Tag Archives: trial

Mark Sievers to go in front of Judge Tomorrow for New Trial Hearing

Mark Sievers DOC photo

Attorneys for Mark Sievers have filed a motion for new trial after his conviction and death sentence in the death of his wife, Theresa Sievers. Sievers’ attorneys have alleged several issues to be heard at the motion for new trial. The strongest claim is probably the discovery of new evidence. The motion alleges that a newly discovered letter from Sievers’ neighbor Mark Petrites proves that Petrites misled the jury about the extent of his friendship with Sievers, and that the letter helps explain why his testimony was inconsistent over the course of the case.

If the court fines that the motion is supported by evidence and that there was prejudice from the issues, the judge could grant Sievers a new trial. This doesn’t mean he would be released or acquitted, it would mean that the trial would start over again, but only if the judge is persuaded that the issues raised in the motion prejudiced Mr. Sievers and to entitle him to a new trial. The motion will be heard in court tomorrow.

Pity the Attorney with a Difficult Client

As you may have seen, trial got underway in New York City for producer Harvey Weinstein, charged with several sexual offenses in one of the landmark cases of the #metoo movement. Today, Mr. Weinstein was excoriated by the judge for using his cell phone in court, in spite of the judge’s strict rule against it, and repeated orders not to do so. His poor attorneys end up apologizing to the judge for their client’s behavior, only for the judge to “snarl” at them as well. Apparently, they had made Weinstein turn over his cellphone earlier, but he had multiple additional cell phones and continued to access them in court. He’s literally pulling tricks to confound his own attorneys as they were trying to keep him out of trouble. The judge threatened to revoke his bond for disobeying the order, which he would have been in his power to do.

Weinstein picked a particularly bad day to disobey the judge, because new charges had been filed against him in California, and the prosecution on this case was already arguing to the court for his bond to be revoked. I think the State shot itself in the foot suggesting that they had not been in contact with the Los Angeles prosecution when the indictment was conveniently unveiled to coincide with the start of his New York trial… and that the L.A. prosecutor indicated that they certainly had been in contact with the New York D.A. The defense asked for a continuance and the judge smartly resolved everything to avoid conflict: denying the request for continuance, denying the request to revoke bail on the New York case, and ultimately setting identical bail on the California case so the court can get down to the business of conducting the trial at hand, which is expected to last around two months.

Harvey Weinstein being assisted to court

The challenge for Weinstein’s lawyers, beyond the legal challenge of defending him from the charges, will be to rein in his behavior so he doesn’t end up shooting himself in the foot. He started showing up to court with a walker, and when commentators suggested he was trying to garner sympathy, he had an extensive interview with Page Six without consulting his attorney.  He’s trying to win in the court of public opinion while his attorneys are trying to win in actual court, where the potential penalty is life in prison. He has already gone through multiple prior attorneys, before settling on this team.

The predatory rape charges included in the New York case create a huge challenge for Weinstein’s defense team as they allow the state to introduce evidence of other offenses. This includes offenses that were not charged and that may not have been brought up until after the statute of limitations, and none for which Mr. Weinstein has admitted or been convicted of. He categorically denies all charges, and says that any sexual contact was consensual. However, the State being able to bring in a string of additional accusers presents a damning fact pattern and suggestion of guilt that will be difficult for the defense to overcome, particularly coupled with some potentially humiliating evidence. Compare the case against Bill Cosby, who’s first trial ended in a hung jury. During the second trial, the court permitted evidence from additional accusers and the jury in that case convicted Cosby. On the other hand, the charges only came about after a very public campaign creating political pressure for the prosecutors to bring charges, and one of the lead NYPD investigators was prevented from testifying due to suggestions of witness coaching and withholding evidence. The case will be a hard-fought battle for the next eight weeks. The attorneys have their work cut out for them, but at least they are being well paid.

The Jimmy Rodgers Trial is Underway, Opening Statements were this Morning

Jimmy Ray Rodgers

Jimmy Rodgers, one of three men charged with the murder of Dr. Teresa Sievers in her Bonita Springs home in 2015 is on trial in Fort Myers. Jury selection began last Monday, and this morning the attorneys gave their opening statements. The State argues that Rodgers traveled here with Curtis Wayne Wright, who had allegedly been hired by the third Defendant Mark Sievers, Teresa’s husband. There’s substantial evidence to show that Rodgers and Wright traveled to Southwest Florida together from Missouri, and that they were here when Sievers was beaten to death in her home.

Curtis Wayne Wright has already pled guilty to his involvement, and agreed to serve 25 years in prison in exchange for his testimony for the state. That’s obviously something that the Defense will attack as to his credibility. Further, he gave several differing statements, at least eight, according to the Defense in their opening statement. The challenge will be for the State to use Wright to prove not just that Rodgers was present, but that he participated in the crime. The State also plans to use the testimony of Rodgers’ then girlfriend, to whom Rodgers allegedly admitted to killing Dr. Sievers. However, Rodgers’ girlfriend has been paid by the state about $400 per month for the four years since the crime, so the Defense will attack her credibility as well.

Crime Scene tech Van Waus testifying

The Defense conceded in opening that Rodgers traveled to Fort Myers with Wright, but deny that he was involved in the conspiracy with Mark Sievers to commit the murder. The State’s only evidence that directly ties Rodgers to the murder itself is the testimony of Curtis Wright. Not only is there a strong attack on Wright’s credibility, but Wright admitted that he was the first to attack Sievers. He says only after he struck her a couple times did Rodgers jump in to actually kill her. Wright’s testimony will be must-see viewing. Rodgers faces the death penalty, as does Mark Sievers.

Love-triangle Murder Case Results in Conviction and Life Sentence for Wife, after Claims of Threesomes and Alligators

 

denise williams

Denise Williams with Mike, and Brian Winchester (inset)

Mike Williams body was never found after his friend told police that he had drowned in a lake while they were duck hunting back in 2000. At they time, they assumed his body had been eaten by alligators, but his mother never believed it, and never gave up. She even paid for signs and billboards to get the police to investigate, right out of a movie. But the break in the case didn’t come until year later.

Denise Williams collected a $1.75 million dollar life insurance policy payout when her husband was declared dead. His best friend, Brian Winchester, had been fishing with Mike on the Williams’ sixth wedding anniversary, and apparently explained the disappearance well enough that the cops bought it. A few years later, Brian and Denise got married.

It turns out, Denise and Brian had been having an affair- a juicy affair involving threesomes with other parties, trial testimony revealed. She and Brian ultimately got married a few years after Mike’s death, in 2005, and their marriage lasted ten years, falling apart after both of them had additional affairs. Things came to a head in 2016 when Brian, apparently worried that his now-ex-wife would spill the beans about murdering Mike, that he kidnapped Denise at gunpoint. Major backfire, as Brian was now facing a possible life sentence for the armed kidnapping and armed burglary charges. Desperate to make a deal, Brian offered to come clean about Mike’s death. The prosecutors agreed to offer him immunity if cooperated, and 20-years on the kidnapping case. Brian explained that Denise has conspired with him to stage Mike’s death as a boating mishap so they could be together. Brian led authorities to Mike’s remains and charged Denise with murder, conspiracy, and accessory.

The trial was a juicy one, replete with intrigue and affairs. Denise’s defense suggested that Brian was lying to try to save his own skin, and that he had lied repeatedly to investigators. At trial, prosecutors introduced images from one of the threesomes with Brian’s first wife, but they brought her in and she testified that there had been a sexual encounter with she, Brian, and Denise prior to Mike’s disappearance. They also brought in a woman who testified she had had an affair with Brian while he was married to Denise, and that Denise had walked in on them together at one point.

ID Photo

Brian Winchester, via DOC

Ultimately, Brian Winchester’s testimony about Denise’s involvement persuaded the jury, who found Denise Williams guilty at her December trial. The sentencing occurred last week and was mostly perfunctory, as the court was required to impose a mandatory life sentence. Winchester still has most of his sentence in front of him, Florida DOC estimates his release date is not until July, 2036. Denise Williams is not eligible for any form of parole or early release.

Below is a great behind-the-scenes interview with Winchester’s attorney about how he was able to get the immunity deal on Winchester’s kidnapping case- cool insights from an interview with the Law and Crime network. Sounds like the state was leaning hard on the new case to compel him to cooperate on the murder. Also, much of the trial testimony is available online, here.

Bill Cosby Sentenced to 3-to-10 Years in Prison

bill cosby sentenced

Cosby sentencing hearing

Bill Cosby, who was convicted of three counts of indecent sexual assault during a second trial earlier this year, has been sentenced to up to 10 years in a Pennsylvania prison. The three counts were merged for sentencing under Pennsylvania law, and the judge sentenced him in accordance with the guidelines, which called for at least 22-36 months. The judge denied the defense request for house arrest, and denied Cosby a bond. Cosby was led from the courtroom in handcuffs and processed into custody.

bill cosby

Bill Cosby

Cosby, known as America’s dad for his reign as the patriarch of the fictional Cosby he portrayed on a top-rated sitcom in the 1980’s, will surely appeal. There are a couple of substantial issues to be hashed out on  appeal. First is the trial judge’s decision to allow the statements Cosby made in the civil case to be presented in the criminal trial. Cosby claimed he had only agreed to testify in the civil case pursuant to an agreement that the state would not prosecute, essentially that he was immune from prosecution. Cosby’s wife has recently indicated she wants to address a possible dispute the judge had with the former prosecutor that allegedly made the immunity agreement with Cosby. Also, among other things, Cosby will challenge the court’s decision to allow five other alleged victims to testify in this case. During his first trial, only one other accuser testified, and the trial ended with a mistrial due to a hung jury. While the decision to allow similar fact evidence before the jury is generally left to the discretion of the trial judge, his change of heart to allow four more accusers will certainly be scrutinized. It appears Cosby will have to remain behind bars unless he scores on his appeal.

The First ‘Lake Boyz’ Racketeering Trial is drawing to a Close

Closing arguments are under way in the Racketeering trial of four men who are allegedly members of the “Lake Boyz” gang that have been charged as part of a major organized crime case in Fort Myers. There are so many co-defendants, that the court decided to separate them into multiple trials, and the first group is facing trial, four men, who all have trafficking charges, and one of them has additional drug sale charges. To prove racketeering, that is “RICO”, similar to the type of case that you might see from a mob or other organized crime prosecution, the State has to prove that there is an ongoing criminal operation, and that each of the defendants committed crimes in furtherance of that ongoing criminal operation.

The challenge for prosecutors, which was apparent from the initial warrants in the present case, is that while the State can prove that these defendants have committed prior crimes, there is a challenge in proving that the crimes were in furtherance of the criminal prosecution. Some of the prior offenses are as insignificant as marijuana possession, and it’s hard to demonstrate that simple possession is in furtherance of a criminal enterprise. A lot of crimes can be in furtherance of a criminal episode: drug sales, stealing for profit, violence to support gang activities: the challenge for the state is to prove to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt that these crimes were committed in furtherance of the criminal activity.

Many times to make that showing, the government will use an informant. Sometimes they are able to embed an undercover agent into the criminal enterprise, which is nice as they are generally able to give more credible testimony (think Donnie Brasco). However, that’s difficult, dangerous and expensive. Other times, the government will rely on a criminal informant, who may be willing to cooperate due to facing their own criminal charges, or because they are being paid for their assistance. Either way, informants can be less reliable witnesses, but they can be important for the state to prove that there is a criminal enterprise, and that crimes were committed in furtherance of the enterprise… in this case, a gang.

The State utilized several informants in their case against the alleged Lake Boyz on trial the last three weeks. However, the testimony of the informants was not as strong as they likely would have hoped. Listening to the closing arguments, it sounds like they denied knowledge of any of the Defendants being in the gang, working for the gang, taking orders from the gang, or doing things for the benefit of the gang. The State flipped one of the co-defendants as one of their informants, and he denied being a gang member. I didn’t get to see all the evidence, and I’m not on the jury, but the State has a big hurdle to clear in this case, in spite of the gang signs and rap videos. They have a problem trying to prove the enterprise, and the furtherance of the enterprise, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Closing arguments will wrap up this evening, and then it will be in the jury’s hands. I’m sure they will try to wrap it up tonight, but the judge has indicated he’s willing to come back over the weekend to finish the trial.

Bill Cosby: Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

bill cosby

Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby was found guilty of all three counts of aggravated indecent assault in a Pennsylvania courtroom this afternoon. The charges stem from accusations that he drugged and sexually assaulted a woman at his home. He faces up to 10 years in prison on each count. After the verdict, the prosecutor asked that his bond be revoked pending sentencing, and Cosby audibly called him an “Asshole” in court. The judge declined, leaving the same bond in place. Sentencing will probably not be for a few weeks, and Cosby will need to undergo an assessment to see if he must register as a violent sexual predator. He will certainly appeal, and will probably try to secure a bond while the appeal is ongoing, as well.

This brings to close a saga that began with the accusation 13 years ago. The prosecutor at the time initially did not prosecute, and Cosby claimed that he had an immunity agreement in place before he testified at the deposition in the related civil suit: which he ended up settling for $3.4 million dollars. Later, after publicity, a new prosecutor was elected who then filed on criminal charges, and no immunity agreement was ever produced, so the court allowed him to proceed and to introduce the deposition testimony by Cosby. The first trial ended in a mistrial. This trial included additional evidence, included testimony from five other women that claim Cosby drugged them and took advantage of them, and also from a woman who claimed that the accuser told her that she was going to make up an accusation to try to cash in. His new attorney, Tom Meserau, tried a different, more aggressive approach with the accuser. The jurors must not have been persuaded as they found him guilty as charged.

Not only does it firmly bring down the comedian formerly referred to as America’s Dad, it makes the ‘special sauce’ episode of the Cosby Show really creepy in hindsight… Also, when you get found guilty of sexual assault, it’s not the prosecutor who is an ‘asshole’.