Tag: criminal law

Can a Murderer be Convicted After He was Acquitted Without Violating the Law Against Double Jeopardy?

By Jeremy Potter

On April 9, a military court found Army Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis guilty of murdering Kathryn Eastburn and her two daughters, ages three and five.  Eastburn was raped and all three were stabbed to death in their home just outside Fort Bragg, NC, while father and husband Gary Eastburn, an officer in the Air Force, was deployed at officers training in Alabama.

Hennis had adopted the Eastburn family dog two days before the murders; he was identified by an eyewitness in the original trial and convicted for the triple-homicide and sentenced to death in 1986.  Three years later, he was acquitted on appeal.

A free man, Hennis returned to the Army, eventually serving in Operation Desert Storm; he retired in 2004.  DNA evidence that was not available in the 1980s came to light in 2006, when authorities were able to match the DNA of the stored sample Hennis had voluntarily provided.



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On Trial for a Hate Crime: What are Hate Crimes and Why Does it Matter?

By John Kosa

Update at the end of this story

So I killed someone.  That makes me a bad guy?” asked Keith Phoenix as he was arrested for bashing in the skull of Jose Sucuzhanay on a chilly December night in Brooklyn.  The New York Times reported that prosecutors are saying “the crime was motivated by hate” and Phoenix and his friend Hakim Scott, are now on trial for murder as a hate crime, manslaughter and assault.

Many crimes are motivated by hate but hating someone is not a crime.  The defendants have pled not guilty to the charge of murder as a hate crime, and their lawyers are spending time in court denying the hate crime charge.

But The Times did not explain what makes a crime a hate crime – and why it matters.



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A Novel but Failed Defense for Abortion Doc Killer

By Ted Wills

Recent media accounts of the Scott Roeder murder trial have sacrificed a precise portrayal of the law for attention-grabbing headlines. Headlines such as “Manslaughter Defense Allowed in Abortion Killing: ‘Voluntary Manslaughter’ Defense Would Carry 5-Year Sentence Instead Of Life in Prison” are misleading at best, and add fuel to the fire of the culture wars.

It took a jury just 37 minutes to convict Scott Roeder of first-degree murder in the shooting death of George Tiller, a Kansas abortion doctor who specialized in the legal, though controversial practice of performing late-term abortions.

The evidence was clear enough: Witnesses testified that Roeder walked into a church service and shot Dr. Tiller in the head before a crowd of terrified parishioners. Roeder was quickly apprehended—his shoes soaked in Tiller’s blood. However, in a pretrial ruling that aroused consternation across the nation, the trial judge ruled that Roeder would be allowed to present evidence to establish a defense of voluntary manslaughter. Under Kansas law, this defense is available to a charge of first-degree murder if at the time of the murder, the defendant had an honest belief, even if unreasonable, that his use of force was necessary to prevent imminent, unlawful harm to another.



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Murder, Ink: Neo-Nazi Cover-up?

By Drew Smith

Legendary litigator Clarence Darrow observed that “jurymen seldom convict a person they like, or acquit one they dislike.”  John Ditullio, a recent defendant in a Florida murder trial, is a man very difficult to like.  He sports a six inch swastika in black ink just beneath his right ear.  A strand of barbed wire is tattooed over his right eye, a teardrop marked under the left.  There’s a vulgar instruction to passersby on his neck, and his beard grows a devilish point.

The marks are the bulls-eyes of a white supremacist, stamped to be seen.  Nevertheless, as reported on Fox News, a judge ordered Florida to pay $150 per day during Ditullio’s trial to make them vanish.  It’s the kind of pin-pulling headline-grabbing story that swiftly ignites taxpayer outrage.  But Ditullio’s trial lasted only a few days, leaving a bill roughly equivalent to the revenue from a single DUI fine.  And crusaders for truth and accuracy should note that the tattoos that were covered at trial were inked while the defendant was in jail awaiting trial.



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