Friday, April 25, 2008

Lionel Tate's attorney running for Fort L commish

Jim Lewis, an attorney who lives in Fort Lauderdale's Harbour Inlet neighborhood, filed his paperwork to run for City Commission District IV, the south part of the city. Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson represents that district right now, but she is in her third term and can't run for the seat. She is running for mayor.

(Mayor Jim Naugle is also term limited; we're not sure what he's doing next. Will someone please ask him to start taking my calls again?!)

Lewis wants "a cleaner, greener, and leaner Fort Lauderdale,'' and is vowing to take no campaign contributions from developers or lobbyists.

Lewis represented Lionel Tate in his murder trial. Tate was tried as an adult for the murder of a 6-year-old playmate. He was the youngest American sentenced to life in prison. Later he was set free, but is back in prison for his involvement in the 2005 robbery of a pizza delivery man.

"Can I please be known for something else?,'' Lewis asked when the subject of Tate was brought up.

Lewis has run unsuccessfully for judge and state Legislature. He also ran for mayor against Naugle in 1994, and lost.

Keep reading to find out more about his candidacy. I'm posting the press release he sent us.

Press release from Lewis campaign:

Fort Lauderdale attorney, Jim Lewis, age 50, has filed to run for the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, District 4. The seat is being vacated by Cindi Hutchinson and the election is set for February, 2009.

Jim is a 20 year resident of Fort Lauderdale and a 10 year resident of the Harbour Inlet neighborhood. He has a B.A. Degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida (1978) and a law degree from Stetson University (1980).
Jim’s work experience includes being a local prosecutor, a special prosecutor for former Governor Bob Graham and as an Assistant Statewide Prosecutor for the Florida Attorney’s General Office. Jim has also been an Adjunct Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University since 1990.

Jim Lewis stated “I’m running for the city commission because I want a cleaner, greener, and leaner Fort Lauderdale, I’m going to spread my message of controlled growth, cleaner waterways and fiscal responsibility. In the spirit of being environmentally responsible I’ve bought myself a scooter, and I plan on scootering through the neighborhoods of District 4 to run a grass roots campaign. I am pledging not to spend over $10,000.00 on this campaign and I will not accept any campaign contributions from developers or lobbyists”.

“I’m also committed to resolving the ugly labor dispute between the city and its police. I want our police to be well staffed, equipped, trained and paid but I do not approve of the current tactics of the Fraternal Order of Police, (negative billboards and threatening work slowdowns).”

“I want former Fort Lauderdale residents who have left for the Western suburbs of Broward County to come back and live and invest in Fort Lauderdale. We don’t need more, we need better. Let’s tear up a few unused city parking lots and turn them into nature friendly playgrounds. Let’s do something about our beaches having to be closed because of bacteria and waterways that continue to be polluted.”
“We don’t need more high density developments, we need neighborhood improvement supported by better schools, green space, water-saving landscapes, and recreational opportunities”.

“These lean economic times also dictate that we cut government waste. City departments need to be streamlined to offer more efficient government services.”

Jim Lewis is divorced with 4 children and a South Side Little League baseball coach.
The campaign office is located at:

200 Southeast 6th Street, Suite 102, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301
Telephone 954.523-4081
Cell phone 954.907.2788

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Judge Denies Motion To Delay Teen's Murder Trial

Michael Hernandez Trial Will Begin May
If Convicted, Hernandez Faces Life In Prison

MIAMI (CBS4) ― A Miami judge has rejected a motion that would have delayed next months trial of a South Florida teen accused of stabbing a classmate to death when the boys were both in grade school.

''I'm only sure of a few things - we have to pay taxes on April 15, we all will die one day and that this case is going to trial on May 19,'' said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger.

Tuesday an attorney for 19-year old Michael Hernandez submitted a motion to delay the trial because the teen was recently put on new medication and one of the psychiatrists they planned to use as a defense expert would be unable to give an opinion on his mental state without a full re-examination over a period of weeks.

Hernandez's attorney, Richard Rosenbaum, plans to argue that the boy was insane when he killed Jamie Gough in a rest room at Southwood Middle School in 2004.

Rosenbaum says Hernandez is an obsessive compulsive, mentally disturbed boy, who did not have the capacity to understand what he was doing when he confessed to police about Gough's murder.

Charged as an adult, Hernandez could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

Child welfare advocates have argued that children who commit horrible crimes should not be treated or punished as adults because they think, act and perceive the world differently than adults and that confessions probably are made in a state of confusion.

Psychologist Barry Rosenthal of Fordham University says that almost one month before the death of Jamie Gough, Hernandez displayed "bizarre behavior". He said, "Michael created a rigid schedule down to chewing snacks in school, the time he would have to go to bed, how many times he would circle the cul de sac on his bike." Rosenthal then said Michael started "punishing himself for violations of his schedule that gradually increased to cutting himself".

A psychiatrist for the prosecution has admitted that the boy had some bizarre behaviors but his thinking is logical and he is in his right mind to comprehend what he has allegedly done.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Supreme Court turns down boy killer's appeal

By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An imprisoned killer who was 12 years old when he committed a double murder, and then was given a 30-year sentence, was denied a hearing by the Supreme Court Monday.

Christopher Pittman's defenders argued the sentence was excessive for someone that age and claim heavy doses of antidepressants he was taking at the time sent his mind spinning out of control.

Now 19, Pittman was convicted three years ago of killing his grandparents with a shotgun as they slept, then setting the house on fire.

The county prosecutor in South Carolina argued it "was as malicious a murder as you're ever going to find."

The justices, without comment, refused to intervene. At issue was whether the state properly used its discretion to try Pittman as an adult, whether the sentence was excessive, and whether mitigating factors should apply.

Outside a death-penalty context, the high court has offered little recent guidance on how to treat underage defendants.

Pittman's lawyers argued no other inmate in the United States is serving so severe a sentence for a crime committed at such an early age.

The inmate's legal team, from the University of Texas Law School, expressed disappointment at the high court's refusal to accept the case.

Michele Deitch, an attorney and adjunct professor, speculated the justices may "have recognized a growing national trend against sentencing young children to harsh mandatory terms in prison, and wants to give state legislatures the opportunity to correct this problem before it rules on the issue."

Deitch and other lawyers worked on the case for free, since Pittman could not afford to pay the extensive legal costs.

Pittman, now 6 foot 2 inches tall, works grounds maintenance at an adult correctional facility outside Columbia, South Carolina. He received a GED high school equivalency in 2006.

With the high court's denial of his appeal, Pittman has few legal options to have his sentence reduced. Under his current sentence, he would be released from prison in his mid-40s. He has a separate civil lawsuit against the state, alleging his court-appointed trial lawyers were ineffective.

At the time of the crime, the boy had bounced around homes for years, experiencing a half dozen family splits and divorces after his mother had twice abandoned him as a child. She has not been in Pittman's life for years.

Joe Pittman, the boy's father, raised Christopher Pittman and his sister for much of their lives, but the relationship between father and son deteriorated. A state psychologist later testified this was a "young man who'd had difficulty with the adults in his life."

After threatening to harm himself and suffering other emotional incidents, the boy was diagnosed as clinically depressed. His lawyers said Pittman was then given Paxil, a mild antidepressant no longer recommended for those under 18.

In the midst of these episodes, the youngster was allowed to live temporarily with his paternal grandparents in Chester County, about halfway between Columbia, South Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The family said Joe and Joy Pittman had been a source of stability for young Christopher earlier in his life.

On November 28, 2001, Pittman was sent home early for fighting in school and sent to bed by the grandparents. The boy claimed his "Pop-Pop" also beat him with a belt as punishment.

Christopher later admitted taking a pump-action shotgun and shooting his grandparents to death in their bedroom shortly before midnight. Prosecutors said he then set the house on fire to cover his tracks, took the family SUV, his golden retriever and a cache of weapons, and fled.

He was arrested hours later on a remote gravel road in a nearby county.

Just days before, a doctor had begun prescribing Zoloft, another antidepressant. The family contends the abrupt substitution of drugs caused a bad chemical reaction, triggering violent outbursts.

At trial, a parade of psychiatrists offered conflicting testimony on whether the boy's emotional problems excused his criminal behavior. Prosecutors called the Zoloft defense a "smokescreen."

The jury took less than a day to find Pittman guilty. Because he had been transferred from juvenile to adult court, the judge was not allowed to take his age into account at sentencing. Pittman received the shortest possible term for murder, 30 years without parole.

Juror Steven Platt later told CNN the crime appeared deliberate. "It always seemed like the defense was grasping at straws," he said. "Just because you take prescription medicine doesn't mean you can't be held accountable for your actions."

Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft would not comment on the current appeal, but said after the verdict the drug "didn't cause his [Pittman's] problems, nor did the medication drive him to commit murder. On these two points, both Pfizer and the jury agree."

The Food and Drug Administration in 2004 ordered Zoloft and other such medications to carry warnings of an increased risk of suicidal behavior in children.

Pittman's sister, Danielle Pittman Fincher, said afterward, "I know for a fact that there is no absolutely no possible way my brother in his current state of mind could have done something like that."

South Carolina officials refused a CNN request to interview Pittman behind bars. And state prosecutor Barney Giese's office would not comment while the appeal was pending.

The Supreme Court in 2005 banned the death penalty for underage killers. The justices in that case cited evolving "national standards" as a reason to ban such executions.

Among Pittman's defenders is his maternal grandmother, Delnora Duprey, who travels from her central Florida home once a month to visit Pittman on weekends. She describes a young man who, despite his situation, is coping remarkably well.

"He's working ahead with his life, taking classes," Duprey told CNN recently. "He doesn't feel sorry for himself, but he'd like a chance at moving out of prison and getting a new start for himself."

Along with a network of friends and pro bono lawyers from the University of Texas Law School, Duprey is critical of South Carolina's decision to hold the boy for more than three years before trial, much of it in prisons they say were inappropriately dangerous for someone Pittman's age.

Attorney Michael Sturley said 41 states do not punish 12-year-olds as South Carolina does. And none has allowed as harsh a sentence as Pittman was given.

"There are no 12-year-old monsters," said Duprey. She said Pittman recently told her, " 'Grandma, I think God forgives me. Nana and Pop-Pop' -- that's what he called them -- 'forgive me. But I don't think I'll ever forgive myself.' "

There was no immediate comment from Duprey or Pittman's lawyers to the denial of his Supreme Court appeal.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

State metes living death penalties to children


If children are the future, then why is Florida locking up adolescent offenders in adult prisons and throwing away the key?

Florida has 713 child inmates who have received adult sentences of 10 years or more for crimes committed before their 17th birthdays. The breakdown of the 713 childhood inmates based on age at the time of the offense is four 12-year-olds; 10 13-year-olds; 60 14-year-olds; 179 15-year-olds; and 460 16-year-olds. Of those 713 children, 122 are serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed before their 17th birthdays. These 122 children have been sentenced to a living death penalty.

It is unlikely that every 15-year-old who has committed a crime, big or small, is doomed to become a career criminal. Every parent knows that kids make mistakes and do not always comprehend the consequences of their actions. The Children in Prison Rehabilitation Act is a bill that has been filed during this legislative session by clinical law professor Paolo Annino and a group of law students at the Florida State University College of Law, Children in Prison Project. The act recognizes what the scientific community -- and the rest of the world -- has known for some time: Children are different and children can be rehabilitated.

The act's goal is to provide adolescent offenders an opportunity to prove that they have been rehabilitated and to give those adolescent offenders, who have earned their rehabilitation, the possibility of parole. The act is a measured response to the fact that the United States is the leader in the incarceration of children. The United States has 2,225 adolescent offenders incarcerated and serving life without the possibility of parole. The United States is the only country in the world that continues to sentence children to life without the possibility of parole. We are alone in the world in this practice.

Children are different from adults in their capacity for rehabilitation. Scientific data in neuroscience show that a child's brain continues to mature and develop into the early 20s. The areas of the brain that govern impulse control, planning and thinking are not fully developed by the age of 18, the legal age of majority. This new data expose the fact that the brain is still growing and developing through adolescence.

The proposed act contains tough criteria that each adolescent offender must meet to qualify for parole. The adolescent offender must have been 16 or younger at the time of the offense; sentenced for more than 10 years, up to and including life without the possibility of parole; incarcerated for at least eight years; and must be able to prove rehabilitation. The Florida Parole Commission determines whether an adolescent offender has been rehabilitated by considering the child's involvement in the crime -- follower or leader; the child's mental or developmental disabilities; whether the child has been discipline free while in prison; and the GED program or other educational programs completed while incarcerated.

The focus of the act is rehabilitation for a specific population of adolescent offenders. The act's criteria go on to exclude any adolescent offender who, before the current offense, has been adjudicated as an adult for felony battery; aggravated battery; assault or battery of law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS personnel or elderly people; possession of a weapon or firearm during commission of a felony; sexual battery; abuse, aggravated abuse or neglect of a child; and cruelty to animals. Adolescent offenders do not qualify if they have been deemed habitual felony offenders. This act provides a second chance for those few child inmates who have turned their lives around in prison.

The drafters of the Children in Prison Rehabilitation Act urge the Legislature to enact this proposed bill and to make it law. It is important that as elections draw near and politicians promise to be "tough on crime," we all remember that well placed mercy can change lives. Children are different. Children can be rehabilitated.

Castagliuolo is an intern at the Florida State University College of Law.