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We Never Figure Things Out First

By Scott H Greenfield

(A Kavita Media Presentation. Please email comments here.)

Now that it’s clear that Cameron Todd Willingham was executed for an arson/murder that wasn’t, there’s a question that demands an answer.  Scott Henson over at Grits for Breakfast asks it.  Bob Herbert at the New York Times asks it too.  Why is it that we convict people first, based on the hyperbolic claims of junk experts, and only put in the effort to vet the truth from the garbage after it’s too late?

Now comes a report on the case from another noted scientist, Craig Beyler, who was hired by a special commission, established by the state of Texas to investigate errors and misconduct in the handling of forensic evidence.

The report is devastating, the kind of disclosure that should send a tremor through one’s conscience. There was absolutely no scientific basis for determining that the fire was arson, said Beyler. No basis at all. He added that the state fire marshal who investigated the case and testified against Willingham
“seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires.” He said the marshal’s approach seemed to lack “rational reasoning” and he likened it to the practices “of mystics or psychics.”
Great.  A devastating report, ripping the prosecution’s theory to shreds, exposing the fire marshal as a fraud.  But only after Willingham, who turned down a plea that would spare his life and protested his innocence to! the end, was put to death.  Where the heck was Craig Beylor when Willingham needed him?  Where are all the experts when the time to fight prosecution by voodoo needs to be made?

Let’s not mince words: The defendant’s best chance is at the trial of his case.  Thereafter, the legal presumptions work against him.  He’s no longer presumed innocent after a conviction, and evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution.  Only before trial, before conviction, does he possess the full panoply of rights afforded by the Constitution.  That’s when a defendant needs the help.  After he’s dead, it’s all academic.

The sad fact is that access to the level of interest and scrutiny doesn’t exist when it’s most needed.  There’s no money for the fight, and worse still, even if there was the chances of capturing the interest of world renown experts to debunk the prosecution’s payroll experts is slim to non! e.  Two points need be made.  At the time of trial, every co p suddenly becomes an expert beyond reproach as far as the prosecution, judge and jury are concerned.  They’ve got their act together and practiced it until it comes off very convincingly.  The only problem is that it’s almost always a lie, even when they have the right defendant and their accusations are accurate.  As the old-time columnist, Murray Kempton, used to say, "there they go again, framing the guilty."

The second point, however, is the most disturbing.  Try getting an expert, and I mean a real expert, when you need one.  Aside from the cost (and these guys know how to charge, enough so that they make plumbers blush), they just aren’t interested.  They couldn’t care less about your case or your client; you would be lucky to get them on the phone at all.  It’s not until the case hits the front page of the paper that there is a sudden flurry of interest.  Suddenly, experts want to be the one who breaks the case wide open! and gets their mug on Page 1.  That motivates them.

So Willingham is dead for an accidental fire.  And absolutely nothing has changed because of it.  Just another blip in the criminal justice system.  After all, it’s not perfect, but it’s the best their is.  I’m sure Willingham takes comfort in knowing this, as do all the other Willinghams who sit in prison because some prosecutorial expert scientifically proved their guilt as well.  But they aren’t front page news.

Permalink: blog.simplejustice.us/2009/09/01/we-never-figure-things-out-first.aspx


The Death of A Preacher

By Scott H Greenfield

(A Kavita Media Presentation. Please email comments here.)

Via Radley Balko, Georgia Preacher Jonathon Ayers is no longer with us.  A mere 29 years old, with a wife 16 weeks pregnant, Ayers did what a preacher is supposed to do, helping sinners.  For that, he was executed by two plain-clothes officers of the Georgia tri-county drug task force.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,

“I’ve rerun it in my mind,” Carpenter [Ayers’ brother-in-;aw] said. “He had used an ATM inside, got into his car and then a black Escalade pulled up and [they] jumped out ... If they ID’d themselves, he couldn’t hear them because his windows were up.”

GBI spokesman John Bankhead said witnesses heard the two men identify themselves as law enforcement officers.

The sheriff also told reporters the agents “yelled, ‘Police. Stop.’ ”

Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley said the shooting came after Ayers hit one of the agents with his car as he backed up. The second one shot Ayers because the 29-year-old minister had maneuvered his car toward him in a “threatening manner,” Shirley said.
Ayers wasn’t involved in any drug deal.  Ayers had done nothing wrong to justify the interest of the drug officers.  Ayers is dead.  What Ayers did, as is shown in the videotape of the execution, is go into a convenience store and use the ATM, then go to his car and begin to drive away.  As he did, a black Cadillac Escalade, a vehicle preferred by drug officers because it makes them feel like drug dealers themselves, pulls up and two officers jump out and start shooting, point blank, at Ayers’ car.  And Ayers is now dead.

There is no argument that Ayers had done anything, anything, criminal, precluding the choir from singing that he deserved to die anyway.  He didn’t. 

The police try to shift the blame by insisting that it was Ayers fault that the cops had to execute him.

Police say they saw Jonathan Ayers with the target of a prior drug and prostitution investigation before they approached him. Stephens Co. Sheriff Randy Shirley, said, "The target was seen meeting with the deceased and at one point getting out of the car of the deceased. They went down from a local establishment down to the Shell Station."

Shirley said that undercover officers then confronted Ayers, after he left the store. "They identified themselves as police and Mr. Ayers backed up into one of the agents, and then pulled his vehicle forward in a fast motion toward the other agent... at which time the agent fired two shots into the automobile," he said.
The claim is that Ayers drove his car at an officer in a "threatening manner."  From the video I saw, he drove his car in the same manner everyone else drives their car, but the officer jumped in front of him, as he assumed the shooting position that killed Ayers.  But the police h! ad their excuse at the ready.  They are well-rehearsed in press statements that shift the blame from their officers firing bullets at innocent people to dangerous evil people who just didn’t listen.

But the excuse falls flat in the case of this preacher-man.  He committed no crime.  He had no reason to fear the police, or worse still, to want to do harm to an officer.  His family has tried to understand this as a situation where Ayers didn’t realize they were police, and might have thought they were out to rob someone who had just gone to an ATM.  Why Ayers, the innocent man, needs to explain how he reacted to police who jumped out and started shooting at him is beyond me.  Unlike cops, preachers aren’t trained in the art of responding to people shooting at them. 

There is no explanation, of course, from the Georgia Sheriff as to why his men felt compelled to try to jump Ayers at the gas station, endangering many lives in th! e process, in the first place.  They jumped to the wrong conclusi on in the first place (what a surprise), and then exacerbated the situation by their tactical arrogance of expecting their target to understand that he was to submit to their authority.  There were 100 better ways to handle the situation, all of which would have left Ayers alive and provided the police with the opportunity to find out that their knee-jerk assumptions of criminality were dead wrong.  And they were dead wrong.

Now, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is going to investigate.  Too bad there wasn’t time taken to investigate before they executed Ayers.  And make no mistake.  Preacher Jonathan Ayers was executed.

Permalink: blog.simplejustice.us/2009/09/04/the-death-of-a-preacher.aspx

For almost 25 years, Scott H. Greenfield has represented clients charged with crimes or the targets of investigations in state and federal courts across the United States. Scott has been awarded an AV rating, the highest possible, from Martindale Hubbell, and is recognized in “Who’s Who” in the world, America and American Law. He has served as a legal expert and analyst for television news shows from “60 Minutes” to “20/20”, and ABC, NBC, CBS, BBC, Court TV and Fox.

Scott’s cases have been the subject of a book, magazine articles and television shows. Scott is regarded as one of a handful of top criminal defense lawyers who excels in both trial work and appeals. His written work is considered some of the best in the nation, often writing Op-Eds, Amicus briefs and Editor Letters for Bar Associations and other well known lawyers. Scott is a lawyer’s lawyer, representing other attorneys, their family members and even judges when they find themselves in a jam. More info: www.blog.simplejustice.us


The Legality of Czars

By Matt Welsh

On Labor Day weekend, President Obama named another Czar after the controversial resignation of his green jobs czar, Van Jones. Critics of czars have raised concerns about these advisory positions because they do not require congressional oversight. Proponents believe that they can provide helpful advice to the President on complicated issues.

Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman for the Bush administration says that presidents like to appoint czars because it can be hard to get political appointees confirmed by a divisive Congress. She says, “They have skirted around that process so there is no accountability for the czars….Nobody has to go up and testify in front of Congress They don’t have to go through the process.”

Critics use Article II Section 2 of the Constitution as their legal basis for scrutinizing the appointment of Czars because that clause states that the President needs to the advice and consent of the Senate to appoint “other officers of the United States."

“He (the President) shall have the power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consults, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointment are not herein provided for, and which shall be established by law; but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President along, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.”

Additionally, critics of Czars believe the lack of a formal hiring or vetting process may lead to appointing unqualified special advisors. For example, if there had been a formal vetting process, then Van Jones likely would not have been appointed the green jobs czar because Congress would have found out that he signed a petition in 2004 supporting the “9/11 truther” movement which believes the Bush administration may have been complicit in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. said that Obama should suspend the appointment of additional “czars” until Congress has a chance to examine the background and responsibilities of such individuals, as well as determine the constitutionality of such appointments.

There is nothing unconstitutional about the appointment of czars in and of themselves. The constitutional question centers on exactly how much power and influence czars have or should have. Currently, a czar is supposed to be a high-level official who advises the President on specialized issues. Czars became popular during World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the government under the New Deal and appointed a wide variety of federal overseers. President Nixon made czars even more popular when he appointed the drug czar.

However, now the concern is that czars have undefined power over how policies, regulations and laws are being drafted, not to mention unexamined influence over how the President runs the country. These czars are not answerable to the people or Congress. Thus, the power bestowed upon them needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that they are not circumventing the delineated powers granted to government officials by the Constitution.

Matthew Welsh graduated from Indiana University-Indianapolis Law School in 2007. After graduating from law school, he worked for a top entertainment agency in Hollywood. While working in the entertainment industry, he realized the importance of raising public awareness for emerging spiritual entertainment. This drove him to create http://www.spiritualmediablog.com, the news source for spiritual entertainment. He is also the author of The Bottom Line and speaks to high school and college students about how to turn your passions into your career path.

He can be reached at Matthew@MatthewWelsh.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the writers/interviewees and do not necessarily represent those of the editor/publisher. 


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