Category Archives: Case Update

Scott Peterson – the Bay Search

The prosecution theory in the Scott Peterson case is that Scott dumped the body of his wife in San Francisco bay, weighed down by five concrete anchors.

An appeal brief summarises the search of the bay like this:

As discussed more fully below, the state searched the bay for weeks and weeks looking for the anchors but found nothing. (64 RT 12644-12645; 65 RT 12709-12710, 12779, 12786-12787; 66 RT 12813-12825, 12837.) Police used dive boats, sonar, a special underwater search vehicle and specialized dive teams from the FBI, Contra Costa County, Marin County and San Francisco County. (64 RT 12644-12645; 65 RT 12786-12787; 66 RT 12819-12820.) Because they found nothing at all, the state was left with pictures of concrete dust to prove that five anchors had been made.

To understand how unlikely it is that the search could have failed, it helps to examine the testimony in more detail. Full transcripts are available here ( Prosecution Witness #69: Rick Armendariz, MPD ) and here ( Prosecution Witness #75: Henry Dodge Hendee, MPD Detective ). but here are some extracts:

GERAGOS: Well, there were other searches. There is a lot of garbage down there. They brought the garbage up, correct? Back in September they brought up a number of items that were garbage, correct?

ARMENDARIZ: That,

GERAGOS: Beer bottles, tea glass bottles, small items of garbage were brought up repeatedly from the bay floor by the divers, correct?

ARMENDARIZ: Correct.

and

GERAGOS: The third location the divers found a wooden stick, right?

ARMENDARIZ: You are referring to F45. And that’s correct.

GERAGOS: How big was this wooden stick?

ARMENDARIZ: There is a photograph of it on 33096. And it was F45.

GERAGOS: How big would you estimate it to be?

ARMENDARIZ: There is a ruler in the photograph, which is a foot long. And looks like it’s approximately foot and half, possibly about two feet long.

GERAGOS: So apparently the, whatever, however you got these targets, the divers were able to find pieces of wood that were a foot and a half long, correct?

ARMENDARIZ: Correct. They went to the dive location. And in that general dive location was a piece of wood that they found.

and

GERAGOS: Okay. And they went down looking for a target, and after ten minutes they came up with a tea glass bottle?

ARMENDARIZ: Correct.

GERAGOS: How big is the tea glass bottle?

ARMENDARIZ: It’s photographed in 33026. And it’s a standard, this is an estimate, approximately twelve-ounce tea bottle, glass tea bottle.

GERAGOS: When you say standard, like a Snapple bottle?

ARMENDARIZ: No, it was a little larger than a Snapple bottle.

GERAGOS: And apparently they were able to, divers were able to find that on the bottom of the bay floor?

ARMENDARIZ: They recovered that from the bay.

and

GERAGOS: And so they found there was a target area, somebody was able to, either through side-scan, or through mapping, or something, to find something on the floor and they found a blue square bucket, right?

ARMENDARIZ: Blue square bucket was the item that was recovered by the dive team that brought that up to the boat, correct.

GERAGOS: How about the A15? What is that?

ARMENDARIZ: A15 was another bucket that was recovered from the dive team.

GERAGOS: Okay. A7?

ARMENDARIZ: A7 was a beer can that was located.

The second witness, Hendee, explained the scope of the search:

HENDEE: No. They’re far apart. What I started to say was that the operation that we set up, we tried to search a grid one and a quarter miles in length across and one and three quarters of a mile down. If you try to, in terms of trying to understand how big that area is, it’s 21 football fields across from end zone to end zone. If you lined one up after the other, that’s 21 football fields by 39 football fields down. You take that and you make that your perimeter, and that’s a huge area to cover. And that’s what these people were trying to do. We broke them down into quarter mile grids, and each agency that had a side-scan sonar operator searched those grids with their side-scan sonar device. And if they found an object, then we had dive teams standing by to go in and try and recover whatever object that they saw on the side-scan sonar.

and

HARRIS: How many divers would go out at any particular given time?

HENDEE: It all depended, on the, if we’re talking about the May 16th through May 23rd operation, I’d have to check each individual officer’s reports to find out how many were on their particular dive boat. The FBI dive team probably had six divers, maybe eight operating on an every day basis. The spot divers that would go down when a side-scan sonar operator found something, depending on how many were on that boat, and I don’t know for sure how many were on any particular dive boat at that time, but the entire operation that we were running over this eight days was averaging about 45 to 50 people a day, total, in the operation.

JUDGE: Does that include all the divers?

HENDEE: That included the divers, the boat operators, the Coast Guard personnel. Everybody.

and

GERAGOS: So that we all understand, when they are traversing this, what they are actually doing is going down on one side, and as far as you know, the REMUS device actually will take images so that they mapped the entire bottom of the bay floor that it covers; isn’t that correct?

HENDEE: Correct.

GERAGOS: Then the machine, as far as you understand, can piece together each of those little images so that you get a mosaic, that when you look at it all together, I suppose if they could do, that if you had a large enough screen, you could see, you would have a map of the entire area here; isn’t that correct?

HENDEE: I don’t know if they have that equipment. But if you could put it all together, you would he have a mosaic. Problem with that, though, is, it covers a hundred fifty percent coverage area. So you would have to put one picture on top of the other a little bit, because that’s what you are getting, a hundred fifty percent coverage.

GERAGOS: So that we understand, and when you say a hundred fifty coverage area, you have got the coordinates here, right? What I’m pointing to. There is four of them; is that correct?

HENDEE: Correct.

GERAGOS: Now, out of those four coordinates, you say a hundred fifty percent coverage area. Do you mean that it goes a little over fifty percent this way? Do you mean as they are going up and down, that they are actually kind of slopping over into the next area that they are going to cover?

HENDEE: It spans a little bit of the next area so that you are actually, you are not missing any areas. You are going up. You are turning. It comes back down, and it’s covering part of what it had just seen the last lap.

GERAGOS: Not only are you not missing any areas, you are covering the same square twice.

HENDEE: Right, yes

To summarise, the search was systematic, the searchers made a complete map of the floor of the bay area where Scott could have dumped Laci’s body, with 150% over-lapping coverage, and objects as small as a beer can or small glass bottles could be located and brought to the surface. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that Laci Peterson’s body was NOT on the bottom of the bay for several months, weighed down with concrete anchors, as the prosecution claim. Instead, something else entirely occurred.

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Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey – case update

A further 10 episodes of “Making a Murderer” on the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey have been streamed on netflix.

They detail Kathleen Zellner’s re-investigation of the case, and the agonising twists and turns in Brendan Dassey’s efforts to have his confession thrown out as coerced.

Specifically, we learn that:

(1) The State’s theory of how the blood-spatter on the rear cargo door of Teresa Halbach’s car was deposited is not tenable. Also, the blood near the ignition key would not have been left by Avery turning the ignition, instead it was planted there.

(2) The hood-latch DNA could not have been touch-DNA, and the swab wasn’t from the hood-latch. Instead the sample swab was relabeled with a swab taken from Avery.

(3) Halbach’s body could not have been incinerated with a couple of tyres. Also, there is no stain. Expert Dr John DeHann is positive the burn pit is not the primary burn site.  (About 35 minutes in to Ep. 3). No photos of discovery of the bones, remains, not done, no documentation. This implies the remains were recovered elsewhere and not at the site where Steven Avery had a bonfire.

(4) Remains were allegedly discovered in burn barrel #2 many days after it had been previously been searched. Again, this implies the remains were in fact recovered elsewhere.

(5) There was a Brady violation ( withheld evidence ) concerning evidence that Halbach’s vehicle left the Avery property.

(6) The blood planted in Halbach’s car came from blood Avery deposited in his bathroom sink ( there was evidence of a break-in, he reported someone cleaned up the blood on Nov 3, on Friday morning the blood in his sink was gone ).

(7) Flakes of Avery’s blood recovered from the carpet of Halbach’s car must have been planted, not deposited there from his bleeding finger.

(8) The .22 bullet fragment recovered from Avery’s garage should have had bone fragments – it didn’t, meaning it could NOT have passed through Halbach’s head. Instead it had wood fragments. Zellner recreated how the .22 bullet fragment occurred. The DNA evidence ( Halbach’s DNA on the fragment ) was forged.

(9) Bryan should have been called as a witness to impeach Bobby, in fact Bobby saw Teresa leave and told Bryan, but Bryan was not called as a witness. We can infer that prosecutors scared Bobby enough with what he saw happened to Brendan, and material on Bobby’s computer would have given them plenty of leverage. ( Also, that was another Brady violation, the computer contents at the very least are impeachment information favorable to the defense ).

Discussion here

 

 

Who Killed Laci Peterson?

Many people have been re-examining the case of Scott Peterson and coming to the conclusion that he did not murder his wife Laci Peterson in December 2002.

This blog post addresses the question : “If Scott did not murder Laci, who did?”.

There is no way to be certain, but nevertheless, there are reasons to suspect the involvement of serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards. The main evidence in support of this theory are anonymous messages, and evidence which suggests Edwards was the Zodiac Killer.

The first anonymous message, shown below, was sent to the Modesto Bee on May 4, 2003. ( Note that the bodies of Conner and Laci were discovered on April 13 and 14, Scott was arrested on April 18, Easter Day was Sunday 20 April ).EdwardsLetterAMessageFromGod

This appears to be a confession that the writer framed Scott Peterson.

Then, from March 22, 2005 through August 6, 2006, a poster using the handle “I Killed Laci Peterson” (IKLP) posted 544 messages on the Fratpack forum. See here for a dump of these messages.

Some of the IKLP messages allude to the Zodiac Killer.

66. Wed Oct 05, 2005 3:30 am You are jealous this I see. As was with my cousin Zodiac. You will never capture me. Fore it is I who does not lack.

384. Thu May 18, 2006 2:05 pm Post Fore if thou breaks the code with FreeBird inside. Thee will tell thou where all others now hide. Thou is not very close. Not by photo of a boat. If thou asks why. Turn eyes to the sky. If thou is so slow. Thou will never know. Thou makes fun of thee if it will. Not laughs will stop thees amazing thrills. Zodiac had four but there were many more. Contact made from within the front door. Thous belief of her walk. Is basic stupid talk. Thou never leaves from within. No one witnesses thees sin. When of a state of no attention. It is how thee starts the detention. Travel in plain light. Right in thous sight. Thou never thinks twice. Thee appears so nice. If thou only knew. How much thee laughs at you. The most obvious of all alludes. Passes by right in front of you. Thou has so many wrong guesses. Thee listens learns and progresses. Thou who count not look for thee. Is why thou makes it easy to be free. A last note to thou stuck on a boat. Thee stands on another deck and simply gloats. FreeBird

386. Thu May 18, 2006 7:47 pm Fore Zodiac and thee are not one in the same. Thou watch what they say about Z and his fame. If thou believe Z has not always been free. Then thou is so wrong in what it believe. More than thou will ever know is Z count. Smarts without thou knowing is what Z is about. FreeBird

The next message refers to a “code” that was “told” more than 30 years ago:

387. Mon May 29, 2006 2:01 pm Fore the code is old. Over 30 years it was once told. Should thou be as bright as sun light. Should not take thou long to get it right. FreeBird.

The code referred to could be the 408 symbol Zodiac code, sent to newspapers on August 1, 1969 ( see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zodiac_Killer#Timeline ).

There is a considerable amount of evidence that suggests that Edwards was the Zodiac killer. Please see, for example, https://ededwardsserialkiller.wordpress.com/zodiac-killer/

The Zodiac killer left a short “signature” which apparently decodes to “I’m Edward E”.

IKLP also sent this message:

Mon Oct 10, 2005 2:19 pm Fore here is a clue for who remain on my list. 28527 – 8240 – 791 – 94 – 7 tho is smart who deciphers this.

If the zero and alternate digits are dropped ( analogous to the decoding of the Zodiac short signature ), the result is 8 2 8 4 9 9 7. Using the mnemonic substitution

9 – E ( “e” is similar to mirror image of “9” )
8 – D ( “8” can be made with two D’s – see Zodiac code )
7 – W ( W can be made from two 7s )
4 – A ( “A” when tilted to the right becomes “4” )
2 – R ( “R” is slightly similar to “2” )

this translates to D R D A E E W an anagram of “EDWARD E”.

Finally, if you take the symbols “GOD ( I )” from the “Message from God”, apparently a clue to the identity of the writer, and stack them over one another, the result is a circle with a cross, similar to the symbol used by the Zodiac Killer to sign his correspondence:

330px-zodiac_killer_symbol-svg

Besides these mysterious messages, linking the Scott Peterson case to the Zodiac Killer, and thence to Edward Wayne Edwards, circumstances suggest the involvement of a devious, manipulative, psychopath serial killer:

(1) Planting the bodies, in such a way as to frame Scott Peterson for the murder would involve risk.

(2) Laci Peterson’s head and parts of each arm and leg were missing, and all her internal organs were missing, suggesting they were removed and Conner was then removed from Laci’s corpse.

(3) Conner was found above the high tide line, and had twine looped around his body, tied in a bow. The body was in relatively good condition, suggesting it may have been kept in a bag, separate from the body of Laci.

(4) A calculation to estimate when Conner died, when done correctly ( see the Habeas petition, available here ) suggests that Conner lived into January.

Possibly Laci was abducted after observing the burglary of the Medina house in progress to prevent her calling police, or possibly her abduction was planned in advance and intended to divert the attention of the police from solving the burglary. Edwards had a record of safe burglary, and could have been the mastermind behind it.

Discussion here

Darlie Routier Key Points

Two of Darlie Routier‘s three sons were stabbed to death on June 6, 1996, around 2:30am at night. Darlie stated an intruder attacked her and the boys, but she was accused of staging the attack, convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Here are some key points about the case:

  • Darlie was very nearly killed by a knife slash to her throat, which came within 2mm of cutting her carotid artery. If it had been pierced, she would have bled to death within a few minutes.
  • As well as a slashed throat, Darlie had a stab wound to her arm and very extensive bruising.
  • A bloody fingerprint that didn’t belong to any of the family members was found on a glass table that was in the Routier home at the time of the stabbings.
  • A bloody sock was discovered 75 yards from the house. The sock had blood of both her boys on it, powerful evidence of an intruder. The boys were still alive when first responders arrived. The severity of their injuries means that Darlie did not realistically have time to perform many “staging” actions alleged by the prosecution.
  • Routier’s clothes from that night were placed in the same evidence bag as her sons’, which could have led to cross contamination.
  • Prosecution witness Tom Bevel testified the mixture of blood from Darlie and the boys in millimeter sized drops of blood on Darlie’s nightshirt was due to cast off first from the boys and then later drops of Darlie’s blood landing in exactly the same places.
  • In at least three other cases, Bevel’s testimony has led to wrongful convictions.
  • In a 2008 ruling granting a defense motion for new DNA tests, an appeal judge stated: “The theory underlying the prosecution’s case against the petitioner is as convoluted and counter-intuitive as that of any death penalty case to come before this Court.”
  • In the same ruling, the judge rejected the State’s argument that evidence of another male inside the house would merely suggest Darlie had an accomplice.
  • Greg Davis, prosecutor, stated soon after the trial that if Darlie was innocent that showed what a good lawyer he is. Although stating in public that he is 100% sure that Darlie is guilty, according to his brother, in private he has stated she may be innocent.
  • The jury played the “Silly String” video nine times. At least one juror has changed his opinion that she is guilty, and regrets his decision. The jurors admitted that they never looked at the photos showing how extensive Darlie’s injuries were.
  • At trial, the prosecution argued that the screen was cut by a bread knife from the kitchen, on the basis of microscopic glass rods. It is now known that these were likely due to contamination from finger print brushes.
  • The state of Texas offered Routier life without parole in exchange for her admitting guilt, but she refused the offer.
  • In June 2018, Vanessa Potkin, an Innocence Project attorney stated : “Darlie’s conviction rests entirely on faulty blood spatter analysis and character assassination”.
  • Two of Darlie’s pro bono attorneys launched a new website in June 2018 with details abut the case to coincide with a four-part ABC documentary about the case. The Legal Documents page has a link to the Habeas Corpus appeal which describes the case in detail.
  • As of June 2018, a petition calling for the case to be re-opened has attracted nearly 5,000 signature, and the Facebook Page “Free Darlie Routier” had more than 3,000 “Likes”.

 

 

 

Jason Sadowski Update

This is a more detailed account of the featured case of Jason David Sadowski, who faces a retrial starting on March 6, 2017.

Update1: A dedicated wordpress site with case information was created on Feb 3, 2017:
https://freecoachjason.wordpress.com/

Update2: Jason was found not guilty on all counts on March 17, 2017.

Two drug addicts, Angel Paris and Becky Bressette, accused Jason of assaulting and torturing them after they admitted stealing money from him, early in the early morning hours of July 2, 2013.

The appeal ruling reversing the 2014 conviction put it this way: “According to the victims, Sadowski essentially turned into a violent, abusive, sword-wielding captor the moment they confessed to taking a relatively minimal amount of money”.

Jason denies the allegations, the defense case (according to the winning appeal brief) is that “the women lied to the police to insulate themselves from arrest for the larceny. He testified the two women fought between themselves in a dispute over returning the stolen money to him, that he never forced them into the basement or bound them to the poles, that he did not physically assault or choke either woman, and did not solicit Ms. Paris to kill Ms. Bressette”.

Angel and Becky told conflicting stories that were contradicted by medical evidence, and there was no evidence to disprove Jason’s version of events other than Angel and Becky’s testimony. Other witnesses who were present corroborated Jason’s version.

Specifically, there are the following apparent lies and contradictions in their stories:

(1) Money stolen from Jason’s wallet.
At trial, Angel testified that she took four dollars, giving two to Becky. However, the first responding police officer testified that Angel informed him that she had stolen three dollars and Becky had taken ten dollars. Becky, on the other hand, testified that Angel took a couple of dollars while Becky grabbed a handful of change.

(2) After the theft.
Angel testified she asked to use the bathroom, confessed to Jason and gave him two dollars back. But Becky testified that only Jason went to the bathroom, and that when he returned he accused them of taking money.

(3) The curtains.
Becky testified that after being hit, she grabbed onto the curtains and pulled them off, but police pictures purported to show those curtains still intact and installed on the window.

(4) The vagina search.
Becky also testified that Jason made her lie on the bed and forced Angel to insert her hand inside of Becky’s vagina at least twice to check if money was hidden there. Angel, however, testified that while Jason wanted them to check each other’s vaginas, they refused.

(5) Duct-taping to poles.
Both victims testified that it was a joint effort of defendants in duct taping them to poles in the basement. But Charles Cope was repeatedly asked if Jason ever touched, hit or threatened Angel or Becky, and responded that did not happen. Then at sentencing he said “Downstairs … that’s all I know, he never touched ’em downstairs. I never seen him hurt ’em.” [ Note that Cope did not testify, so the jury never heard any of this ]

(6) They were taped to the poles for a long time.
Sarah Pietro, Jason’s ex-wife, testified that she was at the gym on the morning in question, the two victims were fine, there was no yelling or screaming, and they did not seem agitated.

(7) Both women were choked.
In Angel’s medical records there is no indication she complained of having been strangled. Dr. Vanderschaff found no physical signs of strangulation, including no neck swelling, hand marks on her neck, or signs of petechiae (broken blood vessels) in her eyes or on her face.

(8) Becky claimed that Jason burned her on the face with a lit cigarette.
Angel testified : while she heard Becky say that he had burned her with a cigarette, she did not see that happen. Dr. Vanderschaff saw no indication of a cigarette burn.

Angel admitted at trial that she had numerous problems in the past with opiate addictions.  On one occasion, Angel assaulted three people then fled in a stolen vehicle. When police arrested her, she lied and said she had been the one that was assaulted and that the stolen vehicle was a misunderstanding. She then plead guilty and was convicted and had to write an apology letter. The judge is not allowing testimony from three witnesses who could testify to this earlier incident in the retrial.

Another witness was with Angel when she asked to be tied up with duct tape before and then asked to raped. Another circumstance is that Becky died of a drug overdose in September 2013, while with Angel, prior to trial.

Sarah Pietro, Jason’s ex-wife and good friend worked as an EMT Paramedic , 9/11 responder, a volunteer until her ambulance rolled over in 2003 and left her a paraplegic. Sarah has hired a lawyer with savings she had, but the money has run out and the attorney she hired is now working pro bono. The court has paid for one expert but won’t pay for anything else, including DNA testing that could conclusively prove Jason to be innocent.

Sarah is doing everything she can to help Jason have a fair retrial on March 6 and has created a support website and a Facebook Page “Free Coach”.

Update: Cope was offered time-served if he would testify against Jason, he refused, was convicted and sentenced to  to 25 to 40 years.

 

.

David Temple’s Alibi

dec282016
David was released from custody on December 28, 2016

The case against David Temple, recently released on bond, appears to be extremely weak, based on not much more than police alleging the scene was staged, and  he had motive and opportunity. At the trial in 2008, according to this report  :

 

DeGuerin’s key witnesses were brothers who lived directly behind Temple’s house.

“I heard a loud boom,” said one of the brothers. “Boom,” said the other.

The Roberts brothers were young boys when they told the police they heard what sounded like a gunshot.

They had started watching the movie “Dr. Doolittle” a little after 4 p.m., and nine years later, they remembered the exact point in the film when they heard that sound.

Using that point as a time reference, the defense figured they heard the boom around 4:30 p.m. And that is a critical time because David and his son, Evan, were seen on that store security video at 4:32 p.m.

“When they heard the gunshot, David Temple was six miles away,” DeGuerin told Schlesinger.

==

But there have been some new developments. One is that in the recent concurrence written by Judge Kevin Patrick Yeary ( source ) which found ineffective assistance of counsel, we find:

On the night of Belinda’s murder, Kenneth [David’s father] had given written statement to the sheriff’s investigators. Asked about the time that Belinda had dropped by his residence to pick up the homemade soup for the ailing ET on her way home, Kenneth maintained that he had gotten home from work at 3:30 pm, “and Belinda arrived about fifteen minutes later at approximately 3:45 PM.” She “visited with us for a few minutes” and then, “I guess it was around 3:55 PM. at the time she left.”

Testimony at trial indicated that the drive from Kenneth’s residence to Applicant and Belinda’s house takes about fifteen minutes. Thus, according to Kenneth’s original estimate, Belinda could not have arrived home much earlier than 4:10 pm. This would have left only a very narrow window of time—ten minutes or so—during which applicant could have forced or coaxed Belinda into the walk-in closet, killed her, potentially changed his clothes, staged a burglary, hustled ET into his truck, and still arrived at the supermarket by 4:32 pm.

..

When Kenneth testified before the grand jury in April of 1999, he gave the same time estimates: Belinda arrived at his house “at 3:45,” and they visited “for a few minutes standing there in the garage.”

“She probably was at my house from 3:45 to 3:55. I think she left about five minutes till 4:00.” He confirmed that the drive from his house to Applicant and Belinda’s home was “[a]bout 15 minutes.”

..

Inexplicably, Kenneth remembered the time-line differently at trial. He claimed once again that he got home at 3:30 pm. Defense counsel asked him to give his first estimate or if you looked at a clock, when did Belinda get there?” Kenneth told jury, “3:32, or close to that. ” A short while later, defense counsel asked, “And then did she leave Kenneth answered, “In minutes. 3: 45 at least.”

==

It seems that the defense have also discovered cell phone evidence, confirming this timeline to be correct:

“If she’s [Belinda Temple] in that parking lot between 3:20 and 3:30 and her cellphone records say she’s there at 3:30 too, then it’s virtually impossible for David Temple to have committed this crime,” Defense attorney Casie Gotro said. “So not only is this evidence beneficial to the defense, but it completely undermines the state’s entire theory of prosecution.”

Source: David Temple’s attorneys claim mountain of evidence will prove his innocence, July 2015

==

Also interesting is this additional evidence that the murder happened around 4:30 p.m in a 2013 blog by By ADA Alan Curry  :

4:25 p.m. The Parkers’ dog was barking and running up and down along the fence line. The Temples’ dog was not barking.
4:30 p.m. Nothing unusual at the Temple home; the Temples’ dog was not barking. A four-door, light-colored sedan with two young men drove quickly out of the neighborhood.

[ Note: Shaka the family dog was locked in the garage, so wouldn’t necessarily be aware of any events, see here. ]

==

Finally, the confusion about when Belinda got home is very evident in Curry’s blog, as it has an impossible timeline:

3:32 p.m. Belinda calls David Temple at their house to say that she is on her way home. After leaving school, Belinda went to her in-laws’ home to pick up some soup, and she left their residence at about 3:45 p.m.

3:45 p.m. Belinda gets home

==

The drive from the in-laws to home is about 15 minutes, and certainly cannot be completed in ZERO time!!

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Skakel Update

On October 31, 1975, the body of Martha Moxley, a 15-year-old girl, was found on her family property in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich, Connecticut. Her blue jeans and underpants were pulled down, she had been struck several times in the head with a Toney Penna golf club—so ferociously that the club had shattered into multiple pieces—and then stabbed in the neck with the broken shaft. The club’s handle and part of the shaft were not found.

Martha was last seen alive around 9:30 p.m. the previous day. Based on stomach contents, experts estimated that the time of death was between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.  Barking dogs, Martha’s curfew, and Dorthy Moxley’s testimony that she heard Martha cry out around 10:00 all suggested the murder occurred around 10 p.m (see note 1 below ).

Three witnesses—John Skakel, Jim Terrien, and Rush Skakel Jr. maintained from the first time they were questioned that they had left with Michael to go to  Terriens’ house at 9:30, when Martha was still alive, and had returned at 11:20 ( see note 5 for more about the alibi ).

Thus 15-year-old Michael Skakel was never considered to be a suspect at the time, as he had an alibi confirmed by multiple witnesses. Instead suspicion mostly fell on his older brother Tom, and tutor Kenneth  Littleton, who had moved in to the Skakel house on the day of the murder, however no charges were brought.

Michael Skakel’s father, Rushton Walter Skakel (1923–2003) was the brother of  Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (assassinated June 5, 1968), and due to the Kennedy connection the case was heavily publicised, leading to considerable speculation. In 1993, a fictional story closely resembling the Moxley case was published, and in 1998 a book by Mark Fuhrman accused Michael Skakel of the murder. In  June 1998, a one-man grand jury was convened to review the evidence of the case, and after an 18-month investigation, Michael was charged with murder. On  June 7, 2002 after a one-month trial, Michael was found guilty. He was sentenced to 20 years to life.

The conviction rested mainly on an alleged confession made to students at Élan School ( see note 2 below ) where Michael was sent at age seventeen after a drunk driving accident.  The school  practiced a controversial behavior-modification program that relies on peer confrontation. For two years Michael was continually spat upon, slapped, and deprived of sleep. He was serially beaten with hoses and by students wearing boxing gloves, forced to wear a dunce cap and a toilet seat around his neck, and subjected to a long inventory of other tortures. Various students claimed that Michael confessed during this mis-treatment, however these claims were not credible. Unfortunately, owner  Joseph Ricci, who stated as much, died shortly before trial and was unable to testify. See this January 2003 article in The Atlantic ( http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/01/a-miscarriage-of-justice/304759/ ) by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for the details.

In 2003, Gitano “Tony” Bryant, a former classmate of Michael and a cousin of the basketball star Kobe Bryant, came forward with information that he and the two teenagers had been in the exclusive Belle Haven section of Greenwich on Oct. 30, 1975, the night of the murder. Bryant said that he had left early but that the other two stayed behind and told him they wanted to attack a girl “cave-man style.”

Prosecutors said Bryant’s story was not credible, and a judge agreed, however in fact his account is well corroborated by entries in Martha Moxley’s journal. For details see here and notes 3 & 4 below.

Finally in 2013 the conviction was overturned, and Michael was released on bail, however in December 2016 the State Supreme court voted 4-3 to re-instate the conviction.

The majority opinion is available here, it explains :

“Despite their efforts in the years after the murder, including extensive investigations into whether Thomas Skakel or Littleton was involved, the police were unable to connect anyone to the murder and did not make any arrests.”

and makes it clear that any statements made by Michael while at the Elan school cannot possibly be taken as reliable: “he was paddled, assaulted in a boxing ring, and forced to wear a sign that had written on it something to the effect of ‘‘please confront me on the murder of my friend, Martha Moxley . . . .’’

and “These witnesses also stated that the petitioner denied involvement in the victim’s murder, and, when the abuse continued, he parried their accusations by stating that he either did not know or could not recall what happened”.

According to a news report, the Supreme court’s minority opinion was that the lower court was “absolutely correct” in finding that by failing to pursue a third-party liability defense aimed at Thomas Skakel, and the trial attorney did not act as the competent counsel guaranteed by the sixth amendment.

See this Facebook Page ( created 31 December 2016 ) for updates.

Notes

Note 1: Later that night Dorthy went upstairs to paint the trim around some windows. While doing so, she heard a commotion down in the yard, on the side of the house where Martha was killed. “You know, I was aware of voices outside the house that night, and I’m sure that’s when it happened. There were several voices. That is cause for wonder.” from https://www.greenwichsentinel.com/2015/10/30/the-moxley-case-turns-40-with-no-end-in-sight/

Note 2: Wikipedia has details about Élan School for example ” ‘humiliation’ was stated clearly as a therapeutic tool”

and

“In March 2016, Maine State Police announced they had opened a cold case investigation into the death of former Elan resident Phil Williams, who died Dec. 27th, 1982 after participating in Elan’s brutal “ring” where students were forced to fight each other as a means of behavior modification”.

Note 3: See the ruling overturning the conviction (via NyTimes ) for more information. For example from pages 29-30:

The court heard evidence from Margerie Walker Haur, now of Ridgeway, Connecticut, who, as a fifteen year old teenager grew up on Mayo Avenue in Belle Haven, where she had been a close friend of the victim. She testified that she knew Bryant in 1975, and that he and her brother, Neil, had been classmates at the Brunswick School. She indicated that Mills had relayed Bryant’s story to Neil, who, in turn, repeated it to her. She indicated that her brother was frightened by the story and thought they should tell someone about it. Accordingly, she indicated, she related Bryant’s story to Garr in person and to Attorney Sherman by phone before the trial in 2002. Her impression was that neither Garr nor Attorney Sherman seemed interested in the account. In addition to speaking with Garr and Attorney Sherman, she wrote to Dorothy Moxley, the victim’s mother, on May 24, 2002, in which she recounted Bryant’s tale. While Garr denied meeting Walker, and Attorney Sherman stated he had no recollection of such a conversation, the court credits her testimony as accurate and true.

Note 4: News report July 30, 2014 on unidentified hairs:

In April, Seeger requested a court order protecting two unidentified pieces of hair found on sheets used to wrap Moxley’s body, according to court documents. The cataloguing of key hair evidence had been “inconsistent and discombobulated” over the years, Seeger argued, suffering from redundant labeling and weak record-keeping.

The hairs, Seeger said, possess characteristics that match the description of Adolf Hasbrouk and Burton Tinsley, two men named in out-of-court comments by Skakel’s former schoolmate, Gitano “Tony” Bryant, as the true killers of Moxley. Bryant’s claims have been previously dismissed by prosecutors and the courts.

“These hairs are connected to two individuals that have been spoken about by another witness,” said Seeger. “They have African-American and Asian characteristics, and these are hairs that will be instrumental in our third-party culpability motion to the trial.”
The state could not confirm Wednesday whether the evidence remained in its possession.

Note 5: The key habeas alibi witness, Dennis Ossorio. From Page 49 – 54 of https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/809322/skakel.pdf

2. Failure to Adequately Present the Alibi

The petitioner claims that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel on the basis of his assertion that Attorney Sherman failed, adequately, to present his alibi defense.

Specifically, the petitioner claims that Attorney Sherman failed to investigate and then to present the testimony of Dennis Ossorio, an independent witness who would have testified that the petitioner was at the Terrien home, a location approximately twenty minutes distant from the murder site during the time period in which the victim was most likely murdered.
..
At the habeas trial, Dennis Ossorio, now seventy-two years old, testified that in 1975, he, as a psychologist, was operating a program for women. He indicated that he then had a personal connection to Dowdle and that he had been at the Terrien home in the evening hours of October 30, 1975, visiting with Dowdle and her daughter. He testified that, while there, he had visited with the Skakel brothers, including the petitioner, and Terrien, while they were watching the Monty Python show on television. He indicated that he was in and out of the room where the others were watching Monty Python while Dowdle was putting her daughter to bed. Finally, he indicated that he left the Terrien residence at about midnight and was not sure whether the Skakels had left before him. Thus, Ossorio’s testimony supported the petitioner’s claim that during the likely time of the murder, he was away from Belle Haven, as he indicated.

To the court, Ossorio was a disinterested and credible witness with a clear recollection of seeing the petitioner at the Terrien home on the evening in question. He testified credibly that not only was he present in the home with Dowdle and that he saw the petitioner there, but that he lived in the area throughout the time of the trial and would have readily been available to testify if asked. He indicated that while he was aware of the general parameters of the state’s claim against the petitioner, he did not pay close attention to the trial and he did not come forward because he was unaware of the significance of the particular information he possessed.

He indicated that he had not been contacted by Attorney Sherman or by the state in conjunction with the investigation or trial. To the court, Ossorio was a powerful witness in support of the petitioner’s alibi claim.