Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Another Teen Killer Will Stand Trial

Image hosting by Photobucket Scott Dyleski, the 17 year old accused of fatally beating Pamela Vitale, the wife of famed attorney Daniel Horowitz, will stand trial for her murder now that a California judge has ruled that there is sufficient evidence to link him to the crime.

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Prosecutors believe that on October 15, 2005, Dyleski beat the 53 year old victim to death with a piece of crown moulding and then carved a satanic symbol into her back. Aside from ample DNA evidence – including a bag of bloody clothes that reportedly contain both Dyleski and Vitale’s DNA – and damaging testimony from the defendant’s friend and mother (who agreed, respectively, to testify on condition that they would not be charged with participating in a credit card scheme and destroying evidence linking Dyleski to the crime), a grisly to-do list was also discovered at the defendant’s residence. The list included, “"Knock-out/kidnap," “Dirty Work” and "Cut up and bury."

Already, Dyleski’s attorney has argued that there is no way the teen can receive a fair trial because of the extensive media coverage. Perhaps she fails to realize – or realizes all too well – that all that the coverage has done is make known the evidence that will likely lead to her client’s conviction when it is presented to a jury.

Being that the defendant was 17 at the time of the crime - one year younger than requirement for classification as an adult - he is not subject to the death penalty and at most will receive 26 years to life. What a difference a year can make, huh?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ugly = Criminal?

Does being ugly make you more likely to grow up to be a criminal? According to a study cited in today’s Washington Post, it does.

The study argues that - aside from having a disadvantage in getting hired, earning better grades, being more sociable and having a negatively affected income - being unattractive also makes one more likely to commit a crime.

For all those out there who are baffled by the amount of good looking criminals who’s pictures are strewn across the media (I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true), This may come as a shock.

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Who could forget the jeopardy analysts alluded to during the Scott Peterson trial – fearful that his “boyish good looks” (their words, not mine) would prevent a jury from being able to envision him as a calculating and cold-blooded murderer.

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Who hasn’t caught themselves wondering why someone as good (and normal) looking as Neil Entwistle would resort to murdering his wife and baby?

I think it raises a lot of questions about our perceptions of others. Why is it harder to believe that an attractive young man would commit murder than one who is not? Do we attach too much value to appearances? What does it say about us as a society?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Trial & Error: When Technicalities Stand in the Way of Justice

A Maryland man sentenced to die for slitting the throat of an 8 year old girl and abandoning her body in the woods will receive a new sentencing hearing because of reported “legal errors.” This was the decision passed down from Maryland’s highest court regarding Jamaal K. Abeokuto who was sentenced to die for the murder of his girlfriend’s 8 year old daughter.

This case raises the time old question: should a legal technicality matter when someone is clearly guilty?

There is the infamous example that is invoked in classrooms across the country to many students’ dismay: Police enter the home of a suspect after receiving a call reporting a disturbance. They enter the home without a warrant and conduct a search which uncovers a dead body in the closet. All the evidence shows that the homeowner committed the murder, but can he be prosecuted? Anyone who remembers this painstaking example, will remember that regardless of the gratuitousness of the crime, regardless of the victims age, regardless of how much evidence has been uncovered, the evidence is “tainted” and cannot be used. The killer goes free.

Is justice still served?

On one level - the level of lawfulness - perhaps, but what about the victim’s family? How would you feel if someone who murdered your child went free because the judge fell asleep or the killer’s lawyer failed to object when he should have? Oftentimes, this is what happens to reverse convictions or require new sentencing hearings. The question remains open though as to what end it really serves.

I’m open to suggestions…

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Boy Kills Family. Dog Bites Back?

"When you beat a dog again and again and again, do you really expect it's never going to bite back?" said defense attorney Gary Mitchell after his client Cody Posey was convicted for the deaths of his family members. One count of manslaughter (for his father), second degree murder for his step-mom and first degree murder for his little sister. According to CourtTV, ranch hand Slim Britton, who worked with Paul Posey and testified in the trial, said that he felt the family deserved to die, including Cody's thirteen year old sister who he accused of ratting him out in exchange for rewards from his parents.

"My heart absolutely breaks for that boy," said one defense supporter and family friend, "We knew it might be bad, but I never dreamed they would go this far." Sadly, this "family friend" was not referring to the brutal murder of three people, but to the sentencing handed down to the perpetrator.

Justice was served for Cody Posey, but what about his family? Did they have their day in court to face their accusers? As the defense argued, Cody took it upon himself to be the judge, jury and executioner. I'd say the punishment fits the crime.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Abuse Excuse (The Case of Cody Posey)

Nancy Grace - the wild-eyed Court TV and CNN commentator alluded to in my blog heading - and I do not usually agree on many things. A crime victim herself, Grace has (more than) a passion for prosecution and takes on each case as though she has a personal stake in any defendant's conviction. At time's it's a little unsettling to listen to her shrill voice as she pauses after every word and watch her contorting face as she questions how ANYONE could possibly for a moment doubt any given defendant's guilt. I was not surprised to learn of her book (released this summer) entitled: Objection: How High Priced Defence-Attorneys, Celebrity Defendants and a 24/7 Media Have Highjacked our Criminal Justice System.

Reviewers of Grace's book are also unsurprised. That Grace is pro-prosecution is not a secret to anyone familiar with her program. While her book contends that defence attorneys merely work to obscure the truth from the jury - something I disagree with - she drives home more than a point about the way the public views criminal cases. While I am far from a liberal, I have always leaned towards defense. I can't get past my belief that everyone has a right to a fair trial whether you are Scott Peterson or Sadam Hussein. (I assume Grace would disagree.) Yet, more and more I've found myself finding "excuses" for those who commit violent crimes.

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Take the case of Cody Posey (New Mexico v. Posey). This 16 year old gunned down his father, step-mother and sister after - what he claims were - years of abuse when he was 14. The defence in the case has repeatedly argued that episodes of abuse perpetrated by Posey's father justified this triple homicide. According to Posey's testimony, "I just lost my mind, I guess." For many people who lean pro-defence as I generally do, it's easy to push the possibility that this boy just snapped and did something about his situation. However, a closer look at the evidence shows a boy who did not "snap" or "lose his mind" but someone who thought out his actions before hand and carried his plan through to completion when the time arose.

According to Posey's confession, he waited inside the house for his father to enter at which time he shot him in the head. Before this, he shot his step-mother - who was clearly a threat as she sat reading a book on the couch - in the head. He then shot his thirteen year old step sister twice in the face because he "knew she would tell." Now, I'm not denying the possibility that this child was disturbed and possibly abused enough to feel trapped by his life. Perhaps his father, on some level, deserved this. However, how do you justify the killing of his step-mother and sister who posed no threat to the boy? When asked why he killed his step-mom, what did Posey say? "She was mean and stuff." And what about his sister? If this was just a moment of weakness in which this boy couldn't take the abuse of his father anymore, what excuse can be found for killing an innocent little girl who merely had the misfortune of being in the vicinity of the crime? And what about the fact that he hid the bodies in a backhoe and covered them with manure to hide his misdeeds? Does someone who is "out of his mind" have the capacity to think to hide his crime? If this was a crime of passion, how can that be explained?

One Court TV analyst after another has argued that this boy does not deserve to be punished, that his actions were entirely justified. It is easy to defend a child and easier still to defend one who has made legitimate claims of abuse, but does this mean we should just forget that the child is a triple murderer? The evidence and testimony of psychologists who have evaluated him do not find him to have been impaired, insane or otherwise mentally ill. So why are we excusing what this child has done? Have we really gotten to a point in this country where we can sympathetically justify the cold and calculating murder of one's family for any reason? How many children are out there who suffer abuse that do not kill? Should we suggest to them that this is acceptable behavior?

As Nancy Grace would say... HELLO PEOPLE!