Tag Archives: human-rights

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.

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.



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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.



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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.”



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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


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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.



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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.



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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.



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