DNA returns expanded for cold cases

Cold case investigators may now get more returns when searching the state’s DNA database in the hunt for suspects, according to an announcement Friday from the office of the state’s top prosecutor.

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has told county prosecutors that the state will help local detectives solve aging cases, under special circumstances, by supplying the identities of a suspect’s blood relatives in the DNA database.

In other words, if detectives can’t find a match when searching the database, they may get one that’s just close enough to give them the break they need.

Check it out:

News Release
April 25, 2008

Brown Unveils DNA Technique To Crack Unsolved Crimes

SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced a new DNA search policy that will improve the ability of local law enforcement to investigate unsolved violent crimes by providing new investigative leads.

California will help local law enforcement catch violent criminals by providing, under special circumstances, the identity of a person in the DNA database who is the close relative of a suspect, Attorney General Brown told the California District Attorneys Association at their annual DNA/Cold Case Summit. This new technique will assist local law enforcement with unsolved crimes committed by killers and sex offenders.

Currently, the state laboratory alerts local law enforcement when a crime scene sample exactly matchesat all 26 genetic markersthe DNA of an offender in the state offender database. 15 or more shared markers indicate that the person in the database could be a close relative of the source of the crime scene evidence. Under Californias new search technique, the state laboratory will release this relatives identity to local law enforcement if the agency adheres to a strict protocol to ensure that personal privacy is carefully protected.

Californias DNA offender database currently contains more than 1 million profiles from persons convicted of any felony and those arrested or charged with a homicide or sex offense. To date, the laboratory has released more than 5,000 exact matches, cold hits which provide key evidence to help solve crimes.

Californias new search technique imposes multiple conditions, as specified in the attached policy bulletin, which must be met before the California Department of Justice will release the identity of a suspects relative. This process was developed to strike an effective balance between privacy concerns and need to provide information that may solve a violent crime.

If there is a serious public safety risk, for example a violent sex offender is at large, state scientists may also search the database in an effort to identify possible relatives of the suspect. If such a search returns multiple results, scientists will use a kinship analysis to determine whether any of the matches are likely to be a relative. The local agency must then conduct an additional genetic test to confirm the relatedness.

At more than 1 million DNA profiles, the California Attorney Generals Office has the third largest DNA database in the world, just behind the United States as a whole and the United Kingdom. Each month, the laboratory releases more than 200 cold hits, matches between crime scene samples and persons in the state database.

In September 2007, Attorney General Brown announced that the backlog of DNA samples collected from convicted felons and certain arrestees–which stood at 295,000 in July 2006–had been completely eliminated.

For more information on DNA testing in California visit: http://ag.ca.gov/bfs/

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Death penalty sought for Thomson

It was just a matter of time.

But prosecutors finally announced Friday that they are seeking the death penalty against a three-time convicted rapist from Washington state who is charged with killing a man in the Cajon Pass in 2006 and then days later attacking motorists in Victorville.

The process of deciding whether to seek the death penalty is not taken lightly and requires an in-depth evaluation of the case, say lawyers. And one of the best parts – at least according to this writer – is that victims’ families get to talk with the prosecutors and weigh-in on the decision.

Here’s an excerpt from the story that’s running Saturday in The Sun, regarding the District Attorney’s decision. It will have details from the case. Once the story posts to The Sun’s web site, I’ll post the link here.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against John Wayne Thomson, a thrice-convicted rapist from Washington who is suspected of killing a businessman in the Cajon Pass in 2006.

Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch made the announcement Friday during a hearing for Thomson in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Mr. Thomson, over the last 25 years, has left a string of victims as his crimes have progressed in severity, Bulloch said, after the hearing.

Thomson is charged with brutally stabbing 55-year-old Charles Hedlund, who stopped to help a stranded Thomson in the Blue Cut area of the Cajon Pass on Aug. 2, 2006.

Days later, Thomson attacked three motorists in Victorville while trying to take their cars, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department.

The case garnered regional attention when two newspaper High Desert pressmen, responding to a womans screams, caught Thomson in the midst of a carjacking and bound him with plastic zip ties until authorities arrived.

Thomson, 48, is scheduled to appear in court again May 2.

Flesh Club case goes back to trial court

If you’re tracking the City of San Bernardino’s legal actions against the Flesh Club, you’ll be interested in a state Supreme Court decision Thursday that sends the issue over $1.4 million in lost profits back to the trial courts. Staff Writer Andrew Edwards tackled the issue for The Sun.

4:03 p.m.: CA Supreme Court reverses decision that city owes Flesh Club owners $1.4 million

By Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/24/2008 04:07:15 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – The California Supreme Court today reversed an appellate court’s decision that the city owed the Flesh Club’s owners $1.4 million in lost profits.

The Supreme Court’s action did not put an end to the case. Instead, the case is headed back to trial court and attorneys for both sides predicted they could win in that venue.

“We’re in better shape now,” City Attorney James F. Penman said.

The legal battle goes back to 1995. Then, City Hall obtained a court order in San Bernardino Superior Court to block nude dancing at Flesh Club, which is on Hospitality Lane.

However, that order was later dissolved and a jury eventually awarded Manta Management Corp. $1.4 million in lost profits, as nude dancing was blocked at Flesh Club from 1995 to 1999 during legal proceedings. The damages were based on the notion that the city could be held liable since the ordinance that functioned as the basis of the 1995 court order was judged to be unconstitutional.

But the state Supreme Court found that it was the 1995 court order itself, rather than the city’s law, that shut down the club. In other words, the court found that it wasn’t the city’s fault that Manta lost money.

Maybe.

The state directed the case to return to trial court to settle the question of whether the 1995 court order would have been issued had the city given a judge correct information on how much land was set aside for adult businesses.

Both sides agree that a San Bernardino staffer overstated the amount of land where Flesh Club could have operated under the zoning laws in place when the legal battle began.

Penman expressed confidence that the city could prove that enough land was available. Manta’s attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, responded that his side would prevail since the old zoning law was struck down.

“I think it’s a foregone conclusion,” Diamond said.

andrew.edwards@inlandnewspapers.com

Labor investigators cite county restaurants

The state Labor Commissioner’s Office was back in San Bernardino and Riverside counties again this week, issuing 38 citations totaling $207,000 in fines to local restaurants.

Investigators conducted sweeps of five restaurants in San Bernardino County and 39 eateries in neighboring Riverside County, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

The names of the restaurants were not immediately available.

Alleged violations that were cited by investigators include failure to:

  • provide workers compensation insurance
  • provide itemized deductions,
  • pay minimum wage, and
  • secure permits for working minors (child labor)

“We are here to ensure that the restaurant industry properly pays its employees and that the rights of these workers are safeguarded,” said Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet, in a statement. “Restaurants that operate outside the law have an unfair advantage over their competitors. Its our job to protect workers and level the playing field for those restaurant operators who do follow the law.”

People with work-related questions or complaints can call the California Workers Information Hotline at (866) 924-9757.

Mynisha defendant compared to Manson

A prosecutor arguing to keep the three defendants in the Mynisha Crenshaw case together for one trial compared alleged gang shotcaller Sidikiba Greenwood to convicted serial killer Charles Manson during court proceedings Wednesday.

Greenwood’s lawyer Clifton Peters argued that his client should have his own trial because he “is going to be so immensely prejudiced” by the evidence presented in the deadly shooting of the 11-year-old girl and the wounding of her older sister in November 2005.

Greenwood is one of three defendants prepping for trial in the shooting. Jury selection begins next week in San Bernardino Superior Court.

In trying to keep the group of defendants together, Deputy District Attorney Ron Webster compared Greenwood in open court to convicted serial killer Charles Manson and mob boss John Gotti, both reputed to have ordered murders.

Peters argued that Greenwood was not at the scene of the shooting, and he is a scapegoat for other co-defendants who have taken plea bargains and will testify to keep their deals. Eight defendants have taken plea bargains, and four of them are eligible to testify at the upcoming trial.

“We steadfastly deny that he did anything about giving anybody any orders,” Peters told the court.

Webster has described Greenwood, a founding member of the Pimps, Players, Hustlers and Gangsters street gang, as a “shotcaller” and a godfather. Authorities believe Greenwood rallied members of PPHG to retaliate against a rival gang when gunshots were fired into Mynisha’s San Bernardino apartment.

“He is an integral part of the case,” Webster said.

Judge Brian McCarville denied Greenwood’s motion for severance from the group, as well as motions filed by lawyers for the other two defendants going to trial, Sinque Morrison and Harold Phillips. Earlier in the week, the judge granted a request for more time from Marsha Fitzgerald, the lawyer for defendant Michael Barnett Jr., because she was ill.

Metal theft bill advances

Metal thieves could soon face fines in addition to penalties.

A bill advancing through an Assembly committee aims to add a $100 fine for first-time offenders and $200 for a repeat offenders, in addition to the current penalties for theft.

The news comes as county firefighters had trouble extinguishing a fire at the home of a Hesperia man Wednesday because copper fittings were missing from all the hydrants on the block. Firefighters needed more time to bring in water to the location, and the fire caused significant damage to the home.

The metal theft bill, authored by Assemblyman John J. Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes, received unanimous approval in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Benoit’s office announced Wednesday.

The rising price of metals, such as copper, has become an invitation for thieves looking for a quick buck.

In San Bernardino County, metal theft has soared to account for one-third of property crimes, rising from an average of two incidents per month seven years ago to 10 thefts per week, according to the assemblyman. In neighboring Riverside County, more than 1,000 metal theft incidents were reported in 2007 resulting in $2.6 million worth of metal losses.

Currently, metal theft can be charged as grand theft, which carries a sentence of one year in jail, if a person steals an amount worth over $400, according to the California Penal Code. If the bill passes, revenue collected will stay in the local community for enforcement.

Burkett petitioners charged with fraud

Riverside County prosecutors charged a pair of overzealous petitioners from Burkett Petition Management this week with elections fraud after investigators found they may have used names from a phone book and forged signatures.

Capping a two-and-a-half year investigation, authorities arrested Remi Janee Haynes, 22, of Gardena, and her former roommate Taralyn Maria Bentley, 27, of Azusa, on Wednesday, according to Riverside County Superior Court documents.

“It’s a process that everybody expects to be on the up and up,” explained Ingrid Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. “They’re supposed to be out legitimately seeking these signatures. But unfortunately sometimes they try to cut corners.”

If Burkett Petition Management sounds familiar to you, it should.

Based in Arizona, Burkett was named in an investigation by prosecutors in San Bernardino County targeting more than 3,000 possibly fraudulent voter registration cards in March 2006. Bill Postmus, then-chairman of the county Republican Party and Board of Supervisors, noted the cards appeared to be filled out by the signature gatherers.

Burkett surfaced again later that month when the company was caught in a flap over voter registration guidelines for a petition regarding law enforcement in the city of Rialto. In each case in San Bernardino County, Burkett denied wrongdoing.

In the Riverside case, Haynes and Bentley submitted the falsified petitions to Burkett Petition Management, according to prosecutors. Burkett alerted the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit in April 2005.

Eighteen months later, Riverside County prosecutors took on the probe for another year.

Haynes and Bently were charged on Mar. 26 with 26 counts including placing fictitious names on an initiative petition, filing a false document and perjury. If convicted, they could be sentenced up to 11 years in state prison, prosecutors said.

Both defendants are scheduled to appear in Riverside Superior Court on April 29.

Jury integrity paramount in Mynisha retrial

Lawyers in the Mynisha Crenshaw homicide re-trial will begin picking jurors next week, a crucial element of the process that may have dogged the first trial in Rancho Cucamonga in fall 2006.

Three suspects are ready for trial, to be held in San Bernardino this time, in a brutal gang retaliation shooting that killed 11-year-old Mynisha and wounded her older sister.

In the retrial, jury selection couldn’t be more paramount after potential threats surfaced during the 2006 trial while court testimony was underway.

Prosecutors learned one of the jurors hailed from an area favorable to the street gang whose members were on trial, according to those close to the case. Defendant Sinque Morrison had identified a juror as being from the Grape, an area controlled by a Los Angeles street gang, in a telephone call from the jail, The Sun reported in October 2006.

In a separate instance, Sheriff’s deputies who control the inmate holding area at the courthouse found a kite, or a note passed among inmates, referencing jurors. Working on one of the jurors. Need you to have some new booties take care of that Ms. Davis business, maybe even at the courthouse, the note said.

Court officials, at the time, said no one on the jury was named Ms. Davis but the situation was enough to cause alarm. In response, Judge Shahla Sabet held a closed-court hearing to interview jurors one by one and assess any possible misconduct.

The jury eventually deadlocked on most of the charges against defendants Sidikiba Greenwood, Harold Phillips and Morrison, and prosecutors say they aren’t taking any chances with jury selection and safety in the second trial.

Considerations are being made to reduce chances of the situation from happening again, Deputy District Attorney Ron Webster explained this week. However, no details were revealed.

The three men, suspected members of the Pimps, Players, Hustlers and Gangsters street gang, are charged with Mynisha’s death and the wounding of her older sister in the November 2005 shooting.

San Bernardino Police say the gang was retaliating for the shooting death of one of its own members, four days earlier in the same area. Numerous rounds were fired into an apartment near Mountain Avenue and Citrus Street, where Mynisha and her family were eating dinner.

The girls were unintended victims.

Eight other defendants in the case have already taken plea bargains. A judge delayed defendant Michael Barnett Jr. from going to trial earlier this week after his lawyer asked for more time because of an illness.

Mynisha re-trial in full swing

As fellow Sun staffer Robert Rogers reported this morning, the re-trial for suspects in the deadly Mynisha Crenshaw shooting is back in full swing before Judge Brian McCarville in San Bernardino Superior Court.

However, this time there’s only three defendants. McCarville granted defense lawyer Marsha Fitzgerald more time to recover from an illness, so defendant Michael Barnett Jr. gets to sit this one out. Going forward in the retrial are defendants Sidikiba Greendwood, Sinque Morrison and Harold Phillips.

On Tuesday, lawyers for each side argued the finer points of a statement defendant Harold Phillips gave to San Bernardino Police detectives after the shooting. Prosecutors have the difficult task of redacting portions of the statement that pertain to the other defendants, while trying to keep the meat of the statement intact.

A handful of family members for the defendants watched the slow and deliberate proceedings from the gallery.

McCarville had ruled Monday that portions of Phillips’ tape-recorded statement to Detective Gary Robertson would be admissable at trial, after defense lawyer John Aquilina argued that his client had not been properly Mirandized. The judge ruled that a Miranda advisal later in the interview and a signature from Phillips made portions of the interview usable by prosecutors.

Deputy District Attorney Ron Webster and the defense lawyers were about two-thirds of the way through the written statement by the mid-day break on Tuesday. They still have many other issues and motions to address, aside from jury selection, before they can begin the testimony phase.

Casino bans strengthened in Assembly bill

Proposed legislation which makes it easier for tribal casinos to ban problem people from their premises is making its way through the state legislature, while a separate bill proposes to give elder abuse victims a stronger voice in court.

Riverside County’s top prosecutor Rod Pacheco is lending his support to Assembly Bill 2155 which allows for greater enforcement of tribal gaming bans, according to an announcement his office sent out Wednesday.

Under the current law, a person who has been banned from a tribal casino in the past must create a disturbance in order to be convicted of trespassing on the next visit. But Assembly Bill 2155, which was authored by Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, closes the gap.

For those people who have been banned, simply re-entering the casino facility will be grounds for removal from the property, according to the new legislation. The bill is set to be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Pacheco called the legislation’s progress and support “a great advantage to our community,” in the statement.

A separate bill written by Senators Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, and Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, proposes to allow elders and dependant adults who are testifying in abuse cases to have up to two support personnel with them while they testify. Pacheco is also supporting this bill, Senate Bill 1343, to give elder abuse and dependant adult victims a stronger voice in court.

SB 1343 has passed the state Senate with unanimous bipartisan support, according to Pacheco, and is now awaiting committee hearings in the Assembly.

The two bills are among 14 separate pieces of legislation that Pacheco’s office is sponsoring this year.