Friday, August 26, 2011

GEICO parody + RKA = best SC Bar video ever

There's really not much to say about this video the South Carolina Bar did to promote the Hot Tips 2011 seminar coming up on September 16, 2011 other than it's Genius. Pure. Unadulterated. Genius...

Hattip Catherine A.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rick Perry's solution for homosexuality? Talk to the hand...

We already know that 2012 GOP Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann thinks her husband can help homosexuals "pray the gay away."

Now, we get a peek into Texas Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry's solution to this "problem":

In “On My Honor,” Perry also punted on the exact origins of homosexuality. He
wrote that he is “no expert on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate,” but that
gays should simply choose abstinence.

That's right you gays: don't have sex. "Talk to the hand" all you want, but that whole "pursuit of happiness" thing from the Declaration of Independence? Well...if sexual interaction between consenting adults is your idea of happiness, tough titty. You don't get to do it.

Remember the Alamo.

Texas forever.


Rick Perry

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Your lying eyes...

We've posted before about the shortcomings of eyewitness identifications. Basically, we know that false eyewitness identifications have played damning roles in the majority of wrongful convictions. And given how we have come to know these convictions are wrongful, due to DNA testing, we know that the second prong of the legal test used to weigh the credibility of eyewitness identifications is complete horseshit.

As we noted before:

The court set up a two-pronged analysis. First, was the eyewitness
identification unduly suggestive? Crap like roll-up IDs (driving a victim up to
a Defendant in handcuffs or vice-versa, single-person show-ups, single-person
photo IDs, improper photo arrays (all white, but one black person in lineup when
the suspect is alleged to be black) are pretty much disfavored automatically.
However, the Biggers two-pronged test says just because the procedure used for
the identification was unduly suggestive, it doesn't mean it's not admissible.
Courts must then move to the second prong of the Biggers test, which is to
consider the "totality of the circumstances." How does one do that? The court said you do that by considering the following factors: 1) the opportunity
of the witness to view the criminal at the time of the crime; 2) the witness’
degree of attention; 3) the accuracy of the witness’prior description of the
criminal; 4) the level of certainty demonstrated by the witness at the
confrontation; 5) the length of time between the crime and the confrontation.

Due to the biological nature of the DNA evidence that has led us to
uncover most wrongful convictions we know of, a large majority of these DNA
exonerations deal with cases involving sexual assault. In other words, in the
vast majority of these cases where we know mistaken eyewitness identification
has played a major role, the mistaken eyewitnesses have most likely: 1) been in
close proximity to the criminals; 2) experienced heightened degrees of
attention; and, 3) had ample opportunity to observe the criminals. Since these
cases resulted in convictions, we can assume that the degree of certainty with
which these eyewitnesses made their misidentifications was high. In short,
science has proven the second prong of Biggers and its consideration factors

So it is with great anticipation that we relay the United States Supreme Court is set to revisit the issue of eyewitness identification, some 34 years after their last look at the issue. How long ago was the last case of Manson v. Brathwaite decided? 1977. If you want to know how long ago that was culturally for our country, read the first 8 words of the opinion: "Glover, a trained Negro undercover state police officer..." A "trained Negro undercover state police officer?" What a novelty!

Seriously, eyewitness identification is an area of the criminal justice system that must be revisited. As a recent NY Times article documented:

Every year, more than 75,000 eyewitnesses identify suspects in criminal investigations. Those identifications are wrong about a third of the time, a pile of studies suggest.

Of the first 250 DNA exonerations, 190 involved eyewitnesses who were wrong, as documented in “Convicting the Innocent,” a recent book by Brandon L. Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia.

Many of those witnesses were as certain as they were wrong. “There is absolutely no question in my mind,” said one. Another was “120 percent” sure. A third said, “That is one face I will never forget.” A fourth allowed for a glimmer of doubt: “This is the man, or it is his twin brother.”

In the past 30 years, More than 2,000 studies on the topic have been published in professional journals in the past 30 years. The problem is that the unreliability of eyewitness identifications tends to be exceeded only by the weight which juries give them. In Watkins v. Sowders, a 1981 case, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. remarked in his dissent that "There is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says, "That's the one."

Justice Brennan is right. Given the weight juries afford eyewitness identifications, it is more than past time for the Court to reconsider the gatekeeper role judges should play in admitting such testimony. As we argued to a judge a little more than a year ago who asked us if we were trying to argue to the court that eyewitness testimony should be looked at as de facto unreliable: "I'm not telling the court is."

Hattip, Law and Baseball.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Freedom for the West Memphis Three, but is it justice?

Right as we were graduating High School, 3 young boys were murdered in a wooded area of a West Memphis, Arkansas neighborhood. The wooded area was known to the kids of that neighborhood as Robin Hood Hills and the brutal nature of the crimes against the three young 8-year old boys sent the area into a panic.

The man in charge of the investigation was West Memphis Police Department Investigator Greg Gitchell. As the days dragged on into weeks and the weeks became almost a month, the failure to find the killers was wearing on the police. Almost three weeks after the bodies of the boys were found, Gitchell wrote a letter to the state crime lab, pleading for help in getting some information which would help them solve the case. The letter claimed that the cops needed information badly, that their hands were tied without it and that they felt they were "walking blind-folded through the case." Gitchell followed that letter up 2 days later with a letter to the district's deputy prosecutor (and the man who would wind up prosecuting the cases for the state), John Foglemann informing him of how "severely handicapped" they were without the information from the crime lab. In an unusual move, Gitchell's letter admitted that, unbeknownst to him at the time they did it, Foglemann and another prosecutor had already driven to the state crime lab in an effort to push things along.

Early on, Gitchell dropped what was really just a random comment with no support in the evidence: that the murders could have had something to do with a gang or cult. One person who seized on those comments was a county juvenile officer by the name of Jerry Driver. Driver was seen by the local cops as an "expert" on the occult. Where this idea that Driver was any kind of an expert came from is beyond us, seeing as how his professional career was not in law enforcement or academia, rather Driver had been a commercial airline pilot and had tried to open a housecleaning business that had failed. After that, he became the Chief County Juvie officer. When he heard about the murders, it was vindication for Driver. He had been telling people for months something bad was going to happen. And when it did, Driver knew who was responsible: Damien Echols.

Driver and his assistant, Steve Jones, seized on Echols and his friend Jason Baldwin (Baldwin is pictured to the left, Echols in the center. Jesse Misskelley, Jr. is on the right), who both men believed were starting or belonged to a satanic cult in the area. Echols had come to Driver's attention before when Damien and his girlfriend had gotten caught trying to run away. Echols' room was searched as part of that incident and Driver got a hold of some of Damien's "notebooks." Driver heard of some crazy-ass rumors that Damien and his girlfriend were gonna have a baby, then sacrifice it to Satan, and that was enough for Driver to personally escort Damien to a psychiatric hospital out of town.

Long story short, Driver got gravely worried about this kid, because he dressed all in black, said he was a Wiccan and just plain looked weird. But...take a look a Driver. How many teenage kids today would be classified as "weird" by a guy like Driver? about all of them. Regardless, even with Echols locked up in a psych hospital, Driver and his disciple Jones continued to see Echols as a the West Memphis bogeyman, noting Echols' modus operandi continued around West Memphis, as evidenced by "cult-related" graffiti and other simple, stupid shit around town. Driver's obsession with Echols followed Echols all the way to Oregon when he subsequently moved there, as he sic'd authorities out there on Echols to investigate him. When Echols was allowed to leave Oregon and headed back home to Arkansas, Driver was ready for him, neglecting to tell the Arkansas authorities that Echols had been released by Oregon officials to come home and thus getting Echols violated on his probation back in West Memphis. The whole time this is going on, Driver and Jones were spreading rumors around West Memphis that Echols and his friend, Jason Baldwin, were in an occult group, thus planting the seeds that would eventually result in the miscarriage of justice to come. As Jason Balwin, who's only connection to any of this was being Echols' friend and a fellow kid Driver and Jones thought was "weird" put it: They arrested Damien for being weird and me for having black t-shirts.

The cops eventually got to "investigating" these two when a local cop brought in a woman who was being accused of credit card fraud by her employer. The woman, Vickie Hutcheson, had an 8-yr old son, Aaron, who she claimed had been friends with the murdered boys. When the woman told the detective about her son being friends with two of the murdered boys, that detective saw a chance to get himself involved in what was becoming a national red-ball case. This detective got interested, got himself in touch with Driver, and the hunt into Echols and Baldwin was on. In what has to be one of the most bizarre parts of the story, the cops basically allow Vickie Hutcheson to "play detective" for them, steering her towards looking into Echols and Baldwin. She managed that, through a young boy that lived in her neighborhood, Jesse Misskelley, Jr. After all kinds of bizarre stuff from Hutcheson (like her alleged attendance at some secret satanic orgy with Echols, her son's increasingly bizarre confessions putting himself more and more in attendance at the murders, etc), the cops bring Jesse Jr. in and interrogate him. Jesse Jr., who is borderline retarded given his IQ, eventually gives a confession naming Echols and Baldwin as the main perpetrators of the murders, with himself just present. Despite the confession being rife with inaccuracies (the biggest being that the murders happened around noon, when in fact the boys were in school that day), the cops, still desperate as Gitchell's letters had documented, move and arrest the Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley.

June 4, 1993, just about a week after writing to the state crime lab and the prosecutor to tell them how "blind" they were in the investigation, Gitchell held a press conference announcing the arrests. Despite having no physical evidence linking any of the three boys to the crime and really only having Misskelley's confession that was on it's face rife with errors, Gitchell declared on a scale of one to ten, that their case was "an eleven." (A ridiculous comment that even Foglemann later admitted made him furious).

Misskelley was tried first and convicted, despite his recanting of his confession. Then the trial Baldwin and Echols began. Obviously, the State wanted to use Misskelley against Baldwin and Echols. It's hard to do justice to just how much pressure Misskelley was under to testify against the other two. In fact, the State's pressure on Misskelley became incredibly contentious when Misskelley's lawyer accused the State of contacting his client about testifying outside the presence of his atty, when the atty had specifically noticed them not to. Miskelley went back and forth. Eventually, after talking to his dad, Misskelley announced he would not do it.

To say that the defendants faced an uphill battle in these trials is an understatement. Just about every single significant ruling from Judge David Burnett in the trials went against them. In what was personally the most egregious example of how crazy these trials were, one young man who had originally fled West Memphis for California right after the murders, who later confessed to the crimes to California law enforcement, only to retract the confession was called to the stand. In a hearing outside the presence of the jury, the judge put that witness on the stand. The young man, claiming to be facing drug charges, requested an attorney ON THE STAND...TWICE, but was forced by the Judge to testify. Judge Burnett eventually stopped the testimony and ordered for the young man to get an attorney, but then had a in chambers hearing where it appears he issued a gag order on all the parties to try to cover up what we feel was pretty obviously a mistake.

Anyway, that was just one of the more glaring problems we saw that made the case seem ridiculously flawed. Baldwin was really harmed by the court's refusal to let his case be severed. By all accounts (even his own, post-trial), Echols attitude and demeanor during the trial did not help things. He came off as arrogant and cocky. He played into the image the State was arguing. Eventually both were convicted, with Baldwin getting life and Echols the death penalty.

But in a way, the real heart of the story occurred AFTER the verdicts. A documentary film crew had been filming the story from early on. They released their film, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills in June of 1996. Given the role their music had played in the story surrounding the events (namely that listening to it was somehow indicative of satanic worship), Metallica not only agreed to let their music be used in the film, but they donated it. The film was a hit, both critically and commercially and it started a strong interest in the case. That interest eventually led to the creation of one of the most influential and comprehensive criminal case websites on the web: Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley became the "West Memphis Three" and a grass roots movement sprouted to help free the WM3. The movement drew celebrity support and benefit concerts and CDs eventually came to fruition.

With the influx of support and resources, the WM3 continued to press their cases through appeals. Despite set back after set back, the WM3 and their attys kept at it and in 2007 they caught a break. DNA testing, having improved vastly over the years, was able to test the small amounts of material left in the case and show that while none of the WM3 DNA was at the crime scene, another individual's was. Eventually, the lawyers won the right to present this new evidence to the court and time had been carved out for a new judge to hear the matter this coming December. Reading the writing on the wall, the State of Arkansas decided to do a little damage control and Friday afternoon, a deal was struck and executed. Basically, the State consented to the original convictions being overturned and the Defendants being granted new trials, with the Defendants agreeing to then immediately enter Alford pleas and the court imposing a suspended sentence on time served. An Alford plea allows a person charged with a crime to continue to maintain their evidence, while acknowledging to the court that it's in their best interest to plea to the crime.

The picture at the top of this article is from the press conference the three, now free, men had following their release. The actual picture was taken after Echols thanked Baldwin for going along with the plea. Echols acknowledged that Baldwin had wanted to continue to fight, but that he had gone along with the plea to save Echols from death row. As Baldwin noted,

It really is impossible to offer any kind of comprehensive summary of everything that has gone on with this case in a blog post. If you're interested in the case, we highly recommend the site, Mara Leveritt's Devil's Knot book, and the Commercial Appeal's website coverage. You can also find parts of both documentaries (there was a second one Paradise Lost II) on youtube.

We didn't even get into how crazy and weird John Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the young victim's, was. It's worth some reading just to see how big of a red flag Byers should have been to the cops, but who they for some unknown reason never seemed to take a strong look at.

In answer to the question posed by the title though, this is not justice. According to Baldwin, "This was not justice,” he said of the deal. “However, they’re trying to kill Damien.” Watch the video below, particularly from 9:00 on and see Baldwin's explanation for taking the deal. It's truly moving that someone who has undergone what Baldwin has could exhibit both the compassion and integrity he shows in that clip. Unfortunately, according to comments made by the State, the case remains closed. Here's to hoping the WM3 enjoy their freedom and eventually get their justice.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dear MO Lt. Governor Peter Kinder...

perhaps...just ain't exactly living a Christian lifestyle if you're frequenting the strip clubs. Just sayin'...

However, you are right...they are FANTASTIC charges and allegations...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Republicans have a new savior. Thou art Rick Perry...

The Republicans got themselves a new savior yesterday when Texas governor, Ricky Perry, announced he was throwing his hat into the ring to be the 2012 Republican nominee for President. Benen has a good post up about the poor track record of "savior candidates." If we had to guess, though, we think Perry actually comes out of this one on top. The GOP race was between Romney and Bachmann. Bachmann cemented her status at the top with her Ames Straw Poll win yesterday. Romney is at the top simply by virtue of his campaign coffers, which are swole-up compared to anyone else in the field.

In walks Perry and all of a sudden, the record scratches and everyone turns. Hell, Perry had more write in votes than Romney had votes (he was on the ballot, although he tried to alleviate what he would be a loss by not "competing") in Ames.

We've seen Perry before. He's W 2.0. On second thought, no...he's worse. Personally, we thought W's problem was that he was incredibly naive and gullible. Rick Perry is a zealot POS who ain't above getting his hands dirty to cover his ass.

Seriously, on the zealot thing, take a look at who this nutjob hangs out with. The Texas Observer did a good piece on the "prophets" Perry hangs, titled Rick Perry's Army of God. That title kind of sums this fella up. No shit...he hangs with people who believe they have a direct line of communication with God. Perry's idea of solving our economic problems? Big get togethers to pray, fast and repent.

However, most troubling to us, is Perry's willingness to cover up his own mistakes. We've done a few posts about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, very likely an innocent man Texas put to death on Perry's watch (here, here and here).

Three expert reports have concluded that the fire in which Willingham's children died was not arson. One of those reports landed on Perry's desk 88 minutes before Willingham's execution. What do you think a guy who believes in prophecy did? If you guessed nothing, you'd be wrong. First, he did nothing, letting Willingham be executed. Then, right before his state's Forensic Science Commission was to hear testimony from experts on the Willingham case, Perry sprung into action replacing the head of the commission and two other members. Perry's new head canceled the hearing.

There is nothing as troubling to us as someone who not only refuses to admit their fallibility, but who actively tries to cover it up. Perry is one of those guys. And he now looks poised to capture the Republican nomination. Seriously, when you look at this yahoo, he's the perfect compromise for voters between Romney and Bachmann. He appeals to the nutjobs like Bachmann, while giving the corporate community the comfort of being W 2.0. The only good thing to come from Perry's entry is that it probably signals the death of any Palin presidential talk. As TPM noted, Perry is a red-meat hurler who ain't a quitter. And if the GOPers want to oggle a female, they've got Batshit Bachmann to look at.

Just what we need...another religious cowboy. How'd that work out last time?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

BTPC welcomes Michele Bachman to the Magic City...

2012 Republican Presidential candidate and batshit crazy congresswoman Michele Bachman is bringing her special kind of looniness through Florence via a bus tour stop on August 18, 2011.

BTPC novelist-in-residence Melvin Udall has recorded a video welcome message for her...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Calling...send some rubber bullets...

In case you haven't been watching the news, London is BLOWING UP the last several days. Youths in revolt showed up outside a north London police station to protest the shooting of a local man by the coppers.

As one of the rioters stated: I came to get my penny's worth.

Shit is gettin' so bad, our civilized mother country is talking about busting out the rubber bullets and water cannons. That may not seem like a big deal to a red-blooded American, but for a country where the coppers only carry firearms in exceptional circumstances, busting out the Bull Connor gear is at least akin to Defcon 2.

When we were looking at a slideshow of the riots this morning, we couldn't help but think of the Sex Pistol's "Anarchy in the UK."

Since we like a little soundtrack to our civil disobediance, we thought we'd offer some up. Enjoy...

Florence City Council makes an offer somebody can't refuse...

New York, 1920. A young Vito Coreleone had just begun pulling off a few capers with his partners, Clemenza and Tessio. As he drives a truck filled with boosted dresses down the street, the neighborhood rep of the Black Hand, Don Fanucci, hops into the truck.

Young man, I hear you and your friends are stealing goods. But you don't even send a dress to my house. No respect! You know I've got three daughters. This is my neighborhood. You and your friends should show me some respect. You should let me wet my beak a little. I hear you and your friends cleared $600 each. Give me $200 each, for your own protection. And I'll forget the insult. You young punks have to learn to respect a man like me! Otherwise the cops will come to your house. And your family will be ruined. Of course, if I'm wrong about how much you stole, I'll take a little less. And by less, I only mean - a hundred bucks less. Now don't refuse me. Understand, paisan? Understand, paisan?... Tell your friends I don't want a lot. Just enough to wet my beak. Don't be afraid to tell them!
What's this got to do with Florence City Council? Well, read the article in today's SCNOW and tell me it doesn't sound like this city council just made it an offer someone couldn't refuse...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Happy Anniversary One-Vote Victory...

1,469 to 1,468. One vote. That was the margin of victory by which City of Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela defeated then-incumbent Frank Willis for the Democratic primary on June 10, 2008.

Three years ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a ruling which proved that in the state of South Carolina, every vote does actually matter. In affirming the 12th Circuit Common Pleas ruling, the Court affirmed an order from the Honorable Michael G. Nettles which proclaimed:

The factors of this controversy and the applicable law will not allow this court to circumvent the will of the people. The voters have spoken ...
One of our favorite quotes after Judge Nettles ruling at trial?

We thought that once we got into a court of law that the law would take over and we would be successful. That didn’t happen. -- Frank Willis

But, of course, the legal battle did not end there. Frank Willis appealed Judge Nettles decision to the South Carolina Supreme Court and on August 6, 2008 the Supremes told Frank, in the words of the Budweiser commercial, to "let it go, Louie."

A ton of work went into that legal fight and it would be a bit of an understatement to say getting that call while down at trial lawyers was memorable. One of our fondest memories of that whole saga was running into a comp seminar in Hilton Head, drink in one hand, phone in the other, flip-flopping down the aisle to grab the Mayor and pull him out so he could get the news.

Upon that ruling, Frank Willis was quoted as saying, "Once the court rules, that's it -- it's over."

Oh...would that it were, Frank...would that it were. We all know it was far from over at that point. It took three more months of campaigning against a write-in candidate who magically appeared during that election protest period, who spent $300,000 over that time (no...that's not a typo, folks. $300k in 3 months), before it was actually over.

But when it was over, the idea that every vote matters had survived. Wukela handedly won the general and was soon sworn in as Mayor.

Happy Anniversary to one-vote victories.

For a great archive of articles about that whole race, check out the news section at

Friday, August 5, 2011

FOXNews: The Soft bigotry of Overt Racism...

Stay classy, FOXNews.

So glad Obama's race has nothing to do with their coverage of him...

Can someone remind us how many jobs clearing brush in Crawford, Texas gave us the previous 8 years? Oh...that's right, not so many.