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Cleared of Murder, Brothers Are Awarded $75 Million

Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, half brothers with intellectual disabilities, spent three decades in prison for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl before DNA evidence implicated someone else.,Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, half brothers with intellectual disabilities, spent three decades in prison for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl before DNA evidence implicated someone else.

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Democrats, Growing More Skeptical of Israel, Pressure Biden

Among Democrats in Congress, attitudes toward Israel have grown more critical as the party base expresses concern about the human rights of Palestinians.,Among Democrats in Congress, attitudes toward Israel have grown more critical as the party base expresses concern about the human rights of Palestinians.

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Biden Administration Clears 3 Guantánamo Detainees for Release

The men, none of whom were ever charged, would be sent to countries that agree to impose security conditions on them. But it is not clear where they will go or when.,The men, none of whom were ever charged, would be sent to countries that agree to impose security conditions on them. But it is not clear where they will go or when.

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2 South Carolina Deputies Fired for Role in Jamal Sutherland’s Death

The deputies, Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle, used pepper spray and Tasers on Jamal Sutherland on Jan. 5 at the detention center in Charleston County.,The deputies, Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle, used pepper spray and Tasers on Jamal Sutherland on Jan. 5 at the detention center in Charleston County.

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Cleared of Murder, Brothers Are Awarded $75 Million

Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, half brothers with intellectual disabilities, spent three decades in prison for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl before DNA evidence implicated someone else.,


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Two intellectually disabled half brothers who spent more than three decades in prison after they were wrongfully convicted in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl have been awarded $75 million by a jury in a federal civil rights case in North Carolina.

Henry McCollum, 57, and Leon Brown, 53, spent 30 years 11 months and 7 days in prison before they were freed in 2014. The case against them fell apart after DNA evidence implicated a man who lived a block from where the girl’s body was found and who had admitted to committing a similar crime around the same time.

Elliot Abrams, a lawyer for the brothers, said in an interview that they went through “hell” in prison while the two state investigators who he said had coerced the brothers into confessing to the crime “spent 30 years covering it up.”

Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown were teenagers when they were found guilty based on confessions that they quickly repudiated and said were coerced, and then spent “the best years of their lives” in prison, said Desmond Hogan, a lawyer for the brothers.

On Friday, a jury in Raleigh, N.C., awarded each of them $31 million in compensatory damages — $1 million for each year they spent wrongfully imprisoned. They were also awarded a total of $13 million in punitive damages.

The jury determined that two former state investigators, Leroy Allen and Kenneth Snead, had violated Mr. McCollum’s constitutional rights by coercing him into confessing to the crime. Mr. Snead, the jury found, violated Mr. Brown’s constitutional rights by coercing a confession from him.


Leon Brown and his sister Geraldine Brown in 2015. Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

“There are so many tragedies here,” Mr. Abrams said. “You think of all the different times that a single action could have stopped this from happening.”

After finding the body of an 11-year-old girl, Sabrina Buie, in a soybean field in Red Springs, N.C., with her underwear in her throat, investigators from the State Bureau of Investigation and the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office went to the nearest house, where they found a man named Roscoe Artis but did not run a background check on him.

Mr. Artis later raped and strangled an 18-year-old woman while the brothers were awaiting trial. He was convicted of that crime, and he was eventually investigated in the Buie case, but Joe Freeman Britt, the local district attorney at the time, never told defense lawyers.

With no leads in the Buie case, which was the first murder in Red Springs in four years, the town was desperate for answers, Mr. Abrams said. A white schoolgirl told the police that Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown, who are Black, were responsible, saying that she suspected them because they acted strangely.

She later recanted, but the accusation led to a five-hour interrogation late at night in which Mr. Allen and Mr. Snead coerced Mr. McCollum into confessing, Mr. Abrams said.

Investigators yelled at Mr. McCollum, who was 19 at the time but had the mental capacity of a 9-year-old, calling him racial slurs and telling him that he would be sent to the gas chamber if he did not admit to the crime, Mr. Abrams said.

At midnight that evening, Mr. McCollum’s mother went to the police station, taking Mr. Brown, then 15, wondering why her son hadn’t come home. But when she stepped outside, Mr. Abrams said, the police took Mr. Brown in to interrogate him as well.

A jury sentenced both to be executed. After the State Supreme Court ordered separate retrials, Mr. McCollum returned to death row and Mr. Brown was sentenced to life in prison.

A lawyer representing Mr. Allen and the estate of Mr. Snead, who died in 2019, did not respond to a request for comment. In his testimony last week, Mr. Allen denied yelling, using racial slurs or coercing the teenagers into confessing to the crime.

Mr. McCollum’s decades on death row were painful for him, Mr. Abrams said. When a fellow inmate he had grown close with was executed, he said, Mr. McCollum saw the man’s body being carted off and had a mental breakdown.

“He understood that his day was coming,” Mr. Abrams said.

In 2014, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission announced that new DNA testing of a cigarette butt found at the crime scene matched Mr. Artis’s DNA. A Superior Court judge in Robeson County vacated the brothers’ convictions and Mr. McCollum’s death sentence, and ordered their release from prison.

The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, which was a defendant in the case, settled with the brothers for $9 million on Friday. In 2015, a year after the brothers’ convictions were vacated, the state of North Carolina paid them each $750,000 as compensation for their time spent in prison.

The millions awarded last week will be controlled by court-appointed guardians and will allow the brothers to “begin having some of those experiences that their incarceration has deprived them of,” Mr. Abrams said.

Mr. McCollum now lives with his fiancee in southern Virginia, Mr. Abrams said. Mr. Brown lives in a group home in North Carolina and requires 24-hour care.

The brothers, who spent summers together growing up and whose last shared memory before they were sent to prison was racing each other home, may soon be able to resume life together again. Mr. McCollum, Mr. Hogan said, hopes to move Mr. Brown to a home near him in Virginia where they can “rebuild what was taken from them.”

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Democrats, Growing More Skeptical of Israel, Pressure Biden

Among Democrats in Congress, attitudes toward Israel have grown more critical as the party base expresses concern about the human rights of Palestinians.,


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WASHINGTON — President Biden’s carefully worded statement on Monday supporting a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians came amid growing pressure within his own party for the United States to take a more skeptical stance toward one of its closest allies.

Mr. Biden’s urging of a halt to the fighting — tucked at the end of a summary of a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — followed a drumbeat of calls from Democratic lawmakers across the ideological spectrum for his administration to speak out firmly against the escalation of violence. It reflected a different tone than the one members of Congress have sounded during past clashes in the region, when most Democrats have repeated their strong backing for Israel’s right to defend itself and called for peace, without openly criticizing its actions.

The push is strongest from the energized progressive wing of the party, whose representatives in the House, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have drawn attention in recent days for accusing Israel of gross human rights violations against Palestinians and of operating an “apartheid state.” But their intensity has obscured a quieter, concerted shift among more mainstream Democrats that could ultimately be more consequential.

Though they have no intention of ending the United States’ close alliance with Israel, a growing number of Democrats in Washington say they are no longer willing to give the country a pass for its harsh treatment of the Palestinians and the spasms of violence that have defined the conflict for years.

Underscoring how skepticism around the campaign in Gaza had spread to even some of the Israel’s strongest defenders in Congress, Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told Democrats on the panel on Monday that he would ask the Biden administration to delay a $735 million tranche of precision-guided weapons to Israel that had been approved before tensions in the Middle East boiled over.

Mr. Meeks, a fixture at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, convened an emergency meeting of Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats on Monday night to discuss delaying the arms package, according to a person familiar with the meeting who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal discussions. It came after a number of Democrats raised concerns about sending American-made weapons to Israel at a time when it has bombed civilians, as well as a building that housed press outlets included The Associated Press, an American news agency.

A day earlier, 28 Democratic senators — more than half of the party’s caucus — put out a letter publicly calling for a cease-fire. The effort was led by Senator Jon Ossoff, Democrat of Georgia and, at 34, the face of a younger generation of American Jews in Congress. As Republicans pumped out statements squarely blaming Hamas militants, the Democrats’ appeal put the onus on both sides to lay down their weapons — and on Mr. Biden to weigh in to demand it.

Another sign of the evolution came over the weekend from Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Menendez is known as one of Israel’s most unshakable allies in the Democratic Party, which he bucked to oppose President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran based on Israeli opposition.

Yet on Saturday, as the death toll mounted in Gaza and southern Israel, Mr. Menendez issued a stern statement saying he was “deeply troubled” by Israeli strikes that had killed Palestinian civilians and the tower housing news media outlets. He demanded that both sides “uphold the rules and laws of war” and find a peaceful end to fighting that has killed more than 200 Palestinians and 10 Israelis.

“In response to thousands of rocket attacks fired by Hamas aimed at civilians, Israel has every right to self-defense from terrorists committed to wipe her off the face of the map,” Mr. Menendez said. “But no matter how dangerous and real that threat may be, I have always believed the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship flourishes when it is based on the shared values of democracy, freedom, pluralism, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”


Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, both Democrats, have spoken out about human rights violations against Palestinians.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The Democrats who had been most vocal in their criticism of the Israeli government said they meant to send a message to the president as he mulled how to manage the escalating tensions: that the old playbook Mr. Biden used as a senator and as vice president would no longer find the same support in his party.

“That hasn’t worked,” Representative Mark Pocan, a progressive Democrat from Wisconsin, told a top adviser to Mr. Biden late last week, he said in an interview on Monday. “We’re going to be advocating for peace in a way that maybe they haven’t traditionally heard.”

Republicans and AIPAC have been swift to warn against any perceived weakening of the United States commitment to Israel. When Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, who represents the most Jewish district in the country, led a group of 12 Jewish House Democrats in a letter on Friday that stood by Israel but also said Palestinians “should know that the American people value their lives as we do Israeli lives,” AIPAC quietly worked behind the scenes to discourage lawmakers from signing.

Republicans have also seen a political advantage in trying to use the most extreme statements from progressive Democrats to try to peel Jewish voters away from the party.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader and a vocal supporter of Israel, condemned Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on Monday for her description of Israel as an “apartheid state” and urged the president to “leave no doubt where America stands.”

“The United States needs to stand foursquare behind our ally,” Mr. McConnell said, “and President Biden must remain strong against the growing voices within his own party that create false equivalence between terrorist aggressors and a responsible state defending itself.”

Few Democrats in Congress have gone that far. But over the past few years, many in the party have modified their approach.

Much of the shift can be traced to debate over the Iran nuclear deal, when Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s right-wing leader, made a concerted effort to insert himself in American domestic politics to kill the pact being drafted by Mr. Obama. He portrayed support for the deal as a betrayal of Israel and worked to drive a wedge between Republicans and Democrats on the issue. Mr. Netanyahu’s close alliance with Mr. Obama’s successor, Donald J. Trump, only deepened that partisan divide.

But the difference in tone also reflects a broader shift among the Democratic Party over the past decade. As Democratic voters and liberals have become more self-consciously organized around concepts like equity and systemic discrimination, their push for more liberal policy positions on immigration, policing and gun violence at home has reshaped the way many view the conflict in the Middle East and the violence it has produced.


People searching for survivors on Sunday in the rubble of a building that was bombed in Gaza City.Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

Reflexive support for Israel’s right to defend itself or calls for Israel and Palestinian authorities to return to the negotiating table are now viewed by many on the left as “the linguistic equivalent of ‘our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the latest mass shooting,'” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel advocacy group that has worked for years to shift the debate as a counterweight to AIPAC.

“That’s no longer good enough,” he said in an interview. “What the United States is doing essentially amounts to international immunity to Israel.”

The dynamic was on display last week after Ms. Ocasio-Cortez pounced on Andrew Yang, the leading candidate in the New York City mayoral race, for issuing a statement last week “standing with the people of Israel.”

“Utterly shameful for Yang to try to show up to an Eid event after sending out a chest-thumping statement of support for a strike killing 9 children,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. (Mr. Yang later released a new statement saying that his first was “overly simplistic” and “failed to acknowledge the pain and suffering on both sides.”)

That has left some of Israel’s most vocal traditional allies in the party in an awkward position.

Mindful of the crosscurrents in his party and home state, where he faces re-election next year, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has been largely silent since the fighting broke out. Like Mr. Menendez, Mr. Schumer voted against the Iran nuclear deal, and he represents the largest Jewish population in the country, ranging from secular progressives to politically conservative Orthodox communities.

In response to a question asked by a reporter at the Capitol on Monday, Mr. Schumer said, “I want to see a cease-fire reached quickly, and mourn the loss of life.”

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Arizona Vote Review’s ‘Insane Lies’ Blasted by Local G.O.P.

Leaders in Maricopa County, Ariz., are hitting back at Donald J. Trump and fellow party members in the State Senate over a review of the county’s ballots.,


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The Republican leaders of Arizona’s most populous county issued a blistering rebuke on Monday to a review of the November election that had been ordered by Republicans in the State Senate, calling it “a grift disguised as an audit” that had spun out of the legislators’ control.

The senior Republican in Maricopa County, Jack Sellers, the chairman of the board of supervisors, said flatly that the county would stop cooperating with the review and suggested that it would challenge in court any of its conclusions that pointed toward improprieties.

“This board is done explaining anything,” Mr. Sellers said at a special meeting of the five-member board, four of whose members are Republicans. “People’s ballots and money are not make-believe. It’s time to be done with this craziness, and get on with this county’s critical business.”

It was an extraordinary pushback to an election review that was supposed to placate voters who insisted that Donald J. Trump’s narrow loss in the state was a result of fraud, but which has mushroomed into a political spectacle with what experts call serious procedural lapses.

The Maricopa supervisors had resisted the audit since its inception in December, asking a court to decide whether the State Senate could legally take control of election records and equipment governed by strict security safeguards. They had insisted throughout that the county’s election — in which Joseph R. Biden Jr. earned a slim majority of 2.1 million total votes — had been among the most secure and smooth in the state’s history.

But they were pushed past the breaking point by a letter last week from State Senator Karen Fann, the Senate president, that implied that someone in the county had illegally removed critical election files from equipment and software that the Senate had subpoenaed for examination.

The supervisors learned of the claim when it was posted on a Twitter feed controlled by the review team. Ms. Fann’s letter asked the supervisors to address that and other concerns in a meeting with state senators and a liaison to the firms conducting the review — a meeting that was to be livestreamed by the far-right cable channel One America News.

“This board was going to be part of a political theater,” one Republican supervisor and former chairman of the board, Bill Gates, said. “The Arizona Senate is better than that. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is better than that. And I am not going to be a part of that.”

Mr. Trump had seized on the deleted-file claim over the weekend, calling it “devastating” evidence of irregularities in the vote. That led the county’s top election official, Stephen Richer, to call Mr. Trump’s online comment “unhinged.”

“We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer,” Mr. Richer wrote on Twitter. “As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5.”

Three times, the county has investigated and upheld the integrity of the November vote, which was supervised by Mr. Richer’s predecessor, a Democrat.


The Arizona Senate president, Karen Fann, has defended the ballot review. Credit…Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

On Monday, Mr. Richer summarized a 13-page letter being sent to Ms. Fann rebutting the claim of deleted files and other issues she had raised. In a number of cases, he said, the firms conducting the review had leaped to wrong conclusions because they had no serious experience in auditing election results.

The Florida firm hired by the State Senate to oversee the audit, Cyber Ninjas, is run by a chief executive who has touted conspiracy theories that rigged voting machines cost Mr. Trump victory in Arizona.

The unproven suggestion of impropriety in the November election raises the prospect that an exercise dismissed by serious observers as transparently partisan and flawed could become a potent weapon in the continuing effort by Mr. Trump and his followers to undermine the legitimacy of the vote in Arizona, and perhaps elsewhere.

The review has no formal electoral authority and will not change the results in Arizona, no matter what it finds. President Biden would have won the national election even if Mr. Trump had earned Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.

One poll by High Ground, a Phoenix firm known for its political surveys, concluded this spring that 78 percent of Arizona Republicans believe Mr. Trump’s false claims that Mr. Biden did not win the November election. A recent Monmouth University poll found that almost two-thirds of Republicans nationally believe that Mr. Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election. More than six in 10 Americans overall believe that he did.

Beyond the dispute over supposedly deleted files, Ms. Fann is also pressing the county and the manufacturer of its voting machines, Dominion Voting Systems, to release passwords for vote tabulating machines and county-operated internet routers.

Dominion, which has been fighting a series of election-fraud conspiracy theories promoted by Trump supporters and pro-Trump news outlets, has said it will cooperate with federally certified election auditors. But it has spurned the firms hired to conduct the Arizona vote review, whose track record in election audits is scant at best.

Maricopa County officials have refused to turn over router passwords, which the auditors say they need to determine whether voting machines were connected to the internet and subject to hacking. County officials say past audits have settled that question. The county sheriff, Paul Penzone, called the demand for passwords “mind-numbingly reckless,” saying it would compromise law enforcement operations unrelated to the election.


The review has no formal electoral authority and will not change the results of the election in Arizona, no matter what it finds.Credit…Pool photo by Matt York

The election review was born in December as an effort by Republican senators to placate voters who had embraced Mr. Trump’s lie that Mr. Biden’s 10,457-vote victory in the state was a fraud. Maricopa County, where two-thirds of the state’s votes were cast, was chosen in part because Republicans refused to believe that Mr. Biden had scored a 45,109-vote victory in a county that once was solid G.O.P. territory.

What once seemed an effort to mollify angry supporters of Mr. Trump, however, has become engulfed in acrimony as Ms. Fann and other state senators have steered the review in a decidedly partisan direction by hiring Cyber Ninjas, granting One America News and pro-Trump figures broad access to the process, and allowing a “stop the steal” advocate who had participated in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol to be hired for a vote recount.

An accounting of the review’s finances remains cloudy, but far-right supporters, including One America News, have raised funds on its behalf. Nonpartisan election experts and the Justice Department have cited troubling indicators that the review is open to manipulation and ignores the most basic security guidelines.

Most Arizona Republican officials who have spoken publicly have doggedly supported the review. But State Senator Paul Boyer, a Republican from a suburban Phoenix district evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, made headlines last week after saying that the conduct of the review made him embarrassed to serve in the State Senate.

State Senator T.J. Shope, another Republican from a Phoenix swing district, has been more circumspect, saying he believed that Mr. Biden’s election was legitimate but that he had been too busy to follow the controversy. But in a Twitter post on Saturday, he wrote that Mr. Trump was “peddling in fantasy” by suggesting that the county’s election records had been nefariously deleted.

The Maricopa County vote review has been forced to suspend operations this week while the Phoenix work site, a suburban coliseum, is cleared out to host high school graduations. Mr. Sellers, the chairman of the board of supervisors, said on Monday that he hoped the pushback against Ms. Fann’s claims would end her concerns.

“I will not be responding to any more requests from this sham process,” he said. “Finish what you call an audit and be ready to defend your report in a court of law. We all look forward to it.”

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After a 14-Month Delay, Robert Durst’s Murder Trial Returns to Court

Mr. Durst, the eccentric millionaire who has been the subject of books and documentaries, is accused of killing a close confidante in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2000.,


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LOS ANGELES — Robert A. Durst has been trailed by the suspicions of investigators in several states over his possible involvement in three deaths that stretch back 40 years.

This week in Los Angeles, the murder trial in one of those cases is set to resume with the same jury despite an extraordinary 14-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Durst — the eccentric 78-year-old real estate scion who became the subject of books, movies and television specials — is accused of the execution-style killing of a close confidante, Susan Berman, at her Beverly Hills, Calif., home in December 2000. His trial had only just begun last year when the pandemic forced the courts to close down.

His lawyers called the 14-month delay the longest adjournment in U.S. history featuring the same jury. They argued that the jurors could have forgotten information from the start of the trial, discussed the case with others or watched television programs about the case. Before the trial’s suspension, however, it was the defense that asked for an adjournment because of public health concerns.

In a brief hearing on Monday, Judge Mark E. Windham brought jurors back to the courtroom and interviewed each one. Prosecutors and lawyers for Mr. Durst were expected to return to court on Tuesday for new, but abbreviated, opening statements in a case filled with true crime staples: a powerful New York real estate family, a murder mystery, cross-dressing, a beheading, family betrayals and celebrities.

A deputy district attorney, John Lewin, plans to call 100 witnesses and offer raw excerpts from more than 20 hours of interviews by the producers of the 2015 HBO documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” Mr. Lewin also plans on revealing portions of his nearly three-hour interview of Mr. Durst and hundreds of jailhouse phone calls.

“Much of the most damaging evidence is going to come directly from Mr. Durst himself, out of his own mouth,” Mr. Lewin told the jury last March.

Although Mr. Durst is only charged with killing Ms. Berman, the prosecution contends that her death is connected to the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Durst’s first wife in 1982, and the death and dismemberment of a drifter he had befriended in 2001. Mr. Durst was acquitted in 2003 of killing the drifter, Morris Black, who lived across the hall from him in a rooming house in Galveston, Texas, where he was hiding from the authorities as a mute woman.

Mr. Durst, a frail millionaire who shuffles into court with painfully slow deliberation, has long insisted on his innocence. Estranged from his family for a quarter-century, he has spent much of the past six years in a medical ward at the Twin Towers jail in Los Angeles.


Mr. Durst has spent much of the past six years in the Twin Towers jail in Los Angeles. Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

His defense team, led by Dick DeGuerin, has told the jury that there was no hard evidence linking him to Ms. Berman’s death. The HBO documentary, Mr. DeGuerin said, was a Hollywood concoction designed to make Mr. Durst look bad. Prosecutors say the documentary, which will not be played in court, shows Mr. Durst in his own words.

For many years, Mr. Durst vehemently denied that he was even in Los Angeles at the time of Ms. Berman’s death. But in late 2019, Mr. Durst’s lawyers conceded that not only was he in Los Angeles, but that he was the author of an anonymous letter alerting the Beverly Hills police of a “cadaver” at Ms. Berman’s bungalow.

In its opening statement last year, the defense said Mr. Durst fled after finding Ms. Berman’s body when he went to visit her around Christmas.

“Yes, Bob found the body of Susan Berman on Dec. 23, 2000, and he notified police of her body as he wrote what police call the ‘cadaver note,'” David Chesnoff, another lawyer on the defense team, told the jury. “But he didn’t murder Susan.”

Mr. Durst plans to testify and is expected to undergo a withering cross-examination by Mr. Lewin, a prosecutor who specializes in cold cases. Mr. Durst’s brother Douglas, who oversees the Durst family’s $5 billion real estate empire, is a witness for the prosecution, as is Nick Chavin, a longtime friend of Mr. Durst’s.

In recent months, the defense has unsuccessfully argued for a mistrial based on the unusually long delay in the proceedings and federal court rulings. Most recently, the defense sought an emergency order suspending the trial because they said Mr. Durst — who has numerous medical issues — was physically incapable of assisting in his own defense.

For all his frailty, Mr. Durst seems well aware of what is going on around him. Last month, he gave a handwritten three-page letter to Judge Windham excoriating his $10 million defense team. He objected to an agreement his lawyers made with the prosecutor to use videotaped testimony of 17 prosecution witnesses, instead of calling them for trial again. Judge Windham cited the letter on Monday, saying there was no evidence that Mr. Durst was mentally incompetent.

“I cannot imagine why the 4 defense lawyers agreed to the stipulation,” Mr. Durst wrote in the letter. “Perhaps they were experiencing temporary insanity or some form of collective dementia.”

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When Your Abuser Is a Powerful Politician

The author and activist Tanya Selvaratnam on her abusive relationship with Eric Schneiderman, a former New York attorney general, and the second wave of the #MeToo movement.,


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“Abuse is not only physical, it’s also financial, verbal, legal, digital and emotional.”

— Tanya Selvaratnam, film producer, activist and author of “Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence”

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When the film producer and activist Tanya Selvaratnam decided to come forward with allegations of physical abuse against her ex-boyfriend, Eric Schneiderman, a former New York attorney general, she felt as though everything was stacked against her.

It was 2018, and at the time, Mr. Schneiderman was widely perceived as a feminist hero for going after Harvey Weinstein and advocating for domestic abuse victims. Who would believe that, at the end of the day, he would go home, get drunk and slap his girlfriend?

As the top law enforcement officer of New York State, he was also powerful. When they were dating, he would often remind her that if he wanted to, he could use his position to tap her phone and track her down. Several times, he told her that if they broke up, he would have to kill her.

“I explored filing an ethics complaint, a civil claim; I explored filing a police report,” she said in a recent interview with The Times. “But all those legal pathways lead to him.”

Ms. Selvaratnam went on the record with her story anyway. In March 2018, The New Yorker published her allegations alongside those of three other women who also claimed to have been abused by Mr. Schneiderman.

The day the article was scheduled to be published, Ms. Selvaratnam had packed up her apartment and moved into a friend’s place so that no one could find her. She even made plans to flee the country.

But just three hours after The New Yorker had published its investigation, Mr. Schneiderman resigned. And two weeks ago in late April, after an investigation into Mr. Schneiderman’s conduct by the Attorney Grievance Committee for the First Judicial Department in New York, a court suspended his law license for a year. In that court filing, he admitted to the allegations against him.

In her recently published memoir, “Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence,” Ms. Selvaratnam describes her relationship with Mr. Schneiderman in granular detail in an attempt to shine a light on the many different facets of intimate partner violence, which is one of the biggest threats American women face today.

Her book takes readers from the “fairy tale” phase of their relationship all the way through to a point when she was second-guessing herself. Ms. Selvaratnam recalls the ways in which Mr. Schneiderman emotionally abused her; he constantly criticized the way she looked and told her to get plastic surgery to cover up her scars from her cancer treatment. Because he was vegetarian, he disapproved of her eating meat in his presence. He would isolate her from her friends, not letting her talk on the phone with them or spend time with them, even on her birthday.

And she describes how, when they were having sex, he would slap her and call her his “slave” — all without her consent.

“As time went by, the slaps during sex got harder and the emotional and verbal abuse more frequent,” she writes.


Tanya Selvaratnam at her home in Manhattan.Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

Roughly one in three women in the U.S. has experienced physical violence, sexual violence or stalking by an intimate partner in her lifetime, according to a C.D.C. report, published in 2017. That number is far higher for women of color, and it surged further during the pandemic. And because abuse within the context of a consensual, intimate relationship is often shrouded in secrecy and hidden behind closed doors, experts believe it is likely that there are far more instances that go unreported.

Ms. Selvaratnam sat down with In Her Words to discuss her relationship and the resources available for others in abusive settings. The conversation was hosted by Sakhi for South Asian Women, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting domestic violence survivors, and has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Give us the broad arc of how your relationship with Eric Schneiderman unfolded.

We met in 2016 in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention. When we started speaking, it was quite a nerdy flirtation — we discussed how we had both studied at Harvard and had both studied Chinese. And then he asked if I knew who he was, and I didn’t. He asked where I live. I said, “New York,” and he said, “Then I’m your lawyer.” That was the fairy tale period, and it felt too good to be true.

But then the darkness started to seep in. The things that he had found appealing and intriguing about me in the early days suddenly became the opposite. Like my Sri Lankan-ness, my foreignness — suddenly, he would belittle me in ways that were flat-out racist, criticizing my hair, saying that it looked too “wild,” calling me his “slave.”

It was only when a friend — who sensed that things were not right with me — asked me, “Does he hit you?” that I knew I had to get out. And she connected me with a domestic violence expert who helped me understand that what I had gone through was classic domestic violence.

You describe in the book some of the ways he psychologically controlled you — he told you to wear heels, he wanted your hair done up or blown straight, he controlled what you ate. In those moments, did you feel that what he was doing was wrong?

There were times when I recognized the harm that he was causing, and there were other times that I didn’t. Some of the ways in which he tried to control me seemed less harmful — asking me to dress a certain way, asking me to do my hair a certain way. He wanted me to look like “first lady material.” The other ways, like wanting me to get a boob job, wanting me to get my scars removed through plastic surgery — those seemed more harmful. But abusers are very skilled at customizing the abuse to their prey.


Tanya Selvaratnam during the #MeToo Two Years Later panel at the 2019 Glamour Women Of The Year Summit.Credit…Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images For Glamour

It’s hard to recognize it while you’re in it because — as one domestic violence expert described it to me — you need to be un-brainwashed. For me, the forms of verbal abuse were as stinging as the slaps. And it’s hard to get that type of abuse out of your head. It’s something that I struggle with to this day, though less and less. When somebody makes you feel so bad about yourself and makes you feel like you can’t move without committing a transgression, it’s a very hard conditioning to shake.

Abuse is not only physical, it’s also financial, verbal, legal, digital and emotional.

Why did you decide to take your story to the media?

I wanted to do what was most strategic to achieving my goal, which was to warn other women about him. And also, I felt strongly that an abuser should not be the attorney general of New York State. I explored many legal pathways to achieving that result. I explored filing an ethics complaint, a civil claim; I explored filing a police report, but because my abuser was the top law enforcement officer in New York State, all those legal pathways lead to him. So ultimately, I decided on the court of public opinion.

Were you nervous about your safety after breaking up with him and coming forward?

I was scared that he would come after me; he could deploy very high-level resources to come after me. And so my safety plan included drifting, getting out of the relationship as quietly as possible, and not letting him know what I was thinking. There was no anger, there was no argument, no conflict, I just started drifting. And my safety plan also included making sure that when I did get my things from his place, that I went with a friend, when I was sure he wasn’t going to be there, and that I got out as quickly as possible. There were many times over the few months after the relationship ended when he would reach out to me. He wanted to get together with me, he wanted to talk to me, and he would grow increasingly agitated if I didn’t respond right away. That would trigger really debilitating shaking in me, but I was very grateful that I had a domestic violence expert I could reach out to and say, “How do I deal with this?”

Were you surprised when he resigned?

I had no idea how the story was going to land. And I had prepared myself for multiple outcomes. I prepared myself for the story not to land well. I was supposed to be out of the country when the story landed, but then they accelerated its publication because there were leaks about the investigation. I had already moved out of my apartment and into a friend’s place so nobody knew where I was. I had also made a decision, before the story came out, not to do any follow-up press because I thought, let the story speak for itself. But I was shocked when he did resign. I felt my shoulders go down.

And what’s going through your mind now that he’s been disbarred for a year?

I am grateful to the investigators for having sent a strong message that egregious personal misconduct does impact one’s ability to fulfill their duties. How do I feel about the one-year suspension, which also includes monitored mental health counseling? That is not enough to root out his abusive behavior or anyone’s abusive behavior, but it is a step in the right direction. Also, the ruling was based on the facts of that particular investigation, which involved three victims. But since The New Yorker story came out, I heard from two more previous victims, and since my book has come out, I’ve heard from another two previous victims. For now, I’m just grateful that it’s done and I don’t have to think about it.

In your book, you write that you witnessed your father abusing your mother when you were a child. Tell us more about that.

In my mother’s case, she endured domestic violence for decades. And I feel relatively — fortunate is not the right word, but, you know, I suffered it for about a year. I had a community of friends and colleagues who supported me in getting out of it and then in coming forward. My mother did not have that support network.

My mother’s story is my story, too — it’s so linked. I was a child who witnessed domestic violence and then found myself in the really shocking position of being a victim myself, which I never, ever thought would happen to me.

More people have to share their stories of experiencing violence, so that we take the shame and the stigma out of them. The outpouring of notes I’ve received from people — strangers and friends — who have also experienced intimate partner violence has been at times overwhelming but moving and very sad because this violence is so pervasive. But by sharing our stories, we can chip away at that conditioning that results in us being born into trauma and that trauma being passed down from generation to generation.

You recently did another interview with The New Yorker, and you mentioned that we are in a second wave of the #MeToo movement. Could you elaborate on that?

There are three parts to this second wave. Part one is exposing intimate violence in committed relationships. Many of the #MeToo stories were about workplace harassment and sexual assault but exposing intimate violence in committed relationships is the next step. And we’ve seen that in the last few months, with FKA Twigs and Evan Rachel Wood. The violence that starts at home in these committed relationships often translates into violence committed by these perpetrators outside the home. Many of the mass shootings are committed by perpetrators of domestic violence.

Part two is calling out the enablers, because abusers don’t get away with abuse without enablers around them. And in my situation, there were so many powerful enablers, many of them were white feminists — they are very prominent, they are very public — but they were trying to discredit me behind the scenes, and they were trying to discredit the reporting of The New Yorker, which was airtight. But their power was wrapped up in Eric’s power. I don’t feel anger at them because their actions don’t surprise me. But I do feel like we need to expose them.

And part three is encouraging bystanders to be upstanders. Like, what can you do if you sense that your loved one is in an abusive relationship? It is everyone’s responsibility to stand up for the dignity and safety of everyone else, and not just watch. And if you’re a friend, reach out to your loved one who you might think is in an abusive relationship and be an upstander for them.

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