Sept 17

final-jur-e headline

Curtis Flowers Seeks Damage Award Against State Prosecutor & Investigators

Mr. Flowers endured six murder trials (eventually found by appellate panels to be unlawful), spending 23 years in prison, and eventually awarded compensation for wrongful conviction by a Mississippi state court.  Now, The New York Times reports Flowers is suing the prosecutor who repeatedly brought murder charges against him.  The Times provides a variety of quotes from his complaint including: “Given the absence of any solid evidence against Mr. Flowers, defendants engaged in repeated misconduct to fabricate a case that never should have been brought.”  The federal lawsuit names as defendants Doug Evans, the Montgomery County district attorney, and three investigators — John Johnson, Jack Matthews, and Wayne Miller — who worked with Evans.

A Peek at Military Jury Trials — Guantanamo Prison Readies for Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Four Others

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, pretrial hearings began in Guantanamo on September 7 and will continue through today.  Air Force Colonel Matthew McCall is presiding over the hearings.  He is the eighth military judge to sit on the case and the fourth during the pretrial proceedings.  The latest hearing opened with the judge asking each of the defendants if they understood the guidelines for the hearing.  Each answered yes, some in English and some in their own languages. McCall then spoke about COVID-19 protocols for the hearing, saying everyone should wear a mask unless addressing the court.

Defense attorneys said they were eager to continue where they stopped in February 2019, building a case to discredit the bulk of the prosecution's evidence due to the torture they endured by the CIA.  Proceedings then began with focus on the judge's own qualifications to hear the case.  (Lawyers for both sides are allowed in a war crimes tribunal to question a new judge for possible bias.  McCall said he had worked with others on both sides in this case but had no deep links or commitments to any.)

No video or audio will be released to the public.  However, an unofficial courtroom transcript will be released a day later, and a sketch artist will be present.  The trial is also being streamed to the public at Fort Meade, Maryland.  Much of the pretrial will also focus on what evidence will be admissible, as the defense has argued information was gathered under torture.  The five suspects will each have their own defense team of attorneys assigned by the military, as well as pro-bono lawyers from the private sector and non-governmental organizations.  They will sit separately at five tables with their legal teams and interpreters and may be restrained with their ankles shackled to the floor if the judge deems necessary.  During recesses in the pretrial proceedings, the five suspects will be held in five separate holding cells by the courtroom.  Family members of some of the 2,977 people the five are accused of murdering and survivors of the terrorist attacks will watch the hearings from a sound-proof gallery, with a curtain separating them from the press.

Defense attorney Alka Pradhan noted that it took the government six years to admit that the FBI took part in the CIA's torture program.  She is quoted to say, “This case wears you down.  They are withholding things that are normal procedure in court.” With scores of motions lined up to demand evidence that military prosecutors refuse to hand over, defense attorneys said the pretrial phase could easily last another year.  Additional pretrial hearings are expected to be held in November, followed by jury selection of 12 military officers in 2022 at the earliest.

In “Varsity Blues” Bribery Case, Jurors Can Hear Evidence of Defendants’ Incomes, Wealth, Spending, and Lifestyles

The first trial in the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions bribery scandal began this week, with the potential to expose a secretive school selection process many have long complained is rigged to favor the rich.  The Boston Herald reports U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton ruled, over the objection of defendants, the prosecution can present evidence of the parents’ wealth and thereby show they were motivated “to have their children admitted to elite universities so they could maintain or improve their status in the community.”

Public Radio Journalist Experiences Deeply Stressful Jury Service – It Became a Feature Story

Emily Russell is a reporter for North Country Public Radio in the New York Adirondacks.  She recently served on a jury that heard disturbing, dark evidence in a criminal prosecution.  After the jury delivered a guilty verdict, the experience was not over for Ms. Russell.  She still struggles with the trial’s impact.  She especially points to the jury’s inability to talk about the evidence until the very end of the case as a contributing factor to her ongoing distress.  One benefit from her experience is this public radio broadcast that aired last Monday.