Monday, November 29, 2010

The Curious Case of Brian Aitken

Brian Aitken of New Jersey
Proving that justice is not only blind, but sometimes quite dumb - and I don't mean mute - the strange and tragic story of the plight of Brian Aitken is the epitome of the insanity going on in America.

Brian Aitken is a young man of 27 who moved to Colorado from New Jersey, where he was born and raised,  several years ago. There, he met a woman who was also from New Jersey, and the two married. Shortly thereafter, the couple had a son, but the pair broke up when the boy was just an infant, and mother and son moved back to New Jersey.

Wishing to be close to his son, Aitken later decided to move back as well, and began making the preparations. Those preparations included learning how to legally transport the three handguns he purchased in Colorado back to New Jersey, a state with very strict gun laws. Starting in late 2008, Aitken made the first trip back home to New Jersey, the first of several to bring his possessions to his parents' home in Burlington County, until he could find his own apartment.

In December of 2008, Aitken and his friend Michael Torries - who had found an apartment together in Hoboken, NJ - made the final trip out to Colorado to retrieve the last of Aitken's belongings, including the guns. Before they left, Aitken researched and printed out New Jersey and federal gun laws to ensure that he didn't break any laws regarding transporting firearms across state lines. He also called the New Jersey State Police prior to leaving Colorado seeking their advice on how best to proceed. He wanted to make sure he didn't run afoul of the law. He followed all directions to the letter. It didn't help.

Brian Aitken and Son
In January of 2009, Aitken drove to his parents' house to get the rest of his belongings. He had been having difficulties with his ex-wife, who was refusing to let him see his son. He was obviously stressed about it, and his mother, Sue, noticed. A woman who works with children who have mental health problems, Sue Aitken has been trained to call police when someone appears distraught and may pose a threat to themselves, so when her son left, that's what she did.

Concerned about her son after he left, Sue Aitken called 911, but thought better of it and hung up. Too late, the police were at her home a short time later. Sue told the police of her concerns, and the police called Brian, who was driving to his apartment in Hoboken with his possessions in his car. The police told him to return to his mother's home, which he did, willingly complying once again with the instructions of law enforcement.

When he arrived, police determined that Brian was not a threat to himself or anyone else, but searched his car anyway. They found his guns, which were locked, unloaded, and stowed in the trunk, just as he was instructed for transport. Police arrested him for illegal possession of a firearm.

When Brian purchased the weapons in Colorado, he had to pass FBI and CBI background checks. He owned the guns legally, and transported them legally based upon the advice he sought from every law enforcement agency he could imagine he would need to avoid any trouble. Now he was facing trial in Burlington County, New Jersey.

The trouble really began when Brian drew Superior Court Judge James Morley, who was denied re-appointment by Governor Chris Christie after his inauguration. More on that later. A key element in Brian Aitken's defense was his right to transport legally purchased firearms between residences in New Jersey, which is precisely what he was doing.

Superior Court Judge James Morley
Police deposed that their search of Aitken's vehicle revealed many of his other belongings, which he was in the process of bringing to his new apartment in Hoboken. Judge Morley curiously forbade the jury from hearing that testimony in court. The jury expressed a clear level of discomfort in the prospect of convicting Aitken by asking the judge - on three separate occasions -  about exceptions to the law regarding the transportation of firearms. The exemptions are primarily for off-duty officers and security personnel, but also extend to hunters and those transferring weapons between residences. Morley ignored all three requests.

Judge Morley defended his decision to deny the jury of such testimony, declaring that it "wasn't relevant". In a subsequent telephone interview, Morley said:
"There was no evidence that Mr. Aitken was moving. He was trying to argue that the law should give him this broad window extending over several weeks to justify driving around with guns in his car. There was also some evidence that Mr. Aitken wasn't moving at all when he was arrested, but had stored the guns in his car because his roommate was throwing a party, and he didn't want the guns in the apartment while guests were there drinking."
Even if that were true, all it could possibly demonstrate is yet another, deeper level of responsibility on Brian Aitken's part, to have enough sense to remove even unloaded firearms from an apartment full of drunken revelers. No matter to the state of New Jersey, or Judge Morley, whose manipulations forced the jury to convict.

So, the man who did everything he could to stay within the boundaries of the law is now in prison, and as a result of his incarceration, has also lost all parental rights to the son he so desperately wished to be near. In August of 2010, Brian was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for a "crime" he tried valiantly not to commit, and by a judge who manipulated the trial to achieve a desired outcome. That judge, as noted earlier, was denied tenure by the state of New Jersey's new governor for a few previous questionable decisions and their related opinions.

Judge Morley once opined after a case of a 45-year-old teacher's aide, accused of having sexual relations with a 16-year-old student, that said aide was not a "sexual predator". In another case, involving a former Moorestown officer charged with four counts of animal cruelty for having oral sex with cow calves, Morley ruled that there was no evidence of animal cruelty. Then the man, Robert Melia, was arrested for alleged sexual assaults of three girls, and a search of his computer revealed videos of him "allegedly" receiving oral sex from the cows. Now Melia is awaiting trial on 48 other counts.

And Brian Aitken is in prison.

If you'd like to help Brian, visit this site:

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LD Jackson said...

This is a sad case indeed, Woody. On so many counts. Brian Aitken clearly did nothing wrong and is being punished for it because a judge clearly isn't doing the job he was appointed to do.

Edisto Joe said...

This is exactly the type of case that makes you want to scream. The facts as you have told it leave no doubt to the mans innocence and now a lengthy and needless, along with expensive, appeals process begins.

It's exactly the reason Holder has no business trying terrorists in civilian court. What appears to be a no brainer to normal everyday people can be turned upside down and inside out by a judge with a political agenda, along with his ability to manipulate the jury.

Woody said...

LD and EJ...
I know. This case is infuriating. I heard about it on my evening commute and thought about writing about it, but wanted to research it more thoroughly before I did.

The more I read, the angrier I became. If Gov. Christie is the man I have come to admire (I was a Steve Lonegan guy in the primaries), he will grant Aitken clemency without doubt.

Still, the poor guy should never have had to be incarcerated.