Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Kirk Bloodsworth spent two years on death row and lost a decade of his life after being wrongfully convicted and jailed for a crime he didn't commit.
The former US marine had, in just eight months, gone from an average citizen with a job and new wife to being found guilty of the brutal rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl and sentenced to death.
Despite having an alibi and not matching the police sketch issued at the time, prosecutors were determined to prove he was the man who had taken the life of an innocent girl.
Dawn Hamilton was found naked from the waist down in woodland near her Maryland home in 1984 in a crime which shocked America. She had been raped, beaten and killed.
"Witnesses described someone tall, with curly hair, a bushy moustache and tanned skin," Mr Bloodsworth said.
"I had hair as red as an apple and couldn't tan."
He remembers the shock he felt when he was arrested and how he turned around to look for someone else when police said "that's him" as he was put in handcuffs.
He also remembers the anger and disbelief he found after he was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to death in Baltimore County, Maryland, the following year.
It would take almost 10 years and DNA evidence to secure his innocence and freedom.
But it wasn't until 2003 that the taunts of being a child killer finally stopped and the real offender was charged with the crime.
Speaking exclusively to news.com.au from his Maryland home, Mr Bloodsworth said he can still hear the prison doors shut if he thinks hard enough and gets chills whenever he hears metal keys jiggle.
He said he tries to put it into words what he felt when he was told he was going to die, and just can't describe it.
"I guess it's like a doctor telling you you're going to die from cancer and nine years later saying 'sorry we've made a bad mistake'," he said.
The real green mile
Criminal justice advocate and exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic spoke at St. Thomas last week
In 1989, in Peekskill, New York, 16-year-old Jeffrey Deskovic was walking to school when he was stopped by a police car. He was wanted for questioning in the case of his raped and murdered classmate, 15-year-old Angela Correa. While his other classmates were in school mourning the girl’s loss, Deskovic sat in a small room for seven and a half hours. He had no food, no access to relatives and no attorney present. The police attached him to a polygraph machine with one goal in mind—to get Deskovic to confess to the murder by the end of the interrogation, regardless of his innocence. After feeding him copious amounts of caffeine to raise his pulse, playing good cop bad cop and using every scare tactic in the book, Deskovic was in a fetal position on the floor. If he confessed, they told him, he’d be set free and get to go home to his mother and grandmother.
“Being young, naïve, frightened, 16-years-old, not thinking about the long term implications, I took up their offer,” Deskovic told an overflowing auditorium at St. Thomas University last Tuesday night.
It wasn’t until 2006, after serving 16 years in prison, Deskovic was finally set free.
Since his release, he has been an integral part of successfully resisting the restoration of capital punishment in New York, delivered over 100 speeches across the United States and obtained his master’s degree in criminology.
Most recently, he founded the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, which seeks legislative changes to prevent wrongful convictions, works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and helps exonerees in their reintegration into society.
“What is it that can be learned about the causes of wrongful conviction and the reforms?” Deskovic asked the audience full of criminology students. “What is it that my case illustrates?”
By Amy Woodland
A woman claimed she had been raped to cover up an affair, a court has heard.
Jessica Gore, 32, of Curtis Road in Ashford has been given an eight month suspended prison sentence after she falsely claimed she had been raped in September last year.
Gore reported the sexual assault to police on September 24.
She said a man had come up behind her in an alleyway near Curtis Road when she was on her way back from babysitting.
At the time of the claims detectives in Ashford were investigating a series of sexual assaults in the area.
Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate took on the investigation after a description of the man given by Gore resembled an efit image issued by police.
Enquiries revealed, however, that Gore had been seeing another man and the claim of rape had been made up as an excuse to her husband for her returning home late.
A week after the complaint was made. Gore was charged with perverting the course of justice and at Canterbury Crown Court on Tuesday Judge Heather Norton sentenced Gore to an eight-month suspended prison sentence.
After the conclusion of the case Detective Inspector Richard Vickery said: "Kent Police takes very seriously all reports of rape and sexual assault and all are fully investigated by experienced detectives."
"In this case, the allegation of rape proved to be untrue but was not admitted until after extensive enquiries had been carried out by detectives at a time when there was understandable public concern about a number of earlier assaults being carried out in the Ashford area."
"I would echo the comments made by Judge Norton in court that this is a very serious type of offence and by its very means strikes fear into the hearts of women, undermining actual victims. Gore had lied to family, friends and the police and her deception was uncovered by the police investigation and not her own admission."
By TERESA WOODARD
DALLAS - La'Cori Johnson, a five-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, was arrested at police headquarters Tuesday, just after he resigned.
He was charged with sexual assault, a second-degree felony.
According to the arrest affidavit, the assault occurred September 9, 2013. Johnson detained a woman and a man in the 9200 block of Larga Drive, near Bachman Lake. He ordered the man to leave, but told the woman she had an outstanding warrant.
The affidavit states he ordered her into the back seat of his marked car and when she began to cry, he said, "Why are you crying? You don't have to go to jail if you do what I tell you to do."
According to the affidavit, Johnson drove his squad car a short distance, to a dead end circle in the 3300 block of Storey Drive, behind an apartment complex. The affidavit said he got into the back seat, took off his gun belt, placed it beside them, and raped the woman.
"With any sexual assault, the victim is going to have lasting damage from that attack; but in this particular case, the damage extends beyond the victim, and it impacts the entire public," said Dallas attorney Kimberly Priest Johnson.
She is not directly involved in this case, but is outraged by it, saying it shakes the public trust.
"You know, the public thinks things like, 'Is this person the only Dallas police officer who has done this? Might there be other victims that Johnson has attacked?'"
The affidavit says Johnson dropped off the victim on nearby Clydesdale Drive and she walked home, telling her mother what happened.
Police said the victim reported the incident to them on October 4. Johnson was placed on leave at that time, according to a statement from Dallas police, and a public integrity investigation began.
An internal affairs investigation started January 24. Johnson was questioned by internal affairs Tuesday.
Then he submitted his resignation, was arrested, and booked in jail.
His bond was set at $25,000.
"When it's by a police officer, on a citizen, while that police officer is on duty, in a marked car, pulling someone over, seeking this out, it's at the top of egregiousness," Kimberly Priest Johnson said.
The Dallas Police Department says La'Cori Johnson was hired as an officer in April 2009 and was assigned to the Northwest Patrol Division.
By Pamela Dorsey
The Missouri Legislature overwhelmingly passed legislation last year that would remove many juvenile offenders from the public sex offender registry, which is posted on the Internet. It would not have lessened the punishment for any offender. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the legislation and then launched a misleading campaign in which he highlighted some of the worst offenders on the registry.
Let me tell you my son Zach’s story, as it gives a very different perspective. It shows how harmful the sex offender registry can be for juveniles who should not even be classified as sex offenders, much less be on a public registry for the world to see.
Zach was a typical boy. He loved playing baseball and even made the all-star team with the American Legion. He loved hunting with his dad, being with his friends, playing video games and so often making us laugh. He was a kind-hearted, life-loving spirit.
At age 14, Zach was coming into his sexuality. Like many of his friends, he searched the Internet for girls his own age. But girls his age in sexually explicit pictures are classified as child pornography. When he downloaded them, he had no idea he was breaking the law. He believed that if something was readily available on the Internet, it must be OK.
Through the years he randomly viewed his downloaded library. One of the videos Zach downloaded was tagged by a federal agency that tracks child pornography. A few months after Zach turned 18, in 2008, St. Charles County deputy sheriffs were at our door to confiscate his computer. He was later called to the sheriff’s office for an interview. He went willingly and without a lawyer, thinking he had done nothing wrong.
At 6:30 on the morning of Jan. 7, 2010, our nightmare began. Federal agents knocked on our door with an arrest warrant for Zach. My husband and I hired a lawyer, who informed us Zach was facing four to 10 years in prison. We were in complete shock. On July 1, 2010, Zach was sentenced to 40 years of supervised release and a lifetime on the sex offender registry.
Zach was also ordered to take sex therapy. The therapy was more harmful than helpful. Part of his treatment was being forced to say he received sexual gratification from watching children have sex, which he did not. If he refused, he was threatened with being kicked out of class. That would have landed him in prison.
Zach became depressed and felt hopeless. He was prescribed anti-anxiety pills by his doctor. The doctor told me he believed Zach’s anxiety was caused by the treatment he was getting from his mandated sex therapy classes.
Zach would often sit in his room, a prison of its own. He felt like a freak, an outcast and completely powerless. I can only imagine what it is like knowing all your friends are at the first wedding ever in their circle of friends, dancing and celebrating at an occasion you should be part of but are not allowed.
Those on the sex offender registry cannot go anywhere where children might be present. Not to a friend’s wedding. Not to their grandmother’s funeral. Not to a baseball game. Not even to McDonald’s for a hamburger.
Zach was working for our family’s roofing company but was told he couldn’t work on a roof that housed children or had play equipment in the yard. He attempted to find employment elsewhere because children are in almost every home on which we work. But no one wanted to hire a registered sex offender.
Zach tried to look happy and calm for me, but I saw the fear and panic in his eyes. It was a hopeless situation for a 20-year-old boy who made a mistake when he was just a child. On Nov. 4, 2010, I lost my son. The autopsy report deemed his death an accidental overdose. Those of us who knew him well thought he just wanted to escape his pain.
The laws are terribly flawed. Those in Zach’s situation are dealt a “one size fits all” punishment. The laws need to be changed. What happened to Zach and our family should never have to happen to others.
This ban affects all ex-offenders, not just "child molesters!"
By Eric Nicholson
For a portrait of the Kafkaesque nightmare criminal residency restrictions can create, go read about the permanent sex offender camp that took root several years ago beneath Miami's Julia Tuttle Causeway. Thanks to a local ordinance barring them from living within 2,000 feet of any place that children congregate, there was quite literally nowhere else for them to go.
It stands as an object lesson in how not to do public policy. It's a lesson that Grapevine has yet to learn.
Last week the Grapevine City Council, citing a "frightening and high" risk of recidivism, unanimously passed an ordinance (PDF) barring those convicted of sexually assaulting a child from living within 2,000 feet of places where kids "commonly gather." This includes, but is not limited to, schools, parks, day cares, public swimming pools, hiking and biking trails and "video arcade facilities."
- Recidivism is low not high, but the politicians continue to push the myth! These residency laws will only force people into homelessness or to cluster in your neighborhood.
Look at a map of Grapevine, take note of all the parks and schools and kid-centric businesses, add in about 20 licensed child care centers, several of them operating out of people's homes, and a registered sex offender's housing options more or less disappear.
Maybe that's what the City Council was after. It's an understandable impulse, keeping the most thoroughly despised class of criminal out of one's city. But a 2,000-foot buffer is excessive and, research suggests, will do nothing to make the children of Grapevine any safer.
In a study posted on the website of Texas Office of Violent Sex Offender Management, Louisville justice administration professor Richard Tewksbury and Lynn University human services professor Jill Levenson pick apart the rationale for sex offender residency restrictions.
Sex offenders, the researchers write, pose a relatively small danger of re-offending compared with other criminals. Molested children are typically preyed upon by relatives or trusted caretakers, not strangers. Offenders who can't find a legal place to live have a tendency to "disappear," failing to register with local law enforcement agencies who must then expend resources attempting to track them down.
More than anything, though, such restrictions don't work. Here's Tewksbury and Levenson reviewing some of the research:
A 2004 Colorado study found that sex offense re-offenders were randomly located and did not live closer to schools and parks than those who did not re-offend. In Minnesota, a 2003 study failed to find a relationship between proximity to schools and re-offending. A subsequent Minnesota study concluded that "there is very little support for the notion that residency restriction laws would lower the incidence of sexual recidivism, particularly among child molesters," and that "rather than lowering sexual recidivism, housing restrictions may work against this goal by fostering conditions that exacerbate [problems with] sex offenders' reintegration."
But dry academic reasoning tends to be ignored in the face of the kind of visceral fear and anger that comes with the thought of child molesters.
Educating the public about sexual abuse is the key, not an online hit-list.
There are renewed calls for an official online sex offender register in New Zealand, following the conviction of an 89-year-old man on 42 abuse charges.
The Wellington man pleaded guilty to 42 charges of doing indecencies to girls and boys, attempted rape and unlawful sexual connection from between 1973 to 1991.
On Monday he was sentenced to a year's home detention.
During sentencing Judge John Butler said the man had previous convictions as early as the 1950s, for obscene exposure and attempted indecent assault.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust says a register could have spared some of his victims.
"How many more children must be abused before politicians show some courage and introduce an online sex offender register to protect the public from offenders like this?" says trust spokesman Garth McVicar.
"This predator, hiding in a man's clothing, has been able to prey on innocent children for a period spanning 50 odd years."
The situation proves the need for an official register, he says, adding that the lack of one is the courts protecting predators.
"It appears that our Justice Establishment is hell-bent on protecting sex-offenders rather than protecting our women and children from them."
"The establishment is, in effect, underwriting the actions of pedophiles and creating thousands of victims".
Many countries have official sex offender registers available online.
Port Orange City Council members met Tuesday night to discuss a proposal to put signs up in the yards of sexual predators that let everyone know just who is living in their neighborhoods.
The issue came about when a group of parents pushed to have a sexual offender moved away from a nearby elementary school. They got what they wanted when the man moved away.
Bradford County in northern Florida already use similar signs and the signs have now become a heated topic in Port Orange.
The issue wasn’t on the meeting agenda, but Vice Mayor Don Burnette brought up the plan anyway to get the conversation going.
Resident Margie Patchett was at the meeting and she said she’s convinced it would help send predators packing.
- Proving the signs are punishment?
“When you shine the light on people like that and their neighbors find out, and other people in the community find out, I think that puts the pressure on them to move,” Patchett said.
- Or put a target on them for vigilantism, which is a problem across this country.
Some council members expressed concerns that the signs could hurt property values.
“It would be hard to rent, hard to sell a home,” councilman Bob Ford said.
Patchett, who works in real estate, didn’t agree.
“I am more concerned about the safety of our children than the property values,” she said. “I think it’s more dangerous for our home values that they remain in our community.”
Ford, who is a former police chief, said he believes keeping close tabs on the predators is the best way to go.
“I don’t think signs are nearly as important as police presence,” Ford said. “They know that if they step out of line they are going to be confronted.”
Council members said there needs to be more research done before the issue can come up for a vote, so they decided to put it on the agenda of a future council meeting.