Posts tagged ‘janet reno’

Let's Not Forget Martha Coakley's Crimes

Martha Coakley, former Massachusetts Attorney General, is apparently running for Governor of that state after her failed bid to be Senator.

Walter Olson has a round-up of Coakley's various abuses of power, which start with her shameful hounding of the Amirault family against all reason and facts, apparently for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement.  Unfortunately, all too frequently AG's are rewarded for prosecutorial abuse in the form of media attention and often election to higher offices (Janet Reno rode witch hunts of day care operators very similar to Coakley's into the White House).

The day care worker witch hunt was one of the more bizarre events to occur in my lifetime.  I even sat on a jury of such a case, the only jury I have ever been on.  You have heard of copycat murders?  This turned out to be a copycat false accusation.  It eventually became clear that the teenage babysitter who made the main accusations really wanted to be on the Oprah show, and saw how other day care and child abuse whistle blowers had been interviewed by Oprah.   I kid you not.   By the time of this case, defense lawyers had become wise to the prosecutors' game of using brainwashing techniques to try to get small children to make bizarre sexual allegations against adults in the case.  So the defense was able to highlight the extremes that a couple of state psychologists had gone through to effectively break one poor 6 year old girl.  It was sickening, and it took us about 15 minutes to acquit.   But this is the type of behavior Ms. Coakley and her staff were engaging in.

More Victims of the 80's Child Abuse Panic

Younger readers will be forgiven for not fully understanding just how credulous the American public became during the late 80's and early 90's as the media, prosecutors, and various advocacy groups worked hard to convince us every school was a sort of Road-Warrior-like playground for child predators.  Adult after adult were convicted based on bizarre stories about ritual murder, sexually depraved clowns, and all kinds of other dark erotic nightmares.  In most cases there was little or no physical evidence -- only stories from children, usually coerced after numerous denials by "specialists."  These specialists claimed to be able to bring back repressed memories, but critics soon suspected they were implanting fantasies.

Scores of innocent people went to jail -- many still languish there, including targets of Janet Reno, who rode her fame from these high-profile false prosecutions all the way to the White House, and Martha Coakley, just missed parleying her bizarre prosecutions into a Senate seat  (Unbelievably, the Innocence Project, which does so much good work and should be working on some of Reno's victims, actually invited her on to their board).

Radley Balko has yet another example I was not familiar with.   The only thing worse than these prosecutions is just how viciously current occupants of the DA office fight to prevent them from being questioned or overturned.

I am particularly sensitive to this subject because I sat on just such a jury in Dallas around 1992.    In this case the defendant was the alleged victim's dad.  The initial accuser was the baby sitter, and red lights started going off for me when she sat in the witness box saying that she turned the dad into police after seeing another babysitter made a hero on the Oprah show.  The babysitter in my case clearly had fantasies of being on Oprah.  Fortunately, defense attorneys by 1992 had figured out the prosecution game and presented a lot of evidence against, and had a lot of sharp cross-examination of, the "expert" who had supposedly teased out the alleged victim's suppressed memories.

We voted to acquit in about an hour, and it only took that long because there were two morons who misunderstood pretty much the whole foundation of our criminal justice system -- they kept saying the guy was probably innocent but they just didn't want to take the risk of letting a child molester go.  Made me pretty freaking scared to every put my fate in the hands of a jury  (ironically the jury in the famous McMartin pre-school case was hung 10-2 in favor of acquittal, with two holdouts).

Anyway, one oddity we did not understand as a jury was that we never heard from the victim.  I supposed it was some kind of age thing, that she was too young to testify.  As it turns out, we learned afterwards that she did not testify for the prosecution because she spent most of her time telling anyone who would listen that her dad was innocent and the whole thing was made up by the sitter.   Obviously the prosecution wasn't going to call her, and her dad would not allow his attorneys to call her as a witness, despite her supportive testimony, because he did not want to subject his daughter to hostile cross-examination.  This is the guy the state wanted to prosecute -- he risked jail to spare his daughter stress, when in turn the state was more than happy to put that little girl through whatever it took to grind out a false prosecution.

update: This is a tragic and amazing recantation by a child forced to lie by prosecutors in one of these cases.  Very brief excerpt of a long article:

I remember feeling like they didn't pick just anybody--they picked me because I had a good memory of what they wanted, and they could rely on me to do a good job. I don't think they thought I was telling the truth, just that I was telling the same stories consistently, doing what needed to be done to get these teachers judged guilty. I felt special. Important....

I remember going in our van with all my brothers and sisters and driving to airports and houses and being asked if we had been [abused in] these places. I remember telling people [that the McMartin teachers] took us to Harry's Meat Market, and describing what I thought the market was like. I had never been in there before, and I was fairly certain I was going to get in trouble for what I was saying because it probably was not accurate. I imagined someone would say, "They don't have that kind of freezer there." And they did say that. But then someone said, "Well, they could have changed it." It was like anything and everything I said would be believed.

The lawyers had all my stories written down and knew exactly what I had said before. So I knew I would have to say those exact things again and not have anything be different, otherwise they would know I was lying. I put a lot of pressure on myself. At night in bed, I would think hard about things I had said in the past and try to repeat only the things I knew I'd said before.

Katie Bar the Door

I have a new theory -- that the most dangerous circumstances for individual liberty in this country are when Conservatives and Liberals agree.  When there is some issue where the authoritarianism of the right coincides with the authoritarianism of the left, then watch out.  The example I offer today is child molestation prosecutions, where the law and order Right meets the smug for-the-children moralizing of the Left.  Where Janet Reno meets Joe Arpaio.

Congrats to Tonya Craft for her acquittal, and here's hoping (though there is not much chance) that the prosecutors and particularly that jackass of a judge suffer some sort of negative consequences from their outlandish abuse of due process.  My jury experience on a similar case here.

UpdateAnd speaking of Sheriff Joe...

There Seems To Be A Predictable Lifecycle Here

Like the rise and fall of empires, or the tendency of revolutions to overshoot into excess, there are recognizable patterns to history.  Along these lines, there seems to be a pattern emerging in 60's and 70's era advocacy groups.  First, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore turned on the organization he founded, criticizing it for ignoring science and being anti-human.  Now Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein is criticizing the organization he founded:

I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group's critics"¦.

When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region"¦.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch's Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Something I missed the other day, was this indicator of how far from its principles HRW has drifted:

A delegation from Human Rights Watch was recently in Saudi Arabia. To investigate the mistreatment of women under Saudi Law? To campaign for the rights of homosexuals, subject to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia? To protest the lack of religious freedom in the Saudi Kingdom? To issue a report on Saudi political prisoners?

No, no, no, and no. The delegation arrived to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW's demonization of Israel. An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW's battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations." (Was Ms. Whitson required to wear a burkha, or are exceptions made for visiting anti-Israel "human rights" activists"? Driving a car, no doubt, was out of the question.)

This reminds me of when the Innocence Project added Janet Reno to its board (though I still think they do good work).

Another BS 1980s Child Molestation Conviction May Be Reversed

For those too young to remember, during the 1980's we endured a hysteria about child molestations, with a number of pretty obviously innocent men dragged to jail on the back of testimony coerced from kids by over-zealous prosecutors.  Janet Reno became particularly famous for the "Miami method" of hounding kids until they started pointing fingers at whomever the prosecutors had their eye on, and rode such fame to the US AG office (see here and here for the disturbing details).

As the kids grow up, a number of these prosecutions are finally falling apart, as in this story.  Of course, as i9s typical in such cases, despite all the witnesses coming forward and admitting they were coerced into making false accusations, the prosecutors are not giving up easily.  via Overlawyered


Via TJIC, Radley Balko shares almost exactly my position on the death penalty:

I'm opposed to the death penalty not because I don't think there are some crimes so heinous that they merit death as a punishment. I'm opposed to it because I don't think the government is capable of administering it fairly, competently, and with adequate protections to prevent the execution of an innocent person.

This is an issue that I have moved pretty far on since my high school conservative days.  I used to be a death penalty hawk --  I suppose this was in part due to the natural tendency to take the opposite side of folks making bad arguments.  Death penalty opponents would argue that we just don't have the right to take away the life of that lady who drowned her three kids by sinking them in a car in a lake because she was tired of taking care of them.   Well, I felt she had pretty much forfeited her ability to fall back on the sanctity of life defense.

But I am increasingly pessimistic of the justice system's ability to adequately separate guilt from innocence (it is run by the government, after all).  We have far too many examples of people who have exhausted their normal appeals and have sat in jail, and even on death row, for years or decades before exculpatory evidence came to light (or, in situations of bias like in the deep south, where courts were finally willing to consider exculpatory evidence).   We can only tremble to think of how many innocent men were never cleared before the day of the fatal injection came.  Prosecutors, who often are using the position as a springboard for higher office, generally have the incentive never to back down from a case and to defend every conviction, no matter how clear the evidence becomes that an innocent person is in jail, to the very end  (see Janet Reno, for example, who in a twist of terrible irony now sits on the board of the Innocence project, while men falsely convicted in her day care pogrom still sit in jail).

Update: Speaking of prosecutorial abuse....

The Fruits of Over-Zealous Prosecution

Radley Balko has a roundup of stories of overdue freedom for the improperly incarcerated.  Its good to see this happening, though I must say I still have some mixed feelings about the Innocence Project after their staggeringly bad judgment of putting Janet Reno, Queen of Abusive Prosecution, on their board.

Prosecutorial Abuse vs. Parental Abuse

Apparently, the State of Texas is still trying to figure out what to do with those 400+ kids rounded up at the YFZ Ranch.  I don't really know enough about the case to comment on whether these kids were victims or not, though from reading this the evidence looks thin.

Here is my concern.  About 15 years ago I sat on a jury in Dallas.  The particular case was a child abuse case, with the state alleging a dad had sexually assaulted his daughter.  The whole case took about 3 days to present and it took the jury about 2 hours to find the guy innocent, and it took that long only because of one holdout.

The reason we found him innocent so quickly is because it became clear that the state had employed Janet Reno tactics (the Miami method, I think it was called) to put pressure on the child over a period of 6 months to break her out of her position that her dad had done nothing.  (By the way, is anyone else flabbergasted that Janet Reno, of all people, is on the board of the Innocence Project?).

Anyway, the dad was first arrested when the teenage babysitter told police that the daughter was behaving oddly and it seemed just like a story she had seen on Oprah.   Note, the babysitter did not witness any abuse nor did the girl mention any abuse to her.  She just was acting up one night.  At trial, the babysitter said her dream was to have this case propel her to an Oprah appearance of her own (I kid you not).

On that evidence alone, the state threw the dad in jail and starting a 6 month brainwashing and programming process aimed at getting the girl to say her dad abused her.  They used a series of negative reinforcements whenever the girl said dad was innocent and offered positive reinforcements if she would say dad had said X or Y.  Eventually, the little girl broke and told the state what they wanted to hear, but quickly recanted and held to the original story of her dad's innocent, all the way through the trial.

So, as quickly as we could, we set the dad free  (the last jury holdout, interestingly, was a big Oprah fan).  No one ever compensated for states abuse of the dad, and perhaps even worse, the states psychological abuse of his daughter.  I know nothing of what became of them, but I hope they are all OK.  I guess its lucky he did not get convicted, because while the Innocence project has freed a lot of people in Dallas, it sure is not going to work on this type of case with Janet Reno on its board.

Coming back to the YFZ case, I am worried that the state seems to be wanting to hold the kids for as long as possible, presumably to apply these methods to start getting kids to adopt the stories of abuse prosecutors want to hear.  In some ways, the YFZ case is even more dangerous from a prosecutorial abuse standpoint.  That is because there are a large number of people who think that strong religious beliefs of any type are, well, weird, and therefore are quicker to believe that other weird behavior may also be present.

"I Never Forgot I Was Lying"

Via Overlawyered, comes this fascinating confession of one of the young "accusers" in the McMartin pre-school sex abuse prosecutions, one of several witch-hunts from a mercifully brief era of a national day care sex-abuse panic.  While certainly abuse occurs, as is made clear from recent Catholic Church revelations, prosecutors used the excuse of "protecting the children" to justify all kinds of abuses of the fact-finding process (something we should remember in the Patriot Act era).

The lawyers had all my stories written down and knew exactly what I had said
before. So I knew I would have to say those exact things again and not have
anything be different, otherwise they would know I was lying. I put a lot of
pressure on myself. At night in bed, I would think hard about things I had said
in the past and try to repeat only the things I knew I'd said before.

remember describing going to an airport and Ray taking us somewhere on an
airplane. Then I realized the parents would have known the kids were gone from
the school. I felt I'd screwed up and my lie had been caught"”I was busted! I was
so upset with myself! I remember breaking down and crying. I felt everyone knew
I was lying. But my parents said, "You're doing fine. Don't worry." And everyone
was saying how proud they were of me, not to worry.

I'm not saying
nothing happened to anyone else at the McMartin Pre-School. I can't say that"”I
can only speak for myself. Maybe some things did happen. Maybe some kids made up
stories about things that didn't really happen, and eventually started believing
they were telling the truth. Maybe some got scared that the teachers would get
their families because they were lying. But I never forgot I was lying.

There is much more in the article, demonstrating how prosecutors manipulated children to get prosecutions. 

This topic has resonance with me because I sat on the jury of such a case around 1992.  Earlier sex-abuse prosecutions were starting to look suspicious, but there was still a lot of incentive for prosecutors to push high-profile cases (after all, Janet Reno would soon become AG for the US, largely on the strength of a number of well publicized and in retrospect very questionable such prosecutions).  By 1992, though, defense lawyers had caught up and were better at highlighting the egregious tactics used by prosecutors to coax stories out of children.  Many of the tactics we saw in our trial were identical to those recounted in this article.  There was even an eerie parallel to this recent Vioxx case, as the initial (3rd party) accuser who first reported that the victim was being abused seemed more motivated by getting on Oprah than getting her facts correct.

Update:  Neo-Libertarian has the details on the Janet Reno prosecutions I mentioned in passing.  Here is the PBS story on "the Miami method" and several of Reno's unethical abuse prosecutions.