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Ex-officer gets probation in rape trial after plea

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James Roberts, a former Huntington Beach Police Department officer, who was accused of sexually abusing his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, listened during opening statements of his trial in Santa Ana. His trial ended abruptly Tuesday with majority of the charges against him dismissed.
EUGENE GARCIA, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA – The trial of a former Huntington Beach police officer accused of sexually and physically abusing his ex-wife and former girlfriend ended abruptly Tuesday with most of the charges dismissed.

James Roberts, 36, was charged with 20 felony counts, including rape, sodomy by force, criminal threats, false imprisonment and aggravated assault. If convicted, he faced life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Instead, he pleaded guilty before Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue to felony vandalism and one count of misdemeanor domestic battery with corporal injury, which together carry a maximum term of four years in prison. Donahue, who had let the jury go home early Tuesday afternoon so the lawyers could work out an agreement, suspended the prison term, ordering Roberts to serve five years of probation and meet conditions that include completion of a 52-week batterers-treatment program.

The plea agreement between the prosecutor and the defense came after several days of testimony, including that of Roberts’ former wife, who had been on the stand about a day and a half.

County Deputy District Attorney John Christl told Donahue that he could not prove the remaining counts beyond a reasonable doubt.

“(After a) review of the evidence and the testimony elicited in the course of the trial, the prosecution feels we have proof problems, and we are unable to proceed,” Christl said afterward.

As he left the courthouse with Roberts, defense attorney John Barnett said the resolution reached was fair “after all the evidence was laid out.”

Roberts “is relieved to put the prosecution and the potential exposure behind him,” Barnett said.

Roberts’ former wife made a tearful plea to Donahue before the sentencing, saying that she “strongly disagreed” with the plea and that the two domestic-violence counts should have remained felonies. Another domestic-battery charge was among those dismissed.

“What James has done to our son has been extremely damaging,” she said, urging Roberts get counseling and apologize to her, their son and her family.

Donahue will dismiss the jury Wednesday.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By VIK JOLLY/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

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Bible club sues district over after-school meeting fees

The Buena Park School District has been targeted in a lawsuit that says school officials acted improperly when they refused to let a religion-themed organization meet on district property for free last year.

The suit says the district wanted to charge the Child Evangelism Fellowship more than $4,300 to hold a series of after-school meetings at Beatty Elementary School, while other organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, can use district facilities for free.

Monday afternoon, District Superintendent Greg Magnuson would not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday morning in federal court in Los Angeles.

“Haven’t seen the lawsuit,” Magnuson said.

The group holds meetings without an issue in other school districts throughout California, said David French, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice. The ACLJ lists its mission as giving legal advice and fighting in court as part of a “desire to protect our religious and constitutional freedoms.”

The Child Evangelism Fellowship of Southern California describes itself on its website as “a Bible-centered, worldwide organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, disciple them in the word of God and establish them in a Bible-believing church for Christian living.”

The lawsuit says the group’s after-school programs include lessons from the Bible, songs and memorization of Bible verses, but “CEF does not categorize or describe its Good News Club activities as religious worship services.”

French said under California code, a district is required to charge entities to use school facilities when they hold religious services. However, he added, the district does not have the authority to decide whether the group’s gatherings are religious.

“Not every single meeting of a religious club is a religious service,” French said. “It’s not the state’s business to start diving into how many prayers there are, how many songs there are.”

The lawsuit does not ask for damages from the district, French said, only that the group be allowed to hold after-school meetings for free.

In 2008, the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District changed policies to allow clubs of all sorts to form. Earlier that year, officials would not allow the formation of a Bible club on campus, an issue that also found its way to federal court.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By MICHAEL MELLO/ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

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Mother gets 15 years to life for killing, dumping newborn

Article Tab: valencia-booking-juana-muSANTA ANA – She was the baby with no name, a child who an Orange County jury found was killed by her mother immediately after a secret birth.

For two years, the body of the girl born at 6.3 pounds, 17 inches, sat in a morgue. And, for almost as long, Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh hung her picture among other photographs of victims at his office from cases he has prosecuted.

He also gave baby Jane Doe a name: Precious.

“There are cases that test your view of humanity and nothing comes close to this case,” the longtime prosecutor told Superior Court Judge Carla Singer on Friday during the sentencing of Juana Perez Valencia, 21, who wept as he spoke.

“It killed me that the only person who was thinking about (the baby) was me. This defendant never had any thoughts about this victim. I hope the day will come when she comes to terms with this,” Baytieh said.

On Friday, Singer sentenced Valencia to 15 years to life in state prison for the murder of her daughter. She said Valencia knew she was pregnant, several people offered to help with the pregnancy, and she knew about the resources available to deal with it.

“I still don’t know how this could have happened,” Singer told Valencia. “It was obvious to everyone, including your sister, that you were pregnant.”

An Orange County jury in September found the Anaheim woman guilty of second-degree murder for suffocating the newborn and discarding her in a restaurant trash bin shortly after birth. The jury also convicted Valencia of felony assault on a child with force likely to produce great bodily injury resulting in death, a charge that Singer set aside Friday, saying it was in the interest of justice.

“Even though (the baby) lived for a short period of time, she suffered immeasurable harm” at the hands of someone who was instinctively supposed to protect and nurture her, Baytieh told Singer. Valencia “held the baby in her arms and she murdered the baby. She deserved better.”

On Dec. 22, 2009, Valencia, 19 at the time, gave birth to the baby girl in a restroom at Sombrero’s, a Mexican restaurant in Stanton, where she worked as a food server.

Her defense attorney described Valencia as a “naive, inexperienced girl,” contending that she inadvertently suffocated the newborn while giving birth to her unassisted, not afterward.

“Humans are imperfect and sometimes we’re going to have imperfect results,” attorney Calvin Schneider told the judge at sentencing.

“So I am seeking justice in the sentence,” he said, asking for probation for Valencia. She apologized to the judge.

“I’d like to say I feel very bad and for you to forgive me for what I did,” the woman said through a Spanish-language interpreter. “I am sorry for everything.”

Source: www.ocregister.com

By VIK JOLLY/ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

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Day 52: Popular three-time elected sheriff convicted of witness tampering

bcarona2007: Former Sheriff Mike Carona, Orange County’s top law enforcement official, was indicted in October 2007, tried and convicted of federal witness tampering charges after he was secretly tape-recorded by FBI agents trying to convince former assistant sheriff and wealthy political benefactor Don Haidl to withhold potentially damaging information about gifts and donations.

Carona cried when he was found not guilty of five of six public corruption charges, and claims he didn’t hear the word “guilty” on the sixth. U.S District Court Judge Andrew Guilford chastised Carona for his exuberant celebration of the not guilty verdicts while not realizing the seriousness of the single felony conviction.

Guilford sentenced Carona to 66 months in federal prison. The former top cop of Orange County remains free on bail pending the outcome of his appeal.

Pictured above: Sitting in his office among a large collection of memorabilia gained from his law enforcement career, Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona, answers questions about his resignation and pending trial in this 2008 file photo by Bruce Chambers.

Posted in: Criminal cases

Source: www.ocregister.com

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Parents accused of planting drugs plead not guilty

Article Tab: Kent Wycliffe Easter, of Irvine, right and wife Jill Bjorkholm Easter appear in Superior Court for their arraignment hearing on charges related to the illegal planting of drugs. SANTA ANA – An Irvine couple accused of planting drugs in the car of an unsuspecting school volunteer who they thought was not properly supervising their son pleaded not guilty Monday.

Kent Wycliffe Easter, 38, and Jill Bjorkholm Easter, 39, are charged with conspiracy to procure the false arrest of the elementary-school parent volunteer, false imprisonment, and conspiracy to falsely report a crime; they are all felony charges. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm set an Oct. 12 pretrial date for the Easters, who themselves are attorneys. The Easters’ attorneys declined to comment.

Separate from the criminal prosecution, Kelli Peters, the volunteer at Irvine’s Plaza Vista School, has filed a civil lawsuit against the Easters claiming she and her family have endured a nightmare since she was detained by police in February 2011 after being falsely accused of using illegal drugs, phony accusations stemming from an “evil conspiracy” by the Easters.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By VIK JOLLY   / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

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Gay youths plan protest against Chick-fil-A

Article Tab: Chick-fil-A in Yorba Linda.A local gay and lesbian youth group is planning a protest at the new Chick-fil-A restaurant in Laguna Hills when it opens early Thursday, a response to recent statements by the company’s chief executive supporting “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

In an interview posted July 2 with Chick-fil-A CEO and President Dan Cathy about the company’s Christian roots, Bibilical Recorder editor K. Allan Blume wrote: “Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family.”

“Well, guilty as charged,” Cathy said. “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

“We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families – some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” he said.

“We intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

The statements received national attention, even leading Muppets creator the Jim Henson Co. to sever ties with the restaurant. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee also has weighed in, supporting Cathy. Locally, Cathy’s comments prompted discussion among members of Youth Empowered to Act, a group with The Center Orange County, which advocates for the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The youth group decided Chick-fil-A’s latest Orange County restaurant opening would be “the perfect time and place to bring attention to the discriminatory policies and beliefs of Chick-fil-A,” executive director Kevin O’Grady said.

About 20 members of the group, made up of local high school seniors, recent graduates and a handful of college students, are expected to participate, he said.

“The purpose of the protest is to use this opportunity to help educate consumers about where the charitable arm of this corporation sends its money,” youth program director Laura Kanter said. “We want to alert consumers that if they’re spending their money at Chick-fil-A, some of that money can be spent against LGBT people and their families.”

Kanter noted donations to organizations such as the Family Research Council by WinShape Foundation, a nonprofit charity started in 1984 by Cathy’s parents, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy and his wife, Jeannette.

In 2010, WinShape received $20.34 million in contributions and gifts, according to IRS records. The main contributors were Chick-fil-A Inc. with $8.06 million and CFA Properties Inc. with $11.5 million.

About $14 million went toward WinShape programs such as camps, foster homes and retreats. Another $3.84 million was contributed primarily to Christian organizations such as Marriage and Family Foundation, which received $1.18 million, and Family Research Council, which received $1,000.

Family Research Council, “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large,” according to its website.

Marriage and Family Foundation, whose chairman is Chick-fil-A senior vice president Donald Cathy, gave grants totaling $639,000 to six organizations that support strong traditional marriages and families.

Despite Dan Cathy’s comments, Chick-fil-A officials said the company’s intent is “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

“The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender,” Donald Perry, vice president of corporate public relations, said in a statement.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By CHRIS BOUCLY / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

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John Riccardi, Murderer Of Connie Navarro, Sue Jory, Will Not Receive Death Penalty

John RiccardiSAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court on Monday tossed out the death sentence of a man convicted of murdering rock guitarist Dave Navarro’s mother and her friend nearly 30 years ago – a ruling that could affect the cases of Scott Peterson and other death row inmates.

The unanimous court said the trial judge presiding over the trial of John Riccardi improperly dismissed a prospective juror because of her conflicting written responses in a questionnaire asking her views of the death penalty.

The court said the judge was required to delve deeper into the juror’s death penalty views and determine if she could impose the death sentence is she believed prosecutors proved their case.

Peterson and a few other California death row inmates are appealing on similar grounds.

Peterson was convicted of killing his wife Laci, who was 8 months pregnant with their son, and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002. Investigators believe Peterson either strangled or suffocated his wife.

Peterson has always maintained his innocence and claims in his appeal filed earlier this month that the trial judge presiding over his 2004 trial wrongly dismissed 13 jurors who said they opposed the death penalty but could follow the law and impose it if warranted.

In 1984, a narrowly divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that reversal of the death penalty is automatic when potential jurors are dismissed because of their written answers to questions about their views on capital punishment.

Peterson’s attorney Cliff Gardner argued in his appeal that the mistake occurred in the Peterson trial and may be the basis of appeals of a few other death row inmates.

The last California execution occurred in 2006. Lawsuits in federal and state courts have forced a temporary halt to executions.

In its ruling Monday, the state high court upheld Riccardi’s murder conviction. Once a noted body builder, he was convicted of killing former girlfriend Connie Navarro in a jealous rage. Her friend Sue Jory also was killed. Navarro’s son played guitar for the band “Jane’s Addiction.”

It’s now up the California attorney general to determine if another penalty phase will be held or if Riccardi is taken off death row and sentenced to life in prison.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said that ruling “compels the reversal of the penalty phase without any inquiry as to whether the error actually” led to an unfair trial. The chief justice wrote separately to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the automatic reversal in such cases.

The juror in question, identified only by the initials “N.K.” in the ruling, wrote on the questionnaire that she supported California’s reinstatement of the death penalty and stated that it is not used enough.

But later in the questionnaire, the juror gave answers that suggest she opposes capital punishment.

“I’m afraid I could not feel right in imposing the death penalty on someone even though I feel it is nessasary (sic) under some circumstances,” N.K. wrote.

Cantil-Sakauye wrote that the trial court judge should have questioned her more instead of dismissing her as he did.

The chief justice said the juror’s conflicting answers meant either she “feared that actually being on a death jury would be difficult or uncomfortable, or she was advising the court that she could not impose a decision of death, even if the evidence warranted its application. From the questionnaire alone, we cannot possibly determine which scenario prompted her answers.”

Riccardi was arrested in Houston eight years after the killings when “America’s Most Wanted” aired a segment on the 1983 crime. A tipster recognized him and alerted authorities.

By PAUL ELIAS

Source: www.huffingtonpost.com

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Man impersonating pastor faces sex charges

Article Tab: Oscar Perez PerezSANTA ANA – Opening statements are expected Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of representing himself as a pastor at a Laguna Hills church and sexually assaulting two boys during sleepovers at his home.

Oscar Perez, 69, faces more than two dozen counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor and lewd acts upon a child age 14 or 15, and life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors accuse Perez of molesting the boys, both about 11 years old, at his Lake Forest home. A second victim was discovered after the mother of the first reported a July 1, 2011, sexual assault to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Perez is accused of kissing the victim on the mouth and rubbing the boy under his clothes.

A subsequent investigation found that between January 2008 and September 2011, Perez rubbed the second. Perez is accused of waking the boy during a sleepover at his apartment by sodomizing him, the D.A.’s office said.

Perez, who was arrested in September, represented himself as a Catholic and Apostolic pastor and bishop at Iglesia Antigua, a church that rented space at an Episcopal church in Laguna Hills, according to prosecutors.

Spokesmen for the Episcopal and Roman Catholic dioceses said his church was not affiliated with them.

 

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Arizona Immigration Law Ruling: Supreme Court Delivers Split Decision

source huffingtonpostWASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a split decision in the Obama administration’s challenge to Arizona’s aggressive immigration law, striking multiple provisions but upholding the “papers please” provision. Civil rights groups argue the latter measure, a centerpiece of S.B. 1070, invites racial profiling.

Monday’s decision on “papers please” — Section 2(B) in S.B. 1070 — rested on the more technical issue of whether the law unconstitutionally invaded the federal government’s exclusive prerogative to set immigration policy. The justices found that it was not clear whether Arizona was supplanting or supporting federal policy by requiring state law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone stopped, detained or arrested in the state who officers reasonably suspect is in the country without authorization. The provision that was upheld — at least for now — also commands police to check all arrestees’ immigration status with the federal government before they are released.

“The nature and timing of this case counsel caution in evaluating the validity of [Section] 2(B),” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy on behalf of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, noting that the law has not yet gone into effect. Because “[t]here is a basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced,” the majority chose to allow the law to go forward, but made clear that “[t]his opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”

Indeed, such constitutional suits are already proceeding against Arizona’s “papers please” policy. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton heard argumentson whether to certify a class of what could be hundreds of thousands of individuals now trying to bring equal protection, free speech and due process challenges to S.B. 1070.

While Arizona succeeded on Section 2(B), the Supreme Court gave the Obama administration a victory by striking three other challenged provisions as stepping on federal prerogatives. Two of the provisions made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to be present and to seek employment in Arizona, while a third authorized police officers to make warrantless arrests of anyone they had probable cause to believe had committed a deportable offense.

“The history of the United States is in part made of the stories, talents and lasting contributions of those who crossed oceans and deserts to come here,” Kennedy wrote. “The National Government has significant power to regulate immigration. With power comes responsibility, and the sound exercise of national power over immigration depends on the Nation’s meeting its responsibility to base its laws on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse. Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

Justice Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito each wrote separately to say they would have upheld all four of S.B. 1070′s challenged provisions.

Delivering a fiery oral summary of his dissent before a full courtroom, Scalia said that Arizona’s own sovereignty as a state makes it “entitled to impose additional penalties and consequences for violations of the federal immigration laws, because it is entitled to have its own immigration laws.”

In addition, Scalia cited the Obama administration’s recent decision to stop deporting certain undocumented immigrants under 30 years old as a policy change that defies the administration’s argument that S.B. 1070 eats up the federal government’s scarce resources. “The husbanding of scarce enforcement resources can hardly be the justification for this [policy change], since those resources will be eaten up by the considerable administrative cost of conducting the nonenforcement program, which will require as many as 1.4 million background checks and biennial rulings on requests for dispensation,” said Scalia, referring to the number of undocumented immigrants estimated to benefit from the secretary of homeland security’s announcement on June 15.

“The President has said that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’s failure to pass the Administration’s proposed revision of the immigration laws. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so,” said Scalia. “But to say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal immigration law that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.”

Beyond the Grand Canyon State, lawmakers in Utah, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina will be parsing the Supreme Court’s decision to see how their Arizona-style immigration statutes will be affected.

Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in Arizona v. United States, presumably because she worked on the case during her tenure as President Barack Obama’s first solicitor general.

Erin Mershon contributed to this report.

Source: www.huffingtonpost

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Manson follower says tapes won’t reveal murder clues

Charles Tex WatsonOne of Charles Manson’s key followers saysrecordings of him and an attorney made decades ago do not shed new light on the infamous cult murders.

Charles “Tex” Watson has filed a motion with a Texas bankruptcy court asking a judge to allow detectives to listen to — but not take — the tapes. In the motion, Watson says he did not discuss additional unsolved cases as police assert.

Among Manson murder experts, there is much debate about what new revelations the Watson tapes might yield. At least three deaths have been considered as possible murders by those involved in the Manson investigations.

Watson is serving a life term in connection with the Manson killings at a state prison in Ione.

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Texas last month granted a request from the Los Angeles Police Department to review eight cassette tapes containing hours of conversations between Watson and his late attorney after the LAPD argued it may shed light on unsolved murderers. The lawyer made the recordings while interviewing Watson after he and other Manson family members had been arrested in 1969.

But in a motion filed June 7, Watson requested that the judge “revise” her order and direct a bankruptcy trustee that “all the recordings” be listened to by the LAPD and not turned over to the detectives but also denies they will provide any such information on extra murders.

“In the LAPD’s letter to the Trustee…the Chief states: ‘THE LAPD has information that Mr. Watson discussed additional unsolved murders committed by the followers of Charles Manson.’ If this be so, and it is not. the request of the LAPD can be satisfied by listening the Tapes without taking possession of them LAPD,” Watson wrote.

Watson said the LAPD does not know what is on the tapes and he and his late attorney Bill Boyd are the only ones with knowledge of the tapes’ contents.  “In the eyes of justice, I am fully willing for the LAPD to listen to the tapes to satisfy their investigation.” Watson wrote that he feared it would further hurt the victims’ families.

In the motion he asserts that he did not waive attorney-client privilege and that the tapes should not be turned over to the LAPD “because they are not a Creditor to my late lawyer Bill Boyd. God rest his soul.” Watson added that the court and parties did not consider “repercussions of the motion.”

Watson is serving a life sentence for his role in killing actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and four others at her Hollywood Hills home on Aug. 9, 1969. The next night, Watson and other Manson family members killed grocery store owners Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Watson was given the death penalty but that sentence was commuted to life. A parole board rejected his release last November from Mule Creek State Prison. Detectives had until now not been able to get the tapes, but Watson’s attorney died in 2009 and the law firm filed for bankruptcy.

No one knows what’s on the tapes, but they possibly represent the first new clues concerning the Manson murders in years. That was enough for the LAPD to take another look at the case, and it has Manson scholars excited about the possibilities.

“Do we expect to find something in the recordings? We just don’t know,” said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith. “But we’re going to check just like any good investigator would.”

 

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