Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nancy Grace Settles Lawsuit Over Guest's Suicide

Original Article

11/09/2010

By SHEILA MARIKAR

Nancy Grace Settles Lawsuit Over Mom Melinda Duckett, Who Committed Suicide After Interview

The family and estate of Melinda Duckett, the young mother of a missing child who fatally shot herself after being battered by tough questions from talk-show host Nancy Grace, have dismissed a lawsuit against Grace and CNN.

According to court records obtained by The Associated Press, the settlement requires that Grace establish a $200,000 trust dedicated to finding Duckett's missing son, Trenton, who was 2-years-old when he disappeared.

If Trenton is not found alive by his 13th birthday, money in that trust will be transferred to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Trenton would be six today.

If Trenton is found alive before his 13th birthday, his adoptive grandmother will gain control of money in the trust until his 18th birthday, when Trenton could then use the funds as he wishes.

In 2006, Duckett, then 21, appeared on Grace's show soon after her son, Trenton, went missing. Grace accused Duckett of hiding something, apparently because of her vague answers and unwillingness to take a lie-detector test. Police later named Duckett the prime suspect in the boy's disappearance.

Duckett committed suicide the day the taped interview was scheduled to air, Sept. 8, 2006. Soon after, her family filed a lawsuit charging Grace with the wrongful death of Duckett.

"Nancy Grace and the others, they just bashed her to the end," Duckett's grandfather, Bill Eubank, said following her death.

The lawsuit accused Grace, whose show airs on CNN's sister network HLN, of inflicting emotional distress on Duckett with her interrogation about the missing boy.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Ocala, Florida, in 2006. The settlement agreement between Grace and the Duckett family lawyers was filed Friday and still needs a federal judge's approval. The trial was scheduled to begin next month.

CNN said in a statement Monday that network officials were pleased the lawsuit has been dismissed.

"After four years of litigation and extensive discovery, the parties now agree that Nancy Grace, the producers of her program, and CNN engaged in no intentional wrongdoing in the course of dedicating a program to finding the missing toddler, as alleged in the lawsuit," Jay Paul Deratany, a lawyer representing Duckett's family and estate, said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.

In the wake of Duckett's 2006 suicide, Grace faced harsh criticism from her peers in the press. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called the tragedy Grace's "Jenny Jones moment," referring to a 1995 taping of "The Jenny Jones Show" that preceded one guest murdering another.

Grace, a former prosecutor, defended her actions. In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" following Duckett's death, Grace said, "If anything, I would suggest that guilt made her commit suicide. To suggest that a 15 or 20-minute interview can cause someone to commit suicide is focusing on the wrong thing."


GA - Ruling: Former Rome police officer must register as a sex offender

Original Article

11/08/2010

By Lydia Senn

A local police officer currently serving time in prison will have to register as a sex offender when he is released, even though he was not convicted of a crime specifically defined as a sexual offense, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled (PDF) on Monday.

Paul Wiggins Jr., a former Rome police officer, claimed the Floyd County court’s requirement that he register as a sex offender as a condition of his probation was an illegal sentence.

However, in the court’s unanimous decision, Justice Robert Benham said the jury found Wiggins had committed a sexual offense against a minor, “when it found appellant guilty of the crime of cruelty to children, which was described in the indictment as maliciously causing a child under the age of 18 cruel and excessive mental pain through sexual contact.”

The ruling stemmed from Wiggins’ 2003 conviction when he was found guilty of child cruelty, false writings and violation of his oath of office in relation to an incident in which he had sex with a 16-year-old girl on his patrol car.

He was acquitted of rape, sodomy, sexual battery and false imprisonment.

In the summer of 2003, Wiggins was dispatched to a hotel in Rome when a manager reported that some teenagers were having a party. The 16-year-old girl was among six people found in the room.

According to court testimony, Wiggins vouched for the girl, saying he knew her father. But instead of taking the girl home, Wiggins drove her to a nearby park where he had sex with her on the hood of his police car.

Afterward, the girl drove to the home of friends, who testified she was “crying” and told them she’d been raped.

Wiggins claimed the sex was consensual.

He appealed to both the Georgia Court of Appeals, which upheld his convictions, and the Georgia Supreme Court, which upheld all but the false writings conviction.

Wiggins argued that having to register as a sex offender for life violated his civil rights and was cruel and unusual punishment.

The high court rejected Wiggins’ constitutional challenges, citing its earlier decision this year in Hollie v. State (PDF), in which it ruled that lifetime registration is required by the sex offender registration statute and does not exceed the maximum penalty for the crimes a defendant was convicted of.

Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson said she is pleased with the high court’s decision.

I am glad the court upheld that he is a sex offender and that registering isn’t cruel or unusual,” Patterson said.

Wiggins is currently serving a 15-year sentence and will have to register as a sex offender upon his release.


UT - Elizabeth Smart Case Busts Abduction Myths

Original Article

11/09/2010

By Benjamin Radford

In what has become one of the most notorious kidnapping cases of the past few decades, Elizabeth Smart, then a 14-year-old girl, was abducted on June 5, 2002, from her Salt Lake City bedroom. The case made international news as police searched for the blonde teen, and tips poured in from both psychics and the public. For most of a year her fate was unknown, but she was recovered March 12, 2003, living with a disturbed preacher and his wife less than twenty miles from her home.

Nearly a decade after Smart was taken, her alleged abductor, Brian David Mitchell, is on trial and Smart has begun testifying in court about her kidnapping experience. Along the way, the Smart case has busted several popular myths about abductions. For example:

Stranger Kidnappings

Though the public believes that strangers are likely to kidnap children, most child abductions are committed by someone the child knows—usually a parent or friend of the family. This was the case with Smart; her mother had met Mitchell on a Salt Lake City street, and had asked him to do work around their house. Mitchell got to know the family, and they even hired him to repair their roof. Like most child abductors, the perpetrator was someone the victim knew.

Sex Offenders

Just as strangers are widely (and mistakenly) believed to commit the typical kidnapping, they are also popularly thought to commit the typical sex offense on children. In fact, Smart’s case was used as an example of the need to bolster sex offender laws. In July 2006, Smart and John Walsh (of TV's America's Most Wanted) were instrumental in helping pass the most extensive national sex offender bill in history. According to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the bill’s sponsor, Smart’s “abduction by a convicted sex offender” might have been prevented had his bill been law.

However Sen. Hatch and Smart were wrong: like most people who abduct children, Brian Mitchell was not a convicted sex offender and her abduction could not have been prevented by the sex offender bill she endorsed. As in most child sexual assaults, the perpetrator was not a convicted sex offender.

Psychic Detectives

Many people believe that psychic detectives have helped find both living and dead missing persons for police. In fact, there has never been a proven case of a missing person being located on the basis of psychic information (PDF). During the nine months of being kidnapped and repeatedly sexually assaulted, psychics failed to find Smart. In the weeks and months after her abduction, over 1,000 alleged psychics (including Alison DuBois of TV's Medium fame) offered their visions, information, and evidence. These tips, like all the rest, were investigated and followed up. Not a single piece of evidence from all those psychics led to Smart’s recovery; instead her abductors were recognized by two alert couples in a Salt Lake City suburb who alerted police with their cell phones.

Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping and sexual assault actually help to debunk the "stranger danger" myth. The sensational and bizarre Smart case is, ironically, in many ways a very typical case of child abduction and abuse.


CA - LAPD chief opposes judge's ruling on Jessica's Law

Original Article

11/05/2010

By Andrew Blankstein

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck issued a statement Friday saying he disagrees with a decision by a judge to block enforcement of a major provision of Jessica's Law, which restricts how closely sex offenders can live to schools or parks.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza concluded that the controversial measure left sex offenders in some areas with the choice of being homeless or going to jail because the law prohibits them from living in large swaths of some cities such as Los Angeles.

The temporary ban led state corrections officials to order parole agents not to enforce Jessica's Law residency requirements in Los Angeles County. More restrictive measures remain in place to regulate "high-risk" sex offenders whose crimes involve violence or repeated sexual offenses.

In his 10-page ruling, issued Monday after four registered sex offenders petitioned the court, Espinoza referenced Beck and LAPD data that there had been "a marked increase of homeless/transient [sex offender] registrants." In 2007, there were 30 sex offenders on active parole in Los Angeles. By this September, that number had jumped to 259.

"Rather than protecting public safety, it appears that the sharp rise in homelessness rates in sex offenders on active parole in Los Angeles County actually undermines public safety," wrote Espinoza, who is the supervising judge of Los Angeles County criminal courts. "The evidence presented suggests that despite lay belief, a sex offender parolee's residential proximity to a school or park where children regularly gather does not bear on the parolee's likelihood to commit a sexual offense against a child."

The LAPD statement said those referenced statistics were prepared in a report to the Los Angeles City Council's public safety committee "with information related to the concentration of sexual registrants in residential housing, not the merits of Jessica's Law."

"This report, approved by Chief Beck, was intended solely to discuss the potential impact of additional restrictions placed on top of Jessica's Law and not to draw a conclusion on the merits of any provision in Jessica's Law," the statement reads.

The temporary ban on the residency restrictions in the county, which has sparked an emotional debate, is not the last word on the issue. Espinoza could revisit his decision in the case brought by four sex offenders on parole, or the case could be challenged. Corrections officials said Thursday they would appeal the ruling.

Proposition 83 (PDF), overwhelmingly approved by state voters in 2006 and informally known as Jessica's Law, imposes strict residency requirements on sex offenders, including rules forbidding them from living near locations where children gather. Before the law passed, those residency requirements were imposed only on offenders whose victims were children.

There are about 5,100 registered sex offenders in Los Angeles, and about 1,020 of them are prohibited under Jessica's Law from living near places where children congregate. Throughout Los Angeles County, about 2,000 registered sex offenders are subject to residency restrictions.

Civil rights attorneys have argued that provisions of Jessica's Law make it impossible for some registered sex offenders to live in densely populated cities. Nearly all of San Francisco, for example, is off-limits to sex offenders because of the number of parks and schools close to housing. Los Angeles officials also said there are few places in the city where sex offenders can find housing that meets Jessica's Law requirements.

State Sen. George Runner (R- Lancaster), the author of Jessica's Law, said Thursday that most parts of the state still have ample housing for sex offenders, including Los Angeles County. Runner said he was confident the geographic rules would eventually be restored in L.A. County and elsewhere.

Runner said he believed Espinoza's order might prompt local cities to place greater restrictions on the neighborhoods where sex offenders can live than what Jessica's law allows, which is being explored in the city of Los Angeles.

Espinoza noted he acted amid a flurry of challenges to Jessica's Law residency restrictions. He wrote that the court has received about 650 habeas corpus petitions raising similar legal issues, and that hundreds more were being prepared by the public defender's and alternate public defender's offices in Los Angeles County.