Monday, December 31, 2012

Defendant may have sealed fate with 3 words

Caroline Hocking-Sullivan may have sealed her fate – four assault convictions – with three words she uttered on the witness stand during her November trial in Macomb Circuit Court.
To her demise, Hocking-Sullivan blurted out, “I’m a cutter,” when discussing her past mental issues and suicide attempts.
That scant sentence revealed a lot about her state of mind in general the night she was accused of attacking four Sterling Heights police officers in the living room of her home in May 2011. She was shot and wounded by an Officer Maureen Merpi.
She had been distraught in the hours before and was under the influence of alcohol and too much prescription medication. Her sister, a Shelby Township resident, called police, reporting a potential overdose and/or suicide.
Assistant prosecutor Steve Fox said Hocking-Sullivan charged at Merpi with a knife raised above her head. Hocking-Sullivan denied she held a knife and was shot after she merely stood up from the couch.
The knife in question was moved at the scene after the incident to the kitchen sink. A second knife, which Hocking-Sullivan said she typically kept for protection since she was raped in 1986, was under a pillow on the couch.
Defense attorney Tim Barkovic contended during the trial that police could have planted the second knife to justify the shooting.
But his client’s, “I’m a cutter,” comment lended credence to the cops’ claim that she had a second knife all along.
Giving it more weight was that it was unsolicited and seemed so off-hand; she couldn’t seem to resist providing a glimpse into her world.
Hocking-Sullivan has been the victim of some unfortunate circumstances in her life and probably doesn’t deserve prison. She was shot, after all. And I question the jury’s decision to convict her of assaulting all four police officers. I don’t think all four were in real danger.
But the law is the law, and Lady Justice is blindfolded.
It will be interesting to see the extent of Judge Mary Chrzanowski’s sympathy at Hocking-Sullivan’s Jan. 10 sentencing.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Judge advises to find positive in murders

I appreciated the way Wayne County Judge Vonda Evans accentuated the positive -- if there can be a silver lining -- during a recent sentencing for a double-murder case. She delivered the poignant comments at the Dec. 14 sentencing of Miguel Rodriguez, 24, one of five defendants who killed Hamtramck women Ashley Conaway, 22, and Abreeya Brown, 18.
Evans tried to ease the horrible pain for the experienced by the victims’ loved ones, reminding them to define the young women with a “positive legacy.” She pointed out the women ultimately won because they helped nab their murderers.
“These girls became a symbol of triumph, not tragedy,” Evans said. “They were victims but they still got the victory. It’s up to the people who loved them to give them a positive legacy. They are a symbol of what law enforcement fights for. They fought long and hard so the people who put them to death were (captured).”
The women were kidnapped and killed to prevent them from testifying in a prior case in which Conaway was grazed by a bullet shot by one of the defendants. The pair had turned down $5,000 in hush money. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave Feb. 28 on Detroit's west side. The women helped lead to the killers by texting family members from their abductors’ vehicle, and police traced their cell phone locations.
Evans encouraged family members to take the high road in dealing with their devastating loss. She advised to “move on” with tough-love remarks.
“I am challenging you to move forward. Stop grieving and start living.”

Judge uses soft touch

Judge Vonda Evans used compliments and humor to keep Joe Gentz comfortable at his plea hearing Friday in Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit.
“You look nice today,” she told Gentz when he first approached the bend, after the last time she saw him he was wearing a jail outfit.
She asked him if he was “a little bit scared” due to the throng of media in the formal courtroom setting.
“A little bit,” Gentz replied.
She suggested he put on his eyeglasses, and when he took them off for a moment, she exclaimed, “Oh, you took them off.”
“You look more handsome with them on,” she told him.
Evans asked him several legally required questions, to which Gentz politely replied, “Yes, ma’am.”
Evans’ soft touch seemed to work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Griem may still face more consequences

Criminal defense lawyer David Griem’s $8,000 in fines levied by a Detroit judge for his contempt of court convictions was significant, but many believe the well-known veteran attorney hasn’t fully paid the price yet.
Griem, in his representation of Bob Bashara, was fined recently for creating a subpoena for a fake case and passing discovery material to Bashara family members. His actions regarding the subpoena are particularly troubling, attorneys say.
Several attorneys have said privately they expect someone will file a complaint against him with the Attorney Grievance Commission, which could refer it to the Attorney Discipline Board. The board do  nothing or issue discipline from a reprimand to license revocation.
Griem is a former assistant Macomb county prosecutor who over the years has handled many high-profile cases, including pre-arrest stage of the Stephen Grant case.
He is known for having a media-friendly style, providing colorful, sometimes brash quotes in defense of his client.
He often goes to the edge but this time may have gone over.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Worthy was to discuss rape-kit project on 'Rock Center'

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy was scheduled to appear on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams at 10 p.m. Thursday to discuss the 11,3013 untested rape kits discovered in August of 2009 during a tour of  a Detroit Police Department property storage warehouse.

But Worthy's spokeswoman, Maria Miller, informed the media about noon Thursday that the segment has been postponed. (Perhaps Michigan's right-to-work controversy bumped it.)

The show would also focus on the work of the Detroit Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Project to address the problem and create a national protocol for other jurisdictions that encounter this issue across the nation.

Rape kit evidence that was collected following a rape that occurred in August 1998 was discovered during the tour.  When the evidence was tested there was a DNA match with the defendant, Eric Taliaferro, who was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He pleaded no contest to the charges Nov. 26 before Wayne Circuit Judge Ulysses Boykin. He was sentenced Tuesday to 15 to 30 years in prison. 

"Fourteen years ago the victim in this case was sexually assaulted and, because her untested rape kit sat ignored in an evidence warehouse, Mr. Taliaferro walked free,” Worthy said. “Now Taliaferro has lost his freedom.  It is fitting that he will serve just over a year in prison for each year that the rape sat on the shelf, "said Prosecutor Worthy.

The research project is funded by a grant awarded by the National Institute of Justice In April of 2011.  The collaborative partners on the grant are: the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, the PD , the Michigan State Police Crime Lab, Michigan State University, the Michigan Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment Board, the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners, YWCA Interim House, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and the Joyful Heart Foundation.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lil' ol' Mount Clemens technologically sophisticated

One local lawyer was pleasantly surprised at the technological sophistication of podunk Mount Clemens.
Criminal defense attorney Mark Haddad recently stood in a Macomb County courthouse hallway, gazing in amazement at his smartphone. He was being alerted his parking meter was expiring in 15 minutes.
“How cool is that?” Haddad laughed. “Who would’ve thought in Mount Clemens?”
Haddad took advantage of the city’s free program through, which allows visitors to feed a parking meter with online or phoneline payments instead of coins. An “app” works for many smartphones.
With county and court officials also constantly incorporating the county seat in its frequent technological advancements, maybe the city should be renamed “Mount Connected.”