WBEZ | Florida http://www.wbez.org/tags/florida Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Final Report Issued on Deaths at Florida Reform School http://www.wbez.org/programs/here-and-now/2016-01-22/final-report-issued-deaths-florida-reform-school-114576 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/0122_dozier-school-ap-624x416.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The University of South Florida this week released its&nbsp;<a href="http://news.usf.edu/article/articlefiles/7173-usf-final-dozier-summary-2016.pdf" target="_blank">final report</a>&nbsp;on a terrible chapter in Florida&rsquo;s not-so-distant past. The report is about the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. It was a state-run reform school predominantly for African-American boys.</p><p>The school closed in 2011 after men who had attended as boys came forward to say they were beaten, raped and that some there were killed. Scores of unmarked graves have been discovered at the school.</p><p>There have never been any criminal charges filed.&nbsp;<em>Here &amp; Now&rsquo;s</em> Robin Young speaks with <a href="https://twitter.com/SaschaCordner" target="_blank">Sascha Cordner</a>&nbsp;of WFSU in Tallahassee about this week&rsquo;s news.</p></p> Fri, 22 Jan 2016 16:07:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/here-and-now/2016-01-22/final-report-issued-deaths-florida-reform-school-114576 That Time Chicago Sent a Trainload of Snow to Florida http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/time-chicago-sent-trainload-snow-florida-114494 <p><p>Chicago loves winter. Talking about it at least. Inevitably, you&rsquo;ll lament the most recent snowfall with your neighbor. Inevitably, a Facebook friend will post a screenshot of Chicago&rsquo;s zero-degree forecast. &nbsp;And, inevitably, a media outlet like us will bring up the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 &mdash; if only to remind everyone that today&rsquo;s bad weather could always get worse.</p><p>But this isn&rsquo;t a story just about that blizzard; it&rsquo;s also about how the media talks about its aftermath. It&rsquo;s been nearly 50 years since the largest single snowfall in Chicago history, and not only are <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-1967blizzard-story-story.html" target="_blank">local news outlets still publishing retrospectives</a>, they&rsquo;re also still hung up on a single, microcosmic detail &mdash; <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150109/downtown/history-of-winter-chicago-it-could-be-worse-definitely-was" target="_blank">written in a sentence or two</a> or in a quote like this one, usually below the fold:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Some of the snow from 1967, there was so much of it, they didn&#39;t know what to do with it,&quot; said Peter Alter, resident historian at the Chicago History Museum. &quot;They put it on train cars, and they shipped it to Florida for kids who had never seen snow.&quot; -<a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150109/downtown/history-of-winter-chicago-it-could-be-worse-definitely-was" target="_blank">DNAinfo, January 9, 2015</a></p></blockquote><p>It was a tidbit like this that inspired a question that came all the way from a classroom of fourth and fifth graders in High Point, North Carolina. They had learned about the &lsquo;67 blizzard and, being school kids themselves, they were particularly enamored with the Chicago-to-Florida snow train delivery. So, they asked us for help filling in the blanks:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Was there really a trainful of snow surplus shipped from Chicago to Florida school kids? How did that even happen?!</em></p><p>I&rsquo;ll tell you right now: It happened, all right, and the story&rsquo;s details are worth revisiting. Because when you retrace the making of this Chicago mini-legend, you can see click-bait journalism being written across the front pages of mainstream newspapers &mdash; 40 years before its time.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Not all snow trains lead to Florida</span></p><p>The story of the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 starts on January 26, when it snowed for 29 hours straight. Having been 65 degrees just two days before, the storm took many people off guard. More than two feet of snow covered the region, with reports of drifts up to 10 feet high. Cars were discarded like cigarette butts over expressways. There was no public transportation, no access to grocery stores, no way to get to work. Twenty-three people died in the Chicago area, mostly from heart attacks while shoveling snow.</p><p>It took three weeks for the Department of Streets and Sanitation to plow the city streets. Desperate for places to put the stuff, they dumped it in any vacant lot they could find: Park District land, neighborhood lots, <a href="http://www.trbimg.com/img-563cc845/turbine/chi-110131-snowstorm-1967-pictures-010/1300/1300x731" target="_blank">even the Chicago River</a>.</p><p>Some Chicago rail yards came up with their own solution for snow that built up in their depots. It&rsquo;s kind of bizarre in its simplicity: Shove it on freight trains already heading south. The warmer weather would do the job, melting the stuff in transit.</p><p>&ldquo;They sent it because they wanted to get rid of it,&rdquo; A.W. Pirtle, supervisor of the Illinois Central Railroad&rsquo;s Memphis depot <a href="https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3848614/mt_vernon_registernews/" target="_blank">told the Associated Press</a> (probably rolling his eyes). And in Chicago, the ordeal made front-page news:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="400" scrolling="no" src="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1967/02/11/page/37/article/hundreds-of-freight-cars-used" width="600"></iframe></p><p>Dozens of train lines followed suit, and this solution &mdash; extolled in headlines such as this &mdash; grew into a national story. It was picked up by the Associated Press, and photographs of trains carrying heaps of sooty, Chicago snow from the blizzard appeared in papers around the country as the rail cars made their way to Tennessee, Alabama and Texas.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A 1,300-mile regift, remembered</span></p><p>The story was even picked up by national television, and eventually reached the ears and eyes of a 13-year-old girl in the town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida.</p><p>We found that girl through the White Pages. Her name is Terri Bell (last name Hodson at the time), and, at age 61, she still lives in Fort Myers Beach.</p><p>She says after hearing the broadcast about trainloads of Chicago snow heading south, she wrote a letter to William Quinn, the president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, asking him to send her some snow because, as a Floridian, she had never seen any.</p><p>And he did.</p><p>It&rsquo;s just that 13-year-old Terri Hodson hadn&rsquo;t realized that all of the other southbound snow was shipped in uninsulated cars &mdash; the whole point being to <em>melt</em>. But Quinn, possibly sensing a brilliant PR stunt but possibly out of the goodness of his heart, had the snow shipped to Florida in refrigerator cars.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://soundcloud.com/curiouscity/that-time-chicago-sent-a-trainload-of-snow-to-florida" target="_blank"><strong>Hear Terri tell her own story of getting Chicago shipped 1,300 miles to Florida</strong></a></p><p>And if the media went bananas over Chicago railroads sending snow south in uninsulated cars, they went banana sundaes when they heard about the special, frozen shipment to school kids in Florida.</p><p>Headlines from Pennsylvania to California read:</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://img0.newspapers.com/img/img?id=51235319&amp;width=557&amp;height=1226&amp;crop=3338_6901_824_1847&amp;rotation=0&amp;brightness=0&amp;contrast=0&amp;invert=0&amp;ts=1452895228&amp;h=8ae3bfd79913bdd017c5e1edbec509e4" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/youthsnowanswered.png" title="" /></a></div><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>The Mercury</em>, Pottstown, Pennsylvania</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/floridagirltoget.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><em>Lincoln Journal Star</em>, Lincoln, Nebraska</div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="https://img0.newspapers.com/img/img?id=17862377&amp;width=557&amp;height=1263&amp;crop=46_2385_468_1081&amp;rotation=0&amp;brightness=0&amp;contrast=0&amp;invert=0&amp;ts=1452894834&amp;h=d11eda3334b31dd27ff4730e3090f6a9" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/floridasnowrequest%20california.PNG" style="height: 201px; width: 400px;" title="" /></a></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Independent</em>, Long Beach, California</div></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p>And in Chicago, yet another front page story:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="400" scrolling="no" src="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1967/02/21/page/1/article/train-heads-south-with-snow-for-girl" width="620"></iframe></p><p>Terri became a local hero and a national celebrity. She appeared on talk shows and was quoted in papers across the country. The town of Fort Myers Beach even held a special ceremony for the occasion, in which a local hardware store gave her a sled that was shipped to them by mistake. (She still has that sled, by the way.)</p><p>On February 27, 1967 &mdash; after almost a week in transit &mdash; the snow came rolling into the Fort Myers train depot, where thousands neighbors, parents, and kids were waiting. Some were skeptical, but a good number of the kids looked forward to playing in the white, fluffy, powdery stuff they&rsquo;d never seen before.</p><p>Except, Terri got something else entirely, after she&rsquo;d cut the ribbon to the train cars and a couple guys used a front-end loader to shovel the snow into the parking lot:</p><blockquote><p>I had expected it to be soft and powdery. You know, like, dripping snowflakes and it would just come pouring out of the car. Unfortunately after a week&rsquo;s ride in a refrigerator car it was no longer soft powdery snow. It was quite icy.</p><p>You could still kind of form it a little bit and do something with it and people were trying to build snowmen and snowballs and make snow angels and do the best they could with it. But, it was still snow and I could say I saw snow.</p></blockquote><p>Nearly 50 years after the event, Terri remembers playing in the snow was not that much fun.</p><p>&quot;It was the fact that I really got it, and all the cool things that happened to me around that,&quot; she says. &quot;Everybody says you&rsquo;ll have a claim to fame once in your life. That was the most exciting thing that happened in my life.&quot;</p><p>And though the snow melted almost immediately in the 80-degree Florida heat that February day in 1967, the short buzz of fame Terri felt has stuck with her ever since.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://img0.newspapers.com/img/img?id=36758128&amp;width=557&amp;height=694&amp;crop=1720_873_1676_2128&amp;rotation=0&amp;brightness=0&amp;contrast=0&amp;invert=0&amp;ts=1452895281&amp;h=1e086e25e489fdf1b852dc52b699bf6b" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/chi%20snow%20shipped%20to%20fla.png" style="height: 635px; width: 620px;" title="A photo of Terri on the front page of the Charleston Daily Mail the day after the snow's arrival. " /></a></div><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Vintage virality</span></p><p>The story about the Florida snow train had a lot of heart, but why was it enough to make the era&rsquo;s national media go berzerk?</p><p>Bruce Evensen, director of Depaul University&rsquo;s journalism school, says part of the explanation is that there were few media outlets at the time. Evensen, who&rsquo;s now 64 and was 16 during the blizzard, reminds us 1967 wasn&rsquo;t the age of social media. Cable television was still relatively new, and NPR hadn&rsquo;t even been founded.</p><p>He says the issue wasn&rsquo;t just that there was less &ldquo;news&rdquo;; hardly any of it was &ldquo;second day&rdquo; or feature stories. Basically, in 1967, &ldquo;news&rdquo; was hard news, and the Chicago-Florida snow train story was not only an exception, but an exceptionally popular one. Why?</p><p>&ldquo;A story of what to do with the snow when a city reaches the point where it can&rsquo;t handle snow is an interesting thing,&rdquo; Evensen says. And what made that irony particularly resonate, Evensen says, was Chicago&rsquo;s nickname as the &ldquo;Phoenix City,&rdquo; coined by Chicago Tribune managing editor and later city mayor Joseph Medill after the Great Fire of 1871.</p><p>&ldquo;So the joke &mdash; the parlour game &mdash; was that Chicago was not going to be stopped by the fire. Chicago was not going to be stopped by this paralyzing storm, even though it<em> was</em> stopped for 24, 36, 48 hours,&rdquo; Evensen says. &ldquo;[It] just was another suggestion of the city&rsquo;s sort of ironic muscularity: &lsquo;You want some snow? You can have it!&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>The story&rsquo;s news hook was its irony factor &mdash; a gesture of Midwestern politeness and can-do spirit, a simultaneous high-five and slap in the face while the city dug itself out of a frozen hell. And, considering the story&rsquo;s national virality as a slice-of-life spinoff outside the breaking news world, it&rsquo;s fair to call it a harbinger of a media landscape to come. It was a hashtag before its time.</p><p>Evensen suspects that, &ldquo;properly handled and exploited,&rdquo; the Chicago-Florida snow train story would get even more press if it happened today rather than in 1967. One reason: There are more news outlets and more competition for stories between them. Another reason: The media offers more social and cultural context to news stories than ever before, and coverage continues as long as there&rsquo;s proof of listener interest, Evensen says.</p><p>&ldquo;Even the mainstream media now is much more attentive than ever before to how the story is <em>going</em>,&rdquo; Bevensen says. &ldquo;What kind of visibility is it getting? You can measure this. So I think if they found that that kind of curious, funny story was getting attention initially, it might be boosted even higher.&rdquo;</p><p>So, to the Floridians out there looking for their claim to fame: consider the next northern blizzard your big break.</p><p>And pro tip to Chicago journalists and bloggers: Fact-check the legends. Some are still in the White Pages.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Logan Jaffe is Curious City&#39;s multimedia producer. <a href="http://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">Follow her on Twitter</a> for more of these kinds of shenanigans.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 15:29:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/time-chicago-sent-trainload-snow-florida-114494 Conservatives' pick for House Speaker has experience flattening 'Pyramid of Power' http://www.wbez.org/news/conservatives-pick-house-speaker-has-experience-flattening-pyramid-power-113280 <p><div><div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Rep.%20Daniel%20Webster%2C%20R-Fla.%2C%20was%20endorsed%20for%20House%20speaker%20by%20the%20conservative%20Freedom%20Caucus.jpg" style="height: 400px; width: 600px;" title="Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., was endorsed for House speaker by the conservative Freedom Caucus. As speaker of the state legislature in Florida, Webster gave the members more of a say, which is what conservatives in Congress want from their next leader. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)" /></div><p>Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., is running for speaker of the House. His chances are not good, but a look at his career explains why he&#39;s the choice of the House Freedom Caucus.</p></div></div><p>Those conservatives in the House say they want a speaker who will not be a top-down leader, but will give members more of a say in what legislation sees action on the floor and who controls committees.</p><p>Webster says that is the mode in which he ran the Florida House of Representatives when he was the speaker in Tallahassee from 1996-98.</p><p>&quot;Are we going to just change the personalities in the speakership?&quot; Webster said in a web video pitching his candidacy. &quot;Or are we going to fundamentally transform the way we do business here in Washington, D.C?&quot;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/PPHF9K_EI9M?rel=0" width="560"></iframe></p><p>Freedom Caucus members insist that their goal is not to get a speaker who is necessarily as conservative as they are. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/10/10/447464699/what-kind-of-speaker-does-the-house-freedom-caucus-want">told NPR over the weekend</a>&nbsp;that Webster&#39;s voting record makes him &quot;one of the more moderate members of our conference.&quot;</p><p>The American Conservative Union gives Webster a lifetime score of 78.83 out of 100 for his Congressional voting record &mdash; in the bottom half of House Republicans and well behind House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who was rejected by the Freedom Caucus for refusing to commit to their desired style of leadership and dropped out, throwing the race into disarray.</p><p>Other, more powerful Republicans began expressing interest in speaker after McCarthy dropped out, and there seems to be broad consensus among the House GOP that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would be a good candidate. But it&#39;s not clear Ryan would agree to change the role of the speaker.</p><p>Webster is staying in the race while promising to do just that, and said, &quot;We have a power-based system where a few people on the top of the pyramid of power make all the decisions. All I want to do is what I did in Florida&mdash;push down that pyramid of power, spread out the base so that every member gets to be effective. Done. That&#39;s it. That&#39;s all I want.&quot;</p><p>So what did Webster do in Florida?</p><p>He pushed through a long list of reforms that dramatically changed how the House did business &mdash; making it more transparent and empowering rank and file members to submit bills that could reach the floor, even without approval from leadership.</p><p>One of Webster&#39;s most popular reforms was ending all meetings and business by 6 p.m. each day, a promise he&#39;s also making to members of Congress.</p><p>University of Central Florida Political Science professor Aubrey Jewett has studied Webster&#39;s reforms in Florida&#39;s legislature. Webster told him it all came out of his own experience as a newcomer. &quot;Back in the &#39;70s, he was basically told the first few sessions that he came up, you might as well not even bother filing a bill cause you&#39;re just a rookie, you&#39;re just a freshman,&quot; Jewett said.</p><p>Some of Webster&#39;s colleagues from his time leading Florida&#39;s House speak highly of his leadership style. Former state Rep. Mike Fasano, a Republican, felt like he and other members did have more of a say, in a system &mdash; just like in Washington &mdash; where the Speaker can exercise complete control over what legislation moves ahead.</p><p>&quot;He empowered every member of the Florida House to be able to have their bills heard, to offer amendments, to allow them to participate in debate both in committees and the House floor,&quot; Fasano said. He added that Webster &quot;brought everyone to the table.&quot;</p><p>Webster says he wants to bring some of those same ideas to Congress. Important issues, like the budget and the debt limit he says, would be taken up early. But the choice of whether to go to a government shutdown he said would be decided on the House floor, and a vote of the members.</p><p>Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach served with Webster in Florida&#39;s legislature. She said he was willing to work with Democrats and likes his proposal to give more power to members &mdash; if it includes both parties. &quot;If it&#39;s just about bubbling up some of the extreme right-wing ideas members have who have been holding up progress, well then I think we&#39;d be wasting a lot of time,&quot; Frankel said.</p><p>Given that Webster is a long-shot to win the speaker&#39;s race, many would say this race isn&#39;t the most effective use of his time, especially considering the new problem he has in his own race for reelection back home.</p><p>As part of a lawsuit over gerrymandering, a Florida judge issued a new map for Webster&#39;s Republican-leaning district on Friday, making it now heavily Democratic.</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/10/11/447745141/conservatives-pick-for-house-speaker-has-experience-flattening-pyramid-of-power?ft=nprml&amp;f=447745141">via NPR</a></em></p></p> Mon, 12 Oct 2015 09:44:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/conservatives-pick-house-speaker-has-experience-flattening-pyramid-power-113280 Former Indiana public schools superintendent feels the heat of Hoosier grading scandal http://www.wbez.org/news/former-indiana-public-schools-superintendent-feels-heat-hoosier-grading-scandal-108261 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Indy Schools (Tony Bennett) .jpeg" alt="" /><p><p>The former head of Indiana&rsquo;s public schools faces allegations of favoring a charter school backed by a major donor.</p><p>As a result, Tony Bennett announced today during a conference call that he&rsquo;s resigning from his current post as Florida&rsquo;s education superintendent.</p><p>&ldquo;The decision to resign is mine and mine only,&rdquo; Bennett said this morning from Tallahassee, Florida. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not fair to the children of Florida that I continue as commissioner and deal with the distraction.&rdquo;</p><p>During his tenure as Indiana Superintendent for Public Instruction, Tony Bennett pushed a system of grading public and charter schools.<br />Failing schools were subject to state takeover, including Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana.</p><p>But those moves and others may have led to Bennett&rsquo;s failure to win reelection to that post last fall. The Republican lost to Democrat Glenda Ritz.<br />Soon after, Bennett was hired as Florida&rsquo;s education commissioner at a salary of $275,000.&nbsp;</p><p>But today, he resigned over reports from the Associated Press that he changed the grade of Christel House Academy charter school in Indianapolis from a C to an A.</p><p>The school was backed by Christel DeHaan, a major Republican donor.</p><p>In a conference call this morning, Bennett said the reports are false, but also distracting.</p><p>That&rsquo;s why he&rsquo;s quitting despite Florida Governor Rick Scott&rsquo;s request that he stay on.</p><p>Bennett says he expects to be cleared of any wrongdoing.</p><p>Meanwhile, Indiana Governor Mike Pence urged the Indiana Department of Education to complete a thorough review of the questions surrounding the 2011-2012 A-F letter grades. He wants the Department to report its findings at the next State Board of Education meeting in August.</p><p>&ldquo;Governor Pence believes in accountability and that students, parents and teachers deserve to know our state has a fair and impartial grading system that accurately describes the performances of our schools,&rdquo; said Kara Brooks, Press Secretary. &ldquo;The Governor supports our A-F grading system and believes that the people of Indiana should have confidence in the integrity of that system. &hellip; The Governor believes we will be able to make an informed decision about how we might best ensure public confidence in our A-F grading system going forward.&rdquo;</p><p>The American Federation of Teachers released a statement calling for Indiana to suspend its A-F school grading system.</p><p>Indiana uses A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive. A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive home buyers elsewhere.</p><p>After Bennett learned about a likely low grade for Christel House, he fired off an email last Sept. 12 to his chief of staff.</p><p>&quot;This will be a HUGE problem for us,&quot; Bennett wrote. &quot;They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House comprises all of our accountability work.&quot;</p><p>Bennett, who had been reworking Florida&#39;s grading system as the state&#39;s education commissioner, denied that DeHaan&#39;s Christel House Academy school received special treatment. He said earlier this week that discovering that the charter would receive a low grade raised broader concerns with grades for other &quot;combined&quot; schools &mdash; those that included multiple grade levels &mdash; across the state.</p><p>But even before this scandal, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said there were questions regarding how the Indiana Department of Education arrived to a final grade.</p><p>House Bill 1427 was passed to require the DOE to evaluate the fairness of the system.</p><p>&ldquo;We already had some concerns about it just in how you balance growth, improvement and raw scores,&rdquo; Bosma told WBEZ today. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re committed to having the system but it just has to be the right system.&rdquo;</p><p>Bosma said the the rise in Christel House&rsquo;s grade may have brought attention to the overall grading system itself.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m less convinced that specific changes were made for a single school and more inclined to believe that school&rsquo;s score gave rise to the realization that there was a flaw in the entire system,&rdquo; Bosma said.</p><p>Bosma also said the school in question, Christel House Academy were educating 9th and 10th grade students. However, the school-grading metric system gave them a zeros for grades 11th and 12th as if it had those grades.</p><p>&ldquo;That was my understanding at the time,&rdquo; Bosma said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s something more than that, of course, we&rsquo;d like to get to the bottom of that and see what the real story is.&rdquo;</p><p>The revelations that Bennett and Indiana officials scrambled to change the grade of one school come amid a strong debate over Florida&#39;s grading system.</p><p>Bennett earlier this month pushed the Florida board that oversees education policy to adopt a &quot;safety net&quot; provision that prevented the grades of more than 500 schools from dropping more than one grade this year.</p><p>That provision was adopted by a 4-3 vote amid much debate and criticism that the move would &quot;mask&quot; the true performance of schools. The grades released last week still showed a sharp drop in the number of A-rated schools and a jump in the number of F-rated ones.</p><p>Bennett&rsquo;s resignation forced the Florida State Board of Education to hold an emergency meeting Friday. Board members are expected to name Pam Stewart as an interim commissioner. Stewart, who is currently chancellor for the division of public schools, served as interim commissioner before Bennett was hired.</p><p>Stewart would take the helm at a critical time. Bennett was poised to decide whether Florida should remain with a national consortium or develop its own set of tests for new common core standards that are scheduled to take effect. Florida&#39;s Republican legislative leaders want the state to develop its own assessments.</p><p>Bennett&#39;s decision to resign came even though he had gotten support from board members after the initial reports from Indiana came out.<br />&quot;I regret that Commissioner Bennett feels he must resign, but I respect his decision,&quot; said John Padget, a state board member from Key West. &quot;He has spent countless hours focused on what&#39;s best for Florida&#39;s children, and I&#39;ll miss him.&quot;</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ&rsquo;s Northwest Indiana reporter Michael Puente on Twitter <a href="http://@MikePuenteNews">@MikePuenteNews</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 01 Aug 2013 15:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/former-indiana-public-schools-superintendent-feels-heat-hoosier-grading-scandal-108261 The Kate Hunt saga http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2013-05/kate-hunt-saga-107375 <p><p>The deadline came Friday and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2013-05/hate-air-lgbtq-setbacks-107291#comments">Kate Hunt, the Florida 18 year-old</a> accused&nbsp; of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/19/kaitlyn-hunt-florida-teen-felony-same-sex_n_3302713.html">&quot;lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16 years-old,&quot;</a> rejected a plea deal offer by the state&rsquo;s attorney, meaning the case goes to trial June 20.<br /><br />The <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/21/gay-teen-underage-girlfriend/2347989/">deal would have meant</a> two years of house arrest, one year of probation and a conviction of child abuse (rather than be required to register as a sex offender for life). It would have, in effect, kept Hunt from going to college and likely ended any chance she could ever have a career involving minors, including her choice of nursing. In other words: Hunt would have been stigmatized for life.<br /><br />When news broke of the case &ndash; a pair of high school Juliets apparently caught in the web of homophobia and laws aimed at adult predators of minor children &ndash; there was a wave of sympathy for Hunt, whose family has come out in force to defend her, creating a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/FreeKate/?fref=ts">Facebook page</a> to explain their side, raising funds for a legal defense, and selling &ldquo;Free Kate&rdquo; t-shirts to that end.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202013-05-27%20at%202.18.25%20PM.png" style="height: 218px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="Kate Hunt supporter at a Florida Pridefest event (Facebook)" /></p><p>But in the last week or so, at least two events have caused some reconsideration. Those include the decision by the state&rsquo;s attorney and sheriff&rsquo;s office to release the arrest affidavit (which includes details of both sexual acts and, in its dry clinical language, actually reads like the worst pornography &ndash;&nbsp;and, no, I&rsquo;m not going to link it: it&rsquo;s easy enough to find) as well as recordings from <a href="http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/kaitlyn-hunt-phone-calls-released-by-indian-river-county-sheriffs-office">a taped conversation between the two girls</a>, and the decision of <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/teen-rejects-plea-deal-same-sex-relationship-case-article-1.1354721">her younger girlfriend&rsquo;s family</a> to finally speak to the press.<br /><br />Not surprisingly, the families tell different stories. These events seemed to have affected the some folks, even over at <em>Daily Kos</em>, who&rsquo;d originally come out strong for Hunt, and woulnd up <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/05/20/1210464/-Falling-in-love-with-another-girl-lands-Florida-teen-in-criminal-jeopardy#">taking back a petition</a> supporting her. (A petition at <a href="http://www.change.org/freekate">Change.org</a> continues full steam ahead).<br /><br />From everything I can tell, here&rsquo;s the story:<br /><br />* There is a three-year, seven-month difference in age between Hunt and the younger girl.<br /><br />* They met at school, where they were classmates and peers because the younger girl is in an International Baccalaureate program. They were also on the varsity <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/21/gay-teen-underage-girlfriend/2347989/">basketball team together</a>. In the arrest affidavit, Hunt says she didn&rsquo;t think about the age difference because the girl acted older. The younger girl is actually taller and looks older than Hunt.<br /><br />* The relationship began sometime in the fall, when Hunt was 18 and the girl was 14. They had sex twice: once in a school bathroom (this really seems to get some people because it sounds so lurid but &ndash; seriously &ndash; is this that far-fetched for a pair of high school kids?) and another time at Hunt&rsquo;s house, after the girl ran away from home and Hunt went to pick her up.<br /><br />* The relationship appears to be a first for both girls. Hunt&rsquo;s mother said she&rsquo;d only dated boys up until this point. In the recorded phone, Hunt tells the younger girl she&rsquo;s in love with her.<br /><br />* Hunt&rsquo;s mother says she assumed the younger girl&rsquo;s parents, Jim and Laurie Smith, knew about the relationship. She does not describe Hunt as a lesbian &ndash; she considers the relationship a normal part of teen experimentation &ndash; but she does accuse the Smiths of being religious anti-gay zealots. She says they should have come to their family first before going to the authorities to deal with the matter between families. At one point, she also sad the Smiths waited until Hunt turned 18 to get her arrested, an accusation which appears to be contradicted by the arrest warrant.<br /><br />* The Smiths say the <a href="http://www.cbs12.com/news/top-stories/stories/vid_7589.shtml">same sex issue is not their concern</a>, that it&rsquo;s the age difference (something they might have given some thought to before signing off on their daughter&rsquo;s IB matriculation). They also say they twice warned Hunt to stay away from their daughter (which means that either Hunt didn&rsquo;t share this with her family, or her mother deliberately ignores it in the retelling, or it never happened). They also <a href="http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/05/22/anti-gay-bias-or-fair-punishment-new-details-emerge-about-high-school-students-lesbian-relationship-with-a-minor/">blame Hunt</a> for their daughter&rsquo;s running away. They claim they went to authorities when all else proved futile.<br /><br />* I can&rsquo;t find anything about the Smith&rsquo;s religious affiliations but the State&rsquo;s Attorney on the case, Bruce Colton, who claims this is not a LGBTQ issue, is a Republican who was <a href="http://www.dougholder.com/2012-florida-christians-voter-guide-candidate-endorsements/">endorsed by Christian voting groups</a> in the last election. Colton also recently dropped similar charges against <a href="http://www.examiner.com/article/kaitlyn-hunt-charged-with-felony-but-another-teen-freed-for-similar-charges">another 18 year-old girl</a> in a case involving a 15 year-old girl, so why he seems to be doubling down on Hunt is somewhat of a mystery.<br /><br />* Hunt&rsquo;s mother says Hunt was kicked out of high school, in spite of two judges orders allowing her to stay, because the Smiths pressed the school board. There may be some truth to that, but it&rsquo;s also true that sex in school bathrooms is against the school&rsquo;s student code and may be at least, the technical reason for her expulsion.<br /><br />* The Hunts have been careful to insist the younger girl is not cooperating and has said the relationship is consensual. But the younger girl has no legal right to consent in Florida. And she has either cooperated or been coerced into cooperation in both the arrest affidavit and the recorded phone call. She&rsquo;ll be called to the stand during the trial, though her testimony may not be necessary for conviction: Hunt admitted both sexual encounters to the arresting officer after she was Mirandized. Hunt could get as much as 15 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender.<br /><br />* There is a chance that, even if convicted, Hunt could apply to have her record expunged under <a href="http://definitions.uslegal.com/r/romeo-and-juliet-law/">Florida&rsquo;s &ldquo;Romeo &amp; Juliet&rdquo; law</a>, which erases convictions when the partners have less than a four year age difference. In the meantime, a Republican state senator, Thad Altman, has said <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/FreeKate/permalink/196758677142825/">he&rsquo;ll introduce a bill</a> that will ease matters for high schoolers caught up in laws aimed at adult child predators.<br /><br />All of which brings me back to my original take on this story: It seems like a fairly typical high school romance blown completely out of proportion, particularly by the parents.<br /><br />First, the Smiths: it seems, they don&rsquo;t seem to know much about what their daughter is up to (they found out about the relationship from the basketball coach, who told Mrs. Smith, an assistant to the coach). They didn&rsquo;t seem to have given much thought to what having their daughter attend school with older kids might mean &ndash; older kids, let&rsquo;s be honest, right smack in the midst of sexual discovery. I am also mystified they didn&rsquo;t seek out the Hunts in trying to keep things under control. Their warnings to Hunt seems to ignore that their daughter sought out Hunt when she ran away.<br /><br />What is the relationship with their own daughter? Kids don&rsquo;t run away without a reason. Everybody in Indian River nows who their daughter is now, and would have known even without the Hunts&rsquo; media campaign. How smart was it to expose her to all that? And is putting their kid on the witness stand against her girlfriend a good idea &ndash; I don&rsquo;t mean legally, I mean psychologically? While I&rsquo;m sure a sexually active 14 year-old can be unnerving to parents regardless of orientation, I&rsquo;m not convinced by any of the Smiths&rsquo; public statements &ndash; all very gay neutral &ndash; that they aren&rsquo;t particularly freaked out by their daughter&rsquo;s same sex attraction. They say they want to hold Hunt responsible and don&rsquo;t want her to do jail time. But they have also rejected Hunt&rsquo;s offer to leave the state and never contact their daughter. What do they want then? It&rsquo;s unclear.<br /><br />And second, the Hunts: I get their crazy-over-the-top protect-my-baby above all things campaign. I get her legal defense is an extraordinary expenditure they didn&rsquo;t anticipate and that they need help. I admire the unconditional support they&rsquo;re giving their child. But the campaign has also been a Pandora&rsquo;s Box. The Hunts, I&rsquo;m sure, didn&rsquo;t anticipate the details of their daughter&rsquo;s tryst would be splashed in newspapers all over the world. They&rsquo;ve also created a public gay persona for Hunt which may or may not mirror her actual sexual identity. Even if somehow Hunt gets off, or the charges are reduced to a misdemeanor, this story will follow her forever.<br /><br />In other words, both of these girls will need a long, long recovery from this ordeal.</p></p> Mon, 27 May 2013 10:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2013-05/kate-hunt-saga-107375 The NRA has a say even in your health care http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-12/nra-has-say-even-your-health-care-104566 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS2581_AP05031408767-guns%20Nam%20Y.%20Huh-scr.jpg" style="float: right; height: 300px; width: 300px;" title="AP file" />Did you think the National Rifle Association had reached its nadir when it suggested that, no matter the costs, we should put an armed guard in every school in the nation? Did you think it was a bit much that the group thought to inject itself in education policy by providing a whole gun training regimen for schools?</div><p><br />Here&rsquo;s another NRA policy that&rsquo;s right there with that flash of genius, that&#39;s far more intrusive, and one with which the group has had some success: The Firearm Owners Privacy Act -- <a href="http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=44993">already passed in 2011 in Florida</a>, the nation&rsquo;s loony bin -- would seek to ban physicians from asking patients about gun ownership and possession.<br /><br />The act basically says that doctors can ask about smoking, drinking, drugs, physical abuse, caloric intake and any other health risk factor they can come up with, but not about firearm possession. Never mind that study after study shows that even <a href="http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/gunviolence/gunsinthehome/">law-abiding gun owners have a higher risk of death by gunshot</a> if they keep their weapons at home.<br /><br />The idea behind it is so impractical that even the version signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott comes with exemptions for EMTs and other emergency personnel.<br /><br />And want to know what&rsquo;s even scarier? There&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/12/19/1171950/-Guns-mental-health-and-Obamacare#">a section in the Affordable Care Act</a>, AKA Obamacare, that mirrors the Firearm Owners Act. The ACA provision doesn&rsquo;t out-and-out prohibit doctors from asking about guns -- a useful question when dealing with minors, or potentially homicidal or suicidal patients -- but it discourages them from doing so. The provision, under the ACA&rsquo;s Title X, even goes so far as to forbid doctors from collecting any data that concerns gun ownership.<br /><br />A judge issued <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/02/2879089/miami-federal-judge-sides-with.html">a permanent injunction against Florida&#39;s bill</a> last July, saying, among other things, that the law was so vague it violated doctor&rsquo;s First Amendment rights to free speech.<br /><br />But the Obamacare provision -- which was <a href="http://www.redstate.com/briansikma/2012/06/28/how-the-nra-helped-obamacare/">written with the NRA&rsquo;s blessing</a> -- stands. In other words, even when the NRA loses a state statute in the courts, it has something to build on down the road based on federal law.<br /><br />That&rsquo;s why <a href="http://smartgunlaws.org/">six other states</a> -- Alabama, Minnesota (c&rsquo;mon!), North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia -- have tried to pass their own versions of the Firearm Owners Privacy Act.<br /><br />Supporters of Firearm Owners Privacy Act argue that the law basically <a href="http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/florida-appeal-flawed-decision-overturning-docs-vs-glocks-law">allows doctors to drop patients who are gun owners </a>-- as if doctors had a particular prejudice rather than a concern about the health consequences of gun ownership.<br /><br />&quot;What is curious about this law &mdash; and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners&rsquo; speech &mdash; is that it aims to restrict a practitioner&rsquo;s ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient, whether relevant or not at the time of the consult with the patient,&rdquo; wrote U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in her ruling on the Florida version.<br /><br />In other words, Judge Cooke put a stop to a law that would have kept physicians from asking questions about guns and how it might impact the health -- perhaps even <em>life</em> -- of their patients.<br /><br />But the NRA would like doctors to let that info be.</p><p>And by working with the NRA on the ACA to keep gun nuts from upending the entire law, the White House has provided the very platform for this nasty bit of murderous legalese to keep popping up, like varmints in a midway shooting game.</p></p> Wed, 26 Dec 2012 12:21:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-12/nra-has-say-even-your-health-care-104566 Witness missing in case of Rubio's pal Rivera http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-09/witness-missing-case-rubios-pal-rivera-102600 <p><p>Remember Florida Congressman David Rivera, Sen. Marco Rubio&#39;s honest-to-God-no-hyperbole-best-friend? When I <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-08/florida-congressman-under-investigation-alleged-shadow-campaign-101894">wrote about Rivera</a> last month, several different law enforcement agencies were looking at all sorts of allegations concerning what appears to be a shadow primary campaign that Rivera, a Republican, engineered against&nbsp;Joe Garcia,&nbsp;his Democratic rival in the November election.<br /><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP110224067931.jpg" style="height: 348px; width: 300px; float: left; " title="Rep. David Rivera's troubles get weirder. (AP)" />Since then &mdash; and I&#39;m not making this up &mdash; the shadow candidate&#39;s campaign manager, a woman whom Rivera claimed to not know but whose Facebook page was plastered with pictures of the two of them, <a href="http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2012/09/ana_alliegro_central_figure_in.php">has vanished</a>.<br /><br />Ana Alliegro, who ran shadow candidate Justin Sternad&#39;s failed campaign, dropped from sight June 5 after her computer was seized by the FBI. She disappeared on the way to meet investigators after her lawyer engineered a private meeting, to save her from having to testify to a grand jury.</p><p>I know, I know: It sounds crazy. A key witness in the investigation of a congressman is holding out somewhere for God knows what.<br /><br />We know she&#39;s holding out and not dead because she stays in touch with her family. The <em>Miami Herald</em> quotes Alliegro&#39;s mother as saying that she hasn&#39;t heard from her in two weeks. &quot;I know she is resting. We are praying for her.&quot; (The family <a href="http://www.elnuevoherald.com/2012/09/07/1295059/testigo-crucial-en-investigacion.html">has not filed</a> a missing persons report.)<br /><br />Alliegro is alleged to have delivered envelopes stuffed full of cash &mdash; about $40,000 worth&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;for Sternad mailers attacking Garcia (one actually blamed him for the BP oil spill). The investigation concerns whether Rivera was funneling that cash illegally.<br /><br />It now turns out that Alliegro left behind at least<a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/21/3014731/fbi-checks-envelopes-used-in-probe.html"> four of the envelopes</a> in which the cash was delivered; the FBI is checking them for fingerprints and handwriting comparison.<br /><br />In the meantime, Rubio&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;who hosted a fundraiser in May for Rivera&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;has stepped back a bit.<br /><br />&quot;I only know what I&#39;ve read in the press. I haven&#39;t had a chance to speak with him since that all came out. I just hope none of it is true. I continue to give him the benefit of the doubt on all these things. I just hope none of it is true,&quot; <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/08/as-fbi-and-questions-swirl-marco-rubio-keeps-distance-from-nixonian-pal-david-rivera.html#storylink=cpy">Rubio said</a> during the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month.<br /><br />Rubio isn&#39;t the only keeping his distance. Mitt Romney ordered a Rivera-free zone during his interview with Univisión at the University of Miami campus last week. Rivera was the only Florida Republican elected official not invited to the studio&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;even though he has been one of Romney&#39;s biggest boosters in South Florida.<br /><br />The Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee is spending more than $1 million to help Garcia get on the air; the GOP equivalent has plans to hep Rivera with exactly <em>nada</em>.<br /><br />Still, you have to admire Rivera&#39;s resilience. Even after all these shenanigans, and in spite of the fact that Rivera was already under a cloud of suspicion when this campaign <em>began</em>, he still maintains <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/house-races/250841-garcia-leads-rivera-in-new-fl-26-poll">a six-point lead</a> over Garcia in the most recent polls.</p></p> Mon, 24 Sep 2012 09:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-09/witness-missing-case-rubios-pal-rivera-102600 Local attorney gives assessment of the Casey Anthony verdict http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-07-06/local-attorney-gives-assessment-casey-anthony-verdict-88777 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//segment/photo/2011-July/2011-07-06/Lyon photo 3.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Thursday there will be a sentencing hearing in the trial of Casey Anthony, the 25-year-old Orlando woman accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008. A jury of seven women and five men found her guilty of four counts of lying to law enforcement officers. But she was found not guilty of the most serious charges against her: first-degree murder, manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.</p><p>The verdict was as controversial as the trial and the coverage itself – a saga that played out 24-7 on national television and around water coolers across the country.</p><p>One Chicago attorney had a front row seat to much of the action: DePaul University law professor and noted death penalty defense attorney <a href="http://www.law.depaul.edu/faculty_staff/faculty_information.asp?id=29" target="_blank">Andrea Lyon</a> was a key member of the Anthony defense team in its early stages. She joined WBEZ’s Steve Edwards on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> to share her reaction to the verdict.</p><p>Lyon came on to the defense team to block the prosecution’s capital punishment pursuit.&nbsp;<br> It was previously reported that Lyon eventually left the team because the cost of travelling from Chicago to Florida was adding up. Lyon admitted that while she’s defended dozens of death penalty defendants and received hate mail in the past, this was the first time she'd been physically attacked—twice in Orlando.</p><p>Edwards asked her to explain the context of the attacks: One took place while trying to interview a witness, the other, simply walking down the street in Orlando. The city, Lyon pointed out, has a long and difficult history of extreme racial tension. That led Edwards to ask what role race and class played in the Anthony case and the attention it received compared to other capital cases she argued.</p><p>“It plays an enormous role,” Lyon said. “We have an attractive, middle-class, white family; an attractive young woman with salacious photographs so we can love to hate her,” she continued. “And a beautiful little girl. But you know, as sad as it is, a lot of beautiful little girls go missing and unspeakable things are done to them all the time but if they’re African American or Hispanic, nobody cares.”</p><p>It would be foolish, Lyon said, to pretend that race and class had nothing to with this case.</p><p>Edwards described the outrage some expressed after the “bombshell” verdict as palpable. He asked Anthony’s former defense attorney for her reaction to the verdict and public response. “This is why we have trials instead of lynchings,” Lyon said.&nbsp; The judge sustained an objection from the prosecution once in eight weeks of trial. Lyons explained that this meant everything the state of Florida wanted to use to make the case against Anthony was allowed—every expert, every instruction, every restriction on closing arguments and a “death-qualified” jury.</p><p>But in the end, Lyon said, the jury digested the evidence and could not determine how Caylee died.<br> “Even their [the prosecution’s] medical examiner had to admit there was no cause of death, she could not rule out accident—and the jury said, ‘that’s not proof,’” Lyon explained.</p><p>And that, Lyon said, was how the jury was meant to rule—not on passions, not on whether they thought Anthony was a good or bad mother, or a bad person as she was often portrayed—but on whether or not Anthony or anyone killed Caylee.</p><p>Edwards concurred that a great deal of attention was paid to Anthony’s conduct during and in the aftermath her child’s disappearance—including detailed accounts and photos of partying and fresh tattoos—and wondered if her former attorney had a possible explanation for her client’s behavior.</p><p>She pointed to her friend and former partner, Jose Baez’s, opening statement whereby he explained that Anthony’s behavior was inexplicable to most people, but most people are not survivors of sexual abuse.</p><p>“If my son or daughter were missing for 31 seconds, let alone 31 days, I would go crazy—and most parents would,” Lyon began. “But most people are not child sexual abuse survivors. And most people have not had to develop a personality that acts like everything’s OK, when everything isn’t,” she reasoned.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Lyon attested that it was Anthony’s behavior that people hated but that it was not proof of a muder.</p><p>“That is what people have concentrated on—she didn’t behave the way that we think a woman should, the way that a mother should, the way that most folks would in a circumstance if their child was missing—and therefore, there must be a murderous thing behind that,” Lyon explained.</p><p>Edwards asked Lyon to explain her belief, about which she wrote and later argued in the Anthony case, in the existence of a gender bias when it comes to the application of the death penalty, specifically around questions of motherhood.</p><p>“It’s because she steps outside of gendered roles—a man who, you know, plays around and parties and whatever else, well, it’s not nice but you know, ‘boys will be boys.’ A woman who does that, it’s not acceptable,” Lyon said.</p><p>Further, she called the prosecution’s request for the death penalty in this case “simply outrageous.” To qualify a case for the death penalty, the prosecution must show that it’s a first-degree murder with what’s called an aggravating factor, or a plus factor, like the killing of a police officer in the line of duty. But capital punishment is supposed to be reserved, Lyon said, for people with awful criminal histories or where torture or other egregious facts exist. And in this case, she argued, the death penalty was used for a tactical advantage.</p><p>During the jury selection process in death penalty cases, a potential juror that is opposed to the death penalty is excluded for cause—it’s the only opinion one can hold that prevents a person from sitting on a jury. Therefore, Lyon said, a jury pool in a capital case is stacked with members that are pro-death-penalty and have been tainted, to a degree, by the process of considering the case for the death penalty before it has been argued.&nbsp;</p><p>The media coverage and public fascination, Edwards pointed out, was compared to that of the O.J. Simpson trial. He asked Lyon why a similar frenzy formed around the Anthony case.</p><p>“Well, there was a drumbeat started by someone who pretends to be a journalist and pretends she was actually a good lawyer, by the name of Nancy Grace,” Lyon began. “She actually encouraged people to go to the Anthony home and you know, start trouble.”</p><p>Lyon recalled counting 187 shows before the trial devoted to the case, helping create the fascination.</p><p>“It’s very easy to tap into hatred; it’s very easy to tap into those kind of mob, ugly kinds of reactions. It’s much more difficult to ask people to stop and think,” Lyon explained.&nbsp;</p><p>She went on to say that the media no doubt played a role in the prosecutions’ reach in charging Anthony.&nbsp;</p><p>Edwards asked what such heightened, intense media coverage does to a defense team’s navigation of a case.</p><p>It certainly interfered with the defense’s ability to interview witnesses—because once a person was identified as a witness, they were excoriated in the press.</p><p>Given the profile and attention of the case, Edwards wondered, what happens to defendants, like Casey Anthony, that are found not guilty or exonerated. Lyon called it a difficult road—defendants have spent a lot of time in prison, they’ve been treated badly and it has a damaging effect on their psyche. In Anthony’s case, a woman Lyon described as particularly “fragile,”so she is quite concerned.&nbsp;</p><p>Edwards asked her to clarify what she meant by fragile and she again pointed to the abuse Anthony survived. But for as much as the claim was discussed at trial, Edwards pointed out that there was not specific evidence to substantiate a history of abuse.</p><p>Lyon said, without revealing confidence, that there were witnesses that didn’t say things she assumed the defense was expecting to hear and that there were other witnesses that could have confirmed changes in behavior and things that are indicia to the type of mental health problem the defendant endured. She believed witnesses were frightened to come forward.</p><p>“So I am concerned—I don’t know where in this country she can live; safely. There are people who want her dead and I fear for her safety,” Lyon concluded.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br> &nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 06 Jul 2011 13:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-07-06/local-attorney-gives-assessment-casey-anthony-verdict-88777 Illinois faces a lot of competition for high speed rail money http://www.wbez.org/story/florida/illinois-faces-lot-competition-high-speed-rail-money-84838 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-06/High Speed Rail_Getty _ File.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The State of Illinois faces some stiff competition to win some extra cash for high-speed rail projects. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that 23 other states are also competing for the $2.4 billion. The money was supposed to go toward a high-speed rail project in Florida, but that state's governor rejected the money saying the project might be too costly.</p><p>Rick Harnish heads a high-speed rail advocacy group based in Chicago. He said Illinois stands a good chance to win the money from Florida.</p><p>"We really have to figure out very quickly how to move more people without their cars and this is the only way to both reduce fuel consumption and the cost of fuel and actually improve the way people travel in the state," Harnish said.</p><p>Illinois wants to apply $248 million of the Florida money to an existing project linking St. Louis and Chicago. It also filed a joint application with Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri for $860 million worth of new rail equipment, despite Wisconsin recently turning down money for high-speed rail.</p></p> Thu, 07 Apr 2011 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/florida/illinois-faces-lot-competition-high-speed-rail-money-84838