Case Against LASD Deputy Dismissed…Different Views on Capital Punishment in CA…Jobs for Foster YouthSeptember 9th, 2016 by Taylor Walker
DEADLOCKED JURY LEADS TO DISMISSAL OF CASE AGAINST DEPUTY WHO REPORTEDLY LIED ABOUT ARREST
On Wednesday, LA Superior Court Judge C.H. Rehm dismissed a criminal case against Gregory Rodriguez, an LA County Sheriff’s deputy accused of perjury and of filing a false police report justifying the arrest of Christopher Gray by claiming that the man attempted to free people who were in police custody. Following a week-long trial that ended in a deadlocked jury (eight of twelve jurors voted not guilty), prosecutors from the LA County DA’s Justice System Integrity Division announced on Wednesday that they could not proceed and would drop the charges against Rodriguez.
The trial, which started July 29, included video evidence that prosecutors said proved Rodriguez lied about Gray’s actions leading up to the arrest. In the video, Gray appears to be calmly watching deputies make an arrest before Rodriguez confronted him and arrested him. (You can watch clips from the video footage here.) In an interview with NBC LA, Roger Clark, a police procedures consultant and former LASD lieutenant called the false reporting intentional, saying, “This should have been caught early, early on.”
Gray, who reportedly sustained a serious shoulder injury during the arrest and lost his job while he spent five days in jail on a felony charge, settled with the sheriff’s department for around $550,000. The LA County Board of Supervisors still has to approve the settlement amount.
If Rodriguez had been convicted, the (former) deputy would have faced up to four years and eight months behind bars.
CONSIDERING CALIFORNIA’S COMPETING CAPITAL PUNISHMENT BALLOT MEASURES
In November, California voters will decide between two competing ballot initiatives—one to abolish the death penalty in the state, and the other to speed up the appeals process for those sentenced to death.
The two measures have created considerable buzz. Critics of Proposition 66 argue that truncating the appeals process could lead to the execution of innocent people.
In an op-ed for the San Diego Union Tribune, co-founder of the California Innocence Project, Justin Brooks, tells the cautionary story of Bill Richards, a former death row inmate who was exonerated after 23 years. The decades it took to prove that Richards did not kill his wife and to free him from death row is not unusual, either. Seven of the last ten death row exonerations nationwide occurred after inmates had been on death row for more than 25 years. And more than 150 people have been declared innocent after a death sentence in the United States. Here’s a clip:
The jury in the third and final trial relied on highly questionable evidence: a thread allegedly found under the victim’s fingernail that matched Bill’s shirt; unscientific blood splatter evidence; and testimony by an expert that an alleged bite mark on Pamela’s body matched Bill.
After years of litigation, the California Innocence Project was finally able to get access to and testing of all of the crime scene evidence. Based on photos taken during the autopsy, there was substantial evidence that the blue fiber from Bill’s shirt was planted under Pamela’s fingernails. DNA testing of hair found under Pamela’s fingernails proved it did not match her nor Bill. Male DNA found on the murder weapon also did not match Bill. Finally, the actual prosecution expert who testified at trial that Bill’s teeth matched the bite mark recanted his trial testimony and admitted it was false.
After a lengthy habeas hearing, where all of this evidence was presented, a judge who was a former tough-on-crime prosecutor reversed Bill’s conviction. That was nine years ago. Shortly thereafter, the reversal was reversed with the California Supreme Court ruling that expert testimony cannot be deemed false, even when the expert himself admits it was false. Bill remained in prison for nine more years, battling cancer, while the California Innocence Project and others fought to change the law which finally resulted in Bill’s release this past June — after 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
The same opportunity to prove innocence in California may not be available to defendants sentenced to death in the future if Proposition 66 passes this November. Under Proposition 66, arbitrary timelines will be established and there may not be time within those timelines to prove innocence. The initiative would also require inexperienced attorneys to represent individuals facing the death penalty, even though ineffective assistance of counsel is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.
Another example of alleged prosecutorial misconduct leading to questionable convictions is the scandal-plagued Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Read the latest in that saga: here.
Gary Tyler, a black man who was wrongfully convicted at 16 in 1974 of murdering a white high school cheerleader, supports Prop. 62—the bill to get rid of the death penalty. The Supreme Court overturned Tyler’s death sentence within two years, but Tyler spent more than four decades in prison with a life sentence before he was exonerated. Listen to Tyler speak out in support of Prop. 62 on Midday Edition.
For the most part, the death row reform bill has the support of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and other justice system groups.
But some inmates used to death row after spending decades behind bars, are anxious about the potential of rejoining the general population of prisoners, the LA Times’ Paige St. John reports. Here’s a clip:
Perry’s worries include being moved from San Quentin, where he has struck up friendships with a college professor and a poet who visit and mentor him in theology and prose. How, he wonders, does that happen if you are a lifer locked away in the north woods at Crescent City’s Pelican Bay?
And he worries that men, “after being here chained up like monkeys and animals in a cage,” will have trouble adjusting to yards where violence is frequent.
“I’ll have to hurt someone,” was the immediate reaction of James Thompson, 64, grizzled and sitting in a tennis-court-size exercise yard. A guard stood overhead with a loaded rifle while a line of aging, heavily tattooed men in white boxer shorts paced in military precision.
On a new yard he will have to “re-establish” himself. After 20 years, Thompson is “comfortable” on East Block.
He is experienced in the differences between death row and ordinary prison. Before he robbed and killed a man in California, Thompson served a long stretch locked up in Texas, also for murder. What rubs him about California is the 20 years his appeal has been in limbo. He agrees with other condemned inmates who favor the ballot proposal to keep the death penalty but speed appeals.
“If you are going to execute me, execute me,” Thompson said. “But if you are going to let me go, let me go.”
Death row experts said states that have repealed the death penalty have successfully absorbed the condemned into their general populations, though in Connecticut, two killers had to be sent to Pennsylvania to ensure their safety.
BILL INTRODUCED IN HOUSE WOULD INCENTIVIZE THE HIRING OF FOSTER YOUTH
Under a new House bill employers would be eligible to receive annual tax credits for hiring current and former foster youth.
The Improved Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act, introduced Thursday, would grant federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit up to $2,400 per year for employers who hire people between the ages of 18 and 27 who were in foster care on their sixteenth birthday.
If an employer kept a hire from the time the employee was 18 through 26, a total of $21,600 in credits could be claimed.
The bipartisan-supported bill, which was introduced by five members of the House Ways and Means Committee, was inspired by a partnership in California between a non-profit, iFoster, and Raley’s, a grocery chain, which has grown to include a manufacturing company called Mondelez International and Starbucks.
The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:
“We pursued this path and the creation of this bill because when we talked to employers, they were not interested in the subsidized work internships or subsidized employment,” said Serita Cox, the co-founder and executive director of iFoster, who has helped develop the legislation. “Instead, they felt strongly about the tax credit offered to veterans.”
The iFoster program worked with transition-age, kinship and crossover youth ages 16 to 24 in a seven-step program that involves a screening and interview process. iFoster completes a pre-employment phase with a cohort of potential employees before they interview and start working at the company.
“The caliber of the youths and the success they’re having on the job has been tremendous,” said iFoster co-founder Reid Cox. “One of the key issues here is that none of this is trying to offset that these kids are bad employees. It’s just to level the playing field.”
Sean Hughes, a child welfare consultant who helped develop the legislation, said “at least” 100,000 youths and young adults who spent time in foster care would be WOTC eligible. The number might be far higher, based on federal foster care data from 2014.
There were 22,392 exited foster care due to “emancipation” in fiscal 2014, according to federal data. Assuming that is about average, approximately 201,000 workers would be eligible in any year.