Medical developments from around the world
Breast-feeding Prevents Diseases
A recent study from Harvard Medical School, published in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology journal, shows that women would have prevented many breast cancers, high blood pressure and heart attacks, if they had breast-fed their babies adequately. Dr Melissa Bartick, the lead author of the study, estimates that America would have saved $17.4 billion a year, if all women had breast-fed their babies!
FDA Backs Easing Diabetes Treatment Restrictions
Rosiglitazone was declared dangerous in the treatment of diabetes even by the US FDA some time ago, though reluctantly. Several countries have banned the drug and some have put a warning on the packet that the drug could cause heart attacks in a significant number of patients. However, recently, manufacturers have been able to ‘convince the FDA’ to have a review of that decision, after a thorough review by an ‘expert’ panel handpicked by the drug manufacturer. As expected, the committee faithfully found the drug to be ‘safe’ and felt that the ban was not needed! FDA is now toying with the idea of doing away with the partial ban. God save the patients!
Mindful Meditation for Depression Treatment
Depression is not uncommon and anti-depressant prescriptions have gone up exponentially. Every anti-depressant is bad for the human system. There is good news for those poor depressives. Archives of General Psychiatry has recently published a study which showed that “mindful meditation—concentrating on the present and enjoying that” is as effective as anti-depressants for treating depression. Mindful meditation definitely does not have any side-effect. If one does not do it properly, in the beginning, the effect might be less but one learns the tricks soon. Those in remission would do well to continue to meditate. If practised daily, it gives better results compared to drugs for depression. Half an hour a day will do.
Cholesterol Is in the News for the Wrong Reasons
According to evidence in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who take statins are more likely to develop musculoskeletal problems. The study found “Musculoskeletal conditions, arthropathies, injuries, and pain are more common among statin users than among similar nonusers.” Another research, which appeared in Journal of the American College of Cardiology, received considerable attention after it was covered in the New York Times. The conclusion was: “Simvastatin attenuates increases in cardiorespiratory fitness and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content when combined with exercise training in overweight or obese patients at risk of the metabolic syndrome.” From cancer to muscle pain, statins are capable of doing everything. Yet, there are people pushing this drug in the market and doctors are bending over backwards to please the manufacturers!
Lowering Blood Pressure Too Much Is Bad?
Many of us believe in drug companies’ studies that tell us to lower blood pressure (BP) to ridiculously low levels which is more dangerous than not lowering at all. I have written about it extensively even in my textbook on hypertension as far back as in 1997. A new prospective cohort study titled “J-Shaped Relation Between Blood Pressure and Stroke in Treated Hypertensives” confirms my bedside observational research! This study showed that when the BP is too low in diabetics, the possibility of coronary artery death increases. There is truly a U-shaped curve in BP control. Both extremes, too high and too low levels, are bad. If one were to use common sense, one would never lower BP to as low as 110/70. Those above the age of 40, might have compromised coronary circulations which do not bother them. Unlike other vessels in the systemic circulation, coronary arteries feed only in diastole. When the patient is fast asleep and the diastolic pressure falls significantly, coronary filling becomes critical and might send the patient to meet his maker in heaven in sleep!
Global investors, herd-like, had invested in gold, equities and other assets. They want to...
A review of 50 Brooklyn murder prosecutions could free men from prison and ruin the reputation of the former detective who helped make the cases. Some insist the prosecutors who worked alongside the accused detective should not be spared scrutiny
Two are now New York State judges. Several others are accomplished lawyers at some of the city’s more respected firms. Four have risen to be senior officials in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in the country.
These people – and likely dozens of others – are linked in at least one, suddenly noteworthy way: they prosecuted cases over the last two decades with Louis Scarcella, a former Brooklyn homicide detective whose work, and possible misconduct, has become the focus of intense public scrutiny. Charles J. Hynes, the current top prosecutor in Brooklyn, has ordered a formal review of 50 cases that Scarcella investigated, an enormous undertaking that was prompted by Scarcella’s alleged role in wrongly convicting a Brooklyn man of murder more than 20 years ago.
The stakes for Scarcella are obvious and serious: a possibly ruined reputation; exposure to possible litigation; concerns about his personal safety (he and his house have already received some formal protection from the New York City Police Department.)
To date, Hynes has refused to say explicitly whether his inquiry will examine the work done by the prosecutors who worked alongside Scarcella, accepting his evidence, making use of the confessions he obtained, vouching for the witnesses he helped locate and interview.
In emailed responses to questions from ProPublica, Hynes’s spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, said that the investigation is “confidential.” “We’ll go wherever the investigation leads us,” Schmetterer said.
One person familiar with the inquiry said Hynes's had enlisted a panel of former judges and lawyers to assist in the review, but it is unclear what precise role they will play.
But legal experts, defense lawyers for the men Scarcella helped incarcerate, and Hynes’s political rivals have all said that any investigation of Scarcella’s cases that does not extend to the prosecutors who worked with him would be fundamentally suspect.
Certainly, should additional people be freed as a result of Hynes’s probe, lawsuits would follow, efforts that doubtless would seek to explore the role of prosecutors in any tainted Scarcella case. Already, the one man freed because of concerns about Scarcella’s work – David Ranta, who served 23 years in state prison for the murder of a rabbi in Brooklyn – has filed a notice that he intends to pursue a malicious prosecution lawsuit.
Laurie Levenson, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who now teaches criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that if Hynes truly intends to conduct a thorough investigation, his current and former prosecutors should be scrutinized just as much as Scarcella.
“Frankly, there could be plenty of blame to go around,” Levenson said.
The number of current and former prosecutors whose handling of cases could be put under the microscope is formidable. Scarcella was a very active and aggressive detective working Brooklyn at a time when there were hundreds of murders a year in the borough.
And the length of his career – 26 years – means that he worked with succeeding generations of prosecutors.
The two prosecutors who tried the case against Ranta have gone on to prominent jobs. Suzanne Mondo is now a Brooklyn judge; Barry Schreiber is a respected defense lawyer. Neither returned calls for comment on the Ranta case.
Scarcella, in recent interviews with New York reporters, has cited the credentials of those prosecutors and others he worked with as evidence that he could not have done what he has been accused of – framing defendants, concocting confessions, coercing witnesses. He said in one interview that Schreiber was thrilled with his work in the Ranta case.
Scarcella’s partner for 12 years, Stephen Chmil, said that prosecutors were aware of their every move. Chmil said he and Scarcella regularly apprised prosecutors of their routine police work, notifying them of arrests, identification procedures, suspect line-ups, and sharing with them their notes of interviews.
“They knew what we were doing with the witnesses,” Chmil said. “There was no secret stuff that wasn’t turned over. Whatever we did, they knew what we were doing.”
The role and responsibility of prosecutors in their work with detectives has been the subject of considerable debate as, with each succeeding year, the examples of wrongful convictions has grown. A prosecutor’s mandate -- to win convictions or to determine the truth – too often gets confused or clouded, experts say.
Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York police officer and prosecutor in Queens and Brooklyn who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told ProPublica that prosecutors often avoid asking too many questions because they don’t want to risk weakening their case.
“Only on TV do these cases stand up on their own; the reality is they are usually held together with a string,” O’Donnell said. “If you’re trying to make a case against a guilty person you don’t want to pull too hard on that string and have the whole thing collapse. The more you know, the less sanguine you can be. It’s a dirty system, it’s an unsavory system: built from the bottom-up with troubling tactics and techniques, born in coercion and deception.”
Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace University Law School and an expert in prosecutorial misconduct, summarized his view of a prosecutor’s top priority – the truth -- in an article in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics.
“The prosecutor's duty to the truth arises from several sources,” Gershman wrote. “The most important source is the prosecutor's role as a minister of justice. In this role, the prosecutor has the overriding responsibility not simply to convict the guilty but to protect the innocent. The duty to truth also derives from the prosecutor's constitutional obligation not to use false evidence or to suppress material evidence favorable to the defendant. The duty to truth also arises from various ethical strictures that require prosecutors to have confidence in the truth of the evidence before bringing or maintaining criminal charges. The duty is found as well in the prosecutor's domination of the criminal justice system and his virtual monopoly of the fact-finding process.”
The Legal Aid Society has been given a list of 20 of Scarcella's cases that involved their clients, and it has begun to pull together the documentary record.
“In our experience with cases of wrongful convictions, over many years and in all five boroughs, there are elements of misconduct by the police and elements of misconduct by prosecutors,” said Steven Banks, the Legal Aid Society’s chief attorney. “That’s why we for years have been calling for independent oversight of all prosecutors.”
Many of the prosecutors who worked with Scarcella attended suspect line-ups along with him; they accepted the confessions he obtained, and they ultimately decided to take people Scarcella arrested to trial. In the courtroom, they vouched for the integrity of Scarcella’s evidence and won convictions. Then, when defendants in some of the cases fought their convictions on appeal, prosecutors denied wrongdoing and enjoyed the professional benefits of victory.
Some observers – both critics of Hynes and defense lawyers eager for his review to be aggressive and efficient – have been frustrated at the lack of details Hynes has provided about how the inquiry is being conducted, and they have questioned if he has the will and the resources to do such an epic and potentially troubling review.
The group of prosecutors who either worked directly with Scarcella or who oversaw the work of the office’s homicide bureau includes Lance Ogiste, who currently serves as counsel to Hynes, and Anne Gutmann, who has the title of executive district attorney.
Ogiste worked with Scarcella on a 1997 case that involved the tragic murder of a 4-year-old girl. According to the defendant, Sundhe Moses, Scarcella rousted him from bed, dragged him to a precinct, slapped him, yelled at him, and choked him until he signed a bogus confession. He’s now serving a 15-year-to-life sentence.
Gutmann prosecuted a 1991 murder case against Derrick Hamilton based primarily on the testimony of one eyewitness who has since recanted and alleged that Scarcella coached her on what to say at trial.
In another case -- a high-profile 1996 murder and arson prosecution -- one of three defendants said Scarcella elicited a false confession from him by banging his head against a locker, giving him a cut above the eye. At trial, the defendant’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, said “after that kind of treatment, I think he was ready to confess to any crime in the city.”
That case was tried by Joseph Alexis, a 22-year veteran of the office who now heads the Rackets Division, and Jonathan Frank, who finished his career as an executive assistant Brooklyn D.A. in 1999 and now works as a defense lawyer.
In each of these cases it’s not clear what the prosecutors knew about Scarcella’s efforts to persuade witnesses to cooperate and defendants to testify. Requests to speak with the current or former prosecutors were declined.
For his part, Scarcella denies the allegations against him in full.
“I have never, never, never fabricated one letter of a confession in my life,” Scarcella said. “It never happened in my presence and I would’ve never allowed that to happen. I never physically manhandled or abused any defendant in any shape or form. I always treated my defendants well.”
Those who, day in and day out, handled murder cases when Scarcella was at his busiest also includes John O’Mara. O’Mara was Deputy Chief of the homicide unit when Scarcella worked the Ranta case. And he later served as the top prosecutor in the unit. Hynes’s spokesman would not say what O’Mara’s responsibility would have been for decisions made in individual murder cases.
As it happens, O’Mara is today the head of Hynes’s Conviction Integrity Unit, and the man who, at least initially, directed the Scarcella investigation.