Justice Department

Dylann Roof, Charleston Shooting Suspect, Is Indicted on Federal Hate Crime Charges


JULY 22, 2015

WASHINGTON — Dylann Roof, the man suspected of killing nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., last month was indicted on Wednesday on federal hate crime and other charges, including some that carry the federal death penalty, two law enforcement officials said on Wednesday.

Mr. Roof, 21, already faces nine counts of murder in state court and could face the death penalty there. But Justice Department and F.B.I. officialshave said the Charleston shooting was so horrific and racially motivated that the federal government must address it.

He was also charged with killing someone while obstructing religious freedom, which is eligible for the death penalty.

South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law, and federal officials have said they believe that a murder case alone would leave the racial component of the crime unaddressed.

A grand jury was expected to return a federal indictment on Wednesday afternoon. It was not immediately clear how that indictment would affect the state prosecution. The Justice Department has the option to delay its case and wait to see how the state case ends before deciding whether to proceed with a second trial. Under federal law, a hate crime does not, by itself, carry a possible death sentence.

Authorities have linked Mr. Roof to a racist Internet manifesto and said he was in contact with white supremacist groups before his attack on the Emanuel A.M.E. Church. He was photographed holding a Confederate flag and a handgun.

“I have no choice,” the manifesto reads. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Survivors said that Mr. Roof arrived at the church as worshipers gathered for a Wednesday night Bible study group. “You are raping our women and taking over our country,” Mr. Roof said to the victims, all of them black, before killing them, witnesses told the police.

The shooting sparked fresh national debate over the symbolism of the Confederate flag. South Carolina lawmakers responded by removing the flag from the State House grounds.

BREAKING : Obama Frees Dozens Of Nonviolent Federal Inmates


July 13, 2015

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced Monday that he has granted dozens of federal inmates their freedom, as part of an effort to counteract draconian penalties handed out to nonviolent drug offenders in the past.

The 46 inmates who had their sentences reduced represent a small fraction of the tens of thousands of inmates who have applied. The U.S. Justice Department prioritizes applications from inmates who are nonviolent, low-level offenders, have already served at least a decade in prison, and would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted today, among other factors.

“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around,” Obama wrote in a letter to the inmates. “Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances.”

The president has now issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority of them to nonviolent offenders sentenced for drug crimes under outdated sentencing rules.

Thanks to stringent mandatory minimums and other laws, a number of nonviolent drug offenders have been sentenced to life in prison without parole. One such applicant for clemency was Dicky Joe Jackson, who was caught selling meth in order to pay for a bone marrow transplant for his young son. He told The Huffington Post earlier this week that he had seen “child molesters come in and out of here, rapists come in and out of here, murderers come in and out here,” and yet he was still serving a life sentence without parole.

Another applicant was Alice Marie Johnson, a mother of five who was hoping for commutation of her life-without-parole sentence. After she divorced and lost her job, she got involved in the drug trade and was sentenced as a first-time nonviolent offender. “I did do something wrong,” she recently told HuffPost. “But this [was] a bad choice in my life that has cost me my life.”

The overwhelming majority of those who just received clemency had been sentenced for crimes involving crack and cocaine, while two were marijuana cases.

Neither Jackson nor Johnson was included in the list of individuals who had their sentences commuted.

A number of federal sentencing reforms have been implemented since the height of the drug war. In 2010, Congress passed a law narrowing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The Justice Department also announced in 2013 that it would no longer seek mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenders. The following year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission agreed to reduce drug trafficking sentences retroactively.

Both Republicans and Democrats recognize that the criminal justice system is in dire need of additional reform. But commutations have been slow-going. According to The New York Times, the White House has asked the Justice Department to speed up the process by which it sends over applicants.

In his letter to those who received clemency, the president continued, “Remember that you have the capacity to make good choices. By doing so, you will affect not only your life, but those close to you. You will also influence, through your example, the possibility that others in your circumstances get their own second chance in the future. I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better.”

Federal Hate Crime Charges Likely in South Carolina Church Shooting


June 24, 2015

 WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will likely file federal hate crime charges against the man suspected of carrying out a massacre at a storied black church in South Carolina, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Dylann Roof, 21, already faces nine counts of murder and could receive the death penalty in state court. But there is widespread agreement among officials at the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation that the shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston was so horrific and racially motivated that the federal government was obligated to address it, law enforcement officials said.
F.B.I. analysts have also concluded “with a high degree of certainty” that Mr. Roof posted a racist manifesto online, which could be a key to any federal charges, a law enforcement official said. The website was registered in February under Mr. Roof’s name, but the name was made anonymous the following day.
In cases involving violations of both state and federal law, the Justice Department often refrains from bringing federal charges, particularly when suspects face long state prison sentences. But South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law, and federal investigators believe that a murder case alone would leave the racial component of the shooting unaddressed.
The site also showed 60 photographs, including one of Mr. Roof holding a Confederate flag in one hand and a handgun in the other. Other photos of Mr. Roof appeared to have been taken at Confederate heritage sites and slavery museums.
Analysts at the F.B.I. laboratory in Quantico, Va., are also analyzing a computer and phone that Mr. Roof had used, officials said. The agents and analysts are piecing together Mr. Roof’s communications and uncovering any information that may have been deleted.
When federal and state prosecutors each bring charges, they typically coordinate their cases so one does not undermine the other. The death penalty could be a factor. South Carolina’s murder law carries a possible death sentence, while a violation of the federal hate crime law carries up to life in prison. Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, has called for Mr. Roof to face the death penalty.

Federal prosecutors are in no mood for compromise in the Boston Marathon bombing case — at least not yet.


february 5, 2014 (newgazette)

Two brothers allegedly killed three people and wounded more than 260 others by planting bombs last April near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Now the U.S. Justice Department said it intends to seek the death penalty if the surviving brother is convicted.

Given the sickening nature of the crime, the Justice Department decision in this high-profile case is completely understandable, even laudable. However, it’s still a long way to the execution chamber for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was 19 when he was arrested shortly after the bombings.

His 26-year-old brother and alleged co-conspirator, Tamerlin Tsarnaev, was killed in a shoot-out with police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was severely wounded when he engaged officers in gunplay, but survived to face trial.

The big question, however, is whether a trial actually will take place. Authorities say they have collected a mountain of evidence linking the brothers to the bombings, including photographic evidence showing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a backpack believed to be filled with explosives along the marathon route near the finish line.

Given the evidentiary realities and potential death penalty, defense lawyers can be expected to pursue an agreement that allows him to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. That’s how cases like this have played out in the past when the Justice Department has opted to seek the ultimate punishment.

If the case does go to trial, defense lawyers can be expected to argue that the plot was conceived by the older brother and that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s life should be spared because of the subordinate role he played.

At the same time, however, the facts indicate that the bombings were carefully planned and carried out, that the aim was to inflict maximum damage on large numbers of innocent people and that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has not shown any remorse for his actions.

Both Muslims, the Tsarnaevs indicated they were motivated by religious reasons to strike out at America, and they allegedly did so in a way that attracted worldwide attention.

It is unclear when the case might get to trial, but if and when it does, the proceedings will be immeasurably complicated by the legalities surrounding the death penalty. Nonetheless, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was correct when he said that “the nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision.”

Justice Department To Sift Through Evidence In Zimmerman Case, Look For Potential Racial Motive


July 16, 2013

MIAMI — The Justice Department will sift through trial testimony, interviews and other evidence during what is likely to be a months-long investigation into whether George Zimmerman violated Trayvon Martin’s civil rights when he shot the black teenager.

The key to charging Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, lies in whether evidence exists that he was motivated by racial animosity to kill Martin, who was 17 when he was shot during a fight with Zimmerman in February 2012. And while Martin’s family has said the teen was racially profiled, no evidence surfaced during the state trial that Zimmerman had a racial bias.

Former Miami federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein says it will likely be months before a decision is made on whether to bring charges.

Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges after claiming he fired his weapon in self-defense only after Martin attacked him. His friends and family have repeatedly denied he harbored racial animosity toward blacks. Florida did not use its own hate crime laws against Zimmerman.

Legal experts say the FBI and prosecutors will go back through the interviews done before the state case began; look at all the forensics such as crime scene records and medical reports; and review the state’s witnesses to see if any who did not testify might have important information.

However, investigators are not limited to existing evidence; they can pursue new evidence and conduct new interviews as they see fit. For instance, federal investigators could look more closely at Zimmerman’s past for any evidence of racial bias.

“They are going to need to do a thorough vetting of the facts. It takes time,” said Lauren Resnick, a former prosecutor who obtained a guilty verdict in a 1991 New York hate crime case involving the stabbing death of an Orthodox Jew. Those defendants had been acquitted in state court.

In a speech Tuesday to an NAACP convention in Orlando, Attorney General Eric Holder said “I am concerned” about the Zimmerman case and pledged the Justice Department will conduct a thorough review.

“While that inquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take,” he said.

The lone juror in the case who has spoken publicly – known only as Juror B37 because their identities have not been released – said Monday that she did not believe Zimmerman followed Martin because the teen was black.

Still, supporters of the Justice Department filing civil rights charges say additional evidence could exist in the federal investigation that didn’t come up in the state prosecution of Zimmerman, possibly even witnesses who have not previously been interviewed or did not come up in the state case.

“They have a separate set of evidence they’re looking at,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “They might have additional witnesses that were never called upon by the state. I think they will make the best decision that is possible in this case and they will pursue what they think is legally possible.”

Several civil rights groups, including the NAACP, are demanding that the Justice Department bring federal charges against Zimmerman, and there have been numerous protests around the country about the outcome of the Florida trial.

During a news conference Tuesday, the Rev. Al Sharpton acknowledged there are hurdles. But he said there remains a fundamental question of “does Trayvon Martin and the Trayvon Martins of this country have the civil right to go home?”

He added: “… we have some experience on how to deal with hurdles and we see that as part of our strategy.”

Beyond the exact language of the law itself, the federal probe must navigate between sensitive racial and political issues that arose when Zimmerman initially wasn’t charged in Martin’s killing.

“Many people simply cannot process how an unarmed teenager is killed, and yet no one is held criminally accountable for his death,” said Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.

Resnick said a federal jury would have to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had a racial motive when he began following Martin and that he did not act in self-defense when he fired his gun.

“There remains the serious challenge that prosecutors still have to prove the racial motive,” she said.

Zimmerman could get life in prison if charged and convicted under federal hate crime laws.

Generally, the Justice Department is reluctant to get involved in cases that have already been tried before a state jury, in part because of concerns about double jeopardy.

Perhaps the best-known example where federal prosecutors did intervene was the case of four police officers acquitted after a California state trial in the beating of motorist Rodney King, which triggered deadly riots in the Los Angeles area in 1992.

Two of the four officers were convicted in federal court of violating King’s rights, but that case differs from Zimmerman’s because they were acting as sworn law enforcement officials, not as a private citizen claiming self-defense.

In contrast, the Justice Department declined to prosecute New York Police Department officers after they were acquitted in the 2006 shootings of three men including Sean Bell, who was fatally wounded the morning of his planned wedding. The short Justice Department statement – issued in 2010, four years after the shooting – simply said there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

“Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” the department said in the Bell case.

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Associated Press writer Mike Schneider in Orlando and Shaquille Brewster in Washington contributed to this story.

US – Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept.


april 17, 2012 sourcehttp://www.washingtonpost.com

Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.

In one Texas case, Benjamin Herbert Boyle was executed in 1997, more than a year after the Justice Department began its review. Boyle would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, according to a prosecutor’s memo.

The case of a Maryland man serving a life sentence for a 1981 double killing is another in which federal and local law enforcement officials knew of forensic problems but never told the defendant. Attorneys for the man, John Norman Huffington, say they learned of potentially exculpatory Justice Department findings from The Washington Post. They are seeking a new trial.

Justice Department officials said that they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.

The review was performed by a task force created during an inspector general’s investigation of misconduct at the FBI crime lab in the 1990s. The inquiry took nine years, ending in 2004, records show, but the findings were never made public.

In the discipline of hair and fiber analysis, only the work of FBI Special Agent Michael P. Malone was questioned. Even though Justice Department and FBI officials knew that the discipline had weaknesses and that the lab lacked protocols — and learned that examiners’ “matches” were often wrong — they kept their reviews limited to Malone.

But two cases in D.C. Superior Court show the inadequacy of the government’s response.

Santae A. Tribble, now 51, was convicted of killing a taxi driver in 1978, and Kirk L. Odom, now 49, was convicted of a sexual assault in 1981.

Key evidence at each of their trials came from separate FBI experts — not Malone — who swore that their scientific analysis proved with near certainty that Tribble’s and Odom’s hair was at the respective crime scenes.

But DNA testing this year on the hair and on other old evidence virtually eliminates Tribble as a suspect and completely clears Odom. Both men have completed their sentences and are on lifelong parole. They are now seeking exoneration in the courts in the hopes of getting on with their lives.

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