It All Seemed So Good: Toronto Neurosurgeon Arrested for Murder of Wife

GeorgiaLeeLang025Mohammed Shamji had it all:  a beautiful wife, who was herself a family doctor, three lovely children, and a PhD from Duke University in biomedical engineering, which paved the way for his reputation as a world-renowned neurosurgeon. But the family was hiding a secret…according to news reports, the Shamji’s had visits from the police more than once for allegations of domestic violence and neighbours reportedly heard them fighting.

Tragically the ultimate weapon for men that engage in family violence was unleashed when Dr. Sahmji, age 40, allegedly murdered his wife, Elana Fric-Shamji last week in their garage. He was arrested on Friday and is in police custody charged with first degree murder. The media reports that Dr. Shamji placed her body in a suitcase and dropped her  beside a river in suburban Toronto, where she was found the day before her husband was arrested.  The coroner determined she died from strangulation and blunt force trauma.

It is impossible to pigeon-hole Dr. Shamji as he does not fall within the typical profile of a husband (or wife) who murders their partner, which includes severe mental illness, previous felony convictions, lower intelligence, and more cognitive impairment than in other types of murders. However, eschewing political correctness,  it may well be that his cultural upbringing played a role.

The killing of a female intimate partner or spouse is referred to as “uxoricide”. Statistics reveal that of 2,340 partner murders in America in 2007, female victims made up 70%. In South-East Asia 55% of all murdered women died at the hands of their partner, in Africa it is 40%, and 38% in the Americas. It is reported that approximately 7 women are killed per month in England and Wales, 4 women per month in Australia, and in the United States it is 76 women per month.

Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji had recently filed for divorce and expressed relief that she was on her way to a new life. This stage of separation is the most dangerous time for women. Her last tweet on November 27, 2016 was lively and upbeat, displaying a photo of her and a fellow female physician. Her children have now been placed with their maternal grandparents. How very sad…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Can Residue on a Cell Phone Identify a Criminal?

GEO CASUALThe field of investigative science is rapidly expanding, but it is also diminishing as forensic scientists throw out investigative tools that have been discredited, such as bite-mark analysis.

In a study funded by the National Institute of Justice,  and carried out by  biochemists at the University of California, San Diego, scientists  have discovered that residue aka “gunk” on a person’s cell phone can reveal much about the phone’s owner. Anything we touch leaves behind trace chemicals, molecules, and microbes which can be analyzed to obtain lifestyle information, including diet, hygiene products, health status and locations visited.

In a press release, the authors of the study said that this process  can reveal whether “ a person is likely female, uses high-end cosmetics, dyes her hair, drinks coffee, prefers beer over wine, likes spicy food, is being treated for depression, wears sunscreen and bug spray—and therefore likely spends a lot of time outdoors—all kinds of things.”

The authors of the study caution that this technique only provides a general lifestyle readout and unlike fingerprint analysis is not capable of providing a match to a particular person.

Then how is this information useful? The analysis could assist  a criminal investigator to narrow down the owner of an object found at a crime scene and assist in the determination of a viable suspect. Besides criminal profiling, it can be used for airport screening, medication adherence monitoring and environmental exposure studies.

The authors say their next project is to look at other personal items, such as wallets and keys to determine if their molecular analysis applies to these objects.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judge’s Decision Results in Tragedy

BarristerHave you ever thought about how judges make decisions? Frankly, I rarely think about this as my focus is simply on persuading a judge to see it my way. But learned scholars have studied and researched the psychology of judicial decision-making with interesting results.

The authors of “Blinking on the Bench: How Judges Make Decisions”* say that judges are predominantly intuitive decision makers, a characteristic that unfortunately can lead to flawed decisions. Of course, some intuitive decisions are accurate, but as between those kind of decisions and  the more academically rigorous “deliberation” method,  acting on gut feelings or hunches can be a dangerous way to adjudicate matters of critical importance to participants in the justice system.

A case this week out of Madison, Kentucky highlights the impact of judges’ “getting it right”.

Local prosecutor Chad Lewis was in court in Madison on October 6, 2016 seeking an arrest warrant against Laura Russell’s husband, Anthony Russell, age 51. The couple was divorcing and it was going far from well. Charged in August 2016 with strangulation and domestic battery for allegedly attacking his wife on several occasions. Mr. Russell was out on bond of $500.00 and subject to a restraining order, that he apparently ignored.

This court appearance was scheduled after Ms. Russell advised the police that her husband was continuously stalking her. She was upset, intimidated and frightened.

Judge Michael Hensley presided at the hearing, however, he refused to issue a warrant for Mr. Russell’s arrest and instead issued a summons requiring Mr. Russell to attend court on  October 11, 2016 after the three-day long weekend.

Mr. Russell did not show up at court on October 11 and neither did his estranged wife. They were both dead. Mr. Russell went to Ms. Russell’s home on October 7 and stabbed her multiple times. He then  committed suicide, blowing his head off with a pistol…a tragedy that devastated Judge Hensley.

The judge released a statement to the press expressing his condolences to Ms. Russell’s family, saying he felt “horrible about her death” and understood that his sincere regret would not “bring her back”. He explained that he didn’t believe there was “probable cause” to issue a warrant and said “I made what I thought to be the correct legal decision…obviously I made a decision that had the most tragic result possible”.

Prosecutor Lewis criticized Judge Hensley for failing to accede to his request for a warrant for stalking. Meanwhile, Ms. Russell’s lawyer suggested that it was Mr. Lewis’ fault as he could have asked for a warrant for multiple breaches of the restraining order, instead of seeking a probable cause hearing for a new charge of stalking.

Judge Hensley also announced that he would institute a new procedure in respect of arrest warrants, by ensuring that a hearing be scheduled for the day the warrant request is made.

 Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

*Chris Guthrie,  Jeffrey J. Rachlinski & Andrew J. Wistrich

“Bill Cosby” Law to Take Effect in California

DSC01152_2 (2)_2In Canada there is no statute of limitations for criminal offences. If you committed a robbery,sexually assaulted a person, or even murdered a person decades ago, the law is coming for you, if they find sufficient evidence to prosecute. Admittedly, historical cases are more difficult to prove: evidence is lost, witnesses die, and memories fade, but Canadians recognize that a crime is a crime is a crime and the passage of time ought not to excuse an offender of his or her criminal wrongdoings.

Not so in the United State, where criminals can beat the system if they have not been prosecuted within certain proscribed time periods.  Justification for limitation laws include that an alleged offender ought not to have to defend himself after a lengthy period of time has passed, again because of lost evidence, faded recollections and other “fairness” arguments. That this approach clearly prejudices victims has apparently fallen on deaf ears, until now.

This week California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law that changes the limitation period in California for rape and other sexual molestation cases from 10 years to 20 years commencing in  2017. California’s limitation law reforms are not at the leading edge as  Nevada and Colorado amended their laws earlier this year, again expanding the period to 20 years. All of these legal reforms arise from the allegations of at least 30 women who say they were drugged and assaulted by Mr. Cosby.

According to the California Women’s Law Centre, 17 other States in America have no limitation period for rape.

California attorney Gloria Allred represents 30 women in the Bill Cosby case, most of whom have no legal recourse because of the limitation laws on the books in most states. She notes that the legislation is not retroactive, so it will not apply to her clients.

Proponents of the new law explain that it “tells every rape and sexual assault victim in California that they matter and that, regardless of when they are ready to come forward, they will always have an opportunity to seek justice in a court of law.” California state Senator Connie Leyva who brought the bill forward said in a statement. “Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary time limit has expired. There must never be an expiration date on justice!”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Custody Dispute Puts Father in Prison for 18 Years

GeorgiaLeeLang057For those of you who think that false allegations of abuse are a rarity in family law cases, think again! Recently I acted for two clients, the first was a father accused by his estranged wife of molesting their young son. A police investigation was initiated and the Ministry of Child and Family Services barred him from seeing any of his children.

The second client was accused by his common law spouse of all manner of outrageous abuse: physical, sexual, and psychological. The graphic descriptions of her alleged suffering were like nothing I had ever seen before. Another day, another police investigation.

In both cases the allegations were unfounded and dismissed, but not before wreaking havoc in two innocent men’s lives.

And not all abuse allegations are nipped in the bud…take for example the case of Luther Jones of  Santa Rosa, California. In 1998 he obtained custody of his daughter, an event that changed his life, only because immediately after he was awarded custody, his 10-year old daughter accused him of sexually molesting her.

Mr. Jones alleged that his former girlfriend, Elizabeth Woods’ accusations were false and only surfaced when he received custody of one of their children. A witness at trial told the court that Woods had told her she would put Jones in jail to prevent him from gaining custody. The ten-year old testified against Mr.  Jones. He was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in prison, all the while protesting his innocence.

But that little 10-year old grew up and at the age of 30 admitted to authorities that her mother forced her to falsely accuse Jones, because her mom was enraged that he obtained custody of another child of theirs. She also acknowledged that she was molested, but the perpetrator was a different boyfriend of her mother’s.

Luther Jones, now 70 years old, ill and frail, was released from prison and is expected to receive compensation of about $1 million dollars from the State of California.

The current county district attorney, Don Anderson remarked that in the context of a custody battle, the allegations of abuse must have attracted suspicion, but apparently not enough to see justice prevail. Anderson has announced his willingness to seek perjury-related charges against Ms. Woods, a fate that is far less than she deserves. He is also determined to investigate the new information that the ten-year old was molested, just not by Luther Jones.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Crazy American Judge Story

DSC00507 (2)There will always be debates about what it is like to be a judge. Some say it’s a highly stressful position, while others argue it is a “cushy” power job, with no one looking over your shoulder as you command your courtroom. When a judge directs a lawyer or a litigant to “jump”, they jump, no ifs, ands or buts!

I lean towards the view that a judge’s job is very stressful. They deal with the most important issues in society: where should a child live? how much jail time should a convicted offender receive? and, how much money do innocent victims  of a car accident need to reclaim their lives?

Of course, there is much anecdotal evidence about the stressful nature of the judicial role, often used as a reason to excuse bad behaviour. Or does unprofessional conduct  abound because  some judges begin to believe they are untouchable, simply because they are judges?  A recent case of a “runaway” judge tends to support the “arrogant judge” theory.

Judge Arnette Hubbard, age 81 (yes, still sitting at 81!)is a silver-haired African-American jurist who presides in Chicago. One sunny July morning Judge Hubbard left the court building to smoke a cigarette in Daley Plaza, adjacent to the court facilities. Businessman David Nicosia was nearby using his cell phone and became annoyed at the second-hand smoke wafting in his direction.

Judge Hubbard and Mr. Nicosia, a white man, had an unpleasant exchange that resulted in Mr. Nicosia’s arrest for aggravated battery and a hate crime. Mr. Nicosia was at the law courts that morning to obtain a marriage license. Instead he ended up in jail, cancelled the wedding plans, and awaited his day in court.

His trial last month turned into the ever popular “He said/She said”.  Judge Hubbard testified that when Mr. Nicosia asked her to stop smoking she replied that she wasn’t permitted to smoke indoors. She said that Mr. Nicosia then spat in her face and yelled “Rosa Parks move!”. She cried out to nearby deputy sheriffs and tried to stop Mr. Nicosia from leaving the scene, whereupon she alleged he flung her off and slapped her.

Mr. Nicosia described a different series of events. He testified that after he complained the judge intentionally blew smoke in his face and said she could smoke wherever she liked. He replied “It’s not like you’re the Rosa Parks of smoking”. At that point an angry Judge Hubbard said she had something for him. She opened her mouth and delivered a projectile of tobacco-laced spittle that landed in his mouth, on his glasses, and on his shirt.  He quickly spit out the nasty “goober” which inadvertently landed on Judge Hubbard. He testified that the slap was accidental and occurred when the judge moved toward him to stop him from leaving.

Trial Judge James Obbish acquitted Mr. Nicosia of all charges, saying he believed that Mr. Nicosia would never have faced the felony charges if the alleged victim had not been a judge. He said that Judge Hubbard ought to have moved away from Mr. Nicosia once he complained. He also added that Mr. Nicosia  didn’t deserve a medal as he “didn’t act in a way that a man should act to a lady”.

Clearly the court did not believe Judge Hubbard’s version of the truth and her credibility was also damaged after she testified she had to take 17 months off work  after the “assault” for post-concussion syndrome, although she presented no medical evidence to support her claim.

Judge Hubbard has a civil lawsuit against Mr. Nicosia pending. As for me,  I think she should retire from the bench, drop her civil suit,  and pay back the 17-month salary she milked  from the citizens of Chicago.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang