Violent crime has plummeted in recent years. Police statistics indicate that between 1990 and 2006 overall violent crime in the Bronx decreased by 72%.
Despite these reductions, the level of violence is still too high. This violence takes many forms, in some instances so extreme that it results in the death of the victim and constitutes a “homicide.” The severity of these crimes is determined by the degree of injury and other factors, including the perpetrator’s state of mind (e.g., intentional, reckless or negligent) and whether the perpetrator was armed, particularly with a gun.
Especially heartbreaking acts of violence are those done to the elderly by other family members; those done to children by their parents or other caretakers (often discussed under the general rubric of “child abuse”); and those done by husbands to their wives (one form of domestic violence).
We screen each felony arrest brought to court very carefully. An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) from the General Crimes Division Intake Bureau speaks to the victim, studies the facts of the case and determines whether to seek an indictment. Effective screening of cases at this very early stage is critical to efficient case processing and ensures that only those cases that merit felony prosecution continue along that path. The factors that determine whether a crime is prosecuted as a felony include the circumstances of the crime, the weight of the evidence and the defendant’s prior record. If a case is appropriate for indictment, it is presented to the grand jury as quickly as possible.
If a case does not merit felony prosecution, it is reduced to a lesser charge. Of course, if the evidence does not support any criminal charges, the District Attorney will decline to prosecute.
The General Crimes Division Trial Bureaus have primary responsibility for prosecuting felony crimes including homicides, robberies and assaults. Once assigned to the Trial Bureaus, ADAs are given thorough “on-the-job” training to complement the formal instruction provided by the Litigation Training Unit. ADAs newly assigned to the Trial Bureaus work as part of a prosecution team and receive close monitoring and guidance. By coupling formalized litigation training with observation of more experienced colleagues, the Office provides ADAs with the basic and specialized litigation skills required to be effective trial attorneys. Those cases that are particularly serious, sensitive or complex are prosecuted by the highly experienced trial attorneys assigned to the Senior Staff.
The rate of violent crime continued to decline in 2006; but however low the numbers, there are always crimes that shock us with their brutality. The three cases described here are homicides prosecuted in 2006, one involving a woman killed by a man on crack. The second case involves a brutal beating by six men of a 37-year old man. The third case illustrates how advances in technology enabled police to solve three “cold case” homicides.
Case: Killer Evidence: DA counting on vid in slay trial
New York Post, 3/25/2006
Forty-nine-year-old Gregory Taylor and 41-year-old Ana Almono Fowler lived in a temporary housing facility for clients with HIV. They met on a staircase in the building when Taylor was on a four-day "crack" binge. He negotiated with Ms. Fowler to have sex in exchange for drugs and money.
The woman's body was found on the roof five days later on May 11, 2004, during a routine inspection by the New York City Fire Department. She had a black plastic bag tied around her head. According to the Medical Examiner, the cause of death was blunt force impact to the head and compression of the chest and neck. She probably died from strangulation. However, the cause of death was unclear and there were no witnesses to her murder.
A New York City Police Department detective and a Bronx Assistant District Attorney located a security video showing Taylor carrying the apparently lifeless body of the victim to the roof on May 6. The detective carefully interrogated Taylor, taking 17 increasingly incriminating statements. At trial, the Assistant District Attorney argued that the victim was probably alive but in a weakened state when she was taken to the roof.
The jury deliberated for about an hour before finding Taylor guilty of murder in the second degree on March 27, 2006. On April 21, 2006, Taylor was sentenced to 25-years-to-life imprisonment. Taylor is a career criminal who had three prior felony convictions for assault, robbery and witness intimidation. He admitted at sentencing that the prosecution was correct about how the murder took place.
Case: Beaten to Death
Twenty-one-year-old retail clothing store sales clerk Talina Bryant was last seen alive by a friend as she boarded a bus home on September 5, 2000. Her family reported her missing the following day. Police found blood residue in her basement apartment, and some of the carpeting and flooring had been removed.
Nearly three years passed before NYPD detectives were able to link 24-year-old David Mundo to the crime. An extensive investigation was conducted during which undercover NYPD detectives taped Mundo conspiring to commit a new murder. Mundo led cops to Bryant’s body, which was buried near Metro-North railroad tracks at 237th Street and Bullard Avenue.
Mundo told cops he was a contract killer who was hired by Bryant’s landlord to end a dispute and get her out of her rent-stabilized apartment. Mundo enlisted the assistance of 25-year-old Gilberto Adames. The landlord allegedly paid them about $6,000 to commit the murder. The unidentified landlord was never charged because of insufficient evidence.
Mundo confessed to killing Bryant. He said he and Adames bound Bryant with duct tape and stabbed her with a knife, then wrapped her body in plastic garbage bags. Bryant died of multiple stab wounds.
On October 14, 2004, Mundo pleaded guilty to murder in the first degree. He was sentenced on November 4, 2004, to 20-years-to-life imprisonment.
On March 14, 2005, Gilberto Adames pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree. On March 23, 2005, he was sentenced to 17½ years imprisonment with five years post-release supervision. Adames also received a concurrent sentence of 4½-to-9 years imprisonment on an unrelated drug conviction in which he pleaded guilty to one count of attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the fifth degree.
Case: FINGERS POINTS TO CRIME: New Technology helps the NYPD nab murderers from cold cases
New York Daily News, 9/18/2005
James Johnson murdered three young girls during burglaries. The first of the three murders occurred on September 15, 1988, when a 13-year-old girl left her apartment to throw away garbage and was confronted by Johnson, who was then 20 years old. He had been on the roof smoking crack. He forced the girl back inside her apartment, tied her hands and feet and stabbed her numerous times. He ransacked and burglarized the apartment. The deceased victim was found by her sister when she returned from work.
More than two years later, on November 6, 1990, Johnson followed two young women, 15 and 17 years old, into a building and forced his way into the younger girl’s apartment. The girls were bound and stabbed multiple times. A third young woman who witnessed the crime was able to escape.
A decade and a half later in July 2005, Johnson was charged and indicted for the murders as a result of partial fingerprints left at the murder scenes, advances in technology, and the persistence of NYPD detectives from the 43rd Precinct and the Latent Print Section. The defendant was identified by matching partial fingerprints collected in both apartments to Johnson through a computerized national print database. The development of new technology has made it easier for investigators to match partial fingerprints with full fingerprints. When the evidence in the murder cases finally came together in 2005, Johnson was already in state prison serving time for an attempted robbery he had committed in 1995.
On December 6, 2006, Johnson pleaded guilty to three counts of murder in the second degree. He was sentenced to two concurrent 15-years-to-life and one consecutive 15-years-to-life sentences. Johnson is now 39 years old and must serve at least 30 years in state prison before becoming eligible for parole.
Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) was introduced by the US Department of Justice in January 2002 as a national strategy designed to reduce gun violence in America through the combined efforts of local police and prosecutors, the US Attorney’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Under this grant program, the Bronx District Attorney collaborates with the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York to try to reduce the number of illegal guns on the streets of the Bronx.
As part of this effort, we interview defendants charged with illegal sale or possession of guns. A Detective Investigator and an Assistant District Attorney debrief such defendants in an effort to obtain information to form the basis for long-term investigations of weapons trafficking and the issuance of search warrants for the seizure of weapons. Between April 2000 and March 2006, this effort was further enhanced with state funding which enabled us to conduct complex sting operations and purchase illegal guns.
Project Safe Neighborhoods builds on existing relationships and agreements with these agencies to share assets and intelligence to investigate weapons trafficking and prosecute gun cases more effectively. This Office works very closely with the US Attorney’s Office, particularly in the two Bronx Weed and Seed sites, where the law enforcement focus is on gangs and violent crime.
In our efforts to eradicate gun violence, we will continue to cooperate with the US Attorney to determine whether a particular case is best prosecuted in state or federal court. Defendants who are over the age of 18 and either have entered the country illegally or have a prior felony conviction are eligible for federal prosecution in gun cases. Furthermore, if a gun has been defaced to thwart its identification, the defendant can be prosecuted federally even without a prior conviction. Under these conditions, when convicted in federal court, gun violators receive stiffer prison sentences than they would for the same conviction in state court. Although the New York gun law enacted in November 2006 provides for tougher sentences in state court, certain gun offenses, including guns possessed in a home or place of business, can still be more effectively prosecuted in federal court.
In 2006 the Department of Justice split the PSN funding into two separate programs: the original anti-gun program and a new anti-gang program. While this Office received funding under both programs, the total was substantially lower than that received in prior years for the gun program alone. The Bronx District Attorney’s PSN Anti-Gang program was implemented in the Soundview/Bruckner Weed and Seed area and has both a prevention component and an enforcement component. The prevention portion involves the Explorers programs from the 43rd Precinct and Police Service Area (PSA) 8, which serves NYCHA developments in the area. PSN funds were used to purchase uniforms and insurance required to participate in the Explorers and to purchase pressure washers and materials for removal of gang-related graffiti. In addition, this Office conducted a number of anti-gang workshops for children, youth and adults in the area.
The Bronx District Attorney’s anti-gang enforcement strategy focuses on problems with a number of gangs in the area, including Crips, Bloods, and “Dominicans Don’t Play,” commonly known as DDPs. In addition to coordinating with federal and local partners, improving collection and sharing of gang-related intelligence, the Chief of the Bronx District Attorney’s Gang Prosecutions Bureau has assigned an Assistant District Attorney to prosecute gang cases from this area. The Office also assigned a detective investigator to be dedicated to gang investigations in the 43rd and 40th Precincts. Cases from the area are reviewed by the Chief of the Bronx District Attorney’s Gang Prosecutions Bureau and the detective investigator. In addition, this detective debriefs all defendants with suspected gang involvement who are arrested in the area.
Case: Two plead guilty to gunrunning
New York Daily News, 2/2/2006
The NYPD’s Firearms Investigation Unit conducts extensive, long-term undercover investigations in an effort to remove guns from the streets of the Bronx. One such investigation resulted in the conviction of individuals involved in a gunrunning operation between South Carolina and the Bronx. In this operation, guns were purchased out of state and then sold illegally in the Bronx. On five separate occasions, 25-year-old Daniel Blanding traveled from South Carolina to the Bronx to sell firearms to an undercover detective. The guns he sold included an SKS assault rifle, HiPoint 9 MM and .380 caliber semi-automatic pistols, H&R Magnum .32 caliber revolvers and a Taurus .44 caliber revolver. The guns were purchased for approximately $9,500. All sales occurred on sidewalks at various locations.
On February 2, 2006, Blanding pleaded guilty to five counts of criminal sale of a firearm in the third degree and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. Blanding pleaded guilty during his trial after several days of testimony by one of the undercover detectives involved in the investigation. On May 17, 2006, he was sentenced to nine years in state prison.
Blanding did not act alone. Two co-defendants had limited involvement in the illegal gun sales. But both 20-year-old Quincey Jackson and 27-year-old Curtis Doctor were with Blanding on some occasions when guns were sold to the under-cover detective.
On January 31, 2006, Doctor pleaded guilty to criminal sale of a firearm in the third degree. On March 1, 2006, he was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. Jackson pleaded guilty on January 31, 2006, to criminal possession of a firearm in the third degree and on March 1, 2006, he was sentenced to five years probation.
In 2002 this Office launched a Gang Initiative to combat violent crime. The Gang Initiative brings together senior trial attorneys and staff from bureaus throughout the Office at periodic meetings to discuss cases and initiatives. This approach to gang-related criminal activity encourages communication and coordination of prosecutorial efforts. The Office’s Detective Squad and Detective Investigators also participate in the Initiative. A liaison with the NYC Department of Correction provides our office and other law enforcement agencies with gang intelligence.
Although gang-related cases may be prosecuted by any of the various bureaus that participate in the Gang Initiative (such as Narcotics, Rackets, Criminal Court, General Crimes, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse/Sex Crimes), the Gang Prosecutions Bureau specializes in gang prosecutions. A computer program is used to collect information on gang-related incidents and defendants. The Gang Initiative and the bureau provide mechanisms to coordinate a response to gang-related crime in the Bronx.
Case: Bullets fly at Bx. Bodega; 3 wounded & 1 arrested
New York Daily News, 2/12/2004
On February 10, 2004, twenty-two-year-old Jomo Delesline and three other individuals shot three people. The perpetrators (“Crips”) were attempting to kill their (“Bloods”) gang rivals to settle a dispute.
Three innocent bystanders became victims of this violent crime. All three victims were shot multiple times in the back. The three victims were mistakenly believed to be “Bloods” gang members. The victims were 16, 17 and 21 years old when the incident occurred. One victim was shot in the back and became paralyzed from the waist down.
NYPD detectives who worked on the case were unable to find an eyewitness who could identify any of the perpetrators. The only lead was Delesline himself because he was apprehended within minutes of the shooting about 100 yards from the crime scene in possession of a silver 32-caliber firearm. In an effort to secure a confession from Delesline, detectives retrieved approximately ten NYPD Viper Unit surveillance tapes from a Viper Base. While the defendant was in custody, the detectives reviewed hours of footage and observed four males matching the description of the perpetrators inside an elevator right before the shooting. Delesline was pictured in the video waving a silver handgun. The video showed the four suspects walking from the elevator, through the lobby, and into the courtyard of the building, and then running back inside the building after the shooting. The tapes also showed them trying to escape from the building, and they showed Delesline being apprehended.
The detectives printed still photos of Delesline with his gun in the elevator, and these photos were shown to Delesline during interrogation. Delesline admitted to going to the crime scene and putting a gun to someone’s head. However, he stated he froze and was unable to pull the trigger. This statement was contradicted by ballistic evidence, which showed that the trigger was pulled although the gun did not fire. Delesline went on to state that another member of his gang came around the corner, and that person fired about ten rounds at the three victims, causing each of them to drop to the ground.
The video was crucial to the case because it helped prove that Delesline, although he did not fire the gun that shot the three individuals, did act in concert with the other perpetrators. Delesline tailored his testimony at trial around the video tape evidence.
On March 22, 2006, Delesline was found guilty of three counts of attempted murder in the second degree. On April 5, 2006, he was sentenced to three concurrent terms of 25 years in state prison. He must serve a minimum of 21 years imprisonment before becoming eligible for parole, and he must serve five years post-release supervision.
The Child Abuse/Sex Crimes Bureau (CAS) prosecutes both felonies and misdemeanors involving sexual assault against an adult by an intimate partner, an acquaintance or a stranger, and sexual assault against a child by a family member, other adult caretaker, or a stranger. Because of the nature of these crimes, the ADAs assigned to this bureau are carefully selected and receive specialized training. CAS works closely with the New York City Police Department to investigate and prosecute cases of adult and child sexual assault, and the bureau’s efforts are supported by the Crime Victims Assistance Unit (CVAU), the Bronx Multidisciplinary Team on Child Physical and Sexual Abuse, and the Bronx Adolescent and Adult Sexual Assault Task Force. In addition, the CAS Bureau is represented on the NYC Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Citywide Sexual Assault Task Force.
In 2002 the Bronx Adolescent and Adult Sexual Assault Task Force began meeting at the District Attorney’s Office. The goal of the Task Force is to identify and respond to system challenges and develop solutions to improve services for victims of sexual assault. The Task Force is composed of representatives from hospitals and the medical community, the New York City Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, nonprofit crime victim service providers, the New York City Police Department, and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. The members identified a need and with the aid of the Mayor’s Office obtained funding for a Bronx Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).
The Bronx SART began delivering advanced forensic and counseling services in April 2004 to every sexual assault victim seeking treatment at any of the three municipal hospitals in the Bronx. The Bronx SART is on-call around-the-clock, every day of the year to respond within one hour. The responders include a specially-trained forensic examiner and a rape crisis advocate. Compassionate and competent care delivered promptly helps sexual assault victims overcome the trauma from the attacks. The rapid response is also meant to ensure that critical evidence is properly collected as soon as possible after an attack, which assists with the investigation and prosecution of these violent crimes.
The Bronx SART is supported by federal and state grants and consists of a group of 12 - 14 Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs) who are coordinated by a project director who works from North Central Bronx Hospital. The examiners conduct a physical examination, collect potential DNA evidence, and document both internal and external injuries. Between April 2004 and September 2006, the Bronx SART handled 614 cases. In 96% of those cases, a SART examiner responded to the hospital within one hour of admission of the sexual assault victim to the Emergency Room. In 77% of those cases, the physical examination of the victim revealed findings of either genital or non-genital trauma consistent with the alleged sexual assault.
Child Abuse refers to crimes against children. While many physical or sexual assaults against children are committed by persons living in a family-type relationship with the child, these assaults are also committed by persons unrelated to the child, such as teachers or coaches.
The District Attorney gives top priority to the safety and welfare of children and responds appropriately when children are victims of crime. Most instances of familial child abuse can be resolved by the Department of Social Services and the Family Court without intervention by law enforcement agencies. Those that are serious enough to be crimes are prosecuted by the District Attorney.
Case: Bronx baby killer convicted after failing to discredit SBS
Bronx Times, October 20, 2005
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is “a type of inflicted traumatic brain injury that happens when a baby is violently shaken. A baby has weak neck muscles and a large, heavy head. Shaking makes the fragile brain bounce back and forth inside the skull and causes bruising, swelling, and bleeding, which can lead to permanent, severe brain damage or death. The characteristic injuries of shaken baby syndrome are subdural hemorrhages (bleeding in the brain), retinal hemorrhages (bleeding in the retina), damage to the spinal cord and neck, and fractures of the ribs and bones.” For decades the medical and legal communities have accepted SBS as an explanation of how a child can be injured or killed. In thousands of cases nationwide, prosecutors have used medical testimony to successfully prosecute child abusers. In 2005 in Bronx County, the defense mounted a challenge to SBS that could affect many future cases.
Thirty-four-year-old Leslie Martin was left alone for the first time with his five-month-old daughter Brianna on May 13, 2003. Martin stated that when he woke from a nap in the late afternoon, the child was not breathing so he had a neighbor call 911.
The baby was taken to the Emergency Room and died three days later on May 16.
Doctors diagnosed the baby with a subdural hematoma and bi-retinal hemorrhages in the eyes and testified at trial that both conditions were classic signs of “shaken baby syndrome.” This trial was the first in the Bronx in which the defense sought to challenge and discredit the validity of shaken baby syndrome. The judge weighed the testimony of nine different medical doctors called as expert witnesses for the prosecution or defense in the fields of pediatrics, forensic pathology, neuropathology, neurosurgery and ophthalmology. By discrediting expert testimony attacking shaken baby syndrome, this case reaffirmed its validity.
On October 12, 2005, Martin was found guilty in a non-jury trial of criminally negligent homicide. He was sentenced on October 31 to 1 1/3-to-four years in prison.
The Bronx District Attorney’s Child Abuse Response Unit (CARU), part of the Child Abuse/Sex Crimes Bureau, reviews and investigates alleged child abuse. CARU consists of a coordinating Assistant District Attorney, a supervising case manager and three Detective Investigators.
Cases begin with a report through the NYS Central Registry of suspected child abuse or neglect. The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) determines which reports merit review by the District Attorney’s Office. The ACS Instant Response Team (IRT) notifies us of suspected felony sexual abuse and severe physical abuse. The member agencies of the Bronx Multidisciplinary Team - - Bronx hospitals, mental health service providers, school districts, the New York City Corporation Counsel, the NYPD and the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society - - respond with a coordinated, multidisciplinary interview and examination of the child at a child advocacy center. An Assistant District Attorney, usually the CARU Coordinator, participates in the joint interview. In non-IRT cases our Coordinator or case manager reviews the report, and support staff follow up with ACS, forwarding reports of more serious cases to NYPD’s Bronx Special Victims Squad or to a Bronx District Attorney detective investigator for investigation. Whenever possible we coordinate joint interviews in these cases as well. In 2006 there were 286 joint interviews.
In 2006 the CARU screened 2,785 cases, assigning 1,291 to support staff for follow up with ACS. In 34 cases there was the appearance of a crime but no clear indication of police involvement. These cases were referred to the NYPD to file official crime complaints. In another 617 cases, police were involved, but the nature of the involvement was unclear and, therefore, support staff followed up with the precinct. CARU referred 119 cases to detective investigators. CARU needs more resources to respond to its caseload.
Physical or sexual abuse is traumatic regardless of age. When the abuser is prosecuted and the victim is called upon to testify, he or she is subject to additional, system-induced trauma. The level of such trauma experienced by a child victim is often substantially greater than that experienced by an adult. Children are less likely to understand the experience and are often afraid that they will be punished if they say or do the wrong thing. Most upsetting for child victims, however, is facing the defendant in court. Coming face-to-face with the individuals who abused them engenders a host of emotions, especially fear and anger.
One approach to eliminating the need for the child to be in close proximity to the defendant, while preserving the defendant’s right to confront his accuser and the right to cross-examine the witness, is to present the child’s testimony via closed-circuit television from a room outside the courtroom. In September 2000, the Office of the District Attorney received a grant from the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. Funds from this grant were used to purchase state-of-the-art equipment that enable prosecutors to present closed-circuit testimony from child victims of abuse in appropriate cases.
The Multidisciplinary Team on Child Physical and Sexual Abuse is a coalition of representatives from the Office of the Bronx District Attorney, Bronx hospitals, mental health service providers, school districts, the Administration for Children’s Services, the New York City Corporation Counsel, the NYPD and the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society. Its purpose is to improve communication among participating agencies and coordinate their involvement in child abuse cases. The primary benefit of this multidisciplinary approach is the minimization of system-induced trauma to the victim. The Multidisciplinary Team assists hospital personnel in identifying and treating victims of child abuse, and acts as a network for further referrals.
This team approach affords a number of benefits. First, it enhances the quality of evidence available to all participants by affording them the opportunity to be present to ask questions at the victim’s first interview. Second, it minimizes the additional trauma to the victim who, if subjected to repeated interviews, must revisit incidents that may have been emotionally devastating. Third, it avoids problems associated with having victims repeat their stories, such as details forgotten or inadvertently omitted, and having victims become tired and uncooperative. In 2006, the District Attorney’s Office responded to 286 joint interviews with members of the Multidisciplinary Team. Through its participation in the Multidisciplinary Team, the Office has significantly improved its ability to prosecute child abusers effectively while addressing the needs of child abuse victims.
Ever-increasing access to computers and the internet opens doors for both children and adults to acquire a wealth of information without ever having to leave their homes. Unfortunately, however, the availability of this technology may also give sexual predators access to our children. According to the U.S. Census 2000, there are close to 400,000 Bronx residents who are under the age of 18. Many of them use computers daily.
In 2001 this Office received a federal grant to establish an Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Investigative Satellite initiative. Through this program, detectives and Assistant District Attorneys have developed excellent contacts in the law enforcement community with whom they share ideas and expertise. The agencies include New York State’s ICAC Task Force and Attorney General, numerous District Attorneys’ Offices, the New York State District Attorneys Association, U.S. Customs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service. In addition, members of the Satellite Task Force are members of numerous other task forces and committees dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of internet crimes against children.
The explosive growth of the internet over the last decade has been accompanied by an increase in crimes committed via the internet, including crimes committed against children. The majority of these crimes against children involve dissemination of indecent materials - specifically pornographic images. These crimes are committed by people from all walks of life, including doctors, lawyers, clergy, teachers and even law enforcement professionals. These perpetrators often seem to believe that they are insulated from prosecution due to the relative anonymity of the internet. The harmful effects on children can be enormous and enduring. In recognition of this problem, the Office of the Mayor's Criminal Justice Coordinator has formed a Sexual Predator and Electronic Crimes Task Force to coordinate law enforcement efforts.
Perpetrators of these crimes are identified through the use of undercover officers who enter cyber "chat rooms" and engage in explicit sexual chats with someone the predator believes to be a minor. This is often a time consuming process because the trust of the predator must be gained. An undercover officer can typically only "chat" with one predator at a time. It frequently takes many hours "chatting" before discussions of meetings take place. In addition, the perpetrator must be identified through an ISP address because the perpetrator rarely provides a true name or address. Although these cases are investigation-heavy, the payoff is enormous when a potential child abuser is arrested and punished.
Case: Child Pornography on the Internet
The internet can provide a platform to commit crimes against children. In the privacy of his home, thirty-five-year-old Seth Ritchie uploaded child sex assault/abuse images in June 2005 through yousendit.com. This site allows for the transfer of large files over the internet. Ritchie traded and exchanged pictures and video clips of children being sexually assaulted. The children pictured range in age from 12 years to as young as toddlers.
Site administrators from the company yousendit.com became concerned and notified the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Once NCMEC investigators determined that the material in question was “child pornography,” they traced the source of the material to Ritchie’s address in the Bronx and contacted the NYPD Computer Crimes Squad. Detectives executed a search warrant at Ritchie’s home and seized a computer hard drive, floppy discs and compact discs containing hundreds of images of children engaging in sexual acts with adults. Ritchie’s computer was recovered along with 69 CDs, two VHS tapes, two floppy disks, and 12 DVDs, all containing child sex abuse images. Many of the images involved children younger than four years old engaging in sexual acts with adults.
Although Ritchie has an arrest record, this was the first time he was prosecuted for a crime of this nature. Ritchie tried to argue that he suffered from a mental illness, both as a justification for his behavior and to help mitigate his sentence.
On December 7, 2006, Ritchie pleaded guilty to two counts of promoting a sexual performance by a child, a Class D felony. His sentence is pending.
While random acts of violence are frightening, family violence may be even more terrifying. Being brutalized by one’s own spouse, parent or child is often more traumatic than being similarly assaulted by a stranger. When the attacker is a family member, the victim knows that subsequent attacks are likely. For the prosecutor, family violence cases present special challenges requiring a combination of vigorous prosecution and extraordinary sensitivity. To meet these challenges, the prosecutor must draw upon other resources in the District Attorney’s Office and work collaboratively with outside agencies.
There are two types of family violence. Domestic violence includes violence between past or present spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who have a child in common, intimate partners, and persons who are or were living together in a family-type relationship. Family violence also includes the physical or sexual abuse of a child by a parent or other adult caretaker. Despite continuing reductions in violent crime in recent years, domestic violence remains a very serious problem in the Bronx.
The Domestic Violence Bureau (DV) specializes in prosecuting domestic violence cases, both on the felony and misdemeanor levels. Assistant District Attorneys assigned to this bureau must be adept at handling issues specific to domestic violence, such as victim and witness reluctance to testify against a family member. These ADAs receive specialized training in-house and may also attend conferences and seminars on topics related to domestic violence.
Each time a victim has to recount the details of a horrifying experience, he or she experiences additional trauma. To minimize such trauma in domestic violence, the Domestic Violence Bureau assigns one ADA to handle each case from intake through disposition. That ADA works closely with victim advocates who provide support to victims throughout the criminal justice process.
Although ADAs may look to other agencies for assistance when preparing a domestic violence case, prior to 1998 there were no formal partnerships in this area. Since 1998, the Office has received grant funds administered through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, under the federal S.T.O.P. Violence Against Women Grant Program. Through this grant, staff work with other agencies (the NYPD and Safe Horizon) to provide an early, coordinated response to misdemeanor domestic violence cases in Bronx County. The goal of the District Attorney’s S.T.O.P. grant is to improve prosecution of domestic violence cases and increase the safety of domestic violence victims.
These cases often follow a pattern. One partner, typically the male, tries to control the other. The controlling partner strikes the other partner but the injury is relatively minor. Over time the assaults become more frequent, the injury more serious and the climate of terror unbearable. Nevertheless, the injured partner is often unable or unwilling to leave the home (or the relationship) and is reluctant to initiate or follow through on efforts to prosecute the offender. The District Attorney works hard with the police, service providers and the court to break the pattern of violence. Despite these efforts, sometimes no one is able to prevent a truly heinous crime.
Case: Her dad gets life for hacking mom
New York Daily News, May 18, 2006
It should have been a happy time. Rafael Castro arrived in the Bronx from the Dominican Republic on April 23, 2003. He traveled with Martha and intended to marry her daughter, 21-year-old Rosa (pseudonyms). Castro and Rosa were the parents of two daughters.
Twenty-four-year-old Castro suspected Rosa of cheating on him with another man. On May 13, 2004, Castro struck Rosa several times in the head and neck with a machete. When Martha returned home, she saw her fatally injured daughter. Castro then struck his once future mother-in-law, now a witness to murder, in the head with the same machete, causing massive injuries. Castro remained in the apartment with his two children and their mother’s body until the morning of May 14 when he took the 18-month-old baby to a neighbor and the seven-year-old to school. Castro then fled to the Dominican Republic. He eventually surrendered to authorities.
Neighbors called 911 and reported Rosa and Martha missing. Martha was left in the apartment for 37 hours before police arrived. NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit entered the apartment and found Rosa’s body in the bathtub and Martha semi-conscious in the bedroom. Martha survived her injuries.
Castro’s elder daughter wrote in a letter to the Court, “Sometimes I dream about seeing my grandmother with blood on her head. I also remember seeing my little sister with blood on her back. Me and my sister miss our mom . . .”
After less than a day of deliberation, the jury found Castro guilty of murder in the second degree for killing Rosa, attempted murder in the second degree for attacking Martha, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. On May 17, 2006, Castro was sentenced to 25-years-to-life imprisonment for murder and 25 consecutive years for attempted murder, for a total sentence of 50-years-to-life imprisonment.
The Bronx has the highest rate of domestic violence incident reports per hundred thousand population in the City. The Bronx’s nearly 50,515 Domestic Incident Reports represent 26% of the citywide total. On October 22, 2001, a new integrated domestic violence (IDV) court part opened in Bronx Criminal Court, the first in the State. This part now combines Supreme Court’s Criminal and Civil Divisions and Family Court. It was implemented in recognition that domestic violence often involves not only criminal matters but other family matters as well. For example, a woman who has been assaulted by her husband may obtain a “full stay away” order of protection in Criminal Division. If the couple has children together and the father wants to see the children, he must go to Family Court to obtain visitation rights. If either party seeks a divorce, he or she must do so in Supreme Court, Civil Division. In the past these cases, in different courts, would have proceeded completely independently. Now all three cases are sent to the IDV Part for adjudication and heard by one judge, who is aware of the circumstances surrounding each case.
This process is clearly a step forward, even though the part requires us to provide ADAs at a time when resources are limited. Between 2002 and 2006 the Bronx Borough President’s Office, in collaboration with this Office and Sanctuary for Families, received grant funding from the Office on Violence Against Women of the U.S. Department of Justice. With resources from these grants, the Borough President’s Office formed an advisory committee that initiates domestic violence awareness projects. Grant funds were also used for some of the District Attorney’s staff in the court part, and to enable Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of victims of domestic violence, to provide legal and other services to crime victims.