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Archive for May, 2007

This is the first article in a five part series examining justice as it is applied in the most serious cases our criminal court system is designed to handle— Murder. Future articles will examine other convictions and look at improvements that can be made to improve the justice system.

Every time an innocent man is convicted, a guilty man goes free.

Twenty-one-year-old Debra Carter had been found beaten, raped, and suffocated in her garage apartment in Ada, Oklahoma on December 8, 1982.

After five years of police work that can only charitably be called slipshod, detectives caught a break in the case: A career criminal named Glen Gore told detectives that he had seen Ada resident Ron Williamson with Debra Carter at the night club she worked at on the night of the murder.

Williamson would never be mistaken for a choirboy. He had been arrested and acquitted twice on rape charges. He also had a long history of mental illness that dated back to his playing days for one of the New York Yankees’ farm teams.

Dennis Fritz was implicated simply because he was Williamson’s only friend. No witness put him anywhere near Carter on the night of the murder. Ironically, Fritz was a single parent because of the murder of his own wife several years earlier, a murder for which he was never a suspect.

Six years later, the two men had a difficult time establishing alibis. When the case was tried in 1988, DNA testing was rare and in its infancy. The police had blood and hair on the scene that they thought could theoretically have come from the two men, but nothing conclusive.

During interrogation, Ron Williamson mentioned having had a nightmare about spirits attacking him. Police insisted that this dream was a thinly veiled confession.

District Attorney William Peterson handled the case. Three jailhouse informants testified against Dennis Fritz in his April 1988 trial. Coupled with the hair and blood evidence and his friendship with Williamson sealed his fate. One juror held out during the sentencing phase to make it a life sentence instead of a death sentence.

Attorney General William Peterson presented as evidence Glen Gore’s statement (Perhaps tellingly, he refused to testify at trial) that the victim had told him on the night of the murder that Ron Williamson had been bothering her. A jailhouse informant named Terri Holland told the jury that she had overheard Ron Williamson confessing to the murder in jail. She joined yet another jailhouse informant who miraculously heard Williamson confess to the crime less than 24 hours before police were going to have to release Williamson for lack of evidence. The jury returned a guilty verdict and sentenced Williamson to death.

In 1994, Williamson was five days away from his date with the needle when he was granted a stay of execution. The Innocent Man.

A year and a half after the murder of Debra Carter, there was yet another murder in Ada Oklahoma. If it sounds like I’m telling you the same story twice, I assure you, I’m not.

Twenty-four-year-old newlywed Denise Haraway had been abducted from the Ada convenience store where she was employed. The cash register had been emptied, and the victim’s car and purse were still on the scene.

Several months later, twenty-year-old Tommy Ward was questioned, as he resembled a man seen walking out of the store with Haraway. A jailhouse informant (Starting to see a pattern already? Just wait.) told police that he had overheard who had killed Haraway.

Ward initially denied any involvement in the murder. He was released and took a polygraph at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. When he was told he had failed, he explained that he thought the results might have been off because of a dream he had.

After eight hours of unrecorded interrogation, Ward confessed to the murder, implicating two others in the death. He told investigators that he had participated in the abduction, rape, and murder of Haraway with his best friend Karl Fontenot and another Ada resident, Odell Titsworth. He told them that Titsworth was the ringleader, and that the thre of them gang-raped her, murdered her with Titsworth’s knife, and dumped her body near Sandy Creek. He apparently didn’t know Titsworth very well, as he kept referring to him as “Titsdale” throughout the recorded part of the interrogation.

Karl Fontenot was arrested, and confessed after two hours of interrogation. His confession clashed with Ward’s on the order in which the three men raped her, as well as the number of stab wounds. In his confession, after murdering her with Titsworth’s knife, they took her to an abandoned house where Titsworth poured gasoline over her and burned the body.

Police picked up Titsworth for questioning, but decided that it was unlikely that he could have carried out the attack. He had broken his arm in a scuffle with police only days before the murder, a fact that neither Ward nor Fontenot apparently knew. He was never charged.

Police sifted the remains of the burned out house where Fontenot claimed the body of Denise Haraway had been destroyed. As they were examining the “crime scene”, the owner came out and told them that it was impossible for the suspects to have destroyed the body in that house— He had burned down the house himself ten months before the murder.

But none of that really mattered to District Attorney William Peterson (See the pattern forming again?). He had another jailhouse informant whose testimony would cement the case—

Terri Holland. Look a little further back up the page, and you’ll see that this is not the first time she’s provided testimony in a murder case. She claimed to have overheard Karl Fontenot confessing, just as she had claimed to have overheard Ron Williamson. I’m not sure there’s a priest in America that has heard as many confessions as Ms. Holland has claimed to have heard.

Besides her testimony, District Attorney Peterson had to ask a jury to believe two confessions that contradicted one another in almost every way, and both indicated the involvement of a third man that the police department never saw fit to file charges against.

And believe it they did. For Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot received death sentences.

Four months after the sentences were handed down, a trapper found the skeletal remains of Denise Haraway in a field. Forensic examinations have revealed no signs of stabbing, but a bullet hole in her skull. No soft tissue remained, so no DNA has been harvested. Her body was found 30 miles away from any place mentioned in either “confession”.

Ward and Fontenot were retried. And on the basis of “confessions” which not only didn’t match each other terribly well, but bore no resemblance to the physical evidence in the case, they both received life sentences.

Mark Barrett, the defense attorney that helped clear Williamson and Fritz in 1999, has taken over the case and feels confident that he can not only clear his clients, but he feels confident that he can prove who actually committed the murder.

William Peterson still serves as District Attorney for the City of Ada.

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It’s heartening to see NFL players turn out for a good cause— You know, like defending Michael Vick for animal cruelty.

In a backpedal worthy of John McCain, Washington Redskins player Clinton Portis called dog fighting a “prevalent” part of life (In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ”) before issuing another statement stating “I do not participate in dog fighting or condone dog fighting in any manner”.

His moronic teammate Chris Samuels added “Have you ever seen ‘Animal Planet’?” with a giggle.

The facts of the case are very simple. Michael Vick has a home in Virginia, one of the many states where dog fighting is illegal (If it’s legal in any state at all, I’m not aware of it). Over the course of raiding this home as part of a drug investigation (You know, because Vick is such a virtuous soul), police found dozens of dogs and equipment associated with dog fighting.

It’s animal cruelty, plain and simple. It does not matter, as Portis says, that the dogs are Vick’s property. The fact is that you are not allowed to do this to living creatures.

I’ve seen dog fighting video before. A company I used to work for had a sideline business copying uncopyrighted videos for people, and some assclown brought in a video a few minutes before we closed for the weekend.

I got back in on Monday, and we put the tape in to copy— And we saw several men gathered around, placing bets as two pitbulls fought to the death.

We called the police. My coworker at the time raised and bred Akitas, and I love dogs enough that animal cruelty is something we take pretty severe offense at.

And even the dog fight itself is only the tip of the problem. A big dog on fight day has, as a general rule, been beaten mercilessly and fed countless smaller animals to try and stoke the bloodlust that would make domesticated animals act like vicious wild predators.

You train a dog for the fighting circuit by beating and starving it. Then you put smaller animals in the pen with it. A kitten. A smaller dog. The dog learns to associate killing another animal with survival. Then and only then do you have a fighting dog.

Michael Vick is a part of this.

So I think it’s only fair, if it’s proven that he takes part in this, that he be thrown in a pen with a bunch of larger predators. As an athlete, he may be able to take a few of them out— But not all of them. And famous inmates always have a bullseye on their heads. If he was still alive, you could ask Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who routinely got his ass kicked behind bars.

I cannot advocate strongly enough the idea of Michael Vick learning a lesson about cruelty by being fed up to some larger predators.

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We’re down to the finals on “American Idol” this week.

The big winner? Everyone who quit watching already.

It’s now down to a “human beat box” (And the judges have been proving all season just how desperately out of touch they are when they call this white kid “unique” for doing something the black kids in my junior high P.E. class circa 1984 used to do in the locker room) vs. a seventeen-year-old that sings with slightly less soul than C3-PO.

This show is based on a British show with a British formula for finding the next pop star, all while overlooking one crucial element:

British pop sucks.

I was watching a show on BBC America a couple of weeks ago that was going for a “hip” feel by using a British pop song. When I heard it, I reflexively reached for my cell phone— The intro to the song sounded that much like a bad ring tone.

The show was supposed to be improved by the addition of a real house band— Yet with few notable exceptions (Those being when they played the songs wrong, such as Haley Scarnato’s rendition of “Brass In Pocket” and Jordin Sparks’ version of “Living On A Prayer”, a song so simple that a guitar, if thrown off a cliff, can play it by itself as it bangs against the jagged rocks on the way down), it still sounds like a bad karaoke CD.

Call me a pop culture curmudgeon if you must. But one thing you notice as you grow older is that increasingly, “pop culture” is an oxymoron, and the real purpose of “American Idol” is to give us something to chatter about between football season and baseball season.

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Sometimes, good things happen and I don’t notice them immediately.

Several months back, all of us on the Memphis scene were sad to note that a lady who had been great to all of us had quit blogging when Blinders Off felt that she was unable to continue her “Living With MS” blog. Those of us that have had to see Multiple Sclerosis in action certainly understood, though.

Well I’m glad to point out to anyone that has had their head up their own arse similarly to mine that she has indeed now relaunched as of two weeks ago today.

We’re glad to have your voice back on the scene, Blinders!

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I didn’t realize it, but Kevin Gallagher demonstrated yesterday why I love it when candidates blog, particularly local candidates. He unveiled the Gallagher Crime Plan, and I think it’s a particularly interesting one.

I would recommend everyone go check it out.

UPDATE: My friend and brother Vibinc pointed out to me that the Gallagher Crime Plan is also available on Gallagher’s official campaign site:

PDF
http://www.votekevingallagher.com/5pointplan.pdf
Page
http://www.votekevingallagher.com/crime.html

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$21 per Week

I’ve been fortunate in my life. I’ve never had to go on food stamps. So I had no idea just how low the average weekly allowance in food stamps actually is until I saw this Liberadio piece via Volunteer Voters (This piece actually began its life as a comment at VV, but I got frustrated and put it here when the VV page refreshed, wiping out everything I’d written)

$21 per week. That shakes out to $3 per day, averaging a dollar per meal.

Now, I can already hear the voices from the right chiming in to tell me how wrong I am to want an increase. Read the rest of this before you do, though.

Keeping the limit at $21 forces the poor into miserable nutritional choices. I’m not saying that the poor will necessarily make better nutritional choices if they’re given more to work with— But as it stands now, they are forced into the very worst of everything. Fat is cheap because it has very little nutritional value. I’m sure I could save at the grocery store if I quit buying the 90% lean ground beef at $2.99 per pound and went with the ridiculously fatty ground beef at $1.79 per pound. But buying the $1.79 per pound ground beef has side effects that I don’t want, the least of which is an expanding waistline. Limiting your weekly grocery shopping to $21 per week forces you into the fattier foods. It guarantees that your diet will consist almost entirely of fats and starchy foods such as potatoes.

We face an obesity epidemic in this nation. From 1976-80, our nation stood at 15% obesity. A similar survey taken in 2003-04 put the obesity rate at 32.9%, according to the CDC.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the health risks associated with obesity. Type II diabetes, heart disease, hypertension leading to increased strokes, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems— The list goes on.

The $21.7 billion in the year 2000 alone. That factors in health care, work absence, and school absence.

Simply put, keeping the allowance at $21 per week virtually guarantees that people are forced into the kind of nutritional choices that will make them more likely to drain our resources in the future.

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And although he is sadly not on the video, the Memphis Flyer’s publisher Ken Neill presented it to him.

Enjoy.

UPDATE: Pesky Fly has Ken Neill’s speech transcribed here.

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