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Feb. 26 2010 — 8:43 am | 276 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Man serving three life sentences accidentally released from Baltimore prison

Not joking:

State prison officials say a 26-year-old New York man serving a triple life sentence for attempted murder was accidentally released from a downtown prison Thursday.

Officials said Raymond Taylor, who was sentenced to three terms of life in prison on an attempted first-degree murder charge in 2005, was erroneously released at 2 p.m. from the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun reported at the time that Taylor tried to kill his ex-girlfriend and her two daughters at their Pentland Drive home in Northeast Baltimore.

Taylor pleaded guilty to shooting Tammie Johnson and her teenage daughters Cierra Johnson and Shatera Brooks. Each was shot multiple times in the head and body with a .22 caliber handgun, prosecutors said.

And he’s still at-large. Anyone who sees this accidentally released convict is asked to call 911.

UPDATE: Captured.

Feb. 25 2010 — 5:51 pm | 1,541 views | 2 recommendations | 23 comments

More from investigative reporter who chose to work with ‘hostile’ Scientologists

In November, I wrote a short post highlighting that the Church of Scientology had recently placed ads with JournalismJobs.com seeking investigative journalists. It seemed weird to me that an organization known for attempting to stifle anti-Scientology rhetoric with lawsuits and disinformation would be on the lookout for “experienced investigative reporters” and I said as much.

However, realizing that a lot of writers and reporters (including myself) are having a rough time finding work, I made the flip observation that “work is work” — implying that if working for the Church of Scientology is the only gig you can get, then so be it. Who am I to judge?

My colleague Steve Weinbergprofessor of investigative journalism, author of well-researched books, and writer for seriously good publications like Miller-McCune and the IRE Journal –  commented to say the following:

Because I’m so deeply identified within the journalism world as an investigative journalist, I often receive requests for advice. Recently, an experienced investigative journalist who has found it difficult to conduct his work because of the economic downturn asked me if he should apply for the Scientologists’ opening. I told him no, even though I like to see superb investigative reporting no matter who is funding it. More than any other existing organization that comes to mind, the Scientologists have been so hostile to outside journalists that I cannot see crossing the line to accept employment there.

But then earlier this week, Howard Kurtz posted an article about investigative journalists working for the Church of Scientology. And guess who’s featured in the post? continue »

Feb. 25 2010 — 12:48 pm | 237 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Toyota brake troubles could exonerate man convicted in 2006 car crash

A Toyota prius hybrid car is dispayed in a sho...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Koua Fong Lee has insisted since 2006 that he tried everything he could to stop his 1996 Toyota Camry from crashing into the back of an Oldsmobile and causing a horrifying wrack-up that left three people dead and landed him in prison on an eight-year stretch.

Today the Associated Press (via the LA Times) highlighted his case as representing the kinds of unfortunate accidental scenarios that might’ve happened while Toyota was supposedly ignoring their brake problems.

Lee’s accident is among a growing number of cases, some long resolved, that are getting new attention since Toyota admitted its problems with sudden acceleration were more extensive than originally believed. Numerous lawsuits involving Toyota accidents have been filed over the recent revelations, and attorneys expect the numbers will climb.

No one on Wall Street seems to give a shit, and Prius’s are still selling like crazy to other people who also don’t give a shit, but nonetheless, stay tuned.

And of course watch out for “financially oriented pirates.”

Feb. 24 2010 — 6:06 am | 1,018 views | 1 recommendations | 5 comments

Immigration nightmare? Murdered victims’ family can’t sue SF for failing to protect

A father and two sons are shot and killed in San Francisco after a gang member misidentifies them as rivals. After their bodies are in the ground, the victims’ family finds out that the alleged shooter was Edwin Ramos, a “suspected illegal immigrant” from El Salvador who had been arrested several times as a juvenile and never turned over to immigration authorities. The victims’ family sues the city, claiming that if they had turned Ramos over, their father and brothers would still be alive.

The SF Chronicle reports:

Case records don’t show whether police or juvenile courts suspected that Ramos had entered the United States illegally. But under the city’s sanctuary policy, as juvenile authorities then interpreted it, they would not have passed along that information to federal immigration officials.

Mayor Gavin Newsom reversed that practice in 2008 and ordered city employees to report suspected illegal immigrant youths to federal authorities after felony arrests. City supervisors passed an ordinance over Newsom’s veto that delayed reporting until a youth is found to have committed a felony, but the mayor is refusing to enforce it, saying it violates federal law.

Judge Charlotte Woolard of San Francisco Superior Court said cities “generally are not liable for failing to protect individuals against crime.” More from the The Chron:

After Ramos’ release, federal authorities learned of his immigration status but did not take him into custody. The family’s lawsuit contended, however, that the city was responsible for the shootings because its policy had allowed Ramos to go free.

In her ruling, Woolard said San Francisco had no duty to protect the Bolognas or anyone else from Ramos unless city officials had information that he posed a specific danger to them. There was no such evidence in this case, she said

So there’s at least two unfortunate things going on here: 1) San Francisco has way too many illegal immigrants to track (which also likely means it’s politically expedient to just kinda look the other way in most immigration/deportation situations), and 2) because Ramos didn’t threaten his victims before he shot them, they’re not eligible to claim that the city failed to protect them. I’m no immigration scholar, but I’m guessing if “America’s Toughest Sheriff” was employed by the City of San Francisco, this ruling might have gone a different way.

What’s the answer to this boondoggle? To whom should the victims’ family look for restitution in this nightmare case? Should they even seek restitution? Or should they put aside those hopes and take comfort in Ramos’ status as a man facing life in prison without the possibility of parole in one of the worst prisons in the world?

Feb. 14 2010 — 4:13 pm | 3,273 views | 1 recommendations | 1 comment

Should Pa. seek death penalty in ‘cult killing’ of mentally challenged woman?

Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old mentally challenged woman living in Greensburg, Pa. (about 40 miles southeast of downtown Pittsburgh), was brutally tortured last week by a group of people she apparently considered friends. True Crime Report is on the story and so are a few others. Here’s a summary from the front page of the Tribune Review today:

They shaved her head and smeared her face with nail polish. They forced Daugherty to drink and eat urine, detergent, medication, spices and vegetable oil. They beat her with a towel rack, a vacuum hose and a crutch. They wrapped Christmas lights around her. Knight stabbed her in the chest, side and neck, an affidavit said. Smyrnes told police he cut her in the wrist. The suspects implicated each other in the murder, police said.

Knight and Smyrnes stuffed the victim into a trash can and dragged it a few blocks to the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School, police allege. It was found about 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

Greensburg Police identified the following suspects:


There’s already death penalty discussion surrounding this case, despite the plethora of questions and the lack of available answers. The Post-Gazette quotes Greensburg police Chief Walter Lyons saying this might have been a case of jealousy gone horrifically insane, but investigators are not getting consistent stories from so-called persons of interest.

“We’re getting different statements from different people,” he said. “We’re still trying to talk to all the people who are involved to try to pin down exactly what the motive was.” Police have said Ms. Daugherty had “some relationship” with Mr. Smyrnes, but they were still trying to determine its nature.

People — and even people with no identifiable connection with the situation or the town or… anything, really — have a tendency to go berserk with outrage in cases like this. Some are already calling this a “cult killing.

The tendency to go berserk is certainly justifiable; the thought of six individuals torturing a helpless and innocent woman for 33-hours before stabbing her to death and throwing her into a trashcan… well, that’s enough to get anyone furious. But let’s see how this one plays out. A few of the suspects have certifiable mental illnesses, and one psychologist told the Tribune-Review there’s a good chance some suspects were more involved in this murder than others.

Susan Goldberg, a psychologist at Duquesne University specializing in criminal behavior, said the alleged murder likely was triggered by the presence of one strong individual in the group.

“I’m suggesting there is a leader,” Goldberg said. “Most murders do not rise to this level of sadism. And it’s difficult to imagine all six individuals exhibiting the same sadistic tendencies to this degree.”

Of course, it’s all speculation at this point. And none of that last bit holds much weight in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “Accomplice liability” means that if you participated in a crime that resulted in a murder, your degree of involvement doesn’t really matter; you’re liable to get charged with murder anyway.

Which means the R.I.P. Jennifer Daugherty page on Facebook might soon begin to look a lot like the Capital Murder For Richard Poplawski page.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE via UpTheDown, Gargilius and others on Reddit: Consider that some say it costs states quite a bit more to execute a person than it does to keep them in prison for life. Discuss if you’re up for it.

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    The Prison Dilemma is a collection of links and other stuff I stumble across while writing and reporting for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University -- an organization that investigates claims of wrongful conviction in Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institutions. If you have tips, thoughts, ideas, requests -- or if you know someone with a wrongful conviction claim -- contact me here:

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