Monday, August 8, 2016

Undisciplined: More Shenanigans from the State vs Adnan Syed

Adnan's Story, Rabia Chaudry's seminal book on the Adnan Syed case, has just been released today.  Your bookshelf won't be complete without a copy of this book, which contains contributions from Adnan, in his own words.  You can also pick up Asia Chapman's book, Confessions of a Serial Alibi, both available in all the usual places good books are sold!!  

Anyone who has been following the Adnan Syed case, or any wrongful conviction case, knows that the wheels of justice turn very, very slowly.  But in recent weeks there has been some movement in the case made famous by the Serial podcast, with the State filing for leave to appeal Judge Welch's decision granting Adnan a new trial.  For those of you who missed the most recent developments, back in February, there was a Post Conviction Relief hearing in which Adnan's legal team argued for the ineffective assistance of counsel on a number of points, including failure to call alibi witness Asia McClain Chapman, and failure to properly cross-examine the State's expert witness on cell tower evidence that was critical to the State's theory of the case.

Judge Martin Welch, the judge who denied Adnan's first PCR petition in 2014, was bought back out of retirement specifically to hear the 2016 petition.  Judge Welch ruled against the alibi testimony of Asia, claiming that, although he found her to be a credible witness, her testimony most likely would not have led to a different decision from the jury.  However, Welch found that the failure of Adnan's original trial counsel, Christina Gutierrez, to thoroughly cross-examine the State's cell tower expert did meet the standard for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.  As a result, he vacated the murder conviction and granted Adnan Syed a retrial.

So, that brings us to the most recent motion filed by the State, requesting leave to launch an appeal against Judge Welch's decision.  There are several grounds for appeal being cited by the State, all of which are complicated and need to be explained by someone who actually knows what the hell they're talking about, so I'll leave that task to the Evidence Professor a.k.a Colin Miller from the Undisclosed podcast...

The Evidence Professor explains - Part 1
The Evidence Professor explains - Part 2

So what does all this mean for Adnan? Well, essentially it means that any preparations and processes for a retrial, including any potential bail hearings, are on hold until the State's appeal has been dealt with.  So Adnan will not be getting released on bail any time soon, which must be very disappointing, and I'd imagine, distressing for both Adnan and his family.  However, this is not an unexpected move from the State, we all knew that they would try and appeal Judge Welch's decision.
What is surprising, and Colin covers this in his blog posts, is that the State are now so desperate that they are attempting to bring in two new witnesses, classmates of Asia and Adnan, who allege that they argued with Asia over her intention to lie on Adnan's behalf by providing him with an alibi for the time of the murder.

The reason this is so surprising, and has drawn serious criticism from a number of legal experts, is because all the legal avenues for the State to present new evidence have already been closed.  Once a person is convicted and have had their initial appeals denied, any further appeals focus solely on whether or not the person recieved a fair trial, not on guilt or innocence.  Both of Adnan's post conviction relief claims have centered on points of justice - such as whether Adnan's original trial lawyer did her job properly or whether the State handed over important evidenciary documents to the defense.  For the State to suddenly produce these new witnesses 16 years after Adnan's conviction is highly unusual.  I feel compelled to point out though, that these sorts of shenanigans are fairly typical of this case and of the Baltimore DA's office.  Congratulations Thiru, you're rapidly sinking to the same lows as Kevin Urick, hope you enjoy the view from down there.

Sarah Keonig on Judge Welch's Decision
State Intends to Fight New Trial - Baltimore Sun

Monday, July 11, 2016

Gangs, Drugs & Money: Is New Zealand headed for another meth crisis?

When a life-long members of one of New Zealand's most notorious gangs stands in front of news cameras and says that New Zealand is well on the way for another epidemic of the drug "P" a.k.a methamphetamines, we should pay attention.  Gangs have been heavily involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs for as long as there have been gangs and drugs pretty much.  The members of Black Power who stood up publically to warn us of this impending crisis are the men on the front lines of the drug war.  They know what they are talking about.  The Drug Foundation of New Zealand, while still reluctant to call the increase in meth use an "epidemic," agree that use is increasing and are concerned that the problem isn't being reflected in the government statistics.  For those who don't know how the slow wheels of bureaucracy work, funding for drug treatment and other anti-drug programs are all based on those statistics, which presents a real possibility that not enough resources are being made available where they're most needed.

So, why would two life-members of a gang that profits, and profits large, from the sale of this drug come out and make these statements?  It's a bold move, and probably a fairly unpopular one with other members of Black Power, so I applaud these guys for their courage in taking a stand.  These men have seen the damage that meth use is doing to their communities and they are standing up and speaking out!

I don't think it's any coincidence that the increase in meth use comes at a time when homelessness is on the increase and poverty is at record levels.  For decades now, we have known about the correlation between poverty and increased levels of drug and alcohol use, so it comes as no surprise that meth use is on the up while the quality of life for low-income families is dropping like a lead balloon.  All the while, the NZ government sit on their hands and do nothing, dismissing the housing crisis, ignoring the homelessness problem, and pretending there is no meth epidemic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying a change of government will magically fix these problems, but to do nothing, to refuse to take any action whatsoever is gross negligence in my opinion.  Will a different government do any better? I don't know, but I hope so.  In the meantime, I urge you, if you, or anyone you know is in the grip of meth addiction, don't be afraid to ask for help.  There are a number of organisations which can help and I will list as many of them as I can at the bottom of this post.

Ministry of Health Addiction Services Directory
Salvation Army Addiction Assistance - Help for Meth Addiction
Care NZ Drug and Alcohol Services
Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcohol & Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or txt 234

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Two Weeks Too Long: Why NZ Needs a Child Abduction Alert System

In the 1960s and 70s, a succession of missing and murdered child cases impacted American society forever, and changed the way that law enforcement agencies in particular respond to missing child reports.  It was a lesson that the US had to learn the hard way, at the hands of serial murderers like Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer.  One of the parents at the forefront of those societal and procedural shifts was John Walsh, the man who most of you will remember as the host of America's Most Wanted.  But before he became a well-known TV personality, he was a father.  The father of a little boy who went missing one day at the mall, after his mother left him for only a few moments, watching some older boys play a video game while she went to the checkout.  When she returned only minutes later Adam Walsh, just 6-years-old, was gone.  The shy, bright eyed little boy was never seen alive again, and his murder went unsolved for many years until a drifter was arrested in Texas on a firearms charge.  That drifter was Henry Lee Lucas, and when he, and his sometime partner Ottis Toole started confessing to literally hundreds of murders across the US, law enforcement agencies from around the country began dusting off their cold case files and hot-footing it to Texas to speak to the talkative pair of serial killers.  It was Ottis Toole who eventually confessed to the murder of Adam Walsh,  and described kidnapping the boy from just outside a Sears department store in Hollywood, Florida.  I won't go into the disgusting details of the crime, because this isn't a post about Ottis Toole, or Henry Lee Lucas, or even Adam Walsh.  This is a post about how New Zealand should be learning from other countries mistakes, and how not doing so could be putting lives at risk.

Adam Walsh was just 6-years-old when he went missing, so the police response to his disappearance was immediate and heavy, but that wasn't the experience for many parents of missing children in the US.  For years parents were told that their children had just run away, they'd come home eventually, that it wasn't a priority for police who had "real" crimes to solve.  Police departments made parents of even very young missing children wait the requisite 48 hours before they would lodge a missing persons report, and even when a report was lodged, no action would be taken.  Parents had to mount their own searches, post their own missing posters and flyers canvassing the public's help in finding their children.  When the bodies were found, if they were found, police would make excuses for their inaction with the old saw that they were "only following procedure."  Clearly, it was those procedures that needed to change, and change they did.   In 1984 The National Centre For Missing and Exploited Children was established to act  as a resource for parents, children, law enforcement agencies, schools, and communities to assist in locating missing children and to raise public awareness about ways to prevent child abduction and exploitation.  In 1996 the AMBER alert system was implemented to broadcast information about missing children across emergency channels, radio stations, TV channels, electronic billboards and online.  

Earlier this year the AMBER alert system played a crucial role in distributing information about an abducted girl taken by her uncle, who was later found and rescued by members of the public.  Which brings us back to the boy who's picture is at the top of this post.  Chicaine Erihe has been missing since June 24th, but police are only today releasing that information and beginning to canvas for the public's assistance in finding him.  Chicaine has been a runaway in the past, but that doesn't change the fact that he's been missing for two weeks now.  I hope he is found safe and sound, but what if it's already too late?  What if he's already come to harm or being targeted by the kind of predatory scumbags who prey on at-risk youth?  What is alerting the public two weeks ago could have made a difference?

New Zealand's population is growing at a faster rate than ever, and we are fools to think that this country is a safe-haven where "that sort of thing" can't happen.  We NEED a child abduction alert system before it's too late.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


After four months of waiting, Serial fans around the world are celebrating the news that Judge Welch has ruled that Adnan Syed will recieve a new trial.  Welch vacated Syed's conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee on the grounds that Syed's lawyer, Christina Gutierrez rendered ineffective assistance of counsel in not cross-examining the State's cell tower expert on the unreliability of the cell tower location evidence.  This cell evidence was the linchpin of the State's case in proving that Syed was in Linkin Park at the time they allege he buried Hae Min Lee's body, which was found a month later by a local maintenance man.

Judge Welch denied the other two ineffective assistance claims, the testimony of alibi witness Asia McClain-Chapman, an the allegation of prosecutorial misconduct against the Baltimore DA's office for witholding crucial discovery evidence.  But one win is all Adnan and his legal team needed to free him, they have that win and this is a momentous day for wrongful conviction activists around the world!

Judge Welch's PCR decision
Baltimore Sun article on Judge Welch's ruling

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Phone Scams: It CAN happen to you!!

I was lying in bed reading the other night when my Facebook messenger app dinged at me.  It turned out to be a message from a friend, who had a story to tell me, a story of how a perfectly normal, intelligent person can be taken in by a sophisticated phone scam.

My friend's partner had received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Inland Revenue Department (for you non-Kiwis, that's New Zealand's tax department).  This person used a combination of pop-psychology and an escalating series of threats to scam three thousand dollars in gifted iTune vouchers.

As my friend put it "It sounds like a silly thing to do," but if you think you couldn't be fooled by these people, think again. My friend's partner is intelligent, educated, not gullible or a "sucker." The tactics these scammers use are clever and sophisticated, they break people down and manipulate their responses. You CAN be fooled, you CAN be sucked in by these scams! The best way to avoid this happening to you is to be fully informed about the way these scams are run, and the ways in which you can protect yourself and identify possible scammers before they put you out of pocket.

Phone scammers will often have a number of personal details, which makes their calls seem more legitimate. Don't be fooled! This is the internet age and sadly, personal details aren't that difficult to come by if you know how to find that kind of information.

You may be given a phone number to call with either a Wellington prefix (04) or an Auckland prefix (09). Don't be fooled! If the caller is claiming to be from a government department, remember that most government departments have free 0800 numbers which you can call. Hang up the phone, look up the correct number for the department the caller is claiming to represent and call it to verify what they are telling you.

These scammers are very aggressive, and may make threats in an attempt to keep you on the line, or call back with various threats if you hang up on them. DON'T fall for these tactics!! The kinds of threats these scammers commonly use include threats of deportation for foreign nationals, and threats of police involvement and possible prison time. While they have you on the phone, feeling stressed and anxious about your situation, it's easy to force you to take the next step and pay out in an effort to avoid further legal action. But if you remain calm and think logically, the threats really don't hold up to close scrutiny.

Lets look at two of the most common threats being used in this latest phone scam; deportation and tax evasion charges.

Deportation is a threat that's used by scammers against foreign nationals living and working here in New Zealand, and this latest scam has targeted a number of Indian nationals. But deportation isn't something that just happens out of the blue for people who are here on legitimate visas and are not overstayers. NZ Immigration assess each individual situation, which takes time, and potential deportees have rights, including the right to appeal any decision made by NZ Immigration.

If someone calls you claiming to be from NZ Immigration and threatening you with deportation unless you pay a sum of money immediately, THIS IS A SCAM! Hang up immediately and call the police.

What about the threat of criminal charges for unpaid tax? I copied this directly from Inland Revenue's website...

"We will only take legal action when all other efforts to secure payment of the overdue tax have failed."

There are three stages which Inland Revenue goes through to collect overdue taxes.  The first is to contact you by letter, notifying you that you have unpaid taxes, and giving details of the amount, any penalties and interest that has accrued, and with a payment slip included.  This letter will also give you the phone number to call to discuss your debts and explore payment options.

Stage two is making repayment applications to your employer, bank or a third party debt collection agency, such as Baycorp.  These applications may result in payments being deducted directly from your wages, and again, you will be notified of any deductions by your bank or your employer as well as by IRD.  If the debt is sent to a third party, such as a collection agency, they will contact you to discuss payment options and will be able to provide you with proper paperwork from Inland Revenue, proving that they are an authorised collection agency, acting on IRD's behalf.  

If you are contacted by a debt collector who cannot or will not provide this proof, DO NOT pay them any money!  Contact IRD immediately and verify that the debt collector is a legitimate debt recovery agent acting on IRD's behalf.  

Only after both of these stages have fully being utilised will IRD engage in legal action, and even then, this is extremely unlikely to result in any kind of prison sentence.  The most common outcome of legal action from Inland Revenue is bankruptcy and liquidation of any assets to recover debt, not a criminal conviction or sentence.  Unless you're engaging in thousands, or even millions, of dollars worth of white collar fraud, then you're screwed and phone scams are probably the least of your problems.  LOL.

As I've mentioned previously, this particular scam is just the latest incarnation of something that's been happening since not long after Alexander Graham Bell first invented the phone. I don't have the time or bandwidth to go through every single scam you may be targeted by, but you can continue to educate yourself by using the Scamwatch website to learn about the latest scams and how you may be targeted. And follow this simple rule...

DO NOT make any kind of payment based on threatening or coercive phonecalls, texts or emails, and DO NOT give out your passwords or banking details!

If you have been victimised by a phone scam (or any other kind of scam), call the police immediately and report it. Call your bank as well and see what they can do to reverse any payments. Finally, report the scam to Scamwatch and use the "Been Scammed" section to explore your options..

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Lone Juror: How Awareness of Wrongful Convictions is (finally) Making a Difference

Etan Patz 1979 Missing Poster

In 1979, bus stops, telephone poles and shop windows of Soho, New York were plastered with posters about a blond, blue-eyed little boy with a cheeky grin and a love of matchbox cars.  Etan Patz, was the first missing child to be featured on milk cartons.  His parents helped to spearhead a movement that changed the way that law enforcement and the public approached missing child cases.  The day of Etan's disappearance, May 25, 1979, was designated National Missing Children's Day in the United States in 1983, and in 2001, that tribute spread worldwide.   Sadly, despite all the monumental changes that came about because of him, 6-year-old Etan was never found.

But in 2012, NYPD announced an arrest in the cold case, a 51 year old resident of New Jersey named Pedro Hernandez, who was picked up after his estranged brother called in a tip, saying that Hernandez had "done something bad."  

Pedro Hernandez had been just 18-years-old in 1979.  He was working at a bodega in the neighbourhood where Etan and his parents lived (for the Kiwi readers, a bodega is basically a corner dairy).  May 25th was a Friday, and a very special day for Etan because, for the very first time, he was going to walk to the bus stop to catch the school bus all by himself.  Etan's parents had given him a dollar note and he'd told his mother that he planned to stop and buy a soda to have with his school lunch at the bodega, which was on the way to the bus stop.

Pedro Hernandez told detectives that Etan had entered the bodega that morning and that he, Hernandez, had strangled Etan and dumped his body in the garbage at the back of the store.
For the NYPD it was case closed, they had a confession and they were headed for trial.  But for one of the jurors, what came out during the course of that trial made him very alarmed about the strength of the State's case.

There was no physical evidence tying Hernandez to the case, which is not surprising since Etan's remains have never been found, and no crime scene has ever been identified.  That bodega where Hernandez worked in 1979 is long gone, bulldozed to make way for upmarket Soho apartments.  But a lack of physical evidence doesn't necessarily mean that a case can't be made. Circumstantial cases are common, we've just seen a perfect example of this in the New Zealand courts, in the case of Ashburton WINZ shooter, Russell John Tully.  The Crown's case against him was solid, but also largely comprised of circumstantial evidence.

But in the case against Hernandez, the circumstantial evidence was very problematic, and seemed to consist largely of rumour and hearsay.  There were claims that Hernandez had confessed to his church congregation in the 1980s, yet not one member of that congregation ever came forward until after Hernandez was arrested in 2012.  His siblings claimed that it was an "open secret" in the family, that Hernandez had murdered someone, yet they never came forward with this information until 33 years after Etan's disappearance.  

As for that confession....Hernandez confessed after seven hours of interrogation, most of which was not video taped despite the fact that it is mandatory practice for NYPD to tape all interviews.  Oh, and one more thing, Pedro Hernandez has a long history of mental illness, has been diagnosed with Schizotypal Personality Disorder, and has an I.Q of 70, which is borderline intellectually disabled.

Sound familiar? *cough*BrendanDassey*cough*

But, thankfully, there is a hero in this version of the #MakingAMurderer story, and that hero is Adam C. Sirois, the lone juror who refused to find Hernandez guilty, despite the fact that 11 fellow jurors all voted to convict, forcing a mistrial .  In subsequent interviews, Sirois has stated that he could not, in good consistence, find Hernandez guilty based on the State's evidence, and that the confession, to him, had all the earmarks of a false confession similar to that of Brendan Dassey.  Sirois make's no secret of the fact that watching Making a Murderer influenced his decision to deadlock the jury and I believe he did the right thing.

I don't know if Pedro Hernandez killed Etan Patz, I'm inclined to think he probably didn't but I don't know that for certain.  What I do know is interrogating a severely mentally challenged, mentally ill man for seven hours is unethical and reprehensible on the part of the officers involved!

After Making a Murderer, Serial, Undisclosed and the Adnan Syed case, and the flood of wrongful conviction horror stories, especially those based on false confessions, there is NO excuse for any law enforcement officer to engage in this kind of conduct.  This isn't just about a fair trial for defendants either, this is about the victims and their families, who are owed a thorough, above-board investigation and prosecution of the person or persons who victimised them.  

If Pedro Hernandez really did kill Etan Patz, NYPD owed it to Etan and to his parents to do the right thing, instead of engaging in blatant misconduct, the result of which was a mistrial.  If Pedro Hernandez really did kill Etan Patz and he gets away with it, that's on you NYPD, that is on you.

I called hold-out Juror, Adam Sirois, a hero.  The reason I call him that isn't because he freed Pedro Hernandez, a possible child murderer, because as I said, I don't know if Hernandez is guilty or innocent.  I called him a hero because he saw flaws in the State's case, and questionable conduct from police and he stood his ground, after enduring four months of trial testimony and 18 days of intense pressure from 11 people who all wanted to vote guilty and get the hell out of there.  Pressure from fellow jurors has led to convictions before, and to aquittals - including in the high-profile and highly controversial aquittal of four LAPD officers in the Rodney King beating.  

This man stood his ground, and in doing so, gave the State a do-over.  The mistrial means that they can re-investigate, find more evidence and retry the case, if they choose to.  The mistrial means that if Hernandez really is guilty, justice can still be done for Etan Patz.  

Jury Coercion and Peer Pressure - NYTimes

I'm raising money so I can go and visit my daughter, and my beloved fur-babies can stay in a super-nice cattery while I'm away, and be pampered like the small gods they are! Please donate, I really appreciate every dollar and it really helps cos I'm a poor student!!

Holiday Fund!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Please Help Me Fundraise!!

When I'm not spending my time researching, posting and blogging about crimes from New zealand and around the world, I'm busy with my studies. I am currently completely a Diploma in Mental Health Support Work. Because of this, I haven't seen my daughter, who lives with her grandparents in another city, in months. She'd really like for me to come and stay for a bit, and I would love that too. But it's not easy to make ends meet on a student allowance, and I have two cats as well, and nobody to look after them while I'm gone. As a result, I'm crowdfunding to try and raise the money and I would really appreciate everyone's kindess and generosity so I can go and spend some quality time with my girl!!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The History of Crime: Animal Trials

In the modern age, most judicial systems recognise that animals cannot be held responsible for "crimes" because they lack the cognitive ability, and the moral agency, to tell right from wrong. But this wasn't always the case.
In the Middle Ages, animals were routinely subjected to the same criminal charges, and proceedings, as humans. In fact, criminal trials against animals were considered perfectly normal, and were conducted right up into the 18th century. The podcast Criminal covered one such case from the 1400s, in their very first episode. This rather famous animal trial featured a pig, who was tried for the murder and mutilation of an infant. The pig was found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging.
Pigs were common defendants in medieval animal trials, mainly due to different way in which livestock were kept at the time. When we think of farm animals, we think of large herds contained by acres of a fencing, but in the Middle Ages, the number of animals being farmed were much smaller. Most peasant families owned one or two animals - a pig, a couple of chickens and maybe a goat or a cow for milking - and these animals were largely free roaming.  
More often than not, the victims of animal "homicide" were children, because the living conditions of the time bought them into close, regular contact with livestock. Medieval children, unless they were members of the aristocracy, were not educated, so they were not in school during the day. They were put to work from the moment they were of an age and size to do so, usually in the same fields as their parents. When not working, they were playing in the muddy streets, right alongside all the roaming farm animals. Deaths due to frightened or enraged animals encountering small children were fairly common, especially as what would be considered a minor injury today, would be life-threatening in medieval times. In a society where hygiene is non-existant and antibiotics haven't been discovered yet, an open wound, however small, can be a death sentence.
But trying animals for the death or injury of humans wasn't the only type of animal trial, there were also the religious trials. The Middle Ages were an era of Biblical literalism, and of witch trials, where the Roman Catholic Church was systematically stamping out "the competition" - paganism, midwifery, herbalists and other traditional forms of folk medicine. Part of that campaign included demonising certain animals, as the demonic familiars of witches. Black cats are the most obvious candidate, but they were by no means the only targets of the astute witch hunter. Cats of any colour were fair game, as were dogs, certain types of birds, rats, and insects.
One particular case, recorded by the infamous Witch-finder General, Matthew Hopkins, is that of Jane Wallis of Huntingdonshire, East Anglia. According to Hopkins, Jane Wallis had two familiars who went by the names Grizzel and Greediguts. In her confession (obtained by torture, of course), Wallis claimed that the familiars could take almost any form, but appeared most often as greyhounds with a bristle of hog hair running down their backs. She also confessed to suckling these creatures from her "Witch's marks." These marks, also called Witch's teats, were believed to be a permanent mark that the Devil placed upon the body of an initiate witch, as a visible sign of her compact with the malignant forces. These marks were most often described as being wart-like in appearance, the origin of the modern caricature of the witch with the wart on her nose that we see in popular culture.
In reality, these witch's teats were actually real warts, scars or birthmarks, marks that the person who possessed them had no control over, but were enough to condemn them.
Another common type of animal trial, while less likely to end in the cruel and unnecessary death of an innocent creature, is every bit as disturbing as the other examples I've discussed in this post. In fact, it's a little bit more disturbing on some levels. These are trials for beastiality, which was apparently a lot more common than I am remotely comfortable even thinking about. The reason I say that these trials where less likely to end with the execution of the animal is because, in many of these cases, the animals were recognised as the "victims" of men with unnatural urges.
In case you weren't disturbed enough already, I'd just like to point out that it appears that animals had more rights over their bodies than most women at this stage in history. God, that's depressing.
But, back to the unnatural urges. Defendants in these trials usually tried to claim that the animal had "seduced them" in some way, but, according to historical records, it seems judges generally rejected these claims on the basis that animals weren't capable of consent, nor of seducing anybody. The accused beast-lovers were usually put to death, and the animals given a reprieve, probably on the grounds that killing them was a waste, because nobody wanted to eat sausages made from the pig that Billy Bob had his dick in last week.
By the 1800s, animal trials were nowhere near as common as they had been in the Middle Ages, but they still occurred from time to time, and there are even a few well-known examples of animal trials from the early 20th century. The most notable being a circus elephant which was put on trial, and hanged, for killing it's trainer. In fact, while researching this subject, I even found a case from 2008. That's right, a 21st Century animal trial...sort of. The trial occurred in Macedonia, where a wild bear was accused of stealing honey from a local beekeeper's hives. The bear was found guilty, but since no-one wanted to even attempt to extract damages from a wild bear, the park's service was given a hefty fine instead.
I think this is where I'm supposed to make some kind of bad joke about pic-a-nic baskets or something.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Wellington Police are appealing for help to find 20-year-old Caitlyn Bird, who has been reported missing by her family.
She was last seen in Glover Park, Wellington, on Monday 9 May, 2016. She has not been missing before and her family have concerns for her safety.
Caitlyn is 178cm tall, with mid-length brown hair, hazel eyes, and a distinctive American accent. When she was last seen, she was wearing dark jeans, a black raincoat and a heavy, men’s brown and white checked outdoor shirt.  
Anyone who may have seen Caitlyn or have information on her whereabouts is asked to contact Wellington Police on (04) 381 2000 or, after hours, Emergency 111 and ask for Police.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The following is an open letter to all New Zealanders, from Antonio Gotingco, husband of murdered Auckland woman, Blessie Gotingco.  For those not already familiar with the story, Blessie's death was horrific; she was run down with a car, brutally raped, murdered, and her body dumped in a South Auckland cemetary.  Her murderer, Tony Robertson, was a convicted child molester, who had only recently been paroled.  The Corrections Department were so concerned about Robertson's risk of reoffending, that prior to his release, they had applied to the High Court, and been granted, extended supervision orders, including electronic monitoring.   Robertson was to wear a GPS ankle bracelet, had a 8pm - 6am curfew, and only live at an approved address.  He was also to stay away from any parks or other areas children are likely to frequent.  In the months leading up to Blessie's murder, Robertson was arrested and appeared in court three times for breaching his release conditions.  Despite these breaches, he was not sent back to prison.  Robertson also attended two more court hearings, brought by the Corrections Department, asking for further extensions of the supervision orders.  These further extensions were granted, so the question is, why did none of these provisions save the life of Blessie Gotingco?  Just this week, a governmental inquiry found that neither NZ Corrections, nor the NZ Police was responsible in any way, for Blessie's death.  Her husband disagrees, and would like to see these authorities be held to account for a crime that should not have happened, and could have been prevented.  

"To My Fellow New Zealanders: We stand for Blessie -- a beloved wife, mother and grandmother to us her family. She is also a daughter, sister, aunt, friend, co-worker, colleague and a fellow New Zealander to the rest of us.

Blessie and I and our three children left our family home in the Philippines and moved to New Zealand in 2004, confident that our adopted country was a safe and beautiful place to live in. We settled on the North Shore of Auckland, believing it was an ideal place to raise a family and lead a happy comfortable life. We were so wrong.

 We lost our beautiful Blessie at the hands of an evil person who was supposed to be under strict monitoring in the community by authorities to whom we have entrusted our lives for protection. The Government, particularly the Department of Corrections has given a new meaning to ineptitude and stupidity. The Government sounded the death knell for Blessie by failing miserably to deliver the primary role of governance which is to ensure its citizens are safe and secure from the scum of society. Its decision to put a sadistic, unreformed criminal in our neighbourhood sealed the fate of our much-loved Blessie. It was like putting a snake in a hen house.
The Corrections Department knew all along based on their records that this monster would reoffend and yet it did not lift a finger even when public safety was sure to be compromised. Highlighting their ineptness, this pure and unadulterated evil was never properly monitored to stop him from committing this very heinous crime. The department knew all along that it would just be a matter of time before he committed another crime. And yet they continue to add insult to our injury by claiming that they have exceeded standards in their management of this hardened criminal. For us, hearing these pronouncements is like rubbing salt to our raw wounds. What has happened is very unchristian. How can this dastardly act happen in a country supposedly founded and built on Christian values?

It is of public record how our beloved Blessie was brutally taken from us. What has happened to us is the worst that can happen to any family. While it is our fervent hope that no other family will experience the horror and tragedy that we have gone through, there is no guarantee unless we get our acts together and push for relevant changes in the Corrections Department and the so called justice system as a whole.

We are now facing the biggest challenge of our life by considering filing a civil case against the Department of Corrections for the wrongful death of my wife, our beloved Blessie. It's tough enough, and the Government is not providing us with legal assistance -- a sad irony considering that they are all too happy paying for the legal expenses of Blessie's murderer. In fact, the Government has been overly generous in accommodating this criminal, with sky’s the limit to all his extravagant legal spending.

We are hoping that the good people of New Zealand will once again stand with us by donating towards our costs. We are going to undertake our own review of the mismanagement/non-monitoring of "evil" which enabled him to take our Blessie. We our counting on your help, even if it is only $1, it will help us expose the sham that is the management of sex offenders in New Zealand. We need to put a stop to this vicious cycle of ineptness and stupidity in the justice system. We firmly believe that a civil case against the Department of Corrections is our only option and a worthy course of action. Together let us show them the power to the people. Never again! We all deserve better.

Respectfully yours,

Antonio Gotingco"

Mr Gotingco has started a Givealittle page to raise funds for private litigation against NZ Corrections, please consider donating to his cause, because the system failed Blessie, and they need to recognise it and learn from it instead of denying all responsibility with a whitewash inquiry.

Blessie Gotingco's Family Consider Civil Suit - NZ Herald
Results of Tony Robertson Management Inquiry

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A family affair: One family, two murders that shocked the nation.

 Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri will forever be three years old, his cheeky grin in photographs a remnant of happier days, the days before he went to stay with his mother's friend Tania Shailer, and her boyfriend David Haewera.  Moko's mother had no idea, could never have imagined, the brutality that her "friend" Tania, and her partner, would inflict on the defenseless three-year-old boy with the cheeky grin.

Moko Rangitoheriri  

 Moko and his 8-year-old sister had been entrusted to Tania Shailer, a former early childhood teacher, by their mother, so she could remain with their older brother, who was in Starship hospital.  The family live in Taupo, and Starship is in Auckland, a 5-hour drive away, so it made sense to leave the other two children in good hands and stay in Auckland.  Shailer and the mother were friends, and Shailer's experience with young children made her the natural choice of caregiver for a worried mother who wanted to stay at the bedside of her sick child.

Warning: The following contains graphic descriptions of acts of violence perpetrated against an innocent child.  Please use discretion in choosing whether to read this segment of the post, as some readers may find it very upsetting.

Over the course of the two months which Moko and his sister, Aroha* spent with Shailer and Haewera, Moko was kicked, punched, thrown into walls,  dropped on the floor face first, slapped with a sandal, bitten and stomped on by two full-grown adults.  He had feces rubbed in his face, was denied food and water, and was not given any medical treatment, even though if likely would have saved his life, severe as his injuries were, if he'd been taken to hospital just a few days earlier.

When Moko was finally taken to Taupo Hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit, he was suffering from internal hemorrhaging, swelling of the brain and septic shock from a ruptured bowel.  His face was badly swollen, and every inch of his tiny body was covered in bruises, abrasions and human bite marks.  

As if that wasn't heartbreaking enough, Moko had been in that condition for four days before the people responsible bothered to take him to hospital.  When Moko died, his tiny body was so damaged by the vicious attacks he'd endured, that he was barely recognisable to his own mother and aunt, when they went to identify him in the morgue.

At this point, you might be thinking that this awful tragedy couldn't get any worse, but you'd be wrong about that.  It can, and it did.  Because Moko's sister, only 7-years-old at the time, was forced to witness the malicious acts of violence that Shailer and Haewera perpetrated on her little brother.  Aroha tried to protect him as much as she was able to, but what hope does a 7-year-old have of defending against two adults?  

Moko's brave sister hid him in a closet so he wouldn't be beaten, she tried to sneak food and water to him, and was punished herself for doing so.  Aroha wanted desperately to tell someone what was happening, but Shailer and Haewera told her that they would kill her mother if she said anything.  She was afraid to go to school each day because she was worried about what the couple might do to Moko while she wasn't there.

And the final, most aggregious act perpetrated by this pair of oxygen bandits...during Moko's last beating, before he died, Shailer and Haewera forced Aroha to join in.  They made her kick her terribly injured little brother, and after he died, told her that it was her actions that had killed him.

There are no words that can express the horror and anger that I feel just writing about this, as well as the incredible sympathy and heartbreak for Aroha and what she must be going through.  I'm an atheist, so I don't believe in the devil or anything like that, but I do believe that what these two people did to Moko and his sister was pure, unadulterated evil.  

Moko died a slow, agonising death, murdered in cold blood over an eight week period at the hands of Tania Shailer and David Haewera.  But if you're reading Moko's story for the first time, and hoping that Shailer and Haewera were punished with the full force of the law, I'm sorry to have to disappoint you.

Last week, these baby-killers were given a downgraded charge of manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea.  They will reappear for sentencing in the Rotorua High Court on June 27th, and we can only hope, will be given the harshest possible sentence by the judge.  If I am able to arrange it, I fully intend to be there outside that court for the sentencing, sign in hand, to highlight the grave injustice of letting these vicious scumbags away with manslaughter.

Tania Shailer and David Haewera systematically tortured and beat that little boy over the course of 60 days, until his body was so damaged that it could no longer sustain life.  That's not manslaughter, that's murder!  These people are murderers.  They are vicious killers and they should never be allowed to walk the streets again or come within 5 feet of a child for the rest of their lives!

Now we come to the latest tragic twist in this case.  Since the court case has finished, the media have been allowed to reveal that David Haewera is a close relative of Ben Haewera, another convicted child killer.  Ben Haewera was sentenced to 12 years in prison for beating his 5-year-old stepson, James Whakaruru, to death in 1999, and there are a number of frightening similarities in how James and Moko died.  

James Whakaruru

Ben Haewera had been abusing little James for years, yet nothing had been done, despite the fact that Ben had already served nine months in prison for abusing James when he was just 2-years-old.  After James died and Ben Haewera was convicted, the country was shocked and outraged to learn the full extent of the abuse James suffered, and just how badly authorities had dropped the ball and failed to save his life.

James' mother and step-father, as well as relatives on both sides of his family had come to the attention of child welfare and youth justice organisations on numerous occasions.  James had been admitted to Accident & Emergency many times, with serious injuries, but doctors who treated him failed to recognise the ongoing abuse.  Neighbours and friends of the family knew what was going on but all assumed that "somebody else" would do something about it.  Everyone in James' life failed him on some level, right up to his death.

Like Moko, James endured sustained, regular physical abuse over a long period of time, until his ravaged body could not take any more abuse.  The details of what James suffered at the hands of his step-father are just as sickening as the abuse suffered by Moko Rangitoheriri, so I will not go over those details.  I will include links to some of the many news articles covering the case, so that those who wish to can learn more about James' life and tragic death.

James Whakaruru could have been saved, had people paid attention and stepped up and done something instead of turning a blind eye, or assuming that someone else would take care of it.  Moko's death can't be blamed on the system failing him, because the system had no involvement, and no one knew or even suspected what was happening to Moko until it was too late.  However, both Tania Shailer and David Haewera have attempted to mitigate their guilt by claiming that they weren't coping with having Moko and Aroha to care for, as well as their own four children.  I don't know if that's true, but if there's any grain of truth in that claim,  all they needed to do was speak up and ask for help.

New Zealand's death toll of abused children just keeps on rising, and we, as a country, are not doing nearly enough to stem that tide.  By allowing Moko's murderers to plead to manslaughter, we send a message to every child abuser that they won't be punished to the full extent of the law, that we don't care enough about this nation's children to put their abusers away for a long, long time.

But this isn't about punitive sentencing, because sentencing only comes after a child has died.  We have to do more to stop violence in the home before it's too late.  We have to do more to combat the things that fuel family violence, like poverty and addictions.  Only when we work to mitigate all of the contributing factors in family violence will we start saving more children from a violent death.

There is a forum on Facebook for people who want to express their anger and frustration over Moko's tragic death and the heinous plea deal given to his killers.  There is a rally planned for the 27th of June, outside the Rotorua High Court, to coincide with the sentencing of Tania Shailer and David Haewera, please consider coming along and showing your support.  You can find all the relevant information at Justice For Moko.


Killed by his carers: Moko's last days - NZ Herald
Inquest to be held in toddler's death - NZ Herald
Now who will march for Moko? -
Carer forced sister to deliver final blow to Moko -
Child's road to a lonely, brutal death - NZ Herald
James Whakaruru killer in trouble again - Newshub
James Whakaruru Report - For Our Children

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Daryl Kirk: Victim or Villian?

At 19, Daryl Kirk didn't look like a killer, and a year later, she still doesn't, not really.  But when you look closely, you notice the hard lines of her mouth, the somewhat staunch looking posture as she stands in the defense box and the challenging gaze as she faces the court.  Daryl Kirk has seen pain and violence, she's seen drug use and abuse, she's seen more than anyone should have seen at the age of 20.  

In 2015, when Daryl's mother Kelly's violent and drug-addled boyfriend, Adam Watkins, chased Daryl with a meat cleaver, threatening to kill her and her mother with it, she picked up a .22 semi-automatic rifle and shot Watkins.  Ironically, the rifle was Watkins gun, which he kept to protect himself from some local gang-members who had been causing him trouble.

Daryl has just been convicted of the manslaughter of Adam Watkins, who she claims she shot in self defense.  But the Crown had pushed for a murder conviction, and pushed hard, alleging that Daryl was not acting in defense of herself or her family at all, but had snapped and killed Watkins out of rage.  

The jury agreed with the defense, that Daryl had some justification for her actions that day, and was a scared teen who shot the violent thug who was terrorising her and her family. Much of the evidence presented in the case backed up that version of events.  Daryl has no prior history of violence, and is apparently a quiet, rather shy young woman who has experienced years of domestic abuse from her mother's violent partners.  She's also witnessed her mother's ongoing struggle with drug addiction, and yet seems to have stayed out of trouble for the most part, herself.  To me, she comes across as very sympathetic.  

So why did the Crown push so hard for a conviction that, in U.S jurisprudence, would be called Malice Murder, a murder committed with malicious intent?  The Crown seems to believe that Daryl Kirk had plenty of malice towards Adam Watkins.  But why would the Crown think this about a 19-year-old girl who has been subjected to a life surrounded by domestic violence, and drug abuse?

I'll come back to that, but first lets look at what happened in the lead up to Watkins murder....

On the day he died, Watkins was high on a cocktail of illegal drugs, including methamphetamine.  Witnesses backed up Daryl's testimony that Watkins had picked up a meat cleaver and chased and threatened a number of people with it.  There were at least seven people in the home at the time, Watkins, Kelly Kirk, Daryl Kirk and Daryl's boyfriend, Kyle Barndon, as well as some friends who were visiting.  

According to witness testimony, Watkins began verbally abusing Kelly Kirk, and when one of the visiting friends intervened on Kelly's behalf, Watkins "lost it."  He picked up the meat cleaver and waved it around violently, chasing the others in the house while screaming threats at them.  Neighbours who lived across the road heard the shouting, and saw Watkins and a number of other people running around the property.  

These witnesses said that they saw Watkins and others run out of and back into the house a number of times, and that it definitely looked as if Watkins was chasing them.  They also confirmed that Watkins was holding some kind of weapon, though they weren't able to conclusively identify it, and thought it looked like some kind of axe, or possibly a machete.

Daryl Kirk's version of events states that Watkins chased her back inside the house from the driveway, where she'd fled to escape him.   Once back in the house, Daryl ran her bedroom, and Watkins followed her, trapping her in the bedroom, still swinging the cleaver and making threats.  Daryl grabbed the .22 rifle and, in fear for her life and the lives of her mother and the others on the property, shot Watkins three times.  

Later testimony, from the same neighbours who saw and heard the initial conflicts on the property, stated that they saw a distraught teen girl with barefeet leave the residence and run away down the street.  Daryl, scared and in shock after the shooting, ran to a relatives home not knowing that Watkins was already dead.  She thought she'd only wounded him, and in court told the jury that she hadn't wanted to kill him, just stop him from terrorising her and her family.

When Daryl finally learned that Watkins was dead, the Aunt, who's house Daryl had run to, testified that Daryl began sobbing hysterically and saying that she never meant to kill Watkins.  This is not the behaviour of a person who has snapped and killed someone in a fit of rage.  There are discrepancies in parts of Daryl's account of the shooting, but those discrepancies, according to the defense, can be attributed to the chaotic scene, the fear that Daryl was in, and to shock due to the fact that she'd never shot a person before.

For me, the witness testimony of Daryl's behaviour both before and after shooting, fits much better with the defense's version of events than with the Crowns.  Daryl fled the scene crying and afraid, and she was a shy, quiet girl who had no history of violence or of angry outbursts.  

Victims of domestic violence can snap and kill, but in a number of those cases, the fact that these killers are also victims, many of them suffering years of abuse, is recognized and acknowledged by the Crown when charging these women.  They are often charged with the lesser crime of manslaughter, and may also agree to plead guilty in exchange for greatly reduced sentences.  Why not this time?

The concern for me is that the Crown chose to go after Daryl Kirk because of her mother, and her run-ins with the law over the years.  

Kelly Kirk has a long history of violent relationships and drug use.  In 1992, Kelly, who was 15 at the time, was dating now-convicted double murderer, Graeme Burton, when he stabbed a nightclub lighting technician in revenge, after bouncers at the same club had thrown him out.  Burton was jailed for that murder, but was released on parole in 2006, where he went on a six month, meth-fueled crime spree which culminated in a shooting rampage in the hills of Wainuiomata, outside of Wellington.  Burton shot at a number of mountain bikers, killing Karl Kuchenbecker.  He then aimed his shotgun at police, who shot first, hitting him in the leg.  Burton survived the injury and was given a life-sentence with a minimum 26-year non-parole period.

It took Kelly a year to find the courage to use the opportunity presented by Burton's inprisonment, and break up with him from the safety of a prison visiting booth.  Despite the protection offered by the safety glass, Burton still launched himself at it in a futile effort to physically attack Kelly.  Prison staff would not allow Burton to write to Kelly, so he got friends and family who visited him in prison to drop his threatening notes directly into her letterbox.  When he briefly escaped from prison in 1998, the police whisked Kelly and her children (not Burton's) into protective custody because, despite being in prison for six years at that point, his anger at Kelly for breaking up with him, and his desire for revenge against her, had not diminished. 

Kelly Kirk spent years living in fear of Burton, but many of her other boyfriends could be just as dangerous.  Thanks to the damaging influence of Burton and subsequant boyfriends, Kelly was introduced to hard drugs and became addicted to morphine.  Something that has played a role in the kind of men she let into her, and her kids, lives.  Many of those men were not just violent, they too were drug addicts, a dangerous and volatile combination.

Kelly has become well known to police over the years, she's been jailed a few times, and her previous partners have all had long rap-sheets.  So did that history cause the police, and the prosecutors to stop seeing her daughter, Daryl, as a victim, and instead see her as a member of a "bad" family?  Did they assume like mother, like daughter?  Did they believe perhaps that Daryl was the product of a violent upbringing and, therefore, must be a violent person?

I will conclude by saying that I think the jury got it right in this case.  I believe that Daryl Kirk was terrified, in fear of her life, her mother's life, her boyfriend's life, and the lives of the other people in that house.  She shot a man who had brutalised her and her family, just like all the other men her mother bought into their lives.  Daryl Kirk was trying, in the only way she could, to stop that vicious cycle of violence.  It wasn't the right response, we know that from the safety of our non-violent homes, but Daryl had known nothing but violence for her entire life.  What possible chance did she have to realise that violence can be stopped in other ways, that there are people and organisations out there that can help?  

I believe the jury got it right, and the Crown and the police got it wrong.  They allowed themselves to see this family as a stereotype, instead of seeing them as real people, as victims of a violent, drug-fueled thug who was one more in a long line of violent, drug-fueled thugs who had victimised this family.  I just hope the judge also sees Daryl Kirk as a real person, and a victim, and imposes a sentence that will take that into account, and hopefully, give her a chance to rebuild her life instead of becoming just one more prison statistic.

Accused Claims Self-Defense in Shooting Death 
Accused Still Has Nightmares About Murder
Defense says Scared Teen, Crown says Rage-filled Murderer  Daryl Kirk's Mother on Past with Graeme Burton
Wikipedia entry on Graeme Burton

Monday, April 4, 2016

Victim or Predator: The Gay Panic Defense

On the evening of December 27th, 2014, staff at the Ascot-Epsom Motel in South Auckland discovered one of their guests, bleeding and disoriented, staggering across the courtyard.  The man's name is Ihaia Gillman-Harris.
His assailants, two teenage boys he'd offered a lift and a room for the night.
But within minutes of checking in to the Ascot, Gillman-Harris was viciously assaulted with a baseball bat.  He died in surgery later the same night from multiple head injuries.

The trial for those teenage boys began today and their defense is a familiar one for members of the LGBT community, and it's a defense that makes my blood boil every time it's trotted out. 

It even has it's own name, the "gay panic defense".

I'm a straight woman, I'll put that out there right now, because it's going to help me make an important point about this case.  Lets imagine that I've murdered someone, another woman, and that woman happens to be lesbian.  The police come and I tell them that I was only acting in self-defense because she was a lesbian, she tried to rape me, and I panicked and killed her.

Ridiculous right?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that women can't be perpetrators of sexual violence, because they absolutely can.  I'm also not saying that women can't rape other women, because they absolutely can.  What I am saying is that if I, as a straight woman, used that defense in a criminal court on a murder charge, I would have to show pretty overwhelming evidence for my claim to slide that defense past a jury. 

But when a man claims that another man tried to rape him, and that's why he resorted to murder, that's somehow a legitimate defense, and one that often needs very little evidence to be upheld.  Here are some examples....

In 2011, South Australian man, Michael John Lindsey, bashed and stabbed an aquaintance, Andrew Negre, to death.  At trial, he claimed he was provoked by Negre's unwanted sexual advances but was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to 23 years in prison.  But in 2015, Lindsey successfully appealed his conviction to the High Court, where he was granted a new trial based on his claim that "gay panic" is a legitimate defense, and that the judge didn't make it clear to the jury just how much provocation could be used as a mitigating factor to murder charges.

Hold on to your koalas, it gets worse.  In the wake of Lindsey's appeal, there were renewed calls to ban the gay panic defense as some other Australian states have done.  Sounds like a good idea right? Not according to the South Australian Law Society, who had this to say in a letter to Legaslative Review Committee...

“It is surprising...that the occasion of the delivery of Lindsey v R has been met with renewed calls for reform concerning the regrettably coined ‘gay panic defence'.  The common law partial defence has a rationale which, when properly explained to the community, would be seen to be acceptable and consistent with social norms.  Importantly, the partial-defence works to avoid an inappropriate murder conviction.” - Rocco Perotta, President of the Law Society (and probably a giant, homophobic douche-canoe)

Australian bigotry at it's finest folks.

In Cook County, Illinois in 2009, 30-year-old Joseph Biedermann stabbed his neighbour Terence Hauser 61 times.  Biedermann claimed self-defense, telling the jury at his murder trial that Hauser had threatened to rape and murder him just hours after the pair had first met in a local bar.  

Biedermann's claims of a violent struggle with Hauser, who he alleged attacked him with a sword, were not backed up by the evidence.  Hauser's apartment, where the murder occurred, showed no signs of such an epic struggle, and many of Hauser's 61 stab wounds were to the back.  

Police said Hauser's death looked more like an unprovoked and brutal slaughter than an attempt to fend off an attack.  Despite this, a jury found Biedermann not guilty, accepting his "gay panic defense" as legitimate, and the vicious murderer who stabbed a single father 61 times walked free.  

This defense has been extended to excuse the murder of transgendered victims too.

In 2015, US Marine, Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, was arrested for the murder of 26-year-old Filipino woman, Jennifer Laude.  Laude, who was transgendered, was discovered strangled and drowned in a toilet bowl at a hotel in Olongapo City.  Pemberton had met Laude in a nightclub the night before she was found dead, and admitted accompanying her to the hotel for sex.  Pemberton testified that he was not aware Laude was trans, and had "panicked" after discovering she had a penis.  He then claimed that he strangled her, but left her unconscious but alive.  I presume we're expected to believe she drowned herself in the toilet, because that makes soooo much sense.

That last sentence was all sarcasm, in case anyone couldn't tell.

Jennifer Laude

Why is this ridiculous defense still being allowed in our courts? or in ANY court anywhere in the world?

It's 2016, and it's well past time to put the "gay panic defense" in the trashbag of history once and for all.

 Day One of Gillman-Harris Murder Trial

 Law Society Supports "Gay Panic Defense."

Green MP Calls for "Gay Panic Defense" to be Abolished

"Gay Panic Defense" Used to Aquit Illinois Man 

 Marine Claims "Gay Panic Defense" In Murder of Trans Filipino Woman