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Tag: Murder

Parker: 2016 — Criminal Justice Issues By The Number

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

2016 has had significant developments in the many categories of the criminal justice arena. Here are some numbers in a few of those categories.

64 and 135 –  Law Enforcement Line of Duty Deaths and Murders

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

2016 was a dangerous year for police and other law enforcement officers. 135 officers suffered on the job deaths, up from 123 in 2015. This number was the highest since 2011. And the number one cause was as victims of shootings, up tragically to 64 from 41 last year. 21 of these were from ambush-style shootings, the highest number in over two decades.

Although there has been much controversy about animosity between police and racial minorities, the great majority of the killers were white. Many of those responsible were either mentally ill or claimed to be “sovereign citizens” or members of hate groups.

The average age of those officers who died on the job was 40 years, and the average length of service was 14 years. Six were women police officers, the same number of federal agents who died in the line of duty.

These statistics, as well as other factors, have had a seriously negative effect on police morale, early retirements, and recruitment difficulties. It’s a dangerous job to protect and serve.

1,324 – President Obama’s Clemency Grants

The President has issued more commutations (sentence reductions) and pardons (setting aside of convictions) than the last 11 Presidents combined. For example President Clinton exercised clemency a total of only 61 times during his 8 years in office. And, with 958 petitions still pending, Obama still has three more weeks to increase those numbers.

95 of this number were pardons. The rest were commutations. The overwhelming majority of the commutations involved “non-violent” drug offenders who received long sentences under then-existing mandatory minimum and high guideline sentence rules, some of which have since been reduced. Most of these commutations reduced sentences which will permit the offenders’ release in the next year or so. For example, many 30 year sentences were reduced to 20 years.

The majority of those receiving reductions were Hispanics or African Americans who had received the sentences before drug penalties were overhauled.

Obama and some bi-partisan support have also reduced sentence laws and guidelines. This has resulted in early release for tens of thousands of inmates.

20 and 30 – The Number of Executions and Death Sentences

With 20 executions and 30 people sentenced to death in 2016, the use and public tolerance for the supreme penalty continues to spiral down. The executions were the lowest number since 1991. The number has declined every year for the last 7 years. Likewise the number of sentences of death is the lowest figure since the death penalty was reinstated in 1972.

What is perhaps even more significant about the number of executions is that they occurred in only 5 states, Georgia (9), Texas (7), Alabama (2), Florida (1) and Missouri (1). The cases were largely confined to a few counties in these states.

This past week the United Nations with the support of 117 countries called for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.

The factors driving this trend include public fear of discrimination for those who are sentenced to death, the prospect of “botched” executions, the substantial costs of capital prosecutions and incarcerations, and the release of 130 death row inmates who have presented evidence of their innocence. Nationwide the average cost of each death penalty prosecution is estimated to be $2.4 million. California claims to have spent $4 billion in total on these cases and has not managed an execution in several years.

Even a “conservative” Supreme Court seems to be increasingly reluctant to approve the ultimate penalty. It has struck down various death penalty practices in several states, including Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Delaware. The Florida Supreme Court recently set aside death sentences in what could be as many as 300 cases.

The death penalty lives on in an increasingly small part of the country.

Over 300 Million –The Number of Guns in America

Gun ownership increased in 2016, but polls and experts differ on the number. Some estimate that about 44% of American households have firearms, up about 7% in the last 2 years. Other surveys assert that the majority of these guns are owned by as few as 3% of the population. Almost all reports say there has been a significant increase in firearm permits and gun sales.

There were more than 50,000 instances of gun violence in the country with over 14,000 resulting in deaths and 30,000 in injuries.

The U.S. has the highest number of guns per capita in the world, estimated as 112 for every 100 residents. We have more guns than people. Compare this number with other countries:  Canada 30.6, Mexico 15, UK 6.6, Japan .6.

Ironically incidents of mass gun violence and efforts to curtail gun violence have only served to boost gun sales.

29 – The Number of States Legalizing Marijuana

Four more states joined the growing majority which have legalized marijuana in some form. Maine (whose vote is currently subject to a re-count), Massachusetts, Nevada, and California all passed recreational marijuana possession laws in November. Three others (North Dakota, Arkansas, and Florida) legalized its use for medical purposes. Well funded campaigns in another half dozen states are already underway for 2017.

The trend occurs as researchers are discovering more medical and health problems among regular users, especially the young. Use rates have doubled in the last three years according to Gallup Polls.

Meanwhile possession, distribution, and cultivation continue to be federal criminal offenses, although prosecutions for smaller amounts has largely terminated. DEA declined to reclassify the drug out of Schedule I this past year. President-elect Trump has not yet announced the new administration’s investigation and prosecution policy.

8 – The Number of Sitting Supreme Court Justices

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and Senate Republicans’ refusal to even consider President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland for the past 9 months have meant that the Supreme Court has operated one Justice short for most of 2016. Some have suggested that Obama perform a recess appointment of Garland in the short period between the two Congresses, but the move is probably unconstitutional.

Having only 8 Justices has had many negative consequences. The Court’s reputation has been damaged as an independent branch of government issuing the supreme law of the land according to legal precedent principles. Rather it has appeared to be a stepchild subject to the partisan wrangling of issue-oriented politicians.

There have been practical consequences as well. The Court is simply not considering many important cases in order to avoid controversy and 4-4 voting deadlocks.

Only 10 criminal cases have been scheduled for argument in the first four months of the 2016-2017 term, and only four since October. All four of the criminal opinions this term have been decided by unanimous votes, mostly by affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The two cases scheduled for January illustrate the caution. Nelson v. Colorado considers the issue of whether a state can require an acquitted defendant to thereafter prove his innocence in order to recover a fine paid as part of the sentence. Only Colorado has such a bizarre rule. The other case, Lynch v. Dimaya, considers the issue of whether a part of the Immigration and Nationality Act on the removal of an alien from the U.S. is unconstitutionally vague. Neither case requires heavy lifting.

Meanwhile difficult and important cases continue to float around the pool of split and inconsistent decisions of the various lower courts.

P.S. To all of our Tickle the Wire readers who are still actively involved in federal law enforcement, we wish that all of their 2017 cases involve targets like the man in The Woodlands,Texas who called police this past week to report that two men had robbed him while he was selling marijuana to them. All three will celebrate New Years Eve in the local jail.

Thanks for the tip, Justin.

 

Native American Activist Convicted of Murdering 2 FBI Agents Is Celebrated with Statue

Leonard Peltier FBI wanted poster.

Leonard Peltier FBI wanted poster.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Native America activist Leonard Peltier was convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1977.

But that hasn’t stopped a controversial statue of Peltier from being installed on the campus of American University, FOX5 reports.

Many Native American activists believe Peltier was wrongly convicted and sentenced to two life terms. The Leonard Peltier Statue Project is raising awareness about the case.

But FBI officials aren’t happy about propping up Peltier as if he were a hero.

“When I see this, I’m outraged because I know to the extent that anybody could possibly know that this man received a fair trial, is guilty in the crime he was charged with, and is serving a sentence that is proportionate to the crime he committed,” said Steve Pomerantz, former assistant director for the FBI. “He’s still alive. Those two agents are dead. He is a grandfather. They will never be grandfathers. He committed this crime and he killed those agents in cold blood.”

Man Charged with 1983 Murder at U. of Texas Added to FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A Texas man who fled after being charged with the 1983 murder of a 22-year-old woman has been added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, with the offer of a $100,000 reward for information that leads to his capture.

Robert Francis Van Wisse was a 19-year-old college student when authorities say he sexually assaulted and strangled a janitor at the University of Texas at Austin.

The victim was married and had a 1-year-old daughter.

“No matter how much time has passed,” said Special Agent Justin Noble, a member of the FBI’s Central Texas Violent Crimes Task Force in Austin who is investigating the case, “it’s important that we finally get justice for the victim and her family.”

Van Wisse was initially a suspect, but the case went cold “because DNA and other tests were not as sophisticated then as they are today,” Noble said.

In the early 1990s, the Austin Police Department submitted crime scene evidence for DNA tests, and “the results pointed directly to Van Wisse,”Noble said.

Van Wisse fled when he learned he was a suspect. He was charged with capital murder in 1996.

“He was a college student whose parents were both professionals,” Noble said. “He grew up going to the best schools and living in the nicest neighborhood. He had the future in front of him,” Noble added, “and yet it appears he murdered a young woman making minimum wage trying to support her family and young child.”

Border Patrol Agent, Two Brothers Charged in Drug Cartel-Linked Murder Case

Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna

Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A Border Patrol agent who patrolled ranch land for smugglers of drugs and humans is accused of helping his brothers run a criminal family business responsible for a decapitated corpse found off the Texas coast during spring break.

Joel Luna, 31, has been charged with capital murder as part of a drug trafficking conspiracy, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Luna’s attorney said his client never killed anyone, and it was his brothers, Fernando and Eduardo, who are to blame for the slayings.

“There’s an argument to be made against my client that’s guilt by association. People get swept up with those who are really guilty. It’s family,” said Joel’s attorney, Carlos A. Garcia. “Associating or going to a quinceañera is not a crime. He was just a family man, a working man. Think about how many Border Patrol members who live on the border have relatives here without visas.”

While Joel was for in San Juan but raised south of the border, his brothers were born in Mexico.

At the time of his hiring by Border Patrol, Luna appeared to be a great hire: He was an Army combat veteran and a high school ROTC standout.

The Los Angeles Times wrote:

In 2013, Joel notified Border Patrol officials that Eduardo had been temporarily abducted by cartel leaders in Reynosa who knew Joel was an agent and had threatened his family there, according to Cameron County Assistant Dist. Atty. Gustavo “Gus” Garza.

Eduardo, Fernando and their families crossed into the U.S. illegally to live at Joel’s house. Luna gave his sister-in-law $42,000 and instructed her to buy a house in San Juan for his younger brother, according to an arrest affidavit. Fernando moved in across the street, Garza said.

Fernando had been laid off and used severance pay to buy Veteran’s Tire Shop, about 20 miles north in Edinburg, according to an affidavit. He hired Eduardo and kept three other employees. Investigators would later argue that the run-down shop, like other businesses in south Texas, was a front for money laundering and drug trafficking.

FBI Asks for Public’s Help in Decade-Old Murder of 13-Year-Old Girl

Alexandra AnayaBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Alexandra Anaya was 13 years old when she was found dismembered in the Little Calumet River in Indiana in 2005.

Now the FBI is urging the public to help solve the decade-old homicide as part of a taste force to investigate unsolved crimes, the Chicago Tribune reports. 

Alexandra went missing from her Northwest Indiana home and wa found dead three days later.

“We’re asking for the public’s assistance in bringing the individual responsible for this crime to justice, giving Alex and her family peace of mind and closure,” lead FBI Special Agent Courtney Corbett told reporters at the agency’s Near West Side headquarters.

Mexico Drug Lord Who Tortured, Killed DEA Agent in 1985 Is Given House Arrest

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Drug lord Ernesto “Don Neto” Fonseca Carrillo, who killed a DEA agent in 1985, will serve the remainder of his sentence on house arrest.

The 86-year-old co-founder of the Guadalajara Cartel was in prison until he was transferred to house arrest Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

Fonseca will live in his house in Mexico State, which borders the capital.

Federal prisons chief Eduardo Guerrero said he was opposed to the release, but he had to respect the judge’s order of house arrest.

“From the government’s perspective, we believe it is not right that someone who did so much damage to this country is today serving the end of this sentence on the outside. … He did a lot of damage to society and he should still be, according to all the studies, inside a federal prison,” Guerrero said.

Fonseca was convicted in 1985 of kidnapping, torturing and murdering DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

Other Stories of Interest

FBI Searches for Husband in Stabbing, Beating Death of Fort Bragg Wife

Jason Earl Armstrong Jr.

Jason Earl Armstrong Jr.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI is searching for a man accused of killing his wife, a Fort Bragg soldier.

Jason Earl Armstrong Jr. is wanted on a federal warrant charging him with murder in the death of Iris Armstrong in the couple’s Fort Bragg home in North Carolina on July 1, Fox News reports. 

The FBI also is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the husband’s arrest.

Armstrong is accused of stabbing and beating his wife to death.

“Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to her family, friends and loved ones during this very difficult time,” said Lt. Col. Jeremy St. Laurent, commander of the 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

Woman Captured 3 Days After Being Placed on Top 10 Most Wanted List

Shanika Minor was added to the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted list.

Shanika Minor was added to the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Just three days after Shanika Minor was placed on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, she was arrested at a motel in North Carolina.

Fox 6 reports that Minor, who was wanted for the murder of a pregnant woman, was on the run for nearly four months after the fatal shooting.

The family of the victim, Tamecca Perry, expressed gratitude.

“I want to tell whoever turned her in, thank you. Thank you,” Elaine Freeman, Perry’s aunt said.