Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Weird and Wiley World of Casey Anthony

Court watchers around the world waited with baited breath on May 24, 2011, to hear the opening statements in what will surely be the trial of this century. For three long years anyone with a pulse and the slightest interest in high-profile court cases has been watching the antics of the Anthony family in Florida and, in particular, defendant Casey Anthony. We have seen the party pictures, heard the jail tapes and watched with breaking hearts the videos of 2-year-old Caylee Marie Anthony singing “You Are My Sunshine.” Her innocence and cuteness are what has captured the hearts of Americans, but let’s not discount the freakish and inappropriate behavior of her mother, Casey Marie Anthony.

What could drive a woman to murder this adorable baby and then go on shopping sprees as if she hasn’t a care in the world? How could a mother whose child has gone missing be out in nightclubs entering Hot Body contests and feeling up other women? Funny you should ask. Anthony’s attorney, Jose Baez promised us all that he could explain away all of this craziness and would do so “in the first minute” of his opening statement. He didn’t disappoint. Shock? Yes. Sicken? Yes. Infuriate? Yes. But disappoint? No. With all the grandeur of a carnival barker, Baez told us a whopper of a tale. A tale, no doubt, told to him by his client, the queen of make believe.

The Well of Lies

I wish I owned a well as deep as Casey Anthony’s inexhaustible well of lies. I would never pay for another drop of water as long as I lived. Just when you thought you’d heard it all, here comes the mother of all lies. George Anthony is responsible for all of this. As Baez laid out his defense in a booming voice, he painted a fantastical picture, wherein everybody and anybody was responsible but his client. Let me recount this for you. Caylee drowned in the swimming pool on George’s watch. We know this, because according to Baez, George found the body. Then, being the trained law enforcement officer he was he didn’t give mouth to mouth or attempt CPR or call 911. No, he decided to engage in a cover-up with his daughter and dispose of the body. Why, you might ask. I’ll get to that later.

After this alleged cover-up, his daughter goes on a 31-day spree wherein she shops for bras and beers with checks she steals from her friend Amy. She rents videos with her boyfriend and then spends the entire next day in bed with him. The videos, by the way, are stories that include a body in a trunk and a missing child. She parties like a rock star, entering “hot body”contests and playing “shot girl.” This behavior goes on for 31 days until her mother has to literally drag her out of her boyfriend’s apartment and demand an explanation of the whereabouts of her daughter Caylee. At this time, Cindy Anthony reports her granddaughter missing. I’m puzzled why everyone keeps asking, “Why did Casey wait 31 days before she reported her daughter missing?” The answer, folks, is that she never reported her daughter missing. Her mother Cindy did that. How could any mother behave like that? Well, according to Jose Baez, that’s George’s fault too. You see, according to Baez, George sexually abused Casey when she was growing up. Well, that’s Baez’s spin on things, which he shared with the jury at the top of his lungs in vulgar and graphic detail.

Now, if you’re having a hard time believing that, then hold on to your hats. Not only was the death an accident that George covered up for reasons unknown and unexplained to the jury, but Casey’s behavior is George’s fault because he sexually abused her. And as if that isn’t enough, are you ready for this? Lee Anthony also abused her. And as if that too wasn’t enough, Roy Kronk, the "morally bankrupt" meter reader somehow, according to the defense, got a hold of Caylee’s remains and toted them around for four months. Why? You might ask. It’s just another unfounded accusation that Baez did not expound on to the jury.

All of this taken together makes Casey sound like the victim. Which is exactly what Baez was hoping for. Well, I have a few questions of my own for attorney Baez. First, if your client was innocent, why in heaven’s name would you let her rot in jail for three long years? Next, in the interest of representing your client, why would you not disclose this information in a timely fashion so the police could recover the body and prove by way of an autopsy that your client was telling the truth? Why would your client leave her little girl alone with a man she now claims sexually molested her? Why would your client laugh and scoff at the idea that Caylee drowned in a pool when her mother Cindy tells her, in a recorded jail conversation, that some media outlets were reporting that? Why would you not rush a psychiatrist in to examine your client and invite the State to do the same? If she is telling the truth, it will be borne out by the professionals. Aha, herein lies the rub--that little two letter word—if. Perhaps the answer to all of these questions can be found in the defendant’s own words: “I am such a good liar!”

Sexual Abuse Survivors

Unfortunately, due to the nature of my work, I have met many sexual abuse survivors. While it is true that many of them lie to cover up the abuse, they do not lie about everything in their lives. They don’t invent people that don’t exist. They don’t get up every morning and get dressed to go to non-existent jobs. They don’t tell their parents they are in one city when in fact, they are right around the corner. They don’t steal their friends’ checkbooks and break into their parents’ sheds to steal gas. They don’t “cuddle” and “have girl days” with the parent who knowingly allowed the abuse to go on and blamed them when told about it. They don’t abandon their vehicles with the odor of human decomposition in the trunk. They don’t party like rock stars when their children go missing or are killed. They are wounded and hurt and broken. But they do not turn into pathological liars. There are true victims, hundreds of thousands of them and they have suffered horrible indignities. When someone claims to have been a victim just to save their own skin, it is another indignity heaped upon the true victims.

A Long Way to Go

While we are still in the beginning stages of this trial I doubt the defense will be able to produce any evidence or witnesses to back up these atrocious claims they have made.  They certainly didn’t make mention of any in their opening statement. Of course, they don’t have to tell us everything right up front. It is, after all, a road map. They don’t have to describe in detail all of the sights we will see as we journey down that road. But, if all they put up is Casey Anthony to substantiate these allegations, they are in trouble. As one witness testified this week, Casey lied to some friends over the telephone and then after completing the call, she threw the phone down and bragged, “I am such a good liar!” This is not a skill she developed to hide her pain. This is a skill she developed to manipulate people, and she’s proud of it. This alleged abuse may turn out to be as non-existent as her nanny and her job. If that is the case then the road map Jose Baez gave us in his opening statement will prove to be nothing more than a stroll down Liars Lane.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Denial In Naples: The Case of Steven Noyes

One would think that in the year 2011, given the advances in technology, communication, and social awareness, child sexual assault would not only be accepted as something that exists but should at this point be known as a crime that takes a particularly skilled type of perpetrator to commit. Yet, everyday very smart, caring people put theirs and other children at risk by not accepting the very harsh realities of child sexual assault. 

Today’s case of denial begins in the tight-knit Naples, Florida community at a school dedicated to Christian values where a young 9 year old -- herein referred to as Doe did as we hope any child would -- reported that her beloved teacher Steven Noyes touched her. Yet as the news spread throughout the school community, as is often the case, a loud group of disbelievers, naysayers, and deniers made their voices heard.  It is the children of those people that I am most concerned for.

What motivates those members of the school community jump to the teacher's defense? Why do people in these cases automatically disbelieve the victim and support the teacher? Is it possibly because the parents cannot stomach the image of a teacher being a sexual predator? Is it all about denial? Are these people naïve or are they cruel? Eternal optimist that I am, I'm betting on naïve.  So as we sit here and pat ourselves on the back about how far we have come when it comes to sexual assault, I say it's time to accept the facts:
  • When society accepts the myths surrounding sexual abuse, it assists sex offenders by silencing victims and encouraging public denial about the true nature of these assaults against children.
  • Even "really great" and "really nice” teachers can be sexually inappropriate. As a matter of fact, the "nicer" the teacher is the more likely that the teacher is using charm and kindness as a way to groom and seek victims.
  • Statistics show that the number of false allegations of sexual assault are far less than the number of truthful allegations of sexual assault. Yet, the default mode is to disbelieve, rather than to believe, the victim.
  • 1 in 4 women will be assaulted in the course of her lifetime. It is because of the blame, denial, and fear that many do not report the crime.
  • Not everyone who comes in contact with a child molester will be abused. In truth, sex offenders tend to carefully pick and set up their victims.  Thus, while sex offenders may feel driven to molest children, they rarely do so indiscriminately or without a plan.
  • Sexual assault survivors are never responsible for the attack, no matter what, no matter how much alcohol was consumed. Responsibility lies with the perpetrator; the survivor is never responsible for the assailant's behavior.
Jane Doe  is an outgoing, kind girl, who still to this day doesn’t even get the sexual nature of a breast-touch, or even breasts as sexual body parts.  She had loved the Village School of Naples since she started there in kindergarten. 
Her parents are the kind of folks you’d want in your community and in your school-- trust me, you’d want them as your friends. They are church going, softball playing parents who take pride in their value-driven life. In fact, they chose Doe’s school because of its mission of, “educating the child’s mind, body, and spirit through Christian values in an ever-changing world.” 
Since the day they were made aware that Doe’s allegations had been reported to the school, they’ve felt anything but Christian values.  And the fact that Doe had to suffer the molestation wasn’t  enough; the teacher and the school decided to question Doe’s story. Interestingly it didn’t happen right away… no the questioning came right before the school was getting a visit for re-accreditation.  Hmm… coincidence? 
The teacher’s name is Steven Noyes, a one-time Golden Halo honoree, who has responded to the investigation by hiring a criminal defense attorney who hijacked the investigation. Noyes refuses to answer questions and refuses to take a polygraph--leaving the sheriffs who want to get to the truth no choice but to suspend the investigation until Noyes changes his mind. Thankfully there is no statute of limitations on child sexual assault, so if Mr. Noyes is faced with another case --therefore corroboration -- this case should come back to haunt him.
The facts of the case are not much different than any other sexual assault.  That is, a a sexual assault that was reported early in the cycle of abuse like Doe’s.  After all, a perpetrator doesn’t just start with out with intercourse or oral copulation.  No--they start slow. They groom and groom to test the “loyalty” and vulnerability of their victim.
Just after Christmas 2010, Doe was in her homeroom class working on her math homework and got stumped on a long division problem. She asked her teacher for help. She went up to her teacher’s desk, and that’s when it happened.

As Doe tells her mother and father, the teacher began helping her with her first question. He put his hand under her dress and on her knee. Then, he reached his hand up her back and under her shirt, coming around the front to rub her chest. He kept his hand there while he helped her with three other math problems.

Afterward Doe didn’t protest. Instead she thanked Mr. Noyes and returned to her seat. She didn’t understand what just happened to her, but she couldn’t push one thought from her mind. When she went home that night, Doe says she still feels her teacher’s hand on her chest. It’s a horribly vivid sensation she can’t shake. As Doe’s mother was getting ready for our courthouse press conference, she told me “Doe still feels that hand--to this day."


The parents didn’t panic, but they simply wanted answers, direction, and support. They didn’t call lawyers or press instead they approached the head of the school, Ginger Sauter, a woman they’ve gone to church with for years, as a friend. Ginger told them, “this is all my fault, I shouldn’t have let him hug the children.”

Then things quickly turned from bad to worse. A criminal investigation began on January 21, 2011, two days after the incident, conducted by an officer from the Collier County Sheriff’s Department. On January 28, the investigator received a phone call – not from Stephen Noyes, but from his criminal defense attorney – who informed the officer that Mr. Noyes, “would not be answering questions, or submitting to a polygraph examination."
On February 1, the same officer paid a visit to the Doe’s home. The little girl bravely met with the investigator, even agreeing to wear the same dress she wore to school that day. She even allowed him to photograph her in it.
Then the officer informed Doe’s mom the investigation had gone as far as it could.  He told the family that he could find no other leads, no other child to corroborate Doe’s story, and with the suspect, ”not agreeing to speak to me,” there was nothing further he could do. And so, the case would be suspended.  So sad, how this suspension somehow provides some people with an excuse to think that this crime couldn’t have occurred. As if the abuse and aftermath was not enough, The Village School of Naples added salt to the fresh wound.
The school doesn’t sit the family down to discuss what to do next. They church pastor, closely associated with the school, does not come to administer spiritual support to the family, instead the Village School quietly expelled little Doe from school!  How’s that for child-centered education? The teacher was allowed to return to his job. Imagine. You did the right thing and they don’t believe you.  In a blink of an eye, you go from honor student, to expelled student.

Child sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions in schools throughout our nation and has become an alarmingly frequent occurrence. The cases that are surfacing almost daily serve as a wake-up call to everyone in America to protect our children.

The teacher, Steven Noyes, is by all accounts "beloved” and has a clean record. The same scenario goes for the priests who sexually abuse children and all of the other people who choose careers working with children, only to groom them and then sexually abuse them. That’s the typical M.O. of a child abuser. And yet it is the priest, or the accused teacher, who often is believed over the victim.

The day of our news conference, as Doe’s parents nervously walked up to the podium of microphones to face those cameras, there was a taint of disbelief in the air, as though someone had convinced the reporters covering this lawsuit Doe had made-up this story. The questions from the press came fast and furious.

"Wasn’t there a complete investigation?"

"Didn’t they close the case due to lack of evidence?"

I answered one by one.

"No the investigation isn’t over, it was suspended when Mr. Noyes refused to answer the sheriff’s questions."
Some of the questions came from a man standing among the press core.  Well-dressed and well coiffed despite the heat, we learned he was criminal attorney Jerry Berry. Berry began shouting his comments from behind the line of cameras.
I invited him up so he could speak his mind.  He began to attack us--for filing a lawsuit, for holding a press conference, and worst of all the press seemed to go along with this approach. Yes, they wanted to know, why do you want to sue the school. 

This is the story of a father who believes, and is standing up for his little girl. It’s about a mother who wants to make sure no other child goes through the pain and suffering her daughter has. The goal in filing a suit is to get answers, to hold the school accountable; to make sure that this case is not simply swept under the rug.

It is our goal to have a safe forum for people to come forward as we know that there are likely other victims out there. My co-counsel Jeff Herman said it best, “Now we wait for the other girls to come forward. The ones who also know they were touched inappropriately, but suffered in silence."

Our suit describes what happened to Doe. Over the years, Noyes reportedly the “hugging” teacher essentially groomed his young victim. He showered her with affection, drew her close and built a relationship based on trust.
Doe’s parents told me they feel he groomed them too with signs of friendship over the years, all the while insinuating Doe closer and closer into his circle. They remain solid in their conviction they are doing what’s right. And their daughter gives them the strength to do it. After she won an award in her new school, she said, “see mommy, God rewards good people.”
I hope so. I really do.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Amanda Knox: Traveler’s Advisory

Mark Waterbury, guest blogger
and Anne Bremner 

NOTE: As this post goes to press, two important developments in the appeal of Amanda Knox’s wrongful conviction in Perugia, Italy, have taken place. A group of Italian legislators led by Rocco Girlanda has filed a petition with the president of Italy and the Italian justice ministry requesting an investigation into the conduct of Perugian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and others in Amanda’s trial. This important request for an investigation was read aloud before the Italian parliament.  

The second development involves a letter to the President of the United States and copied to all members of Congress that also requests an investigation, this time for failure by U.S. consular officials to fulfill their obligations to safeguard the rights of Amanda Knox under Italian law. We are co-signers of that letter, along with Michael Heavey and Thomas Wright. Details regarding these letters are being released through other outlets. The following article is intended to provide additional information in a less formal format.

Americans traveling abroad are subject to the laws of the nations they visit. Rights, that, in theory, U.S. citizens enjoy here at home do not apply. This poses problems of understanding due to language barriers and legal differences, even when the visited country has a sophisticated criminal justice system. Matters can be far more difficult in places like Iran or North Korea, where politics, religious zealotry, and corruption far outweigh any balance beam of justice. Yet, at least in those extreme cases you know where you stand--on quicksand, but with the hope that the State Department will apply pressure on the local dictator to secure your eventual release if you are wrongly imprisoned. 

As we’ve watched the unbelievable investigation, bizarre prosecution, and wrongful conviction of Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy, we have seen a situation that is more complex and nuanced, resulting in a kind of legal limbo. The problem is that while Italy is an advanced western nation, a critical ally on many global issues, it is saddled with a justice system that looks good on paper but that is, at least in Perugia, a work in progress.

The presumption of innocence, for example, is enshrined in the Italian constitution. Knowledgeable observers say, however, “They don’t get it,” relegating this fundamental principle to an abstract irrelevance. The idea that guilt is something that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, rather than conjectured as a possibility, is another newfangled thing that does not seem to have taken hold.   

Then there is the corruption and the lurid media environment.

From The Economist, June 10, 2010:

“…Italy is not like other countries. It is notoriously corrupt, so politics and justice overlap.”

“Something else to which Italians are largely oblivious is the routine trampling on the rights of suspects and others caught up in investigations. Information is selectively leaked to reporters before the accused come to trial, often creating a presumption of guilt that is difficult to reverse, whether in court or in the public mind. An example is the case of Amanda Knox, an American student, and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who were convicted last year of the murder of Ms. Knox’s British flatmate.”

One of us (Mark) wrote this about the trial in his recent book, The Monster of Perugia: The Framing of Amanda Knox. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 12, “Gulliver’s Travel Warning”:

“Legendary traveler Lemuel Gulliver had the misfortune to be caught in a violent storm at sea. Driven far off his course, his ship sunk, his shipmates dead and his lifeboat gone, Gulliver swam and waded till he happened upon an unknown island. Safely removed from the terrible weather, Jonathan Swift’s famous character awoke to find that he was captive and at the mercy of a perfect storm of political intrigue among a very little people, the 6-inch-tall Lilliputians.

Amanda Knox had the misfortune of having her roommate murdered while she was living abroad. The tragedy that befell Meredith could just as easily have happened to Amanda--a thought that weighed heavily upon her in the days after the murder. Having escaped that terrible fate, Amanda found herself held captive and at the mercy of a perfect storm of third world justice, corruption, and personal interests, all deeply entrenched in what is theoretically a first-world nation.

The language and culture barriers between Gulliver and the Lilliputians were immense. There had been no known contacts between their worlds, after all. He tried speaking half a dozen languages to them and got nowhere. There was an unfathomable gulf to cross, and yet... Gulliver found ways to express his respect for his captors, who recognized and appreciated his mild disposition. Soon they were won over. They fed him, freed him, they got along with him, right up until he refused to slaughter their enemies from the neighboring island of Blefescu.

Amanda expressed her respect for her captors and her confidence in the Italian justice system. She has been a model prisoner. She was paraded through the streets when arrested, she had her picture displayed beside convicted mafia dons before she was charged, she was held in prison for a year before those charges were brought, she has been demonized in much of the Italian press, and she was wrongly convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Score one for the Lilliputians.”

Amanda doesn’t seem to be blessed with Gulliver’s luck, so we thought we would check on the job the diplomats have done ensuring her right to fair treatment under Italian law by reviewing the cables that reported on the case by the United States Consul in Florence. The cables were conveniently revealed by the Wikileaks organization. We wondered how the information reported in those crucial cables compared with what had actually happened to Amanda.  

In theory, Amanda has the full support of the United States’ Department of State, which has the responsibility to ensure that American citizens’ rights under local law are respected. At least, that is what they say. In response to questions about what they were doing about Amanda’s ordeal in Perugia, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, “…it is the responsibility of our consular officials to make sure that American citizens are treated fairly under local law.” That seems clear enough.

With all of that in mind, the following is the first cable sent, in December of 2008, more than a year after Amanda was arrested after an all night interrogation by a dozen polizia detectives operating in rotation, speaking in Italian, and without being allowed an attorney. That interrogation, it was claimed, was not recorded, in another violation of Italian law.

DEC 08


1. NAME: Knox, Amanda Marie

9. CHARGES: Participation in voluntary manslaughter with aggravating circumstances of cruelty (potential maximum sentence: life imprisonment; however, in Italy “life imprisonment” equates to 30 years) ; Participation in sexual assault (possible sentence: 5 – 10 years) ; Simulated robbery (possible sentence: 1 – 3 years) ; Slander (stemming from Ms. Knox’s accusation against Patrick Lumumba ; possible sentence: 6 – 20 years) ; Possession of weapons (possible sentence: up to 1 year) ; Aggravated theft (possible sentence: 3 – 10 years)

10. PLACE OF DETENTION : Capanne Penitentiary, Perugia, Italy

12. TRIAL/HEARING DATE:  January 16, 2009

That was the first cable sent after Amanda was paraded through the streets of Perugia in polizia vehicles with sirens blasting in a macabre kind of victory dance immediately after her arrest. It was after it was ruled that she could be held for a year in prison before being charged. It was after Amanda was relentlessly demonized by a rabid press, fed a continuous stream of news leaks, lies, and innuendos from the prosecution and polizia, much of them illegal, all of them consumed by a jury that was not sequestered or enjoined against discussions in any way.

This cable, like all the rest, is a simple list of the starkest, and ultimately least informative facts about the arrest and prosecution of Amanda Knox. It is as if a lynch mob dragged someone away in full view of everyone, and all that was reported back was “Suspect was apprehended.” No mention of the white hoods, torches, or the terrified, innocent victim. Amanda Knox was in the process of the most conspicuous public lynching in decades, and yet the report gives no hint whatsoever that it was anything but justice taking its course.     

But let’s look at more cables to be sure. Perhaps they were waiting for the actual trial to report back anything of substance. A month or so after the trial began the next cable was sent:

FEB 09
12. TRIAL/HEARING DATE:  Trial is ongoing. Hearings take place every Friday and Saturday. The court plans to follow the same weekly hearing schedule in the foreseeable future.

Friday and Saturday… two days a week. That’s it. Bus schedules go into more detail.  The next cable, three months of blatant kangaroo court proceedings later:

MAY 09

SUBJECT: Arrest Update: Amcit Amanda Knox

12. TRIAL/HEARING DATE: Trial is ongoing.    Hearings take place every Friday and Saturday.   According to Ms. Knox’s attorney, the trial is being moved to an accelerated time-table and beginning June 4, hearings will be held three times a week, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

18. ACCESS: ConOff and ConAsst visit Ms. Knox on May 14, 2009 at Le Capanne prison in Perugia, Italy.  

Note the numbers, mostly 12 or 18, denoting categories of information. There is no 1, 2, 3… in most of these particular cables, but only 10, 12, or 18. Apparently, 10 means “Where At,” 12 means, “Cursory description of the trial schedule,” and “18” means something like, “We had to skip a nice luncheon to go to some damned prison.”

It is a shame that only these few numbers were used. Diplomatic cables that briefly summarize the relentless destruction of an innocent life might benefit from using more categories. May we make a humble suggestion? How about assigning, say, 23 to “Defendant’s rights are being trampled beyond recognition,” and how about 42 for, “Prosecutor has been convicted of prosecutorial misconduct, but is still the prosecutor.” That would leave 36 to represent “Defendant has been relentlessly smeared by the world’s press,” and 78 for “The forensics were a travesty of pseudoscience.”

Three more cables follow, at roughly three-month intervals, in August, November, and December of 2009. They say nothing about the constant spread of misinformation by the prosecution, nothing about the fact that the prosecutor was under indictment for misconduct (convicted of same in January, 2010), nothing about the fact that the DNA evidence would never be admitted as evidence in any normal courtroom, and that the two star prosecution witnesses were drug addicts.   

One might argue, “So what?” Perhaps these reports are simple schedule documents, but here’s the thing. When asked about the trial after Amanda’s conviction in a December 7, 2009 briefing, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said “we haven’t received any indications necessarily that Italian law was not followed.”

I guess they weren’t paying attention. Adding insult to that injury, in response to a question that pointed out the tainted evidence, the non-sequestered jury, the problem prosecutor, Mr. Kelly asserted that “…Italy is a democratic country that has an established and transparent legal system.”

Which brings us back, full circle, to our opening point. If Amanda had been captured by a crazy prosecutor in North Korea, she might have had some support from State. In Italy, she has been on her own.

Here’s the takeaway lesson from all this: The next time you’re in a foreign country and a crazy, corrupt local prosecutor decides to make a career move by throwing you in prison for the rest of your life, you can count on your United States’ consul to dependably tick off the milestones as you rot in jail. 

Anne Bremner is a member of Friends of Amanda.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Elizabeth Smart: Hope Faith and Charity

by Cathy Scott

I’m proud of Elizabeth Smart. This week, in U.S. federal court, she faced her kidnapper for the first time since being rescued and told him she's living a good life despite the horrors surrounding what he did to her.

At the sentencing hearing for street preacher Brian David Mitchell on Wednesday, May 25 (which, coincidentally is National Missing Children’s Day), Elizabeth told her captor she believes he’s well aware that what he did to her was wrong. He snatched her at knifepoint in the middle of the night from her bed, dragging her from her family’s home in Salt Lake City, Utah, to a nearby mountain. He raped her continuously over the ensuing months as he held her captive. Those nine months, Elizabeth told Mitchell, are forever lost. But he has not stripped her of her future.

"I want you to know that I have a wonderful life," Elizabeth, now 23, told Mitchell. It took just a minute for Elizabeth to give her short speech as she stood tall and proud, unafraid of her kidnapper.

It brings to a close the saga that began in 2002, nine years ago when, at age 14, Mitchell held Elizabeth against her will in a rustic camp with Mitchell’s wife, , who was convicted of the crime in 2009.

She has moved on. Elizabeth, a harpist, has two semesters to go at Brigham Young University before graduating with a degree in music. Also, she recently returned from a two-year mission in France with the Church of Latter Day Saints. And she works as an advocate for children and victims of crime, especially kidnapping. And she has started the Elizabeth Smart Foundation with her first goal to get a program called RADkids into public schools. RAD, which stands for "Resist Aggression Defensively," teaches children specific techniques to get away from would-be attackers. Through the program, she told CBS affiliate KUTV, "I hope it gives others hope that they can speak out and not be scared to face their captor."

To a waiting crowd outside the courthouse, Elizabeth said, "Today is the end of a very long chapter and the beginning of a very beautiful chapter for me."

The day also marked the first time Elizabeth had directly addressed Mitchell, 57. She spoke at his trial in 2010, but he'd been removed from courtroom because of his disruptive behavior. This day, however, Brian David Mitchell was in court, and he heard Elizabeth’s words loud and clear before he was ushered, in shackles, back to a federal penitentiary—where he belongs—to serve out a life sentence.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Are Men Really Pigs or Does It Just Seem That Way?

by Katherine Scardino

I have consciously made a sincere effort to ignore all the media attention to the latest in a long line of powerful men acting like whore dogs. I thought this subject may be improper for Women in Crime, but then we had another news flash about the French presidential hopeful, Dominique Strauss-Kahn actually getting arrested and accused of raping a maid in his glitzy hotel room in New York. This accusation caused a buzz in the United States as well as all over the world.

The French people got angry at us because our system allows the accused to do the famous “perp walk.” The French believe that doing the “head down, handcuffed” walk into the courtroom creates a sense of guilt in the minds of people who watch it. In this case, most of the citizens of planet Earth saw the haggard, unshaven, unkempt man in an expensive business suit walk handcuffed and led by several police officers. The New York City mayor made a comment, like “don’t do the crime and you won’t have to do the walk” or something to that effect - which just reassured the French that the American system of justice is screwed up. But, why would he risk losing his marriage, political career and friendships over one impulsive urge?

Now Mr. Strauss-Kahn is in serious trouble. But, his trouble is more seriously psychological and mental than the other men we have read and heard about in the media. Take John Edwards, for example. What a true pig. While he was running for the vice-presidency, he was having an affair - and at the same time his wife of several decades was dying of breast cancer. Oh, and then to top this off, as if that was not bad enough, we learned that he had fathered a child by his mistress while married to his dying wife. Prior to the “honorable” Mr. Edwards, we heard all about Newt Gingrich having not one, but two affairs in two different marriages. One affair was going on at the same time he was standing on the floor in Congress berating Bill Clinton for getting it on with Monica Lewinsky, an aide in the White House. At least Eliot Spitzer just had flings with prostitutes--nothing serious there--while married to his very elegant, rich wife. The one I really liked was the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, who disappeared from his political staff, and I suppose his wife, for several days. He told everyone he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail, but he was really enjoying the sun in South America with his latest squeeze. For heaven’s sake, Mark! At least come up with an excuse that sounds better than that.

And, last but certainly not least, here comes the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. We learned this week that not only was he having an affair in his home with a household staff member (at least she is female...) but that he had fathered a son, now 14 years old, by this woman. And, this is the same politico who twice vetoed marriage equality in California, while lying to his wife and family. It is always insulting to be the wife of a man who cannot seem to keep his pants zipped, but it is the pinnacle of insulting to learn that he had sex with the mistress in the marital home. A couple of divorce attorneys in California will probably send their children to a ritzy college with their fees in this case.

So, what is going on here? Well, I did some reading on why men cheat and frankly, got a bit gaggy! There are all sorts of excuses--the one I like the best is that men in olden times believed they had to “spread their seed” to promulgate our planet. Seriously? It is not like our men have to pick up their clubs every morning and go out and hunt for our dinner, right?  Some people think that monogamy is not part of our species, and that we are in fact a polygamous species. Doesn’t millions of years of morals, changing cultures, education, or evolution count for anything? Sorry, but that is an excuse that is unacceptable. We are living in a now era. I want something, so I can have it - now. 

I would think that it has got to be difficult to really produce statistics on who does all this cheating, because if I fell in that category, I would just lie. But, it appears that men, and, yes, some women, are more susceptible to cheating when they make money and have power. Why? Because men who are powerful are narcissistic and believe that the world revolves around them and any bad conduct can be ignored and forgiven. The “I can get away with anything” syndrome--isn’t that true? They are self-confident, demanding, and if they see something they want--for example, a woman they can go after (in the case of Strauss-Kahn, forcefully and illegally, perhaps).

The urge to stray from spouses or partners is not insurmountable, guys. Just because you have a penis does not mean you get to use it every time you want to. There is such a thing as self-control. As a woman who has gone through a few men in my lifetime, I appreciate the urge to have sex. But, it would appear that women have more control--or maybe ethics--than men. Women really do believe that they are supposed to remain true to their spouses. It looks to me like men think they should keep their belts tightened and zippers zipped only when they want to, not when the urge is overwhelming. When is the need to have sex overwhelming to the point of ruining marriages and hurting other people? Is it only when you are powerful and in control of the lives of many people? Obviously, that is not always the case, but statistically, that appears to be the way it is with people in these situations.

Political men have an even tougher time. They get voted in to office by people who like them for one reason or another. This leads to narcissism to the nth degree. Look at John F. Kennedy. He was young and handsome, with a beautiful, educated, cultured wife. Was he less of a president because he cheated on Jackie? He actually cheated on her in the White House with the girlfriend of a mob boss from Florida. How much worse can it get? But he was not banned from society nor was he ousted from office. When he was assassinated, the world mourned his death. The media protected him during that era. Not so today. With the Internet, it is difficult to keep a secret. What I cannot figure out is why Schwarzenegger made public a secret that he had obviously successfully kept from the general public for many years. I am sure we will hear more soon.

There is an answer to why men cheat, but it is not one we like. The answer lies in our backgrounds, temperament, psychological makeup, education, finances, and whether he can place his family values over his need to be satisfied “now.” Stay tuned. I’m sure there’s more!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Long Road to Justice for Caylee Anthony

Casey parties after Caylee is gone
by Diane Fanning

This morning, Tuesday at 9 a.m., in an Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, the state of Florida will step to the podium to present the opening arguments in favor of the conviction of Casey Marie Anthony for the murder of her toddler daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony. 

Following that, the defense will present its arguments for a not guilty verdict. Attorney Jose Baez has promised that he will explain why Casey didn't report her daughter missing and answer a lot of other questions in the first three minutes.  Odds are he will claim the death of Caylee was an accident, or he will point the finger of guilt at a member of Casey's immediate family, or perhaps at one of Casey's friends.

The body discovery site
This day of reckoning has been delayed for quite some time. From the moment of Caylee's death in mid-June 2008, her road to justice has been long and full of obstacles. She spent days unnoticed in the trunk of a car driven by her mother, Casey Anthony. She was then dumped in the undergrowth--her location unknown to anyone but her killer.

No one else even knew for nearly five weeks that she was gone.  It was then that her grandmother, Cindy Marie Anthony, reported her missing.  Nearly six months after Caylee was last seen alive, the poor child's decomposed body, with duct tape wrapped around her skull, was found less than half a mile from the Anthony home.

Still, her mother would not admit to what her daughter had done.  She lied again and again and again. Each prevarication more outrageous than the last. And, somehow, Casey seemed to think she would be believed if only she kept lying. 

That string of lies will surely be part of the deliberations of the jury at trial's end.  They'll also consider some controversiaal evidence--the cans of air taken from Casey's car. The defense argued that allowing the jury to smell the contents turns jurors into witnesses. I did not find that argument compelling because it is only a matter of which sense is being invoked. Juries are taken to crime scenes all the time. There they use their eyes to observe. Here the state wants them to use their noses. I can't say that I've seen all that much distance between the two. But as Stacey Dittrich said on the Levi Page Show, the odor from those cans will permeate the area where they are opened. Let's hope for everyone's comfort that they are taken outside to sniff and not expected to smell the odor of decomposition inside a closed space.

Judge Belvin Perry has estimated that the trial will last six to eight weeks.  That length of time seems as optimistic an approximation as his prediction that the jury would be seated in one week; it took twice as long.  Six hundred and forty seven subpoenas have been issued to witnesses--an enormous, time-consuming number. Even if only half of them are called to the stand, it's hard to believe it could be all over before the end of July.  At this point, there is really no way of knowing how long this trial will last.

From June of 2008 until May of 2011 is a long time--nearly three years after Caylee Anthony died. By the time the trial is over, we will be near the date that would have been Caylee's sixth birthday. She's waited a long time for justice. Let's hope Caylee Anthony finds it in the courtroom of Judge Perry.

Diane Fanning is the author of the best-selling Mommy's Little Girl, the only book about the death of Caylee Anthony. Watch for updates about the Anthony case on Diane Fanning's blog, Writing is a Crime,

Monday, May 23, 2011

Twitter Gave Me My Break (And Other Things No One Believes)

by Brandon Mendelson 
Humorist, Author, and Social Media Critic

In 1998, Jerry Seinfeld did an HBO special titled “I’m Telling You For The Last Time." The idea behind the special was that Seinfeld would perform his sitcom material one last time and then retire it at the end of the show. For me, this article is like that special. I’m tired of answering questions about the number of people following me on Twitter (more than 800,000), where they came from (Twitter’s Suggested User List), and whether they’re worth anything (Spoiler: They’re not.) So, for the last time... In the Spring of 2008 I went on the Special Ed equivalent of The Fantastic Voyage and thought I was going to buy these buildings. The money was coming from MTV, who was going to sell the inventory I collected from different media outlets. A few months later, for reasons never explained, MTV backed out.

Before that happened, I approached Twitter about promoting the project’s account, which they were cool enough to do. When things went south, I deleted it. Yet another mistake in a long string of them, dating back to that time I wrote a girl snuff fiction. In the Fall that year, I returned to Twitter. I was really into social media and thought I could provide a good spin on things because I knew what worked and what didn’t. When it comes to online marketing, I’ve been at this since 1998. Almost as long as the Web has been commercially available.

Suck on that, Gary Vaynerchuck.

The renewed interest in giving out advice came after a professor at the University at Albany told me how horrible the odds are of getting a job with a Ph.D. in American History, which is what I was working on. I figured if I had no future doing something I enjoyed, I might as well do the thing I hate, but happen to be good at: Marketing. I also applied to a ton of jobs out of fear of unemployment. One of those jobs was at Twitter as an Administrative Secretary. Twitter sent me a rejection letter at the same time this small not-for-profit hired me. They brought me on to visit colleges to promote the early detection of breast cancer. So, I told the people at Twitter about what I was doing, and asked if they’d promote my account the way they did earlier in the year. I didn’t get a response back.

Soon, my wife and I were traveling across America with no money, a dying car, and absolutely no game plan other than “show up at colleges, record anti-breast cancer PSAs”. When we got to our second stop at Raleigh, North Carolina, I held a Twitterthon to help crowdfund our trip. I held the first Twitterthon in January of 2009 (despite what another marketer has since claimed), and it was relatively successful. This time? I made nothing. There was a guy casing our car when we pulled up at the Raleigh hotel (and again when we moved it). I should have asked him to shoot me. If he had, given how the rest of the tour went, he would have done me a favor. If I’m not mistaken, there may still be an open warrant out for my arrest in New Orleans. Later that night, I logged into my Twitter account and found I went from 3,000 followers to about 10,000. Turns out, Twitter decided to help me, and put me on their old Suggested User List. I was the only non-brand, non-media, non-celebrity to be placed there.

Between February 2009 and August 2009 when I was on the list, I reached a million followers. Then, just as I reached follower 9,999,999, I got an email from Twitter telling me they were dumping me. As soon as I came off the list, my followers started to drop by 300 every day. Something that still continues. This happens automatically regardless of what I do. I also noticed that everyone on the old Suggested User List was later incorporated into their new directory of “Who To Follow.” Everyone, that is, except for me. Twitter also verified everyone featured in a CNN article about “5 People On Twitter You’ve Never Heard Of.” Everyone in that article, except for me... again. Somewhere along the way I had pissed Twitter off.

My best guest as to how? After the college tour ended in March of 2009, I realized what a crock social media was and started to be myself online. Instead of talking about innocuous and boring crap, I started tweeting things like “I want to take this moment to remind you that the 'Midget' entry on Wikipedia has been locked for four years”, and “I can’t wait for Easter to end. I’m tired of picking Jesus’s turds up off my lawn.” It wasn’t long after I got into putting out funny tweets, which really picked up in July of 2009, that they dropped me.

Don’t get me wrong, Twitter did me a favor by putting me on the list, and I’m grateful for it. But that not being verified thing? It irks me just as much as not having my own Wikipedia page. (That really doesn’t irk me. Neither of these things do, but a good foofaraw makes for a good story, so let’s just pretend it does). Without being verified, I was now this random guy with all these followers who people never heard of. That brings most to one of two conclusions: either they’re missing out on this awesome party, or "this guy is a spammer." Guess which conclusion people went with? There’s nothing I can do about it though, and that’s fine. I plan to leave Twitter once I’ve established a big enough identity where it doesn’t matter what platform I use. You know, when I’m dead? Or, hopefully in the next year or so when I get back into doing stand-up comedy.

So, you might be thinking, “Why ditch an account with over 800,000 followers?” The most frequently asked question I get is, “How can I get Twitter to promote my account?” The second, but equally annoying one, is “Do you really have that many people following you?” Thankfully, these are both easy to answer. No, Twitter won’t promote your account. I was lucky and got in before they figured out how much money they can make selling Trending Topics and Promoted Accounts. Not that I would recommend you buy either. Why? That brings us to the second answer. Most Twitter accounts are inactive. They may tell you they have 2,000,000 registered users, but they don’t tell you how many are active users. There's a huge difference between the two. Conversely, Facebook Developer Jesse Stay told me Facebook would have a number of users in the billions if they counted their accounts the way Twitter does.

A lot of studies have come out detailing how most accounts are either inactive or not often checked. As it turns out, the majority of tweets are generating by less than a quarter of the actual active, not registered, users. Despite Fox and NBC being stupid and putting hashtags on their shows, only 12 percent of Americans actually have a Twitter account, and again, that just means they have one, not that they use it. So, do I have 800,000 people following me? On paper, yeah. But like social media, what works or appears to be true on paper often isn’t. Now, I’ve got a pretty loyal following, and it seems to be growing despite my best efforts, but it’s nowhere close to the number of people actually following me. Like Michael Ian Black, Bill Cosby, and other celebrities, media outlets, and brands placed on the old Suggested User List, the click-through rate for links is pretty low. Better than what you’d see with display advertising, but still around one percent. Likewise with retweets, at least in my case.

Are those followers worth anything? Only when I’m talking to people who don’t know any better, which is thankfully fewer and fewer. Being able to flash that number has given me opportunities I wouldn’t have got otherwise, and it definitely helped get me a book deal with St. Martin’s Press. My first book, Social Media Is Bullshit, will be out in stores in April 2012. Having that large number of followers is not without its problems though, because unless my book does well, I’m going to be the guy Twitter gave a hand to, and nothing else. And people always expect me to do awesome things for them because of those numbers.

I’ve told every single one of them that’s not the case, and when I can’t deliver for them, they get mad. So, I’ve pretty much stopped doing nice things on Twitter. I’ve also decided to not sweat any of this bullshit and just amuse myself first. If people like it, awesome. If not, I don’t care.

And I have to say, for those of you looking for a “social media policy” or a lesson from all this, that’s the one you should take to heart. Amuse yourself first.

You could be dead tomorrow. 

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