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  1. On his drive to Calipatria State Prison, Ricardo Perez thought of the couple he’d met a few months earlier and their desperate plea: Can you help us get our innocent relative out of prison? It was spring 2012. Perez was fresh out of Loyola Law School and yearning for a meaningful case, so he agreed to look into their relative’s conviction. After reading the trial transcript, he went to meet Marco Contreras. “Are you innocent?” he asked him. “If you're not, I won’t judge you and I won’t tell your family. But if I’m going to spend the next several years on this, I need to know for sure.” Contreras looked him dead in the eye, Perez recalled, and said, “I’m innocent.” That conversation led to years of investigation and, ultimately, Contreras’ release from custody on Tuesday — the second time this month that a team of lawyers and students from Loyola have helped free a wrongfully convicted man. After spending 20 years behind bars, Contreras used the moments after his release to speak to others in his situation. “Keep fighting,” he said in Spanish. “Be patient and keep fighting.” Contreras, 41, who maintained his innocence, was convicted in 1997 of attempted murder and attempted robbery for a shooting at a Compton gas station a year earlier. He was sentenced to life in prison. Superior Court Judge William Ryan ruled last week that Contreras was factually innocent, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace said Tuesday that prosecutors lost faith in Contreras’ conviction, adding that other men have been linked to the crime. Attempted murder and conspiracy charges were filed Thursday against Antonio Salgado, 41; Antonio Garcia, 61; and Ricardo Valencia, 46. Both Garcia and Valencia pleaded not guilty Monday, and Salgado hasn’t been arraigned. Contreras’ attorneys say an eyewitness inaccurately identified him as the gunman, although he’d been at home sleeping at the time. It’s an example of the unreliability of witness misidentification, said Adam Grant, another Contreras attorney. “This is a huge problem,” he said. “It’s a thorny problem because the public considers it reliable.” Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent began looking into the case in 2012 after Perez put them in touch with Contreras’ family. During their investigation, lawyers and students found new evidence, including a striking physical similarity between Contreras and Salgado. The team of attorneys then presented its findings to the district attorney’s conviction review unit — a crew of prosecutors and investigators dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions — which conducted its own investigation, along with sheriff’s investigators, into the shooting. In a letter to the judge made public this week, prosecutors laid out the facts of the case, which they say point to Contreras’ innocence. At a Mepco gas station on a September morning in 1996, a man fired several shots at Jose Garcia, who was wounded but survived after a month-long hospital stay. While stopped at a red light nearby, Alicia Valladolid, an intern for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, saw the gunman run into a getaway car – a blue and beige Bronco. She jotted down the license plate number and investigators tracked the car to Contreras. When his brother, Miguel, told police he owned the Bronco, he was charged with attempted murder, attempted robbery, as well as being an accessory after the fact. At Miguel’s preliminary hearing, Valladolid spotted Marco in the audience and told a detective he was the shooter she’d seen. Marco was arrested and charged as the gunman. At his trial, the victim expressed some doubt in identifying him as the shooter, saying, “I’m not sure about the face.” And defense witnesses testified that Marco was home at the time of the shooting. But jurors found him guilty. Miguel pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to a 16-month prison sentence. His other charges were dropped as part of his plea deal. After his release, he told Compton police that his brother — who had a clean criminal record — wasn’t the gunman. Around that time, a detective had been trying to interview Salgado, a documented gang member the detective believed was the true gunman. Salgado fled to Missouri, records show, after realizing police were looking for him. Although Miguel had long resisted being viewed as “a rat,” according to court records, he eventually told his family that Salgado was the gunman and agreed to help authorities with an undercover sting operation. During a secretly recorded conversation with Valencia, Miguel brought up the shooting. Valencia told him it was an orchestrated hit likely tied to a drug dispute and said Salgado had admitted to being the gunman. During a 2014 interview with prosecutors and Loyola attorneys, Miguel said he and Salgado had been hired by Antonio Garcia, another co-worker, to carry out a murder-for-hire plot. Miguel — who described his role in the crime as merely assisting a friend — said he believed Antonio Garcia had promised to pay Salgado $10,000. Contreras’ release is the second big reversal handled by the district attorney’s conviction review unit since its creation in 2015. Last year, prosecutors asked the same judge to throw out the murder conviction of a man charged in the 2000 slaying of a college student in a Palmdale parking lot. Earlier this year, Ryan tossed the conviction and declared Raymond Lee Jennings factually innocent. In the other Loyola case from two weeks ago, a different judge threw out the murder conviction of Andrew Leander Wilson, who served 32 years behind bars after being convicted of a 1984 stabbing. As Marco Contreras was escorted into court Tuesday, he turned to look at his family in the audience. He nodded at them several times, and tears welled in his eyes. Perez patted him on the back. At the end of the hearing, Contreras — dressed in a black suit — stood to address the judge. “I’d like to thank you for allowing me to be here,” he said. “Also the D.A. — I’d like to say thank you to everybody.” The judge smiled and told Contreras he hoped he had a good support system to help him adjust to life outside of custody. The world, the judge warned him, had changed a lot in 20 years. “This is a new chapter,” Ryan said. “Good luck to you, sir.” The audience of Loyola students and Contreras’ family burst into applause, shouting, “Woo! Woo! Woo!” Contreras threw his fist in the air in celebration, and the courtroom bailiff smiled. Perez said a single word — surreal — was running through his mind. During a news conference after the hearing, Contreras’ mother, Maria, walked slowly toward her son. She embraced him in a tight hug and congratulated him in Spanish. “¡Felicidades, hijo!” she told him. “¡Felicidades, mi hijo!” She told reporters she’d always known he was innocent, saying before his arrest that he’d never gotten in trouble — not even a traffic ticket, she said. Asked whether he felt any rancor, Contreras shook his head: “No, none. There’s no reason.” For now, he said, he was looking forward to two things: good Mexican food and April 11. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness, and that’s the day his denomination will remember the anniversary of Jesus’ death. His faith, he said, had kept him from spiraling into depression.
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  2. Support for conscientious objection increases (KOREA) By Kim Se-jeong The number of people in Korea who support conscientious objection has risen significantly over the last decade, a recent survey showed, Monday. According to the survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission on 2,556 people aged 15 or older from May to December, 46.1 percent of respondents said the country should allow conscientious objection. The commission has conducted the survey regularly and the support ratio has increased from 10.2 percent in 2005 to 33.3 percent in 2011. "Tolerance has improved, but it is clear that conscientious objection is still a contentious issue in Korean society," the commission said in a report. "The number shows it is time for open discussion about it." The survey didn't mention what contributed to the change in public opinion. All able-bodied men aged 18 or older in Korea are obliged to serve in the military. Objectors are subject to prison terms. According to statistics, almost 600 men are punished every year for refusing to serve. Most objectors in Korea cite religion or personal belief in peace as reasons for refusal. Many of them are Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination. They demand the government give them an opportunity to serve the country in other ways by introducing alternative services. But the government has refused to accommodate their request, saying no exception is allowed for compulsory military service. The survey results came out hours before a local court ruling in favor of conscientious objection. Siding with a 23-year-old conscientious objector surnamed Park, the Jeonju District Court in North Jeolla Province said, "We recognized that the defendant refused to serve on the basis of his religion and values, which is an individual freedom given to all." Park, a Jehovah's Witness, was taken to court by the government in June last year after refusing to comply with the mandatory service. A dozen other local courts and an appeals court in Gwangju have also ruled in favor of conscientious objectors. The Constitutional Court has been reviewing petitions from such people and is expected to make a ruling sometime early this year on whether compulsory military service infringes on individuals' freedoms and whether the country needs to allow alternative services. The ruling was originally due by the end of last year, but was put off as the court has been focusing on the review of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment. In 2004 and 2011, it ruled against objectors. THE KOREAN TIMES
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    Posted : 2017-01-10 By Kim Se-jeong
  3. Radical hate preacher Anjem Choudary has renounced his Muslim faith after being forced to share a cell with a particularly persistent Jehovah’s Witness. Choudary’s cellmate, Dave Smith, is a devout Witness and has spent the entire week teaching Choudary about the ways of his one true faith. As one prison officer explained, “The Witnesses in here prey on the weak and feeble minded, but there’s very little we can do about it. “They get you in a locked room and make you think about all the things wrong with the world, and before you know it you’re reading The Watchtower finding answers on every page. “In the outside world you can close the door on them when they come knocking, and can easily go back to your evening, but when you’re in prison, there is no escape from them. “The British prison system is rife with radicalised Jehovah’s Witnesses going round refusing blood transfusions and criticising Christmas. “The people locked up in here are often disenfranchised and feel left behind by the ‘system’, so, of course they’re going to feel welcomed by a group offering eternity in paradise in return for ignoring Easter. Anjem really didn’t stand a chance. “Plus it didn’t hurt that the Witnesses also hate the gays.”
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  4. Twisted Sutcliffe has been in Broadmoor since 1981 but has now been deemed "sane enough" to return to a normal prison. He was jailed for brutally killing 13 women and attacking seven others – some of the prostitutes – across Yorkshire and Greater Manchester. Sickening Sutcliffe he claimed was at the will of God to "cleanse the streets" of prostitutes. His fixation with God inside jail has continued, as Daily Star Online recently revealed how hedepicts himself as Jesus Christ in a painting in his cell and how he has become a Jehovah's Witness. But now the disgusting killer will have to swap the luxury lag life of Broadmoor for a squalid prison cell. Sutcliffe, 70, told hospital pals he would rather take his own life than leave his Broadmoor boudoir. He said: “If they send me back to prison, I’d have no reason to live,” the Sun reports. “I feel like I’ve lost all hope. “Category A prisons are a pit of black despair and hopelessness. “I’ll spend the rest of my days there. “Why should I carry on? There is a higher risk of attack in prison but the people in charge don’t give a damn. “It’s all violence, weapons and drugs. It will be so depressing.” It is thought Sutcliffe could be jailed alongside notorious British criminals, such as Soham murderer Ian Huntley and evil Levi Bellfield. When he moves to a regular jail, Sutcliffe will have to give up his luxury taxpayer-funded lifestyle – which allows him to watch telly, send letters to his sick legion of fans and enjoy multiple weekly visits. The move still has to be rubber-stamped by the Ministry of Justice and Sutcliffe is likely to face a tough time of it – having already been blinded in one of the three attacks while on the inside. Last week Daily Star Online exclusively shed light on the relationship between the Yorkshire Ripper and Jimmy Savile, as the pair used to get cosy over a cup of tea in vile Sutcliffe's cell. He attempted in 2010 to gain release which prompted outrage from MPs and the public. A decision at the Court of Appeal determined that he would never be released.
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