Tag Archive for 'trial'

Boston Marathon Bomber Guilty of all 30 Counts

The jury for the Boston Marathon bombing case has found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty of the 30 counts, 17 of which carry the death penalty as a sentence. The charges included conspiring and using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, conspiracy to bomb a place of public use, and use or carry of a firearm during crime of violence among others, This will result in the same jury to decide whether or not to sentence Tsarnaev to either life in prison or the death penalty. The sentencing trial date has yet to be announced.

boston bombing trial guilty verdictThe state of Massachusetts has abolished capital punishment in the early 1980’s and has not performed an execution since 1947. However, because Tsarnaev has been convicted of federal crimes, he is eligible for the death penalty. His defense team has the arduous task of presenting to the jury mitigating circumstances to try and prevent Tsarnaev from receiving the death penalty.

His lawyers will argue that his young age, 19, no prior criminal record and that his elder brother Tamerlan was actually the mastermind behind the bombing, should result in him receiving life in prison over the death penalty.

The Boston bombing occurred nearly two years ago and resulted in three deaths, 240 wounded, and 17 people losing their limbs.

The jury deliberated for nearly 12 hours before finding Tsarnaev guilty on all counts. Federal prosecutors have called 92 witnesses while the defense lead by Judy Clarke called four witnesses.

During the sentencing portion of the trial Clarke will try to argue that bombing was “a path born of his brother, created by his brother and paved by his brother,” in an attempt to try and spare her client from execution. Meanwhile the prosecution will argue the same narrative that it has been painting since the beginning of the trial: that the Tsarnaev brothers acted as a team in roles of equal responsibility.

How the Insanity Defense Will Be Central in the Trial of Chris Kyle’s Murderer

February 2nd marked the anniversary of Chris Kyle’s death. Legendary Navy SEAL sniper was murdered by a fellow veteran at the Rough Creek Lodge in Glen Rose, Texas on this date 2013. After putting his life on the line for fellow soldiers during four tours in the Middle East, his murder by a veteran is disturbingly ironic.

chris kyle american sniperThe release of the acclaimed film “American Sniper” does not bode well for Eddie Ray Routh, the man who killed Kyle. Since the film’s release, Routh sought to move his trial out of Texas. His request has been rejected. At this point, it is going to be near impossible to find a set of jurors who haven’t seen the movie, or haven’t heard of Chris Kyle.

Background on the Murder

Kyle took Routh to the shooting range about an hour from where Kyle lived. He got in touch with Routh after his mother contacted Kyle asking for his help. Kyle’s plan was to help Routh with his PTSD, by providing a safe place for Routh to talk and open up to Kyle. A huge problem that comes along with PTSD is the inability to trust others. Kyle wanted to help Routh with this problem and make him feel heard and not alone.

Once settled at the gun range, they raised the red Bravo flag, to indicate they were going to start shooting. Kyle had helped design the range, and could come and go as he pleased. He reserved the space until 4 pm. At 4:55 pm, a guide noticed the flag was still up and drove towards the platform. He then discovered the body of Kyle with a bullet in his back and head and the body of a second veteran, Littlefield, with multiple gunshot wounds. Both were dead.

Routh is facing charges of capital murder.

Insanity Defense for Veterans with PTSD

As expected, Routh’s lawyers will be defending him with an insanity defense. He admitted to police that he killed Kyle and Littlefield, and then fled the scene with Kyle’s truck. Routh was formally diagnosed with PTSD, and also suffered from depression, mania, and nightmares. According to Routh’s family, he has had a long list of incidences relating to his PTSD. He had threatened to kill himself and his family in the past, and was admitted to psychiatric wards numerous times. He was in the Dallas V.A. Medical Center and Green Oaks Hospital in Dallas just days before the murder.

A 2014 study revealed that veterans suffering from PTSD or alcohol abuse are seven times more likely to commit violent crimes than fellow veterans. Also, dozens of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been accused of murder, some even killing themselves. 2.6 million Americans have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and half a million suffer from PTSD. Some people with PTSD can also have flashes of anger, that turn into hallucinations. These hallucinations can bring veterans back to the battlefield, and make violent decisions that can turn them into criminals.

In recent years, it has become apparent that a change needs to be made to the criminal justice system. Too many soldiers are being sent to jail for crimes committed due to their PTSD. In 2013, the Veterans Defense Project published a manual for defense attorneys to use when defending a veteran with a post-battle mental illness. The book is “The Attorney’s Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court.” The book helps explain PTSD and traumatic brain injury and its effects on soldiers. It also has a section that explains how PTSD can be used as an insanity defense in court. The projects goals are to help rehabilitate suffering veterans, assist attorneys in understanding their clients and their illness, and to help increase public knowledge of issues within the criminal justice system.

Individual Veterans Treatment Courts have started to spread throughout each state. A key aspect to these courts is the option of alternative rehabilitation treatment instead of incarceration. The programs can be for mental health or substance abuse, and are often lead by veteran mentors. PTSD has increasingly become a defense for an insanity plea because of this system. This type of court is essential to keeping mentally unstable veterans out of jail, and into the help they really need. But it does not come without its issues. It is still being decided if felonies or violent crimes should be held in veteran’s court, or go through the regular criminal justice system.

In the case of Routh, he will be tried in the conventional criminal justice system. His PTSD and depression will definitely be used by his lawyers as a basis for the insanity defense plea. Either way, the murder of legendary veteran Chris Kyle, will not be forgotten.

NFL Star Goes to Trial for Murder

Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriot’s football player, is being accused of three murders. He is currently serving time in jail, awaiting trial for the death of Odin Lloyd. The trial starts this month, and Hernandez is charged with the first degree murder of Lloyd, and has plead not guilty to the charge. Trial has not yet been set for the two other murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.

aaron hernandez nfl serial killerHow does a star football player, who landed a $40 million contract, end up behind bars with such serious charges? Hernandez was a prominent football player at his high school in Bristol Connecticut, and left halfway through his senior year in 2007 to join the University of Florida football team. Soon after he joined the University, he was causing trouble. In his first semester, a police report states that Hernandez punched a manager of an off campus bar and ruptured his eardrum. The next fall, there was a shooting at a club Hernandez was at. Another police report states Hernandez and other football players were involved in an argument outside, that might have led to the shooting.

Less than a year after his second season with the Patriots, Hernandez was charged with the first degree murder of Lloyd. The Patriots immediately dropped him. Lloyd was dating Hernandez’s fiance’s sister, Shavanna Jenkins. Lloyd was last seen in a rented silver Nissan Altima, along with Hernandez and his two associates, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace. Surveillance footage shows the car heading towards an isolated area at 3:22 a.m. at an industrial park. Nearby workers reported gun shots between 3:23 and 3:27 a.m., and an Altima pulled into Hernandez’s driveway at 3:29. His house was a half mile from the crime scene. Just nine days later, Hernandez was arrested and charged with first degree murder, along with weapon related charges.

Since Hernandez was in the car with Ortiz and Wallace, the prosecutors are trying them in a joint venture. This means it is not crucial to know who pulled the trigger, just as long as there’s enough evidence that each man played a part in the murder.

The upcoming trial is only for the death of Lloyd. The jury will hear no information regarding the two other murders Hernandez is charged for. This could lead to presumption and preconceived judgment of Hernandez’s innocence.

The trial is expected to last six to ten weeks, and multiple witnesses will be called along the way. Some of these witnesses may include the Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and team owner Robert Kraft.

Why Stand Your Ground Laws Are Bad for America

Stand your ground” laws have been controversial since Trayvon Martin’s death. With stand your ground laws in twenty-three states, the unfortunate case of Trayvon Martin was only the beginning. In a recent case, 17-year-old Diren Dede, a German exchange student, was killed when he was shot four times by Markus Kaarma in Montana.

stand your ground laws and Diren DedeMarkus Kaarma was arrested and charged with homicide. Teens “garage hop” in Montana—a game that involves sneaking into random garages to steal beer. Kaarma’s home had been the target of two recent burglaries. In response, Kaarma, father of an infant, installed motion sensors and video cameras to monitor his home. A witness told police that Kaarma had been waiting three nights with his shotgun “to shoot some kid.”

It’s not clear whether Dede entered Kaarma’s home to steal alcohol or the marijuana Kaarma had on his property. Nevertheless, Germany is calling for justice for Dede’s death.

Dede’s death is comparable to Trayvon Martin. In both cases, the state removed requirements for self-defense arguments. In Florida, the state removed the duty to retreat from public places if the person was lawfully there as long as the person didn’t start the conflict. In Montana, lawmakers lowered resident use of deadly force from belief that assailants would use violence to a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary. The underlying logic is the same: the gun owner’s right to self-defense is paramount.

The problem with this change in self-defense laws is that it undermines the rule of law. If Dede had been captured by the police, he probably would have had a few years in prison for burglary.  Instead, he received the death penalty at the discretion of one man. Dede was put to death for a crime which would have warranted at most a few years of jail. And Dede was put to death without trial. Compare that to the murderers and rapists, real vicious criminals, who spend decades on death row with years of appeals before they are executed. Under stand your ground law, young people like Trayvor and Dede are given fewer rights than serial killers.

Politically, this case trades the explosive internal racial tension of Trayvon Martin for international hypocrisy. It’s difficult to sell political rights in countries like China when foreign citizens are being killed for burglary without trial in our own backyard. In 1994, Singapore wanted to cane Michael Fay for vandalism. President Clinton convinced Singapore to commute the sentence from six strokes of a cane to four, even though Singapore canes its own citizens six times for vandalism. Since Dede is dead, Germany cannot ask for clemency for a punishment that Germans feel is barbaric. It’s impossible, given that Dede’s “punishment” is not given to American citizens for the same crime. Somehow, Singapore has more social equality than we do.

Defendant Appointed 3 Different Lawyers, Stabs Each in Court

Many people undervalue the Sixth Amendment, the right to an attorney, until they’re arrested and accused of a crime. One man, however, does not seem to appreciate the work his attorneys did on his behalf. On January 2nd, 2012, Joshua Monson killed Brian Jones over a sale of methamphetamine. Monson was subsequently arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine and second degree murder.

Attorney Tom Cox was assigned to represent Monson before Judge David Kurtz at the Everett Courthouse in Washington State.  Monson borrowed a pencil while he waited in county jail. During the trial though, Cox was stabbed in the head by Monson with the pencil Monson had borrowed. Although Cox was not greatly wounded, Cox withdrew from the case and Judge Kurtz declared a mistrial. Gurjit Pundhar replaced Cox as Monson’s lawyer – and Monson also stabbed her in the head with a pencil. Judge Kurtz declared another mistrial and appointed a third attorney, Jesse Cantor, to represent Monson.

To ensure that the trial would proceed without another attorney stabbing, Kurtz ordered that an electrical cuff be trapped to Monson’s leg. Monson was always deprived of his weapon of choice, the county jail pencil. Although the state wanted Monson strapped down to a chair for good measure, Cantor argued against it, saying that the jury might be biased against Monson if they saw the defendant tied down to a chair like a mad man during the trial. Judge Kurtz agreed with the defense counsel.

During the prosecutor’s opening statement though, Monson obtained Cantor’s pen and stabbed Cantor in the head with the attorney’s own pen. Although Cantor wasn’t serious injured, Judge Kurtz declared that Monson had forfeited his right to an attorney and that Monson would be representing himself for the remainder of the trial – while tied down to a chair.

joshua monsonI think many readers will have one of two reactions to this story: “Monson deserves it,” and/or “well duh he’s guilty.” Although it is true that Monson’s own conduct is the reason Monson can’t have an attorney, the law in Washington State leaves it to the trial judge’s own discretion. Judge Kurtz did not have to deprive the defendant of his right to an attorney.  Although appointing Monson a new lawyer again is still an option, at this point it seems that Monson is playing games with the court. However, Judge Kurtz could have saved time by denying one of Monson’s previous attorney’s requests to withdraw from the case.

Indeed, the case Judge Kurtz cited in support of his decision, State v. Fualaau, had the trial judge deny an attorney’s request to withdraw from the case despite the fact the attorney had been assaulted by his own client. The Fualaau judge had ruled that there were no conflicts of interest in having a lawyer represent a client who had just attacked the lawyer. Although the law did leave the decision up to Judge Kurtz, his decision could have gone the other way.

Before Monson’s final attorney was stabbed, that attorney had argued that Monson should not be restrained to his chair since the restraints themselves might cause the jury to believe that Monson was guilty. Readers might be tempted to conclude that Monson is guilty based on his behavior in court, and that the trial is just a formality at this point. Please dispense yourselves of this belief. The legal system serves two functions, functions which are undermined by false assumptions of guilt based on behavior outside of the crimes the defendant is charged with.

The first function served by the legal system is the discovery of whether the defendant committed a specific crime. This might sound extremely obvious, but many people will look at a trial and ask “is the defendant guilty?” That question, however, is not the proper one. The real question behind a criminal trial should be “is defendant guilty of the crimes he (or she) is charged with?” Yes, Mr. Monson is very likely guilty of assault, but the actual charges are possession of meth and second-degree murder. Possession of an illegal drug and murder are separate crimes from assault; neither the jury nor the public should conclude that Monson is guilty of murder or possession of an illegal substance based on a trio of assaults.

The second, and lesser known, function of the legal system is assigning the proper punishment to the proper crime.  Punishment in order to give retribution for the victims, i.e. “an eye for an eye,” only works if the defendant loses the same amount the defendant deprived from the victims. If Monson is convicted of murder because of the assaults on the three attorneys, than the trial will not be a proper recognition of the loss of Brian Jones. The murder will be overshadowed and the victim’s sense that their loss is being corrected will be eroded. The rights of the victim are also deprived when the defendant loses his right to an attorney.  Although criminal law is about the authority of the state and the defendant’s crime, it is important that the judge’s decision reflects the interests of all parties involved.