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Mississippi told to pay $500K to wrongfully imprisoned man
Headline News | 2021/03/03 22:27
A judge is ordering the state of Mississippi to pay $500,000 to a Black man who was wrongfully imprisoned more than 22 years and was tried six times in a quadruple murder case.

Curtis Flowers was released from prison in December 2019, months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a district attorney had excluded Black jurors from his trials. Flowers had spent years on death row.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in September that she would not try Flowers a seventh time in the 1996 slayings and a robbery that took place at a furniture store in Winona. He had been in custody since 1997.

In November, Flowers sued the state seeking compensation for wrongful imprisonment. Court papers show the attorney general’s office agreed to his request.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge George Mitchell on Tuesday ordered the state to pay Flowers $500,000. That is the maximum allowed under a 2009 state law, which says the state can pay $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, for a up to 10 years.

Mitchell also ordered the state to make a separate payment of $50,000 to Flowers’s attorneys.

Flowers was convicted four times: twice for individual slayings and twice for all four killings. Two other trials involving all four deaths ended in mistrials. Each of Flowers’s convictions was overturned.

In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the conviction and death sentence from Flowers’s sixth trial, which took place in 2010. Justices said prosecutors’ pattern of excluding Black jurors from his trials was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruling came after American Public Media’s “In the Dark” investigated the case. The podcast recorded jailhouse informant Odell Hallmon in 2017 and 2018 recanting his testimony that Flowers had confessed to him.

The first six trials were prosecuted by the local district attorney. Flowers was still facing the 1997 indictments in December 2019 when a judge agreed to release him on bond. The district attorney handed the case to the attorney general, and her staff spent months reviewing it before deciding not to go forward because of a lack of credible witnesses.


UConn student fugitive in court on murder charge, police say
Headline News | 2020/06/12 00:25
A University of Connecticut student, who police say used a machete to kill a man, fatally shot a high school acquaintance, and then spent six days as a fugitive,  will be arraigned Friday on murder and other charges, authorities said.

Peter Manfredonia, 23, will be arraigned in Rockville Superior Court in the May 22 death of Ted DeMers in nearby Willington, Connecticut, Trooper Josue Dorelus said at a news briefing.

It was not clear whether Manfredonia has an attorney who could comment on his behalf about the charges. Manfredonia is accused of killing DeMers, 62, and seriously wounding another man in the machete attack.

Two days later, police say, Manfredonia stole a truck and guns and fatally shot high school acquaintance Nicholas Eisele, 23, in Derby, Connecticut. He is being held on a $5 million bond. He is charged with murder, criminal attempt to commit murder, assault, home invasion, kidnapping with a firearm, robbery, larceny, stealing a firearm and assault on an elderly person.

State police said further charges will be filed in Eisele's death and the kidnapping of Eisele's girlfriend, who was later found unharmed in New Jersey.


Unanimous Supreme Court throws out ‘Bridgegate’ convictions
Headline News | 2020/05/11 00:23
A unanimous Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the convictions of two political insiders involved in the “Bridgegate”  scandal that ultimately derailed the 2016 president bid of their ally, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The justices said there was evidence of deception, corruption, and abuse of power in the political payback saga that involved four days of traffic jams on the world’s busiest motor-vehicle bridge, the George Washington Bridge spanning the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. But “not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court.

In the end, the justices concluded that the government had overreached in prosecuting Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni for their roles in the scheme. Kelly was a deputy chief of staff to Christie. Baroni was a top Christie appointee to the Port Authority, the bridge’s operator.

The court’s decision to side with Kelly and Baroni continues a pattern from recent years of restricting the government’s ability to use broad federal laws to prosecute public corruption cases. In 2016, the court overturned the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. In 2010, the court sharply curbed prosecutors’ use of an anti-fraud law in the case of ex-Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

Kagan wrote for the court that Kelly and Baroni had acted for “no reason other than political payback.” In devising the traffic jam, they were seeking to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark Sokolich, after he declined to support the reelection bid of Christie, the GOP governor.


European court: Russia's arrests of Navalny were political
Headline News | 2018/11/19 21:01
The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Russian authorities' arrests of opposition leader Alexei Navalny were politically motivated, a decision that deals a blow to the Kremlin's dismissal of Navalny as a mere troublemaker.

Navalny hailed the ruling as an example of "genuine justice" and said it is an important signal for many people in Russia who face arbitrary detentions for their political activities.

The court's highest chamber found that Russian authorities violated multiple human rights in detaining Navalny seven times from 2012 to 2014, and that two of the arrests were expressly aimed at "suppressing political pluralism."

It ordered Russia to pay Navalny 63,000 euros ($71,000) in damages, and called on Russia to fix legislation to "take due regard of the fundamental importance of the right to peaceful assembly."

The ruling is final and binding on Russia as a member of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog.

"I'm very pleased with this ruling — this is genuine justice," Navalny told reporters after the hearing. "This ruling is very important not only for me but also for many people in Russia who face similar arrests on a daily basis."

Russia is obliged to carry out the court's rulings, which enforce the European Convention on Human Rights , but it has delayed implementing past rulings from the court and argued against them as encroaching on Russian judicial sovereignty.

Navalny told reporters that he expects the Russian government to ignore this ruling and dismiss it on political grounds.

Navalny, arguably Russian President Vladimir Putin's most serious foe, has been convicted of fraud in two separate trials that have been widely viewed as political retribution for his investigations of official corruption and his leading role in staging anti-government protests.


Court fight likely in 10-year-old girl’s homicide case
Headline News | 2018/11/11 10:49
When a 10-year-old Wisconsin girl was charged with homicide this week in the death of an infant, it was a rare — but not unprecedented — case of adult charges being filed against someone so young.

The girl told investigators she panicked after dropping the baby at a home day care and then stomped on his head when he began crying. She sobbed during a court appearance in Chippewa County, where she was led away in handcuffs and a restraint.

The age at which children get moved to adult court varies by state and can be discretionary in some cases.

Wisconsin is an outlier in that state law requires homicide or attempted homicide charges to be initially filed in adult court if the suspect is at least 10 years old, according to Marcy Mistrett, chief executive at the Campaign for Youth Justice.

Wisconsin is among 28 states that allow juveniles to be automatically tried in adult court for certain crimes, including murder. For most states, the age at which that is triggered is 15 or 16 years old — while some states have decided 10 is even too young for a child to be held responsible in the juvenile justice system, Mistrett said.

Moving a case to juvenile court depends on establishing certain factors, such as whether the child would get needed services in the adult system, said Eric Nelson, a defense attorney who practices in Wisconsin.

For example, prosecutors in an attempted murder case involving a 12-year-old schizophrenic girl who stabbed a classmate said she belonged in adult court, where she could be monitored for years for a disease that isn’t curable. Defense attorneys unsuccessfully argued against those claims.

Homicide cases involving 10-year-old defendants are extremely rare. From 2007 through 2016, 44 children aged 10 or younger were believed to be responsible for homicides in the U.S., according to data compiled by Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. Only seven of those children were girls.

In 2003, two 12-year-old boys fatally beat and stabbed 13-year-old Craig Sorger after they invited him to play in Washington state. Evan Savoie and Jake Eakin ultimately pleaded guilty in adult court and were sentenced to 20 years and 14 years in prison, respectively.


NC high court weighs if tracking sex offenders reasonable
Headline News | 2018/11/10 22:49
North Carolina's Supreme Court is re-evaluating whether forcing sex offenders to be perpetually tracked by GPS-linked devices, sometimes for the rest of their lives, is justified or a Constitution-violating unreasonable search.

The state's highest court next month takes up the case of repeat sex offender Torrey Grady. It comes three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his case that mandating GPS ankle monitors for ex-cons is a serious privacy concern.

"There's different possible outcomes of the case. One is that it's never reasonable at all. Another is that it's reasonable, maybe while the person is still on post-release supervision" for five years after prison release, said James Markham, a professor who focuses on criminal law at the University of North Carolina's School of Government. "Another possibility is that it's reasonable for the rest of their life."

Grady took his case to the nation's top court arguing that having his movements forever monitored violated his constitutional protection against unreasonable searches. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that attaching a device to a person's body in order to track their movements qualifies as a "search" and a question of constitutional rights. But the decision left it up to states to decide whether imposed monitoring is reasonable, and for how long.



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