Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

The United States Supreme Court will decide an appeal alleging racial discrimination in the selection of a jury in a quadruple murder case

April 6, 2019

CURTIS FLOWERS IS LED AWAY FROM THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURTHOUSE IN WINONA, MISSISSIPPI AFTER A COURT HEARING ON MARCH 16, 2014

Photo Credit: Dale Gerstenslager / AP

On March 20, 2019, the United States Supreme Court entertained oral argument in Flowers v. Mississippi, Supreme Court Case No. 17-9572.  The issue before the Court was whether a criminal defendant’s Constitutional rights were violated by the prosecution’s exercise of its peremptory strikes to exclude five black prospective jurors.

Sheri Lynn Johnson of Ithaca, New York presented the argument on behalf of Flowers.  She began her argument by stating:

“The only plausible interpretation of all of the evidence viewed cumulatively is that [District Attorney] Doug Evans began jury selection in Flowers IV with an unconstitutional end in mind, to seat as few African American jurors as he could. The numbers are striking. In the first four trials, Mr. Evans exercised 36 peremptory challenges, all of them against African American jurors.  in the sixth trial, he exercised five out of six of his challenges against African American jurors.”

LAWYER SHERI LYNN JOHNSON ARGUING ON BEHALF OF FLOWERS: SHE ARGUED THAT DISTRICT ATTORNEY DOUG EVANS WANTED AS FEW BLACK JURORS AS POSSIBLE 

Art Credit: Art Lien

Jason L. Davis, Special Assistant Attorney General of Jackson, Mississippi, presented the argument on behalf of the State of Mississippi.  He began:

“The history of this case is troubling, but the history is confined to this case, and, as Mr. Chief Justice pointed out, it is unusual.  There are — this is the sixth trial in this small town, a small town of approximately 5,000 individuals.  The questioning of whether the makeup or the limited number of individuals in the town was one of the reasons for follow-up questions is accurate. At the outset, let me say that the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision in this case was commensurate with Batson and its progeny.”

Mr. Davis later argued that while there is a troubling history involving earlier trials the strikes in the sixth trial were proper.  “Each of the jurors that were struck either worked with a relative, were related, or knew, intimately, family members, the defendant or his family members, up to and including one juror who lied on her questionnaire and then admitted to lying on the stand. . . . The juror who lied on her questionnaire expressly admitted that she lied for the sole purpose of getting off the jury.”  Dr. Davis further argued: “This is one of the issues with this case, is that each of these strikes that we have, we don’t have one single reason.  We have numerous.”

SPECIAL ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL JASON DAVIS ON BEHALF OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI: HE ARGUED THAT FLOWERS’ RIGHTS UNDER BATSON WERE NOT VIOLATED 

Artwork Credit: Art Lien

Curtis Giovanni Flowers was charged with murdering four employees of Tardy Furniture Store in Winona, Mississippi.  The factual background was set forth by the Mississippi Supreme Court in Flowers v. State, 240 So.3d 1082 (Miss. 2017).

On the morning of July 16, 1996, Bertha Tardy, the owner of the furniture store, along with three other employees were found with gunshot wounds to the head at the furniture store.  The other employees were Robert Golden, Carmen Rigby and Derrick Stewart.  The victims were discovered by Sam Jones, who arrived at the store for the purpose of employee training.  Mr. Stewart was still alive when Mr. Jones arrived but he later succumbed to his injuries.

[Ms. Tardy was 59, was the owner of Tandy Furniture Company. She had a husband and a daughter.  She was a graduate of Winona High School and New York School of Interior Design.  Mr. Golden, 42, was a delivery worker at the furniture store. Ms. Rigby, 45, was the bookkeeper at the furniture store and had a husband and two sons.  Mr. Stewart, 16, a part time employee at the furniture store, died on July 22, 1996 at University Hospital at Jacksonville, Mississippi.  He played short stop and pitcher for Winona High School and was the team’s leading hitter.]

Johnny Hargrove, the Chief of Police for Winona, was the first law enforcement officer to arrive.  Shell casings from 0.380 caliber bullets were recovered from the scene and a bloody shoeprint was found near one of the victims.  About this time there was a call about an automobile burglary at Angelica Garment Factory.  Deputy Sheriff Bill Thornburg responded and learned that someone burglarized Doyle Simpson’s car and stole a 0.380 caliber pistol.  An employee of the garment factory, Katherine Snow, had seen Flowers near Mr. Simpson’s car about 7:15 that morning.

Flowers was located and interviewed about 1:30 p.m.  Flowers consented to a gunshot residue test.  On July 18, 1996, Flowers was interviewed for a second time. He said he had been babysitting his girlfriend’s children on the morning of the murders but provided inconsistent statements about his schedule.  Flowers said he had been employed at the furniture store for a few days earlier that month but was fired on July 6, 1996 after he did not show up for work for a few days.

Flowers moved to Texas in September 1996.  After further investigation, Flowers was arrested and brought back to Mississippi.  During March 1997, Flowers was indicted on four counts of capital murder.

The case was unusual because it was tried six times.

First Trial — In October 1997, after a change of venue from Montgomery County to Lee County, Flowers was convicted for the murder of Bertha Tardy and sentenced to death.  The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed Flowers’ convictions on the ground that his right to a fair trial was violated by admission of evidence of the other three murder victims.  Flowers v. State, 773 So.2d 309 (Miss. 2000) (Flowers I).

Second Trial — Flowers’ second murder trial took place in Harrison County for the murder of Derrick Stewart.  Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death.  On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the conviction.  The court held that Flowers’ right to a fair trial was violated by admission of evidence of the other victims and by the prosecution arguing facts not in evidence.  Flowers v State, 842 So.2d 531 (Miss. 2003) (Flowers II).

Third Trial — Flowers’ third trial took place in 2004 in Montgomery County for all four murders.  Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death.  The conviction was reversed after the Mississippi Supreme Court held that the prosecution engaged in racial discrimination during jury selection.  Flowers v. State, 947 So.2d 910 (Miss. 2007) (Flowers III).

[In Flowers’ third trial Mr. Evans used all 15 of his peremptory strikes against black prospective jurors.  The Mississippi Supreme Court found that Mr. Evans discriminated in jury selection.  The court called Mr. Evans’ actions “as strong a prima facie case of racial discrimination as we have ever seen.”]

Fourth and Fifth Trials — Flowers’ fourth and fifth trials were also on all four counts of capital murder. Both resulted in mistrials when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict during the culpability phase.  The State did not seek the death penalty in the fourth trial but sought it in the fifth trial.

[In the fourth trial, seven white jurors voted to convict and all five black jurors voted to acquit.  In the fifth trial, all but one juror — a black man — voted to convict.  This resulted in a hung jury.  After the trial the prosecutor charged the hold-out juror with perjury after the trial judge accused him of lying during voir dire.  The state attorney general eventually dropped all charges.]

[After the fifth trial, an alternate juror was charged with perjury for lying under oath about her contact with Flowers and his family before the trial.  She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in prison.]

Sixth Trial — During June 2010 Flowers’ sixth trial took place in Montgomery County for all four murders. The prosecution called 21 witnesses during its case-in-chief.  On June 18, 2010, the jury returned a guilty verdict for all four murders.  Following a sentencing hearing, the jury sentenced Flowers to death.

It has been reported that Flowers’ sixth trial was the first time in United State history that the same person has been tried six times on the same murder charges.  Flowers’ sixth trial, Mr. Evans struck five black women and used a six strike on a white woman.

“Prosecutors have consistently argued Flowers had a ‘beef’ with the store because his paycheck had been withheld to offset merchandise damaged in his care. Several other factors tied Flowers to the crime: bloody shoe prints found at the scene matched shoes he was said to own; several eyewitnesses saw him in front of or near the store the morning of the killings; the gun used was stolen from Flowers’ uncle’s car the morning of the killings and Flowers was seen sitting on the car; cash found at Flowers’ home was close to what had been stolen from the store, and a gunshot residue test performed on Flowers hours after the killings confirmed particles on his hands.”

Source: Monica Land, No 7th trial for Curtis Flowers in quadruple murder (Nov. 16, 2014 — The Clarion-Ledger).

District Attorney Doug Evans represented the State of Mississippi in all six of Flowers’ trials.  Mr. Evans used 44 strikes in total — 36 against black and eight against white prospective jurors.

Flowers appealed based upon 13 assignments of error.  Assignment of Error No. 6 was that the jury selection process, the composition of the venire and the jury seated, and pervasive racial and other bias surrounding the matter violated Flowers’ constitutional rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

On Nov. 11, 2017, in a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Josiah D. Coleman, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Flowers’ convictions and the imposition of the death penalty.  Flowers v. State, 240 So.3d 1082 (2017) (Flowers IV).  As to the jury selection issue, the court held that the fact that the prosecutor committed a “Batson violation” during an earlier trial did not preclude finding on retrial that the same prosecutor’s race-neutral explanations for striking five black venire members were credible.  The court concluded: “Taking into account the ‘historical evidence’ of past discrimination, i.e., Mr. Evans’ past Batson violations, the Court remains unpersuaded that the trial court erred in finding that the State did not violate Batson.”  240 So.3d at 1135.

“Batson violation” is based on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), in which the Court held that the Constitution forbids prosecutors from challenging potential jurors solely on account of their race or the assumption that black jurors as a group will be unable to impartially consider the State’s case against a black defendant.

Mr. Davis noted that the trial at issue was presided over by Judge Joseph H. Lopez, Jr., who “acknowledged that he would be diligent in making sure the same type of error [that took place in Flowers’ third trial] did not occur again.” Mr. Davis quoted Judge Lopez from the trial transcript where Judge Lopez said “I’m going to look very closely at this case.”  Mr. Davis further argued:

“In this case, the record itself shows that the district attorney offered valid race-neutral reasons for each strike. Each strike was considered by the trial court, who had made aware — made the parties aware of — that he was aware of the history of the case, and the record supports that all the jurors that were struck because they were either sued by Tandy Furniture, they were either related to the defendant, or friends with, or had worked with members of the defendant’s family.”

CIRCUIT JUDGE JOESPH H. LOPEZ, JR. OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI WAS THE TRIAL JUDGE FOR FLOWERS’ SIXTH MURDER TRIAL

Photo Credit: Unknown

Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked Mr. Davis: “And can you say, as you sit here today, confidently you have confidence in the — how this all transpired in this case?” Mr. Davis responded:

“If have confidence in this record, Justice Kavanaugh.  I have confidence in the strikes that the district attorney made based on the four corners of this record. I have confidence that, if reviewed with an eye towards what actually transpired, it supports the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision in this case.  That I have confidence in.”

In response to a comment by Justice Sonia Sotomayor that she would have thought that a different prosecutor would have been substituted before the fifth and six trials, Mr. Davis ended his argument:

“And again, I would agree completely, Justice Sotomayor, that we have an unusual circumstance, an unusual case with these six trials having been all tried by the same prosecutor. But I would resubmit, again, that the decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court in this instance was not violative of Batson and its progeny.”

The arguments before the Supreme Court were analyzed by Amy Howe, a former law professor who has argued two cases before the Supreme Court:

“After nearly an hour of oral argument that included the first questions by Justice Clarence Thomas since 2016, there seemed to be at least five justices who agree with Flowers. . . . Although Johnson emphasized Evans’ history of striking potential African-American jurors throughout the trials in Flowers’ case, much of the oral argument was spent grabbling with the specifics of Evans’ strikes in the sixth trial, and in particular some potential jurors’ relationships with the victims and their families and the extent to which Evans had questioned the would-be jurors about potential biases.”

Source: Amy Howe, Argument analysis: Justices seem receptive to inmate’s juror-discrimination claims (Howe on the Court — March 21, 2019). Ms. Howe further reported:

“But then Justice Clarence Thomas . . . had a question. He wanted to knw whether Flowers’ trial lawyer had used any of her peremptory strikes — and, if so, what was the race of the jurors whom she had struck.  Johnson responded that the trial lawyer had only used her strikes to remove white jurors from the juror pool, adding that ‘her motivation is not the question here.  The question is the motivation of Doug Evans.'”

If Flowers’ conviction is reversed then he could still face a seventh trial.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY DOUG EVANS QUESTIONING A WITNESS DURING ONE OF THE SIX TRIALS ACCUSING FLOWERS OF FOUR COUNTS OF MURDER.  MR. EVANS WAS ELECTED DISTRICT ATTORNEY IN 1992 AND HAS SERVED IN THAT POSITION SINCE THAT TIME.

Photo Credit: Taylor Kuykendall / The Greenwood Commonwealth / AP

THE FOUR MURDERS TOOK PLACE AT THE TARDY FURNITURE STORE IN WINONA, WHICH IS NOW CLOSED

Photo Credit: Monica Land / The Clarion-Ledger

 

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Cities in Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil had the highest homicide rate in 2018

March 18, 2019

TIJUANA, MEXICO HAD 2,640 HOMICIDES DURING 2018

Photo Credit: The Daily Mail / Alamy

The Mexican cities of Tijuana, Acapulco, Victoria, Juarez and Irapuato were ranked within the Top 10 in the Western Hemisphere for homicide rates during 2018.  Venezuela had three cities in the Top 10 list (Caracas, Guayana and Ciudad Bolivar) and Brazil had two cities (Natal and Fortaleza) and South Africa had one city (Cape Town).

The statistics were released this week by the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice in Mexico. The number of homicides and rate per 100,000 inhabitants were:

(1) Tijuana2,640 homicides (138.26), (2) Acapulco — 948 (110.5), (3) Caracas — 2,980   (99.98), (4) Victoria — 314 (86.01), (5) Juarez — 1,251 (85.56), (6) Irapuato — 473 (81.44), (7) Guayana — 645 (78.30), (8) Natal — 1,185 (74.67), (9) Fortaleza — 2,724 (69.15) and (10) Ciudad Bolivar — 264 (69.09)

The highest number of homicides were at Caracus (2,980), Fortaleza (2,724) and Tijuana (2,640).

St. Louis was 15th on the list with 187 homicides at a rate of 60.59 per 100,000.   Baltimore was 23rd (309 — 50.52), San Juan, P.R. was 40th (143 — 42.4), Detroit was 46th (261 — 38.78) and New Orleans was 50th (145 — 36.87).

There were 2,868 homicides in Cape Town, South Africa, during 2018 for a rate of 66.36 per 100,000.

The homicide rate in Honduras was apparently left off the list.  In 2018 the homicide rate in Honduras was said to be 90.4 per 100,000 together with the highest incidence of firearm-related deaths in the world.

Source: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/murder-rates-by-country.html

ACAPULCO, MEXICO HAD THE SECOND HIGHEST HOMICIDE RATE

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times / State of Gerrero, Mexico

More than $500,000 in cash that was found during a traffic stop may be hard to explain

March 10, 2019

LOWNDES COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE PATROL CAR

Deputy sheriffs in Lowndes County, Georgia, pulled over a car that was slowly driving down Interstate 75 and moving in and out of the traffic lanes.  They thought that the driver might be impaired.  There were two Colombian men who appeared to be nervous in the car.

Deputies worked with K-2 dogs to search the car.  What they found was rather astounding: $508,000 in cash stuffed in duffle bags and a dog food bag.

“All of it is wrapped the same way they wrap cocaine, the same rubber bands, the same style of wrapping,” said Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk.  “So, when you see that you know where that money’s derived from.”

No drugs were found in the car.  The names of the occupants of the car have not yet been released.

What should be done to punish five teenagers involved in the senseless murder of a Nashville musician?

February 10, 2019

MUSICIAN KYLE YORLETS WAS MURDERED BY FIVE TEENAGERS AT HIS NASHVILLE HOME

Photo Credit: Matt Blum

Kyle Yorlets, 24, was from Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  He was one of four children raised on a farm.  He began singing at a young age, according to his mother, Deb Yorlets.

“He was extremely passionate about music, Mrs. Yorlets said.  “Everyone who met him was amazed and loved him.”

Mr. Yorlets moved to Nashville and in 2017 he graduated from Belmont University, a private Christian liberal arts university.  He co-founded a pop/rock band called Carverton and was the lead singer.  Mr. Yorlets also worked at Milk & Honey, a restaurant on 11th Avenue in Nashville, and Pastaria, an Italian restaurant on City Boulevard in Nashville.

The website for Mr. Yorlets’ band states in part:

“Carverton is an American Pop/Rock band currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded in the summer of 2014 by central Pennsylvania boys, Kyle Yorlets and Michael Curry; they realized their unique sound would fit better in Nashville, so the two ventured off with a couple of guitars and songs in hand. While there, they met Christian Ferguson and Michael Weibell to complete the band and formulate the missing pieces to their sound.”

The Carverton website further states: “Entering 2018, Carverton were ecstatic to head in to the studio to record their debut full-length, Chasing Sounds, which is due out March 29, 2019, featuring singles, “Wildside” and “Misery.”

Source: http://www.carveton.com.

Mr. Yorlets’ band was scheduled to give a performance on March 30, 2019 The Back Corner on 5th Avenue in Nashville. But on the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, the life of Mr. Yorlets was cut short by criminals.  Mr. Yorlets was standing in his driveway on Torbelt Street in Nashville when he was confronted by five teenagers.  Investigators believe the group was out in the alley behind Mr. Yorlets’ home when they spotted him, approached him with a gun and shot him to death.

Prosecutors want to try five Nashville juveniles, ages 12 to 16, as adults in connection with the robbery and fatal shooting of Mr. Yortlets.  Metro Police spokesman Dan Aaron said that the suspects all knew each other.  “None of the five individuals is a stranger to the system or this police department,” Mr. Aaron said.

During a press conference on Feb. 8 at the North Nashville Police Precinct,  Mr. Aaron said:

“His wallet was taken — was robbed of him — during this interaction.  We believe that he was asked for his keys — perhaps they demanded his keys.  When he said he was not going to do that we think that it was then that he was fatally wounded.  Mr. Yorlets was able to make it back inside his residence and was there for a period of time before he was actually found by his housemate probably an hour or two after he was shot. It is my understanding that the ambulance personnel Medcom was able to detect a faint pulse or a faint heartbeat.  He he was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.  From what we know of Mr. Yorlets he is an absolute, absolute innocent victim.  We know that he is a graduate of Belmont University, 24-years-old, was working at a local restaurant and was also a member of an up and coming band.”

After Mr. Yorlets was shot, the juveniles fled the scene in a Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck stolen from Oak Grove, Kentucky. The pickup truck was ditched on Timberland Drive in the Hermitage Precinct of Nashville.  Officers located the juveniles at the West Nashville Walmart on 40th Street North. They found a loaded, stolen 9 mm pistol with one of the juveniles.  They also found a second loaded, stolen pistol inside the Walmart. Police believe the juveniles drove another stolen vehicle, a Hyundai Santa Fe, from Brentwood to the Walmart.

Police said the guns were stolen during vehicle thefts, the first from South Nashville in 2018.  The second gun was stolen on 40th Avenue North in Nashville the day before Mr. Yorlets was shot.

Mr. Yorlets’ band released a statement Friday morning stating they were “in a state of shock.”  The statement read:

“We are heartbroken. Our condolences for his family and loved ones and all the lives that he touched. We will never forget Kyle, and although he is gone too soon his legacy is here to stay. We thank you for your support and will talk to you soon.”

A statement from Pastaria restaurant stated in part:

“Kyle Yorlets was many things to many people: a soundboard, a mentor, a boyfriend, a wonderful musician, a confidant, an encourager, a day brightener, a friend. . . . We are standing together as a community to show those who could commit such a heinous crime against another human the love that Kyle shared in this word. . . . We love you, Kyle, just as much as you loved us.”

A public memorial will be held on Feb. 11, 2019 at Belmont University’s chapel.

“Currently there are 185 inmates in Tennessee prisons serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were teens.  Seven were 14 at the time of their crimes.” Source: Natalie Neysa Alund and Adam Tamburin, Prosecutors seek to charge 5 juveniles as adults in robbery and shooting death of Nashville musician (Tennessean — Feb. 8, 2019).

The mugshots have been released of three of the suspects: Roniyah McKnight, 14, a girl; Diamond Lewis, 15, a boy, and Decorrius Wright, 16, a boy.  The names of a 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy have not been released because Tennessee law prohibits the identification of suspects age 13 or under.

Source: Snejana Farberov, Five children between ages 12 and 16 are charged with MURDER in shooting death of Nashville musician during robbery-gone-bad (The Daily Mail — Feb. 8, 2019).

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6683689/Five-children-charged-murder-shooting-death-Nashville-musician.html

It was reported that all five suspects will be charged with criminal homicide.

According to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), juvenile arrests for murder have increased since 2012.  The OJJDP reported:

“The juvenile murder arrest rate fell 44% between 2007 and 2012, when it reached its lowest level since at least 1980.  This decline was followed by an 18% increase through 2016.”

The OJJDP reported during 2016 there were 850 juveniles charged with murder and non-negligent manslaughter.  Of these juveniles, nine percent were female, nine percent were younger than age 15 and 36 percent were white.

Source:   Juvenile Justice Statistics: National Report Series Bulletin (OJJDP — December 2018), found at https://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/251861.pdf.

A briefing paper reviewed United States Supreme Court precedents involving Juvenile Life [Sentences] Without Parole (JLWOP).  The paper is  titled Juvenile Life Without Parole: An Overview (The Sentencing Project — Oct. 22, 2018).  The paper noted: “Most of the approximately 2,100 individuals sentenced mandatorily as juveniles without the possibility of parole now have a chance for release in the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions.”  The paper further noted:

∗     The United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote in 2005 that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death.  Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2015).  The Court reasoned that the death penalty is a disproportionate punishment for the young; immaturity diminishes their culpability as does their susceptibility to outside pressures and influences.  The Court held that the nation’s “evolving standards of decency” showed that the death penalty for juveniles was cruel and unusual punishment.

     Having banned the use of the death penalty for juveniles, in 2010 the Court held in a 5-4 opinion that the sentence of life without parole was the harshest sentence that could be imposed for offenses committed by persons under age 18.  Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). The Court banned the use of life without parole for juveniles not convicted of homicide. (Many states have banned or limited the use of juvenile life without parole sentences.)

∗     In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), a 5-4 opinion, the Court held that for juveniles a mandatory life sentence without parole violated the Eighth Amendment. The Court held that judges must be able to consider the characteristics of juvenile defendants in order to issue a fair and individualized sentence.  The Court stated that adolescence is marked by “transient rashness, proclivity to risk, and inability to assess consequences,” all factors that should mitigate the punishment received by juvenile defendants.

∗     In 2016, in a 6-3 opinion, the Court affected mandatory sentencing laws in 28 states and the federal government.  Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016).  The Court noted that states inconsistently interpreted Miller’s retroactivity; 14 states rules that Miller applied retroactively while seven other states ruled that Miller was not retroactive. The Court noted that “children are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability” and that the severest punishment must be reserved “for the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.”

∗     Since 2012, states and the District of Columbia have changed their laws for juvenile offenders convicted of homicide. These new laws provide mandatory minimums ranging from a chance of parole after 15 years (as in Nevada and West Virginia) to 40 years (as in Texas and Nebraska).  Twenty-nine states still allow life without parole as a sentencing option for juveniles.  In most states, the question of virtual life without parole has yet to be addressed.  While 29 states allow juvenile life without parole sentences, just three states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana — account for about two-thirds of all such sentences.

In the Roper case that banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders, Justice Clarence Thomas characterized the Court’s opinion as a threat to the Constitution’s separation of powers.  Justice Thomas stated:

“Never before today has the Court relied on its own view of just deserts to impose a categorical limit on the imposition of a lesser punishment. Its willingness to cross that well-established boundary raises the question of whether any democratic choice regarding appropriate punishment is safe from the Court’s ever-expanding constitutional veto.”

In the Montgomery case affecting mandatory life sentences for juveniles, Justice Antonin Scalia dissented and stated:

“This whole exercise, this whole distortion of Miller, is just a devious way of eliminating [LWOP] for juvenile offenders. . . . In Godfather fashion, the majority makes state legislatures an offer they can’t refuse: Avoid all the utterly impossible nonsense have prescribed by simply ‘permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole.’  Mission accomplished”

The question remains: If the juveniles who killed Mr. Yorlets are convicted, then what should be done to punish them?

UPDATE ON COURT PROCEEDINGS: On Feb. 21, 2019, three of the persons accused of killing Mr. Yorlets were evicted from a juvenile court hearing.  Wright, 16, Lewis, 15 and McKnight, 14, were laughing, talking and turning around in their seats after their lawyers and court staffers told them to be quiet. Juvenile Court Magistrate Mike O’Neil finally ordered them removed from the courtroom due to their behavior.  “I don’t think they’re very interested. They’ve been sitting there like they’ve been sitting on the playground,” Magistrate O’Neil said. Michie Gibson, the lawyer for one suspect, said: “We’re dealing with children and they might not appreciate or understand the seriousness of what happened.”  Source: Adam Tamburin, Teens charged in Kyle Yorlets’ shooting told to leave courtroom after talking, Tennessean, (Feb. 22, 2019).

UPDATE ON MR. YORLETS: The obituary for Mr. Yorlets stated that he was born on Nov. 18, 1994 at Camp Hill, PA and was the son of Larry J. and Debra (Reese) Yorlets of Carlisle, PA. In addition to his parents, he is survived by two sisters: Mackenzie Yorlets of Herndon and Melissa Negley of Carlisle, and one brother: Jonathan Detman of Mt. Holly Springs.  He is also survived by his paternal grandfather, Paul H. Yorlets of Carlisle, and his soul-mate, Faith Gipson of Grand Junction, CO. He is also survived by many nieces, nephews and extended family members.  His funeral was on Feb. 16, 2019 at Carlisle Evangelical Free Church in Carlisle. He was buried at Waggoner’s United Methodist Church Cemetery in Carlisle.

THREE OF THE PERSONS ARRESTED FOR MR. YORLETS’ MURDER: RONIYAH MCKNIGHT, DIAMOND LEWIS AND DECORRIUS WRIGHT

Photo Credit: Nashville Metro Police

 

The attempted murders of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, due to poisoning by a nerve agent

March 10, 2018

EX-RUSSIAN SPY SERGEI SKRIPAL AND HIS DAUGHTER, YULIA

Photo Credit: File Photo

On Sunday, March 4, 2018, at about 4:15 p.m., Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were found unconscious on a park bench at Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.  They were poisoned by some kind of nerve agent.  An investigation is underway into their attempted murder.  A policeman, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, became ill while attending the victims.

As of March 10, Mr. Skripal, 66, and Ms. Skripal, 33, were said to be in “critical but stable condition” at Salisbury District Hospital.  Mr. Bailey was said to be “seriously ill” but awake and engaging with his family.

Before Mr. and Ms. Skripal were found unconscious they were together about 1:40 p.m. at Bishop’s Mill pub having a drink and about 2:20 p.m. at Zizzi, an Italian restaurant.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd described the poisonings as brazen, reckless and cruel and promised to “act without hesitation as the facts become clearer.”  Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism operations, said the Skripals had been “targeted specifically.”

The UK accused Russia as being responsible for the poisonings.  Russia denied the accusations.

“Sooner or later these unsubstantiated allegations will have to be answered for, either backed up with appropriate evidence or apologized for,” said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin.

Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, said the probable sources of the nerve agent could be Great Britain itself as well as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and the United States.  Ms. Zakharova said these countries have been researching toxic substances.

More than 250 counter-terrorism are involved in the investigation. About 180 military personnel were deployed to help remove vehicles and objects which may have been contaminated.

Mr. Skripal was once convicted by the Russian government of passing secrets to M16.  After being imprisoned he was given refuge in the United Kingdom as part of a “spy swap.”  UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that the UK will respond “robustly” if Moscow is found to be behind the incident.  Russia has denied any involvement.  The country’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Russia was willing to assist in the investigation but the UK had did not ask them to assist.  He dismissed rumors of Russia’s involvement as “hysteria” and “propaganda.”

Mr. Skripal was born in Kaliningrad in 1951.  He joined the elite Soviet airborne troop known as the Desantniki.  In 1979, Mr. Skripal was one of the first Soviet troops to go into Afghanistan. He later graduated from the Diplomatic Military Academy in Moscow and joined the GRU — Russia’s military intelligence agency.  He had two postings in Europe as a spy in the 1980s and the 1990s.  In 1999 or 2000 he quit the GRU allegedly because he was upset with corruption. He then was believed to have gone to work for Boris Gromov, who was the last commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan.  Mr. Skripal then settled into normal family life.  He had married a woman named Liudmila, his teenage sweetheart, in June 1972. A son, Alexander (known as Sasha) was born in 1974 and a daughter, Yulia, was born in 1984.

The Skripals’ family life was disrupted in December 2004, when Mr. Skripal was arrested for spying.  He was swiftly convicted in a trial that was closed to media and was sentenced to 13 years in a labor camp but spent most of his sentence in Mordovia.

Mr. Skripal was released from prison in July 2010 as part of a major spy swap — he was one of four spies released by Russia for 10 Russian agents imprisoned in the UK.  Mr. Skripal was then reunited with his wife.  They decided to make their home in Salisbury.  In 2011, Liudmila was diagnosed with cancer and she died on Oct. 23, 2012.  In July 2017, son Sasha died at age 43 in St. Petersburg while on a holiday with his girlfriend.  Sasha’s death was somewhat suspicious.  It was said that he died of sudden liver failure.

Ms. Skripal was a top student at school and attended Russian State University for the Humanities, where she studied geography.  After graduation from the university, she went to work at Nike’s Moscow branch, leaving in 2010.  After her father was released from prison she lived in England and worked at the Holiday Inn in Southampton.  She is fluent in English, Spanish and Russian.  She returned to Moscow in 2014 but would regularly visit her father in England.  Ms. Skripal arrived in London on March 3, 2018 on a flight from Moscow.

UPDATE: Sergei Skripal was discharged from the hospital in Salisbury, it was announced by the hospital on May 18, 2018.  His daughter, Yulia, was released from the hospital the previous month.  Detectives with London’s Metropolitan Police believe the Skripals first came into contact with a nerve agent at Mr. Skripal’s home.

“I think that if a military-grade poisonous substance was used, as our British colleagues claim, this person would’ve died right there of the spot,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin.  “A military-grade poisonous substance is so powerful that the person dies within seconds or minutes.”

Mr. Putin added: “We repeatedly offered UK authorities our help, and we asked to be given access to the investigation, but there is no response.  Our offer stands.”

Russia has consistently denied allegations that it was behind the poisoning.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed the UK’s findings that the Novichok was used in the attack.  Novichok agents act by inhibiting the enzyme cholinesterase.  It has been engineered to be undetectable by standard detection equipment and to defeat standard chemical protective gear.  Novichok agents may be dispersed as an ultra-fine powder as opposed to a gas or a vapor.  It is reported to be 5-8 times more lethal than VX nerve agent and effects are rapid, usually within 30 seconds to two minutes.

A BRITISH POLICE OFFICER CORDONS OFF THE SITE WHERE FORMER SPY SERGEI SKRIPAL AND HIS DAUGHTER WERE FOUND POISONED

Photo Credit: Chris J. Ratcliffe / Getty Images