Archive for January, 2012

31
Jan
12

headache

I’m posting late tonight. I have just slept off a headache, and am now settling into the unpleasant task of writing about a situation that epitomizes everything I have moved out here into Nature to get away from.

Oh well—as they say, you can run but you cannot hide. The culture of urban violence and official corruption is an unavoidable fact of life in America, all the more so when you consider that it is destroying the lives of innocent children and their families. We cannot stand by silently and just watch.

I think the thing that has most gotten me into a surly mood is that I know at the outset of this task that I have no pearls of wisdom to offer you. I have spent the whole day investigating an outrageous story of justice denied, and my head is swimming in a mess of facts—claims and counter-claims—and a whole bunch of strange names of people I do not understand and have no desire to ever get to know on any level whatsoever: i.e., “Tone Tone”, “Milk Dud”, “Bug”, “T”, and “Homie”. This story began with a contract “hit” of four people in a drug house on Runion Street in East Detroit on September 17, 2007. Not my world.

A one-eyed developmentally disabled 14-year-old black kid named Davontae Sanford, transfixed by the intense excitement of the crime scene (which was just a short distance from his home), stepped forward to offer police an elaborate and fictional account of the crime which he could not have witnessed, and unwittingly became a convenient target of suspicion. He was taken to the police station, interrogated without a parent or lawyer present, and tricked and coerced into admitting to the murders. He signed a detailed typed confession that he could not have composed or even understood (because, according to his family, he could only read at a third-grade level and had the mental capacity of an 8- or 9-year-old).

Police and prosecutors ignored credible evidence exonerating Davontae—for example, the testimony of a police chaplain who lived down the street from the crime scene, who had exchanged gunfire with the two perpetrators who were much taller than Davontae (physical descriptions which continue to be absent in prosecutors’ briefs to this day). Davontae’s mother hired a lazy, crooked, and incompetent lawyer—she didn’t know—who advised the kid to cop to a plea based on nonexistent evidence.  Based almost solely on his false confession, Davontae was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to 37-90 years in prison.

After Davontae began serving his sentence, Vincent Smothers, a contract killer, was arrested in 2008 and charged with nearly a dozen murders, including the murder of the wife of a Detroit police officer. Smothers confessed to the Runyon Street murders and named an accomplice—Ernest Nemo Davis. Smothers told the police they had the wrong guy locked up for his crimes and provided a confession which included details only the true perpetrator could have known, as well as a motive. There’s no dispute that Smothers confessed to the Runyon Street slayings, but prosecutors have never charged him or Davis with the murders and have never explained why.

Instead, the Wayne County prosecutors have fought tooth and nail every effort of Davontae’s attorney to get evidence of Smothers’ confession into evidence at a post-conviction hearing. 

Late last night a reader sent me a link to an Associated Press story by Ed White that Smothers, who had invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to personally testify for Davontae (but would allow his former attorney to relate his testimony—an offer prosecutors rejected and blocked) has apparently seen the light. In an interview with AP reporter White, Smothers has said he’s now willing to testify to right this wrong.

Now here’s the thing that really got me wound up on this story. Despite the stench of prosecutorial malfeasance, at no place in his story did White ever name any of the prosecutors involved. Not only do they have legal immunity which encourages “winning at any cost” misconduct, but the prosecutors are not even being held publicly accountable for their behavior by the press.

Not even was the elected Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy, named. She is a politician who boasts of being “The Toughest Woman in Detroit,” and has proposed jailing parents who fail to show up for teacher conferences at their children’s schools. Apparently she confuses acting with integrity with being a softy. Too bad. (I need to look into whether she failed her ethics courses at the University of Notre Dame Law School.)

This morning I did some digging and learned that Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Thomas M. Chambers is currently overseeing the Prosecutor Office’s maneuvers to keep Davontae locked up despite ample exculpatory evidence. I haven’t been able to learn much yet about Chambers, but I did make a fascinating discovery about what may be behind the prosecutors’ zeal in refusing to admit to a miscarriage of justice.

In The People’s Brief in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea, Chambers states: “The People are cognizant that Defendant is arguing, essentially, that Defendant was spoon-fed the details and information to put into his confession. In order for this Court to find that to be the case, this Court would have to find that Sgt. (Michael) Russell, a seasoned Detroit Homicide Sergeant, with no shown motive to lie, lied at the waiver trial when he testified that he did not tell Defendant what to say, nor did he tell Defendant what to put in his statement.” Yet Davontae’s family says Davontae was shown crime scene photographs and was subjected to other coercive techniques which Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) says are standard practice in police interrogations of young people.

According to the CWCY: There is no doubt that, contrary to what seems logical, people do falsely confess to heinous crimes. In all studies of false confessions, youth are overrepresented.

Traditional (and legal) police interrogation tactics focus on convincing the suspect that their situation is hopeless, that their guilt is already known, and that the only way to improve their situation is to confess. Police accomplish this goal by relentless and intense leading questions to suspects, rejecting any denials of guilt from the suspect, lying about the evidence they have, minimizing the culpability or moral reprehensibility of the crime, and making implied promises of leniency.

Police use these same interrogation tactics with young suspects!

These tactics are tailor-made to get young people to confess, even innocent young people. Exonerated youth who falsely confessed often explain that they confessed merely to stop the intense interrogation so they could go home. Youth are taught to trust the police and categorically are unable to view long-term consequences like adults. Even though they were confessing to heinous crime, these young people actually believed they could go home if they confessed.

Police are trained to avoid all these same techniques when they interview young victims so that they can be assured the victims’ statements are reliable. There is no reason this same caution should not be used when interviewing young suspects.

However, I do not believe the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is going to the mat just to protect one Homicide Sergeant. No, it goes deeper than that. The most intriguing thing I discovered is that Davontae’s original prosecutor was a man named Patrick Muscat—the son of a cop—who, ironically enough, has since been promoted to Director of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s “Conviction Integrity Unit” (CIU).

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has been scoring a lot of political points using the work of the Conviction Integrity Unit—most notably the audit by the CIU of sexual assault kits recovered in Detroit Police Department property, for which in 2011 she was included as a speaker at the prestigious Oxford Round Table at Oxford University, England.

If it became widely known that Muscat used a coerced false confession to frame a mentally disabled child for four murders that were actually carried out by a professional hit man—a hit man who confessed to the murders and scoffs at the idea of Davontae having been an accomplice—this would not only be personally embarrassing to Kym Worthy, but would call into question the whole idea of “Integrity” in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

Bottom line, it’s all about self-preservation and the sacrifice of another throw-away child to crass political ambition. It makes me sick. And my headache’s returned.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Paul Butterfield Blues Band performing “One More Headache”

30
Jan
12

burgerlicious

I’m reaching the end of my rope. I haven’t had a really decent hamburger since The Grub Shack has been closed—eleven months now.

This may seem inconceivable to you. You are lucky. You probably live within five miles of any number of burger joints that can satisfy your cravings for the “All-American Meal” any time of the day or night. Not me. Not even a fast food burger. The nearest fast food restaurant is eighty miles away.

I have been doing a really good job of not obsessing about burgers until this morning when I heard this comedy bit on the radio by Jim Gaffigan:

Listen to Jim Gaffigan performing “Fast Food”

And then, on top of this, the Huffington Post ran this illustrated piece today, “Hamburger Heaven: A Taxonomy of the Different Species of Hamburgers.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-goldwyn/hamburger-types-a-taxonom_b_583903.html#s94703&title=Runza_or_Krautburger 

Well, now I’m obsessing. I’d even be thankful for a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder.

Admittedly, fast food burgers aren’t the best things for you. They’re evil. But they do have the advantage of having been developed with scientific flavor additives, focus groups, and any number of other tricks to make you care not that you’re clogging your arteries with fat—sort of like how even the worst American cars have really great sounding radios and CD players.

Last summer Kosmic Kathy closed down her roadside stand in town, went on a long vacation, and when she returned began tending bar at the Starlight instead of rising every morning at the crack of dawn to prepare for a long workday that sometimes didn’t even make her enough to cover expenses (the joys of self-employment!). Besides The Grub Shack, Kathy’s Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe was the only other place within twenty miles where you could get a great hamburger. She would even make them for me rare.

Thankfully The Grub Shack will reopen soon. Jerry and Eva have literally sunk a small fortune into the ground paying for the new septic system, and Jerry is hooking up a mop sink and a water tank today—the last items on the long punch list of requirements imposed on them by our oh-so-helpful state health department inspector (a guy named Jeff, who I hope will suffer from dysentery, botulism, or some other form of cosmic retribution for depriving us of our favorite community meeting place—and burgers—for so long).

Jerry has been tormenting me all along with the promise of introducing his secret-recipe “Jerry Burger” when The Grub Shack reopens. One night he and Eva invited me and some others over for a meatball dinner, through which they tried out the new burger recipe on us. I almost wish they hadn’t included me in their little focus group. You can’t crave a flavor you’ve never tasted—but alas, I have partaken and have been living in a state of deprivation ever since.

Today Eva told me the end of the long hiatus is near. She has painted a sign that says “Burgerlicious” on an old satellite dish that she and Jerry will move down to The Grub Shack soon. The final countdown begins.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Jimmy Buffet performing “Cheeseburger in Paradise”

29
Jan
12

the truth

It’s hard enough staying on top of the truth without irresponsible reporting by the media.

This afternoon I spoke with Pastor Stephen Leininger of the Milford Christian Church to follow up on the story of Lucas Howland, 19, who two days ago I reported had been sentenced to two years in jail by Judge Duane Huffer of the Kosciusko County Superior Court for breaking into Pastor Leininger’s church in September and stealing $8 from the secretary’s office. Two days ago I ran with the facts as reported by Rachel Glaser of the ABC affiliate television station in South Bend IN.

“That reporter got her facts wrong,” Pastor Leininger told me.

“Once we were into the interview, I could see she wanted to spin the story a certain way. The boy didn’t get a jail sentence. It was suspended. He is serving two years’ probation.”

“Oh, that changes everything,” I said.

What Rachel Glaser’s story also left out is that this was the second break-in at the church. According to Pastor Leininger, the first break-in obviously involved more than one person because so much stuff—a couple computers, a projector, and a heavy safe—was taken, loaded into the church’s van, and then driven off. This second break-in, he said, had all the earmarks of having been committed by someone who already knew his way around in the dark. He told me the thief (or thieves?) caused $800 in damage to a window through which he (or they?) gained entry to the church.

“Our only contact with this case was reporting the break-in to the police,” Pastor Leininger said. After that, he was not asked to testify or otherwise become involved. He seemed to be satisfied that justice has been served by the suspended sentence. He read me an excerpt from a news story that ran in the Warsaw Times-Union (which unfortunately I was unable to find online) in which Judge Huffer had lectured Lucas at sentencing, saying that he was being given a second chance as a kind of act of grace, and that he (Howland) now holds the key to his own jail cell—that if he blows his second chance, he will have turned the key himself. Pastor Leininger said that he’d heard that Lucas is living with an aunt and has a full-time job—and now has a real chance to get his life together.

This is all good. The kid has a second chance. It suggests that the Kosciusko court is not as dysfunctional as the erroneous facts of the Lucas Howland story had suggested. It also indicates that the harsh judgments some readers made of Pastor Leininger (based on their viewing of Rachel Glaser’s story) were unwarranted. He is a decent man and genuinely concerned about the welfare of young people in his community, which is experiencing a methamphetamine crisis and all the collateral social damage that goes with it.

Our quest for authentic justice is about discovering the truth and dealing with it honestly, unselfishly, and in a spirit of love and respect for everyone involved. Our mission is not to “win” by any means necessary (as has so widely perverted the ideals of justice in America), but to help influence outcomes that benefit children, families, victims, communities, courts, etc. Only by discovering the truth is reconciliation possible, and only by serving the truth is the redemption of young lives possible.

I’m glad the facts as I reported them two days ago were wrong. I’m glad I am able to correct the disinformation that was put out there by Ms. Glaser’s bad reporting and which might have done some real damage to our cause had I not learned the truth.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Buddy Holly performing “True Love Ways”

28
Jan
12

word-off

I’ve been here for three years, and until tonight I have never attended the annual “Word-Off,” a friendly competition of local writers reading their works at the Starlight Theatre and Cafe.

While I was in town this afternoon buying supplies, Carmen (the beautiful tatooed shopgirl) asked me if I was going to attend, and I answered that I didn’t even know the event was happening. When she said she was going to read one of her pieces, I volunteered that I would go just to hear her read.

I’m glad I did. I was seated at the bar for supper, sandwiched between two strangers who, as it turns out, were both local writers. When I left the Starlight tonight, I had gained two new friends who both assured me they would make an effort to stay in touch. I think I even believe them.

Even though I did not stay long enough to see how the event turned out (I feel bad that I never did hear Carmen read), the evening was a great success for me–and I didn’t even have to work up the courage to go up on stage!

Maybe next year I will read a post from the Diary at the Word-Off. With your help, we should be able to select a crowd-pleaser.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to That Petrol Emotion performing “Mess of Words”

27
Jan
12

cruel hot spots

I am always astonished by the cruelty of some people.

Yesterday I received three comments presenting “the other side” in one of our cases. The information this person offered was unhelpful in the extreme to our boy; yet, in the interest of getting to the truth (no matter what the truth might turn out to be), we at first took this person’s allegations seriously.

I wrote back to this commenter—an anonymous person identifying him/herself only as “WC”—explaining that, because these allegations could have a significant impact on the quality of justice meted out to a juvenile, I was going to delay publication of the comments until we had vetted the commenter. I received no reply.

As it turns out, the e-mail address provided by the commenter was phony. Our e-mail messages to the commenter were bounced back to us and the IP address turned out to originate in a blighted redneck town in Florida, hundreds of miles from where our kid lives and is locked up.

As it happens, that blighted town is Pensacola, a place with which I am quite familiar because of my history with Derek and Alex King. Pensacola is their hometown and the place that incubated the perversion of justice that has characterized the King Brothers’ story from the start. Pensacola is a mean and ugly place that I am always happy to leave. Years of reading online comments to stories about Derek and Alex make me wonder if Pensacola isn’t home to a social ethos that is particularly cruel.

This afternoon I received word that Paul Henry Gingerich’s home, Kosciusko County IN, has surfaced in the news again as a place that favors cruel and unusual punishment. This time a boy named Lucas Anthony Howland received a two-year jail sentence for breaking into a church and stealing $8.00. The judge on this case was none other than Duane Huffer, the same guy who presided over Paul Henry’s rushed, pre-wired, and unconstitutional waiver hearing, and the prosecutor was Dan Hampton, the same guy who also figures so prominently in Paul Henry’s case.

According to court documents, Lucas told police he had just been kicked out of his parents’ home at the time of the break-in. He was 18 years old, unemployed, and homeless. I don’t know much about the case yet, but Lucas did show up on a list of missing children back in 2009, so it’s a safe bet that the kid had a troubled home life.

These guys in the Kosciusko County court are so unbelievable. They are going to lock the kid up for two years at a cost to taxpayers of at least $35,000 for stealing less than ten dollars! This excessive punishment will not rehabilitate the boy; it may, in fact, harden him and guarantee his recidivism. Prosecutor Dan Hampton was quoted by a local television station as saying that the kid got off easy; he could have gotten 20 years, according to Hampton. So knowing how these guys work, the 20-year sentence is probably what Hampton was using as a threat to get the kid to agree to a plea. Lucas had a court-appointed defender.

Just as one is able to statistically map crime “hot spots,” I am wondering if there aren’t also “hot spots” of injustice and cruelty? In places like New Castle PA, Pensacola FL, and Warsaw IN, bad judges and prosecutors do not operate in a vacuum, but within a social culture that supports (or at least does not object to) their actions. I am wondering if injustice is a symptom of a more general malaise in the community—a state of spiritual rot that affects many more things than just the functioning of the courts and law enforcement?

If this is so, the task ahead of us is very daunting indeed.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Gene Pitney performing “A Town Without Pity”

 

(postscript)

The above story contains factual innaccuracies based on a flawed media report. Please view my January 29 post for the true facts. Thanks.

26
Jan
12

gross inflation

I had supper tonight with some friends whose brother works at Disney World. They told me that last week Obama visited Disney World for a photo opportunity (supposedly promoting Florida tourism) and a big section of the park had to be completely shut down.

The security measures necessary to support this publicity stunt were extraordinary. Disney employees were all wanded down TSA style, military snipers were positioned on the tops of every building, and the air was said to be thick with helicopters.

As they were telling me this, two questions seized my brain. The first was, “Ohmygod how much did all this cost the taxpayers and Disney?” And the second question was, “Is this guy Obama really worth it?”

I don’t know the answer to the first question, but the cost has to have run into many hundreds of thousands of dollars. The answer to the second question is an unequivocal “No.”

Obama is a sell-out figurehead just like all the other politicians. All the security measures and trappings of power are just stage dressing to convince us that Obama really matters. He doesn’t. He gets to play the role of President for a time, while in reality he is someone else’s bitch.

If Obama had any real power or integrity, he would be keeping his campaign promises (which he is not).

The idea I cannot shake off is that, surrounded by Secret Service details, swat teams, and swarms of helicopters, these buffoon politicians have to be experiencing ego inflation on a monumental scale. Even though they know they’re just the puppets of the real powers-that-be, on some level these politicians start believing their own phony press.

Obama probably has Lincolnesque visions of grandeur dancing in his head. What a crock.

It is stunning to me that our political process in America has reduced us to “choosing” between the lesser of two evils. Can you imagine the gross inflation of ego that would occur if Newt Gingrich were elected to the presidency? He is already a big enough windbag without pumping him up even more.

By the way, if you delight as much as I do in windbag jokes, my friend George Phenix has a choice collection of quotes and observations about the “fair weather spouse (and ally?)” on his blog at http://www.blogofages.net/2012/01/newt-gingrich-jerk.html. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Buddy Knox performing “Party Doll”

25
Jan
12

cheaper by the dozen

After Holly died and I was alone, I made a conscious decision that I was never going to become a lonely old man.

At the time—and because it was so soon after Holly’s last illness—I imagined what it would be like to be sick and dying without anyone being there to support me as I had supported her, and it was this horrific vision that first motivated my decision. But now that so much time has passed, I realize that this vision was a false fear.

No, the greater horror would have been living alone—but I couldn’t have known that at the time because I had not yet begun creating my fictive kin family and could not have imagined what it has become to me today. There is not a week that goes by that I do not hear from at least two or more of my kids. Even though I live a solitary existence at Estrella Vista, the abundance of love that fills my life crowds out any potential feelings of loneliness. I am blessed beyond all expectations.

(The funny thing is, I now expect that when death does come I will be here alone, but that does not concern me at all. I need no one here to hold my hand; in fact, I think I prefer that I should be alone when the time comes. I hope it will be a surprise at a time quite distant from now because there is so much yet to do, and life in the meantime is so satisfactory because of the richness of my family relationships.)

A couple days ago a reader wrote and said that she envied me for the number of friendships and mentors in my life, and I have been thinking about this ever since. I want to say that far from being an object of envy, I would prefer being seen as an example of a very ordinary person who has discovered the key to creating an extraordinarily happy life. And the key is this: there is no limitation on the amount of love you can project onto others.

The one thing every person in the world most values is being singled out from all the other people in the world and being loved. We all go through life having been conditioned to the idea of scarcity in all things—there never seems to be enough time, money, resources, etc. to satisfy us. There are way too many people who live their lives without a sense of being loved enough or even being loveable.

Well, this is what I have figured out—and I have done it through the process of creating my fictive kin family. Love is the most valued coin of the realm, but it is scarce only if you’re on the receiving end of a transaction. If you’re on the giving end, the law of scarcity does not apply. Each of us has within us a boundless capacity for projecting love onto others—an unlimited expense account!

When I started out creating my family, I mistakenly believed that I could only love one or two extra kids and I would be all spent out. But over time I kept taking more young people into my life and I found to my great surprise that my account was never overdrawn. The more love I gave, the more I got back. There are now over a dozen kids in my life and there is no end in sight.

Now admittedly I am not paying money for their room, board, and tuition. There the laws of scarcity would apply. But we are not talking about money or any material resources—we’re talking about love. And there is no limitation on that as far as I’ve been able to discover.

I’m rich. Romney rich. Rockefeller rich. Rothschild rich. I’ve been sitting on a huge inheritance all my life and never realized it. You have, too.

Go on a spending spree. Spread your love around. Don’t scrimp. You will be amazed at your return on investment.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Beatles performing “All You Need Is Love”