Monthly Archives: October 2013

? Unequal Justice?

The following was written by a friend in my prison ministry and expressed by her of the inequality of sentence length compared to others in same situation..

What is justice?  As society knows it today, it is “moral rightness; the upholding of what is right: fairness.”  But presently in our warped judicial system, justice is recurrently predicated upon financial status, orientation, pigmentation, and abrupt conclusions.  “Fairness” is often as far off into the distance as outer space and America’s “moral right” to help someone in need despite the circumstances; as one who does not fit the status quo, is looked upon as degenerate and useless.  Here enters a wife, depressed and dejected over her mother’s death, experiencing a dilapidated marriage and difficult divorce proceedings, suicidal and hopeless; dreams smashed to pieces and coming to face the fact that she has to raise her 25-month old daughter alone…what would you do if your mental instability convinces you that there is only one way out?  Herein enter Eulie Polanco.

On March 22, 2002, Eulie Polanco and her 25-month old daughter, Dana Polanco were found motionless in a bloody bathtub filled to overflowing; she had done the unthinkable; she had taken the life of her daughter and nearly her own.  Fire rescue found the baby underneath Ms. Polanco and discovered that she herself had self inflicted wounds to her throat, a stab wound to her abdomen and lacerations on each wrist and the left heel.  Electrical appliances were also found in the bathtub, still plugged in to the outlets, a kitchen knife and cordless phone were discovered in the kitchen along with a smashed family photo and a letter addressed to Octravio, Ms. Polanco’s husband in the living area.  Ms. Polanco was taken to the hospital unresponsive and in a coma.  Twenty-four hours after she emerged from this coma, still disoriented and unable to comprehend reality, she was charged with First Degree Murder.  In the end, Ms. Polanco’s argument that she was temporarily insane when this crime was committed gained her a guilty conviction and on September 23, 2002, she was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Why did this happen?

Eulie Polanco was your average hard working wife, mother and member of society who worked in the judicial circuit in foreign language.  She was a dedicated wife to her husband and fiercely protected and cared for her daughter.  Within months of her mother’s death, Ms. Polanco found out about her husband’s infidelity and that combined sent her into a mental tailspin.  She dealt with a level of stress that began to chip away at her mental state and slowly she deteriorated.  Her daughter’s babysitter, Maria Luisa Gueirrez who Ms. Polanco befriended over time, had stated that Ms. Polanco had always kept Dana immaculate; was loving, provided everything she needed and never had signs of abuse.  However, Maria conveyed that she began seeing changes in Ms. Polanco’s behavior.  A time when she expressed that she wanted to drive herself into a canal; times when she would bring Dana in her pajamas or bring no food for her daughter; times when Dana would arrive with only one shoe and a time when Ms. Polanco left a disturbing letter with Maria to give to Octavio in the event something happened to her while traveling to Orlando.

A long time friend of Ms. Polanco’s, Maria Clervaux, who lived in Orlando, whom Ms. Polanco saw on her trips to Orlando for job interviews and house hunting stated that she appeared worried and lonely, complained a lot and experienced weight loss; she was most certainly not herself and her condition worsened.  During this time, Octavio disconnected utility service to the house despite the fact that his estranged wife and child lived there.  Ms. Polanco was upset about the divorce, his indifference towards their well being and was skeptical about Octavio picking Dana up from the sitter but resigned to agree to whatever the court decided in way of custody.

On March 21, 2002, at a court ordered mediation which would decide visitation, an agreement was made to allow Octavio visitation to begin on March 22; which was the fateful day that Ms. Polanco’s life changed forever.

All witness testimony was presented in her non-jury trial including the testimony of Dr. Amy Swan, an expert witness specializing in Psychology who was brought to establish Ms. Polanco’s insanity.  Dr. Swan concluded that Ms. Polanco had a major depressive episode at the time of the crime with psychotic features.  Ms. Polanco did not meaningfully understand what she was doing was wrong and when she regained consciousness in the hospital, she was confused and “floridly psychotic.”

Judge Alfred Horowitz presided, heard all evidence showing no regard for plea of temporary insanity, handed down a guilty verdict and a non-parolable life sentence.  Ironically, his life experience closely paralleled that of Ms. Polanco’s and could have biased his decision in her conviction.

Did the trial Judge’s “life experience” bias his decision to convict Eulie Polanco?

Judge Alfred Horowitz, during the progression of Eulie Polanco’s case, was discovered to be having an extra-marital affair with Assistant State Attorney Guiseppina Miranda, who worked ion the same office prosecuting Ms. Polanco’s case.  Ms. Miranda was observed sitting in on the trial, visiting Judge Horowitz, having side bar conversations, meeting outside of the court’s chambers and even further, on May 23, 2002, Ms. Miranda stood in for the State Attorney’s Office at State’s motion hearing Ms. Polanco’s cause and because of this, Ms. Polanco feared she could not receive a fair trial.

Judge Horowitz was himself, involved in marital separation/divorce proceedings where his wife was emotionally distressed and custody of children was in question.  While he tried Ms. Polanco’s case, his own infidelity and abandonment issues were influencing his decision making process.  While Ms. Polanco was dealing with the pain of her divorce and husband’s betrayal, Judge Horowitz’s wife was dealing with the same level of pain himself was inflicting upon her with no apparent regard for her feelings as he did not make his romantic involvement with Ms. Miranda discrete or secret.  Was there an effort to find a scapegoat for his own personal turmoil, seemingly unable to punish his own wife, to exert “punishment” on Ms. Polanco?

The very fact that he flaunted his unfaithfulness before a courtroom of his co-workers and peers; people whom he may have sat down and had a cup of coffee with; people who had more than likely met his wife and children at holiday gatherings; people who may have lived in the same neighborhood, people who possibly knew of his state of affairs, proved that he was indifferent to the pain of his wife and to that of Eulie Polanco’s.  Instead of putting Ms. Polanco’s best interest in mind by removing himself from a case  he could not be impartial on, he instead moved forward with his own life experience negatively influeincing a finding of guilt; feeling justified in his actions in both cases.

Judge Horowitz could have prevented a constitutional violation and injustice to Ms. Polanco.  Is it  possible that it was easier to sentence Ms. Polanco to life rather than address the inappropriateness of his life?

Fair or Flawed:  The face of our justice system

Make no mistake, accountability and responsibility are suppose to be the foundation of our justice system in America.  Unfortunately we know it can be inconsistently fair and fragmentally flawed.  So how can two people with almost identical cases, similar backgrounds and identical reasons for the commission of their crimes, have two completely different coutcomes when sentenced in the judicial system?

Eulie Polanco, absent hesitation, with a first degree murder charge in tow, received life without parole.  However 18 months later, another woman, Dunitze “Dee” Venter, a caucasian Margate mother, taped a picture of her 4 year old son, Kyle Venter, above the faucet of her home with a small note, carefully arranged candles around her bathtub, an apparent suicide shrine meant to punish her estranged husband.  Venter had given her son a fatal dose of sleeping pills, tried to electrocute herself with a toaster, slit her wrists and tried to overdose on pills; all as a result of a depression experienced due to the breakup of her marriage.  These methods and reasons are almost identical to Ms. Polanco’s but Venter’s story ends differently.

                                                                       Two timelines

Polanco                        no prior arrest record

Venter                           no prior arrest record

Polanco                        Distraught over the break up of marriage; resorted to killing her child as a way of

lashing out at estranged husband.

Venter                          same

Polanco                        Alluded to thoughts and plans of suicide; almost succeeded in doing so at commission of crime

Opted to electrocuting self in bathtub, slitted wrists, neck, abdomen and Achilles’ tendon.

Venter                           History of suicide; almost succeeded in doing so.  Opted to electrocute self in tub, slit wrist.

Polanco                       Charged with first degree murder for death daughter immediately after emerging from coma while still

in hospital suffering from self-inflicted injuries.

Venter                          Charged with second degree murder for the death of her son 3 months after authorities gave her time

at home, to recover from injuries.

Polanco                        Case heard in the 17th Judicial Circuit; in and for Broward County, Florida

Venter                           Same

Polanco                       Public defender; no bail

Venter                          Paid attorney ; bail set ; bonded out; at home for court dates and sentencing.

Polanco                        Life Sentence without the possibility of parole.

Venter                          Sentenced to 20 years and deportation to South Africa upon release.

Other corresponding cases :

Earl Foster Boise was charged with second degree murder for killing his six week old son.  There was evidence of Battered Child Syndrome and the trial court admitted evidence of child’s prior injuries to support conviction.  Boise was given 240 months in prison with no supervision thereafter.  That equates to 20 years with a chance he will re-enter society.

Claudine Ann Vallo and David Edward Chino, were charged with second degree murder for the death of Vallo’s sixteen month old son.  This child showed signs of prolonged abuse which was sufficiently supported by evidence.  The boyfriend, Chino, was given 210 months with 3 years of supervised release for the charge of assault; these sentences run concurrent and therefore he will be released in 17 years.  The girlfriend and mother, Vallo, however was sentenced to 240 months  with 3 years supervised released for her part and will be able to obtain her freedom once again.

Steven Delgado was charged with second degree murder for the death of his eleven month old as well as misdemeanor child abuse.  He was sentenced to 15 years to life along with 4 years for the child abuse charge that is to be run concurrently with his murder charge.  He is eligible for parole and will again most likely see the light of day.

Angela Allen was originally charged with open murder and first degree child abuse of her 4 month old son.  These charges were dismissed where Allen plead to the reduced sentence to 20 years or less and given the opportunity to re-enter society.

On Note:  Infanticide is a very rare phenomenon; only about 4% of women who become psychotic kill their babies.  Perhaps, in mind, to prevent the “loss of self” they are compelled to kill their children, self or both.  Tragically there are also parents who kill their children out of vengeance and rage against the other parent.  They want to hurt the other parent by depriving them of their most cherished relationship.  This type of infanticide is committed far more frequently by fathers.

College interns’ work puts cases in jeopardy, Miami Herald Oct 2nd, 2003:

Public Defender’s office

Nova Southeastern University’s psychology students help test some murder defendants and have put court rulings in jeopardy.

By Noah Bierman

After Eulie Polanco killed her baby, the Broward public defender’s office relied on an inexperienced psychology trainee to conduct a sanity test on her.

The intern’s work–which contained a major blunder–helped seal the first degree murder conviction against the Broward woman last week.  And it set off concerns that many other major cases would be subject to similar problems.

“This whole thing is very disgusting,” said Bob Wills, chief assistant public defender in Broward.  “The office doesn’t like it when these side issues become the focus.”

The public defender’s office has made some changes the way it uses interns.  It has stopped using the trainees to screen murder defendants.  It also has stopped using expert testimony from one its supervisors, psychologist David Shapiro, who instructed an intern to improperly change test answers, according to the intern’s April 3 deposition.

While the public defender’s  office conducts its review, state prosecutors have issued a subpoena to one of the interns, Rosemary More, who worked on the Polanco case.  More said in her disposition that Shapiro instructed her to change answers Polanco gave on her psychological evaluation.  The evaluation would become a key component for Polanco’s insanity defense.

Changing answers is forbidden under any circumstance, especially in a first degree murder trial, psychologists say.

Shapiro said Wednesday it’s all a mix up and he did nothing improper.  The intern, he said, was “sandbagged” in her deposition and misspoke.

INACCURACIES

More said this week there “were inaccuracies in the deposition” but would not elaborate.  The findings of the public defender’s review may affect as many as eight pending first degree murder trials, Wills said.

The Polanco case is not the only one where the use of interns has hurt a potentially strong defense.  The attorney for another murder defendant–Tanisha Cannon–said the use of interns in testing forced Cannon into a guilty plea she may not otherwise have made.

In the Polanco case defense attorneys knew a mental health defense was a possibility.  More gave Polanco several tests, including the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.  More said that it may have been her first time administering the test.  She said in her disposition that she was instructed to go back to Polanco and ask her several questions about what psychologists call critical items on the test and she then changed the answers.

“You go back and make adjustments,”  she said.     Shapiro said Tuesday that More actually produced a second answer sheet and created two scores.

Also, More got an A in her class.

What now?

If Eulie Polanco’s case has touched you and brought awareness of the current disparities in our justice system, please petition Governor Rick Scott:

TO THE HONORABLE GOVERNOR SCOTT:

I am writing concerning Eulie Polanco, a prisoner sentenced to life without parole for the death of her daughter , Dana Polanco.  Although I do not condone what she did, her sentence is disparate when compared to others who have committed similar and more severe crimes and have received 20 years or less in prison and an opportunity to re-enter into society with a second chance at life.  I appeal to you to consider and grant a commutation of Ms. Polanco’s sentence to a term of 15 years so that she too, can be given the chance others have been given in our judicial system.

_______________________________________________

Psychology Today “Moms who kill” by Mark Levy , published on Nov. 1, 2002 in reference.

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