Archive for February, 2012



22
Feb
12

without merit

The Pennsylvania Superior Court today issued a ruling refusing to grant access to the public and media in Jordan Brown’s upcoming juvenile trial for the murder of Kenzie Houk and her unborn baby.

Lawrence County Judge John Hodge had ruled that Jordan’s juvenile proceedings should be closed to the public, and The Tribune-Review, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the New Castle News appealed his ruling in September.

The Superior Court ordered that Jordan’s trial be delayed in the meantime while the appeal was being considered, thereby overriding other statutes regarding the guarantee of timely trials for juveniles.

The newspapers argued before the Superior Court that  Jordan’s trial should be opened to the public because closing the proceedings should require a “compelling government interest” that was not present. The court’s opinion by Judge Jacqueline Shogun concluded that “denial of public access to the juvenile proceedings at hand serves an important government interest” because “under the facts of the case, there is no alternative short of closure of the juvenile court proceedings which will adequately serve the privacy interests of J.B.” The newspapers had argued that Jordan’s right to confidentiality (as guaranteed by statute) is a moot issue because, in the words of Ronald Barber, an attorney for The Tribune-Review, “That horse has left the barn.”

Bill Vidonic, a reporter for The Tribune-Review, invoked this same metaphor on the phone with me today and became angry when I reminded him that his paper was one of those responsible for having opened the barn door in the first place. When I asked Susan Smith, an editor at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette if her paper had any ethical standards about how crimes involving juvenile defendants are handled, she became flummoxed and refused to answer this or any more questions.

The ethical default in journalism is always to publish as much as you reliably know. But sometimes, especially in cases involving juvenile defendants or victims, journalism ethics dictate restraint and extreme caution. The ethical injunction in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is to “minimize harm.”

Jordan was 11 years old at the time he was wrongfully accused of the double homicide. He was charged as an adult by an unscrupulous district attorney and waived into adult court under an outrageous (and novel) legal theory that was ultimately overturned on appeal. Even though the newspapers can justify their public identification of Jordan on the basis of his having been initially charged as an adult, subsequent court proceedings have confirmed what any ethical journalist should have known from the start: Jordan was (and is) a juvenile.

The release of Jordan’s mug shot photograph to the media by a jail employee was unauthorized and, in fact, it was released in defiance of a direct order by the jail’s superintendent that the photo was to have been kept confidential to protect the privacy of a child. The newspapers splashed Jordan’s mug shot all over their front pages, sensationalized the crime, and uncritically reported everything the now-discredited Lawrence County PA district attorney John Bongivengo alleged about the crime—all of which has been disproved by analysis of the physical evidence by the state crime lab, a fact that has never been reported by the press.

“More than anything,” a top producer at ABC News told me, “it was the release and distribution of that photo that created the public perception of Jordan’s guilt.” These three newspapers were at the center of events that secured a lynch-mob conviction of Jordan in the court of public opinion and they have irreversibly damaged Jordan’s reputation.

And now, in today’s ruling the Superior Court justices wrote that the newspapers’ arguments for opening Jordan’s trial had “no merit,” and said that the Lawrence County Court “did not abuse its discretion in denying access to the juvenile proceedings.”

After this, will anything change in the way these newspapers report on Jordan’s case? I doubt it. Even in Vidonic’s story today about the Superior Court ruling, the background facts about the crime are reported in a way that seems to presume Jordan is guilty as charged. This is nothing new.

As early as November 2009, reporter Sadie Gurman of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette told me she had obtained copies of the protection orders Kenzie Houk had taken out against Adam Harvey. She knew then that Harvey had threatened to kill Kenzie and that Kenzie and Adam had been engaged in a bitter child support and paternity battle. And yet she did not report on the possibility that Jordan, a little boy without a motive or any history of violence or trouble with the law, might have been wrongfully accused by police.

As I have become aware of the crime lab findings and other crucial information, I’ve personally informed reporters from the Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review (the New Castle News has never returned my calls) that the physical evidence suggests a handgun was the murder weapon, not a shotgun. I’ve written about that in this blog. Yet these newspapers have failed to report this information and, in fact, continue to keep reporting that a shotgun was the murder weapon.

What in the world has been going on all this time? Why are these newspapers facilitating this injustice?

As I have said before, it is my opinion that these papers don’t give a damn about the truth or any high-minded public interests; they want the court proceedings opened so the spectacle they created can continue. There’s money in spectacle and none in justice.

They have prolonged Jordan’s wrongful incarceration and have delayed Jordan’s opportunity to prove his innocence. Today when I informed Sandy Tolliver of the Tribune-Review that I had heard a decision had been made before today’s ruling that, if necessary, the newspapers would continue their appeal all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, she denied it saying, “We have not made that decision yet.”

Yet?

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Charles Murray performing “I Read It in the Paper So It Must Be True”

 

(Postscript)

The New Castle News will not pursue an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to gain access to Jordan Brown’s juvenile proceedings. The News’ publisher, Lawrence Corvi, announced on Friday, February 24,  that the paper has decided not to appeal the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling. A story appearing online early Saturday morning said the other two newspapers will not pursue an appeal, either.

Visit this link for a more in-depth explanation of the papers’ decision:
http://www.ncnewsonline.com/topstories/x1875166191/New-Castle-News-won-t-appeal-Jordan-Brown-ruling.

Now the only open question remaining is, “When will they begin reporting the truth?”

21
Feb
12

time machine

It’s been an annoying day—I won’t go into the details except to say events have reinforced the wisdom of my decision to live in physical isolation away from people—and I’ve been partaking in a little music therapy tonight.

You know, soul music from the days before black kids were gunning one another down  in epidemic numbers in our city streets… ’60s girl groups like the Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas, Diana Ross and the Supremes… music that is nothing like today’s angry, misogynistic fare.

But the music that has put me in the best mood (and please don’t gag) is disco, because it takes me back to a time immediately before Holly was struck down by MS and everything changed; when we used to go dancing at the only disco in town, a gay nightclub, in the days before gay people enjoyed the level of tolerance they have achieved today. That was forty years ago and we were carefree, adventurous kids at the beginning of married life.

The following years were rich and beautiful in ways we could not have imagined then, because we had no idea of the adversities we would face together until the time of Holly’s death. But I still cherish the memories of those early years before we were tested… the memories of my dancing bride  these songs reanimate.

I sound like a sentimental old codger, don’t I? 

۞

Grooves of the Day 

Listen to The Hues Corporation performing “Rock the Boat”

Listen to Alicia Bridges performing “I Love the Nightlife”

Listen to The Pointer Sisters performing “Jump”

20
Feb
12

time to rise up

I was talking today with a reporter with one of the three newspapers that have been interfering with Jordan Brown’s Constitutional right to a speedy trial, and I want to repeat here what I told this reporter.

Today is the third anniversary of the crime and Jordan’s wrongful detention, and justice for Jordan is just as distant and beyond his (and our) reach as it was three long years ago… except that the idea of justice is today more tortured and abused, and we are more cynical and resigned to business-as-usual.

I think it is high time for all of us who have been following and involved in Jordan’s case to do some soul-searching and take action. This wrongful imprisonment of a child, the theft of his childhood, is the responsibility of more than just a few dishonest cops and prosecutors and politicians and second-rate lawyers. In varying degrees we have all allowed it to happen. Why have we not risen up en masse and demanded that the evidence, most of which exonerates Jordan, be examined? Why have we not demanded that this outrage against reason and honest justice immediately cease? We are all culpable.

The lawsuit being pursued by the three newspapers is threatening the freedoms of all Americans, not just the rights of a single child. The lawsuit might be good for the newspaper business, but it does not serve a higher good as long as the Constitutional rights of this child are being violated. These papers have no right to invoke First Amendment protections while they contribute to a denial of Jordan’s Sixth Amendment rights. If any of us start cherry-picking the Bill of Rights, if any of us start claiming that our Constitutional rights should preempt the Constitutional rights of others, then the whole ideal of freedom in America is doomed.

Who knows? Maybe the whole situation is already too far gone. A lot of people today are saying the Constitution is already null and void. But maybe we can still save it and get our freedoms back.

We are organizing a letter-writing campaign to the US Attorney General, the President, and to Pennsylvania Congressional members to ask for intervention in this case. The state of Pennsylvania has a statute called “Rule 600” that says a person should be tried for a crime within one year of being charged. The statutes regarding juveniles are even more strict: they maintain that a child must be tried within ten days of being charged. Jordan has already waited three years for a trial, and there is no certain end in sight.

Jordan is not doing well these days. He is fighting off depression and losing weight. He is losing ground with every day of prolonged imprisonment. Time is working against him. And remember: Jordan is innocent!

The real killer remains free in Lawrence County PA. He is a violent man, an alcoholic, and a threat to public safety.

Please visit http://www.facebook.com/events/212824898815204/ to learn how you can participate in this campaign to end this abuse of an innocent child and this threat to the freedoms of all.

Please act now. There is no more time to spare.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Bob Dylan performing “Chimes of Freedom”

 

19
Feb
12

starvation feast

As of the writing of this entry, there are more than fifteen elated comments to Friday’s good news about Paul Henry’s case, which collectively create the impression of a starving tribe falling upon its first meal after a long famine. In fact, one reader wrote saying that it was “good news and good food for us hungry supporters.”

Please forgive me for being a killjoy if I state the obvious: Friday’s order is but an intermediate step—a mere appetizer—to achieving justice for Paul Henry. The court is only saying it will not let the state of Indiana prevent Paul Henry’s appeal from being heard; we are still a long way from a ruling on the appeal itself. It strikes me as pathetic and an indictment of the entire justice system that there is such inordinate celebration that the court has merely done the right thing. It is very sad indeed that we have come to expect the “justice” system to produce injustice as its norm.

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of the murders of Kenzie Houk and her unborn son, and the next day at 2:00 am is the third anniversary of 11-year-old Jordan Brown’s wrongful detention for the crime without honest police work, without evidence, and even without a trial. We would like to think these outcomes are the exception and not the rule, but this is blind and wishful thinking. The “justice” system is unconcerned with discovering the truth of whether defendants are innocent or guilty—only with winning by any means necessary.

As the Jordan Brown case so well illustrates, police and prosecutors regularly lie, coerce witnesses, and manufacture/misrepresent evidence to get what they want. If the true facts of a case cannot justify their official actions, they will resort to any underhanded means, regardless of the truth, to win and to create the political appearance of being “tough on crime.” There is an old saying in the legal profession: “It takes a good prosecutor to convict a guilty defendant, but it takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent one.”

It has required the involvement of Monica Foster, one of the top lawyers in Indiana, to get the court to do the right thing for Paul Henry in this one small instance. Most defendants, especially children, do not have access to such exceptional legal talent. An average lawyer would not likely have been able to get the court to act responsibly and fairly. This is why injustice is so endemic to our legal system. Justice is available only to those who can afford it.

Thanks to you, The Redemption Project is changing the game by bringing top-flight legal and other talent into service to the most powerless and vulnerable members of society—at-risk kids. We have been successful in getting brilliant and effective people to help our kids on a pro bono or reduced-fee basis, and to work just as hard as if they were being paid corporate-counsel rates. Yet we still need to raise a lot of money to pay for reduced fees, out-of-pocket expenses, expert witnesses, private investigators, and many other costs.

We have an immediate need right now to raise $10,500 to pay legal expenses for the defense of Blade Reed and James Prindle, and we are about to take on a new case that I will tell you about soon which will probably require our raising an additional $25,000. This is getting to be serious money, and I hope you will please give serious consideration to helping financially in any amount, large or small, that you can.

Please go to www.redemptionforkids.org and click on the cause that most appeals to your head and heart. Working together, we will be able to assemble a satisfying potluck  juvenile justice “banquet.”

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to the Broadway cast of “Oliver!” performing “Food Glorious Food”

18
Feb
12

vintage west

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Slim Whitman performing “I Remember You”

17
Feb
12

the best gift

Today is Paul Henry Gingerich’s birthday, and today we received a copy of the appellate court’s order, dated today, that the State of Indiana’s motion to dismiss Paul Henry’s appeal is DENIED.

Now how perfect is that?!

From the beginning it has seemed to us that the stars have been in continuous alignment with respect to this case, and the timing of this order confirms it once again. The actual court document can be viewed at http://justice4juveniles.com/index.php?board=23.0.

Happy birthday Paul Henry!

And thank you, Monica Foster!

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Marti Jones & Don Dixon performing “Lucky Stars”

16
Feb
12

we’re #1

I have just learned that on February 6, neighboring Big Bend National Park was awarded a “gold tier” rating from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), and it was announced that we have the darkest skies measured in the lower 48 states (http://docs.darksky.org/PR/BigBendNPPR.pdf ). This is a very big deal for me.

I vividly remember the exact moment while I was still living in Minneapolis that I resolved to move away from there; the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was nighttime light pollution. One night I was standing in Cedar Lake Park, a “nature park” that I had a lot to do with creating (see https://wandervogeldiary.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/family-secret/). Hundreds of people and I had worked for years to establish a park in the center of the city that would create the illusion of untouched wildness, but the state highway department had just installed new street lights on the edge of our park. So now you could no longer see the stars, and I knew that no matter how much work we might do in the future, our vision for the nature park would be steadily degraded by forces beyond our control. I knew that if I wanted to live close to Nature, I would have to move out of the city to a relatively unspoiled place like Big Bend.

I intentionally moved to Big Bend so I could see the stars, and it seems so strangely appropriate that I should have found a place already named “Estrella Vista” (Starry View) to make my home. This new film by Erik Walker will give you an idea of the nighttime spectacle that is a central part of my existence here, and why building an observatory is a core element in the future vision for Estrella Vista.

 

Without observing the stars, we simply cannot understand our place in the universe. It is astonishing to me that most city people live for years and even decades deprived of seeing the splendor of the arched nighttime sky. Years ago Carl Sagan was quoted as saying, “I can find in my undergraduate classes bright students who do not know that the stars rise and set at night, or even that the Sun is a star.” In my opinion, such young people truly are lost souls because they are, in a very literal sense, lost in space.

Yet here I am, under one of the darkest skies in the world, surrounded by star-crowned mountains, and enjoying one’s birthright to experience the spiritual uplift of being connected to the cosmos. It is a supreme privilege, and I give reverential thanks for it almost every night.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Alisa Jones Wall performing “Star of the County Down”

 

“To us also, through every star, through every blade of grass, is not God made visible if we will open our minds and our eyes?”
~ Thomas Carlyle