Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kids and Guns

The Universary of Michigan has a very informative site about kids and guns. I got to thinking after Weer'd's comment the other day when we were talking about the young Arizona shooter. Weer'd said the following:

"Add in a media frenzy over a VERY rare and unique story (That right there is the exception that proves Mike is barking up the wrong tree. How many children live in houses with guns? How many crimes of this sort do we see? Did THIS crime even occor??)"

Here's what the University of Michigan posted, attributing the stats to the National Safety Council.

  • In 1999, 3,385 kids ages 0-19 years were killed with a gun. This includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries.
  • This is equivalent to about 9 deaths per day, a figure commonly used by journalists.
  • The 3,385 firearms-related deaths for age group 0-19 years breaks down to:
    • 214 unintentional
    • 1,078 suicides
    • 1,990 homicides
    • 83 for which the intent could not be determined
    • 20 due to legal intervention
  • Of the total firearms-related deaths:
    • 73 were of children under five years old
    • 416 were children 5-14 years old
    • 2,896 were 15-19 years old
I appreciated their transparency in categorizing the tragic figures by age bracket. I guess they agree with Bob S., who pointed out recently that the older teenagers should be considered in a different way from the younger kids.

The questions arise, in Weer'd's words, "How many children live in houses with guns? How many crimes of this sort do we see?" I suppose his point is there are millions of households with kids and guns and only about 500 deaths a year. Did I hear that right: "ONLY about 500 deaths a year?" That's not counting the 15 to 19 year-olds because they're presumed to be gang members and druggies. But the truth is at least some of them should be counted with the "children."

My opinion is, I don't care how many households there are with guns and kids, for me that 500 is way too many. How about you?

The next question to arise is, obviously, what can be done about this. I've heard the incredible advice that one should teach the kids to be gun-proof and then one wouldn't have to worry. Here's what the article says about that.

What if I've taught my kids not to touch a gun if they find one?
A number of studies [9], [10], [11], [12], suggest that even kids who are trained not to touch guns can't resist, and that parents have unrealistic expectations about their kids' behavior around guns.

Where does that leave us? We could follow the oft-proffered advice to gun owners, repeated several times in this article. Guns should be kept locked and stored separately from the ammunition. Now, even I can see that's not going to work. There's no point in having the damn gun in the first place if you do that.

I'm sorry to report that we're left with only one solution:

How can I keep my child safe from gun injury?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best way to keep your child or teen safe from gun injury or death, is to never have a gun in your home, especially not a handgun.

What's your opinion? Do you think the University of Michigan has an agenda other than children's safety in preparing an article like this? What about the National Safety Council, are they biased against guns and therefore "cooking" the numbers? Do you think the American Academy of Pediartics is up to no good here?

Please leave a comment.

George Carlin on Toy Guns

George Carlin Predicts the Future

Friday, February 20, 2009

Montana Trying to Abolish the Death Penalty.

I saw this report today on Talk Left.

From the New West Politics site we have the following wonderful news.
With a 27 to 23 vote, Montana State senators on Tuesday approved a bill that would abolish capital punishment. Montana is one of 36 states that currently has the death penalty and bill sponsor, Democrat Dave Wanzenried of Missoula, hopes that will change. His bill would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

For me that's a little too close for comfort. The bill, sponsored by the Democrats and opposed by the Republicans, must pass another vote before heading to the House.

As reasons, Wanzenried cited the facts that keeping someone on death row is costly and cumbersome, with appeals of the sentence wearing on a victim’s family. Why is it that no one seems to talk about the inherent contradiction in killing someone for killing someone? If the first act is wrong, how can it be addressed by the same kind of wrong? Is this too philosophical to sell to people?

Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the NACDP (National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty) posted a statement on Google News yesterday.

In her statement, Ms. Rust-Tierney mentions the oppressive costs as well as the awful prospect of executing an innocent person. She mentioned the stress caused on the victim's family, as did the Montana Senator. They both mentioned that with a life sentence without the possibility of parole, you have an immediate conclusion, or at least as soon as a trial can be undertaken, whereas with the death penalty you have nearly interminable appeals and decades of waiting for the final result.

I hadn't thought of that as a benefit. Do you think that would work? I don't. Aren't the surviving family members usually interested in vengeance, or as they often describe it, "justice?" A life sentence just wouldn't do it for them, regardless of how quickly it's delivered. The sad irony is that I don't believe the execution gives them satisfaction either.

Missing in the comments of Diann Rust-Tierney, in my opinion, is that elusive idea of the death penalty just being wrong, morally and ethically.

Someone who gets it exactly right is Aundre Herron. The following text accompanies the video on Youtube.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration held its first of three public hearings on California's broken death penalty on January 10, 2008. Representatives from California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty spoke at the hearing, including former prosecutor Aundre Herron. In this video, Herron describes her initial reactions to her brother's brutal murder, as well as why the death penalty does not help victims. To learn more about Aundre's story, and the stories of other victim survivors, visit:

What's your opinion? Is there something to that idea of giving the family members quicker results by abolishing the Death Penalty and finalizing the whole awful business with a speedy trial and a life sentence? Would that be less traumatic and stressful for them?

What about the cost? Often people say keeping someone in prison is too expensive, we should just execute them. But with our "broken" system, it actually costs more to bring a murderer to the point of execution. What do you think about that? Should we just fix the system to make it more expetitious and more cost-effective?

Or should be abolish the Death Penalty?

Security Guard Guillermo Zarabozo Guilty in Joe Cool Murder

The Miami Herald reports that the Hialeah security guard Guillermo Zarabozo was found guilty of murder in the Joe Cool case, which we've discussed before.
[The] one-time security guard, Miami-Dade police applicant, CIA wannabe -- didn't flinch as 16 guilty verdicts for four murders and other crimes on the high seas were read aloud in a federal courtroom Thursday.

The Hialeah High School grad -- his tearful mother, head bowed, seated a few rows behind him -- faces spending the rest of his life in prison for the 2007 fatal shootings of four Miami Beach charter boat crew members.

Zarabozo, 21, convicted of conspiracy, murder, hijacking, kidnapping, robbery and using a firearm in those crimes, will be sentenced May 6. Jurors deliberated for eight hours over two days in the retrial, reaching verdicts in lightning speed compared to the first trial in September, which ended with a hung jury and four guilty verdicts thrown out.

One of my theories is that at 19 years of age, Zarabozo was duped by the older Kirby Archer into participating in the ill-fated Joe Cool adventure. All that talk of clandestine operations in Cuba and whatever else might have been promised would have been enough to spin the head of any young CIA wannabe. I felt leniency for young Guillermo was in order, but the jury disagreed.

One thing I would like to make clear, lest anyone think I'm obsessed with idea of gun availability, that guns are the problem, and all that. In this case we've got the kind of premeditation that does not rely on gun availability. Guys like these, or at least Archer, would be able to commit murder even if guns were diminished by 90%.

What this story does illustrate however is how a lawful gun owner, one licensed as a security guard to carry a weapon, can go bad. This is the second type of "flow," the first being of weapons, this one being of people. How rare is it, is the only question.

What's your opinion? Do you think Zarabozo ended up killing two of the victims himself? Do you think he received a proper conviction? What sentence do you predict on May 6th?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Arizona Boy Pleads Guilty

CNN ran the story today of what may be the final twist in this bizarre case.
A 9-year-old Arizona boy charged with fatally shooting his father and another man pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of negligent homicide under terms of a plea agreement that does not specify jail time but places him on "intensive probation."

The boy, who was 8 when the deaths took place in November, entered the plea in an Apache County (Arizona) Superior Court hearing. In exchange for the plea, two counts of murder were dropped.

When we discussed this case before, one of the main points everyone agreed upon was that the police and prosecutors didn't do right by the boy. We also thoroughly covered the question of what age a person must be in order to be held responsible for their actions, but on that we came up with quite varying ideas.

Here's a video which aired on local TV a while back. It certainly illustrates the twists and turns this case has taken.

What we haven't mentioned in reference to this shooting, I suppose because there were so many other fascinating elements, is the availability of the gun he used and how that might have played a part. The old argument about the gun just being another tool and if someone really wants to kill, they can find a way to do it, for me is total nonsense. Perhaps "total" is too strong. It's nonsense though, and for the simple reason that most murders are not like that at all. Even in cases were there is some degree of premeditation, the extreme efficacy of a gun as a killing "tool" often makes the difference. The old argument that the killer will always find a way to kill only works in those rare cases, percentage-wise, in which the killer is clearly determined to do the deed. In most cases, there are swirling emotions, mixed feelings, second thoughts. In some cases, it's a completely spur-of-the-moment act. In all of these the availability of the gun is critical.

When this 8-year-old boy decided to put an end to the spankings, or to lash out at his dad for some other reason, if there had been no gun around, if he had not been raised in a gun-saturated environment, everyone would be alive today, perhaps receiving the psychological help they need.

Instead we've got this mess. There's your gun culture.

On the other hand, maybe he didn't even do it, as S suggests.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Toledo's Bible Reading Kidnapper

I saw this bizarre story on the Alan Colmes' Liberaland site.

Here's the story from the Toledo Blade.
A 34-year-old man accused of holding a woman captive in his West Toledo apartment for three days and reading Bible passages to her will be arraigned Tuesday in Toledo Municipal Court.

Troy Brisport of 4127 Secor Rd., Apt. 105 was charged with kidnapping and felonious assault, police said. He was being held without bond Monday night in the Lucas County jail.

The victim's name is Shykea Boykin, 22 years old. The story goes that Brisport picked her up in Detroit, she had no place to go, fell asleep in his car and ended up in his Toledo apartment. There's got to be more to it, but even as it is, the story contains some of our favorite elements, bible reading and Toledo Ohio. The only things missing are the gun and a concealed carry permit.

What do you think about this guy? Is he just like the fundie folks we know and love but just a little bit further along the spectrum? Or is this simply an extension of that preachy approach some fundamentalists seem to have little control over.

Or is it Toledo?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Wrongly Convicted Joshua Kezer Gets Out

In Jefferson City MO, the dramatic events leading up to the release of Joshua Kezer have come to fruition. The Miami Herald carried the story.
A man who spent half of his life in prison for a 1992 slaying was freed Wednesday after a judge ruled that he was wrongly convicted and had to be retried or released.

Joshua Kezer, 34, left the Jefferson City Correctional Center on Wednesday afternoon when Scott County prosecutor Paul Boyd said he would not seek a new trial.

The victim was Angela Mischelle Lawless, a 19-year-old nursing student at Southeast Missouri State University. Kezer was 17 at the time, and apparently a gang member with a bad reputation. His conviction was partly based on testimony of another suspect in Lawless' death who said he saw Kezer at a nearby convenience store on the night of the killing.
But Mark Abbott, who is serving a 20-year drug sentence in federal prison, gave conflicting testimony in police interviews and subsequent statements.

Three Cape Girardeau County jail inmates also claimed that Kezer had confessed to killing Lawless, but they later acknowledged lying in hopes of getting reduced sentences on their own charges.

In his ruling, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan criticized the special prosecutor who helped persuade a jury to convict Kezer of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of Lawless. Callahan ruled that special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof improperly withheld several key pieces of evidence from Kezer's defense attorneys.

On the Talk Left site there was an article posted about this case in December during the hearings that led up to yesterday's ruling. One of the comments was especially illuminating. It was by Jeralyn Merrit (here's her bio). What she shared with us is that Mr. Hulshof while working as prosecutor was no stranger to bending the rules a bit in order to get his man. This is not the first time he's had murder convictions reversed. When asked about that he said that he remained, "convinced that Joshua Kezer, a member of the violent Latin Kings gang, is guilty of this crime."

Even I can see the logic in this kind of thinking. A kid is in a gang, he's well known to other young thugs, he might have done the crime at hand and certainly has done others. For the good of society, and even for his own good, you get him off the streets. You do it any way you can. That's the way they think, isn't it?

Here's what Preaching to the Choir had to say about it. Including a quotable quote: "I think jailhouse informant testimony is worth less than my IRA."

What do you think about that? Is it good for society in the long run? Isn't this the same rationale some use for the death penalty? It's expedient, they say. Mistakes are kept to a minimum, and overall we're way ahead of the game.

I believe these attitudes which are quite prevalent among prosecutors, policemen and judges need to be changed. When they go too far like in the cases of Mr. Hulshof, they need to be prosecuted themselves. When a person lies or conceals the facts in order to achieve his goal, I say that's criminal, or it should be.

As far as motive goes, I think we'd be generous to presume that the ones who engage in this are all doing so for the good of society. In many cases I would imagine personal gain through career advancement is the true motive, which would make it all the worse.

What's your opinion. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Death Row Inmate Dies of Natural Causes

The Los Angeles Times published a story about the death row inmate who was able to avoid punishment long enough to die of old age.
The killer of a 12-year-old Orange County girl who has spent 22 years fighting execution has died on death row, escaping what the victim's father termed "the justice the world deserved."

Thomas Francis Edwards, 65, died of natural causes Saturday at San Quentin State Prison's medical facility, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported Monday.

Edwards was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 shooting of Vanessa Iberri in Cleveland National Forest, where the girl and a friend, Kelly Cartier, were on a camping trip with Iberri's mother. Cartier also was shot but survived.

It's not possible to read this story and not feel compassion for the father of the victim. I was struck once again by the way he seemed to become obsessed with the murderer, following the trials and appeals, waiting for "justice." I suppose that's a common way of dealing with the unimaginable grief that must be involved in something like this.

A fascinating aspect is the failure to find a motive. In the lengthier article that Carol J. Williams published last November, there are more details, including the fact that Edwards had "spent 14 years as an adolescent and young adult at a Maryland correctional facility for sociopaths."

The Times article describes the controversy surrounding California's Death Row at San Quentin. It is the largest in the country housing 677 inmates and is badly in need of an overhaul. All executions were halted because of a problem that isn't limited to them.
The state had called off the execution of San Quentin inmate Michael Morales 10 months earlier after questions were raised about whether some of those executed by the three-drug formula had been fully anesthetized by the first injection before receiving a paralyzing agent and finally a dose of potassium chloride that stops the heart.

What's your opinion? I know we discussed it before, but I still find it weird that they keep talking about these chemicals. Do these people not know what every junkie knows? If you shoot up a little too much heroin that is a little too pure, you die. What is the big deal with this three-chemical cocktail?

What's your opinion on the death penalty? In a case like this, a man who probably suffers from some form of mental illness, is execution our best option? What do you think?

What about the father of the victim? What do you think about his way of dealing with the grief? He was quoted as having mentioned "justice" several times. Did it sound like justice to you or more like vengeance? It said he "cheered that his only child's killer was now burning in hell with Satan." Is all of this consistent with the Christian philosophy? Where does forgiveness come into it? Isn't that the true message of the Bible?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The President of Ceasefire NJ vs. Evan Nappen

I discovered this fascinating video on Youtube, posted by a certain NJCSD. It contains a short debate which took place last summer on the show called Real Talk with Megan Vega.

I noticed the title, Anti-Gun Group Backpedles, and figured the poster was a gun supporter. The following written description accompanied the post. Notice only the gun-rights attorney is named, and actually lauded with the appellation "Noted." I thought that was downright shabby. Attorney Thomas Jardim is the President of Ceasefire NJ but was not named except by Megan Vega in the introductions. Do you think this kind of petty slighting of the competition is necessary? Why would people who feel they have the winning argument resort to tricks? Or could it have been just an oversight? Here's the text.

Noted gun rights attorney Evan Nappen debates anti-gun President of CeaseFire, extracting admission that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right, contraverting their long held position that gun onwership is reserved only for those serving in the Militia - seemingly the Armed Forces or law enforcement. Trust us, folks, they were wrong then, and they're wrong now. Everything they say is a lie and the bit about "gun violence" is intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Now, here's the video. Tell me which one seems shrill and hysterical? Which one stutters and stumbles for the right words? Which one interrupts and bullies?

More importantly, which one do you think is right about the laws in New Jersey? Are they about to be overturned as Nappan says?

Time Capsule Opened

The New York Times reports on a 100-year-old time capsule that was opened at the Paris Opera House recently.
On Dec. 24, 1907, a group of bewhiskered men gathered in the bowels of the Paris Opera to begin a project that by definition they could never see to fruition. First, 24 carefully wrapped wax records were placed inside two lead and iron containers. These were then sealed and locked in a small storage room with instructions that they should remain undisturbed for 100 years.

This fascinating musical experiment was undertaken by the Gramophone Company, ancestor to the modern-day musical giant EMI. The recordings have been digitized and will be released shortly on CD.
Most intriguing is the repertory chosen for posterity, and here the surprise is the lack of surprises. Wouldn’t any opera season today also offer evergreens by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini as well as by Bizet, Gounod, Wagner and Mozart? And won’t many concert programs this year include instrumental pieces by Beethoven and Chopin?

The great source of internet Truth, Wikipedia, has a wonderful article about time capsules. It seems the concept is quite ancient. In fact, says Wiki, "The Epic of Gilgamesh, among humanity's earliest literary works, begins with instructions on how to find a box of copper inside a foundation stone in the great walls of Uruk - in the box is Gilgamesh's tale, written on a lapis tablet. There were other time capsules 5,000 years ago as vaults of artifacts hidden inside the walls of Mesopotamian cities."

The best time capsule story I know of happened recently, at least it began recently. In the 1939 New York World's Fair, the Westinghouse Corporation buried a time capsule that is to be opened in 5,000 years. At the time of the 1965 World's Fair, they added another one.
This first modern time capsule was followed in 1965 by a second capsule at the same site, but 10 feet to the north of the original. Both capsules are buried 50 feet below Flushing Meadows Park, site of the Fair. Both the 1939 and 1965 Westinghouse Time Capsules are meant to be opened in 6939.

What do you think about this practice? Isn't it a fascinating concept? The stuff from 100 years ago is so antiquated, what would a 5,000 year time capsule seem like?

Is it too optimistic of the Westinghouse people?

Please leave a comment.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guns and Church

Tampa Bay Online has a report on the legal battle going on in Arkansas (H/T to Alan Colmes).

Under current Arkansas law, holders of concealed weapons permits can take their guns anywhere they want except bars and houses of worship. A bill in the state Senate would let churches decide for themselves whether weapons should be allowed.

"I believe it would disturb the sanctity and tranquility of church" said Pastor John Phillips, a bill opponent who was shot twice in the back as he finished a service 23 years ago. If a church opts out, "Do you want ushers to stop you at the door and frisk you?"

The bill's supporters say the issue isn't gun rights but a constitutionally protected right for churches to set their own rules. Opponents say worshippers should be allowed to pray without worrying whether the person next to them is armed.

Apparently, it was the state government at some time in the past that decided guns should not be allowed in churches. This is what's being disputed now and perhaps due to a few tragic incidents in churches over the past couple years, most churches seem to be in agreement.

How do you suppose it will work? The State law prohibiting guns in churches will be repealed and then it'll be up to the individual churches? What if a certain pastor announces that he doesn't want guns in his church, would the gun-carrying parishioners respect his wishes when the law and the Constitution and logic itself is on their side?

Is the country moving in the direction of more guns in more places, generally? Last year it was Harrold Texas that began allowing teachers to come to work armed. Do you think this is good for the country?

What's your opinion? Is Arkansas the only state that has a law like this? I've heard about guns being prohibited in the post office, but I didn't know the states sometimes also speak for the churches. Is this an anomaly in the state legislation that needs to be corrected?

Please leave a comment.

Prostitution Crackdown in Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Now site has an article about the crackdown on prostitution taking place in Vegas.

With little fanfare and no public announcement, Las Vegas Metro Police have launched a crackdown on repeat-offender prostitutes in the Strip resort corridor. So far 29 suspected prostitutes have been arrested and are being processed through the criminal justice system.

Metro says the economy is just one of the reasons it is launching this enforcement effort now. With tourism numbers down, the department says it wants to keep visitors from being victimized by crimes related to prostitution. That means cracking down on repeat offenders and making sure they get tough sentences.

"To keep visitors from being victimized by crimes related to prostitution." It seems to me it would be hard to come up with a more ridiculous story than that. The "crimes related to prostitution" mentioned in the article are basically stealing from the clients. I seriously doubt that happens very often. I would think the working girls in Vegas are happy to turn tricks and generally don't ask for trouble by ripping off the source of their income. So, if we rule that out, the question remains, what's really going on here?

Las Vegas has been known since the time of its inception as a type of sin city. Prostitution is actually legal in Nevada outside Clark County, which is where Las Vegas is. In the city of Vegas, gambling is encouraged of course, drinking too, prostitution is generally tolerated, although technically illegal. So, it's difficult to reconcile the nature of Las Vegas with this type of initiative on the part of the Metro Police. If it's some kind of moral crackdown, in a place where folks are encouraged to be morally uninhibited, it's just absurd.

It does bring up some interesting questions though. What about the clients? Are they not being targeted? If not, why not? In an encounter between client and prostitute, are both in the wrong? Is one more in the wrong than the other? Is neither? What's your opinion?

Working girls in Las Vegas are often women who come there because they think it's "a proper venue to make an easy buck," as the police spokesman said. As such, they would seem to be operating with autonomy and agency and calling their own shots, at least more than your typical teenage hooker in a Tijuana brothel, let's say. What do you think about that? Is it possible for a woman to work as a prostitute without being a victim of the system, economic or otherwise?

In the article I linked to there is an amazing "slide show." It consists of photographs; I suppose trendy new color mug shots, of the girls who were arrested in the sweep. The amazing thing is that under each picture there's the number of views, the same way Youtube shows you how popular videos are. Combined with the fact that there was no mention of the clients except as poor victims of being ripped off, this vulgar display of the arrested girls along with their popularity rating made it clear in what low esteem this article, and perhaps Las Vegas itself, holds these women. What's your opinion? Is there another take on that slide show that I missed?

Please leave a comment.

The Amazing New Internet

The New York Times reported on the work being undertaken in Stanford University to create a new internet. The article traces the history of internet viruses, cyber attacks and spam, many of which we're all too familiar with. One of the best examples of the problem was Conficker.
That was driven home late last year, when a malicious software program thought to have been unleashed by a criminal gang in Eastern Europe suddenly appeared after easily sidestepping the world’s best cyberdefenses. Known as Conficker, it quickly infected more than 12 million computers, ravaging everything from the computer system at a surgical ward in England to the computer networks of the French military.

Some experts believe that the internet, as we know it, is doomed to ever-increasing problems of this nature and the only solution is to scrap the whole thing and start anew. To me that sounds a little drastic. Yet, the possibility of millions of "captured" computers working in unison for some nefarious purpose is indeed daunting. What do you think?

The problem seems to be in the explosive growth of the internet. What started out as an academic and military research network has become the depot of the entire world’s communications and commerce. The invention and expansion of the internet, for me, is one of the true wonders of the modern world.

The proposed solutions don't sound too attractive. Basically, they sound like larger versions of the private intranet systems many businesses and organizations now use. These can be controlled and made secure, at least compared to the free-for-all that is the internet at large.

But, isn't that what we like about the internet? Isn't it that very openness that makes it so exciting? One time I wrote a post about Teah Wimberley, the teen shooter in Florida. We had a lively discussion going on when all of a sudden a comment came in from Lucille, a fellow student at Dillard High personally acquainted with the girls involved in the shooting. That's the internet.

Another time I wrote about a former evangelical minister who now works as an itinerant evolution apologist. His mane is Michael Dowd and he himself commented on the post, thanking me for what I had to say. Now, that's the internet.

I realize there's a lot more to it than the insignificant little moments I've described above; they're just personal examples of my own experience as a simple user. The point is, more than sharing photos with family and friends, or communicating by lightning-fast e-mail instead of old fashioned letters, it's the possibility of reaching out to strangers that makes the internet so much fun.

What's your opinion? Is it doomed to self-destruct in some kind of implosion? Do you think there'll be a virus one of these days that will bring the whole thing down?

The article talks about the future internet being a sort-of gated community to which you'd have to be a member. Does that sound inviting to you?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Charges Dropped Against Miami Defense Attorney

Another one of those pesky Amendments is the 6th.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

The Miami Herald reports on the dismissal of charges against a prominent Miami Attorney, Ben Kuehne. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke made this controversial ruling which has far-reaching ramifications for the 6th Amendment.

Kuehne, 54, was indicted earlier this year after vouching for a Colombian kingpin's legal payments to his defense attorney, Roy Black, in a major cocaine-trafficking case in 2001-03. The payments totaled $5.2 million.

Federal law makes it a crime for anyone to receive more than $10,000 from illegal activity such as drug trafficking. But Cooke ruled that a congressional exemption in the money-laundering statute for lawyers' legal fees applied to Kuehne, saying it was critical to a defendant's constitutional right to counsel.

What happened was, Roy Black, who is practically a household name in legal defense circles, was representing Ochoa, infamous narco-trafficker from Colombia. Black hired Kuehne to investigate the origin of the $5.2 million in legal fees from Ochoa. Kuehne was paid $200,000 for this service and reported the money clean. Ochoa was convicted and sentenced to 30 years, Kuehne was indicted for money laundering. Black, I suppose, received his fees and bought another yacht.

What does all this mean? We already knew that a poor black kid from Liberty City has very little chance of circumventing justice, but even guys like Ochoa go down. How's that work? I thought in America you can buy your way out of trouble like this?

What about Kuehne? He's no innocent. Even housewives in Des Moines know that the Ochoa family is in the cocaine business. How could that $5.2 million be considered clean? Is that a crime? Should it be a crime? Is limiting the amounts defense attorneys can easily receive to $10,000 an unfair restriction given the high legal fees?

What if Ochoa was found not guilty? That must happen sometimes, the top lawyers who receive huge legal fees, find ways to get their clients off the hook, clients who everyone knows are guilty. Would that make a difference? In a case like that, the drug kingpin gets off, the lawyers make money and the government wastes time and resources in a vain prosecution. Is that the price we pay to preserve that part of the 6th Amendment which promises counsel for the defense?

Do you think Judge Cooke made a good ruling in this case? Is this a case, as one commenter to the Miami herald article said, of rich judges protecting rich lawyers, and therefore a distortion of the true intent of the 6th Amendment?

What's your opinion?