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Today, I Am Appearing on Doc Washburn’s Show

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Doc Washburn and I talked about Mike Huckabee’s record of commuting the sentences of violent felons this morning at Fox News Radio Panama City,  94.5 WFLA.

I don’t know if there is a way to catch a re-play of the show on-line.  Luddite, I am.

More Proof of Mike Huckabee’s Lifetime Membership in the Empathy/Leniency Cabal

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Mike Huckabee made a troubling appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s show yesterday, where O’Reilly praised him for his forthcomingness.

Only . . . he wasn’t.

Journalists in Arkansas and Washington state are raising serious questions about Huckabee’s version of events regarding cop-killer Maurice Clemmons’ release from an Arkansas prison, among other things.

The Arkansas Leader says Huckabee misrepresented Clemmons’ actual record on O’Reilly’s show:

Clemmons, who killed the four officers in Tacoma, wrote Huckabee in 2000 that he had discovered Jesus and he prayed that God would move the governor to reduce his 108-year sentence to time served. . .

To tell his side, Huckabee on Monday arranged to go on the Bill O’Reilly show, where his friend questioned him ever so gingerly. He fudged the details, claiming that Clemmons had gotten those 108 years in prison for only two crimes (there were eight).

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has more details of the real circumstances leading up to Clemmons’ 2000 release:

Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley, whose office opposed Clemmons’ parole in 2000 and 2004, said Huckabee created a flaw in the Arkansas justice system by freeing the number of prisoners he did. . . Huckabee . . . noted local prosecutors didn’t object to Clemmons’ commutation. Jegley said his office doesn’t have any record that the governor notified him of the intention to grant clemency.

So did Huckabee lie about the prosecutor’s position on O’Reilly’s show?  Here is what he said on O’Reilly:

We didn’t have any information from the prosecutors. We sent notices, which is the practice in Arkansas, to five different people: the attorney general, secretary of state, the prosecutor, the judge, and law enforcement. The only official that we have record of getting notification from is the judge who agreed with the recommendation of the parole board. So that’s what we acted upon, what I acted upon.

Did the dog eat the letter Huckabee was supposed to send to the prosecutor?  The prosecutor says outright that he didn’t receive notification, whereas Huckabee is resorting to time-honored low-bar legalisms about ‘the records he did receive’ and ‘the standard practice being notifying the prosecutor.’

In other words, he’s saying he did not not send that letter to that prosecutor.

Huckabee also claimed that nobody else objected to Clemmons’ release.  The Arkansas Leader reports that the victims objected.  So what are they, non-persons?

~~~

Details of Clemmon’s pre-release record, which included aggravated robbery, firearms possession, and burglary, are still emerging.  Bear in mind that criminal records often represent only a fraction of the crimes a defendant has been involved in: others get “disappeared” in a variety of ways — permanently shelved when one crime is charged, horse-traded into oblivion through pleas, or sealed and abandoned if the defendant is a juvenile, as Clemmons was.  And whenever I see a burglary charge for someone later charged with rape, I wonder if it was an attempted rape, a fishing expedition for victims, or a rape pleaded down to a lesser offense.

For, DNA database hits are uncovering scores of serial rapists whose only prior convictions were for burglary and other lesser offenses.

In any case, he must have been a real monster to garner such a sentence in the first place — though Huckabee saw things differently:

In 1990, the then 18-year-old Clemmons was sentenced as a habitual criminal to 60 years in prison for burglary and theft of property.  Just before he was sentenced Clemmons reportedly took a padlock off his holding cell and tried to throw it a court bailiff, but accidentally struck his mother, who had come to bring him street clothes. . . . Clemmons was found guilty of breaking into the home of a state trooper and taking more than $6,000 in valuables, including the trooper’s gun.  In May of 1989, Clemmons was arrested for allegedly carrying a weapon on a Little Rock, Ark., high school campus. Clemmons, then 17, reportedly told officers he brought a .25-caliber pistol to school because he had “been chased and beaten by ‘dopers,’ ” and if they got after him again he “had something for them.”

Prosecutors say the record was bad:

[T]he Pulaski County prosecutor’s office twice objected to parole recommendations for Clemmons.”For us to prosecute a 17-year-old, and for him to get a 95-year sentence without a homicide — you’ve got to be a bad little dude to draw that kind of a sentence,” said Mark Fraiser, who prosecuted the earlier cases against Clemmons in Pulaski County.

“He had an obvious propensity for future violence,” Fraiser said today. “To wake up this morning and turn on the news and hear his name, I can’t even imagine the suffering of those families and the suffering of people in those communities.”

~~~

Details about the prosecutor’s position on clemency and Clemmon’s criminal record aren’t the only things Huckabee fudged on O’Reilly’s show.

Simultaneously, he insinuated that there were too many clemency appeals to look at them closely:

I looked at every case file, and I had 1,200 of these a year. This is what people need to understand.

but that he nevertheless looked at this one very carefully:

O’REILLY: Now, did you study it? Did you study it? I mean, look, governors have a lot of this stuff.

HUCKABEE: Yes.

O’REILLY: Did you study this guy? Did you spend a lot of time on it, or did you just take the advice of your advisers?

HUCKABEE: No, I looked at every case file, and I had 1,200 of these a year. This is what people need to understand. Ninety-two percent of the time they were denied. But in this case, the judge in the case was also recommending and the parole board on a 5-0 vote, because at the age of 16, the sentence he got for the crimes he committed back in 1989 was excessive for anything else that was in Arkansas.

Is there anything he won’t say?  That doesn’t even make any sense.

Huckabee might have had 1,200 commutation requests every year, but so do other governors who don’t behave as if releasing violent offenders is a badge of honor.  Or a hobby:

Saline County Circuit Judge Robert Herzfeld, who as a prosecutor successfully sued Huckabee over clemency practices, said Huckabee’s decision to give Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards a pardon for a 1975 traffic offense after meeting him at a concert showed how lightly the ex-governor approached the practice.

“That just said volumes about how he considered this serious ultimate power over freedom as a joke,” Herzfeld said.

Having 1,200 commutation requests doesn’t mean a thing — it certainly doesn’t mean you should go beating the bushes to let rapists off easy.  If you read one thing about Huckabee, read this detailed and damning expose on his efforts to cover-up his role in the release of rapist and murderer Wayne DuMond:

New sources, including an advisor to Gov. Mike Huckabee, have told the Arkansas Times that Huckabee and a senior member of his staff exerted behind-the-scenes influence to bring about the parole of rapist Wayne Dumond, who Missouri authorities say raped and killed a woman there shortly after his parole [DNA confirmed Dumond’s guilt].  Huckabee has denied a role in Dumond’s release . . . Huckabee has shifted responsibility for Dumond’s release to others, claiming former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker made Dumond eligible for parole and saying the Post Prison Transfer Board made the decision on its own to free Dumond.  But the Times’ new reporting shows the extent to which Huckabee and a key aide were involved in the process to win Dumond’s release. It was a process marked by deviation from accepted parole practice and direct personal lobbying by the governor, in an apparently illegal and unrecorded closed-door meeting with the parole board (the informal name by which the Post Prison Transfer Board is known).  After Huckabee told the board, in executive session, that he believed Dumond got a “raw deal,” according to a board member who was there, and supported his release, board chairman Leroy Brownlee personally paved the way for Dumond’s release, according to board records and former members. During that time — from December 1996 to January 1997 — Brownlee regularly consulted with Butch Reeves, the governor’s prison liaison, on the status of his efforts, two state officials have told the Times.

Read the rest here.

~~~

Meanwhile the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports this appalling exchange.  I think it says everything that needs to be said about Huckabee’s real attitude towards crime victims:

A county prosecutor in Arkansas, Robert Herzfeld, wrote Huckabee arguing that his clemency policy was “fatally flawed” — and would later sue to overturn a Huckabee decision to set free a murderer who bludgeoned his victim.

The reply to his letter came from Huckabee’s chief of staff: “The governor read your letter and laughed out loud. He wanted me to respond to you. I wish you success as you cut down on your caffeine consumption.”

Huckabee “laughed out loud” at an urgent plea to keep a convicted murderer behind bars.  Now he says he’s “heartbroken” at the four officers’ deaths.  What a difference a little negative publicity makes.

And what a shame Bill O’Reilly is covering for Huckabee.  O’Reilly is usually one of the only people in the media who speak up for crime victims, as he did last year in this truly appalling case.  O’Reilly says he’s going after the judges — presumably the one who helped get Clemmons off and then officiated at his wedding:

“I figure young people make some mistakes,” [Judge Marion Humphrey] said. Also a Presbyterian minister, Humphrey said he believes in giving people a second chance.  Humphrey in 2004 also officiated Clemmons’ wedding when he married his fiance Nicole Cheryleen Smith, according to a copy of the marriage certificate [this, after how many additional offenses?].  “It would be the furthest thing from my mind that he would go out and kill four police officers, if in fact he did,” Humphrey said.

~~~

It’s this mindset that’s the problem. Huckabee, like far too many politicians, parole board members, judges, and even prosecutors (who are often defense attorneys-in-training) work hard to minimize criminals’ records at every turn, endlessly seeking any golden ring to justify releasing them back onto the streets.

They are abetted, and praised for this by a wide variety of extremely influential people — law professors, criminologists, academic and foundation leaders, religious leaders, and, of course, virtually everyone in the media: the Empathy/Leniency Cabal.  Our legal system is suffused with empathy for the worst offenders, and a culture of extreme leniency that gets cops, and other living things, killed with chilling regularity.

This was the worldview Huckabee chose, and to deny that now is simply dishonest.

Peter Hermann (Baltimore Sun) Sheds Some Light on the Murder Rate, Looks for Light in the Courts

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If you read nothing else this week, read the following two articles by Peter Hermann.  Baltimore struggles with crime and court issues very similar to Atlanta’s.  More severe, in their case:

Delving More Deeply Into Shooting Stats

Here are some statistics about recent killings in Baltimore:

The 107 people charged with murder last year had accumulated a combined 1,065 prior arrests – 380 related to guns and 99 related to drugs.

The 234 people killed last year had a combined 2,404 prior arrests – 162 related to guns and 898 related to drugs.

That’s an average of 10 arrests per suspect and 10.3 arrests per victim.

If murderers and their victims have been arrested, on average, ten times, then nothing will reduce the murder rate more dramatically than taking recidivism seriously.  Unfortunately, in Baltimore, as in Atlanta, there’s little of that:

Police repeatedly complain that the people they put in handcuffs only return to the streets to do more harm. Here are the number of times some murder suspects and victims from last year had been arrested: 74, 71, 49, 40, 38, 34, 29. … The list goes on.

These numbers don’t say anything about conviction rates, and there’s a sad tale behind each case, a book-length reason why someone can get arrested 74 times before dying on a street corner or get arrested 71 times before being charged with murder.

I wonder who has the highest number of arrests in Atlanta?  Hermann offers a list of factors that result in multiple arrests without significant prison time:

Many are hopelessly sick addicts arrested on petty charges, such as loitering, or involving small amounts of drugs, which tend to pile up but don’t result in much jail time. Cases fall apart in Baltimore for a myriad of reasons that include an overwhelmed court system, distrust of police, jury nullification and witnesses and victims who are too scared or just don’t care to testify. [italics added]

Read the rest here.

~~~

Hermann on transparency in the courts:

Time for Open Records

I had hoped that a video of a juvenile court hearing would help explain how a teenager with a long criminal record who had just been arrested in a drug bust could be sent home from a detention center only to be charged with killing a man two hours later in the front seat of a Buick Park Avenue.

Unfortunately, what I saw not only fails to explain why state officials freed 17-year-old Maurice Brown, but it raises new questions about the case, while revealing proposed procedural changes that would make it easier for more young offenders to avoid detention. . .

The story of Maurice Brown — released to his mother’s custody, committing murder two hours later, could be any one of a dozen recent cases in Atlanta, or more than a dozen.  How many more?  Nobody knows.

Read the rest here.

City of Laws, or City of Individual Armed Compounds?

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There were 39,000 property crimes reported to the police in Atlanta last year. Think about that.  That’s more than 100 a day.

Now think about how many more crimes there would be if people weren’t constructing armed compounds around themselves, at enormous financial and psychological expense.

I read a neighborhood post yesterday that really made me think.  A woman reported that she was alone in her house with her baby when somebody rang the doorbell in the middle of the night, then kicked in the door.

She grabbed her child, went to a secluded place, and hid there while dialing 911.

That’s really smart.  I probably would have headed right for the front door to see who was there, which could have been disastrous in this case.

A second incident was also reported on the website — starting with a doorbell ringing in the middle of the night.  So be prepared to act defensively if somebody rings your doorbell or knocks on the door at a strange time.

And think about how you would escape from your own house, if somebody came in through the front door, the back door, the garage.  Terrible to have to think this way, but there it is.

~~~

There is one self-defense book I think everybody should read.  It’s called The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker.  Ignore the title.  It’s an important book because it actually trains you to listen to your instincts — not just to cope with situations that involve strangers, but also to evaluate the possible dangers from people you meet or know: intimate partners, potential dates, work colleagues, and so on.  De Becker isn’t paranoid, and he certainly doesn’t view all men as potentially violent towards women — none of that.  He simply teaches readers to “give themselves permission” to act on gut feelings by seeking safety.  You won’t hear me spout New Age lingo like that very often (not to mention the word “lingo”), but that’s his method.  And people nowadays need permission, sometimes, to react to an unexpected situation or to get away from an abuser.  We have been trained to be too sensitive towards all the wrong things: I think of all those people on the MARTA train studiously saying nothing while “MARTA Girl” threatened that elderly woman.

Much of the book is about anticipating danger.  If you know a woman who is in or has ever been in a violent relationship, buy her this book today.  It is better than talking yourself blue in the face, even if she is not ready to protect herself.  It will save both of you a lot of time.  If you have a daughter or son going off to college, or starting to date, make them read this book.  If you have friends moving to a new neighborhood, buy them this book, because people are especially vulnerable to crime when they move.  If you have friends or employees who work late in restaurants — well, you get the point.

If you’re going to do one thing to protect yourself, read this book.  It’s really that good.

The Genesis of a Lie: How Brutal Killers Become Victims, Part 1

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This is what Michael King looked like when he was caught in 2008 after abducting, raping and murdering 21-year old mother Denise Amber Lee:

Normal looking guy, right?  King was a husband and father, a home-owner, a businessman who worked as a plumber.  But he’s recently gotten a make-over:

This is King in the courtroom, stumbling around slack-faced, pretending to be incompetent in the interest of setting up a post-conviction defense of mental insufficiency.  He kept this face on for the entire trial.

His attorneys alleged that he had diminished intelligence and capacity from a sledding accident he had at six.

You know, before he went to school, got married, started a business, had a kid. . . and then abducted a beautiful young mother and tortured her in a “rape room” before slaughtering her, while expertly eluding authorities.

Expect the European press to automatically (and mindlessly) add King to their list of “mentally handicapped child-men sitting helplessly on American death row.”

Tomorrow: Two Newspapers, and How They Covered the King Trial

Two Crime I Didn’t Report: Part 2

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Yesterday, I wrote about crimes that don’t get counted in the official statistics and people who don’t get to live decent lives because powerful people work so hard to deny the terrible daily impact of crime.

A new anti-crime ethic is percolating in the neighborhoods and on-line.  This ethic, however, is being slandered because it flies directly in the face of the tired old excuse-making and crime-downplaying that has long been the status quo among politicians and criminologists.

One of the ironies of this status quo is that people who study crime seem intent upon denying its existence.  Every year, the FBI releases raw data on crime reports, and then, inevitably, like the swallows returning to Capistrano, a great cry emerges from the hallways of sociology departments:

Crime records are meaningless!  We need to understand criminals, not punish them!  Shame on people who worry about crime!  They’re hysterics, “perceiving” danger that does not really exist.

Well, OK, that’s a little exaggerated. Criminologists don’t shout.  They sit quietly at their desks and wait for journalists to call them so they can discuss their latest modeling techniques that show that crime simply is not the problem that the great unwashed public believes it to be.  And this is as predictable as the Capistrano swallows: not a season passes without some new statistical effort to “adjust” crime rates downward.

A great deal of the statistical jostling that occurs at the release of the Uniform Crime Reports has to do with the ranking of cities in terms of relative danger.  Nobody wants to be #1 in homicide, after all.  Nobody wants to be #1 in any crime rate, which is why the criminologists get crunching and the politicians start working the microphones as soon as the new UCR hits the streets.

It’s a cynical game, and a dangerous one. As I said yesterday, no politician should ever be allowed to declare victory over crime so long as people have to cover their front doors with metal bars in order to keep criminals from kicking the door down.  Criminologists in particular have a lot to answer for in their quest to excuse offenders, oppose incarceration, and downplay crime prevalence — more or less the official mantra of the profession since the 1970’s.

One of the more curious efforts at adjusting crime rates downward originates at Georgia State University, where Professor Robert Friedmann has gained national attention for arguing that crime data should be adjusted based on the number of poor, unemployed, black, and single-female-headed households in the city in question, a measure he equates with “social and economic disadvantage.”

Here is how Professor Friedmann’s formula works.  In 2007, Atlanta ranked 8th in the nation among large cities for prevalence of homicide based on population and the number of homicides reported to the Uniform Crime Reports.  Professor Friedmann took that raw data and “factored in” census information about the percentage of poor people, black people, unemployed people, and single-parent, female-headed households in Atlanta compared to other cities.  When you factor in these characteristics in a particular way, he argues, Atlanta is no longer the 8th most dangerous city in America: it drops to number 43.

Here is his mathematical model for “adjusting” Atlanta’s homicide rate:

The statistical model used to estimate adjusted homicide rates for the 63 large US cities was specified as follows:

Homrate = a + b1(Poverty) + b2(MdInc) +  b3(MaleUnem) + b4(Black) +  b5(FemHead), where

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Homrate = Homicides per 100,000 city residents;

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Poverty = Percentage of families with incomes below the poverty line;

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MdInc = Median household income;

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MaleUnem = Percentage of males age 20-64 unemployed;

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Black = Percentage of the population black; and

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FemHead = Percentage of families with children under the age of 18 headed by a female.

I am deeply uncomfortable with this theory: I think it presumes a certain level of pathology among minority populations and then measures nothing more than the deviations from this micro-engineered pathology rate.

Here are the before-and-after top ten rankings for 2007 (go here and click on table-1 for the full list):

  • Highest unadjusted homicide rates: Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, Newark, Washington D.C., Oakland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cleveland, Memphis.
  • Highest adjusted homicide rates: Newark, Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Phoenix, San Francisco, Alburqueque, Washington D.C., Miami, Tulsa.

The clear winners of Dr. Friedmann’s approach are Atlanta, which drops from 8th to 43rd place, and Detroit, which drops from 1st to 23rd (well, prior to this week’s revelation that they under-counted murders by some 25%).  So, Atlanta alone benefits from this approach, at least in an academic sense.

At the cost, one might say, of a quantification of the soft bigotry of lowered expectations.  Instead of measuring incidents of crime in order to arrive at the crime rate, Friedmann measures the race of the population and then contextualizes crime within race.  Even murders committed by whites are reflected through the presence or absence of a black population, and while I cannot imagine that being the intent of this exercise, it is an unavoidable result.

Instead of blaming crime on the criminals who commit crime, Friedmann blames socio-economic “crime producing” factors.  He blames everybody, in practice, with the exception of the criminals themselves, who are partially acquitted of blame in the process.  This shifting of blame from “criminal actors” to “everyone” has been the main project of criminology since at least the mid-Seventies, which is probably why a theory like Friedmann’s didn’t raise more eyebrows, when what he is saying may actually be paraphrased: “Well, you must expect a certain amount of murder from poor, jobless, fatherless black people.”

One columnist in San Francisco expressed wry amusement that their 88 slayings placed them higher on the homicide list than Detroit for 2004 (the figures above are 2007):

A new study by the Improving Crime Data Project shows that San Francisco had the highest homicide rate among the 67 largest U.S. cities in 2004, when our fair burg racked up 88 slayings. In effect, the study posits that with our generally boffo quality of life — think fabulous ocean views and Gavin Newsom’s hair — we should have far fewer murders. Instead, we’re the new Baltimore. . .

“That’s the price you pay for living well,” quips criminologist Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who worked on the project with Friedmann and Richard Rosenfeld, a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Blumstein suggests that, given our relatively high median income of $55,000, low unemployment rate, and stable residential base, the number of homicides ought to decline. “It’s a problem you should be able to do something about.”

Detroit, for its part, was delighted to be knocked from #1 to #23 for 2007:

If you consider Detroit’s socioeconomic status, it’s not the deadliest city in the country after all, according to rankings released this week by the Improving Crime Data Project.

This was, of course, before the other bodies showed up off their books.  But there’s the rub, and it is far from amusing: all those people murdered in Detroit in 2004, and 2005, and 2006 and so on did not stop being dead just because some criminologists found a sophisticated way to justify away Detroit’s high rate of crime, or some police official found a clever way to avoid recording murders in which the victim lingered in I.C.U. for two days before dying.

All the homicide victims in Detroit would still be just as dead if the standard of living in San Francisco were to suddenly plunge below that of the Motor City.

You can play with statistics all day long, but crime is still out there, bearing down on people like that girl and her grandmother living in the war zone that is Thomasville Heights.  If any lesson is to be learned from the existence of studies that add “socio-economics” to crime statistics, it is that we have a greater emergency on our hands, not a lesser one.  If children are being born and raised in environments so destructive that it must be presumed that they will be far more likely to kill or be killed, that ought to be cause for alarm, not quiescence.

And Now, Back to Crime, Or: My Latest Trip to Atlanta

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I am back home in Florida after a sad trip to Atlanta.  No matter where I am, I read the Atlanta Journal Constitution every day, so sometimes it seems as if I never really leave the city.  Weirdly, now when I’m actually in Atlanta, it seems like I’m not completely there, too, because I’ve gotten used to reading the Atlanta paper while looking out the window at this:

(my Florida backyard)

Such are the dislocations of the internet age.

Anyway, the new FBI crime statistics are out, and already being debated.  Meanwhile, a Real Clear Politics report ranking cities by safety is out, and already being debated — that is, the part about Atlanta being the second-most dangerous large city in America, after Memphis.  And on the flip side of the coin — the “crime is perception, not reality” side, one might say, other studies attempting to minimize the impact of crime using extremely odd criminological arguments about the meaning of criminal activity are still drifting through the atmosphere.

So this week, in an effort to feel a little less personally dislocated (relatively), I’m going to tackle to far more dislocated subject of crime stats: what they are, what they aren’t, and, most importantly, what they cannot be.

One pretty glaring thing crime stats cannot be is accurate.  There are many reasons for this, but let me just offer one:

I did not report the attempted crime I saw happening in the parking lot of the Walmart on Highway 41 on June 7, so next year it will not be part of the statistics on crime in Atlanta.

More Tomorrow…

Blog Will Resume

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Blog will resume Monday, June 15.

In Transit

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In transit, due to a death . . .

Helen Rose Trent, 1940 – 2009

The More Things Change . . .

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Thirty years ago this month, the murder of a young cancer researcher sparked outrage in Atlanta.  Dr. Mark Tetalman, a nuclear medicine specialist from Ohio, was attending a conference at the downtown Hilton Hotel when armed robbers shot him to death in front of his wife near the corner of Piedmont and Ponce de Leon Avenues.

The business community accused Mayor Maynard Jackson and Police Chief George Napper of dismissing public concerns about crime.  Atlanta had the highest murder rate and the highest overall crime rate of any city, and the numbers were rapidly climbing higher, with a 69% increase in homicides between 1978 and 1979 alone.

The police force was demoralized and severely understaffed – far down from the 2,000 budgeted positions, which had never, in reality, translated into anywhere near 2,000 cops on the force.  The size of the force had dwindled by 25% between 1975 and 1979.

A month later, the bodies of fourteen-year old Edward Hope Smith and thirteen-year old Alfred Evans were found on Nisky Lake Road in southwest Atlanta.  The Atlanta child murders (or at least the officially recognized ones) had begun.

It is not inspirational to realize that these headlines could be from 1979 or 2009: “Police Demoralized, Underpaid, Understaffed.”  “Mayor Accused of Not Caring About Public Safety.” “Youths Found Murdered.”  “Cancer Researcher Killed in Robbery.”

How could so little have changed?

One thing changed.  In 1979, the metro area’s population was 2,233,000.  Thirty years later, it stands at 5,626,000.  The population increase in Atlanta itself is much smaller —  (approximately) 425,000 in 1979 and 519,000 today.  Nearly 3.5 million more people in the region; nearly 100,000 more people in the city itself – and Atlanta still can’t seem to achieve those 2,000 cops.

I will be travelling to Atlanta today.  Blogs will resume in a few days.  Look for my blog postings and an op-ed on the Police Benefits scandal in Sunday Paper.

Another Post on the Ramage Report

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See my latest blog on the injured Atlanta Police Officers scandal at today’s Ramage Report.

Injured Police and Atlanta’s Political Class

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I am blogging at the Ramage Report on the City of Atlanta’s denial of benefits for injured police.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 1: The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council Blows Millions on Brian Nichols, Cries Poor

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I’m gonna pull the chain on you, pal. And you wanna know why?  Cause you’re f****** up my city.  Cause you’re walking all over people like you own them.  And you wanna know the worst part?  You’re from out of state. — Tom Sharky, Sharky’s Machine (1981)

Wonder why our courts are falling apart? Remember this headline, from February, 2008?

Tab climbs to nearly $216k quest for Nichols jurors

Fulton County taxpayers have spent nearly $216,000 to pick a jury to hear the death penalty case of courthouse rampage suspect Brian Nichols. Yet after more than a year, not a single juror has been chosen.

And it’s possible many, if not all, of those expenses will have to be paid again if a new jury pool is needed because so much time has passed since the current group of 1,000 potential jurors took their oaths in January 2007, some legal experts say.

“I would imagine you’re not going to be able to recoup that money,” said veteran death penalty defense attorney Jimmy Berry. “Almost everything that’s been allocated is gone.”

A couple of million dollars later, Nichols was convicted, though not sentenced to death.  At every stage of the trial, however, his attorneys gamed the system to run up bills, and the actions of some jurors and judges drove costs even higher.  Judge Hilton Fuller sent the case into a deep tailspin after he granted an interview to attorney and author Jeffrey Toobin, who quoted the judge chatting about Nichols’ obvious guilt, thus providing Nichols’ lawyers with even more opportunities to derail the system.

Nichols carried out his murders in front of witnesses and confessed to the crimes; nonetheless, were you among the many who breathed a sigh of relief only after he was actually convicted?  Such is the twisted state of our trial system, where expensive game-playing by defense attorneys has taken the place of sanity, the people’s interests, or reasonable efforts to arrive at the truth.

The Gideon decision required American taxpayers to foot the bill for defendants who said they were too poor to pay for a lawyer. Since then, the defense bar has often used Gideon as a weapon in their ongoing efforts to undermine laws they oppose — particularly the death penalty. In essence, they are forcing you to pay for their activism under the cover of providing counsel for poor defendants. Such efforts get ramped up wherever there are state-funded “Defenders Councils” mixing advocacy with representing clients, all on the taxpayers’ dime. Why should we be paying for the infrastructure of what has become an activist organization?

And why, precisely, was Brian Nichols given such stretch-limousine legal representation at the expense of every other “indigent” defendant in the state of Georgia?  Because the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council said that nothing less would do.  From the New York Times:

ATLANTA, March 21 [2007] — A high-profile multiple-murder case has drained the budget of Georgia’s public defender system and brought all but a handful of its 72 capital cases to a standstill.

The case involves a rape suspect, Brian Nichols, who is accused of escaping from a courthouse here in 2005 after overpowering a guard, taking her gun and then killing a judge, a court reporter and two other people before he was recaptured.

Prosecutors say the evidence against Mr. Nichols, including a videotaped confession, is overwhelming. But the case has cost the public defender system $1.4 million, and, on Wednesday, the judge in the case postponed jury selection until Sept. 10. . . .

The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, which manages the public defender system, has run out of money. That means it can no longer pay the three private lawyers on Mr. Nichols’s defense team. . . .

The case “is testing the will of the state of Georgia with regard to whether or not the death penalty is worth the amount it costs,” said Mike Mears, director of the standards council.

I thought the case was supposed to determine Brian Nichols’ guilt, not test the taxpayers’ will.  What an astonishing display of hubris.  Usually when people misuse public monies, they have the decency to not brag about it in the New York Times.

What’s even worse than legislating from the bench? Legislating from the defendant’s table.  What’s worse than that?  Using the bench to legislate from the defendant’s table.  It’s hard not to conclude that Brian Nichols’ obvious guilt actually enabled the Standards Council to exploit the case for political gain:

Judge Fuller, a Superior Court judge in neighboring DeKalb County who was brought out of retirement for the Nichols trial, has been put in the unusual position of approving all spending for Mr. Nichols’s defense, a responsibility that would ordinarily fall to the Public Defender Standards Council, which oversees the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender.

But in 2005, the Office of the Capital Defender was disqualified from managing Mr. Nichols’s defense after Judge Fuller learned that one of the first four public defenders assigned to represent him was not qualified to practice law in Georgia.

Judge Fuller then appointed four new lawyers to defend Mr. Nichols, and the judge agreed to pay Henderson Hill, a noted defense lawyer from North Carolina, $175 an hour, about half what Mr. Hill customarily bills his private clients. Two of Mr. Nichols’s other lawyers are being paid $125 and $95 per hour, and the fourth is a state employee.

Hmmm, we need a Capital Defender’s Council because we need highly trained, specialized lawyers to take on all the vagaries of capital defense, but this crack team of lawyers conveniently forgot the extremely basic rule that one must be licensed to practice law in Georgia in order to practice law in Georgia?

Or was this just another expense-producing delay tactic?  Funny how, either way, the defense wins.

Real, actual, elected legislators should not yield to these tactics. An excellent way to free up money for indigent defense is to simply stop funding the defense council, which has proven itself untrustworthy with the taxpayers’ money.

Sure, they’ll threaten even more endless appeals for inadequate representation, especially in cases with truly heinous offenders, the bread-and-butter of such advocacy (theory being that standing up for the truly indefensible is a badge of real courage, while standing up for a small-potatoes felon is both boring and hard to publicize).

But they’ll file endless appeals in every high profile case anyway.  So why keep giving in to their demands?

This past year, the Georgia Legislature proposed stripping the Council of its funding oversight authority. The bill died in the House, but it’s worth reconsidering. Why should the rest of us, and the justice system itself, be held hostage by an advocacy group? Why should indigent defense allocations be determined by people whose real, admitted goal is to shut down the system?

Once again, Georgia State Senator Preston Smith (R – Rome) served as a voice of reason on both the Nichols case and the Defender Standards Council.  Georgia is lucky to have Mr. Smith in office.  In the New York Times:

In Georgia, State Senator Preston W. Smith, a Republican and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he thought the high price of Mr. Nichols’s defense was by design rather than necessity.

“You’re building in an incentive to destroy the death penalty by building in a financial nuclear weapon,” Mr. Smith said. “There’s one cynical view that says this isn’t at all by accident.”

The Standards Council knew precisely what it was doing when they created a giant cash sinkhole out of the Brian Nichols case. Heck, they bragged about it. And now they’re complaining that they simply cannot provide lawyers for poor people because all the money’s spent.  A must-read article on this, from last week’s Atlanta Journal Constitution:

In Georgia, Lawyers Abandoning [the] Poor

Across Georgia, poor people accused of crimes are being abandoned by their lawyers because there is no money to pay their legal fees.

There are also 10 death-penalty cases proceeding to trial with $1.1 million in expected billings. But there is no money to pay for those cases, either.

And another must-read article: also from the AJC last week:

880 Fulton Inmates Still Await Trial a Year Later: Court System, State Funding, other factors blamed in backlog

Jonathon Robinson is charged with raping three women, but he has sat in the Fulton County jail for four years without a trial at an estimated cost to local taxpayers of more than $100,000.

Robinson may be one of the worst cases of justice delayed but it is far from an isolated one. The Fulton county jail currently has a backlog of about 880 prisoners who have been awaiting trial — most for felonies like murder, rape or armed robbery — for more than a year, according to county figures. . . .

There are a number of contributing factors: The case backlog is blamed on various reasons: a fragmented and largely unaccountable court system, lack of state funding for enough judges, wily defense lawyers, mandatory sentencing that makes it difficult to plea bargain and the failure of Superior Court judges to manage their dockets and set cases for trial.

Robinson’s case touches on most of those factors. Last May, Robinson asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to void his indictments on the grounds his constitutional rights have been violated for lack of a speedy trial. No ruling has yet been handed down.

“He has been failed by the court system, the prosecutors and his defense lawyers,” said his former lawyer Scott Dawkins. “He was in front of a judge … who didn’t move cases very well. He kept getting bounced from attorney to attorney and the prosecutors kept switching.”

The Superior Court has been taking steps to address the backlog to eliminate jail overcrowding and develop a more efficient court system. It’s a tall order in a system in which the 19 judges are independently elected with little accountability, answerable only to voters. They generally run unopposed.

I’ve been critical of the AJC for its criminal justice reporting in the past.  But I’ve been nothing but impressed by their coverage of the last several months of funding crises and other crises in the state justice system.

Meanwhile, it’s time for the state to stop handing blank checks to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council. Take the state checkbook away from the activists, and put somebody neutral and accountable in charge of allocating funds for indigent defense.

The “Benjy Brigade,” Part 2: After the DNA

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(this is part 2)

On March 23, 2003, DNA specialist Edward Blake announced that the semen taken from the victim’s public hair was, indeed, Benjamin LaGuer’s. The victim had not been lying, and she was not a racist monster. The things that had been written about her and spoken about her in the halls of Harvard Law and judge’s chambers throughout the city were false. Benjamin LaGuer was the racist, and a sadistic rapist and attempted murderer, as well. After the shock subsided, Boston’s elite went into mourning. Several journalists wrote weepy paeans to their own good intentions. “I put the covers over my head, and for the next six hours, I just couldn’t get out of bed,” said reporter John Strahinich, whose thoughts under the covers apparently did not stray to retracting the bile he had directed at the frail victim of his jailhouse pal.

The Boston media had finally found a victim they could believe in: themselves.

Yet even the very public unraveling of their unprofessional alliance with LaGuer failed to move them to go back and correct the record. Most simply abandoned the story, retreating into a cowardly silence, refusing to comment further on a case they had obsessively scribbled on for years. Only Dianne Williamson of the Worchester Telegram & Gazette actually apologized to the victim in print.

This behavior, however, was hardly the worst exhibited in the wake of the DNA results. Boston University president John Silber came out and reiterated his belief that “Benjy” should be released, even though he was guilty, even though he still refused to take responsibility for the crime, and even though he had recently managed to harass the victim on her deathbed by posing as a priest on the phone from prison (with his lawyer’s help? with a journalist’s help?) and then “absolving” her when he was tapped through to her hospital room, making his voice one of the last voices she heard and re-traumatizing her family.

“I think he’s a fine person,” Silber told the press.

What could possibly underlie this degree of cognitive disconnection, short of poisonous hatred for the victim of the crime? Only by despising her could you look at the violation of her body, the twenty-year public excoriation of her, and the violation of her deathbed, and see in her tormentor “a fine person.”

This was Boston: a city ironically weaned on literary tales of the danger of scapegoating “witches” had created, and destroyed, another one.

As journalists mourned in uncharacteristic silence, politically savvy supporters of LaGuer scrambled for cover. Intent on winning the governor’s mansion, Deval Patrick attempted to play down his long association with LaGuer, getting caught in serious lies in the process.

But John Silber, Noam Chomsky, and William Styron continued to support LaGuer’s release. Silber told the press that he believed LaGuer had come to believe his own lies about not having committed the crime, so — technically — LaGuer was not lying when he continued to claim his innocence. “I think he can be quite sincere in saying he didn’t do it,” Silber said, “I still think that’s a psychological misconception on his part . . . I think he’s a perfectly good example of a screwed-up kid who was on drugs and making every mistake you can imagine.”

Silber went on to explain that, for Benjy, having to admit guilt in order to be freed when he did not actually believe he was guilty because he had convinced himself he was not was a “Catch-22.” Consequently, LaGuer should be freed even though he was both guilty and refused to admit guilt, Silber explained at a parole hearing a year after the DNA results confirmed LaGuer’s guilt.

Here is a picture of John Silber’s book:

As I watched John Silber and all the judges and professors and lawyers and writers rally around Benjamin LaGuer, I wondered what it must have felt like to be a rape victim attending Boston University or Harvard or Harvard Law School at that time, knowing that the president of B.U. and other authority figures on those campuses were doing their utmost to smear the reputation of another victim of rape and free her assailant. What would it be like to get up in the morning and go to class and actually work for your degree (not to mention pay for it), while Benjamin LaGuer got showered with literary awards and honorary degrees — because, let’s be blunt here, he was a rapist who cried racism?

What would it be like to walk into a classroom knowing that your professor was spending his free time preening for the cameras on behalf of a man who bound a frail, elderly woman, beat her senseless, sexually violated her, broke her cheekbones, tried to kill her, and then cajoled others to treat her like a monster?

I don’t think I could have taken it. I think I would have left that place.

I wonder if there were victims who did leave, knowing full well that to speak out on behalf of the victim would be to be labeled by extremely powerful people — labeled a racist, a hate-monger, and a woman who lies about rape.

Update on Jamal (Shamal) Thompson: Is the Law of Georgia Being Enforced in the Courts of Georgia by Judges in Georgia?

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WSB-Channel 2 Atlanta Reporter Tom Jones has been following the Jamal Thompson case more closely than anyone, and he confirmed last week that DeKalb County Judge Cynthia Becker, relying on Thompson’s lies about his past, inappropriately granted him first offender status when he had already received that status in a different county in a prior case.

The murder of cancer researcher Eugenia Calle by a recidivist who should have been behind bars raises several questions about the actions of judges and the enforcement of Georgia’s recidivism statutes.  Legislators should move to investigate the application of these laws, to make certain the law of Georgia is being enforced in the courts of Georgia by judges in Georgia.  I suspect any investigation of sentencing outcomes would uncover many instances of first-time offender rules being abused and recidivism statues being ignored in some jurisdictions.

Are there consequences for judges who fail to abide by sentencing laws?

Also, why should every convicted criminal get a second bite of the apple, as it were, with first-time offender status?

Also, there are loopholes in our recidivist code that need to be reformed.

It’s never too early to start thinking about the next legislative session . . .

“Cops Matter. Police Count”

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Crime is down in Los Angeles, despite the economy:

Police Chief William J. Bratton sounded his familiar refrain when asked to explain why crime has not increased. “Cops matter. Police count,” he said.
Bratton has long clashed with prominent criminologists who argue that police cannot counter larger societal forces — such as the economy and drug epidemics — that they contend drive crime rates.
Criminologists like to point to 1990 – 1991, when a recession coincided with the highest crime rates seen in decades, to justify predictions that economic hardship causes people to commit more crime.  But does it? The types of crime that peaked in the early 90’s were largely fueled by inner-city drug-and-gang behavior related to crack cocaine and inter-generational poverty.  The crime wave preceded the financial crisis and persisted after the recession faded.  Crime rates really began to drop when sentencing laws were toughened, starting in 1993 (now those laws are being rolled back).
 
The stock market doesn’t cause or prevent crime (except white-collar crime).  More cops, and tougher sentencing laws prevent crime; fewer cops and lenient sentencing increases crime.  L.A. is experiencing a terrible unemployment picture, but crime is down, thanks (virtually everyone agrees) to Bratton’s policing.  In other part of the country, the economy is not so bad, but crime is still up.  It’s simple, really: nobody in this country has to steal bread to feed their children.  Trust the cop, not the criminologists.