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Innocent Man Freed After 17 Years in Prison for Nothing

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By Charlene Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

LOS ANGELES - After serving 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Obie Anthony walked out of a Los Angeles County Jail Oct. 4 and joined the ranks of many men and women across the U.S., who were incarcerated on the basis of flawed or false eyewitness testimony.

“It's really overwhelming at this point. It's going to take a couple of days before everything really sets all the way in but the fact of the matter is, like I said, I never lost faith. I knew that this day would come so I just stood fast in that and I knew that it would happen,” Anthony told the throng of supporters and media that greeted him during an early celebration immediately after he was released.

Superior Court Judge Kelvin Filer overturned Anthony's 1995 murder conviction on September 30, because the key witness against him had lied on the stand. There also was no evidence that linked Anthony to the 1994 murder of Felipe Gonzales Angeles.

A Loyola Law School chapter of The Project for the Innocent won Anthony's exoneration after picking up his case in 2008. Reggie Cole, a co-defendant who was also wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for the murder, was freed by another L.A. judge in May 2010.

“I'm just glad that they came and that they saved me from this situation,” Anthony said, referring to the 3-1/3 year battle waged by The Project for the Innocent and the Northern California Innocence Project.

“I want to be prosperous and do exactly what they've been doing, which is reach back and save somebody else, to help someone else that was in the same situation that I've been in; to be able to do what they've done for me,” Anthony said when asked what he wanted to do with his life now.

Anthony has always maintained his innocence and had alibis even back in 1995, when he was convicted, but they weren't enough to overcome the prosecution's case, according to Paige Kaneb, supervising attorney at the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University.

When the case was assigned to her for investigation in 2008, she said they learned that the main witness for the prosecution had actually received a great deal. “He escaped 12 years of prison, basically, for testifying against Anthony and he lied to the jury about it and the prosecution never corrected his testimony,” Kaneb said.

She continued that the Innocence Project's investigator interviewed John Jones, the key witness, and he admitted to never really seeing Anthony and Cole well enough to identify them and that he had been relying on information from others, including the detectives, to make his IDs.

“In his words, he knew that the detectives weren't going to let him go down as long as he cooperated with them and that's what they did. They made sure he didn't go to jail,” Kaneb said.

Judge Filer chastised prosecutors for withholding that evidence from jurors and ordered Anthony released immediately. Prosecutors have 60 days to decide whether to retry Anthony or appeal the judge's decision and they've been ordered back to court October 31 to announce their decision, Kaneb informed.

“They can't retry him. They have no evidence. Their one real witness the judge found to be completely unreliable and he's now admitted he never really saw anything,” she continued.

In “200 Exonerated: Too Many Wrongfully Convicted,” its report on DNA exonerations in the United States, the Innocence Project indicates that while nobody truly knows how many innocent people are in prison, the question itself is haunting, since it reflects the common knowledge that there are undoubtedly more.

The report features the stories of the first 200 people exonerated through DNA evidence. All except one were men. They each served an average of 12 years in prison and a combined total of nearly 2,500 years in prison.

Eyewitness misidentification accounted for 77 percent of the convictions, and, 48 percent of those misidentifications were cross-racial, meaning most commonly a Caucasian person incorrectly identifying a Black person, according to the report.

Kaneb said that while it's a scary thing that there are innocent people in jail, the problem isn't necessarily with the system, but it's with people within the system. “...When people don't do their jobs, when prosecutors don't turn over evidence, when defense attorneys don't investigate cases, and the beauty of the system is when you do eventually bring the truth in front of a good judge, he does the right thing, like in this case. He ordered Mr. Anthony's conviction overturned and that he be freed,” she said.

“I've cried lots of times together because of the time that he's lost and can't get back but the thing is we know that we have a future and we can move forward, but those 17 years that he lost is very sad,” said Denise Merchant, Anthony's fiance. She said she kept pace with his case, step by step, minute by minute, second by second, waiting for his release.

Although he was exonerated on May 15, 2010 after 16 years in prison for a crime he also didn't commit, Cole said he is still trying to rebuild his life, amid doubts that his freedom is real, and whether or not the police will take him back to prison.

“That's where I've been for so long, so I'm still trying to adjust to the fact that I am here and they can't take me back to jail because I haven't done anything wrong,” Cole said.

Cole said the criminal justice system didn't work for him, but the Innocence Project did. “I'm completely against them,” he emphatically declared when asked if he's been able to forgive those responsible for his imprisonment.

“I haven't forgiven anybody and I don't plan on it because this isn't a case of mistaken identity or accidental. This is a deliberate act that was committed by the Los Angeles Police Department, namely (detectives) Marcella Winn and Pete Razanskas. They deliberately did this. They deliberately fabricated evidence. They hid evidence. They set us up. Set us up!”

Cole said he has filed a lawsuit against the LAPD and it's not just about money. “Somebody has to pay retribution for what happened, namely, the officers who committed the crime. Basically they committed the crime because they covered up the actual shooter. They basically withheld and hid evidence ... The judge agreed with us,” he said.

Outside the jail, Cole said it had been a long time and his words for Anthony weren't scripted but the thoughts he could summon up for him were “Joy. Just joy!”

Trying Juveniles as Adults Doesn't Reduce Juvenile Crime

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By Kenneth J. Cooper, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

Only eight states publicly report the race and ethnicity of juveniles transferred to adult courts for criminal prosecution, the Justice Department has found, and it’s no wonder that more states do not. Those that do are sending disproportionate numbers of African-American and Hispanic teenagers to face the possibility of the most serious punishment that a juvenile offender can face—getting locked up in a state prison alongside hardened adult criminals.

During a juvenile crime wave that began in the 1980s and peaked in 1994, almost every state expanded the range of juvenile offenders who could face conviction in adult court for serious or repeat offenses, the Justice Department says in a new report.

Since 1994 states have been trying many fewer teenagers in regular courts, but at least 14,000 faced that sort of prosecution in 2009, according to information available from 21 states.

State lawmakers may believe their tough legislation has led to the drop in juvenile offending, but they are deluding themselves if they do. It has been long established that the biggest factor behind crime rates are demographic trends: the more teenagers in the population, the more juvenile crime, and vice versa. Similarly, adult crime rates are strongly associated with the number of people under age 30, particularly males.

Current members of state legislatures would be more on target asking whether adult transfer laws have served any beneficial purpose. No national study has been conducted on the impact of those laws, but most state-level research indicates they do not reduce juvenile crime.

“The weight of the evidence suggests that state transfer laws have little or no tendency to deter would-be juvenile criminals,” concludes the report from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “Possible explanations include juveniles’ general ignorance of transfer laws, tendency to discount or ignore risks in decision-making, and lack of impulse control.”

The report suggests legislatures take another look at the laws: “States have shown little tendency to reverse or even reconsider the expanded transfer laws already in place. Despite the steady decline in juvenile crime and violence rates since 1994, there has as yet been no discernible pendulum swing away from transfer.”

Less than a paragraph in the report is devoted to racial-ethnic disparities in adult prosecution of juveniles, perhaps because so few states make those breakdowns available. That limited pool of information provides another reason for legislative reconsideration—one that African-American and Hispanic lawmakers should push.

According to the report, “In Florida most transferred youth in 2008 were black (54%) whereas whites (29%) and Hispanics (12%) were considerably underrepresented. By contrast transfers were predominantly Hispanic in Arizona (57%) and California (56%).”

To put that undesirable Black majority in Florida into context, the state had the highest rate of adult transfer of the states that make report such information. In 2007-2008, Florida sent a whopping 3,600 juveniles of all races into adult courts—about five times as many as more populous California. Florida’s adult prosecutions of juveniles were concentrated in the counties that include Miami, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, Orlando and Pensacola.

California prosecuted 742 juveniles as adults in 2008, a number that dipped a little the next year before jumping to 976 last year. Hispanics made up a majority of those juveniles in each of those three years, reaching a peak of 59 percent in 2009. African-Americans hovered just under 30 percent—a level out of line with the state’s 13 percent Black population. About 38 percent of state residents are Hispanic.

In Arizona, Hispanics have been tried as adults at about the same rates as in California—between 57 percent and 59 percent between 2008 and 2010. Blacks have been overrepresented too, at between 12 percent and 18 percent. The state is 30 percent Hispanic and four percent Black. Most adult prosecutions occurred in Maricopa County, where Phoenix, the state’s largest city, is located.

Hispanic juveniles were treated as adults in disparate numbers in Oregon, where they made up 30 percent of the 2008 total of 391 juveniles in adults courts. The state is 12 percent Hispanic.

In Missouri, 64 percent of juveniles statewide prosecuted as adults in 2009 were African American, nearly double the 2001 level of 36 percent. Black youth make up 15 percent of the state’s population between 10 and 17 that falls under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. St. Louis and surrounding St. Louis County prosecuted as adults 70 percent of Black juveniles treated that way statewide.

The disparity was even greater for Black teen offenders in Tennessee: they made up 77 percent of children prosecuted as adults in 2008, and 67 percent the next year. There were about a total of 400 adult prosecutions in both years, and they were concentrated in the county that includes Memphis. Tennessee is 17 percent Black.

The Tennessee figures and one other statistic in the report suggest racial disparities are likely to be the greatest in the South, where states with the highest percentages of Black residents are located. The report says the bulk of all juveniles incarcerated in state prisons are doing their adult time in the South.

In Montana, the limited data published indicates that adult prosecution of Native American juveniles has been an issue. The statistics for Ohio that the Justice Department cites could not be found online.

To provide a fuller picture, the Justice Department recently commissioned a national survey to create the first national database of how juveniles are treated in adult courts. The survey will examine a sample of felony and misdemeanor cases against juveniles—and will include the demographics of those offenders.

Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is a freelancer based in Boston. He also edits the Trotter Review at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Dr. Cornel West, Raheem DeVaughn Arrested, Released Following 'Occupy' Protest

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By Khalid Naji-Allah, Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

Dr. Cornel West and R&B Singer Raheem DeVaughn made their way from the D.C. Superior Courthouse Monday, October 16, after the pair was arrested along with 17 others, on the steps of the United States Supreme Court last week, for trespassing. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia declined to prosecute the group and charges against the 19 that were arrested were dropped.

As the pair emerged from the courthouse, a crowd of supporters cheered and the sounds of those familiar drums echoed in the background. One of those supporters awaiting their release was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who came to the courthouse to show his support for West, DeVaughn, and the Occupy
Movement.

Rev. Jackson told The Washington Informer that he is in support of the movement. "One wave of this struggle has been students, next it has to be the homeowners who have lost their homes: They must join this. The churches that have been foreclosed: They must join this, and the unions whose workers have lost their jobs: They must join this," said Rev. Jackson who also commented went on about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and how the cost of both wars hurt this country financially.

"You are asking the laid off workers to pay for those misadventures [Iraq and Afghanistan], that's why [this movement] is so global because the pain is so connected."

Mike Guess, 33, drove for three days from Denver, Colorado and was one of three African-Americans arrested on the steps of the U. S. Supreme Court on Sunday. He showed joy as he walked out of the courthouse and embraced Dr. West and DeVaungh.

"I drove three days to get here to express my freedoms and his [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s] thoughts. I look forward to going into this movement high speed screaming power to the people, fighting for justice non-violently."

At Last Haiti Gets a Government

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By Tony Best, Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News –

After almost five months of delays, Haiti has gotten a full operational government headed by Dr. Garry Conille, gynecologist and former United Nations official in Africa. And as if that news wasn’t good enough for President Michel Martelly, the newly elected President of the Creole-speaking Caribbean nation, the UN Security Council has voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the military mission in the Caribbean country, albeit at lower levels.

With Haitians at home and abroad taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the new Conille Administration, the Chamber of Deputies in Port-au-Prince endorsed a 17-member cabinet and the policy platform outlined by the new Prime Minister. The 81 favorable votes and the seven abstentions gave the government the kind of solid support it needs to get programs through the legislature. But the vote didn’t eliminate all of the questions about Conille, especially about his loyalty to Haitians, given his relationship with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the UN representative who co-chairs the panel that supervises the multi-billion dollar reconstruction of the nation. The panel was established after last year’s devastating earthquake, which left at least 220,000 people dead and more than half million homeless victims still living in tent cities, almost two years after the 2010 disaster.

“There are some people in the Haitian community who wonder about his commitment to Haitians, in view of his links with former President Clinton,” said Ricoh Dupuis, manager of Radio Soleil in Brooklyn. They worry because Clinton is co-chair of the reconstruction panel and the Prime Minister is the other chairman.” The vote in the Chamber of Deputies came after a 14-hour debate which many had feared could lead to further delays in the installation of the government over the allocation of ministerial posts. Some elected officials were said to be jockeying for appointment to the cabinet. But the stamp of approval came despite the failed aspirations of some of the elected representatives.

The Senate also approved Conille’s political program and the cabinet. P.J. Patterson, Caricom’s representative in Haiti and a former Prime Minister of Jamaica, had previously expressed regret that the efforts to appoint a head of government were slowing down the reconstruction program. But there was more positive news for President Martelly. The Security Council voted in New York on Friday to extend the UN military and police presence in Haiti, MINUSTAH, for another year but agreed that the troop levels should be reduced by about 2,800, going from 13,300 to 10,581. The decision to keep the troops in Haiti was in a response to pleas by both Martelly and Valere Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and coordinator of disaster relief, who wanted a continued UN Military presence in Haiti.

As President Martell explained to the UN, the recovery efforts had at times “stumbled” but they were still needed for the foreseeable future. Amos took a broader view, insisting that “the earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan have raised questions about how quickly we are getting to the people who need assistance and how to make that assistance more effective. The donor countries want to know about the effectiveness of the humanitarian responses. That’s why we have a reform agenda across the humanitarian system.” With about 60 percent of the several billions of dollars pledged by the international community to rebuild the earthquake ravaged nation paid up, the UN Security Council obviously agreed with Martelly and Amos that it would have been a mistake for the UN to pull out now.

That decision met with approval from the Haitian Diaspora in New York, Florida and elsewhere. Immigrants had demonstrated near the UN in September and earlier this month after some highly publicized incidents of sexual assault, alleged wanton destruction of public property, the introduction of Cholera into the country and the hanging of a young man, allegedly by UN troops. “We welcome the decision to reduce the troops levels because there wasn’t a need for them,” said Harry Fouche’, a former Haitian Consul-General in New York.

“The scandals involving the UN troops and the introduction of cholera into the country by UN forces from Nepal were tragic and couldn’t be condoned.” UN troops from Uruguay were caught on tape raping a young Haitian man; soldiers from the Pacific were withdrawn after being accused of sexual assaults of women and Nigerian soldiers were said to have abused their authority in Haiti. Assessing conditions, Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General told reporters recently in New York that the “situation in Haiti remains fragile and we must be aware of reversals that could cause a new crisis.” But he was quick to insist that “Haiti’s future stability and prosperity will continue to depend on the political will of its leaders and citizen.” Several Caribbean leaders or their foreign ministers have urged the UN to step up its reconstruction efforts in Haiti. One of them was T. Brent Symonette, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, who called on the “international community to be generous in contributing to the Haitian Recovery Fund and very specifically we call on donor states to honor their pledges, some of which remain dishearteningly outstanding.”

Report Finds Waste in Money, Lives in Somali War

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

A new report published by the Washington-based Center for American Progress provides detailed evidence of the exorbitant amount of money and millions of lives lost in the ongoing strife in Somalia – all without producing positive change.

Specifically, in the past 20 years, the war with western powers has taken as many as 1.5 million lives and cost about $55 billion. Some 750 fatalities were recorded among the Ugandan and Burundian troops that comprise the Africa Union Mission in Somalia.

The international bill for piracy is estimated at $22 billion. Humanitarian and development aid is said to have totalled $13 billion, and the Somali diaspora is believed to have sent $11.2 billion in remittances to their families trapped in the East African country since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991.

The overall outlay for Somalia may seem “modest” in comparison with the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “but what’s remarkable is how little we have to show for it,” write co-authors Bronwyn Bruton and John Norris in the report called “Twenty Years of Collapse and Counting.”

“By and large, the U.S. government ends up spending far more time and money responding to crises or tinkering with tactical responses than preventing crises or nurturing effective peace building efforts,” commented the authors.

Additionally, wrote the authors, “this accounting makes clear that Western policymakers are wildly uneven in their approach to Somalia. They are willing to spend vast sums in some areas such as dealing with piracy, while in other areas they take an approach bordering on malignant neglect.”

The full report can be found on www.amercanprogress.org

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