tv America Tonight Al Jazeera May 28, 2015 2:30am-3:01am EDT
don't commute with the common people. >> on "america tonight." >> do you think that you were discriminated against because of your disability? >> yes. no parents should have to lose their child and who are you to make the decision who's a good parent and who's not a good parent? >> can a disabled parent properly care for a child? "america tonight's" christof putzel with the story of parents with disabilities, demanding change. also tonight, the orange county, california, district attorney's office in hot water. decades after the discovery of
secret jailhouse informants. >> how do you right that wrong that a person actually lost his life as a result of the prosecution concealing what should have been discloseto the defense how do you right that wrong? >> "america tonight's" michael okwu investigates the allegation is. thanks for joining us. joie chen is on assignment. i'm adam may. tonight we begin in orange county, california. it's best known for high end lifestyles and dramatic reality shows but the oc and more specifically the office of the orange county district attorney finds itself in the midst of its own drama with high stakes. several of its murder cases have unraveled following the secret jailhouse informant program. allegation that county prosecutors have
obstruct ed information in multiple cases for decades. >> it begins with a phone call from his daughter. >> she says dad what's going on at the salon, there's police and helicopters everywhere. >> seal beach, a sleepy town in orange county, california. >> i had a feeling in my gut something was bad. i jumped in my car, i ran red lights, had my flashers on honking my horn. i was hoping a police officer could put me over so i could ask him, what is going on in seal beach? >> moments later, scott de cry had opened fire on his ex wife michelle and several others including his wife christy. >> i know that christy was getting her hair washed by
michelle, scott came in through side door, immediately shot michelle then shot christy. a thing that christy didn't -- she was laying down, i don't know if she knew what happened to her. >> it was october 12, 2011 and by the end of it eight people were dead, one critically wounded. two and a half years later, scott de cry pled guilty to 11 counts of murder. >> it was the largest mass shooting in are orange county history. the gunman pleads guilty. >> correct. >> did you ever imagine it would get complicated? >> not in my wildest thoughts to where i stand today with this complete mess. >> reporter: and what a mess it is. the orange county district attorney's office which prosecuted scott de cry is now at the center of an unprecedented scandal. they are accused of participating in a secret operation involving jailhouse informants and hiding evidence
of it for as long as 30 years. and it probably would have remained hidden if not for the de cry case. while preparing for the penalty phase of the trial, de cry's attorney scott sanders had noticed something. a jailhouse informant who gathered information on de cry had done so in another of his cases. was it a coincident? 11 years later he delivered a huge bombshell, accusing the district attorney's office getting where information from jailhouse inmates. "america tonight" has recorded obtained recorded conversations, which have never before aired.
here an informant is bargaining, claiming his memory can fall back in place if the deputies will meet halfway. >> you are looking for some consideration on the case you're here for in exchange for information on two unsolved murders in santa ana? >> pretty much. >> any more than that? >> i think more than consideration i'm looking for. >> what does that mean? >> some option he. options would be nice. right now i'm in a place of no options. >> reporter: according to court files these informants were used in hundreds of cases. were they all just at the right place at the right time? were they planted there? there's a big difference. irvin is the dean of the university of california irvine law school. >> if somebody's who's in a jail on his or her own talks to a cell mate or another inmate, then there's no problem with the person receiving the information turning it over to the police to
the deputy sheriffs to the district attorney's office. but what's impermissible is to try to arrange to gather information through the use of jailhouse informants because then it really is about circumventing the person in jail's right to an attorney, the right to remain silent. what has apparently occurred here is done exactly what's prohibited. >> in other words, deputies planted informants in defendants' cells, in effect circumventing the defendant's right to remain silent and lied about it over and over again. orange county thomas skopalls responded by firing the entire district attorney's office. >> through the use of these jailhouse informants.
>> reporter: in the wake of sanders explosive charges, other criminal defense attorneys like james crawford began to ask questions. ten years after his client henry rodriguez was convicted of murder, was told that records didn't exist, records which showed a veteran informant was planted in his client's cell. that informant's testimony was the only evidence used to convict rodriguez of murder says crawford. >> the prosecution concealed this ex couple pa tri exculpatory information from not only us but hundreds of others attorneys and defendants. >> these documents are constitutionally required to be disclosed. we've now learned that they've been hidden. that's a serious major constitutional violation. >> just two weeks ago, james crawford asked for a new trial.
based on these newly discovered documents, so-called trade records, detailing the use of informants. it was in front of the same judge who fired the entire daiment's da'soffice. >> despite the fact i've worked in the criminal justice system for 38 years as a prosecutor defense attorney and judge, i never knew there were tread records. >> i was hoping that people to pay attention to what's happened, should not be seeking convictions, they have to be seeking justice. >> but orange county district attorneys, had to be seeking injustice, on the base of an informant's labeled unreliable. thompson maintained his
innocence until the day he was executed in 1998. >> how do you right that wrong? that a person lost his life as a result of prosecution concealing that should have been disclosed to his defense, how do you right this wrong? if that's why it's sos. >> that's why it's so important. that's why it's troubling that the orange county district attorney's office has systematically devised a policy and implemented it to undermine the constitution. >> thanks to questionable informants a judge has let one exited killer walk free, isaac has admitted to shooting a arrival gang member, which should have gotten him life, but instead got him 75 years. others had their sentences dropped or reduced and there may be a lot more. the orange county district attorney tony
rukakis has dissented comment. the orange county sheriff sandra hutchins wasn't available for comment but has admitted makes were made. there are now calls to bring in the feds. >> i think an investigation by the united states department of justice would be appropriate. i think state on its own should create a top level blue ribbon commission with full investigative pour to find out what happened. >> as for paul wilson the trial of his wife's alleged murderer would likely be delayed for years. he is emotionally warn out reliving the crime. >> i can't tell you, when i have to go to court, i sit in the very front row. i mean i sit ten feet away from the guy that murdered my wife. and it trains me. it takes everything out of my soul to have to do it that day. and to know because of the district attorney and their
negligence and their stupidity that i've got to endure probably another four to six years of this, it's sick sickening. >> maybe the district attorney's office pushed the envelope a little too far, but they went to gather information that could be used to justifiably put murderers away. so be it. >> but they're breaking the law. what makes it okay for them and not somebody else? just because you're an elected official doesn't give you the right to break the law. nobody's above the law. nobody. if you cannot get a confession right away you just create one. >> he's now reading up on the allegations exposed by the confessed killer's lawyer scott sanders. >> as veteran informant explained, truth doesn't matter. a way you can get around maybe not being able to get a
confession right away is to create one. this, these are the people that the orange county d.a. are hinging cases on. >> there is an irony here in the sense that now you find yourself firmly on the same side as the attorney who's actually arguing for her killer. you ever think about that? >> i do. mr. sanders is doing his job above and beyond. i only wish that the d.a. had the integrity to handle it the way he is. we wouldn't -- i wouldn't be in this spot. >> "america tonight's" michael okwu. michael good to see you. pretty alarming to see the problems piling up there in orange county. you mentioned the district attorney wouldn't comment. how is he responding to this? >> well, just this weekend he said that -- he made an announcement basically saying that he would personally review each and every new case
involving jailhouse informants. he also said he would try to recruit legal experts from outside the office to review the office's procedures in cases like this. i got to tell you. we talk to people in legal circles, mainly defense attorneys around the country who say this is window-dressing at best and at worst it's the fox guarding the hen house. this is the district attorney that has led discretions take place consistently and they don't see the culture changing in that office at any time soon. >> i think the most troubling parts of your reports is the case of thomas thompson who may have wrongly sentenced to death. any word from his family? >> we tried to reach out to his family, one of our producers did so but even after 17 years it is so painfully raw, what we do know is, we have learned that one of his nieces were so moved, so upset about this entire episode she went to school to
become a lawyer. >> ah, very interesting. i've talked to prosecutors over the years and there's a lot of pressure on them from juries to produce some sort of a conviction, jurors these days almost seem to demand that. how are prosecutors dealing with judges who allow these allegations to be made in court? >> that is one of the most interesting aspects in the whole story, there is a statute that allows the judge to not hear the case, called painering the judge. although it's not unheard of, it is rare. the district attorney disqualified the particular judge are from 18 cases, when the judge let these allegations be heard in court hearings, the district attorney disqualified the judge in 105 cases. it is such a big deal i tell you adam that the orange county bar association has rebuked the
district attorney which is pretty unusual. >> wow what an incredible miss "america tonight's" michael okwu. up next rolling the dyes. is atlantic city prepared for a come back? how it has weathered the change. and demanding, people with disabilities, the right to care for their own children. christof putzel, with the story
folded. i once visited to see how it's handling its darkest days. frank bechtel knows atlantic city better than anything. frank and his family have been living here for three situations. personal. >> this is 61. popping in on ohio avenue and i'm going to make an eastbound trip. we feel like we're under siege from the national media, believe it or not. it is true we have casinos closing but casinos have been here for 30 years, 32 years i think. they've opened and closed throughout the history of gaming in atlantic city. right now we're going through a transition where for the last few years there's been a contraction. now, go up the east coast and in iowa for crying out loud. >> you made a big investment to
become a jitney driver in this town. how important is this? >> it's critical. if we don't have the business i don't have a business. they spend over $1 million a year to market the city as a whole. we have never done that in our history until two years ago. we are way behind but i think atlantic city as a whole has a chance to reinvent ourselves and it wouldn't be the first time. >> well, fast forward it looks like lady luck is on atlantic city's side once again. the gambling industry pulled in higher profits even though they had fewer casinos. for first three months of this year the remaining casinos made $81 million that's a jump of 26% from the same time last year. up next, people living with disabilities. and their right to be parents. how a groundbreaking decision could be the key to open that door. and tomorrow on "america
>> they fought hard to be treated as an equal, to have the same rights as everyone else. we're talking about people living with disabilities. they've made some major strides in the 25 years since congress passed the ada. but one very basic rights remains elusive. parentalhood. can people with physical or intellectual disabilities safely care for a baby? "america tonight's" christof putzel talks to one mother who was never given a chance to proofapprove ifprove that she could
care for her own baby. >> ever afternoon, she thinks of the daughter that she lost. >> in 2007, i had a little baby girld. and the day after i gave birth to my daughter, two men had come into my hospital room, stating dcsf had taken custody of my daughter. they already made up their minds that they were going to have my daughter. i didn't give my child up. she was taken. she was stolen from me. >> a nurse first tipped off the dcf, the department of children and families . alist has fragile x syndrome, a condition which results in a mild cognitive difficulty and a situation called distone ya.
distonia. >> parents learn different, you know. it may take me longer but no parent should have to lose their child. and who are you to make decision who's a good parent and who's not a good parent? >> what's the hardest part about not being able to see your daughter? >> sometimes like seeing the kids. >> the kids at school? >> at school, yes. because it was really hard for me when my daughter's birthday was coming around and there was another little girl and her birthday was like two months after, so i -- one year i made her a birthday present. >> i've never met a parent who is more dedicated to her child than alice. >> really? >> ever. >> consolidation and psychologist. >> was alice fit to be a parent?
>> i definitely believe she's fit to be a parent. i still believe she's fit to be a parent. she needed to build both her skills and her confidence. there were skills she needed to learn but you figure out how to teach them. >> but the department of children and families disagreed. with the baby's father out of the picture, they worked her for a year but failed to give her social workers capable.training her. >> to me that assessment was set up to show where her weaknesses were. >> were they trained on how to >> no. there are very few of us who are trained to do this. >> the zcf took alice's daughter into custody and moved to terminate her parental rights. >> they said i could raise her
if i got the proper services. >> yes. >> set up to fail? >> set up to fail, just like in court cases. this was like being a prisoner the only thing i didn't have handcuffs on me. >> handcuffs against for people with disabilities. a staggering 80% with intellectual or developmental disabilities have children removed from their homes. 37 states allow disabilities to be a strike against parents seeking custody. arguing that it's in the best interests of the children. >> the fact that a parent has a disability does not in and of itself result in us seeking disability, does it impact the individual's ability to parent? >> sheila says the answer isn't always easy. >> do you think that in its current stays the
dsf is able to evaluate parents with disabilities? >> i think we can make strides in everything we do and i think the resource issue is very real. we have had for a long time individual supports and systems to support parents with disabilities. but they've come and gone depending on the funding. >> duran lowe admits her resources are limited and in vermont, average workload of 17 families often with multiple children. susan said more support would protect people with disabilities and their children. >> parents with disabilities aren't going to go away. and people with intellectual disabilities for instance are encouraged now to have real lives and to have real relationships. and that can include intimacy. and they're going to be babies.
so what we need to do is to build capacity around the country. >> this is my daughter. >> one month, two months? three months? wow she's beautiful. >> these were pictures from our visits. >> does she know who you are when you're visiting her? >> yes, she will wait at the door for me. >> really? >> she look through the glass window, she knew i was coming. >> what would you like people to understand about parents with disabilities? >> we're all the same, we just learn differently. we shouldn't get people taking away our child. >> alice knows she won't be getting her child back. but she hopes she will maintain a relationship with the child that she saw by chance on the street. >> we hudz and kissed and it was
a happy joyful time. >> did your daughter know who you were? >> no. >> was that sad for you? >> yes. but after she knew, when they said this is mommy alice, there was a bond like she was hugging me, she wasn't letting me go. i guess i was like startled, like happy but even though they weren't going to give me a visit, god was going to make sure i had a visit. >> christof putzel, al jazeera. >> tell us what you think at aljazeera.com/"america tonight." be sure to come back we'll have more of "america tonight," tomorrow. >> al jazeera's investigative unit has tonight's exclusive report. >> stories that have impact. that make a difference. that open your world. >> this... is what we do. >> america tonight.
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