Category Archives: Crime and Justice

The Trayvon Martin Case Should Make Lawmakers Rethink Stand-Your-Ground Laws

The shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has sparked outrage and anger across the US towards racial stereotypes and faulty self-defence laws.

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin has sparked outrage and anger across the US towards racial stereotypes and faulty self-defence laws.

How many of you were surprised to hear of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death? How many of you were surprised to hear of the motives? And now how many of you are shocked over the verdict? I can’t blame you. I won’t talk of this being an issue of racism but I will talk about this being an issue of faulty self-defense laws. Even if racism was an issue of this, it wouldn’t be the only issue. These laws need to be looked at in good detail.

First of all let us have a look at the Stand Your Ground law in the state of Florida that started this hullabaloo. It’s a law passed into legislation in 2005 while Jeb Bush was governor of the state at the time. If you want to have a look at the exact text of the law ,click here. The law states deadly force is unnecessary unless it appears the person feels such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. The law appears to pretty much set the grounds for self-defense and its boundaries, right?

Obviously not. This was brought to my attention from a year-old video from Adam Buckley of A Dose Of Buckley. In that video he pointed out that in the year the Stand Your Ground law was enacted (2005), the number of murders in Florida increased by over 25%. He also pointed out that the per-year number of ‘justifiable homicides’ in the five years of the passing of the law was triple the number of justifiable homicides in the five years before the passing. That’s sad. Stats like those should make anyone want to reconsider either the law or the police and legal system involved in this. Also I liked how he referenced the mentality of the state of Florida. That could have something to do with it!

Now onto the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin side of that law. It was February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon Martin had celebrated his 17th birthday three weeks earlier. He lived in Miami Gardens with his mother and brother. He was an A and B student at Dr. Michael Krop High School. However it didn’t stop him from succumbing to the typical peer pressures of a teen like spray-painting graffiti and owning a marijuana pipe. He was also suspected of burglary once because of police searching him and finding jewelry and a screwdriver. However no evidence was found against him and he was dismissed.

Born to a German-American father and a Peruvian mother, 28 year-old George Zimmerman was an insurance underwriter on his way to completing a degree in criminal justice at the time. He had been married for years and had just moved to The Retreat at Twin Lakes just three years earlier. The previous year he was part of a citizens forum and even protested the fatal beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white police officer. Zimmerman had a history of violence such as assaulting a police officer while intoxicated in 2005. That same year he was also charged with assaulting his ex-fiancée.

Then there’s the neighborhood of Twin Lakes. The Retreat is a gated 260-home community in Sanford. The community was racially mixed with almost half the population white with 23% Hispanic and 20% black. Both George Zimmerman and the fiancée of Trayvon Martin’s father rented homes in The Retreat. The Retreat however had an unsafe feel for many of the residents. From the beginning of 2011 up to the date of Trayvon’s shooting, there were eight burglaries, nine thefts and one shooting. Police received over 400 calls to The Retreat during that period of time, mostly for suspected burglaries. Twin Lakes decided to start a neighborhood watch in September of 2011 and Zimmerman was selected to be the program’s coordinator. During the six-month period Zimmerman, who has been licensed to own a gun since 2009, made seven calls to the non-emergency line to the police. The most recent was more than three weeks before the shooting

Then the evening of February 26, 2012 was the moment when all hell started to break loose. Martin was returning to his father’s fiancée after leaving a convenience store. Zimmerman was driving by on a personal errand. Zimmerman then called police about what looked like to be a ‘suspicious person’ in the neighborhood. Zimmerman observed that Martin was walking around homes with his hand in his waistband. Two minutes later he told the police martin was running. Zimmerman followed him but was told by police not to do so. He stopped and the call ended. However Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other again, things turned violent and that’s when Zimmerman drew out his shotgun and fatally shot Martin. The bombshell: all Martin had on him was a can of Arizona ice tea and a pack of Skittles.

It took weeks of court meetings and legal discussions before Zimmerman was finally arrested for second-degree murder. Zimmerman pleaded ‘not guilty’ due to self-defense. The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was not used by Zimmerman’s defense team during the trial but is part of the required Jury Instruction of all Florida murder trials. Zimmerman even requested a ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing but his defense elected to bypass it. Nevertheless Zimmerman was found not guilty.

I’m not going to deny that racial stereotyping may have something to do with the whole mess-up of justice but if it does, it’s not the only thing that is a mess-up. Just as much of a mess-up is the Florida self-defense laws like the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. In fact current Florida Governor Rick Scott responded to the heat of the highly-publicized news story by commissioning a 19-member task force to review that law just three weeks after the shooting. There were seven public hearing held all around Florida and there was a total of 11,000 comments from the public with three comments opposed to the law for every comment in support. Nevertheless the task force recommended against repealing the statute defending the use of self-defense. Several bills attempting to revise or repeal the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law since the task force have died before a committee hearing.

To sum it up, the shooting of Trayvon Martin was the result of a very paranoid person. George Zimmerman acted before he thought. He caused many alarms in the past and the shooting of Trayvon Martin tragically was his actions coming back to bite him. However a declaration of innocence would not be considered valid, except in the state of Florida. I’m confident in most other states, George Zimmerman would be found guilty and would receive a stiff sentence. They would see his shooting as a result of his paranoia rather than justifiable self-defense. Many people would believe that a black teenage boy in a hoodie is no excuse to panic and suspect crime in one’s area. However the jury in Florida thought otherwise. This is a failure of the law.

The Stand-Your-Ground law was already showing signs of the problem but were overlooked. The verdict of ‘innocent’ on George Zimmerman shows that the law cannot be overlooked any more. Not while someone like Trayvon Martin would be a victim of this. Will they revise the law, or bring it up for debate at the very least? Only time and the efforts of the state of Florida will tell.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Shooting Of Trayvon Martin. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trayvon_Martin#Trayvon_Martin>

Advertisements

Etan Patz Update: First Arrest Made

Etan Patz went missing exactly 33 years ago to this day.

Some of you may remember I did an article on Etan Patz about a month ago. It was as much a focus on how Etan’s abduction sure changed the meaning of childhood as it was about the failed attempt of finding the body. Who would have thought that an arrest would be made within a month? This could lead to the closure of the most famous missing child case in US history.

For the record, there have been no previous arrests in Etan Patz’s disappearance. Jose Ramos has always been considered the prime suspect and was even slapped a wrongful death lawsuit against Stan and Julie Patz, but was never charged criminally. The common reason was because there was no body to charge him. Last month’s investigation by the NYPD in excavating an apartment’s basement didn’t lead to the arrest of Othniel Miller because nothing was found.

Pedro Hernandez was arrested yesterday and charged with second-degree murder.

On May 24, 2012, an arrest was finally made in the Etan Patz case. His name is Pedro Hernandez. His confession comes as he is currently going through cancer. He’s 51 and a resident of Maple Shade, NJ but he was 18 at the time of Etan’s disappearance and worked a bodega just blocks from the Patz’s apartment. Hernandez has provided a written signed confession to the police that he lured the boy into the store with candy, strangling him, and putting the body in a box. He also claimed he put the box with the trash where it was later taken away. The NYPD have charged Hernandez with second-degree murder in the ‘online booking process.’ Hernandez is now in Bellevue Hospital where is under suicide watch.

One would ask why would this take a long time to happen? It’s been known that Hernandez is a schizophrenic with a long history of both audio and visual hallucinations. A brother-in-law described him as having a short fuse and ‘would get angry at nothing.’ His wife Rosemary even took out a restraining order against him once but allowed him to move back in recently. The big shocker is some of the clues leading to this. Family members have heard confessions from Hernandez as far back as 1981 that he ‘done a bad thing and killed a boy in New York City.’ It was even revealed that his name was in the original police file back in 1979. Back then, some of his co-workers were questioned but he wasn’t. Even when he did admit to police about killing Etan in the past, it was treated as suspicion as a hoax-call as there were so many at the time. It wasn’t until the heightened activity of last month that prompted a tip off leading to Hernandez finally being arrested.

This also brings into question the allegations of the other two accused suspects Jose Ramos and Othniel Miller. Ramos’ accusations could become touchy since the Patz parents won a wrongful death lawsuit against him in 2004. There were a lot of strong hints linking him to be the prime suspect like being the boyfriend of his babysitter at the time and even confessing in prison during an unrelated pedophilia case of ‘activity’ with him. Now with Hernandez being arrested, does that clear Ramos of Etan’s wrongful death? Future events and new leads should lead to the truth coming out once and for all about Etan’s disappearance.

It seems like a humorless irony that I should publish this update on what is National Missing Childrens Day and 33 years to the day Etan went missing. Nevertheless this is a ray of hope in getting the case solved and possibly the answers to a family of what happened to their Etan.

WORKS CITED:

Webster, Richard. “Pedro Hernandez Charged With The Murder of Etan Patz” San Francisco Examiner 24 May 2012. <http://www.examiner.com/article/pedro-hernandez-charged-with-the-murder-of-etan-patz>

Hughes, Mark. “Etan Patz killing: Pedro Hernandez ‘had a long history of hallucinations’” The Daily Telegraph 26 May 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9291650/Etan-Patz-killing-Pedro-Hernandez-had-a-long-history-of-hallucinations.html>

Little Boy Lost: Why Etan Patz Still Matters Today

Etan Patz, a 6 1/2 year-old NYC boy, left his apartment one morning in 1979 and was never seen again.

The news broke Thursday the 19th. New York police started searching the basement of an apartment that could have the buried body of Etan Patz: a 6 ½ year-old boy missing since 1979. The building was located on Prince St, the same street as the Patz family’s apartment. People who never knew the story behind this asked “Who is Etan Patz?” Those of us who have been around since it all happened either know the story all too well or felt the effects of it over time.

Friday May 25, 1979 started like any other day in the United States. By day’s end, there would be two events that would change things forever: the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 just outside of Chicago and the abduction of New York City child Etan Patz. The plane crash would be the deadliest air disaster in US history (outside the 9/11 attacks) for claiming 273 lives and would lead to changes in airline maintenance and would be the beginning of the end of the DC-10 aircraft. The abduction of Etan Patz would soon pave the way for stronger measures and procedures for dealing with missing children and would lead to many of the tougher laws and better, more immediate procedures that exist today.

Before Etan Patz, child abductions were not taken that seriously. Most were either thought of as runaways or kids that would eventually find their way home. Kidnapped children were originally thought of as only happening to children of rich parents where the abductor would demand ransom money for the child’s release. Even before Etan’s disappearance, an ugly truth of child abductions that was already happening was about to unravel. It all started that Friday morning. Etan Kalil Patz was a six-and-a-half year-old boy living in lower Manhattan, the middle child of Stanley and Julie Patz. Etan had always walked with his mother to the school bus stop but for months, he was begging to go alone because all of his friends were. He was given that landmark day that Friday. He woke up, got dressed, had breakfast, waved goodbye to his mother and then walk down the Prince St. apartment stairs to the bus stop two blocks away, alone for the first time. He was never seen again.

Immediately upon news of his disappearance, the police and media were in a rush. Stories abounded. His face was even shown on the nightly news. Stanley and Julie Patz soon became media figures. Etan’s story would become the hottest child kidnapping story since the Lindbergh Baby. Never before was the press and the police so immediate over a child kidnapping. Nevertheless stories would arise how some child kidnappings in the years before Etan, and some in the years after Etan, were not so lucky to receive prompt action from authorities or the press. The lack of resources and coordination between law enforcement and other government agencies left many parents of missing children frustrated. Even Julie Patz made mention in an interview two years after Etan’s disappearance that there were many children’s’ bodies in morgues being left unidentified.

Soon more news about child abductions came to the surface. There was the 1981 abduction of Florida six year-old Adam Walsh who’s severed head was found two weeks later. There were Oklahoma 13 year-olds Charlotte Kinsey and Cinda Pallett assigned to do a carnival job overnight in 1981 and never heard from. There was 12 year-old Iowa boy John Gosch who left home for his paper route in 1982 and was never seen again. Further names came about: 12 year-old Ann Gotlib from Kentucky, 14 year-old Elizabeth Ann Miller from Colorado, 16 year-old Maurice Jefferson from Florida, 9 year-old Taj Narbonne from Massachusetts, the list is endless. Better actions had to be done.

The subject of missing children soon became unavoidable. Each state had their own missing child cases to deal with. It even hit internationally in Canada and other countries. Over time, the subject of missing children would soon be a hot topic and better laws were enacted both in states and nationwide. In 1983, May 25th–the date of Etan’s disappearance–would be declared National Missing Children’s Day. The faces and descriptions of missing children would soon appear on milk cartons. Etan was the first. The FBI and various state police departments passed tougher laws and adopted better faster actions towards dealing with missing children. The National Center for Missing And Exploited Children was formed by the American Congress in 1984. Posters of missing children appeared at bus stations, border crossings and police stations. Local police would visit schools and teach children of the danger of strangers. Some would even give fingerprinting. Child identification programs that included fingerprinting and child identification files started up nationwide. Finally a problem that had been long ignored got its long overdue improvements and changes in procedures.

One thing about is his disappearance is that it sure has changed childhood and sure has changed parenting. With it came the loss of the essence of childhood. Parents were confronted with the fact they could no longer afford to give their children the carefree childhood they felt they deserved. They felt the need to hold on to their children tighter. Many newspaper writers have written editorials about how Etan Patz’s abduction changed everything. Before his abduction, monsters were seen by children as something of their imagination. Since the Patz abduction, today’s children know monsters exist in real life. Parenting has also changed. It makes it a lot harder for a parent to let go of their child, knowing that so many children go missing. You can guarantee that ever since Etan went missing, a child will have to wait longer than 6 ½ to walk alone to the school bus. A dark truth could no longer be avoided right there and then and remains unignorable today, especially with pedophiles now able to use the internet to lure kids.

PRIME SUSPECT: Jose Ramos

You can guarantee that in the years since Etan’s abduction, missing children has been taken seriously and continues to be taken seriously today Authorities are quick to act whenever a child goes missing. Awareness is immediate. Punishments are severe for the abductors. On the downside, it became apparent in the 90’s that potential abductors knew of the stricter measures and tougher precautions that were made against them. That caused many to find new and sneakier ways to abduct children, like the 1993 abduction of 13 year-old Polly Klaas at knifepoint in her own home and 9 year-old Amber Hagerman being yanked off her bike and immediately taken into a car. Those abductions and the finding of their bodies would lead to the creation of the Polly Klaas Foundation, Marc Klaas to lobby for tougher sentences for convicted felons, and the institution of the Amber Alert which alerts people through buses and on radio stations about sudden missing cases. There’s even a recent statistic out that today 99% of abducted children are found alive. Despite all these improvements and changes, it’s all too much too late for many missing children of years and even decades past, like Etan Patz.

Etan Patz was never found dead or alive. The case has never been closed, although there is a prime suspect. His name is Jose Antonio Ramos. In the late 1980’s, he started serving a 20-year prison sentence in Pennsylvania for sexually abusing a boy. In 1991 it was alerted to Stuart GraBois–Assistant United States Attorney who received the Patz case in 1985–from jailhouse informants that Ramos admitted involvement in the disappearance of Etan. Ramos was the boyfriend of Etan’s babysitter at the time of Etan’s disappearance. The Patz family had known for years that he may be involved but it wasn’t until then they were able to get any legal action. Further confessions led the Patz family to confront the fact in 1999 that Etan was dead. In 2001, Stanley and Julie Patz had Etan legally declared dead. In 2004, they won a wrongful death suit against Ramos for which they were to be awarded $2 million. One thing that could not be done is place a murder charge on Ramos. The District Attorney at the time, Robert Morgenthau, said a criminal indictment could not be sought because the body of Etan has never been found. Ramos is scheduled to be released from prison in November 2012. The Patzes fear he will continue to be a threat to children until he is unable to walk. Ever since he learned of Ramos’ confessions, Stan Patz sends Ramos a copy of Etan’s missing poster on Etan’s birthday and the anniversary of his abduction. On the backs, Stan has typed the question: “What have you done to my little boy?”

Potential Second Suspect: Othniel Miller

Despite the strong evidence against Ramos and the subsequent legal actions, the case continues to be unclosed. The fact that no body has been found has prevented a lot of justice from being done and the decades-old mystery from being solved. In May 25, 2010, the Etan Patz case was reopened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Since then, a second suspect has come to the attention: Othniel Miller. At the time of the Patz disappearance, Miller was a handyman who owned a workshop in a building near the apartment the Patzes resided in. His workshop doubled as a play room for small children. Recent revelations have come to light in recent years: one is from his ex-wife that he raped her 10 year-old niece; another is the fact that a fresh concrete floor was poured in his workshop the year after Etan’s Disappearance; another is Jose Ramos did odd jobs for Miller in the past.

Miller is now 75 and has suffered many strokes. He was very cooperative in talking with FBI agents for the past 30 years but denies any involvement with the Patz case. Then a cadaver dog was allowed to sniff in the basement and alerted a clue. There was the potential that Etan could be buried underneath the floor of concrete. Nevertheless cadaver dogs are known to be erroneous and can easily be distracted if they sniff out something as simple as a dinner. Despite the slim odds, Stanley Patz was content with the search as he believed something is better than nothing. The search began on Thursday the 19th. Concrete was excavated, cut, crushed and even analyzed for any possible forensic detail. There was a stain on the wall that came to the alert as a possible bloodstain. However the search for Etan in that apartment concluded on Sunday. There was not enough evidence. That small stain wouldn’t be enough to prove anything according to the NYPD because it’s quite possible it wasn’t a bloodstain at all. There was no body found underneath the basement floor. Even that claim against Miller is under question as his stepson claims he never raped his 10 year-old niece and would never hurt a child. For the record, Miller was never charged for it. Nevertheless the Etan Patz case remains opened. A mystery like this deserves to be solved.

Whether Etan Patz will ever be found or whether case will ever be closed or not is still a big question. There may be new evidence and new investigations anytime in the future. Nevertheless the recent search reminded the public of the importance of this case. It was the missing child case that led to the major changes and tougher procedures in policing and justice that exist today. It was also the case that made parents and children wake up to the potential dangers. It all started that Friday morning in Manhattan 33 years ago. Hard to believe the child whose case started it all has never been found.

UPDATE: For May 25th update, Click Here.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Disappearance Of Etan Patz. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Etan_Patz>

“Etan Patz: Search Ending With No Evidence Of 6 Year-Old Boy.” ABC News.go.com. 2012. ABC News. 23 April 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/US/etan-patz-search-ending-evidence-year-boy/story?id=16192599

For Further Reading:

Writer’s Editorial s from Yahoo:

http://news.yahoo.com/etan-patz-changed-generation-213000800.html

http://news.yahoo.com/nyc-boy-vanished-era-anxiety-born-181742158.html