Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nifonged in North Georgia

When the North Carolina State Bar took away prosecutor Michael Nifong's law license nearly three years ago, one would have hoped that the spirit of "Nifongism" would have died with the act. Instead, we find that prosecutors are up to the same illegal and immoral tricks that got Nifong in hot water, and, unfortunately, they usually get away with them.

In the summer of 2007, I wrote "Nifonged in Narragansett" about a case in which the Rhode Island attorney general charged a man with rape that allegedly happened 32 years before. There was no evidence except for the "recovered memories" of the alleged victim, and it seemed that even those memories were not very good. In fact, she could not tell when or where the alleged rape occurred, so the AG helped her by fashioning a broad (OK, ridiculous) time frame. As I wrote in the article:
First, and most important, there is no evidence except for this woman’s claim. Furthermore, she made her claim under the aegis of "recovered memories." The "theory" of recovered memories works in the following way: some people who have experienced traumatic experiences, such as a rape or witnessing a murder, then "repress" the memory and only bring it out under therapy.

What is most "interesting" (actually, "fraudulent" is a much better word) about these "memories" that have been brought to the fore is that they are memories that have improved with time. Researchers who are intimately familiar with memories say unequivocally that memories become worse over time.

Second, these "recovered memories" are selective. No doubt, she is forthcoming in all sorts of details about this "rape," but cannot remember when it was, whether it was in the spring, summer, or fall, a seven-month time frame. Granted, the prosecutor has done that so that Mr. Allen cannot possibly line up an alibi defense, since if he says he was out of town on Day X, then the prosecution then will claim that the rape happened on Day Y, and when he finds evidence for what he did on Day Y, then the timeline will be moved to Day Z, and so on.
About a week after the article appeared, Lynch suddenly had an epiphany: the case was ridiculous, and even an American jury would not buy the junk he was trying to sell. He quickly dropped the charges.

Fast forward to 2010, when Catoosa County Assistant DA Chris Arnt, teaming with Judge Brian House, are seeing if they can outdo Patrick Lynch and Michael Nifong. The Tonya Craft trial, which begins April 12, has all of the idiocy that engulfed Rhode Island and the Duke Lacrosse Case, as well as the "child molestation" hysteria that lying prosecutors such as Janet Reno gave us two decades ago. Indeed, the spirit of America's most evil (ex) prosecutor, Michael Nifong, lives on in Catoosa County, Georgia.

When the false charges were being levied in the 1980s and 1990s, there was one constant with all of those cases: hostile judges greased the skids for the prosecutors, setting barriers before the defense that were unprecedented. For example, in the infamous Country Walk case, Reno used two clearly unqualified "expert witnesses" who used tactics so coercive that a federal judge who later heard the appeal declared the children's confessions to be "fundamentally unfair." (Reno managed to have an expert witness for the defense in the Grant Snowden case dismissed because the expert did not "specialize" in a branch of forensics that did not even exist.) The judge did whatever Reno said, and Reno managed to get the convictions, which served as her springboard to the U.S. Department of Justice. Within two months of her confirmation, she ordered (and then covered up) an assault in which nearly 80 people, including 20 children, died in the worst government-caused massacre since Wounded Knee. Reno's popularity rose, according to the polls.

I now examine the case against Tonya Craft. Like Reno, Chris Arnt is pulling every dishonest and coercive tactic in the books. Like the judges in Reno's faux cases, Brian House is making sure that Arnt gets away with things that simply are stunning in their dishonesty. Let me point out what Arnt is doing:

  • He fashioned his indictments to be vague, just as Patrick Lynch did in Rhode Island. On one indictment, he lists a 10-month window between 2005 and 2006, and on the others he has a window of almost two years between 2006 and 2008. There are no specific days, times, or even places where these "crimes" allegedly took place. Michael Nifong, in the Duke case, kept changing the timeline in order to counter the alibis of the accused and to counter the time-stamped photographs that led people to question Nifong's account of the non-crime.
  • Like Nifong, he arrested a witness for the defense on trumped-up charges in order to keep that person from being able to testify. In the Duke case, cab driver Moez Elmostafa had picked up Reade Seligmann before Seligmann was supposed to have "raped" Crystal Mangum, and Seligmann was shown on a bank camera standing before an automatic teller while the "rape" allegedly was taking place. Since even Nifong knew he could not convince a Durham jury that Seligmann could be in two places at once, he arrested Elmostafa on charges (of which he was acquitted) in order to try to void Seligmann's airtight alibi. In the Tonya Craft case, Chris Arnt arrested a private investigator for the defense (who, like Elmostafa, is black), and charged him on trumped-up charges to keep him from being able to testify. Why did he do that? I explain next.
  • When the father of one of the alleged "victims" told Arnt that he believed that nothing happened and that he did not want his daughter to testify. Arnt threatened him with arrest for "obstruction of justice." Unfortunately for Arnt, the father also told the defense's private investigator the same thing, and the whole thing was recorded. How does one keep that testimony from trial? Easy. Team up with the judge, arrest the investigator, and suppress the taped testimony. 
  • In January, Arnt posted the following on his Facebook page: “Chris A. Arnt is wondering if Tonya Craft’s defense lawyers are really insane of [or] just trying to jack uo [up] her defense bill?” When Craft's attorneys asked House to have Arnt removed from the case because of the comment, House refused.
    •  An experienced therapist in Atlanta interviewed one of the "victims" and concluded that there had been no sexual abuse at all. How did Arnt and House react to this development? Police raided the therapist's office (while she was in the middle of a session with a client) and took the Craft file. Thus, she is not able to testify, either.
    • One of the "therapists" who insists that the interviewed children were sexually abused had engaged in conduct so outrageous that in a civil case in Chattanooga, Tennessee, involving Craft and an ex-husband, Judge Marie Williams disqualified her. House, on the other hand, refuses even to question that therapist's record and credentials and has said that the only mention of the therapist's record in court can come if Williams agrees to testify for the defense, which is highly unlikely.
    • House slapped down a gag order to ensure that Craft could not publicly tell her story. Of course, the order came after the prosecution had been able to put out its story.
      • House has denied literally every motion that the defense has filed, rolling his eyes and giving clear body language that he despises the defense and is letting them know that he will stand in their way at every turn. So much for due process of law.
      In other words, we are seeing Catoosa County authorities engaging in police state activities, and no one is doing anything about it. House and Arnt know that they can ramrod through a trial, suppress exculpatory evidence, hope for a conviction, knowing that even if Craft wins an appeal, she will have served many years in prison. In the meantime, as American judicial history has shown, no matter how outrageous prosecutors and judges might be, they always receive a free pass, as the courts have ruled that they are immune from their actions as long as they have committed them in the "line of duty."

      Yet, one needs to ask the hard questions that, apparently, the local Chattanooga area media refuses to ask. Why the intimidation of witnesses? Why the threats of arrests to those who have exculpatory evidence? Why did Arnt lie to the defense and say he did not have the results of the interview with a child who claimed that there was no sexual abuse at the original sleepover? Why does Arnt refuse to list dates, times and locations of the alleged abuse?

      As one who has written a number of articles and papers on prosecutorial and judicial abuse, I must admit that what I am seeing in the Tonya Craft case is shocking, and I am not easily shocked. Here is someone being denied anything that resembles due process of law, is facing a hostile judge who clearly wants her to be convicted, and is dealing with a prosecutor who believes he is not bound by the law and has resorted to disgraceful acts of intimidation to save his case.

      Unfortunately, these men have received a free ride in the press. The local Channel 9 (WTVC-TV) is little more than a publicist for the prosecution (see the "objective" coverage from Channel 9 and you will see what I mean), and the newspapers are not much better (although the local Catoosa County News has done a fairly good job in its coverage).

      There have been no editorials in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press condemning the destruction of due process in a neighboring county, even though the editors there are quite willing to take a hard look at due process elsewhere -- provided that the trials are held far away from the Chattanooga area. The members of the "courthouse crowd" in Catoosa County, like most people who earn a living at the county courthouse, are willing to look the other way and permit this abomination to go on in their midst.

      In other words, while something that is reminiscent of what happened in the former Soviet Union is happening in their backyard, no one in a position of authority or influence in the Chattanooga area is willing to stand up for simple justice. True, it might take some courage to stand up to Arnt and House, as they seem to be holding all of the cards, and so far, the guilty silence among influential people has been deafening. Few people will agree to stand up for an accused child molester no matter how ridiculous the "evidence" against her, and no matter how much the local media has championed the prosecution.

      There are exceptions. Members of her church and other friends have organized fund-raisers and other events to demonstrate their support. However, their show of decency is overwhelmed by the indecency and outright contempt for due process of law that is being demonstrated by people who are in positions of trust and authority. Many of the same people who condemned Nifong's actions and cheered when he was disbarred are willing to swallow prosecutorial and judicial conduct that is every bit as outrageous as what was seen in Durham. If they wonder how the Duke Lacrosse Case got as far as it did, perhaps they can find the answer if they just look in a mirror.

      12 comments:

      Anonymous said...

      Mr. Anderson,

      Just wanted to say that I truly respect and admire the work you did in bringing to light the criminal conduct of Nifong and company during the Duke fiasco. Your articles were so meticulous and clear that you convinced me -- and, I'm sure, many others -- that Nifong was trying to railroad innocent people into prison.

      I honestly thought he would get away with it, which was infuriating and saddening, but the truth eventually got out -- thanks, no doubt, in part to your efforts.

      And now you're tackling another case of blatant prosecutorial abuse, and once again taking a stand for justice. I hope this criminal prosecutor and his accomplices meet a fate not unlike that of Nifong (although they, and he, deserve much worse for their evil deeds).

      All the best to you, and thank you for doing such important work.

      Clayton said...

      I have two young children and the thought of them being hurt by someone fills me with terror and rage, like it does any parent or other decent human being. Before we let loose the wild dogs of vengeance in any particular case, we must settle the facts of what did, in fact, happen. And in a court of law, that means that *both* sides must be given a chance to present their case. Too often, people are willing to turn a blind eye to abuses of justice because the *thought* of the crime in question is so terrifying and enraging. I cannot understand what good can come from lynching an innocent man (or woman, in this case). How does ritual sacrifice of an innocent person rectify the wrongs committed by others?

      Anonymous said...

      You hit it on the head. The judicial system in Catoosa county is like that of the old west. Even worse is the fact that the Attorney General of the State of Georgia is aware of these items, and refuses to take action.

      William L. Anderson said...

      I would like to thank the last person making comments, as you have given me an idea for today's post: an open letter to the Georgia AG!

      (I will get on it after I go to my office later this morning.)

      Anonymous said...

      Sir:
      Federal criminal law (18 U.S.C. 241) provides means for prosecuting state officers who deprive an individual of his civil rights, which includes the right to a fair trial and exposition of exculpatory evidence.
      Perhaps the U.S. Attorney for the Rome Division of the Northern District of Georgia should have an affidavit on his desk that he might bring to the District Court under Rule 3.

      Anonymous said...

      A couple of years ago, in my neck of the woods, a caregiver at a local child care center was accused and nearly prosecuted for sexually molesting a three year old. The little girl had complained of a severe tummy ache. The caregiver rubbed her back and, according to what the girl allegedly said to her parents afterwards, he'd patted her behind. The authorities shut the center down, arrested the caregiver and prepared to prosecute. The family's attorney, who sought prosecution, was known for his support of many liberal causes and was the local liaison to the ACLU. A number of families whose children, over the years, had attended this child care center without incident, rallied to the caregiver's defense and had nothing but praise for his spotless record. In light of this support, the prosecutorial dogs were called off and the caregiver possibly saved from doing time. The little girl apparently meant no harm and did not feel "molested." In any case, the caregiver's career is over. I think we can expect this kind of "derivative terrorism" in today's psychologically unstable climate in which judicial opportunism and its related scapegoating of particular targets necessarily thrives. Recall, in the Duke case, there were those among the Duke faculty and within the local NAACP who wanted the accused students convicted even after these accusers had become aware that the incident had been fabricated. This is the doctrine, often unspoken, of the punishment of selected individuals, in the present. for the allegedly collective guilt of the past. "Reverse Scottsboro" if you will. It's got little to do with the culpability of the accused.

      Anonymous said...

      Another important fact is that Brian House served as the divorce attorney for Tonya Craft's ex-husband before he became a judge. Talk about a conflict of interest. Brian House has also abused his powers as head of appeals by denying all appeals to have him removed.

      Anonymous said...

      Nifong, as I recall, got all of 1 day in jail for his attempt to railroad those men into 30 year sentences.

      It is clear that he got a pass, since most everyone agrees with the proscribed punishment of the Bible wherein a false accuser gets the punishment those falsely accused were facing.

      But as you point out, the criminal justice system never goes after the criminals that run the system.

      Anonymous said...

      Miscarriage of Justice. Grounds for an appeal and prosecutorial misconduct are ringing in my ears. No one should be denied the right to defend themselves. This is America. Perhaps Northwest Georgia should remember that.

      Anonymous said...

      No in Catoosa County you are guilty until proven innocent!!! Sorry excuse for a justice system!

      Anonymous said...

      Bill we respect your work on the case and bringing the right people to justice.
      The boys from 11 am Econ 201

      Anonymous said...

      I guess I was lucky. I could've have been accused of molesting chlidren.

      When for 2 months 5th graders were giving me hell in classroom (principle was mobing me using the children), I decided to put a stop to it. I decide it to test their knowledge seeing that they are too eager to speak. Five of them got F's. And pretty soon they quiet down. It was Friday. On Monday principle phoned me and said not to bother to come to work, because I was fired.

      I guess I was lucky because they only accused me of not being trained to work as a teacher.

      I do not know what is it like in USA but in Serbia, principles are using children to mob the teachers who are moral and are trying to teach children. If you are giving away A's to ignorant but ambitious children you are secured.

      Otherwise, it is: Adios, muchachos.