Oct 16, 2008

How the state can destroy a man with the point of a finger

Here is a story to make you contemplate our justice system...My question is this...What kind of quality of life is this man going to have after being locked up for 20 years for something he didn't do?

By Melissa Harris | melissa.harris@baltsun.com
8:01 PM EDT, October 15, 2008

Twenty years after a jury convicted James L. Owens of a murder he said he didn't commit, prosecutors today dropped all charges against him in his retrial, making him the seventh person in Maryland to be ordered freed because of DNA evidence.

The key to Owens' freedom was a sperm sample taken from the victim 20 years ago, before DNA testing was available, that was saved by the medical examiner's office and tested in 2006. The new analysis showed the genetic material didn't come from Owens or his co-defendant, James Thompson Jr., who testified two decades ago that he was present when Owens raped and killed Colleen Williar, 24, in her bed in Southeast Baltimore.

Standing in handcuffs, jeans and a light blue corrections shirt, Owens, 43, expressed no emotion as Baltimore Assistant State's Attorney Mark P. Cohen explained his decision to drop the charges.

Five witnesses, including two jailhouse informants, were dead. Thompson, who recanted his testimony almost immediately after the 1988 trial and whose case is on appeal, was refusing to testify. And Baltimore police destroyed the other physical evidence in the case, including the alleged murder weapon and pubic hair collected from the victim's body because the case had been closed so long ago.

Related links

Sun coverage: DNA used in criminal cases
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The victim's mother, Carolyn Case, cried as Cohen announced he was dropping the charges. She said the victim's brother had been one of the people to discover Williar's nude body, stabbed and beaten in her O'Donnell Heights rowhouse Aug. 2, 1987. She said he later committed suicide.

"They're both as guilty as can be," Case, 65, said, referring to Owens and Thompson. "Everyone has forgotten about my daughter. ... I have a life sentence."

Cohen initially objected to the release of the sperm sample for testing, but he joined the defense's request for reconsideration after the results came back. Owens, the first person sentenced under the state's life without the possibility of parole statute, remained locked up in the meantime.

At about 11 a.m. today, Owens' attorney, Stephen B. Mercer, entered a prisoner holding area inside the courthouse, and speaking through metal bars, told Owens that he would be freed. Mercer said he replied, "Thank you." Owens was released about 5 p.m.

"That's all he could say," Mercer said. "He has been in jail for 20 years for a crime he didn't commit."

Today, Cohen declined to say whether he believed Owens was innocent. He also declined to say whether he would agree to a new trial for Thompson, 49, who is serving a life sentence, because his appeal is pending before the state's highest court.

Owens' and Thompson's attorneys say that the men were convicted on a false confession, and unreliable science and jailhouse informants.

Thompson, who worked at a gas station, first appeared as a witness in the case. He had come forward with the murder weapon, a switchblade knife, after police posted a $1,000 reward for information.

During questioning, police accused him of participating in the crime, and to save himself, he fingered Owens, Thompson's attorney, Suzanne Drouet, told The Sun in 2006. But while on the witness stand, Thompson - to the defense's surprise - provided information putting him at the scene of the crime.

Mercer said police coerced Thompson's statement by implying that he was in severe trouble but that he could avoid charges by helping convict Owens.

After Owens' trial, however, Thompson was charged. A key piece of evidence at his trial was forensic testimony matching pubic hairs found at the scene to Thompson. However, Cohen acknowledged today that the analysis done in the late 1980s is no longer considered reliable enough to match a hair to a specific person.

Mercer said that the sperm sample has been used to clear one other man detectives identified as a suspect early in the investigation but that it could not be used to positively identify the killer.

"The profile is of the paternal DNA, which is passed from father to son like a last name," Mercer said. "It's only going to put the perpetrator within a paternal line. It's useful to exclude suspects but not include them."

Baltimore Circuit Judge John C. Themelis refused to release Owens directly from the courtroom and instead required him to go through the standard procedure. Mercer said that Owens would not be available for comment today and that Owens' sister, who attended the hearing, declined to comment.

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Oct 15, 2008

Accidents will happen

Yes, accidents will happen...daily...The key for me is to not pop a Xanax when they do fall upon me...Actually doing very well with my prescribed meds. I am making a point of taking some part of the day and claiming it as my time. Too many voices around me, cluttering my head with their nonsense. I have enough of my own thank you very much. It is dawning on me slowly that the outrage I feel at injustice and world events, I can't change. I can only conquer how I handle my feelings about the events. Tragedy befalls everyone. Maturity is teaching me that the ones who make it, are the people who handle despair and feelings of hopelessness with the knowledge that another day will come, full of possibilities that abound. My father's famous words to me from day one were "Everyone must eat a spoonful of shit at times, but it won't kill you"....He was right. And with that I am now going to enjoy some me time...Peace

Oct 14, 2008

Georgia Pics

Here are two really good photos. Just uploaded them...Look at that lake...It is 4 car lengths from the front porch. The outside is getting painted in the spring, everything inside the house is brand new. Ceiling fan in every room. Just thought I would share.

Sign o' the times

Officials: Financial crisis can lead to violence

RETRANSMISSION of a graphic that moved Oct. 7, 2008; graphic shows poll resu...
18 hours ago
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An out-of-work money manager in California loses a fortune and wipes out his family in a murder-suicide. A 90-year-old Ohio widow shoots herself in the chest as authorities arrive to evict her from the modest house she called home for 38 years.

In Massachusetts, a housewife who had hidden her family's mounting financial crisis from her husband sends a note to the mortgage company warning: "By the time you foreclose on my house, I'll be dead."

Then Carlene Balderrama shot herself to death, leaving an insurance policy and a suicide note on a table.

Across the country, authorities are becoming concerned that the nation's financial woes could turn increasingly violent, and they are urging people to get help. In some places, mental-health hot lines are jammed, counseling services are in high demand and domestic-violence shelters are full.

"I've had a number of people say that this is the thing most reminiscent of 9/11 that's happened here since then," said the Rev. Canon Ann Malonee, vicar at Trinity Church in the heart of New York's financial district. "It's that sense of having the rug pulled out from under them."

With nowhere else to turn, many people are calling suicide-prevention hot lines. The Samaritans of New York have seen calls rise more than 16 percent in the past year, many of them money-related. The Switchboard of Miami has recorded more than 500 foreclosure-related calls this year.

"A lot of people are telling us they are losing everything. They're losing their homes, they're going into foreclosure, they've lost their jobs," said Virginia Cervasio, executive director of a suicide resource enter in southwest Florida's Lee County.

But tragedies keep mounting:

_ In Los Angeles last week, a former money manager fatally shot his wife, three sons and his mother-in-law before killing himself.

Karthik Rajaram, 45, left a suicide note saying he was in financial trouble and contemplated killing just himself. But he said he decided to kill his entire family because that was more honorable, police said.

Rajaram once worked for a major accounting firm and for Sony Pictures, and he had been part-owner of a financial holding company. But he had been out of work for several months, police said.

After the murder-suicide, police and mental-health officials in Los Angeles took the unusual step of urging people to seek help for themselves or loved ones if they feel overwhelmed by grim financial news. They said they were specifically afraid of the "copycat phenomenon."

"This is a perfect American family behind me that has absolutely been destroyed, apparently because of a man who just got stuck in a rabbit hole, if you will, of absolute despair," Deputy Police Chief Michel Moore said. "It is critical to step up and recognize we are in some pretty troubled times."

_ In Tennessee, a woman fatally shot herself last week as sheriff's deputies went to evict her from her foreclosed home.

Pamela Ross, 57, and her husband were fighting foreclosure on their home when sheriff's deputies in Sevierville came to serve an eviction notice. They were across the street when they heard a gunshot and found Ross dead from a wound to the chest. The case was even more tragic because the couple had recently been granted an extra 10 days to appeal.

_ In Akron, Ohio, the 90-year-old widow who shot herself on Oct. 1 is recovering. A congressman told Addie Polk's story on the House floor before lawmakers voted to approve a $700 billion financial rescue package. Mortgage finance company Fannie Mae dropped the foreclosure, forgave her mortgage and said she could remain in the home.

_ In Ocala, Fla., Roland Gore shot his wife and dog in March and then set fire to the couple's home, which had been in foreclosure, before killing himself. His case was one of several in which people killed spouses or pets, destroyed property or attacked police before taking their own lives.

"The financial stress builds up to the point the person feels they can't go on, and the person believes their family is better off dead than left without a financial support," said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Washington D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.

Dr. Edward Charlesworth, a clinical psychologist in Houston, said the current crisis is breeding a sense of chronic anxiety among people who feel helpless and panic-stricken, as well as angry that their government has let them down.

"They feel like in this great society that we live in we should have more protection for the individuals rather than just the corporation," he said.

It's not yet clear there is a statistical link between suicides and the financial downturn since there is generally a two-year lag in national suicide figures. But historically, suicides increase in times of economic hardship. And the current financial crisis is already being called the worst since the Great Depression.

Rising mortgage defaults and falling home values are at the heart of it. More than 4 million Americans were at least one month behind on their mortgages at the end of June, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

A record 500,000 had entered the foreclosure process. And that trend is expected to continue through next year, despite the current programs from the government and the lending industry to refinance delinquent homeowners into more affordable loans.

Counselors at Catholic Charities USA report seeing a "significant increase" in the need for housing counseling.

One counselor said half of her clients were on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. The agency has seen a decrease in overall funding, but it has expanded foreclosure counseling and received nearly $2 million for such services in late 2007.

Adding to financially tense households is an air of secrecy. Experts said it's common for one spouse to blame the other for their financial mess or to hide it entirely, as Balderrama did.

After falling 3 1/2 years behind in payments, the Taunton, Mass., housewife had been intercepting letters from the mortgage company and shredding them before her husband saw them. She tried to refinance but was declined.

In July, on the day the house was to be auctioned, she faxed the note to the mortgage company. Then the 52-year-old walked outside, shot her three beloved cats and then herself with her husband's rifle.

Notes left on the table revealed months of planning. She'd picked out her funeral home, laid out the insurance policy and left a note saying, "pay off the house with the insurance money."

"She put in her suicide note that it got overwhelming for her," said her husband, John Balderrama. "Apparently she didn't have anyone to talk to. She didn't come to me. I don't know why. There's gotta be some help out there for people that are hurting, (something better) than to see somebody lose a life over a stupid house."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Oct 13, 2008

Returning from my Georgia roadtrip....

Well, I haven't uploaded the pics yet, but the family and I did the I-95 drive to Jesup, Georgia, and the place was everything we were told it was. I can't explain the words to wake up, stroll out on your front porch and gaze at "your" lake. Definitely enhances that morning cup of Joe. Meeting with our potential landlord to draw up a lease and hopefully by December 5th we will become residents of Georgia. I was "Yes mam'ed in two days more than I have ever been in my life. The cost of living will almost double our pocket money. BTW, for all you smokers out there, cigarettes in South Carolina are between $1.85 a pack - $2.25. That is for top brands. We stocked up on smokes on the way home. We perused the local paper. The police blotter was quite amusing. The weekend crimes consisted of one dog biting another, a woman's ex-husband stealing her electric, and two domestic calls. They also have a baggy pants ordinance there, much to my droopy jean wearing son's dismay. Kenny and I are in love with the place. They do have a satellite dish and dsl, what more do I need? Funny how the things you place value on change with every decade that you are on this earth. Peace and quiet are our number one priorities. Jesse is a little more hesitant, but he did admit he saw the potential. Just finished unpacking, going to head off to bed now. The trip was a success all the way around. Peace...