Archive for January, 2011

31
Jan
11

day after night

Last night I was invited over to Val’s and his parents’ home for a wonderful German meal and movie night, and I must confess that I’m afraid I was a very dull guest. My day had started at 4:00 am, and by the time I arrived in time for supper I was ready for bed.

The film was Night on Earth, a 1991 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, an anthology of the stories of five cab drivers on one single night in five American and European cities. The film was tremendous, though I had to fight all the way through it to stay awake.

When I returned home, I went to bed and am happy to report that I got the best night’s sleep I’ve had in at least two weeks—although I’d be hard-pressed to prove it today based on how I feel. It is noon right now, I’ve been up for four hours, but am still trying to get the cobwebs out of my brain… so this is about the full extent of the post you’ll be getting today.

Before I left Val’s last night, Sigrid asked me how the chicken is doing (she died), and then scolded me for leaving too many story threads hanging on the blog. Okay, okay already.

So here are a few bits about recent loose ends before I sign off:

As I said before, the chicken died and her sisters immediately began picking on the next-lowest hen in the pecking order. Before the flock could draw blood, I moved this hen down to Alana’s chicken coop two nights ago, and I am still waiting to hear how her reception has been. Her brother—the “boy soprano” rooster we previously moved down there—is king of the roost and is always surrounded by his admiring flock.

Paul Henry was moved to the A-2 Unit at Pendleton, and on Saturday had his best day ever. His mom visited him yesterday and reports that he seems to be doing well. He told her he’d received 20 letters the other day from complete strangers who are wishing him well—and is still mystified by all the attention.

I asked Ron (profiled in my “Nincompoops” post) what it was about his history with she-who-must-not-be-named that caused him to make such a speedy retreat that day. He said there was nothing—he had just decided long ago to avoid any contact with this unpleasant woman and was doing a very good job of it.

Paul David is still living in Marathon, Lucy returned to Taiwan on the day of Jordan Brown’s hearing, and I’m enjoying my solitude here at Estrella Vista.

What am I leaving out? I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Like I said, I have cobwebs on the brain today.

Oh yeah, one more thing… January saw a lot of traffic to the Diary: over 10,000 visitors. Thanks, everyone!

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Louis Prima performing “Basin Street Blues / When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”

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30
Jan
11

informed judgment

There is a troubling picture emerging from my research into the story of how Kosciusko County Indiana judges, prosecutors, and probation officials engineered the outcome that 15-year-old Colt Lundy and 12-year-old Paul Henry Gingerich would be remanded to the adult court and corrections systems.

Indiana law says that children over the age of 10 can be charged, tried, and punished as adults for violent crimes—but it’s not automatic as in Pennsylvania; the justice system officials of a particular locality must decide to take this harsher line based on the factors involved in a particular crime.

Unfortunately, in the political calculus involved in such a decision it is easier to pander to the simplistic and wrongheaded notion that “if you do an adult crime, you deserve to serve adult time.” Waiver, decertification, or transfer of a child into the adult system based on the seriousness of a crime makes snappy headlines, but it is deeply flawed and counterproductive public policy. It’s important that we don’t confuse the seriousness of the crime with the maturity of a defendant. Just because a child commits a serious crime does not magically turn him into an adult.

The thing that’s troubling me is that big decisions affecting the lives of America’s children are being made on the basis of factual ignorance and flawed thinking, as happened so dramatically in Kosciusko County last April. One can see this in the media reports about Paul Henry’s perfunctory April 30, 2011 waiver hearing, which gave every appearance of judicial prejudice, where the following statements were made and reported:

Defense attorneys for both boys argued to Kosciusko Superior Court Judge Duane Huffer for more time to research those differences (between the brain development and culpability of children and adults) and what could have led to the shooting. But in supporting Lundy and Gingerich’s speedy waiver to adult court, Kosciusko County Prosecutor R. Steven Hearn said the nature and seriousness of what occurred demand expediency.

Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette, May 16, 2010

 (The) planning and the nature of the crime itself presented a clear reason to remove the boys from the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system and try them as adults, (Kosciusko County Deputy Prosecutor Dan) Hampton said.

Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette, April 30, 2010

Kosciusko County’s Chief Probation Officer, Ronald Babcock, testified that the boys would benefit more if charged as adults. He says if they were charged as juveniles then they could be released at age 18 and may not receive proper rehabilitation.

http://www.dreamindemon.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-33905.html, April 29, 2010

“Our laws do not afford an effective rehabilitation for a child charged with murder,” (Kosciusko Superior Court Judge Dwayne) Huffer said, granting the prosecution’s request (to waive Paul Henry into adult status).

Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette, April 30, 2010

It sounds like the Kosciusko choir was singing in harmony from the same hymnals, but they were holding their hymnals upside-down.

How do the judge, prosecutors, and probation officers get away with spouting such patent falsehoods, which are at total variance with recognized facts and mainstream expert opinion? How is it that the public allows them to keep their jobs and still hold public office?

The answer is that the public remained uninformed or misinformed through all the judicial proceedings. Yes, the media reported on the court proceedings as well as statements made on both sides, but claims were made and reported without reality checks. How in the absence of accessible, reliable, documented facts is the public to know if what Ronald Babcock or Judge Huffer said is true?

As we move forward on Paul Henry’s case, his website will provide links to a database of background information on all pertinent issues so that the media and public can begin checking the truth of what our “public servants” are saying and begin challenging the logic and efficacy of their decisions.

If such a database had been in place two years ago when the implausible claims about Jordan Brown began flying, it is possible an outraged public would not have allowed matters to go as far down the wrong path as they have by now.

Too many of our courts have gone political and, as instruments of political agendas, they are no longer delivering justice. It is my hope that we can force the courts to become more just by shining the light of truth on their proceedings.

Whether we can make a qualitative difference in the lives of children who get in serious trouble with the law remains to be seen. But we will give it our best effort and are organizing research volunteers right now to put a powerful public information resource in place to help kids like Jordan and Paul Henry.

Stay tuned.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Squeeze performing “The Truth”

29
Jan
11

poseurs

For the last couple days I have been working on website content for Paul Henry Gingerich’s site. It will serve as a touchstone for anyone who cares to learn about this child, his situation, and ways to support him by becoming involved in a network movement to liberate him from the clutches of the state and make it possible for Paul Henry to redeem his life.

This is a very intense exercise for me because it entails not only familiarizing myself with all of the particulars of his situation—the crime, his arrest and the police investigation, the various court hearings, the details of his incarceration—but also with the particulars of his life including his family, friends, interests, abilities, likes and dislikes, beliefs, personality, etc. It is a “total immersion” process, and I am only at the very beginning of it.

In time—if he allows it—I will know him as few other people do. If we can establish a necessary level of trust and openness, I will occupy a unique role in his life for which he probably has no precedent for immediate comprehension.

His parents and I are in the process of establishing a trust fund for him. It will stick to Paul Henry for the purpose of supporting him through every phase of the personal journey which commenced on the night of April 20th and possibly before. Whether he has needs related to the legal appeal of his court hearings and sentencing, his welfare and education while incarcerated, or his transition from prison to freedom and beyond, this trust fund will be there for him as long as he needs it. His parents and I will serve as co-trustees.

For me, this entails a personal commitment which is as permanent as entering into a marriage, adopting a child, or making a blood oath. No matter what may happen, I can now never abandon him. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health (to borrow a familiar phrase), I am committed ‘for the duration’ to giving the relationship the best I have in me.

It may seem strange, or reckless, or even suspicious, that one should be willing to make such a commitment to a total stranger. When Paul Henry’s mother told him about my involvement, she said he seemed mystified about why some unknown person from so far away should care enough to help.

The justification I offer myself is that I want to live in the kind of world where the kindness of strangers is a potent force. Maybe this is my way of changing the world—but I am no crusader. Yet I have never regretted becoming involved in the lives of Derek and Alex King or any of the other onetime strangers who are now a part of my life.

The only true explanation I can offer is that I am doing this in obedience to what I perceive as Divine Guidance. I do not have gaping holes in my life or psyche which I am attempting to fill by being a do-gooder, no pangs of conscience I am trying to assuage. I have always rolled my eyes at those late-night ads asking for $5 per month to help third-world waifs in return for a photo and periodic reports on a child’s welfare. The idea of it leaves me as cold as the idea of having hundreds of Facebook “friends.”

Speaking of such “friends,” this morning I was out on Paul Henry’s MySpace page researching his life, and I made a curious discovery. All his friends—even 12-year-old Chase Williams—list their ages as 18 or older. What is that about? They’re all poseurs, children pretending to be adults. It seems so ironic that Paul Henry’s childhood has been cut short by his involvement in an “adult crime” and the imposition by a bad judge of “adult time.” There’s probably a lesson there.

You’ve gotta be careful about what you wish for.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to the Glenn Miller Orchestra performing “Wishing (Will Make It So)”

28
Jan
11

girl groups, past & present

I’m jammed doing my youth justice advocacy work, and thought I’d share with you one of my favorite musical genres: the Girl Group Sound.

In the middle of the night last night, I heard that Gladys Horton, the lead singer of legendary girl group The Marvelettes died Wednesday in Sherman Oaks, CA from complications related to a stroke. Horton’s work with the fellow members of her group, including this smash hit “Too Many Fish In the Sea,” opened the door for other girl groups including The Ronettes and The Supremes.

Horton co-founded the group with other members of her Michigan glee club. Their original name was “The Casinyets,” which stood for “can’t sing yet.” Horton’s strong voice convinced Berry Gordy to sign The Marvelettes as Motown’s first all-girl group, which went on to have 23 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100.

 

I’ve been thinking of the “Girl Group” sound for days, ever since I discovered this new Denver-based husband/wife duo of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley who call themselves Tennis. I hope you’ll enjoy their hyper-pleasant, mid-tempo sound which is influenced in a big way by the sixties girl groups.

 

This is one of my all-time-favorite “Girl Group” sounds from the ‘90s: the Blake Babies featuring Juliana Hatfield. This cover of “Temptation Eyes” is sooo much better, in my opinion, than the Grass Roots’ original.

 

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Patti Smith performing “Baby It’s You”

 (I never get tired of this one!)

27
Jan
11

box of sand

Last night JC posted a comment to January 25th‘s “Oral Arguments” asking if there is a chance that Jordan Brown will be acquitted and the short answer is “Yes, eventually.”

But I emphasize “eventually.” The scandalous thing about this case is that there is, from Jordan’s perspective, no short answer. He has already spent 15% of his life in captivity, and his case has not even gone to trial. If this case drags out for another year, he will have spent more than 20% of his life in jail for something he didn’t do.

Now here is the really perverse thing: there is no incentive for the Neanderthal State to give Jordan a speedy trial. The longer the state can drag this out, the better it is for them—win or lose.

When Jordan was snatched out of his bed in the middle of the night and thrown into an adult jail, he was a little kid whose feet dangled above the floor when he sat in a chair. Now his feet touch the floor, and he’s forty pounds heavier. If the state can drag this out long enough, he’ll be shaving by the time he comes to trial. He won’t look so small and innocent. He will have been hardened by his contact with young criminals. He will just look more like someone who could have committed a crime, whether he really did or not.

Even if the state loses, it is better for some of the players if this happens in the distant future and not now or soon. Why? Because the Neanderthals have been pursuing their persecution of this child without any evidence that he committed these heinous murders.

All along the prosecutors have claimed there is “solid” or “strong” evidence that is the basis of their case against Jordan. But they have never shown us the evidence. They’ve only claimed they have it, and they have been making this claim up until the present day.

Example from an October 1, 2009 statement as reported in the media: “The prosecution argued that Brown had gunshot residue on his shoulder…” Do you know how much gunshot residue was found on the shoulder of his shirt? Only one particle where there should have been thousands! “…and that his youth shotgun—found in the boy’s bedroom—smelled as if it had been recently fired.” Well, yes, the shotgun had been fired the day before the murder and Jordan had not cleaned it. But the prosecution has never admitted that the shotgun was not, and could not have been, the murder weapon. The prosecution’s own “strong evidence” shows that the entry wound was too small for the cause of death to have been a shotgun blast. There were too few pellets recovered from Kenzie’s wound and from the crime scene for it to have been a shotgun death. A handgun loaded with a shotshell was the murder weapon. This is the only conclusion to be drawn from the physical evidence the state actually has.

If Jordan had used his shotgun as the police and prosecutors have claimed, he should have been covered from head to foot with gunpowder residue, as well as blood and brains—but he was not. Kenzie’s face should have been horribly disfigured, but it was not. A Houk family relative claimed to me that there had been postmortem facial reconstruction so there could have been an open-casket funeral, but I learned that this was a lie. The funeral director expressed surprise that no such reconstruction was necessary.

Much has been made by the prosecution of a supposed threat by Jordan to “pop” Kenzie and her daughters—a claim carefully examined by Kenzie herself and found not to have been credible. The source of this fantastic claim was a Houk family member who is a convicted felon and purported drug dealer. How much credence should be given to his story? According to Kenzie (who should surely have known better than any of us): “None.”

Another example from a February 23, 2009 media report: “The blue blanket, which has a quarter-sized hole that appeared to be singed from a shotgun blast, supports a claim that the crime was premeditated, Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo said. ‘The operating theory is that he covered the gun with the blanket to hide it when he came downstairs’ from his bedroom to shoot Houk, who was in a first-floor bedroom, Bongivengo said.” How much gunpowder residue—or blood and brains—did the state crime lab find on the blanket? None. The hole in the blanket proved to have been nothing more than an old cigarette burn.

And yet this same blue blanket appears prominently in a third late-night police interview of Jenessa Houk, Jordan’s 7-year-old stepsister who had given police two previous interviews earlier in the day which did not implicate Jordan in any way. The crime lab’s analysis of the blue blanket provides strong evidence that Janessa’s third interview was most likely coerced and manipulated by the police interviewer Trooper Janice Wilson, who has since retired from the state police.

The state has been lying all along about the strength of its evidence, and it is in the state’s interest that the evidence not be shown for what it is (or should I say “isn’t”?) until all the liars are retired and long gone and sipping Piña Coladas on some distant island beach.

This pattern of deception reminds me of a story I read long ago about El Cid, who left a heavy box as collateral with money lenders he tapped in order to pay his troops. The money lenders believed that the locked box contained gold, but when El Cid was long gone they discovered that the box was filled with sand.

Isn’t it time that we ask the state to open its box of evidence and show us what it does in fact contain? There have been enough lies and misrepresentations. A young child’s life is being wasted away to benefit the careers of dishonest adults.

Open the box now and let in the light!

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to the Broadway Cast of “Hair” performing “Let the Sunshine In”

26
Jan
11

heartbroken

For the past three days I have been keeping a vigil for our poor henpecked bird. She has not moved and is just barely alive. She is nearly motionless in her box, surrounded by food and water, the wounds on her lacerated back dressed with ointment. I have not seen her take any water or nourishment.

She seems to have lost all will to live. Her tormentors have broken her. It may seem strange to say, but at a deep level I have been imagining what it must be like for her to have been nearly pecked to death. The thing which has most impressed and saddened me is the relentlessness of her sisters’ attacks. I truly believe the poor bird is heartbroken.

It is against the background of this fowl drama that I have been following young Paul Henry’s travails at Pendleton, where he has been the target of numerous small torments from his so-called “peers.” I spent a chunk of the morning yesterday writing him a letter of encouragement that built on Derek’s advice (see January 20’s “Only the Strong Survive”).

Unlike the poor hen who seems to have abandoned all hope, Paul Henry seems to be rallying his strength and courage. His mother visited him last evening, and I am looking forward to receiving a report from her this morning. I am finding this quality of information is so helpful in intuiting what Paul Henry is experiencing and matching the most appropriate support and services to his current situation.

As an advocate, I have never before experienced so high a degree of cooperation from all of the people in such a child’s life (both past and present), and I am astonished at all the things we have been able to accomplish in less than three weeks. These new and improved working methods bode well not only for Paul Henry, but for many future kids as well.

Besides the bonds that have been created with his parents, the most important relationship is that which has been established with Paul Henry’s new lawyer Monica Foster. Most lawyers have an aversion to using public information as a strategic defense of their clients. They tend to avoid the media in a flawed attempt to limit the action to whatever happens in the courtroom. In a court of law, the lawyers have the illusion of control because they alone understand the arcane workings of the law. But as we have seen in Pennsylvania, this approach can have disastrous results. 

While Jordan’s defense attorneys remained clammed up, the prosecution had a heyday promulgating its sensational, half-baked theories to the media who lapped it up. Within days of Jordan Brown’s wrongful arrest and incarceration, the media had already crucified the kid and portrayed his alleged guilt as a certainty. And all along, the TV film crews had the spectacle of the Houk family’s shameless vengeance show which was actively abetted by the police and prosecution.

(And now, in a January 23rd article by Chris Togneri of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Nils Frederickson of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office has the gall to say:  “Our attorneys do not conduct interviews about cases that are actively being litigated. I understand that some parties may be attempting to try this case in the media, but that’s not appropriate for the Attorney General’s Office.” Give me a break and spare us the hypocrisy. Now that Amnesty International and other credible organizations are siding with Jordan and we’re finally getting more balanced news coverage, the prosecution’s old rules no longer apply? You can dish it out, but you sure can’t take it! It’s a sure sign the prosecution knows they’re losing ground and have brought international dishonor to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.)

Monica is a bird of an entirely different feather and we are enjoying working together.

If more of these cases involving children were honestly examined—yes, even tried—in the media, we would soon enough have fewer bad judges like Rex Reed, Duane Huffer, and Dominick Motto, and fewer prosecutors like Dan Hampton and John Bonjivengo, who seem more concerned with election politics than performing their jobs with integrity, understanding, and compassion—even when young children are involved.

Isn’t it time that we stop behaving like mean hens and restore some humanity to society? The best place to start is with our own kids.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Vladimir Horowitz performing Robert Schumann’s “Kinderszenen Op 15—Bittendes Kind”

(Scenes from Childhood—Pleading Child)

25
Jan
11

oral arguments

Anyone expecting a showy Inherit-the-Wind legal show will be disappointed today.

While today’s oral arguments before the Superior Court in the matter of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Jordan Brown will certainly be momentous, the hearing itself will consist of each side having 15 minutes to state its case before a panel of three judges, and then it will be over. If you blink, you’ll miss it.

After the hearing is over and the attorneys give their obligatory courthouse-step media interviews, we may be waiting weeks or even months to learn what the court decides.

Representing the Neanderthal State will be Pennsylvania Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher D. Carusone, head of the Appeals and Legal Services Division of the Attorney General’s Office. He will likely be backed up by Deputy Attorney General Anthony J. Krastek, the attack dog prosecutor assigned to win this political case by any means necessary. 

Representing Jordan Brown, who was 11 years old at the time his future stepmother Kenzie Houk and her unborn baby were murdered (and who is now 13), will be Lourdes M. Rosado, Associate Director of the renowned Juvenile Law Center, which is based in Philadelphia. She will be backed up by Jordan’s local defense attorneys Dennis Elisco and David Acker. 

The judges hearing the arguments will be Cheryl Lynn Allen, Judith Ference Olson and Senior Judge Robert Colville.  

The Superior Court will not hear arguments about whether Jordan is innocent or guilty of this crime, nor will it hear arguments that Jordan has been incarcerated for almost two years without any credible evidence, physical or otherwise, that he even committed this crime. It will not hear arguments that the murders were more likely caused by Kenzie’s former boyfriend Adam Harvey, who had repeatedly threatened to have her murdered over a bitter child support and paternity battle in which he and Kenzie had been embroiled up until the time of her and the baby’s murders.  

Instead, today’s hearing will focus on the issues surrounding the state’s intention to try Jordan as an adult which, were the state successful in gaining a conviction, would entail a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole—a barbaric penalty if inflicted on a child and proscribed by international law. 

Here is a description of the issues to be addressed today, as lifted from the Juvenile Law Center’s website:

Juvenile Law Center, along with private attorneys David Acker and Dennis Elisco, filed this brief to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of Jordan Brown, an eleven-year-old charged with the murder of his stepmother.  The trial court had denied Jordan’s decertification to the juvenile justice system, holding that in order to demonstrate his amenability to treatment within the juvenile system, he had to first take responsibility for the offense. If convicted in the adult system, Jordan will receive a mandatory life without parole sentence and will be the youngest person in the country tried as an adult.  This brief argued that the trial court’s interpretation of the transfer statute (42 Pa.C.S. § 6322) requiring Jordan’s confession at the pre-adjudicatory decertification hearing in order to demonstrate his ability to be rehabilitated in the juvenile system, was in violation of Jordan’s right against self-incrimination and rights to due process and fundamental fairness under both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions.  

An amicus brief filed by the Campaign for Youth Justice, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and attorneys from Baker McKenzie, argued that the trial court failed to consider developmental research confirming that children are more amenable to treatment and rehabilitation.  The brief also provided a historical overview of the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system and demonstrated that the juvenile system is better equipped to try Jordan and provide rehabilitation and treatment to Jordan if found delinquent. The adult system would provide severe consequences to Jordan.  Finally, amici argued that there is consensus among other states and the international community that disfavors trying youth as young as Jordan as adults. 

Like you, I will be standing by to read media reports to see if the hearing holds any surprises. Please return to this Diary post later in the day for more news.

۞

As far as I can see from the news reports out of Pittsburgh, nobody pulled a rabbit out of the hat today.

The Superior Court judges asked good questions of the lawyers on both sides of the case. Based on reports from people who were at the hearing, the judges seemed to direct their sharpest questions at Mr. Carusone, who seemed caught up short in answering them, particularly questions related to whether Jordan’s Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination were violated by Judge Dominick Motto. They wondered aloud, and described their concerns as “troubling,” about whether Jordan would have been forced to give up his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in order to be certified as a juvenile. Unbeknownst to Mr. Carusone, Ms. Rosado had been involved in a case upon which the state had based its absurd logic–Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Davis–and Ms. Rosado was able to authoritatively demonstrate to the judges that the state had interpreted this case backwards. In a highly unusual move, one of the judges publicly complimented Ms. Rosado on the quality of her presentation. 

Yet questions and compliments are a far cry from a ruling, and the time Jordan continues to be incarcerated will continue to accrue as the wheels of justice slowly grind on and on.

About the most exciting thing on the news today was a TV reporter leaning forward and delivering his lines in a stage whisper, like he didn’t want to disturb the judges’ deliberations just beyond the courtroom door. It was really… hmmm… tense.

Debbie Houk was interviewed again, repeating her worn-out line that nothing would bring her babies back and that they should lock up the boy and throw away the key. Not a note of doubt or compassion.

(She’ll have a hard time adjusting when Jordan is found innocent.)

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Richie Havens performing “Motherless Child”