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Just weeks after being released from prison, the NAACP honored Genarlow Wilson with a special award Saturday night called the 'Staying the Course Civil Rights Award'.
It's a new award and in the organization's words "given to an individual who has shown unwavering faith and perseverance in the face of insurmountable adversity and injustice."
The West Metro NAACP held its awards banquet at New Mountain Top Baptist Church in Douglas County.
Wilson was 17-years-old when he was charged with having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl. He was later convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Since then, the state law changed but was not retro-active to his case.
Last month the State Supreme Court reversed the case and Wilson was released.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
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Republicans pressured a Florida House representative to resign after his conviction for trying to pay for gay sex with an undercover police officer.
A three-man, three-woman jury deliberated nearly 3 1/2 hours Friday before finding state Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, guilty of soliciting prostitution, a misdemeanor. Allen was accused of peering over a stall at a young, black undercover police officer, then agreeing to pay $20 to perform oral sex on him.
Florida law provides automatic expulsion for legislators convicted of felonies, but not misdemeanors.
Speaker Marco Rubio, who already stripped Allen of his Energy Committee chairmanship, said the House would act further if Allen didn't resign.
"The House has reserved action on this matter to allow Rep. Allen the right to conduct his defense and to ensure that all the facts were made available," Rubio said in a written statement. "This conviction makes it impossible for Rep. Allen to represent responsibly the citizens of his district."
Allen listened to the verdict, watched the jury leave and reached into the gallery to touch his wife, who sat behind him all week.
"We're going to continue to seek justice," Allen said. "I am innocent; I've done nothing wrong."
Allen's defense said all along he wasn't soliciting sex, but instead suspicious of Titusville officer Danny Kavanaugh. Defense attorney Greg Eisenmenger said Allen thought he was being robbed, so he went along with whatever the officer said until he could flee. Even if he was trying to have sex, Eisenmenger told the jury, Allen was not guilty because it was the officer who first mentioned money.
Allen co-sponsored a bill months before his arrest that would have increased public sex charges from a misdemeanor to a felony. The proposed bill addressed "unnatural and lascivious acts or exposure or exhibition of sexual organs" within 1,000 feet of a park, school or child care facility.
Eisenmenger succeeded in barring two statements that received some of the broadest coverage: Allen's concern about getting robbed by a "stocky black man," who turned out to be Kavanaugh, and an apparent try to sway the arrest by saying he was a legislator.
Kavanaugh and another undercover policemen were surveilling a nearby condo for burglars when they allegedly saw Allen stare at them and enter the restroom several times. Kavanaugh got a supervisor's approval to investigate, but was not recording the exchange because he wasn't planning a prostitution sting.
Kavanaugh, fit and young, said the seven-year state house veteran peeked into the handicapped stall when he entered for a paper towel, then went inside to join the officer.
He said Allen asked to go somewhere private, then testified telling the defendant: "I'm looking to get some money. Can you hook me up with $20?"
"Sure, I can do that. But this place is too public," Allen allegedly said.
Allen's defense said he couldn't have looked into the stall and made eye contact with Kavanaugh because he wasn't tall enough to see past the 5'7" stall door. Kavanaugh is 6-foot; Allen is listed in police documents at 5-foot-11.
Allen stopped as he and Kavanaugh left the restroom and asked if he was a police officer, then motioned to follow, Assistant State Attorney Pat Whitaker said.
"If I was a cop, why would I be hanging around here?" Kavanaugh testified saying.
"Well they come here too sometimes," Allen allegedly responded.
As they neared the car, Kavanaugh said he asked what Allen wanted him to do. According to Kavanaugh's testimony, their exchange went as follows:
"I don't know what you're into," Allen said.
Kavanaugh asked if Allen wanted oral sex.
"I was thinking you would want one," Allen said.
"But you'll still give me the $20 for that, right?" Kavanaugh said.
"I would not argue with that," Allen answered.
Allen was elected to the Florida House in 2000. The arrest came a month after U.S. Sen. Larry Craig was arrested for soliciting sex in a men's airport bathroom in Minneapolis.
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Vigilantes face prosecution if they act against sex offenders placed in the community after their sentences are up, the Queensland Government has warned.
The warning, from Police and Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence, came as the state Opposition accused the Government of not fighting hard enough to keep a notorious sex offender behind bars.
Robert John Fardon, 59, is now living in the Wacol prison precinct west of Brisbane, after an attempt on Tuesday to house him in an Ipswich suburban street failed.
The media alerted residents to Fardon's arrival and he was met by an angry mob.
Fardon has spent most of his adult life in prison for violent sexual assaults committed in 1978 and 1988. He completed his jail sentence in 2003 but remained in custody on a court order.
He was released in December last year on a 32-point supervision order, which he has breached three times this year.
This week's incident forced the government to ensure neighbours are advised before an offender is housed in their street.
Ms Spence yesterday warned against adopting vigilante attitudes.
She said people who tell the media or anyone else that an offender is headed to their community will be prosecuted and face a maximum two years' imprisonment or a $7,500 fine.
Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney yesterday stood by his comment on Wednesday that he would break the law if he were in that situation.
Ms Spence said outing sex offenders could lead to attacks on innocent people.
She referred to the case of a north Queensland woman, bashed by a group of men while out walking because she was the mother of a man accused of sex offences.
"I believe it is totally irresponsible for the media and the opposition leader to encourage community members to out sex offenders and encourage community members to break the law," Ms Spence said.
"If vigilante activity is encouraged there will be law-abiding people harmed and criminalised."
Ms Spence again defended the government's decision not to inform the neighbours of 25 offenders already living in the community of their presence.
"Some of these people are actually living in quite small country towns in Queensland where everyone does know who this person is," Ms Spence told reporters.
Mr Seeney accused the government of not fighting hard enough to keep Fardon locked up.
He said court transcripts showed that counsel for the attorney-general had argued against continuing detention.
"He didn't argue for continued detention," Mr Seeney told reporters.
"He went on to argue ... an acceptable level of community safety could be guaranteed by releasing the offender."
But Premier Anna Bligh said the government had used a two-pronged approach to the case.
It applied for a continuing detention order to keep Fardon behind bars, and in case that failed, a supervised detention order, which would see him under surveillance in the community.
"We wanted a continuing detention order," Ms Bligh told reporters.
"What you saw from the opposition today was a half-baked attack without any facts to support it."
Meanwhile, Fardon's doctor Wendell Rosevear said his patient would prefer to live in the country, where he wouldn't bother anyone.
"He studied horticulture and he'd actually like to grow vegetables and flowers," Dr Rosevear told ABC Radio.
Ms Spence said an outback location was inappropriate as Fardon could not drive a car, making him unable to report to authorities as required.
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NORTHVILLE TOWNSHIP -- Investigators have identified three persons of interest in the case of the burned and beheaded body found Thursday at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac.
Northville Township Public Safety Director John Werth declined to say whether the three are in custody, but confirmed Saturday an unspecified number of arrest warrants are being sought in connection with the slaying of Daniel G. Sorensen, 26.
The River Rouge resident's body was found early Thursday in a vacant lot at the end of a street in a yet-to-be-developed subdivision near Ridge Road, south of Maybury State Park. Police believe an effort was made to hide the victim's identity by removing his head and burning the torso, particularly the hands. Sorensen's head wasn't found with the body.
The Wayne County Prosecutor's office is expected on Monday to consider evidence and information detectives collected late Friday, including Sorensen's missing pickup truck. The burgundy 2001 Chevrolet S-10 was found shortly before 10:30 p.m. in the parking lot of a Meijer store at Warren and Newburgh roads in Westland.
Northville Township Police executed search warrants at five locations on Friday and early Saturday with assistance from officers in Livonia, Westland, Plymouth Township, Michigan State police troopers and detectives from the Wester Wayne County Special Investigative Task Force. Werth declined to identify two other communities where warrants were served.
"We have additional evidence that was used in the crime that is being processed right now," Werth said. "We have a lot of loose ends to tie up, but we are confident with who we have."
Werth declined to discuss his investigator's theory of the motive for the killing. Sorensen had a 1998 sex abuse conviction as a teen in Illinois, stemming from a relationship with an underage girl, according to his friends. His name and address were listed on both the Illinois and Michigan Sex Offender registries.
"It's a complex case and we are being very careful. We are continuing to follow leads that have developed very quickly," Werth said. "This was a horrendous crime and I don't want to jeopardize prosecution of the case by speaking about that before the prosecutor has time to review the evidence."
Officially, police released only a brief statement on Saturday morning: "The Northville Township Police Department is continuing to actively investigate all the leads in the case. Due to the incident's complexity and the numerous details that have arisen no press release will be made until all leads have been investigated and arrest warrants are obtained."
View the article here | Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science
Though no one's life was destroyed in this particular case, I am disappointed to learn that no charges will be filed against the woman who falsely claimed she was sexually assaulted.
From Francis Evelyn, a New York custodian falsely accused of raping an 8-year-old girl, to Gary Dotson, the first person exonerated by DNA evidence after spending eight years in prison, there have been thousands of false accusations.
While the Duke Lacrosse team case is the most visible, it is not an anomaly. The Department of Justice has released a study showing that one in four accusations of rape are false. One specific passage of this report states, "Every year since 1989, in about 25 percent of the sexual assault cases referred to the FBI where results could be obtained, the primary suspect has been excluded by forensic DNA testing."
The rush to judgment in the Duke case serves again as an example of what is done to those accused of rape. The facts are seemingly unimportant. Careers are lost, marriages are ruined and good names are destroyed.
By the time the public realizes the innocence of the accused, permanent, life-long damage has been done.
Rape is perhaps the most horrific crime known to man. To knowingly subject innocent people to the condemnation of the public should not be free of consequences.
Class of 2007
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Sex offender was found decapitated
Jim Sorensen is not only coping with the image of his 26-year-old son's decapitation, he's trying to defend his son's reputation surrounding a sex offense conviction.
As Northville police continued to search for suspects in the killing of Daniel Sorensen of River Rouge, his father begged Friday that anyone with information call police or turn themselves in.
"If you know anything, look at what this person did to my son," said Jim Sorensen, 51, of Westland. "If you were involved, turn yourself in because you will be caught."
Police, with the assistance of the Michigan State Crime Lab, used a fingerprint Thursday to identify Daniel Sorensen's body. It had been found Thursday morning on Hidden Ridge Drive in Northville Township.
Sorensen was decapitated and his body was severely burned, police said. His head has not been recovered.
Jim Sorensen said the sex offender conviction occurred when his son was 17 and dating a 14-year-old girl that he met on the Internet. Daniel Sorenson thought the girl was 16 and went to Illinois to meet her.
"He's not a pedophile," Jim Sorensen said. "This was consensual touching. We have a son who has been murdered violently, but we have a view of him as a sex offender, and that is not fair."
He said he does not believe his son's death is related to the sex offense.
The conviction on the fourth-degree sex offense dogged Daniel Sorensen when he applied for jobs, his father said. Most recently, he told his parents he was driving a truck.
"Dan was a social being," his father said. "We called him 'Bear,' because he was like a big old teddy bear."
Northville Township Public Safety Director John Werth said police followed up on leads Friday. They are searching for Daniel Sorensen's red Chevrolet S-10 pickup.
"We are clueless at this time," Jim Sorensen said. "We need the public's help."
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Douglas Allen Alsteen, a repeat sex offender, has done his time. Now he's back in a Cowlitz County courtroom, facing the possibility of indefinite confinement at Washington's Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.
The violent sexual predator law state prosecutors are hoping will keep Alsteen locked away continues to stir controversy 17 years after its enactment. Critics say the law smacks of double jeopardy and fails to accomplish its expressed purpose, which is to treat violent sex offenders until they no longer pose a threat to society.
The U.S. Supreme Court has settled the double-jeopardy argument. In a narrow, 5-4 opinion a decade ago, the high court ruled that there was no double jeopardy because the law was civil, rather than criminal, in nature.
As for the law's failure to accomplish its stated purpose, the critics have a point. It's one, however, that won't concern very many citizens. The popular view is that keeping violent sexual predators behind bars is purpose enough. But here, too, this civil confinement law has not been all that effective. As Daily News reporter Barbara LaBoe noted in a sidebar to Thursday's report on Alsteen's court appearance, the courts has set a high bar for civil commitment under this law and the state has failed to clear it in several instances.
One criticism that probably does resonate with the public is what it cost to carry out this civil commitment law. Almost from the time it was enacted, the law has been high-maintenance in terms of legal fees, settlements paid inmates and, of course, the mental health treatment the law demands.
According to a recent New York Times report on costs at McNeil Island and civil-commitment facilities at the 18 other states that enacted laws modeled on Washington's, this state pays an average of $127,632 anually for each person committed under the law. That compares to $29,055 annually for each prison inmate. Washington's civil commitment program now has 266 residents. It's budget for fiscal 2007 totals $45 million.
The high cost of civil commitment is unavoidable. Courts have held that sexual offenders who have served out their sentences cannot be confined indefinitely without the offer of help in overcoming the mentally abnormal tendencies that led to their civil confinement. The state has to provide adequate mental-health treatment at McNeil Island. That's expensive.
Legal costs added considerably to expenses in the early going, when Washington lawmakers resisted appropriating adequate funding. In 1994, a federal court ruled the state in contempt, forcing then Gov. Gary Locke to scramble to put together an emergency $5 million allocation for improvements at the center for sex predators. But improvements didn't come quick enough. In 1998, the state settled a lawsuit by agreeing to pay 16 sexual offenders, including a former Kelso resident, $10,000 each for having failed to provide them adequate treatment. The settlement included a payment of $250,000 in legal fees.
And what of the treatment at the center? LaBoe reports that over the past 17 years perhaps a dozen sex offenders have won limited, monitored release from the center. None has been released without conditions.
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A failed Utah bill that would have mandated a life prison sentence for a criminal's second sexual offense against a child is being revised to add more "middle ground" plea options, Rep. Carl Wimmer (Email), R-Herriman, told the Utah Sentencing Commission Wednesday.
The bill addresses public clamor for a Utah version of Jessica's Law, a 2005 Florida law that gives second offenders a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, but would add an "attempted" category to existing designations of criminal sexual offenses against children and add minimum mandatory sentences ranging from three to 10 years.
That addition would give prosecutors new plea-bargaining leverage in cases, for instance, without hard evidence or where a youthful witness might have to testify if the case went to trial. "The problem nationwide is people plead (a felony charge) down (to a misdemeanor) but there is nothing in the middle," Wimmer said, adding that his revision of HB86, which failed in the Legislature earlier this year, "offers every option possible while satisfying the public outcry for a Jessica's Law."
Responding to a question from the commission, Wimmer said victims' advocates agree with the concept of the bill even though they are not thrilled with the idea of an offender being able to plead down an offense to something "attempted."
"It sounds soft to the victim, but it also sounds soft to the suspect," Wimmer said, with the accused more likely to choose mandatory prison time in a plea bargain in a case that otherwise might be difficult for prosecutors to win.
Wimmer said he has been working on the bill with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (Email) and plans to reveal details of the proposal in a press conference with the governor. The governor's office said Wednesday they have been working with Wimmer on a bill but do not yet have an announcement scheduled.
Jessica's Law, also known as the Jessica Lunsford Act in the federal criminal arena, is named for Jessica Lunsford, who was raped and murdered in 2005 by a previously-convicted sex offender.
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Joe Francis built a multimillion dollar business literally off the backs (and fronts) of seminaked women.
"We go out and we view girls going wild," he said, calling it "fun."
Francis doesn't believe that his product should necessarily be considered porn. "You know what I like to call it?" he said. "European television. It's naked girls having fun."
Francis has made more than $100 million selling footage of young women "having fun" exposing themselves. And it's given him an enviable lifestyle. But earlier this year, the party came to a crashing halt -- Joe Francis is now in jail.
"I think this is an abuse of the criminal justice system," Francis said. "And frankly, I just didn't think the criminal justice system could be used to get revenge on someone."
Francis' fall from soft-porn CEO to prisoner number 07-12000 started as he prepared for the biggest event in the history of "Girls Gone Wild." It was due to take place during Spring Break 2003 in Panama City, Fla. At the time, former police chief Lee Sullivan was the mayor of Panama City, a community he described as devout, rural and "Southern, in the truest sense of the word."
"The challenge of having visitors is simply this: You set parameters, then you require everyone to stay around those parameters," Sullivan said. "And those that can't can either leave or go to jail."
'Illegal and Nasty'
Sullivan did not believe the "Girls Gone Wild" production team would abide by those parameters.
"Here comes a company that is going to put on a show and basically turn our community into a theater for some soft porn movie," he said. "They are very good at getting young people that have been drinking to do things that are, at best, risque. But more appropriately, illegal and nasty."
"A pretty whacky mayor came out against me and said, you know, 'you're not welcome and if you come here you'll be arrested. You're scum-sucking trash,'" countered Francis.
Francis filed and won a lawsuit allowing him to roll his trucks into town, but it set the scene for an ugly conflict. As film crews set about capturing spring breakers, the police were watching closely. Then, just two days after "Girls Gone Wild" started filming, police raided Francis' production locations.
"I was actually driving back from the gym and I parked. And then some guy said, 'Are you Joe Francis?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And they started running after me," he said.
Francis said he wasn't told what was going on "until later that night when I rolled into jail. They were just piling us all up in the holding cells. I'm like, 'What the hell happened?' And I found out that everything had all been taken," he said.
Francis' private jet had been impounded and his were cars taken away for forensic examination. He was charged with 71 separate offenses, from racketeering to prostitution and drug trafficking. Florida state attorney Steve Meadows said the number of charges "was based upon the review of the evidence that was seized."
When asked if every charge was a viable count, Meadows said "absolutely."
But within weeks, the indictment was torn apart by Judge Deedee Costello, who found that investigators had acted "with the intent to deceive the court, or with reckless disregard as to the truth."
And she singled out one particular police officer: Chief Investigator Richard Bagwell.
When asked if he regarded Bagwell as a competent investigator, Meadows said, "I'm not gonna answer that question. … He's not employed by me. And I'm not gonna comment." Meadows also wouldn't say whether he was confident in Bagwell's abilities.
Days after Costello's condemnation, the number of charges was reduced from 71 to just eight.
The Shower Scene
Francis felt vindicated, but his celebrations were premature. It soon emerged that two girls in Panama City had lied about their ages to a "Girls Gone Wild" cameraman. They'd been paid to perform sex acts in a hotel bathroom and they were just 17. Francis was now charged with child prostitution.
When "Girls Gone Wild" arrived in Panama City in 2003, Franics held his usual briefing with the crews.
"I had a meeting with all the cameramen and just gave my policy discussion -- ID's, releases. That's my mantra," Francis said.
All performers must sign a release giving "Girls Gone Wild" the rights to sell the footage. Consent and identification that confirms the girls are 18 is often captured on tape, but two girls lied to a cameraman filming a shower scene at the Chateau Hotel. The girls were actually 17, and according to the state attorney, the burden for ensuring they're of legal age rests solely with the filmmakers. It's known as strict liability, and is a reading of the law which Francis contests.
"I don't believe they look 18," said Meadows. "And the impression is just what they are: a couple of high school girls who left high school class just a few hours before and were brought in by Mr. Francis and his crew into a setting in which they were extremely uncomfortable."
Meadows showed "Nightline" a portion of the atape, evidence that cannot be used against Francis because the court found it was obtained illegally.
"It's child pornography," Meadows said of the footage. "And we don't allow that to be possessed in Florida."
When asked if he agreed with Meadows' characterization of the tape, Francis said, "No," but when pressed he said, "I haven't seen the tape…that tape has been characterized to me very differently."
During filming the cameraman offers increasing amounts of money, from $50 to $400, to get the 17-year-olds to perform certain explicit acts. On two occasions the girls say they don't want to do what's being asked.
"This whole thing wouldn't have happened if it was me in charge," Francis said. He said "it's not policy" for girls to receive a rising fee dependant on the performance, but said they are paid, "just like Steven Spielberg pays an actor to be in a movie. Yes, 'Girls Gone Wild' pays some of its performers to be in their movies."
And does Girls Gone Wild pay more for more adventurous performances?
"Just like Playboy would pay more for a more adventurous performer, probably, you know 'Girls Gone Wild' would, too," Francis said.
Question of Culpability
Even if the girls were induced to perform, Francis maintains he wasn't there.
"You can see Joe Francis, you can see they are standing outside the bathroom," said Meadows.
Francis maintains that was "prior to the filming. I was in that room for merely a few moments and then I left the room."
"I was in another room of a suite," he said. "And then I left. And I was not there and didn't even know the filming was happening. Never paid attention to the filming happening."
So he is culpable?
"He is culpable because you can't escape culpability by telling a cameraman, 'I want you to do this,'" said Meadows. "And you go in there with these young girls and you film these types of activity. And I'm gonna stand right outside the door here. And we'll talk and converse and if an issue comes up, speak to me. But this is what I want you to do. That's two or more individuals combining to complete a plan of criminal conduct -- the very basis of the conspiracy for what he is charged."
Since his disastrous trip to Panama City, Francis' companies have been hit with a series of lawsuits. In July 2004 he paid $1.1 million to settle charges of unauthorized shipping and billing. And in April of this year he was indicted on two separate counts of tax evasion by a federal grand jury. That's how he got from jail in Panama City to federal lockdown in Reno, Nevada. Francis says he is innocent of these charges as well, and that he doesn't have a problem obeying the law.
"Here's where I have a problem," he said. "I have a problem being an easy target. I have a problem with being a likeable person, that lawyers think 'I'll get this guy in front of a jury and people will be jealous of him.' There doesn't have to be an underlying offense or crime."
'They Are Out to Get You'
Has he become paranoid?
"The funny thing is, like, I never used to be that person and my lawyers had to sit me down and say, 'You know what Joe, be paranoid because they are out to get you.'"
Francis only remains in Reno because he has refused to pay bail, because once he is released there, he will be remanded back into the custody of the Panama City authorities.
"I'd go back to Panama City where they are out to get me," he said. "And that's not paranoid."
"Do I want to see him stand to what he did in my community? Yes sir, I do," said Sullivan. "And if he's guilty, do I want to see him punished? Yes sir, I do. The only time I would welcome Joe Francis into my community would be to see him go to trial. And subsequently go to jail."
"I have the same view of Mr. Francis as any other criminal defendant," said Meadows, saying that he would wait "as long as it takes."
When asked if he had anything to say to Sullivan or Meadows, Francis said, "That's a very, very good question. But I would say they're not going to get away with it. He knows what he's doing is wrong. He knows they'll never hold up. But I believe that he should watch his actions very closely. And the only people who are criminals here are those that are persecuting me."
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Faith-Based Prison Programs On The Rise, And Even Skeptics Hesitate To Criticize
Killer-turned-artist Manny Hernandez on the prison where he's finishing an eight-year term: "It's a blessing to be here."
Fellow murderer and inmate Raymond Hall likens it to heaven.
"I love this place," says their warden, Cynthia Tilley. "It's so calm."
They're praising the Carol Vance Unit, founded in 1997 on the outskirts of Houston. It's the oldest of a rapidly growing number of faith-based prison facilities across the nation.
Even as they proliferate, fueled by the fervor of devout volunteers, these programs are often criticized. Evidence that they reduce recidivism is inconclusive, and skeptics ask whether the prevailing evangelical tone of the units discriminates against inmates who don't share their conservative Christian outlook.
However, evidence is strong that violence and trouble-making drop sharply in these programs, and they often are the only vibrant rehabilitation option at a time when taxpayer- funded alternatives have been cut back.
Inmates at Vance offer another compelling argument. Unlike many of America's 2 million prisoners, they feel they are treated with respect. They have hope.
"They never had anyone show them love even their mother and father," said Anzetta Smith, who served 18 years for attempted murder before being released from Vance this year. "You get in the program, and everybody shows you love."
Impressed by the Vance operation, Texas officials have opened a dozen faith-based dorms in the state, housing about 1,300 inmates. At maximum-security Allred prison near Wichita Falls, infractions by inmates dropped more than 90 percent once they entered the program.
At minimum-security Vance, fights among inmates are rare, said Tommie Dorsett, a former parole officer who has directed the unit's Christian-based InnerChange Freedom Initiative since its inception.
He could recall only one incident in those 10 years when a correctional officer used force. "And that officer overreacted," Dorsett said.
Security at Vance is the state's responsibility. But the intensive, daylong programming is entirely in the hands of InnerChange, a project of the Prison Fellowship ministry founded by Chuck Colson, the former Nixon aide imprisoned because of the Watergate scandal.
Vance and eight other InnerChange programs in Kansas, Minnesota, Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa operate on the strength of Prison Fellowship's private financial resources and legions of volunteers.
In Florida, by contrast, the Department of Corrections has taken a more direct role, turning three prisons two for men, one for women into "faith and character-based institutions" which it runs itself. The department says inmates at the three prisons committed 30 percent fewer infractions than inmates elsewhere. A state task force recommended creating five more faith-based facilities.
The InnerChange program at Vance is open, on a voluntary basis, to men with less than two years left on their sentences. Sex offenders and inmates with bad disciplinary records are excluded. The days are filled with spiritual and academic classes, meetings and work duties.
Bibles are a common sight. Religious paintings, including works by self-taught Manny Hernandez, decorate the walls.
The atmosphere can be a pleasant shock to men arriving from tougher prisons.
"In my other prison, on a daily basis there was rape, drugs," said Raymond Hall, who was convicted at 16 of murder and hopes to complete his 15-year sentence in early 2009. "When you come to Carol Vance, it's like a load is lifted. It's like heaven."
Hall had just completed a class where readings included Bible passages and pastor Rick Warren's best-seller, "The Purpose Driven Life."
The instructor, Doug Jeffrey, urged the men to focus on using their resources family, faith, education to plan for succeeding when they go free.
"When you got accepted for this program, maybe that was the first time you realized God has a plan for you," Jeffrey said. "You guys are a chosen nation. You go out from prison with a different mind-set from guys not in this program."
Each inmate is assigned a volunteer mentor who provides counseling before and after release, assisting with job hunting and housing. Outgoing inmates are feted at a graduation ceremony, then leave the prison with their mentor, in contrast to most Texas inmates, who exit with no assistance beyond $50 and directions to the bus station.
Florida's program also welcomes help from a wide range of volunteers, mostly but not exclusively from Christian organizations. Among them is Allison DeFoor, a former sheriff and judge who volunteers at the Lawtey prison near Jacksonville.
"It didn't feel like any prison I'd been to in my life," DeFoor said. "It felt more like a college."
Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, has qualms about whether the faith-based programs are fair to non-Christian inmates but hesitates to criticize them because they fill a void.
However, the InnerChange program in Iowa was ordered closed by a federal judge, ruling in a lawsuit filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which contends that state funds were used for religious indoctrination. .
Alex Luchenitser, an Americans United attorney, said his group's primary concern is equal treatment of all inmates, regardless of faith or lack of one.
It's now under appeal, and the program has been allowed to continue temporarily using only private funds, as is the policy at Vance and other InnerChange programs.
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A former candidate for circuit judge is facing a federal charge of possession of child pornography, according to court records.
Gainesville attorney Craig Francis Hall, 58, is accused of possessing or attempting to possess material that contained images of child pornography, a court record filed last week at Gainesville's federal courthouse states.
Additional details about the allegation were not included in the court record.
A search warrant related to the case had been served in September, Gainesville Police Cpl. Mitch Nixon confirmed. Nixon, who is the commander of the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said he could not discuss any additional details of the investigation.
An arraignment and change of plea hearing has been scheduled for next week with Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul, federal court records show.
Hall's attorney, Larry Turner, confirmed his client planned to surrender to officers on Nov. 14.
"He is going to enter a plea at that time and we expect him to be released pending sentencing," he said.
Based on rules governing the local federal court, Turner said he could not comment further on the case and that Hall could not comment.
In 2004, Hall was one of four area lawyers who ran to replace then-Circuit Judge Larry Turner who did not seek another term.
Hall's resume had listed his work in prosecuting lawyers on behalf of The Florida Bar on the 8th Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee and service as a volunteer attorney for the Guardian ad Litem program.
Hall was admitted to The Florida Bar in 1974 and is still a member in good standing, according to the organization. He was board certified in civil trial law in 1983.
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A Dauphin County Prison guard was sentenced to probation Thursday in county court after pleading no contest to a charge of having sex with a female inmate.
Jesus Maldonado, 40, of Steelton, pleaded to a reduced charge of indecent assault and received 18 months probation and a $100 fine.
First Deputy District Attorney Fran Chardo said Maldonado had to resign as part of the plea agreement. He said the female inmate was a willing participant in the sex act and did not want to prosecute the case.
“She’s not a traditional victim,” Chardo told Judge Scott A. Evans. “She doesn’t want any part of this.”
Maldonado and the inmate had sex in the women’s rest room of the female housing unit of the prison in June or July 2005, court papers state. Another female inmate entered and saw the woman performing oral sex on Maldonado.
The inmate Maldonado is accused of having sex with was in the prison from December 2003 through October 2005. She was moved to a state prison after she was sentenced to 11 to 30 years for third-degree murder in the December 2003 stabbing death of her boyfriend.
Maldonado put money in her state prison bank account and state officials taped 16 phone calls that the female inmate made to Maldonado at his home in which they made allusions to a sexual relationship, according to a grand jury presentment against him.
Chardo said that even though the inmate was a willing participant, her consent was not legally valid under the law. But he dropped a felony charge of institutional sexual assault in favor of the misdemeanor charge because the victim was not cooperating.
Maldonado’s attorney, Brian W. Perry, said he had been a guard for 18 years. He said he advised him to take the plea because of the consequences of the more serious charge. A no contest plea carries the same penalty as a conviction and is an admission by the defendant that the case against him could be proven.
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So the media did a special on the # of teachers being busted for these crimes, when are they going to do a special on the cops we are suppose to trust being busted for sex crimes? There is TONS of them. A couple good places to start would be at BadCopNews and on my blog here.
GRANTSVILLE -- A former Grantsville police chief has pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree sexual abuse involving a child under the age of 11 and at least one woman.
Ronald A. Gordon Sr., 57, entered his plea Tuesday in Calhoun County Circuit Court.
Gordon was originally indicted on nine charges: four counts of first-degree sexual abuse, three counts of second-degree sexual assault, one count of second-degree sexual assault and one count of nighttime burglary. The last count alleged that Gordon broke into a victim's home with the intent to commit second-degree sexual assault.
The alleged crimes occurred between 1981 and 2005.
Gordon was Grantsville's police chief from 2003 to March 2006. He also served as a home confinement officer and circuit court bailiff.
Gordon's attorney, Ernest Skaggs, declined to comment.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 2.
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Notice how they did the jury? It's suppose to be a jury of peers, so why did they not have it balanced? 6 women and 6 men instead of 9 women and 3 men. Seems unfair to me. And I am not condoning what he did, but the justice system is not fair at all.
MANSFIELD -- Even after winning the Brian Crawford case, Richland County Assistant Prosecutor Bambi Couch-Page was near tears when thinking of the victims.
Couch-Page knew what it took for the two girls, 13 and 15, to testify.
"It was one of those things. ... I really felt awful, particularly for poor (younger girl)," Couch-Page said. "Her emotional state touched me."
A nine-woman, three-man jury deliberated for six hours over the course of two days before returning guilty verdicts on all 43 counts Thursday afternoon. Crawford, 33, of Crestline, will be sentenced at 9 a.m. today on eight counts of rape, 15 counts of sexual battery and 20 counts of gross sexual imposition. The girls said the sexual abuse started when each was 7.
Crawford bowed his head as Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese read the verdict. He appeared ready to cry.
"He's terribly upset. He'll take it hard," defense attorney Lewis Williams said. "This is basically the end of his life."
Before the verdict, Williams told Crawford's supporters not to react. They sat quietly in two rows, some taking notes. An older woman broke down outside the courtroom, a few feet from where Couch-Page hugged Mansfield police Detective Jeff Shook, the lead investigator in the case.
The jury took three breaks Thursday and asked for a trial transcript, which DeWeese denied. About a dozen of Crawford's supporters sat in the third-floor lobby as Williams regaled them with stories from some of his previous cases.
Couch-Page stayed at the prosecutor's office across the street.
"Any verdict is very tense for us to sit and wait on," she said. "As time passes, you get concerned about what's happening."
Couch-Page said she had hoped to avoid a trial to keep the girls from having to take the witness stand.
"Oftentimes, we will plea bargain a case like this," she said. "He (Crawford) would not take any offer. We had no choice.
"I just dread having to put any child through this."
While praising the testimony of both girls, Couch-Page pointed to the sexual assault exams as the key to the case. Both girls had injuries to their genitalia.
"That evidence is just so compelling," the assistant prosecutor said.
On the other side, Williams knew he faced an uphill battle.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "I've been doing this long enough to know how difficult it is to have the jury see beyond all the counts and children as victims. It's a difficult case to defend."
Crawford previously worked as a corrections officer at the city jail. He also wrestled on the minor-league circuit as the Canadian Crusher. Stacy Crawford, Brian's wife, has been charged with four counts of obstructing justice and one count of obstructing official business in the case. Her trial is scheduled for Jan. 17.
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FORT WAYNE -- A man hurled himself off the third-floor balcony in the Allen County Courthouse after he was convicted of child molesting.
Cicero Offerle, 30, of Fort Wayne was hospitalized in critical condition after falling about 20 feet on Thursday, but was expected to survive, sheriff's Sgt. Steve Stone said Friday. Offerle suffered head injuries, torn knee ligaments and other injuries, Stone said.
Offerle, who had been out on bond, was taken into custody after a jury convicted him of molesting a 10-year-old girl he had been babysitting in October 2006, Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull said.
Offerle showed no visible reaction when the verdict was read, she said.
After the verdict, Gull revoked Offerle's bond and ordered him held until sentencing Nov. 19. A sheriff's deputy handcuffed his hands behind his back and led him from the courtroom.
As the bailiff led him down the corridor, Offerle broke into a run and dived over the third floor railing, striking the marble second-floor railing and landing on the second floor, Gull said.
Gull said she ordered Offerle held until sentencing in part because prosecutors had said he tried to kill himself following his initial interview with police.
She said Offerle would remain under guard at the hospital.
No jurors were in the courthouse when Offerle leaped over the railing, Gull said.
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FORT WORTH -- A Fort Worth police officer with a long history of disciplinary problems with the department was arrested Thursday, accused of indecency with a child.
Dudley James Seals III, who has worked with the Police Department since 1992, was arrested in Fort Worth about 9:30 a.m. by Weatherford police on a warrant accusing him of indecency with a child/sexual contact.
Seals, 40, was booked into the Parker County Jail with bail set at $40,000.
Weatherford police Capt. David Smith said the Police Department received a report Tuesday about the allegations against Seals, who lives in Weatherford. He said detectives developed enough probable cause to obtain an arrest warrant.
Smith declined to release the victim's age or sex to protect identity. He said the case remains under investigation.
Indecency with a child/sexual contact is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Seals has most recently been assigned to the Fort Worth Police Department's training division.
"We just learned of this matter," Lt. Dean Sullivan, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said Thursday. "A decision regarding his duty status has not been made at this time."
Civil service documents show that Seals has a long disciplinary history with the department:
In September, Seals was suspended for 10 days after an internal investigation of his use of a Taser while trying to remove a combative woman from his patrol car. Seals was accused of not exercising sound judgment by using his Taser on a nonviolent person and violating policies and procedures by contacting a witness in the case, despite knowing that an internal investigation was under way.
In May 2006, Seals was suspended for five days for crashing his patrol car into a guardrail while speeding to a high-priority call.
In June 2001, Seals accepted a 30-day suspension without pay and a voluntary demotion from detective to officer for using his city-provided Internet access for personal use and bringing sexually explicit and obscene pictures and photographs into the workplace.
In November 1999, Seals was suspended for three days for running a stop sign in his patrol car and crashing into another vehicle.
In April 1997, Seals was fired for the illegal arrest of a woman. Seals appealed, and the indefinite suspension was later reduced to a 15-day suspension without pay after an arbitrator found insufficient evidence that Seals arrested the woman, but rather temporarily detained her.
In December 1995, Seals was suspended for 16 days for drawing his gun on three men without legal cause and then arresting a man on suspicion of driving while intoxicated without conducting a field sobriety test. A Breathalyzer test revealed that the man had a zero blood-alcohol level.
In October 1995, Seals was suspended for 10 days for insubordination and not wearing his gunbelt and weapon while on duty.
In February 1995, Seals received a four-day suspension for leaving the city in his patrol car while on duty and crashing while speeding on an exit ramp.
In August 1994, Seals received a one-day suspension for a crash in which he failed to yield right of way to another vehicle.
In June 1994, Seals received a three-day suspension for calling in sick when, an internal investigation found, he had gone to a nightclub.
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Government paperwork is going to get someone killed here, IMO. This kid and family needs help, and nobody is giving it to them. When someone is killed then what, throw the kid in prison for life? He needs help. Although he is not molesting children, this is similar to John Couey, he begged and begged for help, but nobody listened, now this kid is basically doing the same.
TITUSVILLE -- A Brevard County couple is willing to abandon their own child because they are afraid of him. The parents said the 13-year-old boy has violent outbursts and has even threatened to kill them. It's to the point that the father is facing criminal charges because he won't take his own son home.
The Dills said their house is not a place of refuge. Instead, they live in a state of fear and they're at their wits' end. Thomas Dills and his wife Bunny said they've run out of options to help 13-year-old Joseph.
"He's killed animals. This child needs help and we can't seem to get anyone to listen to us," said Bunny Dills, the boy's stepmother. "Until they can get him help, [I don't want him here]."
Over the years, Joseph's unpredictable violent behavior has gotten worse, his parents say. He's been charged with assault twice, the first time when he was just nine years old after he lashed out at a teacher. Last spring, Joseph spent five and a half months at a residential mental health center until the insurance money ran out. He remains on a number of medications to stabilize his moods, but he still has violent tantrums.
In October, Joseph told a court-ordered psychologist he was planning to kill his parents and 15-year-old brother and described specific plans. A letter recommended "Joseph Dills not be allowed back into his home."
Joseph's family fears for their safety to the point where they've installed an alarm on his bedroom door.
"He's attacked daycare workers, he's attacked other kids on the school bus," Bunny said. "So it's not just limited with the family now."
An outburst Sunday forced the Dills to call the police to calm their son. As they have numerous times in the past, they brought Joseph to a community mental health center where the maximum stay is supposed to be just a few days.
After five days, Joseph's father was supposed to pick him up, but he said he feared for his family's safety more than his son's welfare. Friday morning, Thomas Dills was ordered to court where he was charged with child abandonment.
Thomas Dills is due back in court in early December. Joseph will remain with the Department of Families and Children for an undetermined stay.
Eyewitness News talked to DCF about the case and learned parents in such situations don't have many options. The state has out-patient programs, but they're only temporary. In the most severe cases, parents can give up their rights, but they have to go through a long legal process to get to that point.