Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Death Penalty, Back in the News

by Holly Hughes

It’s been a busy week for the death penalty in American jurisprudence.  We seldom hear so much about it from simultaneous corners.  From Texas to Georgia to Connecticut, we have seen it take center stage this week. What I find fascinating are the varied reactions to each of these individuals cases.

Troy Davis was convicted nearly two decades ago for the murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.  In the ensuing twenty two years since that murder, Davis’ case has been heard by twenty eight different courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States.  His legal team sought clemency from the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole Board twice.  Thanks to the advent of social media Troy’s case generated enough attention to collect over 600,000 signatures calling for a stay.  There were protests staged at the Georgia State Capitol Building and the Georgia Diagnostic Classification Prison where Davis’ execution was carried out.  Former Presidents and Popes weighed in.  

A lot of the news coverage stated emphatically that there was no physical evidence.  Other media outlets briefly acknowledged that there was some, ie: the shell casings, which matched  casings from another shooting that Davis had been convicted of.  Much was made about the seven recantations, but little was mentioned about the fact that it took seventeen years for those recantations to occur.

I am not weighing in on the guilt or innocence of Troy Davis.  I have not read the transcripts, nor watched any interviews of witnesses.  I am simply commenting on the fact that most of the reporting on this particular case was inaccurate or incomplete at best.  However, it garnered a lot of attention and gave opponents of the death penalty a great deal of ammunition in their argument against the death penalty.

At the same time, in Texas, another man was scheduled to be, and ultimately was, executed.  We didn’t see this one widely reported.  In fact, it passed relatively unnoticed.  On the very same day that Georgia executed Troy Davis, the State of Texas put to death Lawrence Russell Brewer.  Brewer was convicted of the horrific murder of James Byrd, Jr. back in 1998.  Brewer, along with his two co-defendants in the case, committed unspeakable violence against Mr. Byrd simply because he was African-American.  It was a hate crime pure and simple.  But there was nothing pure or simple about the inhuman acts perpetrated against Mr. Byrd.  He was beaten unconsciousness, urinated on, tied by the ankles with a heavy chain and drug behind a truck until his arm and head were severed from his body.  

While Texas and Georgia were carrying out death sentences, Connecticut was seeking to have one handed down.  This brings us to the case of Joshua Komisarjevsky.  This is the monster who broke into the Petit family home, beat Dr. Petit unconscious and tied him up.  Once that was done, he then, along with his co-defendant, Stephen Hayes, sexually assaulted the Doctor’s wife and two daughters, the youngest of which was eleven years old.  When that was done, Komisarjevsky took Mrs. Petit to the bank and forced her to withdraw fifteen thousand dollars.  As if all of these abuses were not enough, when they returned to the house, these two monsters tied all the women to their beds and set the house on fire, burning them alive.

Prior to this case, the State of Connecticut was debating abolishing the death penalty.  These crimes put a quick stop to that.  In the face of such evil, the people decided  they needed the death penalty, they wanted the death penalty and they were going to seek the death penalty.  They got it.  Last year, co-defendant Stephen Hayes was sentenced to death.

So, the question that arises is: why did we not see 600,000 signatures calling for a stay for Lawrence Russell Brewer?  Why are there no protests outside the Connecticut courthouse where prosecutors are currently seeking the death penalty against Komisarjevsky? Now, the easy answer is “there was little to no evidence against Troy Davis.”  Well, who gets to make that decision?  A jury of his peers, yes, his peers.  Seven of the original twelve jurors were African-American.  

Twenty eight different courts reviewed this case and felt that the evidence was strong enough, even in light of the late-in-the-day recantations. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, allowing social media to dictate who gets executed and who doesn’t turns the justice system into nothing more than a version of Survivor (no pun intended).  No one should be voted off the island but people who weren’t even involved in the game.

Again, I cannot say whether or not Troy Davis was guilty.  I am simply asking the question, “what can we learn” from this past weeks’ multiple death cases.  If you believe the death penalty is wrong, then it’s wrong for everyone, including the monsters who commit unspeakable horrors against their fellow human beings, sometimes for no other reason than prejudice.

If the problem is with the application, then how do we fix it?  Lobby legislatures?  Call for one uniform application of the death penalty, which would be forced on all states by the federal government?  I don’t pretend to have the answers.  I will leave that to minds greater than my own.  But I find it an interesting dichotomy that the folks who oppose the unequal application of the death penalty are themselves unequal in their passion of whom they choose to rally for.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Now you see it … The Eyewitness Controversy

It happens in a flash, usually without warning, and certainly for victims and witnesses, without much in the way of preparation. One minute they could be minding their own business; the next they can be in the throes of a crime. Murder, rape, and robbery–you name it–crimes literally happen in the blink of an eye.

Just as quickly, a moment can change the trajectory of a defendant’s life. That moment is the moment they are identified as the one who did it. While courts and prosecutors have long given lip service of the magnitude of this issue, eyewitness misidentification has finally become a real issue that is finally being looked that’s to a historic ruling by New Jersey’s Supreme Court.

As a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles, I handled all kinds of cases with all kinds of evidence. Much of that evidence came from the witnesses and victims to the crime. Witnesses who often swore they could never forget the face of the bad guy. But could they? Really?  

Let's have some perspective here. The most heinous crimes out there–child abuse, sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, elder abuse, and stalking–are crimes that are perpetrated by someone whom the victim knows, and often knew well. These are the cases you hear about in the news. Less discussed are the “stranger” cases, where the victim and perpetrator have no connection, didn’t know each other, and were only brought together through some random (or not so random) senseless act of violence. These are the “ID” cases.

Witnesses are supposed to be considered just like any other type of evidence in a case --blood, sperm, fingerprints-- but they’re not. We all know that the truth is, juries love witnesses. Nothing persuades a jury more than the, (cue the theme music) “Law and Order” moment when a witness takes the stand, looks over, and points to the suspect and says, “There he is. He’s the one who did it.”

In every case, the prosecutor is trying to figure out whether they can make a case. And while we try not to put the pressure on victims to perform the reality, there is a great deal of importance in determining whether the witness can testify credibly, whether their story makes sense, and, more importantly, points to who did it.

The defense attorney, on the other hand, is trying to hold the prosecutor to the burden of proof the Constitution guarantees–that is, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. So, as a defense attorney, those words of the witnesses are not about simply making a case; they are about making darn sure you have the right dude.

In my defense work, I pride myself on acknowledging that a crime may, or assuredly did occur. However, I am going to make sure that the prosecutor can prove that the perp is my dude, and not some other dude or SODDI, the known acronym in the legal world for “some other dude did it” defense.

We all know about reliability issues with witnesses. Some have an axe to grind, some have a prior relationship, others have a criminal record or unsavory past, some are drug users, hookers–you name it. But credibility issues are one thing; witness reliability when they are otherwise credible adds a new wrinkle to the equation.

And this is a wrinkle that will really make a dent in criminal prosecutions and finally confirm what defense attorneys have been groaning about for years. And that is that eyewitness identification is inherently flawed. Make no mistake, the New Jersey high court’s ruling could forever change the way police use witnesses to identify bad guys. The US Supreme Court is going to weigh in on the entire issue for the first time since 1971.

Here’s what I’ve witnessed myself over the years: When witnesses say they are 100-percent sure, I’m 1000-percent sure they are not. Why? Our minds and our memories are far from perfect. Sometimes we can’t remember what we had for lunch yesterday. Think about what can happen when a crime is involved. Think about the fear, hate and all kinds of trauma involved here. The chance for unaffected memory is next to zero.

Now, let’s add on the impact of law enforcement. Let’s say you’re a rape victim. The cop who comes in to help you catch the rapist is going to have enormous influence on you. So, if he or she shows you a photo of the bad guy, chances are you will end up agreeing with the choice. I’m not suggesting this is a deliberate act, but it happens all the time. We are only now beginning to understand how a witness experiences and remembers events, faces and time.

The New Jersey Supreme Court Justice, which ruled in the case, said it best: “A vast body of scientific research about human memory has emerged. That body of work casts doubt on some commonly held views relating to memory.” 

Barry Scheck, founder of the Innocence Project and who is famous for using DNA to overturn wrongful convictions, released the following figures from the Project’s files. Of the first 250 wrongful convictions cases overturned by DNA evidence, 190, or 75 percent, involved eyewitnesses who turned out to be flat-out wrong.

Now the courts are finally acknowledging there are issues of eyewitness identification. The question is what is the solution? Prosecutors would like to say defense attorneys could simply argue their cases (but how?), some defense attorneys will argue for exclusion, suppression or limitation of the evidence altogether. Courts allow for experts to appear to testify about the inherent flaws, or even permit jury instructions that address the issues inherent to misidentification by guiding jurors through the process. All of these may be great solutions but they are fixes to a bad identification.

When a person is facing incarceration, loss of liberty and other collateral damages, after-the-fact fixes are just not good enough. We live in a country that forces prosecutors to meet their burden of proof.  Isn’t it time law enforcement be held to the standards that correspond to that heavy burden?

So what am I suggesting? I am suggesting we do something about identification at the critical moment when the initial interview and identification is happening. That is creating a standardized “best practice” system to account for the inherent issues of misidentification, lack of reliability and suggestibility. The simplest and easiest of these can be done right now with only the cost of a tape recorder. If police are required to tape the entire interview with each witness, victim, and suspect then at least everyone can hear verbatim what went down, how the interview was conducted, and how an ID occurred. It is a transparent option that at least will allow attorneys to argue and then jurors to decide for themselves if the identification was good or bunk. There are tons of other ways too, but in a budget-conscious society, one resistant to change, let's start simple with a $15 tape recorder.

If we clean up that part of the investigative chain, we’ll all be able to live with the results as the case makes its way through the system. Memories are flawed. Law enforcement can be too. Let’s remove as much of the human-error part as possible. It’s going to be a better result for justice, which is better for everyone.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Questions Than Answers –Justice Requires That Rebecca Zahau Case Be Reopened

A woman screams for help at 11:30 p.m. in a 27-room historic mansion in Coronado, California; a 6-year-old child, Max Shacknai, has fallen two days earlier and is in critical condition; the millionaire boyfriend and father of the child, Jonah Shacknai,  and his girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau, have been consumed by the boy’s care and condition in the hospital.

Rebecca Zahau, the live-in girlfriend of Jonah Shacknai, who loved Max as her own, had had a wonderful career. But she gave it up to care for Jonah and his family and their homes. She was kind, athletic, generous to a fault, and beautiful. On the evening in question, Rebecca had gone to dinner with Jonah and his brother Adam. Adam had just flown in that day from Tennessee. Rebecca returned to the mansion, Adam to the mansion guesthouse, and Jonah reportedly to the hospital. Rebecca had a relatively uneventful telephone conversation with her sister Mary and then was never heard from again. The authorities maintain that she received a telephone call at 12:30 a.m. advising that young Max had tragically taken a turn for the worse. She purportedly retrieved that message at 12:50 a.m. Yet, the message was erased, and her phone records do not show any such incoming call at 12:30.

Adam Schacknai found Rebecca at 6:30 the next morning. She was hanging from a Juliette balcony off one of the mansion’s guestrooms. Her feet and hands were bound, she had abrasions, there was tape residue on her legs, and a turquoise women’s athletic shirt was wrapped around her neck three times and part of the shirt was used as a gag in her mouth. There was blood on her legs. The ropes used in the hanging were tied with expert knots to a bed in the room. Partial footprints were found on the balcony, including two footprints from a man’s boot. Written on a door in paint was the phrase “She save him, can you save her.” But the autopsy cites the language as “She saved him, can you save her. “

The family said Rebecca had never been depressed or suicidal (she had no history whatsoever of psychological or psychiatric disturbance or treatment), the note was not in her handwriting, and she did not know how to tie expert knots like that. And she would never have killed herself, because she loved her family so much and, because of her religious beliefs, did not allow, in any event, to do so in such a violent and appalling manner. There is no recorded suicide involving a woman with circumstances like this one. Women simply do not kill themselves this way. The authorities said it was possible that she could have killed herself this way. They illustrated it with a video demonstration of a woman binding her own hands. But they did not show a demonstration of the rest (binding her feet, gagging herself) could have been accomplished. It would have taken a contortionist – frankly, a Cirque De Soleil performing artist – to accomplish such a “suicide” feat.

Expert pathologists have confirmed that Rebecca died while on her back – not from or while hanging.  Lividity was fixed in her back, not in her legs or feet. Renowned pathologist Dr Cyril Wecht has reviewed the autopsy report and has concluded this is not a suicide and that she had blunt force trauma in four places on the top of her head, inconsistent with the fall and consistent with blows that could have rendered Rebecca unconscious. The bed that was tied to the rope did not drag across the carpet.  It was picked up and moved. Hair clumps and black gloves were found at the scene.  Rebecca screamed for help before getting any call (if indeed there was a call) about Max. Someone was seen lurking around the front door shortly before the screams. News helicopter footage showed the balcony French doors open and no rope on the balcony while Rebecca’s body lay naked on the lawn. Doctors Larry Kobilinsky and Maurice Godwin, both famed criminologists, have weighed in that this was not a suicide as have forensic psychiatrists and suicide experts. A polygraph was administered to Adam Shaknai, and the results were reported as inconclusive. No one else was polygraphed or fingerprinted. Phone journals from eight months prior were cited as being contemporaneous, and a witness said Rebecca was not training as much six months earlier. Her own trainer disputes this. 

After seven weeks of investigation, the case was closed. The investigation concluded, and Rebecca’s death was classified as a suicide. Still, so many questions remain. In fact, there are more questions than answers. We think the investigation should be reopened. What do you think? Doesn’t justice so require?

As disclosure, Anne Bremner represents Rebecca Zahua's family as they press authorities for a more thorough investigation into Rebecca's death. Click here to donate to the Rebecca Zahau Fund.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Killer In Our Midst: The John Albert Gardner Story

Crime writers choose the stories we write. Some stories, however, find us. In many cases, it’s the locality of the crime that catches our interest. In other cases, it’s the circumstances. I’m a native San Diegan, so when a high-profile crime happens there, my interest is piqued.

Such was the case with the separate -- but related – grisly tales of the kidnaps, rapes and murders of California teenagers Chelsea King in 2010 and Amber DuBois in 2009. The crimes against these girls were more than disturbing, not to mention particularly sad: two bright, happy teenage girls, with their promising futures in front of them, killed in cold blood under senseless, frightening circumstances.

Their assailant was a disturbed young man -- a sexual predator -- named John Albert Gardner III, who had previously been charged with sexual assault. But Gardner slipped through the cracks, evading notice by authorities, including his probation officer, and left to his own devices to attack again. But, this time, the results were deadly, breaking the hearts of the girls’ families and friends.

California law requires sex offenders to register where they live, not where they go, and, in Gardner’s case, he moved between a couple of counties in San Diego County, dodging registration requirements and evading authorities.

Then, Amber disappeared first, nine months before Chelsea. DNA evidence left at the scene of Chelsea's murder led police to Gardner, who lived with his mother not far from the wooded park where he stalked at least two girls, including Chelsea as she went for an afternoon jog.

It was Chelsea King’s murder that prompted police to dig deeper, at the urgency of Amber’s parents. But it was Gardner, in a successful attempt to save himself, in exchange for prosecutors to not seek the death penalty against him, who led police to Amber’s body.

I began reporting on the Gardner investigation soon after Chelsea's disappearance. Now, I’ve turned the cases into a “true crime short,” which I’ve just released on Kindle, via Amazon.com, and on NOOK, on barnesandnoble.com. The advent of eBooks allows authors to tell victims’ stories without a lot of pomp and circumstance, no book release parties, no book signings, and with a shorter turn-around time to get them in print, albeit electronically.

Thus, I am announcing, on Women in Crime Ink, the eBook release of this true crime short, which I've titled A Killer In Our Midst. It tells the story of John Albert Gardner III, his troubled early years, how he evaded arrest, and the girls he preyed upon.

A Killer In Our Midst is available online at Kindle Book Store and NOOK Books .

Monday, September 19, 2011

Free Medical Treatment for Prisoners: A Different Perspective

by Katherine Scardino

Do prisoners deserve free medical treatment? You recently read WIC’s most competent contributor, Diane Dimond, ask this question in her post last week. I was a bit concerned that there may actually be people out there who think the answer should be a resounding “no”. I gave this subject some thought and felt the need to respond.

Yes, there are many people in the United States who cannot afford quality medical care - or any medical care at all. For those of us who do have insurance policies and premiums each month, we suffer financially because the premiums are extraordinarily high and at times wonder what it would be like living in Canada. But, generally, we pay the premiums and complain. And, yes, the inmates who are incarcerated in prisons all over the United States get free medical care. It’s not really free, because all of us pay for it. And, it is expensive.

But, let’s stand back and think about this for a moment. Let’s take my state, Texas, and look at the statistics here, because, as you know, Texas is big on sending people to prison. We all believe in being tough on crime, but don’t you also think it is important to be smart on crime. I remember many years ago when a person caught with a marijuana joint could have gone to prison for decades and some did. In my jurisdiction, only a few years ago it was very common for anyone caught with a small, usable amount of cocaine to be sentenced to many years in prison. It has become more common now for first-time drug offenders with small amounts of drugs to obtain some form of alternative punishment that includes counseling and rehab. Texas, however, as far as I can tell, has been a leader in long sentences.

While some prosecutors and judges espouse toughness, it seems to me that smartness is just as critical in the big scheme of things. When a 25 year old individual is sentenced to 30 and 40 years in prison for non-violent crimes, such as delivery or possession of some prohibited controlled substance or other non-violent crimes, he or she is going to get old. Their bodies are going to creak and groan just like free people at that age. There are many inmates who are up for parole and who should be paroled. I am not saying open the doors and let them all out. I am simply stating that of those inmates who may be qualified for a parole, or for the inmates who are serving time for possession of small amounts of drugs, for God’s sake, let them out instead of paying for them for many years and for many inmates on into their golden years. In the Texas prisons, a defendant is almost twice as likely to be incarcerated for a drug offense as a murder.

The inmate’s right to medical care was made clear by the Supreme Court in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). The Supreme Court established “the government’s obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration.” And, there have been several cases since 1976. For Texas, it was Ruiz v. Estelle out of the Fifth Circuit dealing with prison conditions in Texas and culminated with a requirement that the Texas Department of Corrections to “prepare and file with the court a plan which will assure that prisoners receive necessary medical, dental, and psychiatric care from the moment of their arrival in TDC.” In Ms. Dimond’s post, she pointed out a severe and ridiculous case where an inmate in Massachusetts had sued the state for a sex change operation. This surely is a sole case of an inmate who has more time on his hands than any other logical individual and has taken this on as his personal play-toy. There will always be one of these cases somewhere. 

I could also recite many cases where the inmate died as a result of receiving no medical attention or the quality of medical attention they did get was atrocious. We probably take better care of our pets. Actually, I will recite one - Adam Whitford injured his ankle in 2004, before he went to prison. The limited care and unsanitary conditions in prison caused him to develop a severe staph infection, which became an oozing wound., He was prescribed antibiotics for the infection to be taken every 6 hours, at 4 am, 10 am, 4 pm. But the prison pill window system of distributing medication meant he often had to wait up to two hours for his medication from the time he was supposed to take it. Apparently, if not taken at proper intervals, antibiotics allow the bacteria they are supposed to fight to develop immunities and grow stronger - and this is what happened to Adam Whitford’s body. His foot had to be amputated above the ankle.

So, what is to be done to alleviate the unbelievable amount of money spent on medical care for inmates and to provide quality medical care? It is apparent to me, and I wish to legislators, that our war on drugs is not working. If we really want to help addicts or perhaps young people who commit non-violent crimes, direct the money you would spend on those individuals toward fixing the problem. Send them to rehabs; force them to either go to prison or counseling; send them to lock-up for shorter periods of time and then place them on probation with a real officer of the court who will oversee them while they put their life back on the right track. Or, we could just get them out of our hair and away from us by sending them to prison for 20 years and then complain about the medical care as they age. I am all in favor of criminals being punished. But, over the years we seem to harshly punish everyone. That has never worked and it is not working now.

Ms. Dimond was correct when she said that providing medical care for inmates is what a humane society should do. We have to pay for medical care for people we assume responsibility for and it is a huge expense if we want to keep them under our finger for 40 or 50 years. Just as ludicrous as the inmate who wanted a sex change operation is the 80 year old inmate who is ill and dying, and we keep him locked in a box and complain about his medical care. That is not reasonable to me. One more point out of Ms. Dimond’s post - I caught a bit of complaining about free lawyers for indigent defendants “on the taxpayer’s dime”. That issue has been long settled as a right of every indigent citizen of the United States. People complain about these things until it is their son or daughter, their husband or wife who cannot afford a high-priced, free-world lawyer and they want a good lawyer appointed to represent them and get them off. The appointed lawyer who works for a fee not even close to the fee a hired lawyer would charge is the grease that keeps our justice system running. There are many, many more indigent people in the criminal justice system than those with money. My opinion about the reason for that is the grist for another post.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Sham with no Shame: Dr. Phil and the Anthonys' TV Stunt

by Pat Brown

I didn't watch the Dr. Phil's two-day interview with George and Cindy Anthony for a number of reasons: because they make me ill (all three of them), because I knew there would be nothing but more lies to be told, and because I didn't want to contribute to the fame or fortune of any of them. But, most of all, because it was a shameless sham.

Most everyone who watched was curious to see if Dr. Phil would manage to corner the Anthonys, get them to break, to slip up, to finally admit to knowing more than they did before, during, and after the trial. Promos for the show promised "surprises" that we wouldn't want to miss. Hogwash. There was no way anything all that revealing could ever have happened during the interview because the interview was fixed from the start.

Think about it. The Anthonys weren't about to take a chance on spilling any beans; they didn't have to put themselves at risk just to make the bucks. Dr. Phil and the Anthonys' attorney, Mark Lippman, made sure everyone would go home happy–at least everyone who was going to make money from this charade. Their "admissions" are still self-serving lies and half truths that benefit them and only them.

First of all, that show wasn't live. It was taped. And it was taped in a private location (note the secluded living room setting) without a studio audience. That means all the questions can be planned out ahead of time with both parties knowing what was going to be asked and how they would be answered. I would be surprised if there wasn't a condition in the contract that stated the Anthonys would have to approve the final product before it was aired. And there was no studio audience to be a witness to what was actually said and attest to what was deleted from the final product, so it was a pretty safe game for the Anthonys to play.

Believe me, taped shows are cleaned up and edited before they hit the airwaves. I have been on Dr. Phil's show and I can tell you what I said on the show didn't show up on air. I was actually the "big" guest on his show that day, starting out the discussion, just the two of us talking and then the other guests joining in later. But that is not what anyone saw. Oddly, I vanished out of the front of the show and appeared for just a couple of statements in the middle of the panel discussion. I was none too happy considering the effort it took me to fly to California and back for no pay just to do the show. I have no idea why I was edited out but what Dr. Phil said in his speech at the end of the show sounded an awful lot like what I said at the beginning.

I also got a major snip during the show I taped with Dr. Oz as well. I was asked what kind of woman abandons her children to help a killer escape from prison and commit crimes with him. I looked the family in the eye and said, "A psychopath," and followed this up with a discussion of how the woman likely manipulated everyone around her as she traveled through life. The other guest disagreed with me, softening his take on the woman by telling the family that she likely became so smitten with the man that she lost control of her emotions. When the show aired, everything I said had vanished and the tone of the show was very forgiving. I haven't been asked back since.

However, there are exceptions. I did quite a few taped shows for Montel Williams and I never had anything I said cut, even if it was controversial. I have to give a lot of credit to him and his producers that they allowed the viewers to see the show that was shot, not some watered-down version of the discussion.

And that is what Dr. Phil gave America with his phony interview of the Anthonys; a staged event that brought his show high ratings and the Anthonys a nice deposit in their (oh, excuse me, their organization's) bank account. We aren't told how much they got for their performance because Dr. Phil knows we would become livid if we found out the actual number of zeroes that was on the check handed over to them (think 6).

The viewers were duped. There never was a "no-holds-barred" interview with Cindy and George. The viewers are the losers and the Anthonys and Dr. Phil are the winners. Dr. Phil should have been ashamed of putting these people on his show, he should have been ashamed that he staged this event, and the Anthonys should have been ashamed to show their faces in public again. But, hey, there's money to be made, so the hell with decency, right? Caylee may be dead, but she's a gift that keeps on giving, and Casey and those people who created her, and all the rest of the morally bankrupt parasites, keep on receiving.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Do Prisoner's Deserve Free Medical Treatment?

by Diane Dimond

They are charged with breaking laws or victimizing fellow citizens. We respond by making sure they get a lawyer – often on the taxpayer’s dime. If they plead “not guilty” we stage expensive trials for them so they can provide evidence to a judge or jury. If convicted, they are imprisoned.

So, after all that do we have an obligation to provide prisoners with any and all medicines they might need to keep them healthy?

While so many Americans are struggling to meet health insurance and prescription costs – services for prisoners constantly increase. And make no mistake about it, America has so many incarcerated people we are spending boat-loads of money on convicts’ medical care. Their services cannot be cut. But health care programs for the general public have been cut back time and time again.

Let’s take the state of Ohio as a general example of what it means to maintain the health of convicts. The Ohio prison system has about 51,000 prisoners and it spends nearly 223 million dollars a year for their medical care. About 28 million dollars of the Ohio total is spent on inmate’s prescriptions.

In Oregon, the latest annual figures show it took 100 million dollars to take care of some 14,000 prisoners. That’s 7 times more than the state spends on education.

Texas, like every other state, has seen a spike in the number of elderly inmates who often require even more expensive medical treatments. That phenomenon and Texas’ regular medical care costs for prisoners ballooned to a staggering 545 million dollars last fiscal year. This at a time when other crucial state programs are facing mandatory budget cuts.

Every year the price tag of tending to old and dying prisoners skyrockets. Realize these inmates must often be transported to hospitals or nursing homes where they are treated with the latest lifesaving methods and, yes, even though they are incapacitated from their illnesses the law says they must be provided with round-the-clock security guards.

Wrap your head around this set of facts if you can: In California, a state drowning in red ink, the prison system recently identified 21 inmates whose annual health care bill is just under two million dollars – EACH. There are another 1,300 guests of the California penal system who require medical attention costing $100,000.00 apiece. Those cold hard facts caused California to adopt a bill last year to grant medical paroles so the sickest inmates could get out of prison and into federally funded health care facilities. That, of course, only shifted the burden on paper – from the state to the federal level.

So, armed with these staggering statistics ask yourself: Do prisoners deserve all this free health care when so many of us struggle to pay for health insurance or, sadly, go without? The answer in a humane society is yes.

But yes to a point.

Are you sitting down as you read this? If not, please take a seat. In Massachusetts a cross-dressing inmate who murdered his wife in 1990 has been suing the state for health care costs related to his desire to have a sex change operation. Robert Kosilek (who has changed his name to Michelle) has already received hormone injections, electrolysis hair removal and, most recently, a mammogram – all at taxpayer’s expense. Kosilek remains housed in an all-male prison and her standard issue prison wardrobe has been augmented with several bras and “some make-up,” according to corrections officials. Still, after a costly ten year court battle, Kosilek says these steps have not been enough to ease her depression and the fight continues for the state to pay for a full-on sex reassignment surgery. The case is still pending in Massachusetts’ U.S. District Court.

Earlier this year in upstate New York, 55 year old Kenneth Pike, convicted of raping a 12 year old family member and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, desperately needed a heart transplant. He had already undergone triple heart-bypass surgery and had a pacemaker implanted while incarcerated. After the media reported the public might have to pay for an $800,000.00 transplant surgery for a convicted child predator, the outcry was immediate. The Department of Corrections explained it was, “Constitutionally obligated to provide health-care services to inmates” and Pike’s family argued he should be treated like any other patient in need. In the end, the controversy was so red-hot Kenneth Pike declined the surgery. At last report he is still alive.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners were entitled to the same medical and dental treatment as everyone else in their communities. Since then countless state courts have upheld that ruling and repeated that prisons that withhold treatment can be held liable for violating the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Well, I know lots of folks in my community who can’t afford to go to doctor when they feel sick and they may go to the dentist only when they have a raging toothache.

Whether our politicians want to admit it or not, health care has become a luxury for millions of Americans. Excluding, of course, those convicted of a crime.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Will Dr. Phil Play Hard Ball or Soft Ball with the Anthony's?

by Dr. Michelle Golland

As I sit writing this wondering what will be coming out of the mouths of George and Cindy Anthony when they are interviewed by Dr. Phil this week, I can't help but know it will be disappointing. I know that the hard questions will be asked, but the Anthony's will not be pushed to truly explain their own actions. It will be watered down and spun as usual by the Anthony's to prove themselves the victims of everyone-Casey, the media, the prosecutors, and the defense.

With my clients who have experienced sexual abuse and psychological abuse they often see flashes of their own parents in that of George and Cindy. The sociopath father and the narcissistic mother. It is a match made in hell, hell for the children who are under their power and influence. I would predict that if Dr. Phil were to play hard-ball, as we have seen him do with other guests, we would clearly see these aspects of their personalities. Unfortunately, the previews seem to indicate he is playing soft-ball, which is an opportunity lost as far as I am concerned.

As a psychologist, I can feel when people are deflecting and defending, even in subtle ways. I am certain that is what will happen during this interview. The family member I would love to sit across from and hear his whole story about growing up under that roof is Lee Anthony. During the trial he was the only family member that seemed genuine and honest. His actions when Casey and Caylee were missing were appropriate and consistent for how someone would respond in that situation. George's were clearly suspect. Cindy's were vicious and public, for example her myspace message about Casey being jealous of her and her granddaughters relationship. Cindy is pointed and cruel. I can only imagine what was said behind closed doors.

As many of us wait to see the Anthony's on Dr. Phil we should be prepared for nothing much to be said that is of substance. We are dealing with liars who trained their daughter very well to be manipulative herself. I look forward to them being deposed by an attorney regarding the fraud case against Casey. Now that will show us the true colors of these two people-no softballs allowed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Scrabble Psychos of the Internet

by Pat Brown

As we always warn children and young adults, the Internet is a world with little law, a Wild Wild West that extends the circumference of the earth and is peopled by every sort of weirdo one can imagine. They are on blogs, Facebooks, Twitter, chat rooms, and, much to my annoyance, my online Scrabble site.

Not that some of us Scrabble players who show up at the local clubs aren't a bit odd (and while nonScrabble players are thinking I am being judgmental, the Scrabble players themselves are nodding their heads and thinking, well, yeah, that's true). But, at the club and the tournaments (that is me in red at a MN tourney in 2005), we have rules–like you have to hold the bag at eye level so you can't peek down into in and look for a blank or an S to make your big play. Although there are still poor losers and those who whine and argue about how things should be done, there is a code and you have to stay within the group comfort zone or you will be ousted.

Online, however, the personality disordered can have a field day! First of all, they can cheat. They can use electronic dictionaries and programs and simply put in the letters on their rack, hit the button and come up with big words. You can always tell these cheaters because while their strategy is terrible, they know words like DROUKED and DAIKER and DUIKER (yes, those really are words in Scrabble). Then there are those who get mad at you if you happen to actually know some weird words because you are a fairly highly rated player and they furiously type in "CHEATER! CHEATER! CHEATER!" even though they should recognize that they are a novice player and you are not.

There are those who lose and immediately whine that the computerized Scrabble game always give them bad letters! If you win, they call you lucky; if they win, they are skilled.

Sore losers and poor players with personality disorders have interesting ways of punishing their opponents which sometimes includes attempting to force you to stop playing so they can get the win. Sometimes they call you names and cuss at you hoping you won't be able to stand it and run away. Other times, they simply don't play for so long that their opponent goes crazy waiting on them (it is a timed game, but they have twenty minutes on their side). I multitask when they do that and I snicker as I watch their time run down; I am not sitting there staring pointlessly at the board, so, haha, it isn't working, buddy. A variation of this is to log off and on and off and on and off and on until the other player feels like a ping-pong ball.

Another interesting childish maneuver is to play gibberish, an entire game of nonsense words that, of course, one must challenge off the board each and every time. Some are not even trying to win; they are just being abusive and getting a kick out of it. Most people will suffer through a whole game of this crap because if they stop playing, they lose and their rating drops. In one of my last games, the player, losing badly, waited until his last play and then he asked me to abort the game....uh-huh. Didn't happen. So sorry. Nyuck, nyuck. The abusers turn me childish in return.

And, yes, the perverts are there as well.

ScrabbleDude: Hi and good luck.
Pat: Hi and good luck to you too.
ScrabbleDude: GOLDEN 22 points
Pat: SINGULAR 70 points
ScrabbleDude: ZEP 53 points
Pat: HAO 18 points
ScrabbleDude: Do you have big tits?

We have antisocial folks on the site who block any communication during the game and there are those who are friendly until they lose and when you type "Good game!" the reply is "Your opponent is not logged on."

At least in the real world where people have to interact face to face, abusive and psychopathic creeps can get cut off or penalized for bad behavior. On the Internet, they can strike over and over, fueling their feeling of power, getting satisfaction every time they get over on another person in the Cyberworld. One has to wonder that this kind of gratification and validation is not a good thing to be so easily obtained by someone with psychological issues. Even worse, teens and grade school children with personality disorders and behavioral problems are finding out that the Internet provides a world without adult supervision and controls; Facebook and chat rooms are filled with teens abusing teens and children getting some very nonhealthy kicks from antisocial behaviors. Probably some of my opponents in Scrabble on the Internet are juveniles and have no adults in their lives paying attention to what they are doing.

The Internet can be a fabulous tool for communication and socialization but if we aren't careful, bullying and predation and harassment will invade our life online and our children may get the brunt of it. We need to be very aware of the dangers of the Internet to our well-being and our children's well-being and make sure we are vigilant about allowing strangers access to our lives and our minds without even leaving our homes.