Luzerne County Bribes 7 Year Old Boy for Arson “Confession”

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October 30th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Not even a 7 year old child is safe from law enforcement persecution. At least that’s the case when you have Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, involved and Judge Mark Ciavarella was on the case. You may remember him from the $2.6 million (revised estimates are now pegging it at $2.8 million!) “kids for cash” rule of cruel and illegal injustice by him and his buddy in crime Michael Conahan.

Here’s another story from about four years before the discovery of the thousands of cases of judicial corruption that justify the death penalty for Ciavarella. In this one, cops bribed a 7 year old boy with candy and pizza to get a confession for a fire he couldn’t have possibly set. Further, the victim of the fire, elderly Mr. Benjamin Morris, was known to burn yard waste and debris in his backyard and may have started the fire himself.

Luzerne County “law enforcement” didn’t bother to question anybody who was taking care of the boy that fateful day. Why bother when you are criminal thugs with badges who already have somebody you can easily blame for a crime and can be cheaply made to self-incriminate?

Can’t Punish Dead Man, So Punish Little Boy

Dead Benjamin Morris of course couldn’t be punished for the fire, so the government targeted a 7 year old boy instead. They wanted another arrest and conviction on their score cards, and since building the case for the prosecution could be paid for largely via twenty bucks of candy and pizza, it was a a cheap and easy “win-win-win” for the police, prosecutor, and corrupt judge. Ciavarella ripped him away from his family and sent him away for “treatment” for a “crime” that not only was probably not committed by him but was quite possibly an accident caused by the dead victim. That these wrongful actions by the government harmed a little boy and his family does not matter to the corrupt officials of Luzerne County.

(from FATAL SUGAR NOTCH FIRE, Relatives: Police tricked boy, 7)

October 12, 2004
Relatives: Police tricked boy, 7

[email protected]

SUGAR NOTCH, PA – The grandmother and mother of a 7-year-old boy charged with setting a fatal fire say police used candy, pizza and trickery to elicit an untrue confession from the youth.

Linda Simpson, the child’s 43-year-old grandmother from Mountain Top, said there is also evidence the fire could have been accidentally set by the victim, but police have refused to consider that information.

State police at Wyoming charged the boy on Sept. 23 with setting the June 12 fire that killed 76-year-old Benjamin Morris inside his home at 214 Freed St. A fire marshal determined the blaze was started on a back porch by an open flame.

The boy was scheduled to appear before county Judge Mark Ciavarella this morning for a hearing to determine a possible residential placement for him. Simpson said she was told the hearing has been continued, however.

She’s hopeful the extra time will allow the child’s attorney to investigate what she says are serious problems in the case.

First, Simpson questioned how her grandson could have set the fire, because the porch was 10 to 12 feet off the ground and had no steps. The boy lived in a home adjacent to Morris’ property, separated by a wire fence.

“You tell me, how is a 7-year-old going to get past a barbed-wire fence and up on that porch? He would have killed himself,” Simpson said.

Simpson said she’s also troubled that police never questioned her daughter, the boy’s mother, and a babysitter, who were watching the child the day of the fire.

In interviews Monday, the mother, who asked not to be identified to protect the child’s identity, and the babysitter, Heather Carey, each said the child alerted them that grass in Morris’ yard was on fire.

The women said they went to investigate and saw a man they thought was Morris burning something in a barrel in his back yard. They said they thought nothing of it because Morris frequently burned, despite a burning ban in the borough.

The women said they and the boy then went to a local Burger King. When they returned, firefighters were fighting the blaze, which had engulfed the home.

Trooper Thomas Kelly, spokesman for state police at Wyoming, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Simpson said the charges were based solely on a confession the boy allegedly made to a Sugar Notch police officer and to two Luzerne County detectives. She believes the statements, if he made them, were coerced.

In the first instance, Simpson said, a Sugar Notch officer confronted her grandson as he watched crews clear away debris from the home about two weeks after the fire. The officer told the boy they had him on video setting the fire.

“He said ‘You see that old school building up there? There is a video camera up in the window. I know you lit the fire. If you try to lie to me, I’ll put you in juvy lock,’ ” Simpson said.

Simpson said the officer alleged the boy told him he started the fire with an orange lighter. Based on that, the boy was taken into custody by Luzerne County Children and Youth and placed in Kidspeace, a residential facility in Allentown.

Simpson said two detectives visited the boy at Kidspeace on Sept. 21. She was with the child at the time, but was not allowed to be present at the interview. She said she saw detectives bring him a candy bar and ordered him pizza.

“They ordered him pizza. He did not have pizza in four months. They get him behind closed doors, and guess what?” Simpson said.

Simpson said the boy suffers from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder but takes medication to control it. She described him as a “sweet,
lovable boy” and said he got along well with Morris.

The case has created a legal quagmire for officials. The boy cannot be found delinquent – juvenile court’s equivalent to guilty – because the state juvenile act does not apply to children under age 10.

The case instead is being handled as a dependency action, the same kind of action that occurs when a parent cannot adequately care for a child. That gives Ciavarella the authority to send the child to a treatment facility.

Simpson said she wants to take custody of the boy, but juvenile officials want to send him to a treatment facility in Pittsburgh. She said she’s prepared to fight as long as she has to do prevent that from happening.

“If I thought he was guilty I’d want him punished to know right from wrong. I know in my heart he didn’t do it,” she said. “They’re not taking my grandson away from me no matter what it takes.”

(Note: I would have liked to have quoted more selectively and linked directly to the article on the newspaper’s web site, but couldn’t find it there and so am preserving the article here, too. Elsewhere in this article, I’ve linked to other work by author Terrie Morgan-Besecker and the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader in respect for their contributions.)

How much in bribes and kickbacks did Ciavarella earn for that case?

You’ve got to wonder from this story if the only government employees deserving prison time and/or death penalty in Luzerne County are the corrupt judges. It seems the police and prosecutor have a very questionable relationship with the truth, too, and are willing to ruin people’s lives to “improve” their arrest and conviction records.

The federal government should be expanding its investigation of Luzerne County beyond the corrupt courts and into the local law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, and the child protection system. If this story represents common practice for these agencies, there should be a purge of police, prosecutor, and CPS agencies for their misconduct against children.

Even Luzerne County Schools Are Dangerous!

Amazingly, even the area schools are not safe for children. My previous article Crimes Against Children: “Zero Tolerance” and “Kids for Cash” mentioned one of many examples of how the schools there conspired with the courts and district attorney to sentence children who had done nothing criminal to time in prison camps.

School Arranges Prison Time for Teenage Web Poster

If you dare to write disrespectful opinions on a personal web site about a school administrator in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, you could be sent hundreds of miles away to prison camp for your thought and speech crime.

(from Pa. judges accused of jailing kids for cash)

Hillary Transue did not have an attorney, nor was she told of her right to one, when she appeared in Ciavarella’s courtroom in 2007 for building a MySpace page that lampooned her assistant principal.

Her mother, Laurene Transue, worked for 16 years in the child services department of another county and said she was certain Hillary would get a slap on the wrist. Instead, Ciavarella sentenced her to three months; she got out after a month, with help from a lawyer.

“I felt so disgraced for a while, like, what do people think of me now?” said Hillary, now 17 and a high school senior who plans to become an English teacher.

Laurene Transue said Ciavarella “was playing God. And not only was he doing that, he was getting money for it. He was betraying the trust put in him to do what is best for children.”

Children In Luzerne County In Danger from Government

It’s no wonder parents and children in Luzerne County don’t feel safe in their own homes and schools. The schools, law enforcement, courts, and seemingly every aspect of the government of the county is so thoroughly corrupted and criminally natured that it is a danger to the children and families who live there. Very literally many heads should roll, but let’s be pragmatic — things are so bad, it would probably take genocide of the government of the region to wipe out the corruption there. Perhaps a safer bet would be for families to move out of the county to protect their children from harm.

More Coverage of Luzerne County Corruption

You can read more Wilkes-Barre Times Leader coverage of the Luzerne County judicial corruption by Terrie Morgan-Besecker in her latest article All Ciavarella juvie convictions vacated. She’s been covering not only the judicial corruption story, but other Luzerne County corruption cases including that of School Director Brian Dunn who has agreed to plea guilty for accepting a $5000 bribe to influence him to hire a teacher in the local schools.

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Further Reading

Crimes Against Children: “Zero Tolerance” and “Kids for Cash”

Corrupt Pennsylvania Courts Jail Kids for Cash

All Ciavarella juvie convictions vacated

W-B Area’s Dunn agrees to plead guilty,
Board member’s plea deal comes after 6 months

Editorial: The next steps in addressing the Luzerne County ‘cash for kids’ scandal

Confessions: Did Minneapolis Frame Two Boys for Office Building Arson?

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