U.S. Supreme Court wrestles over ‘D.C. Sniper’ life sentence appeal

U.S. Supreme Court wrestles over ‘D.C. Sniper’ life sentence appeal
By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday questioned whether a lower court sufficiently considered that a man convicted in the deadly 2002 “D.C. Sniper” shooting spree in the Washington area was a minor at the time of the crimes when he was sentenced to life in prison.

The nine justices heard arguments in an appeal by the state of Virginia objecting to the lower court’s decision ordering that Lee Boyd Malvo’s sentence of life in prison without parole be thrown out.

Malvo, now 34, was 17 during the shootings in which 10 people were killed. He participated with an older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, who was given the death penalty.

If Malvo prevails, he and other prison inmates in similar cases involving certain crimes committed by minors could receive new sentencing hearings to allow judges to consider whether their youth at the time of the offense merits leniency.

Malvo’s best chance of victory appears to be an alliance of the court’s four liberal justices and at least one conservative justice. The most likely contender based on questions he asked during the argument would be Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The shootings occurred over three weeks in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, causing panic in the U.S. capital region. Muhammad also was convicted and was executed in 2009 at age 48 in a Virginia state prison.

Virginia appealed after the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that Malvo should be resentenced. The 4th Circuit cited Supreme Court decisions issued since the shooting spree finding that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, and that this rule applied retroactively.

Malvo received four life sentences in Virginia, where he was convicted of two murders and later entered a separate guilty plea to avoid the death penalty. He also received a sentence of life in prison without parole in Maryland.

Virginia’s appeal concerns the scope of a 2012 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that mandatory life sentences without parole in homicide cases involving juvenile killers violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In 2016, the court decided that the 2012 ruling applied retroactively, enabling people imprisoned years ago to argue for their release.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan appeared convinced that the 2012 ruling, which she authored, dictates the outcome.

“It can be summarized in two words, which is that youth matters,” Kagan said.

Fellow liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said the “odds are greater than 50-50” that the judge did not consider Malvo’s youth during sentencing.

Kavanaugh questioned whether the Virginia sentencing process gave judges leeway not to impose sentences of life without parole, a finding that would favor Malvo. Kavanaugh described that question as the “tough part of the case.”

President Donald Trump’s administration backed Virginia in the case. Among those backing Malvo’s claim in the case are Paul LaRuffa, who was shot and injured outside the restaurant he ran in Clinton, Maryland during the 2002 spree, and two relatives of people killed in shootings.

Malvo’s Maryland sentence would not be directly affected by the outcome in the Virginia dispute.

A ruling is due by the end of June.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Iraq jails French and German citizens for life for joining Islamic State

FILE PHOTO: An Iraqi student walks past a school wall covered with drawings showing how Islamic State militants executed their prisoners in Mosul, Iraq April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal/File Photo

By Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An Iraqi court sentenced a French man and a German woman to life in prison on Monday for belonging to Islamic State, forging ahead with the trial of hundreds of people – many foreigners – captured after the militant group’s defeat last year.

French citizen Lahcen Ammar Gueboudj, in his 50s, and the German, Nadia Rainer Hermann, 22, had both pleaded not guilty to joining the hardline Islamist group that captured a third of Iraq and swathes of Syria in 2014.

Though Gueboudj and Hermann were tried individually, they were brought out for sentencing with 13 others tried on Monday, crowding the small courtroom.

During Gueboudj’s roughly 30-minute trial, he said he had only come to the region to retrieve his son who had joined Islamic State and had been living in its de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa.

“I would never have left France if my son hadn’t been in Syria,” he told the judge, through a translator, in Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court.

“I know I’m crazy to have gone to Syria.”

Speaking to Reuters in French through the bars of a holding cell outside the courtroom before he was sentenced, a disheveled Gueboudj said he had signed papers he had not understood were a confession during the investigation.

Hermann and Gueboudj both told Reuters they had spoken to consular staff only once since being detained in 2017. They had court-appointed lawyers present on Monday but had neither met with nor spoken to them, they said. The sentences can be appealed.

Embassy staff and translators from both countries attended Monday’s hearing.

Hermann was sentenced in January to a year in jail for entering Iraq illegally.

Asked by the judge whether she believed in Islamic State’s ideology, she said no. However, she earlier admitted to the judge that she had received a salary of 50,000 Iraqi dinars ($42) per month, which confirmed her membership to the group.

“This whole process is confusing,” Hermann, who wore a blue prison uniform over a black abaya and a grey headscarf, told Reuters before the verdict, speaking in German from the holding cell, in the presence of Iraqi prison guards.

Hermann was the only woman being tried on charges relating to Islamic State on Monday. Iraq has been prosecuting women of various nationalities for months and was sentencing roughly 10 women a day at the peak of trials in the spring.

Around 20 foreign women, including nationals of Turkey, Germany, and Azerbaijan, have been sentenced to death for membership of Islamic State.

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Turkey sentences 104 people to life in prison in post-coup case: Hurriyet

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 18, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Monday sentenced 104 people to life in prison for involvement in a failed military coup in 2016, the Hurriyet newspaper said, in one of the heaviest penalties given since the attempt.

The court in the Aegean coastal town of Izmir handed 104 of 280 defendants “aggravated life” sentences, Hurriyet said, the harshest punishment possible under Turkish law as it raises the minimum time in jail required for parole.

Another 21 people were given 20 years in prison for insulting the president, while 31 others were sentenced to 10 years and six months for “membership of a terrorist organization”, Hurriyet said.

More than 240 people, most of them unarmed civilians, were killed on the night of July 15, 2016, when a group of rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and warplanes in an attempt to attack parliament and overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan.

The government blames the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, for orchestrating the failed coup. Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied involvement and condemned the putsch.

Since the coup attempt, authorities have detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants as part of a sweeping crackdown, the U.N. human rights office said in March. Of that number, more than 50,000 have been formally charged and kept in jail pending trial.

The scale of the crackdown has alarmed rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies, who fear the country is sliding further into authoritarianism under Erdogan and accuse the president of using the failed putsch as a pretext to quash dissent.

The government, however, says the measures are necessary, given the extent of the security threats it faces.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Catherine Evans)

Mass killer, cult leader Charles Manson dies at 83

Charles Manson during a 1989 interview.

By Diane Bartz and Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Charles Manson, the wild-eyed cult leader who orchestrated a string of gruesome killings in Southern California by his “family” of young followers, shattering the peace-and-love ethos of the late 1960s, died on Sunday, prison officials said. He was 83.

Manson died of natural causes Sunday evening at a Kern County hospital, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement. It gave no further details of the circumstances surrounding his death.

He had been serving a life sentence at the nearby Corcoran State Prison for ordering the murders of nine people, including actress Sharon Tate.

Long after Manson had largely faded from headlines, he loomed large as a symbol of the terror he unleashed in the summer of 1969.

“The very name Manson has become a metaphor for evil,” the late Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Manson, told the Los Angeles Times in 1994.

A recent photograph showed the gray-bearded killer’s face still bearing the scar of a swastika he carved into his forehead decades earlier.

Manson became one of the 20th century’s most notorious criminals when he directed his mostly young, female followers to murder seven people in what prosecutors said was part of a plan to incite a race war.

 

GRAFFITI WITH VICTIMS’ BLOOD

Tate, aged 26 and eight months pregnant, was stabbed 16 times in the early morning hours of Aug. 9, 1969, by members of Manson’s cult at the rented hillside house she shared with her husband, filmmaker Roman Polanski, in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.

Four friends of the celebrity couple, including coffee heiress Abigail Folger and hairstylist Jay Sebring, were also stabbed or shot to death that night by Manson followers, who scrawled the word “Pig” in blood on the home’s front door before leaving. Polanski was away in Europe at the time.

The following night, members of Manson’s group stabbed grocery owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary to death, using their blood to write, “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” – a misspelled reference to the Beatles song “Helter Skelter” – on the walls and refrigerator door.

Although Manson did not personally kill any of the seven victims, he was found guilty of ordering their murders.

He was later convicted of ordering the murders of music teacher Gary Hinman, stabbed to death in July 1969, and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea, stabbed and bludgeoned that August.

Manson was sentenced to death for the Tate-LaBianca murders, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court abolished capital punishment in the state in 1972.

Born Charles Milles Maddox on Nov. 12, 1934, in Cincinnati to a 16-year-old girl, Manson spent much of his youth shuttled between relatives and juvenile detention halls. By age 13, he had been convicted of armed robbery.

Newly paroled from prison in 1967, he began attracting members of his “family” in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, which had become a haven for the hippie youth culture.

The group moved with his followers to the Los Angeles area, eventually settling at Spahn Ranch, site of an outdoor movie location used for Western films and TV shows. Communal sex and drug use were a way of life as Manson became a messiah to the runaways, outcasts and criminals drawn by his charisma, intimidation and twisted spiritualism.

One follower told authorities she had seen Manson bring a bird back to life by breathing on it. Another said he could see and hear everything she did and said.

Manson aspired to be a rock star, and through one of his followers befriended Dennis Wilson, drummer of the Beach Boys, who would go on base their 1969 song “Never Learn Not to Love” on a Manson composition.

Wilson introduced Manson to music producer Terry Melcher, who later snubbed him. Melcher, along with his then-girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen, had previously rented the Benedict Canyon house.

The brutality of the killings stunned the nation.

“There was a lot of fear,” Bugliosi, author of the chilling book about the murders, “Helter Skelter,” told the Times in 1994. “The words printed in blood made it especially frightening for the Hollywood crowd.”

 

SENSATIONAL TRIAL

Denied his request to represent himself during his 9-1/2 month trial, Manson showed up in court with an “X” carved into his forehead, and would later alter it into a swastika.

Co-defendants Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel cut “X”s in their foreheads, shaved their scalps, sang Manson-written songs and giggled through chilling testimony.

At one point, Manson tried to leap over the defense table at the judge, snarling: “In the name of Christian justice, someone should cut your head off.” The judge began carrying a gun afterward.

Manson ultimately was brought down by his followers. Atkins told two inmates about the Tate-LaBianca murders while she was jailed in an unrelated killing, then testified to a grand jury before recanting. Prosecutors then persuaded another follower, Linda Kasabian, to testify against the rest of the group in exchange for immunity.

Convicted along with Manson, his three co-defendants, Atkins, Van Houten and Krenwinkel, also had their death sentences reduced to life terms.

Manson long maintained his innocence, telling Rolling Stone magazine that follower Charles “Tex” Watson was responsible for the Tate-LaBianca killings. Watson was tried separately and is serving a life term for his role in those killings.

Still, Manson seemed resigned to a life of incarceration, ceasing to even attend his parole review hearings after 1997.

“What would I want out for?” he said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. “This beats an old folks home.”

In April 2012, Manson was quoted by parole officials as having told a prison psychologist the previous fall: “I have put five people in the grave. I’ve been in prison most of my life. I’m a very dangerous man.”

 

(Writing by Diane Bartz, Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Diane Craft and Nick Macfie)