prosecutor

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON— Roger Clemens’ lawyers tore into the prosecutors’ case against the former pitching great during closing arguments Tuesday, attacking the government for bringing the matter to court in the first place and mounting one last assault against Clemens’ chief accuser.

“This is outrageous!” said attorney Rusty Hardin, his face reddening as he pounded the podium.

Both sides received two hours to sum up their arguments before a jury of eight women and four men that will decide whether Clemens lied to Congress in 2008 about performance-enhancing drugs and several related matters.

“He chose to lie; he chose to mislead; he chose to provide false statements, to impede Congress’ legitimate investigation,” prosecutor Gil Guerrero said. “Now it’s your turn to hold him accountable on every single count. You are the final umpires here.”

Clemens is charged with perjury, making false statements and obstructing Congress. The heart of the charges center on his repeated denials that he used steroids or human growth hormone. Jurors were expected to begin deliberations later Tuesday, following 26 days of testimony over more than eight weeks.

“When you take that oath, you’ve got to tell the truth,” Guerrero said in a packed courtroom that included Clemens’ wife and four sons.

Guerrero accused Clemens of coming up with a “cover story” about the injections received from his former strength coach, Brian McNamee. Clemens told Congress the injections were for vitamin B12 and the local anesthetic lidocaine, but McNamee testified that he injected the pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone.

Guerrero said Clemens, one of the most successful pitchers of his generation and a winner of an unprecedented seven Cy Young Awards, told the lies “so as not to tarnish his name.”

Clemens’ lawyers spent much of the trial attacking McNamee’s credibility, and even McNamee acknowledged that details of his story evolved over time. During closing, Hardin produced a chart titled: “Brian McNamee’s testimony is admittedly not credible.” The chart included more than two dozen times in which Hardin said McNamee either lied outright or said something that resulted from a “mistake” or “bad memory.”

“Saying that Brian McNamee lies zero times,” Hardin said, “is kind of like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch.”

Guerrero conceded that McNamee is a “flawed man.”

“We’re not asking you to even like him,” Guerrero said. “Brian McNamee did a lot of things that aren’t nice, and we know that.”

But, Guerrero argued, that made McNamee the perfect partner for Clemens’ alleged use of steroids and human growth hormone, substances that Clemens wouldn’t be able to receive from, say, a team doctor or head athletic trainer.

“Brian McNamee would do whatever Roger Clemens wanted,” Guerrero said. Later, Guerrero said Clemens tossed McNamee “by the wayside.”

Guerrero honed in on one defense witness, Clemens’ wife, Debbie. She testified that she had received a shot of human growth hormone from McNamee without Clemens’ knowledge, contradicting McNamee’s version that the pitcher was present for the shot. Guerrero said it stretched credibility to believe that Debbie Clemens allowed McNamee to come into their master bathroom without her husband’s knowing about it. One of the false allegations Clemens is charged with is that his wife was injected with human growth hormone without his prior knowledge.

The prosecutor said that Clemens should have told McNamee, “What are you doing in my master bathroom with my wife?!”

The reason he didn’t, Guerrero said, was that “he was there that day.”

The prosecutor also said that another false statement to Congress, about whether Clemens was at a pool party hosted by then-teammate Jose Canseco on June 9, 1998, was important because it occurred near the time the government alleges Clemens began taking steroids.

He noted that Debbie Clemens admitted during her testimony that the family stayed at the Canseco house the night before.

“It’s not just the party, folks,” Guerrero said. “He was there the whole time!”

Prosecutors have connected Clemens’ alleged attendance at the party to steroid use in vague terms: McNamee testified he saw Clemens talking at the party to Canseco, identified to the jury as a steroid user, and a third man, just days before Clemens allegedly asked McNamee for a first injection of steroids.

Hardin was indignant that the government would even ask for a felony conviction centered around whether Clemens was at someone’s house on a particular day. He said some of Clemens’ wayward statements to Congress simply came from a man trying his best to remember.

“He’s a Cy Young baseball player,” Hardin said. “Not a Cy Young witness. ... He’s a human being just like everyone else in here.”

Hardin again produced a map showing that the government conducted 235 interviews with 179 people involving 93 federal agents or officers — all in the name of trying to find more evidence that Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone.

“Not one single blankety-blank piece of evidence after all of this effort. ... Not one single bit of evidence for four-and-a-half years of anybody other than Brian McNamee connecting Roger Clemens to steroids and HGH,” Hardin said. “My God, if you’re going to go to this kind of effort to prove this man lied to Congress, you’d better come home with some kind of bacon. Not a zilch!”

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he would allow jurors to consider the alleged false statement about Clemens’ alleged presence at Canseco’s house, although the judge indicated he might reconsider the matter if there’s a guilty verdict because of questions as to its relevance.

“I will permit it to go the jury, although I have some concerns,” Walton said before jurors entered the room.

Guerrero also tried to bolster the testimony of former Clemens teammate Andy Pettitte, who testified that Clemens said he had used human growth hormone — but then agreed under cross-examination it was fair to say there was a “50/50” chance he misunderstood Clemens.

“He didn’t want to testify against his friend,” Guerrero said. “No way. He played with him ... They were almost brothers.” The prosecutor said that Pettitte “was jumping at the opportunity under cross-examination to say maybe 50/50.”

Clemens’ other lawyer, Michael Attanasio, told the jury that Pettitte’s “50/50” memory “is not evidence of anything” and shouldn’t be considered.

Attanasio also attacked the physical evidence produced by McNamee, who said he saved the needle and other waste from a 2001 steroids injection of Clemens and stored it in and around a beer can for some six years. Some of the waste was shown to have Clemens’ DNA.

“There’s no doubt,” Attanasio said, “the medical garbage is garbage.”

Argued Guerrero: “If McNamee was trying to fabricate this evidence, don’t you think he would have done a better job of it?”

After Hardin’s presentation, the court recessed for lunch, and Clemens and Hardin embraced for several seconds. Attanasio hugged Debbie Clemens a few feet away.

Clemens walked down the hallway with his four sons in tow, with one of the sons draping his arm around his father.

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A Marine facing dismissal from the military for his Facebook comments went as far as posting superimposed images of President Barack Obama’s face on a donkey, a prosecutor said Thursday.

 

Prosecutor Capt. John Torresala said the behavior by Marine Sgt. Gary Stein repeatedly violated Pentagon policy limiting the free speech rights of service members. Stein’s security clearance was taken away and he has no future in the Marine Corps because he can’t do his job without that clearance, Torresala said.

 

The government submitted screen grabs of Stein’s postings on one Facebook page he created called Armed Forces Tea Party, which the prosecutor said included the image of the “jackass,” and another page used by Marines such as Stein who work as military meteorologists.

 

Defense attorney Marine Capt. James Baehr said during the hearing that prosecutors were trying to dredge up any damaging information they could against Stein. “There is no basis in this case,” Baehr said. “Sgt. Stein has broken no law.”

 

Stein said his statement about Obama was part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan. In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if it involved detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights.

 

Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Free speech for military on trial after Marine lambastes Obama

CHARDON, Ohio — The Ohio teenager accused of killing three students in a shooting rampage in a high school cafeteria chose his victims at random and is “someone who’s not well,” a prosecutor said Tuesday as the slightly built young man appeared in juvenile court.

T.J. Lane, 17, admitted taking a .22-caliber pistol and a knife to Chardon High and firing 10 shots at a group of students sitting at a cafeteria table Monday morning, Prosecutor David Joyce said. He said Lane didn’t know the victims.

Lane will probably be charged with three counts of aggravated murder and other offenses, the prosecutor said.

A thin figure with short dark hair, Lane seemed small next to the sheriff's deputies who led him into court, and said little more than “Yes, sir” in response to questions from the judge.

His face twitched lightly while the prosecutor recounted the attack, and he sniffled and half-closed his eyes as he left the courtroom under guard.

The hearing came hours after the death toll rose to three, and as schoolmates and townspeople grappled with the tragedy and wondered what could have set off Lane, a young man described by other students as extremely quiet, with few if any friends.

The court appearance did little to solve the mystery. Afterward, though, the prosecutor appeared to rule out rumors and speculation that the gunman lashed out after being bullied or that the shooting had something to do with drug-dealing.

“He chose his victims at random. This is not about bullying. This is not about drugs,” Joyce said. “This is someone who's not well, and I’m sure in our court case we'll prove that to all of your desires and we'll make sure justice is done here in this county.”

Printed on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 as: Ohio school shooter killed three by choosing  random victims

BOGOTA, Colombia — Rev. Rafael Reatiga asked his parishioners to pray for him and gave the choirmaster a list of songs for his funeral just before he was found shot to death together with another Roman Catholic priest, a Colombian prosecutor said Tuesday.

Authorities initially suspected robbery when Reatiga's body was found along with that of Rev. Richard Piffano, 37, in a car in southern Bogota on Jan. 27, 2011.

But on Tuesday prosecutor Ana Patricia Larrota said investigators had determined that it was suicide by hitmen: the two priests hired gunmen to kill them after Reatiga discovered he had AIDS.

The prosecution's chief investigator Maritza Gonzalez said the two priests had originally planned to throw themselves off a cliff into a canyon north of Bogota but apparently lacked the nerve.

Printed on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 as: Bizarre murder-suicide leaves two Colombian priests dead

AUSTIN — Caitlin Baker was 3 when her mother, Debra, was beaten to death and left naked in bed in her Austin home. Although the pain of the loss has faded in the 23 years since, her anger that her mother’s killer was never caught has not.

Now, new DNA testing and the release of case files from an earlier slaying suggest that a prosecutor, who is now a judge, may have withheld evidence that could have implicated the man suspected of killing her mother — before she was killed.

Last week, former grocery store inventory manager Michael Morton was freed after serving nearly 25 years of a life sentence on a wrongful conviction for killing his wife, Christine, in August 1986. Just like Baker, she was found beaten to death in her bed. New DNA testing on evidence collected after both killings linked them to a man with a long arrest record in several states. Authorities are trying to find the suspect, who they haven’t publicly identified, and they haven’t said whether he’s suspected in any other killings.

Morton has maintained throughout his ordeal that his wife was killed by an intruder. The evidence suggests that 17 months later, his wife’s attacker broke into Baker’s home and killed her.

Authorities discovered the DNA connection in the two cases after Morton’s Houston-based attorney, John Raley, teamed up with the New York-based Innocence Project and spent years battling for additional testing of a bloody bandanna found near the Morton home. But they also allege that Morton may never have been convicted if the prosecutor who tried the case, Ken Anderson, hadn’t concealed evidence from the defense.

Among the evidence Morton’s lawyers say Anderson concealed from the defense was a statement that Christine Morton’s mother gave to the lead investigator, police Sgt. Don Wood. She told Wood that her grandson said he watched his mother get killed and that her attacker was a “monster,” not his father, as police suspected.

They say Anderson also didn’t tell Morton’s defense lawyers that Christine Morton’s credit card was used in San Antonio two days after her death and that a forged check in her name was cashed several days later. Michael Morton testified during his trial that his wife’s purse had been taken from
the home.

Anderson did not respond to several requests made through his court administrator to discuss the Morton case and address the allegations. Wood has retired and could not be located for comment.

Morton’s attorneys have detailed their accusations in filings before District Judge Sid Harle. John Bradley, the current district attorney for Williamson County, said the Innocence Project’s charges “are just allegations. No one has offered any proof.”

Morton has declined to be interviewed until a Wednesday appeals court ruling overturning the charges against him officially takes effect next month. Prosecutors, when agreeing to the terms of Morton’s release, promised to use that time to investigate allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct.

“Mr. Morton is entitled, at a minimum, to hold the state to its promise to let him make a limited inquiry as to how and why he was wrongfully convicted in the first place,” Raley wrote.

Unable to question Wood or see his records, the defense asked presiding trial Judge William Lott to review case materials. The Innocence Project contends that Anderson told Lott he’d confer with Wood to ensure the court got all of the investigation records but that Lott only received a fraction of them and never knew about the allegations by the couple’s son or the use of the victim’s credit card
and check.

After reviewing the records he did receive, Lott determined that they weren’t relevant to the trial.

With Morton free and cleared of all charges, police have reopened Baker’s mother’s case.

“It hasn’t changed anything yet,” Baker said. “Unless something actually happens I can’t think
about it.” 

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. — A prosecutor in New York is investigating whether students in other districts on Long Island took part in a cheating scam on college entrance exams that resulted in the arrest of seven current or former students at a prestigious high school.

The arrests were made Tuesday on allegations that one of the seven associated with Great Neck North High School — a 19-year-old college student — took the SAT exams for the others in exchange for payments of up to $2,500.

Sam Eshaghoff provided fake IDs when he sat in for his classmates on the exams between 2009 and this year, prosecutors said. In one of the cases, he is accused of taking the SAT for a girl, although in that case he did it for free, Nassau County prosecutors said.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges of scheming to defraud, criminal impersonation and falsifying business records. He’s a student at Emory University in Atlanta and also attended the University of Michigan; he posted $500 bail and was released.

Eshaghoff’s attorney, Matin Emouna, questioned Wednesday whether the issue required the attention of prosecutors.

“This should have been handled by the school administration,” Emouna said in a telephone interview. “Where are you going to draw the line as a society? Are we going to start arresting kindergarten kids? Everyone knows cheating goes on. We’re not proud of it, but in some way we’ve all done it.”

Eshagoff’s six current or former classmates were released without bail after being charged with misdemeanors, prosecutors said.

The six, some of whom are now in college, apparently got their money’s worth: Prosecutors say Eshaghoff scored between 2140 and 2220 on the tests, which are used by college administrators in determining who gets into school. The top score on an SAT is 2400.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said her office is investigating whether similar SAT scams occurred in at least two other area high schools. Prosecutors also are investigating whether Eshaghoff took the SAT exam for others.

Great Neck North is rated as one of the nation’s top academic high schools. Alumni include David Baltimore, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and Olympic figure skating champion Sarah Hughes.

Great Neck North faculty members this year had heard rumors that students had paid a third party to take the SAT for them, Rice said. Administrators then identified six students who “had large discrepancies between their academic performance records and their SAT scores,” the prosecutor said.

Tom Ewing, a spokesman for ETS, which administers the test for The College Board, said strict security guidelines are in place to prevent cheating. He said students must present an admission ticket and photo ID, which can include a state-issued driver’s license; state-issued non-driver ID; a school identification card; a passport or other government-issued document.

In the Great Neck case, the students registered to take the tests at a school outside their district so they would not be recognized, prosecutors said. Eshaghoff then went to the schools and showed a photo ID with his picture but another student’s name on it, Rice said.

At least once, Eshaghoff flew home from college primarily to impersonate two students and took the SAT twice in one weekend, authorities said.

It is not clear how Eshaghoff would have managed to get past security while taking the test for the girl. Because the six classmates who allegedly “contracted” with Eshaghoff were not identified by prosecutors because they are minors, it is not known if the girl had an unusual name that could have been mistaken for a boy’s.

Ewing noted that because instances like the one in Great Neck are rare, there is no need to review security measures ahead of this weekend’s exam, the largest of the year with nearly 700,000 students already signed up.

“We can’t allow the actions of a few to dictate unnecessary measures for the majority of honest test takers,” he said.

Guerdwich Montimere, who posed as a Permian High School sophomore in 2010, leaves the Ector County Courthouse in Odessa, Texas, on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. Guerdwich Montimere, 23, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and three counts of tampering with government records, said Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland. Montimere, whose trial was to begin next week in Odessa, had faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the original counts.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

LUBBOCK — A former star athlete who posed as a teenager to play high school basketball in West Texas was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison after reaching a plea deal, a prosecutor said.

Guerdwich Montimere, 23, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and three counts of tampering with government records, said Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland.

Officials say the naturalized U.S. citizen from Haiti had graduated from high school in Florida, where he also played basketball, years before he moved to Odessa and presented himself as a ninth-grader named Jerry Joseph. Montimere was 21 and 22 when he played one season at Odessa Permian High, the same rabidly competitive school that inspired the book and movie “Friday Night Lights” about high school football. Montimere helped lead the Panthers to the 2010 state playoffs, but the team had to forfeit after his story unraveled.

Montimere was indicted last year on six felony charges, including sexual assault and tampering with government records. His trial was to begin next week in Odessa, and he had faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the original counts. The indictment accused him of identity theft. The sexual assault counts accused him of having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Messages were left with a spokesman for Montimere’s attorney Wednesday as well as with his mother, Manikisse Montimere.

Suspicions were raised about Joseph after coaches from Florida at a post-season amateur basketball tournament in Arkansas said they recognized him as Montimere, a 2007 graduate of a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., high school.

Because he was living with Odessa basketball coach Danny Wright and not a parent or guardian, Montimere had to apply to the University Interscholastic League in Austin to play high school basketball. A waiver was granted and he was the star of the team.

Wright, who still calls Montimere by the name Jerry, said he was livid once he learned Joseph wasn’t who he said he was.

“I was blindsided,” Wright said. “I never saw it coming. I just thought he was a big kid.”

Montimere was named the District 2-5A Newcomer of the Year, an honor that was stripped when his deception was exposed. The Panthers also forfeited their 16 wins, although Wright said the “team would have been good with or without Jerry.”

Bland noted Montimere will have to register as a sex offender.

“To me, this is justice considering what he did here. This will protect other towns from him doing what he did here,” Bland said.

He also said the victim had wanted a plea deal.

“The victim’s been through a lot because of the high profile nature of this case,” he said. “And I wanted to save her from going through the ordeal of a trial.”

After the Arkansas tournament, Permian officials had begun receiving anonymous phone calls and emails saying Joseph was really Montimere. Odessa school officials looked into the situation, and Joseph was initially cleared by immigration authorities and allowed to return to the school.

But the investigation continued, and officials eventually confirmed Montimere’s identity. School officials said Montimere confessed after he was confronted with the new evidence.

In spite of everything, Montimere still had the support of some Permian teachers, who had planned to be in the courtroom for his trial.

Liz Faught, a substitute at Permian who had Montimere as a student several times, said he was always well-behaved and polite. Although she said she felt a “bit duped” when the truth surfaced, she never lost her compassion for him.

“I know he was doing all of it for himself to be better off,” she said. “And that’s fine. We all do that. ... I cannot say one bad thing about this kid.”

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Athlete who posed as student receives three years in prison