Prison Talk

We firmly believe that even though a prisoner's body is locked up, their mind can always be free to travel the world and learn about anything they are interested through the magic or books.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kaysville teacher sent to prison for sexually abusing student

Stephen Paul Niedswiecki (right) is taken into custody after being sentenced to serve four consecutive zero- to 5-year sentences at the 2nd District Court in Farmington on Thursday, April 10, 2014. Niedzwiecki is a former teacher and basketball coach at a charter school where he met and sexual abused teenager Jaime Heiner. FARMINGTON — The courtroom waited in silence as Judge Michael G. Allphin decided how to sentence a man who sexually abused one of his former students. The 2nd District judge said he had to consider the “gravity and circumstances” surrounding Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki’s actions. Although Niedzwiecki admitted to sexually abusing Jaime Heiner, now 18, he continued to shift blame to Heiner and her parents, Allphin said. “These actions point to the defendant having a character flaw,” the judge said, before sentencing Niedzwiecki, 34, to four consecutive terms of zero to five years in prison. Defense attorneys had argued for concurrent terms, given Niedzwiecki’s treatment and willingness to admit to the crime. Allphin did not agree with their conclusions. Heiner smiled, glancing at her attorney, and then broke into tears after hearing the sentence. Her father pulled her into a hug. In her statements to the court, Heiner said she was “emotionally exhausted and ready for closure.” Niedzwiecki was “lazy, manipulative and narcissistic,” she said, and asked the judge to impose consecutive sentences. "Steve knew exactly what he was doing from the very beginning,” she said. Although the Deseret News does not typically name victims of sex abuse, Heiner has spoken publicly about the incidents because she said she doesn't want to be considered a victim. "I see myself as a survivor. Because victim is a word that gives him power over me where survivor is a word that gives me that power,” she said after the hearing. Niedzwiecki looked down as she spoke to the court. He kept his comments to the court brief, asking for mercy so he could continue counseling and the repentance process in his church. “There is nothing that I can say that can change the actions, the things that I have done,” Niedzwiecki said. He said he was "disgusted with the acts that I have committed and I am disgusted with myself for having committed them" and he “longed for the opportunity to tell (the Heiners) how sorry I am." He said he still loves the Heiner family. The family and prosecutors, however, were unconvinced. "That was incredibly offensive because I don't believe that you can do that to somebody that you love," Heiner said after the sentencing. Her attorney, Heidi Nestel, told the court that Niedzwiecki only had access to Heiner because he was first her teacher. “He infiltrated this family. He slowly over a period of time gained their trust, reassured them, told them what they needed to hear, all the while sexually abusing their daughter,” she said. Niedzwiecki was Heiner's teacher and basketball coach at Jefferson Academy, a charter school in Kaysville. Niedzwiecki groomed Heiner by offering her unearned extra credit, including her on special projects, saying inappropriate things and touching her on the leg and in other improper ways. Niedzwiecki kissed Heiner by the end of her freshman year in high school when she was 15, and their relationship escalated to sexual acts by the end of summer 2011. The relationship lasted from May 2011 until fall 2012. A suspicion that Niedzwiecki had singled out another girl spurred the teen to meet with her LDS bishop. The bishop involved authorities. Heiner said she moved her mattress to the floor of her parent's bedroom for months after she told them what had happened. "I couldn't be alone. My thoughts were just too painful," she said. She still cannot go to bed earlier than 1 a.m. on most nights because she is "terrified of what he'll do to me in my dreams," she said. The charges were reduced in January from eight counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony; attempted rape, a first-degree felony; and two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, because the prosecution determined that a jury could not reasonably convict Niedzwiecki of being in a position of trust over Heiner. Niedzwiecki later pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and two counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old, third-degree felonies.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Man Wrongfully Convicted in 1989 Brooklyn Murder Is Set Free

Jonathan Fleming embracing one of his lawyers, Anthony Mayol, after his murder conviction was overturned on Tuesday. A timeworn phone bill from a Quality Inn in Orlando, Fla., turned out to be one of the most valuable pieces of paper Jonathan Fleming owns. Mr. Fleming, 51, who was serving the 25th year of a sentence of 25 years to life after being found guilty of a 1989 murder in Brooklyn, was released on Tuesday after new evidence was uncovered in his case. The evidence included a receipt that established he was in Florida less than five hours before the killing. He stood quietly, his hands clasped behind his back, as his lawyers detailed new evidence that they and the Brooklyn district attorney’s office discovered. “Had it been available at the trial, the likely outcome of the trial would have been different,” an assistant district attorney, Mark Hale, told the judge, Matthew J. D’Emic, as he explained that his office supported Mr. Fleming’s release. “Scarcella framed me; that I knew already. But that they had the name of another person as the actual murderer? That had me in shock.” — Alvena Jennette Notes Found in Review of Police Work Could Exonerate 2 Convicted in KillingAPRIL 8, 2014 Kenneth P. Thompson, the new Brooklyn district attorney, inherited an office accused of wrongly prosecuting many people. As 2 Go Free, Brooklyn Conviction Challenges Keep Pouring InFEB. 6, 2014 Louis Scarcella, the retired Brooklyn detective whose cases are under review. Review of 50 Brooklyn Murder Cases OrderedMAY 11, 2013 It was only when the judge said that the motion was granted and the indictment dismissed that Mr. Fleming’s composure wavered, his shoulders shaking and his eyes tearing up as he hugged his lawyers. Cries of “Thank you, God,” “Our prayers have been answered now” and “You’re a free man” came from his friends and family in the courtroom. Mr. Fleming’s is one of dozens of wrongful-conviction cases that the new Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, inherited when he took office this year. The office is also combing through 50 cases that a detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of using illegal tactics to frame suspects, was involved in; Mr. Scarcella was not part of Mr. Fleming’s case. Mr. Thompson’s predecessor, Charles J. Hynes, created the Conviction Integrity Unit to look into questionable cases after criticism over wrongful convictions. Mr. Thompson, who campaigned in part on reforming the district attorney’s office, has so far gained the release of two prisoners who were serving time for murder after new evidence was obtained, and prisoners’ advocates are pushing him to move quickly on other cases. The office on Monday appointed Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a Harvard Law School professor, to lead the unit, now called the Conviction Review Unit, and added three outside lawyers to help evaluate cases. Mr. Fleming was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of Darryl Alston, a rival drug dealer, on Aug. 15, 1989, at the Williamsburg Houses. His alibi was simple: He was in Orlando at the time of the shooting, on a family trip to Walt Disney World. During the trial, Mr. Fleming’s lawyers gave evidence showing that he was in Orlando around the time of the murder — plane tickets and video footage and vacation photos from family members. But prosecutors argued he could have returned to Brooklyn and shot Mr. Alston, producing a list with 53 possible flights he could have taken, according to a document prepared by Mr. Fleming’s lawyers, Taylor Koss and Anthony Mayol. And they cast doubt on the testimony from Mr. Fleming’s family members about his whereabouts. A woman who said she was an eyewitness, Jacqueline Belardo, identified Mr. Fleming as the killer. Though she recanted what she said before sentencing, saying she had identified Mr. Fleming in exchange for a dismissal of grand larceny charges against her, the prosecution contended that Ms. Belardo was lying, according to the document. In June 2013, the Conviction Integrity Unit began examining Mr. Fleming’s conviction after investigators and lawyers for Mr. Fleming brought it the new witness statements. In November, the unit turned over to the defense police logs that it had come across during its look at the case. The logs showed that Ms. Belardo, the purported eyewitness, had been brought in after being found in a stolen van and charged with grand larceny; after several hours of questioning, she pointed to Mr. Fleming as the killer, according to the defense document. A little over an hour later, her charges were voided and she was released. Ms. Belardo still stands by her recantation, according to the document. The Conviction Integrity Unit also turned over the phone receipt. At 9:27 p.m. on Aug. 14, 1989, Mr. Fleming had paid a phone bill at the Orlando Quality Inn, making it unlikely he could have made it back to Brooklyn in time for the 2:15 a.m. shooting on Aug. 15. But the receipt was not a part of trial evidence. Mr. Koss said at Tuesday’s hearing that Mr. Fleming had asked about the receipt at the time of the trial and that a detective at the trial was questioned about the receipt and said he did not recall recovering it. Investigators found the receipt in the case file last year. Other new evidence was a report from the Orlando Police Department, which had looked into Mr. Fleming’s alibi at the New York Police Department’s request. The Orlando police interviewed Quality Inn staff members who remembered Mr. Fleming; at the trial, the only witnesses to vouch for Mr. Fleming’s presence in Orlando were family members. It was the new documentary evidence that was most compelling in this case, said Mr. Hale, the assistant district attorney, specifically the receipt and the Orlando Police Department’s letter. “We, in looking at the evidence, do not believe we have the present ability to retry the defendant,” nor will the office be able to retry him in the future, Mr. Hale said. As part of their investigation, the defense and prosecutors then reinterviewed witnesses to the murder, and their accounts pointed to a different suspect. “They’re bringing my baby home,” said Mr. Fleming’s mother, Patricia Fleming, 72. An innocent man “did all this time,” she said. “It was hard on him and it was hard on me.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Prison Sentences for Pill-Mill Docs

By Associated Press A federal judge in West Palm Beach has sentenced a South Florida doctor to more than six years in prison on money laundering charges related to her prescription of millions of oxycodone pills and other narcotics. Also sentenced in the case Friday, a fellow doctor who received 18 months behind bars on similar charges. Both physicians were part of a broad 2010 investigation into so-called "pill mills". Prosecutors said the cash only clinics where doctors Cynthia Cadet, 43, and Joseph Castronuovo, 74, worked were part of one of the nation's biggest illicit prescription drug operations. The two South Florida doctors worked in West Palm Beach and Broward county clinics overseen by Chris and Jeff George of Wellington. Both are serving lengthy prison sentences. Prosecutors said their clinics raked in about $40 million over two years, luring addicts and dealers from Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. Attorneys for both doctors said they planned to appeal Friday's ruling. Last year a federal jury acquitted the doctors in the fatal overdoses of some patients but convicted them of participating in a money laundering conspiracy that carried a potential 10-year prison term. Cadet and Castronuovo were the only physicians among more than 30 in the case who rejected federal plea deals. Defense attorneys said Cadet and Castronuovo believed they were helping patients living with extreme pain when they doled out their monthly prescriptions. Prosecutors say Cadet earned $1.5 million writing prescriptions for 2.5 million oxycodone pills over 15 months. Castronuovo, who at the clinics for less than a year, prescribed more than 750,000 and made $160,000. Castronuovo's attorney Thomas Sclafani argued to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra that his client wouldn't survive long in prison. Cadet's attorney Michael Weinstein has asked the former Broward County emergency physician and mother of two receive probation, arguing her only crime was depositing money she earned into a bank. But Marra had already rejected that line of argument. During the trial last year, neighbors testified about people shooting up in the clinic parking lot. A taped phone conversation between Chris George, who ran the clinics, and his mother, captured them laughing about a drug overdose linked to the clinics.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Two prison guards charged after contraband found

The Associated Press April 5, 2014 8:20:33 PM PEARL -- Two guards at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County are charged with trying to sneak contraband items into the prison in food. Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said in a news release Wednesday that the two were arrested in separate incidents and both are subject to firing. Epps said Erling Gresham, 26, of Jackson, was arrested Sunday when officers found Gresham's 12-inch bread-only sandwich contained 2.80 ounces of tobacco. Gresham told investigators an inmate offered him $200 to bring the tobacco in. Epps said Tamikta Russell, 34, of Jackson, was arrested March 26 after she tried to smuggle in not only tobacco but also marijuana and other contraband in three burritos inside a Tupperware container. Both were arrested during a routine search when they reported for duty. "These arrests are a result of the Mississippi Department of Corrections' intensified efforts to reduce contraband items," Epps said. "You would be surprised by the different ways in which people try to bring in contraband. That's why we must always be alert and ready. Gresham and Russell are each charged with possession of prohibited items by persons other than offenders for possessing tobacco. A conviction carries a maximum one year in prison, a $1,000 fine, or both. Gresham was still in the Rankin County Jail on a $1,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. Russell, who posted a $20,000 bond Friday from the Rankin County jail, is also charged with possession of marijuana and introduction of contraband. The 6.40 ounces of tobacco, 48.7 grams of marijuana and other contraband were inside plastic bags concealed in the burritos, Epps said. If convicted on the marijuana possession charge, she faces a maximum $25,000 fine and between three and seven years in prison. Under state law, introduction of contraband into a correctional facility is a felony punishable by three to 15 years in prison, a maximum $25,000 fine, or both. Russell had been working for the Corrections Department since July 1, 2013. Gresham had been employed since Nov. 1, 2012. Read more:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Prison inmates continue to get caught with cell phones, communicating with the outside world. Not only are they getting their hands on phones, they're using them to post to social media sites. Gregory Bigham, of Montgomery, shares pictures and status updates with friends on Facebook, posing in his prison jumpsuit and showing off his tattoos. In a post from Wednesday, he captioned a photo: "Another day in the joint IM still standing one day at a time." The snap shot and several others were listed as mobile uploads. He has posted on and off since 2011. Court documents out of Montgomery County show Bigham is doing time for robbery and burglary at the Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton. It's the same Barbour County prison where other inmates were recently busted for using cell phones to operate a theft ring from behind bars, scamming Georgia businesses out of thousands of dollars of equipment by claiming it was ordered by Albany Water, Gas and Light. "The inmates on the inside seem to be the brains of it. Masterminding the situation. And then getting people on the outside to go do the pickups and dropping it off to the people who are fencing it for them," said Captain Craig Dodd with the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office. Alabama prison officials say the crackdown on cell phones and social media is ongoing. "For us, we diligently try to keep them out of our prisons but despite our best efforts, they continue to make their way in. Cell phones are not only against DOC rules, they're against the law. Social networking is also against the rules for DOC inmates. They're all well aware. In fact, there are signs posted everywhere stating that the phones are against the law," said Brian Corbett, public information manager with the Alabama Department of Corrections. And it's not the first time WSFA has reported on Alabama inmates boldly updating their Facebook pages using cell phones inside penitentiaries and it continues to happen. In late 2013, an inmate convicted of murder and incarcerated at the Elmore Correctional Center was caught posting dozens of pictures, showing Alabama corrections clothing, prison bunks and other inmates. Earlier that year, another DOC inmate's account surfaced with pictures of him posing in his prison garb inside the facility. The American Correctional Association says it's a national problem and that "possessing cell phones gives inmates access to a private line of communication from which they can harass, threaten and intimidate victims and witnesses, engage in unlawful activities, and continue criminal enterprises." When asked if the Alabama Department of Corrections is doing anything differently to keep inmates from getting their hands on cell phones, their spokesman responded: "That's really a redundant question. People continue to come to prison every day too... We battle cell phones as contraband every day just like we battle every other form of contraband. There are various and numerous ways that they receive them. They're contraband just like pot or drugs or any other item may be contraband." We asked the person who sent in the tip about the inmate at Ventress posting to Facebook what their concerns are about prisoners having access to cell phones and social media. The tipster responded: "If they are in for a crime and doing time they should be serving time. Not having the luxuries that people on the outside have. Plus access to cell phones and social media could promote drugs and gang related activities. Calls to home in prison are earned and if the inmates have a cell phone what's the point in having good behavior? Plus it runs the risk for people to be harassed. I believe cell phones are almost as bad as having a weapon in prison because it's all in how you use it." The Department of Corrections spokesman says inmates caught with cell phones and posting to social media are subject to disciplinary action, including the loss of privileges, loss of communication and possible segregation. We're told the prison system will work to track the phones down and contact Facebook to remove the pages since they are considered a security violation. In Alabama, more than 5000 cell phones were seized in 2012.