Join Club
The woman who was injured after being pushed out of an SUV near Ballston (via GoFundMe)

A Maryland man faces up to life in prison after being convicted of severely injuring a young woman who mistook him for a rideshare driver.

An Arlington jury on Thursday convicted Willie James Clements Jr. of aggravated malicious wounding and hit and run for the May 15, 2022 incident.

Clements was driving a black SUV when Maryna Kapovska, then 25, tried to get in, mistaking it for her ride home from a night out in D.C. Clements drove Kapovska around the city, then to her house in Arlington, but kept driving and shoved her out of the moving vehicle onto Wilson Blvd, prosecutors say.

Kapovska, who is originally from Ukraine, suffered “severe head trauma” and is still recovering from a traumatic brain injury. A GoFundMe campaign raised just over $50,000 for her medical care.

Clements was arrested a few months later, after a dogged police investigation. The 61-year-old could face up to life in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for May 3, according to prosecutors.

No motive for the crime was given in the press release, below, from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Today, following four days of trial, Willie James Clements Jr., was convicted by a jury of aggravated malicious wounding and hit and run for throwing Maryna Kapovska from a moving car.

On May 15, 2022, around 2:30 a.m., Mr. Clements picked up Ms. Kapovska from a night out in Washington, D.C. All she wanted was to come home to Arlington, and called a ride share to pick her up. She tried the back door of Mr. Clements’ car, thinking it was her ride share, but the door was locked. Mr. Clements unlocked the front seat and welcomed her in. Instead of telling her she had the wrong car – that he was not there to pick her up – he drove around DC, then to her house, then away from her house, and onto Wilson Blvd., where he pushed her out of his moving car. She tumbled to the ground, and sustained severe head trauma. He drove away, without slowing down.

Witnesses had seen her being pushed out of a car, came to her aid, and called the police immediately. But police had no leads. Dogged and innovative investigative work – chasing down every possible lead and using every available technology – on the part of the Arlington County Police Department solved the mystery of who had done this.

The prosecution team, Nassir Aboreden and Abhi Mehta, handled novel issues of law and brought the pieces of the investigation together to tell a story that, because of her severe injuries, Ms. Kapovska could not remember.

Our victim witness advocates, led by Lydia Hatcher, stood by her side for nearly two years, including sitting on either side of her throughout the trial.

“Ms. Kapovska’s survival was nothing short of miraculous, and she continues to recover with the support of her family – and of course, she will always have the support of our team,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. She has demonstrated strength and courage throughout her recovery and this case. We hope today’s verdict helps her on the path to healing. As always, regardless of what the verdict is, I am grateful to the jury for their service to the community.”

Sentencing is scheduled for May 3, 2024. Mr. Clements faces up to a life sentence for the aggravated malicious wounding and ten years for the hit and run.

0 Comments
Elder Julio Basurto speaks during the County Board recessed meeting in 2021 (via Arlington County)

An Arlington man accused of sexually assaulting women he lured into his car in Clarendon has been found guilty on all counts.

Julio Basurto was convicted on four criminal counts after a three-day trial, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church announced Wednesday evening.

The prosecutor’s office noted that Basurto recorded video of one of his attacks.

Police said Basurto would drive up to Clarendon’s nightlife district early in the morning and offer women a ride, then would sexually assault the victim in his car. Detectives are still seeking potential victims from multiple other possible incidents ranging from September 2021 to September 2022.

Basurto was arrested last June, after an assault that occurred on May 21, 2023.

Prior to his arrest, Basurto was frequently quoted by local news outlets as a community activist, often going by his church title, “Elder Julio Basurto.” He was outspoken on local issues from drug overdoses in schools to conditions in affordable apartment complexes.

Basurto also previously worked as an interpreter, including for Arlington Public Schools, according to his LinkedIn profile. He served on an APS advisory committee, received an award from a prominent local nonprofit for his tenant advocacy, and was highlighted by a County Board member on his website’s endorsements page.

More on the trial and conviction, below, from a press release.

Today, following three days of trial and about two hours of deliberation, a jury found Julio Basurto guilty on all charges brought by this office. Mr. Basurto was convicted of two counts of abduction with intent to defile, one count of object of sexual penetration, and one count of forcible sodomy.

These charges stemmed from two separate incidents in the Clarendon area, one on October 10, 2021, and another on May 21, 2023, in which he lured two different women into his car, and sexually assaulted each of them.

During the investigation, it came to light that Mr. Basurto recorded one of the sexual assaults and saved the video on his mobile phone in a file that was double encrypted.

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nassir Aboreden successfully tried the case and obtained the guilty verdicts from the jury. Our Victim Witness team provided essential support and helped the victims navigate the legal system. The Office is grateful to the ACPD, who doggedly investigated this case since the first reported instance, in 2021, and the Special Victims Unit detectives for their care in preparing the case and sensitivity toward the victims.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said, “I’m grateful the jury came to the right verdict here. It’s hard to say that this is justice because the victims will always have to live with the trauma they have endured in these violent sexual assaults – but this is a win for public safety, so no woman trying to enjoy a night out with her friends has to fear that Mr. Basurto will do the same to them.”

Sadly, based on information obtained during the criminal investigation, detectives believe there may be additional incidents that occurred during the early morning hours on the following dates:

  • September 20, 2021
  • October 3, 2021
  • October 14, 2021
  • September 4, 2022

We urge anyone who may have experienced a similar incident or who has had past inappropriate encounters with Mr. Basurto to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s tip line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected]. Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Jo DeVoe contributed to this report

Gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)

An Arlington doctor indicted earlier this year on charges of illicit distribution of opioid pills was found guilty by a federal jury Tuesday.

Dr. Kirsten Ball, 69, was convicted on 20 federal counts that each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Ball’s office manager and co-conspirator was sentenced to seven years in prison last year.

“For over a decade, Dr. Ball was at the epicenter of a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone via a network of individuals posing as patients who were prescribed over a million pills,” Jessica Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “She blatantly abused legitimate healthcare procedures, despite clear knowledge of the law and warnings from regulatory agencies of the danger her actions posed to patients.”

Arlington has been hard hit by the national opioid crisis. There were more than 70 fatal opioid overdoses here between 2015 and 2020, according to Arlington County Police Department statistics. The crisis has also infiltrated local schools, with the fatal in-school overdose of a Wakefield High School student this year helping to spur action by Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools.

More below, from a U.S. Dept. of Justice press release.

A federal jury today convicted an Arlington woman of illegally prescribing and distributing oxycodone pills, a controlled substance.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Kirsten Van Steenberg Ball, 69, issued prescriptions for over one million oxycodone pills. Ball was a primary care physician who operated a medical practice out of her home in Arlington. She conspired with her office manager, Candy Marie Calix, 41, of Front Royal, to shield from law enforcement and regulatory authorities the fact that she was dispensing vast quantities of oxycodone to her patients—contrary to ordinary standards of medical care.

“Dr. Kirsten Ball’s actions, as detailed by the evidence presented at trial and accepted by the jury, are a perversion of the role of medical practitioners in prescribing opioids,” said Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Medication meant to be carefully provided to people in severe pain was instead prescribed excessively – with no regard for patients’ safety or where the pills would end up. For over a decade, Dr. Ball was at the epicenter of a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone via a network of individuals posing as patients who were prescribed over a million pills. She blatantly abused legitimate healthcare procedures, despite clear knowledge of the law and warnings from regulatory agencies of the danger her actions posed to patients. I am very grateful to the EDVA trial team and the FBI for their work to hold Dr. Ball accountable.”

“Today’s verdict demonstrates the seriousness of illegal opioid distribution and the commitment of law enforcement to bring to justice those who chose to endanger the lives of others,” said David Geist, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal and Cyber Division. “Kirsten Ball knew her actions were illegal yet, for years, she abused her position of trust by providing individuals in chronic pain with excessive amounts of oxycodone. Ball’s conviction affirms that a medical professional’s disregard for their patient’s well-being and the law will not be tolerated. I’m grateful for those who worked tirelessly to hold her accountable.”

The Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP) investigated Ball in 2014 and 2015, then again in 2021 for excessive and improper prescribing of oxycodone. Evidence and testimony presented at trial showed that Ball falsified records that she submitted to DHP to cover up the fact that she was prescribing oxycodone to patients for no legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.

Read More

0 Comments
Arlington County courthouse on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023 (staff photo by James Jarvis)

An Arlington teen has been sentenced for assaulting five women in and around Courthouse last year.

One of the victims posted the conclusion to her story — a year in the making — on Reddit this week. The guilty teen is 17 years old and lives in the area between Courthouse and Rosslyn, the victim said, noting he had a stable home life.

Last year, she said, he ran up behind her, lifted up her jacket, grabbed her crotch and pulled at her pants. As the investigation progressed, she said, the assailant was discovered to have worn the same shoes in each assault and to have taken videos, which ended up matching the experiences of the five identified victims.

The teen pleaded guilty to three counts of assault and battery, according to a source familiar with the case. He is expected to spend 10 days in the Landmark juvenile detention facility in Alexandria, with 80 days of the 90 day sentence suspended.

Details about juvenile cases are typically not made public by police or prosecutors. ARLnow spoke with sources familiar with this case and with juvenile justice, in general, to fill in the cracks and provide context.

In addition to juvenile detention, the teen will have one year of probation and will undergo a psychosexual evaluation to determine if he needs therapy. He will be required to complete whatever is recommended.

If he does not complete this or has any run-ins with the law during probation, the rest of his 80-day suspended sentence could be imposed. That means he would wind up back in the juvenile detention facility or adult jail, if this happens after he turns 18.

“Since he’s a juvenile, the sentence is (in my opinion) fairly light,” the victim said.

Several Reddit users said they agreed with her, expressing their outrage, though the victim implied that the prosecution was not the reason for the light sentence.

“That said, I’m really appreciative of the Arlington PD and the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for both their doggedness and sensitivity,” she said, while adding that she never received contrition from her assailant.

“I think I’d be having an easier time with the light sentence if his apology hadn’t been so appalling — ‘I’m sorry if anyone was, like, offended or something. That wasn’t my intention. I don’t want people to think I’m like a monster or anything,'” she said, emphasizing the use of the word “offended.”

Court apologies often feel this way, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti.

“She wants to know ‘why her’ and she wants an apology for making her feel violated. Our system is not designed for this,” she said. “Our system is designed to separate the harmed party from the person who did the harm and to give ample opportunities for the person who did the harm to contest that.”

“Our system really makes people dig in their heels,” Dehghani-Tafti continued. “So that apology — and the sentencing — very frequently does not feel healing.”

Read More

0 Comments
Jail entrance at the Arlington County Detention Facility (file photo)

Prosecutors secured felony convictions earlier this month against two men in separate sexual battery cases.

In one case, a man was convicted of secually abusing “a mentally incapacitated or physically helpless individual” in a public park in Arlington in July 2020.

In the other case, a man was found guilty of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl in her Arlington home in November 2019.

More on the convictions, below, via a press release from the Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Office.

On July 13, 2023, an Arlington County jury found Matthew Coble guilty of Aggravated Sexual Battery of a mentally incapacitated or physically helpless individual. The evidence presented at trial proved that Mr. Coble sexually abused the victim at a public park in Arlington County on July 24, 2020. The jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict, and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 29, 2023. The statutory range of punishment in Virginia for Aggravated Sexual Battery is a period of incarceration between one and twenty years and a fine of up to $100,000.

On July 25, 2023, an Arlington County jury found Dylan Veitch guilty of Aggravated Sexual Battery of a minor under the age of 13 years old. The evidence presented at trial proved that Mr. Veitch sexually abused the twelve-year-old victim at her home in Arlington County in November of 2019. The jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict, and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 29, 2023. Following the guilty verdict, a motion by the Commonwealth to revoke Mr. Veitch’s bond was granted by The Honorable Daniel S. Fiore, II. The statutory range of punishment in Virginia for Aggravated Sexual Battery is a period of incarceration between one and twenty years and a fine of up to $100,000.

Both cases were prosecuted by Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nassir Aboreden. The Commonwealth’s Attorney Office would like to thank all members of the participating juries for their thoughtful consideration of the facts, evidence, and the law in each of these cases. The verdicts in each case provide the victims with a level of closure. Our thoughts are with the victims as they embark on their healing journey.

A co-owner of the former Caffe Aficionado in Rosslyn and two accomplices have been sentenced in connection with a multi-year credit card fraud scheme.

On March 15, co-owner Adiam Berhane, 50, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her role in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a press release yesterday (Wednesday). Berhane faced a minimum of two and a maximum of 196 years in prison, per federal sentencing guidelines.

Two people she recruited in the scheme, Tiffany Younger, 51, and Keith Lemons, 56, received less severe penalties. Younger, of D.C., was sentenced Wednesday to 2 years of probation while Lemons, of Clinton, Maryland, was sentenced to time served and six months of home confinement on March 15.

Berhane conspired to carry out a scheme involving stolen credit card information, federal prosecutors said. The fraud lasted until Oct. 2016, when the well-regarded cafe was shut down following a police raid.

Berhane created fraudulent credit cards using stolen identities of D.C. area residents. She recruited Younger and Lemons to purchase gift cards, expensive luxury goods, and other items from local retail stores using these fake credit cards.

“The fraud caused over hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses to area retailers and financial institutions,” according to a press release from the Dept. of Justice.

This included four banks and a handful of stores, such as REI and TJ Maxx, according to information the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney provided to ARLnow six years ago.

“As part of the scheme, items purchased with victims’ credit card information would sometimes be returned for refunds to bank accounts that Berhane controlled,” federal prosecutors said.

Berhane used the fraudulent cards to buy gift cards that she redeemed at Caffe Aficionado.

“More than a third of Caffe Aficionado’s income from June 2013 to July 2016 came from a pattern of highly unusual redemptions of American Express gift cards, with the pattern beginning several months before Caffe Aficionado opened in approximately October 2013,” per the press release.

In December, Berhane was convicted on a litany of charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, trafficking in unauthorized access devices, aggravated identity theft, unlawful possession of 15 or more access devices and possession of access device-making equipment with intent to defraud.

Berhane was initially charged in Arlington County. Her case dragged on for a few years and the charges were ultimately dropped amid accusations that defense attorneys had to process thousands of pages of documents by hand — a rule set by then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos. Federal prosecutors subsequently took up the case.

Berhane was previously convicted of a credit card fraud scheme in New York City in the early 2000s.

Her business partner, Clark Donat, was not charged in the federal case. He pleaded guilty to multiple financial crimes in 2017, including credit card fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Court records show he received a 25 year prison sentence with 11 years suspended.

Federal prosecutors, FBI officials and Arlington County Police Chief Andy Penn made yesterday’s announcement after U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga sentenced the final defendant.

The case was prosecuted with help from the Montgomery County Police Department, the FBI Cyber Task Force, the U.S. Postal Office of the Inspector General, the Secret Service and Capitol Police, per the press release.

0 Comments

The former owner of a coffee shop in Rosslyn has been convicted of an extensive credit card fraud scheme.

Adiam Berhane, 50, was the co-owner of Caffe Aficionado in Rosslyn, which was open from 2013 until 2016, when the cafe was shut down following a police raid. Federal prosecutors said Berhane used the cafe to process fraudulent payments after obtaining stolen credit card information from the internet — and last week a federal jury in Alexandria agreed.

“A federal jury convicted a Washington, D.C. woman today on multiple charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, trafficking in unauthorized access devices, aggravated identity theft, unlawful possession of 15 or more access devices, and possession of access device-making equipment with intent to defraud,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a press release Friday.

According to prosecutors, Berhane used the stolen credit card info to create fake cards, which were then used in the cafe and to purchase gift cards as well as luxury goods from several local stores. While Caffe Aficionado might have been a front for illegal activity, it was also well regarded for its coffee, garnering 4.5 stars on Yelp and some critical acclaim.

“Caffe Aficionado sits all alone, atop Rosslyn,” one local critic wrote in December 2013. “Even if this ranking is temporary, hopefully it will draw attention to what is one of the finest coffee shops in the area. I love this place, and you will, too.”

Arlington County police were initially tipped off about the crime when someone from out of town, with no connection to Arlington, reported fraudulent attempted credit card charges at the cafe. Most of the fraud involving the coffee shop, however, involved redemption of gift cards purchased with cloned credit cards, according to federal prosecutors.

“More than a third of Caffe Aficionado’s income from June 2013 to July 2016 came from a pattern of highly unusual redemptions of American Express gift cards, with the pattern beginning several months before Caffe Aficionado actually opened in approximately October 2013,” said the press release.

Berhane’s business partner, Clark Donat, pleaded guilty to multiple financial crimes in 2017, including credit card fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Court records show he received a 25 year prison sentence with 11 years suspended. He was not charged in the federal case.

Berhane was initially charged in Arlington County, but a couple of years of legal wrangling — including accusations that defense attorneys had to process thousands of pages of documents by hand under rules set by then-prosecutor Theo Stamos — ultimately resulted in the local charges being dropped in 2019. Federal prosecutors then took up the case.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Berhane will face between 2 and 196 years in prison.

Berhane was previously convicted of a credit card fraud scheme in New York City in the early 2000s. She told ARLnow in early 2014 that what set Caffe Aficionado apart was the service.

“I think it’s all about service. Follow the Golden Rule, it’s not that hard,” she said.

The press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office is below.

Read More

2 Comment
Gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)

The Alexandria man whose drugs led to a local woman’s death is expected to spend at least a decade in prison.

Prosecutors announced this morning that 29-year-old Kibruysday Degefa, accused of distributing the fentanyl-laced drugs that caused the overdose death of a 20-year-old woman in Arlington, was convicted on an array of charges by a jury in Alexandria federal court.

Arlington County Police Chief Andy Penn helped to make the announcement. Degefa is set to be sentenced in February and is facing a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence.

A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia is below.

A federal jury convicted an Alexandria man yesterday on charges of conspiracy, possession, and distribution of fentanyl and Eutylone, and being a felon in possession of a firearm during drug trafficking.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, from in or around June 2020, through at least December 2020, Kibruysday Degefa, 29, conspired with others to distribute counterfeit, pressed pills containing fentanyl, as well as Eutylone, which is a designer drug similar in character to MDMA. Pills distributed by the conspiracy twice on December 20, 2020, contributed to the mixed drug overdose death of a 20-year-old female in Arlington, whose blood was later determined to contain fentanyl. A search warrant on the hotel room where Degefa was staying at the time revealed additional narcotics for distribution, including Eutylone, along with multiple firearms concealed in the bathroom ceiling tiles. Degefa was previously convicted of robbery in Alexandria in 2015.

Degefa faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison when sentenced on February 18, 2022. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Andy Penn, Arlington County Chief of Police; Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Division; Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of Virginia State Police; and Charlie J. Patterson, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Washington Field Division, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady accepted the verdict.

0 Comments

Arlington’s top prosecutor is seeking an attorney to lead a new unit that reviews potentially wrongful convictions.

The unit — the first unit of its kind in Northern Virginia, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti — launched a little more than seven months ago.

At the time, Dehghani-Tafti said that no full-time staff would be assigned to only this unit because there wouldn’t be enough work. In her initial announcement, she said it would be led by Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Cari Steele and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Wiley.

That has changed in the last half-year, with the position evolving into a full-time job “in its own right,” she tells ARLnow.

“It’s to the County Board and County Manager’s credit that they recognize the importance of the Conviction Review Unit,” Dehghani-Tafti said, adding that “the money is coming from the County Manager’s budget.”

Dehghani-Tafti, who was elected on her pledge to reform the local criminal justice system, made setting up such a unit a campaign promise when she ran for office in 2019.

She said her office regularly receives requests to review cases from a variety of sources, including convicted individuals, their legal counsel and various advocacy organizations.

“We take time to review these requests in a thorough manner,” she said. “This involves a lot of work and requires us not only to go through our own files, but also to seek files and records from as many sources as possible, reviewing forensic testing, and sometimes seeking out additional forensic testing.”

Initially, she said she thought this could be done in house, and the approved 2021-22 budget for her department only requested four new positions, all assigned to reviewing footage from body-worn cameras. (The Arlington County Police Department began wearing cameras in December 2020.)

“I try to be conservative with the budget, so I was hesitant to ask for additional [employees] until and unless I had the workload to support it,” she said. “I’m particularly sensitive to the reality that in this era of Covid, the County is facing immense funding demands from multiple fronts, but in this case, the work of the Conviction Review Unit has truly become a full time job in its own right.”

As for the positions related to body-worn cameras, those are already filled and the attorneys strained, she said.

“We also are finding that the BWC requires more of a workload than four attorneys can handle,” she said. “As I anticipated in March, based on the hours of BWC we were seeing, we definitely need more than the four additional attorneys.”

Dehghani-Tafti initially told the County Board that prosecutors will review about 15,000 hours of body worn camera video evidence this year — roughly equivalent to all the working hours of more than seven attorneys. The Office of the Magistrate, which reviews criminal conduct complaints, said it has the resources needed to review footage, however.

The conviction review position Dehghani-Tafti is seeking to fill, officially titled Commonwealth Attorney II, would pay between $91,500 and $140,000 annually. Whoever fills the role would spend his or her time engaged in a “specialized, time-consuming legal process” involving the following responsibilities, according to the job listing:

  • Identifying and defining the involvement of the former police officers in the casework and the conviction of defendants prosecuted by the Office of the CWA;
  • Conducting a thorough review of files, records, evidence and testimony in those cases;
  • Testing the validity of evidence (e.g., analyzing chains of custody);
  • Determining acts and sources of any intentional or unintentional wrongdoing in the development and prosecution of these cases;
  • Recommending courses of action based on review of these cases (e.g., exoneration);
  • Determining if and when a victim should be contacted regarding the conviction review process; and
  • Performing other tasks that may be assigned as needed to complete the post-conviction review process.
0 Comments

Earlier this month the Arlington and Falls Church prosecutor’s office obtained convictions in two cases involving sex crimes and children.

And the county’s top prosecutor, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, took to Twitter last week to do something she said she has “never previously done: comment on the outcome of cases in our office.”

As Commonwealth’s Attorney, Dehghani-Tafti has held back her thoughts on previous plea deals reported on by ARLnow: one involving a man who threw dogs over a balcony to their death, a second regarding a man who brought a bag stuffed with marijuana and hashish oil through Reagan National Airport, and most recently, the Uber driver who struck the owner of Advanced Towing with his car.

She broke her customary silence to highlight her office’s work on the sex crimes cases, although she said she could not discuss specifics given the sensitive nature of the two cases.

“Pride in the team is the short answer,” she said. “These cases are really challenging, and the team did a fantastic job under the hardest of circumstances.”

Cases involving sex crimes and minors are difficult for a number of reasons, she said, including the victims’ age, the trauma inflicted on them and their family, family dynamics and the quality and quantity of evidence.

As for the timing, she said the office has only recently been able to have jury trials regularly since the pandemic shut down jury proceedings.

“We were only two months into the administration when COVID-19 happened, and we had no chance to have a jury trial,” she said. “We did what we could to keep the system functioning, but there were no trials for a long time. Lately, we’ve had a number of trials, and we’ve won most of them.”

On Twitter, she explained that one reason convictions in these cases are difficult to attain is due to a lack of physical evidence. Anecdotally, Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow prosecutors are more reluctant to take on such cases, as a victory isn’t as clear, and the office’s conviction rate impacts funding.

“Right now, the funding formula for Commonwealth’s Attorneys in Virginia is felony sentencing events and charges, so the incentive is to make sure that you file the most serious charges and you get as many convictions as you can, because that’s what keeps you funded,” she said.

Dehghani-Tafti said she’s motivated to take on challenging cases because of the stories she’s heard of prosecutors avoiding harder cases and picking “easier wins.”

“The one elemental core of my philosophy of criminal prosecution is that our first and last duty is to focus on serious crimes, particularly crimes against the most vulnerable among us,” she wrote on Twitter.

That said, Dehghani-Tafti said she is relying on her background in innocence cases to make sure that goal doesn’t result in wrongful convictions.

“I feel like I’m in a particularly good position to weigh that in the balance,” she said. “If I say we have the evidence and everything is fair, that means making sure we’re using good forensics, making sure we don’t have tunnel vision, getting corroborating statements — really doing the follow-through on the investigative work to support whatever theories there are.”

While proud of her team of attorneys and paralegals, she said convictions are only one part of how a victim or family heals.

“Not all victims want the same thing,” she said. “Not all are waiting for a trial, prosecution or plea. Sometimes, the victims themselves are not the ones pushing the hardest for prosecution and retribution. There’s a whole spectrum of what victims want and need: Some have been waiting for this, and others have either wanted to work out their cases… through diversion.”

As for whether Arlingtonians can expect more openness in the future, Dehghani-Tafti said what she can say about cases is limited to publicly-accessible court documents.

Commonwealth’s Attorneys in Virginia, she wrote, “are governed by a strict ethical code, requiring us not to make public comments about pending cases if they could go to a jury trial. This code applies even if the case is one of public concern, and even when others cherry pick facts and make misleading statements.”

“As prosecutors, our silence is the way we respect the privacy of victims, protect the rights of defendants, and safeguard the integrity of the system,” Dehghani-Tafti wrote. “It allows trials to take place in courtrooms and not in the media.”

0 Comments

Arlington’s top prosecutor has launched a Conviction Review Unit to investigate “claims of innocence and wrongful convictions.”

The unit will look into claims of wrongful convictions, including those who were convicted at trial of murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and other felonies.

Just last year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that actually expands the pool of defendants who are eligible to challenge convictions.

Established within the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office for Arlington County and Falls Church, the unit will also be responsible for litigating motions for post-conviction DNA testing and responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

It’s similar to the Conviction Integrity Unit that the Virginia Attorney General’s office launched in January.

Currently, no other local jurisdiction in the Commonwealth has officially launched a unit of this nature.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow that they’ve already been doing related work for the past year, since she first entered office.

It’s about setting up a system for responding to inquiries, she says, “in an intelligent manner and to be able to provide advice and recommendations… it’s really about putting a permanent name to it.”

No full-time staff will be assigned only to this unit, but rather will be made up of people at the CA’s office who are subject matter experts, have a variety of experiences, and report directly to the CA.

Dehghani-Tafti, who was elected after promising to reform the local criminal justice system, says that while she would have liked to have full-time staff members, there isn’t enough work.

“We do have to take time away from other work. But I think it’s time well spent because there is a huge public safety element to making sure that the convictions that you have are accurate and fair,” she says.

Currently, the unit is investigating three cases that have been brought to the office’s attention by attorneys. They are also reviewing 31 cases that involve “testimony about DNA mixtures… and problems with the forensic science.”

Dehghani-Tafti declined to provide more details about these cases only saying they are currently in the review stage.

Additionally, over the past year, they’ve also reviewed about 70 requests for early release from Virginia’s Department of Corrections due to COVID-19.

“That was part of the initial push to release early people who had about a year or so left on their sentences,” says Dehghani-Tafti.

The CA’s office says, in the end, only “a small number of those folks were released,” though has yet to provide an exact number.

Setting up a unit of this nature was a campaign promise of Dehghani-Tafti’s back when she ran for office in 2019. She says a Conviction Review Unit helps ensure integrity for both the court system and police.

“It serves a law enforcement function for both victims and for the community,” says Dehghani-Tafti. “If the wrong person is convicted, the actual perpetrator hasn’t been caught.”

It also aids the traditional appellate process.

Read More

2 Comment
×

Subscribe to our mailing list