Entries in Prosecution (4)


Etan Patz Case: Why the DA Prosecuted Pedro Hernandez

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GettyImages(NEW YORK) -- Towards the end of Pedro Hernandez' taped confession to kidnapping and killing six-year-old Etan Patz he can be seen kneeling and praying with the detectives who questioned him, ABC News has learned. At that moment, according to sources who have seen the video, there is the sense that everyone in the room has tears in their eyes. Certainly Hernandez appears to.

Is it textbook police work? Maybe not. Nor are the hugs exchanged by suspect and investigators. But is it a powerful, moving and, most importantly, convincing confession?

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance clearly thinks so.

So do multiple persons familiar with the case interviewed by ABC News.

Following a grand jury indictment of Hernandez on kidnapping and second degree murder charges, the Manhattan D.A. will now go forward with a prosecution that will by all accounts be a difficult one. No physical evidence found to date links the suspect to the crime, a number of sources say, there are no witnesses, and the crime -- committed in 1979 -- has long been blamed on another man, although that man was never indicted.

Still, in a system of justice that has winners and losers, in a town like New York where sometimes it seems that all that matters is the zero sum game, the decision of prosecutors to go forward speaks to the law as they understand it, sources explain. The prosecutors have seen the psychiatric reports on the suspect, they have viewed and reviewed the confession, they are certain Hernandez is not crazy.

And if he is not crazy and he has confessed to police -- and he has in the past to family members and others -- that he killed Patz, the default position is not that his is a false confession, according to sources familiar with the case, but that it's true. In other words, it's the statement of a guilty man who, at age 51, wants to get a long-ago crime off his chest.

However formidable the burden of proof may be, then, this is a case that appears to be moving forward.

In that sense, the Hernandez case is the polar opposite of another legal firestorm that fell to Manhattan D.A. Vance -- the arrest of the prominent French politician and IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. Depending on jury composition, the presentation of circumstantial evidence, and the skill of the prosecutors, it is conceivable that the case could have been made to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that "DSK" committed the crime.

But in the end, when they examined all the factors they had before them, the prosecutors felt that despite what appeared to be a large body of evidence, they themselves were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that DSK was guilty. So in an atmosphere charged with issues of class and race and the suggestion of preferential treatment for a member of the global elite, Vance and his prosecutors dropped the case.

In the current case, which no one pretends will be anything but an uphill battle, they will move forward.

Their courtroom strategy will be to draw the jury back time and again to Hernandez' own words.

But Harvey Fishbein, the attorney for Hernandez, will have a large arsenal of weapons with which to fight back.

"This case will take time and it will take money," Fishbein said after his client's 90-second court appearance Thursday. And, he added, "This case will not tell the world what happened to Etan Patz."

Fishbein, sources say, is virtually certain to try to cast reasonable doubt on Hernandez's guilt by calling as a witness the former federal prosecutor who identified Jose Ramos, a convicted sex offender, as Patz's likely killer. In effect he will put the ex-prosecutor, Stuart GraBois, and his prime suspect on trial.

Ramos was released from a Pennsylvania prison earlier this month after serving 27 years for molestation in an unrelated case, but was immediately rearrested for allegedly lying about where he planned to live after his release.

Fishbein will elicit all he can about Ramos's past admissions that he was "90 percent certain" he had Patz in his apartment the day he went missing. He may bring forth the testimony of jailhouse snitches incarcerated with Ramos, and he will ask, repeatedly, "Where is the evidence?"

"My client will plead not guilty," Fishbein said. And without suggesting his client's confession was false, he simply noted that it is a documented fact that people confess to crimes they have not committed.

Should the case make it all the way to trial, a knowledgeable insider said, one would probably bet against the prosecution.


Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Trayvon Martin Killing: George Zimmerman's Lawyer Gets Prosecution Evidence

ABC News(ORLANDO) -- George Zimmerman's attorney said Monday he received a trove of 67 CDs as part of discovery in the neighborhood watchman's second-degree murder trial in the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.

The discovery, reported on a website set up by Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara, is part of the requisite information the state attorney must share with Zimmerman's defense team.

It also includes never-before-seen witness statements, 911 calls, non-emergency calls, photos, video and medical records.

Zimmerman is also the subject of an FBI investigation into a possible hate crime committed against 17-year-old Martin.

Just before the discovery's release, the state issued a preview of the witnesses it would call to the stand once the trial gets underway, which is not likely to happen until next year, sources tell ABC News.

The state also provided video of Martin in the 7-Eleven convenience store the night of the shooting and of him walking around the Sanford, Fla., development where he was killed, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The thousands of pages of documents will be used by both the defense and prosecutors as they map out their legal arguments. But the defense and prosecutors may soon petition the court to block the documents from being released publicly, as is standard protocol under Florida law. This move would then trigger a threatened lawsuit by several major media organizations.

Discovery in the case coincided with reports that gun range targets depicting what a distributor said was the likeness of Trayvon Martin sold out in 48 hours.

The description of the product says:

"Everyone knows the story of Zimmerman and Martin. Obviously we support Zimmerman and believe he is innocent and that he shot a thug. Each target is printed on thick, high quality poster paper with matte finish! The dimensions are 12"x18" (The same as the Darkotic Zombie Targets) This is a Ten Pack of Targets."

The faceless figure in the hoodie has a target on his chest and Skittles and iced tea in his pocket. Police said Martin was found with those items the night he was shot.

According to Orlando's WKMG-TV, the distributor behind the targets said he hoped to profit off of George Zimmerman, but once scores of news outlets began reporting the targets' existence he discontinued their sale.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Topeka DA Will Prosecute Domestic Violence After All

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(TOPEKA, Kan.) -- Domestic violence crimes will be prosecuted in Topeka, Kan., after the district attorney reversed his earlier stance and said Wednesday he would again begin prosecutions.

District attorney Chad Taylor released a statement Wednesday saying that despite budget cuts to his department, his office would make do with less in order to continue prosecuting the crimes.

Shawnee County and the county seat, Topeka, had become mired in national controversy for a budget fight over which arm of government should pay for prosecuting the crimes.

Topeka, which has a municipal court that has traditionally handled all misdemeanors except for domestic violence, said it would not be able to absorb the costs of providing the support staff required for victims, criminals and families of domestic violence.

The city council voted Tuesday to de-criminalize domestic violence in order to put the burden on the county to fund the prosecutions.

The vote came after Taylor announced last month that he would stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence incidents because of a 10 percent cut to his budget. By refusing to prosecute the crimes, Taylor hoped to force the city of Topeka to prosecute them instead. Tuesday's vote proved otherwise.

The DA's office has prosecuted the crimes for more than 10 years, according to Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten, and Topeka shouldn't be forced to absorb those costs.

The DA would need to continue prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence offenses for the five towns in the county that do not have municipal courts, and so would need to employ the support staff either way. Additionally, Bunten noted, any convictions could be appealed to the county level, which would make the municipal court redundant.

Taylor, whose office will operate with $350,000 less in 2012 than it did in 2011, said he relented after learning of Topeka's decision.

"I am deeply saddened by the City of Topeka's unfortunate decision to place resources and political grandstanding before its constituents' safety," Taylor wrote in his statement Wednesday. "Public safety is the core responsibility of government and a responsibility I am deeply committed to upholding. Therefore, effective immediately my office will commence the review and filing of misdemeanors decriminalized by the City of Topeka."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jared Lee Loughner to Be Prosecuted in Tucson

Photo Courtesy - Pima County Sheriff's Department(PHOENIX) -- Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman in the Jan. 8 Tucson, Arizona shooting that left six people dead and 13 wounded, will be prosecuted in Tucson under an agreement reached by the prosecutors and the defense attorney for the 22-year-old suspect.

Loughner, who faces multiple counts in the shooting that also seriously wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is currently being held at a jail in Phoenix.  Government lawyers wanted the case moved to Tucson because it will make it easier for victims and families to attend hearings for Loughner.

Defense attorney Judy Clarke has reserved the option to change the venue.  However, she may decide to allow the trial to proceed in Tucson so as not to upset victims, according to one legal expert.

A federal grand jury has charged Loughner with attempted murder in the shootings of Giffords and two of her aides, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.  More federal charges are expected since a U.S. district judge was killed.  Additionally, Arizona prosecutors are expected to file similar charges in the cases of state residents who were slain in the attack.

It's expected that Clark will use a mental health disability or defect in her defense of Loughner to possibly avoid the death penalty.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio