Sunday, December 6, 2009

AL - Birmingham widow seeks $2 million for husband's wrongful conviction on abuse charges

Original Article

12/06/2009

MONTGOMERY - A Birmingham widow says her husband died from the stress of being wrongfully imprisoned for the sexual abuse of his two young daughters, and she wants nearly $2 million in compensation from the state.

The state has already agreed to pay _____ $129,000, and it has never awarded more than $1 million for a wrongful imprisonment.

But in her view, $129,000 doesn't begin to cover the pain and financial loss that her husband, _____, endured before his death.

"It's been a long battle. But my faith is still strong," she said.

A legislative committee will soon recommend how much, if any, to add to what the state has already agreed to pay _____.

Alabama law provides for $50,000 a year for wrongful incarceration. The Legislature can go above that in special circumstances, but it never has.

"Whatever we do now will be a precedent for the future," said Democratic Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville, chairman of the Legislative's Wrongful Incarceration Committee.

_____ was making about $49,000 a year as a salesman for an insurance company in Montgomery before his ex-wife accused him of sexually abusing their daughters. In 1992, a Montgomery jury convicted him of abusing his daughters, ages 7 and 9, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He served about two years and seven months before a state appeals court threw out his convictions because the prosecutor had not disclosed to the defense that the girls had accused another man of sexually abusing them.

"In the present case, the new evidence casts fundamental doubt on the accuracy and reliability of the proceedings to such as extent that it undermines the entire prosecution and it points unerringly to _____'s innocence," the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruled.

The appeals court also pointed out that the prosecutor in the case, former Alabama Attorney General Charlie Graddick, had also represented _____'s ex-wife in their bitter divorce prior to her accusations against him.

Graddick, now a judge in Mobile, said state judicial rules limit public comments by judges, and he would need to consult with state's Judicial Inquiry Commission before making any comment.

_____ got a Montgomery judge to rule in 2005 that he had been wrongfully incarcerated, but _____ died of congestive heart failure in 2007 without seeing a dime of compensation from the Legislature.

The Legislature voted in May to give his widow the $50,000 a year authorized by law. It came to $129,041.

She and her legal team told a legislative committee Wednesday that they are requesting an additional $1.86 million to cover legal fees, medical bills, lost wages, and costs for pursuing compensation for wrongful incarceration.

"There is no dispute he was wrongfully incarcerated," Bedford, the committee chairman, said.

"I wish my husband was here to hear that," _____ said.

Montgomery's district attorney, Ellen Brooks, said _____'s widow may be due an additional $107,000 to cover her husband's legal bills from his appeal, but the widow is trying to recover for many expenses that are not allowed by state law.

The district attorney said _____ had heart problems before entering prison and he worsened the problem behind bars because receipts from the prison canteen show he made almost daily purchases of cigarettes and foods high in sugar and salt -- "items that a man in his condition should have avoided."

The committee plans to take a few weeks to consider the case and will make a recommendation to the Legislature in January.

_____ married her husband after his conviction but before he began his prison sentence. She recalled dropping him off to begin his sentence with nothing more than his Bible. An hour later, he contacted her, asking her to send Bibles to two men he had met in his holding cell.

When he got out of prison, he couldn't return to the insurance business. No one wanted to hire a convicted sex offender -- even one who had been cleared. Instead, he started a ministry program in Birmingham helping ex-felons get schooling and jobs.

His widow continues that ministry today.

"_____ was never bitter, but it has been a struggle for me, knowing what he went through and his untimely death," she said.



IL - West Haven Residents Fight Sex Offender Facility Expansion


Original Article

12/06/2009

Upon learning that St. Leonard's House--in the 2100 block of West Warren--provides transitional housing for ex-offenders (including convicted rapist, Julius Anderson), Veronica Zepeda and other nearby residents decided to fight back. Last week, they persuaded Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) to put a hold on St. Leonard's plans to buy two city lots to expand its campus. On Wednesday, a lawyer for the two women that Anderson allegedly raped when he walked out of the center earlier this year, filed suit against St. Leonard's and the State of Illinois, arguing that officials should have done more to prevent Anderson's escape.

Fioretti told the Chicago Sun-Times that although St. Leonard's has done a "great job on housing and training of ex-offenders" in the past, the residents of West Haven raised some valid concerns. One of which is that state law requires that any facility housing sex offenders must annually notify neighbors who live within 500 feet that sex offenders live nearby. Zepeda claims that St. Leonard's never did that. Sex offenders are also not allowed to live within 500 feet of a school, under state law. The Chicago Public Schools' Suder School is right across the street at 2022 W. Washington.

Last week at a meeting arranged by Fioretti's office, St. Leonard's officials told neighbors they would stop taking in sex offenders. "We respect the fact that they're there,'' said Zepeda to the Sun-Times. "We understand their mission. We just do not believe this expansion should happen."



FL - Harvard Professor Says Nancy Grace's Questioning Contributed to Mother's Suicide

Original Article

12/06/2009

OCALA — Harvard professor says a CNN Headline News host's relentless questioning of a Florida mother three years ago contributed to her suicide.

That's according to a filing in a wrongful death case brought by the family of Melinda Duckett. Duckett's 2-year-old son was reported missing in 2006, and CNN host Nancy Grace launched aggressive nightly coverage of the case.

The family claims that Grace's questioning and CNN's coverage decisions inflicted severe emotional distress on the young mother. Grace interviewed Duckett after speculation had begun about the mother's alleged involvement in the toddler's disappearance.

The next day, Duckett shot herself in the head.

A Harvard clinical professor of psychiatry writes that the CNN interview inflicted public humiliation and was "a substantial contributing cause" of Duckett's death. CNN and Grace have denied any involvement in the suicide.

Trenton Duckett has still not been found, and his mother remains the only suspect.