Saturday, March 5 2016

in-Justice in Michigan

Dana E. Abizaid
Published in The Argus-Press, March 5, 2016.


FIRST, the essay actually submitted to The Argus-Press for publication:

Something is rotten in Michigan. Justice is not being served and the media is complicit. This is not only a problem for Daniel Symons, a man falsely accused of kidnapping and strangling a 22-year-old woman he met via Craigslist last May, but also a threat to all Michiganders who might find themselves trapped in a legal system populated by judges and prosecutors content with sending innocent citizens to jail to save face. Combine that with a media running sensational stories based on flimsy evidence and lies and you have a grave challenge to the American ideal of justice.

It seems that Michigan State Police, Shiawasse County Prosecutor Deena Finnegan and District Court Judge Terrance Dignan have willfully ignored evidence that should exonerate Symons and end his months long ordeal with the justice system. Consequently, Symons' freedom and the integrity of the Michigan courts and press hangs in the balance.

If news reports from May 2015 were true, Symons should have been convicted long ago. However, that would assume media actually took its role as “watchdog” seriously. Court documents show Lt. David Kaiser, MSP spokesman, made slanderous, one-sided, or misleading comments regarding Symons’ arrest. But not one media outlet questioned the veracity of Kaiser’s statements and simply regurgitated the MSP version of events that landed Symons in jail.

Initial media reports claimed Symons bound and gagged an unwilling victim and threw her in the back of his car after meeting her late at night at a remote location far from her home. This was straight from the MSP and not challenged by the press. Later, however, evidence emerged that those MSP and media reports simply were not true. How MSP and media falsely reported a victim bound and gagged in the back of a car (some sources even had her in the trunk) is a question local citizens should demand an answer to. Either MSP spokespeople can’t get the facts straight or media is more interested in lowbrow headlines than the truth. If both are true – and in this case it is hard to presume otherwise – other Michigan citizens should expect to be abused by an apparent alliance of incompetence between state law enforcement and media.

Prosecutor Finnegan said of the alleged kidnapping, “It’s bad, it’s potentially traumatizing for her, but thank God it’s not worse. It could have been lethal.” If that were true, why did Finnegan subsequently offer a plea deal with charges reduced to a misdemeanor? Perhaps Finnegan's apparent failure to do her job caused her eventual change in tune. Court records show Finnegan did not investigate Symons' potential innocence until at least two weeks after his arrest, by which time the media had already all but convicted Symons.

Portrayed in the press as a man capable of killing a 22-year-old woman, Symons has endured jail time and months in legal limbo as the thorny truth rises to the surface. It need not have taken this long. At a probable cause hearing in July 2015 the woman admitted she had lied and that their meeting was consensual.

Under cross examination at the July hearing the woman answered “No” when asked, “And from that point forward you didn't tell him to take you home, did you? ” The judge immediately inquired, “Is your answer yes or no?” to which the woman again answered, “No.” The judge clarified, “I thought that you testified that you told him three or four times you wanted to go home?” and confirmed the woman's perjury. Yet, the woman still has not been charged with perjury, and media has not reported any of this.

Despite Symons' attorney providing evidence of innocence and the accuser’s confessions under oath further supporting this, Judge Dignan defied the US Constitution’s Due Process Clause that places the burden upon the government to prove guilt. As any high school Civics student knows, in America you are innocent until proven guilty. But apparently not in this case where Dignan bizarrely ruled that “if anybody's going to bear the risk of --- well, (proving consent), it's the defendant.” Thus, Dignan ruled the burden was on Symons to prove himself innocent, probable cause existed and ordered Symons to jury trial.

Just as bizarrely Judge Dignan reduced Symons' bail from $500,000 to $25,000. Symons' attorney argued that even though the judge strangely placed the burden of proof on Symons, that burden had been satisfied, and in light of the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, “it's appropriate that we set a much, much lower bond.” Dignan immediately reduced bail by 95%, allowing a man he just found dangerous enough to stand trial, back on the street for a mere $2,500 bonding fee.

Late in the fall of 2015 Prosecutor Finnegan, seemingly admitting no case against Symons, offered the aforementioned plea deal. The deal appeared to acknowledge Symons should never have been charged and offered to dismiss both felony counts in exchange for Symons agreeing to a misdemeanor. Prosecutors offer such lopsided plea deals only to keep improperly charged defendants, such as Symons, from eventually suing the prosecutor for negligently doing their job. Media reported on the deal, but did not answer why it would have reduced punishment from life and 10 years to two months, time served.

However, Judge Dignan refused the deal without Symons serving another four months in jail. Is Dignan merely being tough on an alleged criminal? If he believes Symons is a threat, why is he demanding only four months in jail, and why did he reduce bail from $500,000 to $25,000 in the first place? Don’t hold your breath waiting for journalists to pose such basic questions. It appears they are more interested in selling sensational stories than doing basic journalism.

As the trial approaches it remains to be seen if Prosecutor Finnegan will have the integrity to dismiss the felony charges outright or proceed with the unjust prosecution of Symons. Those citizens who believe justice does in fact prevail should demand an answer from Prosecutor Finnegan.




SECOND, the essay, as shortened and published by The Argus-Press:
(Note: The Argus-Press removed text pointing out both journalistic failures and the witness' admitted lies. The Argus-Press is astoundingly arrogant, considering the amount of libel they have printed in covering this case.)

The Argus-Press, March 5, 2016.
Police, Prosecutor and Judge mishandle case.

Something is rotten in Michigan. Justice is not being served and the media is complicit. This is not only a problem for Daniel Symons, a man falsely accused of kidnapping and strangling a 22-year-old woman he met via Craigslist last May, but also a threat to all Michiganders who might find themselves trapped in a legal system populated by judges and prosecutors content with sending innocent citizens to jail to save face.

It seems the Michigan State Police, Shiawassee County Prosecutor Deana Finnegan and District Court Judge Terrance Dignan have ignored evidence that should exonerate Symons and end his ordeal. Consequently, Symons’ freedom and the integrity of the courts and press hang in the balance.

If news reports from May 2015 were true, Symons should have been convicted long ago. However, that would assume media actually took its role as watchdog seriously. Court documents show Lt. David Kaiser, MSP spokesman, made one-sided or misleading comments regarding Symons’ arrest. Not one media outlet questioned the veracity of Kaiser’s statements and simply regurgitated the MSP version of events.

Media reports claimed Symons bound and gagged an unwilling victim and threw her in the back of his car after meeting her late at night at a remote location far from her home. This was not challenged by the press. Later, however, evidence emerged that those MSP and media reports were not true.

How MSP and media falsely reported a victim bound and gagged in the back of a car is a question citizens should demand an answer to.

Finnegan said of the alleged kidnapping, “It’s bad, it’s potentially traumatizing for her, but thank God it’s not worse. It could have been lethal.” If that were true, why did Finnegan subsequently offer a plea deal with charges reduced to a misdemeanor? Court records show Finnegan did not investigate Symons’ potential innocence until at least two weeks after his arrest, by which time the media had already all-but-convicted Symons.

Portrayed in the press as a man capable of killing a 22-year-old woman, Symons has endured jail and months in legal limbo.

At a probable cause hearing in July 2015 the woman admitted she had lied and that their meeting was consensual. Under cross examination at the hearing the woman answered “No” when asked, “And from that point forward you didn’t tell him to take you home, did you?” The judge immediately inquired, “Is your answer yes or no?” to which the woman again answered, “No.” The judge clarified, “I thought that you testified that you told him three or four times you wanted to go home?”

Yet, the woman still has not been charged with perjury, and media has not reported any of this.

Despite Symons’ attorney providing evidence of innocence and the accuser’s confessions under oath further supporting this, Dignan defied the Constitution’s due process clause that places the burden upon the government to prove guilt. As any high school civics student knows, in America you are innocent until proven guilty. But apparently not in this case where Dignan bizarrely ruled that “if anybody’s going to bear the risk of — well, (proving consent), it’s the defendant.” Thus, Dignan ruled the burden was on Symons to prove himself innocent, probable cause existed and ordered Symons to jury trial.

Just as bizarrely Dignan reduced Symons’ bail from $500,000 to $25,000. Symons’ attorney argued that even though the judge strangely placed the burden of proof on Symons, that burden had been satisfied, and in light of the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, “it’s appropriate that we set a much, much lower bond.”

Dignan allowed a man he just found dangerous enough to stand trial back on the street for a mere $2,500 fee.

Late in the fall of 2015, Finnegan, seemingly admitting no case against Symons, offered the plea deal. The deal appeared to acknowledge Symons should never have been charged. Prosecutors offer such deals only to keep improperly charged defendants, such as Symons, from eventually suing the prosecutor for negligently doing their job. Media reported on the deal, but did not answer why it would have reduced punishment from life and 10 years to two months, time served.

Dignan refused to accept the deal unless Symons served another four months in jail. If he believes Symons is a threat, why is he demanding only four months in jail, and why did he reduce bail from $500,000 to $25,000 in the first place? Don’t hold your breath waiting for journalists to pose such basic questions. It appears they are more interested in selling sensational stories than doing basic journalism.

As the trial approaches, it remains to be seen whether Finnegan will have the integrity to dismiss the felony charges outright or proceed with the unjust prosecution.

(The Argus-Press) Editor’s Note: During a January hearing, Symons withdrew from a plea agreement made with the prosecutor’s office in December, according to Prosecutor Deana Finnegan. The Symons case is on 35th Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart’s trial docket for April 5.