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Elections matter: Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit

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Elections matter: Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit

State Attorney Andrew Warren of the 13th Judicial Circuit, which is comprised of Hillsborough County, surprised many last year when he narrowly defeated incumbent State Attorney Mark Ober, who had been the chief elected prosecutor in Florida’s fourth largest county for 16 years. A former federal prosecutor, Warren ran as a supporter of criminal justice reform, vowing to lock fewer people up and send more addicts to rehabilitation instead of jail. During his campaign, Warren had also been critical of Ober for the manner in which his office sought the death penalty, remarking that Ober had received a “failing grade in a critical area of criminal justice.”

Nine months into his first year, Warren is choosing to seek the death penalty less frequently than his predecessor, and also choosing to drop the death penalty in some cases where Ober initially sought it.

Warren’s views on the death penalty were explored in a recent Tampa Bay Times article.

According to the profile, Warren has chosen to drop the death penalty in five cases where Ober originally chose to seek it. A sixth person facing capital charges cut a plea deal that allowed him to avoid the death penalty.

There are still 17 cases where Ober initially elected to seek death, and Warren hasn’t yet announced whether he will follow the same path.

“These decisions are the most serious and sobering decisions you make as state attorney,” Warren said. “And it’s different academically than it is when you’re sitting in a chair as the one to make the decision.”

Warren has said the death penalty should be applied “fairly and consistently and rarely.” He has also said he will not use the threat of seeking death as leverage to get someone to plead guilty.

Warren has chosen to seek death in one criminal case that occurred after he took office.

Warren previously pledged to reduce the number of juveniles charged as adults and increase the number of juveniles who receive civil citations, which keeps juveniles out of the criminal justice system.

“We need to do a better job steering juvenile, non-violent offenders away from the downward spiral of the criminal justice system,” Warren said while he was running against Ober. “We should be tough on serious juvenile offenders and always hold people accountable for their actions. But treating kids who commit minor offenses like adult criminals only furthers the revolving door criminal justice system. And it makes our neighborhoods less safe.”

He announced an expansion of the county’s juvenile civil citation program in July.

Law Enforcement Takes Unearned Victory Lap for Capture of One of Their Own — The Golden State Killer

Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert announces the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo.
Justin Sullivan / Getty

Law Enforcement Takes Unearned Victory Lap for Capture of One of Their Own — The Golden State Killer

It has been over a week since California law enforcement announced what many have waited to hear for more than 40 years — that they identified and captured the man they believe to be the Golden State Killer, thought to be responsible for at least 12 murders and nearly 50 rapes between northern and southern California from the mid-1970s to 1986.

On April 24, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested at his home in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights, where six of the crimes occurred. He was formally charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in three counties.

“The answer was always in Sacramento,” Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a press conference the day after DeAngelo’s capture. But Schubert and her colleagues, including Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas offered few answers about the DNA testing methods used to identify DeAngelo. Instead, they used much of their time at the podium to repeatedly praise the “dedication,” “persistence,” “dogged determination,” “visionary and innovative leadership,” and “unrelenting efforts” of police and prosecutors — the very same people who have been stumped by the case for decades.

“At a time when law enforcement is unfortunately under so much criticism, I want the public to know that the work on this case reflects the very best, the very highest standards in the noble and dedicated and courageous police profession,” said Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten.

It wasn’t until the end of the nearly hour-long press conference, when reporters were permitted to ask questions, that officials acknowledged what many already knew, thanks to social media — that DeAngelo himself was once a law enforcement officer. Employed by the Auburn Police Department from 1976 to 1979, DeAngelo was employed as a police officer during the same time frame when the Golden State Killer, then known as the East Area Rapist, attacked women and couples in their Northern California homes. DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer from a drugstore in Citrus Heights.

A few months later, on December 30, DeAngelo allegedly shot to death Robert Offerman, a doctor, and Alexandra Manning, a clinical psychologist, in their home of Goleta, a suburb of Santa Barbara. Offerman and Manning were allegedly the Golden State Killer’s first victims in Southern California.

“Very possibly he was committing the crimes during the time he was employed as a peace officer,” said Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, “and obviously we’ll be looking into whether it was actually on the job.” He also noted that from 1973 to 1976, DeAngelo was employed by the Exeter Police Department, just 30 minutes from where a series of break-ins were committed—crimes also believed to be the Golden State Killer’s work. And yet, investigators said, DeAngelo was never on their radar, despite years of speculation that the offender had a police or military background.

But a failure to bring justice in the long unsolved serial murder case did not stop District Attorney Schubert from using DeAngelo’s arrest to promote her re-election campaign. On May 1, Schubert’s campaign debuted a new 30-second spot hailing her as a “groundbreaking DNA expert who led the investigation that solved the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist case.” The tagline? “She protects us.”

Tell that to the family of Stephon Clark, the unarmed Black man who was shot to death by Sacramento police officers while he was standing in his grandparents’ backyard in March. Clark’s family and activists from around the country have urged Schubert to file charges against the officers, or issue a statement about it, but she has declined to take action. On April 20, Schubert responded to four weeks of protests outside her office by erecting a 10-foot cyclone fence in front of her office and around the employee parking lot.

Schubert had already been criticized for her refusal to pursue criminal charges against the police — since taking office in 2015, according to theSacramento News & Review, she “has declined to file charges in 21 shootings involving police and also in 13 cases of death of people in police custody.” Late last year, Schubert also refused a state auditor’s request that she charge Sheriff Jones with a misdemeanor for “deliberately releasing information that he was specifically told he could not release, despite multiple verbal and written warnings.” A recent investigation by the Intercept revealed that one-third of the funds Schubert has raised for her two campaigns for DA (in 2015 and now, as she runs for re-election) came from law enforcement sources.

Schubert isn’t the only law enforcement official taking victory laps over the apparent resolution of the Golden State Killer case who is facing accusations of protecting the police. Between 2010 and 2015, Orange County DA Rackauckas accepted $23,500 from individual police officers and police PACs, contributions that came against the backdrop of his office’s history of declining to prosecute police killings, including the 2008 shooting death of a 20-year-old man by the Anaheim Police Department which led to a $1.5 million settlement with his widow. And just weeks before Rackauckas appeared on the HLN network to laud law enforcement’s work in the Golden State Killer case, his office was sued by the ACLU over its network of jailhouse informants which was allegedly used to win “countless convictions based on unreliable information.”

As Schubert and Rackauckas ride the tidal wave of positive publicity from the Golden State Killer’s arrest, there is growing criticism of law enforcement exuberance around the case, as if DeAngelo wasn’t one of their own — especially in Sacramento, where the community is already up in arms over a more recent death at the hands of a police officer.

As Schubert noted, the answer to the Golden State Killer case was likely always in Sacramento. But to find what she called “a needle in a haystack,” investigators turned to advanced DNA testing. In the late April presser, law enforcement officers were vague about the methods used to finally identify DeAngelo, even as they ebulliently praised their own work in the case.

“The fact that they didn’t disclose in that press conference their methods I found really disingenuous,” said Erin Murphy, a professor at the New York University School of Law and the author of Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA. “There was no investigative reason they couldn’t have told everyone. I mean, the press asked them a million different ways. I knew … something smelly was going on. If it was just a familial search, they would have said. I think it’s really telling that they felt they couldn’t share their methods at that time.”

In the weeks since DeAngelo’s arrest, it has been revealed that investigators used a new form of genetic fingerprinting to search for distant relatives of the then-unknown offender in a variety of state, private and public databases, including the genealogy database GEDMatch.

The revelation has raised privacy concerns among the legal community, privacy advocates, and genealogy website users, many of whom were unaware of the ways their own DNA could expose their entire family tree to law enforcement scrutiny. While the terms and conditions of these public sites all vaguely warn of potential privacy risks, the average user is unlikely to be familiar with specific forensic advancements used by police — especially if, like in California, they don’t publicize them.

GEDMatch, however, is where investigator Paul Holes and his fellow investigators got their hit. Using other public records, they assembled a family tree and narrowed down the list of potential suspects within the genetic line. There was at least one near-miss — in March 2017, Holes successfully persuaded a judge to issue a DNA subpoena for a 73-year-old nursing home resident in declining health. He wasn’t a match.

At some point, “DeAngelo kind of bubbled to the surface,” Holes told the San Jose Mercury News.

timeline of DeAngelo’s known history and whereabouts during those 10-plus years of terror makes clear that he was never far from reach. In just a few short weeks, scientific advancements and a crazy amount of luck accomplished what conventional police work failed to do for the last 40 years. As significant as finally solving this case may be, California law enforcement should quit their showboating and instead reflect on why it took so long to apprehend one of their own.

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Lawyer for Pedro Hernandez Says Bronx DA’s Office Is Still Withholding Key Evidence

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark (at podium)
Bronx District Attorney’s Office / Facebook

Lawyer for Pedro Hernandez Says Bronx DA’s Office Is Still Withholding Key Evidence

When Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced last September that gun possession and assault charges would be dropped against teenager Pedro Hernandez, who had spent 12 months on Rikers Island, she pledged her office would investigate what went wrong, and that the investigation would “go wherever the evidence leads.”

A lot had gone wrong in the case against the then-17-year-old Hernandez, who was held in connection to a 2015 shooting: Detectives had allegedly beaten witnesses until they agreed to sign false affidavits implicating Hernandez, and the prosecution had promised further charges against Hernandez to justify a $250,000 bail. But those promised charges never materialized in later proceedings, and prosecutors’ further claims that Hernandez was an active gang member and involved in a check forgery scheme also went unsubstantiated.

Such instances of police and prosecutorial misconduct rarely see the light of day because defendants overwhelmingly accept plea deals, giving in to pressure from the daily horrors of life in jail and the possibility of longer sentences if they take a case to trial. But Hernandez refused to take a plea — he insisted on his innocence while his family hired a private investigator to look into the case. The investigator, Manuel Gomez, filmed witnesses as they recanted their statements and eventually uncovered widespread witness intimidation in the Bronx’s 42nd Precinct.

While detained on Rikers, Hernandez graduated from high school and received a full scholarship to college. His case drew headlines and high-profile support, in part because it echoed that of Kalief Browder, a teen who spent three years on Rikers on charges that were eventually dropped, and killed himself two years later.

But while supporters celebrated Hernandez’s release, the Bronx DA refused to drop a robbery charge against him relating to a stolen cell phone. Hernandez’s trial on that charge is scheduled to start today.

On the eve of trial, however, Hernandez’s lawyer is claiming that the Bronx district attorney’s office is still withholding potentially exculpatory evidence in the case, and proceeding in precisely the same manner it did before. In a motion filed by Hernandez’s lawyer Alex Spiro in Bronx Supreme Court late last month, Spiro alleges that the Bronx DA is still shirking its Brady responsibilities, which dictate that prosecutors must hand over any and all evidence that might be favorable to the defendant.

“Since the inception of this case, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office has demonstrated a disturbing lack of candor with the Defense and this Court, and has presumed Mr. Hernandez’s guilt regardless of what the evidence shows,” Spiro’s memo reads.

In early November, Hernandez’s lawyers asked the Bronx DA to hand over all remaining Brady materials that could impact the case against Hernandez, including the results of its own internal investigation into both police and prosecutorial misconduct (the prosecutor on the original case, ADA David Slott, has been transferred to the appeals division while the investigation plays out).

In late 2017, according to court filings, Hernandez’s defense attorneys uncovered that witnesses had given conflicting accounts of the robbery to the district attorney, information the DA was required to hand over to the defense but had failed to deliver. In December, a judge again “reminded” the Bronx DA of its obligation to hand over any relevant evidence to the defense. Finally, in late January 2018, the DA informed Hernandez’s lawyers of some potentially exculpatory information: The complainant witness in the case had tried calling his allegedly stolen phone shortly after the robbery, and a female voice had answered it.

Because the voice obviously didn’t match that of Hernandez, his lawyers argued that this evidence should have been turned over to the defense far earlier, and that it strongly suggests the DA is still invested in withholding evidence that might clear Hernandez of the robbery charge. “By the District Attorney’s own calculations,” the motion reads, “the People sat on this information in violation of its Brady obligations for approximately 778 days.” While it was eventually turned over, that means Hernandez’s defense team lost more than two years during which they could have investigated this lead, years in which he might have pleaded guilty, unaware of this information.

The fact that the DA had been sitting on testimony that could have cleared Hernandez of this charge points to systemic problems involving the treatment of exculpatory evidence at the Bronx district attorney’s office, something that even DA Clark has alluded to in recent statements, where she has called on outside law enforcement officials to look into the practices of her own office.

“My Office’s Public Integrity Bureau delved into the allegations surrounding the Pedro Hernandez case,” Clark said in a press release in November. “Because the investigation has broadened, we saw the need for additional law enforcement resources and the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Joon H. Kim, has agreed to assist my office in this investigation.”

But none of the results of the investigation into the 42nd Precinct, or the Bronx district attorney’s office, have been made available to Hernandez’s lawyer, even though this information could undercut the integrity of the government’s case. Given the lack of cooperation from the DA’s office, Spiro expects the hearing to be adjourned today (Hernandez also has a pending civil lawsuit against the city).

In a November 22 response to Spiro’s allegations of Brady violations, Assistant District Attorney Burim Namani wrote that any information on alleged misconduct could be found in lawsuits filed by Hernandez and others against the city, and by “googling Shaun King’s name, Pedro Hernandez’s name, Detective David Terrell’s name, Private Investigator Manuel Gomez’s name, Assistant District Attorney David Slott’s name, reporter Sarah Wallace’s name, the 42 Pct., and/or the title of Shaun King’s articles.” At the end of the letter, the ADA wrote,“People are fully aware of their constitutional discovery obligations, including their continuing obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and its progeny, and will continue to faithfully discharge those obligations.”

By refusing to take a plea deal, Pedro Hernandez exposed systemic police and prosecutorial misconduct, where evidence was fabricated to justify the arrests of young men of color. Over the next few weeks, we’ll find out just how seriously this particular district attorney’s office takes its constitutional obligations, and whether Pedro Hernandez will not only have beaten a series of bogus charges, but finally brought some measure of accountability to a system rife with abuses.

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