Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another Former Client Killed

When I worked in misdemeanors in the Public Defenders Office, I represented thousands of people and a lot of the memories run together. However, when I glanced at a section of Sunday's paper this morning, on my way out the door to a sentencing at 9 am in a neighboring county, I recognized the name of a shooting victim from last weekend. I don't remember him very well, but remember Shyton Sherrod as very friendly and quick to laugh. I believe he even laughed at the way I mispronounced and then later practiced pronouncing his name to get it right. If I pulled the file and reread my notes, more memories might be "refreshed."

When I read the article, I was surprised to learn that Shyton played on the same team and was even called better than former Husker star Ahman Green:

Shyton D. Sherrod made "the block of the season" during the National Youth Football Championship in 1991, allowing North Omaha Boys Club Bears teammate Ahman Green to score a critical touchdown in a game the team won.

Sherrod was as talented a player as Green, said Raymond Parks, former offensive line coach for the Bears.

"There was some discussion as to who was the better player," Parks said. "They both had the potential to go on to bigger, better things."

November has been a bad month in Omaha as the death is the eighth homicide in the city so far this month and the 40th of the year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"The Full Power of the... Government"

I've written before about Douglas County Crime Scene Investigations commander David Kofoed. As I wrote then:

Several years ago a rural Nebraska couple were brutally killed by shotgun blasts to the head. The investigation quickly focused on relatives, specifically cousins Matt Livers and Nick Sampson. Officials quickly theorized that the Sampson car was the getaway vehicle, but an initial search found no DNA evidence. That's when CSI commander David Kofoed was called in for one more search. He "found" a speck of blood matching one the murder victim's DNA on the vehicle's steering column.

Case closed, right? How is the defense lawyer going to demonstrate that the DNA isn't the smoking gun, in other words?

The only problem for Commander Kofoed was that shortly thereafter, two Wisconsin teens were arrested for the murder and a large amount of DNA evidence was once again found in their vehicle.

Yesterday the Omaha World-Herald described an FBI investigation into the matter. It reported that "the speck of blood was the only physical evidence linking cousins Matthew Livers and Nick Sampson to the killings of Livers' uncle and Aunt" and that "Livers- who had been characterized as borderline mentally retarded- implicated himself and Sampson in the murders during 11 hours of questioning." The cousins spent "months in jail" according to the article. It also describes the FBI "looking into why law enforcement continued to detain the cousins even after overwhelming DNA and physical evidence pointed to other suspects."

Kofoed described his reaction to the FBI investigation:

"It would be absolutely ridiculous to plant one little speck, and then be the one who finds it... if you were going to plant evidence, you're going to put it on the steering wheel, or on the car seat or on a door ahandle, a place where it makes logical sense to find it."

Doesn't sound like a guy who's ever considered planting evidence, does it? Remember also that Kofoed's search, which was conducted on his own initiative after an earlier search, by his own lab, yielded no evidence. So, finding more than a "little speck" on a "door handle" would have looked pretty suspicious, don't you think? As the World-Herald reported and I described in my previous post:

"An initial search of the car by a member of Kofoed's staff found no evidence linking it to the killings.

Sometime later, Kofoed re-examined the car, the suit says, and found a tiny spot of blood on the steering column.

A laboratory examination later determined that the blood was consistent with Wayne Stock's DNA.

The Stocks were killed by shotgun blasts to the head and were found in their farmhouse.

Almost immediately, Cass County Sheriff's investigators and the Nebraska State Patrol theorized that a disgruntled family member killed the wealthy couple and that the Sampson car was the getaway vehicle.

Keystone CSI Chief cop or was "the intelligence being fixed around the policy," created by the Sheriff's office?

Either alternative is very troubling. Just ask those people sitting on death row largely as a result of DNA evidence processed through Kofoed's lab.

Kofoed appears to have learned a lesson, however, through this investigation. After the "speck" of blood he found led to the jailing of two innocent men, one borderline mentally retarded, who "confessed" after 11 hours of questioning, who spent months in jail accused of killing their relatives for money, Kofoed has suffered gravely. Although he remains in his job, the investigation has been rough on him:

"I felt the full power of the federal government coming down on me," [Kofoed] said.

Have you ever heard a more ironic statement?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Poetry Contest

Mark Bennett came up with a great idea for a blawgosphere poetry contest. The subject? Last week, as the Times of London reported:

An internet blogger and a writer who disguised an attack on Burma’s dictator in the form of a love poem were among dozens of activists sentenced to draconian jail terms as the junta ordered a fresh crackdown on dissidents.

Nay Myo Kyaw, 28, who wrote blogs under the name Nay Phone Latt, was sentenced to 20 years and 6 months in jail by a court in Rangoon. The poet, Saw Wai, received a two-year sentence for an eight-line Valentine’s Day verse published in a popular magazine.

Aung Thein, the lawyer for the men, was given four months in prison on Monday for contempt of court during his defence.

After I read Mark's post and the article, I felt compelled to write. I'd been listening to Victor Chan's The Wisdom of Forgiveness in the car on audiobook over the last couple weeks and some of those ideas showed up. In college I studied Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward thoroughly and still think of it all the time. Solzhenitsyn was "gulaged" for making derogatory comments in a letter to a friend about "the whiskered one," Joseph Stalin. Things my professor desciribed about Solzhenitsyn's experience showed up too.

I hadn't written any poetry, other than a couple poems at Trial Lawyers College, since college, so I wanted to try it again. I started the first one after dinner and finished about 10. There were some "spare parts" lying around that I put into a second one, which began at 5 am and ended about 6:30 when I had to let the dog out and wake everyone up.

Enter the contest, as I'm sure you'll do better than me. The two I wrote are below:

For Phone Latt

Manicured, gold-gilded hands,
Encircle an ivory pen,
Deliberately, dip its silver tip
Into thick, black ink.

The hand slides down the page,
Forms characters, into a sentence:
20 years, six months,
A violation of public tranquility.

Then the hand moves further down,
Signs its name, an official seal.
His crime? Hiding meaning
Inside a seven-line love poem.

Other saffron revolutionaries,
Some monks, sit, likewise,
Imprisoned, where this dangerous
poet serves, with 2000 others.

20 years six months:
That’s 560 moons. 7300 sunrises.
10 seasons for every line.
120 days per word.

The saving grace? Poet’s pens
Outlast swords, unjust judges:
In time, sentences are reversed.
Even worse, returned.

Here's the one that arrived the next morning:

Poets in Prison

Solzhenitsyn, gulaged, paperless,
scratched poems on bars
of soap, committed
lines to his memories,
then washed its surface clean,
To compose new verses.

And that Buddhist master,
A former “freedom fighter”
Survived prison, thrived even
Through forgiveness, learned
to purge revenge.

After his escape, his sentence,
Those torture tests, proved to raise
his practice, above those cloistered monks,
Prison surpassing monastery,
for training purpose.

In Burma, the poet’s pencil-calloused hands
Grasp bars, fingernails ooze pus, dried blood,
Remnants of unfathomable pain,
creating unexpected distance.

Still enclosed, his lines resonate
between bars, beyond walls,
Prove his convictions,
Achieve his release.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dying Clients

Last night, sitting in front of the t.v., laptop in hand, working on a new website and feeling guilty for not blogging more lately, I see a story on the local news about a shooting that happened over the weekend. He was a former client and I knew it was him when the age of the man that was killed matched up with the age of the boy I used to represent on misdemeanor charges after I did the math.

I'm amazed how many of my former clients have been killed over the last few years. One of my favorite first clients, whom I wrote about here, was killed in a car accident in the car that he supposedly driving when he ran from the police. Then there was the day a woman reached out and tapped my shoulder a couple years ago and told me she'd buried her son that day. He was a former juvenile client of mine who was hit by a stray bullet at his school, killed without even being involved in the fight.

Then there was the prostitution client who was found in the dumpster and the other one who was pushed out of the car on the interstate by her "boyfriend," only to be hit and killed by oncoming traffic.

And those are just the ones who deaths I heard about. I'm sure there were many others, like perhaps this guy, who might have died quietly, out of the headlines, or this person, whose recovery was inspiring but who went back to prison eventually and who struggled with hepatitis. I wonder if she's still alive?

Last Tuesday, election day, I had the best conversation with a woman who was a resident of the care home that was serving as a polling place. I was volunteering as a poll watcher and she approached me to complain about something I've forgotten. She and I ended up talking for a long time, about what it was like to be in a care home, and how much she missed little things like being able to cook for herself and being able to go for a run. She'd recently lost a foot to diabetes and the look in her eyes when she told me about missing "little things" like being able to jog or cook your own food made me want to go home, run, cook and quit complaining.

When we talked about her wanting to vote provisionally, she told me she couldn't remember sending in her absentee ballot as she'd been on a lot of morphine at the time.

She told me she wanted to make sure her vote counted because she didn't think she'd make it to the next one. I didn't know what to say, but I listened and I think that's why we got along so well.

Then later, a black man, also in a wheelchair and also missing a foot from diabetes rolled up to the polling place from his room upstairs in the care home. I tried to help him when they told him he couldn't vote, even calling the "hotline" they gave me. But it didn't work as the man couldn't tell us when he'd last voted, decades ago perhaps, and described moving since the last time he voted. It appeared he'd been "purged" from the list of registered voters and, being no longer registered, could only register for the next election, unable to vote in this one.

He looked very disappointed to not be a part of "this" and, like Gloria, the other one-footed voter, like he wasn't sure he'd live to see another one.

I thought of him both on Veteran's Day today and last week when it was announced that one Nebraska electoral vote, from Omaha, went to Obama. Something tells me that's what he wanted to be a part of.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Waiters of the World Unite! (updated below)

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a law professor at the University of Tennessee and author of the blog "Instapundit." His wife, Helen Smith, is also a blogger as well as a forensic psychologist who writes this blog. Yesterday she came up with an idea to deal with uppity Obama voters, at least those who are waiters and waitresses. In a post, linked to by her husband, entitled “Should You Tip Less in an Obama Administration?”, she writes:

I often tip generously both because I have been a waitress and because I think it is important to reward people who work. However, if Obama gets in (and it is still an if), perhaps tipping less or not at all would be a good way to save money as a way of "going John Galt." Yet, is it fair to the person who is stiffed? What about a compromise, just tipping less? What do you think?

In case you don’t know, John Galt is the hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged who:

...is a man disgusted that non-productive members of society use laws and guilt to leech from the value created by productive members of society, and furthermore even exalt the qualities of the leeches over the workers and inventors. He made a pledge that he would never live his life for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for him, and founded an enclave, separate from the rest of the country, where he and other productive members of society have fled.

So Dr. Helen’s idea for “going John Galt” is to get and other “Atlases” (picture of her husband) to not only stop holding up the world but stop tipping those who only hold up plates and trays for these world carriers.

That will teach them to vote Obama! To be fair, she doesn’t actually advocate stopping the practice, well common courtesy, of tipping. She is simply proposing “just tipping less.” Don’t stiff them, just cut their wages down. After all, they're paid a whopping $2.01 per hour to bring you your lunch.

As if this weren't arrogant enough, she then goes even further, suggesting that along with a lower tip, other "Atlases" should leave notes, referencing Obama:

I've been thinking. If Obama is elected, maybe in lieu of a tip I should leave a note like the following:

HOPE AND CHANGE FOR AMERICA: Spreading the Wealth Around.

In lieu of a tip, $_____ has been donated to the Re-Elect Obama for President Campaign. Thank you for supporting the man and the movement that are bringing America together!

If enough people leave notes like this, I'm sure it will galvanize waitpeople everywhere in support of The One!

Have you ever seen clearer evidence that the Ayn Rand wing of the Republican party needs to be defeated, purged, and perhaps tarred and feathered along the way?

Dr. Helen provides one reason that she tips, but I’d like to suggest another. She says, “Despite this post, I often tip generously both because I have been a waitress and because I think it is important to reward people who work.”

I waited tables and bartended my way through undergrad. In fact, sometimes, as a criminal defense lawyer who works frequently with people either actively using drugs or struggling to kick their habits, I think I use the people skills I learned as a bartender more than the information I learned in law school.

The other reason to tip, Dr. Helen? The person you may be treating like a second-class citizen is likely going to be alone with your soup. Although I didn’t ever witness it, I heard stories from co-workers who worked college towns like Lawrence, KS, where the city was largely broken down into financially-comfortable professors or administrators and their families and ramen-noodle eating students/waiters, who couldn’t control what you left them for a tip but could control what they left in your French Onion soup the next time you came in.

News Flash to Dr. Helen and other alleged Atlases considering going "John Galt" on their waiters: When you are willing to unfairly exploit the trust-based relationship that waiters and waitresses rely on and retaliate by stiffing them because their social class likely marks them as Obama voters, don't be surprised when they're willing to return the favor by spitting squarely into your Cesar Salad. When you laugh to Instapundit about how clever it is that you're teaching Obama voters a lesson by short-changing them with a lousy tip, don't be shocked that they're standing in the back room laughing, imagining you getting a little more than you paid for in your ranch on the side.

I know that’s disgusting to consider, but it’s motivated me to be respectful, both because these people work hard to serve you your food and because I know that people who feel deprived of justice and unable to attain it through wages will often create their own version of it, if only for a laugh at your expense as you sit there discussing Ayn Rand, thinking of yourself as somehow holding up the world, and then leaving a 10% tip since they probably voted Obama.

One of my favorite street-smart judges acknowledges this reality by stating, whenever he sentences a person and discovers, in the process, that they work in a restaurant. He says, “well, I can never go back there again!” When they try to tell him he can come back to eat there, he usually asks them if they think he's that dumb and they usually say no. And then they go to jail and he finds a new place to eat.

As disgusting as it is to consider this, is it any less so to advocate, as "Instawife" does, that people should retaliate against an Obama victory by cutting tips down and thus stating, in effect, “this is what you get for not voting McCain / Palin." But in fact, she goes even further than this, stating, obviously sarcastically, that leaving notes referencing Obama will "galvanize waitpeople everywhere in support of The One!"

And what would a forensic psychologist say about a person who espouses these disgusting beliefs?

I truly think she imagines mad "waitpeople everywhere" standing in the backroom angrily regretting their votes for Obama and being converted into neocons instantaneously. It's as if she's thinking, in true Randian form, that by stiffing these people she's truly helping them, teaching them the "virtue of selfishness" and being willing to "go John Galt" and deprive them of the benefit of her world-supporting habits if they don't vote the way she wants them to next time.

I have to admit, it gives me a sense of justice to think of her arrogantly walking out of the restaurant, believing that she and her co-Atlas, uber-nerd husband are teaching their waiter a lesson while the waiter cheerily waves goodbye, remembering that cold he just got over and wondering what the results of that (medical?) test are going to be.

No Justice: No Peace of mind that your salad doesn't contain your waiter's saliva is how the world works.

- - -
Seriously, isn't this a wonderful example of the need to raise the minimum wage for "waitpeople everywhere?" After all, their wages are well below the regular minimum wage because of an assumption that they are tipped at a certain rate. Because a prominent right-wing blogger's wife is advocating retaliation for an Obama vote via cheap tipping, isn't this evidence that the trust inherent in the waiter's role is being exploited? Why not raise their wages so they don't have to rely on people like Dr. Helen Smith to afford the food they're required to deliver to her table?

We don't need an Army of Davids, at least not the kind who see themselves this way while advocating punishing waiters for an Obama victory. What we need is an army of waiters.

UPDATE: I think this is Dr. Helen's attempt to "soften up" the sickness of her post on waiters. But I think it's even more revealing, perhaps just the product of her realization that the waiters she depends on can, well, read and perhaps create a little "instajustice:" In response to a commentator who (1) assures her he and his other pizza delivery drivers are mostly McCain supporters, and (2) asks her not to take it out on those who depend on tips:

There is no way I could. In the space of the past 24 hours, I have been out to eat three times and left even bigger tips than I usually do. I am watching people work hard and I know I cannot withhold money to local people in Tennessee that are so industrious. Perhaps in blue cities or where it is clearer that people believe in redistributing wealth, it would be easier.

Translation: "Don't spit in my food here in Knoxville 'cause I'm only going "John Galt" when I travel to "blue cities or where it is clearer that people believe in redistributing wealth."

Her husband then links to what he calls an Instapundit take on taxes that also reveals a lot about the instacouple's take on waiters and other poor people:

"Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty."

So just keep on serving them the food, no matter how much or how little they tip you; otherwise the "small minority" that obviously includes this lovely couple, will "go John Galt" and we'll all go back to our "normal condition" of poverty.

As if you could possibly stomach it, here's a link to Dr. Helen discussing what she calls "the various ways of "going John Galt.""

Apparently if we don't "go John McCain" next week, this (thankfully!) small minority of so-called "Real Americans" have more ways of "going John Galt" in store for those of us who live in "blue cities or [places] where it is clearer that people believe in redistributing wealth."

My wish: Please follow the real John Galt and show us what it would be like to have to live without you!