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Guardian readers Dr Kevin Bannon and Martin Quinn share their perspectives on Venezuela
A principal foreign participant in the US-led campaign to topple the Maduro government is neighbouring Colombia, which has become a crucial hub for Venezuela’s opposition abroad – hence the US secretary of state’s meetings in Bogota (Guaidó’s plea for international support raises fear of military intervention in Venezuela, 25 February).
For well over a generation Colombia has seen political corruption in government and mass murder undertaken by its army and by pro-government “death squads” – violence on a far greater scale than is recently purported to exist in Venezuela. There were, however, no US calls for the overthrow of successive Colombian governments. On the contrary, the US supported the Colombians with armaments, finance and goodwill.
There is no puzzle to this blatant hypocrisy; oil, of which Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves, while the greatest oil consumer is the United States.
Dr Kevin Bannon London
A number of independent experts including UN human rights adviser Idriss Jazairy and Alfred de Zayas, who last year became the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years, have explicitly said the US is using sanctions as a method of economic warfare against Venezuela and that this is the reason for the economic and humanitarian crisis facing the country.
Earlier this month Mr de Zayas said “this is deliberate homicide, this is murder, this is a crime against humanity, and could be examined under article 7 of the Statute of the ICC”.
However, it is worth noting that despite the devastating impact of US sanctions on Venezuelan society, the most recent (2018) UNDP human development index – which combines measurements of life expectancy at birth, years of schooling and gross national income per capita – ranked Venezuela higher than Brazil and Colombia.
Martin Quinn Tavistock, Devon
CHARLES K.K. LEWIS BACK IN COURT FRI. FEB. 15 @ 10:30 AM; WILL JUDGE CERTIFY GROSSLY INCOMPLETE FILE?
UPDATE: Charles Lewis’ juvenile lifer hearing scheduled for Friday, Feb. 1 was adjourned with conflicting reasons provided to the parties, until Friday, Feb. 15 at 10:30 am. NOTE: Before going, call court Fri. a.m. to find out whether hearing will happen, in light of numerous prior cancellations.
FEB. 1 hearing unexpectedly adjourned until Friday, Feb. 15 at 10:30 a.m.
Lewis may be first of “Michigan 200” juvenile lifers recommended for LWOP to face mitigation hearing
Chief issue at hearing: whether Judge Lillard will certify grossly incomplete court file, and then hold a mitigation hearing and re-sentencing
View Michigan Supreme Court oral arguments on Harold Walker case heard by Judge Lillard; shocking details of his trial are discussed
By Diane Bukowski
UPDATE: Friday, Feb. 1–The juvenile lifer hearing scheduled for today was adjourned with conficting reasons provided to the parties, until Friday, Feb. 15 at 10:30 am.
Judge Qiana Lillard told VOD that attorney Schulman asked for the adjournment because he had trials scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday when the court was shut down during the freezing cold snap.
She said the hearing would be set for Thursday, Feb. 14. Attorney Schulman told Lewis in an email that it will be held Fri. Feb. 15, which is the date now listed on Lewis’ Register of Actions.
Lewis reports that Macomb CF personnel told him that the hearing was adjourned because the court was still closed. His lawyer Sanford Schulman did not notify him of the change.
DETROIT – Charles Lewis may be one of the first of 200 Michigan juvenile lifers, if not the first, to undergo the ill-defined process of a “mitigation hearing” before Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard, according to his attorney Sanford Schulman. The juvenile lifers still behind bars, two-thirds of the total, are those for whom county prosecutors recommended renewed “life without parole” sentences.
Lewis waited in the video room at Macomb Correctional Facility for five hours Jan. 24 for a hearing on his case which did not happen because the judge’s chief assistant had fallen on the ice outside the Frank Murphy courthouse the day before. Evidently no one else knew how to operate the equipment for Lillard’s “video courtroom.” He received no notification from Atty. Schulman
His hearing is now set for Friday, Feb. 1, at 10:30 a.m. (Note update above showing hearing that day was once again adjourned and moved t0 Fri. Feb. 15 at 10:30 AM.)
The utter confusion of the last weeks is likely a precursor to what is to come. A chief issue is Judge Lillard’s certification of a hastily-thrown together file meant to replace five boxes of Lewis’ official court files mysteriously “lost” around 2012. The official computerized record of his case has likewise been wiped out for all years between 1976 and 1999. It currently shows that he was convicted April 3, 2000 in front of Judge Gershwin Drain.
Judge Lillard is to rule on a motion filed by Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Dawson ro certify a re-constructed file, before proceeding further with Lewis’ re-sentencing, which has been going on since March, 2016. Dawson based his motion on a court rule, MCR 3.607.
Lewis wrote Schulman regarding the motion, “I studied MCR 3.607 and researched it upside down. There is not a single reported criminal case that cites to MCR 3.607 regarding lost files, transcripts, and records. That Court Rule is a Civil Court Rule that was designed to deal with lost civil documents.”
He said further that the judge’s certification of his file means, among other issues, that she is certifying:
· That the first trial transcript is incomplete and does not have a record that explains why the first jury was dismissed. Judge Deborah Thomas said in a 2006 opinion that this meant Lewis should have been considered acquitted and subject to double jeopardy.
· That there is no transcript of proceedings held before Judge Ollie Bivins, on May 23, 1977.
· That there is no voir dire transcript of proceedings held on July 5, 1977 (where Lewis was allegedly finally convicted).
· That there is no record of an appeal of right, or the appointment of appellate counsel, or an appellate brief or a Court of Appeals disposition.
· That there is a transcript in the file of a 1980 Pearson evidentiary hearing, but there is nothing in the file leading up to the Pearson evidentiary hearing. There is no record of any prior brief, motions, or court opinions that lead to the Pearson evidentiary hearing. And, there is no judicial resolution of the Pearson issues.
With regard to the Pearson hearing issue, state law dictates that such hearings, which supplement necessary evidence left out at trial, are to be held within 30 days after the request by the defense.
Atty. Rosemary Robinson successfully appealed Judge Edward Thomas’ original denial of the hearing, but Judge Thomas then removed her as attorney in the case. The hearing was still was not held until five months later, meaning Lewis’s case should have been dismissed in 1981.
But now Lewis, who arguably should have had his case dismissed twice while he was still a teen-ager, faces re-sentencing by Judge Lillard decades later, in the wake of a Michigan Supreme Court ruling in Hyatt/Skinner (2018), despite lack of proof of his original conviction and sentence.
Hyatt/Skinner said essentially that a judge does not have to find that the defendant is a “truly rare” and incorrigible juvenile, with less culpability than an adult, as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016). It says the sentencing judge does not have to cite any mitigating factors other than those considered by the jury at trial.
The re-sentencing of Lewis and his fellow 200 juvenile lifers was deliberately held up for the Michigan Supreme Court ruling, written by conservative Justice Stephen Markman. Judge Bridget McCormack, formerly of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, and Justice Richard Bernstein, issued a dissenting opinion. Both cases are awaiting certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court requested by the defense.
In her 2017 treatise, “Random if not ‘Rare’? The Eighth Amendment Weaknesses of Post-Miller Legislation,” Attorney Kimberly Thomas, of the University of Michigan Law Clinic, critiques state legislation across the U.S. that arose in response to the Miller and Montgomery rulings. She is the attorney of record for both Kenya Ali Hyatt and Tia Marie Mitchell Skinner.
“While state legislative responses to Miller have eliminated the automatic imposition of life without parole on juveniles, they have largely failed to provide for any guidance or limitations on the sentencer. In other words, it remains to be seen whether or not states will make life without parole ‘rare,’ as the sentencing laws established in its wake set up systems in which the sentence of life without parole could certainly be imposed arbitrarily and inconsistently.
She adds, “A look at the state legislation passed post-Miller suggests, when viewed against a backdrop of Eighth Amendment capital punishment law, that many of these statutes make a broader group of offenses eligible for LWOP for youth than for the death penalty for adults.
“Further, the legislation does not narrow the categories of youth eligible for LWOP or provide clear or objective limitations to reduce the potential for arbitrary or discriminatory imposition of LWOP, and does not provide for heightened appellate review or privileged access to appellate courts for youth sentenced to life without parole.”
Additionally, Lewis’ attorney Schulman has failed to respond to an inquiry from VOD regarding what experts are being hired in Lewis’ case, or even if and when a mitigation hearing will be held. One was originally scheduled for May 15, but has since been canceled by Judge Lillard.
In a Michigan Bar Journal article by Sofia Nelson, Justice Delayed? What’s Next for Michigan’s Juvenile Lifers, the author detailed the complexities involved in mitigation hearings.
“Because many of these cases are decades old, developing mitigating evidence is both challenging and labor intensive,” Nelson says. “The Michigan Supreme Court has highlighted the unique nature of Miller hearings and has recognized the need for adequate resources: ‘[J]uvenile defendants must be afforded the opportunity and the financial resources to present evidence of mitigating factors relevant to the offender and the offense, [and] psychological and other evaluations relevant to the youthfulness and maturity of the defendants must be allowed[.]
“The Court has repeatedly compared the imposition of life without parole on a juvenile to the death penalty. . . In addition to time, these cases will cost money. As the Michigan Supreme Court made clear in People v Kennedy, due process requires the appointment of experts at the government’s expense for indigent criminal defendants when it is demonstrated that it is reasonably probable that the expert will be of assistance, and the denial of that assistance will render the proceedings fundamentally unfair.
“The Michigan Court of Appeals is currently considering a juvenile lifer case in which the defense asked for $42,650 for a mitigation specialist and the court approved only $2,500.
Concurring in the grant of leave to appeal, Judge Gleicher wrote: ‘The hearings for juvenile offenders seeking parole sentences involve complicated legal and factual issues, and potentially, volumes of legal, psychological, educational, vocational, and disciplinary information. The defendant and his counsel likely lack the skills and training to adequately evaluate and analyze this evidence. A meaningful hearing depends on meaningful input from experts. While $42,650 represents a considerable sum, it may be closer to being realistic than the $2,500 approved.
‘Necessary budgets will be case specific. For example, I have found Michigan trial court orders approving funding requests for more than $52,000 in one case, more than $15,000 for a mitigation investigation alone, and in excess of $15,000 for a single necessary expert.'”
Below are Michigan Supreme Court oral arguments held in the case of Harold Walker, which was before Judge Qiana Lillard at trial. Discussion relates to her shocking handling of his trial.
For documents cited in article, go to:
Prof. Kimberly Thomas’ article on weaknesses of JLWOP state legislation nationally:
Atty. Sonia Nelson’s Michigan Bar Journal article:
For previous story on Lewis’ adjourned Jan. 24 hearing, see:
Other related stories:
#TAKETHEKNEE! FRI. OCT. 6; FREE CHARLES LEWIS, INNOCENT, IN PRISON 41 YEARS; COURT FILES DESTROYED
SIXTH CIRCUIT ORDERS EVIDENTIARY HEARING INSTEAD OF NEW TRIAL IN DARRELL EWING’S 2010 MURDER CONVICTION
Hearing granted due to introduction of gang-related social media and internet research in jury deliberations
Panel calls new trial granted to Detroit killer cop Larry Nevers in similar jury deliberation issue an exception
Ewing: “I’m the ‘super- predator’ who has to go the extra mile, but either way it’s a win, win.”
Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway would hold hearing at trial level; allowed Facebook evidence at Joseph Weekley trial for death of Aiyana Jones, 7
By Diane Bukowski
February 13, 2019
Cincinnati, Ohio – A divided Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Feb. 5 that Detroiter Darrell Ewing, now 30, convicted in Dec. 2010 of the first-degree murder of J.B. Watson, must be granted an evidentiary hearing originally denied by the trial court.The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether Ewing’s jury was adversely influenced by gang-related social media and other internet research two members introduced into the deliberations.
See full ruling including dissenting opinion at: http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Ewing-6th-CC-2-5-19.pdf
The Sixth Circuit reversed a Nov. 2017 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood granting Ewing a new trial instead, or that he be released within 90 days if the state did not act to do so. At issue was the length of time since the jury deliberations in 2010, and the balancing of state vs. federal authority in the case. The majority called a previous Sixth Circuit ruling ordering the release of Nevers an exception to the rule that an evidentiary hearing is the proper solution to extraneous influences on the jury
“. . .We reverse and remand to the district court with instructions to issue an amended order conditionally granting habeas relief unless the State takes steps to conduct a proper evidentiary hearing on Ewing’s claim of juror misconduct within a reasonable period set by the district court’s order,” wrote Judge John Rogers, joined by Judge Eugene Siler. “We leave it for the district court to determine whether the two additional claims presented in Ewing’s petition should be resolved before ordering relief on this claim.”
Judge Page Hood had declared moot two other issues raised by Ewing. They were detailed confessions by Tyree Washington to the murder, and allegedly improper jury instructions by the trial judge. The jury had told the court it was deadlocked but was told to go back and continue deliberations. Judge Page Hood said it was evident that the extrinsic information brought into jury deliberations, which included citations from Facebook and from internet research on gang “pecking orders,” likely broke the deadlock and resulted in a guilty verdict days later.
See Judge Page Hood’s ruling at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Darrell-Ewing-habeas-corpus-grant.pdf.
“We are in a great position where victory is certain, as the truth is the truth all day long, and a hearing is what we been asking for from the gate,” Ewing said in a JPay email to VOD. “The crazy thing is the Sixth Circuit was supposed to uphold Judge Hood’s ruling completely, ordering a new trial under the clearly established precedent of Nevers v. Killinger, [one of two Detroit police officers who beat Detroiter Malice Green to death in 1992].
Ewing continued, “But [the Sixth Circuit] candidly said, ‘They were one, either outliers who skated by or two, an exception to the rule.’ The only exception is that they [Larry Nevers and Walter Budzyn] were officers of the court, [who] they got through and saved, as opposed to me. I’m the ‘super- predator’ or deplorable one who has to go the extra mile,but either way it’s a win, win.”
The Sixth Circuit Court ordered the release of Larry Nevers based in part on extraneous information provided to the sequestered jury by the prosecution, including the showing of the movie “X” on the life of Malcolm X to them. The movie begins with a depiction of the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, also in 1992.
In Nevers v. Killinger, the Sixth Circuit Court delineated the extraneous influences on the the jury:
(1) the jury’s exposure to the film Malcolm X, (2) the jury’s exposure to information that the City of Detroit was bracing for a riot, specifically, mobilization of the National Guard and the closing of freeways, in the event of an acquittal, and (3) the jurors consideration of extrinsic evidence regarding Petitioner’s prior participation in the police unit STRESS, even though there was no evidence concerning this produced at trial. People v. Budzyn, 456 Mich. 77, 90, 566 N.W.2d 229, 235 (1997).
See full Nevers v. Killinger ruling at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Nevers-v-Killinger.pdf.
The Sixth Circuit ordered Nevers’ release in this opinion. He and Budzyn were later convicted of involuntary manslaughter in new trials, instead of second-degree murder, the original charge brought by the Wayne County Prosecutor.
The State of Michigan agreed at Ewing’s trial level that an evidentiary hearing would be an appropriate resolution of the jury misconduct issue, but trial Judge Carole Youngblood held that such a hearing was not necessary because the information the jury discussed had already been presented at trial.
The Sixth Circuit noted that an affidavit juror Karen Byrnes provided post-trial, “states that the jury learned of and discussed outside information about the defendant, the murder victim, and the activities and internal power-dynamics of gangs. Such information had a clear potential for tainting the jury.” (See affidavit at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Byrnes-affidavit.compressed-2.pdf )
Dissenting Sixth Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore strongly disagreed with the majority, upholding Judge Hood’s ruling that Ewing should be granted a new trial because of the jury issue.
“This is a case about a district court’s discretion to fashion an equitable remedy,” Judge Moore wrote. “The facts are not complicated: Michigan violated Ewing’s due process rights when it denied him a Remmer [evidentiary] hearing. As to this all agree. The only question that remains is whether the district court’s chosen remedy—a new trial—was proper. The standard of review is abuse of discretion. The district court’s chosen remedy was within its discretion, and so I respectfully dissent.”
She wrote later, “In this case, the district court decided that what law and justice required was a new trial. This is not beyond the pale, nor is it an unnecessary intrusion on state sovereignty. Due process requires a “sound” and “adequate” hearing, and it is entirely appropriate for the district court to have concluded that an evidentiary hearing on highly fact-specific issues conducted seven years later would have been neither sound nor adequate—assuming the necessary parties were available at all.”
Defense Attorney Phillip Comorski, who along with Attorney Byron Pitts appealed Ewing’s case to the U.S. District Court, agreed with Judge Moore’s assessment.
“It would have been better to hold a new trial,” Comorski told VOD. “How in the world can we gather all 12 jurors back together after nine years and expect them to remember what exactly happened during deliberations? In addition to memory issues with the jurors, there is the problem with locating them, and whether they are all still alive.”
He added that the hearing would be about how what the two jurors did affected the entire jury, “the point being even if it had an effect on one juror, that cuts into whether a proper unanimous verdict was given.”
Ewing’s attorneys had hoped former state Attorney General Bill Schuette would not appeal Judge Page Hood’s decision to the Sixth Circuit, but he did so. Schuette was defeated in the 2018 election by Democratic candidate Dana Nessel.
Comorski said he estimates the case will go back to Judge Page Hood in about 30 days. From there, he said, it would be referred to the state trial level for the evidentiary hearing.
Judge Carole Youngblood died unexpectedly of an aneurysm after the trial and post-conviction hearings were held. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway was appointed to take her place.
Judge Gray-Hathaway may have a conflict in handling Ewing’s case. She allowed the defense to introduce Facebook evidence in the trial of Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley, accused of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Aiyana Jones, 7, during a horrific 2011 Special Response Team raid on her home.
That Facebook evidence included undated, unsourced and unrelated Facebook photos of some of Aiyana’s older relatives allegedly brandishing guns and giving gang signs. The defense even contemplated introducing a Facebook photo of Aiyana and her two little brothers giving alleged “gang signs” which signified only “east side,” as opposed to “west side.”
Although Prosecutor Robert Moran objected out of the presence of the jury, Judge Gray Hathaway allowed defense attorney Steve Fishman not only to introduce the photos, but to distribute them to the jurors for their direct viewing.
Weekley walked free after Judge Gray Hathaway granted three mis-trials.
DPD Chief Craig has not released name of homeowner, claims department is investigating evidence found
Discovery recalls previous revelations about the existence of DPD “miscellaneous files” with evidence kept from prosecution, defense
Detroit Police Commissioner for District #7 William Davis to raise the issue at next Commission meeting Thurs. Feb. 14 @6:30 pm at 15491 Maddelein
“In my experience, given the many years I was with the department, certain homicide officers screw around with evidence; it’s more of a pattern and practice.” — Atty. David A. Robinson
By Diane Bukowski
February 11, 2019
DETROIT – Detroit Police Department Chief James Craig has announced that the department will launch an investigation into the Feb. 7 discovery of a locker full of evidence from old homicide cases, in the home of a retired DPD homicide detective.
He has not released the detective’s name, but research by VOD shows it is likely that he is retired Detroit police officer Olie McMillian, Jr.
“They were evicting him, and the moving company and bailiff were tossing items away when they came across a locker with evidence in it,” Craig told the Detroit News. “The evidence was still sealed or boxed up. They notified us, and it appears to be evidence from old homicide cases.”
DPD described the homeowner as a detective who spent six years in the homicide division until 2009, then retired in 2012. Since he left the homicide division in 2009, the files are likely at least 10 years old.
VOD research of property tax and deed records, along with social media, shows the home in question, at 9159 Northlawn, belonged to Olie McMillion, Jr. He is identified as a retired Detroit police officer on “Linked In” and in a YouTube video done by the Police Athletic League. VOD has asked the Department to confirm or deny if this is the case, and is filing a Freedom of Information Act request for all information contained in the locker full of evidence.
Detroit Police Commissioner for District #7 William Davis said he will raise the issue at the next Board of Police Commissioners meeting Feb. 14, 2019 at 6:30 PM at 15491 Maddelein, Detroit, north of E. Seven Mile Rd, east of Hayes St. (See map below.)
Attorney David A. Robinson is a former Detroit police officer who has been an attorney for decades, specializing in police brutality cases among other matters. He is currently a member of the National Police Accountability Project.
“I fail to reconcile first of all why department evidence related to a crime would be in the personal possession of any officer,” Atty. Robinson told VOD. “That breaks the chain of custody and compromises the case of whoever is being investigated. You have to question the officer’s motive. It goes beyond sloppiness since officers certainly are trained in the significance of the integrity of evidence. And it begs the question of motive. There have been many cases where Brady violations have occurred where officers have hidden evidence in favor of a suspect’s claim of innocence.”
Robinson said he wouldn’t want to say it is necessarily an isolated incident.
“In my experience, given the many years I was with the department, certain homicide officers screw around with evidence; it’s more of a pattern and practice,” he said. “I think perhaps this officer may simply have been following what had been a long established way to operate in homicide to make cases.”
Robinson represented noted exoneree Eddie Joe Lloyd in a civil suit against the City and the DPD. Lloyd was framed up for the rape and murder of a Detroit teen by officers who knew his propensity for confessing to anything, and fed him the facts of the case.
Atty. Barry Scheck of New York City and the original Innocence Clinic investigated his case and won his exoneration in 2002, after Lloyd had spent 17 years in prison.
“An example of these blatantly unconstitutional customs, policies, patterns and practices is that in murder investigations, poticc officers kept as a matter of course, separate files containing exculpatory evidence, labeled ‘miscellaneous files,’ for the specific purpose of concealing exculpatory evidence from the prosecutors and the suspects,” Robinson wrote in the civil suit.
Lloyd died before it was resolved, but his family members received a settlement of around $4 million, said Robinson. See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Eddie-Jo-Lloyd-filing-by-David-Robinson.pdf.
Earlier, in 1996, Attorney Sarah E. Hunter, representing defendant Dwight Love described her 1994 meeting with an FBI agent and Ritchie Harrsion, a Detroit police officer on leave. During the meeting the three discussed the widespread use of “miscellaneous files,” and the deliberate frame-ups of suspects by officers including Police Commander Gerald Stewart. (See affidavit at https://truthout.org/wp-content/uploads/legacy/documents/Sarah.Hunter.Affidavit.pdf .)
More recently, many witnesses testified during a 2004 federal trial about the “Ramparts”-style frame-ups of southwest Detroit residents by a group of 18 Detroit officers led by William “Robocop” Melendez, involved later as an Inkster cop in nearly beating motorist Floyd Dent to death.
Despite the unprecedented testimony of 17 Black Detroit officers against Robocop’s crew, they were acquitted. The jury evidently responded to aspersions by Melendez’ defense attorney David Lee against those who were victimized.
Later, in 2006, cops known as “The Booty Boys,” Michael Osman and Michael Parish, were accused by numerous southwest side male residents of rape—public anal cavity searches. Those who did not comply such as Byron Ogletree were framed up by the two, but after extensive publicity about the rapes, judges threw out charges against many.
And so, evidently, the beat goes on.
February 6, 2019 at 1:25 pm
DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A 10-year-old boy who took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at Monday’s city council meeting in Durham, North Carolina, apparently won over the mayor. But not everybody was happy about it.
Liam Holmes dropped down on his knee at the start of Monday night’s meeting. Holmes is part of Cub Scout Pack 451, which was invited to lead the pledge.
“What I did was took a knee against racial discrimination, which is basically when people are mean to other people of different colors,” he told told WNCN.
His dad, Scott Holmes, said he talked to Liam about it beforehand, but he wasn’t sure if he’d follow through.
“When he did it I was really surprised and also really proud of him,” Holmes said.
“No one saw it except the people who were watching. And the mayor noticed and he thanked me,” Liam said.
“Thank you, councilman, and thank you, scouts. To the scout that expressed his conscience by kneeling, we will say we endorse and appreciate all expressions of conscience in Durham City Council,” Mayor Steve Schewel said.
Not everyone shared that opinion.
“It just blew my mind that this was Cub Scouts and politics,” said Brandon LaRoque, a lifelong scout and veteran.
“Part of the scout oath is to God and your country, and I understand people have the right to freedom of speech. I just don’t understand why it has to be during the Pledge of Allegiance,” LaRoque said.
Liam was asked what he’d say to people who didn’t approve of what he did.
“Well, those people just don’t listen,” he said.
Liam says he plans to take a knee again in the future, hoping that people will eventually listen and be a little nicer to one another.
#TAKETHEKNEE! FRI. OCT. 6; FREE CHARLES LEWIS, INNOCENT, IN PRISON 41 YEARS; COURT FILES DESTROYED
Prisoners in lock-down after heating system failed
As angry families gather in streets, prisoners bang on cell windows
Officials do not move population to available nearby heated jails
New York Today
Feb. 3, 2019
From the depths of a federal jail on the Brooklyn waterfront, the sound reverberates: a polyrhythmic pounding like a hailstorm on the roof of a shed.
It is the sound of hundreds of men in freezing cells at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, a jail that was virtually without electricity and largely without heat for over a week. With the jail on partial lockdown, inmates have been unable to use phones to call their loved ones, but their percussive banging could be clearly heard to those outside, and to the world beyond.
The inmates bang anything they can — shoes, their fists — against any surface they meet: the walls and windows and bars of the jail that holds them.
Sunday morning, when protesters unfurled a long paper banner across the street from the jail that said “You are heard you are loved,” the inmates banged their approval.
When Catana Yehudah, whose brother Jason Smith is serving a gun possession sentence at the jail, led a chant through a megaphone — “No heat, that’s torture” — the inmates banged louder.
Ms. Yehudah, 50, called for quiet. “Stop banging for one second!” she yelled. The barrage subsided.
“If there is no heat,” she shouted, “bang on the windows!”
The inmates, nearly invisible behind the windows, pounded louder and louder, the fusillade filling the wide empty street.
Around 6:30 p.m., electricity was restored. But problms with the heating system, which are unrelated to the electrical failure, remain, and while parts of the jail have heat, many cells do not.
Prisoners banging out complaints is nothing new, of course. Every old prison movie has a scene where the inmates drag their tin cups along the bars to make a ruckus.
At the Metropolitan Detention Center itself, there is a long tradition of loved ones down on the street shining flashlights up at the prisoners in greeting, and prisoners responding by making noise or waving their own reading lights.
Vincent McCrudden, a former inmate at the jail, recalled how excited prisoners got to see people down below.
“They’re freezing in there,” said Mr. McCrudden, 57. “They’re stuck with their cellies. So it’s nice — it’s incredible — for them to know people are out there.”
But the pounding has taken on a new resonance since Friday, when The Times revealed that most of the 1,600 inmates at the jail had been kept on lockdown in cells without electricity since a Jan. 27 electrical fire. When temperatures outside plummeted to 2 degrees, many cells were virtually without heat.
“The knocking is triggering, it has similarities to the sounds in slave ships, the sounds of solitary confinement,” said Tamika Mallory, one of the organizers of the protests that have run continuously since Saturday. “The knocking is a symbol of distress and a cry for attention.”
Sunday afternoon, hours before the power was restored, the protests outside the jail grew unruly. A woman, Yvonne Morilla, 51, followed by other demonstrators, walked up to the door crying, “That’s my son! You got to let me go!” With that, the protesters entered the building and tried to bypass the security checkpoint.
They were stopped by a line of correction officers inside the building who drove them back with shoves and, apparently, pepper spray. One woman fled the building, waving her hand in front of her face and coughing.
There were no immediate reports of arrests. Lawyers from the federal defenders’ New York office said that the pepper spray seeped into the visiting room where they were waiting to speak with clients, forcing them to leave the building. Federal prison officials did not respond to questions about whether pepper spray was used.
There has been unrest inside the detention center, too. People were injured in an altercation at the jail on Sunday, said a person who had been briefed on the situation but not authorized to speak publicly. The Fire Department confirmed that three people were taken to hospitals with minor injuries, but did not release additional details.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called on the federal Department of Justice to determine whether conditions at the jail violated the inmates’ civil rights.
“No one in New York should live in fear that they may freeze to death alone in the dark,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “These allegations are a violation of human decency and dignity. They also raise questions of potential violations of law.”
Federal Bureau of Prisons officials are due in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday for a hearing ordered by Judge Analisa Torres in response to what she called “disturbing living conditions.”
As protesters massed in front of the jail Sunday afternoon, a paper airplane fluttered down from the third floor and landed on the sidewalk.
There was a handwritten message on it: “Call my family tell my wife I’m O.K.,” with a telephone number.
After the power was restored, the inmates had one more way to signal their families outside. They flicked the lights on and off in their cells, as cheers erupted down below.
Lynette Griem got a call from her jailed husband, Tyquan Griem, about 10 minutes after the lights started to flutter.
“They just turned the lights back on. Everything is back on,” he said on speaker phone, which was held close to the megaphone for the crowd to hear. “You all did your job. I’ve got to thank you for real.”
His 2-year-old daughter, Malaya, perked up at the sound of her father’s voice echoing through the street.
“It feels amazing to hear his voice, to know he’s actually O.K., that he’s all right now,” Ms. Griem said.
Judge Torres transcript: ‘I Said The Man Is Suicidal. They Took It As A Joke’
Following yesterday’s evidentiary hearing on the “humanitarian crisis” at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center, Judge Analisa Torres visited the Sunset Park facility along with public defenders, jail officials, and state Attorney General Letitia James. Torres, a federal judge presiding over one of several cases related to the conditions at MDC, spent several hours inside, but gave no public indication about what she’d seen during the visit. Later in the evening, the judge denied requests to transfer two detainees, and declined to make a ruling on whether a special master should be appointed to investigate the troubled jail, punting that to another case.
But a transcript of the visit published on Wednesday offers a disturbing look at life inside MDC, and suggests that mistreatment of detainees goes far beyond the recent electrical issues. While heat and electricity did return to most units earlier this week, those who met with the judge described immense suffering inflicted by corrections officers, and an “incredible fear of retaliation” among anyone who spoke up.
According to the transcript, which was recorded by a stenographer and released by the court, several detainees told Judge Torres that they had medical problems that had been ignored by jail staff—in some cases, life-threatening issues that were exacerbated by the dark and freezing conditions they were forced to endure during last week’s bitter cold snap.
On the seventh floor, the judge described observing “abundant water” and “black, blotchy mold” on the ceiling of a jail cell. She spoke to the man incarcerated in that cell, relating that he was showing her “a very dingy yellowed blanket that is obviously water damaged” and also “his left arm that has a rash on it, and he says it’s from the water dripping.” Several others told Torres that they were not given adequate clothing or blankets during the heat outages, with one person saying it was like “sleeping under a waterfall.”
Another detainee said that he didn’t receive his medication for an entire week, causing him to pass out in his cell this past Sunday after attempting to call for help. He accused security officials of jamming the alert button, and purposefully ignoring his cries for assistance. “I still haven’t been seen yet,” he told the judge. “I am still in pain.”
(During the hearing earlier in the day, a medical technician at MDC, Rhonda Barnwell, had seemed to admit that the jail was failing to provide adequate health care to its 1,600-person population. She added, “If the media didn’t come, we’d still be in the same situation.”)
The judge also met with a detainee who said his cellmate experienced a mental breakdown during the heat outages. “He asked for attention because when the power was off the emergency buttons were not working,” the man said. “The officers were walking around only every hour or so. When we finally got the officers’ attention…I said the man is suicidal, and I think they took it as a joke.”
The man added that he “literally had to take the noose out of his cellmate’s hand [as] he was trying to kill himself.”
When the judge said that she was sorry to hear that, the man replied: “Thank you for being worried about us, ma’am, and treating us like human beings.”
A spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons did not respond to Gothamist’s request for comment. You can read the full transcript here.
The Department of Justice is requesting that the Inspector General “undertake a review of this matter to determine if BOP responded appropriately to the heat and electricity failures at MDC Brooklyn and to assess whether BOP has in place adequate contingency plans for such an incident.”
The statement continues, “The BOP will also conduct a thorough investigation of the infrastructure at the facility and review the emergency response and contingency planning for this type of incident. DOJ and BOP will continue to work to ensure that MDC Brooklyn meets all required standards.”
Glen Ford, BAR executive editor
January 31, 2019
Donald Trump is simply exercising an imperial mandate handed down to him by Obama, who put “humanitarian” lipstick on the white supremacist pig of American exceptionalism.
“The darker peoples of the world understand clearly that what is at stake is the sovereignty of nations and people’s right to self-determination.”
In transferring control of Venezuelan property and assets to opposition party leader Juan Guaidó, the United States has committed an act of war against that country, and marked Guaidó as a traitor and agent of a foreign aggressor. The U.S. State Department announced that certification to Venezuelan accounts and assets in the U.S. was transferred last Friday to Guaidó, a 35 year-old member of the national assembly who declared himself president during a street demonstration in Caracas.
Trump national security advisor John Bolton dared Venezuela to move against Washington’s chosen Quisling, warning there would be “serious consequences” if anyone attempted to “harm” Guaidó.
The Venezuelan Supreme Court has frozen Guaidó’s accounts and barred the politician from leaving the country during an investigation of his “serious crimes that threaten the constitutional order,” but he continues to speak and move around the capital city.
“Bolton dared Venezuela to move against Washington’s chosen Quisling.”
Supposedly at Guaidó’a request, the Bank of England refuses to allow Venezuela access to $1.3 billion in gold bullion , representing 15 percent of the nation’s foreign currency reserves.
The U.S. seized control of $7 billion in Venezuelan state oil company assets on Monday. The transfer to Juan Guaidó’s control applies to the country’s funds at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, but the State Department said Guaidó also has access to other Venezuelan accounts in the United States. Secretary of State Pompeo, acting as Guaidó’s spokesman, said $20 million in “humanitarian” aid would be distributed in Venezuela by Guaidó.
“The US government is not just behind the coup but is leading it,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. “First of all, it is interventionism to the highest degree. Secondly, it is arrogant, and, thirdly, it is artificial,” he said.
Below: Democracy Now’s interview with Minister Jorge Arreaza
“U.S ‘humanitarian’ intervention doctrine offers nearly identical rationales for both financial and military aggressions.”
The U.S. seizure and transfer of Venezuelan state assets to a handpicked poseur “president” is not “war by other means,” but an actual act of war. But Venezuela will not say so, because public acknowledgement of the crime would prompt the U.S. to escalate, militarily. Under President Obama, U.S “humanitarian” intervention doctrine offers nearly identical rationales for both financial and military aggressions by Washington. Sanctions can turn into war in an instant. Moreover, Obama redefined the meaning of war, for Washington’s purposes.
In rejecting congressional pressures to halt the bombing of Libya in 2011, Obama maintained that, not only did no state of war exist against that north African country, where perhaps 50,000 people had been killed in NATO air attacks, but there existed no state of “hostilities” that might trigger the War Powers Act, either, because no Americans had been killed. By Obama’s imperial decree, U.S. presidents were empowered to wage unlimited military actions against targeted nations, with no accountability to Congress or international institutions, as long as only foreigners die. War is whatever U.S. presidents say it is.
“’The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela,’ Gabbard tweeted.”
History will mark the year 2011 as the point at which U.S. imperialism effectively declared war against civilization and the very concept of a lawful global order. THAT is Obama’s awesome and awful legacy.
Donald Trump is simply exercising an imperial mandate handed down to him by the First Black President, who put “humanitarian” lipstick on the white supremacist pig of Manifest Destiny and American exceptionalism. Which is why most of the Democratic Party’s congressional piglets are oinking in favor of some form of aggression against Venezuela — with the exception of Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard , the only anti-war presidential candidate. “The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela,” Gabbard tweeted. “Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders—so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”
As Ajamu Baraka, of the Black Alliance for Peace, points out, it is no coincidence that all the nations siding with the U.S. at the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States are white former colonial European countries or white-led Latin American regimes in the so-called Lima Group. The darker peoples of the world understand clearly that what is at stake is the sovereignty of nations and people’s right to self-determination – principles that are anathema to U.S. imperialism.
“Militarized U.S. police forces enjoy impunity for the state-sanctioned execution of our people.”
“We categorically reject the arrogant and white supremacist assumption that the United States — itself a capitalist dictatorship — should arbitrarily take the liberty to presume leadership and rationalize its intervention into any nation by evoking a flimsy, laughable and ostensible argument that it is supporting democracy and/or human rights,” said the Black Alliance for Peace. BAP’s statement continues:
“Were it not for the abject hypocrisy exercised by the United States, the irony in the case of Venezuela would be more laughable than tragic. On the one hand, a nation that annually pretends to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., skirts over the many people’s understanding that he was murdered because of his opposition to U.S. state violence. That the United States would unleash a plan to subvert Venezuela — which would cost thousands of innocent lives — reminds us as Black people of the same methodology applied during the murderous and draconian tenure of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who unleashed the COINTELPRO program in U.S. Black communities. Militarized U.S. police forces, many of whom have received training from the Israeli state, enjoy impunity for the state-sanctioned execution of our people.”
BAP calls on “those principled individuals and organizations located at the center of empire to put aside your divisions, stop your collaboration with the rulers and live up to your responsibility to the people of the world who suffer at the hands of this mad, criminal state.”
“The weaponization of U.S.-controlled global financial structures has blurred the lines between military and financial attack.”
The United States imperial project aims to erase self-determination and national sovereignty from the human vocabulary, at home and abroad, and impose international corporate rule under U.S. military protection and coercion. The weaponization of U.S.-controlled global financial structures has blurred the lines between military and financial attack, as millions are sickened, killed or driven into desperate poverty or exile by U.S. economic sanctions.
Venezuela’s extreme crisis is primarily the result of unremitting U.S. meddling and subversion ever since the democratic election of Hugo Chavez and his socialist movement 20 years ago. Chavista governments were repeatedly returned to power under an elections process that former president Jimmy Carter called “the best in the world.” Venezuelan elections have been demonstrably more “free and fair” than those in the United States, where racial voter suppression is endemic and presidents have won office with a minority of the vote three times in the same period.
“U.S. imperialism is inseparable from white supremacy.”
The same forces that resist Black community control of police and schools in the United States seek to overthrow any government in the formerly colonized world – that is, non-white nations — that claims the right of self-determination and national sovereignty. U.S. imperialism is inseparable from white supremacy – which is why the United States has paid no domestic price for its role in the deaths of at least 20 million people since World War Two — six million in the Congo, alone. U.S. “liberals” and “progressives,” much like their counterparts in Europe, speak endlessly of democracy at home while supporting their War Party abroad.
Polls show that Venezuelans, despite the hardships they have endured over the past few years of economic crisis, overwhelmingly oppose both U.S. military and economic aggression. As reported by Ben Norton, of “Gray Zone ,” the local, nonpartisan polling firm Hinterlaces found that “86 percent of Venezuelans would disagree with international military intervention. And 81 percent oppose the US sanctions” against their country.
“U.S. ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives,’ much like their counterparts in Europe, speak endlessly of democracy at home while supporting their War Party abroad.”
Venezuela is a predominantly indigenous, Black and mixed race country, while the core opposition to the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro is white and upper class. Most of the nation’s media is owned by the white oligarchic opposition. Having never experienced a civil rights movement such as that in the United States, Venezuela’s white elite is unabashedly racist, and often displayed cartoons depicting Hugo Chavez, the wildly popular president of indigenous and African extraction, as a monkey. (See cover photo.) As Arlene Eisen wrote in Venezuelanalysis.com , five years ago:
“Racism is one of the main engines and expressions of the current counter-revolution. In Venezuela the revolutionary struggle to end white supremacy and for self-determination is slow, and complicated by white elites, backed by US imperialism, and by the denial of many that racism persists…. Traditionally anti-racist coalitions have ignored Venezuela. It is time we stand in solidarity with the majority of people in Venezuela and voice strong opposition to U.S.-sponsored coups or any intervention on the side of the counter-revolution.”
“The core opposition to the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro is white and upper class.”
Donald Trump has thrown the full weight of U.S. imperial power on the side of the counter-revolution, through a designated traitor who would hand the country over to U.S. corporations. The same U.S. media and politicians that scream hysterically about a Russian social media “Pearl Harbor” against U.S. “democracy” and call for Trump to be impeached forthwith, make common cause with their orange nemesis to crush the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people.
Black America used to recognize the inherent racism of U.S. military adventures in the “Third World,” understanding such aggressions as global expressions of the same white supremacy they experienced at home. By every measure, Black America was the most pro-peace and anti-war constituency in the nation. Then came Obama, whose Black presence in the White House caused a significant segment of Black people to identify with the imperial war machine and its crimes. Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office. How ya like the Empire now?
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at
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Sharon Cohen and Adam Geller, AP National Writers
Jan. 21, 2019
Locked up for life at 15, Norman Brown remains defined by the crime that put him behind bars.
Twenty-seven years ago, Brown joined a neighbor more than twice his age to rob a jewelry shop in Chesterfield, Missouri, and the man shot the owner to death. The shooter was executed. But state officials, bound by a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, pledged to give Brown an opportunity to get out – then rejected parole in a process a federal judge ruled recently must be overhauled.
Three years after the Supreme Court gave inmates like Brown a chance at freedom, the justice system is gaining speed in revisiting scores of cases. About 400 offenders originally sentenced to life without parole as juveniles have been released nationwide, and hundreds of others have been resentenced to shorter terms or made Norman Brown, Missouri juvenile lifer eligible for release by law.
But most remain behind bars as prosecutors and judges wrestle with difficult cases. Tensions have mounted and lawsuits have been filed in states like Missouri, while in 21 others, life-without-parole sentences are prohibited for those 17 and younger. About a third of those bans have been approved since 2016, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.
“The national trend is certainly one where states are moving away from these sentences, whether by legislation or through the courts,” said Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of the group. But “there are still some outliers that in many ways are refusing to comply with the court’s mandate.”
In Missouri, lawmakers decided the more than 100 inmates serving life for adolescent crimes would get a parole hearing after 25 years. But the state is in court because the parole board has denied release in 85 percent of cases it has heard and has yet to free anyone.
Parole hearings have been brief and focused on inmates’ crimes, with little, if any, attention on the circumstances preceding them or what offenders have done to rehabilitate themselves, a lawsuit filed by the MacArthur Justice Center alleges.
The board’s actions violate the constitutional requirement that inmates be provided a “realistic opportunity for release,” a federal judge determined in October, ordering changes. Missouri’s corrections agency and attorney general’s office declined comment. https://www.macarthurjustice.org/2018/10/13/federal-court-rules-missouri-parole-board-ignores-u-s-supreme-court-rulings-protecting-the-rights-of-youth-given-mandatory-life-sentences/
After Brown’s hearing in May 2017, the board cited his crime in denying parole. The state has since argued he is not yet eligible because he received consecutive sentences. Brown, now 42, said he hopes the board will eventually recognize his remorse, as well as his thousands of hours in restorative justice programs and work as a prison hospice caretaker and training rescue dogs.
In a telephone interview from Potosi Correctional Center, Brown recounted what he did that night in 1991.
“It’s shameful. … Because I’m an adult now, I know what it is to love your family,” he said. “I can definitely see where (opposition to release) comes from, and I think it omes from a place of pain.”
Florence Honickman’s husband, Stephen, was killed by Brown’s companion, and she vividly recalls the teen snatching a pendant off her neck as she lay bleeding from bullet wounds. She lives in Florida but returned to Missouri to oppose Brown’s parole.
“My family was turned upside down and inside out,” she said in an interview. “Do you really know deep down that this man – he’s a man now, not a child – has he really, really changed?”
The high court’s 2016 decision, one of four in recent years focused on the punishment of juveniles, hinged partly on research showing the brains of adolescents are slow to develop, making teen offenders likelier to act recklessly but capable of rehabilitation. The court said they must not be punished with the same severity and finality as adults, and that a life-without-parole sentence should be reserved for those inmates deemed beyond rehabilitation.
At the time, more than 2,000 inmates were serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences, most for murder convictions. And most cases were clustered in a few states.
In Pennsylvania, 399 of more than 500 juvenile lifers have been resentenced and 163 have been released, according to the Department of Corrections.
Bradley Bridge, of the Defenders Association of Philadelphia, said the last of that city’s 325 lifers could be resentenced this spring. Judges have recently rejected some negotiated sentences as too light. The last of their deliberations are complicated by the fact that many still awaiting resentencing have served less time and have less of a prison record to assess, or they have mental illnesses or a history of prison violations.
“The cases we have remaining are probably the toughest ones,” Bridge said
In Louisiana, after years of resistance by courts and prosecutors, the state is reconsidering the sentences of roughly 300 offenders. Through December, 45 had come before a parole committee, with 37 approved for release and 31 of those now out, according to the Board of Pardons and Parole.
Ivy Mathis was released in December after serving 26 years for killing a man during a home robbery. Mathis said that in prison she outgrew the rebelliousness of her teen years, worked in hospice care and got culinary training. She now works as a cook in two restaurants.
“I’m just thanking God, and I made up my mind, I will never return to prison. … I’m not taking this second chance for granted,” she said.
Henry Montgomery, whose case was at the center of the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling, has not been so lucky. Montgomery, 72, was denied parole last year. He was 16 when he killed a police officer who caught him skipping school. Montgomery, who worked in a prison silk screening shop and founded a boxing association for inmates, will be eligible for another hearing in February 2020.
“He’s stoic,” said Keith Nordyke, a lawyer with the Louisiana Parole Project. “You know one of the things that prison teaches you – 54 years of prison – is patience.”
Louisiana prosecutors are seeking new life sentences for 80 other inmates; the state recently approved $1.3 million for inmates’ defense.
In Michigan, where a case before the state Supreme Court delayed reconsideration of many cases, more than 140 inmates have been resentenced, and about half of them have been freed. But prosecutors are pursuing new life-without-parole sentences for about 200 others.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker has sought no-parole terms in about half of his 24 cases, and judges so far have agreed for four inmates – including Damon Jackson, 39, convicted in the death of his infant son. The boy was shaken, sexually abused and left blind and deaf before dying 2½ years later.
“We tried to take the worst of the worst, the most depraved ones,” Becker said.
In some cases, judges have rebuffed prosecutors’ bids for new life terms.
In another Kent County case, a judge recently resentenced inmates Chad Maleski and Joshua Rogers to 35 to 60 years, making them parole-eligible in about 17 years. Maleski and Rogers were 17 when they joined two others in abducting 66-year-old Willie Jones outside a Grand Rapids bowling alley. Jones was stuffed in the trunk of his car, repeatedly stabbed and left to die in a field. The judge cited Rogers’ remorse and participation in prison self-improvement programs and Maleski’s cooperation that led authorities to Jones’ body. Both men apologized.
James Jones, the victim’s nephew, had planned to speak harshly about Rogers at his resentencing. But after praying and hearing of the inmate’s progress, he offered forgiveness.
“Who knows what God has (in store) for this young man?” Jones said.While the Supreme Court’s decision has prompted change, the justices have shown little appetite for revisiting the issue of juvenile sentences, leaving unsettled what to do with the thousands of other former teen offenders who are legally entitled to parole but serving such lengthy terms they are unlikely to ever get out.dczx
In April, the court declined to hear the case of Missouri offender Bobby Bostic, who was 16 when he and a friend held up people delivering donated Christmas gifts to a poor St. Louis family. Bostic fired a shot that grazed one man. The teens also forced their way into a woman’s car and demanded cash at gunpoint. Bostic’s friend groped the victim before the two teens released her.
Bostic, who turned down a plea bargain, was sentenced to 241 years and won’t be eligible for parole until he turns 112. He unsuccessfully appealed his sentence to Missouri’s top court. And despite an earlier ruling banning life sentences for juveniles who did not kill, the high court declined to take the case.
“I’m not the victim,” said Bostic, 40, who dreams of publishing six nonfiction books and nine volumes of poetry if released. “But a teenager dying in prison, what lesson do you teach him? He’s got nothing to hope for.”
In Maryland, the American Civil Liberties Union alleges in a lawsuit the state’s parole system is unconstitutional because the release of juvenile offenders is rare and decided in secrecy. When the case was filed in 2016, no juvenile offender had been paroled for nonmedical reasons in two decades, said Sonia Kumar, an ACLU lawyer.
State law requires the governor to approve parole for any inmates sentenced to life. Gov. Larry Hogan has granted parole to three former juvenile offenders since taking office in 2015, all for medical reasons, and has granted clemency to two others.
Kumar argues there still is no meaningful opportunity for the state’s 200-300 juvenile lifers to get out, even if they have evidence of rehabilitation. She represents two inmates recommended for clemency in 2017 whose cases are still pending with the governor. Both have served more than 35 years, have almost perfect prison records and have taken education classes, held jobs and won praise from corrections officers. Hogan’s spokeswoman said these decisions require a “thorough deliberative process.”
Other governors have recently approved inmates’ release.
Before exiting office, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted clemency this month to Cyntoia Brown, who was 16 when she got life for fatally shooting a Nashville real estate agent after he picked her up and paid her for sex. Brown’s lawyers contended she was a sex trafficking victim who not only feared for her life but also lacked the mental capability to be culpable in the slaying because she was impaired by her mother’s alcohol use while she was in the womb.
Under Tennessee’s sentencing laws, Brown, now 30, would not have been eligible for parole until after serving 51 years – a mandate the governor said was “too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper granted clemency last month to Curtis Brooks, serving life for his role in a 1995 fatal carjacking at the age of 15. Brooks already has served about 24 years; if he’d been resentenced per the Supreme Court’s ruling, he would have faced at least six more before becoming eligible for parole.
Brooks was homeless when he met three boys and joined in a plan to steal a car in exchange for a place to stay, according to his former public defender, Hollynd Hoskins, who shepherded his clemency petition. Christopher Ramos, 24, was killed in the carjacking; Brooks was not the shooter.
Brooks’ release was championed by a juror who convicted him, the trial judge, the le ad detective in the case and his former elementary school teacher, who is now a Maryland legislator. He plans to work for her after his release in July. The victim’s family had opposed clemency, however, and Brooks said he would not presume to ask for their forgiveness.
“It’s not that I don’t want it. I don’t know if I am deserving,” he said in a phone interview from prison. “I want them to see in the way I live my life that I do understand the impact of what happened that night. … I want them hopefully one day to see the person I was, not the person I am.”
Editor’s note: The two Michigan juvenile lifers profiled below are among the 200 prisoners for whom county prosecutors recommended life without parole during their re-sentencings under U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Alabama. That is the highest number of in any state in the U.S.
By Ricardo Ferrell
January 22, 2019
Although some former prosecutors believe juvenile offenders should be allowed to prove rehabilitation, many current ones are not and have relentlessly pursued seeking the life without parole sentence again during resentencing hearings, despite many of the juveniles being able to show their rehabilitation.
In an article published in the Lansing State Journal, Peter Deegan and John O’Hair, former county prosecutors and circuit court judges, were quoted, “It makes sense that if a person who received an unconstitutional sentence as a teen can show they’ve been rehabilitated, they should have a chance at parole. As former prosecutors and judges ourselves, it’s hard to imagine that prosecutors would blithely seek to resentence more than a handful to life when the Supreme Court said those sentences were impermissible except for the “[rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.]”
Deegan and O’Hair were once presidents of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.
Juvenile Lifers Brian Grandion and John Loepke both have demonstrated for several years, even prior to the Miller v. Alabama ruling, their rehabilitations beyond dispute.
Brian Grandion, 40, sentenced at 17 years-old to life without parole out of Oakland County, is an unquestionably rehabilitated case. He received his GED with an average score of 48. He (Grandion) has worked as Classification Clerk for nearly 5 years. His current supervisor, J. Houck, Classification Director, states, “… He continues to ensure the Classification Office runs smoothly. Grandion is an asset to myself and the Classification Office.”
He successfully completed Grand Valley State University’s Inside Out Prison Exchange Program in the fall of 2015. A support letter written by Prof. Jackie Martin, Criminologist at GVSU stated, “Mr. Grandion did very well earning an A for the semester; his papers were both critical and introspective. It was clear that he dedicated more time than the average student to his assignments each week. In addition, he contributed frequently to discussion and was in general a pleasure to have in class. I very much hope that he will continue his higher education upon release should he be given the opportunity; I have no doubt that he would be successful in this endeavor.”
Grandion has completed a number of workshops offered by Montcalm Community College according to Prof. Glennes Page. He also completed training in the Prisoner Observation Aide Program, which uses carefully selected prisoners to help prevent at-risk prisoners from engaging in suicidal and/or self-injurious behavior.
He was handpicked by then Deputy Warden Dewayne Burton at the Thumb Correctional Facility to be involved with a mentoring program that got started with the help of former inmate Antonio Espree for youthful offenders. The program paired an adult prison staff member and a selected adult inmate with small groups of juvenile offenders to challenge the twisted thinking that led them to prison and often keeps them there.
All block reports from corrections officers on AM/PM shifts state Grandion is a good role model to have in the housing unit. He’s completed Thinking for Change, which works on cognitive behavior, with an impressive Discharge Summary Report. He has completed a plethora of self-help programs, which he took the initiative to enroll into without referrals.
Mr. Grandion has a passion for cooking, in 1994, prior to his incarceration he received Certification from Pontiac High School in the Specialized Food Technology Program.
In 2018, he participated in a rare experience with Montcalm Community College, where criminologist Glennes Page selected a handful of prisoners to grade papers of 25 students in her criminology class. He also submitted a paper on his perspective and insight, “When you talk About the Difficulties/Struggles of Incarceration,” which was graded by MCC students as part of the special project.
ARUS T. Marsh, his counselor, acknowledged Grandion’s many accomplishments and achievements, as well as how he conducts himself in the honor unit, where he’s been housed for nearly five years. Mr. Marsh states in part, “His unit/work/program evaluations have consistently shown him to be a hard worker, well behaved, and positive example for his fellow prisoners.”
Since Brian’s arrival into the MDOC he has shown an ability to redeem himself by actively engaging in every available rehabilitative program. He only has a total of four misconducts in his 25 years, all relatively of an non-serious nature, i.e., Out of Place, etc. He’s mentioned by several staff as an example and role model for other prisoners. Brian has worked hard toward his transformation and shown redemptive qualities.
If the question was asked whether or not he has demonstrated and/or proved by way of his actions and continuous involvement & participation in programs to be rehabilitated? I would lend an unequivocal yes. Grandion has a strong and supportive network of people willing and able to assist with his smooth reintegration back into society. There is an employment opportunity awaiting him and a suitable home placement.
John Loepke, 45, sentenced at 17 years-old to life without parole, out of Calhoun County, is another rehabilitated case. Shortly after coming to prison he successfully completed his GED in April 1993, with an average score of 52. Completed all vocational counseling requirements in Building Trades and received Certification in Custodial Maintenance Technology. All work evaluations from job assignments, photographer, store clerk, laundry and VPP tutor/peer mentor all yielded good to excellent. His current work assignment as peer mentor affords John the chance to help many prisoners in the VPP (Violent Prevention Program) utilize alternative cognitive tools in coping with their violent tendencies.
John received a congratulatory letter from former MDOC director William Overton commending him on his hard work and dedication in pursuing the Career Technical Education Program. He received several letters in appreciation in recognition of his participation in the Greyhound Dog Program for his achievement in training, care and love for his Greyhound from former Warden Carol Howes.
He was one of the handlers who had been in the dog program the longest and had proven to be an valuable asset to the dog program. He volunteered with the making of leather key chains, leash and collars so that the profits from the sales could go back into the running of their non-profit animal rescue organization. John, according to the dog program leader was the “go to guy” for new dog handlers that were seeking advice about their greyhounds. Letters in appreciation and gratitude for his participation in the dog program were also written by Warden Bonita Hoffner.
In a 2017 letter of support from former Warden Carol Howes on behalf of Mr. Loepke, she wrote, “John Loepke was one of the first prisoners classified to be a dog handler and he was instrumental in the program’s success. He often acted as a spokesman for the program. He interacted with staff, volunteers, the media, and was even featured in a promotional film by the Greyhound Foundation. I believe the success and expansion of the dog programs in Michigan is entirely due to these first prisoner handlers, including John, who were in the Greyhound Program.”
He is 20 years without a misconduct report, last infraction was in 1998. John is the type of example that fellow prisoners could charter their course toward rehabilitation after. Prof. Jackie Martin of Grand Valley State University wrote in a letter acknowledging John to be one of her better prepared students in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program.
He’s completed several Core programs, e.g., Thinking for Change; Substance Abuse Phase I; Violence Prevention Program. Mr. Loepke has also successfully completed a range of self-help programming: Cage Your Rage; Montcalm. Community College Workshops; Chance For Life. John was selected in 2014, for the Prisoner Observation Aide Program, which is part of his dual work assignment. He has done well in observing and preventing prisoners from self-harm.
Aside from his numerous participation in programming, John has continuously shown himself to be a role model that other prisoners can aspire to be like, because he’s demonstrated time-after-time his desire to do the right thing inclusive of a changed thought processes, which is geared toward an overall improvement in how he thinks, acts and behaves. Aaron Suganuma, who attributes much of his success to John’s advice, guidance and example during his short incarceration, said John also helped to change his outlook and perspective on life in general.
In his letter of support for John’s release he stated in part, “… I wasn’t used to healthy friendships – and hadn’t even attended family holidays in a few years. Deciding to let myself be friends with John was one of the luckiest chances that I’ve ever taken.
“I was at a crossroads in my life, where I hadn’t liked the life that I had been living but it was easy to dive deeper and deeper into it. Hanging out with John showed me how to survive in prison without getting into drugs, gambling, fights and all the other pitfalls that are the norm there. Further, he hung out with and introduced me to a lot of people who were on a similar path of ‘I used to get in trouble, but I found a different way to live.’
This wasn’t any kind of organized program but a subculture of people simply doing their time and trying to build a healthier community to live in-within the prison.”
He added, “One of the things that John mentioned when he asked me to write this letter is that, as much as he wants to come home, he understands his victim does not have an opportunity to grow and that it is important that her family feel served. He said that he has felt remorseful for many years and he wishes that there was an opportunity for a restorative justice-style dialogue with them.”
“It seems fitting that John has now taken on the role of an aide who spends time with suicidal inmates in order to help them emotionally deescalate,” says Suganuma, who now holds a master’s degree in Social Work with a specialty in mental illness and chemical dependency.