Nov 282013
 

Williamson County, Texas. Public domain map courtesy of The General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin, modified to show counties. The image was modified from the public domain source by either Wapcaplet or [[:en:User:

Williamson County, Texas. Public domain map courtesy of The General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin, modified to show counties. The image was modified from the public domain source by either Wapcaplet or [[:en:User:

Michael Morton was serving nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife that he had not committed. He was convicted in 1987 in Williamson County, Texas, based entirely on circumstantial evidence. As Vincent Simmons’ district attorney, Morton’s prosecutor Ken Anderson had withheld favorable evidence from the defense. Unlike Simmons, Morton was “lucky,” because he is one of those somewhat privileged victims of the system who could prove their innocence through the technology of DNA testing. Morton was exonerated in October of last year.

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson resigned from his post as Williamson County District Judge by sending Governor Rick Perry a letter on September 23, 2013. According to the Innocence Project newsletter of September 30, 2013, “the state convened a Court of Inquiry to investigate whether Anderson committed criminal acts by failing to turn over evidence pointing to Morton’s Innocence. In April, a Texas judge ruled there was probable cause to believe Anderson violated three criminal laws, and he was charged with the offenses. The Texas Bar Association also brought ethical charges against Anderson. A trial on those charges was scheduled to begin today but was adjourned for a month.”

In the newsletter of November 27, 2013, the Innocence Project reports that “Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson entered a plea to criminal contempt for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence pointing to the innocence of Michael Morton.” Anderson received 10 days in Williamson County Jail, a $500 fine, 500 hours of community service and permanently surrendered his license to practice law.

The Innocence Project newsletter reads, “This marks an extremely rare instance, and perhaps the first time, that a prosecutor has been criminally punished for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence that led to a wrongful conviction.”

The Innocence Project is cooperating with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Texas Innocence Project to review other cases and determine whether there are more wrongfully convicted prisoners, whom Anderson had prosecuted.

Read more here and here.

If this damage limitation can be called “punishment” is another question. But if an unethical ex-prosecutor and current judge can be stopped this way in Texas, it is possible anywhere. When will it happen in Louisiana?

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Jul 102013
 

Judge Benjamin C. Bennett, Jr.

District Judge Benjamin C. Bennett, Jr. (1987-1990)

Judge Benjamin Clyde Bennett, Jr. passed away at his residence in Marksville on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at the age of 88. He was the judge who presided at the Avoyelles Parish District Court and denied Vincent Simmons’ Application for a Writ of Mandamus in 1988, in which the prisoner had requested a copy of his arrest report.

His son, Judge William Joseph Bennett, is alleged to have been the sentencing judge in Simmons’ case, according to defense lawyer Laurie White’s review of the pre-parole report. The true trial judge was Judge Earl Edwards, who died in 1998 at the age of 90.

Judge Benjamin C. Bennett’s second son, John Taylor Bennett, also is a lawyer. He partnered with retired District Attorney Charles A. Riddle, Jr. (the father of current District Attorney Charles A. Riddle, III) who had previously practiced with “Eddie” Knoll (Simmons’ prosecutor).

Go to the obituary here.

 

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Jul 022012
 

book-cover

Book Cover

By Jeffrey Collins of New York (USA)
June 24, 2012

After reading this well written book [Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish] by Ms. [Katja] Pumm, I can very much say that she really did her research into a system that is mostly one-sided and very much saturated with lies. I believe that there are not too many people who can write a book about an individual’s innocence and the injustice of the criminal system without experiencing it first-hand. But, Ms. Pumm’s book actually comes really close and I think that is because she has put her heart into it.

I am an individual who has spent twenty (20) years in prison for a crime I did not commit, and that injustice continues as I write this review. So, I do see and understand the plight of Mr. Simmons.

The very first inquiry into a criminal case is the most trustworthy. An individual who looks (investigates) into a criminal case can be certain to find the truth of what happened and if the accused is indeed responsible.

The three (3) alleged victims in the Simmons case were indeed hiding something. I felt that they were untruthful about the gun and knowing the defendant’s name. It is a known fact, once you lie, you have to continue to lie or else the truth will reveal its self in due time. So the three alleged victims had to continue in their untruthfulness, when they were given support by those in authority, which were also family members and politicians.

What should be an eye opener for people who do not really understand what goes on within the legal system, is the fact that a man (Mr. Simmons) could receive 99 [100] years for a charge of attempted aggravated rape of two females, when such a charge was never voted on by the ‘Grand Jury’ who has to vote a true bill before an accused can plea to a charge. Also, if the facts given by the alleged victims state that they were raped, where does attempt fit into the charge?

For those lay individuals of the legal system, in order of a District Attorney to amend an indictment (Change of Charge), it has to present the amendment to the grand jury for them to vote on a superseding indictment. They are not supposed to just change the charge without going through the proper procedures first. But as Ms. Pumm pointed out, this is one of the many abuses that are taking place in the ‘legal’ system to this day. And it goes unnoticed by lay individuals. One of the main reasons why it continues is due to there being no accountability, or shall I say very little accountability by those who violate the law.

The law does not care about the truth of the matter at hand as [an] individual may assume. Law is only concerned with rights and interest of property. This is laws’ (constitutions’) main focus, property rights. Criminal law, as it is called derived from property rights law, which is commercial law. Therefore, criminal law is ‘Legal’ Rules and Procedures of Commercial Law. So, the key to understanding the very much complex criminal law, you must begin with understanding law merchant… They are intertwined.

I thank you, Ms. Pumm, for first being understanding to the plight of those innocent in prison and for this wonderful book.

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May 222011
 

book-cover

Book Cover

If truth was as clear, powerful, and respected as water, Simmons’ actual innocence—demonstrated in the new book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” by Katja Pumm—would wash him out of the penal system. He has been confined since Monday May 23, 1977—which falls on the same weekday this year.

TIME LINE

MONDAY, MAY 9, 1977 (approx. 9 P.M. – 12 P.M.):
Eighteen year-old Keith Laborde is driving around with his minor cousins Sharon and Karen Sanders in his old car. 

SUNDAY, MAY 22, 1977 (approx. 6 P.M.):
Sharon and Karen Sanders report to Sheriff “Potch” Didier, Major Fabius Didier, Captain Floyd Juneau and Deputy Barbara DeCuir at the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office that a “black man” raped them on May 9, 1977.

MONDAY, MAY 23, 1977:
(7 A.M.): Captain Floyd Juneau’s and Lieutenant Robert Laborde’s shift begins.
(8 A.M.): Juneau and Laborde “decide” to arrest African American Vincent Simmons.
(9 P.M.): Simmons is strolling down Waddil Street in Marksville near the St. Joseph cemetery. Lead investigator Captain Floyd Juneau and Lieutenant Robert Laborde come by in their patrol car and arrest him “on view,” without an arrest warrant, for two counts of aggravated rape. 
At the Sheriff’s Office, Potch Didier tells Captain Melvin Villemarette to establish a line-up with the arrestee. The line-up consists of one white and seven black persons. Fotos show that Simmons (number 4) is the only one in handcuffs.Keith Laborde, Sharon and Karen Sanders are together in the room behind the mirror and indentify the handcuffed man.
(approx. 9:30 A.M. – 10:00 A.M.): Officers Laborde and Villemarette take the shackled Simmons upstairs to the ID room. They do not interrogate him. Vincent Simmons refuses to sign a confession that Laborde has formulated. Lieutenant Robert Laborde shoots Simmons in his left chest missing the arrestee’s heart by three inches. Several colleagues and the sheriff witness the scene seconds later. Laborde and Villemarette allege that Simmons took Villemarette’s gun and tried to shoot them.
Before the shooting, Keith Laborde begins to give his statements to Deputy Barbara DeCuir and Captain Floyd Juneau.
Coroner F. P. Bordelon arranges for the shooting victim to be rushed to the Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana. Simmons is unconscious. Lieutenant Laborde’s weapon is released for investigation.

District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll calls the victims’ family at the house of Keith Laborde’s father.Sharon and Karen Sanders give their handwritten statements.
Judge Earl Edwards now orders to arrest Vincent Simmons for the rape of Sharon and Karen Sanders. The police officers take fotos of Keith Laborde’s car and the alleged crime scene on Little California Road. Lieutenant Robert Laborde writes a supplementary report concerning the “offense” of the “investigation and shooting of Vincent Simmons” in Captain Villemarette’s and his own name.

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 1977:
Coroner F. P. Bordelon examines both girls and discovers that one of the girls’ “hymen was in tact and I was unable to insert one examining finger.” The twins mention the name “Vincent Simmons” for the first time while telling Dr. Bordelon what happened on May 9, 1977.Captain Juneau and Lieutenant Laborde request a search warrant for the homes of two of Simmons’ sisters. They seek “maroon trousers, silk looking shirt with tassle like appendages” and a “brown handle pistol about six or seven inches long.

WEDNESDAY, May 25, 1977:
(2:30 P.M.): Captain Floyd Juneau seizes a “black shirt with ruffles,” a “pair maroon jeans,” and a “pair of double knit pants (maroon in color)” at Simmons’ common law brother-in-law’s house. The investigators Floyd Juneau and Robert Laborde charge Vincent Simmons with two counts of aggravated rape and two counts of attempted murder.

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 1977:
Four days after the shooting, Vincent Simmons is released from hospital. Sheriff deputies take him back to Avoyelles Parish and put him in a one man jail cell at the Sheriff’s Department.  
 

FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 1977:
The Grand Jury of Avoyelles Parish indicts Vincent Simmons for two counts of aggravated rape and two counts of attempted murder and returns a True Bill.Coroner F. P. Bordelon formulates his findings about his medical examination of the two fourteen-year-old girls in his written reports addressed to District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll.  

THURSDAY, JUNE 23, 1977:
Public defender Harold Brouillette files a Motion for Preliminary Hearing. Judge Earl Edwards orders that “a preliminary hearing be held in the case of State of Louisiana vs. Vincent Simmons on the two counts of aggravated rape on the 7 day of July, 1977, at 1 o’clock P.M.” 
WEDNESDAY,

JUNE 29, 1977:
The United States Supreme Court rules in Coker v. Georgia that the death penalty is unconstitutional for the crime of rape.
THURSDAY, JULY 7, 1977 (1 P.M.):
After the preliminary hearing, Judge Edwards schedules Simmons’ trial for July 18, 1977.
 

THURSDAY, JULY 14, 1977:
Assistant District Attorney Jeannette Theriot Knoll files a Motion to Amend Indictment. She requests that the indictment of two counts of aggravated rape be amended to two counts of attempted aggravated rape. Judge Edwards signs the motion behind closed doors–without a second Grand Jury hearing.
Note: now after the decision in Coker v. Georgia, aggravated rape only carried a twenty-year sentence per count upon conviction because there was no other law in the books yet. Attempted aggravated rape, however, would imprison Simmons for fifty years per count, if convicted. 
 

MONDAY, JULY 18, 1977: jury selection 

TUESDAY, JULY 19 and WEDNESDAY, JULY 20, 1977: trial. It ends with a guilty verdict. 

THURSDAY, JULY 28, 1977:Judge Earl Edwards imposes a one hundred-year sentence (fifty years for each count, to run consecutive).

Case summary with documents on the Innocent in Prison Project International website at http://cases.iippi.org/vincent-alfred-simmons/

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May 092011
 

prison tower

Louisiana State Prison tower

As administrations of former Louisiana Governors, also incumbent Governor Jindal has made a growing economy in the rural state his priority number one. The Republican tries to create new jobs by attracting investors, i.e. companies, to Louisiana, and his promise to “veto any tax increase that comes to [his] desk” is his bait. Jindal explains that higher “taxes kill jobs and opportunities.”

Jindal’s intention aparently is to make Louisiana a tax haven for businesses hoping they will employ (more) people from Louisiana. Halliburton, headquartered in Houston, Texas, is his latest acquisition for his re-election campaign. (Governor Jindal’s term expires on January 9, 2012.) In the first week of April of this year, Jindal’s administration announced that Hulliburton would open a manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Louisiana. The company will produce “complex machined components for oilfield service operations” and create 150 direct and 350 indirect jobs, writes Governor Jindal on his blog.  Louisiana’s most profitable branche is the oil industry. Thus, Jindal presses for the permission of drilling from the federal government despite the oil spill one year ago.

At the same time, renewable energies, as e.g. wind power or solar energy, get momentum in Europe. The automobile industry works hard on improving new types of motors that are independent of fossil fuels. But the thinking in the oil state Louisiana has not changed yet.

Imagine you have lots of oil and nobody needs it! Jobs seem to be a free ticket for nearly everything in politics. As long as something creates jobs, progressive changes are not made, and chances are that it is subsidized by the state, i.e. the tax payers. Another example is the prison industry.

One chapter in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” is entitled “Local Prison Industry.” A new discussion about this issue began when Governor Bobby Jindal formally submitted his Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Executive Budget to the Legislative on March 11, 2011. 

There is a US$1.6 billion gap in the Pelican State’s household next fiscal year (2011-2012, beginning on July 1, 2011), unless the government increases taxes or cuts spending. Jindal opposes higher taxes. The consequence is that there must be some savings somewhere. But where? Jindal’s proposal is, among others, to sell three state prisons

1.      the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, Louisiana

2.      the Allen Correctional Center in Kinder, Louisiana (already privately run)

3.      the Winn Correctional Center in Atlanta, Louisiana (already privately run),

and to downsize the J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center in Pineville, Louisiana, from a 580-bed state facility to a privately run 300-bed prison.

Corrections workers of Avoyelles Parish in particular, spearheaded by former Representative Raymond Laborde (he spoke up for a state prison in his home parish in the 1980s to decrease the locally high unemployment rate), current State Representative Robert Johnson (his term expires on January 9, 2012) and Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles A. Riddle, III, have answered with a protest movement. They rallied and attended a hearing at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Their slogan is “Save our prison, save our parish.”

The current discussion is “state prisons versa private prisons.”

Arguments pro private prisons:

·         Private prison operators run prisons at a lower daily rate per offender than the state.

·         The sale of the state prisons would help bridge the US$1.6 billion-gap in the household’s budget in the fiscal year 2011-2012.

Arguments contra private prisons:

·         Jindal’s plan does not make any sense to Raymond Laborde who rhetorically asked the Associated Press, “Sell my house today and rent it tomorrow?”

·         Private corporations make profit and can generate huge amounts to contribute to political campaigns. Sponsored, elected officials then can return the favor with policies that benefit the donors.

·         Prison staff is reduced and replaced by high-tech cameras.

·         Telemedicine increases to save transportation costs for ill inmates.

·         Reduced pay and benefits for employees.

·         There are fewer programs to prepare prisoners for life after their release.

·         Private corporations invest less than the state to train their corrections workers.

·         Cuts in state jobs would have a snowball effect in rural Louisiana. It would increase unemployment, have a negative effect on the financial stability of families, and limit their buying power in the community.

However, I believe the State of Louisiana could save much tax money and would not need to privatize state facilities if the actual roots of the problem were solved. The USA, often dubbed the “Land of the Free,” has the highest incarceration rate worldwide, and Louisiana is the number one prison state nationwide. Go figure: Louisiana alone is the number one worldwide! Why is that?

·         Too many things are criminalized in Louisiana.

·         Too many non-violent offenders occupy prison bunks.

·         The penalties often are too long and do not have a rehabilitative effect.

·         The existing penal system is too expensive and eats away funds for social services, basic education, and health care.

·         There is something seriously wrong when politicians use fear of crime and unemployment to incarcerate masses of people at the tax payers’ expense.

There are several facilities in Avoyelles Parish. The collection consists of the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, the Avoyelles Bunkie Detention Center, the Avoyelles Women’s Center in Simmesport, the Avoyelles Simmesport Correctional Center and the main Avoyelles Parish Jail at the Sheriff’s Office in Marksville. Only a juvenile correctional facility and a federal prison are missing yet. But this may change soon. According to an article by The Advertiser, the Lafayette Regional Office of Juvenile Justice announced last Friday that Avoyelles Parish now is one of five interested parishes that would welcome a new facility for troubled Acadiana youth in its area.

The forum of the Innocent in Prison Project International provides much info on the issue Prison Industry here.

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