Monday, August 8, 2016

Undisciplined: More Shenanigans from the State vs Adnan Syed

Adnan's Story, Rabia Chaudry's seminal book on the Adnan Syed case, has just been released today.  Your bookshelf won't be complete without a copy of this book, which contains contributions from Adnan, in his own words.  You can also pick up Asia Chapman's book, Confessions of a Serial Alibi, both available in all the usual places good books are sold!!  

Anyone who has been following the Adnan Syed case, or any wrongful conviction case, knows that the wheels of justice turn very, very slowly.  But in recent weeks there has been some movement in the case made famous by the Serial podcast, with the State filing for leave to appeal Judge Welch's decision granting Adnan a new trial.  For those of you who missed the most recent developments, back in February, there was a Post Conviction Relief hearing in which Adnan's legal team argued for the ineffective assistance of counsel on a number of points, including failure to call alibi witness Asia McClain Chapman, and failure to properly cross-examine the State's expert witness on cell tower evidence that was critical to the State's theory of the case.

Judge Martin Welch, the judge who denied Adnan's first PCR petition in 2014, was bought back out of retirement specifically to hear the 2016 petition.  Judge Welch ruled against the alibi testimony of Asia, claiming that, although he found her to be a credible witness, her testimony most likely would not have led to a different decision from the jury.  However, Welch found that the failure of Adnan's original trial counsel, Christina Gutierrez, to thoroughly cross-examine the State's cell tower expert did meet the standard for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.  As a result, he vacated the murder conviction and granted Adnan Syed a retrial.

So, that brings us to the most recent motion filed by the State, requesting leave to launch an appeal against Judge Welch's decision.  There are several grounds for appeal being cited by the State, all of which are complicated and need to be explained by someone who actually knows what the hell they're talking about, so I'll leave that task to the Evidence Professor a.k.a Colin Miller from the Undisclosed podcast...

The Evidence Professor explains - Part 1
The Evidence Professor explains - Part 2

So what does all this mean for Adnan? Well, essentially it means that any preparations and processes for a retrial, including any potential bail hearings, are on hold until the State's appeal has been dealt with.  So Adnan will not be getting released on bail any time soon, which must be very disappointing, and I'd imagine, distressing for both Adnan and his family.  However, this is not an unexpected move from the State, we all knew that they would try and appeal Judge Welch's decision.
What is surprising, and Colin covers this in his blog posts, is that the State are now so desperate that they are attempting to bring in two new witnesses, classmates of Asia and Adnan, who allege that they argued with Asia over her intention to lie on Adnan's behalf by providing him with an alibi for the time of the murder.

The reason this is so surprising, and has drawn serious criticism from a number of legal experts, is because all the legal avenues for the State to present new evidence have already been closed.  Once a person is convicted and have had their initial appeals denied, any further appeals focus solely on whether or not the person recieved a fair trial, not on guilt or innocence.  Both of Adnan's post conviction relief claims have centered on points of justice - such as whether Adnan's original trial lawyer did her job properly or whether the State handed over important evidenciary documents to the defense.  For the State to suddenly produce these new witnesses 16 years after Adnan's conviction is highly unusual.  I feel compelled to point out though, that these sorts of shenanigans are fairly typical of this case and of the Baltimore DA's office.  Congratulations Thiru, you're rapidly sinking to the same lows as Kevin Urick, hope you enjoy the view from down there.

Sarah Keonig on Judge Welch's Decision
State Intends to Fight New Trial - Baltimore Sun

Monday, July 11, 2016

Gangs, Drugs & Money: Is New Zealand headed for another meth crisis?

When a life-long members of one of New Zealand's most notorious gangs stands in front of news cameras and says that New Zealand is well on the way for another epidemic of the drug "P" a.k.a methamphetamines, we should pay attention.  Gangs have been heavily involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs for as long as there have been gangs and drugs pretty much.  The members of Black Power who stood up publically to warn us of this impending crisis are the men on the front lines of the drug war.  They know what they are talking about.  The Drug Foundation of New Zealand, while still reluctant to call the increase in meth use an "epidemic," agree that use is increasing and are concerned that the problem isn't being reflected in the government statistics.  For those who don't know how the slow wheels of bureaucracy work, funding for drug treatment and other anti-drug programs are all based on those statistics, which presents a real possibility that not enough resources are being made available where they're most needed.

So, why would two life-members of a gang that profits, and profits large, from the sale of this drug come out and make these statements?  It's a bold move, and probably a fairly unpopular one with other members of Black Power, so I applaud these guys for their courage in taking a stand.  These men have seen the damage that meth use is doing to their communities and they are standing up and speaking out!

I don't think it's any coincidence that the increase in meth use comes at a time when homelessness is on the increase and poverty is at record levels.  For decades now, we have known about the correlation between poverty and increased levels of drug and alcohol use, so it comes as no surprise that meth use is on the up while the quality of life for low-income families is dropping like a lead balloon.  All the while, the NZ government sit on their hands and do nothing, dismissing the housing crisis, ignoring the homelessness problem, and pretending there is no meth epidemic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying a change of government will magically fix these problems, but to do nothing, to refuse to take any action whatsoever is gross negligence in my opinion.  Will a different government do any better? I don't know, but I hope so.  In the meantime, I urge you, if you, or anyone you know is in the grip of meth addiction, don't be afraid to ask for help.  There are a number of organisations which can help and I will list as many of them as I can at the bottom of this post.

Ministry of Health Addiction Services Directory
Salvation Army Addiction Assistance - Help for Meth Addiction
Care NZ Drug and Alcohol Services
Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcohol & Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or txt 234

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Two Weeks Too Long: Why NZ Needs a Child Abduction Alert System

In the 1960s and 70s, a succession of missing and murdered child cases impacted American society forever, and changed the way that law enforcement agencies in particular respond to missing child reports.  It was a lesson that the US had to learn the hard way, at the hands of serial murderers like Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer.  One of the parents at the forefront of those societal and procedural shifts was John Walsh, the man who most of you will remember as the host of America's Most Wanted.  But before he became a well-known TV personality, he was a father.  The father of a little boy who went missing one day at the mall, after his mother left him for only a few moments, watching some older boys play a video game while she went to the checkout.  When she returned only minutes later Adam Walsh, just 6-years-old, was gone.  The shy, bright eyed little boy was never seen alive again, and his murder went unsolved for many years until a drifter was arrested in Texas on a firearms charge.  That drifter was Henry Lee Lucas, and when he, and his sometime partner Ottis Toole started confessing to literally hundreds of murders across the US, law enforcement agencies from around the country began dusting off their cold case files and hot-footing it to Texas to speak to the talkative pair of serial killers.  It was Ottis Toole who eventually confessed to the murder of Adam Walsh,  and described kidnapping the boy from just outside a Sears department store in Hollywood, Florida.  I won't go into the disgusting details of the crime, because this isn't a post about Ottis Toole, or Henry Lee Lucas, or even Adam Walsh.  This is a post about how New Zealand should be learning from other countries mistakes, and how not doing so could be putting lives at risk.

Adam Walsh was just 6-years-old when he went missing, so the police response to his disappearance was immediate and heavy, but that wasn't the experience for many parents of missing children in the US.  For years parents were told that their children had just run away, they'd come home eventually, that it wasn't a priority for police who had "real" crimes to solve.  Police departments made parents of even very young missing children wait the requisite 48 hours before they would lodge a missing persons report, and even when a report was lodged, no action would be taken.  Parents had to mount their own searches, post their own missing posters and flyers canvassing the public's help in finding their children.  When the bodies were found, if they were found, police would make excuses for their inaction with the old saw that they were "only following procedure."  Clearly, it was those procedures that needed to change, and change they did.   In 1984 The National Centre For Missing and Exploited Children was established to act  as a resource for parents, children, law enforcement agencies, schools, and communities to assist in locating missing children and to raise public awareness about ways to prevent child abduction and exploitation.  In 1996 the AMBER alert system was implemented to broadcast information about missing children across emergency channels, radio stations, TV channels, electronic billboards and online.  

Earlier this year the AMBER alert system played a crucial role in distributing information about an abducted girl taken by her uncle, who was later found and rescued by members of the public.  Which brings us back to the boy who's picture is at the top of this post.  Chicaine Erihe has been missing since June 24th, but police are only today releasing that information and beginning to canvas for the public's assistance in finding him.  Chicaine has been a runaway in the past, but that doesn't change the fact that he's been missing for two weeks now.  I hope he is found safe and sound, but what if it's already too late?  What if he's already come to harm or being targeted by the kind of predatory scumbags who prey on at-risk youth?  What is alerting the public two weeks ago could have made a difference?

New Zealand's population is growing at a faster rate than ever, and we are fools to think that this country is a safe-haven where "that sort of thing" can't happen.  We NEED a child abduction alert system before it's too late.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


After four months of waiting, Serial fans around the world are celebrating the news that Judge Welch has ruled that Adnan Syed will recieve a new trial.  Welch vacated Syed's conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee on the grounds that Syed's lawyer, Christina Gutierrez rendered ineffective assistance of counsel in not cross-examining the State's cell tower expert on the unreliability of the cell tower location evidence.  This cell evidence was the linchpin of the State's case in proving that Syed was in Linkin Park at the time they allege he buried Hae Min Lee's body, which was found a month later by a local maintenance man.

Judge Welch denied the other two ineffective assistance claims, the testimony of alibi witness Asia McClain-Chapman, an the allegation of prosecutorial misconduct against the Baltimore DA's office for witholding crucial discovery evidence.  But one win is all Adnan and his legal team needed to free him, they have that win and this is a momentous day for wrongful conviction activists around the world!

Judge Welch's PCR decision
Baltimore Sun article on Judge Welch's ruling

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Phone Scams: It CAN happen to you!!

I was lying in bed reading the other night when my Facebook messenger app dinged at me.  It turned out to be a message from a friend, who had a story to tell me, a story of how a perfectly normal, intelligent person can be taken in by a sophisticated phone scam.

My friend's partner had received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Inland Revenue Department (for you non-Kiwis, that's New Zealand's tax department).  This person used a combination of pop-psychology and an escalating series of threats to scam three thousand dollars in gifted iTune vouchers.

As my friend put it "It sounds like a silly thing to do," but if you think you couldn't be fooled by these people, think again. My friend's partner is intelligent, educated, not gullible or a "sucker." The tactics these scammers use are clever and sophisticated, they break people down and manipulate their responses. You CAN be fooled, you CAN be sucked in by these scams! The best way to avoid this happening to you is to be fully informed about the way these scams are run, and the ways in which you can protect yourself and identify possible scammers before they put you out of pocket.

Phone scammers will often have a number of personal details, which makes their calls seem more legitimate. Don't be fooled! This is the internet age and sadly, personal details aren't that difficult to come by if you know how to find that kind of information.

You may be given a phone number to call with either a Wellington prefix (04) or an Auckland prefix (09). Don't be fooled! If the caller is claiming to be from a government department, remember that most government departments have free 0800 numbers which you can call. Hang up the phone, look up the correct number for the department the caller is claiming to represent and call it to verify what they are telling you.

These scammers are very aggressive, and may make threats in an attempt to keep you on the line, or call back with various threats if you hang up on them. DON'T fall for these tactics!! The kinds of threats these scammers commonly use include threats of deportation for foreign nationals, and threats of police involvement and possible prison time. While they have you on the phone, feeling stressed and anxious about your situation, it's easy to force you to take the next step and pay out in an effort to avoid further legal action. But if you remain calm and think logically, the threats really don't hold up to close scrutiny.

Lets look at two of the most common threats being used in this latest phone scam; deportation and tax evasion charges.

Deportation is a threat that's used by scammers against foreign nationals living and working here in New Zealand, and this latest scam has targeted a number of Indian nationals. But deportation isn't something that just happens out of the blue for people who are here on legitimate visas and are not overstayers. NZ Immigration assess each individual situation, which takes time, and potential deportees have rights, including the right to appeal any decision made by NZ Immigration.

If someone calls you claiming to be from NZ Immigration and threatening you with deportation unless you pay a sum of money immediately, THIS IS A SCAM! Hang up immediately and call the police.

What about the threat of criminal charges for unpaid tax? I copied this directly from Inland Revenue's website...

"We will only take legal action when all other efforts to secure payment of the overdue tax have failed."

There are three stages which Inland Revenue goes through to collect overdue taxes.  The first is to contact you by letter, notifying you that you have unpaid taxes, and giving details of the amount, any penalties and interest that has accrued, and with a payment slip included.  This letter will also give you the phone number to call to discuss your debts and explore payment options.

Stage two is making repayment applications to your employer, bank or a third party debt collection agency, such as Baycorp.  These applications may result in payments being deducted directly from your wages, and again, you will be notified of any deductions by your bank or your employer as well as by IRD.  If the debt is sent to a third party, such as a collection agency, they will contact you to discuss payment options and will be able to provide you with proper paperwork from Inland Revenue, proving that they are an authorised collection agency, acting on IRD's behalf.  

If you are contacted by a debt collector who cannot or will not provide this proof, DO NOT pay them any money!  Contact IRD immediately and verify that the debt collector is a legitimate debt recovery agent acting on IRD's behalf.  

Only after both of these stages have fully being utilised will IRD engage in legal action, and even then, this is extremely unlikely to result in any kind of prison sentence.  The most common outcome of legal action from Inland Revenue is bankruptcy and liquidation of any assets to recover debt, not a criminal conviction or sentence.  Unless you're engaging in thousands, or even millions, of dollars worth of white collar fraud, then you're screwed and phone scams are probably the least of your problems.  LOL.

As I've mentioned previously, this particular scam is just the latest incarnation of something that's been happening since not long after Alexander Graham Bell first invented the phone. I don't have the time or bandwidth to go through every single scam you may be targeted by, but you can continue to educate yourself by using the Scamwatch website to learn about the latest scams and how you may be targeted. And follow this simple rule...

DO NOT make any kind of payment based on threatening or coercive phonecalls, texts or emails, and DO NOT give out your passwords or banking details!

If you have been victimised by a phone scam (or any other kind of scam), call the police immediately and report it. Call your bank as well and see what they can do to reverse any payments. Finally, report the scam to Scamwatch and use the "Been Scammed" section to explore your options..

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Lone Juror: How Awareness of Wrongful Convictions is (finally) Making a Difference

Etan Patz 1979 Missing Poster

In 1979, bus stops, telephone poles and shop windows of Soho, New York were plastered with posters about a blond, blue-eyed little boy with a cheeky grin and a love of matchbox cars.  Etan Patz, was the first missing child to be featured on milk cartons.  His parents helped to spearhead a movement that changed the way that law enforcement and the public approached missing child cases.  The day of Etan's disappearance, May 25, 1979, was designated National Missing Children's Day in the United States in 1983, and in 2001, that tribute spread worldwide.   Sadly, despite all the monumental changes that came about because of him, 6-year-old Etan was never found.

But in 2012, NYPD announced an arrest in the cold case, a 51 year old resident of New Jersey named Pedro Hernandez, who was picked up after his estranged brother called in a tip, saying that Hernandez had "done something bad."  

Pedro Hernandez had been just 18-years-old in 1979.  He was working at a bodega in the neighbourhood where Etan and his parents lived (for the Kiwi readers, a bodega is basically a corner dairy).  May 25th was a Friday, and a very special day for Etan because, for the very first time, he was going to walk to the bus stop to catch the school bus all by himself.  Etan's parents had given him a dollar note and he'd told his mother that he planned to stop and buy a soda to have with his school lunch at the bodega, which was on the way to the bus stop.

Pedro Hernandez told detectives that Etan had entered the bodega that morning and that he, Hernandez, had strangled Etan and dumped his body in the garbage at the back of the store.
For the NYPD it was case closed, they had a confession and they were headed for trial.  But for one of the jurors, what came out during the course of that trial made him very alarmed about the strength of the State's case.

There was no physical evidence tying Hernandez to the case, which is not surprising since Etan's remains have never been found, and no crime scene has ever been identified.  That bodega where Hernandez worked in 1979 is long gone, bulldozed to make way for upmarket Soho apartments.  But a lack of physical evidence doesn't necessarily mean that a case can't be made. Circumstantial cases are common, we've just seen a perfect example of this in the New Zealand courts, in the case of Ashburton WINZ shooter, Russell John Tully.  The Crown's case against him was solid, but also largely comprised of circumstantial evidence.

But in the case against Hernandez, the circumstantial evidence was very problematic, and seemed to consist largely of rumour and hearsay.  There were claims that Hernandez had confessed to his church congregation in the 1980s, yet not one member of that congregation ever came forward until after Hernandez was arrested in 2012.  His siblings claimed that it was an "open secret" in the family, that Hernandez had murdered someone, yet they never came forward with this information until 33 years after Etan's disappearance.  

As for that confession....Hernandez confessed after seven hours of interrogation, most of which was not video taped despite the fact that it is mandatory practice for NYPD to tape all interviews.  Oh, and one more thing, Pedro Hernandez has a long history of mental illness, has been diagnosed with Schizotypal Personality Disorder, and has an I.Q of 70, which is borderline intellectually disabled.

Sound familiar? *cough*BrendanDassey*cough*

But, thankfully, there is a hero in this version of the #MakingAMurderer story, and that hero is Adam C. Sirois, the lone juror who refused to find Hernandez guilty, despite the fact that 11 fellow jurors all voted to convict, forcing a mistrial .  In subsequent interviews, Sirois has stated that he could not, in good consistence, find Hernandez guilty based on the State's evidence, and that the confession, to him, had all the earmarks of a false confession similar to that of Brendan Dassey.  Sirois make's no secret of the fact that watching Making a Murderer influenced his decision to deadlock the jury and I believe he did the right thing.

I don't know if Pedro Hernandez killed Etan Patz, I'm inclined to think he probably didn't but I don't know that for certain.  What I do know is interrogating a severely mentally challenged, mentally ill man for seven hours is unethical and reprehensible on the part of the officers involved!

After Making a Murderer, Serial, Undisclosed and the Adnan Syed case, and the flood of wrongful conviction horror stories, especially those based on false confessions, there is NO excuse for any law enforcement officer to engage in this kind of conduct.  This isn't just about a fair trial for defendants either, this is about the victims and their families, who are owed a thorough, above-board investigation and prosecution of the person or persons who victimised them.  

If Pedro Hernandez really did kill Etan Patz, NYPD owed it to Etan and to his parents to do the right thing, instead of engaging in blatant misconduct, the result of which was a mistrial.  If Pedro Hernandez really did kill Etan Patz and he gets away with it, that's on you NYPD, that is on you.

I called hold-out Juror, Adam Sirois, a hero.  The reason I call him that isn't because he freed Pedro Hernandez, a possible child murderer, because as I said, I don't know if Hernandez is guilty or innocent.  I called him a hero because he saw flaws in the State's case, and questionable conduct from police and he stood his ground, after enduring four months of trial testimony and 18 days of intense pressure from 11 people who all wanted to vote guilty and get the hell out of there.  Pressure from fellow jurors has led to convictions before, and to aquittals - including in the high-profile and highly controversial aquittal of four LAPD officers in the Rodney King beating.  

This man stood his ground, and in doing so, gave the State a do-over.  The mistrial means that they can re-investigate, find more evidence and retry the case, if they choose to.  The mistrial means that if Hernandez really is guilty, justice can still be done for Etan Patz.  

Jury Coercion and Peer Pressure - NYTimes

I'm raising money so I can go and visit my daughter, and my beloved fur-babies can stay in a super-nice cattery while I'm away, and be pampered like the small gods they are! Please donate, I really appreciate every dollar and it really helps cos I'm a poor student!!

Holiday Fund!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Please Help Me Fundraise!!

When I'm not spending my time researching, posting and blogging about crimes from New zealand and around the world, I'm busy with my studies. I am currently completely a Diploma in Mental Health Support Work. Because of this, I haven't seen my daughter, who lives with her grandparents in another city, in months. She'd really like for me to come and stay for a bit, and I would love that too. But it's not easy to make ends meet on a student allowance, and I have two cats as well, and nobody to look after them while I'm gone. As a result, I'm crowdfunding to try and raise the money and I would really appreciate everyone's kindess and generosity so I can go and spend some quality time with my girl!!