TIME politics

Former Virginia Governor: My Dysfunctional Marriage Proves I’m Innocent

Bob McDonnell, Maureen McDonnell
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, accompanied by his wife, Maureen, speaks during a news conference in Richmond, Va., Jan. 21, 2014. Steve Helber—AP

Defense lawyers say the gov's wife accepted gifts because she had a crush on a political donor. Will the jury buy it? We asked the experts.

Lawyers for former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, argued Tuesday that the couple didn’t conspire to take over $165,000 in cash, shopping trips, and vacations from a wealthy donor, but instead only accepted the gifts because Mrs. McDonnell had a “crush” on the donor.

McDonnell, who left office in January, is accused of taking cash and gifts from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in return for help promoting his dietary supplement company. But the couple’s lawyers are arguing that the Maureen McDonnell let Williams pay for expensive shopping trips and vacations because she had a “crush” on the charismatic businessman, and was unhappy in her marriage to the Governor. “Unlike the other man in her life, Jonnie Williams paid attention to Maureen McDonnell,” her defense attorney William Burck said. The couple face over 20 years in prison if convicted on federal corruption charges.

But will a jury believe the “crush” defense? Some lawyers think they just might.

“I think it’s ingenious, and I think it may work,” says Solomon L. Wisenberg, a D.C. based white collar defense lawyer who served as deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr during the Whitewater-Lewinsky investigations. “It certainly doesn’t make either one of them look good, but that’s not the same thing as committing a crime.”

Wisenberg notes that the McDonnells had filed a motion to sever, which would have allowed the co-defendents to face separate charges, but that this motion was denied, which means they had to coordinate their defense arguments. “This allows them to have kind of a complementary defense without pointing fingers at each other, yet it helps him because she’s obviously the principle player, and she’s the first one who roped this guy in,” he says.

“This strikes me as a more atypical defense, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Hail Mary pass,” says Josh Bowers, a professor at University of Virginia Law School who specializes in criminal procedure. “It could very well be the truth, and sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.”

But is Maureen McDonnell falling on her sword to protect her husband? “She’s got a lot less room to maneuver than he does,” Wisenberg explains. Mrs. McDonnell would have frequent private meetings with Williams, one former staff member called him her “favorite playmate,” and the two allegedly exchanged over 1,200 texts and phone calls over two years. “What’s she gonna do, say ‘It’s all my husband?’ The facts don’t seem to support that. What are her options other than what she’s doing?” he adds. The defense team also argued that Mrs. McDonnell was never a public official, and so shouldn’t be held to the same standards as her husband.

Wisenberg also notes that it might have been a misstep for the prosecution to start off with testimony from the McDonnell’s daughter Cailin, whose wedding was partially funded through gifts from Williams. Cailin McDonnell Young cried on the stand when she testified Tuesday that Williams had footed the bill for the catering at her 2011 nupitals. Wisenberg says Cailin’s tears on the witness stand could bode well for the defense, since a crying young woman makes the prosecution look like bullies, especially since juries are more likely to remember what happens at the beginning and end of the trial. “She’s an attractive young female testifying about the wedding, asking for Kleenex,” he says. “If I’m on the defense, I’m doing high-fives under the table.”

TIME Crime

Detroit 8-Year-Old Shot Dead in His Sleep

Jakari Pearson was killed in the early hours of Wednesday morning

An eight-year-old boy was fatally shot Wednesday whilst sleeping in his Detroit home, the Detroit News reports. Police are interviewing a man identified as a “person of interest.”

Jakari Pearson was killed in the early hours of the morning in his bed in Detroit’s near east side. The Detroit Police Department said shots were fired around 1.15am into the home.

Pearson was hit once in the upper body and taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. His mother was also wounded, though her condition is unknown. Family at the site of the shooting said the gunman may have been a former partner of the boy’s mother.

“The person we are talking to has not been arrested or been identified as a suspect in the shooting,” a Detroit Police spokesperson said. “He’s nothing more than a person of interest in this case and is being interviewed.”

The spokesperson, Sgt. Michael Woody added: “We have a pretty good idea of who it is that we are looking for… We hope the community continues to talk to us and feeds us information so we can track this individual down and get him into custody very quickly.”

[The Detroit News]

 

TIME Crime

Murdered Teen Texted Boyfriend ‘I’m Being Kidnapped’

April Millsap
April Millsap, in an undated photo provided by the Millsap family via Michigan State Police, July 27, 2014. Michigan State Police/AP

Middle schooler was found dead hours after she left her home to walk the family dog

A 14-year-old Michigan girl who was found murdered last week reportedly texted her boyfriend just before her death.

“Omg… I think I’m being kidnapped,” was the text April Millsap’s boyfriend received from her phone the night she was killed last Thursday, the Detroit Free Press reports. Millsap, who was due to start high school in the fall, was found dead by the side of the road, hours after she had left her home in Armada, Michigan, to walk the family dog. A couple found her body later that night, guarded by the collie, named “Penny.” An autopsy report confirmed that April was murdered, but authorities declined to say how, specifying only that she was not shot or stabbed.

Police have interviewed Millsap’s parents and boyfriend, but said they are “not considered suspects in her death.”

[Detroit Free Press]

TIME States

Family of Georgia Teen Found Dead at School Files New Lawsuit

Kendrick Johnson rally in Atlanta, Georgia
Jacquelyn Johnson, center, and her husband Kenneth, right, speak at a rally on behalf of their dead son Kendrick Johnson at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 11, 2013 Erik S. Lesser—EPA

They insist that the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was murder, and that its aftermath has been a comprehensive cover-up

The family of a Georgia teenager found dead in his high school gymnasium last year has sued school officials, accusing them of ignoring patterns of harassment that some believe culminated in his murder.

On Jan. 11, 2013, a group of students at Lowndes High School in the south Georgia town of Valdosta discovered the body of Kendrick Johnson rolled up in an exercise mat in the school gymnasium. His death, local police investigators determined, was an accident — he had climbed into the center of the mat to fetch a shoe and got stuck — but his parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, were not convinced.

They have filed two lawsuits against the school system in the past three months, CNN reports, both claiming that the relevant authorities willfully ignored a string of incidents in which white students antagonized Kendrick, who was black. The most recent, filed this week, points directly at Lowndes High School’s principal, Jay Floyd, as well as Lowndes County’s Board of Education and its superintendent.

Because of their indifference, the suit says, Kendrick was “violently assaulted, severely injured, suffered great physical pain and mental anguish, and subjected to insult and loss of life.”

His parents insist that his death was a homicide, and its aftermath a conspiratorial cover-up. After local authorities officially dismissed this claim, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson solicited the services of an independent pathologist, who identified “unexplained apparent nonaccidental blunt force trauma” to their son’s neck. When that pathologist, Dr. Bill Anderson, opened up Kendrick’s body for a second autopsy, he discovered its organs were missing, and it had been stuffed with newspaper.

Coroners typically remove organs during the initial autopsy but are expected to replace them; Kendrick’s parents complained they were not consulted.

Federal agencies launched an official investigation last fall, but the process of justice has been torpid. An anonymous email sent in January listing four students responsible for Kendrick’s death is not credible, authorities say.

[CNN]

TIME Crime

Japanese Schoolgirl Accused of Murdering, Dismembering Classmate

High school girl arrested for killing, dismembering friend
Japanese police officers enter an apartment building in Sasebo, in Nagasaki prefecture, Japan, on July 27, 2014, to investigate the site where Aiwa Matsuo, a 15-year-old high school girl, was murdered by her classmate Kyodo/AP

Victim's body was found in 16-year-old's apartment, where she lives alone

A 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl has been arrested in Nagasaki on charges of murdering and dismembering her classmate.

Police say the girl admitted to killing Aiwa Matsuo, 15, by bludgeoning her with a blunt object, then decapitating her and cutting off her left hand, according to CNN. The suspect was arrested on her 16th birthday.

“I did it all by myself,” she told police, according to the Japan Times. The victim’s body was found in the suspect’s apartment, where she lives alone without her parents. Her parents reported her missing after she failed to return home Saturday night.

People who know the suspect describe her as “very smart, with emotional ups and downs.”

TIME Crime

IV Lines Placed Properly in Two Hour Arizona Execution: Doctor

An undated photo of Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood who was sentenced to death for the killing in 1989 of his ex-girlfriend and her father, was executed by lethal injection in Florence, Arizona on July 23, 2014.
An undated photo of Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood who was sentenced to death for the killing in 1989 of his ex-girlfriend and her father, was executed by lethal injection in Florence, Arizona on July 23, 2014. Arizona Department of Correction/EPA

The doctor who performed the autopsy on Joseph Wood says the IV lines that delivered the fatal drugs in the prolonged lethal injection were not the problem

A doctor who performed an autopsy on Joseph Wood, the Arizona death row inmate whose July 23 lethal injection lasted almost two hours, says that prison officials properly placed the IV lines that administer the deadly drugs.

The autopsy, performed by Dr. Gregory Hess of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, appears to show that a two-drug combination of hydromorphone and midazolam entered Wood’s veins without incident, according to the Associated Press. The statement appears to foreclose one possible explanation for why Wood’s death took so long. A properly administered lethal injection is supposed to last no more than 15 minutes.

Wood, who was sentenced to die for murdering his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989, reportedly gasped and snorted during his one hour and 57 minute-long execution. The prolonged episode was the third state-sanctioned killing to go awry this year and has renewed the debate over the legality and morality of lethal injection.

The improper placement of IV lines can lead to drugs leaking into the surrounding tissues rather than going directly into the bloodstream. A preliminary autopsy of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett found incorrectly administered IV lines to be the reason his April execution took almost 45 minutes.

 

TIME Maine

Police Investigate Deaths of Family of 5 in Maine

Family Slain Maine
State Police investigate an apartment complex where five members of a family, including three children, were found dead Sunday, July 27, 2014, in Saco, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty—AP

Three children ages 4, 7 and 12, were among the victims discovered on Sunday afternoon

(SACO, Maine) — Neighbors struggled to make sense of the shooting deaths of a family of five in which the father was known to many throughout their apartment complex as a friendly maintenance worker.

Three children ranging from 4 to 12 were among the victims discovered Sunday in their home along with a long-barreled gun believed to have been used in their deaths. A detective said murder-suicide was one of the scenarios being investigated.

“I still don’t want to believe it,” said Heather Nason, who used to babysit the three children. “I love those children like they were my own.”

Investigators said it appeared no one outside the family was responsible for the shootings. They planned to release the identities on Monday.

The grisly discovery was made after a family friend contacted an apartment complex worker to express concerns about the family’s well-being, investigators said. The worker entered the apartment and discovered one body, then immediately called police.

Police said the bodies were found in three bedrooms. Police described the firearm found in the apartment as a long gun. Shell casings also were recovered.

Neighbors described the father as well known in the apartment complex along the Saco River because he was one of the maintenance workers.

They described a friendly family with a 4-year-old girl and boys aged 7 and 12 who were part of a group of neighborhood kids who constantly rode their bikes or played tag and other games in a community that residents described as safe. The parents were in their 30s.

“The kids were great. They were just happy kids, and it’s just a huge shock,” said Nason, who with her husband Dellas placed flowers outside the apartment on Sunday. As for the parents, “they’d take the shirt off their back for you,” she said.

Police believe the shootings happened at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, based on reports from neighbors about loud noises coming from the apartment.

The neighbors didn’t contact police.

State and local police, along with the medical examiner, were at the scene Sunday night. Officials said autopsies were scheduled for Monday.

The droves of children who usually circle the complex were all inside Sunday evening, replaced by concerned adults watching the police.

Down the street, Vin Savage watched with a stunned look on his face. “This is a tragedy,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling.”

TIME Crime

Spider-Man Caught on Camera Punching Times Square Cop

Spider-Canned

+ READ ARTICLE

Spider-Man — or at least a man dressed as him — punched a police officer in the face while resisting arrest Saturday at New York City’s Times Square, the latest episode of dressed-up crowd-pleasers acting, well, out of character.

The man, dressed as Spider-Man in a black skintight suit and mask, posed with another man and a woman who offered him $1 in exchange for the photo on Saturday, the New York Times reports. When Spider-Man told the couple the bill was too small, an officer intervened and said she could give whatever amount of money she wanted.

“Mind your own business,” Spider-Man said. The officer asked Spider-Man for identification, and Spider-Man, later identified as Junior Bishop, 25, said he had none. The officer moved to arrest him.

In a video taken by a passerby and posted by the New York Post, Bishop can be seen struggling with the officer and punching him in the face. The officer was treated at New York University Medical Center for a swelling of the eye and a cut.

Characters in Times Square, who are allowed to collect donations but not demand money, have gotten into a number of altercations with tourists in recent months. A different Spider-Man was fined earlier this month for harassing a tourist, and an Elmo known for using anti-Semitic language went to jail for an unrelated offense.

[NYT]

 

TIME Music

One Kid Snuck Into 50 Music Festivals and Filmed the Whole Thing

It's not illegal if you get an awesome movie out of it, right?

+ READ ARTICLE

Know how when you were a kid, you could never get into all the really cool, awesome concerts that you wanted to go to because you were too young or they were too expensive or God, Mom and Dad, you’re the worst? Marcus Haney decided he wasn’t going to worry about any of that and just go to the concerts anyway, doing whatever he could to get inside.

Sometimes that meant hopping fences, other times it meant forging wrist bands and once in a while it meant posing as a photographer. Haney’s main piece of advice for pulling all this off? “Walk with confidence.”

Not only did he end up going to all these fantastic shows — Coachella, Bonnaroo, etc. — but he even cut together all the footage from his various missions and made himself a film out of it, No Cameras Allowed. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.

[via Sploid]

TIME Crime

America’s Execution Problem

The prolonged execution in Arizona was the third troubled lethal injection death this year. If our most modern form of capital punishment isn't working, what happens to the death penalty?

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Joseph Wood had been snoring and gasping in the lethal injection chamber at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence for more than an hour on July 23 when one of his lawyers placed an emergency call.

“Mr. Wood’s execution started at 1:52,” Robin Konrad, one of the convicted murder’s public defenders, said to Arizona Supreme Court Judge Neil Wake in a last-ditch attempt to have the execution stayed. “He was being sedated at 1:57. Since that time he has been gasping, snoring and unable to breathe and not dying. And we’re asking—our motion asks for you to issue an emergency stay and order the Department of Corrections to start lifesaving techniques as required under their protocol.”

At some point during the execution Wood had been given a second dose of lethal drugs, and the conversation on the emergency conference call hearing turned to whether he could feel pain. Jeff Zick, a lawyer representing the Arizona attorney general’s office, said medical personnel inside the chamber believed that Wood was effectively brain dead. “The brain stem is working but there’s no brain activity,” he said.

About 18 minutes later, as the judge was about to issue a ruling, Zick confirmed that Wood had died. The entire process took one hour and 57 minutes—an extraordinarily long time for a procedure that under normal circumstances lasts no more than 15 minutes.

Wood’s prolonged execution was the third troubled state-sanctioned killing this year. In January, Dennis McGuire, a convicted rapist and murderer, reportedly gasped and snorted through a 25-minute-long lethal injection in Ohio that used a then-experimental cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone, the two drugs used on Wood in Arizona. In April, Oklahoma’s execution of Clayton Lockett was so poorly administered that it took nearly 45 minutes. President Obama called that episode “deeply troubling” and ordered the Department of Justice to review the process of capital punishment in the U.S.

As these executions renew the debate over the legality and morality of capital punishment, they are also undercutting the rationale for adopting lethal injection in the first place: once considered the most advanced and humane method of doing away with society’s most gruesome criminals, the practice increasingly appears no more safe or effective than its predecessors.

Lethal injection has been in use since 1982, largely without the kind of prolonged executions that have occurred this year. That was by design: it was a procedure developed to take a human life as painlessly as a pet is put to sleep. But the drugs used for the long-established protocol have been increasingly hard to come by as pharmaceutical companies balk for ethical reasons. Facing shortfalls, states have been turning to loosely regulated compounding pharmacies and trying new combinations of drugs.

The result has been a series of experiments, with occasionally disastrous outcomes. And it has meant that lethal injection is now facing the same questions as the electric chair, the gas chamber and the hangman’s rope before it. The difference this time is that there is no obvious substitute.

“The history of capital punishment over the last 100 years is largely a story of the belief in scientific progress,” says Austin Sarat, a professor of political science at Amherst who studies executions in the U.S. “And the story told was the same: the latest method is safe, reliable and more humane than its predecessor. But there is nothing over the horizon that portends that for the American death penalty.”

That’s one reason U.S. 9th Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski recently called for bringing back firing squads while acknowledging that executions cannot be neat and tidy. “Executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality,” Kozinski wrote in a dissent involving Wood’s case just days before he was put to death. “If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”

Kozinski’s solution was to stop pretending that a practice so grisly can ever be sanitized:

If some states and the federal government wish to continue carrying out the death penalty, they must turn away from this misguided path and return to more primitive—and foolproof—methods of execution. The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising. Eight or ten large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time. There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true.

Some state lawmakers have also suggested firing squads, and Tennessee recently passed a bill allowing the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. But most of the 32 states with capital punishment appear committed to lethal injection. In April, Ohio announced that it was upping lethal injection dosages after a review of McGuire’s execution, but insisted that his lethal injection was “conducted in a constitutional manner.” Results of Oklahoma’s investigation into the exact causes of Lockett’s death have yet to be released.

In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer said she was “concerned by the length of time it took for the administered drug protocol” to complete the execution and promised a full review of the process, but she denied that Wood was in pain and said he died in a “lawful manner.” In a statement confirming the opening of an investigation July 24, Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan called reports that the execution was botched “pure conjecture because there is no medical or forensic evidence to date that supports that conclusion. In fact, the evidence gathered thus far supports the opposite.”

The questions over the use of lethal injection are further complicated by the horrific acts that lead inmates to the death chamber. Lockett was sentenced to die for shooting a young woman and ordering accomplices to bury her alive. Wood was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father in 1989.

“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, let’s worry about the drugs,” Richard Brown, a family member of one of Wood’s victims said after the execution. “Why didn’t they give him a bullet, why didn’t we give him Drano?”

Nevertheless, the drumbeat against lethal injection, and capital punishment in general, is growing. Among the critics of Wood’s execution are Arizona Senator John McCain, who called it “torture.”

“Never before, at least in recent American history, have botched executions raised issues of the death penalty itself,” Sarat says. “They have raised questions about the technology, but there was some other method waiting. Today, botched executions fit in with this narrative of the broken machinery of the death penalty.”

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