Category Archives: Violent Crime

Montana Case Echoes Little Falls Killings

A Montana man will face a similar sentence to that of Byron David Smith, the man convicted of killing two unarmed teenagers who had broken into his home in Little Falls, Minnesota, back in 2012.

Just like Smith, Markus Kaarma’s “castle doctrine” defense – that a homeowner can use deadly force to protect his dwelling so long as the force is deemed reasonable – failed because the jury decided he went beyond what could be considered “reasonable.”

Case in Question

According to court documents, fed up by what he felt was a lack of action by police, Kaarma decided to take matters into his own hands. Kaarma testified that teenagers had been stealing from unlocked vehicles and open garages in his neighborhood, including once from his home.

Kaarma decided to bait the thieves into stealing from his home, so he left a purse on the floor of his garage and left the door halfway open. He knew it was only a matter of time before the teens returned to the area, and he even told his hairstylist, ‘I’ve been up three nights with a shotgun waiting to kill some kids. I’m not kidding, you’re seriously going to see this on the news.”

Sure enough, a few days later on April 27 Kaarma was alerted to movement in his garage via motion capture sensors. Kaarma opened the garage door and immediately fired four shotgun blasts at the intruder. Diren Dede, an unarmed 17-year-old intruder was hit by two of the shotgun blasts, including a fatal strike to the head.

Because he baited the intruder and went above what the jury decided was a reasonable use of force, Kaarma was found guilty of deliberate homicide, whereas Smith was found guilty of two counts of premeditated murder.

Kaarma is due back in court February 11 for sentencing. He faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison.

“What the jury’s saying here is, you have a right to defend yourself, but this isn’t reasonable,” said University of Montana law professor Andrew King-Ries said. “Lots of people have guns here, and lots of people feel very strongly that comes with a responsibility to handle your weapon appropriately.”

Related source: Star-Tribune

Crime Spikes During Home NFL Games

There will be no more home football games for the Vikings or Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium this year, and that could lead to lower crime rates, according to a new study.

Researchers tracked the crime rates in eight cities home to an NFL franchise to determine how home games affect crime rates. Analysts tracked crime rates for Baltimore, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington for a two-year period. After comparing the data, researchers found:

  • On days that cities hosted a home game there was a 3 percent increase in total crime.
  • Larceny rates jumped 4 percent on game days, while car thefts rose 7 percent.
  • Noon games are most closely connected to higher crime rates than afternoon or evening kickoffs, as there was a 4 percent increase in total crime and economic crime during midday starts.

“NFL home games are correlated with a higher incidence of crime compared to non-game days or days when the team is playing an away game in another city,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers say the results aren’t surprising, as it’s easier for criminals to strike in large crowds where opportunities are more plentiful. They noted that the increase in car thefts has a lot to do with a large gathering of cars in one area, most of which are left unattended for a few hours. This gives a thief plenty of time to find the ideal opening to strike.

“If stadium, restaurant, bar, and other parking lots are full of cars, it will be easier for thieves to find suitable cars to steal,” the researchers wrote.

Although there is a greater police presence around the stadium on game day than on any other day, oftentimes they are overwhelmed with other tasks, like crowd control or alcohol-related instances. This can provide the perfect cover for thieves.

“A large gathering of people on game day increases the number of potential targets and may also reduce the likelihood of criminal apprehension, as criminals can blend more easily into larger crowds,” the authors wrote.

Researchers concluded that the uptick in crime is costly. They estimated that a 3 percent increase in crime amounts to $85,000 per game day, or about $700,000 per city, per year.

Avery Appelman Comments

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an uptick in certain crimes during NFL games. Not long ago we published another study that claimed domestic violence and assaults increased during football games, especially if the team that lost was expected to win.

I’m not surprised crime rates spike during home football games because we seem to get a few more calls on Sunday night and Monday morning the day after a Vikings game than we do on an average Monday.

The study didn’t look into DUI arrests, but I’d be interested in seeing how DUI rates on football Sundays compare to Sundays without football. I think there would certainly be a spike in the hours after a home game or a particularly important win.

Related source: Herald Net

Eric Garner Case Highlights Flaws in Officer-Involved Deaths

While the nation was still torn over the recent decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, a similar case was unfolding in New York.

Last week a New York grand just decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a white patrolman who was caught on video placing a non- volatile suspect in what appears to be an illegal chokehold. The suspect, 46-year-old Eric Garner, was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes on the street.

Garner has an intimidating presence, coming in at 6-3 and 350 pounds, which may have been why Pantaleo quickly decided to apply the neck hold instead of opting for a more non-combative approach. The problem with the move is that chokeholds are banned by the New York Police Department. In fact, any move that inhibits breathing is banned by the NYPD Code of Conduct.

“A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air,” states the NYPD Code of Conduct on banned police procedures.

There were numerous contradicting reports in the Michael Brown case, but unlike Ferguson, there is video of Garner’s confrontation with police. You can best see it at the 1:00 mark of this video. As you can guess, this video contains sensitive material that may not be appropriate for all viewers.

 

 

Despite being heard saying several times in the video that “I can’t breathe,” cops did little to help Garner gain control of his breathing. Garner died shortly thereafter, and the medical examiner listed the official cause of death as “compression to the neck and compression of the chest.”

Should be an open and shut indictment, right? Surely the video evidence of an illegal takedown coupled with the fact that the cop’s actions directly resulted in Garner’s death warrant a court trial, be it for murder, manslaughter or at an absolute minimum, reckless endangerment, right?

Nope. The grand just decided not to bring any charges against Panataleo.  Now police unions are blaming Garner for his death, saying is poor health (obesity and asthma), his refusal to comply and a legal “headlock” maneuver were all contributing factors in his death.

Avery Appelman Chimes In

It is simply unfathomable to me that a grand jury decided not to bring charges against the officer in this instance. His size and poor health contributed to his death? That’s equivalent to saying the way a rape victim dressed led to the assault or blaming a hostage for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, Garner may have died due to complications form obesity down the road, but you know what killed him that day? What the coroner filled as the official cause of death? Not obesity. Not asthma. It was compression of the neck and chest.

The system for prosecuting cops in this country is an absolute joke. Cops and prosecutors work together on a daily basis, so expecting a prosector to be completely unbiased when that same cop is on trial is like putting a mother on a jury tasked with hearing a case against her son or daughter. The prosecutor and mother have an inherent tie to the case that corrupts its integrity.

Until these officer-involved deaths are handled by a federal grand jury, the ties between local police and prosecutors cannot allow for a completely fair handling of justice.

Related source: Huffington Post

Man Stabbed After Eating Thanksgiving Meal Too Soon

A Pennsylvania man was stabbed by his girlfriend after he started eating Thanksgiving dinner while she was sleeping off a hangover.

47-year old Jacklyn Blake began drinking early on Thanksgiving and decided she’d take a nap prior to dinner. While she slept off her bender, Blake’s boyfriend helped himself to a heaping helping of turkey and mashed potatoes. Blake became enraged when she woke up and discovered her beau had started eating without her. According to the police report, Blake grabbed a knife and stabbed her boyfriend in the chest. She then threw the knife at his face, which resulted in a cut below his left eye.

When police arrived Blake’s boyfriend was holding a towel over his chest. He was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

As for Blake, instead of a warm meal she’s been served with charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, simple assault, reckless endangerment and making terroristic threats. It was unclear if she had retained an attorney since her arrest.

Possible Penalties

We won’t speak for Pennsylvania, but had this crime taken place in Minnesota, Blake could face the following possible penalties:

  • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon carries potential penalties of 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
  • Simple assault in Minnesota is usually termed as Assault in the Fifth Degree. It is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Instead of Reckless Endangerment, Blake likely would have received a charge of disorderly conduct in Minnesota, which is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

Needless to say, Blake will certainly want to seek legal counsel to assist with the pending charges.

Related source: DailyMail.uk

Stay Safe on Blackout Wednesday, Thanksgiving Weekend

Statistics show that the following stretch of days, from blackout Wednesday through the Sunday night, are the most dangerous days on Minnesota roads.

According to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety, drivers are more likely to end up in a ditch or in a fender bender in this five-day stretch than any other period of the year.

As we mentioned in a previous post, distracted driving and drunk driving are two big reasons for the spike in crashes. Distracted driving caused 564 crashes between 1,436 cars during the five-day stretch last year. Thankfully, since people are generally traveling at slower speeds during the winter, there are less fatalities per accident than in the summer.

“There may be more ‘fender benders’ in colder, winter weather, but there are also less traffic fatalities,” said David Boxum, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

If you’re traveling tonight, take it nice and slow. It’s expected to snow until 3pm in the Twin Cities metro area, meaning the roads are going to be rough no matter if you try to drive through the snow to beat traffic, or you wait out the snow and hit rush hour.

Blackout Wednesday

If you’re on Twitter tonight, don’t be surprised if you see #BlackoutWednesday or #BadDecisionWednesday trending in your area. Thanksgiving Eve is commonly a day when friends and family are back in their hometown for holiday festivities, and many reconnect with one another over a few beverages.

Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Erik Roeske said he wants people to have a good time, but it’s important they make good decisions to get back from the bar safely.

“While we want people to enjoy that time with their friends and loved ones, we want them to make smart decisions for a safe and sober ride home,” said Roeske.

It should come as no surprise that the Minnesota police are adding extra DUI patrols tonight and through the weekend. Last year drunk drivers caused 32 accidents over the Thanksgiving weekend, and over 1,600 Minnesotans were arrested for driving under the influence during the holiday over the last three years. That means one person is arrested for drunk driving every 13 minutes over the 5-day Thanksgiving stretch. Be safe, and have a great holiday!

Related source: Star-Tribune

Ferguson: Grand Jury Decides Not To Indict Darren Wilson

A St. Louis County grand jury ruled that there was not enough evidence to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with a crime in the wake of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The decision, read late Monday night, means that the jury of 12 did not find enough evidence to bring charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or armed criminal action against Wilson. A 75 percent ruling is necessary in Missouri to proceed with criminal charges, meaning nine out of 12 jury members needed to believe their was enough evidence to proceed with charges. In all, the jury met 25 times, heard from 60 witnesses, three medical examiners and listened to 70 hours of testimony.

As expected, the decision was met with some furor. Riots broke out in Ferguson as President Barack Obama urged citizens to express their opinions peacefully. The video is truly a sight to see.

 

The rioting lasted through the night, and reports indicate that at least 12 businesses were set ablaze. 61 people were arrested, and thankfully, nobody was seriously injured.

Examining the Evidence

Without a doubt, the events in Ferguson are going to stick with Americans for a long time. Tensions are running high, and we’re not going to get up on a soapbox and preach one way or another. Instead, just like in the court of law, we want to facilitate the spread of information and evidence so citizens can stay informed about what just happened.

Here is a comprehensive list of the information presented to the grand jury. Included in this list is the grand jury testimony, witness statements, forensic reports, police interviews and much much more. Seek out coverage of the aftermath from news sites and learn why some feel justice was served while others feel like the truth has remained hidden. If you want to peacefully demonstrate your disagreement with the decision, gatherings have been planned in the Twin Cities throughout the day.

We will continue with our Ferguson coverage if any new developments take place.

Minnesota Wants To Increase Penalties For Attacks on Nurses

Minnesota legislators are looking to increase the penalties against out-of-control patients in the wake of a growing number of assaults on healthcare practitioners.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights wants to see the law re-written to hold assailants accountable to the same level as if they had attacked a peace or police officer.

“There should be the same protections and pen­al­ties for at­tack­ing a nurse as there are for at­tack­ing other public safe­ty of­fi­cials,” Atkins said.

Under the current law, those who assault a nurse or healthcare professional are subject to a two-year jail sentence and fines up to $4,000. Rep. Atkins wants to increase those penalties to match assaults on police officers, which carry potential sentences of three years in jail and a $6,000 fine.

While Atkins wants to increase penalties for those who harm nurses, others fear that those with mental disorders might face stiffer penalties for acting out in a state of confusion. For example, a delusional elderly patient at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood recently attacked and injured four nurses with a metal bar. The resident died as officers attempted to restrain him, but Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center said he didn’t think increased penalties would have prevented the incident.

“I don’t see how that would be a big de­ter­rent, how that would keep some­one from com­mit­ting a crime like that,” Cornish said.

Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota, agreed with Rep. Cornish.

“I don’t think a blanket change like that is going to be effective,” Abderholden said. “We could end up criminalizing people … who were not really aware of what they were doing.”

Big Spike

Despite Cornish’s indifference, it’s clear that physical assaults on healthcare professionals are a growing concern. An analysis of workers’ compensation and injury logs show that the healthcare industry is becoming a dangerous place for workers. State nurses have already filed 46 claims for injuries suffered while on duty, a pace that’s set to double the claims filed in 2012 and 2013.

Assaults on nurses is a national problem as well. A 2011 study found that more than 400,000 nurses and other healthcare professionals are a victim of workplace violence every year. The survey also revealed that one in every four nurses lists physical assault as a top safety concern.

Related source: Star-Tribune

Little Falls Murderer Must Pay $21,000 To Victims’ Families

Byron David Smith, the 66-year-old Little Falls man who was found guilty on two counts of premeditated murder in the first and second degree after he killed two teenage intruders during a home invasion has been ordered to pay over $21,000 in restitution to the victims’ families.

The Little Falls saga began nearly two years ago when Nicholas Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, broke into Smith’s home on Thanksgiving Day 2012. Smith’s home had been frequently burgled, so when he heard people breaking into his house, he waited in the basement with a shotgun. Brady was the first to enter the basement, and Smith shot him as he descended the stairs. Smith then walked up to an injured Brady mortally wounded him with a shot to the face.

Kifer descended the stairs a short while later. Smith again shot the teen as she was coming down the stairs, but when he went to shoot her again, his gun jammed. Smith then retrieved a handgun, and as he stated during his testimony, delivered “a kill shot.”

The case made national news as pundits discussed how far a homeowner could go to protect his or her dwelling. Ultimately the jury decided that Smith’s actions went above and beyond “reasonable measures” in protecting his home, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Court Costs

After the guilty verdict was read, Brady and Kifer’s families submitted a restitution request. They hoped to to recoup $42,000 in restitution costs for expenses like funeral costs, transportation costs during trial, and loss of wages by the parents.

Ultimately the Morrison County District Court met the families half way, awarding them a total of $21,421 in restitution. Brady’s family was awarded $9,577, while Kifer’s family received $11,844.

Related source: Pioneer Press

Minnesota Sex Offender Reform Report Published

As we mentioned back in August, experts tasked with reviewing Minnesota’s current sex offender program asked to have their report deadline pushed back until mid-November. Today, they published their findings in a comprehensive 108-page report.

In all, the experts issued a list of 44 recommended changes for the program. Some of the most prominent recommendations include:

  • The state’s civil commitment statute should be modified to ensure it only applies to sex offenders and those at the highest risk for recidivism.
  • Expediting the process to move the only female resident to another location.
  • Re-evaluating each resident to see if they truly meet the criteria for commitment.
  • Institute a discharge plan for an offender as they are admitted to the program. The old program left many with ambiguous guidelines and little hope of being released.
  • Both the state and the program should begin preparing communities to meet the needs of future discharged residents.

The report mirrors a state task force finding from 2013 which stated that the current sex offender reform system “captures too many people and keeps too many of them too long.” Officials at the Department of Human Services are currently reviewing the 108-page report to determine the state and the program’s next move.

When you look at the data, it’s hard to suggest the program has been anything but a life sentence for current offenders. Under the program’s 20-year history, of the more the 700 offenders admitted to the program, only two have ever been discharged.

In addition to the changes proposed in the report, the program faces another obstacle in the form of a class action lawsuit. A group of sex offenders has sued the state claiming the old process was a violation of their due-process rights. Their case is expected to presented to a judge in February.

Related source: Star-Tribune, Pioneer Press

 

Wisconsin Judges Lenient on Chronic Drunk Drivers

A review of drunk driving cases by a Wisconsin media company found that many chronic offenders throughout the state receive lenient sentences.

Moreover, in at least a dozen cases, judges imposed sentences below the mandatory minimum. Sometimes this was done by negotiating around vaguely worded statutes, while other times judges blatantly disregarded mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

Ben Kempinen, a Law School professor at the University of Wisconsin, said it’s strange that judges who are tasked with upholding a law are blatantly overlooking current statutes.

“If (legislators) say you have to give the guy at least a year and (judges) are not doing it, then they’re not complying with the limits on their power,” Kempinen said.

More From The Review

The analysis of over 900 DUI cases across the state uncovered:

  • Some judges failed to institute probation upon an offender’s release from jail, while others let offenders serve some sentences simultaneously.
  • A Green Bay man convicted of seven drunk driving offenses should have been sentenced to three years in jail based on mandatory minimum laws, but he received a two-year sentence and ultimately only served nine months in jail.
  • The same judge handed down a similar sentence in another case. When the mandatory minimum called for three years, he sentenced the offender to two.

Avery Appelman comments

On the surface level the report might seem concerning that judges aren’t following the law to the letter, but there’s more to it than that. For example, the judge in the case above said he only went below the mandatory guidelines based on recommendations of prosecutors. He also said it’s his job to interpret the law and apply it on a case-by-case basis.

“I think the Legislature has a right to express their opinion that these are mandatory, in their opinion this is the sentence that should be imposed, but I don’t think I’m a computer. I don’t think I’m a robot. I try to listen to what everybody has to tell me,” said Judge Donald Zuidmulder. “I do respect that and probably follow it 99 percent of the time or 98 percent of the time.”

I think Judge Zuidmulder’s take is a good one. No two cases are the same, so a one-size-fits-all law isn’t going to be perfect 100 percent of the time. I’d much rather have a judge like Zuidmulder than one who doesn’t consider all the factors in the case and rules, as the judge referenced, as a robot.

Related source: Gannett News Media, Pioneer Press