A CASE OF INNOCENCE, TEENAGERS MAKING FALSE CONFESSIONS AND “A LEGACY OF DISGRACE”
On Wednesday, David McCallum, a 45-year-old Brooklyn man, was freed after spending 29 years locked up for a kidnapping and murder that it has now been found he did not commit, although he and his friend confessed to the crime when they were both 16.
“I was beaten by the officers and I was coerced into making a confession,” McCallum told a parole board in 2012.
When announcing that McCallum and his co-defendant, Willie Stuckey, had been cleared of the killing, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said grimly, “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.”
McCallum called his release “bittersweet” because “I’m walking out alone.” His friend Stucky, while also cleared, had died in prison of a heart attack in 2001.
Oren Yanev of the New York Daily News broke the story of McCallum’s impending release on Tuesday, and had more on the story Wednesday.
Here’s a clip:
Stuckey’s mother, Rosia Nealy, sat in her dead son’s stead and she comforted McCallum as he broke down after the judge announced his exoneration. The two then embraced as some in the jam-packed courtroom cheered and clapped.
[Brooklyn District Attorney] Thompson said there “is not a single piece of evidence” that connected the two suspects to the crime — except for their brief confessions, which prosecutors have now concluded were false.
McCallum and Stuckey were both convicted for the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner and were sentenced to 25 years to life.
McCallum’s lawyer, Oscar Michelen, said he had brought up the case with the conviction integrity unit of ex-DA Charles Hynes, who was defeated a year ago in large part because of the ballooning wrongful convictions scandal.
“Our pursuit of justice for David fell on deaf ears,” he said of the two years or so they’ve been communicating with prosecutors.
“They basically told us, ‘Call us when you find the real killer,’” the lawyer recalled.
Eventually Michelen, along with some of McCallum’s other supporters, did approach the DA’s office with evidence that DNA obtained from a car used in the abduction matched another suspect who had been questioned in 1985 without the defense ever being notified.
McCallum and Stuckey make ten exonerations for Thompson’s office since the Brooklyn DA took office in January— with two of those exonerations issued posthumously.
The video above is a trailer for a documentary about the efforts of famous exoneree, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, along with the filmmaker and his father, to free McCallum.
LA TIMES SAYS CALIFORNIA LAW NEEDED TO REQUIRE VIDEO RECORDING OF ALL INTERROGATIONS FOR SERIOUS FELONIES
David McCallum, in the story above, was convicted in Brooklyn, New York, not California, but the issue of false confessions leading to wrongful convictions potentially affects every state in the union.
The LA Times editorial board wants California to pass a law requiring video recordings of all interrogations for serious felonies.
Here’s a clip from their editorial on the topic:
The Innocence Project says that over 15 years, 64 of 102 erroneous murder convictions nationwide were based on false confessions. About 22% of all wrongful convictions involved coerced or otherwise improperly obtained confessions.
There’s a simple step that can help address this: Require police to videotape interrogations of suspects in serious felony cases. More than 40 California cities or agencies already do this, including San Diego and San Francisco. (Los Angeles does not.) Federal agents in the Department of Justice began doing so in July. The benefits are clear and laudable: a chance to reduce wrongful convictions, protect police from contrived allegations of abuse or malfeasance and save the expense of defending bad cases.
California has considered this before. The Legislature passed such laws in 2005 and 2007, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed them because of his fear of constraining police.
Since 2010, Congress has considered several bills that would have provided matching federal funds to install recording systems, but it has failed to pass them. It should do so.
But even if it doesn’t, the Legislature should work with Gov. Jerry Brown to recraft legislation requiring the recordings. It would protect both the integrity of the criminal justice system and the innocent.
REV. “CHIP” MURRAY WRITES THAT PAUL TANAKA SHOULD NOT BE SHERIFF
Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray has written an unusually strongly-worded Op Ed for the Los Angeles Sentinel outlining why he feels that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka should not be the next Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Murray, as you may or may not remember, was the Vice Chair of the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence, the blue ribbon panel appointed by the LA County Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of systemic abuse within the county’s jail system and to recommend reforms.
Now he serves as the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at USC. Yet, he is best known as former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) who in his 27 years at the pulpit, transformed a small congregation of 250 people into a powerhouse 18,000 person church recognized throughout the nation.
Murray writes that he and his fellow CCJV commissioners found their year long process to be “deeply troubling,” which led to his reason for writing the Op Ed.
Here’s a clip from his essay:
…During those hours of testimony, time and time again we were pointed back to the integral role of then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who we heard had little interest in curtailing years of abuse, failed to hold deputies accountable, encouraged LASD personnel to “work in the grey” — on the border of right and wrong — and undercut managers who tried to reign in abuses. Indeed, our report concluded that “the troubling role of [then]-Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored.”
Now, Mr. Tanaka is running for Sheriff and asking the public to ignore or forget the leadership role he had in overseeing the violence and corruption that the Commission uncovered and for which he was eventually forced out of LASD.
While I am not ordinarily vocal in political races, the race for the next Sheriff is too important for me sit on the sidelines. This election is about the future of the LASD and how we treat the men and women of our community and in custody.
The report issued by the CCJV concluded in no uncertain terms that “Undersheriff Tanaka promoted a culture that tolerated the excessive use of force in the jails.” Our report described in detail how Tanaka “discouraged supervisors from investigating deputy misconduct,” “vetoed efforts” to address the problem of deputy cliques and “encouraged and permitted deputies to circumvent the chain of command.” The report also recounted a system of patronage within LASD that Tanaka created: “many department members believe promotions and assignments are based on loyalty to the Undersheriff” (Tanaka) and “campaign contributions accepted by Tanaka furthered the perception of patronage.” This demonstrably poor judgment and misdirected leadership has continued beyond his tenure at LASD; in his race for Sheriff, Tanaka has accepted a large number of campaign donations from current and former employees of the Sheriff’s Department…..
All in all, Mr. Tanaka’s “leadership” has resulted in the indictment of over 20 former LASD members, federal convictions and prison sentences of seven of those individuals, and legal costs to the County based on civil lawsuits likely to exceed 200 million dollars. And Mr. Tanaka himself remains the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.
LA CITY ATTORNEY FILES CHARGES AGAINST MOM WHEN SON BRINGS LOADED GUN TO SCHOOL
On May 13 of this year, a 17-year-old at a Van Nuys continuation high school got into a fight with another boy on campus. The next day, he reportedly brought a loaded 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol to school, along with an extra magazine in his backpack, and showed the gun to a friend. School police heard about the weapon recovered the gun and ammo from the kid’s backpack.
The following day, when police executed a warrant at the kid’s home, they reportedly found four other unsecured firearms that belonged to the boy’s mother in places like a bedroom drawer and inside a kitchen cabinet.
On Wednesday of this week, LA’s City Attorney charged the student’s mother with four criminal counts: allowing a child to carry a firearm off premises, allowing a child to take a gun to school, permitting a child to be in a dangerous situation and contributing to the delinquency of a minor—counts that each could carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail.
KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:
City Attorney Mike Feuer called a press conference to announce charges against Leah Wilcken, 41, for failing to safely secure a semi-automatic handgun that her 17-year-old son took to Will Rodgers Continuation School in May.
“It has to be the case that when a parent sends their child to school, they do not fear that another child is going to have a weapon on campus,” Feuer said.
Feuer described the charges as the first ever filed in Los Angeles against a parent whose child took a gun to school. But KPCC found records of a 1995 case in which former City Attorney James K. Hahn filed similar charges against a Panorama City woman after her 9-year-old daughter took a gun to her elementary school and fired it on the playground.
California law requires weapons to be safely stored. Anyone who keeps a loaded firearm where children under 18 years can obtain it is required to store the firearm in a locked container or with a locking device that keeps it from functioning, according to state law….
According to the Kate Mather and Richard Winton of the LA Times, who also reported the story, an attorney who is a representative of the NRA thought the “charges seem inappropriate.”
The laws in California regarding firearms are ridiculous. Sure the woman should be charged for her son bringing a firearm to school but they shouldn’t have search warranted her house. It’s our right as american citizens to own and operate firearms and carry them but california has a blatant disregard for that part of the constitution, which is very disheartening at best which is the reason I won’t go back to california. I will keep my 30 round magazines, concealed weapon permits and open carry thank you very much.
Well written piece by Murray, sums up what we all know is just the tip of Tanaka’s iceberg of failures. Amazing how the Tanaka drones have been silenced. Paul was their meal ticket and that roach coach has gone over a cliff. Their nightmares haven’t even started, yet. Hey Antuna, how’s the campaign going?
The notion that it is possible to videotape every interrogation is silly. The U.S. Supreme Court defined an interrogation as “[t]hose words or actions by police which are likely to elicit an incriminating response, including a confession.” Not every interrogation is a pre-planned event, conducted in an interview room, with a single light swinging from the ceiling and a handful of detectives sporting shoulder holsters watching through a one-way window. Interestingly, the FBI has historically discouraged recording interviews.
Many interrogations are spontaneous and it is neither practical nor safe to set up a video camera. By definition, an interrogation could be as simple as asking a driver on a traffic stop where he’s coming from. Afterall, If he is suspected of a serious crime, that question is “likely to elicit an incriminating response.” However it would not be practical to video tape that encounter.
I am all for recording interviews whenever practical. California Jury Instruction instructs jurors “You should view an unrecorded oral statement cautiously” (Cal Crim 356). However people legislating how interrogations are to be conducted need to have some experience beyond having seen almost every episode of “Cagney and Lacey.”