The Trial Diaries

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Jodi Arias Given Green Light to Represent Herself for the Re-Trial of the Penalty Phase


It was an interesting day at the Maricopa County Courthouse today for a Jodi Arias hearing that took a very attention grabbing twist. As the reporters awaited entrance into the hearing we didn’t hold out much hope of getting in since so many hearings are hit and miss, but we were all pleasantly surprised when we learned it was an “open hearing!” All of us grabbed our phones and notepads, and rushed to the door to find out the latest in a case that is nothing short of surprises.

I grabbed my seat in the second row behind the defenses table; I wanted to have a good view of what was going on and why not the gallery was pretty much empty. The lawyers went to a sidebar and we were waiting the arrival of Jodi for the hearing to officially begin. Jodi was escorted in wearing her stripes that said “not sentenced” on the back. The jingling of her chains were a reminder she’s a convicted murderer of Travis Alexander but the side swiped pony tail she was wearing made her look very childlike distracting from the jailhouse attire perhaps.  This was only elevated when she put on her glasses to round out the look.  Immediately Jodi and Jen Willmott were engaged in a very active conversation that seemed to last quite a bit. Juan Martinez was patiently sitting at his table with Detective Flores once again by his side. Nurmi was looking through paperwork and we were all just waiting to see what was going on. Judge Stephens asked Jodi if she was going to submit a motion and still wanted to voluntarily represent herself, Jodi responded “Yes,” but she wanted to discuss it further in an ex parte. Judge Stephens then began to question Jodi on why she needed to ask her stuff in private and Jodi stated she wanted to further discuss her representing herself and some evidence she’d like to present. All I could think about was “wow, OK, Jodi is really going to go for this!” Judge Stephens granted the ex parte and all of us including the State were cleared from the courtroom.

As everyone waited outside the courtroom the halls were buzzing with the talk of Jodi representing herself at the re-trial. Not only would this be a Juan vs. Jodi showdown of epic proportion, this unlocked a lot of interesting access to maybe even Jodi herself. The visions of her addressing the potential jury pool, witnesses and investigators really put a spin on this case that took it to a higher level of crazy! We were all let back in and Jodi Arias with her stripes and shackles made her way up to the podium to address Judge Stephens. Judge Stephens went down the list of what will be expected and what Jodi will face if she chooses to go forward. Judge Stephens warned her this is a complex death penalty case and that Jodi will be on her own. Jodi said she understood. Judge Stephens asked her if she had any law background, a criminal justice degree or any type of schooling on the subject, Jodi said “no.” Stephens then asked her if she was on medications, Jodi Arias said “yes.” The judge asked if these would prohibit her from acting as her own attorney, Jodi stated “no.” The list went on and on but one question I was dying to hear was can Jodi claim ineffective counsel after this is all over, Judge Stephens answered it and told Jodi she could not. If Jodi does decided at any time she wants to bring a lawyer back on she can, but Judge Stephens made it clear there’s no going back and they would only move forward and she wouldn’t get a “do over.” Jodi agreed this was made clear to her. Judge Stephens in a way I haven’t seen her before urged Jodi to not do this, that it really wasn’t in her best interest and Jodi with confidence stated she wanted to move forward with representing herself. With that the judge granted the motion and Jodi Arias is now in charge of her own re-trial in the penalty phase of what some call the trial of all trials.

Yet, in a routine fashion Kurt Nurmi couldn’t escape without standing up and telling the judge he really still wants to withdrawal and that strategy in this case between Jen, Nurmi and Jodi aren’t really going to jive. The judge told Nurmi that if they had conflicts with strategy they needed to see her immediately so she could get it all straightened out. So Nurmi stays along with Jen on trial but now will be in an advising role for Jodi Arias. While I’m sure they are wanting to pull their hair out daily…yes  Nurmi now has a nice head of hair, it may not be long before Jodi has some regrets.  As the hearing was winding up Jodi asked the judge for one more thing. She wanted her investigator to go to the Mesa PD and collect some evidence. That brought a sharp objection from Juan Martinez who said if her investigator needed evidence he needed to contact him directly so he could in turn let Detective Flores know. The judge agreed this would have to be how it was handled and that Jodi had limits to what she could do from behind bars. So with that it was a wrap, and Jodi stood up and talked to her former attorney’s with a grin on her face that said it all. Jodi was in her element, in charge and in control, her favorite place to be. But with Juan Martinez on the opposite table this showdown won’t be without fireworks and sidebars so the question begs to be asked…..will the jury not like Jodi 9 out of 10 days or will this new strategy of humanizing herself as a self made lawyer grab the attention of at least one? I can assure you it will be a battle and not one the State of Arizona will take lightly as the state treads into new territory on a case that has captivated the world. One thing will never change no matter how much sensationalism this new tactic will bring, the victim Travis Alexander and family are still seeking justice in the final phase of a trial that has taken to long to get started. The crime and damage have been done and final  justice for him is looming just around the corner. Next hearing is August 13th, at 8:30am and Judge Stephens reminded everyone this trial will begin on September 8th, 2014, no delays. So until the next hearing, best wishes The Trial Diaries..

Pic: ABC15








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Official: 4 of 6 child hostages freed in Harvey


HARVEY, Ill.— Negotiators worked late into the night in an effort to persuade two men barricaded in a home in the southern Chicago suburb of Harvey to end their standoff with police and release the last of six children and two adults they took hostage.

Four of the children had been released after hours of talks between the suspects and hostage negotiators.

Authorities say the two men took the captives after Harvey police responded to a call of a burglary in progress at a home about 12:50 p.m. Tuesday. There was an exchange of gunfire that left two officers wounded.

Harvey spokesman Sean Howard said after the shooting, the two suspects ran into a nearby home, where they barricaded themselves.

Police had initially said five children and one adult were taken captive. However, Howard said one of the children released revealed to police that there were actually six children and two adults being held. Howard would not say whether the suspects know the hostages or whether the hostages are related.

Officers, including a SWAT team, surrounded the home and the entire block of homes was evacuated, affecting about 100 residents, Howard said. A nearby middle school was evacuated, but only staff members were in the building.

Howard said the first two children released appeared to be in good physical condition and were taken to a local hospital for observation. He said the third child, a 1-year-old, wasn’t hospitalized. The fourth child was released nearly 11 hours after being taken hostage.

The first child has a breathing problem, Howard said. The men put the child on the front porch and a member of the SWAT team got the child.

“There have been no bumps in the road yet,” Howard said of the negotiating effort. “We hope to get this resolved peacefully.”

Howard told The Associated Press that authorities do not know the hostage-takers but have identified the hostages. He would not comment on the relationship between the hostages but said a woman hostage is believed to be a nurse. He did not identify the children who were released.

“Right now, we don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of negotiation process,” Howard said. “We want to protect those children as much as we can. The less information right now, the better.”

Officer Darnell Keel, an 18-year veteran of the police force, was in stable condition at a hospital with a broken arm after the exchange of gunfire and will have surgery, Howard said. A second officer suffered a graze wound to an arm.

Twenty-six law enforcement agencies were assisting, Howard said. An armored vehicle and officers in body armor with high-powered rifles were seen in the neighborhood. The state police SWAT team responded, said Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond.

Source: M. SPENCER GREEN of Associated Press


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Prosecutor: Gunman, others dead after shooting


COOS BAY, Ore.— A gunman lured his father to a remote Oregon campsite and killed him, then drove to a beach where he shot five cars in a parking lot, killing a Michigan camper who was sleeping in his vehicle, a prosecutor said Tuesday. The gunman then killed himself.

Zachary Brimhall’s father, 58-year-old William Ray Brimhall of Dillard, Oregon, had been shot multiple times, Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier said. The older man’s body was found Tuesday near his vehicle on a remote logging road in the Coast Range about 50 miles from Bastendorff Beach, where the drive-by shooting took place earlier in the day.

“No question the son is responsible” for his father’s death, Frasier said in a telephone interview late Tuesday. Investigators don’t yet know what set off the violence, the prosecutor said.

Zachary Brimhall’s mother told investigators that her husband left home Monday after their 34-year-old son called to say his car had broken down at a remote Coos County campsite and he needed help.

It appears the older man was killed shortly after he reached the campsite Monday night, Frasier said.

Investigators think the son then drove to the beach and several hours later started shooting, the prosecutor said. The first 911 calls from the beach came in at about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Asked about a motive, Frasier said, “That’s the big question. We don’t know.

“We’re hoping to be able to find out. We may not.”

Frasier said authorities believe Zachary Brimhall shot and killed David Jesse Hortman, 43, of Walker, Michigan, at the beach before killing himself. No one else was injured at the beach, the prosecutor said.

Investigators found several firearms, some large firecrackers used to frighten seals, and materials to make an improvised explosive device in Zachary Brimhall’s vehicle and called the Oregon State Police bomb squad, Frasier said. Bomb technicians found no explosives in the father’s vehicle.

Authorities said Hortman represented a recreational vehicle supply company and had decided to stay for a week of vacation after exhibiting at a trade show.

Mark MacPherson, whose car was also shot, told KCBY he thought someone was throwing rocks at his vehicle, “but my window shattered and I knew in that instant someone was shooting at me.”

There was no known connection between Hortman and Zachary Brimhall, authorities said.

Bastendorff Beach just south of Coos Bay has long been a popular spot for homeless people as well as people who want to have a campfire on the beach.

About a year ago, the federal Bureau of Land Management cut maximum camping time from 14 days to 24 hours at the site and stepped up patrols due to problems.

“We have had some problems in the past with some nefarious activity out there,” agency spokeswoman Megan Harper said. “We have tried to step up patrols lately and it had seemed like it was getting a lot better.”

Dillard Store & Deli owner Keith Sjogren said Ray Brimhall had worked at a wood products mill and lived near the store, though Sjogren had not seen him for about six months. Sjogren described him as an easygoing man.

Source: AP


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U.S. suspects in Bali suitcase murder on suicide watch – police


DENPASAR Indonesia – A pregnant U.S. teenager and her boyfriend were on suicide watch on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on Wednesday, police said, after being held as suspects in the murder of the woman’s mother whose battered body was found in a suitcase.

No charges have been brought in connection with the death of Sheila von Wiese-Mack, 62, whose body was found in the bloodied case in a taxi outside the luxury St. Regis hotel in Nusa Dua, Bali, last week.

Her daughter, Heather Mack, 19, and Mack’s boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, 21, were arrested and detained as suspects.

Bali police spokesman Hery Wiyanto said the couple were depressed and were on suicide watch.

“Their mental state is checked every day,” Wiyanto said. “Tommy seems better, but as they both continue to refuse to speak it is difficult,” he said.

The couple have refused to talk to their Indonesian lawyer and a U.S. lawyer was expected to arrive in Indonesia on Wednesday.

“Tommy is under close observation and has no access to materials he could use to (commit) suicide,” Wiyanto said.

Police last week provided CCTV footage showing the couple speaking to a taxi driver after dropping the bloodied suitcase along with other luggage outside the hotel.

Police said the two left, apparently to check out of the hotel, and never returned. The case was lifted into the back of a taxi.

The two were arrested at a nearby budget hotel.

An official at the hospital that conducted the autopsy said von Wiese-Mack had been repeatedly hit on the face and head with a blunt object.

The body was flown back to the United States on Tuesday accompanied by an officer with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is assisting in the investigation.

Wiyanto said ultrasound and urine tests had confirmed that Mack was pregnant, as she had said, which he earlier suggested might have been a ruse to ensure she was sent home.

“… In Indonesia there are a lot of cases of pregnant prisoners, if they are already processed through the courts and they are jailed,” he said. “So if found guilty, the baby will be born in prison. The baby could grow up in prison with its mother.”

Source: Reuters


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NY police chokehold death to go to grand jury


NEW YORK — A New York prosecutor said Tuesday he would ask a grand jury to consider charges in the death of a black man placed in an apparent chokehold by a white police officer.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced Tuesday that an extra grand jury will be asked to hear evidence next month in the July 17 death of Eric Garner.

“I assure the public that I am committed to conducting a fair, thorough and responsible investigation into Mr. Garner’s death, and that I will go wherever the evidence takes me, without fear or favor,” Donovan said in a statement.

Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, could be heard on an amateur video shouting “I can’t breathe!” as Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in an apparent chokehold. Police said the officers were arresting Garner on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

A second video, which appeared to have been shot shortly after Garner was handcuffed, showed him lying on the sidewalk, apparently unresponsive. More than three minutes in, medics arrive and one checks his pulse. Garner is lifted onto a gurney and transported to a waiting ambulance about two minutes later.

A bystander asks why no one is performing CPR and one officer responds, “because he’s breathing.”

Garner, who had asthma, died a short time later.

Donovan said his decision to take the case to a grand jury was based on his office’s investigation and the medical examiner’s ruling that the death was a homicide caused by neck compressions from the chokehold, chest compression and Garner’s prone position while being restrained.

Donovan said a court granted his request for the extra grand jury on Monday. He said in a statement that he would make no additional comment about the panel’s work, including possible witnesses and charges, to maintain proceedings’ secrecy.

Pantaleo, an eight-year NYPD veteran, was stripped of his gun and badge after Garner’s death and another officer was placed on desk duty. Two paramedics and two emergency medical technicians were suspended without pay.

Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said it was too early to say whether his client would testify before the grand jury.

“That’s a decision that I weigh very carefully,” London said.

Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the union expected a grand jury investigation and is encouraged that the process is moving forward.

“We are confident that a fair and impartial grand jury that is allowed to conduct its deliberations based on facts and not emotion or political considerations will see that justice is served,” Lynch said in a statement.

Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton plans to lead a march to Donovan’s office on Saturday. Protesters are calling for Donovan to file criminal charges or let federal prosecutors take over.

Several members of New York‘s congressional delegation last week echoed the call for the Justice Department to investigate.

They questioned whether Donovan, a Republican, could adequately investigate the case given his close working relationship with police and the borough’s large population of police officers.

Sharpton said he, Garner’s family and the family’s lawyers will meet Thursday with U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch to reiterate their desire for a federal investigation.

“This announcement does not impact our move for federal takeover of this case at all,” Sharpton said in a statement.

Source: AP



Boy’s alleged abuse described in graphic testimony


PALMDALE, Calif.— Graphic grand jury testimony reveals details of the abuse suffered by an 8-year-old Los Angeles County boy allegedly battered to death by his mother and her boyfriend.

The Los Angeles Times reports court documents made public Monday show Gabriel Fernandez was doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and locked in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams.

The Palmdale boy died in May 2013, days after he was hospitalized with injuries including a cracked skull, broken ribs and burns.

Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre have pleaded not guilty to murder charges with special allegations of torture.

Gabriel remained with his mother and her boyfriend despite several investigations by social workers. His death prompted calls for sweeping reforms to the county’s troubled foster-care system.

Source: AP


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Prosecutor: Father shooting driver was ‘execution’


ANGLETON, Texas — A drunk driver did not deserve “public execution” by a father accused of taking the law into his own hands in a fit of rage over the killing of his two sons in a wreck, a prosecutor told jurors on Monday.

David Barajas is accused of fatally shooting Jose Banda in December 2012 minutes after Banda plowed into a vehicle that Barajas and his two sons had been pushing on a rural road. Twelve-year-old David Jr. died at the scene and 11-year-old Caleb died at a hospital.

In opening arguments Tuesday in Barajas’ murder trial, prosecutor Brian Hrach told jurors that Banda made a horrible decision by drinking and driving, but he did not “deserve a public execution.” Barajas is accused of leaving the scene of the accident, retrieving a gun and returning to kill Banda.

Sam Cammack, Barajas’ attorney, told jurors that his client did not kill Banda, and that the father never left the accident scene. Barajas was covered with his sons’ blood after he had tried to perform CPR on the boys, the defense attorney said.

“When police get there my client is doing what he was doing the whole time, trying to save his children’s lives,” Cammack said.

Legal experts said the case will be difficult to prosecute given the lack of hard evidence: no weapon was recovered, no witnesses identified Barajas as the shooter and gunshot residue tests done on Barajas came back negative.

An even greater challenge for prosecutors could be overcoming sympathy in the community for the father. Many people in the town of Alvin where the tragedy occurred, 30 miles southeast of Houston, have supported Barajas. Some have said they might have done the same thing in a similar situation.

Hrach tried to minimize the absence of a murder weapon, saying that a bullet fragment from a .357 caliber weapon was found at the murder scene and that an open box with .357 caliber ammunition was found in Barajas’ home.

The home security system at Barajas’ house with cameras that would have shown the accident scene had been disabled, the prosecutor said.

Witnesses will testify that they saw Barajas leave the scene and then come back and approach Banda’s vehicle, going up against the car, appearing to be hiding something, Hrach said.

Barajas’ blood was found on the armrest and dashboard of Banda’s car, Hrach said.

But Cammack tried to cast doubt on prosecutors’ claims that Barajas was responsible by telling jurors that evidence will show that there was a group of people who gathered around Banda’s driver side window after the accident.

Cammack also said that after a gunshot was fired, a witness saw a white vehicle with people in it pull into the middle of the scene and then leave.

If convicted, Barajas faces up to life in prison.

At least 25 family members and friends of Barajas were in the courtroom, wearing buttons that said, “Forever in our hearts, David and Caleb Barajas” and with a picture of the two boys. At least 20 relatives and friends of Banda were also in the courtroom.

Before opening statements, Judge Terri Holder asked that family members take off the buttons, saying she did not want anything to influence the jury.

“This is a difficult case for everyone involved. Everyone in here has lost somebody they loved,” she said.

Source: AP


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Expert: DNA evidence links suspect to killing


LOS ANGELES — DNA evidence taken from the clothing and body of Carol Alford a quarter-century after her death linked her slaying to a serial killing suspect with such certainty that no other person on Earth could have deposited the cells, an expert testified Tuesday.

Forensic DNA analyst Amanda Mendoza was asked during the trial if she had made a positive match of the DNA to defendant Samuel Little.

“That’s correct,” she said after tossing out extravagant statistics.

Alford was the first of three women whose killings were being scientifically dissected for jurors at the trial. The cold cases had baffled authorities for decades until the DNA technology made prosecution possible.

Little, 74, could face life in prison if he is convicted of killing the three women who were found nude below the waist after being dragged into debris-strewn alleys.

He was arrested in 2012 after detectives from Los Angeles found him living in a Christian shelter in Kentucky.

His 100-page rap sheet details crimes in 24 states spread over 56 years — mostly assault, burglary, armed robbery, shoplifting and drug violations. In that time, authorities say, he served less than 10 years in prison.

Los Angeles authorities say they linked the former boxer to the three killings through evidence recovered at scenes and his DNA data stored in a criminal database.

Prosecutor Beth Silverman called witnesses to show that Alford fit the pattern of victims in the case. She had cocaine in her blood, had been strangled and had semen on her clothing but was not raped.

The victims were Alford, 41, who was found on July 13, 1987; Audrey Nelson, 35, found on Aug. 14, 1989; and Guadalupe Apodaca, 46, found on Sept. 3, 1989.

The trial is the first involving murder charges against Little, but Silverman said outside court he is likely responsible for at least 40 killings nationwide dating back to 1980.

Authorities in California, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio are scouring their cold case files for possible ties to Little.

Darryl Lee, a police officer who went to the scene of the Alford killing in 1987, testified he remembered it well. It was one of the first homicides of his career and he said he pulled his police car across the alley to shield the half-naked woman’s body from a gathering crowd “to give her a little dignity.”

“It appeared to me the crime didn’t happen there and the victim was dumped,” he said.

He called Alford’s daughter to the scene to identify the body and said when she saw her mother, “She screamed and started crying.”

Source: LINDA DEUTSCH of Associated Press



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