Two victims of serial rapist Anthony Alliano went public Wednesday in hopes of putting a human face to their lawsuit against Memphis and Shelby County agencies for a long delay in testing their rape kits.
Meaghan Ybos and Madison Graves met with reporters and photographers in an open news conference after many in the Memphis media excluded their names from the coverage of their lawsuit that was filed late last week. The names of sexual assault victims are often withheld from news stories for many reasons but mainly to protect the victims’ privacy.
Ybos and Graves are two of the three victims named in the lawsuit that is seeking “redress for special damages” as the victims experienced post traumatic stress disorder and lived in perpetual fear for nearly a decade until Alliano was finally arrested in May 2012.
All three of the victims in the new lawsuit gave body fluid samples and DNA evidence to investigators after they were raped, according to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The evidence was placed in sexual assault kits and transported to city and county agents for testing, the suit says. But the local governments “failed to timely submit, responsibly handle, and make due diligence” on about 12,000 such rape kits.
Graves said Wednesday she wanted to “be the shining light for other girls who were too scared to come forward.”
“I want the kits tested and I want girls (who have been sexually assaulted) to know that it’s OK and that you’re not disgusting and you’re still a human,” she said.
Ybos was assaulted on May 19, 2003, she said, and Graves was assaulted two days after that on May 21. Ybos was 16 at the time and Graves was 12. Their descriptions to police about their attacks were “the exact same,” Ybos said, even drawing the same knife that Alliano used in the attacks. They have even been told they look alike, they said, both of them with long, dark hair and slender builds.
Ybos and Graves said they hope the suit sheds light on the systemic failures that allowed their attacker to remain at large for nearly 10 years. They also hope the suit changes the procedures local law enforcement uses in future sexual assault investigations.
“If you report your assault to law enforcement and you don’t get the result that you think you should, don’t think it’s because of you; it’s because the system is that way,” Ybos said. “It’s not your fault and it’s not anything you’ve done or anything because of you. We hope some change can come from this disaster.”
Another lawsuit regarding the untested rape kits was filed against local government agencies in December. That federal, class action lawsuit was filed by an unnamed Memphis woman who said she was raped in 2001 and her identity will never be revealed. That suit says local law enforcement must test all rape kits. The new suit filed by Ybos and Graves takes a less extreme position.
“We don’t expect you to solve all crimes and we don’t expect you to have a perfect system. That’s a fantasy,” said Lofton, the victims’ attorney. “But if any of these cases could have been effectively prioritized, it should have been this one.”
The Memphis man indicted earlier this month for killing his dog in his dishwasher pleaded guilty to the charges this week and will serve 16 months in prison, according to Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich.
Curry pleaded guilty in criminal court to felony charges of aggravated animal cruelty.
A man accused of killing a puppy by putting it in a running dishwasher was indicted Thursday by a Shelby County Grand Jury on felony charges of cruelty to animals, according to Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich.
Workers found the dog’s body in a dumpster and notified police.
Curry was also indicted on misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty by the grand jury. Those charges allege Curry left the same dog, a small mixed-breed named Daisy, tied to the porch of his Fox Meadows-area apartment last June with no food or water.
Curry could face up to six years in prison for the aggravated animal cruelty charges related to the dishwasher incident. The misdemeanor animal cruelty charges carry a maximum jail sentence of 11 months and 29 days. He is scheduled in Criminal Court on March 26.
Curry is also up on charges of charging $600 on his great aunt’s credit card without her authorization. He’s due in General Sessions Criminal Court on that case on March 12.
Curry is now being held in the Shelby County Jail on bonds totaling $50,000 for all of the pending cases.
A Memphis attorney has been disbarred by the Tennessee Supreme Court and will have to pay restitution to two of his past clients for “dishonesty, deceit, and misrepresentation.”
The board found that Skouteris accepted and deposited settlement checks for six clients but failed to maintain sufficient funds in his trust account to cover the settlement payment back to those clients. He failed to deliver timely payments to some of his clients. He also deposited one settlement into a personal operating account.
Also, he “failed to provide competent representation” to clients and did not respond to their requests for information. He did not use written contingency fee agreements, which guarantee payments to an attorney only if money is won in a settlement or trial.
Finally, Skouteris failed to respond to the Board of Professional Responsibility on three complaints of misconduct.
“By his conduct, Mr. Skouteris engaged in dishonesty, deceit, and misrepresentation, and engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice,” according to a news release from the Board of Professional Responsibility.
According to a November judgment from the Supreme Court, Skouteris was disciplined by the board in 1997, 2000, and 2003.
In 1997, the attorney was informally punished for withholding money from two clients to pay their medical bills and issuing worthless checks to their medical providers.
In 2000, he was censured by the board for withholding money from clients to pay their medical bills, failing to pay medical their medical providers, and failing to maintain the clients’ settlement proceeds in his trust accounts. For this, he had to attend a board workshop on ethics, complete six hours of ethics education, speak at three seminars on how he mismanaged his trust account, have that trust account monitored for the year 2000, and submit quarterly reports to a disciplinary counsel during that period.
The most recent case against him comes from six complaints of misconduct from 2007 to 2011. They all deal with mismanagement of settlement accounts.
The board asked Skouteris to explain some of these failures and he testified that he had been going through tough times personally, had lost both of his parents, had gone through a divorce, and tore his Achilles tendon. But maintained that he was still a “good lawyer, not such a great accountant.”
A high-ranking Shelby County prosecutor was publicly reprimanded by the Tennessee Supreme Court late last month for what some say amounts to hiding evidence in a murder trial and his office said they don’t plan any disciplinary action against him.
Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Henderson pleaded guilty to violating Tennessee Supreme Court evidence rules and was censured by the body on Monday, December 23.
“While prosecuting a capital murder case in 1998, and again in 2004 during a retrial, Mr. Henderson responded to the discovery in a manner that did not make timely disclosure of all exculpatory evidence,” according to the release from the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
Larry Buser, a spokesman for Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich’s office, said flatly that his office plans no reprimand for the attorney.
“Tom has been a long-time prosecutor in this office; he’s been here since 1976,” Buser said. “He’s prosecuted over 400 jury trials, including 50 first-degree murder trials, many of them the most heinous in Shelby County. He’s never been disciplined and never had a disciplinary action in all that time.”
A censure is a “rebuke and a warning to the attorney, but does not affect the attorney’s ability to practice law,” according to information released by the court a week after the censure on Monday, December 30.
At the center of Henderson’s censure is the capital murder case of Michael Rimmer, who was convicted for killing motel clerk Ricci Ellsworth. The victim’s body has never been found.
Rimmer was originally convicted in 1998 and again in a 2004 re-trial. Henderson served as prosecuting attorney in both cases. The 2004 re-trial was granted because a judge ruled that Henderson had suppressed evidence in the original trial.
Rimmer, now a death row inmate, will get a new trial in July as a judge ordered that it was likely that Henderson had suppressed evidence that could have helped Rimmer’s defense.
Rimmer’s attorneys have requested a special prosecutor to be brought in for his new trial.
Attorneys representing the family of slain Memphis resident Steven Askew have filed a $3 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and several Memphis Police officers.
On January 17th of last year, 24-year-old Steven Askew was shot and killed by two Memphis police officers as he sat in his Ford Crown Victoria. Minutes before the shooting, Askew was asleep in his car awaiting the arrival of his girlfriend at the Windsor Place Apartments complex. Multiple residents have stated that Askew waited in his car for his girlfriend on a regular basis.
The police officers involved in the shooting, Ned Aufdenkamp and Matthew Dyess, noticed Askew sleep in his car and upon suspicion, approached the vehicle. The officers stated that as they got to the window of the car, they noticed a handgun in between Askew’s legs.
The officers tapped on the window while shining flashlights into the car, awaking Askew. The officers stated they gave Askew verbal commands to raise his hands. Instead of complying with the officers’ request, they allege Askew threw some “gang signs" before arming himself with the handgun and pointing it at them. The officers reacted by discharging their weapons. In the end, 22 shots had been fired, nine of which hit Askew in the back, arms, and back of the neck.
The incident led some to question whether or not the shooting was justified. It was later revealed that one of the officers involved, Aufdenkamp, had a past history of performance issues. It was also disclosed that Askew had a permit for the handgun in his car; ballistics tests determined that Askew’s firearm wasn’t discharged during the incident.
Under the representation of attorneys Jeffrey Rosenblum and Howard Manis, Askew’s family is suing the city along with both officers involved and Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong for $3 million in damages for the killing. View the Askew family's complaint here
A week before Askew’s shooting, 67-year-old Donald Moore was fatally shot by an Memphis Police officer at his Cordova home on January 11th. The officer involved, Phillip Penny, said he shot Moore after he pointed a gun at him and several Memphis Animal Services employees who were there to serve an animal cruelty warrant.
Moore's family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, Penny (who also has a troubled past with the department), TACT unit commander Major Charles Morris, and Armstrong. The case is also being represented by Manis and Rosenblum. Similar to the Askew family, they’re seeking $3 million in damages. View the Moore family's complaint here
None of the officers involved in the two shootings were prosecuted and remain employed with the department. Both of the fatal shootings took place a month after Memphis Police officer Martoiya Lang was killed while serving a search warrant on December 14th, 2012.
Last week, the historic Roland Darnell house at 1433 Union, which once housed the women's philanthropy organization, the Nineteenth Century Club, seemed destined for the wrecking ball after Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter said he had little choice but to allow the building's new owners to go forward with demolition plans.
But the brakes have been pressed on demolition after four current and former members of the Nineteenth Century Club, represented by Shelby County Commissioner and attorney Steve Mulroy, managed to get a temporary injunction from Shelby County Chancery Court. The women — Teresa Hurst of Memphis, Gloria McDaniel of Memphis, Connie Lee of Memphis and Nancy Walker of Germantown — allege that the organization's leadership auctioned the property in January without full approval of the club's membership.
The four must post a $650,000 bond within 10 days. Memphis Heritage has launched a fund-raising campaign to help the women raise the bond money.
Judge Larry Potter said he had little choice today but to allow the new owners of the former Nineteenth Century Club headquarters at 1433 Union to do what they wanted with their property. The owners have expressed plans to demolish the property, but Potter said they must show him proof that they've pulled the proper permits by August 26th before the demolition can begin.
"I do not like the fact that your client wants to demolish the building, but they have met all the requirements under the law," Potter said, addressing Linda Mathis, an attorney with Union Group LLC who represents the new owners, Liang Lin and Xiao Dan Chen.
The case had been reset to today because preservationists were attempting to salvage the hundred-plus-year-old home by asking an attorney to look into possible illegalities around the sale of the building. The Lins won the property at auction in January, but there was some belief that the Nineteenth Century Club may have violated its by-laws with the decision to sell because the sale may not have been properly authorized by all of the club's membership.
Attorney Webb Brewer told Potter today that the Tennessee Attorney General's office had said they'd evaluate the complaint, but they gave him no guarantee they'd take on the case. No action had been filed in chancery court, the court that would have jurisdiction to look into such a case. Potter's Environmental Court would not have jurisdiction over the possible illegality of the sale of property.
Potter told the courtroom that, although he wasn't happy about his decision, he had little choice but to let the new owners move forward with plans to demolish the historic home. Since the attorney general's office had not promised to take up the case or provide a timeline of when they may, Potter said the court must move forward.
Click here for more on this story.
The ban on nudity, alcohol, and physical contact between dancers and customers at Shelby County strip clubs was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati on Tuesday.
The ban, which was approved by the Shelby County Commission in 2007, has been appealed by club owners several times. It went into effect in January of last year.
But the ruling likely won't make much difference in the way most former strip clubs now operate. After the new rules went into effect last year, many clubs took on a bikini bar format so they could continue to sell beer. Dancers at the bikini bars wear two-piece bathing suits or Hooters-style crop tops and extremely short shorts.
Click here to read the Flyer's coverage of how the rules affected business at the once-thriving clubs.
Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter has reset the case for the Nineteenth Century Club house at 1433 Union to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10th.
The case, at which the building's new owners are ordered to present a plan for the building's demolition, was originally set to be heard this morning.
Last week, Potter told the new owners that they couldn't move forward with any demolition plans until he'd approved them.
Potter made clear in court last week that he opposes the idea of demolition but that he has no legal means to stop the owners from tearing down the building.
"We are losing something we will never re-gain. I do not think it’s a wise decision to demolish this building,” Potter told the courtroom. “But frankly, that doesn’t matter. If there were legal means for me to stop this, I would.”
Memphis Heritage and the Midtown Action Coalition have been vocal opponents of the planned demolition.
After 15 years in prison, 10 of them on death row, Timothy McKinney walked out of jail a free man today.
McKinney was convicted of the 1997 shooting death of off-duty MPD officer, Donald Williams, at Crumpy’s Comedy Club in North Memphis. His case garnered much national attention amid allegations that prosecutors suppressed key evidence in McKinney's 1999 trial and that his conviction was too heavily predicated on fallible eyewitness testimony.
Indeed, ten years after his conviction, questions about whether McKinney was adequately represented by his defense counsel in the 1999 trial led to an appeal that overturned his original conviction. In subsequent retrials, two hung juries were unable to re-convict Timothy McKinney of the murder of Officer Williams. The most recent trial ended last month with a hung jury — the majority of the jury members in favor of McKinney's acquittal.
"During the period of time between the initial trial and the retrials, many of the State’s witnesses, including
the State’s key witness Officer Frank Lee, passed away. After a great deal of consideration, I decided to accept the guilty plea of the defendant to second degree murder and criminal attempt second degree murder," said district attorney Amy Weirich in a statement yesterday.
"I know it's been a long 15 years for both sides and there is no good resolution to a first degree murder case," Judge Lee Coffee said after accepting McKinney's guilty plea. "This is probably the only resolution at this time because I'm of the opinion that this case could probably be tried 800 times and I don't know that it would ever get a unanimous verdict given the state of the witnesses. It's not a resolution that probably either side is happy with, but under the circumstances I think it's probably the only resolution."
The family of Donald Williams was prepared for a fourth trial, and was, as Coffee suggested, "disappointed at the outcome."
"While we understand the situation and the D.A.'s decision, our family resolved early on to stay the course; to prosecute Mr. McKinney to the fullest extent of the law," read a statement issued by the family after yesterday's proceedings.
Still, the pervasive feeling in the courtroom yesterday was that of exhausted relief, if not on both sides, certainly on the part of McKinney, his family, and his team of defenders, including the team from New York law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell who helped him appeal and overturn the original conviction.
"I don't think a jury is ever going to be able to decide the fate of Mr. McKinney," said Skahan after the court hearing yesterday. "The options are to continue to try this case and spend a lot of taxpayer money or to work out a settlement. As Judge Coffee said, it's a settlement that probably both sides aren't happy with but in the end, the state got a conviction and Mr. McKinney got his freedom."
"I'm still very much in shock. I'm still overwhelmed. I spent the last decade in solitary confinement. I'm not used to being around anyone, especially this many people," said Damien Echols, from a press conference announcing his freedom and that of Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. after the three served 18 years for the homicide of three eight-year-old boys from West Memphis, Arkansas.
Surrounded by their attorneys and supporters Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley timidly addressed the crowd of reporters inside the Craighead County Courthouse in Jonesboro, Arkansas on Friday morning, just moments after the three entered an Alford Plea allowing for their release from prison. The West Memphis Three have been in prison since 1993 after they were convicted of killing Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers.
An Alford Plea is a guilty plea where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence. Under the Alford plea, the defendant does admit that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington said a 2010 Arkansas Supreme Court ruling brought to light the possibility that the defendants could receive a new trial, and allegations of misconduct on behalf of a juror in the Echols-Baldwin trial could have resulted in a new trial being ordered by the circuit or federal court.
"I further believe it would have been impossible to put on a proper case against the defendants in this particular case after 18 years of extended litigation," Ellington told reporters. "Even if the state were to prevail in a new trail, sentences could be different and the appeals process would begin all over again."
Other contributing factors to the state's acceptance of an Alford Plea include the fact that two of the victims' families have sided with the defense, the mother of one witness who testified against Echols has publicly doubted her daughter's truthfulness, and the state crime lab employee who collected fiber evidence in the Echols and Baldwin homes after their arrests has died.
"Today's proceedings allows the defendants the freedom of speech to say they are innocent, but the fact is, they just plead guilty. I strongly believe that the interests of justice have been served today," said Ellington, who claimed he still believes the three are guilty of the murders.
Ellington said the Alford Plea does allow the state to file new charges if new evidence arises.
"[The Alford Plea] is not perfect by any means," said Echols, seated alongside wife Lori Davis. "But it brings closure in some aspects."
Baldwin's attorney Blake Hendrix told reporters that Baldwin was initially resistant to pleading guilty, but decided to make the plea to free his friend Echols from death row. Baldwin and Misskelley were serving life sentences.
"There are many reasons Jason made this decision, but one was taking one man off of death row. He saved a man's life," Hendrix said.
"[Damien] has had it so much worse than I have. I'm just glad he's out and now he'll be with his wife," Baldwin said.
Echols told reporters he was "just tired" because he hadn't slept in four days, since he learned he would soon be a free man. Davis said she was "thrilled with the results."
"Three men are free," Davis said. "And I have this man I love very much."
Photos by Morgan Jon Fox.