Posts Tagged ‘Sensationalized Trials’

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that Jodi Arias, 34, who is serving a life without parole sentence for the murder of Travis Alexander, must pay $32,000 in restitution to Alexander’s siblings for their travel expenses to attend the trial.  It is possible for Arias, if allowed or offered as each prison’s policies and programs are different, to obtain a job while in prison that will pay just a few cents to a few dollars a day.

However, there are questions about donations that supporters, trial watchers, and others gave to the family specifically to pay for these expenses, including lodging.  Others donated to promote the legacy of Travis Alexander and for discretionary spending.

The family had asked for about $96,000.  Most of the siblings lived in California, the trial took place in Arizona.

Jennifer Willmott, one of Arias’ defense attorneys during the trial, reviewed the receipts submitted by the family to come to the amount awarded.  Willmott requested that the family disclose the amount of donations received by supporters.  The family declined to publicly reveal the amount.

The family did not attend any restitution proceedings.  Sky Hughes, described as a family friend, told HLN in the summer of 2013 after Arias was convicted, but before she was sentenced that the Alexander siblings have been able to use donated money to pay for their expenses during the trial.

“Any money left over after travel and trial expenses are paid for, will go to pay for any counseling, medical needs and other needs that will help the Alexander family,” said Hughes, “All funds donated to the Travis Alexander Legacy Fund are the property of the Alexander family, and are to be used by the Alexander Family as they deem appropriate.”

Judge Sherry Stephens awarded Samantha Alexander $15,530.73, Tanisha Sorenson $10,754.99, Hilary Wilcox $4,232.11, Stephen Alexander $1,372, and Dennis Alexander $225.60.

Arias and Alexander were in an on-again-off-again toxic relationship, that some have said bordered on abusive, which culminated in Alexander’s death.  Alexander was found dead in the shower of his Mesa, AZ home in the summer of 2008.  Arias was convicted of 1st degree murder in 2013 in a very sensationalized circus of a trial that made celebrities out of Arias and the prosecutor Juan Martinez.  The original jury could not agree on an appropriate sentence, so a second jury was impaneled in October of 2014.  They also could not agree on an appropriate sentence.  Under Arizona law, prosecutors get two chances, if they so choose, to try to get a defendant who is charged with a capital crime the death penalty.  Judge Stephens opted to sentence Arias to natural life (life without the possibility of parole).


UPDATE:  10/24/2015

Defense attorneys for accused teen Philip Chism argue that his right to a fair trial has been “poisoned” by extensive sensational news coverage not only of the charges against him, but of the memorials and tributes to the victim, Colleen Ritzer.  This Tuesday, a hearing will be held on the change of venue motion.

Chism, now 16, faces a murder, rape, and robbery trial in October.  He is accused of attacking and killing his math teacher, 24-year-old Ritzer on October 22, 2013.  Attached to the motion are some 500 pages, as well as DVDs, of news reports on the case.  His lawyers Denise Regan, Susan Oker, and John Osler wrote in their motion, “The sustained coverage of the lengthy hearings on the defendant’s motion to suppress has insured that a large number of residents of Essex County know that [there was an unconstitutional questioning of] Philip Chism [which led to a confession]…There is little chance of a fair trial where the fact that the defendant has confessed is widely known.”

The lawyers argue since the confession was deemed unlawful by the court selecting jurors who have been exposed to the confession heavily makes the overall exposure to media reports even worse for the area.  The motion also accuses North of Boston Media Group papers, including the Salem News and the Eagle Tribune of having “disparaged” the defense in biased coverage and having inaccurate “inflammatory” stories.  The defense also points to the fact that the alleged victim was widely beloved in the community and that her tributes and memorials have been just as widely covered.

“Even if a resident received no information directly from the media, it is unlikely that he or she would not have heard of the death of Ms. Ritzer, given the number and size of events to honor and remember her through[out] Essex County.”

The defense names several examples including the moment of silence at the 2013 World series and the Step Up for Colleen race, in which 5,000 people took part.

“Given the strong emotional feeling such efforts invoke, Essex County residents likely possess a bias…”

The prosecution has not yet filed its response.

The defense lawyers also wrote in their motion that while other high-profile trials like that of Patriots player Aaron Hernandez were not moved, others have been especially where the crime was deemed “shocking or repellent”. The last time an Essex County judge moved a trial due to pretrial publicity was 14 years ago when serial child molester Christopher Reardon’s trial was moved to Hampshire County.  The trial never actually occurred because Reardon pled guilty and received a sentence of 40 to 50 years in prison.

Almost from the beginning, it was suspected that Jose Ramos, a convicted sexual abuser who was the friend of Etan Patz’s babysitter, was the killer.  He was a prime suspect for nearly two decades.

So, how did a bodega worker suddenly become charged with the crime?

Ramos was known to lure young boys to sexually abuse them.  Police officers found photographs in Ramos’ possession of other boys that looked like Etan Patz. Ramos told an Assistant U.S. Attorney in 1990 that he took a boy back to his apartment to “rape” him and he was “90% sure” it was Etan Patz. Ramos never used Patz’s name and claimed that he did not kill the boy; he put him on a “subway” train.  While Ramos was incarcerated in Pennsylvania on an unrelated molestation case, another inmate told the federal authorities that Ramos knew what happened to Patz and that Ramos drew a map for him that showed Patz’s bus route.

Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979 while walking home from the school bus stop. Etan Patz became known as the Boy on the Milk Carton because his disappearance sparked the national effort to put photos of missing children on milk cartons. He is one of the U.S.’ most notorious missing child cases and May 25 is still National Missing Children’s Day.  His body was never found.

Patz was declared legally dead in 2001. Ramos has denied involvement in Patz’s disappearance.  Ramos served a 20-year prison term in the State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania for child molestation. He was arrested immediately upon release in 2012 for a Megan’s Law violation.

Ironically, the same year Ramos was released from prison an anonymous tipster pointed authorities toward Pedro Hernandez. A man they never suspected.  After being questioned by police, Hernandez confessed, 4 times.

The case lacked all evidence – no witnesses, no weapon, no body, and no forensics. All police have is a confession.  One of the biggest issues with the confession was that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder and a low IQ. He suffered often from delusions. In addition, he was known to abuse drugs.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said he intends to retry Pedro Hernandez, 54, for the high-profile case.

Hernandez was just 18 when Patz went missing. He was a bodega clerk in the neighborhood. During his confessions, he said that he “grabbed him by the neck and started to choke him”. “It was like something took over me and, I don’t know, something just took over me and I choked him…”  In the confessions, Hernandez said he put Patz’s body in a box and left it to be taken with the garbage.

The notorious case became a little more so when the trial ended without a verdict and then everyone began pointing fingers.

The case lasted 4 months and the jurors deliberated for 18 days, in which they deadlocked 3 times.  The lone holdout juror was Adam Sirois who defended his decision in the face of multiple attacks by the jury, the victim’s family, and the public.

Adam said he couldn’t get past beyond a reasonable doubt. He didn’t understand why jurors thought that a couple of inconsistent confessions and some witnesses who said that a man with a history of delusions and drug use confessed to them was overwhelming evidence.

“I couldn’t find enough evidence that wasn’t circumstantial…” Adam said.