Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Elko sex cases show folly of mandatory minimum sentences

August 14th, 2017

“A pair of sex abuse cases from Elko County demonstrates what a sham mandatory minimum sentences are, especially in light of the continuing national debate over U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to use these one-size-fits-all punishments more frequently.”

Two major dysfunctional features of our criminal-justice system — mandatory minimums and plea bargaining — are addressed in this article by Kevin Ring, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Two Great Pieces by Steven Yoder

August 14th, 2017

“Sexual predator” isn’t a clinical term that means anything to criminologists or sex-crime researchers. Instead, it’s a media construction created after horrific cases of rape and murder in Washington State in the early nineties, as criminologist Jacqueline Helfgott points out in her 2008 book Criminal Behavior: Theories, Typologies and Criminal Justice. Helfgott notes that the term doesn’t describe a “homogeneous group of offenders who are predictably dangerous with an identifiable (and treatable) mental illness.”

From Why Reporters Should Stop Using “Predator”

If I’m covering a policy proposal, have I asked for evidence that it will work? Too often, proposed solutions don’t have any research to back them up. For example, some states and towns have introduced laws to ban those on sex offender registries from living near schools, parks, playgrounds, and other places children congregate. It sounds like common sense. But it’s not—after mountains of study, the federal government declared in 2015 that those policies do nothing to affect sex crime or sexual re-offense rates. What about banning registrants from participating in Halloween? That’s a rule in search of a problem, researchers have concluded—sex crime rates don’t change on Halloween.

From An Open Letter to Local Reporters

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Paul Shanley is (Somewhat) Free

August 10th, 2017

On July 28 ,2017, former priest Paul Shanley was released from prison after serving over 12 years.

From three days before his release, the media coverage has been relentless and merciless. “Child rapist Paul Shanley” is a favorite phrase. Most of the stories have come from people who neither attended the trial nor researched the case, but know that Paul Shanley is a monster from other media reports. To suggest that Shanley is not a monster is now heresy. To raise the question creates suspicions of one’s being in league with the devil. Yet most of what has appeared in the media is misinformation.

My partner, Jim D’Entremont, and I attended the trial. Jim covered the trial for The Guide, a magazine that has since ceased publication.

Two points. One, Paul Shanley did not commit the acts for which he was convicted. Two, Paul Shanley is not a danger to anyone.

The Boston Globe’s famous Spotlight series on sexual abuse by Catholic priests began in January of 2002. On January 31st, they published an article about Paul Shanley by Sasha Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer cited four sources: a man who met Shanley when he was 15, two siblings of another alleged victim, and, the principal source, Arthur Austin, who claimed to have begun a sexual relationship with Shanley when Austin was 20. He said he became Shanley’s “sex slave” for several years.

One of the people to see the Globe article was a troubled young man named Greg Ford, who had been a member of Shanley’s parish when Ford had been a young boy. Ford had been in 17 mental institutions or halfway houses, had a history of alcohol and drug abuse, and a well-documented history of violence. (See “The Passion of Father Paul Shanley,” by JoAnn Wypijewski, in the September 2004 issue of Legal Affairs.)

Ford instantly recovered long “repressed” memories of nearly weekly violent sexual abuse by Paul Shanley. The abuse took place at the church on Sunday mornings and memory of the abuse was instantly repressed. Ford’s parents contacted other parents from the parish, and soon three more had recovered identical memories. They all consulted the same personal-injury attorney and all received generous settlements from the Archdiocese. Ford received nearly a million and a half dollars. (For an excellent account of the Ford family, see Our Fathers, by David France)

Charges were brought against Shanley for raping all four boys.

There were problems with the cases. Greg Ford was proving to be a loose cannon who couldn’t keep his stories straight Eventually, Martha Coakley, the Middlesex DA dropped Ford and two other accusers. Wypijewski noted in the previously cited Legal Affairs article:

“This July, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office announced that ‘in order to make this the most manageable case for a jury to hear,’ it would not go forward with charges on behalf of Ford and one of the other men. In other words, prosecutors have deemed the allegations of Shanley’s headline accuser too risky or unsupportable, yet the prosecution proceeds. The Boston media have barely noted this development.”

Coakley offered Shanley a deal: plead guilty and be sentenced to two years house arrest. Shanley refused, and the case went to trial.

The remaining defendant was Paul Busa, who had received half a million dollars.

“The accuser asserted that from the age of 6, in 1983, he had been raped and otherwise indecently assaulted by the defendant for three years in a busy church on Sunday mornings. Each assault, it was alleged, instantly erased his memory of what had just happened, so that the boy re-approached the defendant in a state of innocent unknowing, to be assaulted again, to forget everything again and again, and then move on in life without the slightest inkling of the experience until twenty years later, when it all came back to him. “ (JoAnn Wypijewski, “Crisis of Faith,” The Nation, 16 March 2009)

At trial, Busa angrily told his story. But not a single witness corroborated it. No one had seen Shanley take Busa or any other child out of class. One student had been sent to Shanley for misbehaving. Shanley gave him a brief lecture and sent him back.

No one had ever seen Shanley with Busa. There was no physical evidence of these violent rapes. No one noticed distress on the part of Busa or any other child.

Cognitive scientists have been studying memory for many decades. Thus far, none has discovered any evidence showing that the mind is capable of “repressing” traumatic events. For an excellent discussion of the research, I recommend Remembering Trauma, by Dr. Richard McNally, director of clinical training, Psychology Department, Harvard University. I also recommend the books on memory by another Harvard psychologist, Dr. Daniel Schacter.

By the time of Shanley’s trial in 2005, evidence based on repressed memory had ben ruled inadmissible in multiple jurisdictions. Judge Stephen Neel, however, ruled that “the theory of repressed memory is generally accepted by the relevant scientific community.”

Shanley was not helped by his expensive lawyer, who did the minimum. He only called one witness, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. Loftus is a leading expert on memory. Shanley’s lawyer, however, had no idea what to ask her. He was woefully unprepared. Under cross examination, ADA Lynn Rooney tried to persuade the jury that Loftus was a heartless defender of pedophiles. Shanley’s lawyer did nothing to rehabilitate her.

Shanley was convicted. A persuasive member of the jury was a therapist with a master’s degree who was a believer in repressed memory.

Some have argued that while Shanley may have been innocent of abusing Busa, there were other more credible accusations of sexual misconduct stemming from his days as a street minister. Therefore his conviction was “rough justice.”

Robin Washington covered the case for two years for the Boston Herald. He left the Herald to become op-ed editor for the Duluth News-Tribune. He wrote a couple of articles in which he made it clear that he felt the case against Shanley had not been proven. He concludes an op-ed from 14 February 2005 with:

“Maybe Shanley did do it. And whether he did or not, his life or death behind bars for crimes for which there is a degree of doubt engenders about as much sympathy as Al Capone’s trip upriver for tax evasion. But for all the pain and lies and betrayal victims have endured, those seeking healing will find little solace in a questionable verdict and another dead ex-priest.”

Washington clearly has no love for Paul Shanley. But he has a deep concern about justice. In another op-ed, dated 9 February 2005, Washington concedes that perhaps Shanley belongs behind bars:

“But not for a crime he didn’t commit, or at least one for which there is reasonable doubt that the journal clearly raises. Not if our legal system is worth anything. And not if the hundreds of genuine victims of abuse, whom I have gotten to know, cry and even laugh with over years of covering this tragedy, are to celebrate any real victory.

“That’s one that would result in true justice, which didn’t happen in Massachusetts on Monday.”

Due process is supposed to be a right belonging to all, not a privilege reserved for “good” people. An essential premise of any reasonable criminal-justice system is that one has the right to defend oneself against charges. One cannot defend oneself against charges that are never explicitly brought. Jailing Al Capone — who actually did evade his taxes — may have been a good thing. But there has been collateral damage to our criminal justice system. As bad as the damage done to free speech by the you-can’t-yell-fire-in-a-crowded theater argument.

Paul Shanley served his time. Jim and I went to visit him shortly after his conviction. We continued to visit him. We saw him age. Prison accelerates the ageing process. Constant stress, horrible nutrition, terrible medical care.

Paul Shanley is now 86, in frail health with mobility problems. He cannot leave his home unassisted. This would be true even if he were not at risk for physical assault. If no one were with him he might easily fall.

He is a threat to no one.

At the time of his trial, Paul Shanley was one of the most hated people in America. Over the past two weeks, the media has been doing its best to rekindle that hatred.

My organization, the National Center for Reason and Justice, is well acquainted with hate. We have sponsored Paul Shanley for a long time. But all of the people we have sponsored have been hated, including those who have since been exonerated. Bernard Baran. The San Antonio Four. Dan and Fran Keller.

All of these cases were closed. No one would look into them because it was so obvious that these people were guilty.

Until someone finally did.

The media is very powerful. But I am still naïve enough to believe that the truth is more powerful. As John Adams once famously said, “Facts are stubborn things.” The day may yet come – perhaps not in Shanley’s lifetime and not in mine – when someone will make generally known the facts about this case.

For more information about the Shanley case, please visit his website: http://www.paulshanley.org/

I thank Jim D’Entremont and Paul Shannon for their assistance in preparing this post.

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

The Weakest Link Standard

August 9th, 2017

“Rosario was convicted based in part on a confession, but the high court accepted a late-arriving medical diagnosis of “delirium tremens” (drug or alcohol withdrawal, the “DTs”) to undermine the credibility of that confession. He was convicted based in part on forensics, but the high court applied new fire science to undermine the reliability of the prosecution’s account. Finally, both the trial judge and the state supreme court applied a standard of review that if applied more often would make it much easier for defendants everywhere to get their convictions overturned.”

Read the article by Andrew Cohen at the Marshal Project.

The National Center for Reason and Justice has long sponsored the case of Victor Rosario.

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Seeking Facebook Experts

July 17th, 2017

The National Center for Reason and Justice has long sponsored the case of Joseph Allen and Nancy Smith.

Both were acquitted by a judge some years ago. Nancy Smith was allowed to remain free, but Joseph Allen was sent back to prison.

The crimes Joseph didn’t commit were considered more serious than the crimes Nancy didn’t commit.

I can think of no worse travesty of justice that I have encountered in my years of activism.

You can read about the case here and here.

One of Joseph’s most tireless advocates is Dr. Bernard Rosenthal. (Who also happens to be a leading expert on the actual Salem witch hunt.) Dr. Rosenthal wants to use Facebook to increase public awareness of this injustice. And he is seeking help.

If you know your way around Facebook and are willing to help with this important work, you can email Dr. Rosenthal at bernardrosenthal@yahoo.com.

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Supreme Court unanimously overturns North Carolina’s ban on social-media use by sex offenders

July 4th, 2017

“[T]he State may not enact this complete bar to the exercise of First Amendment rights on websites integral to the fabric of our modern society and culture. It is well established that, as a general rule, the Government “may not suppress lawful speech as the means to suppress unlawful speech.” … That is what North Carolina has done here. Its law must be held invalid.”

Read the article by David Post in the Washington Post.

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Texas Couple Exonerated, but we have New Witches to Hunt

June 27th, 2017

“Viewed in retrospect, it seems that otherwise sensible people quite simply lost their minds. Social workers, therapists, prosecutors and cops joined a fruitcake crusade that ruined people’s lives, based on the coerced claims of vulnerable little kids.”

Read the editorial in the Dallas Morning News by Jacquielynn Floyd.

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Couple Exonerated in ‘Satanic Panic’ Child Ritual Abuse Case

June 24th, 2017

“The Kellers were not the only ones to face outlandish charges; in the 1980s and early ’90s, a phenomenon that has since become known as “Satanic Panic” was sweeping the nation. A confluence of societal factors led to widespread hysteria about Satanists who were hidden in plain view and running clandestine, national child sex abuse rings. Hundreds of people — many of them daycare workers — were accused of abuse, including the McMartin family in California and Margaret Kelly Michaels in New Jersey. (The McMartins were eventually acquitted, and Michaels was exonerated, but not until she had spent six years in prison).”

Read the article by Bethania Palmer at Snopes.com. An excellent overview of the ritual-abuse panic and its precedents.

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Babysitters Accused of Satanic Crimes Exonerated After 25 Years

June 22nd, 2017

“The decision brings an end to one of the more prominent cases brought during the so-called Satanic Panic of the 1980s and the early 1990s, where fears of devil-worshippers influencing American children spread rapidly. During this time, hundreds of childcare providers were accused of unspeakable crimes, and many would spend years behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.”

Read the article by Sarah Pruitt in History in the Headlines.

Friends of Justice is a personal blog. Here I speak only for myself.

Fran and Dan Keller Declared Actually Innocent!

June 21st, 2017

“Nearly two years after the state’s highest criminal court overturned the child sexual abuse convictions for day care owners Dan and Fran Keller, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore will file court documents Tuesday declaring them “actually innocent” under the law and dropping pending charges against them.”

Read the article by Tony Pichefski and Chuck Lindell in My Statesman.