Saturday, February 20, 2010

The FBI & Other Intel Agencies Often Use Coercion To Commit The Suborning Of Witness Perjury - Inducing Witnesses To Lie Before Grand Juries

Witnesses say federal investigator pressured them to lie
©2008 The Kansas City Star

Carie Neighbors said they threatened to take away her son. Jerry Rooks said they warned him he’d get a stiffer jail sentence. Alan Bethard said they charged him with a more serious crime.

Now, those witnesses and up to 12 others — many speaking publicly for the first time — have told The Kansas City Star that a federal investigator in the firefighters’ explosion case pressured them to lie.

Five who testified in the case admit they lied to the federal grand jury that indicted the defendants or later at their trial. The other witnesses said they refused to change their stories.

“You want me to fabricate some lies, and I don’t want any part of it,” Dave Dawson said he told federal investigators in the case. “That’s when they told me to have a good life in the penitentiary.”

Legal experts said that if investigators used improper pressure, that could mean the five defendants were wrongly prosecuted and convicted, and that a new American Bar Association rule should prompt the prosecutor to reinvestigate the two-decade-old case.

In response to The Star’s findings, a federal judge in Kansas City and a local congressman called for an investigation.

“I think this is something the Justice Department really ought to look into,” Senior U.S. District Judge Scott O. Wright said recently. Wright did not preside over the 1997 trial of the five defendants. But he excoriated federal authorities when they used his courtroom to try to retaliate against an uncooperative witness.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said he would ask other area representatives to join him in an effort to begin a new inquiry.

“We need to go to the attorney general and request that the investigation surrounding that explosion be reopened, and that if it is necessary, that we go back to trial,” Cleaver said.

The federal prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Becker, insisted that none of his investigators used improper tactics.

“We routinely threaten people with their loss of freedom” if they’re in trouble with the law and refuse to cooperate in solving crimes, Becker said.

Yet he added that if a federal agent knowingly pressured witnesses to lie at a trial, “it would be suborning perjury, and that would be a crime.” Legal experts, however, said the statute of limitations has run out on suborning perjury in the firefighter’s case.

Witnesses told The Star that excessive pressure often came from Dave True, now a retired agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which helped investigate the case.

Two witnesses said that True enticed them with reward money for their testimony at a time they were vulnerable or addicted to drugs. Some said True told them he would do whatever it took to solve the case before he retired.

In an interview last year, True maintained that he did not coerce or intimidate witnesses and said, “There’s no question in my mind the right people are in jail.” True declined to comment directly on The Star’s latest findings. ATF spokesman Mike Schmitz said he didn’t believe True would use such tactics.

Indeed, hundreds of people were interviewed by the ATF, and many said they never were pressured. One witness, Kathie Marburger, said that “anyone who said True coerced them is lying. Dave True was never like that.”

Pete Lobdell, a former ATF agent who worked with True on the case, said claims by witnesses that they were intimidated are “ridiculous.” As for witnesses at the trial, Lobdell said, “they were asked on the witness stand if they were coerced or intimidated in any way, and they denied it.”

Becker noted that defense attorneys at the trial were free to cross-examine witnesses about their motives for testifying. “Everything we knew about these people, if it was relevant to inducing their testimony or their motivation for testimony, it was turned over to the defense,” he said.

As for witnesses who are recanting now, Becker said he would respond if their claims ended up in court in new legal proceedings.

Becker acknowledged his case was built in part on questionable witnesses who often gave contradictory testimony, but argued that should be offset by the large number of witnesses who claimed the defendants admitted guilt.

Some of the witnesses interviewed by The Star have criminal records or other credibility issues.

But 24 of the 59 prosecution witnesses had a total of 76 felony convictions for assault, drug sales, prison escapes, embezzlement, counterfeiting, fraud, forgery, sexual assault, explosives violations or manslaughter, The Star’s investigation found. Many of the 59 witnesses who gave damaging testimony shared in the $50,000 reward.

One of the government’s witnesses had 17 felony convictions. Another once claimed she’d had selective amnesia, according to the trial transcript. One was legally blind, but later told a reporter that she is confident the defendants were guilty partly because she is a Pisces and therefore “psychic.”

A flawed theory?

By the time an army of federal, state and local investigators descended upon the explosion site, it was a crater-pocked moonscape littered with the burned out hulks of fire trucks and construction equipment.

Kansas City homicide detectives combed nearby neighborhoods and checked hundreds of leads, including tips pointing to security guards who worked on the site. Federal agents, meanwhile, focused on a theory of union unrest at the site.

Kansas City police came up with the first arrest in the case. Less than a year after the explosions, a Jackson County grand jury returned a second-degree murder and arson indictment against Bryan Sheppard, 18, a small-time troublemaker from the Marlborough neighborhood near the explosion site.

But the break was short-lived. Authorities released Sheppard three months later after jailhouse informants admitted they had lied to the grand jury. After that, both the local and the federal investigations stalled for several years.

By late 1994, a reward fund had grown to $50,000, and soon a nationally televised story on the explosion appeared on the program “Unsolved Mysteries.” Reward posters went up inside jails and prisons throughout Kansas and Missouri, and suddenly new tips flowed in.

In January 1995, True, a veteran ATF agent, helped spearhead a joint federal/city task force to make a last-ditch effort to solve the case.

True embraced a theory that Kansas City homicide detectives had abandoned years earlier: that Bryan Sheppard had set the fires with others from the Marlborough neighborhood during a botched burglary. True’s investigation focused on Bryan, his uncles Skip and Frank Sheppard, Frank’s girlfriend, Darlene Edwards, and Bryan’s best friend Richard Brown as the prime suspects.

The federal government in 1996 charged them with conspiracy to commit arson and alleged that they had told witnesses they went to the construction site to steal tools, dynamite or two-way radios.

Investigators put together a loose-knit theory of the crime that had all five defendants converging on the site in as many as three cars. When they failed to break into a trailer-load of explosive material, they set it on fire, either out of frustration, or to cover up their crime.

This Article Continues Here
untitled.bmp (image)


Wikio - Top Blogs

"The Mother Of All Black Ops" Earns A Wikio's Top Blog Rating

Julian Assange's WikiLeaks Alternative Media's Been Wrongfully Bankrupted By The U.S. Military Intelligence Complex

Rating for

Website Of The Late Investigative Journalist Sherman Skolnick