Friday, July 28, 2006

Are Utah's juries too white?

Defense Attorney Michael Esplin thinks so, and is suing the 4th district court (Utah County/Happy Valley) on grounds that Hispanics are underrepresented in jury pools. The Deseret Morning News explains the current system:
In compiling a statewide jury pool, state agencies gather information from driver's license and voter-registration forms, Esplin said. However, providing information about ethnicity on such forms is voluntary.
Jury questionnaires from 4th District Court ask about jury availability and previous felony convictions — but not race.

Are Hispanics being underrepresented because they don't have driver's licenses or aren't registered to vote? Illegal aliens don't have the right to sit on juries, that's a pretty firm rule of law. But there is precedent for challenging a jury's lack of ethnic, racial, or gender diversity prior to empanelling the jury (swearing them in etc.) So are Hispanics underrepresented because of their illegal friends and relatives, or are they being underrepresented more than the number of illegals?
Vincent Fu, a professor of sociology at the University of Utah, testified that census data show Utah's Hispanic population of adults 20 years and older is nearly 8 percent of the population.
But Utah's master jury list — the pool of potential jurors — shows the Hispanic population at 4 percent.

There could be some major impacts in the short term with Esplin's case:
If Davis opts to rule in Esplin's favor, it could prevent any jury trial in the state until the system is fixed. It could also open the door for appeals of old jury trials — within an appropriate window of time.

Let's hope that we can get the system right without delaying justice unnecessarily.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Destiny Press Conference

Man, are the press idiots or what? "I know you can't comment on this, because you have said 20 times that you cannot say anything outside the Information, but..."

Bob Stott rocked the house and really showed why he is the press guy for the D.A.'s office. He had the press under control kept them chuckling. I can't wait to see him in court. Here's the press release.

What we learned that was in the Information: Gregerson talked to Destiny, convinced her to come over to his house, she screamed, he smothered her, she suffocated and died. Then he performed a sex act with her dead body. Oh and some time later, he put her inside a plastic container in the basement. After that, he joined the citizen's search for Destiny and allowed the police to search his home. It was unclear whether he limited the search (no basement, don't open closed containers etc.) or he sufficiently hid the container amongst all his other crap in the basement that the police didn't see her body at the time.

Later the FBI interviewed him, because law enforcement still had him on their list, and somehow he confessed. Polygraphs were conducted on suspects, it is unclear, however, whether he was among those tested. Gregerson confessed to the FBI; based off the information provided in the confession, the police obtained a search warrant, and found Destiny's desecrated body.

Stott is charging Gregerson with Aggravated Murder, a First Degree Felony that carries with it the possibility of a Death Sentence (because it was committed during the commission of a Kidnapping and because he desecrated her dead body), and Kidnapping, also a First Degree Felony but carries a lesser sentence.

We also learned that the Press has no clue about the law, especially the basic part about not biasing the outcome by disclosing stuff prior to trial. They kept asking questions they knew or should have known Stott or the police chief couldn't answer. I guess they were trying to get their pet theories out: that Gregerson meant to silence her, not suffocate her, that Gregerson wanted to do his necrophilia needs the whole time, etc.

If the press had any brains, they would have talked to the other prosecutor, who was in the room with the file...and that file had the police report etc. But of course, they shouldn't have and she wouldn't have talked to the press.

Also, I want to take back any insinuation that I might have thought the police did a bad job investigating this. I didn't know the facts that I know now, and given what I have learned (which is the same as the informed public), the police did everything properly and the whole thing only lasted a couple days because of the interaction with SLCPD and the FBI.

UPDATE: here's the summary story.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gregerson's rap sheet

Linda Thomson of the Deseret News did some digging into the court filings, and found lots of violence in the past of Destiny Norton's alleged killer, Craig Roger Gregerson.

Here are the low lights:

  1. "Gregerson, 20, pleaded no contest in Sandy Municipal Justice Court to a Dec. 23, 2004, incident in which he shoved his mother-in-law against a wall with his hand around her throat and punched her twice in the face with his fist while her 17-year-old son was present." He entered a plea in abeyance to Class B Misdemeanor, which was conditioned him taking anger management classes

  2. "A "notice of completion" report of the domestic violence therapy from Valley Mental Health is on file with the Sandy court bearing a March 10, 2006, date — only three days after a 3rd District Court judge dismissed a protective order that Gregerson had sought against his wife, Catherine, 22." Lucky break for him, otherwise, he would have had to go to jail on the 2004 charge.

  3. 'Respondent (Catherine Gregerson) is a battered wife who has put up with it because she loved the petitioner and felt a need for his love,' attorney Delano S. Findlay said in documents filed in 3rd District Court on March 3." Sounds like a keeper to me.

  4. In the same complaint, Catherine's attorney claimed "Gregerson had abused his wife repeatedly in the past, including several episodes of hitting her, punching her in the stomach when she was pregnant and possibly triggering a miscarriage, shoving his fingers into her nostrils and punching her in the head with his fists while she was holding their baby.
    Findlay also described a time when Gregerson threw the baby across the couple's queen-size bed because the child had tipped over some food he was eating. ...'He grabbed (Catherine) by the neck and strangled her until she could hardly breathe before she was able to get away from him. At the same time, he told (Catherine) that he didn't care if he killed her, that it would be better to be in jail than living with her,' ...Findlay also refers to an incident in which Gregerson accused Catherine Gregerson of choking him. The police subsequently charged her with assault. Findlay wrote that Catherine didn't remember doing that but 'was convinced' by her husband that she had and, upon the advice of a lawyer, pleaded guilty and is on probation. 'Looking back, (Catherine) now believes those allegations were fabricated'" These are signs of an abuser.

Then again Catherine has quite a rap sheet of her own...
  1. Catherine "was charged with third-degree felony attempted aggravated assault, which was amended to a class A misdemeanor. She also was charged with assault on a health-care provider, a class A misdemeanor."

  2. The charges stem from an December 18, 2004 incident wherein"Catherine Gregerson decided to choke her husband with a piece of string and when it broke, she used a necklace-style ID badge holder, stopping when she felt he was going to pass out. ...while she was being taken to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation, she bit a Sandy firefighter."

  3. Jail time was suspended and like her husband, was placed on probation that required her to get a mental health evaluation.

  4. "[A] pending case against a Catherine Gregerson, again same birthdate and address of residence for the woman married to Craig, of domestic violence in the presence of a child and criminal mischief, both class A misdemeanors, that allegedly occurred June 14 [, 2006].

Destiny's [alleged killer's] date with the DA

For those of you who are hoping that my clerking for the District Attorney will provide you with the inside scoop on what is happening in the Destiny investigation, sorry.

Unlike last time when I spilled the beans during Massachusetts' Constitutional Convention surrounding Gay Marriage, I have a ethical and legal duty not to divulge attorney work product and attorney-client privledged information. I might have severely worsened my relationship with my Boss since I was not supposed to tell the internets the strategy of the pro-gay marriage folks. For that I appologize. But now I have the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) to take next Friday as part of the Bar. So I can't pretend I don't know.

I don't want to prevent from ever getting hired before I even graduate. Plus, I don't know anything more than you do right now other than Dep. DA Bob Stott is personally screening the case. Screening is the process by which the District Attorney's office decides whether to prosecute a given suspect whose sitting in jail on police charges. If the case looks weak, or the charges seem exaggerated, the DA has the power/discretion to drop the case or to reduce what the police want charged and what ends up getting charged. Since Utah is an "Information" state rather than an indictment state, we don't both with the whole grand jury thing.

So assuming Stott, who is a great crafty guy and great attorney, decides to go forward with the case, he would then write up a Probable Cause statement, which would end up in an Information and the then-Defendant would have the right to a preliminary trial to determine whether there is probable cause to bind him over for trial. From what I have read in the news, I would bet all of these steps would be pretty straight forward. After all, her body was found in his basement.

Next, there would either be some discovery/investigation prior to the trial, or a plea. My bet is that Salt Lake Legal Defenders (or whomever gets the case) will take a very aggressive approach to the defense since this is high profile.

I will be happy to explain the legal process to readers as it unfolds, but keep in mind I will just be going off publicly available documents and what I know about Criminal Procedure. My opinions are not those of my employer and are not intended for jurors or the media.

Destiny and the 4th Amendment

Rarely have a seen a shocking a headline as "Bill of Rights puts limits on searches" byy the Deseret Morning News--shocking as in dumbfounded that people are so dumb. On the local Fox affiliate this morning, they acted as if the Deseret News had a breaking, innovative angle on the whole mess. I was assuming there would be more factual details about the police's attempts to search the home of the alledged killer.

Instead, it was Criminal Procedure/Constitutional Law 101. I should have expected as much from the morning show crew at Fox News. Prof. Luna, whom I did some pro bono work for, was explaining to the paper that the police can't ransack through everyone's home just because. The only thing we learned is that the alledged kidnapper /agravated murder didn't give police permission to search his house. Of course, you can't use the lack of permission to get a warrant. The only thing Luna said that made this case a close case is that there might be a "exigent circumstances" exception to the Fourth Amendment. Of course, the court hasn't decided if a search for missing child is exigent enough to exempt Fourth Amendment requirements. "Luna estimated that had police argued for a warrant citing the exigent circumstance of a missing child, the warrant would have likely gone to the Utah Supreme Court — taking weeks if not years." Not very exigent any more if it takes years to resolve. This is probabbly why the Court has not yet ruled on the issue.

Apocolapse Soon

Prominant members of the Republican party apperatus, former elected and appointed officials are calling the Israeli-Hesbolah-Lebannon part of "World War III" and talking about Iraq, as the Secretary of State did as suffering through the "birth pangs" of democracy. It is no accident that these lines of rhetoric match up with lines from the Holy Bible, especially the Revelations of St. John.

Condi Rice didn't show up to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting recently just for fun, but to send a coded message to Bush's most ardent supporters: we are entering the End-Times, don't worry about the implications of our foreign for the middle east or world peace, because Jesus is on his way.

This morning on the Today show, it was Reagan's anti-Education Secretary Bill "Slot Machine" Bennett who repeated the Apocolaptic talk. The world is indeed going to Hell in a Handbasket, but it is not because the world is coming to an end and Jesus is about to return, it is because George W. Bush has made the world, and especially Americans, less safe, less peaceful, and less prosporous.

The idea that we can steer the ship of state off a waterfall because Jesus will return any minute now is disasterously wrong both morally and policy-wise. Whenever the second coming is, whether it be when we each die or some time next week, we shall all be judged by our deeds, what we have done, and what we have left undone. Whether we have loved our neighbors as ourselves. Whether we have forgiven those who have trespassed (as in sinned) against us. How we have handled temptation. How we have treated the poorest, weakest, and most vulnerable amounst us. How we as stewards of God's Earth (and Universe) have tended the garden while he was away.

Given that prominant Republican leaders, including the President and his Cabinet, have started a war out of vengence, lust for oil and power, ignored genocide, disease, and famine, formented hatred towards our neighbor to the South, succumed to greed by defrauding stockholders and taxpayers, created more crime and poverty and made live more difficult for the poorest weakest and most vulnerable, as well as pillaged the Earth for its resources with reckless disregard for the Earth, I would have to guess that Jesus would give them a big thumbs down on Judgment Day.

People of faith need to reject this fundamentally selfish and shortsighted view of the world, even if it is encoded in biblical language. The modern Republican Party is the party of Me. How do I get richer, how do I keep healthy, how do I protect my family?

The Democratic Party, by contrast, is the party of We. How do we combat poverty, disease, homelessness, hopelessness, corruption, war, hatred, and fear? We are all in this together. Whether we like it or not, this world is so interconnected and interdependent that we cannot go it alone and lookout only for ourselves. Because selfish actions only come back to bite you twice as hard as socially-conscienious decision would. That doesn't mean you let others walk all over you, but you approach matters in a way that looks out for everyone's interest such that we all benefit.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Was it Destiny or incompetence?

SLCPD is taking heat for its handling of the Destiny Norton missing person-cum-murder investigation. From the Salt Lake Tribune:
A few hundred people gathered outside the home of Destiny as well as that of Craig Gregerson, where the girl's body was found, on 500 East near 700 South.
Many were shouting profanities at the police who stood on the other side of yellow tape ensuring no one tampered with what was still considered a crime scene.
About midnight, the crowd was enough that police closed traffic on the block.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank arrived to try and quell the crowd and take some questions from reporters and residents.

There is something wierd about this case, something that hasn't been told or isn't yet known. While hundreds of people were out searching for her, Destiny was either dead or dying in the basement of her neighbor's house.
Jeannie Hill, who acted as a spokeswoman for the Nortons during the search, ... levied her own criticism of the investigation. In an interview, she accused the Salt Lake City Police Department of not taking Destiny's disappearance seriously. The first night Destiny went missing, Hill said, police told the family to go home; that police would go out and search.
Hill said the lack of seriousness was in part because of the previous dealings the Nortons and their extended family had with police.
Hill described the group as people who used to "sit on the street and beg for beer money" and who used to "smoke pot in the park."
"We've always known they've had a bit of a vendetta against us," Hill said.
The police and the FBI also focused too much on the possibility someone in the extended family took Destiny, Hill said. The Nortons claim kinship with a large group of people whom they will call by familiar titles though there is no blood relation.
Some people in the crowd accused police of not applying themselves toward finding Destiny because of her low socioeconomic status.
Chellie Ehrhart, who said she is a friend of the Nortons from Riverton, claimed police didn't apply the same amount of resources that were used to find Elizabeth Smart.

So this might be the piece that is missing...her "family" and that law enforcement were certain that one of these folks did it, just like they focused on that handyman of the Smart family. Maybe they zeroed in on this hunch and failed to look into the obvious next-door neighbor. The neighbor even went on searches for Destiny, just to throw the police off his trail.

The socioeconomic complaint feels valid. I recall that the same time Elizabeth Smart went missing, a black girl from the South Side of Chicago went missing, but the story vanished because the family didn't live in a McMansion or have a spokesman, or make the talk show circuit.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Oh, Pioneers!

CREDIT: "Re-enactment of Mormon pioneers arriving in Salt Lake Valley, Pioneer Day 1997." Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, courtesy of the Deseret News, for "Utah Pioneers," a Utah Local Legacies project
Happy Pioneer Day!

For those of you who don't know, Utah's one state holiday is Pioneer Day, the day [in 1847] Brigham Young and several wagons full of LDS religious devotees first glimpsed the Salt Lake Valley via Emigration Canyon, where the Donner Party had decades before lost critical time on their ill-fated way to California. Brigham, who was sick at the time (folks feared he might die soon, but that was far from the case), declared from his stretcher, "This is the Place."

Ever since then, our ancestors have celebrated the day as the day of effectively the state's founding (even though it did not become a state until 1896). I saw "our ancestors" becuase my fore bearers were in the second set of wagons that came after Brigham's set of elites.

Utahns celebrate this day as if it was the other July holiday-- July 4th. At every LDS Meeting House (or "Ward"), U.S. flag line the walkways. Utahns can buy fireworks for the whole month of July basically for either Independence Day or Pioneer Day.

I wish Brigham had planned it out better. The 24th of July is a terrible time to have a holiday. It is far to hot (today it is 97, about average) and dry (with a chance of thundershowers, which is rare, it is up to 25% hummidity) for sitting outside, wearing pioneer costumes, watching parade, and dangerous to allow fireworks in such a tinderbox environment.

Oh well, at least we Utahns get a day off for our troubles. Too bad my wife works for a national company that doesn't respect this holiday. Maybe they don't like the whole Church-State melding, or maybe they just want to make more money.

So far I did some yardwork before the sun crested over our hedges, and have been cleaning up the house for the Mrs. Our kitchen remodeling is finally done and I still think it was worth the pain, cost, and time.

Anyway, raise your non-alcoholic glass to the Pioneers, whose brave trek from Missouri to Utah created this fine state.