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May Day turns to mayhem on the streets of Seattle
Listen: Brandi Kruse reports from violent May Day march.
(Photos By JOSHUA TRUJILLO/SEATTLEPI.COM, view entire gallery here)
Seventeen protesters were arrested and eight police officers injured when a May Day demonstration turned violent on the streets of Seattle for the second time in as many years.
By late Wednesday, #Seattle and #chaos were trending on Twitter.
“We’re a bigger and better city than this. I look at this and I am disappointed that this is the picture the world sees of us,” said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.
Earlier in the day, thousands of peaceful protesters marched to the federal building downtown in support of labor and immigration reform.
Head of Seattle police mocks homeless in 1986 video
Listen: Brandi Kruse reports.
Interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel apologized Thursday for his role in a video produced by the department in 1986 that mocked the city’s homeless population.
The video is a parody of The Drifters’ 1964 hit “Under the Boardwalk” and features Seattle police officers in the role of homeless inebriates. It was included in a training video that was briefly released, then retracted by the department in 1989.
At Clallam Bay, prisoners seek an escape from solitude
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Listen: Brandi Kruse brings us inside solitary at Clallam Bay.
“My hands have done a lot of hurt,” Jeremiah Gilbert thought to himself as he held his niece for the first time. Scared, the convicted murderer quickly tried to hand the child back to his sister.
It was the first time in a long time that Gilbert was allowed a contact visit while behind bars. In and out of solitary confinement, his visits typically took place through a pane of glass.
“Absolutely not. You hold that baby!” his sister demanded. “She’s going to want to know you. I will not bring her to you if you’re behind glass. Just because you’re doing life, doesn’t mean you can’t have one. Act like it.”
It was more than a wake-up call. It was a gut punch, Gilbert said. He could not go back to the hole.
Jeremiah James Gilbert, 35, was convicted on two counts of first degree murder in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. When he was 15, he said, he ran away from home and went on a “dope and drinking run.” He ended up taking the lives of two men in Klickitat County: Robert David Gresham, 35, and Loren Evans, 26, of Vancouver, Wash.
With no hope of release, Gilbert decided early on to do prison “his own way.” As one official put it, Gilbert would “raise hell” on the yard.
“I couldn’t walk to the chow hall and back without getting an infraction,” Gilbert said.
He estimates he has spent seven to eight years of his time behind bars in and out of solitary confinement, or “the hole,” as prisoners call it.
He served an 18-month stretch for being deemed, “a threat to the orderly operation of the institution.” He was suspected of assault, arranging assaults and being a ringleader in what is called a “security threat group.” His latest stretch in isolation was served in the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, where he was transferred after assaulting an officer while at the correctional complex in Monroe.
On lockdown for 23 hours each day, Gilbert got to thinking.
“As a lifer, you get to that point where you wake up, look around like, “O.K., this can be the best it ever is. Am I OK with that? No way,’” he said. “There’s a better way to do my time. A better way to exist; to live.”
It was at Clallam Bay that Gilbert was introduced to the Intensive Transition Program; a unique opportunity to escape his life of solitude. The program attempts to ease inmates out of solitary confinement and into the general population, or prepare them for release into society.
“At some point their sentence is done and we’re going to drop them off at a bus station and they’re going to be standing in the grocery store line behind your daughter,” said Steve Blakeman, the IMU supervisor at Clallam Bay. “So we have to do something with them. We have to consciously, intentionally strive to help them be better at each phase of the incarceration than when we received them.”
Inmates who volunteer for the program will go through the process with up to five other prisoners. Through four, color-coded phases, inmates earn increased freedom as they complete classes and other requirements.
“It introduces them to no more shackles, no more chains,” said Jeri Newman, correctional unit supervisor. “They’re getting to day room three times a day and go to classes regularly.”
“They’re slowly introduced to being around more people,” said Matt Roman, a correctional specialist with the program. Being around more people can be a difficult concept for those who have spent a long period of time in isolation, he said.
Since it began in 2006, 115 inmates have successfully made it through the Intensive Transition Program. Eighty-percent of those who graduate will remain out of the IMU, according to the Department of Corrections. Fifty-percent of those who do not go through the program will return to the hole.
Compared to other states, Washington has a relatively small number of prisoners in solitary confinement to begin with: 2.7 percent of the population. Dan Pacholke, director of prisons, said the state has taken a “reasoned approach” to putting inmates in isolation, and the goal is to reduce that number even further.
“We try to apply effort to get them down to lower security levels because they are cheaper to operate and they foster pro-social behavior. People tend to behave better in those environments,” he said.
Through the ITP program, inmates like Jeremiah Gilbert have been able to escape isolation for good. He was the second person to graduate without getting an infraction, and has not returned to solitary since.
Along with other ITP graduates, he now teaches classes to other inmates trying to stay out of the hole. He also participates in the dog program, and helps to train a husky-lab mix named Lilly for adoption.
“I look at 20 years of waste,” Gilbert said of his previous time in prison, spent in and out of solitary. “I chose to exist rather than live because it was easier. I didn’t have to feel.”
Due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Jeremiah Gilbert could eventually be eligible for parole despite his sentence. Read more about his case here.
A final glimpse into bunker, suspected killer’s ‘obsession’
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Listen: Brandi Kruse takes us inside suspected killer’s ‘doomsday’ bunker
The Department of Natural Resources will begin the process of destroying the “doomsday” bunker built by suspected killer Peter Keller Tuesday, just days after he killed himself inside.
Keller, 41, retreated to the remote hideout on Rattlesnake Ridge after authorities say he murdered his wife and daughter in North Bend on April 22. He took his own life inside the bunker Saturday before a tactical team set off small explosives to gain entry.
Reporters were allowed inside the structure Monday to take a final glimpse, and KIRO FM hiked up to the location along with two King County Major Crimes detectives and a representative from the DNR.
The hike was treacherous and steep, as fallen logs and loose earth made it difficult to navigate the terrain. The three-story hideout was built into the side of a ridge and overlooked a small waterfall. It had been fortified with massive logs and parts had been carved into solid rock.
All that remained inside the bunker, after detectives removed more than 100 pieces of evidence, were bottles of soda, vodka, gas cans, tools, a stove, pots and pans, beans, and other survival items.
Blood could be seen on the second level of the bunker, leading down a ladder to where Keller’s body was found. Traces of tear gas were also evident – a tactic that had been deployed repeatedly by SWAT members to encourage Keller to surrender.
“It’s what I imagined,” said Robin Cleary, who was the lead detective on the case and got her first look at the hideout Monday. “It’s really impressive how much work he did here: stripping logs and doing all of this. It’s just amazing: somebody completely determined to escape normal life.”
It was also the first time King County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jesse Anderson saw the bunker.
“It was definitely an obsession. He was consumed with building this,” he said. “All of his energy went into building this.”
The bunker was where Peter Keller planned to live out “the end of the world,” according to detectives, who say he started building it as early as 2004. Family members say Keller had become increasingly reclusive.
Jason Puracal: The man in the Nicaraguan prison
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Listen to Brandi’s story here
Since his arrest on November 11, 2010, and subsequent conviction, a lot of words have been used to describe Jason Puracal.
Tacoma native. University of Washington graduate. Peace Corp volunteer. Husband. Father. Drug trafficker. Money launderer.
His entire life has been boiled down to the occasional headline. But now, a year into his ordeal, we get a better picture of the man who claims he has been wrongly condemned to 22 years in a Nicaraguan prison.
At her home in Ballard, Janis Puracal runs upstairs to fetch a box. “Daddy’s Memory Box,” it’s labeled. The 32-year-old Seattle attorney sets it on an ottoman in the living room, sits down next to her younger sister Jaime, and opens it up. The box is filled with photos, report cards, and the occasional newspaper clipping. The mementos belonged to their late father, John Puracal, who passed away in 2008 from congestive heart failure. It seems he had cherished every scrap of paper his children had ever given him.
Janis pulls out a birthday card their brother Jason had sent to their father years earlier. The golden-colored envelope reads “To My Younger Brother.” The girls chuckle at Jason’s humor before reading the card aloud.
“Dad, thanks for everything. I don’t ever tell you how much I appreciate everything you do for me but you know I do,” he wrote. “Thanks for being such a great father. Your favorite son, Jason.”
The girls read another.
“To the greatest father in the world,” Jason wrote on the envelope of another birthday card. “Although he may not be the best husband.”
“This was obviously after the divorce,” Janis said with a laugh.
Jason Puracal was born in 1977 in Evanston, Ill. Janis would come along two years later, and in 1980 the family would move to Tacoma where younger sister Jaime was born. The three are East Indian. Their father was from Malaysia and their mother, Daisy, from Singapore.
The girls were extremely close to their brother, who is the oldest of the three. They describe him as funny, caring and incredibly smart.
“Out of the three of us I think he’s always been the one who had the most vision and the most creativity,” Janis said. She pulls out one of Jason’s report cards: “Straight A’s.”
But when Jason was 15 and a student at Tacoma’s Foss High School, their parents divorced and their father moved back to Malaysia. The event had a particularly potent impact on Jason.
“After the divorce, he struggled so much,” Janis said. “He was just dealing with so much stuff on his own. That was his buddy and it was very hard for him to be without his dad during those teenage years.”
Jason began to struggle in school, and the once dedicated and caring brother had trouble taking responsibility for his sisters in his father’s absence. “I was in high school with him at the time, so I saw him every day,” Janis said. “He would check up on me, but I think it was hard for him to deal with his own emotions and still be responsible for me.”
By 17, Jason moved out of the house to live with a friend. He would call to check in on the girls periodically, but had “disappeared to find his own way,” Jaime said.
But, unlike some teenage boys who try to “find their own way,” Jason emerged from the period after his parent’s divorce as a more dedicated brother and student. He took up a dual major at the University of Washington, studying Zoology and Economics. At one point, the three siblings lived together in a small apartment in Seattle’s University District. The girls describe those times as some of the best of their lives.
“I think because of the divorce, the three of us bonded together. He was so devoted to us and making sure that we were OK,” Janis said. “Jason had grown up quite a bit and he was sure at that point of what he wanted to do and of his responsibilities.”
Jason had decided that he wanted to be a veterinarian. During college, he worked at two to three vet clinics at a time and was particularly interested in exotic animals. One photo shows Jason at a clinic standing next to massive tiger that is being tended to on an operating table.
“I really like this picture,” said Jason’s college friend, Mark Ottele. It was one of only eight he pulled out to reflect on his memories of their friendship. Mark particularly liked the fact that Jason was dressed in leopard-print scrubs. “You can tell he loves big cats, it was one of his passions.”
Mark and Jason had met while living in the dorms freshman year. “I just enjoyed being around him,” Mark said. “He was one of those genuine people, very authentic and unique. One thing I always really appreciated about Jason was his laugh. He’s one of those guys who can [...] start laughing and get the whole room to laugh along.”
Every time the two would go out together, without fail, Jason had to make a stop first. He would run into a convenience store and buy a bag of sour apple suckers, the ones with the sticky caramel coating.
“We’d go to someone’s apartment or dorm room where there is a bunch of people that we may or may not know, and he’d go around and start handing them out,” Mark said. “That’s how he introduced himself. I always thought that was cool.”
Mark has a lot of fond memories of his friend Jason.
“I remember how much fun we had going on these trips, how much we looked forward to it,” Mark said as he studied a photo of a 1999 ski trip to Stevens Pass. “I look forward to the day I can do this again with Jason and I’m sure he would say the same thing. I miss those times.”
Long before Mark lost his friend to a Nicaraguan prison, he lost him to the Peace Corps and an exciting new opportunity. When Jason joined the volunteer organization after graduation in 2002, Mark “thought he was crazy,” but was in no way surprised. “He wanted to help the world and do things bigger and better; beyond him. He’s one of those guys that actually would do it, too. He’s not the guy that just talked about it.”
Jason was sent to Nicaragua. He would send emails home to friends and family every month or so. He wrote about how much he loved the “tropical paradise” and “sense of family” in the Central American country. It was no surprise that Jason decided to stay.
He started to build a new life in the seaside village of San Juan del Sur. One day, he walked into a RE/MAX real estate franchise and told the owner he wanted to buy and sell properties. The man agreed to bring Jason aboard, but started him off without pay.
“He wasn’t making any money at all,” his sister Janis said. “He was learning how to sell properties, learning about the country and learning about the real estate business in San Juan del Sur.”
Jason was broke. His sisters sent him whatever money they could “so he could afford ketchup and crackers for dinner.”
But Jason was a quick learner. Before long he was making sales and, according to his sisters, “was doing very, very well.”
“He was sending money home to us,” Janis said. “He would come back up and give us like $500 each and say, ‘Go shopping.’” Jason moved into a beautiful home with a 360-degree view of the bay. He drove a “decent-looking car” and worked in one of town’s nicest office buildings.
He had met a beautiful Nicaraguan woman named Scarleth at an auto-parts store in the capital city of Managua. Almost immediately, the two fell in love, had a child and got married. For Jason, it was the family life he had always wanted.
“He’s always told me that all he’s ever wanted to be was a husband and a father,” Janis said. “We had the most amazing father in the world and Jason wanted to have the same relationship with his kids.”
But his parents’ divorce still had a clear effect on him. Janis said Jason was determined to do whatever it took to provide for his family and keep them together. Which is why, when his son Jabu was born with Down syndrome, Jason came back to his sisters for money. The real estate market had slowed to a crawl and his son’s behavioral therapy was too expensive. His wife had become accustomed to nice things, said a family friend, and his life in paradise was threatened.
But would Jason ever turn to illicit activities to keep his family from falling apart?
The Nicaraguan National Police believe he started laundering drug money through his real estate office. They launched an investigation and arrested Puracal, along with 10 others who they say took part in an operation to bring cocaine up from Costa Rica.
As for evidence, there is very little that implicates him.
There were no drugs seized, with the exception of cocaine residue the prosecution said was found on the steering wheel of his car. There is no proof that Jason had any contact with the other 10 defendants in the case. His bank records indicate nothing but a “legitimate real estate business,” according to former FBI agent Steve Moore, who said he went through every paragraph of the prosecution’s case, “waiting for them to tell me why money in his account was evidence of a crime.”
U.S. Congressman Adam Smith called his trial “anything but fair” and his conviction in August an “injustice.” A document from the Nicaraguan Supreme Court indicates that the trial judge “is not a registered attorney” and therefore was not qualified to be a judge.
For his friends and family, it is almost unfathomable that the Jason they know has sat in a Nicaraguan prison for the past year. His sisters have exhausted their savings accounts, sold off property and borrowed money from friends to keep his defense going.
“You spend five minutes with him and you get to see the real Jason and his personality and his charisma,” said his sister Jaime. “That’s what draws people in and that’s why he has so many loyal friends that are with us fighting right now.”
They’re fighting because they believe Jason is innocent. To them, he is much more than a Tacoma man in a Nicaraguan prison.
To learn more about Jason’s case, visit freejasonp.com.
Exclusive: Burger King has ‘disturbing trend’ of serving undercooked meat
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Listen to Brandi’s story here
Improper cooking techniques have resulted in “dangerously undercooked” hamburger patties being served at Burger King restaurants across Washington state, and health officials are concerned the problem could be happening in franchises nationwide.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department first reported the problem on July 29 after a routine health inspection resulted in a “potentially hazardous” violation at a Burger King in Puyallup. The inspector expressed concern to her supervisors that the undercooked meat was due to a glitch with equipment, and the incident might not be isolated.
“So we went ahead and proactively inspected all 13 of their outlets in Pierce County,” said Dr. Anthony Chen, Director of Health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. The inspector was right; roughly half of Pierce County locations were serving undercooked meat.
“We spoke to the Department of Health and turned it over to them,” Chen said.
After discovering similar violations across at least 10 counties statewide, the State Health Department sent Burger King a letter on September 1, with their findings.
“We are deeply concerned about reports relating to undercooking hamburgers at many Burger Kings in our state,” read the letter, obtained by KIRO Radio. “Inspection reports from several of our local health jurisdictions show a disturbing trend.”
Among the potential dangers detailed in the letter was a concern with the “Duke Flamebroiler,” the piece of equipment that is meant to give Burger King hamburgers their signature flame broil. Products coming off the broiler were sometimes undercooked as “broken ceramic tiles” inside the units reduced the cook temperatures and allowed insulation to fall onto the food.
There were also several concerns with employee error. For instance, employees “did not know how to take final cook temperatures of burgers.” Some workers “did not know that undercooked patties should be discarded,” and believed a brief microwave step would “remedy” any issues with undercooking.
State health officials say they are not aware of similar systemic problems with undercooked meat at other chain restaurants and are concerned the problem presents a serious safety concern to consumers if not addressed.
“We wanted to make sure we took care of business immediately,” said Dave Gifford, Food Safety Program Coordinator for the Washington State Department of Health. “Obviously we’re sensitive to these issues because of the Jack in the Box outbreak from about 20 years ago. We know about the concerns with undercooked hamburgers here in Washington state and we want to avoid that.”
Just hearing the phrase “Jack in the Box outbreak” is enough to make some people in the Northwest cringe. The 1993 E. Coli outbreak sickened more than 700 people, most of those in Washington state. Four people were killed in the ordeal, which was the direct result of undercooked hamburgers.
“What Burger King doesn’t want to see happen is another Jack in the Box case and that certainly could happen,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety attorney who handled some of the high-profile cases related to the Jack in the Box outbreak. “It’s likely that if there is an ongoing problem with these grills, it’s not just in one restaurant or in a handful of restaurants. It may be in literally dozens or hundreds of these restaurants. If they’re not doing something about it and you’ve got an outbreak that occurs, I wouldn’t want to be Burger King.”
While there have been no reports of people sickened by undercooked patties, the company has said it is taking proactive steps to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“Burger King Corp. has recently been made aware of the findings from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and is investigating the matter to determine if all proper cooking protocols were followed,” Denise Wilson, Global Communications Manager for Burger King, wrote in an email to KIRO Radio. “Additionally, BKC has been in contact with the local franchisees and they are taking immediate corrective measures to ensure that their restaurants are meeting the company’s stringent food safety standards.”
After KIRO Radio initially aired this story, Burger King Corp. sent a revised statement saying they would conduct retraining sessions today with franchise owners in Washington state, calling it an “abundance of caution.”
“These franchise operators are now taking immediate action to ensure that their restaurants are meeting the company’s stringent food preparation procedures, which include cooking hamburger patties to a target temperature of 165 degrees, as well as, verifying cooking temperatures at least four times a day.”
The State Department of Health has said local officials will conduct follow-up inspections to ensure the Burger King restaurants have made necessary changes to cooking time and temperatures. The Tacoma-Pierce County health Department said they did not believe the initial violations were enough to notify the public about a potential health hazard.
“As far as we know, they are taking care of it and addressing it,” Dr. Chen said. “We should feel confident that the food in these restaurants is safe to eat.”
But Marler believes the danger to the public is imminent if the problem is not addressed immediately at locations across the country.
“Just undercooking things by 10 degrees can cause a significant public health concern. It could allow E. coli or salmonella to remain in the hamburger,” he said. “A child might be ingesting literally hundreds of these bacteria. It’s the reason why cook temps are 160 degrees for hamburgers; slight variations in temperature can mean the difference between life and death.”
Locked up in Nicaragua: UW grad Jason Puracal claims abuse, fear, and his innocence
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Watch interview, view photos here.
Beyond the white gates of the courthouse in Rivas, Nicaragua the accused await trial inside the same van that brought them from La Modelo prison on the outskirts of the capitol city Managua the night before. Family members grasp at the fence to get a glimpse of their loved ones. An elderly man outside the gate makes eye contact with a prisoner, and then holds his hand up in a fist as if to say, “be strong.”
There are 11 defendants in total. As I approach the gate, I spot the one I’m looking for. He notices me immediately and flashes a quick smile. I start to film but a narcotics officer waves his hand in front of my camera.
“No photos,” he yells, and orders the men to put their heads between their knees. When the officer turns away, the prisoner glances up occasionally to scan the crowd, looking for any sign of a familiar face.
He is thousands of miles from home and about to stand trial for a crime he swears he didn’t commit. He is Jason Puracal; an American citizen imprisoned in Nicaragua.
“It’s like something out of a movie,” he would tell us hours later, in the first interview since his arrest.
The road to La Modelo
In 2002, Puracal had just graduated from the University of Washington with a dual-degree in zoology and economics. Although he had planned to attend veterinary school, the Tacoma-native instead decided to join the Peace Corps. He was immediately sent to the small Central American country of Nicaragua.
While there, a chance-encounter with a beautiful student in Managua would change the course of Jason’s life. For better or worse, it was a course that sent him on a road to La Modelo prison.
Scarleth Flores was an industrial engineering student working at an auto parts store in Managua when she first met Jason Puracal. He had come in to get parts for his truck and left with her business card.
“I remember the first day that I see him, and I liked him,” Flores said, giggling as if she had a schoolgirl crush. “I want that he call me.”
Jason called her the very next day, and nearly every day after that. The two fell in love immediately, she said, and began a “simple” life together in the seaside village of San Juan del Sur.
Jason started work as a real estate agent out of a ReMax International franchise just five minutes from their home. Scarleth worked at the local prosecutor’s office while attending school.
Not everything about their life together was “simple,” however. The two had a son together, Jabu, who was born with Down syndrome. He required their constant attention. But, the two had built a life together and Flores said they were happier than ever.
“That day so, so happy,” she says, glancing at a photo of the couple together on Jabu’s first birthday. “In that day, everything was perfect.”
But a lot has changed since that picture was taken, and she weeps as she holds it in her hands.
The Jason Puracal in that photograph is hardly the same one I would meet two days later in Rivas, where he stands trial on charges of international drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime.
In his own words
We had been waiting for six hours outside the courthouse in Rivas when local reporters decided to leave. Officials refused to let the media inside, or to let them film outside.
“Because of the nature of the case,” said a young officer, who was fielding complaints and was clearly annoyed.
A court official had taken my credentials, driver’s license and passport hours ago. My translator – a reliable and spunky man named Walter – marches up to the gate to speak with him. To our utter surprise, the man takes us inside.
He leads us into a small office where a young man wearing a white dress shirt sits at a computer. His age suggests he is a clerk of some kind – perhaps an attorney. He is handsome. His dark hair is offset by his pale skin and thin, pink lips. His eyes are dark and his gaze is empty.
“This is the judge,” said the man who had brought us in.
The young man is Kreeger Narvaez, who is presiding over the trial of Jason Puracal and the 10 other defendants despite local reports that he is not qualified to be a judge under Nicaraguan law.
“Who are you with?” he asks quietly through my translator. “Why do you want to interview Puracal? What questions do you plan to ask?”
“Diez minutos,” he said, pointing to a nearby room. We have been given ten minutes to interview Jason Puracal.
The man directs us to the room and points to a spot on the floor. He wants us to set up there. The red paint in the room is peeling from the walls. It is small, damp and dreary, but there is hardly time to complain.
Several armed guards enter the room. Moments later, Puracal is led down a steep, green staircase at the back of the room; he is handcuffed, but greets me with a smile and a handshake.
We begin immediately as a nearby guard looks as if he’ll end the interview at any moment. Jason is surprisingly calm as he begins to talk about the day he was arrested.
“There was a lot of physical and verbal abuse,” he recalled. “They didn’t let me call my family. They didn’t let me call my attorney. They wouldn’t tell me why they were there, what they were looking for, wouldn’t show me any warrants. I really didn’t have any clue as to what was going on.”
It was November 11, 2010. Puracal’s mother, Daisy Zachariah, was visiting him from Tacoma.
“I had settled down for a nap and the babysitter came running and I sit up in bed and I see through the door the masked person with a rifle in his hand,” she told me in May. “And I see him and a couple of others – I finally found out that they were police – and we had no explanation about what’s going on, what they’re looking for.”
The Nicaraguan National Police seized computers, phones and files from Puracal’s home and office. He had been implicated in a drug trafficking ring, accused of using his real estate office to launder drug money.
“Anybody who’s ever met me will tell you what kind of person I am and will tell you that it’s not in my nature, I wouldn’t be involved with any of the things that I’m accused of,” Puracal said.
His case was taken by a young Nicaraguan attorney named Fabbrith Gomez. The pleasant, sharply-dressed 34-year-old called the case a “challenge,” but said his belief in Puracal’s innocence is the real reason he has come to his defense.
“The same evidence that they introduced to implicate him, to find him guilty, is what absolves him,” he said through a translator. “This is a case of drugs without drugs, money laundering without money, and organized crime without any organization.”
But Gomez said Judge Kreeger Narvaez doesn’t need evidence to convict.
“All it takes is for the police to accuse you, for the stigma of the accusation to take over and the judge to find you guilty,” he said. “It saddens me to no end that the universal principle of innocent until proven guilty is not being applied in this case.”
Puracal has trouble putting into words why he believes he has been arrested, imprisoned and put on trial.
“I really couldn’t tell you why I’m here. I’m still wondering why I’m here,” he said. “It’s not reality based, it’s like something out of a movie. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that I’d be arrested for something I didn’t do.”
Puracal said he spends his time in prison thinking about his son Jabu. His calm exterior broke as he apologized for “holding him back in life,” saying his absence has delayed his development.
With that the 34-year-old was escorted back up the green staircase on which he came. Back to a trial that Washington Congressman Adam Smith has said will be “anything but fair.” And if found guilty, back to the prison he could call home for the next 30 years.
To learn more about Jason’s case, visit freejasonp.com.
Dozens dead, Norway has lost its ‘innocence’
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
As Norway mourns for its dead after Friday’s attacks, the country must also come to terms with another loss.
“This is a new era for the Norwegians,” said Christine Ingebritsen, a professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Washington. “Most of Norwegians are grieving right now because they see that they’ve lost their innocence.”
The country suffered its worst peacetime attack in history Friday, after a bombing and shooting rampage left 76 dead, although the death toll was thought to be as high as 98 at one point.
It is believed that the lone anti-Muslim extremist who claimed responsibility for the massacre, Anders Behring Breivik, 32, will plead insanity as a defense when he goes to trial. Breivik admitted to detonating a bomb in Oslo and then gunning down 68, mainly young, people on the nearby island of Utoya at a summer camp run by the ruling Labor Party.
“I knew it was a tragedy,” said Kim Nesselquist, honorary consul at the Royal Norwegian Consulate in Seattle. Flowers and sympathy cards sat outside the building as, thousands of miles from his homeland, Nesselquist struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.”Nothing has been even close to this since World War II,” he said. “I think people will, because of this, look at Norway differently.”
For so long, Norway has been seen as a facilitator of peace. It is the country that each year awards the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The attack makes Norway more like the rest of us, which is sad for those of us who knew Norway well,” said Ingebritsen, personifying the country as if it itself has died. “They were very much untouched by the kind of violence we see in our society.”
In Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, an old schoolhouse is filled with pieces of Norway’s past. As Eric Nelson, executive director of the Nordic Heritage Museum, walks through the halls of the building, he struggles to see such a peaceful place in turmoil.
“I think everybody that is familiar with Norway and what a wonderful, peaceful place it is, just it’s hard to imagine something like that could happen,” he said, hopeful that in time the country can make it out unscathed. “In my heart I like to think yes, it will be the same.”
But, it’s hard to imagine that a country once so open and trusting can ever truly be the same.
“We have a police force that does not carry weapons. Politicians walk on the street. That will change,” Nesselquist said. “I think the goal right now, after we have taken the time to mourn and to celebrate the lives of those that lost their lives, is to try to make a Norway as close to the Norway we know as possible when this is said and done. But, it will change.”
Norway’s Prime Minister echoed those sentiments at a Cathedral in Oslo, where mourners gathered to grieve for the dead.
“Our answer is more democracy, more openness, more humanity, but never naiveté.”
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Does the State Department care about Jason Puracal?
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Late one night in early May, I follow Janis Puracal up a winding road to a home in Tacoma. Her mother, Daisy, is waiting for us inside. She offers me something to drink before the three of us sit down in the living room.
I turn on my microphone and start asking questions.
“How long has it been?”
“We’re up to 172 days he’s been held in prison now without a single piece of evidence,” says the young Seattle lawyer.
“How can – what is the State Department doing, do you know?”
Her mother starts to answer, but Janis asks me to stop recording.
She doesn’t want to talk badly about the U.S. State Department. Her brother is in trouble, and they could be his best hope.
That was then.
“The State Department has never contacted us,” Janis said Wednesday, more than two months after that first interview. “I’ve left messages and I send them emails all the time and they have never once responded to my emails.”
Meanwhile, her brother Jason Puracal sits in a maximum security prison in Managua, the capitol city of Nicaragua. He’s 40 pounds lighter and a year older than when he came in. He spent his 34th birthday in the Central American prison.
“He continues to be held in prison without trial and without evidence for that matter than he committed a crime,” said U.S. Congressman Adam Smith, who has been vocal in his demands that the Nicaraguan government provide evidence of Puracal’s guilt. “In our legal system, he clearly would not be in prison based on what they’ve presented to this point.”
Jason Puracal is an American citizen from Tacoma, Wash. A University of Washington graduate, he moved to Nicaragua after joining the Peace Corp in 2002.
“He loved Nicaragua so much and then he met his wife Scarleth and they had a son together and so he wanted to raise his son in that environment,” said Janis.
Puracal had found a new life in the small beachside village of San Juan del Sur, where he worked as a successful real estate agent. But, it may have been that success that landed him in prison on charges of international drug trafficking, organized crime and money laundering.
“They essentially said this: People who launder money have money. Jason Puracal had money. Therefore, he must be a money launderer,” said retired FBI agent Steve Moore, who has reviewed Puracal’s case. “I went through every paragraph waiting for them to tell me why money in his account was evidence of a crime.”
Moore is not only convinced that there is no evidence, but that the charges against Puracal have been entirely manufactured by the Nicaraguan police. He’s also convinced that the U.S. State Department has done absolutely nothing to help.
“What they could do is start living up to their responsibilities to American citizens overseas,” he said. “I have been just astounded in the last couple of years at what the State Department is not doing for Americans who are in trouble overseas.”
One of those Americans, he said, is Amanda Knox. He spoke out on behalf of the Washington state student, who was convicted in 2009 of killing her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Italy.
“With the Amanda Knox case they hung her out to dry. They did absolutely zero to help an American who was being railroaded,” Moore said of the State Department. “In this case, I can’t find a single thing that they’re doing. I would be surprised if Hillary Clinton even knew the name Jason Puracal.”
Congressman Smith sent a letter to the State Department, urging Secretary of State Clinton to get involved in Puracal’s case.
“Dear Madam Secretary,” he wrote. “I am very concerned about Jason Puracal, the son of one of my constituents and an American citizen, who is awaiting trial in a Nicaraguan prison.”
“I would like to thank you for the Consulate’s attention to Mr. Puracal’s difficulties both in court and in prison; however, we are at a crucial juncture in the case and more needs to be done to make certain he receives a fair trial and his safety is assured,” he said in the May 13, 2011 letter. “Although he has been visited in prison on several occasions since he was incarcerated, I understand more than three months elapsed between visits from the Consulate staff.”
He told KIRO-FM that he has asked the department to put more pressure on the Nicaraguan government.
“We would like more frequent contact between our State Department and the Nicaraguan justice department and the Nicaraguan government to let them know that we’re watching, we don’t approve and we expect a just result.”
But, more than eight months into Puracal’s imprisonment, neither the State Department nor the mainstream media have brought attention to his case.
“I think the fact that he is not an attractive white female does play into the media’s involvement,” Moore said.
Puracal’s sister Janis was disturbed by the suggestion that his race could play into both the media’s treatment of the case and the State Department’s involvement.
“God I hope not,” she said of the thought. “I really, really, hope not. It had never occurred to me before. I’m kind of speechless, just because that would hurt a lot.”
But, as her brother sits in a prison more than 3,000 miles from home, she has started to come to the realization that there must be something different about his case. Does the State Department care about Jason Puracal?
“Jason Puracal’s fate has nothing to do with evidence,” Moore said. “Jason Puracal’s fate has everything to do with the Nicaraguans being pressured to treat him fairly. If the United States does nothing, Jason Puracal will be in a Nicaraguan prison for years if not decades.”
That’s something his sister can hardly stand to hear.
“It’s heartbreaking. I can’t imagine my brother being in prison any longer,” she said. “We can’t wait any longer. We have to demand his release now.”
And that’s something only the U.S. State Department may be able to do.
UPDATE: A U.S. State Department spokesperson with the Bureau of Consular Affairs issued KIRO Radio the following statement in response to this story:
“Consular officials at the U.S. Embassy in Managua continue to provide consular assistance to Mr. Puracal and his family, including monitoring his welfare and developments in the judicial process.”
“Consular officials have been provided consular access to Mr. Puracal on seven occasions and attended two preliminary court hearings, and a scheduled trial date on June 15th, which was postponed. Consular officials will be present at the rescheduled trial when it begins on August 9.”
“We remain concerned about his welfare. Consular officers ensure that incarcerated U.S. citizens are treated fairly and equitably within the foreign prison system and convey their requests to prison personnel and government officials.”
“We stand ready to assist incarcerated citizens and their families within the limits of our authority.”
To learn more about Jason’s case, visit freejasonp.com.
Casey Anthony the new OJ? Not so fast, say legal analysts
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Those who watched the Casey Anthony trial play out in the media may be left asking how a jury could have gotten it so wrong.
“There was an audible outcry outside the courthouse when those verdicts were read,” said CBS News Correspondent Karen Brown, who was at the Orlando courthouse when Anthony was found not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravate manslaughter of a child, and aggravated child abuse, in the death of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee.
“Most people believe that indeed she is guilty.”
It took the jury less than 11 hours to acquit Anthony in a case that became a national sensation on cable TV, with its CSI-style testimony about duct-tape marks on the child’s face and the smell of death inside a car trunk.
“I couldn’t’ believe they could be that wrong,” said a woman outside the courthouse.
Another shouted, “She deserved worse then she got.”
But, those who watched the trial unfold inside the courtroom may be less surprised.
“There was no confession. There were no eyewitnesses. There was no DNA link between the victim and the defendant, and there were questions about the time of death and the manner of death,” said CBS Senior Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. “When you get all those things together, you sure can have reasonable doubt.”
“There is a lot of social media and other reaction, but this is not an OJ verdict,” said Anne Bremner, a legal analyst and Seattle trial lawyer who was in Orlando for the verdict. “This was a careful jury that decided there was not concrete evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Even Florida State Attorney Lawson Lamar, whose office tried the case, acknowledged after the verdict that it is hard to get a conviction based on a theory built on circumstantial evidence.
“This was a dry-bones case,” he said. “Very, very difficult to prove.”
So why, to some, did a case with so many weaknesses appear to be so strong?
Anthony’s defense attorney, Jose Baez, blamed what he called a “media assassination” of his client’s character.
“You cannot convict someone until they’ve had their day in court,” he said after the verdict.
A second attorney for Anthony, Cheney Mason, had much stronger words for the media.
“Well, I hope that this is a lesson to those of you having indulged in media assassination for three years; bias, prejudice and incompetent talking heads saying what would be and how to be,” Mason said.
Well before the month-and-a-half long trial, Anthony’s lifestyle and personal character had become a hot talking point for major media personalities like Nancy Grace.
“This was a case that really garnered a lot of attention about what kind of person Casey Anthony was; about her lifestyle,” Bremner said.
The 25-year-old Anthony had been portrayed, both inside and outside the courtroom, as a party mom, whose life would have been a lot easier without the burden of her young daughter. Even her defense attorney acknowledged her questionable behavior in closing, calling her a “liar” and a “slut” who had made some “stupid decisions.”
“Jose Baez basically said, ‘Yes my client is a liar. My client is out partying and hanging out with her boyfriend. Convict her on that,’” said CBS’s Brown. “‘You can’t convict her of murder.’”
“I guess it comes down to this: You can’t try people in the media,” Bremner said. “Cases have to be tried in front of juries with evidence and rules – where the jurors hear from the witnesses and make up their own mind.”
NAACP wants one of King County’s ‘best’ prosecutors fired
Brandi Kruse, 97.3 KIRO FM Reporter
Closing arguments in the Isaiah Kalebu murder trial could be described as compelling; a heart-wrenching appeal delivered by a seasoned prosecutor. It was a thoughtful conclusion to trial that lasted more than three weeks; a well-crafted story of life, love, and eventual tragedy.
But, as Prosecutor James Konat put a neatly tied bow on another murder trial, the NAACP has called for his job and two old victories have come back to haunt him.
In the early morning hours of April 22, 2006, 10 shots ring out on the corner of Yesler and Occidental in Seattle. A man lay dead. Two others are wounded in the apparent gang-related shooting.
Strong video and DNA evidence, and eventually a confession, point to Kevin Monday Jr. as the shooter. Deputy King County Prosecutor James Konat gets the case, and in May 2007, Monday is found guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree assault, and sentenced to 64 years in prison.
But on June 9, 2011, just as Konat began the Kalebu trial, the State Supreme Court overturned the Monday conviction, accusing Konat of “prosecutorial misconduct.” The court ruled that he used “racist arguments” to attack the credibility of defense witnesses, many of whom were black.
During his closing argument, Konat said to the jury, “the code is black folk don’t testify against black folk. You don’t snitch to the police.” The court decision, written by Justice Tom Chambers, also referred to Konat’s use of the word “PO-leese” instead of “police.”
“They thought that the comments of the prosecutor were misconduct and that they were inappropriate and that was the basis for their reversing that decision,” said Mark Larson, King County’s Chief Criminal Deputy. He said the prosecutor’s office found Konat’s comments to be “unprofessional,” “embarrassing” and “harmful.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s has requested Prosecutor Dan Satterberg fire Konat over the comments. Konat has apologized to Satterberg, who plans to retry the case, but has not commented on the NAACP’s request.
Meanwhile, his conduct in another case has been called into question.
In May 2004, two friends, Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns, are on trial for the brutal murders of three members of the Rafay family in their Bellevue home in 1994. It was international news.
James Konat gets the case. Both Rafay and Burns are found guilty of the triple-homicide. Both are serving three consecutive life sentences.
But, comments made by Konat during the closing arguments are now the subject of an appeal filed by defense attorneys for Burns.
The appeal argues that when Konat compared the murder of the Rafay family to “the beheading of a United States citizen in Iraq” during his closing arguments, he made an “unnecessary appeal to nationalism and prejudice.”
Some might argue that the veteran prosecutor is just too good at appealing to a jury.
“Look at it this way; being in the office as long as he’s been, trying these horrible cases like the South Park murder case, Burns and Rafay, he is good at bringing home the violence and brutality of these crimes to jurors,” said Anne Bremner, a legal analyst and Seattle trial lawyer.
“Every case is different and every prosecutor is different. Konat has always been one of the best of the best,” she said.
Bremner is also a former deputy prosecutor for King County, and Konat’s good friend. She has been in his shoes. She knows it takes a powerful closing argument to get a conviction.
“You come up and you tell the jury, ‘This is what it’s all about and this is why this person should be convicted.’ You’ve gotta have that emotional charge. You’ve got to be charismatic, you’ve got to be compelling,” she said.
But you also have to be ethical.
“You can be emotional, you can argue the facts, you can argue the law, but there are certain cases where they say, ‘You know, this is too much in this particular case,’” Bremner explained.
“I think he can command a courtroom in a very, very powerful way. There’s very little doubt about that,” said Larson. “That doesn’t mean he’s not capable of making a mistake and making an error.”
It has yet to be determined if accusations against Konat in the Burns-Rafay trial were inappropriate.
Meanwhile, the veteran prosecutor will continue to argue King County’s biggest murder cases, because, simply put, James Konat is one of the best.