Sunday, April 29, 2012

John Kristoffer Larsgard - Part 4

Here, I continue my translation of VG’s ( coverage of the events surrounding John Kristoffer Larsgard, and my comments. The reporter is Eirik Mosveen of VG.

Wednesday, April 25th:

Larsgard can appeal.

If he is judged and receives a sentence, he can go to the Arizona Court of Appeals. Here, the accused can present legal objections, the method the court case would be carried out. The sentencing and clear constitutional questions, explained criminal law attorney, Michael Harwin in Tucson, Arizona. Harwin has not assembled the Larsgard story, but the attorney understands that the judgment is considered severe.

The Poor Man

Such has his life been behind the wall

Holbrook. Overextended, must Live Larsgard, 68, yesterday see her son be hastened out of the courtroom, strongly guarded by American police.

“I don’t know so much about prisons in general in Arizona, but I unfortunately know a lot about Navajo County Jail, where he has sat until now. And it is a scary place, completely hellish. The way they have treated my son in these seven months is nearly impossible to believe,” she tells VG.

Racial conflicts and violence:

Wearing orange pants, iron handcuffs and foot chains, Larsgard was taken promptly out of the courtroom after the judgment was stated in the local courthouse last evening Norwegian time. Over-filled jails where racial conflicts, gang pressures and violence imbue daily life are believed to be what waits the Norwegian behind the walls in Arizona. Until now he has sat in Navajo County – and now will be transferred to another custodial institution in Arizona.

“Since April 4th, he has been newly sat in isolation. My son is completely sure that this is because they want it to show on his papers when he is transferred to a state prison that it has been necessary to set him in isolation. This scares us, that his custodial situation will be worsened.

How shall you get to visit him in prison?

“I have no idea. I live in Oslo. It takes between 12 and 15 hours just to fly here,” says Liv Larsgard.

Becoming tough:

“This coming up is going to be tough. The poor man,” says Thore Henki Holm Hansen, 68, to VG. The motorcycle gang the Outlaws’ European chief was imprisoned for 7 years for narcotics offenses in a prison in Miami, up until 2004. “Behind the wall, there are their own rules. My only advice to him is that he must weave himself into a group in the prison. To sail his own sea in that system is difficult,” says Hansen.

The Swede, Annika Ostberg, was sentenced to assisting in murder in 1982 and was sentenced to 28 years in prison in California. She says it was tough behind the wall in the southern States. “Prisons there are overcrowded. He must plan to be imprisoned in a room together with 50 others. To be alone is impossible, but it could help to survive,” says Ostberg to VG. “The most important rules are not to say anything, but see everything and hear everything. To be with a group is essential,” she states. “There is much violence, narcotics and sexual maltreatment in American prisons, unfortunately. Prison guards see what they want to see,” says Ostberg, who in 2009 was transferred to a Swedish prison. Hansen confirms that there is still sexual mistreatment among the prisoners. “He must find a way to form an image and get respect. It is not just a joke that one doesn’t bend over after the soap in the shower,” he says.

In Arizona, it is common that the sentenced are getting out after having served one-half their time. There are 15 prisons in the state, but it is uncertain at this writing which prison Larsgard must go to. “I’m no expert on the state of the prisons in Arizona. My impression is that they are very different from place to place. Some of them have the reputation of being very tough,” says Larsgard’s attorney, Criss Candelaria to VG.

“He is, despite necessity, to be imprisoned at least 85% of his sentence before he can come out. It is important for me now to try to hold him up mentally. He must think that he can go further. In fact, it could have been much worse today than 7 ½ years in prison,” says Candelaria.

Full prisons:

Thomas Ugelvik at the Institute for Criminology and Judicial Sociology at the University of Oslo also brings forward overcrowded prisons in the U.S. as a huge challenge. He doesn’t think it will be easy for Larsgard to serve his sentence. “Arizona can be distinguished from Texas and California on the number of prisoners. The prisons are often very full and it is not normal that one would get one’s own cell. One is housed much tighter with the other prisoners, and, as a result, it is important who is serving time with whom. One can, for example, hang out in a prison gym room with hammocks. The quality of life that coordinates with the social services and school work is not equally available in American prisons, as it is in Norwegian ones. Often there is a private contractor that is running these institutions. This reduces the level of the prison experience, when those who run it shall make money. Here in Norway, prisons are run from the perspective of a humanitarian thought-set, and one has quite equal rights within as outside the walls. This is probably not the case in Arizona,” says Ugelvik.

Amnesty International has recently released a report which slaughters the conditions in prisons in Arizona. The Norwegian State Department (UDI) indicates to VG that 7 Norwegians sat imprisoned in the U.S. as of January 1, 2012. These are for violations of the law such as murder, fraud and narcotics smuggling.

“In such a small local community, there are various standards for both police and the legal system. I have lived south in the state and driven by the place Larsgard was sentenced. This is a country [i.e. hick] town! And it is still this way in the wild West, that one has a great faith in hard lines when it comes to handling the law,” says professor and U.S. expert Ole O. Moen.

Prison in the U.S.

According to the American Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2.2 million adults sat in prison in the U.S. at the end of 2010. This amounted to approximately .7 percent of the population of adult citizens. . . . [etc. ]

That ends the August 25th coverage in VG.

Reader, back to the prisoner, John. After the sentencing hearing last Tuesday (at which the man who assaulted John and broke his nose last Fall got his ‘revenge finger’ moment . . . as if that was deserved, which appears to have taken place without any reported judicial comment or, well, a citation for contempt of court? After John is taken out of the courtroom, as the story above ends, John is feeling down. (Surprise surprise.) His face seems sad, so the guards escorting him claimed. As a result, he was taken to the basement cell where all of his clothes were taken from him. Just a preventative measure, as he might try to commit suicide, you know. He was left naked from immediately after the sentencing hearing - until the next morning, Wednesday last week, when, unexpectedly, some journalists showed up to visit him. The guards hurried up and gave him his clothes to throw on so he could attend to their questions. They had so many of their own questions and their time together was limited. John didn’t have a chance to tell them he’d been kept stripped in solitary since the sentencing.

John is scheduled to be transferred to an ‘assessment center’ very soon, where he is expected to be for 1-2 months while they determine which prison he is going to be sent to. First, it is said, they will shave his head. His mother is told she cannot see him at all during these months.

-June Edvenson

John Kristoffer Larsgard - Part 3

I am commenting on recent news in the John Kristoffer Larsgard case, held in Arizona, involving a Norwegian young man and his mother, Liv Larsgard. In this blog entry, I am reviewing VG’s coverage of the Larsgard case, published in their Norwegian edition of April 25, 2012. I am also introducing information not included in the paper. The VG translation into English is mine, and I take the liberty of commenting where I find it appropriate. I apologize for any embarrassment my comments may cause to individuals, and assure you that my only interest is in investigating what has actually occurred in this situation, a situation which I find both engaging and urgent.

John Kristoffer Sentenced to Prison for 7 ½ Years

Holbrook, Arizona. Inside the courtroom, John Kristoffer Larsgard, 33, stifling sobs, gives a tearful guarantee that he never had the intent to hurt anyone. But his statement falls on deaf ears.

Gives him the finger:

This, despite the fact that the main person in the case, aside from Larsgard himself, Mike Mendoza, shows his open contempt for the accused’s attempt to beg for forgiveness. In the middle of the long solo request by Larsgard, Mendoza gets up abruptly, goes quickly toward the door at the back of the courtroom, advances, and then goes out. Then he turns himself again towards Larsgard in the open courtroom door and gives his long [fuck you] finger.

“This shows you what kind of people they are, who have gotten Larsgard into prison, who have witnessed against him, the entire time with similar declarations, always consistent with one another. They are altogether within Mendoza’s circle of friends. He has the police, the prosecuting authority, and the jury believing in him 100 percent, zero percent on Larsgard. This is what is such a scandal,” says defense attorney, Criss Candelaria to VG right after the sentencing was read out, shortly after 10 p.m. Norwegian time yesterday evening.

What got Mendoza to react was that Larsgard said that what got him to go into a full panic was that Mendoza smashed him in the face such that he broke his nose. “Had he just come calmly up to me, instead of punching me, none of us would have been sitting here today,” said Larsgard.

VG has read the police interview of Mendoza in which he confirms that he hit Larsgard in the face. “The idea was to punch him unconscious – so that the wild-man-driving he was doing would stop” was the explanation given police. VG talked to Mike Mendoza about an hour before the episode in the courtroom. “We asked for an interview, but he refused that because he had been advised to not talk with the media by the prosecution.” Similarly, none of the other witnesses have wished to talk with VG at any time.

Reader, I interrupt: The case is supposedly all over, and the prosecutor has told the witnesses not to talk to the media. Why? Is the case going to start to fall apart if they do start talking? How much careful coaching went into creating the facade they needed to convict? Perhaps it’s all a house of cards, ready to fall when the least touch pricks it. Seems suspicious to me. And it’s too bad the witnesses are all in line on this. Like little soldiers. Of course, they probably have something to lose if they talk . . . and to gain if the prosecutor’s ‘discretion’ should ever have to fall on them. You know prosecutors do have discretion as to what crimes they prosecute, and who they prosecute. No skin off this prosecutor’s back - I mean, to take on a ‘non-resident,’ and a genuine foreigner at that.

I also can’t help but wonder why the prosecutor didn’t charge Mendoza with aggravated battery, which he seems clearly chargeable for – and possibly clearly guilty of - and which is a ‘crime.

Also, Reader, if someone punched you in the nose so hard, through the driver’s side window while you were stopped and parked, and coming at you from the back of the car, not the front, so you had no clue, and then they actually broke your nose, and your blood started spurting all over the car, might you begin to drive rather erratically? At least to get away? At least until you felt you had to stop and call 911, which these Norwegians did? Back to the article:

Is in shock:

Neither the witnesses in the case nor the judge, John Lamb, showed any prayer. The judge should just find the correct sentence, since a jury had already found him guilty on several points. “I am in shock. This is horrible. I don’t know what I can do with myself, what I shall do now. That they could do something like this to my son,” says Liv Larsgard. “These witnesses have ganged up against my son and they are lying. I know that, because I was there the entire time.”

Liv came over from Norway on Sunday and has gotten to meet with her son one time before yesterday’s court session. When she, during a recess, tries to pass her son a half-bottle of Coca-Cola, it is immediately jerked out of her hands. Crushed, she realizes defeat.

The attempt by the attorney to get a new trial was denied already by the judge at the opening of the [sentencing] court session. In addition, the prosecutor came forward with a bunch of new comments in the case: They had gotten together material showing Larsgard had been in trouble earlier in the U.S., especially at the University of Alabama about 10 years ago. That was discussed by VG in the past. A large part of the time in the court session of this date was spent discussing how relevant that might be to the case at hand. The judge approved that the information could be brought into the case, despite the fact that nothing in those circumstances resulted in Larsgard either being judged or fined for something.

Reader, this is just amazing! As the coverage has already noted, John has gotten into trouble before. Is he permitted to have a history similar certainly to more than a million other young men, that is, without ending up with a jail sentence for being unliked? Perhaps a person who doesn’t fit into the social circle that he is supposed to fit into? Who is intelligent as can be, and ends up deciding he doesn’t care if folks don’t like him – he’ll live his life as he sees fit, and he doesn’t hurt anyone while he does it.

What stories about him from his past - of being mobbed and harassed, or responding poorly to some people – what they do, for me, is just confirm that people who are looking for someone to mob and harass will often decide that it is him that should ‘get it.’ It is the Lord of the Flies. I, too, respond pretty poorly to victimization. I start yelling. I get angry. I try to make room for myself to get out of it. And you? And what does that have to do with the case which is now already over and whose record should be closed?

As long as we are bringing up prejudicial and inflammatory information, what about Mendoza? A source tells us that he sells cigarettes. And equipment. What kind? The kind used to make methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug subject to high rates of abuse, prevalent on the underground drug market, a drug responsible for destroying lives, health, families and communities. Maybe you can also make baby food with methamphetamine equipment. I have no idea. Just telling you what I heard.

Back to VG:


Larsgard’s strongest supporter here in Arizona, Sandy Curry, 68, who has become a close friend to the mother, Liv, said that, despite developments, she was relieved after the sentencing hearing. “The reason that I am a bit happy is that I unfortunately know what these people could have found him for [sentenced him to]. That he got 7 ½ years, minus the 230 days he has sat in prison detained, is therefore a relief. Of course I think, as I have thought the entire time, that this case was idiocy from one end to the other, that it never should have been brought. He should have gotten a fine for irresponsible driving in Winslow, and then the police ‘wave him on,’ said Sandy Curry to VG.

Reader, I can’t stop interrupting. The police did not wave goodbye. Why was that? Because they were Iranian terrorists. Yep. I turn to Liv. “We parked and made phone calls to Dalton Auto to try to find them and get our luggage. He said ‘Stay where you are, I’ll send a driver to find you and take you to your luggage.” John was then smashed in the face through the car window by Mendoza.” Liv continues, “After he was hit, he started the car and tried to find some street signs, but we had to stop and call 911. A few seconds after calling 911, we heard screaming and noise, which was the police. They came at us with their guns pointed at our heads.”

According to Liv, the police dragged her out of the car, twisting her arm and virtually threw her into the back of a police van, locking it. In the car were her handbag/purse and several mobile phones. She had her Norwegian mobile phone with her, and had bought a U.S. mobile phone. Her Norwegian passport was also in her purse in the car.

We must now go back to 2009. That year, John had developed a uniquely difficult cervical injury. His neck required special surgery. In Norway, he could not get that surgery quickly, and so, like many Norwegians, he considered obtaining the surgery out-of-country for reasons related to price and speed of scheduling. Liv and he were in Norway and researched the options. They discovered that one of the world’s best surgeons for the needed surgery was Dr. Muntazen who would be in Germany the following year, but was currently working in Iran. Since they did not feel they could wait, they scheduled with Dr. Muntazen in Iran, and proceeded to make their travel arrangements. Norwegians travel to Iran for cultural reasons, to see their ancient sites and experience the culture on vacation. A visa stamp is required. Liv’s co-workers noted that the ladies at the Iranian Embassy wore head scarves. They thought she might take one with her when she went to get her visa stamped into her passport. Thinking it would be wise, Liv completed her application and got her photo taken at the photo box machine. She decided it would be respectful to wear the scarf in her visa photo so she did. The visa was processed when she went to the Iranian Embassy in Oslo. Liv and John then took their trip to Iran, where John got the fantastic surgery which immediately improved his neck. The visa lasted for 2-3 weeks and they were there for about one week. The visa stamp usually takes up a full page in a passport, and sometimes includes a photo. In this case, it did.

Liv is locked in the back of the van while the police have searched her handbag, something which was not related to the circumstances of the incidents which have just occurred and which should have resulted in any evidence, even if it was considered germane, being excluded from the record. After being locked in the van for about 10 minutes, a policeman opens the door and literally screams at Liv, at the top of his lungs, “You are from Iran! You are Iranian and you are a terrorist!” Liv replied, “No, I’m Norwegian.” The police officer answers, “No, you’re Iranian. Because I have your passport.” By the way, Liv did not have an Iranian passport. Her belongings, though, were searched without her permission and without probable cause to suspect that she had any reason to be involved in a crime. In criminal procedure, as most criminals know, there is something called the exclusionary rule. It means one cannot place into evidence items that were obtained by illegal search and seizure. It is designed to act as a deterrent to overzealous police and prosecutorial discretion. While items of a third party can be used in one exception to the rule, (example, germane evidence from someone else, a third party, in the case of the first party), in general, both John and Liv were in the position of foreigners who had crossed into American borders (legally) and had the right to the protection of this rule.

The police did not speak to her further. She requested her handbag and phones and was told that she could not have them. According to Liv, they said, “We are going to keep everything as evidence and you can have nothing.” She was especially anxious as she expected another call from the people who were supposed to help them get their luggage, or else should call them back again. Little did she know how much deeper their tragedy had become.

Only some days after this incident, the cab driver who assisted them in getting to Flagstaff to rent a car to continue their journey on that fateful day was talking to a policeman she knew. He mentioned to her that he had heard about the Iranian terrorist. So, the word had gotten around.

By October 19th, it was time to see what the documents from the police looked like. The attorney had been selected for John, and his wife had come to Winslow to pick up some papers that were to be used in the case. It seems that the documents were faxed to Winslow and picked up there, at which time Liv had a chance to see them. Among the case documents was a page with, yes, a copy of the Iranian visa page from Liv’s passport showing Liv in her head scarf. This apparently constituted a part of the record of the investigation in the case on which the charges against John would be brought.

Months and months go by. During the several days of trial, Liv was told she should not attend in the courtroom, as it might be perceived that her own testimony would thus be contrived or changed. However, Liv was assured that the Iranian terrorist was not discussed in court. Heaven forbid. Besides, the story was already all over the area. Seems no one in this part of the State had seen an Iranian visa stamp before. The more disturbing question is how many people involved in the case and jury had heard of that terrorist connection. After all, like mother like son, right?

-June Edvenson

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

John Kristoffer Larsgard - Part 2

John Kristoffer Larsgard, Part 2

I am commenting on recent news in the John Kristoffer Larsgard case, held in Arizona, involving a Norwegian young man and his mother, Liv Larsgard.

In this blog entry, I am reviewing VG’s coverage of the Larsgard case published in their Norwegian edition of Tuesday, April 24, 2012. The cover is, in my translation, “Today he can get 35 years in prison” and “Now his mother beseeches Norway to help.” I shall start with the general spread. Liv sits with her paper spiral notebook. [She is not internet-savvy.] It is lined and well-thumbed. A ballpoint pen is clipped onto the page where continuing journal entries appear. A journal I suggested she keep, but which she had already begun months ago. She stares with continuing disbelief and apparent breathlessness into the middle distance, her inexpensive western motel environs evident behind her.

The VG coverage is translated, for the most part, closely, by me here. I insert some remarks, and interrupt when I see fit.

“Deeply desperate and powerless, Liv Larsgard prays now that the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs (Norway’s Secretary of State), Jonas Gahr Støre, aid her only son, John Kristoffer. “I hope intensely that there is something Jonas Gahr Støre and the Department of Foreign Affairs can do to get my son out of this terrible situation. We need help desperately.”

VG met late Monday, April 23rd Norwegian evening time with the nurse (Liv), who has worked the last 23 years at the Nesoddtunet elderly and hospital nursing home, at the motel in Timberlodge in the small town of Pinetop, Arizona. The unlucky mother is fighting her life’s fight now. It is only so long she can hold back the tears while Eirik Mosveen interviews her. John Kristoffer Larsgard is already found guilty for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by the court [a jury trial, I believe] in Holbrook, Arizona.

Liv is very exhausted – because at 6:30 last evening Norwegian time, her son’s destiny was sealed. Then the judge decided the sentence her son would get. It will be a minimum of 5 years in prison and a maximum of double that. “He has sat in prison under inhuman conditions for seven months for something he didn’t do, and I know that he did not do it, because I sat beside him in the car the entire time,” says Liv Larsgard.

The VG coverage of April 24th continues to recount some of the story presented the previous day. Translating from the Norwegian, “The court found that he had attempted to hurt people intentionally when he fled. For himself, he claims he just tried to get away.” Liv states, “We are just two ordinary law abiding Norwegian citizens who happened to swing off the highway and came into a scary and difficult situation. We turned off at Winslow, Arizona, a place we never before had been, and which we never shall go to again.”

Ahh, the Foreign Affairs Department of Norway. Let’s not digress. Let’s go back to VG: Liv tells Eirik, “The Foreign Affairs Department has told me the entire time [i.e. since last Fall when John was incarcerated and not released, pending a trial that only recently occurred], that there was nothing they could do because the U.S. stands on their list of countries with good protection of rights. But here in Arizona, there are many places completely different than the rest of the U.S. And in this case, there are many elements and rights principles that have been broken,” she states. [She’s right.] “The Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs has been represented by Professor George Olander, who is the honorary counsel in Arizona, under the general counsel in San Francisco. He has said both to me, to VG and to the Foreign Affairs Department, that this case is a scandal. Then I think it is rather odd that the Foreign Affairs Department in Oslo hasn’t thoroughly investigated the case. The alarm should have gone off then,” she states.

Liv has been in the U.S. three times in the last seven months. Costs for an attorney, rental car, motel and air tickets have, to date, cost this nurse 200,000 Norwegian kroner (about $35,000 dollars).

The Utenriksdepartmentet (UDI) states they will not engage themselves in the case. A person with UDI who (finally) made a statement to VG states, “I have a great understanding for what it’s like to have landed in a criminal case abroad. [He actually cannot have, especially in the U.S.]; it’s a difficult experience. One, in the same way as the Ambassador in Oslo cannot engage in a case that is ongoing in a Norwegian court, cannot attempt to affect a foreign judgment.” Frode Andersen indicates that the general counsel in San Francisco and the Counsel in Phoenix have aided in the case. They have ensured that Larsgard has gotten an attorney, and have held contact with the American public authorities. ”This is the common support we give,” he said.

VG’s reporter asks him, “What has to happen before you do what is over the usual practice?” Andersen replied, “Without commenting on this particular case especially, UDI has engaged itself in the past where there has been serious doubt as to the court’s functional security, or when there was talk of the death penalty.”

I get it. If John is in danger of being killed, they might step in. Well, he is, but not because he could get the death penalty for screwing up 6 minutes of driving in a small town. But if an American court does not sentence John to death for failing to successfully make a three-point turn, meanwhile pissing off several people with his somewhat nonchalant and potentially maddening anti-social responses, the Norwegian authorities should not be interested in paying attention – and ‘engaging’ in the resolution of it. Right? After all, now that he’s in the good old U.S. of A., he may as well have gone to hell – when he’s found with his neck crushed once again under the boot of a fellow prisoner. And if he has to spend a few years in solitary confinement - and hand and foot chains - for not killing anyone and not meaning to, so what: at least he wasn’t sentenced to death. Right, Jonas Gahr Støre? Right, Hillary? It may take a village to raise a child, but the sad corollary is: it doesn’t take more than that to hang a man who doesn’t deserve it.

Meanwhile, the locals – both citizen voters and public authorities – have gotten their own special benefits – they got their small and focused revenge – and they’ve got their votes lined up to stay in office. Meanwhile, thank the Lord and hang ‘me high. After all, he scared two children when he tried to make a three-point turn. And by the way, he didn’t act like a good American would act. He was anti-social. He must be a foreigner. Right, UDI? Right, Jonas Gahr Støre? Just let ‘em run all over us when we land there. No compunction. Best friends. Case closed.

It’s not the first time since I moved to Norway that I’ve heard of abuses of international human rights within the United States. Too bad the U.S. polishes its untouchable reputation with so much distance that even allies cannot complain. Meanwhile, the U.S. criminal justice system flops along rather unevenly, if you can call ‘pleading out’ real justice. It has plenty of emperors who do not permit self-examination. And yes, they are hunkered down in both big and tiny towns - and poor counties. Too bad they’re willing to sacrifice a foolish and unattractive foreign fellow, and count him a real fiend when he was not. And is not.

Meanwhile, from a cursory surf today, I’m not the first to find it ironic that while a Norwegian’s rights are being railroaded out of existence in the U.S., Norway is entertaining its own world’s greatest fiend in a lengthy and showy trial. The one who shall not be named has been granted 10 weeks of full-time publicity – in Norway – to explain why he killed 77 people last summer. He’s protected, listened to, studied and respected. He doesn’t live in chains. He’s dressed in a suit and tie and driven to court every day with high security. He’s given every opportunity to tell us exactly how he planned to kill and killed 77 people. Even what he wished he could have accomplished but didn’t manage to get done. Norway just today got done reporting their own replication of the bomb blow-up, a mini-second by mini-second analysis of the actual effect of the downtown blast that blew out the government’s main street offices. Gee, I’m so glad to have that forensic detail – it makes all the difference. The State of Norway has permitted dozens of attorneys to appear during this case, a case in which the accused has already confessed and claims he is competent to be judged for a prison sentence. The judges are proud to be insiders, some the children of judges who heard famous super-cases in Norway in the past. It’s a big show. And everybody in the limelight is connected, you know. That’s how things in Norway work. And our Norwegian tax dollars are paying for it. Because Norway is rich.

Too bad Liv Larsgard isn’t ‘connected.’ And isn’t rich.

Makes me glad I’m headed to the United States for a few weeks. God help me, though, if I get going the wrong way down a one-way street. After all, if I get flustered, I might have to serve time.

-June Edvenson

John Kristoffer Larsgard, Part 1

John Kristoffer Larsgard, a Norwegian young man, lately living in the United States. Liv Larsgard, his mother, a nursing home nurse in Oslo. Myself, an American attorney living and working in Norway, also assisting and commenting on cultural and legal issues of interest and note. And John, now and for several months, sitting in a prison in Arizona, and recently convicted after over a week-long trial.

I was asked by John’s mother, Liv Larsgard, to assist her. We’ve spoken on the phone on more than one occasion at length and she recently sent me portions of the court transcript in the case. She would like me to help her to get what is arguably also her story out to the public, in English, and, if I would like to do that, to comment on the legal merits of the case, on its problems and issues it seems to raise, as I deem appropriate.

So here we go, dear American and global Reader, as we look into what appears to be a classic example of how not to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. As well, how not to present criminal evidence in a jury trial. And we can also get to the rather long list of international human rights which have been broken with impunity later. First, let us simply look together at what has happened here. Let me whet your appetite. Here are some versions of headlines I could write, none of which is without some truth:

• Norwegian thrown in jail for messing up a three-point turn in unfamiliar rental car
• Norwegian punched in nose for going wrong way on poorly marked one-way street and trying to flee attackers
• Batterer goes free - Victim gets years in prison
• Norwegian with neck disability refused his medicine while held in solitary confinement
• Norwegian guilty of bad driving held in steel hand and foot chains at all times out of cell
• Norwegian punched to the floor and neck stomped on by other prisoner for doing nothing
• Norwegian with history of being mobbed in Norway finally mobbed to near-death in Arizona
• Lack of social skills becomes criminal intent in Arizona when non-Americans show up
• Need help? Don’t stop in Winslow, Arizona. Especially if you’ve never been there
• Beer-happy festival crowd turns on foreigners for lack of American communication skills
• Foreigner drives wildly as reaction to attacking public . . . who over-reacted to his unfamiliarity
• Local prison needs prisoners after losing federal contract: Find foreigners fast and lock ‘em up
• A slam-dunk into prison means protecting local jobs - Now that’s a priority.
• Hearsay evidence illegal since 17th century – but not in Winslow, Arizona

Let’s begin with the exclusive coverage prepared and published in VG, one of Norway’s largest daily newspapers and most read. The coverage is by Eirik Mosveen, a veteran reporter stationed in New York. The paper has availability online for those interested in reading the Norwegian story portions. I don’t cover all the aspects, but I will summarize some of the written coverage as the story has just broken here. By doing that, I will primarily present it from the perspective from which it is reported - by a Norwegian reporter, to the Norwegian population in Norway. For me, it is a sign of respect, and also, like many Americans here, will ‘ring true’ with respect to our own education as to the differences between our two cultures. It may also be enlightening for those who should develop a professional interest in this case, and who have the ability and position to influence what should now occur and how that can be effected. In general, it’s interesting because it points up what people think they know about how they should perceive others’ actions. It also highlights how persons use the law and legal system, themselves, through their different roles within the criminal justice ‘sub-culture’ of this American rural county. We can analyze those cultural and legal differences in later entries. Now to the core story.

VG’s coverage began Monday, April 23, 2012: There was just a mother and son in the car that drove onto a deserted motorway through Arizona’s desert on a warm and peaceful Saturday. Then all hell broke loose. For seven months, John Kristoffer Larsgard, 32, has sat in jail in Navajo County Jail, mainly in solitary, with foot links and handcuffs. What happened on September 24 (2011) isn’t taken from an American B-film. It’s hard reality. On March 29th he was found guilty of so-called “aggravated assault” for trying to cause harm using a deadly weapon – against 6 Americans, 2 of them small children. The weapon, according to the judgment, was the rental car rented by his mother Liv, and the son drove it that ill-fated day. Tomorrow, the sentencing comes, at which the Norwegian risks being sentenced to a minimum of 5 years in prison, while he fears he could get 35 years.

Liv was driving her son’s Volvo as they made their way from Los Angeles to Chicago, and John was half-sleeping in the passenger seat. Suddenly, a red light on the dash began to blink. They decided to get off at the next exit to check it out. At that exit, Liv became confused as to how to proceed and ended up crossing into a median area which was full of un-noticeable rocks. There, the Volvo bottomed out and its under-carriage was substantially damaged. They therefore needed a rental car to continue their trip. The taxi driver that came to assist them drove them to Flagstaff where they rented a car and then returned to the Winslow area to find their baggage. Note that since the Volvo had been towed, and there were no rental agencies in Winslow, they had not been into the town before and were now entering it to find their luggage so they could continue their journey north and east. Now, John is driving. They are to find their auto at Dalton Auto Parts.

On this day, there is a large local music festival. They accidentally turn the wrong way down a one-way street, which causes onlookers to react. John is driving slowly, but some call to him that it is a one-way street. He tries to yell something back at those who are yelling at him, mainly a mother standing on the sidewalk. Liv is very anxious now and begs him to turn around and get them out of there. When John goes to execute a three-point turn, he runs over the curb behind him, scaring the persons hanging out in front of a store. Here is the woman with two children who claims he screamed at her, “I will kill you” before he executes the three-point turn. Note that another witness heard him say, “I will sneak through.”

Reader, I must digress here, on cross-cultural language usage and pronunciation. Have you heard a Norwegian say, “I will kill you” and “I will sneak through”? Do you realize that they don’t sound very different from each other? Do you know that the Norwegian language doesn’t do the ‘th’ sound very well – most of their consonants are sharper and more distinct. And they don’t do the ‘ough’ sound in ‘through’ very well either: most of their o’s are longer and deeper ooooo’s. In addition, all their i’s are e’s: they don’t have the short ‘i’ sound very much in the language: first, the ‘i’ is always pronounced as “ee” is in English. When they ‘will,’ they say, ‘veeel’.

Now, reader, another digression. When you have found yourself going the wrong way on a one-way street, what do you do? If it is safe to do so, you do as I have done: you sneak through to the next turn and get off of it. If no or few cars are seen, street direction can be under-signed. In many cases, sneaking forward to the next turn would be less disruptive and more ‘friendly’ than stopping and executing a three-point turn. So, it makes perfect sense that John was trying to tell the lady that he would try to sneak through, as he slowly proceeded, even if she heard something else instead, not recognizing his foreign accented English in the same way she would understand her western American English. Who said he said, “I will sneak through”? A young dental assistant who, presumably, has perfect hearing, who also testified at the, er, seven day trial.

And what does the prosecutor do with little lady number one’s statement? Well, of course, he offers it in testimony for, um, intent? To kill people? After all, he has to find an exception to the hearsay rule or he can’t get that assertion into evidence. Why? Because, the fact that this little lady swears under oath that she heard him say, “I will kill you” doesn’t mean he said that, and it also doesn’t mean one can accept that statement for the truth of the matter asserted. As every first year law student knows, hearsay is evidence which depends on the credibility of someone who cannot be cross-examined for its probative value (Goldberg). In other words, when little lady one says she heard him say, “I will kill you,” who are we to say she did not hear him say that? This is why HEARSAY IS NOT ADMISSIBLE FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVING THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER ASSERTED. Of course, there are many exceptions to the hearsay rule. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you keep a little lady on the stand repeating and repeating that he said “I will kill you,” and then everyone around her decides that must’ve been what the guy said, and they further testify to the same, (except for the lady who testified that he clearly said, “I will sneak through”), and then you have a situation where the jury is asked to find that this fellow intentionally set about hurting people in the town, and what will they find? It’s almost a Catch-22: you get the jury to answer only the question you ask them – and definitely not the question you should have asked them. Figure this one out.

Back to VG’s coverage. John manages to turn around and is trying to both flee people running after him who are angry, but basically find his luggage so they can leave town. In particular, the father of the children on the sidewalk is running after the car, angry as can be. John doesn’t see him, but pulls into the parking lot nearby while they hope to get their luggage. The car becomes surrounded and, coming from behind, John is smashed in the nose through the open driver’s window. The father who crushed his nose is rushing back while John’s blood is spurting profusely all over the unfamiliar rental car interior. Still, he is afraid to get out of the car.

Both John and Liv manage to call 911. Immediately, about 10 police arrive. Ten? It has been 6 ½ minutes since they began to drive the wrong way down a one-way street in Winslow, Arizona.

Criss Candaleria, John’s attorney, tells VG, (in my translation from the Norwegian paper), “This is really an embarrassing case. It should have been dropped from Day One. There isn’t even one shred of evidence in the case that John intended to kill someone in the course of those 6 ½ minutes, in a town he had never been in before. The police didn’t even assign one investigator to it. The witnesses were angry, and the police and the court chose to believe the witnesses’ version, namely that he was trying to hurt and kill these people. If he was trying to kill them, why would he call the police and tell them where he was? The case is completely illogical. Therefore, I’ve asked for a new trial.”

None of the witnesses contacted would talk to the VG reporter who was in town requesting it, although everyone knows that ‘there was a foreigner here last year who drove like a crazy man and tried to hurt and kill folks.’

Eirik Mosveen was able to talk to John at the Navajo County Jail, which is in Holbrook, Arizona. John says, (in my English translation), “I’ve got no connection with Arizona, other than that my mother and I drove along I-40. For me, it’s as if we’ve been taken in a highway robbery.” (John is in solitary confinement.) Further, “The treatment I am getting here in jail is based on what I was arrested for. It’s pretty bad right now. I’m getting out of my cell 3 times each week, one hour each time, to take a shower and maybe read documents. Otherwise, I’m in the cell, which has a toilet, a sink and a mattress pad.” John is always in hand and foot links when he is out of his cell unless he is showering. John says, “It’s completely laughable. It’s because, according to them, I am the most dangerous prisoner in the entire county.” Eirik asks him what he thinks of this. John replies, “That it’s complete lunacy. It’s like a bad film, where you swing in and land on a deserted peninsula, filled with angry residents. Because I was charged with trying to hurt children, many of the jail staff have treated me very badly, despite the fact that that charge was dropped. I’m like their mass murderer, the unfortunate mass murderer since, under the circumstances, no one was hurt.” Eirik and John continue their discussion of what seems to have been a completely insane description of what in fact occurred. John then adds, “What I’ve learned for myself at this place is that, here, anything can happen.” When asked if he had been there before, John replies, “No, I’d never heard of the place, and if I had, I would have thought it was a new data virus by Windows,” he says and smiles.

Alright, Reader, here we take another break. Do you have to love this guy? No, but I think his cynical sense of humor may be helping him stay alive. And he’s definitely not stupid. Can we see why driving a bit wildly might ‘piss people off’? Yes. Can we understand why he was trying to get out of the wrong-way predicament he was in, while women were screaming at him to turn around? Yes. Can we understand that we also don’t have to ‘like’ him to see that the type of treatment he has gotten has gone way way beyond the reasonable? Yes. Might he have exacerbated the bad-driver side in response to provocations from persons attacking the car? Quite possibly, but so. Can we understand that it would have been appropriate to cite him for traffic violations? Yes. When someone runs at your car, and brushes against it intentionally while you are driving and you can’t see them, are you responsible for the fact that the car touched them? As a Chicagoan who has more than once watched pedestrians attack and damage cars in traffic, I’ll leave that question open. Did the car he was driving, while being chased, brush against someone? Yes. Are they responsible for putting themselves in harm’s way? Quite possibly. If they are on a sidewalk when the three-point turn fails, and the tire blows out on the curb, is this something you could have prevented when you had never driven that car until right then? No, not necessarily. Is it reasonable to think that this scared the persons on the sidewalk? Of course. Would the children be afraid? Of course. American response: Get offended (which is also considered smart) and get even. Norwegian response: Stop all action, calm down and exchange names and numbers. Is it reasonable for them to claim that he was trying intentionally to kill them? Based on the actual evidence, of course not. But in Winslow, Arizona, who cares about the evidence? Just ‘hang ‘em high’ as they say, right?

Eirik asks John what he thinks of the future. John replies, “I don’t know. I’m just trying to survive each day as it comes here.” When asked about his mother, John replies, “It’s not easy. Because she feels a large responsibility because it was she who crashed the car, and the reason we had to hang around here. She’s suffering with guilt feelings. In addition, she’s been here, away [from her work and Oslo] for long periods, and taken out vacation for two years in the future. She has gotten large economic problems [from this].

VG’s first day’s coverage ends with this information: In Winslow, Arizona, both the State’s Attorney and the judge in the case are publicly (popularly) elected and are political office holders, and 2012 is an election year. There is little doubt that many people in Winslow, which has about 6,000 residents, would like to see Larsgard sentenced to time. To let John free of a punishment ‘would not be especially popular.’

If you’re able to and interested, check VG’s story links.  A video, entitled, “Her pågripes nordmannen,” was also posted at:!id=52059 but appears to have been withdrawn at this writing.

To be continued. By me and hopefully by other concerned and engaged professionals from our two countries.

-June Edvenson