Crime and Punishment Criminal Justice Guns Innocence Prosecutors

Guidance, Not Guns….More on Aaron Swartz…A Cold Case Leads to Revelations of Forensic Misconduct


Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice (among other accomplishments), has this thoughtful and informative essay at The Crime Report on the initiatives that, in combination—–according to some of the nation’s best youth advocates—are the most likely to reduce gun violence against children and teenagers, in addition to reducing violence in our communities.

Yet, one of the advantages of this essay is that, while Ryan is very knowledgeable, she does more here than opine. She provides lots of good links to recent and relevant studies and reports, thereby giving you the resources with which to make up your own mind about the issues.

Here’s a clip from Liz’s essay:

….the nation’s educational leaders, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have stated emphatically that, “Guns have no place in our schools.”

Others have suggested more police presence.

But research has shown that increased police presence has not made schools safer. In fact, it has resulted in the criminalization of young people in the justice system.

University of Delaware Professor Aaron Kupchik, author of “Homeroom Security” says that while armed guards are already in many schools, “their presence has effects that help transform the school from an environment of academia to a site of criminal law enforcement.

Instead of more guns and more police presence, education experts such as Barbara Raymond of The California Endowment point to the importance of counselors, social workers, psychologists and evidence-based programs. One example is the school-wide positive behavior support program to improve learning environments in schools and help children resolve conflict.
The Sandy Hook killings also underscore the need to improve access to quality, community-based behavioral mental health services for children and young people.

An interdisciplinary group of more than 200 violence prevention researchers, practitioners and professional associations recommends that, “these efforts should promote wellness, as well as address mental health needs of all community members while simultaneously responding to potential threats to community safety.

“This initiative should include a large scale public education and awareness campaign, along with newly created channels of communication to help get services to those in need.”
Additionally, a comprehensive approach must address the root causes of violence, and focus resources on proven violence prevention and juvenile delinquency prevention programs such as the University of Colorado’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence’s “Blueprints for Violence Prevention” programs.

Easy access to guns that kill 7 young people a day and injure 43 more is a challenge addressed by the bipartisan national coalition of 750 mayors led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. The coalition has created comprehensive recommendations to severely reduce the easy access to guns and assault weapons in the U.S.
Finally, there must be a focus on healing….

There’s more. Ryan points to the huge report that was just released by the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, that looks at the affect that deleterious effects that exposure to violence has on kids, and what we can do about it. Anyway, take a look.


Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz evidently spoke to reporters after an unrelated news conference, saying she was terribly upset about Aaron Swartz’s suicide, but that the federal prosecutors acted appropriately.

David Kravets at WIRED has the story about the MA U.S. Attorney’s . Here’s a clip:

Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, said Thursday the government’s “conduct was appropriate” in its handling of the Aaron Swartz prosecution.

The President Barack Obama appointee’s first public comments on the matter come nearly a week after the internet sensation, who was under federal indictment in Massachusetts on hacking and other charges, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment.

Swartz’s family, in part, blamed the suicide of the executive director of Demand Progress on what they said was an overzealous prosecution. Prosecutors in Ortiz’s office had offered the 26-year-old a six-month prison sentence in exchange for his guilty plea to more than a dozen counts of computer hacking and wire fraud over the illicit downloading of millions of academic articles from a subscription database at MIT. It was a plea agreement Swartz rejected.

“As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, and I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to everyone who knew and loved this young man. I know that there is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life,” Ortiz said. “I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably.”

The Boston Globe (among others) also has a report that, for those slightly obsessed with this story, is worth a read.

Also, while—whether one agrees with her legal POV or not (I don’t happen to at all), Ortiz at least handled the press interaction with dignity and respect.

Not so, it seems her husband, Tom Dolan, who early on took his feelings about criticism of his wife to Twitter. (His account has since been deleted.)

FireDogLake (among many others) has that story.

Dolan evidently forgot that in such unbearable circumstances the grieving family gets to say whatever they want, especially about a public figure, like a U.S. Attorney. The public figure’s spouse does not have such license, and certainly does not get to start shooting back through social media at the people who lost their son/brother/friend.

One more thing, just to be clear, yes, Aaron Swartz was offered a plea deal (as we mentioned in an earlier story), but when the defense and the prosecution couldn’t agree upon a deal, the 35 year sentence comes back into play.

So to those who contended that a 35 year was not in fact a threat, it was, actually. The big bad possible sentence is the gun that prosecutors hold to a defendant’s head, to get him or her to plead out. That’s the game. And it’s an ugly one.


Huffington Post’s talented criminal justice writer/reporter, Radley Balko has this fascinating two-parter about the solving of the 15-year-old murder of Kathy Mabry by the unlikely team of two Innocence Project attorneys, in the course of which, a brewing subrosa scandal involving a pair of shoddy forensic analysts has been brought irrevocably into the light, finally (hopefully) making it impossible for Mississippi officials to ignore.

Here’s a clip:

The [Mabry] case went unsolved for 15 years, until December, after a casual courtroom conversation led lawyers from the Mississippi Innocence Project to investigate it. That two attorneys for an organization better known for getting the wrongly convicted out of prison would take it upon themselves to solve a cold case is remarkable enough. Their search covered the state, from Columbus in the northeast, to Oxford in the northwest, to the crime lab in Jackson, to a dusty attic in the Humphreys County courthouse, deep in the belly of the Delta.

The reason they felt compelled to act is part of a larger scandal currently unfolding in Mississippi. The original police investigation into Mabry’s murder hinged on the forensic analysis of Steven Hayne, a longtime Mississippi medical examiner, and Michael West, a dentist and self-proclaimed bite-mark expert. Hayne was a doctor in private practice who at the time performed nearly all of the state’s autopsies. West was one of his frequent collaborators. The two men have been at the heart of the Mississippi death investigation system for two decades. West has testified in dozens of cases, Hayne in thousands, including a number of death penalty cases.

Media investigations over the years, however, including my own for The Huffington Post and Reason magazine, have revealed that both Hayne and West have contributed critical evidence that led to the convictions of people who were later exonerated, and routinely and flagrantly flouted the ethical and professional standards of their respective fields. West, for example, once claimed he could match the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich found at a murder scene to the teeth of the prime suspect. In a more recent case, Hayne claimed the bullet wounds in a murder victim showed that two people held the gun when it was fired, not one. In the Mabry case, West used bite-mark analysis to nab an innocent man for Mabry’s murder. That man spent nearly a year in jail. But the Mabry story also shows that the victims in this scandal include not just the wrongly accused, but the families of the victims, the future victims of the actual perpetrators, public officials like Roseman, and even entire towns.

Mississippi officials have thus far resisted calls for a thorough review of Hayne and West’s work. In particular, the Mississippi Supreme Court has shown little concern over the possibility that Hayne and West may have put an untold number of innocents behind the razor wire at Parchman penitentiary. Neither has Attorney General Jim Hood, whose office continues to defend convictions won primarily on the testimony one or both of the men have given on the witness stand. To concede there’s a problem would implicate many state officials who used the two men during tenures as prosecutors. It would also open hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases to review.

Tucker Carrington, the director of the Mississippi Innocence Project, says he and his colleague Will McIntosh decided to pursue Mabry’s killer themselves after they attempted to bring the case to the attention of the prosecutor in Humphreys County, and then to Hood’s office, and received no response from either.

“When you take on a case and it reveals a glaring injustice like this — something that could easily be taken care of if someone would just give it some attention — you can’t just turn a blind eye to that,” Carrington says. “In the end, I guess we saw this through because no one else would.”

Photo from Library of Congress collection, 1930-1940, (Creative Commons)

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