California Supreme Court Grants New Trial to Man Sent to Death Row 25 Years Ago by False Forensic Evidence

The California Supreme Court has vacated the conviction of Vicente Figueroa Benavides (pictured), saying that the forensic evidence that sent the former Mexican farmworker to death row 25 years ago was “extensive,” “pervasive,” “impactful,” and “false.” Benavides, now 68, was sentenced to death in 1993 after being found guilty of brutally murdering Consuelo Verdugo, his girlfriend’s 21-month-old toddler, by raping and anally sodomizing her. However, the court said, medical evidence showed that the girl was never raped or sodomized and may not have been murdered at all. Instead, she may have died from complications from having been struck by a car. Benavides—whose lawyers have argued is developmentally disabled and possesses the mental ability of a 7-year-old—told the police and jury during the trial that he lost track of the toddler while he was preparing dinner on November 17, 1991 and he found her outdoors, vomiting. Consuelo’s mother took her to a local medical center that evening, where her condition worsened. After surgery and two hospital transfers, the child died a week later. At trial, forensic pathologist Dr. James Diblin testified that the toddler had died from “blunt force penetrating injury of the anus” and claimed that the major internal injuries she suffered were the result of rape. He further testified that arm injuries, internal trauma, dilated pupils, and compression rib fractures that Consuelo sustained had been “caused by tight squeezing during a sexual assault.” Dr. Jess Diamond, who evaluated the toddler at Kern Medical Center, also initially testified that the baby had been raped. However, medical records obtained by Benavides’s post-conviction lawyers showed that the examining physicians had not seen any signs of bleeding when Consuelo was brought to the hospital, and a nurse who helped treat the toddler said that neither she nor any of her colleagues saw evidence of anal or vaginal trauma when the child arrived. Instead, the court said, the injuries to Consuelo’s genitalia and anus were “attribut[able] to medical intervention,” including repeated failed efforts to insert a catheter and the improper use of an adult-sized catheter on the small child. “After reviewing the medical records and photographs that I should have been provided in 1993,” Dr. Diamond withdrew his assessment that Consuelo had been raped. “I am convinced that this case presents a tremendous failing of the criminal justice system,” he said. The defense also presented evidence from Dr. Astrid Heger, one of the country’s leading experts on child abuse, who described Dr. Didbin’s assertion that Consuelo’s injuries had been the product of sexual assault as “so unlikely to the point of being absurd. … No such mechanism of injury has ever been reported in any literature of child abuse or child assault.” She said the internal injuries the child sustained were commonly seen in victims of automobile accidents. During oral argument, Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, a former prosecutor, described Dibdin’s testimony as being “among the most hair-raising false evidence that I’ve encountered in all the time that I’ve been looking at criminal cases.” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye compared the sexual assault allegations to “a bomb dropped on the jury” that prevented the jurors from considering the evidence that the toddler may have been hit by a car. Prosecutors admitted that the forensic evidence they used to convict Benavides was false, but asked the state court to sustain a conviction for second-degree murder. With its key evidence discredited, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said it was improbable that prosecutors would attempt to retry Benavides. If the charges are dismissed, Benavides would be the fourth California death-row prisoner to be exonerated since the state brought back the death penalty in 1974.

(Maura Dolan, California Supreme Court, citing false evidence, overturns murder conviction that put Delano man on death row, Los Angeles Times,  March 12, 2018; Chloe Carlson, BREAKING NEWS: Death penalty reversed; “false evidence” used in trial, court rules, Kern Golden Empire, March 12, 2018; Jose Gaspar, With ‘hair-raising false evidence’ exposed, Delano man get a second chance, The Bakersfield Californian, March 9, 2018; Olivia LaVoice, Did Kern send an innocent man to Death Row? High court considering the stunning possibility, Kern Golden Empire, undated.) Read the California Supreme Court ruling in In re Vicente Benavides Figueroa. See Innocence.

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Cranley and Black go to war

Cranley unfit for prime time black-cranley*100xx650-650-141-0.pngCincinnati Mayor John Cranley said Wednesday that he will present the City Council with written documentation on City Manager Harry Black’s conduct in an attempt to convince members to terminate him, but Black vowed to fight for his job, sending Cincinnati city government into chaos unseen since the 2001 riots.

 It’s a high-stakes conflict that will carry dire consequences – professional ones for Black and political ones for Cranley. It also comes as the city faces critical, unresolved issues…

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Knesset bars Arab MK from JVP-sponsored trip to U.S.

MK Yousef Jabareen was supposed to travel across the United States for a series of lectures on the political reality in Israel. The Knesset decided to put the kibosh on the trip — because it is sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace.

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen seen in the Knesset. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen seen in the Knesset. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Knesset has forbidden an Arab member of Knesset from traveling to the United States for a series of lectures. The reason? The trip was to be subsidized by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a left-wing American organization that supports pressuring Israel to end the occupation with boycotts, and appears on a government blacklist of groups that support the BDS movement.

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“[The decision] is a severe blow to my political freedom as an elected official. This is activity that is a fundamental and integral part of my role as a member of the Knesset opposition,” MK Yousef Jabareen told +972 Magazine on Wednesday. “American opinion is relevant to the political reality in Israel, and it is important for me to try and have an influence there through lectures and conferences.”

The decision is the first time that the Knesset Ethics Committee has enforced a new regulation, created in January of this year, which bars Knesset Members from traveling abroad using funds of groups that appear on the blacklist. As reported in Haaretz, Ethics Committee Chairman Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) confirmed that the committee asked the Strategic Affairs Ministry for more information on JVP.

Jabareen said he is considering filing a petition to the High Court of Justice against the decision to bar his travel, and to overturn the new Ethics Committee regulations.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for compiling the blacklist, issued a response to the committee on March 8th, according to which JVP “is currently considered one of the leading boycott organizations in the United States, declaring its support for BDS as a nonviolent tool that will compel the State of Israel to change its policy and relinquish ‘the occupied territories.’”

Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson issued the following response:

We are deeply disappointed that MK Yousef Jabareen won’t be able to join us in the U.S. due to the Knesset decision to effectively block his travel.  We were very much looking forward to learning from his experience as an MK and his leadership on issues of democracy and equality in Israel. This decision is sad evidence of the further deterioration of Israeli democratic standards.

National School Walkout

It’s been exactly one month since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — and some are choosing a somber way to pay tribute to the 17 people killed in the Parkland massacre.

Thousands of students and teachers are planning to walk out of their classrooms on Wednesday, March 14 as part of the the #Enough! National School Walkout to raise awareness about issues of school safety and the impact of gun violence. The nationwide march, organized by Women’s March Youth Empower, will happen at 10 a.m. and last 17 minutes.

The nationwide protest is both a memorial and protest action. Students and teachers across the United States will walk out of their schools and universities to honor the lives of the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas and press lawmakers to pass stricter gun control laws, according to EMPOWER, the group organizing the action.

Among their demands, participants want Congress to:

Ban assault weapons

Require universal background checks before gun sales

Pass a gun violence restraining order law that would allow courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior