City Reporter 

City Reporter

Guilty or Not?

Confession of lawyer's murder is challenged in court.

By Janel Davis

When is a confession maybe not a confession? According to defense attorney Jeffrey Jones, when that confession is done under coercive circumstances.

Testimony in a pretrial motion hearing continued this week involving the June 21st murder of Memphis attorney Robert Friedman in a downtown parking garage. Jones' client, Harold Noel, is in custody and has allegedly given a confession of the murder to police. Criminal Court judge James Beasley Jr. heard testimony regarding Jones' motion to challenge the arrest procedures used by the department and the written confession.

According to testimony by police officer Joe Stark, who read parts of the written statement, Noel said he killed Friedman and also wanted to kill his ex-wife, her boyfriend, and Chancery Court judge D.J. Alissandratos. In divorce proceedings Alissandratos had awarded Noel's ex-wife the majority of the couple's rental property, custody of their daughter, and child support. Friedman had been Noel's lawyer.

"He said he was going to wait a couple of days after killing Friedman to kill his wife and her boyfriend, but said, 'Y'all did such a good job of finding me' that he didn't have a chance," Stark read.

Jones' dispute of Noel's statement centered around the predawn hours of June 22nd, when Noel was taken into custody, followed by two hours of questioning beginning around 9 a.m., which ultimately led to the confession at 11:15 a.m. "You've got a 50-year-old man, who's been up all night without any food or coffee, who confesses," said Jones "Our contention is that those were coercive circumstances."

Stark testified that throughout the questioning Noel refused food, only asking for water. "A few times when I came back into the room his head was down on the table and he was sleeping," said Stark. "But police like this because it's a sign of guilt. Innocent people are scared to death."

The hearing is set to continue this week with Judge Beasley ruling on whether to admit the statement for use in the trial. Prosecutor Paul Goodman said he plans to confirm probable cause with testimony by officers who were on the scene when Noel was taken into custody.

Earning a Living

Living Wage Coalition asks the city to consider a new ordinance.

By Bianca Phillips

For the average two-parent/two-child family in Memphis to meet all their basic needs without relying on public assistance, each parent would have to earn $10.04 an hour, according to a study by University of Memphis economics professor David Ciscel.

But according to the Living Wage Coalition, a collective of labor unions, religious groups, and community organizations, 227 full-time city employees are presently earning less than that. The group also found that several local companies that receive development subsidies or service contracts from the city are paying less than the "living wage" of $10 an hour.

There's currently no ordinance in place requiring companies that receive financial benefits from the city to pay a certain wage, but the Living Wage Coalition has drafted such an ordinance and has presented it to City Council candidates in hopes of gaining their support.

"Our ordinance would say that if you want to get a future contract with the city or a development subsidy, then you would need to pay your workers at least $20,000 a year, which breaks down to $10 an hour,"said Rebekah Jordan of the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice

According to a report released by the Living Wage Coalition, Overton Square Investors, LLC, was approved by the Center City Commission (CCC) for a 10-year tax freeze in 1998 in order to develop Malco's Studio on the Square, yet wages start at $5.75 an hour. The CCC's PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program does not require approved companies to pay employees certain median wages.

Another company mentioned in the report is the Ledbetter Packing Company, a meat-packer that has been approved for a four-year tax freeze by the Industrial Development Board.

The board has guidelines in place that require a company receiving a freeze to create a certain number of jobs at a certain median wage, but according to Jordan, they don't have to report the starting wages. She says starting wages at Ledbetter are $6.50 an hour, yet the freeze will save them $350,000 in taxes.

"There are more than 100 local governments in the country that have ordinances like this on the books right now, and over 75, including Memphis, are looking into it," said Jordan. "It's worked in some cities since the mid-'90s. It's time for Memphis to join them."

The Blotter

Absurd crimes from the local police files.

Never too young for anger management: Some Hamilton High School students were on the third floor during lunchtime on October 9th when a boy twisted one girl's arm and put his arms around the neck of another, choking her. The suspect said that he had not intentionally hurt either girl but that they called him "Dewboy" and "Hey, Dewboy."

So many ways to call the one you love: On October 10th, officers responded to a disturbance call on South Parkway. The victim advised that her "pretend husband and baby's daddy" wanted to fight her. "The pretend husband was very angry and took her keys. The suspect refused repeatedly to return to the house and refused to give her the keys back. The victim said she wanted the key thief to go to jail."

If you say you'll tape the next installment of Alias for someone, then do it: On October 11th, officers responded to an aggravated-assault call. The victim stated he had been struck in the head with a gun and that two shots had been fired into his 1985 Plymouth. The reason? "The Victim stated that he got into an altercation with the Suspect because the Suspect stated that he sold him a blank VCR tape approximately two months ago."

Maybe they just wanted to feel pretty: On October 11th, a woman on Barksdale noticed that some of her red clothes -- including "summer pieces and underwear which were dirty" -- were missing from her basement. She advised police she did not know who or why someone would take her clothing, only that it "was strange and she wanted to report this to an officer."

Balancing Act

Day-care parents, providers, and DHS seek peaceful resolution.

By Janel Davis

The protesting is over, the buses are rolling, and parents are paying as the latest changes in day-care transportation services offered by the Department of Human Services (DHS) have taken effect despite objections within the industry.

Although the changes have been implemented, state Representative Kathryn Bowers is still working to ensure that transportation funds are available for parents on an "as-needed" basis.

"I have spoken with members of the Health and Human Services Committee [of the legislature] to have a meeting to discuss possible solutions to some of the problems that might arise with parents receiving [DHS] services," said Bowers. "Whether it's the providers who are given the money in these situations or parents are given vouchers for public transportation, it doesn't matter as long as the parents have some way of getting their children to day-care."

October 1st marked the end of DHS-funded transportation subsidies and payments for annual registration and one-time enrollment. On that date, parents became responsible for the $2-per-day, per-child cost for child-care centers to transport children on center buses, as well as an additional $50 for registration and $50 for enrollment fees.

Weeks of planning by Shelby County day-care providers to counter the deadline included parent protests of DHS regional offices downtown and a complete three-day transportation boycott by some providers, both officially beginning last Wednesday.

A follow-up meeting with parents and providers last week, led by Rev. James Robinson, included plans for parents to send letters to legislators and the department requesting reinstatement of the subsidies and an eventual bus caravan to the department's headquarters in Nashville.

According to Diane Manning, owner of two large Shelby County centers and day-care association president, at the height of the boycott approximately 100 centers were participating and about 20 parents participated in daily protests.

"We have been able to dialogue and agree on some things with the local level of DHS but haven't heard anything from Nashville," she said. "We are really concerned that other incidents may now occur that could have been avoided, like children becoming latch-key kids because parents cannot afford to pay their transportation fees." Manning's centers are now requiring parents to pay the $2-per-day fee.

DHS stands by its decision. "Nothing's changed," said department spokesperson Michelle Mowery-Johnson. "We discontinued the subsidies, which we have still been saying were due to an increase in our Families First rolls."

Within the provider group, several initial organizers and backers of the three-day strike ultimately failed to support the actions. James Yancey, owner of Our Future Learning Center, who initially vowed he'd risk jail time to protest the cuts, continued providing service to parents at his center. "Just because the state doesn't care, I care," he said. "The $94,000 that [our centers] were receiving for transportation subsidies was only 36 percent of our expenses anyway." Yancey is working with private companies to provide grants to defray transportation costs.

"I do feel bad that the plan to not run buses for three days was not participated in by more providers, but I guess each person has to make that decision for themselves," said Manning.

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