Patterico's Pontifications

1/15/2009

Rape-Murder Solved by DNA, Privacy Advocates Concerned

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer,General,Morons — Patterico @ 10:58 pm

The L.A. Times reports that a 19-year-old rape/murder case has been solved by that evil, untrustworthy DNA. What the paper doesn’t tell you is that the murder never would have been solved if we had listened to Times editors.

The article begins:

In their rough South Los Angeles neighborhood, Mary Romer and Alma Harvey watched over each other.

So back in February 1990, Romer didn’t think twice about walking across the street to Harvey’s home when another friend called. They were concerned because they had not heard from the 82-year-old, who had trouble walking and was mostly housebound.

Romer used a spare key to enter the house. As she crept inside, she called for her friend, but there was no answer. In the bedroom, she discovered Harvey’s lifeless body lying on the bed with her arms half-raised and her face covered by a sheet. Police later determined that she had been raped and strangled.

The case lay dormant for a period, but several years ago, “[d]etectives tested DNA evidence found on Harvey’s bedsheet, believing it had been left by her killer. Recently, they got a hit on a national DNA database.” The suspect: Isidro Ponce.

[I]n October, Ponce was arrested in Concord on an outstanding domestic violence arrest warrant from Los Angeles. Ponce was shipped back to L.A. Once in jail, his mouth was eventually swabbed for DNA, as is standard procedure. On Jan. 5, the LAPD got the call that Ponce’s DNA matched that from the Harvey crime scene. A check of Ponce’s background revealed he was a one-time neighbor.

What the paper doesn’t tell you is that, if editors had gotten their way, this horrendous murder never would have been solved.

Back in 2004, the paper opposed Proposition 69, which greatly expanded DNA collection in the state of California. As I wrote in a post blasting the editors’ position, before Proposition 69, “only certain specified serious and violent felonies trigger[ed] the collection of DNA samples under California law.” Under Proposition 69, this limited collection of DNA was expanded to allow DNA to be taken from people arrested for any felony offense . . . like domestic violence. The crime for which Ponce was arrested.

Without Proposition 69, Isidro Ponce would be running around free.

Where’s our editorial about that?

Since 2004, we have seen a spate of handwringing stories from this newspaper, trumpeting the concerns of “privacy advocates” over the supposedly draconian policy of expanding DNA databases. What do the “privacy advocates” think about this arrest?

Will we see an article about that?

Here, from the Times article, is a picture of Alma Harvey:

This is the woman whose rape/murder case wasn’t as important to L.A. Times editors and “privacy advocates” as their deep concern about violating Isidro Ponce’s privacy by swabbing his mouth with a Q-tip.

Pepsi: Isn’t Obama the Greatest?!?! (Alternate Title: No Pepsi, Coke)

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:29 pm

Via Hot Air, it’s another reason to drink Coke instead of Pepsi. (The first reason is that Pepsi tastes like sugar-flavored battery acid.)

LAT: Rotten Bastard Unapologetic for His Many Sins

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 8:18 pm

The L.A. Times reports on Bush’s farewell with this fair and balanced headline: Bush delivers a quiet, unrepentant farewell.

“Unrepentant.” Well, that’s the word I’ll probably use about L.A. Times editors when their paper finally goes under. So why begrudge them the use of that word now?

Anarchy in Mexico

Filed under: International — DRJ @ 7:55 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Earlier this week, the U.S. military Joint Forces Command released a report that Mexico was one of two countries (along with Pakistan) that “bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse” as a failed state:

“The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.”

The report that Mexico might collapse was based on the increasing number of murders, crime and lawlessness arising primarily from drug violence and corruption. As a result, U.S. Homeland Security has developed plans to bring state and federal law enforcement and troops to border areas to deal with incursions.

Today’s report from Juarez convinces me Mexico may be closer to failing than the Joint Command report suggested:

“A group calling itself the Comando Ciudadano por Juárez, or the Juárez Citizens Command, is claiming it will kill a criminal every 24 hours to bring order to the violent crime-plagued city.

The announcement of the supposed group was the first known case of possible organized vigilantism in Juárez as police and the military have been apparently unable to stop a plague of killings and other crimes.

“Better the death of a bad person than that they continue to contaminating our region,” the news release stated in Spanish.

The supposed group issued a news release via e-mail stating it is nonpartisan and funded by businessmen fed up with crime.

The group, also calling itself the CCJ, said it would issue a manifesto in the coming days and would set up a system where residents can electronically send information about criminals.

“Our mission is to terminate the life of a criminal every 24 hours … The hour has come to stop this disorder in Juárez,” the CCJ stated.”

I assume these are, in fact, generally law-abiding citizens desperate to protect themselves, their families, and their neighborhoods. I sympathize with their motives but there’s only one word for this: Anarchy.

— DRJ

Minneapolis Star Tribune Files Chapter 11

Filed under: Economics — DRJ @ 7:31 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Another newspaper bites the dust files bankruptcy:

“In its filing, the newspaper listed assets of $493.2 million and liabilities of $661.1 million. The company said it hopes to use bankruptcy to restructure its debt and lower its labor costs.

Like most newspapers, the Star Tribune has experienced a sharp decline in print advertising. Its earnings before interest, taxes and debt payments was about $26 million in 2008, down from about $59 million in 2007 and about $115 million in 2004.”

The Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, filed Chapter 11 last month.

— DRJ

Eric Holder’s Attitude Toward the Police

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Obama — DRJ @ 3:13 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Heather MacDonald profiles Attorney General-designate Eric Holder’s attitude toward race and the police, including the Los Angeles police department, in a column published yesterday in City Journal.

MacDonald begins by pointing out that it was Holder who insisted on imposing a consent decree on the LAPD after the Rampart scandal, a decision that cost the city police budget almost $250M over 5 years. She contends the consent decree assumed every LAPD supervisor and officer were borderline racists and corrupt, and that tending to the decree required the reallocation of 350 police from crime-fighting to paper-pushing.

And LA was just the start. “Columbus, Ohio, Washington, DC, and the New Jersey State Police, among other departments, felt the heat.”

Holder also played a role in claims that some police departments routinely engage in racial profiling:

“The late 1990s also saw the rise of the bogus “racial profiling” concept, in which police departments were deemed racist if their stop and arrest rates didn’t match population benchmarks. That primitive analytical framework, initially promoted by the ACLU, ignores the wildly disparate racial crime rates and the inevitable effect of those crime rates on police activity. The Justice Department under Deputy Attorney General Holder gave a significant push to its evolution, and the momentum of DOJ-sponsored “racial profiling” conferences and DOJ-funded research continued through the early years of the Bush administration.”

MacDonald suggests Holder’s actions impaired the ability of police departments to fight crime through the use of suspect policies. To make that clear, she suggests the Senators ask Holder these questions during his confirmation hearing:

  • “[O]n what grounds [would] he would inflict his civil-rights attorneys on police departments?”
  • “[Does] he believe that a racially disparate stop rate provides prima facie evidence of police racism?”
  • My gut feeling is these questions may not be asked. The GOP is hesitant to irritate the public by fighting too many battles with Obama early in his Administration. I think the main battles will be Geithner and bailout money. Unfortunately for America’s big city police departments, Holder may get a pass.

    — DRJ

    US Airways Plane Hit by Birds, Crashes in Hudson River (Updated)

    Filed under: Current Events — DRJ @ 2:04 pm

    [Guest post by DRJ]

    US Airways Flight 1549 from New York’s LaGuardia to Charlotte NC crashed on takeoff. It’s believed that birds hit both engines.

    Thankfully everyone survived.

    UPDATE: “That was the most perfect landing I ever saw.”

    The Hero of Flight 1549.

    — DRJ

    More on the Oscar Grant Shooting

    Filed under: Crime,Current Events — Jack Dunphy @ 10:34 am

    [Guest post by Jack Dunphy]

    Our host Patterico has asked me to amplify on a point I made in my Pajamas Media column regarding the murder charge against the former BART police officer accused in the Oscar Grant shooting. I said I believed it was plausible that that officer believed he was drawing and firing a Taser rather than a pistol. Such incidents have indeed happened in the past, and after viewing the various videos of the Oscar Grant shooting, this theory seems to me much more likely to be true than the one holding that former officer Mehserle decided to execute Grant in front of a train station full of witnesses.

    Like most LAPD officers, I’ve been trained in the use of a Taser but I do not routinely carry one. A handful of officers on my department have been issued a Taser X26, which they carry in a cross-draw holster on the opposite side from their service weapon. But every patrol division has a supply of Taser M26 models that officers check out each day as they go on patrol. Most officers keep these in the trunk of their police cars and retrieve them only when needed, but some carry them in the provided holster, which is attached to the officer’s Sam Browne and strapped around his thigh. I’ve seen some officers wear them on the same side as their pistol and others on the opposite side. You can see from the linked images that both Taser models at least superficially resemble a pistol, the M26 more so than the X26. Both models are activated by pulling a trigger exactly as one does in firing a pistol.

    Mehserle was a two-year veteran of the BART police force, a point in his career at which an officer is still considered very much on the green side, or at least would be in the LAPD. I would conjecture that he had not been in many physical altercations and, given the situation he was facing, with a station full of screaming New Year’s Eve revelers, may have been emotionally revved up as young cops often are. I’ve seen cops more tenured than Mehserle do some incredibly stupid things in such situations, though thank heaven without the horrific consequences.

    I don’t know if Mehserle was in fact carrying a Taser at the time of the shooting, but if he was, I would conjecture that in the heat of the moment he simply deployed the wrong weapon.

    Note that in the 2003 incident linked above, it was a female Hispanic officer in Madera, Calif., who accidentally shot and killed a male Hispanic suspect. No charges were filed against her. Sadly, the racial calculus in the Oscar Grant shooting will play as big a role in the outcome as will the facts of the case.

    –Jack Dunphy

    Shooter of Oscar Grant Charged with Murder

    Filed under: Crime,General — Patterico @ 6:44 am

    You’ve probably heard about the New Year’s Day shooting of Oscar Grant by a cop in an Oakland BART station. The shooting was captured by video from cell phones. Several days ago, Allah summed up what happened:

    The shooting comes at 1:15 of the second video and 2:55 of the third. In brief: It’s early New Year’s Day, there’s a fight on the Oakland subway, the transit cops come and pull a few men aside, one of whom is Grant. He ends up sitting against a wall, then two cops maneuver him face down, presumably to cuff him. There’s a slight struggle, whereupon one of them stands, pulls his pistol — and fires, sending his colleagues backpedaling in shock.

    The cop has now been arrested for murder. Jack Dunphy comments here:

    One must always bear in mind that videos of police incidents may not tell the entire story, but if Mehserle is going to claim the shooting was somehow justified, I’ve seen little in any of the videos to suggest it. One theory circulating in the Bay Area media is that Mehserle believed he had drawn a Taser and intended to stun Grant rather than shoot him.

    Dunphy calls the theory “plausible,” which causes me to reconsider my initial “You’ve gotta be kidding me” reaction. But I think prosecutors have a much bigger challenge. Allah sets forth three videos of the shooting and says:

    Look closely in the second clip and you’ll see that even Mehserle, the cop who pulled the trigger, seems surprised.

    It is that last fact that will give prosecutors fits trying to prove a murder charge. Judge for yourself (to the extent you can from simply watching videos, without the benefit of testimony):

    Courtroom 302 and The Chicago Way (in Criminal Law)

    Filed under: Crime,General — Patterico @ 12:08 am

    I’m reading a book called “Courtroom 302″ about the criminal justice system in Chicago. It’s very interesting, and while it comes from a somewhat liberal perspective it makes some telling points.

    One of the things I find most interesting is how different so many things are. For example, a standard murder in Chicago is apparently punishable by 20-60 years, served at halftime. There appear to be no enhancements for use of a gun. [UPDATE: Commenters say there is one, but it wasn’t applied in the case I read about in the book.] Here in California, a similar murder earns you 15-to-life (for a second degree) or 25-to-life (for a first degree) plus a gun enhancement of 25-to-life. Even on murder alone, without a gun, you serve the whole 25 years (on a first degree) before you’re eligible for parole. And on gun-related violent crimes not resulting in murder, defendants serve 85% of their time.

    So reading about a defendant pleading for 38 years (actually 19) for a gang-related murder with a gun is just bizarre. That could happen here if the case were weak — but the one I read about involved a confession and two positive IDs. Wow.

    Also, bench trials outnumber court trials 11 to 1. That’s unthinkable in Los Angeles, where bench trials are exceedingly rare.

    Also, in Chicago, they apparently force juries to deliberate far into the evening. (Based on a book I recently read about a jury trial in New York, this happens in New York as well.) Here, the court breaks in the afternoon, usually by 4:30 p.m. — and if the jury hasn’t reached a verdict, you come back the next day.

    Finally, the D.A. there reportedly has a contest (or did at one point) where new attorneys try to be the first to convict 4000 pounds’ worth of defendants. Fat defendants get good deals and skinny ones don’t. That’s ridiculous enough, but there is apparently (according to the book) even a racist name that some prosecutors use for the contest. As an 11-year veteran of the L.A. D.A., I can say with confidence that the very idea of such a contest is utterly unthinkable, and to have a racist component or name is even more unthinkable. If the book is telling the truth, it tells you something very significant about the difference between the prosecuting offices as well.

    Maybe there are readers from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office who dispute that story. I’d like to think so, because this anecdote paints a pretty ugly picture of the office.

    There are other differences, but those jumped out at me so far. It’s amazing how insular legal communities can be — especially local criminal practices. You pick up a set of procedures that is very similar to other places in some ways, and radically different in others. Yet it seems like the norm to you — and it seems completely foreign to people on the outside.

    It’s not a bad book, by the way — but I’m only 160 pages or so in.

    I’m particularly interested in the reaction of nk, who practices criminal law in Cook County.


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