July 6, 2012

Scott Peterson appeals death sentence

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:58 pm

On Thursday, Scott Peterson, convicted in 2004 of the first-degree murders of his wife, Laci, and unborn son, Conner, filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court against his conviction and death sentence. The 423-page brief cited the enormous publicity of the case and several incorrect evidentiary rulings as reasons why the verdict should be overturned. According to the Associated Press, Peterson’s lawyer, Cliff Gardner, argued in the brief:

“Before hearing even a single witness, nearly half of all prospective jurors admitted they had already decided Mr. Peterson was guilty of capital murder. And in what may be a first for the American system of justice, outside the courthouse in which the parties would try to select a fair jury, a radio station posted a large billboard which had a telephone number for people to call in and vote [whether he was] a man or monster.

The publicity continued throughout trial. A mob estimated at more than 1,000 people gathered at the courthouse to await the guilt phase verdict. After the guilty verdict was announced, the 12 jurors departing to await the beginning of the penalty phase – and decide whether Mr. Peterson would live or die – were met with wild applause and cheering.”

A spokesman for San Quentin Prison, through Fox News, gave some details about Peterson’s life on death row. Aside from having 5 hours a day for “out of cell activities” such as running, walking, basketball, and board games, his life doesn’t seem too eventful. He apparently gets along well with other inmates and staff, has never been disciplined, and has never held a job or taken any classes in prison.

Peterson’s appeal is not expected to be resolved for a long time. There is a huge backlog on California’s death row, with 725 condemned inmates but only 13 inmates executed since 1978. Even though this appeal wasn’t filed until 8 years after the trial, Peterson’s lawyer, Gardner, said last month, “We are moving at lightning speed compared to most automatic appeals. He wants to establish his innocence.”

In my opinion, it’s hard to say for certain whether Peterson is innocent or guilty because of the lack of direct evidence. But if there has ever been a trial where excessive publicity jeopardized the defendant’s rights, it’s this one.

July 8 update: Scott Peterson’s family have posted a copy of the brief to their site. Read it here:


January 30, 2012

Clark Rockefeller: going to trial in CA

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 12:37 am

On Wednesday, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, AKA Clark Rockefeller, learned that he will face a murder trial for the death of his landlord’s son in California. A preliminary hearing took place over five days last week and the week before in Alhambra Superior Court, CA, during which prosecutors presented their case and successfully convinced a judge that there was enough evidence to send Rockefeller to trial.

The young German immigrant, whose legal name was Christian Gerhartsreiter but who at the time went by Christopher Chichester, lived in a guesthouse owned by an older lady named Didi Sohus in San Marino, CA. Her son, John Sohus, and his wife, Linda Sohus, went missing in 1985. His remains were discovered on the property in 1994, cut up wrapped in plastic bags, and stuffed in a box; hers have yet to be found. Meanwhile, Chichester moved from place to place, taking on new names, creating increasingly elaborate and prestigious background stories for himself, and getting by either on the generosity of others or by doing the best he could at various jobs, given that he possessed few of the qualifications he claimed to have. This life unraveled in 2008, when, known as Clark Rockefeller and living in Boston, he was arrested for kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter, Reigh, after a bitter custody dispute with his ex-wife, Sandra Boss. After being convicted of kidnapping and beginning his sentence in a Massachusetts jail, he was indicted in the old murder case and sent to California.

Confused yet? Here is a recap of what we learned during the preliminary hearing:

Wednesday, January 18: Jose Perez, who was digging a pool at the former Sohus property in 1994, testified that his father uncovered a bag of bones, which he initially thought was the remains of a dog. Judith Day of the coroner’s office described how the bones, still clothed, were all separately wrapped in plastic. And Medical examiner Dr. Frank Sheridan said that Sohus’s death was caused by fractures on the right and front sides of the head, made by three blows with a rounded object such as a baseball bat.

Thursday, January 19: San Marino patrolman Thomas LeVeque testified that Didi Sohus believed her son and daughter-in-law were in Paris on a top-secret mission and would not tell investigators anything more, saying that doing so could put them in danger. As time went on and Chichester mysteriously moved away, Didi became more worried and even began drinking, according to her friend, Marianne Kent. She received a postcard that was supposed to be from Linda in Paris, but Lili Hasdell, another former police officer, testified that the handwriting did not match. And Judge William Stewart, who was an attorney and friend of Chichester, testified that he lent him a chainsaw. However, defense lawyers raised the possibility of another suspect, a real estate agent who helped Didi Sohus to sell her house and also did grocery shopping for her, drove her around, and spent a lot of time with her.

Friday, January 20: According to forensic scientist Lynne Herold, four bloodstains were found on the floor of the guesthouse where Chichester lived. The blood showed “wiping patterns,” but it was impossible to determine, with the technology available at the time, whose it was. Additionally, a t-shirt found with John Sohus’s remains had cuts that appeared to have been made by a sharp object.

Monday, January 23: John’s friend, Patrick Rayermann, testified that during a conversation shortly before his disappearance, John spoke of tensions with his mother, and feeling torn between staying with her and moving out with Linda. He also described John as “faultlessly reliable and said that neither he or Linda spoke of any definite plans to go off on their own. Lydia Marano, the owner of the bookstore where Linda worked, said that their relationship “made the rest of us smile” and called her “the most trustworthy person I had working for me.” Harry Sherwood, Didi Sohus’s grandson, said that he found John and Linda’s belongings strewn about, not consistent with a couple who were making a planned, long-term move. An acquaintance, Robert Brown, said that Gerhartsreiter asked him where to dispose of drums of toxic chemicals, saying he used them for his job at USC film school. And other witnesses said that he tried to sell them an oriental rug with a bloodstain on it.

Tuesday, January 24: Mihoko Manabe, who was Rockefeller’s girlfriend for 7 years in New York, when he went by the name Christopher Crowe, testified that he became paranoid after a detective called in 1988, looking for him. He grew a beard, had her die his hair, insisted on not walking with her in public, and planned to leave the country with her, telling her to stop communicating with friends and family and to receive mail at P.O. boxes.  He began to use the name Clark Rockefeller after discovering how respectfully he was treated when he used it. After he lost his job as a bond salesman due to his fake identity being discovered, Manabe supported him and got him a credit card under his new name. She described him as someone with “a temper, but not in a physically violent way…He could be very mean.” On the same day, his next-door neighbor in San Marino, Mary Cologne, said that she saw black smoke coming from his chimney one day, which smelled “terrible.” He said he was burning carpet.

The Boston Globe also has an interesting account of Rockefeller’s interview with the FBI after he was arrested in the kidnapping case.

With Sohus’s death taking place so long ago, some witnesses seem to have fuzzy memories, and it is doubtful there will be a lot of forensic evidence in this case. It will be interesting to see whether the circumstantial evidence, which was determined to be enough to establish probable cause, will be enough to convince a jury of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

July 8, 2011

Rockefeller arraigned in California murder case

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 10:32 pm

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, AKA Christopher Chichester, AKA Clark Rockefeller pled not guilty today to first degree murder in a California courtroom. He is charged with killing John Sohus, his landlady’s son, back when he lived in San Marino, CA, as aspiring filmmaker Chris Chichester. Sohus and his wife Linda mysteriously disappeared in 1985, and John’s bones were found in the San Marino home’s backyard in 1994. What happened to Linda is unknown.

Fifteen years later, while living as Clark Rockefeller in Boston, he was convicted of kidnapping his then 7-year-old daughter away from his ex-wife during a supervised visit. The 50-year-old Rockefeller was transferred earlier this week from a prison in Boston to a jail in California while he awaits trial in the new/old case. Jeffrey Denner, his lawyer from Boston, was with him at today’s arraignment, as well as Brad Bailey, from the same firm. They say that he maintains his innocence. The next hearing is set for August 16.

More coverage of today’s proceedings and the twists and turns of Rockefeller’s remarkable life, from the L.A. TimesBoston Globe, and Reuters.

January 4, 2011

Don’t bring your cell phone to California

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 10:11 pm

The California Supreme Court ruled that if you get arrested, police can search your cell phone without a warrant and use whatever they find as evidence. The court wrote…

“The cell phone was an item (of personal property) on (the defendant’s) person at the time of his arrest and during the administrative processing at the police station. Because the cell phone was immediately associated with defendant’s person, (police were) entitled to inspect its contents without a warrant.”

Former head of the Justice Department’s computer crimes unit Mark Rasch was quoted as saying, “This ruling isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous.” And Jonathan Turley criticized the ruling in a great blog post.

Bottom line: Don’t get arrested in California. If you do, make sure you don’t have a cell phone with you.

Full text of the ruling (PDF)

August 6, 2010

Proposition 8 and the Arizona immigration law

Filed under: culture & social issues by Victoria Liberty @ 8:08 am


The recent court decisions about S.B. 1070, Arizona’s immigration law, and Proposition 8, the ballot initiative banning gay marriage in California, have something in common. They both involve people calling certain laws unconstitutional.

Last Wednesday, Federal Judge Susan Bolton ordered an injunction against some parts of Arizona’s immigration law in response to a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice, which claims the law is unconstitutional because the federal government, not the states, should have the power to regulate immigration. This Wednesday, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8, calling it unconstitutional.

I have a question for judges, lawyers, the Department of Justice, and America as a whole: if you’re going to be calling laws unconstitutional, aren’t there better laws to call unconstitutional than these?

I am opposed to one part of the Arizona law – the part that makes illegal “the failure to apply for or carry alien registration papers.” Simply existing, legally, in this country but without registration papers does not hurt anyone or violate anyone’s rights. But the rest of the law isn’t bad. Illegal immigration is a serious problem, and I applaud Arizona’s attempt to deal with it.

I don’t think that Proposition 8 violates anyone’s rights at all, because I don’t think that marriage is a right, per se. If the government cared about equality, they would stop granting government recognition to marriages entirely and leave this to individuals and private organizations. Rewarding people for committing to a relationship, whether gay or straight, sends the unfair, false message that couples are superior to single people.

Now for some laws that are really unconstitutional and severely violate people’s rights:

  • The Durham-Humphrey Amendment: Nowhere in the Constitution is the government given the power to ban people from taking medications without a doctor’s permission. Has this law ever been challenged in court? Not to my knowledge.
  • The TSA’s use of full-body scanners as a primary method of airport security screening: To perform highly invasive searches on millions of people who aren’t even suspected of any crimes blatantly violates the Fourth Amendment.
  • The individual health insurance mandate: The power to regulate interstate commerce does not mean the power to force people to engage in commerce.

I understand that obviously, the particular judges who made the rulings in Arizona and California have never, to my knowledge, had the opportunity to address these other laws…so the individual judges are not being hypocritical. But it says something about America as a whole that the government calls two mostly good laws unconstitutional while at least three horribly anti-liberty laws are currently considered perfectly constitutional. Hopefully liberty’s brave friends at EPIC and in Virginia will change this.

Further reading:

Court Order about Arizona law (PDF)

Photo credits: Prop 8 rally by 1FlatWorld (CC ASA 2.0); immigration law protest by Fibonacci Blue (CC ASA 2.0)

June 26, 2010

Students sue over flag t-shirts

Filed under: culture & social issues by Victoria Liberty @ 10:52 pm

On Cinco de Mayo, two high school students in California wore American flag t-shirts to school. The principal told them to either take the shirts off or wear them inside out, calling them “incendiary.” Now the two boys and their parents are suing the school system, claiming that the school’s actions violated their constitutional rights:

Kendall and Joy Jones; John and Dianna Dariano, parents of Matthew Dariano; and Kurt and Julie Ann Fagerstrom, parents of Dominic Maciel, are asking a judge to rule that what happened May 5 at Live Oak violated the First and Fourteenth amendments, and that the school district’s policy regarding student speech is too vague.

The suit also asks for “nominal damages” and to award attorneys’ fees.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District, Live Oak Principal Nick Boden and Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez are named as the defendants.

Some people might call this lawsuit frivolous, but I think it has merit. No one should be banned from showing pride in their country, even during the holiday of another country. So many teenagers try to be cool and fit in at all costs that it’s a breath of fresh air to hear about teens showing their patriotism and standing up for what they believe in. It’s too bad that the Fourth of July doesn’t fall during the school year, because it would be interesting to see if the school allowed students to wear Mexican flag t-shirts on America’s holiday.

Complaint (PDF), thanks to KSBW-TV via the Examiner

October 5, 2006

CA upholds gay marriage ban

Filed under: culture & social issues by Victoria Liberty @ 10:00 pm

An appeals court in California has upheld the state’s ban on gay marriage! “We conclude California’s historical definition of marriage does not deprive individuals of a vested fundamental right,” the justices said. This ruling reversed an earlier ruling by a San Francisco judge, who decided to allow gay couples to marry in that city. Although the law still leaves opportunities for gay-marriage supporters to appeal, it is a significant victory for gay-marriage opponents such as yours truly.