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June 13-19, 2007

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Carr's Choice

District Attorney Dolores Carr has faced her first high-profile challenge as the county's top prosecutor—and managed to piss a lot of people off in the process. She took fire from all quarters for her decision not to prosecute a handful of De Anza College baseball players who allegedly raped a 17-year-old girl at a raging party in March, with national women's rights activists staging protests while the Merc warns that her inaction might have a chilling effect on rape victims coming forward in the future. But there's another side of the story—Carr may have made the right choice. And ironically, the Merc should know that better than anyone. Its controversial 2006 exposé of the DA's office, "Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice," revealed the stories of wrongfully convicted criminals, and included the case of Damon Auguste, a man convicted of forcing a 15-year-old girl to have vaginal, anal and oral sex with him. Investigators found Auguste's DNA in semen taken from the victim's vagina and anus. Tears in the girl's body were also consistent with forced entry. In 1998, a Superior Court judge sentenced Auguste to 18 years in prison, and an appellate court later upheld the conviction. The man's final appeal, however, brought forth new arguments attacking the victim's social reputation and claiming that prosecutor Benjamin Field withheld lab notes from the defense during trial. The judge found the evidence compelling enough to shed doubt on the victim's testimony and overturned the case. Carr, who used to head the office's sexual assault unit, explained that she refrained from prosecuting the De Anza case because pushing a rape allegation without strong evidence won't succeed in convincing a jury beyond reasonable doubt. That outcome could be worse for a true victim, Carr pointed out, if she had to undergo the trauma of a trial only to feel as if she wasn't believed. The same can be said of the victim in the Auguste case. Sandy Davis, director of the YWCA rape crisis center in San Jose, wrote a scathing letter to the editor on behalf of the victim in that case after the newspaper failed to contact the girl or anyone representing her for the article (on the other hand, author Frederick Tulsky quoted Auguste liberally and spoke with two members of his family). "I feel we have stepped back some twenty years to a time when sexual assault victims were made to be silent by the sort of the callousness demonstrated by the Mercury News," Davis said. "And I fear that Tulsky and the Mercury News have now silenced future victims who will measure carefully if they have the strength to face not only a jury but the entire community as well." The Merc never published her letter, or any responses to the article from Field. "It's an outrage," the prosecutor told Metro. "The way the Merc handled this is just wrong." With a review by the attorney general due, the De Anza case is far from played out. But Carr's critics shouldn't forget that lack of a conviction, like a "not guilty" verdict, doesn't mean the same thing as "innocent."

Still Stunned

Last Friday evening, family and supporters held a vigil in remembrance of Steve Salinas, a father of four who was tased to death by the San Jose police at the Vagabond Inn on May 25. The vigil was held in front of the district attorney's office to send a message—"We want the district attorney to file charges against the officers, they need to be accountable for their actions," said Noreen Salinas, his daughter. A morbid kind of humor was in evidence: the group of 45 community members lined First Street and chanted, "No justice no peace, they tased him, now he's deceased." "Remember the good old days, when the cops used to just beat us up?" said David Madrid, an organizer for Silicon Valley De-Bug. "Now they are tasing our people to death."

Pierluigi to The Rescue?

Are things finally turning around for Save BAREC supporters? It's been nearly two years since Metro exposed the political shenanigans behind the plot to develop the former urban farm by Valley Fair mall. Santa Clara leaders have paved the way for Summerhill Homes to develop housing on the 17-acre property, despite unrelenting community protest in favor of preserving it as open space. But now newly elected San Jose City Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio has stepped up to bat for BAREC. This Saturday, he'll be joining representatives from Santa Clara, Santa Clara County and the state to talk about keeping urban agriculture alive on BAREC. Oliverio told Fly the meeting could be the last effort to mediate before community supporters take their cause to court. Oddly, the Santa Clara city manager's office told Fly they didn't know about the meeting, so here's a little public announcement for everyone: Valley Village Retirement Center on Winchester Boulevard at 10am on Saturday, June 16. We'll be there, and we'll keep you posted.

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