When a U.S. soldier becomes a ‘gunman’

Generally speaking, there are few acts in war, though they could be classified as violent, that would rise to the level of violent crime. But the recent shootings in Afghanistan, resulting in more than 15 and five injuries, caused by a U.S. soldier who is said to have gone house to house breaking down doors, likely rise to that level.

In criminal law, there is usually a motive or set of circumstances that at least partially explains the circumstances of the accused. In other cases, there is no motive. In this case, the U.S. Army Sergeant accused of killing unarmed Afghan civilians had served three prior tours in Iraq and was on his first in Afghanistan. He is married with children. He is 38 years old.

What is not clear at this time is exactly why he walked from his base to a neighboring village and began opening fire, killing men, women and children.

Needless to say, the gunman’s actions have added significant political strain to the situation in Afghanistan. As Taimoor Shah and Graham Bowley report for the New York Times, all three Afghan factions have cried out against the gunman’s actions in unison-Afghan lawmakers, civilians (in the form of protests), and the Taliban.

Source: U.S. Scrambles to Contain Fury Over Attack in Afghanistan

Abolish the death penalty? State legislators say ‘no’

State legislators ultimately said “no” to a bill that would have abolished the death penalty in Connecticut after a gruesome home invasion involving sex offenses and violent crimes. According to USA Today, Joshua Komisarjevsky (along with accomplice Steven Hayes) is now on death row after a jury decided in favor of the ultimate punishment.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes broke into the Petit family’s home – and then, according to the USA Today report, the burglars blamed each other for “escalating” the burglary, which morphed into raping the wife of Dr. William Petit, sexually assaulting his 11-year-old daughter, dousing everyone in gasoline and setting the house on fire.

The only one who escaped was Dr. Petit.

“It was shockingly brutal,” said the prosecutor. “It was evil. It was vicious.”

“[Komisarjevsky] is very accepting,” said the defense attorney. “He’s been realistic from the beginning and he understood that public sentiment is very much against him.”

People charged with crimes involving sex offenses and violence – in states that have the death penalty – will often face the possibility of the ultimate punishment. It depends on the circumstances of the case.

The death penalty is also a possibility in Maryland. The last person to be executed in Maryland was in 2005.


Source: USA Today, “Man condemned to death in Connecticut home invasion killings,” 12/9/11

‘Is this the end?’ says Hollywood shooter

If it hadn’t been the end for this as-yet-unidentified Hollywood gunman, he most certainly would have been charged with a violent crime, like attempted murder.

As Hailey Branson-Potts reports for the Los Angeles Times, a man walked down the street in Hollywood and fired on passing cars – he hit one man in a silver Mercedes in the jaw, sending him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in critical condition – before Los Angeles police officers shot him down.

As he fired on the man in the silver Mercedes, an eyewitness is said to have heard the gunman say, “Is this the end?” It’s not clear whether he was referring to his own demise or that of the man in the Mercedes; either way, the photo in the Los Angeles Times report shows LA detective Nicole Kittle standing over the gunman’s body, which is covered by a white sheet. There’s a bit of blood on the Mercedes and the windows have been shot out.

Though this recently happened in Hollywood – “This is Hollywood,” said one eyewitness, “I honestly thought they were filming something” – the laws against violent crime involving guns are pretty uniform throughout the nation, even if the rates of such crimes are lower in Hollywood than they are in Baltimore.

Baltimore, Maryland, has one of the highest weapons charge and homicide rates in the nation. As a direct result, Maryland prosecutors are experienced with these types of cases, which can range from carrying a concealed weapon or failure to register a gun to the use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Hollywood shootout: Gunman calmly targeted drivers, pedestrians,” by Hailey Branson-Potts, 12/9/11

Joran van der Sloot pleads guilty to homicide

As CBS News reports, 24-year-old Joran van der Sloot, a longtime suspect in U.S. national Natalee Holloway’s disappearance five years ago, has plead guilty to the murder of Stephany Flores under the jurisdiction of a Peruvian court.

Van der Sloot’s homicide charges, now that he has been convicted, have resulted in a sentence of 28 years in prison and restitution in the amount of $75,000 to be paid to Flores’s family.

Prosecutors got close to what they asked for – a 30-year prison sentence – in this first-degree murder case.

Van der Sloot testified that he strangled Flores in a “fit of rage” after Flores found out that Van der Sloot had been implicated in Natalee Holloway’s disappearance.

In Maryland, murder charges are some of the most serious types of criminal charges that you can be faced with – and they also tend to garner the most publicity, as Van der Sloot’s case illustrates.

But the problem with publicity is that accused people are generally assumed guilty from the start. Nonetheless, it seems as though Van der Sloot had his day in court; apparently, it was his decision to plead guilty.

Juice box tussle: 5-year-old boy stabs three

We don’t know what the “edged weapon” was that the 5-year-old boy wielded over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, stabbing three other little boys, as Martha Neil reports for the ABA Journal, but the message is clear:

Don’t mess with this kid’s juice box.

Law enforcement took the boy into custody after the stabbings, and is now being “evaluated” – presumably it’s a psychiatric evaluation – after he got into some sort of tussle involving a juice box.

As Neil reports, the sheriff on the case said, “I’ve heard of juveniles throwing temper tantrums, but I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”

In our criminal defense practice, we’ve seen enough to know that when a 5-year-old does something like this, there is probably an underlying issue, to say the least – which is one good reason that sentences for juvenile crimes are usually more lenient than for adults.

Source: Boy, 5, in Custody After Police Say He Stabbed 3; Juice Box Issue May Have Sparked Altercation

Ringleader, accomplices charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault

Four mentally disabled people were locked in a dirty boiler room in the basement – one of them chained to a radiator, as Eric Johnson reports for the Chicago Tribune – leading to a plethora of charges against alleged ringleader 50-year-old Linda Weston and her two accomplices, including kidnapping and aggravated assault.

As Johnson reports, Weston is said to have faked her way to the four peoples’ federal Social Security Disability checks, posing as their caregiver.

Weston has a prior criminal record for murder.

Law enforcement officer Joseph Green was one of those who investigated the case. “There were a couple water bottles but no food or anything. There was a bucket they used to urinate in,” Green said.

Green also said the people were brought to the hospital for “much needed medical attention,” as Johnson reports.

Many different agencies were involved in the case, including the FBI and Social Security Administration.

Weston apparently moved from city to city, leading investigators to suspect that she may have other people locked away in other locations. At the time of Johnson’s report, Weston was not cooperating with authorities.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Bond set for captors of disabled adults locked in filthy room,” by Eric Johnson, 10/17/11

Amanda Knox wins appeal in murder trial and will return to U.S.

Amanda Knox, the American exchange student convicted a year ago of murdering her roommate in Italy, has won her appeal and will be free to return to the U.S. Knox’s roommate was found brutally murdered in November 2007.

The 21-year-old Meredith Kercher had been raped and had her throat slashed. She also had dozens of other wounds on her body. Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were convicted of Kercher’s murder. A man from the Ivory Coast, Rudy Guede, was also convicted and remains in jail.

An interesting article in The Telegraph lays out the contradictory and complex evidence that came to light during the trial, conviction and appeal of Knox. In announcing the overturning of the conviction, the judge said that the evidence used to convict Knox was not reliable. This included DNA evidence present at the crime scene that outside experts had also analyzed for the defense and called insignificant and unreliable.

Knox confessed under questioning by police that she had been in her apartment the night of Kercher’s murder and had heard her scream, but the confession was given under extreme distress due to the circumstances of her friend being murdered. She was also not allowed to have a lawyer present during her all-night questioning and testified that a police officer had cuffed her around the head and had told her that she would go to jail for decades if she did not cooperate. She also only spoke basic Italian at the time.

Knox is from Seattle and her supporters and family are eagerly anticipating her return following the ordeal.


Source: The Telegraph, “Amanda Knox: Guilty or innocent, five reasons why,” Nick Squires, Oct. 3, 2011

Retired detectives try to solve 123-year-old cold case of Jack the Ripper

An interesting recent article in the LA Times looks at the long-unsolved mystery of who was “Jack the Ripper.” The murder and mutilation of five women in London by an unknown assailant occurred during a two-month period 123 years ago. Now, armchair detectives and retired homicide detectives alike are trying to solve the crime on their own.

One retired homicide detective even appealed to that country’s Freedom of Information Act to have the original crime files by Scotland Yard released to him so that he could try his hand at finally solving the string of violent crimes. His request and appeal were denied because the Metropolitan Police Service argued that it still had a duty to protect its informants, even if they are long dead.

The police argued that revealing the identities of informants could put their descendants at risk from the descendants of the people they implicated in the crime.

In 1888, five women who worked as prostitutes were found dead in the red-light district of London’s East End, called the Whitechapel district. The perpetrator slit the women’s throats to kill them and also eviscerated some of them.

The homicide detective who wanted to see the original documents has formed his own theory on the crimes, which he wrote about in a book. He believes that the crimes could have been committed by a German sailor who would have been docked at the time near the Whitechapel district. He later slit the throat of his landlady after moving to New York and was executed in the electric chair for the crime. Similar crimes to the ones in London also occurred in Germany at a later time.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “The cold, cold case of Jack the Ripper,” Henry Chu, Sept. 20, 2011

University of Maryland student posts about ‘shooting rampage’ on Facebook

The Baltimore Sun reports that a University of Maryland student has threatened a “shooting rampage,” prompting law enforcement authorities to arrest him. At the time of the 19-year-old’s arrest, he was unarmed. He has since been charged with the misdemeanor of disturbing orderly conduct on campus.

This arrest comes on the heels of a Cleveland-area school shooting in February, as well as other incidents involving guns and schools, making people take any threats of violent crime very seriously.

The 19-year-old college student apparently wrote on Facebook that “hopefully I kill enough people to make it to national news,” referring to a shooting rampage that he would perpetrate on the University of Maryland campus in College Park the following day.

One can’t help but wonder whether the student was making a statement about the rash of school shootings. The 19-year-old is reportedly a good student, near the top of his class, and participated in honors programs. Nonetheless, he cannot return to campus at the moment, and his status as a student at the university is definitely in question.

Source: UM student charged with threatening ‘a shooting rampage’

Judge rules medical examiner gave false testimony in murder trial

A medical examiner is currently under investigation in the county he works for after a judge ruled that he gave false testimony in a murder trial. The judge also ruled that the man convicted of murdering his infant daughter in that 2004 trial will now get a new trial beginning this month. The medical examiner had testified for the prosecution as to the manner of death of the baby, and the judge ruled that he gave information that was not necessarily true and may have swayed the jury to convict.

The medical examiner had ruled that the father had killed his baby by throwing her against a concrete floor or wall, fatally fracturing her skull. Some other medical examiners say that this medical examiner jumped to conclusions without taking into account or fully investigating all the facts of the case.

The baby’s skull showed evidence of a fracture, but it also showed signs of healing and may have showed that it had occurred six days prior to her death, but a sample was not taken. Her parents said that she had fallen out of a shopping cart at a Wal-Mart store six days before she died. Other medical examiners who reviewed the case believed that it was more likely that the infant suffocated while she slept on a futon next to her dad and her three-year-old sibling.

The judge and other medical examiners who reviewed the case said that this medical examiner came to conclusions about whether the baby’s skull fracture would have been fatal or whether she would have been showing symptoms without consulting specialists who would know that information from working with living children. They say that the medical examiner also did not go to the scene to reconstruct what had happened with the person who found the baby dead nor did he try to reconstruct it using a doll or other means.