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Monday, April 22, 2019

Gary Gauger: Investigating innocence claims

McHenry County, Illinois, USA (April 22, 2019) BTN — Gary Gauger awoke early the morning of April 8, 1993, to a heavy rainfall beating on the windows of his Richmond home, dampening his plans to transplant seedlings on the family farm.

While Gauger went back to sleep, two members of the Outlaws motorcycle club made their way to the motorcycle repair shop that Gauger’s father operated in a garage near the farm. Although Outlaws members James Schneider and Randall Miller were responsible for robbing and murdering Ruth and Morrie Gauger that day, it would take law enforcement three years to come to that conclusion.

In the meantime, Gary Gauger was pinned for his parents’ murders and sentenced to death by lethal injection. After serving 3½ years in prison and nine months on death row, his conviction was overturned in 1996.

Exonerated McHenry County men weigh in on proposed legislation

Gauger was aided in his appeal process by Northwestern University Law Professor Lawrence Marshall, who founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions. “The police get a theory on what happened and they don’t seem to care if it doesn’t match the facts,” Gauger said. “They just work on their theory.”

Illinois Innocence Project co-founder Bill Clutter asked Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul last week to support legislation that would create a “conviction integrity unit” to investigate innocence claims. A statewide unit in Illinois would benefit counties that don’t have the funds to implement their own conviction review boards, or simply don’t see enough claims of actual innocence to justify an integrity unit, Clutter said.

Today Gauger, 65, lives on a farm just yards away from the site of his parents’ murder. He leads a quiet, secluded life with his wife, Sue Reckenthaler, and their dog, Diego. “This is my home,” Gauger said Wednesday. “I’m not going to let those guys run me out of my home.”

Gauger’s case is one of two in McHenry County in which perjury or false accusations, official misconduct, and false confessions have led to convictions and subsequent exonerations since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. 

Mario Casciaro was convicted in March 2013 of killing Johnsburg teen Brian Carrick. He served 22 months in the Menard Correctional Center on a 26-year sentence before the Second District Appellate Court overturned his conviction in September 2015. 

Although he doesn’t feel McHenry County is “progressive enough” for its own integrity unit, the area would benefit from a statewide effort, he said. “McHenry County specifically is probably a little bit too small right now, but in the future, if there’s continued growth in the population, I imagine there should be an independent conviction investigation unit,” Casciaro said.

Illinois has a history of wrongful convictions. Former Gov. George Ryan labeled the state’s system of capital punishment “haunted by the demon of error” when he halted executions in 2000. 

By the time Illinois abolished the Death Penalty in 2011, wrongful death sentences imposed on 20 people had been reversed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 

The Illinois Second District Appellate Court, which includes McHenry County, saw 445 criminal appeals in 2017, according to the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts. Of those, 393 cases were disposed. 

In Cook County, where former state’s attorney Anita Alvarez created a Chicago-based conviction integrity unit in 2012, the office receives about 150 applications annually from those convicted of felonies, but many do not meet criteria for review, spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said. 

Seventy convictions have been reversed since 2017, Simonton said. 

A similar system in Lake County successfully helped exonerate Jason Strong, a man previously convicted of killing Carpentersville resident Mary Kate Sunderlin. “I thought, ‘Man what’s going on?’ This doesn’t happen,” Strong said. “This is like what happens only in the movies.”

For a case to be considered by Lake County’s panel, the defendant’s claim must contain new evidence that was not known at the time of trial, previously untested evidence, or some other affirmation of innocence. Strong is a proponent for the conviction integrity panel that helped exonerate him, and attributes its success to objective thinking within the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office. 

“I admire that, and I think that if you have that kind of quality in a prosecutor then you’re going to get a better integrity unit,” Strong said. Both Gauger and Casciaro generally are proponents for conviction integrity units. Gauger’s experience, however, has left him with doubts about whether McHenry County could handle a unit of its own. “How do you get politics out of McHenry County?” Gauger said. “It’s difficult.”

Casciaro has also been critical of how McHenry County prosecutors handled his case, going as far as to call State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally “delusional.” Kenneally has stood by his office’s handling of the case, and said he’s a proponent of taking every reasonable step to prevent wrongful convictions. The state’s attorney is reserving judgment on the idea of a statewide conviction integrity, however, until he can review an actual Attorney General Office’s policy.

In an email Tuesday, Kenneally cited an analysis by University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell to emphasize his belief that people often overlook the context surrounding wrongful convictions. Cassell estimated the wrongful conviction rate in the U.S. to be between 0.016% and 0.062%, Kenneally said.

“In other words, the criminal justice system gets it right in more than 99.9% of the cases,” he said. “In a system where, in keeping with basic democratic rights, the fundamental decision-makers are ordinary, everyday and imperfect human beings, this is incredibly good.” 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Motorcycle Club agrees on right to choose

Brighton, Michigan, USA (April 20, 2019) BTN — It's been seven years since the universal motorcycle helmet law was repealed in Michigan and the debate between whether riders should wear a helmet or have the choice to wear a helmet is still going strong.

Channel 6 News got the chance to go to the Forbidden Wheels Motorcycle Clubhouse in Brighton. One member named Jerry Jaskloski, also known as 'Jitterbug' has been riding since he was 16 years old and rode for only three years with no helmet law. "Just about turning nineteen the helmet law came on," said Jaskloski.

For most of his years riding, the law was in place, until April of 2012, when the law was repealed and riders had the choice to wear or not wear a helmet. Jaskloski says he was used to wearing his helmet when the law changed but over time, he slowly stopped wearing it. He added that when it hails, rains, etc., is usually the only time when he wears it.

Another rider, Russell Cockerham, says whether it's rain or shine, it's his decision to wear it or not wear it. "I was happy it got passed, not because I'm going to stop wearing my helmet, I'm happy I got my choice," said Cockerham.

According to study done by the Center for Management of Information for Safe and Sustainable Transportation, the percentage of riders who were wearing a helmet while involved in an accident dropped from 97.7 percent in 2011, to 68.8 percent in 2017. It also showed the the number of motorcycle accidents isn't increasing, but the number of fatal motorcycle accidents are.

The study also compared the number of accidents before and after the law was modified and how many of those were fatal.

Channel 6 News took the topic to our WLNS Facebook page where we asked people to vote whether they think riders should always wear a helmet or it should be the riders choice. After the poll was closed, 66 percent of people voted that motorcyclists should always wear a helmet and 34 percent voted that it should be the motorcyclists choice.


Cops go after Rebels MC President

Sydney, Australia (April 20, 2019) BTN — The cops are seeking a court order that will ban Rebels Motorcycle Club National President Damian "Big D" Vella from associating with his mates for two years, by using the state’s tough anti-bikie laws.

The NSW Police have applied to the NSW Supreme Court for an order under 2016 laws that aim to make life so hard for bikies that they give up being bikies.

If the cops are successful, Big D won’t be able to approach any member, former member, associate, hang around, nominee or prospect of an Motorcycle Club. He also won’t be allowed to travel in “any vehicle” between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am except “in the case of a genuine medical emergency”.

The police also want him banned from any location vaguely connected to any motorcycle club, and the police want him banned from using any encrypted communication device, including apps like Whatsapp, or even owning more than one phone.

Vella became the Rebels national president after his uncle, Alex Vella, was stranded in Malta when Australian authorities cancelled his visa. The case will return to court on August 1.

SOURCE: The Daily Telegraph

Gypsy Joker MC members stopped at airport

Perth, Australia (April 20, 2019) BTN — Five international motorcycle club members including three Gypsy Jokers and two associates of the club have been banned from entering the country after being stopped at Perth Airport.

The men all arrived in Perth in the past week to attend an event being held on Saturday night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the motorcycle club.

Baggage search bench at Perth Airport

But the Australian Border Force (ABF) said they were all stopped and questioned before having their visas cancelled because "they presented a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community, or a segment of the community".

The men included two Germans, aged 33 and 61, a 34-year-old Norwegian and two Spaniards aged 43 and 44. The ABF said the German pair, both members of the Gypsy Jokers, arrived in Perth on a flight from Hong Kong on Monday night.

The Spanish men, both club associates, also arrived on Monday on a flight from Dubai. The Norwegian member of the Gypsy Jokers arrived on a flight from Singapore on Wednesday. The ABF said the men were held at the Perth immigration detention centre before being sent home.

ABF regional commander for WA Rod O'Donnell said they were focussed on disrupting the activities of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

"These gangs pose a significant threat to our community and are known to be involved in serious criminal activity including drug trafficking and violent crime," he said. "Any non-citizen involved with a criminal organisation, including outlaw motorcycle gangs, can expect to have their Australian visa cancelled on arrival and be removed from the country."

The event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Gypsy Jokers, at the motorcycle club's Maddington clubhouse in Perth's south-eastern suburbs, is expected to be watched closely by police.