Framed for Murder By His Own DNA

This is a gangbuster story from the Marshall Fund. Your DNA travels. Grab a pole in the subway and the next person may pick up the DNA. He/she murders another, your DNA may end up on the victim’s body, but you were never there.

“In 1997, when Australian forensic scientist Roland van Oorschot stunned the criminal justice world with a nine-paragraph paper titled “DNA Fingerprints from Fingerprints.” It revealed that DNA could be detected not just from bodily fluids but from traces left by a touch. Investigators across the globe began scouring crime scenes for anything—a doorknob, a countertop, a knife handle—that a perpetrator may have tainted with incriminating “touch” DNA. But van Oorschot’s paper also contained a vital observation: Some people’s DNA appeared on things that they had never touched.”

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/04/19/framed-for-murder-by-his-own-dna

 

Progressive Hell’s Kitchen Club Sticks with Cuomo

BY NATHAN RILEY | Right in Cynthia Nixon’s backyard, just weeks after the actor and activist announced her Democratic primary challenge to Andrew Cuomo, the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats — a progressive newcomer on the local political club scene — voted Thursday night to endorse the two-term governor for reelection.

The club held its first endorsement meeting for statewide offices April 5, and elected officials showed up to make personal pleas for support. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli appeared and described the duties of his office, talking about leveraging his office’s control of the state employees’ pension funds to insist that corporations hire women and minorities for their boards of directors. He also talked about working with shareholder activists to press Corporate America to abide by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from it.

Club members had the chance to compare Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and her primary opponent, Brooklyn City Councilmember Jumaane Williams. Hochul, who appeared on behalf of the governor, emphasized her record of supporting women’s issues including the right to chose in Republican districts in western New York State. She also argued that she and Cuomo are steadfast supporters of the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a transgender civil rights measure, despite what she said was opposition from many upstate New Yorkers.

West Side’s newest Democratic organization supports all incumbents except IDC’s Marisol Alcantara

“I am laser focused on bringing our country back” from Trump’s reactionary policies, said Hochul, who reminded the club that 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the first time women voted in New York State elections.

Williams, for his part, promised to turn the lieutenant governor’s office into the state equivalent of the city’s public advocate role.

“I will speak against the governor,” he promised. “The emperor has no clothes” he argued, citing corruption and high rents as failures of the current administration in Albany. When questioned about a City Council bill that made it easier for transgender New Yorkers to change their birth certificates, however, Williams was forced to admit he had voted against it.

Hochul, DiNapoli, and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the only other statewide elected officials besides Cuomo, also received the club’s nod. Specific tallies from the secret ballot were not announced.

Despite the announcement this week that the renegade Independent Democratic Conference in the State Senate would abandon its alliance with the Republicans who control that chamber and rejoin the regular Democratic Conference, the Hell’s Kitchen Dems vowed to continue opposing IDC members facing primary challenges in September. The club endorsed former City Councilmember Robert Jackson in his challenge to Marisol Alcantara, who immediately joined the IDC after her 2016 election to a Senate seat representing the West Side. Jackson lost to Alcantara two years ago and is eagerly preparing for a rematch.

The club also endorsed four local state legislative incumbents — Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Linda Rosenthal and Senators Liz Krueger and out gay Brad Hoylman. Gottfried, Rosenthal, and Krueger each addressed the club.

This article was posted to GayCityNews.com on April 6, 2018

Safe Consumption Delay Prompts City Hall Sit-In

BY NATHAN RILEY | Chanting “no more overdoses,” 75 angry New Yorkers packed the steps of City Hall on April 5 and then a smaller group staged a sit-in at the gates leading to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, forcing police to eject them. The demonstrators were making an emotional plea to the mayor that he release a feasibility study about safe consumption facilities that give drug users medical supervision while they are getting high.

In such spaces, users consume product they buy on the street under the watchful eye of an overdose prevention worker. Should a user slip into unconsciousness, these workers are only steps away and can administer naloxone, a public health wonder drug that reverses overdoses and restores normal breathing. There have been thousands of overdoses at such facilities in cities like Frankfurt, Sydney, and Vancouver, but nobody — as in zero — has ever died.

On February 5, Dr. Mary Bassett, the city health commissioner told a City Council budget hearing that “the public health literature is clear.” Despite that definitive statement, de Blasio has kept the health department study under wraps. Yesterday’s City Hall protesters charged that in the 59 days since Bassett’s testimony, there have been approximately 236 overdose deaths in New York.

Advocates demand de Blasio release study of facilities where drug users have medical support

Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, an AIDS services group, opened the protest on a personal note.

“Today marks the 14th anniversary of the death of Keith Cylar, one of the co-founders of Housing Works and my life partner for some 15 years,” he said.

Then adding that he was speaking “not just on behalf of people living with AIDS and HIV, but also on behalf of people who use drugs,” King said, “Keith spoke with particular passion and urgency. He was not only a black gay man living with AIDS, he was also addicted to drugs his entire adult life. And whether it was long-term degeneration caused by AIDS or long time use of cocaine that caused his cardiomyopathy, and whether the heart attack would have happened anyway or was triggered by the crack he smoked that night, his death certificate says he died of a drug overdose. I will go to my grave knowing that if someone had been with him at that moment who knew how to intervene, he might well be standing here with us today.”

Also in impassioned remarks, Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “Safe consumption spaces are critical to saving lives. We don’t need a report to tell us what we already know, what we need is leadership.”

The mayor, she added, isn’t “leading the parade, he’s following it.”

As other speakers addressed the crowd, King and about a dozen others went inside City Hall and tried to enter de Blasio’s suite of offices. When refused at the gate leading to the mayor’s wing of the building, they sat down chanting “no more overdoses.” Police approached a limp Charles King and, with some difficulty, dragged him out of the building. Some others among the demonstrators were also carried out, while some stood up on their own. Police made no arrests either inside or out, and the rally on the steps lasted an hour and a half.

The mayor, arriving at City Hall in the middle of the demonstration, decided against walking through the protest.

Housing Works CEO Charles King being dragged out of City Hall by police after staging a sit-in. | JARON BENJAMIN/ HOUSING WORKS

In 2016, Corey Johnson, an out gay city councilmember who then chaired the Health Committee and is now Council speaker, put a $100,000 appropriation into the health department budget to pay for the safe consumption space feasibility study, at a time when overdose deaths in the city had reached 1,300 a year, more than the combined total from vehicle accidents, homicides, and suicides.

King said the report was finished in December, but the mayor has so far declined to release it publicly.

In an email, Johanne Morne, director of the AIDS Institute in the State Department of Health, said flatly, “Safe Consumption Spaces have shown success in other countries.” The idea, she continued, should be “an item of consideration” for “interventions in response to the opioid epidemic.”

In a strongly argued editorial in February, the New York Times declared the safe consumption space approach a “rigorously tested harm-reduction method” that has “proved incredibly effective at slashing overdose deaths.”

Councilmembers Mark Levine of Manhattan, chair of the Council Health Committee, and Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, chair of the General Welfare Committee, support the program.

The citywide coalition of treatment providers, medical professionals, and harm reduction activists are boiling over with anger at a delay that prevents drug users from gaining timely access to a life-saving medicine.

A drug user overdosing is helpless and depends on another person to help them regain normal breathing. Safe consumption spaces are specifically designed to meet this emergency and also allow health professionals to begin a constructive engagement with users about other means of reducing the harm caused by their drug habit.

This was posted on GayCityNews.com on April 6, 2018

NYS Parole Board Releases Controversial Prisoners, Braves Public Outcry

For 45 years, Herman Bell, has been a New York State Prisoner.

After 8 attempts, the Parole Board has given him a release date. It’s a historic moment, the Board almost all of them appointed by Gov. Cuomo is willing to face withering public criticism to release prisoners whose crimes are infamous, but who are good risks for release. In fact, most of them are old men.

Bell was sentenced to 25 years to life under the laws prevailing before mass incarceration and the neo-liberal take-over of the Democratic Party, that is the laws offered the prospect for relief for convicts who were rehabilitated and weren’t dangerous. It’s the days before life without parole.

Bell received the maximum sentence; he and a partner lured two polices officers into an ambush in Harlem housing project. Officer Waverly Jones, Jr. and Joseph Piagentini were killed. The crime drew down the fury of a united city and helped undermine Mayor Lindsay’s chances of running for President.

But a new era is looming. The law and order decades ushered in by President Reagan and the escalating fear of crime in New York City are over. There has been a 26% decline in the prison population from its 1999 peak of 72,000, and with it a change of philosophy. The focus on the past and the crime is giving way to a forward-looking philosophy taking into account evidence of rehabilitation.

A Correctional Facility, in a nation that values liberty, must measure a person’s change in behavior and offer a chance for liberty. It should determine if a person demonstrates a capacity for change. And in this regard Bell has passed the 7 tests posed by the Parole Board: length of sentence (nearly double the 25 years), disciplinary record (only 4 tickets in 45 years), his age 70 and his reentry plan.

Bell, as a cop-killer, faced constant pressure from guards. In September 2017, when he did not get off the phone fast enough, Bell posted on the internet, this account. He received  “a vicious slap aside the head from behind” before he was shoved to the ground. “I sustained multiple kicks, punches to the face and eyes, repeated head slams into concrete, and two cracked ribs.” He was sent to solitary, but after an investigation the guards’ accusation were rejected as unfounded and one of the officers was suspended. Over a 45 year sentence 4 discipline tickets demonstrates forbearance.

Herman Bell enjoys the support of prison reform advocates, civil rights groups, religious leaders, celebrities and former prisoners, he is not man left at the Port Authority trying to find a homeless shelter as often happens to released prisoners. He has an extensive network of friends and supporters including Waverly Jones, Jr., the son of one of officers Bell killed in 1971. In this case, the crime victim took the initiative and reached out.

It stirred something in Bell who realized that Jones’ family had gone through hell. His expressions of remorse and accepting responsibility became fuller after 2010. Parole has a relatively new evidenced based system called COMPAS, a management profile for gauging eligibility for release used by the Prison Rehabilitation Coordinator. Bell whose studies led to two bachelors and a master’s degree presented a low risk of reoffending and qualified for supervised release.

If Bell had supporters so did the opposition led by the police and union leaders. The decision granting Parole provoked a fire storm. The police according to the New York Post are pressing for reconsideration of the decision. Mayor de Blasio wrote a letter of opposition.

Indications are that the Parole Board is standing firm.  The Board will only reconsider if new information is provided, and the Police Benevolent Association cites old information in its letter. But in a world where action speak louder than words, the Board has doubled down on its commitment to considering rehabilitation in releasing prisoner serving long sentences.

A 68-year old man named Christopher Thomas was paroled after serving nearly 33 years for the killing of 2 adults and 8 children on April 15, 1984. It was another front-page crime dubbed the “Palm Sunday Massacre” by the tabloids. He was released without public notice two months ago.  No prisoner can undo the past, he or she cannot make the crime go away, but under the law prisoners must be allowed to demonstrate they can change. The Parole Board is biting the bullet and offering its elderly prisoners a chance to walk.

Waverly Jones, Jr., whose father was one of the slain police officers, vigorously defends the Parole Board, he wrote Mr Bell “expressed genuine remorse, is 70 years old, and has been in prison for 45 years. In these times of increased hate, we need more compassion and forgiveness.”

At a news conference, State Senator Kevin Parker blasted those who “question the Parole Board’s integrity, when so many other unfair and unjust decisions have been rendered without this level of interrogation.”

Veteran gay activist Allen Roskoff, who founded “Candles for Clemency,” summed up his support by calling it a “shame of our society” that so many “elderly waste away and die in prison.” Granting parole is sign the State is “turning away from the status quo.”

At the news conference in the office of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jose Saldana and Ishmael Igartua, who did time with Bell, spoke highly of his “calming demeanor” and the help he gave them getting through their long prison sentences.

As is normal in the history of Black Americans, there is a backstory which undermines law and order outrage. In 1971, the Knapp Commission exposed a police department where nearly every officer was on “the pad” extorting money from mobsters running gay bars and dealing drugs, reputable business also contributed to boost police pay. Rogue cops it was said worked as mob hit men.

1971 was a time of horrific violence by the standards of this century. 59 police officers were shot and 12 died, while the Police killed 93 and wounded another 221. In the entire city, 810 shooting incidents recorded that year compared to 81 in 2013 when the police killed 8.

The parole of Herman Bell is turning into a major test of New York State’s capacity for compassion and its ability to turn away from the politics of mass incarceration.

-30-

{note, the evidence of NYC violence in 1971 can be found here around page 56.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/analysis_and_planning/nypd_annual_firearms_discharge_report_2013.pdf

 

 

Cynthia Nixon’s Impressive Launch

BY NATHAN RILEY | Cynthia Nixon successfully opened her campaign denouncing Governor Andrew Cuomo as a man who cares more “about headlines and power” than about people.

“New York is my home. I have never lived anywhere else,” she says in her first ad. While identifying healthcare, mass incarceration, and the subways as key issues, she highlighted upstate poverty and economic stagnation, arguing that New York’s fundamental problem is income inequality: “Our leaders are letting us down, we are the most unequal state in the entire country.”

Her announcement drew a positive response, and it seems clear she will be taken seriously. The governor responded through surrogates who said the actor couldn’t do the job and, besides, it didn’t matter — she has neither the money nor the name recognition to overcome Cuomo’s incumbency advantages.

PERSPECTIVE: The Long View

But Harry Enten, a CNN commentator and contributor at Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com, said Nixon could win. He pointed to Ned Lamont’s Democratic primary victory over US Senator Joe Liberman in 2006 — just six years after Lieberman, who began the race with at 65-to-19 percent edge over Lamont, was their party’s vice presidential nominee. (Cuomo, of course, is not saddled with George W. Bush’s Iraq War, as Lieberman was.)

The political class is quietly giving Nixon room to make her case. Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and Letitia James, the public advocate, have so far stayed neutral even as the governor worked to drum up endorsements. Media outlets across the state gave ample coverage to Nixon’s charge that Cuomo is a “bully,” often accompanying it with comments about his “hair-trigger temper.”

Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller, released a report slamming the MTA for cutting back on off-hour service during the Great Recession but not restoring it in the years since 2010, inconveniencing hospital workers, building maintenance crews, nightlife employees, and other low-income workers who often work the night shift or have early starts. “The MTA runs 60 percent fewer trains citywide from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. than it does from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and 38 percent fewer from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” the comptroller’s report pointed out. Whatever Stringer’s intentions, the report undercuts the governor’s claim, eight years after taking office, that he inherited a deteriorating system. Nixon is expected to argue the governor used the MTA as a piggy bank for other projects — think of those three upstate ski resorts — shortchanging necessary maintenance and renovations.

Only forty percent of New Yorkers told pollsters they had heard of Nixon, but the other potential Democratic challengers mentioned — State Senator Michael Gianaris from Astoria and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner — came nowhere near her in terms of name recognition. Cuomo well knows that the strongest candidate is challenging him.

The New Republic poo-pooed the claim Nixon is inexperienced — calling it “an elitist obsession with qualifications” — pointing out that being a citizen satisfied voters who elected New Jersey’s Bill Bradley, California’s Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Minnesota’s Al Franken.

Nixon’s first Albany appearance on Monday displayed her qualifications, speaking at a news conference called by the Alliance for Quality Education, an activist group she has worked with for years dedicated to ending the gap between the school budgets of poor communities without large property tax revenues and those of model schools in well-to-do communities. She slammed legislative leaders and the governor for being a “boys’ club.” Cuomo’s budgets “bully our children and our families by shortchanging them, boxing them in by denying them the opportunities they are owed. It reminds me of the behavior we see from Donald Trump every day.”

Nixon’s wife, education activist Christine Marinoni, is registered as a member of the Working Families Party, which has close ties to organized labor. Marinoni’s registration, however, will bar her from voting in the September Democratic primary — a restriction that doomed Bernie Sanders’ campaign here — and in other states — in 2016. Working Families itself will no doubt have a heated debate about whether to back Nixon, the candidate who shares its values, or Cuomo, the incumbent who could punish affiliated unions the next time contracts are negotiated. Nixon on the November ballot, even not as the Democrat, could spell trouble for Cuomo.

Nixon will certainly promote herself as a proud user of city services: she takes the subway, she graduated from public schools, and lived in a fifth-floor walk-up with a single mom. Now she walks the talk and sends her teenage boys to public school. Cuomo loves his Corvette and is more likely to be photographed in the state helicopter than underground during rush hour.

The opening act in this drama promises a furious, hard-fought campaign where Democrats on the left will give vent to their hostility toward neo-liberal centrists. In a New York Times column, Ginia Bellafante wrote that Nixon will slam Cuomo for “too little investment in public schools, too little effort made at eradicating inequality, too much capitulation to big-moneyed interests and venal and corrupt state legislators.”

Stayed tuned.

Posted on GayCityNews.Com on March 29, 2018

No Evidence, No Justice

by Nathan Riley

In a desperate effort to achieve real criminal justice reform, nearly 35 protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge “chanting after arraignment, not before trial.”

Under New York law, a District Attorney may withhold evidence from defense attorneys until shortly before trial, but they can immediately seek a guilty plea without justifying it with evidence. The Defense Attorney must present the DAs offer even though he has had no chance to evaluate the evidence.

It’s called the “blindfold law” by the defense bar, playing on the image of blind justice weighing the scale because lawyers representing desperate clients are flying blind. They have no way to evaluate the State’s case hence it’s impossible to know if the prison sentence recommended by the DA is fair or outrageous.

New York’s discovery law is indefensible, only Virginia has one that is comparable. Newspaper editors like the Rochester Chronicle correctly describe the problem, “The punishment should not come before the conviction of a crime.”

Defense lawyers routinely represent people in jail because they can’t make bail, and prosecutors rely on the dismal conditions in lockups to coerce guilty pleas. Changing the discovery law is one of three critical reforms that are needed to give the predominantly Black and Brown men a chance to have their day in court.

Bail reform and guarantees of a speedy trial are the other items in package of reforms that Mayor de Blasio says are needed before he can close Riker’s Island. The effect of the three reforms would be to lower the population of this NYC jail to below 5,000, a population that can be managed in smaller boroughs jails.

The issue is of major importance but Governor Cuomo has placed the bill into the budget where negotiations take place behind closed doors and criminal justice reform is just one among many issues.

While admitting the need for reform the Governor has consistently deferred to District Attorneys when drafting legislation.

Joe Lentol, the longtime chair of the State Assembly Codes Committee, is blunt in pointing out that the obstacle to reform is the political influence of the district attorneys. “The rules are in their favor,” he said. “Why should they change it?”

But States like New Jersey have for decades required prosecutors to share evidence. The reform in the words of the Democrat and Chronicle require Prosecutors and Defense “to share facts and evidence as they build their cases. Right now, defendants often don’t get the information until it is too late to be useful in preparing for a trial, or they don’t get it at all.”

Imagine representing a client who is marched off to State prison without ever seeing the evidence but that happens in New York State. It means young men are spending years away from family and friends even if the police officer misstated the facts or manufactured evidence. Individuals are in jail who would be found not guilty in a full and fair trial. In other words they are innocent under the law.

It was this pain that drew the protestors to march and gather in Foley Square across from the Federal Courts. Akeem Browder, spoke of the pain suffered by his 16-year old brother Kalief who spent 3 years in Riker’s Island much of it in solitary confinement for allegedly stealing a knapsack. Had discovery reform been in effect his lawyers would have learned that the owner of the knapsack had returned to Europe and there was no case at all. Upon his release, Kalief was a crushed unhappy young man who seldom left home and then burdened with PTSD took his own life.

Prince Jackson spoke of the need for just leadership. He spent 24 months in the Suffolk County jail and then 25 years in prison, while discovery would have revealed that the DA knew he was somewhere else when the crime was committed.

Brian Benjamin, a State Senator from Harlem, is pushing hard for reform. “I believe we have got to have open and automatic discovery” He insisted on rewriting the discovery rules because, “you are innocent until proven guilty.”

Kenny Agosto, Chief of Staff for Bronx State Senator Jameel Bailey led the march on Saturday, March 24, 2018.  He is on the Board of Discovery for Justice which along with Vocal-NY organized the demo demanding “open, early and automatic” discovery.

The State’s budget will be voted on before Thursday, March 19, 2018 and that may end the chance for criminal justice reform in this legislative session.

***

See Cuomo Must Step on Discovery Reform for an earlier article.

 

 

 

 

 

The Democrats’ Elitist Obsession With Qualifications

“New York is a very blue state, and could easily elect a governor to the left of Cuomo. While Cuomo has a progressive record on the minimum wage, paid leave, and marriage equality, he has worked to keep the left in check and sided with Republican lawmakers to cement his power. As Clio Chang wrote at Splinter, Cuomo “has also worked to prop up the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight breakaway state Senate Democrats who caucus with Republicans, effectively giving them the majority. The Republican-led state Senate, with the help of the IDC, has worked to block progressive priorities on reproductive rights, immigration, and electoral reform.”

Jeet Heer writing in the New Republic: https://newrepublic.com/article/147588/democrats-elitist-obsession-qualifications