Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Suicides Follow Porn Crackdown

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The Recorder
By Dan Levine
May 28, 2008

Defendants who keep child pornography on their computers make tempting — and relatively easy — targets for federal prosecutors.

Few offenders elicit so little sympathy from all frequencies of the political spectrum. The cases are incredibly difficult to fight, according to defense lawyers: So long as the feds lawfully search the computer, stiff mandatory minimum sentences reduce plea bargaining leverage to nil.

The Justice Department has escalated its efforts since announcing Project Safe Childhood in 2006, filing 27 percent more indictments last year. Now, the psychological weight of child porn prosecutions — for family members, lawyers, judges and defendants themselves — is beginning to emerge.

In the Northern District of California alone, four child porn targets have committed suicide over the past nine months, according to government court filings in two separate cases. One additional defendant tried to kill himself in February, court records indicate.

"I'm not surprised the numbers are up, frankly," said San Francisco solo Miranda Kane, a former federal prosecutor who litigated and supervised child pornography cases for the government. "It's a devastating thing to be exposed, and you're publicly shamed. We would go to great effort to keep the victims' names out, but defendants' names are right there in the [San Francisco] Chronicle all the time."

The suicides are a pressing issue for magistrate judges, who must decide whether to remand defendants once they are arraigned. They add emotional baggage for defense lawyers, who already may not be enthusiastic about the subject matter they must delve into.

Prosecutors have been trying to share as much information about the suicides with judges as possible, U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello said. Ultimately, he said, the courts must craft a solution.

"It's not our objective to destroy human lives," Russoniello said, "but it is our obligation to protect the most vulnerable in our society from exploitation."

Finally, the suicides present an overlay of grief for the defendants' family members, who already grapple with feelings of disbelief and betrayal following an indictment.

FOUR DEFENDANTS

Jeffrey Benjamin Harrison appeared gregarious to friends and family, always full of energy.

"He was a guy who lived large. He made and lost millions of dollars," said longtime law partner William DeGarmo. The two Bay Area plaintiff lawyers worked asbestos torts together, followed by railroad hearing loss litigation, followed by a tech startup. "When I first knew him, he said, 'You know, I pay off my house twice a year, and I borrow against it twice a year to make payroll.'"

Harrison also loved women, DeGarmo said, and "as long as I knew him he had at least a couple." But on his return last summer from a business trip to the Philippines, where his latest telecom startup had an office, customs officials at San Francisco airport discovered hundreds of images involving young girls on Harrison's laptop, court records indicate. The feds filed charges two days later.

Chief Magistrate Judge James Larson released Harrison on $200,000 bond. And his family — including his wife — rallied around him, DeGarmo said. But his few days in Santa Rita Jail left him shaken, DeGarmo said, and the seriousness of his legal situation soon became evident.

With the court mulling a bail revocation, Harrison drove his blue Jaguar into Golden Gate Park on March 20, and shot himself.

In February, a grand jury indicted George Wayne Halldin for possession, receipt and distribution of child pornography. On April 4, Halldin set fire to a building he owned in San Jose and perished in the blaze.

That month, when the Justice Department indicted Paul Hirsohn after an airport search of his laptop, prosecutors didn't want a repeat.

"Four defendants facing child pornography allegations have committed suicide in the past few months, and one additional defendant has attempted suicide," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tarek Helou wrote, in urging Larson to remand Hirsohn. "This court should release the defendant only if it determines that he does not pose a risk to himself."

But Larson didn't buy the prosecutor's argument, according to Robert Beles, Hirsohn's lawyer. "He was concerned that would be true of every case of child porn that came before him, and that would be an irrational way to discuss detention: 'Other people committed suicide, so we have to keep you in custody for your own protection,'" Beles said. "He looked for some assurances, that a therapist had seen the person involved, and that the person would be able to cope with the social humiliation with this sort of crime."

Hirsohn's case is pending. Larson would not discuss individual prosecutions, but he acknowledged the suicides.

"It's definitely a concern, a serious concern among magistrate judges. We've taken steps to initiate discussions with the pretrial services office and other magistrate judges, and the probation office," Larson said, "to develop a process for screening these cases when they first come in, to determine whether there should be immediate referral to mental health counseling and any consequential testing at the outset, as a condition of release."

Feelings of shame are magnified for child porn defendants, said Pat McAndrews, a San Jose therapist who treats sex offenders.

"What happens is, oftentimes people who are really locked into an addictive use of child pornography really disassociate themselves from it. They're in denial about it. They don't integrate it into who they are," McAndrews said. "So when this surfaces, it truly is more of a shock than what might be in other situations. That's part of the problem: They're not really in touch with what they're doing."


MT - Alleged sex offender commits suicide

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08/19/2008

ST. CHARLES (AP) - A man convicted of St. Louis-area sex offenses is dead after reportedly hanging himself in prison.

The Missouri Department of Corrections said 55-year-old Charles Steffani was pronounced dead about 5:45 a.m. Saturday at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Corrections officials said an autopsy is planned. STLToday.com, the Web site for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, quoted St. Charles County’s prosecutor as saying Steffani used a bed sheet to kill himself.

Steffani had been in prison since 2005 and was serving a 20-year sentence for sexual assaults in St. Louis and St. Charles counties but still faced charges for alleged attacks on young girls in the 1990s.


GA - Child Sexual Abuse Awareness

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08/19/2008

On Thursday, August 14, Decatur County Family Connection offered a class to the community on the prevention of child sexual abuse. Participants in the class learned about a continuum of behaviors that one may see in children and adults.

Green light behaviors are healthy behaviors that one would expect to see in children and adults. Yellow light behaviors are reason to gather more information and to reinforce the family safety plan. Red light behaviors require an immediate report to law enforcement or the Department of Children and Families.

Child sexual abuse is a serious problem in our community. Parents frequently fear “stranger danger” when in reality up to 90% of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts. Even though parents often warn their children about individuals in their community on the sex offender registry, studies consistently show that less than 12% of sexual abuse is reported and that convicted sexual offenders represent less than 10% of all sex offenders in communities.

Another aspect of abuse that is often overlooked is child on child sexual abuse. As much as one third of all child sexual abuse is committed by children under the age of 18!

In too many child sexual abuse cases, families decide to deal with the issue and “keep it in the family.” Unfortunately, in these instances, the victims nor the offenders often fail to get the treatment they need, and the abuse cycle continues.

The relationship between individuals who are victimization subsequently perpetrating sexual abuse on someone else is well documented. Not all victims become offenders but it happens too often to be ignored. Counseling for victims and offenders is an essential part of the healing process.

While it is important to address sexual abuse that has occurred, it is much easier to work to prevent the abuse from happening. Programs are offered in our schools like Good Touch, Bad Touch, but children should not have to prevent sexual abuse by themselves. That’s our job.

We can do much more to protect children than teach them to tell us when someone has acted inappropriately. It is our responsibility as adults to learn, to notice, and to say something when we see behaviors towards children and teens that make them vulnerable or are sexually inappropriate.

If you are interested in scheduling a presentation for your organization, church or other group to learn more about protecting children from child sexual abuse, please contact Ami Mejia, Decatur County Family Connection Coordinator at 243-6451


CT - Group wants award given to sex offender back

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08/19/2008

Torrington (AP) -- The Torrington Board of Approved Baseball Umpires wants the lifetime achievement award it gave to a convicted child sex offender returned.

The board issued a statement late Monday night that Tom Barbero, a longtime umpire and convicted pedophile, must give back a service award presented to him two weeks ago.

Barbero was sentenced in 2000 to four years in prison followed by 35 years probation after pleading no contest to one count of second-degree sexual assault of a victim 13 to 15 years old and two counts of risk of injury to a minor.

He is listed on Connecticut's sex offender registry.

Police accused Barbero of sexually assaulting three teenage boys in 1994 and 1995, but said the boys were not involved with youth baseball teams.


New Report Shows Pitfalls of Trying Kids as Adults



08/14/2008

Things are usually pretty slow here in D.C. during the month of August, but we got some exciting news yesterday from the Department of Justice of all places. Can you believe it? Yeah, me neither.

Nevertheless, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released a report that showed the pitfalls of trying children as adults. The report entitled Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency? (PDF) concluded:

  • Laws to make it easier to transfer youth to the adult criminal court system have little or no general deterrent effect, meaning they do not prevent youth from engaging in criminal behavior;
  • Youth transferred to the adult system are more likely to be rearrested and to reoffend than youth who committed similar crimes, but were retained in the juvenile justice system;

It would seem the reflexive “get tough” approach that many elected officials favor for addressing juvenile crime actually only creates the kind of career criminals that cause society problems for years down the road. Simply put, the adult system is not equipped to deal with the needs of children, which, if addressed, actually help to prevent recidivism. That would seem like the win-win everyone can support no? As the NY Times presciently stated today:

Young people who commit serious, violent crimes deserve severe punishment. But reflexively transferring juvenile offenders — many of whom are accused of nonviolent crimes — into the adult system is not making anyone safer. When they are locked up with adults, young people learn criminal behaviors. They are also deprived of the counseling and family support that they would likely get in the juvenile system, which is more focused on rehabilitation. And once they are released, their felony convictions make it hard for them to find a job and rebuild their lives.

Juvenile Transfer Laws will hopefully provide our elected officials and those all-knowing shapers of public policy with the necessary information to stop creating career criminals out of children when better, more appropriate avenues are available. Next up, we need to move to end the pariah practice of sentencing children to life in prison with no possibility of parole.