The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

September 2011 Archives

Michael Jackson Death Photo: Appropriate for Conrad Murray Trial?

The picture prosecutor David Walgren projected during his opening statement in the Dr. Conrad Murray trial was meant to startle the jury: a grainy photo depicted an emaciated Michael Jackson lying dead on a hospital gurney with a long white piece of tape between his nose and lips. The word "Homicide" was superimposed on to the picture in white letters.

The picture made its impact, but it reportedly upset the family of Michael Jackson who wanted to keep the picture private. Brian Oxman, an attorney for the family, said Michael's mother was especially upset: "We have spoken among the family that we did not want this released to the public. It is not right."

The gruesome image begged the question: What are lawyers allowed to show juries during an opening statement?

'Irvine 11' Free Speech Trial: 10 Students Guilty, But No Jail Time

The jury in the free speech trial of the “Irvine 11” has found the Muslim students guilty of disruption, reports the Los Angeles Times. The students were sentenced to three years informal probation last Friday for their crimes.

The students were charged with the misdemeanors of conspiring to disrupt and actual disruption when they interrupted a speech given by the Israeli ambassador to the United States at U.C. Irvine in February 2010. Prosecutors argued that the students violated the ambassador’s freedom of speech, while the defense argued that the Irvine 11’s actions were a protected form of free speech.

Officer Charged with Murder of Kelly Thomas Gives Not Guilty Plea

The Fullerton police officer who was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Kelly Thomas gave a not guilty plea on Monday, reports the Los Angeles Times. The trials involving both officers charged with the homeless man’s death is expected to pit two portrayals of Thomas against each other: a defenseless victim of brutality versus a violent and dangerous criminal.

In addition to the second-degree murder charge, Officer Manuel Ramos faces involuntary manslaughter. His bail is set at $1 million. If convicted of both charges, Ramos could be punished with life in prison. The ten-year police veteran also has reportedly been placed on suicide watch.

Bling Ring Leader Rachel Lee Pleads No Contest to Burglary

Rachel Lee, alleged leader of the celebrity-targeting theft gang, the "Bling Ring," may be wearing a different kind of bling very soon in the form of a shiny pair of handcuffs. Lee pleaded no contest to residential burglary charges on Friday and faces several years in prison, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Lee originally faced three charges of felony burglary and two counts of receiving stolen property. However, after striking a plea deal with Los Angeles prosecutors and pleading no contest to one count of residential burglary, she only faces four years in prison for her crime, according to the Times.

Rand Study: Less LA Pot Dispensaries Means More Crimes?

Authorities are in a huff after a Rand Corp. study concluded that closing down Los Angeles pot dispensaries actually resulted in more crimes being committed in the area, reports the Los Angeles Times.

It seems common sense that stores offering jars of drugs and registers full of cash would be targets for criminal activity. But not so, says the Santa Monica-based researchers. Instead, crime actually increased in areas where hundreds of pot dispensaries were formerly located -- by 59 percent in some areas.

Kelly Thomas Death: Fullerton Police Charged with Homicide

Civic and community leaders clamoring for accountability in the fatal beating of Kelly Thomas received an answer from the Orange County District Attorney on Wednesday: homicide charges against two Fullerton police officers, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, while Officer Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. The district attorney's office stated that the decision to formally charge the officers was made after reviewing 151 witness statements, video tapings of the beating, and medical and police statements. The coroner's report was the final linchpin in their decision, according to the Times.

Hockey Mom Accused of Unlawful Sex with Son's Underage Friends

A Laguna Niguel hockey mom was arrested last Wednesday on suspicion of having unlawful sex and committing lewd acts with two of her son’s underage friends, reports The Orange County Register. Police suspect there may also be a third victim.

All of the boys are alleged to have been Beach City Lightning hockey teammates of Katia Maria Davis’ son. Authorities began investigating Davis after one of the boys informed his mother of the unlawful sex acts that had begun when he was under 16 years of age. The acts reportedly continued for a year and a half, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. During the investigation, another victim, who is currently under 18, also came forward. The lewd acts against him allegedly began about six years ago.

Closing Statements Given in Irvine 11 Free Speech Case

The closing statements were given on Monday in the trial involving the Irvine 11, a group of U.C. Irvine and U.C. Riverside students accused of disrupting a meeting and speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States last year, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Ten of the students face misdemeanor criminal charges of conspiring to disrupt and actually disrupting Israeli ambassador Michael Oren's speech after they shouted at Oren during his speech on U.S.-Israeli relations.

The 11th defendant will not be facing charges after they were dropped in exchange for community service.

ESPN's Jay Mariotti No Contest Plea in Assault, Stalking Case

Former ESPN personality Jay Mariotti once again faced significant jail time for an incident with his ex-girlfriend, and once again escaped imprisonment with a no contest plea in his most recent assault and stalking case, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Mariotti faced five years in state prison if he had been convicted on all five counts against him, including three felony charges of stalking, corporal injury on a partner, and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury. Instead, Mariotti received 90 days of community service and five years of probation in exchange for his no contest plea on Tuesday.

He is eligible to have his probation reduced in three years.

Ex-Dodger Manny Ramirez Arrested for Battery after Domestic Dispute

Former Los Angeles Dodger and World Series MVP Manny Ramirez was arrested for battery on Monday night after an alleged domestic dispute with his wife, reports the Associated Press.

Ramirez’s wife reported he slapped her face after an argument, causing her to hit her head on their bed’s headboard, according to a police report. The 39-year-old was arrested at their South Florida home soon after the domestic dispute.

Ramirez has denied hitting his wife although she had injuries consistent with her report, such as swelling in the left side of her face and a contusion on the back of her head. However, his wife did not seek medical treatment.

Cori Desmond Murder: Tony Lopez Perez Receives 25 to Life

Tony Lopez Perez, a restaurant chef from Redondo Beach, was sentenced to 25 years to life on Monday, after he was found guilty of first degree murder in the Cori Desmond murder case, reports KTLA News.

The Torrance woman was found murdered in the San Bernardino Mountains in February 2009. She was last seen leaving the BAC Street bar in Redondo Beach where she worked. Toxicology reports stated that the 28-year-old had a blood alcohol content level of 0.35 percent, more than four times the legal limit. However, the county's medical examiner ruled the cause of death as "homicidal asphyxia, according to Deputy District Attorney Karen Khim.

Pimpin' Ain't Easy: Pandering, Pimp Laws and Punishments

Rap artists have long bemoaned the troubles involved in pimping. As Big Daddy Kane once said, “Pimpin’ ain’t easy,” and the lifestyle is not as glamorous as the media makes it seem. In fact, it’s downright illegal in California, and the punishments under pandering and pimp laws can be severe.

Prostitution laws in California typically make it a misdemeanor crime for both men and women to offer, agree to, or engage in a sexual act for compensation. However, pimping and pandering are both considered separate felonies punishable by imprisonment in state prison for up to six years and a maximum $10,000 fine. Further, if the person you are pimping or pandering is a minor, you must register as a sex offender and, if the minor is under 16, face a maximum eight-year prison sentence.

Former Playmate Shot Husband in the Back, Gets Prison Time

A former playmate of Playboy magazine was sentenced to nine years in state prison almost one year after she shot her husband in the back at their Hollywood apartment, reports the Associated Press.

Victoria Rathgeb, also known as Angela Dorian, pleaded no contest to attempted voluntary manslaughter in connection with the shooting. Rathgeb allegedly shot her husband after argument last October. He is currently recovering and was in court for the sentencing, according to prosecutors.

Rathgeb was initially charged with attempted murder and could have potentially faced life in prison if she had been convicted.

Actor Anthony Michael Hall Arrested for Disturbing the Peace

Anthony Michael Hall may have played the part of the quintessential nerd in 80s films, but it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy for the actor after he was arrested for disturbing the peace Monday night, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Hall’s neighbor reportedly contacted the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific Division because the 43-year-old allegedly threatened to “beat him to a pulp.” The threats occurred after the neighbor had witnessed Hall tearing up plants in the common area of their condominium complex.

Brandon McInerney Trial for Death of Lawrence King Ends in Mistrial

The tragic story of the death of gay middle school student Lawrence King ended with little resolution after a Ventura County judge declared a mistrial in alleged killer Brandon McInerney's trial, reports the Los Angeles Times.

After 17 hours of deliberation, jurors could not agree whether to convict now 17-year-old McInerney and deadlocked on a vote of 7 to 5 in favor of voluntary manslaughter. When a case becomes impracticable or impossible to finish a case, a mistrial is granted. Upon hearing the news, McInerney's mother sobbed into her hands while King's parents stormed from the courtroom before the judge could finish.

College Professor Accused of Leading Drug Ring, Devils Disciples

It’s a story that could have been ripped straight from an episode of hit television show “Breaking Bad”: Cal State San Bernardino professor, Stephen Kinzey, is suspected of leading a drug ring and is now considered a fugitive, reports the Los Angeles Times. In addition to being the ring leader, Kinzey is also suspected of leading a chapter of the Devils Disciples motorcycle gang, making him a bit more hardcore than even Walter White.

Authorities are aggressively searching for Kinzey, who is ironically a professor of kinesiology, after they discovered a pound of methamphetamines, rifles, handguns and biker paraphernalia at his home on Friday, according to Sheriff Rod Hoops.