to move the case along quicker, so the other issues can get resolved and the children have the stability they need regarding their living arrangements and visitation schedules.

There are some evaluators who recognize the value in our FVRA and use us in conjunction with their evaluations. This way they know if there is a risk to the children or either parent before they start their evaluation. They find this information invaluable to their evaluations and for setting up parenting plans.

Karen Borders is a retired police officer from Palm Springs where she served for 22 years. Karen has made a lifetime career out of helping victims of domestic violence and abuse. Karen is the co-creator of the Family Violence Risk Assessment program, which is currently being used extensively in family law courts throughout Southern California. As president of Borders, McLaughlin & Associates, Karen provides evidence-based risk assessments in high-conflict family law matters.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Acting Irrationally and Being Radical Doesn't Help Crime and Its Victims

by Stacy Dittrich

Last year, I received an email from an inmate in an Illinois maximum security prison who had been convicted of child murder. Of course, he was wrongly accused and told me, “you need to write my story.” In my own deranged way I was somewhat flattered that a complete stranger chose me. My first novel had just been released and I could’ve patted myself on the back and said, “Voila! I’ve finally arrived as a successful writer, now people are coming to me to write their stories!” Now, after having my eyes opened to the plethora of the strange and unusual thrown my way, I think back to that day and shudder. In fact, receiving an email from a convicted murderer is one of the simpler requests I receive. I’ve learned, undeniably, there is a large cult-like following out there in cyberspace—on the blogs, in the forums, and in the instant messages—they are the radical crime followers and victim’s advocates.

For those of us that live on the surface of reality, and whose professional lives are involved in the criminal justice system, to those who impatiently wait for the next Women in Crime Ink contributor’s novel or true crime to hit the stands, it’s merely a job or a healthy interest. But there is growing factions of bloggers, advocates, and activists that put the word “healthy” aside, and embark on a mission of hell fire to aid victims or solve a case before the cops. And, there is nothing that will stop them in completing this “mission” either.

This was a new world to me. I understood the criminals that we define by their lengthy police record. The armed robbers, burglars, rapists, vandals, thieves, and stalkers were within the realm of comprehension as a police officer. As a writer with a law enforcement background, the playing field changed drastically. I’ve spoken to several of the WCI contributors—and many others lately about this topic. After hearing their own stories, and a slight chuckle, I felt like a naïve buffoon.

All of their stories were the same as my own.

I receive many requests to “look into cases.” Some are clearly written by those that mirror L. Ron Hubbard’s affliction for aliens, but once in awhile, I come across one or two that actually read legitimate. Say for instance, I receive a well written email from a professional business person claiming to have stumbled across compelling evidence in a high profile case. Okay, I keep reading. In fact, I even decide after a lengthy criminal background check (clean as a whistle)and references that their “evidence” is solid and meet them in person. Ignoring all of the red flags I learned as a law enforcement officer—the ones that scream “Get out now! Save yourself!” I keep going. When I get to something that doesn’t make sense, this person becomes angry, irrational.

To make a long story short, this lonely person followed a high profile case, minute by minute for years. After becoming a self-proclaimed “expert” they literally formed relationships—close ones, with the family members of the victims, the suspect, and law enforcement. Now, they wanted to cash in. Throughout the entire ordeal, I kept asking myself, “Who does this? Who spends every waking minute and thousands of dollars of their own money following a case and becoming a part of it?” (Calling Pat Brown, insert profile please). The ultimate outcome was that this person had banded together with several people close to the suspect. It’s my opinion they wanted their “evidence” published into the public to throw the media attention towards someone else. It was completely foreign to me. And, the elaborate and meticulous planning of it was a little frightening.

When you look at the growing debacle of the Caylee Anthony case and those who are trying to cash in and insert themselves for fame, reassurance, or unknown reasons (Leonard Padilla) I can only imagine the wealth of at-home-super-sleuths that feverishly write law enforcement and true crime writers claiming to have the “golden ticket.” They believe their intelligence is unsurpassed. They have graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of NYPD Blue and CSI: Miami. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the cyberspace conspiracy theorists.

Granted, in my days of street patrol I would get slightly irked when someone would demand that I perform a DNA test on a broken porch light because they know for a fact it can be done—they saw it on television. When I ask them if they are willing to foot the $10,000 bill for such a test on a minor misdemeanor they quietly go inside. In cyberspace it is a far greater scale.

Then come the irrational and self-proclaimed victim’s advocates. These are the people who have known a crime victim and feel the need to speak on their behalf. This is a wonderful thing, actually. However, it’s when groups of them band together and target well known victim’s advocates who are frequently in the media, things get a little harried. If the advocate isn’t working fast enough or to their standards, they begin to blast district attorneys, blogs, news media, and forums with hate mail—sometimes violent. In their own minds they believe they are getting their voices heard. I have seen this on Facebook; some “questionable” pages are bombarded with death threats, harassment, and violent intimations—usually from the same people or groups. These people, like the "radical" crime conspiracy theorists, can’t be rationalized with—it’s their way or the highway. Try to explain a documented and legitimate fact of a case to them and all hell breaks loose.

What these radical theorists and advocates don’t realize, and clearly don’t want to hear, is that they are doing far more damage to current crime cases and victims voices than helping them.
There is a right way to do things, and a wrong way, whether or not your intentions are the same.

It’s rather unfortunate that in my own pile of emails I have received some genuine pleas for voices to be heard, but it’s the others that take up my time and cloud my vision. The family of Davina Buff Jones was one of those “genuine” pleas, and I was more than happy to spread their heart wrenching—and legitimate, story. And, a few similar ones still remain.

The Internet has allowed us to bring the world of crime to those “healthy” followers via blogs, forums, and Internet radio. Women in Crime Ink showcases a bevy of women who are “in the know,” and makes them accessible to our readers. Blogtalk Radio shows like The Dana Pretzer Show, The Levi Page Show, and my own Justice Interrupted provide a wealth of knowledge and insight to those who want to kick back, grab a glass of wine, and listen. We all have our faithful listeners who chime in from time to time and whom we look forward to seeing in our chat rooms each week. But every once in awhile . . .

To readers and listeners of blogs, most of us love controversy and heated debates, but we don’t warm too well to comments where one hopes something bad happens to one of our kids because we didn’t jump on your cause.

The cold-hearted truth is that if you have no law enforcement or criminal justice experience, chances are you didn’t figure something out that the cops weren’t aware of and they probably won't take your phone calls or emails. But, have fun blogging about your theories, that's what they're for! We all theorize on crimes, the majority of us just happen to do it rationally. Lastly, if you know a crime victim and feel that by using bully tactics you will get their voice heard louder—chances are you are hurting the one you love even more.

Try sleeping on that for awhile.