Jury Deliberations Begin Today in Shen Murder Trial

After a day of testimony where District Attorney James Goodman saw two police officers and one of the victim’s friends testify that Brandon Piekarsky was NOT the person who fatally kicked Luis Ramirez in the head, his battered prosecution team will look to recover during closing arguments today. The “trial of the decade” has not gone according to plan for Schuylkill County’s top law enforcement official. It was all supposed to be a slam dunk, but after days of contradictory testimony from Goodman’s own witnesses and the stirring revelations that eyewitnesses identified Brian Scully as the kicker from the police who arrived on the scene first, some trial watchers believe that an acquittal on the murder and manslaughter counts is completely feasible.

West Mahanoy Township police officer Robert Senape and Frackville police officer Michelle Ashman both testified yesterday that eyewitness Arielle Garcia clearly identified Brian Scully, charged as a juvenile in this case and who testified for the prosecution earlier this week, as the teen who kicked Ramirez in the head as he lay unconscious on the street. Mysteriously, that fact never ended up in any official investigation report. Chief Schuylkill County Detective Anthony Carroll claimed that he was never told about Garcia’s Scully identification, but Senape did have a face to face meeting with both Carroll and DA Goodman later on. However, the context of that meeting was excluded from evidence by President Judge William Baldwin.

Hmmmm, something just doesn’t seem right about this.

Although he was the chief investigator on this case, prosecutors did not call Carroll as a witness, but lead defense counsel Fred Fanelli sure did. He thundered away on Carroll asking him why he did not further investigate “the shoe question”, which refers to earlier  testimony from a Ramirez friend that said the person who kicked Ramirez was wearing white and blue shoes. Piekarsky was wearing blue and gray shoes that night, but Scully was wearing white and blue ones.

These revelations further highlight what has become a continuing trend for the prosecution: witnesses who have contradicted themselves and the prosecution’s theory of the case on the witness stand.

First, on Day 1, the neighbor who first heard the fight and called 911 testified differently than what she said on the 911 tape, which was played for the jury. Then, on Day 2, Colin Walsh and Brian Scully, two teens who were key participants in the fatal melee (Scully was the first to approach and punch Ramirez, while Walsh landed the sucker punch that floored Ramirez) were skewered on cross-examination by Fanelli due to their changing their stories multiple times over the course of the case.

For weeks, Scully denied even being at the scene. Later he admitted his involvement, but said that there wasn’t a kick. It was only after he made a deal with Goodman to be charged only as a juvenile that Scully said Piekarsky landed the final kick. It is the defense’s contention that Scully is the person who kicked Ramirez in the head.

Walsh, the prosecution’s star witness and recipient of a sweetheart deal in exchange for his testimony, couldn’t seem to get his story straight either. He gave three different statements to police, all of which contradicted his testimony on Tuesday. Walsh punched Ramirez in the side of the head when he wasn’t looking, which led to Ramirez falling to ground and hitting his head off the street. He was originally charged with murder, manslaughter, assault, and ethnic intimidation (the same as Piekarsky and Donchak), but they were all dropped by Goodman after Walsh plead guilty to a Fair Housing Act violation in federal court and agreed to testify against   his two best friends.

All of this points to lead prosecutor Robert Frantz needing a stellar closing argument today, if this case is to be saved at all.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Local News, National

Trial of the Decade Begins Today

Nine months ago, Schuylkill County grabbed national headlines with the brutal beating death of an illegal immigrant in Shenandoah and subsequent arrest of three high school students in connection with it. The limelight will again shine on our fair county for the next two weeks as two of those students, Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, go on trial for their lives starting at 9AM this morning at the Schuylkill County Courthouse.

For legal experts and avid trial watchers, this is going to be a hell of a show.

On one side of the courtroom, we have a prosecution that seems to have a slam dunk. Schuylkill County District Attorney Jim Goodman has a victim, Luis Ramirez, that died in horrid fashion on the cold, dark, streets of Shenandoah, leaving behind a weeping fiance and three young children. He has one of the perpetrators, Colin Walsh, playing the role of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano by testifying for the Commonwealth against his two best friends. And, Goodman has up to six eyewitnesses in the bullpen to corroborate the abundance of physical evidence collected by investigators.

On the other side, we have the best defense counsel money can buy in Fred Fanelli, ready to surgically cut holes in, around, and through the heart of the prosecution’s case. Fanelli will no doubt pounce on the victim’s checkered past, which to this point has been glossed over by the media and involves border-jumping, suspected drug dealing, and alleged sex with his underage soon to be sister-in-law. He will further neutralize jury sympathy for the victim and his family by outing Ramirez’ grieving widow as a a former drug offender and a suspected neglectful parent, who had a Children and Youth Services case file. Finally and most importantly, Fanelli will try to embed doubt into the jury’s mind about whether Ramirez really died when his client, Piekarsky, allegedly kicked him in the head. Medical examiners could not conclusively determine whether it was Walsh’s sucker punch or Piekarsky’s kick that killed Ramirez. With Walsh breaking ranks from his buddies, Fanelli will have the perfect scapegoat and a reasonable explanation about how his guy wasn’t really the killer.

Add to that the circus that will be going on outside with the protests and counter-protests and counter to the counter-protests fueled by a national debate about illegal immigration, along with the political stakes for DA Goodman, and you have a made for cable tv drama not seen in this area ever before.

So, grab your popcorn and set your TiVo for those other fictional programs, because this will be the most entertaining, most talked about, and most anticipated real-life event in a very, very long time.

1 Comment

Filed under Local News

What’s Going on w/ 3rd Shen Teen’s Trial?

When Schuylkill County President Judge William E. Baldwin issued a press release earlier this week that indicated the  date of the long-awaited murder trial of three Shenandoah teens in connection with the beating death an illegal Mexican immigrant had been set, something was mysteriously missing . . . . the third defendant’s name on the docket. As a result, speculation has been rampant around the county about why Colin Walsh will not be sitting at the defense table with his buddies Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak.

Neither Judge Baldwin or District Attorney James Goodman would provide many straight answers other than Walsh still had charges pending. Up until now, the three teens had been scheduled to stand trial together. With such a sudden change to the schedule less than a week before jury selection is slated to begin, it doesn’t take a Perry Mason to figure out what is probably happening. In my opinion, it looks as though Walsh has turned state’s evidence and will probably testify against his cohorts.

What bothers me about such a deal with is that it remains unclear who actually killed Luis Ramirez last July. The prosecution’s theory is as follows:

(1) A group of six teens were involved in the incident. All of them were drunk

(2) Piekarsky and Brian Scully yelled racial epitaths at Ramirez as they passed him on the street.

(3) Scully engaged Ramirez in the first fight.

(4) Ramirez fought him off and was able to call a buddy for help.

(5) Donchak then engaged Ramirez in a second fight.

(6) Ramirez again fought him off.

(7) Piekarsky, Walsh, and Donchak then engaged Ramirez in a third altercation

(8) While Ramirez was looking at Donchak, Walsh sucker-punched him in the side of the head, knocking Ramirez to the ground and his head off the pavement.

(9) While Ramirez was down all three kicked him in the body.

(10) Piekarsky landed the final blow, kicking Ramirez in the side of the head.

Medical officials reported that Ramirez died as a result of severe brain injuries from his head hitting the ground via the Walsh punch and being kicked in the head by Piekarsky. However, they could not ascertain what blow actually killed him. Judge Baldwin ruled at an earlier hearing that the evidence was sufficient to charge both Piekarsky and Walsh with third degree murder because both of their actions led to the injuries that simultaneously killed Ramirez. That is a very legally sound decision. However, in reality, it is entirely possible that Ramirez was dead when his head hit the ground. Piekarsky’s kick might not have even mattered.

So, if  DA Goodman has decided to make a deal with Walsh to secure a conviction of Piekarsky and Donchak, he could be, at worst, pleading down the actual murderer of Luis Ramirez, while at best, be pleading down a coward who blind-sided a guy in a 3-on-1 fight.

It is my view that this is a purely political decision by Jim Goodman. Since the outset of the investigation, Goodman has taken every opportunity to mug for the national media cameras. Now, with the bright lights squarely on his office (of course, not him personally, because Goodman will not be lead trial counsel for the prosecution, one of his assistants is as per the usual for the Schuylkill DA) and his re-election looming in the fall, Goodman can ill-afford any type of screw-up, especially with the finest criminal defense attorney money can buy, Fred Fanelli, sitting on the other side of the courtroom.

Just like with his record of pleading down 48% of all drug offenders in this county just to clear some backlogged files off his desk, Goodman is opting to sacrifice the delivery of justice by issuing a get out of jail free card to one of main perpetrators in this case for the purpose of ensuring that he gets his picture and a glowing write-up in the New York Times.

3 Comments

Filed under Local News

Clarke Report Opens Law Practice!

It took me long enough, but I finally started my own legal practice. That is what has been keeping me from my Clarke Report duties over the past two weeks. So, if you need legal advice or representation at a very affordable rate, please check out the new website and contact me today.

And I will be back here soon, resuming my usual duties as Schuylkill County’s #1 political commentator.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Another Allegation of Rendell Corruption

This time, Fast Eddie seems to be using no-bid contingency contracts to reward trial lawyers for making lucrative donations to his re-election campaign. In a case in front of the PA Supreme Court today, Jannsen Pharmaceuticals has asked that the Houston law firm of Bailey, Perrin, & Bailey be removed as trial counsel for the Commonwealth due to the fact that they allegedly paid over $100,000 to Rendell’s campaign in the months leading up to 2006 election in exchange for prosecuting this case, which could bring in BILLIONS of dollars in contingency fees to the firm.

The Wall Street Journal has an in-depth article about this in today’s edition.

My question is: Don’t we have an Attorney General whose job it is prosecute cases on behalf of the state? Maybe he is too busy campaigning for governor to be bothered with this.

2 Comments

Filed under State Politics

Obama: Schuylkill Not Blue Enough for Stimulus Money

Pennsylvania has $102 million dollars in federal dollars coming its way to promote energy efficient technologies as a result of the $787 billion dollar stimulus package. How much of that will Schuylkill County see? ZERO. Yes, that’s right. A county with a abundance of coal reserves, plans for coal to oil plants, and over 10% of its citizens unemployed, was stiffed by President Barack Obama’s department of energy.

Governor Ed Rendell has said that money was allocated based on a “population formula”. US Rep. Tim Holden (D-17) stated that Schuylkill was blanked because he wasn’t permitted to attach earmarks to the bill (which doesn’t make sense considering that over 9000 earmarks actually passed) But, the plain truth of the matter is that both of those excuses are BS. The REAL reason that Schuylkill County received a big fat goose egg is that not enough of our residents voted for Obama in November.

Yes, much like every other piece of legislation to come out of Washington since the inauguration, the “stimulus” is one large patronage package for staunch Obama supporters. And since Schuylkill County went for Sen. John McCain during the election, we were not allowed to dip our fingers in the federal honey pot.

You don’t believe me? Just look at the cash allocation:

Philadelphia: $14.1 million–Obama 83%, McCain 16%

Allegheny Co. (includes Pittsburgh):$11.4 million–Obama 57%, McCain 42%

Luzerne Co. (includes Wilkes-Barre):$2.6 million–Obama 54%, McCain 45%

Lehigh Co. (includes Bethlehem):$3 million–Obama 57%, McCain 42%

Chester Co.: $4.6 million–Obama  54%, McCain 45%

Montgomery Co. (includes Chelteham and Lower Merion): $6.3 million–Obama 60%, McCain 39%

Delaware Co. (includes Chester, UpperDarby, & Middletown): $4.7 million–Obama 60%, McCain 39%

Bucks Co. $3.9 million–Obama 54%, McCain 45%

Lackawanna Co. (includes Scranton):$720,000–Obama 63%, McCain 36%

Berks Co. (includes Reading):$3.6 million–Obama 54%, McCain 35%

Erie (city):$1 million–Obama 59%, McCain 40%

Northhampton Co.: $2.5 million–Obama 56%, McCain 43%

Only four counties that went for McCain, out of the 50 he won statewide, received stimulus money. Typically, all of them have metropolitan or suburban areas that went heavily for Obama. Meanwhile, only four Obama counties were left off the funding list (I’m sure he will get them back in some other portion of the massive stimulus, you watch).

What this adds up to is politics at its worst. If your community dared to vote for the Republican candidate, you are SOL for at least the next four years when it comes to federal dollars. Under this new regime of “change”, the people of Schuylkill County better get used to being snubbed.

2 Comments

Filed under Local News, National

Congress Wiping their Butts w/ the Constitution

Great article today from my good friend, Joe Hilliard, over at Lehigh Valley Political Blog concerning Congress’ unprecedented and unconstitutional taxation of a specific group of people. If this unconscionable bill is upheld by the courts, it sets a various dangerous precedent of allowing the government to use the power to tax on political enemies and unpopular figures. Anyway, check out Joe’s in-depth thoughts on the subject:

The House voted to penalize AIG bonus recipients with a punitive tax. There is no control on Federal Power at all now. I am not defending AIG, but these members of Congress are arrogant hypocrites which I will explain in a series of posts.

The enormity, and the infamy, of this vote will require several posts. This series will cover three clauses of the Constitution – the Bill of Attainder, ex post facto, and contracts. The last will explain who wastes more taxpayer money – AIG executives or Congress?

The first point: “No Bill of Attainder… shall be passed.” Article I, Section 9, Clause 3

But first, what is a “bill of attainder”? I dusted off my “The Heritage Guide to the Constitution” and found the following:

“The Constitution prohibits… the federal government… from passing either bills of attainder or ex post facto laws. The Framers considered freedom from bills of attainder and ex post facto laws so important that these are the only two individual liberties that the original Constitution protects… (Note: The Bill of Rights were the first ten amendments.) As James Madison said in Federalist No. 44, ‘Bills of attainder, ex post facto laws and laws impairing the obligation of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principal of sound legislation.’

In common law, bills of attainder were legislative acts that, without trial, condemned specifically designated persons or groups to death…

The Framers forbade bill of attainder as part of their strategy of undoing the English law of treason… Beginning with Chief Justice John Marshall, however, the Supreme Court has insisted that a ‘Bill of Attainder may affect the life of an individual, or may confiscate his property, or may do both.’ (Fletcher v. Peck, 1810)…

… As the decisions of the Court in Marbury v. Madison (1803) and United States v. Klein (1871) made clear, only a court can hold a trial, evaluate the evidence, and determine the merits of the claim or accusation…

The Court decided a three-part test to determine when a piece of legislation violates the Bill of Attainder Clause: such legislation specifies the affected persons, includes punishment, and lacks a judicial trial…”

However, like many “nuisance” clauses in the Constitution to protect individuals and states by RESTRAINING the federal government, this has fallen by the wayside.

What will political/lawyer government officials argue? “Well, they can voluntarily give back their bonuses.” “We are not seizing property.” “Or, bonuses are not property.”

It is this type of wordplay that has been destroying liberty in the United States for the last 75 years.

And why not target other undesirable groups with punitive 90% tax rates? Gee, let’s start with evil oil executives… Ridiculous? Not really. Groups can be targeted. All businesses receive tax money – or tax breaks – so where do we drew the line? I draw it at the Consitution unlike many of our pandering, spineless politicians who merely want to win the next election instead of standing for principles.

And the ultimately disgusting fact is that this “contract provision” to ALLOW these bonuses was part of the “Stimulus Bill”! Remember, the one that nobody had the time to read, like Senator Specter. Why was it put in? Because the government wanted to keep AIG executives at the company to help work through the collapse and the restructuring of the company. These executives stayed and now they are being punished by the very Congress that OFFERED these bonuses. And for those politicians who voted for this but now claim that they did not know about it – perhaps it is a good idea to read legislation before you vote on it. For those who did not vote on it, and are now outraged, why have you been silent? If this was such an outrage, why didn’t you publicize this BEFORE the final vote? Or even AFTER the vote?

We are losing our country, rapidly. And poll-watching, pandering politicians, including a lot of Republicans are helping to destroy all that our country stands for. Who in Pennsylvania has used the Constitution as toilet paper today?:

Charles Dent (R) 15th
James Gerlach (R) 6th
Todd Platts (R) 19th
Patick Murphy (D) 8th
John Murtha (D) 12th
Chaka Fattah (D) 2nd
Jason Altmire (D) 4th
Tim Holden (D) 17th
Paul Kanjorski (D) 11th
Joe Sestak (D) 7th
Robert Brady (D) 1st
Kathleen Dahlkemper (D) 3rd
Chris Carney (D) 10th
Allyson Schwartz (D) 13th
Michael Doyle (D) 14th

Who are the heroes who held the Constitution above mob outrage?

Glenn Thompson (R) 5th
Bill Shuster (R) 9th
Joe Pitts (R) 16th
Tim Murphy (R) 18th

2 Comments

Filed under National