Criminal Justice

Major Alabama Paper Thinks Obama Should Pardon Former Gov. Don Siegelman

The Anniston Star, one of Alabama’s largest newspapers has called for President Obama to free former Gov. Don Siegelman from federal prison.

Siegelman is currently serving a 78 month prison sentence for bribery, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice charges stemming from a controversial arrangement made during his term as governor in the early part of the century.

His case is a complicated one to be sure.

But for the sake of a summation, does a pretty good job:

Siegelman was convicted by a federal court in 2006, “after being accused of appointing former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to a health planning board in return for a $500,000 donation to the governor’s campaign for a statewide lottery.”

Was it corruption or just politics?

Depending on which side of the political aisle you sat at the time would determine how you felt.

But with the Supreme Court overturning the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in a somewhat similar case as Siegelman, some believe that Obama should take action for the sake of justice.

The Anniston Star is leading the charge.

In an editorial, the paper cited the oft whispered idea that Siegelman’s conviction was a politically driven witch hunt.

“There’s no undoing the years of legal harassment waged against Don Siegelman,” The Anniston Star wrote in their editorial last week. “This court ruling and its narrowed definition of public corruption are an opportunity for President Barack Obama to use his presidential powers to make the former Alabama governor a free man.”

A few years back, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Siegelman’s son Joe.

At the time, Joe Siegelman was a student at the University of Alabama School of Law and was all a father could ask for in a son.

He was steadfast in his father’s defense, taking little time to sip his Starbucks coffee as that would have taken away from his time to convince me.

Indeed, many in his family were willing to try to convince anyone, anywhere of their father’s innocence.

Imagine what that must be like.

Your family used to be on top of the state with nothing but promise ahead.

Then a combination of bad decisions, confusion and a broken justice system breaks your family apart, soiling your name.

We’ll probably never know if Don Siegelman is totally innocent of the crimes he has been convicted of.

But a few things are certain.

One is that the US Supreme Court doesn’t feel like those crimes are that important anymore. Just politics as usual they say.

And two, is that Don Siegelman has certainly lost enough of his life already.

He is currently in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison with another two and a half years to serve on his sentence.

Free him.


RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Mike D/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

A Miami Judge Just Did Something Really Important

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch ruled today that Florida’s death penalty system is unconstitutional due to a controversial element of state law that allows juries to sentence defendants to death without a unanimous decision.

According to the Miami Herald, Hirsch’s ruling will be the latest to stir the pot in terms of Florida’s death penalty.

Capital punishment in the state is already under review after the US Supreme Court ruled the sentencing system unconstitutional.

As the Herald points out, only Florida and Alabama allow non-unanimous juries to impose death sentences.

“A decedent cannot be more or less dead. An expectant mother cannot be more or less pregnant,” Judge Hirsch wrote in a court document obtained by the Herald. “And a jury cannot be more or less unanimous. Every verdict in every criminal case in Florida requires the concurrence, not of some, not of most, but of all jurors – every single one of them.”

Hirsch issued the ruling in the case of Karon Gaiter, who is accused of first degree murder.

The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case last week that could see all 390 people who are currently on death row in the state to be given life sentences due to the flawed sentencing system.

“Arithmetically the difference between 12 and 10 is slight,” Hirsch wrote in his opinion. “But the question before me is not a question of arithmetic. It is a question of constitutional law. It is a question of justice.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Andrew Petro/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

This Woman’s Suicide Nearly 15 Years After Her Husband Was Falsely Accused Of Kidnapping Elizabeth Smart Proves How Devastating Botched Justice Can Be

The widow of Richard Ricci, one of the original suspects in the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case, was found dead at her residence on Dec. 18, according to Deseret News. It was later determined to be an intentional prescription drug overdose.

Following her death, Angela Morse Ricci’s son Trevor Morse created a GoFundMe page for the funeral expenses.

“The official cause of death was suicide, but I believe she died from a broken heart,” On it Trevor Morse wrote on the GoFundMe page.

Back in 2002, Salt Lake City authorities pinpointed their main person of interest in the Elizabeth Smart case as Richard Ricci, the Smart family’s handyman.

Nine days after Smart was abducted from her home, Ricci was arrested for violation of parole in the 1983 attempted murder of a police officer. He was charged with burglaries near the Smart house that were similar to the break-in that led to Smart’s disappearance.

A month after his arrest, Ricci suffered from a brain aneurysm and died three days later on Aug. 30, 2002.

Until Smart was eventually found and Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were arrested in March 2003, Ricci remained a prime suspect after his death.

Morse described his step-father being falsely accused further on the GoFundMe page:

“He was convicted by the police and the public, and was intensely interrogated, all the while trying to tell anyone who would listen that he was innocent.”

“Since the day Richard Ricci died, my mother’s broken heart never healed,” Morse wrote on GoFundMe.

He explained the toll it took on both of them, but highlighted his mother’s unrelenting love throughout, stating that she stood by her husband and continued to make time for loved ones.

“Her house was open to anyone who needed a place to stay,” Morse wrote on the social media fundraising website.

Claiming her husband’s rights were violated, Ricci sued for wrongful death. The suits were later dismissed.

In 2004 she received a settlement of $150,000 from the Utah Department of Corrections.

Utah did not recognize any wrongdoing on its part however, the Deseret News also reported.

“Since the day Richard Ricci died, my mother’s broken heart never healed,” Morse wrote on GoFundMe.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: KOMUnews (CC by 2.0)

This Jail Dog Training Program Helps Homeless Dogs And At-Risk Prisoners Build New Lives For Themselves

By Bernard Lima Chavez

Prison dog training programs are becoming quite popular throughout the United States.

Through these programs, supporters say that prisoners help homeless shelter dogs learn basic obedience skills who in turn help prisoners learn a marketable trade that can lead to employment upon release. Backers of such efforts believe it to be a symbiotic relationship that gives a second chance to at-risk offenders, both human and canine.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 2.2 million people were incarcerated in 2011. Today, that number is estimated to be over 2.4 million. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that 3.9 million dogs enter shelters every year, of which 1.2 million are euthanized. By pairing prisoners with shelter dogs, two at-risk populations are given a life-changing opportunity.

Miami-Dade County has its own new and little-known jail dog program, the Second Chance Dog Training Program.

The Second Chance program has two simple goals: teach non-violent inmates a marketable job skill they can use upon release and provide behaviorally-challenged homeless animals from Miami-Dade Animal Services (MDAS), a second chance at life, free from the threat of euthanasia, through an intensive eight-week basic obedience training program.

The Second Chance program, which kicked off in September 2014, is a collaborative effort between MDAS, Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Services and Applause Your Paws, a dog training and boarding company based in South Miami.


“Second Chance Dog Training Program is a win-win for all,” District 4 County Commissioner Sally A. Heyman said in a press release. “The people in custody and dogs are better socialized and trained for adoption.”

MDAS built a special 2000 sq. foot dog shelter at the Corrections Department Treatment and Training Center and provide all veterinary care, food, bedding and supplies during the 8-week program along with monthly inspections of the facility and care of the dogs.

Participating inmates must express interest in the program, have no history of violence and a minimum of 60 days left on their sentence. The Corrections Department staff selects and supervises all inmate participants.

Dee Hoult, owner and lead trainer of Applause Your Paws, is the Training Director for Second Chance.

Hoult selects candidates from MDAS based on the behavioral history or training needs of each individual dog. To keep the inmate handler, staff, trainers and other dogs safe, any dog with a history of aggression is ineligible for participation.

Once at the Training and Treatment Center, the dogs are assigned to an individual inmate who is responsible for all daily care of his dog, including feeding, walking, bathing and daily cleaning of the dog’s kennel.

Each inmate has four supervised sessions with their dog each day; morning feeding, cleaning and exercise, late morning playtime and training, afternoon playtime and exercise and an evening feeding, training and exercise session.

Hoult conducts weekly training sessions at the jail, teaching the inmates proper dog handling techniques and training skills. The dogs are exposed to a formalized training plan designed to meet all requirements of the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test.

At the end of the 60 days, dogs are eligible to take their CGC exam and earn their title.

In the program’s first eight months, 6 inmates have participated in the program. Of these, one asked to be removed from the program, two were replaced by Hoult and one continues to participate. His dog graduated last week and earned his CGC title.


Two additional inmates successfully participated in the Second Chance program, served their remaining sentences and have been released. Since their release, both men have found employment working with animals. One is an animal daily care supervisor while the other is a kennel worker. In both cases, Hoult assisted with job placement in the industry. Neither one was available to speak with RISE NEWS.

Of the six dogs who have completed the program, each one has earned his or her obedience title, though not always on the first attempt.

Hoult said that the biggest challenge to successfully earning the CGC title in a jail environment is a lack of human and canine distractions during training sessions and progress evaluations. As a result, some dogs don’t perform well during testing when other dogs or new people are brought in to function as a distraction, a key component of the CGC test.

Two dogs did not pass the CGC test during their final week in the program. In both cases, the dogs were given supplemental training at Hoult’s facility with a special emphasis on working in a distracting environment. Both earned their title within two weeks.

Upon completion of the training program, each graduating dog is placed up for adoption. The dogs are housed at Applause Your Paws training and boarding facility, where Hoult facilitates all adoptions on behalf of MDAS and in accordance with their adoption process and criteria.

All six have been adopted, though two were returned shortly after adoption. They were subsequently adopted again. Based on this experience, Hoult now offers all adopters two complimentary training classes to provide the adopters important information to help ensure the adoptions stick.

“Follow up training is a critical step in creating long term success because the humans need coaching in order to understand how to maintain the training their dogs received for the life of the dog,” Hoult said. “Dog training is a lifelong process and a two-way street. It is a dance between two partners who must be equally committed to each other.”

With the recent graduation of the third group of dogs, new dogs and new inmates will soon start working again, continuing the cycle of dog and man helping each other, a relationship that has been ongoing for thousands of years.

This story was originally published on

NO BRIBE ZONE: Indonesia Wants To Have Crocodiles Guard Death Row Inmates Because “They Can’t Be Bribed”

So file this one to the strange but true category.

The Indonesian government has been struggling to combat the rampant illegal drug trade and as a result is turning to some jungle style justice.

The government wants to put its worst drug trafficking offenders (who are on death row) on a special island that is surrounded by a swarm of crocodiles.

According to AFP, the proposed project is the brainchild of the government’s anti-drug point person Budi Waseso.

“We will place as many crocodiles as we can there. I will search for the most ferocious type of crocodile,” Waseso told a local news website called Tempo.

While it may sound like a crazy idea that has no place in modern society, it is getting surprising support from the nation’s progressive leader Joko Widodo.

Quartz points out that 14 people have already been executed for drug offenses in the country this year.

The country is well known for its strict anti drug policy.

From AFP:

“Indonesia already has some of the toughest anti-narcotics laws in the world, including death by firing squad for traffickers, and sparked international uproar in April when it put to death seven foreign drug convicts.

But President Joko Widodo has insisted that drug dealers must face death as the country is fighting a “national emergency” due to rising narcotics use.

Despite the harsh laws, Indonesia’s corrupt prison system is awash with drugs, and inmates and jail officials are regularly arrested for narcotics offences.”

So if you like drugs, you probably shouldn’t get anywhere near Indonesia or crocodiles. But hopefully you already prevent run ins with the latter.


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Cover Photo Credit: Adam Jones/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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