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10th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Verdict Against Timothy McVeigh

Ten years ago today, a Denver federal jury returned a death verdict against Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Colorado 850 KOA News Radio host Steffan Tubbs for an interview about what it was like to defend McVeigh. Tubbs also interviewed Houston lawyer Chris Tritico, another principal member of the trial team . The interview aired today as part of a five part series that looks back at the trial.

McVeigh was executed by lethal injection six years ago on June 11, 2001.

What is like to defend the most hated man in America? Would I do it again? You can listen here.

Other parts of the series which include interviews with the prosecutors, victims' families, members of the media and a juror are here.

[Cross-posted at 5280.com]

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Defendant in High Court Sentencing Case Killed, What Now?

The criminal law world has been awaiting the Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Claiborne and U.S. v. Rita, which address unresolved questions from the Booker case (argued in the Supreme Court by TalkLeft contributor TChris) which ruled the federal sentencing guidelines are no longer mandatory.

The issue in the Claiborne case is whether a sentence below the guideline range must be justified by extraordinary circumstances. Scotus Blog reports:

The case of Claiborne v. U.S. (docket 06-5618) was heard by the Court on Feb. 20, along with a second Guidelines case (Rita v. U.S., 06-5754). The cases were heard in tandem because they both test what sentence under the Guideline may be treated as "reasonable" when challenged on appeal. The Clairborne appeal asks whether a sentence below the Guideline range is presumed to be reasonable, while the Rita case asks whether a sentence within a Guideline range is presumed to be reasonable.

But today the Public Defender's office representing Claiborne confirmed he was shot to death in Saint Louis in recent days.

So what happens to his case?


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A Bad Week in History: Waco, Oklahoma City and Columbine

Today is a bad day for history. It is the anniversary of the tragic deaths of the Branch Davidians at Waco in 1993.

It is also the 12th anniversary of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. (Disclosure: I was one of Timothy McVeigh's trial lawyers, so don't bother ranting about him in the comments, it will be deleted.)

Tomorrow, April 20, is the anniversary of the Columbine killings.

One of the lasting legal effects of the OKC bombing was President Bill Clinton's Anti-Terrorism and Death Penalty Enforcement Act (pdf), which restricted habeas corpus rights and added many new death penalty eligible offenses.

Like I said the other day about why we shouldn't rush to enact gun control laws in the aftermath of Virginia Tech, we should never enact laws as an emotional response to a single tragedy, no matter how horrific. Cooler heads are needed.

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Revisiting Booker

Update: Argument transcripts (in pdf) are here (Rita) and here (Claiborne).

original post:

Before the Supreme Court's Booker decision, federal courts were required to follow the federal sentencing guidelines. The guidelines required judges to enhance sentences to punish for crimes the judge believed were related to the crime of conviction, even though the additional crimes weren't proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the post-Booker regime, judges could impose any "reasonable" sentence after considering the guidelines and a number of other factors.

After Booker made the guidelines advisory, some federal appellate courts did their best to restore their mandatory nature by announcing that guideline-compliant sentences are presumptively reasonable while reversing sentences that weren't as harsh as the guidelines recommended. In today's NY Times, Linda Greenhouse spotlights two cases that will be argued before the Supreme Court today -- cases challenging the presumption that guideline sentences are reasonable.

The presumption “simply resurrects the system rejected in Booker,” Thomas N. Cochran, an assistant federal public defender in Greensboro, N.C., told the court in the brief he filed on behalf of Victor A. Rita Jr., the defendant in one of the two new cases.

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Audit Criticizes FEMA Waste

In the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, it’s understandable that FEMA would give a higher priority to helping the needy than to assuring that they really were needy. It’s more difficult to excuse wasteful payment of fraudulent claims that came months after the hurricane dissipated.

A GAO audit shows that FEMA has an ineffective oversight process and therefore continues to pay fraudulent claims. FEMA has wasted or been cheated out of at least $1 billion. At the same time, it hasn’t always put the money where it’s really needed, resulting in a recent court order “to resume housing payments for thousands of people displaced by Katrina.”

Not all of the loss resulted from fraudulent claims. FEMA can’t seem to keep track of the equipment that its employees purchased:

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Judge Criticizes Pou Investigation

Criminal cases in New Orleans remain backlogged, yet the District Attorney’s office insists on pursuing possible charges against Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses who are suspected of engaging in mercy killings at Memorial Medical Center during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Pou denies the accusation. The evidence against her is flimsy, and the judge assigned to the case thinks it’s time to file charges or move along to other cases.

"With all due respect, I'm tired of this case," District Judge Calvin Johnson said during a hearing on whether documents in the matter should be made public. "This case needs to either go forward or end." He said he was frustrated by the length of time he has spent dealing with the case, since neither Dr. Anna Pou nor nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo have been indicted. ...

Johnson's frustration comes at a time when criminal cases in New Orleans remain backlogged because of a shortage of public defenders and other problems created when Katrina's floodwaters destroyed evidence and shutdown the court system.

Prosecutors say they might convene a grand jury next year. Or not.

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Supreme Court to Revisit Federal Sentencing

The Booker decision gave federal judges an opportunity to craft sentences that are appropriate to the offender and offense, guided but not bound by the federal sentencing guidelines. Appellate courts after Booker are to review sentences for reasonableness.

Many federal appellate courts have undermined the Booker decision by reversing sentences that fall below the advisory guideline sentence, and some have gone so far as to deem a guideline sentence presumptively reasonable, while giving less deferential scrutiny to sentences that are more lenient than the guidelines suggest. (Courts seem less troubled by sentences that exceed the advisory guideline.) These decisions have the practical effect of restoring the binding force of the guidelines, recreating the constitutional problem that Booker purported to solve: mandatory punishment for crimes that are never proved to a jury. (TalkLeft background on the Booker decision is collected here.)

The Supreme Court on Friday accepted review of two cases that question whether within-guideline sentences deserve more deferential review than those that fall outside the guidelines.

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Medical Society Supports Dr. Pou

by TChris

The Louisiana State Medical Society has come out in support of Dr. Anna Pou, accused of ending the lives of four bedridden patients during the aftermath of Katrina. Meanwhile, Dr. Pou protested her innocence in a 60 Minutes appearance:

"No, I did not murder those patients," said Pou, who's been practicing medicine for more than 15 years. "I've spent my entire life taking care of patients. I have no history of doing anything other than good for my patients."

Here's the TalkLeft background on this ill-advised prosecution.

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Remembering Katrina

by TChris

Ethel Freeman is more than a symbol of the Bush administration's incompetence.

[Ethel Freeman's son] began pushing her toward the Superdome. A passing police officer told them to head instead to the riverfront convention center, where buses were expected to arrive. There were medical supplies, food and water at the Superdome, but people who took refuge at the convention center had none.

"He told me, 'The buses are coming. Wait here so you can get your mom on first,'" Freeman said Friday outside the building where his mother died.

Her last words were a supplication: "She asked me if the buses were coming," Freeman said. "I said 'Yeah, they're coming. And then I said, 'Ma, I'm going to pray to God to help me. And you pray to God to help you," he said.

A few minutes later, he realized she had stopped talking.

At a memorial today, Ethel Freeman's son recalled her death.

A fleet of buses arrived four days after she died - and when they did, Freeman was not allowed to take his mother's body, forced to board the bus at gunpoint. "It was like cutting me open and adding salt in the wound," he said.

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Brownie, We Hardly Know Ye

by TChris

What to think of Michael Brown? His job with the Arabian Horse Association didn't work out, and only cronyism can explain his appointment to manage FEMA. Brown seemed less informed about conditions in New Orleans than CNN viewers, and more interested in fine dining than in the grueling work of disaster relief.

After being thrown overboard by the president who assured him he was doing a heck of a job, Brown worked hard to rehabilitate his image, with some success. Many of his criticisms of the Bush administration are justified, and the monumental failure of the federal response to Katrina cannot rest on Brown's shoulders alone. Still, there's little doubt that "Michael Brown was completely in over his head in running a federal agency and dealing with an actual disaster," and it's fair to argue that he "can't bring himself to actually take responsibility for his own failures."

A new series, "AIR: America's Investigative Reports," takes another look at Michael Brown, exposing "a pattern of Brownie's incompetence that merely foreshadowed the breathtaking malfeasance to come."

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Late Night Music: New Orleans (Johnny Cash and Arlo Guthrie)

What else on the anniversary of Katrina? Two very different versions: Johnny Cash and Arlo Guthrie singing the City of New Orleans.

Johnny Cash

Arlo Guthrie

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Katrina Anniversary: Open Thread

I haven't yet had an opportunity to watch the Katrina and New Orleans coverage but I'm sure you have. Here's an open thread on all things related to Katrina -- the devastation and the Adminstration's woefully inadequate response. Will this tar Bush's legacy for good?

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Race, Katrina, and Republicans

by TChris

Racism -- or more broadly, intolerance based on characteristics of race, national origin, religion, and sexuality -- remains one of the most compelling challenges confronting the United States. The anniversary of Katrina drives the point home.

To live in the real world is to not be shocked when learning about how relief trucks passed by East Biloxi, a predominantly black community, to get to D'Iberville, a predominantly white middle-class community.

To live in the real world is to understand why the Red Cross station in East Biloxi barely served food, had no mobile health-care unit and was located in a depressing run-down building, while the Red Cross station in D'Iberville was pristine, well-stocked with food and supplies, and a full-service mobile health-care unit.

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Backlogs in New Orleans' Criminal Courts

by TChris

The White House wants voters to believe that the president has played a significant role over the past year to help New Orleans rebuild. Despite all the president's speeches, disapproval of his response to Katrina remains high. As it should.

A year after Katrina, "only half of the New Orleans courthouse's 12 courtrooms have come back into service since judges returned to the flood-damaged building in June." Jail inmates are waiting for trials; many are waiting to meet their public defenders. And they've been waiting for a year. Judge Arthur Hunter is right to think that they shouldn't be kept waiting any longer.

Hunter says that especially given a shortage of public defenders, many indigent prisoners locked up even before the hurricane haven't talked to lawyers or been charged with crimes; he believes their rights have been being violated for too long and that therefore their releases warrant consideration on a case-by-case basis.

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Katrina Timeline: Don't Be Fooled

Next week's Katrina anniversary poses a huge vulnerability for Republicans as they head into the November elections. The White House has already started a massive PR campaign to spin the facts. Don't be fooled. Think Progress has published a timeline laying them all out.

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