June 08, 2023
By Curt Anderson and Freida Frisaro
A Florida woman accused of fatally shooting her neighbor last week in the violent culmination of what the sheriff described as a 2½-year feud was arrested Tuesday, June 6, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said.
Susan Louise Lorincz, 58, who is white, was arrested on charges of manslaughter with a firearm, culpable negligence, battery and two counts of assault in the death of Ajike Owens, a Black mother of four, Sheriff Billy Woods said in a statement.
Authorities came under pressure Tuesday to arrest and charge Lorincz, who fired the gun and killed Owens in a case that has put Florida’s divisive stand your ground law back into the spotlight.
In a video posted on Facebook late Tuesday night, the sheriff said this was not a stand your ground case but “simply a killing.”
“Now many of you were struggling to understand why there was not an immediate arrest,” the sheriff said. “The laws here in the state of Florida are clear. Now I may not like them. I may not agree with them. But however, those laws I will follow.”
The video shared by the sheriff’s office shows two detectives and a deputy leading Lorincz down a hallway with her hands behind her back.
Jail records show she was booked, but did not list a lawyer who could speak on her behalf. It wasn’t immediately clear when she would make her first court appearance.
During a news conference at New St. John Missionary Baptist Church on Wednesday afternoon, the victim’s family, friends and community leaders joined civil rights attorney Ben Crump in thanking the sheriff for making the arrest, while calling for justice for Owens.
“This is not a difficult case,” Crump said. He called on the state attorney’s office to “zealously prosecute” the shooter.
Crump, along with Owens’s mother and multiple neighbors noted during the news conference that the “feud” the sheriff spoke of was between Lorincz and neighborhood children, who often played in a lot outside her home. Neighbors said Lorincz frequently called the children vile names and antagonized them.
That was the case on Friday night, they said. Sheriff’s deputies responded to a trespassing call and found Owens with gunshot wounds.
The neighborhood of single-story duplexes and quadruplexes is in the rolling hills outside of Ocala. The area is known for its thoroughbred horse farms, which surround the working-class neighborhood.
Lorincz told investigators that she acted in self-defense, and that Owens, 35, had been trying to break down her door before she fired the gun, the sheriff said. She also told them that Owens had come after her in the past, and had previously attacked her.
Sheriff Woods said the investigation, which included eyewitness statements, established that Lorincz’s actions were not justifiable under Florida law.
Earlier the sheriff had said that because of the stand your ground law he couldn’t make an arrest unless he could prove the shooter did not act in self-defense.
According to the sheriff’s account, Owens was shot moments after going to Lorincz’s apartment because she had yelled had at Owens’ children as they played outside. He said Lorincz had thrown a pair of skates that hit one of the children.
The sheriff’s office hasn’t confirmed there were slurs uttered or said whether race was a factor in the shooting.
Owens’ mother, Pamela Dias, said Wednesday that her two young grandsons, ages 12 and 9, are dealing with feelings of guilt — because they were with their mom outside Lorincz’s house that evening, and saw her get shot.
“Our 12-year-old blames himself for the death of his mother because he couldn’t save her. He couldn’t give her CPR,” Dias said.
Hours before the arrest on Tuesday, some three dozen protesters, most of them Black, gathered outside the Marion County Judicial Center, demanding the shooter’s arrest. The chief prosecutor, State Attorney William Gladson, met with them and urged patience while the investigation continued.
“If we are going to make a case we need as much time and as much evidence as possible,” Gladson said. “I don’t want to compromise any criminal investigation.”
In a statement late Tuesday, Crump said while Owens’ family is “relieved” that an arrest has been made, they remain concerned it has taken this long because “archaic laws like Stand Your Ground exist” Crump also represented the family of Trayvon Martin who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in central Florida in 2012.
Lauren Smith, 40, lives across the street from where the shooting happened. She was on her porch that day and saw one of Owens’ young sons pacing, and yelling, “They shot my mama, they shot my mama.”
She ran toward the house, and started chest compressions until a rescue crew arrived. She said there wasn’t an altercation and that Owens didn’t have a weapon.
“She was angry all the time that the children were playing out there,” Smith said. “She would say nasty things to them. Just nasty.” Smith, who is white, described the neighborhood is family friendly.
The sheriff said that since January 2021, deputies responded at least a half-dozen calls in connection with what police described as feuding between Owens and Lorincz.
“There was a lot of aggressiveness from both of them, back and forth,” the sheriff said Lorincz told investigators. “Whether it be banging on the doors, banging on the walls and threats being made. And then at that moment is when Ms. Owens was shot through the door.”
Stand your ground cases are deemed justifiable five times more frequently when a white shooter kills a Black victim, according to Angela Ferrell-Zabala, executive director of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
In 2017, Florida lawmakers shifted the burden of proof from a person claiming self-defense to prosecutors. Before the change in law, prosecutors could charge someone with a shooting, and then defense attorneys would have to present an affirmative defense for why their client shouldn’t be convicted. Now authorities must rule out self-defense before bringing charges.
Stand your ground and “castle doctrine” cases — which allow residents to defend themselves either by law or court precedent when threatened — have sparked outrage amid a spate of shootings across the country.
In April, 84-year-old Andrew Lester, a white man, shot and injured 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager who rang his doorbell in Kansas City. Yarl mistakenly went to the wrong house to pick up his younger siblings. Lester faces criminal charges. At trial, he may argue that he thought someone was trying to break into his house.
Missouri and Florida are among about 30 states that have stand your ground laws.
The most well-known examples of the stand your ground argument came up in the trial of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Owens’ mother said she will now raise her four young grandchildren.
“I pray that God gives me the strength, the wisdom and the ability to raise these children as our daughter would have us to do,” Dias said, of receiving childcare help from family and friends. “I thank God that I don’t have to do it alone.”
June 01, 2023
LAWT News Service
A 60-year-old man pleaded not guilty on May 31 to making a series of phone calls to the Hawthorne office of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, and threatening her with violence and death.
Brian Gaherty of Houston faces four counts of making threats in interstate communications and four counts of threatening a United States official, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. A trial was scheduled for July 25 before U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, but that date is expected to change.
Gaherty was arrested on April 13 after federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint that outlined the series of threats to Waters and alleged Gaherty had threatened other elected officials and a news reporter in Houston. An indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court alleges that
Gaherty called the congresswoman's office four times last year -- twice on Aug. 8, once on Nov. 8, and again two days later. Gaherty allegedly left four voicemails, each of which contained a threat.
“Threats to harm and kill an elected official impact the intended victim, her entire staff and every constituent who is not receiving services because the elected official is dealing with the security threat,'' U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement.
“The entire Justice Department is dedicated to protecting American democracy, which includes combating threats that terrorize officials who have been elected to serve the public.''
After Gaherty was arrested at his residence in Houston, he made a court appearance and on April 17 was ordered released on $100,000 bond, federal prosecutors said.
Each count of making a threat to a United States official carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison. The charge of making threats in interstate communications carries a possible maximum penalty of five years, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
In 2018, a San Pedro man who left a voicemail for Waters threatening to kill her was sentenced to six months of house arrest. Anthony Lloyd was additionally ordered to complete 100 hours of community service.
In a letter filed with the court prior to sentencing, Waters said that while she appreciates that Lloyd pleaded guilty and expressed remorse, a lenient sentence would “only embolden others to engage in similar conduct.''
Capitol Hill office. He had become angered while listening to talk radio when he heard a report in which Waters made disparaging comments about then-President Donald Trump, according to court papers.
June 01, 2023
By Bobby Caina Calvan
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to deliver a commencement speech at West Point, lauded graduating cadets on Saturday, May 27, for their noble sacrifice in serving their country, but noted they were entering an "unsettled world" because of Russian aggression and the rising threats from China.
"The world has drastically changed," Harris told the roughly 950 graduating cadets. She referred to the global pandemic that took millions of lives, as well as the fraught shifts in global politics in Europe and in Asia.
"It is clear you graduate into an increasingly unsettled world where longstanding principles are at risk,'' she said.
As the U.S. ended two decades of war in Afghanistan, the longest in the country's history, the vice president said, Russia soon launched the first major ground war in Europe since World War II when it invaded Ukraine.
"At the same time, autocrats have become bolder, the threat of terrorism persists, and an accelerating climate crisis continues to disrupt lives and livelihoods,'' she added.
She advised cadets to be wary of China, as it rapidly modernizes its military and muscles for control over parts of the high seas, ostensibly referring to the brewing disputes over the South China Sea.
She spoke about the country's military might and its need to innovate, including the adoption of new technology to change how wars are fought - even using artificial intelligence to predict enemy movements and to guide autonomous vehicles.
Harris made no mention about the ongoing skirmishing in Washington, where the White House and congressional Republicans are trying to avert a debt crisis.
Harris' visit is her first to the U.S. Army academy. Commencement speakers at the country's military academies are usually delivered by the president, vice president or high-ranking military official - which until Harris' election meant speakers have always been men.
Harris was joined at the commencement by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, who in 2021 became the first woman to hold the military service's top civilian post.
Harris, the first woman to serve as the country's vice president, noted the 75th anniversary of 1948's Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which gave women the right to serve as permanent members of the military. It was also 75 years ago when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order banning segregation in the Armed Forces.
However, her address was delivered to an institution that has made slow progress diversifying its ranks in the four decades since the first class of female cadets graduated.
Today, about one quarter of the student body are women. Only a few dozen graduates each year are Black women, like Harris, though the number has ticked up in recent years. The academy didn't admit women until 1976 and had its first female graduates in 1980.
Upon graduation, the cadets will be commissioned as Army second lieutenants.
West Point dates to 1802. Since then, the college has educated future military leaders including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. George Patton and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
While Harris visited West Point, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Manhattan, President Joe Biden heads to Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday to address graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III addressed the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday.
Last year, Harris addressed graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
June 01, 2023
By Kevin McGill
Evangelisto Ramos walked out of a New Orleans courthouse and away from a life sentence accompanying a 10-2 jury conviction, thanks in large part to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision bearing his name.
Ramos v. Louisiana outlawed nonunanimous jury convictions as unconstitutional, with justices on the 6-3 majority acknowledging the practice as a vestige of racism from the era of "Jim Crow" laws enforcing racial segregation.
The 2020 ruling meant a new trial for Ramos, who was acquitted in March - this time by a unanimous jury - after defense lawyers highlighted weakness in the investigation leading to his prosecution.
"I knew my case was important because a lot of people were going to get their freedom back," Ramos, a Black immigrant from Honduras, told The Associated Press, answering emailed questions about his time in prison and his pursuit of a new trial.
But prospects for freedom remain murky for hundreds of people convicted on 10-2 or 11-1 jury votes whose appeals were exhausted before the Ramos case was decided. The advocacy group Promise of Justice Initiative estimates there are more than 1,500 such people locked up in Louisiana.
In Oregon, the only other state that allowed nonunanimous verdicts for convictions before the Ramos case, the state Supreme Court granted new trials. But the U.S. Supreme Court and the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected arguments to apply the ruling retroactively.
Louisiana advocates also have turned to the Legislature in recent years. But the latest potential remedy stalled in the House and appears dead after representatives voted 50-38 against the measure Thursday. It is unlikely supporters can revive the bill with two weeks left in the legislative session.
The proposal drew criticism from some prosecutors who didn't want to revisit old cases, as well as advocates for people it was meant to benefit.
Instead of retroactively granting new trials, the legislation would establish a commission with three retired state appellate or Supreme Court judges empowered to decide whether the verdict "resulted in a miscarriage of justice,'' and whether parole is warranted.
Backers of the bill by Rep. Randal Gaines, a Democrat from LaPlace, cast it as a compromise.
Prosecutors had argued mandatory new trials would strain the court system, renew emotional pain for crime victims and their families and burden prosecutors with years-old evidence and, in some cases, witnesses who have died or cannot be found.
Even the compromise failed to win over some state prosecutors, according to Loren Lampert, director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, which was officially neutral on the bill. Meanwhile, criminal justice advocates were unhappy with the compromise measure's lack of a path for exoneration.
"It has to be true relief - release from being considered guilty," said Hardell Ward, a Promise of Justice Initiative attorney whose client's case led to a state high court ruling barring older, appeal-exhausted convictions from the ban on nonunanimous verdicts.
Ramos was arrested in 2014 and tried on a second-degree murder charge in the stabbing death of a woman found in a trash can outside her home. All but two jurors found him guilty in 2016. Retrial defense attorneys noted DNA from two people, neither of them Ramos, was found under the victim's fingernails. There was no blood recovered from the floor of Ramos' apartment, where prosecutors argued she was killed.
"You can't overstate the significance of what this verdict signals about how deeply problematic these nonunanimous juries were," said Sarah Chervinsky, one of Ramos' retrial lawyers.
Nonunanimous jury policies were rooted in post-Civil War policy and designed to make conviction of Black defendants easier, even with one or two Black jurors.
In 2018, Louisiana voters prohibited nonunanimous verdicts for crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2019. The vote followed a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories in The Advocate analyzing the law's racist origins and the racial disparities in verdicts.
The 2020 Ramos decision affected active cases even for crimes committed before 2019. But progress stalled when the high courts refused to make the Ramos decision retroactive.
Some prosecutors have taken it upon themselves to review cases involving Jim Crow verdicts.
Jason Williams established a civil rights division when he took over New Orleans' district attorney's office in 2021 on a reform platform. His office says more than 100 of an estimated 230 such cases have been reviewed. Cases were dismissed against 10 wrongfully convicted people and dozens of sentences or charges have been reduced.
It's not clear how many verdicts have come out differently after Ramos. The Louisiana District Attorneys Association is not compiling those statistics, Lampert said in an email.
New trials do not always lead to new verdicts. A jury in Jefferson Parish unanimously convicted a man of second-degree murder whose nonunanimous 2018 conviction had been overturned. Jefferson prosecutors obtained a similar result in a retrial last August.
But a retrial requiring a unanimous verdict can mean a case with room for doubt gets a more thorough look, Chervinsky said.
"It is not a technicality, it is not an insignificant difference, when the prosecutor has to convince all 12 people to unanimously agree on a verdict," Chervinsky said. "That encourages more vigorous debate and discussion. It requires them to really take into account all of the potential reasonable doubt in the case in a way that I think jurors can ignore if they're permitted to ignore the voices of two people in that room."