Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lethal injection drugs 'unreliable'

01:00 24 April 2007 news service
Michael Reilly

The three-drug cocktail used to execute prisoners in the US by pain-free lethal injection is inherently flawed and will not reliably anaesthetise inmates as they are put to death, a new study suggests.

The three drugs that make up the lethal-injection cocktail, which is used in most US states, are each thought to be lethal in their own right. However, Teresa Zimmers at the University of Miami in Florida, US, and colleagues found that the drug combination protocols used by executioners may not be reliable.

"Even if all the drugs are delivered intravenously in the quantities specified, they still may not produce death reliably," says Zimmers.

The researchers found that the average concentrations of the anaesthetic sodium thiopental varied enormously per kilogram of body weight, from 10 milligrams to 75 mg. In surgery, concentrations greater than 10 mg/kg are used for general anaesthesia.

Delayed death

Worse, execution logs showed that inmates' hearts continued beating 2 to 9 minutes after potassium chloride – the second drug in the cocktail – was administered.

"Potassium chloride usually causes instantaneous cardiac arrest once it reaches the heart," says Jonathan Groner at Ohio State University in the US. Groner suggests its effectiveness may be reduced somehow due to the combination of drugs used in the injection.

Lastly, pancuronium bromide is used to paralyse the muscles and stop breathing. Of the three drugs, it is the only one that Zimmers' team says is able to induce death reliably in the doses they examined. This means that even if executioners properly administer the entire course of drugs, there remains the possibility that the condemned may die of asphyxiation and be aware of it as it happens.

Reluctant advisor

Despite the new findings' potential impact on US policy regarding execution, Zimmers says she is opposed to offering any advice that may improve lethal injection methods.

"I think it's unethical to comment on how to improve lethal injection protocols," she says. "It's a perversion of everything we as physicians try to do."

The new study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that inmates may endure suffering during execution. Tales of gruesome deaths have largely led to electric chairs and gas chambers being abandoned in favour of a supposedly painless lethal injection, which is now used in 37 of the 38 states that sanction capital punishment.

Illegal executions?

In a previous study, in 2005, Zimmers' team investigated the effectiveness of the anaesthesia given to inmates prior to execution. They found that the levels of anaesthetic sodium thiopental in the blood of inmates were low enough that they may have experienced pain (The Lancet, vol 365, p 1412).

The researchers' findings, and evidence of ageing facilities and poorly trained executioners, led federal judge Jeremy Fogel to rule in February 2006 that California's injection programme was unconstitutional because it represented "cruel and unusual punishment".

There was no way to tell reliably whether inmates were unconscious before drugs were given to induce paralysis and cardiac arrest, he ruled, saying: "[California's] implementation of lethal injection is broken, but it can be fixed." Ten other states have also put injections on hold citing similar concerns.

Journal reference: PLoS Medicine (DOI: 101371/journal.pmed.0040156)

Related Articles
Hope of life for death row inmates

17 June 2006
Insight: US in dilemma over death row injections

04 March 2006
Execution by lethal injection branded inhumane

23 April 2005

2005 article in The Lancet (pdf)

PLoS Medicine

Florida Supreme Court Reduces Death Sentence Because of Mental Illness

The Florida Supreme Court reduced a death sentence to life without parole because of the defendant's serious mental illness. The court noted that this was "one of the most documented cases of serious mental illnesses this court has reviewed." In its decision rejecting the trial judge's death sentence for Christopher Offord (pictured), the justices unanimously held that the death penalty was a disproportionate punishment due to Offord's long-standing mental problems. Medical records show that Offord, who was convicted of killing his wife in 2004, suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and has been in and out of institutions since he was a young boy. The trial judge had imposed a death sentence despite the fact that she found Offord had committed the murder under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance and lacked the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct. The jury had unanimously recommended a death sentence.
(Associated Press, May 24, 2007). See Mental Illness.

Jury wants death sentence

Murder defendant Michael James Jackson (center) hears the Circuit Court jury's recommendation Wednesday for the death penalty with his court-appointed attorneys, Gregg Steinberg (left) and Richard Kuritz.

By Jessie-Lynne Kerr

The Times-Union

A Circuit Court jury recommended that Michael James Jackson receive the death penalty for his part in the murders of a disabled Jacksonville couple buried alive.

The jury's 8-4 decision Wednesday came after Jackson, 24, chose not to present anything to urge the jury to spare his life.

"I want them to do it on the facts," Jackson told the judge with the jury out of the courtroom.

"Well, they've already made a decision on the facts," Judge Michael R. Weatherby said, "and if you don't present anything, all they will hear is the aggravating circumstances. Given your position that you were not at fault, you really should put on something, but it is your decision."

Jackson's court-appointed defense attorneys, Gregg Steinberg and Richard Kuritz, will have a chance to present evidence of Jackson's deprived childhood and his birth to a drug-addicted mother before Weatherby pronounces his sentence.

The same jury of seven women and five men found Jackson guilty May 7 of two counts or first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping in the July 8, 2005, killings of Reggie and Carol Sumner, both 61.

Jackson was the first of three participants to go on trial in the killings. A fourth man pleaded guilty and is testifying against the others. Jackson had contended that he just wanted to rob the Sumners and knew nothing of the plan to kidnap and murder the couple until he walked up on two co-defendants shoveling dirt on the couple.

Prosecutors Jay Plotkin and Alan Mizrahi convinced the jury earlier that Jackson had masterminded the plot whereby the Sumners were kidnapped from their St. Nicholas home, stuffed in the trunk of their car and driven to South Georgia woods where they were buried alive in a grave that had been dug days earlier.

"Relief" was how Carol Sumner's daughter, Rhonda Alford of Charleston, S.C., said she felt after the jury rendered its advisory sentence recommendation after 95 minutes of deliberation.

The jury's recommended sentence "shows the system seems to work. It doesn't take away much of the pain, but it is an end to this part," said Fred Hallock, Carol Sumner's son, also of Charleston.

Of the others charged in the murders, Bruce Nixon, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified against Jackson. Tiffany Ann Cole, 25, Jackson's girlfriend, and Alan Lyndell Wade, 19, are awaiting trial and face possible death sentences., (904) 359-4374

Victim's Sister Forgives

By Angela Williams
First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- In a cold courtroom, convicted murderer Michael Jackson is just feet from the families of the victims. Jean Clark says while sitting through the trial of her brother's murder case she focuses on his life.

"I believe the world has lost a really good couple of people here," says Clark.

A jury offers the death penalty as their recommendation for 24-year-old Jackson. While Jean is unsure what the final outcome should be, she offers forgiveness, something not everyone in the family has been able to do just yet.

"Yes I've forgiven him now whether the rest of them have, I wouldn't say all. Is the hurt still there, is the pain still there? Yes, but as far as not forgiving, no not on my part," says Clark.

It's been almost two years since she lost her brother. Through memories and pictures the family pushes on. In the courtroom what appears to be an unemotional killer sits before her eyes.

"You think about, he's really sitting right here, you know and you go through a lot of thought process that's normal through the natural mind but then you realize it takes somebody that really truly has problems to do something like this," says Clark.

Recently getting her doctorate in Christian Studies has helped her pull through the pain. This is something she's hoping to turn into strength for others.

"It actually ministered to me through my own courses and it more equipped me in respect, so it definitely helped me get through and hopefully help someone else," says Clark.

Michael Jackson was found guilty of robbery, kidnapping and first degree murder for the deaths of Reggie and Carol Sumner.

Back in July 2005, authorities found the Sumners' bodies in a shallow grave in Charlton County, Georgia. 24-year-old Tiffany Cole and 19-year-old Alan Wade are awaiting trial.

Bruce Nixon pleaded guilty last March and agreed to testify against Jackson and the other two suspects. Nixon faces 52 years to life in prison.

'Salerno Strangler' defense attorneys seek compensation


May 30, 2007

STUART — More than 100 exhibits. Two thousand pages of research. Fifty hours of recorded witness depositions.

For "Salerno Strangler" defense attorney Rusty Akins, it all added up to more than 483 hours of work and a $48,320 bill he is now waiting to collect.

But Akins' bill is only about a fifth of the total cost for Eugene Wayman McWatters Jr.'s trial for the 2004 murders and rapes of Jacqueline Bradley, Christal Wiggins and Carrie Caughey. According to attorneys and court records, the four-week death penalty trial and subsequent hearings and filings will end up costing more than $244,000.

It's unlikely McWatters, 28, will ever see a bill delivered to his death row cell.

While Martin County Clerk's Office will absorb the $33,857 cost of copying McWatters' multi-volumed case and filing his automatic appeal, Akins and lead defense counsel Robert Udell, both court-appointed attorneys for the indigent Golden Gate resident, are dependent on a state agency to get paid.

Like the court reporting service that transcribed the trial, the attorneys have submitted bills to the Florida Justice Administrative Commission, and anything in excess of a statutory limit — $3,500 for the attorneys — must be approved as unique and unusual.

"Any time you're dealing with a death penalty case, that is, by definition, unique and different," Akins said justifying his hourly work log to a Justice Administrative Commission representative at an evidentiary hearing Tuesday.

Now Udell, who's billing for $77,050, and Akins must wait days for a court order on payment from Martin County Circuit Judge Larry Schack and perhaps weeks or even months for a final check from the commission. Even at $100 an hour, their payday will be a far cry from the estimated $250,000 flat fee a defense attorney could have demanded from a private client in the same circumstances, they said after the hearing.

While a good portion of the total trial cost can be attributed to defense attorney's fees, the prosecution's total of $15,345.49 is "pretty much in the ballpark" for death penalty cases, said Tom Bakkedahl and Erin Kirkwood, the assistant state attorneys who prosecuted McWatters in the fall.

"Everybody always thinks that death penalty cases cost so much, but there's not a great disparity between a death penalty case and a first-degree murder case," Bakkedahl said. "That's a myth."

The added cost accrue when additional experts are needed to testify during the lengthy penalty phase of a death penalty trial, Bakkedahl said. In the McWatters case, the prosecution presented only two witnesses during the penalty phase: clinical psychologist Dr. Gregory Landrum and McWatters' cousin, Jessica Aleman, who was under subpoena. As McWatters was deemed a sexual predator, a second hearing took place at which a psychologist testified as to whether McWatters qualified for chemical castration. He didn't, but Deborah Leporowski's bill for examining him and reviewing his personal and criminal history totaled $1,387.50.

Kirkwood said she was surprised to learn how low the total prosecution cost was for the case but attributed the amount to the fact that many of the witnesses were local residents and were not flown in to testify. Two victims' family members were compensated $4,890.55, a combined total for travel-related expenses when they came from out of state on multiple occasions to testify.

And whereas some defendants might be ordered to shoulder prosecution costs at a restitution hearing, McWatters is considered "judgment proof" because of his indigent status, Bakkedahl said. Therefore prosecution bills for everything from forensic dentists to 40-cent photo reprints are sent to the county and ultimately, the state.

But when prosecuting such a case, cost should not be an issue, Bakkedahl said.
"Public safety dictates that you don't make decisions based on money," he aid. "It's too important."


Prosecution: $15,345.49


Robert Udell:

Personal time: $77,050

Experts' cost: $15,405

Rusty Akins:

Personal time: $48,320

Experts' cost: $30,847.64

Court Reporting Fees: $18,549

Replacement judges to cover Judge Larry Schack's docket: $4,900.00

Cost of Filing appeal: $33,857

TOTAL: $244,274.13*

*Total does not include jury costs.


Robert Udell

Rusty Akins

States Move to Enact Laws Allowing the Death Penalty for Pedophiles

States Move to Enact Laws Allowing the Death Penalty for Pedophiles:
A Good Sign with Respect to Public Dedication to Protecting Children, But Potentially Not the Most Effective Way to Do So


Last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the death penalty as applied to a child abuser. Louisiana has led the way in passing laws to execute pedophiles. However, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Georgia, and Montana also have passed such laws, with Texas soon to follow when Gov. Rick Perry signs such legislation.

A major impetus for the death penalty in child sex cases is the heinous crime by a previously-convicted sex offender against Florida nine-year old Jessica Lunsford, who suffered horrific abuse, including burial alive in a shallow grave, where she eventually suffocated.

If there is a way to measure the temperature of public opinion against child abuse, this is it, and it bodes well for children, even if it is not the most effective way of protecting children.

Concerns with the Death Penalty Legislation, and Priorities in the Fight Against Child Abuse

Some have expressed concern that if the penalty for pedophilia is raised to death, children may be deterred from reporting abuse, especially when it is committed by a relative. Yet such a small percentage of child sex abuse victims report their abuse at this point - estimates run about 10% -- that one has to wonder about the marginal effect of the death penalty. Kids already are terrified to report, usually because they are threatened by their abusers, so this shift in the law would seem to make little difference.

My concern, however, is that pedophile-death-penalty laws are, in the end, a distraction from what needs to be done to truly protect the most children possible, the most effectively. It's important to remember that the difference between a pedophile in jail and one put to death, from a child's perspective, is negligible - in either case, children are safe from that perpetrator.

Moreover, the main problem we currently have when it comes to pedophilia (and this is an element in the huge and powerful response to Jessica Lunsford's death) is that we are not succeeding in identifying many of the perpetrators that are out there.

As I discussed in a previous column, legislative reform for children is not hitting at the heart of the problem - the anonymity of the predators, which is guaranteed by overly short statutes of limitations. Megan's Law created public lists of sex offenders, but those lists are woefully short, because the statute of limitations in the vast majority of child sex abuse cases runs long before the victim has the ability to come forward to anyone, and without a criminal conviction, an offender cannot be placed on any state-maintained Megan's List. The result is that thousands upon thousands of predators are out there, unidentified to unsuspecting families and children.

Why Abolishing Criminal and Civil Statutes of Limitation Will Protect Far More Children than the Pedophile Death Penalty Will

As I have argued more than once, the key is to abolish the statutes of limitation on childhood sexual abuse - both criminal and civil. Most states are moving in a forward direction in this respect, in that they are at least extending the statutes of limitations on childhood sexual abuse, with a few, like Alaska and Maine, abolishing them outright. This was the right decision: Surely the interests of the victims and society as a whole are more valuable than the perpetrator's need to be free from concern about prosecution or litigation.

In this area, abolition will eventually happen, because it is the only just solution to an intractable social problem. The question is just how quickly, and how many additional victims will suffer due to the delay.

Because of the Supreme Court's unfortunate 5-4 decision in Stogner v. California, no legislature can abolish the criminal statutes of limitations retroactively. Rather, they may only abolish criminal limitations with respect to future cases. Importantly, however - because this restriction comes from the Constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause, which only applies to criminal penalties -- the same is not true for civil statutes of limitations. In many states, civil statutes of limitations many be abolished not only prospectively, but also retroactively. If a civil statute of limitations is eliminated, even for a "window" of a year or so, the public learns more than it would ever know otherwise about the identity of the dangerous child abusers in our communities.

In 2003, California abolished the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse claims. As a result, over 800 victims came forward, and at least 300 perpetrators were named, of whom the public had previously been ignorant. Before then, those 300 perpetrators were comfortably relying on the statute of limitations to keep their crimes secret - and likely preying on new victims, thanks to a cloak of anonymity. Luckily for us, California had the foresight to pass a law that should be a model for the country.

Additional Recent Proposals to Abolish the Child Abuse Statute of Limitations Are A Welcome Development

The grassroots movement to abolish the statute of limitations in childhood sexual abuse cases is swelling, and it cannot be turned back. Over the past year, legislative proposals to this effect have been made in numerous states, including Alaska, Maine, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Hearings will be held on such legislation in Washington, DC this Friday, June 1.

The story of statutes of limitation for childhood sexual abuse in the United States is one of incremental, but constant reform. It is not unusual for a given state to have amended its sex abuse statutes of limitation as often as annually. The more we learn about how much we don't know about the predators out there, the more legislators are persuaded that there must be more time for victims to not only seek individual justice, but also bring this information to the courts and the public.

Such reform should -- but doesn't always -- pass the first time around. That is just the way the legislative process sometimes works, and fortunately, given the fervor of those behind these reforms, they will be re-introduced in those states where they have not yet been enacted. It is simply inevitable.

Aiding abolition forces is the fact that their opposition has fast lost any moral high ground it might have claimed- arguing in favor of those persons and institutions who actively cover up child abuse and protect abusers, and trumpeting the "rights" of the perpetrators to rest secure in the knowledge that, after a certain amount of time has passed, they will never be prosecuted.

On the other side of the issue, it's important to remember that this is an area in which victims' delay in coming forward is profoundly understandable. When a child suffers abuse, the profound psychological effects last a lifetime. For a victim, coming forward typically means revisiting intense pain, confronting misplaced but real feelings of shame, revealing a painful incident to their families (including their own children), and having the courage to confront their abuser - even though he or she was typically a trusted adult, often an authority figure, and sometimes was freighted with the intimidating religious authority a priest carries. No wonder it takes years.

The only effect such reforms have, is on the date the victim may go to court. They do not change the substantive law, nor the burdens of proof borne by the defendants or victims. They literally do nothing but open the previously locked courthouse door, telling victims that they should be permitted their day in court, in order to prove to the world that they were wronged in a most heinous way.

Perhaps there is one other effect - such laws are bound to make pedophiles and all past or would-be child predators nervous. Couldn't happen to a nicer group of people.

Before investing any more effort in choosing between prison and death for known pedophiles, as a society we really need to focus on identifying the silent and secret society of child predators that is now enjoying the existing statutes of limitations. Revealing these existing predators is the most effective way of protecting our children right now - before further abuse occurs.


Professor Hamilton's book, God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005), will appear in paperback in June 2007, and her next book, How to Deliver Us from Evil (Cambridge University Press 2008) will appear in January 2008. Her email is

Lethal injection postings May 2007

2006 (346)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What do states owe the exonerated?

After 18 years in prison: James Tillman (center),
cleared of rape,

was awarded $5 million.
Bob Child/AP

States' compensation for wrongful imprisonment ranges from zero to millions of dollars.

By Amanda Paulson Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

This month, two men – both freed last year after DNA evidence exonerated them of the crimes for which they'd been in prison – received drastically different news about how they might be compensated for those lost years.

Connecticut legislators voted to award $5 million to James Tillman to help him get his life back on track after 18 years behind bars for a rape he didn't commit.
The Florida Legislature, on the other hand, denied Alan Crotzer's request for $1.25 million and let a bill die that would have standardized a compensation system for victims of wrongful conviction.

"I felt so disappointed," says Mr. Crotzer, who served more than 24 years in a Florida prison until DNA evidence cleared him of rape and kidnapping charges. He's been working odd jobs that pay less than $300 a week since he got out. "The bottom line is, I don't think I could ever put a price on freedom…. But they've got to put a system in place. [This issue] isn't going away."

The cases are typical results of the patchwork of compensation laws in the US, say experts. Last month, the 200th person was exonerated due to DNA evidence, but the majority of those released have gotten nothing but an apology – and sometimes not even that.

"We are exonerating people who did not commit crimes, spent two decades in prison or time on death row, and when they get out, there are fewer reentry services for these people than for individuals who actually committed crimes," says Barry Scheck, codirector of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which is dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted. "It's a measure of decency."

As DNA exonerations become more plentiful – and more publicized – some states are moving on the compensation front. Of the 200 men who have been exonerated based on DNA evidence, about 45 percent have received some sort of compensation, according to the Innocence Project, with amounts that range from $25,000 to $12.2 million.

Twenty-one states, along with the federal government and the District of Columbia, now have standardized compensation laws on the books – offering exonerees amounts ranging from $15,000 total to $50,000 per year of imprisonment. Thirteen states have introduced bills this year to either create or improve compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Some of those bills, like the one that gave Mr. Tillman $5 million, dealt only with individual prisoners, but other states are trying to standardize the compensation.

Crotzer – as much as he would have liked to see his own petition for compensation filled – favors the latter, as do most advocates of the wrongfully convicted.
"It's like I've got my hand out begging," he says of the process he went through. "It makes me feel bad."

Texas, where 13 men have been exonerated in Dallas County alone, is considering a package of bills that would, among other things, raise the compensation amount from $25,000 to $50,000 per year of incarceration.

Vermont – which hasn't yet had a prisoner exonerated by DNA evidence – has passed a comprehensive bill that would provide between $30,000 and $60,000 per year of incarceration as well as access to healthcare and reintegration services. It's currently awaiting the governor's signature.

That's a trend that advocates at the Innocence Project hope they see more of. They note that in addition to monetary compensation, most of the wrongfully convicted leave prison with few skills and desperately need access to education, mental-health services, medical care, and job training. Currently, most exonerees don't even have access to the same sort of services that parolees get, since they're not being paroled.

"In Florida, if you're a parolee they give you $100 and a bus ticket," says Michael Olenick, the Tallahassee attorney who represented Crotzer pro bono. "Al Crotzer got no bus ticket, and no $100."

He also didn't get access to counseling, and he says he's struggled with some things since his release: He still wants to turn his light off at 11:47 every night, for instance, and he keeps everything in his room neat enough to pass a cell inspection.

Crotzer recently married a woman with two children and has worked a series of low-skill jobs ranging from street cleaning to janitorial duties. He's in the process of moving to Tallahassee, where he has an offer to work as a dishwasher. But he's hoping for a job at a nearby sheriff's office working with at-risk youth, and he's trying to stay sanguine about it all. "I kept my self-respect by not becoming the monster they wanted me to be," he says of his years in prison.

Neither Mr. Olenick nor Crotzer can be sure why the request for $1.25 million failed, especially after the Florida House unanimously approved it. Senate leaders said they didn't have the money – a common reason that states cite in not providing compensation. In Crotzer's case, some also suggested that lawmakers didn't want to grant any more individual compensation bills, but instead wanted to pass a "global" bill that would address all cases. However, the three such bills that were introduced in past years didn't go anywhere.

Some believe Crotzer may also have been hurt by the fact that he was convicted of a beer store robbery when he was 18 – a fact that would have excluded him from compensation under one of the laws proposed in Florida.

Olenick says he'll keep fighting and will refile the claim for next year's session. "When you handle a case like Al's, he becomes locked in your heart," Olenick says. "Until he gets compensated, I'm not going to stop."

What states are offering

Here is a sampling of provisions in state legislation for prisoner compensation in cases of exoneration:

California: $100 per day of incarceration

Montana: Educational aid for those exonerated through postconviction DNA testing
New Hampshire: Maximum of $20,000

New Jersey: Whichever is greater – twice the amount of the claimant's income in the year prior to incarceration or $20,000, for each year of incarceration

Tennessee: Maximum total of $1 million

Source: The Innocence Project

Gabe's View: Time To Kill Death Penalty

NEW YORK -- Two botched executions in Ohio make it clear: it's time to end the death penalty. A civilized nation can do no less.

In Ohio last week, Christopher Newton, an overweight inmate, was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Lucasville. The execution was delayed 90 minutes while prison medical workers tried desperately to find suitable veins in his arms.

Last year, another prisoner, Joseph Clark, died 90 minutes after his scheduled execution in Ohio because the prisoner workers had difficulty finding a vein in his arm.

Botched executions are hardly the exception in the history of this barbaric practice that seems so much a part of American culture. Over the decades there have been failed executions involving electrocutions, lethal injections [the preferred method these days] and hangings. Capital punishment is a horror and, although many Americans, according to polls, still favor using it, this may be a case where a decent respect for humanity should make us ignore public opinion polls.

There are lurid photographs of some of these botched executions on the Internet. It doesn't do us, as a nation, proud. The death penalty has society taking human life in the name of justice. It puts us as a nation on the same level as the most depraved criminal who has taken a life.

Advocates of the death penalty say it deters crime. Opponents argue it does not. And, indeed, there is no convincing evidence that it does deter killers.

In Ohio, at the prison where Christopher Newton was executed, an official told witnesses as the process dragged on: ‘‘we have told the team to take their time. His size is creating a problem.'' Newton was 6 feet tall and weighed 265 pounds.

What a grotesque scene and an embarrassing moment for our society.

No wonder that a group of Ohio inmates is suing the state, charging that the injection method is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Constitution. In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all executions so a commission could examine the lethal injection method. The former Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, declared a moratorium on all executions because he was so concerned about the cruelty of the penalty and the process. In other states there have been suspensions of the death penalty, or moratoriums declared by Governors or judges.

Capital punishment should be outlawed. Not for the sake of the killers but for ourselves. You don't have to be a deep believer to know that killing is wrong. And killings carried out in our name are abhorrent. The death penalty amounts to legal murder. And it's time to make it illegal.

Prosecutors expand legal arsenal to target gang members

By Susan Spencer-Wendel

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

When 19-year-old Johnathon Carr got stopped by Boynton Beach police this year for a traffic offense, an officer asked if he had any weapons in the car. "No, but you're lucky I don't have that!" said Carr, pointing to an officer's AR-15 rifle. "This is B-town. We're cop killers. Ya'll are gonna need that M-16."

Carr spouted off that he was a member of the B-town Boys gang, that they "rolled" with AK-47s and the officers should be scared, according to a police report. There at the scene, police arrested Carr for threatening a public official, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

But when the case crossed the desk of Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos, the prosecutor upped the ante.

Kridos dusted off an anti-gang statute for the first time in a long while, a state law allowing him to enhance the charge against Carr. Carr now faces up to 15 years in prison.

As gang activity and violent crime in Florida surges, prosecutors are switching tacks, realigning attorneys, cooperating across quarters to identify gang members and apply the harshest penalties possible.

Palm Beach County law enforcement officials have identified about 130 gangs operating in the county. Among the ones making headlines this year is Top 6, which is linked to nearly a dozen fatal shootings in the past year, including an ambush in Lake Worth that left three dead and four people injured.

Recently, local federal prosecutors began adopting more cases from state prosecutors, applying harsher gun and drug laws to the most violent gang-related offenders. The U.S. Attorney's Office in West Palm Beach has more than 30 gang members charged or about to be charged, said the office's head prosecutor, Andrew Lourie.

It is one prong of a push by the chief federal prosecutor of South Florida. U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta says the first part of the plan is taking the most violent gang members off the streets. "But that is only a temporary measure. What we need to do in the long run is we need to take the entire organization off the street," Acosta said.

How to do that?

The same way federal prosecutors tackled the mob: RICO - the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, allowing a stockpile of charges against all those associated with a criminal enterprise.

"My view is a gang is organized crime. They might not have the high-powered connections. They might not have the history, but it is still a group of individuals that are engaged in criminal activities," Acosta said. "It's an aggressive approach, a bit novel, but I think it's perfectly justified."

RICO convictions reap dire sentences, including the federal death penalty. This month, federal prosecutors in the Washington area announced they will seek the death penalty in a racketeering case alleging gang-related murders.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said over the past 25 years, gangs have grown more in Florida than any other state in the nation.

Yet, Florida has no statewide strategy, something McCollum said he is working to change.

McCollum said Statewide Prosecutor Bill Shepherd will seat a grand jury this summer to explore gangs and drugs. The last time that was done was in 1991.

The grand jury will sit in Palm Beach County but have the power to call witnesses from all around the state. McCollum said the group will be used not just to indict gang members, but also make recommendations, such as changes in legislation.

This past legislative session, state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, and Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, sponsored legislation to enhance Florida's gang laws. The measure did not make it in time for a vote before the session ended. It included a new definition of gangs as organized crime.

Aronberg said it was a total change from viewing gangs as a slipshod, disorganized group to a well-funded entity that closely resembles the Mafia. "Old laws have not been sufficient to wipe these gangs out of business," he said.

And some old laws have been rarely employed.

When local prosecutor Kridos charged Carr - the 19-year-old who bragged of his gang affiliation - he relied on a chapter of Florida law called Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention.

Attorney General McCollum said the chapter has been used very little by prosecutors around the state. Created in 1990, the chapter morphed over the years after legal challenges, requiring prosecutors to prove more and more about a defendant's gang membership and how his criminal acts benefitted or promoted the group.

Something that can be very hard to do if the defendant doesn't spout off about it himself.

Staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Doctor is Out

By Ted B. Kissell
Published: December 10, 1998

Info:Correction Date: 12/17/1998

Dr. Kunjana Mavunda sits, arms folded, behind her desk in the small, gray office of her private practice on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. In her lilting accent -- she is Indian by descent, Kenyan by birth -- the bespectacled 41-year-old respiratory physician mentions that she attended medical school in Poland.

Like most Kenyans, Mavunda grew up speaking both English and Kiswahili, in addition to her parents' Indian dialect. Her medical school courses were in Polish, a language she didn't speak before enrolling. She learned it well enough to earn her M.D. in 1980.

Mavunda moved to Dade County in the early Eighties, earning a master's degree in public health from the University of Miami and learning Spanish in the process.

After nine years on the UM faculty teaching pediatrics and pediatric pulmonary medicine, she started a private practice in 1996. In October of that year, one of her former professors at UM, Dr. Eleni Sfakianaki, recruited her to join the Miami-Dade County office of the Florida Department of Health (DOH).

Mavunda signed on with the state agency at a crucial point in its history.

Previously it had existed as a part of Florida's Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS). In 1996 the DOH became a stand-alone department and continued a shift in emphasis away from the traditional mandate of primary medical care for the poor. Locally those services were assumed by the Public Health Trust, the Miami-Dade County agency that operates Jackson Memorial Hospital, among other health care facilities and services.

Employing 970 people, the Miami-Dade branch of the DOH still offers clinical services at ten local outlets. Among these services are treatment for tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), screening for HIV, family planning, a Healthy Start program for newborns, and immunizations. Recently, though, the DOH has concentrated on monitoring disease trends and preventing outbreaks that could become epidemics.

As director of epidemiology and disease control, Mavunda figured to play a vital role in the DOH's redefined mission. Her enthusiasm, however, quickly turned to disillusionment. The DOH, she found, was an agency beset by political infighting, ineptitude, and poor leadership. "There are a lot of diseases within the county that the department is not addressing," she says now. "People are getting sicker, and the environment is getting worse."

Mavunda did not keep her concerns to herself. In December 1997, she sent a terse memorandum to Dr. Sfakianaki, the department's medical executive director and Mavunda's immediate superior. "I do not have the staff to investigate" reported cases of hepatitis C, Mavunda wrote. "We do not have the time or the resources to adequately follow up chronic hepatitis B cases. This can be an explosive situation."

Mavunda added that despite what she described as an efficient departmental staff, her short-handed team could not keep track of food-borne-illness complaints, and that her reporting of cases to Tallahassee was being delayed.

In fact the home office in Tallahassee noted that for 1997 the Miami-Dade DOH office accounted for 61 percent of the missing case-report forms statewide. "The reason for this negative report is that my staff is busy investigating and acting on acute problems," Mavunda noted, "and unfortunately that takes priority over paperwork."

Personnel moves, Mavunda says, also seemed ill-conceived, even capricious. Her suggestions for the epidemiology unit, which include replacing high-salaried administrators with lower-paid but more essential outreach and clerical workers, were ignored, she recounts.

As a single mother with two children and her parents living in her home, Mavunda continued to run her private practice one day per week even after taking the DOH job. Her father, who had helped her manage the practice, died in June 1997; Mavunda says she originally planned to close the practice and devote her energies solely to the health department. Instead, this past March, less than two years after joining the DOH, she resigned in disgust. "I was not able to do the job I was hired to do," she charges.

Dr. Sfakianaki hired another highly regarded physician in 1997, Dr. Toye Brewer, to head the department's section dealing with HIV, TB, and STDs. The 42-year-old Brewer, like Mavunda, was charged with reforming her unit. As part of these efforts, Sfakianaki and Miami-Dade DOH's executive administrator Annie Neasman requested two reviews of the local STD program: one internal, the other conducted by an internationally recognized STD expert. Both found shoddy record-keeping and substandard clinical care.

Equally disturbing, the 1997 reviews attributed many of these problems to the department's half-dozen physicians who specialize in STD diagnosis and treatment. The reviews also noted that nearly all of these doctors, most of whom had worked at the DOH for years, were actively resisting the reforms proposed by Brewer and her superiors.

Neasman concedes that her agency has had its problems, but attributes these to decreasing funds. As for the low-quality service at Miami-Dade's five STD clinics, she says she and her staff are doing everything they can to improve the situation.
But these pledges did little to mollify Brewer.

In June of this year, she, like Mavunda, bolted from the troubled department, taking a faculty job at the University of Miami.

The DOH's shift away from primary care reflects a nationwide trend a decade in the making. In the late Eighties and early Nineties, private health maintenance organizations (HMOs) began to accept Medicaid patients en masse, leaving to public health departments a diminished client population, mostly uninsured and nonpaying. For this reason Miami-Dade's branch of the DOH has been downsizing for several years and turning over its primary-care clinics to the county's Public Health Trust.

As the number of insured patients has dwindled, so has funding from the state legislature. In response, Neasman says, she has concentrated her resources ($44 million for 1998-99) on the "core functions" of public health, the services that private doctors are unlikely to assume, including STD treatment among the poor and indigent.

And so Eleni Sfakianaki created a new position -- director of STD, HIV, and TB services -- to ensure that the department was delivering the best possible care. (HIV and AIDS are generally considered distinct from other sexually transmitted diseases, by the DOH and the medical community in general.) Her choice for the job was Toye Brewer, an expert in infectious diseases. Today Sfakianaki describes Mavunda and Brewer as "my star recruitments."

Part of the process of improving STD care involved the two evaluations requested by Sfakianaki and Neasman, one of which was conducted by a team of reviewers from Tallahassee. When the six reviewers (doctors, nurses, and administrators) came down in June of last year to scrutinize every aspect of the Miami-Dade STD treatment program, Toye Brewer had just begun her job.

The review group released its fifteen-page report one month later. In her assessment of Miami's five STD clinic operations, nurse and senior DOH staffer Karla Schmitt noted that "clinicians" (meaning the doctor or nurse who conducts examinations) were routinely providing substandard care.

"For whatever reason, they weren't following the state guidelines in treating people," Schmitt says today. Among the deficiencies she noted: Clinicians were still treating gonorrhea alone, without simultaneously treating chlamydia, when "federal and state guidelines recommend presumptive treatment for both infections in the presence of gonorrhea"; treatment of a woman for any STD was sometimes delayed until her next menstrual period, a delay which, if an infection were present, could lead to complications, even sterility; and many clinicians were reluctant to dispense (or were unaware of) proper medications. Even routine procedures such as Pap smears, which test for abnormal or cancerous cells on the cervix, were being inadequately performed.

Not only were clinic staffers providing poor service, but they weren't keeping track of the services they did provide. The existing system of records, an abbreviated computer printout, "does not allow the provider to fully document findings," Schmitt wrote.

Given the suspect record-keeping, Schmitt now questions the low number of STD cases reported by the Miami-Dade DOH. "Miami-Dade County has 40 percent of the state's population, and it doesn't deliver 40 percent of the STD cases," she says. "There's no reason it shouldn't. It has a young, poor, sexually active population. It ought to have more cases than it does." Last year Miami-Dade (population just over two million) reported an average of 25 STD clinic visits per day, the same as Orange County (population 800,000), and fewer than Duval (26 visits per day, population 742,000).

Schmitt's section of the report specifically criticized the performance of six STD clinicians, five of whom were doctors. That number itself seemed wrong to Schmitt. No other urban county in Florida employed more than two clinicians at its largest STD clinic, and most employed no full-time physicians, relying instead on nurse practitioners.

The "nurse-practitioner model," Schmitt says today, is the nationwide standard for STD care, both for financial reasons (Miami-Dade's DOH doctors earn between $65,000 and $75,000 annually; nurse practitioners earn between $50,000 and $55,000), and because many in public health believe that nurses, trained to be more empathic and less judgmental than doctors, are better suited for STD treatment.

Schmitt also pointed out that the doctors appeared to be underworked. In April 1997, for instance, the five clinicians at the main DOH clinic on NW Fourteenth Street (four of whom were doctors) averaged 8.6 physical exams per day, "one-third the state standard," Schmitt wrote.

In sum, the picture Schmitt painted was of high-priced doctors standing idle, performing incompetently, and filing inadequate records; "out-of-date, both in guidance and documentation," Schmitt observes today.

A former department employee who asked not to be identified concurs, especially with regard to the doctors' competence. "They do not want to treat herpes and genital warts because they [the doctors] are from the Eighties and they haven't read anything since then," the source asserts. "They know gonorrhea and syphilis and they don't want to be bothered with anything new."

The report, Schmitt notes today, took into account the funding reductions that have beset Miami-Dade's DOH office. "They do not get all the money they would need to serve the population, but that doesn't mean they're managing the money they have well," she says. "The foundation of a good STD program is efficient clinics with quality care, active outreach, and good relationships with private doctors. None of that is happening yet in Miami-Dade."

The report validated Sfakianaki's reasons for hiring Toye Brewer: The STD program clearly needed fixing. Indeed the management section of the report stated that most of the STD program staff "feel that Dr. Brewer's expertise and commitment are an outstanding addition."

Not all of Brewer's subordinates agreed. The doctors whose work Schmitt excoriated, for instance, were furious, none more so than Dr. Manuel Rodriguez, senior physician of the department's STD program. Rodriguez had applied for the new position eventually awarded to Brewer. (When contacted for this story, Brewer declined comment, citing ongoing negotiations between the Department of Health and the University of Miami to form a partnership in which UM would take over much or all of the STD program.)

Both the internal and outside STD reviews mentioned overstaffing; shortly after the Tallahassee report was issued, two STD doctors were slated to be laid off. Rodriguez maintains that the attempts to lay off doctors made no sense, and that the criticisms of their competency were unfounded. "It wasn't fair," he declares. "The reason for the decline of gonorrhea and syphilis is the work that we did. And it's contradictory that the price of a good job is layoffs."

He and other STD doctors articulated their concerns in letters and memoranda, distributed both within the DOH and to state and federal legislators. The gist of the physicians' letters: There was a movement afoot to replace them with nurse practitioners; Brewer was spearheading the effort; and the two evaluation reports were merely excuses to justify canning them.

Rodriguez and two fellow STD physicians, Dr. Rusquin Duany and Dr. Federico Rosello, sent a form letter addressed to most of Miami-Dade's legislative delegation on June 27, 1997. Rodriguez recalls sending copies to U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; state Sens. Alberto Gutman, Mario Diaz-Balart, Roberto Casas, and Daryl Jones; state Reps. Luis Rojas, Kendrick Meek, Rudy Garcia, Luis Morse, Carlos Lacasa, and Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat. The letter was a plea for the legislators to do what they could to save the jobs of Duany and Rosello, who were in danger of being laid off. "The termination of these two physicians will have a detrimental impact to the community," the missive read.

Letters like that were but one manifestation of the flak Brewer was taking in her attempts to straighten out the STD program. Others in the department, including Sfakianaki and Hazel Ruffin, administrator of the Prevention, Education, and Treatment (PET) Center in Miami Beach, described Brewer as being "frustrated" with the politicking of her medical staff, even after the Tallahassee report was issued.

In December 1997 the STD program was reviewed again, this time by one of Brewer's former professors: Dr. King Holmes, a faculty member at the University of Washington's Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Seattle and an internationally recognized expert in STD treatment.

Holmes questioned the most recent figures for the incidence of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. He noted that incidence of chlamydia per 100,000 people dropped from 145.1 in 1994 to 48.6 in 1995. "These sharp declines are remarkable but highly suspect.... I know of no area in the world that has experienced such a remarkable drop in chlamydia incidence, even with much more aggressive chlamydia control programs than those currently in place in Dade County," he wrote. "Current data undoubtedly underestimate the real morbidity [incidence rate] of STDs."

Holmes echoed Karla Schmitt's criticism of clinicians, especially at the main clinic. "Physicians were clearly not busy," he wrote.

Another point: "The ratio of male-female clinicians at the downtown clinic was 5-1 ..., a problematic and inefficient imbalance since examination of women by a male clinician ... must be done in the presence of a female staff member -- thus doubling the staff required to evaluate female patients!"

Holmes's report clearly reveals that he was taken aback by what he found in Miami-Dade. "The incomplete clinic record-keeping, the low productivity, the level of physician overstaffing, the idiosyncratic view of STD diagnosis, and management at the clinics are unparalleled in my experience," he noted.

Like the Tallahassee report, however, the Holmes review lauded Toye Brewer's leadership. "Dr. Brewer's initial efforts have focused appropriately on improving STD case-management guidelines ..., but she is experiencing resistance to obtaining compliance with these guidelines." Such resistance came, according to Holmes, from the STD doctors, chief among them Manuel Rodriguez.

If Rodriguez is dismissive of the Tallahassee report, he is downright disdainful of the Holmes report. "We are all open to criticism, but he met with me for only ten minutes. Can you write a report like this after only ten minutes?" he asks rhetorically. "It's easy to criticize. It's easy to destroy. To build is hard."
Not surprisingly, Rodriguez and his colleagues responded to the Holmes report by staging what amounted to an epistolary rebellion.

In a letter to DOH executive administrator Annie Neasman dated March 4, 1998, Rodriguez wrote (on behalf of himself and seven other physicians, including all the STD doctors): "The working physicians are constantly being demoralized by Dr. Brewer, who continues to criticize rather than teach and correct the impoverished aspects of physician's [sic] bureaucratic skills. ... In spite of this, our medical staff in the STD clinics continues to overcome these obstacles and provide the highest medical quality for the community."

Rodriguez laid the blame for the controversy squarely on King Holmes and Karla Schmitt, adding, "None of them see patients but they are quick to criticize."
He ridiculed the Holmes report as "a recommendation letter for Dr. Toye Brewer," and went on to cite his 1997 form letter: "I feel the department is back to the starting point as it was on June 27, 1997, when we originally spoke to the state Senators and Representatives."

Brewer and Eleni Sfakianaki responded to Rodriguez's accusations with a joint memorandum to Neasman. "Some physicians have consistently failed to adequately document clinic encounters and meet minimally acceptable standards," they wrote. "This is inexcusable and no one should have to go to the clinic to teach them to do so."

To an outsider the kinds of failings outlined in the two 1997 reports might look like grounds for termination. And indeed Rodriguez and his colleagues were assuming a defensive posture in apparent fear of losing their jobs. But though two of the physicians were targeted for budget-related layoffs in mid-1997, they kept their jobs that year, and neither of the reports placed anyone in danger of being fired outright.

"The reports say general things about the quality of care," Sfakianaki explains, drawing a distinction between layoffs, which are based on decreasing funds and internal reorganization, and firings, which are based on poor performance. "If you are to address the issue of firing someone, there has to be documentation on that particular person, with cases being mistreated, with people complaining perhaps. And there is no such documentation here."

The doctors' complaints to legislators did result in some pressure being brought to bear on the department this year, both at the county and state levels. In August U.S. Reps. Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen wrote to Dr. James Howell, secretary of the state Department of Health. In September state Senator Gutman wrote to both Howell and Annie Neasman. These letters concerned the possible layoff of physicians, and though all used cautious language such as "respectfully requesting your looking into this matter," the fact that the letters were sent at all upset others within the department.

"Every time Dr. Brewer tried to do something, it would only go so far," says Hazel Ruffin, administrator of the PET Center in Miami Beach (where Brewer worked one day a week as an HIV primary-care physician). "The only reason Neasman would pull back was political. [Tallahassee] did not want to have the Cuban connection upset by holding physicians accountable for doing their jobs."

Rodriguez (who, like most of the doctors under his supervision, is Cuban American) insists his only motivation for contacting politicians was to persuade them to send more money to the department and to preclude the need for layoffs. He wasn't trying to pressure Neasman or anyone else with the correspondence. "My number-one priority is my patients," he asserts. "After my patients, my staff. And when they were in danger of being laid off, I didn't vacillate. They are not my staff, they are my family."

Although Rodriguez denies he was trying to bully anyone, Eleni Sfakianaki disagrees. Asked if she feels Rodriguez was hoping to pressure Neasman, she responds: "Yes, I do."

Neasman acknowledges that she and her boss in Tallahassee have received letters from legislators, but will not elaborate on her reaction to them. And regarding her STD physicians' proclivity for appealing to politicians, she will only say: "Certainly as citizens they have a right to do that, and they have done that."

Sfakianaki declines to characterize the effectiveness of the political pressure on Neasman. "I'll let you be the judge," she says.

In the end the sniping and politicking took its toll on Brewer. This past June she resigned to accept an assistant professorship of clinical medicine at the University of Miami. Neasman views Brewer's resignation as simply a matter of UM offering the doctor an opportunity she couldn't pass up. The DOH's Karla Schmitt, however, sees it differently.

"Dr. Brewer was trying," Schmitt says. "She's a very fine physician. She gave it an honest shot and decided it wasn't working. She gave up in frustration, and many of us couldn't blame her."

Sfakianaki misses her star recruits Brewer and Kunjana Mavunda and feels she did all she could to keep the women on staff. (Mavunda's epidemiology post has been filled. Brewer has not been replaced.) "I was proud to recruit such young, dynamic, well-qualified physicians," she says. "I do share their frustration; it's not easy to work in public health. That's why some decide to stick with it and others don't."
On the first floor of the squat, battleship-gray main building of Miami-Dade's DOH, people queue up for the clinical services offered there.

Although primary care has been farmed out in recent years, the edifice at 1350 NW Fourteenth St., nestled against the county jail and the criminal courts, still offers STD and TB services, immunizations, and confidential HIV screening to the poor, the uninsured, and the underinsured -- those on the margins of the modern health care system.

In her spacious, unadorned third-floor office in that building, Annie Neasman sits at a conference table. A registered nurse who has run Miami-Dade's DOH since 1990, Neasman wears a black-and-white houndstooth suit and a serious mien as she discusses the turbulent two years since her department's move from under the aegis of HRS.

She agrees with the Tallahassee evaluators' judgment that the number of full-time STD doctors in the program is too high. By her reckoning, the high number of physicians is a holdover from the elevated levels of syphilis and gonorrhea Dade County experienced in the Eighties, and the relative glut of medical doctors countywide.

She also accepts the reports' stinging assessments of the subpar care those physicians provide. "There is no excuse for the quality of those services," she concedes. "Certainly we recognized that we needed individuals who were completely trained in those particular services. They were not particularly up-to-date on particular standards." She would not elaborate on which of the physicians' clinical shortcomings she found most disturbing, adding only that some of them have undergone additional training.

The main issues, Neasman insists, have been budgetary, and for that reason this past September, the two STD doctors with the shortest time of service at the DOH found themselves in the downsizing crosshairs: Dr. Rusquin Duany and Dr. Luis Arrue.

These two men were among the doctors who, as a group, were criticized for giving substandard care. They also were among the signatories of the letters that led to the political heat. If Neasman took umbrage at her subordinates overtly trying to exert pressure, she's not admitting it. And firing them for bad performance (as opposed to financial reasons), she notes, would have required going "the disciplinary route."

Neasman agrees with Sfakianaki that none of what was described in the reports warranted disciplinary action. She also seems to accept their intransigence and complaints to politicians as par for the course. "They are not any different from any employee we have in state government," she says. "They don't like change. When you make a change, you're going to have resistance."

As it happened the department did not pull the trigger on either Arrue or Duany. Arrue accepted a demotion. The death of another STD doctor and the retirement of a doctor from another program obviated the need for further physician layoffs this year, Sfakianaki says.

Neasman points out that a new and more comprehensive system of keeping medical records, designed by Brewer, has been instituted, thus addressing a complaint common in both the Tallahassee and Holmes reports.

The fact that the harshly criticized doctors are still working comes as no surprise to former DOH staffer Dr. Kunjana Mavunda. "People at the Department of Health are not doing their jobs, and they're getting away with it," Mavunda laments. "Some of those [STD] physicians are among the most incompetent and uncaring people there are. But the main problem we have is the administration, and Tallahassee knows that. They know, but they're not willing to act.

Published:Owing to a reporting error in Ted B. Kissell's story about the state Department of Health ("The Doctor Is Out," December 10), both the name of Dr. Bill Skeen's organization and his title were misidentified. The group is called the Florida AIDS Action Council. His title is director of public policy. New Times regrets the error.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Report: Jessica Lunsford case cost more than $500,000

The Associated Press

OCALA, Fla. - The prosecution of a man convicted of abducting, raping and killing 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford has cost more than $573,000 so far, a newspaper reported Sunday.

John Evander Couey still faces sentencing for the February 2005 slaying and could get the death penalty.

Prosecutors, the Citrus County sheriff's office, the state circuit court and Couey's public defenders have spent $573,566.65 so far in the case, according to a public records analysis by the Ocala Star-Banner. Couey's trial was moved from central Florida to Miami because of pretrial publicity.

Lodging, food, overtime, security costs and other travel expenses for staff members accounted for $321,072.32, the newspaper reported.

"I guess the best way to put it into perspective is to ask (the public) the question: 'How much is your kid's life worth? How much money should our office have had to spend to make sure your child's killer was brought to justice?'" said State Attorney Brad King.

A jury in March convicted 48-year-old Couey of taking Jessica from her bed, raping her and burying her alive in his yard. They recommended 10-2 that he get the death penalty, but the final sentencing decision will be left to Circuit Judge Richard Howard.

"From a legal standpoint, it's a lot less than I thought it would be. I expected at least $1 million, maybe two," said Stetson College of Law Professor Charles Rose III, who commented on the case for Court TV. "The taxpayers of Florida got a good deal on their investment."
Information from: Ocala Star-Banner,

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Crosby asks forgiveness

Letter to the Editor:

About a year ago when I entered my guilty plea for accepting illegal gifts, I apologized on the courthouse steps to the people of Florida and, more importantly, took responsibility for my actions.

I have also had the opportunity to apologize to several individuals who were directly hurt by my actions.

In addition to these, however, I believe I still owe one to you who have supported me for so many years in this community and to the hard-working staff of the Department of Corrections. I am sincerely sorry for having let you down.

By the time you read this, I will be in federal prison. I'm sure it will be some time, if ever, before I see most of you again.

Finally, I realize there will be some of you who will presume to know my heart and simply say, "he's not sorry," and others who will care less if I am or not; but to the remainder of you, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.

Jimmy Crosby Jr.

Juvenile justice staff fired over boy's injury

April 14,2007

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Walt McNeil Friday fired the acting superintendent and a juvenile justice officer at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna after an investigation into abuse of a youth.

McNeil said the action was a call for a "change of culture" at the school.

"There are systemic operational problems at our Dozier facility that span the chain of command from top to bottom," said McNeil.

The incident occurred Feb. 11. Justin Caldwell, an 18-year-old at the school, is charged as an adult with battery in an attack an officer at Dozier School that day.

Later that day, McNeil said in an unrelated incident, Caldwell accused juvenile justice residential officer Alvin Speights of choking him, causing him to hit his head on a table that knocked him unconscious. That incident was caught on a security camera, but McNeil said the faces of other youths not involved had to be obscured before it could be released to the media. The tape was given to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and could be released early next week, he said.

Last year, DJJ came under fire for delaying release of footage of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson being beaten by guards at the Bay County juvenile boot camp. After being sued by the media, the department eventually released the tape. Anderson died the day after the incident in Bay County and eight employees of the boot camp have pleaded innocent to charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child.

In the Marianna case, Caldwell has been charged as an adult with battery on staff and is being held in the Jackson County Jail. He had been at Dozier for two years on larceny charges. Speights was in the process of being fired Friday and charges against him are pending in the ongoing investigation, McNeil said.

Also, in response to the investigation, John Tallon, regional residential services administrator and acting Dozier superintendent, was fired Thursday.

State employees fired after teen knocked out


Two Department of Juvenile Justice employees will be fired after an ongoing investigation revealed the use of inappropriate force that knocked an 18-year-old resident unconscious at a Marianna facility, department Secretary Walt McNeil said Friday.

The investigation into the incident has made it clear that the Arthur
G. Dozier School for Boys has widespread deficiencies, McNeil said.

The department has made management changes and hired an independent consulting firm to oversee the facility, which is a high-risk
residence currently housing 162 boys from 14 to 21.

"We recognize that there are systemic operational problems at our
Dozier facility that span the chain of command from top to bottom,''
McNeil said. "It is clear that we have to act decisively to change
the culture of our Dozier facility.''

On Feb. 11, resident Justin Caldwell was choked and thrown to the
floor by Alvin Speights, a residential officer at the Dozier school,
McNeil said. On the way down, Caldwell hit his head on a table and
was knocked unconscious.

Speights was in the process of being fired Friday, and Dozier's acting superintendent, John Tallon, was fired Thursday, McNeil said.

Caldwell had assaulted a different officer earlier in the day, but
McNeil could not say whether Speights' actions were in retaliation
for that incident because the investigation is ongoing. Other firings
could come after the completion of the investigation.

Caldwell is currently in jail in Jackson County as a result of the earlier incident, McNeil said.

Among the changes that will take place, the department's assistant
secretary of residential services will temporarily move his office to the facility to supervise daily operations, McNeil said. Community
Trust, a Tallahassee-based consulting firm specializing in juvenile
justice facility management, will also oversee daily operations, and its chief executive will become acting superintendent.

Also, the facility's 200 employees will be trained in verbal
intervention techniques to replace physical actions against youth who
are misbehaving.

McNeil said Friday's announcement was an effort to be transparent
about problems at the department.

The department came under scrutiny after 14-year-old Martin Lee
Anderson died in January 2006, a day after being roughed up by guards
at a Panama City boot camp. The Florida Legislature dismantled the
military-style boot camps during last year's legislative session.

Tennessee company settles in death of inmate's baby

An inmate whose baby died after being born over a jail cell toilet in Florida has received a one $1,250,000 settlement from the Tennessee company that provided health care at the facility.

Kimberly Grey sued over the death, saying she had complained of labor pains for nearly 12 hours while in jail in Tampa. Brentwood-based Prison Health Services settled with her yesterday, after jurors heard two weeks of testimony and began deliberations.

The Hillsborough County, Florida sheriff's office settled its portion of the case in November for $350,000.

Prison Health Services is no longer Hillsborough County's inmate medical provider.

The company declined comment on why it chose to settle the case.