05 24 2016
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  • The judge concluded Officer Edward Nero played little role in the arrest and wasn't responsible for the failure by police to buckle Gray in  
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  • Bill Cosby faces a preliminary hearing Tuesday to determine if his criminal sex-assault case in suburban Philadelphia goes to trial.Prosecutors had declined to charge the comedian-actor over the 2005 complaint, but arrested him in December after his explosive deposition in the woman's lawsuit became public. In the testimony given in that deposition, Cosby is grilled about giving drugs and alcohol to women before sex; making secret payments to ex-lovers; and hosting Andrea Constand at his home. They knew each other through Temple University, where he was a trustee and she managed the women's basketball team. Bill Cosby's wife refused to answer dozens of questions during a combative deposition in a defamation lawsuit filed by seven women who say the comedian branded them liars after they accused him of sexually assaulting them, according to a transcript released Friday. Camille Cosby was subjected to intense questioning by the women's lawyer, who repeatedly pressed her to say whether she believes her husband "acted with a lack of integrity" during their 52-year marriage. The lawyer also asked if her husband used his position and power "to manipulate young women." Camille Cosby didn't answer those questions and many others after her lawyer cited marital privilege, the legal protection given to communications between spouses. She repeatedly said she had "no opinion" when pressed on whether she viewed her husband's behavior as dishonest and a violation of their marriage vows. About 50 women have publicly accused Bill Cosby of forcing unwanted sexual contact on them decades ago. Cosby has denied the allegations. He faces a criminal case in Pennsylvania, where prosecutors have charged him with sexually violating a former Temple University employee, Andrea Constand. He has pleaded not guilty. Camille Cosby answered questions in the deposition Feb. 22 and again April 19 after her lawyers argued unsuccessfully to stop it. A judge ruled she would have to give a deposition but said she could refuse to answer questions about private communications between her and her husband. Camille Cosby's lawyer, Monique Pressley, repeatedly cited that privilege and advised her not to answer many questions asked by the women's lawyer, Joseph Cammarata. The exchanges between Cammarata and Cosby became testy at times, and she admonished him: "Don't lecture me. Just keep going with the questions." Using a transcript of a deposition Bill Cosby gave in a civil lawsuit filed by Constand in 2005 and a transcript of an interview she gave to Oprah Winfrey in 2000, Cammarata asked Camille Cosby about extramarital affairs her husband had. "Were you aware of your husband setting up trusts for the benefit of women that he had a sexual relationship with?" Cammarata asked. She didn't answer after her lawyer cited marital privilege. Cammarata asked her about Shawn Thompson, a woman who said Bill Cosby fathered her daughter, Autumn Jackson, in the 1970s. Jackson was convicted in 1997 of attempting to extort money from Bill Cosby to prevent her from telling a tabloid she's his daughter. He acknowledged he had an affair with her mother and had given her money. "Was it a big deal when this came up in the 1970s that your husband had — big deal to you that your husband had an extramarital affair and potentially had a daughter from that extramarital affair?" Cammarata asked. "It was a big deal then, yes," Camille Cosby replied. She said she had "no opinion" on whether her husband's admission he obtained quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex violated their marriage vows. Her lawyer objected and instructed her not to answer when Cammarata asked her if she ever suspected she had been given any type of drug to alter her state of consciousness when she had sex with her husband. A spokesman for the Cosbys declined to comment on her deposition. The Cosbys have a home in Shelburne Falls, an hour's drive from Springfield, where the lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages, was filed. An attorney handling a separate lawsuit against Bill Cosby revealed Friday that Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner provided sworn testimony Wednesday. In the sexual battery lawsuit filed in Los Angeles, Judy Huth says Cosby forced her to perform a sex act on him at the Playboy Mansion around 1974, when she was 15. Bill Cosby's former lawyers have accused Huth of attempting to extort him before filing the case and have tried unsuccessfully to have it dismissed. Huth's attorney, Gloria Allred, said Hefner's testimony will remain under seal for now. Hefner also was named as a defendant in a case filed Monday by former model Chloe Goins, who accuses Bill Cosby of drugging and sexually abusing her at the Playboy Mansion in 2008.   The Associated Press generally doesn't identify people who say they're victims of sexual abuse, but the women accusing Cosby have come forward to tell their stories.___AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
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  • Some hope killing will bring peace in Afghanistan     
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David Merkatz

The American justice system is based on the ideal of “innocent until proven guilty,” but it doesn’t always play out that way.

Often, the innocent go to prison, sometimes to serve long sentences. Since 1989, for example, at least 1,555 innocent people in the United States have been exonerated of crimes after previously being convicted, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School.

David Merkatz knows what it’s like to be wrongly charged and face the possibility of prison time.

Merkatz, a locksmith, was arrested in South Florida after he hit upon a business strategy of creating a series of locksmith company names that were similar to names of existing companies. He says his method of siphoning off his competitors’ business “might not have been nice,” but his attorney assured him it was legal.

After all, the service he was offering was not a scam. Customers who called would get a real locksmith to their house who would do the work and charge a fair price, he says.

The worst that could happen, Merkatz figured, was that his competitors might file civil claims against him over trademark infringement. Criminal complaints shouldn’t have been a possibility.

But one of the “victims” had ties to local government. Merkatz says that’s how he and two other locksmiths ended up in jail, charged with a host of crimes ranging from money laundering to petty theft. Eventually, the charges were dropped, but Merkatz says he was damaged in many ways by the ordeal.

“You are really guilty until proven innocent in this country,” says Merkatz, who wrote a book about his experience titled “Wrongly Charged: A Look at the Legal System” (www.wronglycharged.com), with 10 percent of the profits going into a fund to help others who are wrongly charged.

 “Even if you are found not guilty of a crime, your reputation is tarnished.”

Merkatz says his run-in with the legal system taught him a few lessons.

•  Seek legal advice. Merkatz says his knowledge of the justice system comes from experience and talking with attorneys, but those who feel their constitutional or legal rights are being violated should seek assistance from a professional. Not only do you need an attorney, but it should be an attorney from your state because laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, he says.

•  Understand the importance of plea deals. Prosecutors often offer plea deals to defendants and it’s not surprising when guilty people, especially first-time offenders, accept the offer, Merkatz says. “You can bargain with the state to let you plea to a lesser charge, and if you are a non-violent offender, chances are you’ll be given a pretty good deal,” he says. Sadly, though, even innocent people have to consider plea deals, Merkatz says, because otherwise they place themselves in the hands of a judge or jury and could end up with a stiff prison sentence.

•  Always carry a bail bondsman’s card. Merkatz admits that many people “look at me like I’m nuts” when he suggests this, but he believes it’s important. Most law-abiding citizens can’t imagine a scenario when they would need to contact a bail bondsman to help get them out of jail, but it can easily happen. Merkatz, for example, says a friend was once pulled over for a routine traffic stop. The officer ended up pulling out his gun and arresting the man on an outstanding warrant. As it turned out, the warrant was for someone else with the same name and a similar birthday, but law enforcement did not figure that out until Merkatz’s friend spent several hours in custody.

Although Merkatz and the other two locksmiths in his case were not convicted, Merkatz says the law enforcement investigation took a toll in financial resources and in the stress of not knowing whether they would go to prison.

“I believe that until the laws of this country are changed to level the playing field for defendants there will always be innocent people sitting in jail or executed,” Merkatz says. “Others will lose their jobs, their friends and their reputations because of false accusations.”

He says one solution would be to handle criminal cases like civil cases. If someone files a lawsuit against you and loses the case, the court usually will order the person to pay your court costs and legal fees.

“That protects people, to some degree, from frivolous lawsuits,” Merkatz says. “You will not be out the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to defend yourself. If criminal cases were handled this way, I’m betting the state would not be so quick to file charges.”

About David Merkatz

David Merkatz was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, where at age 16 he decided he didn’t like school and wanted to learn a trade. That led him into the locksmith trade and in 1978 he opened his first locksmith business in Brooklyn. Merkatz moved to south Florida in 1983, where he continued working as a locksmith, eventually establishing a mobile locksmith business with a friend. After a truck accident killed his friend and injured him, Merkatz decided to begin hiring independent contractors to do the service calls while he handled dispatching duties. His life changed on Aug. 13, 2013, when he was arrested after there were complaints he used company names similar to existing locksmith companies in an effort to get their business. His experience with the legal system inspired him to write a book titled “Wrongly Charged: A Look at the Legal System.” (www.wronglycharged.com)

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