Monday, April 28, 2008
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SPARTANBURG - A man at the Spartanburg County jail has committed suicide by hanging himself with a mattress cover.
Authorities say 31-year-old Gerald Keith Tessnear was found dead Saturday afternoon, a day after he was booked on a charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
Jail Director Larry Powers says Tessnear was being kept in a cell by himself and was found when guards did a head count.
Police say Tessnear was arrested after the father of a 13-year-old boy told investigators his son told him that Tessnear fondled him two years ago.
Powers says Tessnear is the second inmate to kill himself since the county's opened its current jail in 1994.
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You see, it's all about convictions to make quick cash and has nothing to do with proving someone innocent. Get someone to plea so you can move on to the next person. Remember Mike NiFong?
Overeager prosecutions can ruin lives, some say
Oakland County prosecutors have won convictions in just 55% of the sex cases they have argued in front of juries since 2005, according to a Free Press review of court records.
About 35% of cases brought outright acquittals while the rest have ended in mistrials, hung juries or dismissals. By comparison, Wayne County juries convicted, on average, in about 80% of cases during that same time period. A comparable statistic was not available for Macomb County.
Defense attorneys contend the numbers indicate overzealous charging policies that can ruin lives over things like child custody disputes. One man spent almost $100,000 on legal fees and another spent 80 days in jail before their cases were dropped. Several legal experts say a 35% acquittal rate is a sign prosecutors are bringing cases that don't hold up under the scrutiny of a jury.
"That's high and that should give them concern," said Abbe Smith, the former deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School who now teaches legal ethics at Georgetown University. "The charging decision is a critical decision. You should not prosecute every case."
Neither Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca, nor anyone in his office, would speak to the Free Press about his office's charging policies. The claims of negligent prosecutions come at a time when Gorcyca faces increased scrutiny for his handling of sex cases.
Earlier this month, the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission filed professional misconduct charges against Gorcyca for his handling of the case against James Perry, a former Oak Park kindergarten teacher charged with raping two boys. Perry was granted a new trial last year; the second trial ended in a hung jury this month with 11 jurors voting to acquit and one holdout.
Last month, Gorcyca dropped charges in a high-profile case against a West Bloomfield father accused of raping his autistic daughter after the man spent 80 days in jail. The case collapsed because the court could never establish the girl, who cannot speak, was the author of the rape claim allegedly made with the help of a teaching aide through a widely dismissed method known as facilitated communication.
And last fall, an Oakland County jury took less than 30 minutes to acquit an Oxford Middle School teacher accused of groping his daughter, who later recanted her testimony.
Watching for red flags
Michigan law does not require corroborating evidence, such as DNA samples, before sex charges can be filed.
- Why not? It should! This is why the "justice" system is totally screwed up.
Still, "some cases you just don't prosecute," said Therese Tobin, chief trial attorney in the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office. "Sometimes you have a 3-year-old victim, and you don't think you can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. You don't put the child through that."
Similarly, Tobin said, custody disputes raise questions about allegations children make against a parent.
"Divorce is always a big red flag," Tobin said.
Nancy J. Diehl , head of the felony trial division at the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, agreed.
"In cases where there is a motive, we take an even harder look," Diehl said.
Legal experts say a decision to not charge is almost as important as deciding to charge.
"As a threshold matter, prosecutors have tremendous discretion over what charges to bring," said David Uhlmann, a former federal prosecutor and current law professor at the University of Michigan. "The notion that prosecutors are automatons, who must pursue cases simply because allegations have been made, ignores the role of prosecutorial discretion and the obligation all prosecutors have to do justice in their cases."
Risks for prosecutors
Sexual assault cases, by their nature, are difficult to prove, since they typically hinge on one person's word against another's. Michigan law instructs jurors that they may convict on a victim's claim alone if they find it credible enough to remove any reasonable doubt. But experts say relying solely on victim's claims creates risks for prosecutors.
- You must PROVE someone is guilty, not just take someones word for it. That is absurd!
Gerard Wilson had been searching frantically for more than a day last May for his 14-year-old daughter when sheriff's deputies found her in a motel room with a convicted pedophile from Texas whom she met on the Internet.
The girl told police she had sex with Richard Carrasco, 27, who was arrested with a loaded gun, sex toys and thousands of images of child pornography. But the girl also told police her father had touched her inappropriately, too.
Wilson, an Oxford Middle School teacher, had not slept in more than 24 hours when investigators began an hours-long interrogation. He was in tears when they asked him to write his daughter a letter apologizing for the things she said he'd done: brushing his hand over the top of her breast, and once hugging her while partially aroused. Wilson wrote the letter, was immediately arrested and jailed on a $4-million bond.
- So much for unreasonable bail! Another violation of the constitution!
The girl later testified that she made up the claims to shift police attention to her father instead of Carrasco, whom she said she wanted to marry. Jurors deliberated for less than half an hour before acquitting.
"I was glad the police interview was taped because it showed the progression, his state of mind, how they befriended him," said Wilson's attorney, Lawrence Kaluzny. "The jurors saw that and found it outrageous."
- Every single police interview should be recorded, period!!!
Since the ordeal, Wilson has returned to teaching and his daughter is back in school.
Patrick McCarthy tells a similar story. He was battling for custody of his two daughters in 2005 when they accused him of fondling them.
- In other words, if you are married and want a divorce, you better think twice about it, or you might wind up on the sex offender registry for life and in prison for a very long time over he said, she said allegations.
Police arrested McCarthy, 50, at his engineering job and jailed him. The Auburn Hills man spent nearly $100,000 on lawyers during the next five months, preparing for a trial that would never happen. The girls, who were 10 and 11 at the time, began recanting. Investigators pressed ahead anyway.
- Why do police have to further humiliate someone by arresting them at work? You can't wait until they get home? Or leave work? You see, when someone recants a story, IMO, that should be grounds to dismiss the charges. If someone doesn't want to testify in court about their allegations, then the case is dismissed. It should be any way, IMO.
On the eve of trial, the girls met privately with the judge and confessed to fabricating the claims because they preferred living with their mother. Only then did Oakland County prosecutors drop the charges that McCarthy insists should never have been filed.
- What about the $100,000 he had to spend for nothing? I would've sued someone to get the money back. Or he should've been able to sue the people going forward with the charges after they recanted.
"They had no witnesses, no evidence and still they went forward," McCarthy said. "They do this, and they're not held accountable. They have to be held accountable when they destroy lives like this."
McCarthy has since spent all of his free time suing everyone involved in putting him in jail on false allegations, including the judge, the prosecutor's office, and the social workers he says failed to adequately question his daughters. All of the suits have been dismissed for not meeting the threshold of malicious prosecution, but he pledges to appeal. And he continues to fight for custody.
- Good, I hope he becomes a millionaire due to their screw ups!
"I have to do this; I have to do this because of what these people did to my family," he said.
Protecting children, the innocent
In the case of the West Bloomfield man accused of raping his autistic daughter who cannot speak, the girl allegedly made the accusation through a controversial method known as facilitated communication, where a teacher's aide helps a nonverbal student type answers to questions on a keyboard. A prosecution expert testified that investigators violated protocols by not having a second facilitator verify the claim. Defense experts testified that scientific studies of facilitated communication show the facilitator, consciously or subconsciously, authors the messages.
During two days of demonstration in 48th District Court in January, the girl was unable to correctly answer a single question on the keyboard if the question was asked out of earshot of the facilitator. That raised doubts about whether the girl wrote a lengthy statement about sexual abuse.
Other evidence also seemed to contradict the girl's statement, including a physical exam that showed her hymen is intact, despite claims of repeated rapes since age 6. At one point, the girl's statement said she feared going to hell for lying, but her family is Jewish and doesn't believe in eternal damnation. The girl also claimed she feared her father, who kept guns in the house, but a police search of the home found no weapons.
Even after the courtroom demonstrations, Assistant Prosecutor Andrea Dean argued the man should remain in jail. But on Feb. 21, prosecutors reversed course and agreed to release him on personal bond with an electronic tether. On March 11, they asked District Judge Marc Barron to dismiss the case, claiming the girl was too afraid to testify. The judge dismissed the case.
"It is important to protect children, and we understand that," said defense attorney Robyn Frankel, who helped represent the girl's mother. "But it is equally important to be sure you're not putting innocent people in jail."
Perry's case has caused problems for prosecutors since the beginning. When he was accused of raping two boys at Oak Park's Key Elementary School in October 2005, prosecutors refused to charge, in part because the second boy denied any attack. Four months later, they reopened the case and charged Perry with rape after the second boy's mother told them her son had disclosed an attack. But the second boy's accounting conflicted with the first boy's and their accounts continued to change even through the second trial.
In September 2006, a jury convicted Perry, but Judge Denise Langford Morris threw out that conviction, saying police never interviewed three key witnesses who could have aided the defense.
A retrial concluded April 1 in a hung jury. Gorcyca now must decide whether to try Perry a third time, though Morris said that based on her conversations with jurors in the second trial, there was a "low probability of conviction."
During the case, Gorcyca called Perry "a freak" and a "pedophile" and publicized evidence excluded by the court, according to the charges filed against him by the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission. Gorcyca faces a hearing next month before the state's Attorney Discipline Board on the charges.
He said in a statement that he looks forward to defending himself.
Contact L.L. BRASIER at 248-858-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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More proof that most abuse is done at the hands of a family member.
Austrian police: Woman says her father held her captive for 24 years, fathered 6 children
A woman who went missing in 1984 was found by police over the weekend and told investigators that she had been held by her father in a cellar, where she was repeatedly raped and gave birth to at least six children, police said Sunday.
Authorities said that the father may have told acquaintances and relatives that his daughter had joined a cult and disappeared.
Franz Polzer, head of the Lower Austrian Bureau of Criminal Affairs, told reporters that the father, identified as Josef F., had been taken into custody. Police said Josef and his wife had been raising three of their daughter's children. The other three grew up in the cellar.
"We are being confronted with an unfathomable crime," Interior Minister Guenther Platter said.
The case unfolded after a gravely ill teenager was found unconscious on April 19 in the building where her grandparents live, and taken to a hospital in the town of Amstetten. Told that the sick 19-year-old's mother was missing, authorities publicly appealed for her to come forward.
Officers received a tip and picked up the mother near the hospital on Saturday, police said.
The mother, whom authorities identified as Elisabeth F., told officers that she had just been released after two decades of captivity at the hands of her father. She said that on Aug. 28, 1984 her father had sedated her, handcuffed her and locked her in a room in the cellar of the family's apartment building.
In an interview with AP Television News, Polzer said that Josef F. had given police a code to unlock a hidden door, revealing the area where Elisabeth and the children had been held.
It had several rooms, an uneven floor and a very narrow hallway, Polzer said, adding that the door was very small, and that one had to bend one's head to get through.
"Everything is very, very narrow and the victim herself ... told us that this was being continually enlarged over the years," Polzer said.
The area also contained sanitary facilities and small hot plates for cooking, Polzer said.
On its Web site, ORF reported that the rooms were at most 5.6 feet high and that the area had a TV.
The area also included a "padded cell," Hans-Heinz Lenze, a senior Amstetten district official, said in remarks broadcast late Sunday.
Elisabeth said her father had been sexually abusing her since she was 11. According to the police statement, Elisabeth said that she and her children got food and clothing only from her father and her mother, Rosemarie, had not been involved.
Police said Elisabeth F. appeared "greatly disturbed" during questioning and agreed to talk only after authorities assured her she would no longer have to have contact with her father and that her children would be cared for.
Police said Josef, 73, and Rosemarie had raised three of Elisabeth's children in their apartment in a two-story building in Amstetten, a small town about 80 miles west of Vienna.
Josef and Rosemarie registered the children with authorities, saying that they had found them outside their home in 1993, 1994 and 1997, at least one with a note from Elisabeth saying she could not care for the child.
The three other children apparently remained in the cellar with Elisabeth, police said.
"Elisabeth F. taught them how to speak," Polzer was quoted as saying by the Austria Press Agency.
Police said the sick 19-year-old, Kerstin, had been found unconscious on April 19 in the apartment building, with a handwritten note purportedly signed by Elisabeth, asking that she be given care.
After Kerstin was hospitalized, police said, Josef F. freed Elisabeth and the two remaining children from the cellar and told his wife that their daughter and the children had come back to them.
The Austria Press Agency reported that, in addition to Kerstin, three of the children are boys and two are girls, the youngest of whom is 5.
All are in psychiatric care, along with Elisabeth and Rosemarie, police said. DNA tests are expected to determine whether Josef F. is the father.
Police cited Elisabeth as saying that she gave birth to twins in 1996 but one died several days later because it was not properly cared for, according to police, who said they are investigating.
Josef, the alleged abuser, then apparently removed the corpse from the cellar and burned it, the police statement said. It was not immediately clear if the twin who allegedly died was included in the police total of six children.
Sunday's developments are reminiscent of the case of Natascha Kampusch, which shocked Austrians less than two years ago.
Kampusch was 10 years old when she was kidnapped in Vienna on her way to school in March 1998. She was held for the next 8 1/2 years by Wolfgang Priklopil, who largely confined her to a tiny underground dungeon in his home in a quiet Vienna suburb. Priklopil threw himself in front of a train just hours after Kampusch's dramatic escape on Aug. 23, 2006.
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A son's visits to his elderly mother in Bellevue may lead to her eviction from a government subsidized apartment complex because he's a registered sex offender.
Robert Cameron's past has created an uncertain future for his mother's apartment lease. "Unauthorized guest on premises."
Cameron says a GPS monitor and ankle bracelet won't let him hide or forget that he's a registered sex offender. "Two counts sexual assault on my daughters."
After six years in prison, Cameron doesn't want to let his mother down again, so he spends nights at a homeless shelter and visits her every day from sunup to sundown.
“I've done things I'm not proud of,” says Cameron. “All I want now is to spend the time I can helping my mother."
But federal rules say no sex offender residents in elderly subsidized housing and Seldin Company says Cameron has acted more like a long-term guest than just a visitor. He admits staying over one weekend when his car broke down.
"No, he's not dangerous, he doesn't bother anybody," says his 68-year-old mother Ethel Cook.
"I think they're holding my past against her," says Cameron.
The landlord calls Cook a good tenant and says it's a warning, not an eviction.
Cameron says if he can't stay at his mother's he'll spend his days at the Gene Leahy Mall hanging out with others who have no place to go. "If I hang around the mall there's a greater chance of me going back to using drugs and alcohol.”
Cameron says he never stays alone in his mother’s apartment and when evening comes he says goodbye and leaves in her car. He hopes she'll be able to stay so he can visit her instead of the homeless at the mall.
A manager with the Seldin Company will meet this week with mother and son to discuss when the registered sex offender can stay in her apartment without violating federal rules.
Omaha Fair Housing says sex offenders do not have any rights to claim discrimination in subsidized housing.