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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

West Memphis 3 Freed -- August 20, 2011

Yesterday, three men were freed from an Arkansas prison by pleading guilty to the horrific murders of three 8-year-old boys in 1993. The plea agreement was unusual because while at the same time as formally entering guilty pleas, they also publicly maintained their innocence. The brutal triple murder created an enormous amount of publicity and led to a rush of judgement against the accused men who were deemed social misfits in the rural Christian town of West Memphis. After their convictions, the case continued to attract widespread attention due to an HBO movie, and a couple of books that were written questioning the evidence. A number of people, including celebrities, rallied to their defense. This outpouring of support and the possibility of a new trial from an appeal, led to the State's Attorney's office negotiating a cop- out. Finally, after 18 years, the men are free, and as I write this journal entry from my prison cell, I can in many respects identify with the recently released men.

On May 5, 1993, three 8-year-old boys were brutally murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. During the day, the boys had gone out together to ride their bikes and play. They never returned, and police, family, and many townsfolk went searching for them. The boys were eventually found dead in a gully of a wooded area. They were hog tied naked with their own shoe laces, and were apparently tortured and sodomized in a ritualistic killing. Graffiti discovered nearby depicted Satanic and other occult symbols. The Christian town was shocked and deeply incensed. They wanted justice, and they wanted it immediately. A lynch mob mentality developed and overcame the public.

The murders occurred seven days after my arrest, and I did not learn of the events that took place until much later. In the Chicagoland area there was nothing but news about the Brown's Chicken murders in Palatine, for which I was a prime suspect, thanks to my former roommate and his wife. Even if the boys' murders were mentioned in the Midwest, I was too preoccupied with my own possible indictment in multiple murders and with surviving at the very violent and gang-controlled Cook County Jail. My life had been catastrophically turned upside down, and other news stories were of no interest to me. It was not until a few years ago, I became acquainted with the case in West Memphis.

Although I did not see the initial media coverage of the boys' murders or the prosecution of the West Memphis 3, I can imagine what it was like. I was the focus of an enormous, emotionally-hyped media blitz after my arrest. Seven people had been brutally murdered at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine, Illinois. Not far away, a dismembered body was found in the woods of the affluent town of Barrington. The mass media was quick to try and convict me well before my trial ever began. Every day for weeks, local television news bombarded the public with sensationalistic, biased, and heavily prejudicial reporting. All the way up to my trial, the Palatine case was a major story. Hundreds of newspaper articles were published in the Chicago Tribune, SunTimes, and suburban Daily Herald that were often not much more objective than their TV counterparts. The news media was highly inflammatory and dependent on innuendo and questionable, or off the record, sources. Yesterday, I watched CNN's program "Presumed Guilty" about the West Memphis 3, and that title could as well have applied to myself.

Soon after the boys' bodies were found, West Memphis police went to speak with Damien Echols. It was understandable why local police would consider the 18-year-old outcast a suspect. He wore long black hair and dressed in all black clothes. He was a fan of heavy metal music and was gossiped to dabble in the occult. West Memphis was a town where people listened to country music, and attended church weekly. Other than Nashville, Tennessee, I can think of no other town known as a bastion of country music. Townsfolk were also highly religious, and at that time period, rebellious teens that found an affinity in Satanism or heavy metal were greatly mistrusted or even loathed. Damien Echols was a pre-Goth teen outcast. Just his name, Damien, probably drew suspicion. You did not want to be named Damien when a purported Satanic triple murder occurred in Memphis. Elvis was a good name to have, but not Damien, the Antichrist in the movie "The Omen."

Although Damien Echols seemed like an awkward nerd, was not athletic and, according to his own words, was "dirt poor," we shared similarities that would make us good scapegoats or fodder for the media. I also tended to wear black clothes often, and a couple of times I even dyed my then light brown hair black. The clothes I wore were usually much nicer than I saw Echols wear, and I also kept my long hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail. However, the effect at the preppy Lincoln Way High School in New Lenox was much the same. Some students, unbeknownst to me, would call me Satan behind my back.

Also, like Echols and his friends, I listened to heavy metal music. I noticed during Jason Baldwin's perp walk that he was wearing a Metallica T-shirt. I also had a couple of the metal band's T-shirts at one time. I only wore these shirts in 8th grade, and my first year of high school, but I know students at my former school recall me wearing them. The students and media who spoke with them probably did not know I also liked classical music. Furthermore, although I had long hair and was not religious, I was ultra-conservative. I did not read horror fiction such as Damien Echols supposedly read, but controversial right wing literature such as Friedrich Nietzsche. My politics were used just as effectively against me in the liberal dominated media. Fortunately, these matters could only be used to vilify me in the press, but were not permitted at my trial.

West Memphis police did not immediately arrest Damien Echols for the murders. It may have been an unsophisticated police department that was under tremendous pressure to make an arrest, but the police were not stupid. Police came to talk to Echols in a friendly manner. They asked him if, from his knowledge of the occult, he could possibly help them find the murderer. The 18-year-old was naive and cooperated, even letting police take a photo of him. He did not realize his conversation would later be used to incriminate him, nor did he know police would use his photo to show people around town. The townspeople had plenty to say about the odd teen and the police made them immediately aware he was a suspect.

Police also focused on the small group of misfits who were Echol's friends. When police questioned Jessie Misskelley, they got more than a lead. What he told them made police believe the crime was solved. Misskelley incredibly told authorities that he was an eyewitness to the murders. He claimed that their #1 suspect Damien Echols, and another friend of theirs, Jason Baldwin, beat, cut, sodomized, and ultimately killed the children. He also admitted to chasing down one of the boys when the boy got away from them, but he denied any participation otherwise.

Jessie Misskelley was a high school dropout who was only able to complete part of 9th grade. He had an IQ of 72, which made him only marginally smarter than a retarded boy. Not long after he made the statements to police, he retracted it all and said none of it was true. Apparently he only made his accusations and incriminations under duress. Crime scene analysis was particularly slow, but eventually the physical evidence did not match Misskelley's statements. However, none of this mattered to police or the State's Attorney's office. The prosecution was already fully committed to trying the town's repugnant outcasts. They were already thoroughly villainized by the media and the target of public hatred.

The statements of Misskelley somewhat reminded me of those of a former roomate of mine, Robert Faraci. No, he was not retarded, but he would also claim to have witnessed a mutual friend and I commit a murder in Barrington. He also told police he had knowledge that I and yet another man committed the Palatine massacre. His statements were inconsistent and at times when confronted with his lies, he would retract them. My co-defendant enabled police to find evidence undiscovered at the Barrington murder cite, however, much of what he said did not make any sense. Later, after he and I were indicted for murder and the prosecution was preparing for trial, his wife Rose spoke to police again. This time she confessed that all she and her husband said about me were lies intended to keep him from going back to prison. However, none of this mattered to police or the prosecutor. Like the West Memphis 3, they were committed and there was no turning back or ever admitting fault. Instead, the prosecutor simply altered his strategy and used the full resources of the state to convict me under a theory of accountability, even if it only hinged on me allegedly lending my vehicle.

In 1994, Jessie Misskelley was tried for the boys' murders. His defense lawyers argued that Jessie was marginally retarded and his statements could not be considered credible. He was scared, confused, and manipulated. He also retracted his confession not long afterwards and the evidence did not agree with what he said. The jury disagreed, and quickly convicted him. He was sentenced to natural life without the possibility of parole.

Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin were tried after Misskelley's conviction. The prosecution was not able to use the statements of Misskelley, however, and instead had to rely on dubious inferences of their guilt and the jurors' emotions for the most part. A knife that was located in a lake nearby Baldwin's residence was claimed to be the murder weapon, although little demonstrated it was used and no connection could be made to the defendants. An alleged expert in the occult was allowed to testify. He concluded the murders were ritualistic and done on the day of the full moon. He also testified that Devil worshipers were known to dress in black. Evidence of Echols self-professed knowledge of the occult and his reading of horror novels like that authored by Stephen King were introduced. The teenagers' penchant for listening to heavy metal music was also incredibly allowed. The strongest evidence was a couple of teens who claimed Echols bragged about the murders and a jailhouse detainee of questionable credibility said Baldwin admitted involvement. However, one of these people have since said they lied, and another has been discredited.

After the convictions, the public seemed satisfied that justice had been done. However after an HBO movie called "Paradise Lost" came out about the case, many began to question the guilt of the Memphis 3. Some very well-known celebrities began to speak out and lobby on behalf of them. Actor Johnny Depp, Wyonna Ryder, and musician Natalie Main, from the pop country music band, Dixie Chicks, were among their supporters. It was unusual that those people were trying to help the convicted child killers, and they were brought on the Larry King Show. I watched the program and speculated possibly "Edward Scissor Hands" could identify with the outcasts who were wrongfully convicted. I cite "Edward Scissor Hands" not only because of its relation to the movie, but also because when Johnny Depp toured through Stateville a few years ago during the filming of "Dillinger," many prisoners yelled at him: "Scissor Hands!" I only caught a glimpse of the actor as he walked by, but I will always remember the shouts of inmates.

While watching the CNN show "Presumed Guilty: Murder in West Memphis," I saw the mother of Stevie Branch, one of the murdered boys. She said she originally wanted to kill the teenagers accused of killing her son and was glad Damien Echols received the death penalty. However, as the years went by, she began to have her doubts. She now believes they are innocent and supported their release.

It is very odd not only to have celebrities supporting a murder convict, but to also have the support of the victim's family. The victim's family is almost always completely convinced of what the prosecutor tells them. They are also so emotionally invested and cannot be objective. They want justice so badly for their loved one. At my own death sentence hearing, I got to listen to the parents of Dean Fawcett. They told the judge they wanted me executed. There is nothing you can say or do to sway their opinion or make them feel better. In my final statement before the court, I simply said I could understand their anger, but I was not the one it should be directed at.

On appeal, Damien Echols was represented by Dennis Reardon. He said he normally did not take death penalty cases because usually the state had insurmountable evidence and conclusive proof that a defendant was guilty. Possibly, this is the norm in Arkansas, but on Illinois' death row numerous people have been exonerated before the death penalty was eliminated. Anyway, Reardon thought the evidence against Echols was very flimsy. He filed a motion to have a hair found on one of the shoelaces that bound a boy tested for DNA. The original trial judge denied the motion. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower court to reconsider. The tests showed the hair did not belong to any of the West Memphis 3.

Personally, I do not think a non match decisively proved anything. Hairs can easily be transferred by anyone who lived or had contact with the boy or things the boy touched. On the CNN program, it was mentioned the hair could possibly belong to the boy's stepfather. Although it, along with the discrediting of former witnesses, was certainly enough to warrant an evidentiary hearing where a judge could order new trials.

Gaining an evidentiary hearing on a post conviction appeal is what many prisoners dream of, including myself. The process of gaining an evidentiary hearing is extremely difficult, but once it is granted, a mini trial is conducted on actual innocence claims. A man who lives in a cell next to mine was on television news recently because he had an evidentiary hearing and the judge is now deciding whether to grant him a new trial. A witness to the murder recanted their testimony, and the prosecution is already talking to his lawyers about a plea agreement that will set him free. Another man upstairs in my cell house has already been offered a settlement of 20 years. He is considering the deal which will free him in a few years.

In the case of the West Memphis 3, they were offered a plea agreement even before the evidentiary hearing occurred. This was unusual, as were the terms. In exchange for their guilty pleas, they would be released with a 10-year suspended sentence. This means if any one of them commits a crime during this period of time, they can be made to serve 10 years in prison. It is almost like an extended parole.

I was listening to WLS talk radio yesterday when I first heard about the plea agreement. They only gave a brief news soundbite, so I turned on my TV for more details. I saw the West Memphis 3 at a news conference. The men, now in their mid-30's, look much older. I was struck by how much they had aged in prison and thought I must look the same. We have all spent over half our lives in prison and all of our adult lives. Although they were being released, they did not look happy, and I did not see anything joyous in the occasion. Someone in the media claimed it was a win-win proposition because prosecutors did not have to admit any fault and the defendants could go free. However, I did not see it that way, and by the look on the wrongfully convicted men, they seemed to share that sentiment. The West Memphis 3 may be free today, but they are far from being winners.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Defending a Monster" and Condemning the Innocent -- 8/12/11

While I was listening to WLS talk radio earlier today, I heard an advertisement for the Roe and Roeper show. They were going to have on a man who helped defend John Wayne Gacy. He had written a book called "Defending a Monster." The name was not mentioned, but I knew it was Samuel Amirante, the same person who presided over my trial and condemned me to spend the rest of my life in prison.

Before I heard the advertisement, a woman I know told me Sam Amirante had written a book attempting to capitalize on his representation of the serial killer. She is studying to be a paralegal and is often on top of legal news. She also happened to run into Amirante at the Rolling Meadows court house recently. He was not promoting his book but standing in line behind her to file a legal document of some sort. I asked her if she asked him for an autograph, and she said, "No. Why?" as if I was being serious. Thereafter though, I was serious, and asked, "Why didn't you say anything to the man who is responsible in part for my conviction, and in totality for my suffering of 18 years?" She did not think there was anything to say to him. She will yell at court security for harrassing an old woman for setting off the metal detector, but not to the man who has given me a slow death sentence.

I did not think the book "Defending a Monster" would be successfully sold. There are so many other true crime books that have been written about John Wayne Gacy and his numerous murders. His would be one of many, and I sensed he was not a compelling writer. The murders occurred about four decades ago, and there have been many other sensationalistic cases since. However, after hearing the advertisement on WLS I thought possibly the "Killer Clown" continues to draw interest.

I was writing while listening to Rush Limbaugh when I heard the announcement. I often listen to talk radio or music while I am reading or writing. I need the background noise to help block out all of the cell house distractions. There are men in the holding cage yelling to people in cells, or talking amongst themselves. There are guards yelling orders or trying to get prisoners' attention. There are radios and televisions throughout the cell house blaring noise all day until about 10 p.m. Then there is my cellmate who has an almost continual need to talk to people. Fortunately, he takes a nap in the afternoon and now he is watching "Big Brother," a TV show that is very popular among prisoners at Stateville.

The stock market has been gyrating up and down this week. WLS radio has regular stock market reports that are a benefit to listening. I am concerned about a quick sell off because I do not know if my family is prepared. I have given them a lot of advice lately, but have not finished my complete assessment of the entire spectrum of the stock market. I could keep my TV on CNN to see the Dow, Nasdaq and S & P indexes, but then I would have to look over every now and then. Listening to the radio kept other noises at bay and I could continue to focus on various tasks. Occasionally, I had to stop to listen carefully to what was being said, however. I stopped my writing completely when my trial judge was on the air.

Sam Amirante was interviewed by Roe and Roeper, a light talk show that comes on Monday through Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. I was curious to hear how my trial judge spoke when not in the courtroom. Obviously, he was not going to be his complete self while on a nationally broadcast radio show, but I was still interested in trying to get a glimpse of his personality and the rapport he would have with the two talk radio hosts I have come to know. Earlier this week, I listened to my district's Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He has been on the show a couple of times. I believe I was able to get a sense of his personality. Possibly, I could also of Sam Amirante. However, what I most wanted to know was how he could justify representing the likes of John Wayne Gacy and then, as a judge, be so unjust to a defendant like myself.

Amirante was on the Roe and Roeper show for about a half hour. He seemed to be amiable, although I knew from the courtroom, he could be very different. The talk show hosts treated him friendly despite how his representation of the man who killed 34 men must be repugnant to many. Amirante told them it was his duty to represent all people. He went on to talk about the Constitutional rights of defendants, and how all were regarded to be innocent until proven guilty. His continued talking about defendants' rights, but his rationale for defending John Wayne Gacy was outrageous. Sam Amirante did not just give the "Killer Clown" constitutional representation. He went out of his way to defend a man who was unquestionably guilty, and even he called him a monster. Sam Amirante did not just defend the serial killer, he treated him like a friend. During the show, Amirante seemed very sympathetic towards Gacy, even saying that he was a good man otherwise. In contrast, I was not afforded the slightest bit of sympathy. Even his decline to give me the death penalty was only to prevent me from gaining a new trial and making sure that I would languish indefinitely in prison.

Most of the interview of Samuel Amirante was him describing how he became involved in the case. Apparently, John Wayne Gacy was under suspicion for the murders for quite a while. He spoke to Amirante who was a defense attorney at the time. He told him over the phone that the police were following him and he needed to talk to him in person. Gacy later met with my former trial judge at an office. There, he told him how he killed 34 men in comprehensive detail, and even offered to show him the bodies buried in the crawl space of his home.

It was a cold night when Gacy gave his hours' long confession, and outside the building police officers who were trailing him waited in a car. Amirante noticed the police officers when he went to his own car to get a bottle of liquor to share with the "Killer Clown." He invited the cops inside the building and offered them some coffee. Ironic, I thought, that he would play hostess to both the police and a serial killer.

I wanted to hear my former trial judge talk more about his involvement in the representation of John Wayne Gacy. The itinerary of the Roe and Roeper show was full and scheduled out in advance, however. I thought about how I may procure his book, "Defending a Monster," although he did not even write it. It was written by another attorney who apparently has some writing experience. I will not, however, purchase the book. I would not want any proceeds to go to the man who was complicit in my conviction and sentenced me to life in prison.

I never wanted Sam Amirante as a judge. I told my trial attorneys if they could have him substituted for someone else they should do it. William Von Hoene, formerly of Jenner and Block, however, said he was not the worst judge to have. He told me that he used to be a former public defender before being elected as a judge at the Rolling Meadows courthouse. He thought this would make him fairer in such a high profile case like mine. William Von Hoene did not work in that courthouse, and did not know the judges available. I would have taken the word of a more experienced attorney or a public defender who regularly dealt with the judges more highly. As it turned out, I could not have been more right for being skeptical.

From the beginning, Sam Amirante made important decisions on pretrial motions against me. One of the most significant was denying my Motion to Suppress the interrogating officer's claim that I admitted to lending my car to my co-defendant after he informed me he was going to kill Fawcett. It is not on the defense to prove that my rights were violated, but the prosecution's. However, my attorneys overwhelmingly proved that my Miranda rights were disregarded.

My attorneys presented witness after witness to show how I was denied counsel and the right to remain silent. Witnesses also corroborated my testimony that I was held incommunicado, coerced, threatened and assaulted during my two days of interrogation. Two people who were present when I was taken into custody testified that I immediately demanded a lawyer. Family members testified that when they called various police departments, including Palatine, they were told the police had no knowledge of who I was. A nurse at the Cook County jail testified to my complaints of a sore jaw from being punched by an interrogator. Various witnesses testified to the denial of their Miranda rights and also to being abused by the same Palatine Task Force officers. What made the interrogating officers, John Robertson and John Koziol, even more suspect was their own testimony. Despite the Palatine Police having a requirement to gain signed waivers of Miranda from suspects, none was obtained from me.

The police also failed to get an audio taped, stenographed, or typed and signed statement from me, unlike what they procured from my co-defendant the preceding week. Repeatedly, my co-defendant signed documents stating he was treated well, did not want a lawyer present, and was willing to talk to police freely. John Robertson claimed that I waived my Miranda rights verbally and I also refused to use the telephone when he offered it time and again. I was 18 years old, and was being interrogated for one of the most notorious mass murders in Chicagoland's history, but according to him, I did not want to talk to a family member or a lawyer to let them know I was arrested by numerous gun wielding police and was being held against my will for two days.

Their testimony was ludicrous, but Sam Amirante ruled the interrogating officers stood "like the Rock of Gibraltar" in the face of relentless cross-examination. That is true. The cops did not give an inch, but what they said was so obviously false no one in the courtroom listening to the proceedings could believe them. Despite this, Amirante dismissed my Motion to Suppress and told my attorneys they could raise the credibility of the cops at trial, which they never did.

My former public defender, Dale Coventry, told me that no judge was going to throw out the statements in such a high profile case. It was tantamount to political suicide. Judges were elected into office, and if any judge was seen to discard evidence in a case involving a man who was publicly thought to be a mass murderer, his judgeship would be put in severe jeopardy. Coventry said no matter what evidence was presented, and how well he proved the statements were the result of constitutional violations, it would not matter. He would have to present the evidence to the jury, and I would have to testify. Despite this, I find Samual Amirante's extensive talk of the rights of John Wayne Gacy to be at odds with his actions as a judge. He does not care about the law or justice. Amirante is an opportunist. Throughout much of his career he does what is expedient for his own success.

Sam Amirante continued to reject various defense motions and objections throughout the proceedings against me. Even when the prosecutor lied about the law of accountability in his final argument and used various rhetoric like the Three Musketeers saying "All for one and one for all. The actions of one are the actions of all," the judge would not grant the defense permission to give the jury curative instructions about the law of accountability. However, before he denied such motions or objections, I found it ironic how he would lavish praise upon my attorney for arguing so effectively. I thought to myself, if his argument was so good, why did you deny it? The judge was either setting me up to fail on appeal when I raised ineffective assistance of counsel claims, or trying to kiss butt to my wealthy and well connected civil attorney. My lawyer was a partner at the prestigious law firm of Jenner and Block, and is now Vice President of Finance & Legal at Exelon Corporation.

Although Judge Amirante showed no friendliness towards me, he was continually trying to befriend William Von Hoene. I noticed it in the courtroom and from what I was told occurred outside of it. On the day of my attorney's birthday, I recall the judge had all of the lights turned off in the courtroom and someone brought in a birthday cake with candles. At times when the news media, public, and jury were not present, Sam Amirante always was very pleasant to Bill. I was amazed in chambers how there was a different atmosphere and Bill was treated with respect and almost reverence. I was told how Sam Amirante even went golfing with my attorney, and how they exchanged words about my case that I would not until recently learn were unethical.

Before I went to trial, my attorney was uncertain whether to have a jury or bench trial. Most defendants choose a jury trial because it is more difficult to convince 12 jurors to agree to a guilty verdict. However, jurors are swayed by emotion and I had a tremendous amount of prejudicial pretrial publicity that linked me with the Palatine Brown's Chicken Massacre. When there was little or no evidence and an argument was to be made on a law, it can be advantageous to have a bench trial. However, Samuel Amirante told Bill in no uncertain terms that he did not want my case. He agreed there was not enough evidence to convict me, but he had to think about his political career. It would not look good if he let go the media villain who still was thought to be a prime suspect in a mass murder.

When Bill Von Hoene was trying to coerce me not to testify, he told my parents and me that even the judge thought I "would be a moron to testify. The state had not proved their case." If that was so, I thought, why did he not grant my motion for a direct verdict after the state rested? Possibly, the judge, again, did not want to hurt his political ambitions, although it is also possible my attorney was lying. For a judge to make such exparte communications is against the law. However, I tend to believe my attorney. Sam Amirante, despite what he said on the Roe and Roeper show, does not care about the law and justice, from what I have seen. He cares about himself and his career. He is a man with large ambitions and is unscrupulous in obtaining them. Whether he profits off of a serial killer or sends an innocent teenager to spend the rest of his life in prison. The end justifies the means.

After Amirante sentenced me to a protracted death sentence, he ran for appellate justice. I cannot but believe my incredibly severe sentence was motivated by an image he wanted to create with the public. Amirante was no longer a liberal Democrat public defender but a get-tough-on-crime Republican judge. And if that meant damning me to a slow torturesome existence in Illinois' maximum security prisons until death as a stepping stone to higher office so be it. Why else would an 18-year-old convicted for lending his car to a man who was acquitted of murder be punished so harshly?

Yes, I was still a suspect in the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders at that time, but a judge is not supposed to consider innuendo outside of the courtroom. Furthermore, he heard my co-defendant's wife, Rose, testify that everything she told the police were fabrications to help her husband. The reason I became a suspect in the Palatine case in the first place was due to the accusations and statements of Robert and Rose Faraci. Representing the Killer Clown and sending away the notorious Brown's Chicken mass murderer, along with the connections he had made on the way, could have been thought to carry him even higher than the appellate court. I do not know my trial judge personally, but I tend to get the sense he has an enormous ego. The short and stocky Italian man may even suffer from a Napoleon complex. However, his attempt to be elected to a higher office failed, and eventually Samuel Amirante left public office to become a private defense attorney.

My conviction and sentence has baffled many. A private investigator, who I had retained many years ago, took it upon himself to find out why my judge wanted to destroy an innocent 18 year old. He spoke with Sam Amirante. I do not know under what pretense he spoke to him, except he did not reveal his true purpose. The private investigator also did not elaborate at length about their conversation, but he did tell me point blank that my former trial judge "hated" me. I was surprised by this because I do not know how the judge could have developed a personal hatred of me. I only spoke to him briefly a few times, and under very formal Q and A in the courtroom. Could he have formed such a strong opinion from the news media? From my demeanor in the courtroom? From my testimony at the suppression hearing? I do not know, and I am left even more bewildered after his interview on talk radio.

San Amirante said that he "liked John Wayne Gacy" and despite his horrific crimes, thought "he was a good man". He even expressed sympathy for the serial killer. John Wayne Gacy killed 34 people. He brutally murdered all of these young men and buried their bodies in his crawl space. There was no question of his guilt, and the "Killer Clown" still lives in infamy for his atrocities despite his execution over a decade ago. How does Sam Amirante "like" and have sympathy for this twisted psychotic serial killer, and "hate" and have no sympathy for me? Although my attorney would say otherwise to my jury, I did not even know my co-defendant's intentions nor lend him my car, and my co-defendant was acquitted of the actual murder. The true Palatine Brown's Chicken mass murderers have long been arrested and convicted. Yet Sam Amirante defends a monster and condemns the innocent. It is people like my former trial judge that make a mockery of the justice system. I am glad he no longer has the lives of others in his hands. I can only imagine who his clients are today.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic -- August 5, 2011

People often think I have an abundance of time without anything to do. I do spend the vast majority of my time in a cage inside a maximum-security prison. I also have a sentence of natural life without the chance of parole. Despite this, I am incredibly busy usually doing one thing or another. This week has been an almost nonstop marathon of reading, writing, and making thousands of calculations. I have read 15 newspapers, several corporate reports, a couple of magazines, voluminous legal materials and a number of letters. I have also written several letters, made notations to numerous financial articles and made a few financial charts. The charts help organize data, but to make specific judgments on companies' stocks, I must use various mathematical equations.

Most of the torrid temperatures of the previous weeks have passed. However, I have still had to contend with continuous distractions inside and outside my cell. My cellmate has ceased playing his hip-hop music but annoys me greatly by yelling and talking to various people outside the cell or in cells on the upper galleries. Prisoners and guards alike often are continually walking past, loitering, or being loud and obnoxious just outside my work area. I typically sit by the bars where there is a steel stool and table. I do this because it is convenient to write on and to give my cellmate space, especially if he wants to use the sink or toilet. Being by the bars makes my work very difficult no matter how I try to block it out with headphones. However, I have pressed on knowing how financial markets were going to plummet soon.

Many people thought disaster was avoided when the U.S. Congress was able to pass legislation raising the debt ceiling. However, raising the amount of money the country can borrow did nothing to change the fundamental problems in the economy. Just because the government was given another credit card does not change the fact it is already drowning in debt. It also does not change the enormous debt carried by local governments or individuals. Furthermore, unemployment, declining salaries, and foreclosures on homes have not eased. This is not an environment where consumers or businesses want to spend money. If this was not enough, European sovereign debt is beginning to topple onto itself with Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy seeming to follow after Greece. Government spending that has recklessly continued and enormously accelerated in the last couple years is finally being reigned in. Although this is good for Western Civilization in the long term, in the short term, it will create much pain. One form it will take is in the stock market and I wanted friends and family to be prepared for it, especially if they had allowed themselves to feel a false sense of security when the markets recuperated much of their April highs, or to take advantage of any opportunity.

I receive a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, which I read almost from front to back. In order to digest all the information and make notes, it will often take me a couple of hours to read. The following week, I began to allow my papers to stack up. I was focused on writing a short story for a friend's birthday. In addition to writing a nonfiction book about my case, I have considered in my years of incarceration writing novels. Although my verbal skills may not excel, I am a good writer and have a good imagination. However, what I planned to be a brief work of creative fiction began to become the start of a novel. I became consumed in the details of the story and had to cease writing after several chapters. If I did not, I would have been unable to turn my attention to other matters and may still be writing to this day. I also would have missed the birthday deadline.

Between my bunk and the wall is a space I have slowly been adding newspapers to because I have no room in my two boxes for the papers. They are filled with clothes, food, hygienic items, books, magazines, and an assortment of 9" x 11" envelopes filled with various paperwork. Not having the papers put away bothered me immensely, but not nearly as much as all the clutter my cellmate leaves out. I am often tempted to take all his belongings that he leaves out and toss them in the garbage. I have already rearranged some of his property and discarded certain items he will probably never realize are missing. I hate living in disorder.

The stack of Wall Street Journals between my bunk and the wall was almost two week's worth. This week, I began forcing myself to read at least three plus the one I received in the mail. I often thought how I wish I could digest information faster. I also thought at various times how I wish my cellmate would shut up. The man seems to have this need to socialize, and he cannot do so in a considerate fashion as to not bother me. I felt blessed when he would take his afternoon nap or leave the cell.

I always make notes when I read the newspaper. I do this for my own retention and to benefit others. I regularly will cut out articles for people I correspond with. I do so especially for my parents because they always trust a journalist's writings over my own. After I am done with a paper, I send it to one of the very few people I speak with in this cell house. He enjoys reading the paper as much as my notes. Although other people have asked me to share my subscription I have told him to throw them out when he is done. At Stateville, very few prisoners will appreciate my political commentary. Plus, I care not if they have the benefit of my papers or notes.

I am continually reading corporate reports. I read those that people I know invest in, or those I think would be good acquisitions. This week, however, I read about companies that I think should be sold by their stock owners. One of them was Prudential Financial. Repeatedly, I have told the owner of these stocks to sell. I told her to sell before the market crashed in 2009, and take the $115 a share. After the crash, she did not want to sell because of all the money that had been lost. This year when Prudential shares went up to $67.50, I told her to put in a sell order for $65 and be lucky to get out. No, she did not listen. She does not understand the company's share price would not go back to its previous highs for probably decade. By next week, I would not be surprised if it is selling below $50. Many people do not know when to take a loss.

In prison , many rumors about new legislation, case law, or ways to get back into the court system fly about. Many men are desperate to grasp onto any hope, despite how incredible the source is or how far fetched the information is. Because of draconian laws in Illinois, many convicts will never be released. They have sentences of natural life, 100, 80, or 60 years that must be served in totality. Many of these men are going to die in prison, but they refuse to believe it and live in denial. I have such a sentence and despite my innocence, I do not have any delusions. Life is not fair, and I will probably never be exonerated. My fate is most likely a grave just outside of Stateville, or some other prison in Illinois. Despite this, I read a packet of case law this week on the newest legal rumor to go through the prison.

According to rumor, if the prosecution did not properly impanel the grand jury who indicted the prisoner for the offense he or she is being incarcerated for, the conviction must be vacated. Some naive men believe that the prosecutor cannot even retry the case due to laws forbidding double jeopardy, and they must be set free, regardless of guilt. Of course, a "get out of jail free card" is of enormous excitement amongst prisoners, especially those who will die a slow death in the penitentiary and have no hope of appeal. Prisoners have been flooding the circuit clerk of the court with requests to see if their transcripts contain the certification, and many have discovered it does not exist. Many prosecutors failed to retain the formal document.

This week, I read the case which is the source of the excitement. It is a short decision by the Illinois Appellate Court stating that even a man who pled guilty could not waive irregularities of indictment where the error was a fundamental defect taking away the jurisdiction of the court. The record must show that the grand jury was properly impaneled, a foreman appointed, and sworn in. Because this did not exist, the appellate court reversed Edward Gray's convictions for burglary and larceny. However, what struck me is the date of the ruling. It is December 17, 1913. Men are getting their hopes up on a case that predates World War I.

I read Illinois code of procedure regarding grand jury procedure. Sure enough, it states plainly "The grand jurors shall be summoned, drawn, qualified and certified according to law." It also goes on to describe the number of jurors which must be present, the selecting of a jury foreman, and the swearing of the quorum. However, despite this, it does not say what shall occur if procedure is not followed. I shepardized the case People vs. Gray (261 Illinois 140) and found other more recent cases. I read these cases this week but none were as powerfully and specifically worded as the 1913 case. Since I have nothing to lose though, I am considering filing a 2-1401 Void Judgment petition, although I am skeptical the court will overturn my conviction.

My attorney has been refusing to accept my collect phone calls. This week, I received a letter from her citing a number of reasons for failing to take my calls. I do not know if I believe her. I also do not know if I can trust her to diligently pursue my appeal. I wrote her back and did not mention the failure of the prosecutor to properly impanel my grand jury. Instead, I went over various other issues I believe have more merit, and various work I needed done to file a successive post conviction appeal.

Yesterday, I took a break from all my writing and reading to go to the gym. Fortunately it was not the sauna it was two weeks ago. I was able to get a good workout and was glad there was not many people using the broken and in disrepair machine weights. On the lower gallery of C House are many old men who do not use weights. The average age on the lower floor is probably close to 50. At the gym, I heard about one of the old men who was wheeled out bleeding profusely earlier this week. His arm that is repeatedly punctured for dialysis began to bleed out, and by the time med techs arrived, there was blood pooled heavily in his cell. I also heard about a man upstairs who had a stroke and was rumored to be on his death bed.

A fat white man decided to work out with me while at the gym. He is a man I have briefly spoke with before at chow and on the yard. I told him he is a good candidate for the TV show "The Biggest Loser," after he expressed a desire to lose weight. He followed my routine for about a half hour and then quit. I called him a loser, but this did not encourage him to return, so I finished my exercise all by myself.

On the return from the gym, I saw the Dow Jones Industrial average had fallen 512 points. The meltdown I had predicted was already beginning to occur. After bathing in my sink and washing a few articles of clothing in my toilet, I went back to work on my stock charts. There are thousands of stock companies listed on the NYSE and I quickly looked over their main fundamentals before focusing on a few hundred. In order to rate these stocks, I must chart numerous amounts of data: earnings per share growth, profit growth, price to earnings ratios, dividend yields, debt, profit returns on capital, and other data. It takes an enormous amount of time to make my charts and graph all the statistics using a small pencil.

I knew I did not have time to make evaluations on all the stocks I had selected, and therefore I selected four economic sectors to complete this week. These sectors were energy, mining, agricultural, and machine equipment manufacturers. I will go over technology, health care, financial, and the various others later this month. It will probably take me a few weeks to make judgments on the complete spectrum of companies I think are worth my focus. Some companies have yet to come out with their 2nd quarter reports and I will have to wait anyway. Possibly, I will just estimate their figures.

My charts go back several years and I have papers upon papers filled with organized data. Since I sit near the bars, I draw the attention of people passing by. A black man with a large mole on his chin has been attempting to get my advice on investments. He saw my charts and began to look over them. I was considering putting them away or at least the ones I was not immediately working on. However, I knew this data would not make sense to anyone but myself. He began to ask me about various things, and I told him I did not have time to talk to him. He still persisted asking me if I thought it would be good to buy this or that stock. I told him he would be a fool to buy anything right now, and then turned the volume up on my Walkman headset. Another gallery worker who goes by the name "Smiley" tried talking to me, but I could not hear him. Eventually I took off my headphones and asked him what he wanted. He asked if I was making a mint through gold investments. A few years ago, I told him how I thought gold was an excellent investment when it was only $750 an ounce. However, this week I said to him, "I am a broke prisoner who will die penniless, old, and in captivity." I then told him to take his smiling ass to disrupt someone else. He was not the last person to disrupt me in my stock chart designs and mathematical formulas.

After having set all of my statistics in their charts, I began to make calculations. The formulas I use to make evaluations for stocks is complicated, and it is good I do well with numbers. Unfortunately, the noise and movement around me is highly bothersome. Eventually though, with music blaring in my ears and angling my body into the cell, I was able to get into a zone where I could have tremendous focus. I went through numbers almost as quickly as the Rain Man counts fallen matches or cards at a Las Vegas casino.

I finished with my analysis of energy stocks earlier today. A few of my favorites in this sector are Crestwood Midstream Limited Partnership, Vanguard Natural Resources, Alliance Resources, and Western Gas Partnership. Most people have probably never heard of these, but I also regard Exxon Mobile, Chevron, and El Paso Pipeline as very good investments. My favorite stock in the agricultural sector is the high yielding fertilizer company called Terra Nitrogen. After completing this journal entry, I will write a letter to my family and enclose my list in chronological order of favorite to least liked stock companies. Hopefully, they have sold off a large portion of their portfolio already. This list is mainly a buy list when the Dow falls to about 10,000. That may or may not occur this month, but I want them and others to be prepared to seize an opportunity if it presents itself.

This week has been an almost ceaseless drive mainly to help advise friends and family about investments. I have struggled to process more and more information at a quicker pace, even drinking coffee and pushing myself to mental exhaustion. I feel quite strained and stressed by what I have tried to accomplish in a very difficult environment and in a short period of time. My life is predominantly miserable and without meaning, however, I am glad to be able to be productive in some meager way. Hopefully, although I may die in prison, my efforts will not all be in vain.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Computers Down -- July 29, 2011

On Monday, cell house workers passed out a short commissary order form and list that inmates could use to place an order. The order form had only 10 lines to it, unlike our standard form, which has 20. The list of commissary consisted of select hygiene products, a fan, and soda pop. I asked the inmate worker what was the meaning behind this. Prisoners not in Segregation or on commissary restrictions can order from a 10-page list of various goods. He told me this week we can only order from the one page.

There was nothing on the list that I wanted. I needed another electrical cord, a headphone extension, stamped envelopes, writing paper, and food. I already had several deodorants, bars of soap, and tubes of toothpaste. I also had two bottles of shampoo, laundry detergent, and even lotion. There was no reason for me to buy more or any of the African hair care or skin products. What need did I have for Magic Shave Cream or an Afro hair pick? I was not the only person to be upset by the limitations, and I heard many inmates yelling from their cells.

Prisoners were once able to purchase a much wider range of goods, and order every week. At one time, we could buy blue jeans, stereo systems, guitars, and immersion heaters to boil water. We could also buy little things people outside of prison never paid much attention to, such as a pencil sharpener, a good writing pen, a full sized tooth brush or even dental floss. Furthermore, when we shopped, there was no limit on how much we could purchase. Prisoners went to the commissary building and bought any quantity of goods as long as we had the money in our trust fund account. I recall people leaving the store with many bags of store worth well over $500.

There has been friction between the union and administration over a number of work related issues. One of them is the number of hours the commissary supervisors will get in overtime pay, or how many cell houses they will have to shop in a month. The administration wants them to shop the entire prison twice a month at minimum, and sees no need for extra hours. When my cellmate was complaining to me about the shopping restrictions, I said to him, "Possibly this is a compromise made between labor and the wardens." However, it was certainly a bad deal for inmates.

My cellmate, Cork, told me he was going to fill out the list to stock up on hygiene items. He said that he will be able to use the commissary to wager with, if nothing else. I have been very preoccupied lately and have not watched any sporting events since the NBA Championship game. So far this week, I have not even watched any television except for the morning news while I eat my breakfast. I even missed the semifinale to The Bachelorette show on Monday because ABC went out after a storm.

The commissary restriction was not a major problem for me because I had bought about $70 of food a few weeks ago and still had supplies. I think I will be able to stretch my food reserves for a month. The only foods I am running short on are peanut butter and nuts. I eat them almost every day with my breakfast. Without them, breakfast will not be breakfast anymore. I go through a jar of peanut butter a week. There are cigarette, dope, and coffee addicts. I may be one of the few peanut butter addicts at Stateville.

I do an enormous amount of writing. My stash of envelopes is running low, as are my paper and writing supplies. I am currently writing with a very short, dull pencil on typing paper that I received from a prison worker. I have some pens left, but I can go through the ink quickly. I never write journal entries with pen anyways because I cannot make corrections easily. If prison officials continue using this shortened list, I will run out of envelopes and ink within a few weeks.

The prison almost went on lockdown Tuesday, making the short commissary list irrelevant. When on lockdown, inmates are not allowed to receive their store orders. It is a form of collective punishment, although the administration will insist it is a security issue because two men in the Roundhouse were badly assaulted. From the rumors, they were both taken to the prison Health Care Unit with contusions and possibly broken bones. Purportedly, they were covered in a lot of blood. One of the men was a cell house worker who can have a disrespectful tone. He was the man who did not want to help me bring my property to general population. The other man to be beaten was a queer that normally never left his cell. The two incidents occurred at different times and were unrelated. Instead of placing the entire prison on lockdown, only F House was.

Tuesday was scheduled for evening yard for those living on the lower two galleries in C House. I did not expect the cell house's orders to be filled so quickly, nor to be brought on the same day we had recreation, but at about 4 p.m. cell house help began bringing in the bags of merchandise. It seemed like much of the cell house, despite their complaining, submitted an order. There were hundreds of brown paper bags and workers went quickly to organize it before chow was run. Chow lines are always run first for the cell house that has evening yard, and the men go straight from the chow hall to yard. A number of bags were ripped due to workers tossing them like sandbags between each other and to the back wall. I knew a few people were going to be unhappy with their orders. One bag thrown in front of my cell was dropped, and bottles of soda pop went fizzing everywhere.

Chow was ran late because of the delay in bringing in the bags of commissary. A number of prisoners yelled to run chow because they knew it was eating into their yard time. The yard line is brought in at about 7 p.m. regardless of when we get out there. I was anxious to leave as well because it would be the only yard I would be attending this week. The other two days, yards were on the basketball courts which were surrounded by razor wire. There was not much to do there, other than play basketball, socialize, or get scorched by the sun.

Finally, at 5:15, the gallery I am celled on was run to chow. We did not make it to the yard until 5:30. Although I wanted to make the most of my time outside on the large south yard, I walked to the weights with a commissary worker. He informed me the short order forms were not due to any compromise between labor and the administration, nor to the warden trying to keep his word to shop the prison twice a month. He told me it was because the computers in Springfield were down.

Apparently, the computers which hold the information of approximately 50,000 inmates' trust funds across the state are not working. The Illinois Department of Corrections does not know how much money prisoners have on their accounts. I was skeptical of what he said because I always thought each prison had its own banking system. When convicts transfer to different penitentiaries, it often takes several weeks for him or her to have money on their account. When I transferred to Stateville in 2006, I was not able to shop for a month. The excuse always given to me was that the money had not been received and processed yet. I asked the worker, "If they have a centralized computer system that stores all of our fund balances, why does it take weeks to get access to your money when you transfer?" He could not say, but insisted that the state capital's computer system failed and could not be brought back online.

The commissary worker went on to say that for prisoners to shop, they were being extended a line of credit. Because the IDOC did not know how much money prisoners had, even those with no money were allowed to shop. When the computer system got back up, the spending would be deducted. If an inmate had no money, it would be deducted as soon as he or she received some, or was given their monthly stipend. The inmate worker made it seem as though we had been done a favor and should be grateful. I am skeptical of altruistic designs, especially that of the IDOC toward convicts, but I was not going to go into various ulterior motives the prison system may have. I did not want to waste my yard time.

When I returned to the cell house, commissary began to be passed out. Usually, it is brought to an inmate's cell, however, to save time, inmates were let out of their cells and had to come downstairs to get it themselves. A guard set up a desk next door to my cell to have inmates sign their receipts and give their fingerprints. The fingerprinting is supposed to prevent fraud, however, the prints are done so fast and imperfectly by convicts that I doubt it has any value.

While there was a crowd outside my cell, I bathed in the back of the cell behind a sheet. This cell has the least amount of privacy than any other I have been in. Despite this, I was not going to wait until all the commissary was passed out. This could take hours, and I was a busy man. Plus, my cellmate played basketball on the yard and he also wanted to wash up. Because I did not fill out an order and he did, I went in the back first. When you live in a small cage with someone else, you must always be coordinating activities, even if you do not like that person.

Late yesterday evening after all the store had been passed out, a cell house worker came to my cell with a bag of soda pop. The pop came from the homosexual who has been trying to befriend me since I arrived in C House. I have been taking his commissary and ignoring him. He must be foolish to think he can gain my friendship, or more, with sweets. Just like the State of Illinois extending us credit to shop, even if it was a meager credit line, I do not trust his motives. There is something more to the computer failure and small shop, just like there is something more to Frankie's generosity.