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Why is Bob McDonnell Taking the Marion Barry Approach?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

The trial of former VA Governor Robert  McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on 14 counts of conspiracy and corruption related to over $150,000 of gifts and loans, received from business man Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., took an absurd turn during the defense opening statements on Tuesday.  The defense of Bob McDonnell contends that Maureen McDonnell was the reason for the many gifts received as she had a crush of some sort on Jonnie Williams.  His defense asserts that his wife caused the problem. Former DC Mayor Marion Barry made similar comments as a result of his cocaine arrest with former  girlfriend, Hazel Diane “Rasheeda” Moore,  saying the “b— set me up.”  That sentiment did not work well for Barry and is not likely to work for McDonnell.  Throwing his wife under the bus to save himself may backfire.


While the case still rests on the testimony of Jonnie Williams, Sr., who has his own issues with telling the truth, the prosecution will corroborate William’s testimony with the actions of the McDonnells and documents.   And on the first day of trial, the McDonnell’s daughter, Cailin McDonnell Young was first called to the witness stand. It was her wedding reception that Williams paid $15,000. According to accounts in the Washington Post, she testified that she met Williams after he and his wife were having dinner at the governor’s mansion.  Following their initial brief 10 minute conversation, Williams offered to pay for her reception.  It will be interesting to see what Williams will testify as to why he  offered to  pay for the McDonnell’s daughter wedding reception, immediately following his dinner meeting with Bob McDonnell.  Williams started testifying late on Wednesday afternoon.


The defense wants to portray Mrs. McDonnell as having a crush on Williams and seeking attention from him through gifts.  But the problem lies with some of the gifts.  For starters, there will be documentary evidence of Bob McDonnell requesting “another $20K loan” from Williams.  At least two loans were received.  And of course, Williams’ reply is “done.”  Neither loan was subsequently reported on a later bank loan application. And there will be the photograph of Bob McDonnell driving Williams’ convertible Ferrari on a family vacation at a million dollar lake property paid for by Jonnie Williams.  If Mrs. Donnell was so infatuated with Williams, she didn’t stop lavishing her husband with family vacations and gifts, like the Rolex watch she requested that Williams buy and engrave for her husband.


The defense wants to rely on the fact that there could be no conspiracy because the two were not talking and Mrs. McDonnell was spending text and phone time with Williams.  In some ways, this defense presents a very slippery slope for the defendants.   The prosecution evidence will show that former VA Governor Bob McDonnell had direct contact with Williams and arranged meetings and his launch at the Governor’s mansion.  By attempting to place the blame on a failed marriage and portraying Mrs. McDonnell as an infatuated woman scorned by her husband may likely offend the women jurors.   Throwing women under the bus as McDonnell is doing and Marion Barry did,  rarely works.


A better defense would be for Bob McDonnell to portray himself as a rising political star with an impeccable background, likeable VA Governor, a former Attorney General who knew the boundaries of the law and would never cross them with anyone, let alone the likes of Jonnie R. Williams.   And the defense could bring in a who’s who of prominent Republican leaders to testify as to how squeaky clean that McDonnell is/was. This appears to now be their fall back defense.  But by mudding the waters with the new bomb shell defense and revelation that Mrs. McDonnell is to blame may push women jurors more towards the prosecution’s case.  Throwing women under the bus and in essence saying the “b—set you up” rarely works.



Debbie Hines is a practicing trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has tried hundreds of cases.  She founded LegalsSpeaks in 2009 covering race and gender in the law.  She also contributes to the Women’s Media Center

Renisha McBride was Black, a Woman and a Human

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

renishamcbrideWhile Trayvon Martin’s murder was viewed through the lens of race, the murder of McBride is seen more through the eyes of gender—the killing of a black woman. And in our patriarchal and sexist society where women still rank lower than men in most instances, black women rank at the very bottom.


The undisputed facts of her case are even more disturbing that those involving the murder of Trayvon Martin. She was shot to death while seeking help from Theodore Wafer, her accused murderer, who was locked inside his house. Yet the media and public appear indifferent to her case. Some argue on social media that we are becoming numb due to the number of murder cases of young black life from Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell, Hadiya Pendleton, Jordan Davis and now Renisha McBride. There is another reason and that one is rooted in gender and how black women are treated in the media. Black women are mostly marginalized in the media and seen in limited roles.


In the media, black women are not seen like Renisha McBride as helpless seeking help in the middle of the night from strangers. Black women are not helpless in the media. They are “the help”. Black women are perceived in the media as strong, both mentally and physically. They are often viewed as angry as “the angry black woman” syndrome. There is no place in the media for a black woman to be vulnerable, scared, crying and appearing in desperate need of help.


Historically from past portrayals of the strong black woman from Mammy played by Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind, Sofia in the Color Purple played by Oprah Winfrey to Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as the maid in The Help, black women are seen as strong and not in need of help. In her book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America, Melissa Harris-Perry describes the other stereotype of the angry black woman characteristics as “shrill, loud, argumentative, irrationally angry, and verbally abusive.” And unconsciously these are the images rooted in a white juror’s minds.


And the defense is now feeding into the stereotypes of black women when it asserts that Wafer thought there were multiple people knocking at his door because the pounding was so loud. And a black woman who is strong can pound loud enough to sound like several people, if you buy the media’s perception of black women.



The defense has also said it intends to prove that McBride was no angel—as she was 3 times over the legal level for alcohol. This again raises another stereotype of black women. Renisha McBride was nineteen years old. And the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) said in January, 2014 that underage drinking is a major public health issue in the U. S. Unfortunately, in this regard, McBride was typical for her age group.


Prior to the start of the trial,  Wafer’s defense attorney said she wanted to show that McBride could have been “up to no good.” It’s hard to see how someone who was intoxicated, injured and scared was probably up to no good.   Nonetheless, the defense’s strategy is to dehumanize Renisha McBride. So far, the judge has denied their requests to submit her Facebook page with her title of “young and thugging” and other social media photos.


To overcome the double bias of race and gender in the case, the prosecution must show the human side of Renisha McBride. Failing to show the human side of Trayvon Martin was fatal to the prosecution in the Zimmerman trial. The defense intends to portray Wafer as a scared, middle age white man, alone and afraid of his home being burglarized on November 2. The Wafer defense should not define the defendant without the prosecution also portraying the victim, Renisha McBride. She was a scared, injured, disoriented teenager. She was neither black or white that night. She was typical for her age. She was a woman and she was human.   McBride is not sitting in the court room able to testify like Wafer. And so the prosecution must bring her to life. They must show she was human. And she deserved to be treated like a human the night she was killed and in the court room now.


Debbie Hines is a practicing trial attorney and former prosecutor who has tried homicides, burglaries, narcotics and sex offense crimes. She founded LegalSpeaks blog in 2009 which focuses on gender and race issues in the law. She also contributes to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.

Former VA Governor McDonnell Faces Corruption Trial

Monday, July 28th, 2014
Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore


Instead of preparing to run a Presidential campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, former Republican Governor and rising star Bob McDonnell will be preparing for his corruption trial for the next 5 weeks, along with his wife. A jury was selected on Monday, July 28 to hear the trial of former VA Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. Both are charged in a conspiracy with 14 counts of receiving gifts and loans in exchange for official government assistance to Star Scientific, the dietary supplement company, of businessman Jonnie Williams, Sr. While Virginia has a history stemming back to Thomas Jefferson, former Governor McDonnell is the first VA governor to face a corruption trial.


The trial, due to the personal gifts given to the couple, will be an embarrassing one for the McDonnells and a salacious one for those following it. With allegations that Maureen McDonnell told people that they were broke, the defense intends to introduce the testimony of an accountant to show that the former governor was not in dire financial straits.


The gifts range from golf outings, catering for their daughter’s wedding, 2 loans, expensive shopping sprees to New York for Mrs. McDonnell, a Rolex watch and an assortment of other gifts, including as specifically outlined in the indictment, as follow:


  1. $50,000 loan, without loan papers, used to pay of the McDonnell’s’ credit card debt
  2. $20,000 additional loan
  3. $15,000 payment to a caterer for the McDonell’s       daughter’s wedding
  4. Round trip tickets for the McDonnell’s daughters to attend an out of town bachelorette party
  5. A lavish shopping spree in New York for Mrs. McDonnell to buy couture designer clothing and accessories for the Governor’s inauguration
  6. A Rolex watch, specifically requested by Mrs. McDonnell to be engraved for her husband, after seeing one on Williams’ arm
  7. Golf outings costing thousands of dollars
  8. Use of private jets
  9. Shares of stock


The prosecution contends that in exchange for the above gifts, the former Governor allowed Star Scientific to produce the launch of its business and product at the VA governor’s mansion and potentially use Virginia employees in clinical trials of the dietary supplement, thereby defrauding Virginia taxpayers.   From looking at the gifts, it looks as if the defense has some explaining to do. But the government bears the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and will need to prove that the gifts were in exchange for official government assistance to Williams’ business.

And the defense intends to portray Maureen McDonnell as an overzealous wife and as the “fall girl”. McDonnell contends that he did not do anything official in exchange for the gifts given to him. One has to wonder if that is true why the Governor failed to disclose the 2 loans form Jonnie Williams on a bank application. While there is no smoking gun in the case, much of the case will rest on the testimony of Jonnie Williams who has been given immunity.   He will serve no jail time or charges.  And that’s the biggest issue with the government’s case. There are no taped conversations, no confessions, no direct statements of promises by Bob McDonnell. Until the trial starts, it will not be known who exactly will testify—only the names as potential witnesses which includes the Governor’s immediate family and past employees. It is not known if Bob McDonnell will testify.   And Maureen McDonnell’s defense team has indicated that she will not testify since the trials were not tried separately.


Virginia juries are known to be unforgiving when it comes to crime. Yet, a trial of this type is a first for Virginia, as it potentially puts a black eye on Virginia and the Governor’s office. Stay tuned for further updates as the trial progresses.



Protecting Our Girls from Human Sex Trafficking

Friday, July 25th, 2014

2171_48010694635_9179_n[1]There is a growing trend of human sex trafficking of children in the U.S. with the highest percentages among African American girls as young as 12 and in foster care. In a highly unusual legislative moment, the House of Representatives on July 25, 2014 unanimously passed legislation, spearheaded for years by Rep. Karen Bass (D. CA) to tighten ways to protect the most vulnerable girls from sex trafficking in the U.S.


Too often, sex trafficking or the selling of children for sex is viewed as something that does not occur in the U.S. But according to those working on the bill, the “more than 293,000 American youth who are at risk of sexual commercial exploitation and trafficking per year amounts to a national crisis,” said Rep. McDermott (D.WA.) And these numbers are probably underestimated and do not include those who have already been placed into sex trafficking rings. And the issue is one that unfortunately affects African American girls in a disproportionate manner. 35% of confirmed sex trafficking victims are African Americans although the total African American population in the U.S. is only 12%. Often times the girls are arrested as prostitutes when in fact they are victims.


While on a telephone conference call with Rep. Bass prior to the passing of the “Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2014,”  she said that in Los Angeles, many gangs are diversifying with drug trafficking and moving on to child sex trafficking with many victims as young as 12 years old. And one disturbing fact is that in Los Angeles, statistics show that over 60% of the girls who are trafficked are in foster care and 92% are African American. And Ohio, while the 7th largest state is the 5th leading state for human child sex trafficking.   Most are coming from foster care as if foster care children are being used as the supply chain for trafficking.


The purpose of the legislation will be to strengthen the child welfare agencies to address and recognize the issues and provide them with procedures and training. It is just the first step to provide education to the child welfare agencies across the country.


The bill will assist local communities to identify the red flags of run aways or potential runaways and to find ways to cooperatively work with schools, churches and community leaders   to respond.   The sex traffickers should not be the first ones to identify these girls and use them for their own purpose.


What the bill will do is provide several tools to strengthen the child welfare system’s response to child sex trafficking by ensuring each state develops a child protection plan with:

Provisions and procedures to identify and assess all reports involving children known or suspected to be victims of trafficking; Training plans for child protective service workers to appropriately respond to reports of child trafficking;

  • Policies and procedures to connect child victims to public or private specialized services.
  • Further, this bill would ensure that states submit an annual report on the number of children identified as victims of trafficking within the already existing National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems.
  • Finally, the Department of Human Services will be required to submit a report to Congress outlining the prevalence and type of child trafficking nationwide as well as the current barriers to serving child victims comprehensively.



There is now a hotline for sex trafficking tips at 1-800-843-5678. The legislation now moves on the Senate where there is a similar bill pending sponsored by Senators Portman and Schuman. It is expected to pass.


Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who regularly speaks on gender and race. She is a Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center contributor.



Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin and Justice in America

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

renishamcbrideAs a former prosecutor, I’d like to think that justice will be done in the killing of Renisha McBride who was only asking for help at the time of her untimely death. But as a woman of color, I have my lingering doubts. The trial for the man accused of murdering Renisha McBride, who knocked on his door in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013 seeking help, started on Monday, July 21st .

Last year, 19 year old Renisha McBride knocked on the door of Theodore Wafer at 4:30AM in a Detroit suburb seeking help after a car accident. Instead of helping her, Wafer came to his door and shot her in the face. Wafer is charged with second degree murder, manslaughter and firearms violations.   He is relying on the Castle doctrine defense which states he has no duty to retreat if he is inside his house. The real question remains for the jury is why he didn’t first call the police. According to the Medical Examiner’s office report, there was no evidence of her being shot at close range.

The case, although not as highly publicized as the Trayvon Martin killing, is setting up to be defended much like the George Zimmerman defense. The defense has requested to show the jury photos of Renisha McBride from social media with her posing with a gun and marijuana. The same tactic was requested and also denied in the Zimmerman trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin to inflame the emotions of the jury.

And the defense has used verbatim the same words that Zimmerman used in describing Trayvon Martin, in describing that McBride was “up to no good”.   Defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter said that “our defense is blown to pieces if you don’t allow me to argue to the jury that she could have been up to no good.” Apparently, when it comes to African Americans, the defense of “up to no good” is a well-used one to appeal to white jurors. I would like to think that Wafer’s defense is a weak one but one never knows. The strategy of injecting subtle racial overtones that have nothing to do with the case have often worked in the past in cases involving a white defendant and a black victim.

The case of Renisha McBride is troubling on so many levels.   Her car was broke down. It was in the early morning hours and she was injured. She had no way to call for help. And she was nowhere near home. The defense has said that Wafer was afraid of what he heard early that morning. She was probably the one who was afraid and not Wafer. Stereotypically, women are thought to be more vulnerable except when it comes to African American women in need of help. Then they are perceived as “up to no good.” Wafer admitted on the 911 call that McBride was asking for help. As a woman, a former prosecutor and particularly a women of color, I would like to think that someone who shot and killed a victim under these alleged circumstances would be found guilty of second degree murder. Before  McBride’s case, I would have never thought that one of my white neighbors might shoot and kill me, if I knocked on their door late at night requesting help.

The defense will attempt to portray McBride as intoxicated and under the influence of alcohol. Her blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. But Mr. Wafer did not know that at the time of his shooting her. And her intoxication has little to do with why he should shoot and kill her all the while inside his house behind a locked door. The same goes for whether she used marijuana in the past.

The case still begs the question of why Wafer chose to shoot someone when he was inside a locked house and was able to call 911 for help. Just like George Zimmerman being told by the police that he didn’t have to follow Trayvon Martin, Wafer didn’t have to shoot. If anything, his case is even more egregious than that of Zimmerman. Zimmerman at least called the police but failed to heed their instructions . If Wafer had first called the police and followed presumably police instructions to wait until they arrived, Renisha McBride would be alive today and Wafer would not be facing the rest of his life in jail. But it all begs the question of whether justice will be done in this case or will justice be denied once again for African American youth.

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who addresses issues on gender and race.  She will be closely following the Theodore Wafer trial for the next several weeks.



Former VA Gov. Bob McDonnell Trial Will Test his Likeability

Sunday, July 20th, 2014


Former Virginia Governor Robert (“Bob”) McDonnell and his wife Maureen’s criminal trial on federal corruption charges are expected to start on Monday, July 28 with the former governor likely learning from a defense used successfully by Maryland Senator Ulysses Currie, also accused but acquitted of federal corruption charges. McDonnell and his wife are accused of a conspiracy of taking gifts consisting of loans, Rolex watches, expensive shopping trips to New York, payment for their daughter’s wedding catering, golf outings and others from business man Jonnie Williams, Sr. and CEO of Star Scientific in exchange for the former governor providing official acts to promote the business man’s dietary supplement company.

Former Governor McDonnell was well liked by Virginia voters before the time of the investigation and his indictment, was expected to be a rising star in the Republican party. McDonnell’s defense team of lawyers is likely to make the point of the former governor’s likeability a key factor in the trial by calling at least 10 key character witnesses on his behalf.

A few years ago, in 2011, Maryland State Senator Ulysses Currie, who had served since 1986 as a Maryland law maker, was charged with conspiracy along with two business men for receiving over a quarter of a million dollars in 5 years from grocery store, Shoppers Food Warehouse, without disclosing it on his ethics form and then acting on Shopper’s legislative requests in his official capacity. Like Currie, McDonnell also failed to disclose that he received bank loans from Jonnie Williams. Like the expected defense of McDonnell, Currie’s defense elicited the testimony of many prominent Maryland legislators to describe his character to the jury. Some who testified were now Democratic nominee for MD Governor Anthony Brown who described Currie as “a man of strong character”, Maryland Congressman and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer who described Currie as a “decent, honest, person of integrity”, attorney and former Maryland politician Timothy Maloney, clergy and others.   The defense worked as Currie was acquitted of all charges and is still serving in the Maryland legislature. The defense used his likeability as one major factor to procure his acquittal. McDonnell’s defense team has the same opportunity.


By all accounts, it seems as if Senator Currie’s charges made for a stronger case than former Governor McDonnell’s case. Currie was intricately linked to the food chain company for which he obtained money and then made legislative appeals on their behalf, all without disclosing the fact. McDonnell’s case rests entirely on the testimony and believability of businessman Jonnie Williams, Sr. who received full immunity for his testimony. And while there will be many documents and other witnesses, the McDonnell prosecution rests almost entirely on the shoulders of Williams who will receive no jail time or conviction for his part. Currie did not testify in his case and it may be doubtful if Bob McDonnell will testify.

Bob McDonnell is betting on his character and good will to Virginians as a factor to enhance a non-guilty verdict.   On the other hand, Virginia jurors are not known for being favorable to the defense.   But the prosecution’s star witness, Williams, has a complicated past that will also be a factor. The defense will challenge the jury on whether to believe a business man with perhaps a jaded past to that of Bob McDonnell.

The defense will also be using another tactic used in the Currie trial. The defense team will likely try to explain that there were no “official” acts performed in exchange for the receipt of the gifts. McDonnell’s defense team in the past has said it was political business as usual and nothing illegal about his acts. And the Maryland jury in Currie’s trial said at the conclusion that while it wasn’t ethical, it didn’t rise to the level of a federal crime,


At the end of the McDonnells’ trial, the prosecution must convince the jury beyond a reasonable ground that former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife committed acts with a criminal intent. A Maryland jury failed to convict in the case of Maryland state law maker Senator Ulysses Currie. Currie served   over 25 years in the Maryland legislature at the time of his trial. McDonnell served 37 years in politics. Whether a jury will believe the prosecution’s case and its key witness over McDonnell’s character is the question. And McDonnell’s legal team is trying to take a page out of Currie’s trial strategy and win the same results for their clients.