Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Crime Scene Photo Put On Facebook: May Lead to “Caroline’s Law”

Caroline Wimmer was a 26yr old female living in an apartment on Greenleaf Avenue in West Brighton, Staten Island. Concerned that they hadn’t heard from her in days, her parents, Ronald and Martha Wimmer, went to her apartment to check up on her. Ronald stayed in the car while Martha went in to check on Caroline. Upon arriving at the front door, Martha saw that it was ajar; this had her frightened. When Martha entered the bathroom her worst fears were confirmed: she found Caroline dead on the floor of her bathroom at about 12:30p.m., with a hair dryer cord cinched around her neck.

For the family, it was the second time tragedy had struck in recent months, as Wimmer's older brother Angelo, 40, died the past November in a car accident. The family was now lamenting over a son and a daughter. It was later determined that Caroline was murdered on 28 March 2009. Twenty-eight-yr-old Calvin Lawson of The Bronx was convicted of the killing in May of 2010, and is currently servicing a sentence of 25 years to life for second-degree murder. Nonetheless, here is where the story takes an even more bizarre turn…

Apparently, 46-year-old EMT and former NYPD Emergency Services Unit detective, Mark Musarella (a.k.a. “Moose”), snapped a picture of Caroline Wimmer’s lifeless body with his cell phone and placed it on his Facebook page. When the couple got wind of this, they were understandably furious.

As frustrated parents, Mr. & Mrs. Wimmer contacted NY State Senator, Diane J. Savino, to help them seek legislation to increase the penalties for those who violate a family in this manner. Senator Savino introduced a Bill to the Senate that would “make it a felony for public servants to publish an image of a crime scene outside of their official duties.” The Bill, known as “Caroline’s Law,” is punishable by one to four years in prison--a Class E Felony. The Bill must go through the Codes Committee before it reaches the Senate floor. This is expected to occur by 30 March 2011, according to Senator Savino. “If the Bill moves through the Codes Committee,” Savino said, “it is guaranteed passage in the New York State Senate.”

Musarella pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge in December. As a part of that plea deal, Musarella agreed to give up his EMT license and complete 200 hours of community service, but received no jail time. In response, Mrs. Wimmer barked at the miscarriage of justice, making the analogy that Musarella’s sentence was comparable to “what someone gets for littering on the street.”

The parents are suing their daughter’s convicted murderer Calvin Lawson, paramedic Musarella, the city of New York and Greenleaf Arms Incorporated—the company that owns the apartment building where Wimmer's body was found. The pair are also suing Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano and Richmond University Medical Center, where Musarella had been employed. “This lawsuit assumes traditional defendants as well as nontraditional defendants, including the City of New York and Facebook, that are unique to this case arising out of cybercrime,” said Ravi Batra, the couple’s attorney.

The lawsuit asks Facebook to turn over the picture, find out who has viewed or downloaded it and destroy images in its possession. The suit also demands that Facebook cooperate with victims in the future. CNN contacted Facebook and a representative for the social media site (Andrew Noyes) said that the suit against them is “completely without merit,” and that they will “fight them vigorously.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Knox Supporters Confident & Media Skepticism Swells

A couple of days ago one of my neighbor said to me, “Hey Will, did you hear: Amanda Knox is getting out of jail in May [2011]? I heard it on the news.”

Criminologist, Casey Jordan, also said that “Amanda and Raffaele may walk free in May.”

The 26 March 2011, hearing was definitely a win for the defense, but was it as big of a win as the American media, Knox’s family, and even my neighbor make it seem?

Let’s start by noting that Curatolo had not even come on the radar until the trial started; he was not a part of the six preliminary hearings that led to a decision to try Knox and Sollecito. There was plenty of evidence to send them to trial before Curatolo emerged.

“He [Curatolo] basically blew the whole prosecution's case right then and there,” Knox’s sister, Deanna Knox, told “Early Show” co-anchor Chris Wragge. So now we are getting our legal commentary from Amanda’s little sister? This time in the case is reminiscent of a time in the original trial when Knox’s family and the American media showed the same type of optimism in the case, just before Knox’s conviction.

The fact is that Knox and Sollecito’s appeal appears to be solely based on the knife, the bra clasp, and Antonio Curatolo’s testimony. Nonetheless, neither defense team seems to be contesting any other evidence in the case.

• What about the bloody barefoot print on the bathmat that is compatible with Sollecito and is in Meredith’s blood?
• What about the 5 spots in the house that were mixed with Knox and Kercher’s DNA (3 of the spots were blood spots mixed with the genetic profiles of them both)?
• What about the plethora of lies told by Knox and Sollecito, including that they told the postal police (who arrived at 12:30pm) that they had already called 211 (when they didn’t call 211 until 12:54pm)? And let's not forget that make-believe party that Sollecito claimed he and Knox attended on the night of the murder with that make-believe friend.
• What about the staged break-in?
• What about Mr. Quintavalle, who said that Knox was in his store at 7:45a.m., the morning after the murder—when she claimed that she didn’t wake up until 10:00a.m., that morning?
• What about Knox’s written confession?
• What about the bloody shoe print found on the pillow under Kercher’s body, which experts claimed was compatible with Knox?
• What about the other 2 footprints, revealed only by luminol (1 attributed to Knox and one to Sollecito)?

Frankly, it’s ludicrous to think that Knox would win the appeal solely based on these pieces of evidence; it is like saying that she was convicted based on only these evidentiary items, which Knox supporters would like to have you believe. So if it is ruled during the appeal that the knife is discredited or held unreliable as the murder weapon and Curatola’s testimony is not reliable then there is still sufficient evidence to convict the pair. If the bra clasp, however, is held as unreliable—and this does not mean by the independent experts, necessarily, but by the judges and jury members—then the case looks much better for Knox and Sollecito, particularly Sollecito. Yet, there is still a lot of evidence against them.

It is also important to note that during the original trial one of the judge’s witnesses, forensic expert, Mariano Cingolani, testified that the knife did not match one of the two knife wounds on the right hand side of Kercher’s neck. However, he also cautioned that “no firm conclusion could be drawn without knowing the position of Kercher’s neck during the attack or the elasticity of her tissues.” I point this out because this was a judge's witness (or independent witness) from the original trial--just like the two who will be testifying--and they were still convicted.

Best case scenario, in my opinion, Knox’s sentence will be reduced a couple of years if the knife evidence is held as unreliable—which would still be considered a big win, because I strongly believe that she was involved. This is unlikely, however, as Guede’s sentence was reduced from 30yrs to 16yrs upon appeal. Guede’s sentence was reduced primarily because of Knox and Sollecito’s trial--the Italian Supreme Court ruled that there was more than one person involved in the crime, and they implicated Knox and Sollecito in their ruling; thus, diminishing Guede's role and sentence as a result. Hypothetically speaking, if Knox and Sollecito "walk" then Guede gets only 16yrs for killing Meredith Kercher. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that I am: Knox and Sollecito’s sentences both stand at the end of this appeal. In any event, May 21 (date the experts will give testimony) will be another circus-type event in Italy’s trial of the century.

In other case news, the Sollecito family criminal trial and civil trial for leaking evidence—primarily the crime scene footage showing Kercher’s naked body and close-up shots of her wounds—and for trying to persuade politicians to get key officers off of the case will both start on 29 April 2011. More on this coming soon (also covered extensively in my book).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gaddafi & Co. to Face Charges

Read PART 1

The International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s first permanent war crimes court, has announced that individuals accused of bombing and shooting anti-government protesters in Libya will end up on trial.

“Do I see that there will come a day when individuals responsible for this kind of conduct are in the ICC? Yes, it is not a question of if, it's a question of when,” Stephen Rapp, the former chief prosecutor at the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone court, told Reuters on Friday.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on Thursday he may seek arrest warrants—for Gaddafi, his sons, and his key aides—by the end of May. Gaddafi and his cohorts will face a tribunal in The Hague.

Rapp also warned that rebels fighting Gaddafi could also be prosecuted for war crimes at the ICC if they commit, for example, reprisal killings of captured snipers.

Meanwhile, NATO is expected to assume command of all aerial operations in Libya, and a NATO doctrine is expected to take weeks to develop. NATO will be enforcing the no-fly zone “in a couple of days” from the United States.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Knox Appeal: Witness Gives Conflicting Testimony

Homeless man, Antonio Curatolo, 54, took the stand today and may have mixed up the date that he saw Knox and Sollecito with Halloween. “The two youngsters were talking intensely to each other,” he told the court. “I can remember that in the piazza that night young people in masks were coming and going and buses were leaving for the nightclubs.”

Knox and Sollecito’s defense team pounced on the fact that Kercher was killed on November 1st, one day after Perugia was filled with Halloween partygoers wearing masks and taking buses out to clubs on the fringes of the hill town. Previous witnesses have said that on 1 November all the clubs were closed.

“This was a witness the prosecution really counted on, while for us Curatolo’s statement that he saw them the night of the murder is not reliable,” said Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer representing Sollecito. “If he saw them another night, well, they did live in the area,” she said. “We have been saying Curatolo is unreliable for three and a half years,” said Luciano Ghirga, a lawyer representing Knox.
Curatolo’s testimony, however, also gave hope to prosecutors. He claimed that the morning after he had seen Knox and Sollecito he was still in Piazza Grimana and witnessed investigators in white forensic outfits entering the house where Kercher’s body was found in a pool of blood. “Police and carabinieri were coming and going, and I also saw the 'extraterrestrials’, that would be the men in white overalls,” Curatolo said.

“I am really certain, just as certain as I am sitting here, that I saw those two youngsters the night before the men in white outfits.”

Curatolo also told the prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, that it was not raining the night he saw the pair. “He has simply repeated what he told the trial,” said Francesco Maresca, a lawyer representing the Kercher family. “What is key is that he is sure he saw them the night before the police came and that it was not raining. It rained on the 31st but not on the 1st,” he said.

Prosecutor Manuela Comodi said the confusion between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 is a moot point as it has already been ascertained that Knox was somewhere else—in a pub where she worked—on Oct. 31 and so could not have been seen in the square.

In more bad news for the prosecution, CBS News correspondent, Allen Pizzey, says leaked documents indicate that two independent forensic experts will say traces of Knox’s DNA on a 12-inch kitchen knife, and Sollecito’s on a bra clasp found at the murder scene, were too small and too contaminated to be admissible as evidence. Traces of Sollecito’s DNA on the bra clasp totaled 150 cells, clearly enough to warrant a reliable test and hard to prove contamination from the machine used to test it or from the scene itself. It will be interesting to hear the experts explain their findings on this piece of evidence. As of now the experts are still scheduled to report their findings to the court on 21 May 2011.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Knox vs. Lifetime

Amanda Knox was back in court yesterday; this time not as a defendant but as a plaintiff. Knox pleaded to a civil court in Perugia, Italy, to prevent distribution over the internet of a made-for-television Lifetime film, Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy.With her head down and walking rapidly, Knox appeared tense and was expressionless, Knox crossed the square from the prison van to the civil court in Piazza Matteotti in Perugia. Wearing a white shirt and black jacket over pants and her hair pulled back in a little pony tail, Knox was escorted by two guards on each arm Knox was in court with her lawyers: Carlo Dalla Vedova, Luciano Ghirga and Maria del Grosso.

The charges were filed several months before the release of the movie and the court apparently hasn’t taken her request very seriously or they would have scheduled this court date prior the premiere of the movie last month; plus the movie has already been viewed some 687,000 times on Lifetime’s website from all over the world, and a version with Italian subtitles is already in circulation.

During the yesterday’s session—which was closed to the public—Knox asked Judge Teresa Giardino to block the U.S. Lifetime channel movie from being shown in Italy, because her appeal could be jeopardized if the film was widely circulated. During her address, Knox told the court she was “devastated by this invasion into her life” and the way “she’s being exploited.”

Knox also wants it pulled from the internet and any distribution of images from the film to be blocked. They are bringing their case against YouTube and Google as well as Lifetime Entertainment. YouTube has since removed any reference to the movie and its trailer from its website. Nonetheless, with just a minimal search you can find some bootlegs of the trailer as well as trailer clips in Italian, and of course HERE. And even though these may be down when you view them, the dynamics of the internet have me thinking that others will emerge.

The hearing was quickly adjourned because representatives for the Lifetime channel, who have not yet confirmed receipt of their summons, were not present. However, Knox did get a chance to address the court. Les Eisner, a spokesman for the channel’s parent company, A&E Television Networks, said the network had no comment. The case was adjourned until 4 July 2011.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

International Tribunals

In light of the recent attack on Libya, I have posted the following article that I wrote recently regarding international tribunals, which are set-up by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The UNSC voted unanimously to apply sanctions (UNSC Resolution 1973) against Moammar Gadhafi and his regime for firing indiscriminately on peaceful protesters, killing as many as 1,000 people. Council members from all 15 nations also agreed unanimously to refer Gadhafi's regime to a permanent war crimes tribunal (The Hague Tribunal) for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity. Tribunal Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo—Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC)—and the Security Council announced that there was enough evidence of alleged crimes against humanity by Gadhafi’s regime to warrant a full investigation.

International criminal tribunals are “courts established to try individuals accused of crimes recognized under international humanitarian law…” (Annan, 1997). Perhaps the most well-known of them is the Nuremberg Trials (1945-46), which were a series of military tribunals held by the allied forces of World War II, prosecuting several members of Nazi Germany for committing various war crimes—heard by the International Military Tribunal (Conot, 1984).

Tribunals are important to two or more countries for several reasons. They hold individuals accountable for committing crimes that their countries neither have the means nor the laws in place to do so. They also help dismantle the tradition of impunity for war crimes and other serious violations of international law (Taverneir, 1997). Furthermore, they shield entire communities from being labeled as being collectively responsible for the actions of others, and causing suffering; thus paving the way for the reconciliation process within war-torn societies (Annan, 1997). If there are not tribunals all of these things become harder to achieve, if not impossible.

Tribunals are not only affected by cultural and political differences of nations, they are also formed because of them. For instance, the massacres and genocide in Rwanda spawned the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The ICTR was established so “that those responsible for serious breaches of international humanitarian law and acts of genocide must be brought to justice,” and at the same time assist in instilling “national reconciliation” and “respect for the fundamental rights of individuals” will be respected (Erasmus & Fourie, 1997). In order for the tribunal to achieve these objectives they must play a game of back-and-forth with Rwanda and their government; hence, be affected by the relationship—and Rwanda’s cultural and political ideas.

The creation of ad hoc Tribunals, such as in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was largely improvised—resulting in numerous ambiguities in both procedure leading to their establishment and the legal status assigned to the two tribunals (Taverneir, 1997). Further ambiguity arises from the fact that these two Tribunals, mentioned above, depend on the decision making of the United Nations Security Council (small body), in which five world powers have veto rights, and there are financial constraints—hence inadequate funding and resources—available to these tribunals. Ambiguities exist further in the questions of binding nature of Security Council decisions and the requirements of State cooperation.

State cooperation, nonetheless, is required under Article 29 of the Statute of the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and under Article 28 of the Statute of Rwanda Tribunal. These tribunals were established under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and the UN can take military action, along with its member nations, against those not in compliance with international law. Consequently, this is another way that a nation’s cultural and political differences can affect these Tribunals—by charting the course of their actions or responses.

Read PART 2

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Low Crime in Japan: A Comparative Look

When you first look at Japan and try to get an understanding as to why their criminal justice system is so effective it is a daunting task. After all, many aspects of Japan’s social institutions have been heavily influenced, borrowed if you will, from other countries. The Japanese Navy was modeled after British; their army was modeled after the French and then the German; their educational system modeled on the French, American, and German; and their banking system on the American; their religion from China; and their political structure from Germany. Even more deceiving, when looking directly at their justice system, is the fact that 99 percent of offenders coming before a judge are convicted. So what factors might contribute to their low crime rate? Plain and simple: cultural factors.

Japanese culture is rich in tradition and group ties are strong. The Japanese believe that things borrowed must be adapted rather than adopted. Although the Japanese have borrowed many structural ideas from other countries, they have molded these ideas delicately around the “Japanese Spirit,” which they have protected dearly. The Japanese believe that standards of morality and ethics should be determined collectively (by a group) rather than through inflexible legal codes or universal principles. This belief is at the core of their thinking and breads their contextualist and collectivist practices.

Looking at Japan’s outlook and strong belief in harmony, we can appreciate some of the informal control mechanisms in Japan; such mechanisms that show that a 99 percent conviction rate hides the fact that over half those sentences are suspended. Being part of a group in Japan is everything (collectivism). Children in America are usually punished by being confined to their rooms or staying in with their families. The Japanese believe in “child-rearing,” which is quite the opposite of Americans. When a child misbehaves in Japan parents put the misbehaving child outside of the house until the child begs to get back in. “American mothers chase their children; Japanese mothers are chased by their children.” It is this instilled need and longing to be part of the group that defines the Japanese people, and they often are ashamed and feel a sense of worthlessness if discouraged by or banished from the group.

Americans have a strong sense of distrust in their social institutions; however, the Japanese do not, and it is their attraction to an orderly, hierarchal society that allows them to thrive in this area. Yet, still there are other factors that contribute to the low crime rate in Japan. For instance, gun control in Japan is the most stringent in the democratic world. The gun law begins by stating, “No one shall possess a fire-arm…and very few exceptions are allowed.” It should be no wonder why gun crime is so low in Japan.

In an international study between gun ownership and homicide and suicide, Professor Martin Killias (1993) determined that there was a strong correlation between the three, with those countries having higher gun ownership showing more homicides and suicides. The United States was miles above second place Switzerland in gun ownership; Japan was at the bottom of the list. Not surprisingly then (in 2001), the U.S. had 3.98 gun homicides and 5.92 gun suicides per 100,000 people; while in 2002, Japan had 0.02 gun homicides and 0.04 gun suicides per 100,000 people. Yet even this, I believe, is the result of cultural and societal phenomena—because any society’s laws are created out of cultural and social needs and wants.

*Tribute to Japan (May they rebuild quickly)



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Study Abroad Murder: Trial of the Century


List Price: $19.99
6" x 9" (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
288 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0615456263
ISBN-10: 061545626X
BISAC: True Crime / Murder / General

The college town of Perugia, Italy has always been known for its beautiful medieval hilltop landscapes, its fine art, and of course its world famous chocolate festival. Yet, all that changed on 2 November 2007, when British Born Meredith Kercher [21] was found brutally murdered in a flat that she shared with three female roommates. Kercher’s lifeless body had been found by Italian police under a duvet in her room (at Via Della Pergola 7) partially clothed with her throat cut and with multiple signs of bruising to her neck and body. The pathologist’s report indicates that she was stabbed at some time between 9.30 p.m., and 11.30 p.m., on the night of November 1, 2007.

Four days after the murder the case took a whole new twist when it was announced that Kercher’s roommate, American born Amanda Knox [20], and Knox’s boyfriend were arrested in connection with the murder. More than two-years after the murder, the verdict came in (on 4 December 2009), and Knox was convicted in an Italian court of being the ring leader in a “sex game gone bad” and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Meanwhile, the American media sided with Amanda Knox and her family—predicating their versions solely on the perceived “archaic Italian justice system” and what they claim was a “lack of evidence.”

This book is the true crime story of the murder of Meredith Kercher, providing a detailed analysis of the trial and a comprehensive forensic analysis of the evidence, the investigation, and the events that led to murder.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Knox Appeal: Homeless in Perugia

With the appeals on the verge of heating-up—in anticipation for the expected May 21st report from independent experts on crucial physical evidence in the case—today the court heard from witnesses disputing the testimony of homeless man, Antonio Curatolo. Mr. Curatolo testified that he saw Knox and Sollecito on the night of the murder several times in Piazaa Grimana, which overlooks the cottage (crime scene). Mr. Curatolo also testified that he was certain because he remembered seeing buses and other students in the piazza waiting to board buses to go to discos in town.

On this day, the fifth appeal hearing, six witnesses took the stand—including some operators of shuttle bus services that run from the piazza in question to discos on Perugia’s outskirts, as well as people doing work for two discos. In short, the witnesses said shuttle bus services were not running that night.

Roles of the seven defense witnesses (one hasn’t testified yet):

Rita Pucciarini, organizes events in Perugia
Giorgio Brugnini - owner, Disco Etoile 59
Mauo Mandarini - owner, Disco Gradisca
Arturo Liasullo, manager, SIAE
Massimiliano Bevilacqua - Bus company
Gaetano Ini- Bus company
Rosa Ini- Bus company

Rita Pucciarini, who at the time of the murder worked for the Red Zone disco, told the court “There were no buses [running that night]… I’m certain because discos focus on Halloween, which is a big draw. It’s like New Year’s Eve.”

Luciano Ghirga, a lawyer for Knox, said the testimony “removes the two from the scene of the crime.” Prosecutor Manuela Comodi said the testimony was “useless” as there are other discos in Perugia and other bus shuttle services whose operators had not been heard. Comodi also said, “If ever there is testimony that is completely useless…this is it.” Kercher family lawyer, Francesco Maresca, noted that he “remains convinced of the reliability of this witness [Curatolo].”

There has been no word yet whether the prosecution will be entering Rudy Guede’s Motivation Report into the record. Antonio Curatolo is expected to take the witness stand again during the next hearing, which is scheduled for 26 March 2011.