After Decades of Suspicion, Robert Durst Faces Justice

The subject of HBO’s “The Jinx” goes on trial this week, accused of killing a dear friend. But the case will reach deep into his past, to the unsolved disappearance of his first wife.

“VANISHES! Search for beautiful wife of developer” screamed the headline in The New York Post. That developer was Robert A. Durst, heir to a real estate empire whose towers helped shape the Manhattan skyline. His wife, a 29-year-old medical student, had disappeared the night of Jan. 31, Mr. Durst told the paper (in an interview arranged by his friend and publicist, Susan Berman), and he desperately wanted to find her.

Married in 1973, the couple partied at Studio 54, sailed the Mediterranean and traveled to Thailand. They split time between a lakeside cottage 50 miles north of Manhattan and a penthouse apartment on Riverside Drive. But their relationship grew fraught, friends would later say, after Mr. Durst pressed his wife to have an abortion.

Five days after her disappearance, Mr. Durst walked into a police precinct station house to report her missing. Family and friends immediately suspected him. “I think he killed her,” Ms. Durst’s sister, Mary McCormack Hughes, recalled telling her husband after Mr. Durst called to say that she was missing. Her body has never been found, and Mr. Durst insists that he doesn’t know what happened to her.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/article/robert-durst-trial.html

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March 4, 2020 at 08:33AM

Former Parole Officer Reflects On His Time Supervising ‘The Second Chance Club’

As a parole officer in New Orleans, Jason Hardy was responsible for 220 individuals — four times the recommended caseload. He says the parole and probation system fails the most vulnerable.

Four and a half million Americans are on probation or parole — more than twice the nation’s jail population. Parolees and probationers are required to check in regularly with officials, who are charged with helping them rebuild their lives.

But being a parole officer is tough work. “The pay is poor. The benefits are expensive. The hours are long,” says former New Orleans parole officer Jason Hardy.

Hardy initially entered the field because, he says, it “seemed to be something that you could get involved with and really make a big difference in a short period of time.”

Once on the job, he was charged with supervising about 220 people — four times the recommended caseload. He says that nearly all of individuals he worked with had needs he couldn’t meet — for food, housing, employment, medical care, mental health counseling and drug treatment. Some with addiction were so desperate for treatment they would show up at the parole office knowing they would fail a drug test and be sent to jail, because it was the only free detox center available to them.

“Many times, the jail did not seem like the best answer or even a decent answer, but it was the only one that we had,” Hardy says.

Hardy came to believe that the nation’s failure to provide adequate probation and parole programming represents the single greatest missed opportunity in the entire criminal justice system. He writes about his experiences in the book The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison.


Interview highlights

On how he managed his overwhelming caseload

You manage it by triaging and … following your own instinct. Some of it is done by risk assessment. So risk assessments are a hot topic in criminal justice now. … Whether it’s with bail or with probation, parole and even with prison, you look at an individual’s record, you look at his socioeconomic status, you look at his educational attainment, his history of mental health issues, and you essentially try to assign some number that tells you how likely a person is to recidivate.

Obviously, this stuff can be problematic, because these are algorithms. They’re essentially making educated guesses. But ultimately, what you can do is you can look at 220 people and say, we think that these are the 45 to 50 who stand the best chance of harming themselves or someone else, and so those are the people you spend most of your time on. So where you end up with in a caseload of 220 is about 50 who are getting something that looks like real supervision and 100-something who are getting nothing at all. And in that “nothing at all” category, there are probably 35 to 40 who are in warrant status, where they just kind of disappeared. And we don’t know where they are. We’re not really looking for them.

On conducting home inspections

After bouncing from one job to another in his 20s, Jason Hardy decided to become a parole officer in New Orleans. He recounts his experiences in the book, The Second Chance Club.

Pim Van Hammen/ Simon & Schuster

It certainly can be intrusive. Like a lot of other things on the job, it sort of depends on how you carry yourself when you do it. … If you show up, if you knock on the door politely, if you if you treat everybody with respect and if you say that you’re more or less there to have a conversation and that really what you’re trying to do is get to know this person better so that you can help him, then it generally goes pretty well.

On having to talk with family members when someone in his caseload dies of overdose

That was one of the hardest things to do on the job. I don’t think we were ever the ones who were initially giving the news, but we would always go over there after the fact and have some kind of a debrief in as much as that was possible. And most parents knew the system. They knew that, again, we didn’t have that many resources, that we were doing the best we could. But some came right at us and said, “Hey, look, if nothing else, your job was to keep my son or daughter alive. And you failed to do that.” And you can know logically that a lot of these problems predate you, that you maybe weren’t the cause of them, but a part of you can’t help but agree, that if nothing else at the end of this supervision period, this person should still be walking and breathing — and to go and have to answer for that it really takes its toll.

On the barriers that prevent disabled people from getting social security

What happens normally when you call and try to get some kind of a public service for someone, is that you’re told that you have to bring a lot of paperwork to a government building. And what I found with SSI is that the hurdles to getting it are such that many people who are truly disabled just can’t possibly get over them. …

Sam Briger and Mooj Zadie produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

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March 2, 2020 at 01:28PM

The Dangers of America’s Expanding ‘Digital Prison’

On any day of the year, more than 200,000 Americans are wearing electronic ankle monitors that allow courts, police or corrections authorities to track their movements as a condition of their release from prison.

Many observers consider these digital devices a “win-win”: they allow the formerly incarcerated (and sometimes those awaiting trial) to escape confinement while reducing prison and jail populations; and they protect public safety by lowering the chances of future criminal behavior.

However, a new study in the Cardozo Law Review argues that in fact they are a form of “digital prison” that not only makes it harder for formerly incarcerated individuals to successfully reintegrate into civil society; they may even increase the odds that they will end up back behind bars.

The growing use of GPS electronic surveillance, or “e-carceration,” threatens to produce a “subgroup of surveilees who are increasingly divorced from the civic life of their community, divorced from opportunity for social mobilization, and divorced from political and educational life and opportunities,” writes Chaz Arnett, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Arnett added that the most damaging impact of digital monitoring is felt by those whose “social marginalization” has already landed them inside the criminal justice system, such as unemployed or traumatized African-American men—thereby perpetuating the disproportionate effects of the system on the poor and people of color.

“An e-carceration regime only acts to further one of the greatest harms of mass incarceration, the entrenchment of race and class subordination, and abandons genuine attempts at rehabilitation and reintegration,” he wrote.

According to Arnett, “there is already anecdotal evidence that populations disproportionately subjected to electronic surveillance are overwhelmingly black, brown and poor.”

GPS monitoring, which can be imposed for a lifetime on individuals such as sex offenders, effectively thwarts anyone from developing the confidence and mobility that can help secure employment—which most experts consider the principal passport to successful reentry.

“A person’s connection to their community, through employment, family ties, religious practices and social activities, is one of the strongest protectors against criminal justice contact, (but) the use of electronic monitoring acts to strain and sever those crucial ties,” Arnett wrote.

“The sad irony of electronic monitoring is that it divorces individuals from the very things they need for success,”

In a more ominous note, Arnett cited statistics showing that private firms are beginning to invest heavily in digital surveillance technology—specifically many of the companies who were once the leading developers of private prisons—creating a vested financial interest in subjecting more individuals to monitoring, whether it promotes public safety or not.

Individuals can be charged anywhere from $10 to $40 a day for using the ankle bracelets—after paying hefty initial fees—offering the possibility of a new bonanza to firms who are leaving  the privatized prison industry because of growing opposition from state governments.

GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison operators, has invested more than $450 million in electronic monitoring and alcohol monitoring-related businesses between 2011-2015, according to figures cited by Arnett.

It Started with Spiderman

Electronic monitoring as a form of judicial control was first introduced by a New Mexico judge in the 1980s after he was inspired by an episode in a comic book, in which a villain attached a tracking device to Spiderman to control him from afar. Since that somewhat bizarre beginning, ankle devices are now deployed in all 50 states.

Between 2005-2015, the number in use around the country rose by 140 percent, and the devices are now used now in the juvenile justice system as well as adult community supervision—and by federal immigration authorities.

Ironically, many supporters of justice reform have welcomed their use as a way of reducing prison populations, citing some studies that show they have cut recidivism.

Arnett, noting that other studies suggest the technology has no effect on recidivism, suggested advocates who believe that are deluding themselves.

Electronic surveillance technology, he argued, is an extension of the strategy of “punitive control” that governs the U.S. justice system, and represents a further step away from the rehabilitative goals espoused by reformers.

“With relatively little regulation, and almost no public awareness of the harms they may cause, electronic surveillance systems envelop the formerly incarcerated in an invisible network of control that is potentially even more insidious than the current probation and parole system,“ Arnett wrote.

Worse, the systems are also subject to glitches and mismanagement that in effect leave individuals wearing the bracelets “set up to fail,” he added.

Ankle Monitor in a Morgue

He offered some poignant examples. An Illinois man who developed cancer shortly after he was released from prison under electronic monitoring kept missing his appointments with the doctor because his family could not get timely permission to leave home. He died in hospital with the ankle monitor attached to his leg, and his corpse sat in the morgue awaiting cremation for weeks before a corrections supervisor came to remove the device from his body.

In another case, a Wisconsin man named Cody McCormick who was placed on electronic monitoring kept experiencing poor satellite reception at his home, which apparently led authorities to believe he had turned the system off. When police came to his home and found him exactly where he was supposed to be, he was still placed under arrest and jailed for three days.

Nearly a year later, McCormick was arrested again when the ankle bracelet located him erroneously at a location where he was forbidden to be, even though he had only driven past it.

While Arnett stops short of explicitly calling for a phase-out of the ankle bracelets, he argues that the apparent lack of interest so far in regulating their use—along with court rulings rejecting claims that they were a violation of Constitutional guarantees of privacy—should make authorities focus on alternatives such as community-based treatment and supervision.

“If part of righting the wrongs of mass incarceration…involves seriously committing to decarceration efforts, then strategies to enable decarceration must be shrewdly examined and critiqued to ensure that we are not repeating the same mistakes,” he wrote.

“A guiding question that must remain at the forefront of our minds is whether the rise of an e-carceration regime presents a solution to, or an expansion of, the harm of mass incarceration.”

The full study can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by Stephen Handelman, editor of The Crime Report.

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March 2, 2020 at 08:42AM

Woman Gets 20 Years For Sex At Machete-Point

A Montana woman who forced her ex-boyfriend to have sex at machete-point has been sentenced to 20 years in state custody, court records show.

A District Court judge Tuesday sentenced Samantha Mears, 20, in connection with her arrest last year for breaking into the victim’s Great Falls home and sexually assaulting him.

Pictured at right, Mears was committed to the custody of Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services for placement in a mental health facility. Her 20-year sentence was the maximum penalty allowed for the sex attack.

Mears’s case was placed on hold shortly after her June 2018 arrest when doctors hired by prosecutors and defense counsel concurred that she was, at the time, not fit for trial.

Following treatment at the Montana State Hospital, Mears was judged stable enough for her case to proceed, though a sentencing order notes that she “suffers from a mental disease or defect.”

In addition to the custodial sentence, Mears was designated a Tier II sex offender and will have to undergo counseling and treatment. Mears was sentenced for sexual intercourse without consent, a felony.

According to police and court records, Mears entered the victim’s home while he was out running an errand. Upon the man’s return, Mears emerged from behind a bedroom door and “came up behind him and placed a machete under his throat.” She then directed her ex to “get on the bed and remove his clothes.”

After taking off her pants, Mears climbed atop the victim and initiated sexual contact. The man told cops that Mears–who was holding the machete–bit him on the arm and “continued to have sex with him after he attempted to end” the encounter. The man added that, after ejaculating, he sought to “push Mears off of him to end the intercourse,” but she “continued to have sex with him until he was no longer erect.”

The man eventually fled the residence and called 911.

During questioning, Mears claimed to have had “consensual intercourse” with the victim, a cop noted, but she “was not making much sense and would often ramble on in her answers with information that did not even pertain to my questions.”

Two months before the sex assault, Mears was arrested for allegedly strangling her boyfriend. As a condition of her release from custody, Mears was ordered to have no contact with the victim and was prohibited from possessing any weapons. (4 pages)

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October 31, 2019 at 10:26AM

‘It’s Not America’: 11 Million Lose Driver’s License Over Unpaid Fines

Matt Holland works nights at a Denny’s in Florida, and his wife has to pick him up at the end of his shift at 1 a.m.

But his wife isn’t the only one who has to make the trip— their two children, ages 6 and 8, have to be woken up, even on school nights, and put in the car.

Holland wishes it wasn’t like this. He also wishes he could have kept his job as a plumber, where he was making $16 an hour rather than the $11 an hour he makes at Denny’s.

That would have required him to drive to jobs, but his driver’s license is suspended because of unpaid fines and fees stemming from multiple traffic and criminal violations.

He is one of millions of people across the country whose license has been suspended as a result of unpaid court fines and fees.

“When you take away a person’s license, you kind of take away their ability to provide for their family in a certain type of way,” Holland told ABC News.

Read more:  https://abcnews.go.com/US/vicious-cycle-11-million-live-drivers-license-unpaid/story?id=66504966

Cops aren’t liable for destroying home of innocent people, 10th Circuit rules

When they were finished, it looked as though the Greenwood Village, Colo., police had blasted rockets through the house.

Projectiles were still lodged in the walls. Glass and wooden paneling crumbled on the ground below the gaping holes, and inside, the family’s belongings and furniture appeared thrashed in a heap of insulation and drywall. Leo Lech, who rented the home to his son, thought it looked like al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound after the raid that killed him.

But now it was just a neighborhood crime scene, the suburban home where an armed Walmart shoplifting suspect randomly barricaded himself after fleeing the store on a June afternoon in 2015. For 19 hours, the suspect holed up in a bathroom as a SWAT team fired gas munition and 40-millimeter rounds through the windows, drove an armored vehicle through the doors, tossed flash-bang grenades inside and used explosives to blow out the walls.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the officers acted under the state’s police power rather than the power of eminent domain, so any damage to the home fell outside the scope of the takings clause. The Washington Post has coverage.

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October 30, 2019 at 05:31PM

U.S. Judge Bars Sheriff From Posting ‘No Trick-or-Treat’ Signs in Front of Sex Offenders’ Homes

A federal judge in Georgia has called a halt to a county sheriff’s plans to place warning signs for trick-or-treaters in front of the homes of people on Georgia’s sex offender registry.

U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell of the Middle District of Georgia limited the injunction he handed down Tuesday to the three men on the state sex offender registry who sued to stop Butts County Sheriff Gary Long from posting the warning signs. But the judge’s order also put the sheriff on notice that the authority he asserted for “blanket sign posting” in front of other registered sex offenders’ homes “is dubious at best and even more dubious if posted over the objection of registrants.”

The sheriff’s signs, which he wants to place on the public rights-of-way in front of the homes of county residents on the state sex offender registry, warn “No trick-or-treat at this address,” adding that the warning is “a community safety message from Butts County Sheriff Gary Long.”

Deputies warned the plaintiffs they faced arrest and criminal prosecution if they removed the signs, covered them up, placed something in front of them or posted a competing sign.

Read more: https://www.law.com/2019/10/30/federal-judge-bars-sheriff-from-posting-no-trick-or-treat-signs-in-front-of-registered-sex-offenders-homes-292-56173/

Charge dropped against man arrested after speaking Spanish

Federal prosecutors dismissed a felony charge against a Guatemalan who was arrested after coming to the attention of Border Patrol agents for speaking Spanish in public in a case that raised concerns about racial profiling.

The Border Patrol acknowledged in a court document that suspicions about members of a family that included Mateo Carmelo-Bartolo were aroused because they appeared to be of “Central-American origin” and because they spoke Spanish while shopping at a Goodwill store in Bangor, Maine.

Pursuing the felony charge, a prosecutor wrote, was not “in the interest of justice.” The charge, of reentering the U.S. after removal, was formally dropped Monday.

Defense attorney Ronald Bourget said the federal prosecutor did the right thing but noted that his client faces further proceedings in immigration court in Boston.

“In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that racial profiling is something that’s occurring,” Bourget said Tuesday, describing the Border Patrol’s conduct as “atrocious.” He added: “It’s not illegal to speak Spanish in a Goodwill store in Maine.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said federal guidelines prohibit profiling on the basis or religion or race. But the spokesman, Michael McCarthy, said Tuesday that he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the Carmelo-Bartolo case.

The U.S. attorney’s office also declined further comment.

Carmelo-Bartolo, 31, remained jailed Tuesday at the Somerset County jail. He admitted during questioning by Border Patrol agents Sept. 19 that he was in the country illegally, according to court documents. Despite the dismissal of criminal charges, he still faces a civil proceeding that will be handled by an immigration judge in Boston, Bourget said.

The U.S. Supreme Court bans profiling based solely on race, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine accused the Border Patrol of crossing the line.

“Racial profiling is wrong. Law enforcement cannot target people on the basis of their race or national origin. Dismissal of the case is, indeed, ‘in the interests of justice,'” said Emma Bond, a staff attorney for the civil rights organization.

The Maine case comes as the Border Patrol has increased highway checkpoints, bus station checks and other activities farther from the Canadian border.

The Border Patrol can conduct operations like those within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the borders, even though agents have authority across all 50 states, according to law. Those parameters allow for such operations across the entire state of Maine.

Charge dropped against man arrested after speaking Spanish  Miami Herald

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October 22, 2019 at 03:11PM

Arrested Japanese stalker used pupil image reflections – Miami Herald

A man arrested on suspicion of stalking a female pop idol used the reflections of her pupils in photos she shared on social media and Google Street View to find where she lived.

Tokyo police declined comment on the specifics of the investigation but confirmed Friday that 26-year-old Hibiki Sato was arrested Sept. 17 on suspicion of indecent behavior in connection with stalking and causing injuries to the 20-year-old woman.

The police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as is often policy at Japanese bureaucracies, said the case was related to the reports about a stalker and pupil images.

Police described Sato as an “avid fan.”

Public broadcaster NHK and other Japanese media reported this week that details in the woman’s selfies were used to identify the train station she frequented. They said Sato looked at other images she shared, such as her apartment, to figure out where she lived.

Police say he hurt her and committed indecent acts, such as groping her after accosting her from behind and knocking her down.

Japan has many young female performance groups.

Tokyo Shimbun, a metropolitan daily, which reported on the stalking case, warned readers evArrested Japanese stalker used pupil image reflections  Miami Heralden casual selfies may show surrounding buildings that will allow people to identify the location of the photos.

It also said people shouldn’t make the V-sign with their hand, which Japanese often do in photos, because fingerprints could be stolen.

Cyberstalking has been a problem for years, with criminals and perpetrators of domestic violence using hacking, clandestine activation of microphones and cameras and other methods to track their victims.

It’s unclear how prevalent the use of high-resolution photos to locate potential victims might be.

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October 11, 2019 at 02:41AM

Who paid for hit on FSU prof? In lurid trial, a Broward dentist’s name keeps coming up

Katherine Magbanua, charged in the 2014 murder of Florida State law professor Dan Markel, mimics with her hands an incident involving Sigfredo Garcia cutting off her and Charlie Adelson with his car.

Hours after Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel was shot and killed in his car at his Tallahassee home in July 2014, his ex-wife Wendi Adelson sat with an investigator at the Tallahassee Police Department, shaking, crying and burying her face in her hands.

When the investigator told Wendi the shooting was intentional and they needed to find out who murdered the father of her two children, she blurted out a name: Charlie Adelson, her older brother and confidant.

“[Charlie] knew that Danny always treated me badly and it was always this joke,” Wendi Adelson, also an FSU law professor, told police. “He said: ‘I looked into hiring a hit man and it was cheaper to get you this TV so instead I got you this TV … but he would never … it’s such a horrible thing to say.’”

Charlie Adelson, a Tamarac periodontist, has not been charged in the case and denies any involvement, but his name has come up again and again during a five-year investigation — and repeatedly during an ongoing three-week trial of two South Florida residents facing murder charges in Leon County for Markel’s death. The jury is expected to begin deliberations after closing arguments on Thursday.

This week, a state prosecutor called Charlie Adelson an “unindicted co-conspirator” during an interview with the Miami Herald. And the Tallahassee Police Department has done little to hide its suspicions that he organized the hit. Three years ago, police even released a draft of a probable cause affidavit against Adelson that the local state attorney rejected as insufficient to file charges.

charlie adelson linkedin.png
Charlie Adelson has not been charged in the murder of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel. But his name has come up repeatedly at trial. LINKEDIN

The two people now on trial in Tallahassee are Sigfredo Garcia, who prosecutors say shot and killed Markel, and Katherine Magbanua, who had romantic relationships with both Garcia and Charlie Adelson and is accused of being the go-between in the alleged murder-for-hire.

The prosecution’s case depends in large part on the testimony of Garcia’s friend and confessed accomplice, Luis Rivera, also of South Florida, who said Magbanua hired them for the job. Rivera, a convicted ringleader of the North Miami Latin Kings gang, has already pleaded guilty. Garcia and Magbanua are charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation of murder. They have both pleaded not guilty and are being tried together.

Although prosecutors never produced a witness who could link Adelson or his family to either Rivera or Garcia, they have spent much of the trial attempting to persuade jurors of abundant circumstantial links — with Magbanua as the cog.

“Charlie Adelson had a sister in Tallahassee, Wendi Adelson — and Wendi Adelson had a problem,’‘ lead prosecutor Georgia Cappleman told jurors in her opening statement. “Her problem was named Dan Markel. The solution to that problem was Magbanua, Garcia and Rivera.”

Magbanua took the stand Wednesday, where she denied involvement in a conspiracy but pointed the finger at a man far away in South Florida. Based on the evidence presented at trial, she told jurors she thought Markel’s brother-in-law — her former boyfriend Charlie Adelson — was behind the murder.

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article235941002.html

October 10, 2019 at 01:59PM