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Is Jennifer Granholm the New Mike Huckabee?

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The Detroit Free Press reports that Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has begun commuting the sentences of dozens of murderers, breaking the promises the state made to victims that their loved one’s killers would die behind bars.

Why is she doing this?  Well, why does any ambitious politician side with vicious killers and against the families they destroyed?

It’s edgy.  It lends a sort of cachet.  It attracts good press, the virgin’s blood of political aspiration.  If you’re a conservative Republican like Mike Huckabee, claiming to convert violent felons is a way to flaunt your compassion and evangelical credentials.  Of course, you only grab headlines if you’re taking on the really heinous felons, the murderers and rapists, (preferably, both).

If you’re a Huckabee, or a Sister Helen Prejean, you’re certainly not going to waste your time on small fish.  Where’s the challenge?  (Where’s the cameras?)  That’s why the most heinous offenders are the ones who receive the most post-conviction attention and sympathy.

And victims?  Victims are so outré.  Victims do nothing for your resumé.

Liberal prisoner advocacy is identical to compassionate conservatism prisoner advocacy, only there are fewer references to salvation, and there’s more of it.  The left-wing version of Huckabee’s mission to empty the prisons is, well, the left-wing mission to empty the prisons, period.  Do you need a reason to release a felon if you’re a liberal?  You release them simply because they’re there.

So what is Granholm’s particular angle? Why did she ramp up commutations last year?  Could it have to do with the Obama administration looking at her as a potential Supreme Court nominee?

Think of all those freed murderers as resumé padding for Granholm’s SCOTUS dreams.  An internship, if you will, for precisely what the current administration deems to be the important work of the Court:

After Granholm was re-elected in 2006, the administration stepped up efforts to put more cases in the commutation pipeline. In addition to the infirm, she has commuted dozens of drug sentences and released 15 foreign nationals set for deportation.

Releasing illegal immigrants (here, foreign nationals) who commit crimes, instead of deporting them?  Check.  Rolling back the penalties for drugs?  Check.  “Emptying the Prisons,” even if it means letting murderers and other violent felons walk free?  Check.

~~~

Incidentally, the Detroit Free Press article is impressively wry:

Former Gov. William Milliken, the last Michigan governor to issue a large number of commutations and an advocate for its continued use, got it right almost every time.Except for James Ellis, an elderly convicted killer freed by Milliken who, eight years after his release, slaughtered three people and critically wounded two more in a shooting spree at a Detroit church in 1982.

Or John McRae, who Milliken approved for commutation in 1971, releasing him from a life sentence for the sexual mutilation and slaying of an 8-year-old boy in St. Clair Shores.

McRae moved to Florida, where authorities say he was responsible for the disappearance and death of three adolescent boys in the 70s. He was convicted of first-degree murder a second time in Michigan after the body of a 15-year-old neighbor was found buried under his old driveway near Clare. He died in prison in 2005.

The reporter also pokes holes in Granholm’s hackneyed claim that commutations save money:

Granholm’s heightened commutation activity began almost exclusively with approvals for prisoners with medical conditions that left them terminally ill or debilitated. Often the rationale for those decisions has been financial. State taxpayers pay for sick inmates — on top of the cost of incarceration. But after they are released, the medical cost is usually borne by Medicaid, covered largely by federal dollars.

Of course it is.

Julia Tuttle Bridge, Redux: More Made-Up Reporting on the “Sex Offenders Under the Bridge”

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Quick, what’s more bathetic than a sack of drowned kittens?

Why, it’s the Sex-Offenders-Under-the-Bridge in Miami.  Again.  In Time this time.  Apparently, it’s just not possible to guilt the fourth estate into covering this issue factually (see here, here, and here for my prior posts).  Is some defense attorney running a tour bus for gullible reporters to guarantee a steady supply of this melodrama?  If so, I wish they’d take a side trip to go shopping for new adjectives:

The Julia Tuttle Causeway is one of Miami’s most beautiful bridge spans, connecting the city to Miami Beach through palm-tree-filled islands fringed with red mangroves. But beneath the tranquil expanse sits one of South Florida’s most contentious social problems: a large colony of convicted sex offenders, thrown into homelessness in recent years by draconian residency restrictions that leave them scant available or affordable housing. They live in tents and shacks built from cast-off supplies, clinging to pylons and embankments, with no running water, electricity or bathrooms.

Draconian . . . clinging to pylons . . . tranquil expanse . . . it’s beginning to sound like a Simpsons episode.  And then, there is the embarrassing failure to fact-check:

Miami is hardly the only place in the U.S. where registered sex offenders can’t find shelter. In Georgia, a group living in tents in the woods near Atlanta was recently ordered out of even that refuge.

Oh, please.  “[O]rdered out of even that refuge.” Cue to violins.  That’s not what happened.  The county spent taxpayer resources arranging housing for them, just as they spend taxpayer money to address all their needs.  Didn’t the Time reporter bother to speak to county officials?

Press releases from activist organizations are not facts.

Here’s a better way to describe the “homeless sex offender” drama in its entirety: inspired by the Miami story, reporters coast to coast set out to comb bridges and underpasses, eagerly seeking encampments of homeless sex offenders.  Lightening their trip by jettisoning the heavy burden of objectivity, they finally stumbled upon a handful of men shacked up in the woods outside Marietta, Georgia — living there for about five minutes while other housing was being found for them.  Included in the group was a particularly violent child abuser who had been booted from his last taxpayer-subsidized dwelling because he couldn’t be bothered to pay a token bit of rent (he, of course, was the one being represented by a “civil rights” group suing the rest of us for failing to provide him with more free housing after he screwed up the last handout).  Plus there were a few other child molesters crying poverty and misrepresenting their convictions to the gullible gal Friday sent to interview them.  Meanwhile, nobody really noticed the hundreds of sex offenders living nearby in perfectly legal housing, just like nobody noticed the thousands of non-homeless sex offenders in Miami.

Other than the Miami encampment and the blink-of-an-eye Atlanta thing, the only other reported sighting of a homeless sex offender was by the New York Times’ Dan Barry, and that was entirely accidental: Barry didn’t realize that the manipulative old coot he was slavishly profiling was actually an absconded child rapist . . . because he didn’t do a simple thirty-second online fact-check to confirm any part of the man’s sob story.  Ouch.

Of course, the media’s failure to actually find more homeless sex offenders (let alone homeless sex offenders whose homelessness can be vaguely attributed to living restriction laws) did nothing to quell their passion for the story.

Anyway, back to the latest breathless confabulation:

But the Miami shantytown, with as many as 70 residents, is the largest of its kind [make that the only one of its kind], thanks to a frenzied wave of local laws passed in Florida after the grisly 2005 rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by a convicted sex offender. The state had already been the first to enact residency rules for convicted predators, barring them in 1995 from living within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and other children’s sites. Municipalities, with questionable authority, then adopted even tougher ordinances — there are 156 of them so far. Miami Beach, for example, bars offenders from living within 2,500 feet of all school-bus stops, effectively precluding them from living anywhere in the city.

Not true, not true, and not true.  Consistency: not always a virtue.  A “frenzied wave of local laws”?  What kind of reporting is that?  Frenzied?  Is the public “frenzied,” or did elected officials pass laws in response to public concerns about child rapists living incognito in homeless shelters and on the streets, in poor neighborhoods, among children who often lack supervision?

Note to self, Reporter Skipp: two courts have ruled that, in fact, the authority of the municipality in question is not “questionable”: that’s your opinion, and your opinion hardly belongs in a purported news story now, does it?  Particularly with no mention of the fact that, when challenged by the well-heeled lawyers from the side you’re on, the county won in court.  Twice.  Who died and made you a judge in Miami-Dade County anyway?  You are supposed to be a journalist.  This is supposed to be a news story.  Go read the court rulings.  Then report them.  Easy, right?

And are these men really homeless because they’re sex offenders?  How many had housing prior to their convictions?  How many assaulted a child in the last place they lived, with relatives or girlfriends, and that’s the real reason they’re on the streets now? “Effectively precluding them from living anywhere in the city”?  Wrong again.  Thousands of other sex offenders are housed throughout the city.  What’s wrong with these particular men?  And what does the ordinance actually say?  Reporting on this story has been shamefully devoid of such facts.

Could it be that the bridge-dwellers are sexually violent drunks and druggies who would be homeless anyway, especially as many of them have long records of other crimes that would make anyone choose to reject them as tenants?  Could it be they’re cleverly playing journalists like violins in the interest of advancing their lawsuit against the city, and busking up the federal handout they’ve been promised?  Do they, like so many homeless we shower with resources, prefer to live rough rather than avail themselves of taxpayer-subsidized housing that comes with some behavioral strings and a move away from their old stomping grounds?

And what happened to all that federal funding (our tax dollars) slated to be thrown at this trumped-up problem six months ago?

This tiny minority of Miami-Dade’s sex offenders who are living under the bridge are the only ones responsible for their own homelessness and the persistence of the encampment.  Some are staying on because they are suing the city, of course.  You know, that “questionable authority” place across the water?

Ah, but who cares? The academics have arrived to assist the lawyers suing the city, armed with their trumped-up research about how living restrictions cause rapists to do more rapin’.  None of this can actually be proven, of course, but that doesn’t stop certain politicians from repeating the claim, over and over and over again:

“The safety of Floridians has suffered as local politicians have tried to one-up each other with policies that have resulted in colonies of homeless sex offenders left to roam our streets,” says state senator Dave Aronberg, a Democrat running for state attorney general.

Has it really?  Are sex offenders really “roaming the streets” more because they’re being watched?  How does that work?  Prior to living restriction and registry laws, all sex offenders were free to “roam the streets” with impunity: to say that more do so now due to rules against such behavior is just intellectually dishonest.

Also intellectually dishonest?  Not getting a quote from someone who disagrees with the claims you’re pushing as fact in what’s supposed to be an objective news story.  You know, reporting both sides of a contentious issue?  Whatever happened to that?

Incidentally, the very last thing Florida needs is an A.C.L.U.-style Attorney General who spouts inane anti-incarceration propaganda at the drop of a hat.

To actually report this story, which not one journalist has done, you have to consider the offense patterns of this small group of men and others offenders like them.  Where did they find their victims?  Should society allow them to go back to identical circumstances?

To make the claim that living restriction laws threaten public safety, you have to compare recidivism rates before and after living restrictions were put in place.  And nobody has done that, either.  In fact, they cannot do it, because child molestation (the law in Florida applies to child molesters, not that you would know that from the news) so rarely gets reported, let alone reported in a timely manner.

Recidivism is nearly impossible to measure in a system where the vast majority of serial offenders, especially those who start as juveniles, are permitted to plead down to single offenses or non-sex crime charges.  So there are many things we cannot know.  Researchers claiming that they can isolate a specific cause-and-effect relationship between criminal behavior and the existence of these laws are just churning out propaganda in the service of activists who are looking for ways to pad their lawsuits.

No matter what David Aronberg claims.

Here’s an example of the type of research claims now being made by activists:

Research by agencies like the Minnesota Department of Corrections has found that a stable home is the strongest guarantor of sound post-incarceration behavior among sex offenders.

Well, of course it is.  It’s also the type of self-selecting factor that makes research conclusions suspect in the first place.  Having a “stable home” to go back to means you’re among the cohort of offenders who haven’t utterly bollocked every aspect of your life, or engaged in such chaotic and violent behavior that you had no stability to begin with and nothing left to lose.  It means you haven’t raped your own kids and thus can’t go home (hopefully, it means that).  It means you aren’t so addicted or psychopathic or mentally disorganized or impulsive or violent or lazy that you won’t follow the rules for the housing you’ve been offered.

By the taxpayers, including rape victims who pay taxes and are thus frequently forced to pay their own rapists’ rent.  A little gratitude would be attractive, instead of all this carping.

Academics take obvious insights like ‘offenders with stable lives are more stable’ and mutate them into policy arguments against monitoring offenders.  This is politics disguised as research.  And don’t think they’ll stop when they overturn living restrictions; the ultimate goal of the pro-sex offender movement is to do away with registration itself, so offenders can slip back into anonymity once they’ve served the six months (or mere probation) that still passes for punishment for many child molestation convictions.

It’s worth asking why reporters continually get so snowed by myths — like the claim that living restriction laws are magically forcing sex offenders to re-offend when they wouldn’t do so otherwise.  I think it’s the consequence of a mindset that refuses to contemplate, or write about, the existence of the crime itself.  They see the criminal, and empathize, but work hard to deny the existence of his victims.  Consequently, the thing that’s missing from all the extensive coverage of the “homeless sex offenders” is their crimes, as if these men are just people who have been randomly and unfairly designated “sex offenders” and sent to live under a bridge.  How can we even begin to have a conversation about the efficacy of these laws when reporters refuse to include any discussion of the types of crimes the men committed, and might commit again, in their stories?  Once we’re done reading about the lean-tos, and the slap of the waves, and the extension cords snaking through the encampment, could we possibly talk about child rape for a moment?

I once had a reporter tell me that he didn’t choose to write about an offender’s crime if he has “paid his debt to society.”  That’s risible.  We don’t write sentencing laws in order to let reporters feel that cinnamonny rush of self-esteem for opposing them; reporters shouldn’t cover crime policy without including the subject of . . . crime.

So, despite all the award-winning coverage of the view of the unjust sunset from under the Julia Tuttle Bridge, we haven’t really begun discussing the real issue, which is this: considering these men’s actual records and our continuing extreme leniency in sentencing, which settings pose the most risk for re-offense?  The last homeless shelter where they stalked vulnerable runaways?  Their ex-girlfriend’s apartment, where they raped their last six-year old victim?  Enough with the drama about pitiful child maulers: what works?

The men under the bridge are neither heroes nor victims; most would probably be homeless anyway, and it is grotesque that activists posing as journalists continue to trumpet their cause in editorials disguised as new stories and devoid of even the most basic facts.


Trials Without Truth: The Library Rapist

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Defense attorneys in Tampa Bay are attempting to derail the trial of accused two-time rapist Kendrick Morris.  They are demanding that DNA evidence identifying Morris as the rapist in two extremely violent sexual assaults be thrown out because, they allege, police collected it improperly.

Of course, there is no other way for them to defend their client: his DNA matches the two rapes.  So Morris’ lawyers are treating the courtroom like a casino craps table, not a serious truth-finding forum, a sadly reasonable presumption on their part, in fact.  Warped rules of evidence, piled one upon the other, create countless opportunities for keeping important facts from being considered by judges and juries.

What remains, once enough evidence has been suppressed, is something like kabuki-theater, in which the alleged word choice of a police officer seeking a DNA sample from a dangerous suspect is deemed more important than the facts of the brutal rape itself, or the suffering of the victim, or the community’s safety.

Or the integrity of the court.

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Nobody pretends they’re doing anything other than playing games with the truth, because they don’t need to pretend.  A vast choir sings the praises of gaming facts through suppression of evidence.  The loudest voices, of course, are those of the law school professoriate.  When I attended law school, I did not stay long enough to enroll in the criminal law classes, but that was hardly necessary: my property law professor and contracts law professor and legal writing instructor waxed on endlessly about the virtues of defending criminals, by hook or by crook, as it were.

It’s a cult, and a deeply satisfying one, in which reality need rarely impinge.  Until, of course, it is your daughter pulling up to drop off some library books on a school night who encounters one of the inevitable consequences of our lenient criminal justice system.

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve noticed something strange.  I regularly hear from pro-offender activists who are enraged that I would deign to criticize even the sleaziest of defense tactics, as if any act on the part of the defense is some pure Platonic good hovering spotlessly over the crude, bemerded masses demanding justice.

That isn’t the strange part.  I expected that.

What is strange is that many of these commenters then go on to melodramatically assert that they would like to see the particular criminal I happen to be describing locked up for life, or tortured, or killed.  It’s as if they’re trying to relate (or overcompensate) by saying: Well, that guy, he should fry — no, he should be beaten up, then castrated, then killed.  But other than that, it’s fair game to do anything to get your client off, and all the other predators deserve second chances.

I’m confused by this.  Do they really not see that oaks grow from little acorns, and recidivism grows from the little seeds they plant in the minds of young criminals every time they help them game the system?  Do they really not see that, as we let larger and larger swaths of recidivists off the hook for everything short of murder, we’re creating more murderers — particularly if we keep telling these young offenders that they’re the real victims, and the people they victimize are not?

The really offensive thing about Kendrick Morris’ defense is that there are absolutely no consequences for filing some 76 pages of false accusations against the officers who investigated the Bloomingdale library rape.  Morris’ lawyers know he’s guilty, so they’re screaming police abuse.  Throw everything at the wall; malign the reputations of a couple of decent public servants along the way, just to see what sticks.

The victims I hear from are far more sober and rational about the justice system — in contrast to the way they are depicted in the news, and in defiance of the way they are treated.  Like late-stage cancer patients, they are aware that their hopes will probably not survive the trial process.  Even when offenders are made to pay for their crimes, the victims are made to pay, too.  And after any trial is over, an army of activists stand at the ready to take up the inmate’s cause, no matter what horrors he has perpetrated.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have handed our criminal justice system over to partisans for criminals, and now we must take it back.

Marcus Wellons’ Criminal Appeals

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Most people, even those generally opposed to incarceration, would agree that raping and killing the 15-year old girl who lives next door is the type of crime that ought to land a perpetrator behind bars for life.  Add to that crime the complications of torture, and a demonstrable lack of remorse, and the best outcome would seem to be literal banishment from the public mind.

But Marcus Wellons was all over the news this week.  The killer is “elated” that the Supreme Court agreed with him that the behavior of jurors after the trial merits even more scrutiny — that is, scrutiny yet again, for Wellons has levied accusations against them many times in the past, and other courts already rejected those other claims.

This time, Wellons, sinking what could easily be be his hundreth quarter into the one-armed bandit of capital appeals, has hit a little jackpot.  The victim is still dead.  She has been dead for 20 years.  Nobody doubts that it was Wellons who raped and killed her.  None of this is about the crime itself: none of those nine judges sitting on the highest court spent one moment considering the rape and murder of India Roberts.  Her death is besides the point.

It is the process that is obscene.

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So the jurors, who were dragged from their ordinary lives to perform the task of judging Wellons’ heinous crimes seventeen years ago, will now be dragged from their lives and scrutinized once again.  A majority in the Supreme Court agreed that (extremely tasteless) gag gifts given by the jurors to the judge after the trial and sentencing concluded somehow derailed the “dignity and respect” of the judicial process to such a degree that action must be taken.

Since the Supreme Court has now placed itself in the business of micromanaging the free speech of former jurors, it’s worth asking: how dignified is the judicial process, anyway?

Where is the dignity in a system that allows the defense to block and withhold evidence, treating jurors like children, ostensibly because they can’t be trusted to evaluate the quality of evidence on their own?  What is so “respectful” about a system in which a dead victim and the entire matter of innocence or guilt may be reduced to a footnote throughout a mind-bogglingly expensive, twenty-year rehashing of minutiae from the trial?

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The post-trial candy controversy is only the latest of Wellons’ appeals.  I encourage you to read through this 1995 disposition of other appeals.  It includes 37 separate claims.  None have anything much to do with the rape and murder, except to dispute that Wellons tortured his victim in the act of raping and strangling her.  Several of the arguments for overturning Wellons’ sentence are based merely on words used by the prosecutor to describe the victim.  Wellons appealed on the grounds that the prosecutor referred to his dead victim as a “little girl.”  He also objected to the act of mentioning of the victim’s lost life opportunities; to the prosecutor saying that the young woman did not deserve to die, and to stating the victim’s age in court.

Again, what, precisely, is “dignified and respectful” about a system that permits a convicted murderer to spend taxpayer dollars to object to someone saying his victim didn’t deserve to die?

Here are a few more of Wellons’ failed, taxpayer-subsidized appeals:

  • Objection to the state cross-examining character witnesses Wellons placed on the stand.
  • Objection to presenting evidence seized at the scene of the crime, though probable cause was established, and the actual tenant of the apartment gave police written and verbal permission to search it.
  • Objection to permitting the trial court to let jurors see a videotape of the crime scene.

And so on.  See a lengthy description of the crime and the appeal court’s findings here.

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For the past twenty years, Marcus Wellons has apparently not deviated from his belief that he is the victim of an unfair system that should have “understood” him, not punished him.  He expresses these beliefs in his writing and in the singles ads he places with a ministry group that posts such ads on the internet.

“Be a good listener,” In His Grip Ministry counsels potential prisoner pen-pals, “keep confidential what you are told . . . be prepared for romantic overtures.”  Also, “don’t ask why an inmate is incarcerated” or “send photos except for group photos,” the latter, presumably, because some of the people you meet when you start sending mash notes to murderers might not be as taken with the spirit as IHGM might wish.

And may be released again.

Here is Wellons’ IHMG ad:

Favorite Verse:  Isaiah 40:28-29, 31

I am Marcus Wellons, 50 years old (at this writing) a Christian.  I love to read the Bible, history, & autobiographies.  I’m very open and honest, sincere, loyal and a good listener.  I studied business administration and counseling in college and graduate school.  I have a 26 year old daughter, Tynecia.  We are very close.  I have been blessed with a ministry inside called “Life Row Ministries.”  I like helping and serving others.  I’m from Miami, FL where I grew up.  Then I spent 3 years in the military – two of those years were in Germany.  I am bi-lingual in Spanish.  I love literature.  Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are two favorites.  I love sports, to exercise, and to meet new friends.  If you are interested in sharing life’s experiences and supporting each other through  good and bad times, please contact me.

In another ad, by another ministry called Lamp of Hope, Wellons describes his crime only as his “first time in prison.”  “I can assure you I’ll be just as much a blessing to your life as you can be to mine,” he writes.  There is nothing illegal about trolling for extremely disturbed women on the internet, of course.  Lamp of Hope claims to be in the business of “supporting victims’ families by promoting healing and reconciliation.”  They also offer hot chats about sunsets and kittens with men who raped and murdered multiple victims, if that’s your thing.

Interestingly, Wells claims to be concerned for the victims of other offenders, just not his own.  His own victim, apparently, is far too valuable to his efforts to be removed from death row to dignify her with some of his cell block-renowned empathy:

I forgo all table games, yard call, and frivolous conversations such as joking, playing, and laughing. My conversations are more of a serious nature. I send back all my food trays instead of giving them away to comrades. When the officers ask why, I politely remind them, “I don’t eat on execution days.”  I explain respectfully that when their comrades pass on, they observe it by attending the funeral and wearing black tapes on their badges. Since I can’t attend the funeral of those who were executed, this is my way of showing respect.  I spend the time praying not only for my comrade, but also for the victim’s family and friends and the powers that be. The reason I observe executions in this way is that I’m grieving. . .

Extraordinary, isn’t it? The highest court in the land sat around last week trying to decide if a convicted rapist and murderer should get another chance at freedom because innocent jurors made a tasteless joke two decades ago.  Meanwhile, the killer is permitted to impugn the innocence of his victim in order to try to get free, and we have to pay for the lawyers to argue such a heinous untruth and the judges to hear it in a court of law.

A Trying to Be Civil Exchange on Sex Offender Registry Laws

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Last week, after writing about this strange article that attempted to depict the flight of nearly 250 Fulton County (GA/Atlanta) sex offenders as “no big deal” because the offenders mostly targeted family members or their girlfriends’ kids (!), I was barraged with abusive and threatening e-mails apparently originating from a pro-sex offenders website.

But I also received some thoughtful commentary from other people who disagreed with my view that registries protect the public and are one factor in the decline in the sex offense crime rate.  I’ve been meaning to write more about the registry issue because I think the media reflexively reports on it in bad faith.  I also think academicians with anti-registration biases are crafting advocacy research and making claims that do not stand up to scrutiny.

What follows is my response to “Nunya,” one of the thoughtful, if angry, responders.  This won’t be my last word on the subject.  I hope it will spur a real conversation about the efficacy of these laws, the myths that have risen up around them, and what we should and should not do to improve the sex offender registration system.  “Nunya” and I disagree about many things, but I think we agree that recidivism rates and the vexed issue of statutory rape committed by young men (or, as I see it, alleged recidivism rates and allegedly statutory crimes) deserve more attention.

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Nunya: There are so many things in your article that are erroneous it’s difficult to know exactly where to start, but I will begin at the beginning with your title: “Georgia’s Sex Offender Registry Works”. Since these laws have been in place for a number of years now, with Georgia having passed one of the toughest set of laws in the country over three years ago, I’m sure you can point to plenty of documented evidence as to how these laws have actually reduced sexual crimes in this country, right? There must be plenty of studies that show a dramatic decrease in sex crimes all over the nation as a result of the laws you claim are so effective.

No, I can’t “point to plenty of documented evidence.”  In order to document evidence, we would need to have a criminal justice system that functions adequately and predictably in response to sex offenses, and we don’t have one.  So nearly all of the types of statistics that people would like to see are currently impossible to produce, at least accurately.

While there are both more and less reliable figures on victimization rates, no statistical analysis indicates that anywhere near half of all sex crimes result in an investigation, let alone prosecution, of an offender.  The conviction rate is far lower for sex offenders who target children.  Statistics on recidivism that make claims about a “3%” or “4.5%’ rate are thus simply untrue.

What they are actually measuring is the performance of our criminal justice system, not recidivism.

Some recidivism studies are more obviously unreliable than others.  Things activist-academicians do to minimize recidivism rates include:

  • Counting only imprisonments, not convictions.  As I’ve illustrated in my blog, an unknown number of convicted sex offenders are not being sent into the state prison system after they have been found guilty of crimes as serious as child rape.  Some research on recidivism focuses only on offenders who have entered the prison system.
  • Counting only subsequent convictions, rather than investigating the cause of parole or registration violations that send an offender back to prison.  When a first-time sex offender is caught in the act of committing or trying to commit another sex offense, often the most-cost-effective way of removing him from the streets is to simply revoke parole or charge him with a registry violation.  How many of the men returned to prison for these alleged “non-sex” crimes were actually caught trying to commit another sex crime but were not prosecuted for that offense?  Nobody knows.  But in our perennially underfunded courts, there is tremendous pressure to save money by simply revoking someone’s parole or convicting them of merely “failure to report” when they are caught committing another sex crime.
  • Studying only a small time frame after release.  When you track offenders only for the time when they are under the highest post-incarceration scrutiny, often completing half-way house and therapeutic interventions, of course you’re going to find lower recidivism rates.  Virtually all the studies cited by pro-offender activists track offenders for very short periods of time after release.
  • Failing to account for strategic conviction practices from the recent past, when they apply.  Even when researchers look at re-offense rates over longer periods of time, they do not consider prior practices such as charging sex offenders only with property crime in order to guarantee a conviction.  Yet DNA databases are revealing vast numbers of sex offenders with only drug or burglary convictions who have been matched to un-prosecuted sexual assaults on the database.
  • Leaving out juvenile sex offenses.
  • Counting only convictions and ignoring consolidated charges.  This is the way most recidivism gets “disappeared” in the first place.  When sex offenders are caught, they are rarely prosecuted for more than one crime, even when they are suspects in multiple crimes, even when they confess to multiple, or prolific, sex crime sprees.  Even stranger, serial rapists who leave behind DNA routinely aren’t prosecuted for all their known crimes.  Each sex crime investigation that gets shelved when an offender is sent away for another crime artificially lowers recidivism rates.  With child victims, of course, recidivism against single victims is routinely “disappeared” when prosecutors can prove any single instance of abuse.  Here is merely one recent example of the practice, from Court Watch Florida (Orlando):

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State v. Jeffrey Allan Eymann  2009-CF-004477-O
Charged with 1,200 counts of Lewd/Lascivious Molestation of a Child < 12 years old
Victim was the daughter of his ex-girlfriend.  Eymann pled on 10/16 to 1 count of Lewd/Lascivious Conduct. All other counts were dropped. Sentenced to 7 years in prison + 5 years sex offender probation; no contact with victim, but may have contact with victim’s mother.

CourtWatchFlorida’s blog does a great job of illustrating the many ways criminal records get minimized as they are processed through the system.  Here is a study that looks at variability in recidivism studies.  I can’t link to the entire report, but if you have a library card, you may be able to log into the database with a librarian’s help.

Nunya: The fact is Tina, sex crimes have not only increased over the years since these laws were passed but now, as a result of politicians and the media seizing on the public’s fear, these so called “child protection laws” are now responsible for children themselves, some as young as 13, being victimized for life as a “sex offender”. What might have initially been a good idea, a public listing of violent and potentially dangerous people that the public needed to be aware of, has turned into a watered-down joke, full of all sorts of “dangerous” offenses such as public urination, mooning, and consensual sex among teens, which, I might add, I’m sure all of us, including the above mentioned article’s author, have probably engaged in at some point in their lives. So now we are ALL sex offenders. Be sure to pick up your membership card at the door.

Well, no.  According to the Uniformed Crime Report (UCR), which measures reported crimes, forcible rape rates have dropped in every year but one since 1992.  So what’s changed?  Sentencing reforms, post-incarceration registration, and and the gradual implementation of DNA databasing.  Sexual assault rates have also fallen by more than 60%.  People are not being placed on the sex offender lists for pranks like mooning, or for public urination.  Violent sex offenders often engage in flashing and “peeping Tom” behaviors, which is why these crimes are treated, as the should be, like sex crimes, even if they seem dismissible to many.

The idea that public concerns about sex crime are groundless “fears” manufactured by the media and forced onto a gullible public, is an opinion, not an argument.  Women must routinely and reasonably contemplate the safety of the choices they make: they are not hysterical for doing so.  I will address statutory and allegedly statutory crimes in more detail below, but let me observe here that in a state such as Georgia, where there are approximately a million teenagers, half of whom will have had sex while still a teenager, there is no evidence that “consensual sex among teens” is causing people to end up on the sex crimes registry.

Rather, in a state where there have been nearly 29,000 forcible rapes reported to authorities since the registry went into effect (crimes after 1995), and many times that number when you count other sex crimes, it hardly seems outrageous that some of the 17,893 people on the Georgia registry are teens who raped or otherwise sexually assaulted other teens or younger children.

As to recidivism, many many studies, by independent groups not associated with criminal justice, repeatedly verify that sex offenders, as a category, have the lowest recidivism rate of any crime. Period. You should bother to look at them before you start expounding about an issue that you obviously have very little knowledge about.

See above.

One [thing] that I do agree with you on [is] that journalists, ALL journalists, including those who write such biased reporting as yours, should “hold themselves to a higher standard” as you say. The truth is that all reporting is biased in some way, since it is written by people who are, as a result of being human, biased in their opinions. The best a person can do is to look at the facts and try to reach an objective conclusion based on those facts. Someone has already posted some links to resources where some of those facts can be verified. I suggest you educate yourself before you pose as an authority on this, or at the very least provide references for your information so that the reader can verify what you say.

“Of course most victims know their offenders.” I got confused on this one Tina. Since it is true statistically that most, and by that I mean MOST people, children and adults, who are sexually abused are done so by people they know (usually a family member or friend of the family), how does monitoring the others, in this case strangers which would include previously convicted sex offenders, help to reduce incidents of abuse? Let me put it this way: monitoring people who have already committed a sexual crime in the hopes that it will prevent a future offense is like locking the barn door AFTER the horse has already gotten out of the barn. To use the reasoning that we need to know the whereabouts of the 250 people whose whereabouts are unknown to the authorities in order to feel safe from sexual offense makes no sense at all. Again, it’s not the stranger in town you need to watch, it’s the uncle, the dad, the brother, etc. If politicians and others, such as yourself, are as concerned about the safety of children as you say you are, then why not do something to protect them from the group that represents the greatest threat to them, namely their own family and friends of the family? Maybe we could remove all children from their homes until they are 18 and allow periodic supervised visits by their parents? I’m being facetious here but hopefully you get my point. WE ARE WATCHING THE WRONG PEOPLE!

What is so hard to understand about this?

I have to admit that I am terrifically, monumentally confused by the argument that people who target children they know are less of a danger (For what?  For recidivism?) than people who “snatch random children off the streets.”  Of course, there are very few of the latter compared to the former, but so what?  Registries are not designed to modulate some abstract economy of fear, or label people before they get convicted of a crime: they are designed to keep tabs on individual people who have a proven propensity for sexually abusing children or adults.

Nevertheless, this weird argument keeps popping up in activist propaganda (where it was obviously manufactured), and, predictably, journalists have now begun parroting it (without entirely understanding it, I think) in news stories.

But it makes no sense.

Adults who prey on children they know — be they coaches, step-dads, uncles, grandfathers, priests — pose a risk to any child they get to know in the future.  They also continue to be a danger to the children they victimized or knew or were simply related-to prior to their first conviction.  And because they’re far more likely to be released from prison (or not sent in the first place) than sex criminals who abduct random children, there’s an argument to be made that registration is even more crucial for offenders whose modus operandi involves targeting children in their lives and/or “grooming” children through their legitimate relationships with them.

Compulsive child molesters are often compulsive groomers: do we say that the youth minister should not be on the registry because he gets to know his victims first?

Adults who prey on children in their own families, or extended families, also pose a special danger if their relatives protected them in the past, or if the cycle of sexual abuse is part of the family dynamic: they may be returning to households where there are still vulnerable children, not to mention returning to families that will continue to protect them, excuse them, or even participate in their crimes.  Parents don’t always lose custody when they commit a sex crime against their own children, or another minor relative, and protecting these especially vulnerable children was actually one of the motivations behind the creation of sex offender registration laws.

Many child molesters access their victims through consensual adult relationships with single moms.  So, what happens when one of them strolls out of prison, meets a new woman, and moves in with her and her children?  Should we “not worry” because he’s not out on the streets, when, instead, he’s alone in the apartment, babysitting the six-year old while her mom goes to work?

I think this argument (more of a campaign, it is so coordinated) is a very clear example of activists controlling the media discourse: it’s such a strange claim to make, but, suddenly, it’s being voiced in many quarters.  Some might say that what the activists mean is that we should be more worried about sex offenders who haven’t been caught yet, as opposed to the sex offenders who have been caught.  But that makes no sense, either, as a criticism of registries.  It would be useful to be able to place all child molesters, including those who haven’t been caught yet, on a list.  But the fact that we can’t monitor child molesters who have not yet been caught and convicted is no argument against monitoring those who have, regardless of how they choose their victims.

Now, clearly there are some people who are dangerous and represent a potential threat to public safety, and they should be prevented from hurting anyone else. But if that’s the case then why are these people not in prison in the first place? Why are they being released? I suggest that they reason the really dangerous people are out on the street is because due to just about anything even remotely sexual in nature being treated as a sex crime, there simply isn’t room enough to keep the really bad guys locked up.

I don’t agree: I think there are simply a lot of sexual offenders, not that there are no prison spaces because we’re imprisoning minor sex offenders.  And even though the numbers in prison look large, the victim pool is far larger, especially when you start adding in sexual crimes against children and adolescents.  Nobody is “keeping rapists out of prison” because they’re filling prisons with lesser sexual offenders: heck, they’re simply not sending many rapists and child molesters to prison because the system is simply criminally lenient across the board, as I’ve illustrated countless times on this blog (search “The Guilty Project” for a partial rogues gallery).  Who are these people sitting in prison for lesser sexual crimes?

I do agree that a lot of the men out on the streets after sex crime convictions should be locked up forever, instead.  The real solution to that problem, however, is vastly expanding the number of people with life sentences.  And precisely the same activist groups that are trying to get sex offenders off registries are simultaneously trying to get even the most violent recidivists out from behind bars.  It’s all one very well-funded, well-placed, powerful movement.

I further suggest that you have a look and see exactly what will get you a place on the sex offender registry these days for yourself. The Georgia Sex Offender Review Board, the government body who is responsible for classifying the risk level of offenders on the registry, has gone on record as saying that only 4% of those listed pose any real significant threat to society. That means for every 4 people listed there are 96 who should not be there at all.

Here is another interpretation: the Georgia Sex Offender Review Board is not doing its job.  You complained, above, about dangerous, recidivist sex offenders being free on the streets when they should be locked up?  Well, the folks responsible for bringing that free-range-serial-rapist-show to a theater near you are the same ones being trusted to classify the offenders they’re cutting loose: do you think the parole board wants to admit that they’re letting a bunch of predators out early every other Thursday?  It took me about two clicks to find someone on the registry who should be classified a sexual predator but is not.  And then I found a lot more of them.

Here is the rule (you can read the entire code section here):

The board shall determine the likelihood that a sexual offender will engage in another crime against a victim who is a minor or a dangerous sexual offense. The board shall make such determination for any sexual offender convicted on or after July 1, 2006, of a criminal act against a minor or a dangerous sexual offense and for any sexual offender incarcerated on July 1, 2006, but convicted prior to July 1, 2006, of a criminal act against a minor.

Here is somebody who should be classified a predator.  And, oh yeah, he’s absconded:

Miguel Ortiz:

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Ortiz was convicted in DeKalb County of aggravated child molestation in 1994.  He was also convicted in DeKalb County of aggravated child molestation in 1989.  He got three years . . . for aggravated child molestation in 1989.  Then he got out of prison, early of course.  Then he got eight years for aggravated child molestation in 1994.  Despite a prior conviction.  Then he got out of prison, early again, of course.  Now he’s on the run.  The GBI and the Atlanta Journal Constitution want you to know there’s nothing to worry about because Ortiz probably just victimized children he knew.

All recidivists should be classified as predators, including all the recidivists who aren’t recidivists on paper because they were permitted to plead down to one offense but were charged with two.  Or fifteen.  Or 1,200.  All people convicted of forcible rape should be classified as predators.  Many other states have saner classification practices.

Nunya: How can authorities monitor the 4 who need to be monitored when they have 96 others they have to, according to the law, treat exactly the same?The truth is they can’t, which is why you hear about cases such as the guy in California recently who kept a woman captive for a number of years and abused her repeatedly, and all under the nose of his parole officer who was too busy keeping an eye on the rest of his case load to catch it. Being the victim’s advocate that you are, how would you explain to that woman how the sex offender laws are working?

This is another activist-manufactured argument that’s been bleeding out all over the obeisant fourth estate.  That guy in California, Phillip Garrido (see my previous posts on him here and here), got away with kidnapping Jaycee Lee Duggard because the federal parole board let him loose decades before he was supposed to be released from a federal sentence that was supposed to disqualify him for parole.  So, a parole board broke the law of the United States of America, and yet, somehow, we’ve heard not one whisper about anyone being held responsible for it.

And then some parole officers didn’t do their job, and it’s not because they were “stretched too thin”: they managed to pay regular visits to Garrido’s house but apparently were snowed by him or didn’t bother to read his record.  Or, perhaps, believe it: the parole industry is riddled with people whose hearts bleed for child rapists; who believe there’s such a thing as rehabilitation for a sick monster like Garrido who should have never, ever seen the light of day again after what he had done to his previous victim.

Don’t blame me: blame the people who labor tirelessly to ensure that the Phillip Garridos of this world get multiple second changes to rape and kill.  Blame the anti-incarceration activists who run the academic departments and the law schools and the treatment centers and the state parole boards and activist groups.  Blame their fake statistics on recidivism and their self-righteous commitment to an ideology of rehabilitation for every prisoner, and an ideology of emptying the prisons — that’s what cut Garrido loose to chew the bones of a few more women.

It takes some real nerve for the anti-incarceration industry to point to a horrible injustice like the early release of Phillip Garrido and blame the people who are trying to prevent such injustices from happening by using piddling band-aids like parole and registration lists — because other options are closed to us — thanks to the power of the anti-incarceration industry.  But they get away with it.  They get away with getting most evidence excluded from courtrooms, and most sentences reduced, and most offenders offered an array of “alternatives to incarceration,” and then the media swallows it whole when they then point at sex offender registries and squeal: that’s what got that little girl raped!

Here’s what I would say to Jaycee Duggard: I’d tell her that I will be the first person to agitate for severe consequences for the people who got her raped by letting her rapist out of prison early, and so should you, and if you did it with me, then there would be two of us.  And do you know who we would be up against?  The activists at the Southern Center for Human Rights, who you speak so well of below.      

Lastly, you took a swipe at the Southern Center for Human Rights and the AJC.

I like to think I took more than a swipe at them.  I think I hit the target.

I’d suggest to you that the Southern Center is responsible for acting on behalf of the rights of not only sex offenders, but anyone who is being victimized by an out of control government and legal system. They take a very unpopular stand for a group of people who can’t defend themselves and I applaud them for it. With the background you have I am sure you know that “laws” are not necessarily based on what is constitutional but on what public opinion happens to be at the time. If you were to have asked a black man in Mississippi in 1950 did he think his “constitutional” rights were being protected I am sure you would have gotten a different answer then than you would now. It was due to the efforts of civil rights “activists”, as you call them, that those rights, which were there along, were finally made to be recognized. Yes, it was very unpopular idea at the time, but it was also right to do it. It’s also right to protect the rights of ALL citizens of this country, regardless of public opinion or how popular or unpopular it is at the time. Along those lines, I suspect that at some point in the future people will look back on all this legal B.S. and wonder what in the world were they thinking? That’s the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is people never waking up at all until everyone’s rights, including yours Tina, are gone, at which point it’s too late. I suspect you’d want the Southern Center in your corner at that point.

The reference to historical racism is irrelevant and accusatory.  “You want to keep people in prison for crimes they commit, so you are a racist” doesn’t get welcomed on this website, though I’m sure you can peddle it elsewhere.  And much as they see themselves as the courageous descendants of Atticus Finch, the SCHR has never met a rapist they didn’t try to free, nor hesitated to tar crime victims and others with offensive and groundless accusations of racism in order to get their way.  Unpopular stands . . . people who can’t defense themselves . . .  says who?  They get plenty of approbation: all this carrying on about taking courageous stands against the darkness is just so much adolescent, self-serving garbage.  They get paid every time they file a frivolous lawsuit on behalf of some child rapist who wants the taxpayers to cover his rent, or other such nonsense — and that sort of thing is what really busts the justice budget, not mythical conspiracies to imprison people for peeing in public.  I have little patience for this stuff.  I’ve paid too high a price for it.  So have many, many hundreds of thousands of victims who have been denied justice, or lost their lives, over the last fifty years, thanks to such one-note activism parading as “civil rights.”

I’ll leave out the end of the letter, where I’m offered a bit of unsolicited career advice (you can read it here) because I think “Nunya” is being sincere.  And there is an important point that came up more in our off-line discussion: he argues that statutory rape laws are wrongfully condemning young men to a lifetime on the sex offender registration lists for nothing more than having consensual sex with their slightly younger girlfriends.  A lot of people believe this: it is a criticism that prosecutors need to address, for if it is true that there are any cases of 17-year olds being placed on the registry for having actually consensual sex with their 14-year old girlfriends, that is likely something that ought to be changed.

But I suspect most cases of “statutory rape” on the registration list are more complicated than that.

Georgia law on statutory rape is designed to avoid some “Romeo and Juliet”  scenarios: so are the rules on who must register.  The age of consent is 16.  But if a potential defendant is 18 or younger, and he or she has consensual sex with someone 14, 15, or 16, the charge is a misdemeanor, no registration required.  Here are other exclusions (see a description of the law here):

WHO IS NOT REQUIRED TO REGISTER?

  • If a person convicted of a sexual offense in Georgia was released from prison, placed on probation or supervised released before July 1, 1996, he/she is not required to register as a sexual offender (with some exceptions for victimizing minors)
  • A person who was convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense after June 30, 2001.
  • Juveniles prosecuted in juvenile court are not subject to the registry.

A lot of sex offenders claim that their “only crime” was consensual sex with someone not much younger than themselves.  And a lot of journalists take such claims at face value.  But an 18-year old is not supposed to be placed on the sex offender registry for the statutory rape of his 14-year old girlfriend; nobody prosecuted in juvenile court is supposed to be placed on the registry at all.

What is happening in the cases where it appears these rules have not been followed?  Were the offenders tried as adults because of the seriousness of their crimes?  Is the statutory charge a plea from a more serious offense?  Which statutory charges are pleas, regardless of the age of the offender?

Many statutory rape charges are for serious crimes, including crimes involving under-age prostitutes.  There needs to be some clarity on this issue, for the public, and perhaps in the code itself.

Because registration is too important for the practice to founder or lose public confidence.  Every time a sex offender (and in Georgia, not a misdemeanor sexual offender) knows that he or she is being monitored by the government, the law is working.

Georgia’s Sex Offender Registry Works. Why Don’t Newspapers Report That?

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A convicted child rapist is suing the state of Georgia to keep his name off the sex offender registry.  I wonder who’s paying his legal fees for this foolishness?  Jim Phillip Hollie was actually convicted of three separate sex offenses in Gwinnett County: one count of child molestation (5 yrs.), one count of aggravated sexual battery (10yrs.), and one count of aggravated child molestation (10yrs.).

He’s already being given the concurrent-sentencing free-pass: his 25-year sentence is already reduced to 15 to serve, ten on probation.  But apparently that’s not lenient enough: he wants more leniency.  Hollie is claiming that being placed on a registry is like extending his “sentence” beyond the maximum allowable 30 years.

Registration, and other restrictions placed on sex offenders, have been absurdly misrepresented by the media.  Reporters simply don’t write stories about registration working — though it works every single time an offender gets reminded he’s being watched or gets sent back to prison for breaking the rules.  That didn’t used to happen before registries placed sex offenders under scrutiny.  And, contrary to the activist-driven “scholarship” arguing that sex offenders aren’t likely to re-offend (in-depth studies and victim data and sheer common sense dictate otherwise), sex offenders do target one victim after another.  Does anybody really believe that people like Hollie wake up one day at the age of 32 and decide to rape a child, just this once, just out of the blue?

The truth about sex offenders is that they get away with many, many crimes for which they are never punished.  The truth about sentencing and the courts is that virtually every offender benefits from systemic leniency and a plea system that trades money-savings up front for public safety on the back end.  These truths, and sex offenders’ proclivity for recidivism, is why we’re resorting to band-aids like registration, and living restrictions, and involuntary commitment, when what we should really be doing is growing the courts and actually bothering to hold offenders responsible for all of their crimes.

Sex offender registration works every time a single mom looks up that nice-looking man from the apartment complex who asked her out and learns he’s been convicted of molesting his last girlfriend’s kids.  It works every time somebody applies for a job and the background check shows a propensity for sexual violence.  Yet there’s a news blackout on these types of stories.

Admittedly, it’s not the same type of story when a sex offense is prevented.  But when reporters take up the issue of registration, they behave as if the only case to be made is the “anti-registration” one.   They don’t investigate instances or the prevalence of offenders being sent back to prison — what they did to get caught this time, and all their prior crimes, not just what shows up in the prison records.  They don’t speak to the victims to learn what was left out of court proceedings.  They don’t ask if there’s a juvenile record.  They take the canned and highly selective sob-stories handed to them by activist groups and regurgitate them in a few lines.

They never acknowledge that the sexual assault rate has dropped since registration laws were passed — and this, from reporters who will swallow any vague claim about crime being related to the weather, or the economy, even after those flavors of correlation get disproved again, and again, and again.

Media bias against monitoring sex offenders leads to a lot of sloppy reporting.  Reporters routinely fail to check the real criminal histories of sex offenders they interview, taking the offenders’ descriptions of their own crimes at face value.  Virtually all youthful sex offenders appearing in news stories claim that they’re guilty of no more than “Romeo and Juliet” cases of statutory, consensual intercourse.  Reporters believe them and repeat their claims without calling the prosecutor and the victim to see just how “consensual” the incident really was.  Rapists start young and target young victims in their immediate surroundings: how many of those “statutory” cases are pleas down from a worse crime, or not even “merely” statutory at all?  You have to ask questions to get answers to questions like that, and with utterly uncharacteristic shyness, reporters don’t ask, don’t tell.

Even non-youthful offenders often make the “Romeo and Juliet” claim, and nobody seems to bother to, say, count off on their fingers to see if the ages and offense dates even match.

Reporters need to hold themselves to higher standards — heck, some kind of standard.  They need to start fact-checking actual offense and prosecution records whenever they describe an offender’s prior record.  They need to contact victims if they’re going to allow an offender to describe a sex crime as consensual sex.  Sure, doing this would be uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as being the victim who reads in the paper that the man who raped her is telling the world that it was just some star-crossed affair.

But they won’t.  They’re so besotted with the idea that sex offenders are the real victims — victims of society — that they approach issues like sex offender registration with blinders on.  Remember the utterly manufactured “homeless sex offender” debacle?  Not one news organization had the integrity or standards to corrected their misreporting of legal facts, or the real criminal histories of the offenders they profiled, or any of the other published inaccuracies confabulations in that activist-invented crisis.

In a related story, Georgia officials are reporting that they can’t find “nearly 250” sex offenders who are supposed to stay in touch with officials in metro Atlanta.  250 absconded sex offenders, breaking the law and evading authorities.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has this utterly bizarre coverage:

Nearly one-tenth of the area’s registered sex offenders who are not in jail are listed as “absconded” — meaning that law enforcement authorities have lost track of them, despite a strict law intended to keep such offenders under close supervision and away from potential victims.

Nevertheless, some say the long list of missing offenders — rapists, kidnappers and molesters, as well as people convicted of engaging in consensual sex acts when they were minors — should cause no alarm.

“The people on the registry are not the ones to be concerned about,” said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which maintains the sex offender registry. “It’s the ones who live right up under your nose. Stranger-on-stranger sex crimes do happen. But most cases involve people the victim already knows.”

Nothing to worry about, move along, move along.  Two of the men are child rapists with a high likelihood to re-offend — predators.  All of them have committed crimes bad enough to come to the attention of authorities and result in a conviction — and as anyone who works in the criminal justice system knows, most sex offenders get away with most sex offenses most of the time, so just having a conviction indicates at least one serious lapse in self-control.

Why motivated GBI spokesperson John Bankhead to minimize the fact that 250 sex offenders from the metro Atlanta are currently missing?  Were his words taken out of context?  Was he trying to say that there are so many more sex offenders who have never been prosecuted that this mere 250 don’t pose as much risk as the non-prosecuted ones?  Because, if that’s what he’s saying, it’s horrifying and implies the need for more, not less, vigilance on sex crimes.

Of course most victims know their offenders. That’s not an argument against being worried that 250 un-incarcerated offenders in Atlanta are actively breaking the law.  Child molesters use trust and family relationships to gain access to their victims.  The fact that they knew their prior victims does nothing to minimize the possibility that these absconded offenders will do exactly the same thing with new victims.

But instead of even bothering to profile any of the most prolific and dangerous offenders on the absconded list, the reporter skips directly from playing down the danger posed by these men to another re-hash of the faux “homeless” controversy:

Georgia’s sex offender registry, known for its restrictive rules governing where offenders can live, work or even loiter, has been controversial since its creation in 1994. This fall, authorities forced a group of homeless sex offenders to leave a makeshift camp behind an office park in Marietta — one of the few places, the men said, they could live without breaking the law.

See my post here explaining the many ways the AJC got this story wrong the last time they staged a textual pity party for a bunch of shiftless sex offenders on the make for yet another government handout.  Rather than calling them homeless sex offenders, a more accurate label would be: “Sex Offenders Who Want You to Pay Their Rent and Have the Southern Center for Human Rights Staff at the Ready to Sue You to Make You Do It (and, oh yeah, pay their legal fees, to boot).”

And so, a story about 250 sex criminals absconding from the law morphs into yet another story about how the offenders themselves are the ones being victimized by society, complete with quotes from the offenders’ attorneys, yet no quote from anyone disputing their claims.  This is journalism manufactured by anti-incarceration activist caveat.

And in this case, it comes with a particularly steep price for the victims.  If the reporter and his editors are going to work so hard to assert that these men pose no danger to society, shouldn’t they ask some of the men’s victims what they think of such a curious, subjective, opinionated, cheerily uninformed claim?

For, after all, how would you feel if you had experienced being raped by, say, your uncle, and then you endured the trial, and alienation from family members, and all that hell, and your uncle gets out of jail and goes into hiding, and some careless reporter prattles on that he isn’t really dangerous because he “knew” the victim he picked the last time?  I’d feel pretty appalled.  Making assertions like this smacks of minimizing non-stranger sex crimes, when in reality, non-stranger offenders are every bit as dangerous, and often more dangerous, especially if they’re being abetted by sympathetic relatives and dysfunctional families.  And I think the psychological harm they do to their victims dwarfs the harm done by most stranger-rapes.

But hey, nothing to see here: it’s just the AJC crudely diminishing the experience of hundreds of rape victims, mostly child victims, in order to cobble another soapbox for the activists over at the Southern Center for Human Rights.  Just another day in the vast media pity party for men who rape children.

Crime Victims Media Report Will Return Dec. 28 — No, January 4

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Crime Victims Media Report will return in its new format Dec. 28 (sorry, January 4). Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

East Coast Rapist, DeKalb County Rapist: Serial Rapists and DNA. It Works. If You Bother to Use It.

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(Hat tip to Pat)

In 2007, I stood by the mailbox of the house I once briefly rented in Sarasota, Florida, contemplating the short distance between my house and the house where my rapist grew up, less than a mile, and a strikingly direct path over a well-worn shortcut across the train tracks.

I had just spent several months and many hundreds of dollars to get copies of the police investigation reports for my rape and some of the court records of the man who was accused of, but never prosecuted for the crime. Every time he was sent away on another sex crime conviction, the police closed all the other rape cases they attributed to him.  In 1987 he was tried for one sexual assault, and at least six other cases were shelved, including mine.

Such was the economy of justice in 1987: rapes were not deemed important enough to expend the court resources to try every known defendant for every crime.  This attitude arose not from the police but from the legal establishment and, by extension, the public.  It was an accepted status quo, not just in Sarasota, but everywhere.

To behave as if each rape victim actually deserved justice and every woman deserved to be safe from offenders was not anybody’s priority for spending money in 1987.  The same can still be said today, though attitudes have spottily improved.  We’ve never spent enough money to thoroughly investigate and prosecute more than a fraction of all crimes.

Criminals know this, though the public remains largely oblivious.

I remember being astonished when the police told me the D.A. would not be prosecuting my case, even though there was evidence and a rape kit.  A few months later, the first rape case in the United States using DNA evidence would be won in Orlando, a mere hundred miles and three jurisdictions away.  There, the D.A. had decided to be aggressive and use this new technology already in use in Britain, and he succeeded.  But more than a decade would pass before DNA evidence was even routinely collected and databased in most states.

A lot of people slipped through the cracks unnecessarily during that decade, including my rapist.  Sentenced to 15 years for his 1997 crime, he walked out of prison seven years later, the beneficiary of both the state’s unwillingness to fully fund prisons and activists’ efforts to get every convict back onto the streets as quickly as possible.  He immediately returned to raping elderly women, his preferred victims, and wasn’t back in prison until 1998.  At least the prisoner activists, and the defense bar, were happy.

Before the statute of limitations ran out on my case, I had offered to return to Florida to testify against my rapist. to try to keep him behind bars for a longer period of time.  The state had the ability to test the DNA in my rape kit.  I hired a private detective and reached out to the then-current Sarasota County D.A.  They practically laughed at me for having the audacity to suggest such a thing and said they didn’t have the money to go back and try old cases.  So Henry Malone walked, and more elderly women were raped.

Have things changed, even now?  Yes and no.  Two serial rape cases in the news show both progress and stagnation.

The stagnation is in DeKalb County, Georgia, the eastern part of metro Atlanta.  I know the area well: I worked there and lived nearby for much of two decades.  A serial rapist is on a real tear in DeKalb, raping at least three women since October and possibly three more since the last week of September.  Police officials told reporters that they had requested rush DNA tests on the three unknown cases from the state lab and were waiting for results.  But when CBS News Atlanta went to the state lab to find out why the tests weren’t done yet, the head of the DNA testing unit told reporters that no such request had been made.

I’m generally sympathetic to the police — less so to police brass, who sometimes rise through the ranks due to politics, not professionalism (there are some great precinct sergeants in Dekalb County, though).  But now that the mistake has been made, the executive command ought to be out in front, showing the public that they are serious about doing everything they can do, as quickly as they can do it, to catch this rapist.  Six, or even three rapes in a few months is escalating behavior, and he threatens his victims with a gun.

Ironically, the police caught several other fugitives while searching for this rapist.  It’s all about resources: we live knee-deep in wanted felons and under-investigated suspects, and our elected officials pretend that this is a perfectly normal way to live.

Meanwhile, police in the Washington D.C. area are using the media to appeal to the public to help them find the “East Coast Rapist.”  There should be more publicity.  This rapist has been active for at least 12 years: DNA tests reveal a pattern of travel between the D.C. suburbs, Connecticut, and Rhode Island during that time.

So there is a chance that somebody else knows the identity of the rapist because of his changing locations.  Profilers used to assume that serial rapists and serial killers were loners, but this, like so many other presumptions (ie. serial killers are usually white men, serial offenders pick only one type of victim) have been proven to be false.

The Washington Post has an interactive map listing the locations and dates of the East Coast rapist’s attacks in today’s paper:

GR2009121700056The rapist may have been in prison for some other crime between 2002 and 2007, and even 2007 and 2009.  You have to figure that officials in Washington D.C., Connecticut, and Rhode Island have already submitted DNA to the national database, so if he had ever been convicted of a sex crime, or even served time for some other felony in most states, his DNA would be on record somewhere.

But who knows?  Maybe he was committing sex crimes in one of the many places where DNA samples don’t get processed properly, like Wisconsin and Michigan and California.  Maybe he’s supposed to be behind bars but hasn’t been picked up yet because nobody is bothering to keep track of thousands of offenders who have absconded on bail, the situation in Philadelphia.

It’s all about resources.  Twenty-two years after the first use of DNA in convicting a serial rapist, there should be no backlogs.  Rape is too important.  Thousands of offenders shouldn’t still be walking out of prison after skipping their DNA tests, through deceit or carelessness.  Every one of these cases represents a denial of justice to someone.

Too bad criminal justice activists and law professors and university president-types don’t get all worked up when the person being denied justice is the victim, instead of the offender.

When I purchased the transcripts from some of Henry Malone’s many perambulations through the courts (and how nice that I had to pay, and pay a lot, for them), I was astonished to read the details of one hearing that was held at Malone’s behest because he demanded reimbursement for a fine related to his car, which had been impounded when he was arrested for sexual assault.  The judge and the defense attorney seemed amused by his bizarre demand.  I don’t find it so funny.  Imagine what we paid for the judge to read that demand, for the lawyer to research the claim and represent Malone in court, for the court reporter, and the security guards, and everything else that went into assuring that Henry Malone would get to be heard in court over an inane and dismissible whim.

The same courthouse where I had been denied the chance to face Malone for raping me because nobody wanted to bother spending the money to try him for more than one rape.  Criminals have rights the rest of us can’t dream of.  It’s all about the resources, and every last dime goes to offenders; they get everything they want, whenever they want it, out of the courts, while their victims wait out in the cold.

You Have The Right to Commit Crime. Nothing You Say or Do Will be Used Against You in a Court of Law.

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Yesterday, I linked to one section of an interesting Philadelphia Inquirer series on chaos in the courts.  The entire series is worth reading, but you have to download a flash player to view it all (pathetically, that’s onerous for me): here’s the link.

Anyone who believes the problems described by the Inquirer are limited to the City of Brotherly Love has not visited a courtroom in their own jurisdiction lately.

Such problems are not even limited to our country, though the panoply of indulgences we shower on criminal defendants used to be the envy of criminals throughout the world.  As in so many other endeavors, the rest of the world is catching up with us.  Britain may be even more lenient than we are on serial recidivists, and simultaneously hard on ordinary people who break the law, a phenomenon crying out for a name.

See, for example, this from the U.K. Telegraph:

Businessman Jailed For Attacking Intruder, Who Goes Free

Munir Hussain, who was threatened at knifepoint and tied up by a gang of masked men in his living room last year, was told he must go to prison for 30 months to preserve “civilised society”.

But Walid Salem, a criminal with more than 50 convictions, was handed a two-year supervision order for his role in the break-in at an earlier hearing.

He was one of three men who ambushed Mr Hussain, his wife and children . . . Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were forced to crawl from room to room before being forced to lie down in the living room . . . when Hussain’s teenage son managed to escape and raise the alarm, he seized his chance and turned on his captors. While two of them got away, Salem was cornered in a neighbour’s front garden. With the help of his brother, Tokeer, 35, who lived nearby, Hussain set upon him with a metal pole and a cricket bat, the court heard.

Hussain and his brother got long prison sentences: 30 and 39 months, for retaliating in the heat of the moment against a man who was terrorizing their community and had tied up and threatened — in a word, tortured — Hussain’s wife and children.  Walid Salem, he of the torture and 50 priors, got no jail time.  No matter what you think of the Hussain brothers’ actions, it is hard to read the words of their sentencing judge without simply recoiling:

“[I]f persons were permitted to take the law into their own hands and inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse.”

Whatever part of walking free after 50 prior crimes and a current crime of such severity does not indicate the collapse of both civilization and the British system of criminal justice, eludes me.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia:

Just 23 years old, John Gassew has been arrested 44 times, mostly on charges of sticking a gun in people’s faces and robbing them.

But in the eyes of the law, Gassew isn’t an armed robber.

He’s never been convicted.

Gassew has only been sent to jail once, for a drug charge.  So on the books, he looks just like all those imaginary people locked away for no reason other than that they once took a toke of pot.  Remember that the next time some activist starts ranting about the unfairness of our “barbaric” justice system.  It’s unfair, allright:

Despite being called one of the city’s more prolific, and sometimes violent, stickup men by police – they say he bashed a delivery man over the head with a bat, shot at a 13-year-old neighbor, and smashed in the face of a robbery victim – Gassew has been sentenced to jail only once, for a drug charge.

The Northeast Philadelphia man has become so confident in his ability to beat charges, police say, that he openly scoffs at the system. In December 2007, officers arrested him as he ran down a street, leaving behind a car that police said was filled with the loot from 21 robberies he committed in just one weekend.

“It looked like a store in there,” said Detective Bob Kane.

As Kane and Detective Robert Conn of the Northeast Detective Division tell it, when they confronted Gassew with four trash bags of evidence, he leaned back in his chair and told them he’d take his chances in court.

“The bad guys know that if they come in the front door, the back door is usually open,” Conn said.

That back door being the courts, where some bloviating magistrate listens hard to the sound of his own voice as he ushers felons back onto the streets.  It’s the same story everywhere:

A small-time criminal emboldened by a system that fails time and again to put him away graduates to more violent acts and, eventually, a standoff with police.

Gassew has beaten cases in almost every way – including three trials in which he was found not guilty after witnesses changed their story on the stand or were found not credible.

“Twenty-three years old and 44 priors. There’s no excuse for that,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.

“A second chance? OK. A third chance? OK. But how about a 30th? At some point, you have to realize this guy’s a menace to society. You can’t keep cranking him out,” said Ramsey.

After a decade of attempts to crack down on gun crime, the streets of Philadelphia are still awash with armed robbers, and the courts are unable to put them away even when they are caught red-handed.

And why is that?  Because those “decades of attempts” coincided with and were not nearly as powerful as the vast and systematic dismantling of consequences for criminal actions enacted by an unholy cabal of activists, attorneys, academicians, all abetted by cherished public fantasies about our prisons being stuffed full of innocent men, and felons being misunderstood innocents crying out for help.

One of the most effective ways of keeping people out of prison is to de-fund the courts by creating unnecessary, virtually unenforceable sets of hoops to be jumped through in order to achieve a prosecution.  Philadelphia is the poster child for such legal shenanigans, but it’s bad everywhere, and behind every legal loophole, there’s some self-satisfied appellate judge telling his grandchildren how gramps bravely protected the poor and weak — criminals, that is.

That’s how streets ended up “awash” with crime.  Fitting adjective, awash:

Of the 9,850 gunpoint robberies reported in the city in 2006 and 2007, only a quarter were brought to court, according to an Inquirer analysis. In the end, only two in 10 accused armed robbers were found guilty of armed robbery.”There’s a law on the books that enhances the penalty when you commit a crime with a gun. It’s not enforced,” noted [Police Commissioner] Ramsey, referring to the state’s mandatory minimum five-year sentence for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a felony.

I would love to hear an explanation from any judge — or law professor — regarding the state of affairs that exists today, in Atlanta, Philadelphia, every major city, wherein judges and prosecutors simply disregard the laws they are required (you know, by law) to enforce.  I’ve never heard an explanation, nor have I heard one peep about censure of the many judges whose careless abdication of their responsibilities have most recently resulted in horrific subsequent crimes:

A 13-year-old girl who lived next door said Gassew pointed a sawed-off shotgun at her and asked, “Do you all want to die?”, before firing at her. A judge found the story credible enough to allow Gassew to be tried as an adult. But a different judge found him not guilty.

In May 2004, Gassew was charged with clubbing a pizza-delivery man over the head with a baseball bat and stealing about $100. The victim, who spoke only Spanish, identified Gassew at the scene and later in court. But Gassew was found not guilty after a witness changed her story on the stand.

Prosecutors said she was scared. Another neighbor, who also identified Gassew, failed to appear. Even a codefendant in one of Gassew’s robbery cases said he was scared of him.

Police say they had reason to be frightened. His own aunt, Neilene Calloway, took out an emergency restraining order on him in April 2005 after several armed men came looking for him at the house.

It appears that court authorities in Philadelphia were content to wait for Gassew to murder someone before they acted.  We are all responsible for letting such things go on.  We sacrifice victim after victim and do nothing:

Jennifer Mulholland, who was a bartender at Brian’s Sports Bar in Frankford, got a taste of [Gassew’s threat].

Gassew drank there often, she said in an interview, and befriended her.

One night in May 2006, Gassew said good night and left. A short time later, a man wearing a mask burst into the bar with a gun in his hand and demanded that she empty the register.

Mulholland thought it was Gassew. “Quit playing,” she told him.

“It’s not a joke,” the robber replied, pointing the silver gun at her head.

“I knew it was him,” she recalled.

He grabbed her by the neck and told her to open the register.

She gave him the money.

Mulholland, whose father is a police sergeant, said she was prepared to testify.

“I never got a court notice,” she said.

There are millions of Jennifer Mulhollands in this country (and elsewhere), victims whose lives were treated like garbage, and then “the system” decided they had no rights, who could have died and then were told that their right to even be heard in court was irrelevant because the rights of criminals are the only rights that matter at all.

I’m one of those people; my husband is another.  We were both merely lucky to survive.  So were the cops who ended up getting shot at by John Gassew, in the utterly inevitable, thankfully non-fatal, denouement of a decade of criminal negligence on the part of the Philadelphia court system issuing from the end of Gassew’s semiautomatic handgun.

The law comes down hard on decent people, while prolific thugs are literally groomed in-court by irresponsible judges and lawyers to escalate their violence to the tipping point.

At what point do people like us get some answers from those responsible?

Getting Away With Everything Except Murder in Philadelphia: Another Argument for the “Broken Windows” Theory

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Disorder in the courts. It is the main reason violent offenders and repeat offenders are still on the streets.  Why is our court system falling apart?

The Philadelphia Inquirer has some of the best crime journalism in the country.  They understand that covering the justice system doesn’t just mean hounding the cops and covering big trials: it means investigating the courts, particularly courts’ systematic failures to enforce the law.  Why this fact continues to elude nearly every other big-city newspaper eludes me.  If you read nothing else this week, take a look at this:

Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied

With Philadelphia’s court system in disarray, cases crumble as witnesses fear reprisal and thousands of fugitives remain at large.

By Craig R. McCoy, Nancy Phillips, and Dylan Purcell

Inquirer Staff Writers

Kareem Johnson stood over Walter Smith and executed him. He fired so close that Smith’s blood splashed up onto Johnson’s Air Jordan baseball cap.

He shot him as a favor to a childhood friend.

Smith was a threat because he had come forward as a witness in a murder case against Clinton Robinson.

With the witness dead, Robinson cut a sweet deal. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to just 2 1/2 to five years.

“Basically, I beat it,” he says now.

He and Johnson know all about beating cases in the Philadelphia courts. In just three years, Johnson, 26, and Robinson, 24, were arrested a total of nine times for gun crimes, but until the charges escalated to murder, nothing stuck.

Three years, nine gun crime arrests, no consequences.  That’s about all you need to know.  People point fingers at the cops, but the cops did their job.  They made nine arrests, and then the public and the courts dropped the ball — nine times.  Then the no-snitching culture and the do-nothing courts caused another death:

Johnson’s bloodletting came to an end only after he killed a 10-year-old boy in 2004 in one of the city’s most notorious murders. As for Robinson, he’s locked up on a drug charge, but expects to go free soon.

After Faheem Childs’ death, people pointed fingers at the police.  But what about those nine wasted chances to get Childs’ killers off the streets for lesser crimes, arrests that surely must have included the type of evidence (a gun carried illegally by a young man with a criminal record) that would have required nothing more than the willpower of one D.A. to say: I want the maximum this time, because it’s the third/fifth/ninth time?  And the willpower of one judge to pause for one moment from his droning soliloquy about his own central role in rehabilitating young men to say: Wait a minute.  This guy is a serious threat to innocent people in his community.

Cities that implemented the “broken windows theory” of crime fighting were already well on their way to safer streets by the mid-1990’s.  But Philadelphia clung to an older cycle: neglect, then activist-driven outrage when something really bad happens, then blaming police for failures that should have been laid mostly at the feet of City Hall and the courts (Politically-savvy activists never blame the politicians, or blame them for long: they scapegoat the cops and stick their hands out for handouts from mayors and councilmen).

The result?  The highest murder rate among big cities.  And more:

In a comprehensive analysis of the Philadelphia criminal courts, The Inquirer traced the outcomes of 31,000 criminal court cases filed in 2006, 2007, and 2008, tracking their dispositions through early this year. The results go a long way toward explaining the violence on city streets.

For three consecutive years, Philadelphia has had the highest violent-crime rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities, FBI figures show. It has the highest rate for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

Though murder cases are an exception, Philadelphia conviction rates trail the nation’s in rape, robbery, and serious assault cases.

“We have a system that is on the brink of overall collapse,” said Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, a former Philadelphia judge and a longtime critic of the courts’ high dismissal rate, after reviewing The Inquirer’s findings.

“These are the most horrendous crimes that can be committed – murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault,” he said, calling the conviction rates “unacceptable.”

The disorder in the courts uncovered by the Inquirer is staggering:

Defense lawyers routinely exploit the court system’s chaos. They delay cases to wear down victims and witnesses, and seek spurious postponements if they know prosecution witnesses are in court and ready to go.

Judges, prosecutors, and even prominent defense lawyers acknowledge that this kind of gamesmanship is common and that the system’s failings work to defendants’ advantage.

The system bungles basic, but crucial, steps necessary to getting key witnesses into court. Inmates, needed at trial as witnesses or defendants, never arrive. Police are routinely booked to appear in different courtrooms at the same time, guaranteeing that cases will collapse.

Though officials are working to reduce the problem, as many as a quarter of all subpoenaed inmates in recent years have failed to show up for court on any given day, experts say.

The court’s bail system is broken. Defendants skip court with impunity, further traumatizing victims who show up for hearings that never take place.

There are almost 47,000 Philadelphia fugitives on the streets. Philadelphia is tied with Essex County, N.J. – home of Newark – for the nation’s highest fugitive rate. To catch them, the city court system employs just 51 officers – a caseload of more than 900 fugitives per officer.

The consequences are staggering, too:

The system is overwhelmed by an exploding caseload, pressuring judges to put a premium on disposing cases, rather than insisting that victims and defendants have their day in court.

Of 10,000 defendants who walked free on their violent-crime cases in 2006 and 2007, 92 percent had their cases dropped or dismissed. Only 788 – 8 percent – were found not guilty at trial, The Inquirer’s analysis shows.

Staggering, too, the financial waste.  The clerk of court (Clerk of Quarter Sessions) office is so dysfunctional, it doesn’t even keep up with basic record-keeping:

In a sign of the system’s disarray, court officials had trouble answering when The Inquirer asked how much fugitives owed taxpayers in forfeited bail. At first, they said the debt was $2 million. Then they pegged it at $382 million. Finally, they declared it was a staggering $1 billion.

Of course, there’s a crooked politician at the helm.  And, remarkably, her daughter, drawing a taxpayer check right beside her:

After the newspaper raised questions about the bail debt 11 months ago, the courts and the city pledged to hire a firm to go after the money. That never happened.

For years, [District Attorney Lynne A.] Abraham has complained about the court’s failure to collect the money. Mayor Nutter, in a recent letter to her, blamed Clerk of Quarter Sessions Vivian T. Miller, saying her “inability to provide accurate records” had stalled the entire effort.

In an interview, Robin T. Jones, Miller’s top aide and her daughter, acknowledged the office had no computerized records of the debts, just paper notations in each defendant’s file.

Paper notations.  Nor did the D.A., for her part, keep up on record-keeping:

Abraham, the city’s top prosecutor, has failed to keep figures tracking how well – or poorly – her office has done in court . . . Abraham’s successor, Seth Williams, a Democrat and former assistant district attorney who will take office next month, said the D.A.’s failure to track case outcomes contributed to the low conviction rates. He said he was appalled by the newspaper’s findings.

“We have to change this,” Williams said last week. “It’s not that it’s just bad. It’s terrible.”

According to the Inquirer, Abraham staked her reputation, rightfully, on homicide prosecutions.  Her office ranked higher than the national average in successful prosecutions for that one crime (82% compared to 71%).  But Philadelphia ranks at the bottom, or close to it, for other violent crimes.  So the choice the city has made, it appears, is to do the opposite of “broken windows.”  Cut-em loose until they kill someone — not manslaughter, homicide only.

Judges claim this is all news to them.  They are shocked, shocked!:

Of the cases that die, 82 percent collapse in Municipal Court, whose judges decide whether cases should proceed to Common Pleas Court for a full trial.

Asked about the low conviction rates, Municipal Court President Judge Marsha H. Neifield said she wanted to study the issues.

“This hasn’t been presented to us before,” she said. “We want to do the right thing. If we in any way can be construed as causing any problem, we want to fix it.”

Study the issues.  You do that, judge.  Read the rest here.

~~~

Perhaps Philadelphia should be the new poster child for the broken windows theory of crime, rather than New York, or even Los Angeles.  Because broken windows works, New York’s era of dysfunction is fading into a memory; L.A. is well on the right path.  In Philadelphia, that reform never came, and the results are clear every time a new murder defendant walks into court with a five-page arrest sheet for prior crimes.

At least Philadelphia has one thing going for it that a lot of other cities simply don’t have: reporters who bother to ask real questions about what is happening to the court system as a whole.  Call it broken windows journalism.

Connect the Dots: Killing Cops, Cutting Felons Loose

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All the news is bad this Monday.  On Saturday, the AP reported:

Police Officer Gun Deaths Up

The number of officers killed in the line of duty by gunfire increased 24 percent from 2008, according to preliminary statistics compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a national nonprofit organization that tracks officer-related deaths.

As of Saturday, 47 police officers have died nationwide this year after being shot while on duty, up from 38 for the same time in 2008, which was the lowest number of gunfire deaths since 1956, according to the data.

Make that 48 dead, or an increase of 26% over last year, as of Sunday, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.  Captain Dennis Darrell Cagle of the Henderson, Tenn. Police Department died Sunday, a few days after being shot while responding to an armed robbery in a grocery store.

photo R.I.P. Captain Dennis Darrell Cagle

~~~

Meanwhile, in seemingly “unrelated” news, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has been secretly and not-so-secretly releasing inmates even earlier than they were being released before, which was already early compared to the sentences they received.

If this trend continues, we are going to be freeing people from prison even before they commit crimes.

Oh, wait, we do that already.  Governor Quinn’s going to have to invent double time travel next:

Records obtained and analyzed by the AP show that since September more than 850 inmates have been released weeks earlier than they ordinarily would be. The Corrections Department is saving money by abandoning a policy that requires inmates to serve at least 61 days and awarding them discretionary good-conduct credit immediately upon entering prison.  That means some prisoners have enough good-conduct days to qualify for release almost immediately — before they’ve had a chance to demonstrate any conduct at all, good or bad. The inmates are kept at the department’s prison processing centers and released after as few as 11 days. . . The unpublicized practice is called “MGT Push,” for “meritorious good time,” according to a memo obtained by the AP.

So, what entitles a felon to Meritorious Good Time?  Just being the ineffable offenders that they are, apparently:

Jorge Bogas spent just 18 days behind bars for aggravated driving under the influence after he hit two cars, hospitalizing one motorist for weeks, while driving the wrong direction on Interstate 57. Bogas sat five days in Cook County Jail, was transferred to the processing center at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet and released 13 days later.

James Walker-Bey, sentenced to a year for violating probation for carrying a .25 caliber pistol in Alsip, was confined for just over two weeks — three days in Cook County and 14 at Stateville prison.

And Antoine Garrett, previously convicted of armed robbery and illegal firearms possession by a felon, got a one-year sentence after Chicago police saw him drop a bag of cocaine on the street as they approached, but spent just 21 days locked up.

One year for dropping a bag of cocaine?  Doesn’t that seem a bit extreme?  Not if you consider that Garrett was still supposed to be serving time for a 1992 armed robbery when he was out committing another felony gun crime in 2001.  In the absurdist argot that pretends criminals are “paying their debt to society” by serving time, Antoine Garrett still owes us for the crime before last, let alone the last one.

Garrett’s also got one of those ridiculous little teardrops tattooed on his face: doesn’t that mean that he’s proud (teary proud?) of having killed someone?

~~~

What does it say about our justice system that the Governor of Illinois secretly decided to release many hundreds of offenders early, while publicly claiming he is being tougher on offenders, and, simultaneously, announcing the early release of 1,000 other offenders?  A meritorious good time for the criminals, and bad times ahead for citizens and the police:

“MGT Push” has included more than 100 people convicted of potentially violent crimes, including aggravated and domestic battery, battering and assaulting police officers, aggravated robbery and reckless firearms discharge, the AP’s analysis shows. That’s not counting the prisoners serving time for nonviolent offenses who committed more serious crimes in the past, including murder.

Nine people were released Dec. 3, the same day that Quinn signed a law requiring prison time for gang members caught with guns.

The day before, Corrections sent home 20 others, including a man convicted of domestic battery who was confined for 19 days and a man who had spent a total of 20 days locked up for carrying a concealed weapon, records show.

Just in time for the holidays, domestic batterers, drunk drivers, and all.  The Chicago Sun-Times reported this story yesterday morning.  By evening, the Chicago Tribune was reporting that Governor Quinn was rescinding the secret program his spokesperson had denied the existence of earlier in the day.  After only some 850 cut loose.

Yesterday morning, the Sun-Times took the time to explain how prison sentences are getting disappeared in Illinois.  That is, one of the many ways:

Here’s how someone sentenced to a year in prison could be released after just a week or two:

— The law automatically waives half his sentence, cutting time in prison to just six months

— The Corrections Department also can grant six months of good-conduct time (based on conduct in prison, not county jail) for all but the most serious offenses. Theoretically, that could reduce time in prison to zero. Corrections maintains that historically, nearly all inmates eligible for good time get the full amount.

— In the past, the department had a policy — unwritten, according to Sandy Funk of the agency’s transfer coordinator’s office — of requiring inmates to serve at least 61 days before collecting any of that good-time credit. With that requirement gone, prisoners can be released after department processes them.

And what does it say about our justice system when a guy with a big advertisement that he has murdered a man literally tattooed on his face gets released for Meritorious Good Time 21 days into a year-long sentence when he is actually supposed to still be serving time for previous gun crimes?

I think it says this:

It doesn’t matter if you point a gun at a store clerk’s head and threaten to pull the trigger, scarring her for life.  It doesn’t matter if you pistol-whip a rival gang member into intensive care, leaving the taxpayers with a hundred grand in hospital bills and lifetime disability payments to support some worthless thug.  It doesn’t matter if you shoot at a cop who is trying to stop you from robbing a grocery store, at least so long as the cop survives, unlike Captain Dennis Darrell Cagle.  No matter what you do, no matter what you cost society in human lives and money, some politician is going to let you walk.

Interesting Editorial on Criminal Defense by Judge Dan Winn

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Hat tip to Dan, who passed along the following must-read editorial from the Rome News-Tribune on funding criminal defense.

I found this editorial in today’s paper and thought you would like to read it. I do not know anything about the judge but it sounds like an interesting proposal and a fair assessment of the anti-capital lawyers.  — Dan

Judge Winn has many interesting things to say about the problems with our current system of criminal, and especially, capital defense.  I would add that in other Western court systems, the responsibilities for criminal defense are more frequently spread out among lawyers, as they used to be here.  Unfortunately, in some of those countries, they’re moving closer to a system like ours, with its abuses, excess, and “cult of the defense bar.”

Martez McKibben, Young Working Man Murdered in Another Robbery Turned Violent

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    McKibbon_20091207122849_320_240.JPGMartez McKibben
    I received the following notice from several people in Atlanta:

      21-year-old Kavader [Martez] McKibben was murdered Friday night while working at the Moreland Package store.  He was killed while two men committed an armed robbery – they shot him even though he’d already given them the money they asked for.  It all sounds too similar to the way John Henderson was murdered not even one year ago.McKibben  was known by many in our community and has been described as the guy who was  never in a bad mood and was always nice to everyone; was a pleasure to talk – had a good heart and a warm smile.

      We will be gathering in the parking lot of the package store tomorrow night [that would be tonight] at 7 to show our support of his family and friends.  The Moreland Package store is located near the intersection of Moreland Ave and Wylie St – beside the old Texaco gas station and across from the new Goodfella’s Pizza. Please join us, bring some friends and your candles, and let’s show our support for this sweet young man’s family and friends.  We will also be collecting money for his family to use to pay for funeral expenses.  If you’d like to donate, please bring a check with you to the vigil and we’ll let you know who to make it out to once we’re there.

      Amanda Blocker

    I don’t know if I ever met Kavander, but the older Asian man who owned the store was always kind to anyone who walked in the door, as were his employees.  You set a tone, and people rise to the occasion, and that’s how the social contract keeps going.  I often went to the convenience store across the street, and the laundromat a block south, and the Mexican restaurant down from the package store, the one in the holler.

    I mention these places because all of them get hit repeatedly by criminals.  When you think about it, there are few places where people haven’t had their lives threatened by common criminals along that strip of Moreland, and, frankly, emanating out from it in every direction, throughout the city.

    McKibbon’s mother also worked in the package store, for 20 years.  What will she do now?  Shaun Yu, the store owner, talks about watching McKibbon grow up in this amazingly sad Fox 5 interview.  Yu remembers the young man as a child of 10 and talks about the sense of humor the two shared.

    When will enough be enough? Judges in Atlanta act as if their courtrooms are private fiefdoms; prosecutors are too busy playing politics for their own professional advancement to bother expending political capital by asking for the money they need to do their jobs properly.

    Certain professional activists fat with grant dollars don’t pause to consider the consequences as they waddle towards the nearest microphone to lash out at the police or underhandedly encourage adolescents to “stop snitching” (until, of course, they get that grant from the Chief to encourage snitching instead).

    Meanwhile, decent, hard-working people like Martez McKibben and his boss, and all the other working people up and down Moreland Avenue are left to fend for themselves, as if they’re living in some post-apocalyptic movie, paid for with their own tax dollars.

    ‘How dare you complain?’ the politicians and police chiefs and newspaper editors sneer.  ‘It’s the big city, kiddies, crime happens.  Not where we live, of course, in our Inman Park mansions and gated penthouses with private patrols and security guards.  Didn’t we tell you it’s just a perception of crime?  The numbers are down, you hysterics.  Our pals in academia say they’re down, so how dare you complain about it.’

    Go light a candle for Kavander McKibben tonight.  Give his family some money to help bury a young man who was just starting his life.  Another one gone, one of five in another bloody Atlanta weekend.

The Possibilities of Realpolitick: Now That Kasim Reed or Mary Norwood Have Won the Atlanta Mayoral Election, What Will They Do?

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Regardless of who wins, they will have to address the betrayal of the public that marked Shirley Franklin and Richard Pennington’s last years.

Choosing a new police chief will be part of that.  But there are deeper problems.  Most, if not all of the people pictured below would be alive today if not for the radical leniency shown to repeat offenders in Atlanta’s courts.

A new mayor is limited in his or her power to directly impact the justice system.  But they control some purse strings, and as representatives of the city to the Georgia legislature, they can make it a legislative priorities to change the sentencing loopholes that still enable judges to go easy on recidivists and first-time offenders guilty of violent crimes.

People are dying because of this leniency.  What’s more important?

And as a prominent voice in politics, the new mayor can promote an ethic of selecting judges who view the courts as a place where everyone comes for justice, not a place where offenders go to be showered with attention, or just let go.

At the end of the day, 90% of the problems in our justice system boil down to resources and priorities.  What will the next mayor prioritize?  Or will he or she do nothing, as Franklin and Pennington did?

Look at these beautiful, kind faces.*  Pray for their families.

*I am sorry this gallery is far from complete.  These are pictures I have been keeping of murder victims killed in Atlanta since I started this blog.  There are others.

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.

What Does Mike Huckabee Have in Common With The Activists Who Supported Lovelle Mixon?

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In March, four police officers in Oakland California were gunned down while trying to bring child rapist Lovelle Mixon to justice.  On Sunday, four police officers in Parkland, Washington were gunned down by another child rapist eluding the law.

Here are the officers killed by Maurice Clemmons in Parkland, Washington on Sunday:

fallen

Sergeant Mark Renninger, and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards

Here are the officers killed by Lovelle Mixon in Oakland, California back in March:

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Sergeants Ervin Romans, Daniel Sakai, Mark Dunakin, and Officer John Hege

Eight more officers’ lives sacrificed to the empathy/leniency complex.  Their killers should have been in prison, but certain people, and policies, led to their being on the streets.

~~~

When the four Oakland officers were killed last spring, some activists shockingly sided with their killer, Lovelle Mixon.

Likewise, in 2000, Mike Huckabee overlooked Maurice Clemmons’ violent past and his record of attempting to harm corrections officers and pardoned him.  Now four more officers are dead.  Two child rapists, eight dead officers: were Huckabee’s actions really all that different from the radical activists who excused the actions of Lovelle Mixon?

The Seattle Times has released these records from Clemmons’ successful 2000 appeal to Huckabee.  The future cop-killer was already well-versed in the language of prison-house reform and sophisticated denial of responsibility for his crimes:

“I succumbed to the peer pressure and the need I had to be accepted by other youth in my new environment and fell in with the wrong crowd and thus began a seven (7) month crime spree which led me to prison,” Clemmons wrote in his application to Huckabee.

Clemmons said he came from “a very good Christian family” and “was raised much better than my actions speak (I’m still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought to my family name.),” he wrote.

Clemmons added that his mother had recently died without seeing him turn his life around and that he prayed Huckabee would show compassion by releasing him.

For his part, Huckabee has release a disturbing statement blaming other people for Clemmon’s continued freedom:

Huckabee issued a written statement Sunday night through his daughter and spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee, saying the “senseless and savage execution” of the police officers “has saddened the nation.”

If Clemmons is found to be responsible, Huckabee’s statement said, “it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state. . . . It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state. This is a horrible and tragic event and if found and convicted the offender should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

This time, he means.

Huckabee is similarly guilty of playing fatal politics with women’s lives by getting Wayne Dumond released early: Dumond, recall, went on to rape and kill at least two more women, having been given a friendly scolding and some free therapy for several other rapes in the past.

Here is a shattering video from the mother of one of the women Dumond raped and murdered after Mike Huckabee set him free.  Disturbingly, Huckabee spent several years denying his role in Dumond’s release until the Arkansas Times’ Murray Wass exposed the truth about his role.

Making light of violent crime seems to be a fixation of Huckabee’s: he named his garage band “Capitol Offense.”  Funny for murder vicitim’s families, right?

While we’re at it, let’s not forget revered New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy’s sleazy role in the campaign to get Wayne Dumond off.  Dunleavy trashed the rape victims’ reputations, accusing them of lying (at least the ones who survived).

Similarly, the Village Voice’s Wade Harkavy stumbled all over his unusually limited vocabulary to summon enough words to minimize Dumon’s previous rapes (“Forced submission,” “brief penetration” and “accost” are especially nice.  So is flinging around slurs like “cracker” in a major publication).

What do all these people have in common? Right-wing, Left-wing, or maximum security wing, they all believe rapists, and other violent men, deserve more understanding, less incarceration, and lots of second chances.  They all believe that criminals in general, but especially sex criminals, are simply “misunderstood,” the “real victims” of society and an “oppressive police state.”

And then innocent policemen get assassinated.

This should spell the end of Huckabee.  It won’t, but it should.  Just watch: he’ll be playing the victim with Roman Polanski next.

Turkey Seeking New Gravy Train, or Misunderstood Geek?

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“People may not like his style” begins the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s denouement of the Chief Pennington years.

As if the crime-weary public has been complaining all along about the cut of Chief Pennington’s jib, not the fact that he poo-poohed the rising crime wave, turned on his own officers, and stopped doing his job.

But implausible deniability has been the newspaper’s line on crime ever since the public started demanding, say, a chief of police who takes all home invasions equally seriously and doesn’t take his marching orders from two-bit activists, or pull a Houdini for months on end.

It’s not that writers Bill Rankin and Bill Torpy are particular fans of the Chief, or any cop — the paper’s biases run to offenders.  But when Pennington started parroting the paper’s “Crime? What crime, you stupid hysterics?” line, he became an occasional ally on the side of print journalists and against the public.

Consider this line his going-away gift from the fourth estate:

Pennington often comes across less as the chief of police and more as the CEO of the APD.

Really?  I always though he came across less as the chief of police because he gets into bed with Al Sharpton types, not because he’s some sort of Bill Gates in blue.

He brought in a data-driven system that gives a real-time count of the arrests and crimes taking place, enabling police to react quickly to emerging trends. Crime rates fell. Those numbers, Pennington said, are what count.

Yes, crime rates fell.  Before they started to rise precipitously, of course, a phenomenon the chief and his mayor blamed on public insensitivity to criminals, rather than criminals’ insensitivity to the public.

Murder rates indisputably did fall before and during Pennington’s time as chief.  But should Pennington claim credit for any part, let alone all, of that particular drop in that particular category of crime?  Important factors left unmentioned in the AJC article more than explain the drop in murder rates in Atlanta over the chief’s tenure.

  • First and foremost, a very specific subset of gentrification displaced violent crime outside the city limits, more or less entirely explaining the drop in murder rates.  Immediately prior to Pennington’s installation as chief, and concluding during the first years of his tenure, Atlanta’s Renee Glover literally razed the housing projects where and around which most murders and other gun crimes occurred.  They shut them down and moved the residents out — the most dysfunctional households going to Clayton County, where former Atlanta Chief of Police and current Clayton County Commissions Chairman Eldrin Bell must be wondering exactly what he did to deserve such magnetic fate.  Back in Atlanta, no more Grady Homes: no more murders at Grady Homes.  Want to know how extreme this change was?  Ask any cop old enough to remember the bad old days.  Or, conduct a longitudinal study mapping violent crime trends (murder, aggravated assaults, crime related-hospitalizations) against the relocation of public housing populations, and mention it in the newspaper when the chief tries to take credit for the drop in murders at Grady Homes.

Or don’t.

  • Another factor in the drop in murder rates was simple burn-out.  Crime was already dropping across the board when Pennington arrived in Atlanta.  Everyone rode that trend.  Atlanta was already poised to move into a lower tier of the city-by-city crime stats by the time Pennington arrived.
  • Then there’s investigation and punishment.  You know, incarcerating recidivists?  Sentencing enhancement?  This is an interesting subject and one that has not been researched enough.  Four specific trends in crime investigation and sentencing doubtlessly impacted the worst of the worst among the criminal classes just as Pennington took charge.  First, the (delayed) implementation of DNA testing and databasing finally lopped the top off rape rates by incarcerating some of the most prolific offenders for longer than the five minutes they used to spend cooling their heels in the can.  Second, sentencing reform for the most violent crimes raised the consequences for murder for everyone except juveniles.  Third, sentencing reform for gun crimes resulted in longer sentences for armed adults and even some juvenile offenders.  Fourth, technology — not just DNA, but vast improvements in crime scene processing and emergency room care, underwent a real mini-renaissance in the past ten years.  All of these factors slash the violent crime rate because small numbers of hard-core recidivists are responsible for a big percentage of all crimes.  When you remove just one of them from the streets for, say, armed robbery, you can prevent multiple future events.

So was Pennington a participant in these universal trends?  Sure.  Did he maximize the Atlanta Police Department’s ability to participate in them?

That’s the real question, and the answer is no, for reasons of personality, conduct, politics, and ethics — in other words, leadership.  Leadership was the real thing Pennington was supposed to bring to the table, leadership of his troops and leadership for the public that was paying him, and he failed both of those fundamental missions.  He even failed, according to many, at implementing the very “smart policing” techniques that were supposed to be his strength.  Data driven policing and computer crime mapping techniques are only as good as the people in charge.  If you don’t have a Bratton, or at least somebody who acts as a leader with his own women and men, then the very techniques that make policing more efficient can turn into sophisticated tools for hiding real crime statistics — or worse:

Critics say his focus on numbers created a quota system that led cops to cut corners. The police shooting of Kathryn Johnston, 92, in 2006 came about because narcotics officers were pumping up their warrants and arrests, critics say.

“The Atlanta Police Department does not have a quota system,” Pennington said after narcotics officers were arrested for the raid.

It was after the fatal narcotics raid that Pennington fundamentally betrayed his command.  He could have taken the high road, defending the performance of good cops, cooperating in the investigation of what went wrong, and taking responsibility for his own role in Johnson’s death, as any good leader would do.  But instead, he made political hay, denied any personal fault, threw good officers under the bus for political expediency, and, unforgivably for a chief of police, jumped into bed with the anti-cop activists.

At that moment, Shirley Franklin should have removed him from a job for which he was no longer even bothering to show up.  In fact, the best thing that might be said about Pennington after 2006 was that he wasn’t around very much, because when he was in Atlanta, he was just as likely to be doing something to undermine the force.  In a replay of Bill Campbell’s final days, the cop shop on Ponce de Leon took on that Colonel Kurtz vibe.

By 2008, Shirley Franklin was well on her way to Kurtzing out, too, and Pennington took an increasingly frenetic series of powders:

Pennington’s personal calendars, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Georgia Open Records Act, show that the chief attended conferences in Honolulu; LasVegas; Sun Valley, Idaho; Philadelphia; Dallas; Washington; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Miami; Pasadena, Calif.; Boston; New Orleans; and other cities.

And the excuses he offered for failing to do his job grew as obscure as his travel schedule:

Pennington said he tried to connect with the rank and file early on. He held luncheons with groups of 30 officers to field their questions and gauge morale. Later, he went to roll call after hearing complaints about him not attending. But officers did not ask him questions, worried it would get back to their bosses.  “So I said, ‘Why am I going to roll call if they won’t talk, won’t say anything?’” he said.

Maybe he should have kept going to roll call, instead of going to Aruba, because it was his f*##!g  job, right?  Even if the mean kids wouldn’t sit next to him in the lunchroom.

Then the crime wave hit, and that’s when the mayor and the chief of police really lost their marbles.  Only they didn’t really lose anything: it is the public that lost.  They’re laughing all the way to the bank.

~~~

So, yes, people didn’t like Pennington’s style, but it was never a simple issue of taste, or emotions, as insinuated, unfortunately, by the AJC.  Voters aren’t children needing reassurance when serious crimes occur: people wanted Pennington to be in town because they were paying his salary and expected him to be doing his job:

Pennington said he left capable aides in charge and raced back in times of crisis.

“I don’t take a lot of vacation,” he said. “No, I don’t feel like I was out a whole lot because, you know, I took the required training opportunities I had.”

“[T]he required training opportunities I had.”  Well, isn’t that what it’s all about?  A chest-full of merit badges and holiday tan lines while the average cop had nobody in his corner as he faced down thirteen-year-olds armed to the teeth?

For every way that Pennington was bad for Atlanta, Atlanta was bad for Pennington.  Something about the toxic political culture of this town — the entitlement culture of its members-only ruling class — took a top cop with a decent reputation and dissipated his promise, like many before him.

In the final analysis, the job of the chief of police is very simple: he must lead his officers.  Not waste his time skipping around the country jockeying for political points in other arenas, nor paving a personal path to the next cushy payday.  Nor, it should go without saying but apparently must be said, hob-nobbing with anti-cop activists who make their green fomenting dangerous hatreds towards men and women in blue.

In that, Richard Pennington failed, atrociously.  And that’s all that really matters now.

How Not to Change

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Chief Pennington is leaving, but Al Sharpton has set up camp. Atlanta can’t catch a break.  From an Atlanta Journal Constitution article:

Sharpton Decries Black on Black Violence

In West Atlanta, Sharpton called thugs “a disgrace and a shame to the community.”  And he blamed civil rights leaders like himself for failing to rein in violence.

Nearby, youths held signs urging peace as drivers honked their horns.

Sharpton called for town hall meetings in each of the cities that were participating in Monday’s event.

“None of us have done enough,” he said.

I think Al Sharpton has done quite enough already.  I smell grant money, federal or county or city: somebody should check to see exactly how much Sharpton’s palm is getting greased, and by whom, for this so-called “National Day of Outrage.”  Such things aren’t done for free.  We always pay for them, through Weed and Seed or some other Justice Department tax-dollar give-away, or city funds, or police discretionary budgets that are supposed to be used to, you know, catch criminals.

Follow the money, especially the public safety budget.  Remember back in July, when Pennington and Mayor Franklin finally got around to holding a press conference on crime?  Then the ministers got in on the action, rallying behind a local Sharpton affiliate.  Now Sharpton shows up.  Do you have any idea how much you might be paying for these professional activists?

That’s Chief Pennington standing with Markel Hutchins, an anti-cop activist and local Sharpton representative.  He has a history of sowing divisiveness between communities and police officers.  Why did Pennington join hands with him, and by extension, Sharpton?  Did the Chief actually have this little respect for his own officers?

Good cops risk their lives every day to protect residents in dangerous neighborhoods.  In other cities, the Chief of Police doesn’t get into bed with people like Sharpton.  Pennington did.  If any of Sharpton’s “activism” is being bankrolled by city public safety taxes, or the feds, whoever approved of such expenditures needs to be held accountable.

~~~

The arrival of Sharpton this week to “speak out about crime” reminded me of a comment somebody made on the AJC‘s website after Pennington and Mayor Franklin finally deigned to hold a press conference to scold the public for caring about crime.  File it under “be careful what you wish for, because you might end up paying for Al Sharpton’s lunch.”

Seriously, though, it’s worth reading:

“Captain”   July 30th, 2009

Where are the City’s self proclaimed righteous and pious leaders such as Rev Joseph Lowery, Rev Markel Hutchins, Tyrone Brooks and others? The same leaders who were so quick to go after Police Officers who shot a car thief some 3 yrs ago are silent during this crime wave. Where are they? These are Atlanta’s self appointed leaders who called for “Community Review Boards” to monitor APD, who routinely protested action by APD, never failing to find fault with virtually every aspect of APD operations. Much of this current crime wave is as a direct result of their anti-Police actions and activities of the past several years. These same leaders can’t wait to villify police officers, call for investigations, call white officers ‘racist’, accuse the Police of being ‘out of control’ when the Police do their job. Amazingly, when an athlete is gunned down by those trying to steal his vehicle, when a City council members vehicle is stolen we have a crime wave and they demand action from that same Police force they’ve hammered with relentless accusation after accusation the last four years. The message from Atlanta’s high and might self appointed leaders has been crystal clear to the outlaws during the past few years, the Police are not to be respected, nor are the laws.

“Captain,” whoever he is, is absolutely right.  These activists have been tearing down the police for decades.  They invented the very “no-snitching” anti-cop culture they’re now suddenly so eager to grandstand against.  “Captain” continues:

The ‘thugs’ are running the streets doing as they please. For months it was the ongoing ’smash and grab’ across the city, store after store, time after time. Then it was home breakins, apartment breakins, Atlantic Station breakins, then they moved to shooting restaurant employees, store clerks, followed up by assaulting and robbing college students, now the crowd has moved to car jackings. What a surprise!!! Who could have seen that coming?

Where are Rev Lowery, REv Hutchins, Tyrone Brooks and others today? Their war against the Police Dept has resulted in today’s crime wave. When police officers are treated as these self proclaimed leaders have treated them, is it any surprise the ‘thugs’ feel they have no constraints? I have to wonder, if an APD officer shot and killed one of these outlaws during an attempted car jacking tonight, would one of Atlanta’s ‘leaders’ applaud the Police or call for an investigation, a community review board, prosecution of the officer, and if he were white, allegations of racism and calls for a FBI probe?

Why can’t these same pompous and self proclaimed leaders who have,by their actions, contributed to this current crime wave take to the podium, in front of those TV cameras they so adore, and publically call for Atlanta’s citizens to rise up, stop the crime, and encourage the APD to do all within it’s power to make the City safe? Why won’t they publically SUPPORT APD rather than again ‘blaming”? Why are they so quick to speak out and blame, yet so silent when times call for real and honest leadership? Atlantans are reaping what has been sown, it’s a shame, a real shame.

Some might say that any anti-crime advocacy is welcome, even from the likes of Al Sharpton.  But Sharpton has attacked crime victims, unrepentantly ruined an innocent man’s life with false allegations of rape, and repeatedly incited racial antagonism and violent protests, one of which led to an arson attack where several people burned to death.  He has no business claiming to be a leader against violent crime.  

And then there’s the money.  A few years ago, Sharpton was busy shaking down other people over other causes; now he smells green in people’s demands for safe streets.  Don’t let him leech off the anti-crime movement: it’s disrespectful to victims, and he will do everything he can to divide people by race, which will shatter chances for change in the long run.  Staged activities like “National Days of Outrage” do nothing to stop crime.  They garner a few headlines and line Sharpton’s pockets, while real representatives of the community continue to be frozen out by politicians like Franklin and Pennington, the types of regressive politicians who benefit when people are pitted against each other.

And that’s what Sharpton does best.

If local ministers really want to unite all Atlantans against crime, they must honor all victims and distance themselves from Sharpton and his ilk.  If they want to work to heal divisions between some neighborhoods and the police through personal example, more power to them.  But the movement must be inclusive, and it must be a two-way street with the police: activists need to acknowledge the risks cops take and the thankless work they do in the face of hostilities fired up by people like Sharpton.

It was bad enough that Pennington and Franklin only came out of the bat cave after a well-known athlete got killed.  With that said, kudos to Vernon Forrest’s family for using their influence to push city leaders to action.  But now, if anti-crime activists choose to acknowledge only some crimes, as Sharpton is trying to do, it is a step backward, not forward, for the city.

Anything involving Sharpton is a step back.  He has no business in decent company. (Et tu, Newt G.?)

Pre-Holiday Mop-Up: Marvin Arrington and Georgia Juvenile Justice Take Me To School

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I wrote this a few weeks back and never posted it: I was waiting for a confirmation of some details.  In December, Crime Victims Media Report will be re-launching with more emphasis on The Guilty Project, an effort to document the ways prolific and violent offenders avoid justice.

I have been hearing recently from crime victims, their families, and other people who personally knew offenders before they were caught: their stories are compelling, and they have a lot to say about the justice system that needs to be heard by wider audiences.

There are millions of Americans who aren’t criminals but have been denied justice because some criminal got away with murder thanks to a lenient judge, or because the system is simply hard-wired to let offenders go.  These stories need to be told, and they are not being told in newspapers.  Meanwhile, as the following illustrates, too many of our courtrooms have become therapeutic entities for the benefit of even the most violent offenders.  If you know of a case or a court ruling that deserves notice, please contact me, either on the website or at my e-mail, tinatrent2@yahoo.com.

~~~

Over at Georgia Juvenile Justice, somebody’s rather upset that, way back in an editorial published in early September, I called Judge Marvin Arrington the “host” of a graduation party held from some violent inmate, rather than the “invited guest speaker.”  Here is their complaint, which got cc’d to a bunch of state employees and then mailed to Sunday Paper a mere six weeks after my editorial ran:

Permit me to respond to your editorial entitled “Judge Marvin Arrington’s Criminal Court” in the September 2, 2009 issue of The Sunday Paper.  This editorial unwittingly perpetrates a myth concerning Judge Arrington’s role at the Metro Regional Youth Detention Center’s (Metro RYDC) graduation last May.  You should be aware of the following facts.

Judge Arrington did not hold a “graduation party” for a convicted felon at the Metro RYDC.  This graduation was arranged by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice’s (DJJ) Education Department.  This graduation ceremony was one of several held at DJJ facilities during the 2008 – 2009 DJJ school year.

Judge Arrington was simply invited as a speaker for the occasion. . .

Well, excusez-moi for not getting the table settings right.  Arrington was, in fact, the graduation speaker, though in the writer’s quest to minimize the judge’s role, he slides past that point for a few sentences.

Anyway, what I actually wrote was this:

Last spring, Arrington also held a “graduation party” for a convicted felon awaiting new charges at the Atlanta Metro Youth Detention Center.

So the Juvenile Justice official is right that Arrington didn’t “throw” the party for a convicted felon awaiting new charges but was merely the “honored guest” at the party for a convicted felon awaiting new charges.  It’s a tiny point, and, of course, not the point of my editorial.  My point was that Arrington, like many judges, behaves as if his role is to boost the self-esteem of violent young convicts rather than doing the things that are supposed to be his job: holding offenders responsible for their actions, protecting the public, and enforcing the law through appropriate sentencing.

Unfortunately, the courts are awash with ceremonies and celebrations for offenders.  In the trendy rush to treat offenders like “clients” and practice a therapeutic jurisprudence that wins praise from the academic/media/defense bar cabal, judges are too often tempted to abandon their role as enforcers of the law.  Sometimes they do this in the courtroom itself.  Sometimes they go off-site to other places to do it, but the effect is the same: they are carrying their title as judge with them.  They are speaking for the court and getting paid by the very same taxpayers who are being victimized by these offenders’ crimes.

And meanwhile, while they’re busy doing these other things, they’re also using the excuse that there aren’t enough resources to address all crimes, so most cases get pleaded away or postponed into perpetuity.  The prisons are full, they tell us, when what they really mean is that they philosophically oppose incarceration as deterrence.  The courts are suddenly broke, they’re telling us now, as if routinely pleading out 90% of all cases because they lacked the resources to try them in the past, right up until yesterday, wasn’t proof that they were broke before.

Back to my schooling.  I didn’t, incidentally, get the party’s location wrong, nor did I allege that Arrington presided over this particular offender’s trial, nor did I mention (let alone misrepresent) any of the other programs the Justice Department official reeled off in his demand that I stop “perpetrating myths” — I wasn’t even writing about those things.  This complaint letter by a state official is sadly dishonest throughout, both accusing me of misrepresenting facts I did not misrepresent and reeling off a list of corrections to the record about subjects I did not mention.

I suggest they get busy over at Juvenile Justice working on a retraction of the things of which they falsely accused me — or I might just sit myself down and write a firm letter to the editor complaining about them, by, say, January or February.

~~~

In the real world, where I was busy making the argument I was actually making, here is what I actually wrote about Marvin Arrington:

Last spring, Arrington also held a “graduation party” for a convicted felon awaiting new charges at the Atlanta Metro Youth Detention Center.

Robert Harris, 17, finished high school while incarcerated for a home invasion and armed robbery that sent three people to the hospital–two with head injuries from being pistol-whipped, one beaten so badly he had to have a testicle removed. Terrorized residents of the neighborhood where the crime occurred went to the courthouse and demanded that Harris not be released before trial (as he likely would have been).

Arrington’s response to the community’s outrage? He threw Harris a party, a two-hour ceremony with cake, balloons, cameramen and newspaper reporters, and Arrington as “graduation speaker” for the class of one graduating senior.

“You are as good as anybody,” Arrington told him.

Is he? That’s quite a message to send to the thousands of Atlanta students who graduated from high school last year without any detours for pistol-whipping or testicle-crushing.

Ah yes, the testicle-crushing.  Now that is quite a bit close to my actual point.  But, amazingly, Juvenile Justice felt the need to correct one point about that point, too.  They write:

[Arrington] told all of the students they are as good as anybody, not just the graduate.

That is one fascinatingly pointillistic complaint.  Let me see if I can paraphrase: I criticized Arrington for telling a violent, repeat offender who has mutilated and pistol-whipped people that he is “as good as” non-violent, non-repeat-offender, non-testicle-crushing, non-pistol-whipping youths, and Juvenile Justice retorts that my criticism is out of line because the judge was including other offenders in his Hallmark moment.

Somebody over at JJ needs to take a walk.  Or a pill.

Of course he was addressing the whole room, which doubtlessly contained other youths who are also not as good as youths who do not break laws and torture people.  I, at least, wouldn’t say that all the kids in that room are as bad as the ones who have, say, tried to beat people to death.

Are we now not even allowed to say that it’s “bad” to try to kill people by crushing their testicles and beating their heads in?  All things considered, if one young man spends his spare time delivering Meals on Wheels and the other spends his spare time beating rival gang members into the ICU, are we not allowed to distinguish between them in any way?  Does time in the can for aggravated assault equal one Boy Scout Merit Badge in the cosmic college application that is life?

More to the point, don’t the people at Juvenile Justice have better things to do with their time than make inane arguments like this in print?  For that matter, don’t they have anything at all to say about my editorial’s actual subject: serial leniency towards extremely violent offenders?  No?  Not one peep?  Try engaging the subject next time.  The public deserves better.  You are public servants: these are serious issues.  That letter was a joke and an embarrassment.

~~~

And it was more than that.  Did someone in Marvin Arrington’s office demand that Juvenile Justice take some action on my editorial?  It certainly looks that way.  Was this letter, correcting a tiny point weeks after the fact, and neglecting the editorial itself, actually a nervous capitulation to Arrington’s apparent anger at being challenged — challenged?!!

~~~

What’s sad about all of this, besides the apparent sense of entitlement and possible misuse of power, is that Arrington and I share a deep concern for the futures of the young men who go through his court.

I think I’m alone among people I know in not being bothered by the highly-publicized incident in which Arrington threw all the white people out of his court-room in order to talk tough with the young defendants there, all, apparently, African-Americans. (I would feel differently if non-black defendants were present and were subsequently treated differently).

This is what I think about what Arrington did that day: he was treating the young men’s behavior like the emergency that it is, for a change.

I used to let a group of extremely high-risk children into my home so I could feed them and help them with their homework, until one too many of them stole one too many things from me.  First, I stopped letting them come in the door, and then I had to even stop letting them up on my porch.

It was a worthless intervention anyway: all but one of them is either in prison or would be in prison if running up a long rap sheet got you incarcerated these days.

This is what that experience taught me: for a lot of the kids in juvenile facilities, incarceration is probably not only far safer than what passes for their home life, but a lot more productive in terms of securing them some type of decent future.  For virtually all of the young men who commit crimes bad enough to land them in a juvenile facility, being there is probably their best chance to try to finish school and avoid getting shot before they’re 25.  Consequences for committing crimes saves lives.

And don’t forget deterrence, because it’s not all about the offenders, no matter what many seem to think.  I can’t believe this must be said out loud, but it is hardly taken for granted in the current climate: incarcerating young offenders protects other people, especially their peers, from the dangers they pose.

However, we’re hardly allowed to talk about “deterrence” these days, let alone “punishment.”  Such words have become taboo in the therapeutic courtroom, where judges are far too eager to “relate” to offenders, instead of holding them accountable.

And so I committed a sin apparently more notable than pistol-whipping, stomping, torturing, shooting, or even killing someone: I slightly misrepresented Marvin Arrington’s table-place at a party for a violent serial offender.  Good thing the Juvenile Justice Department and the Fulton Superior Court jumped eagerly to make sure this terrible transgression, unlike so many others on their plate, did not pass unnoticed.

Courts in Crisis? Thank a Defense Attorney.

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So suddenly the Fulton County Courts cannot function, thanks to a huge planned budget cut.  But how were they functioning before, with violent felons and repeat offenders getting a free stroll out the door for a variety of reasons?  This is a scene playing out across the country:

Georgia’s biggest court system warned Wednesday that a 2010 Fulton County proposal that cuts $53 million from the judicial budget could force them to shut down the courthouse, jeopardize death penalty cases and slash as many as 1,000 jobs.

Fulton County’s judicial leaders declared an “economic state of emergency” and warned that the cuts, which amount to about a fourth of Fulton County’s judicial budget, would lead to drastic changes at the Fulton County Jail, the sheriff’s office along with prosecutors, judges and public defenders.

“This is not something you can adjust to,” said Doris Downs, the county’s chief superior court judge. “This is going to dismantle the justice system.”

The proposed cuts, which were released last week, are part of a spending plan that would slash the county’s funding by $148.2 million in 2010. Downs and other judicial leaders said the cuts came as a surprise to them and urged commissioners to rethink the spending plan before it plunges the legal system into a “crisis.” . . .

Among the possible aftershocks, said Downs, is a more aggressive early release program to lower jail expenses.

Not so fast.

If judges feel they must circumvent justice for even more victims, they had better allow the public to see precisely how many victims are being denied justice already, through failures to prosecute offenders or sentence them properly, and then let the public decide where resources should be cut.  It’s their money.  And their safety.

If the courts want the public to support their efforts to prevent these budget cuts, they must start having a conversation with the public.

The sanctimonious anti-incarceration activists who call themselves journalists are howling that the real emergency is that we must find more more money to spend on death penalty defendants.  Or else the most horrible thing will happen: murderers won’t get phalanxes of silk stocking lawyers jetted in, all expenses paid, to bloviate about nothing for months on end while making a mockery of the notion of truth in justice.

This is a crisis manufactured by the defense bar.  This is about defense lawyers taking away the public’s right to decide whether or not to try people for death by spending all their money on the defense of one man, then crying poor, stomping their feet, and demanding that all defendants get as many lawyers as the last defendant.

They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this anymore.  Where does it say that defendants deserve teams of expensive private lawyers, rather than public defenders?  The public gets public prosecutors on a shoestring: why do certain criminals fly first class on our dime?  None of this has anything to do with “fair trials” or “the right to a defense”: it is the defense bar pillaging the system to force legislation by other means — the destruction of death penalty trials.

And no matter what you think of the death penalty, don’t think they’ll stop there: life without parole is the next thing in their sights, once death penalty trials are priced out of existence.

Why have we permitted jury selection to bloat into weeks-long parades of experts?  Why has the right to an attorney morphed into the right to six private activist lawyers jetted in to game the system with frivolous inanities as earnest journalists fancying themselves “speaking truth to power” lovingly cover the spectacle?

And, meanwhile, how many cases end up not being prosecuted at all because of such charades?

Before the courts simply inform the public that they will have to accept more violent criminals walking because the defense bar went on a bender, they must speak up about the real costs and pressures on the system.  They must open their books.  And they must finally stand up to the dysfunction they know is ruling the Clerk of Court’s Office and other parts of the system.

Everybody knows which things waste money and which people have no business representing the justice system.  If the public is going to be asked to take yet another hit, they at least deserve an honest conversation in the process.

Journalistic Ethics Fortnight, Part 5: Vanity Fair’s “Up With Pedophilia!” Issue

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Imagine if reporters actually behaved neutrally when approaching subjects like the government’s efforts to stop child predators.  Imagine if they sat themselves down and said: I am going to suspend my natural tendency to side with the accused and control my adolescent rebelliousness towards all authority.  I am going to behave as if I am the blank slate I am supposed to be, suspending judgment as I gather and report facts.

No?  I didn’t think so.

In the very same issue in which Graydon Carter advances his theory that certain people (his friends) shouldn’t have to go to prison for child rape, but should be permitted to make art expressing the pain of child rape instead, Vanity Fair ran this article ostensibly investigating the “shadowy” world of police stings of internet sexual predators.

Note that the term “shadowy” here refers to the cops, not the suspects.

In every way this is a companion piece to Graydon Carter’s weepy panegyric to Roman Polanski.  Author Mark Bowen’s intense effort to paint an entirely sympathetic portrait of child predators is matched only by his presumptions that the police are naturally acting in bad faith:

After months of prowling Internet chat rooms, posing as the mother of two young daughters, Detective Michele Deery thought she had a live one: “parafling,” a married, middle-aged man who claimed he wanted to have sex with her kids. But was he just playing a twisted game of seduction? Both the policewoman and her target give the author their versions of the truth . . .

I’ll save you the trouble of reading it to find out which “truth” Bowden chooses: he completely buys the sex offender’s line — which is, astonishingly, that he didn’t really want to sleep with the children being offered to him on-line, but merely initiated talk of raping the children on a fetish chat line, then spent months planning on-line to have sex with them, and arranging on-line to have sex with them, and fantasizing on-line about having sex with them, and then showed up with a bag of sex toys, handcuffs and condoms to have sex with an 8 and 11-year old because he is really shy and awkward around women and was afraid the mom wouldn’t like him anymore if he didn’t seem like someone who wanted to rape her children.

A great deal of the article is delivered in a creepy first-person narrative, Bowen weaving the sex offender’s “version” in through other details, as if it is the real story, not one of the “two truths” he briefly purports to be exploring.  Before long, the predator’s version literally takes over:

Bingo! A woman! The line popped up in a window at the top of J’s screen as soon as he logged in to the chat room.  He had peeked into a number of active chats to see how many women were there, and logged on to the ones with a promising ratio. His screen name, parafling, was a nod to paraflying, the tiny parachute/tricycle flying machines he had once or twice enjoyed. It was the only really different, exciting thing about him. He imagined it was like a colorful lure on the surface of a pond.

See.  He’s just lonely, and kind of pathetic.

The sun blazed in from the window to his back porch. J had about an hour before his wife would be home from work. She knew nothing of his cybersex life, or if she did, she ignored it. A burly, round-faced man of 42, with a thickly muscled neck and shoulders, thinning hair, and a goatee, he was seated before the computer in their living room in a small, two-story town house in suburban Philadelphia. J had just finished a long day repairing copy machines, driving from one job to the next. This was his time, a quiet interlude before his wife came in the door from her job at the local hospital. He would have to deal with her until about eight p.m., which is when she usually retired upstairs.

J didn’t sleep much. The steroids he was injecting to help him bulk up made his heart race and filled him with explosive energy and lust. He felt like a walking hard-on. The Internet was his only outlet, and it had become a compulsion.

Compulsion, addiction.  Not his fault, of course.  Now here comes the crux of his “excuse”:

In the years he had been dipping into these chat rooms, he had learned a few things about the women who entered them. They were skittish. J was convinced that everyone, down deep, had twisted sexual desires, and he had reasons in his own life for believing this—his first sexual relationship, as a teenager, which had lasted five years, was with a slightly older girl who liked sadomasochistic play. In this sense, women were no different from men, except they were more reluctant to show themselves. The ones who entered the fetish rooms had desires that were very specific. Men were eager and up for whatever—that certainly defined J—but women were looking to scratch a particular itch. He knew that if he answered the query from heatherscutiepies wrongly, she would simply stop responding. Her question was a polite nibble. The response was critical. He had chatted about this online with other men, comparing notes on opening moves, and the safest approach seemed to be simply to announce that you were into “everything,” right off the bat.

He typed:

—I am into bondage s/m breeding incest young rape spanking you name it . . .

He had learned from earlier chats that if he said he had never tried a thing the woman would stop responding. It was best to claim to have done everything. Besides, making these things up came easily to him. In the years he had been chatting sexually online, J had learned to ease fluidly into a realm of complete make-believe.

The story goes on, and on, and on . . . and on, about how poor J keeps talking about raping children because he is really, really worried “Heatherscutiepies” won’t like him unless he does, and he’s kind of a lonely guy. Except for having a wife, of course.  And, except that he started the child sex stuff.  And that he keeps this part of the conversation going when the undercover detective steers away to other subjects.  And that he is actually trolling other sites and trying to talk to other women about raping their children, too, a fact that ought to give Bowen a clue but doesn’t:

He had engaged other women online within the last few weeks with highly descriptive talk about sex with their children. So he asked specific questions about how physically able the girls were to have sex, and then slid back onto his own erotic turf . . .

You see, everyone’s making him talk about raping children, and he just wants to be loved in a different way.  Isn’t that, like, weird?  Mark Bowen, at least, agrees:

Words were J’s game. Perverse ideas. He had never been aroused by images. He was not a porn addict. What gripped him was a woman limning her darkest dreams—for him. This was the essence of his personal fetish, a woman baring all, not the private parts of her body but the private parts of her mind, her unique sexuality, her heart’s most peculiar desire. It drove him wild. He was after heatherscutiepies’ singular taboo. The key to her erotic zone, the thing J sought to provide in return, was complete acceptance. His chatting partner had to feel free to go anywhere with him.

Not even a quarter of the way through this stuff, you really have to wonder if Bowen even gets how much he has lost his way, that he’s utterly riffing on this guy’s justifications, holding up every facet to the light, urging him on and not critically examining a word the sex offender is claiming.

This isn’t journalism: it’s pure advocacy.  “A woman limning her darkest dreams for him.”  Really?  Is that true?  Or is it something people say when they get caught trying to solicit multiple children for sex on the internet?

One of the most staggeringly dishonest aspects of this article lies in Bowen’s refusal, after all this chest-heaving, woman-limning stuff, to proceed to show J’s actual description of what he wants to do to the 8 and 11 year old girls.  Astonishingly, Bowen throws a veil over this, the heart of the police case.  He turns the moment into yet another opportunity for J to claim that he didn’t intend to rape the girls, instead:

If he could get her alone, they could play and he would be long gone by the time she came home with the girls. That could work. Real sex! He was tremendously excited by the idea.

—I have thought about this for so long baby

—yea its been a while for them

“Them.” O.K., he thought, I get it. At this point J plunged in, inventing a sexual encounter with her and the girls, giving heather exactly what he thought she was after. The details are graphic and sickening, and cannot be printed.

The last sentence is Bowen’s.  It’s really hard to tell, isn’t it?

It’s also very hard to actually evaluate the police’s case, since Bowen refuses to reveal it.  You know, to protect us.  So the police are simply hung out to dry, narrated and condemned away by a predator and a journalist entranced by his views.

There are some minor things Mark Bowen gets right: statistics on the prevalence on child internet sexual predators are exaggerated, of course.  There is a moderately interesting history of legal entrapment larded in between all the method-acting-stream-of-consciousness child molester stuff, too, though it is, of course, also shamelessly one-sided.  I would call it unprofessionally one-sided, but journalism is a profession in which such one-sidedness advocacy for offenders is the professional standard.

Imagine a world where journalists actually bother to report on the vast historical and current predominance of cases where the police do an exemplary job bringing offenders to justice.

No?  I didn’t think so.

But all of this pales beside the story Bowen is telling. His article literally mutates before our eyes, into a raw plea for a sexual predator’s twisted justifications for his crime, gussied up with paragraph breaks.  The end of the article is an extended sob-fest for J.  All pretense of examining the issue is long gone:

J is off steroids. His body has slipped back into a normal shape, slightly pudgy. His manner is subdued, submissive, earnest, eagerly friendly, and polite. He helped several inmates earn high-school diplomas when he was in jail, and he is proud of that.

How touching.  Amazing, all the people helping offenders get their diplomas in jail (and how he did this in a year’s time in a county jail, I don’t know, but hey, who has time to fact-check these things?).  It’s not like he’d make anything up.

He lives alone in his suburban town house with his dogs. He has joined a church. He says the pastor there has embraced him, forgiven him, and provided him with support and direction. After his arrest he went to every neighbor in his suburban cul-de-sac, knocking on doors to tell each of them his story. He did not want them to know only what they learned from the police.

Yeah, I bet he did that.  I often hear from decent people who are shattered that they trusted someone who claimed he was merely framed for prior crimes.  Then the person rapes and kills again.  We must let go of this fantasy that our prisons are filled with innocent men.  They aren’t.

He says they believe him, and he feels accepted. He recently found a new job, after telling his whole story to the man who hired him.

Let’s hope he’s not working with children.

He sees the years he spent obsessed with cybersex as an illness, or a lapse into sinfulness, that drew him deeper and deeper into depravity. He is embarrassed. He has been humiliated.

But he has stayed angry. The classes he attends as a condition of his probation demand that he admit a sexual desire for children. It is considered an essential step toward recovery. J told his instructor that he has no such desire. He never did. He was told that if he persists in this denial he will jeopardize his probation and could be sent back to jail.

So he pretends to be something he is not. He is good at it.

Cue to violins.  What the hell is the matter with Vanity Fair?  Why are they so up with pedophiles?  Isn’t there some less degrading taboo they can go break to make themselves feel all rebellious and brave?

Journalistic Ethics Fortnight, Part 4: Vanity Fair’s Pedophilia Problem

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Graydon Carter has a problem. How do you pose as a moralist while excusing your own history of peddling young flesh — and justifying the child-rape committed by your friend?

It’s a tall order.  Under Carter’s tutelage, Vanity Fair has acquired a strange fixation on certain types of photos of nude young women.  It’s simply weird how often the editor feels compelled to litter his pages with shot after shot of extremely youthful actresses in the buff surrounded by other people in clothes — also weird how vehemently and frequently he defends this basement-porn aesthetic in the magazine’s pages.  This tightrope act occasionally threatens to unravel beneath the weight of one too many coy verbal gestures toward the breasts of girls who could be one’s daughter, or rather grand-daughter.  But Carter just can’t seem to help himself.

Of course, the Vanity Fair editor has a dial-in justification for all of this, the very same justification he uses when sending camera crews around the world in private jets to shoot photographs of movie stars berating non-private-jet-flying-people for burning fossil fuel in Vanity Fair’s annual “Green” issue:

But these are celebrities raping children (or the planet).  Rules don’t apply to celebrities, do they?

Such a worldview is merely laughable when the product is giant-carbon-footprint eco-porn featuring Leonardo DiCaprio looking sad over melting icebergs, wedged between ads for luxury products that actually are accelerating the warming of the planet.  It’s less funny when Graydon Carter mounts the well-worn stairs of his bully pulpit to insists that there is nothing troubling about pressuring young actresses to pose nude alongside fully-clothed male actors, or nothing wrong with publishing topless shots of an underage Miley Cyrus: the photos were taken by Annie Leibowitz, so it’s OK that she pressured the child to take off her top because the end result was artistic.

The “artistic” stuff is harder to swallow when you see how the magazine packaged the photo shoot controversy, and I quote:

Sweet niblets, Annie Leibovitz’s photographs of Miley Cyrus sure have caused a stir. . . as this exclusive video shows, the nefarious photo shoot that has parents threatening to host Hannah Montana bonfire parties was actually a relaxed family event in one of the most picturesque settings imaginable: the green hills of Calabasas, California. Check it out!

Check it out, indeed.  The mag promises “candid images” from the shoot.  And the video still accompanying this cheeky proffer is a jarring, grainy back-shot of Cyrus swinging from a tree limb with her bare-skinned bottom coming out of her pants.

It resembles nothing more than the dirty playground snapshots a pedophile would take on the sly.

What message is Carter sending, framing the debate over his decision to publish “artistic” topless photos of an underage girl with a troubling photograph like this one?  What does it mean that he runs a photo so obviously resembling child porn with a blurb insisting, of all things, on the “relaxed family” atmosphere of the Miley Cyrus photo shoot?  I think one should always take people at face value, and the face Carter is offering is a belligerent one, defending his right to break the rules because of who he is, while slyly pushing the envelope even further.

Context matters, including ugly context (see here and here for more disturbing smirkiness on Miley Cyrus’ body by other aging VF writers).

You hardly need a rorschach to perceive Graydon Carter’s ethos of ethical exceptionalism for celebrities.  Here he is, in the current VF issue (not yet available online), writing about Roman Polanski’s rape of a drugged child.  After some creepy, predictable natter about Polanski being Jean Valjean to the Los Angeles Justice Department’s Inspector Javert, which if taken at face value undermines all that follows, Carter argues for leniency over holding Polanski responsible for his crimes, on the grounds that he is a talented film director and therefore should not be subject to the same laws that apply to the less aesthetically inclined.  You know, the Jack Henry Abbott defense:

Even during the trial in London, my affection for [Polanski] never flagged.  Perhaps many of his supporters are correct.  Perhaps he should be treated differently.  Perhaps, in this case, the punishment should fit the criminal rather than the crime.  Perhaps the act of penance that would do the greatest amount of lasting good would be for Polanski not to go to jail but instead to spend the next period of his life — perhaps the rest of his life — using his protean talents as a filmmaker to create an anti-rape feature, one that would show the brutality and consequences of this heinous act.

It’s sort of like jurisprudential carbon credits: rape a kid, make a movie about raping kids, clean the slate.  But important questions remain unanswered: what type of punishment is it, exactly, to green light a pedophile to shoot a movie about child rape?

And what happens if Polanski plans a sequel?  Does he get a second pass?

What Graydon Carter is suggesting here is grotesque.  It is a nauseating assault on the dignity of crime victims, a creepily shameless argument for unequal application of our laws.  All the bespoke tailoring in the world can’t turn such a piggish mindset into anything other than what it is: assertion of the right of certain elite people to rape less elite children, wedged on scented pages between ads for Dooney and Bourke purses and Louis Vuitton travel bags.

If I represented either of those companies, I’d be more than a little disgusted by the environs.  But that’s only the first article in the latest Vanity Fair that works hard to excuse the rape of a child.  Perhaps in a bow to the flagging economy, this month is a two for one.

Tomorrow: Child rapists are simply misunderstood aesthetes who feel too much, Part II.

Richard Elliot Reports on Catch and Release in Atlanta: Who Needs a Plea Bargain When The Police Aren’t Even Allowed to Detain Youths For Breaking into Your House?

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What happens when you strip away consequences for holding a gun to somebody’s head, or kicking in somebody’s back door?  What happens when you tell a 16-year old that the worst thing that will happen to him if he commits a serious crime is a few months behind bars, hardly a threat to a child who views incarceration as a sign of street cred?  And what happens when you prevent police from even detaining the kids who just broke into your neighbor’s house?

This is what happens to the offender:

The 18-year-old who was shot dead Saturday by Macon police officers had been released from prison in September, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections Web site.

The DOC’s inmate query site said Bradley Gastin was paroled Sept. 16 from Rogers State Prison in Reidsville. On April 29, 2008, he began serving a three-year sentence for robbery by force, according to the site.

Gastin walked out of prison, early, two months ago.  Now he is dead, after trying to run over police officers during a carjacking.  Thank God no police officers were killed, in what is only the latest dangerous situation directly traceable to the broken juvenile justice system:

Macon police say Gastin and 20-year-old Tommy Lee Hardy Jr. on Saturday carjacked a Ford Expedition and later rammed a Macon police car with the stolen vehicle.

Two police officers, who were standing near the police car, fired several shots that killed Gastin, who was driving the Expedition.

Hardy is now charged with armed robbery and carjacking.  That means the young men had a gun in that car.  They held a gun to somebody’s head and then tried to kill some cops.  At what point does the public get to see the dead youth’s juvenile record, to see precisely how many times some judge let him walk in the past?

Who wins here?  Only the people who have decided that grandstanding against law enforcement is more important than protecting the public — or protecting the offenders from themselves.

~~~

Meanwhile, Channel 2’s Richard Elliot reports an infuriating story about the Juvenile Justice’s Detention Assessment protocol, which forces police officers to release juvenile offenders immediately back onto the streets for crimes like drug trafficking (certain drugs), escape with a dangerous weapon, cruelty to children, and burglary.  I couldn’t find the story on the Channel 2 website, but the Dekalb Officers blog links to it here.

Imagine calling the police to report a break-in in progress in your neighbor’s house.  The police come and catch the youths running down the street with your neighbor’s laptop and gun.  What happens next?  Well, unless they have serious priors or pending felonies (which would require somebody in the courts actually doing something about what they did the last time) the police have to let them go with an order to appear in court.

Before your neighbor gets home from work, the gang that rolled his house will be back on the streets again.

Looking for whoever called the police on them.  In other words, you.

The same goes for calling the cops on that kid tearing down a street sign, or breaking a car window, or selling drugs, or prostituting themselves.  Intervening at all has become an extremely high-risk activity: why get involved at all?

It could be said about many of these crimes, but why is burglary even on the list of so-called “catch and release” offenses?  Why have we dumbed down the horrifying act of violating somebody’s home?  The Juvenile Justice system is playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives.  And still, despite the manifold, tragic failures of such leniency, the drumbeat continues that we are too harsh with juveniles, we have to offer more “services” instead of incarceration, we lock up too many kids and throw away the key.

Bunk.  None of that is the least bit true.  Despite massive hype to the contrary and breast-beating by the usual suspects, there are very, very few youths in the state system serving adult sentences for their crimes.  Meanwhile, Atlanta, and every other city, is knee-deep in recreation centers, after-school care, interventions, recreation, and so on and so on and so on.  It’s a giant patronage machine used as much to organize political machines and get out the vote, frankly, as to “provide services” where they are needed.  I know.  I’ve seen those payrolls.  I’ve written those grants.

When somebody starts telling the truth about that, maybe more kids will get the help they really need — speedy removal to detention centers for long enough time to turn their lives around, or at least keep them, temporarily, out of harm’s way.

For, as frustrating as the story Richard Elliot uncovered may be, it’s the tip of the iceberg.  He’s just talking about the youths who don’t get detained for even one night.  How many youths charged with even more serious crimes bond out on after a day, or a week, or a month?  How many of those cases simply disappear into the worm-hole of the courts?

I spend a lot of time blaming anti-incarceration advocates for creating such a dangerously lenient system, but, in fairness, a lot of the built-in leniency is just as much a product of the politics of fiscal conservatives who don’t want to spend the money it would take — or bother expending the political capital for the fight — to fund the courts, monitor the performance of judges, and actually get “tough on crime.”

When the state legislatures return to work this year, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Contretempestuousness or Tempestucontretemps in Marvin Arrington’s Courtroom

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Pardon the brief hiatus from journalistic ethics week, which I’ll just roll over into journalist ethics fortnight, Jane Austen style.

Everybody was behaving so ethically out there, I just lost steam.  Nobody ran headlines falsely accusing the families of the D.C. sniper victims of being “vengeful” for saying things like: “It helped to see the completion.  It helped to a degree,” upon witnessing John Muhammad’s execution.  Nobody made utterly false allegations of prosecutorial malfeasance, claiming, “[t]here are several documented cases where DNA testing showed that innocent people were put to death by the government,” then refused to correct the record when it was brought to his attention that there are actually no documented cases where DNA testing showed that innocent people were put to death by the government (and that’s according to death penalty opponents).

~~~

Nope, everybody in the fourth estate is just behaving so well, there’s no point in blogging about such things, especially when another outburst of crazy in the Fulton County Superior Court is raising troubling questions, again:

A disagreement between a judge and a senior assistant prosecutor last month erupted on Thursday into a heated confrontation in a back hallway of the Fulton County Courthouse between the judge and the district attorney. . . The fracas is rooted in an Oct. 6 murder trial of Randy Murray, charged with killing a man in a dispute in order to steal some marijuana.

In a nutshell (you can read the details here), Judge Marvin Arrington lashed out at a Senior ADA during a murder trial and ordered her to pay a fine for “trying to be smart” with him.  District Attorney Paul Howard told his ADA not to pay the fine, and Arrington subsequently had the attorney taken into police custody when she showed up in court on a different case.  Howard and Arrington then had a “ruckus in the back hallway,” as Arrington put it, in his inimitable legalese; Arrington filed a contempt order against Howard and his ADA; the Georgia Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of the order, and now everyone’s waiting to see what happens when the second shoe drops, joining a growing pile of other second shoes littering the hallways of the Fulton County Superior Court.

Paul Howard denies behaving threateningly to Arrington.  Here is what he had to say (Arrington, in contrast, had his say by throwing an lawyer into jail for allegedly dissing him, remember):

Howard issued a statement on Thursday saying, “The Contempt Order issued by Judge Arrington in this case is just plain wrong. It sullies the reputation of one of the finest, most honorable and ethical lawyers in this country.

“The transcript of the October 6th case shows clearly that [Senior ADA Linda] Dunikoski was courteous and professional at all times while standing up for her right to cross-examine a defendant charged with murder. Judge Arrington, for some unknown reason, did not allow her to complete her cross-examination after only 45-minutes of questioning.”

He continued, “As is my right as District Attorney, I orally objected to the wrongful and illegal incarceration of Ms. Dunikoski. Her incarceration was demeaning, inappropriate and injudicious. My office disagrees with Judge Arrington’s characterization of my actions and welcomes further examination of this matter.”

I’ve had my own strange run-in with Arrington, which I’ll detail next week.  So have many others.  Arrington is a lightning rod, but there are more important issues that, I hope, won’t be subsumed by the Sturm und Drang of personality conflict and fist-cuffies:

  • Was Arrington wrong to shut down ADA Dunikowski’s cross-examination of a defendant in a murder case?  Did his attitude, or judgment (or judicial philosophy) stand in the way of doing his job, which is to ensure that jurors receive all appropriate information about a defendant in order to make an informed decision about his guilt?
  • If so, is anybody going to actually do something about it?  When is the state going to acknowledge that it can’t run a judicial oversight board on the pocket change collected from redeeming soda cans in each courthouse?  Or is everyone going to keep behaving as if judges are simply above scrutiny, no matter the consequences of their carelessness, inattention, or sheer violation of the Georgia Code?
  • Likewise, are there going to be any consequences for Arrington’s rash act of interrupting another court proceeding to have an ADA arrested?  Is anybody in the media going to ask him, point-blank, whether he thinks he did the right thing in interrupting the people’s business and using the power of the bench that way?  Or is this headline just going to fade away, like all the rest?

I wish the media would be more forthcoming and inquisitive about the operations of the courts.  The public is denied access to virtually every important aspect of the functioning of our court system, and they can only gain partial access to what is going on if enough of them actually skip work to go sit in every courtroom, every day, observing all the proceedings, because the powers-that-be in the justice system deem their own actions above public scrutiny.  Spend a week or two reading this blog from the Orlando courts, and you’ll get an idea of what you’re missing.

When things erupt in soap opera fashion, it’s all good fun, or not (until somebody loses an eye, of course), but we need to be more than entertained (or horrified).

It is unacceptable that the judiciary chooses to keep their actions cloaked in darkness, rather than making the effort to make every case disposition available to the public (not to mention their dockets, so we can see who is getting what done, or not).  It is a disgrace that we cannot log onto the internet and see the outcome of every criminal case.  These records are, of course, being recorded electronically behind closed doors.  It would take about two lunch breaks for some Georgia Tech student to install a system to share this data with the public, along with court transcripts detailing the real goings-on in our courtrooms.

I had several people ask me questions about the judges up for election this time, and I couldn’t offer any information.  The fact that there is no way to evaluate the performance of any individual sitting judge is a situation that desperately needs to change before the next election.  If somebody decided to run for Judge (and let’s not forget Clerk of Court, still firmly in the grip of the machine-politics-patronage-cabal) on a platform of bringing total transparency to his or her courtroom, imagine the difference that simple, ethical, democratic gesture would make.

Journalistic Ethics Week, Part 3: Mark Lunsford, Class Warfare, and Victims’ Rights at the St. Pete Times

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When the A.C.L.U. manufactures an utterly frivolous legal issue that costs the state millions of dollars to litigate, the St. Petersburg Times views that as money well-spent in the interest of “ensuring the health of our democracy.”  When A.C.L.U.-associated lawyers profit from lawsuits arising from the group’s activism, the St. Petersburg Times doesn’t complain.  It’s all in the interest of ensuring the health of our democracy, you see, and if lawyers turn a few million dimes “keeping the system honest,” well, power to the people.

When health-care non-profits accept funding from hospitals and medical and drug companies that stand to profit from their activism, the St. Petersburg Times doesn’t smell a rat: they smell roses.  As they should.  Actually, they usually don’t even notice such transactions, since this is the way non-profits simply do business.

When non-profit executives draw six figure salaries and drive around in nice cars and get reimbursed for their expenses and hotel bills and meals — when they organize high-overhead charity balls and hold conference in nice resorts and buy expensive office furniture — the St. Petersburg Times doesn’t shove microphones in their faces and demand to know how much the office rugs cost, let alone the board’s last business lunch, complete with wine.

When someone from the social register who otherwise does good deeds displays personal failings, the St. Petersburg Times might report their DUI or announce their departure from some charity.  But they don’t follow such flawed people around, gleefully documenting their every error.

But when crime victims, especially those from the wrong side of the tracks, like Mark Lunsford, do any of these things, from making a living to comping a single meal, the St. Petersburg Times goes on the warpath.  And in doing so, they reveal an embarrassing elitism and an even more embarrassing inability to separate their antipathy for Lunsford’s cause (stricter sentencing and monitoring of sex offenders) from their allegedly objective scrutiny of his professionalism.

I’m used to the snickering double standards expressed by journalists towards activists for victims’ rights. But even I was surprised by the tone Times senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin used in attacking Mark Lunsford.  And I was doubly surprised that Martin felt entitled to rip into a local computer mogul for subsidizing Lunsford’s recent lobbying:

HOMOSASSA — Since his daughter Jessica was raped and murdered in 2005, Mark Lunsford has become one of America’s best-known child advocates. With the help of donations to his nonprofit foundation, Lunsford has lobbied nationwide for tougher laws against criminals who prey on children.

But unknown to most, Lunsford has had another source of income for the past two years — a Boca Raton company that could profit from the very child-protection measures Lunsford has sought to enact. . .

In an affidavit filed in a paternity case, Lunsford disclosed he is paid $4,000 every other week — more than $100,000 a year — by Technology Investors and its multimillionaire founder, Hank Asher.

Asher, who created databases used to track sexual predators and other criminals, is developing new technology to help in the fight against child molesters.

“Unknown to most.”  Where was it unknown where it needed to be known?  Lunsford’s name appears openly in conjunction with Asher and others working on child exploitation issues.  And why, precisely, shouldn’t Asher subsidize Lunsford?  Any “conspiracy” resides only in Susan Martin’s head: she seems to feel that there is something wrong with Hank Asher hiring Lunsford to lobby.  And, like, letting him sit next to him in his car:

Asher did not respond to calls seeking comment. Lunsford, who rode in Asher’s Mercedes during a media tour of company headquarters in December, says he sees nothing wrong with their arrangement.

Let’s see, who else engages in such nefarious activities?  Mercedes-driving!  Letting people sit next to you in your Mercedes?  Paying for lobbying that will financially enrich the person paying for the lobbying?  Why, who on earth would do that?

Everyone.

Everyone does, from the Cancer Society, to the Sierra Club, to the NAACP, to the anti-incarceration moonbats.  Lawyers and investors who profit from environment lawsuits and regulations underwrite environmental lobbying.  Companies that manufacture diversity curricula pay activists who demand more diversity education in the schools and workplaces.  Drug companies are the largest donors to patient associations lobbying for prescription drug coverage.  Doctors and hospitals support groups like the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, another non-profit founded by a bereaved family member and staffed by bereaved family members who surely earn salaries for their work representing the cause.

And it’s not just money for lobbying that get spread around: there are many ways to monetize activism, by which I mean earning a salary for doing it.  Every other tenured academician who holds any position on crime (or medicine or civil rights or politics) is not only pulling a nice salary for their research but also tapping into lucrative grants, consulting contracts with government agencies, speaker’s fees, oh the list goes on and on and on, but Susan Martin apparently doesn’t mind any of this.

You don’t see her going after Barry Scheck for making money off his Innocence Project work.  You don’t see her suggesting that anyone is inappropriately profiting from tragedy when technology firms that make DNA testing supplies use Scheck’s activism to make the case that the government should subsidize their research and buy their products.

She only minds these things when it’s an issue she opposes.  Like enhancing sentencing and monitoring of sex offenders.  Then she views the entire project with abject suspicion:

Asked what he does for Asher’s company, Lunsford says: “It’s not what I do for them, it’s what they do for me.”  The steady pay, he says, enabled him to dissolve his foundation last year and concentrate on what he likes best — lobbying for Jessica’s laws, not raising money.

Who does Susan Martin think she is, demanding to know “what [Lunsford] does for Asher’s company”?  He gets money from them to lobby, like a million others do.

Anti-incarceration biases clearly color Martin’s view of a relationship that would seem utterly unremarkable to her if the politics were different.  But her elitism utterly blinds her, driving her, and others at the paper, to make serial allegations about Mark Lunsford over amounts of money so small that they wouldn’t cover the fringe benefits for even one executive at many non-profits:

[Asher’s financial support] is the latest revelation about a man [Lunsford] who has been hailed as a hero but whose handling of the foundation’s finances has also raised questions about the line between advocacy and personal enrichment.

Here are some of Martin’s accusations of “enrichment”:

Immediately after Couey’s March 18 arrest and the discovery of Jessica’s body, almost $50,000 in donations poured into a trust set up for the Luns­fords at a local bank.

“They wrote to help with our bills or to use however you wish,” says Lunsford, who bought a used truck.

Oh no, he bought a used truck.  If only he’d bought a violin, or donated the money to NPR.

Lunsford says some of the money went into the nonprofit foundation he set up that spring with the help of Joe Boles, a nephew who briefly served as a foundation director.

While in Sarasota for a 2005 fundraiser, Boles and a girlfriend got into a drunken, violent fight at a Hyatt hotel. “Blood was literally on all of the walls, furniture and bedding,” police said.

The $4,789 in damages were billed to a foundation credit card; Boles disappeared and never repaid the money.

OK, so four years ago, Lunsford’s nephew got drunk and made an ass of himself.  The foundation paid the damages, as it should, which came to less than $5,000.  What are you going to do, string Lunsford up?

I’ve worked as a non-profit fundraiser.  I’ve worked as a political consultant.  I even spent five years on the other side of the table, as an event worker.  In some capacity or another, I’ve worked or attended scores of non-profit events.  Let me just observe that while bloody brawls are hardly typical of non-profit fundraisers (I won’t say the same for political events), money still can and does get wasted in a million different ways that people like Susan Martin would never dream of disputing, let alone disputing repeatedly over time.

For example, should all non-profits give up their expensive office suites, the flower arrangements at their special events, the corporate cars for executives?  I could go on, but I won’t.  To rant on and on and on about this $5,000 and other penny-ante expenses, which the Times has done for years, more than smacks of bias.  And speaking of bias:

That incident went unnoticed at the time as attention focused on Lunsford’s metamorphosis from trucker with a high-school eduction to impassioned child advocate.

“Trucker with a high-school education.”  Nice.  Notice how Martin keeps pretending that there is some objective Greek chorus “paying attention to” Mark Lunsford, when it is really just her, and her peers, scrutinizing his every step.

This is not a brief for Mark Lunsford. I have reservations about him based on allegations that arose about child porn on his computer.  But given the media’s attitude towards the subject of victim advocacy, I have little faith that I have ever opened a newspaper and read an accurate account of him.

What I definitely don’t care about is Lunsford receiving a perfectly ordinary salary for important advocacy work.  But Susan Martin cares.  Apparently, she finds the following remuneration for the following work excessive:

[Lunsford] helped win quick passage in Florida of the nation’s first Jessica’s Law, which imposed tougher penalties on child molesters and required many of those released from prison to wear tracking devices for the rest of their lives.

Lunsford moved on, persuading legislators in more than 40 states to pass their own Jessica’s Laws.

That is called: “work.”

There were fundraising bike rallies, appearances with Oprah and Bill O’Reilly, talk of book and movie deals. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist called Luns­ford “a great man” and donated $63,812 from his inaugural to the foundation.

“It was rock star status,” says Cheryl Sanders, a cousin of Luns­ford who served as foundation treasurer.

“He liked that lifestyle. He’d never seen so much money in his life.”

Here’s the really funny thing: if he were used to that type of money, and knew how to play to the media, we wouldn’t be hearing about it, either.  If he spent it in the right restaurants, and made the right types of appearances, for the right causes — even falling-down drunk — it wouldn’t make headlines:

In the three years of the foundation’s existence, Lunsford drew salaries totalling $118,800 and was reimbursed for travel costs, either by the foundation or by organizations that invited him to speak.

$118,000 divided by three is nearly $40,000 a year.  How dare a trucker with a high school education earn $3,277 a month?  “Reimbursed for travel costs . . . by organizations that invited him to speak”?  Wow, stop the presses!  Even after we bought him that used truck?

[Cheryl] Sanders [a cousin who served as foundation treasurer] wondered about some of the expenses charged to a foundation credit card — $1,435 for furniture from Kane’s, $73 for drinks at Outback after Couey was sentenced to death (the restaurant “comped” the rest of the meal, she says) and gas for travel not related to the foundation.

This is the best they can do?  $73 to celebrate Couey’s sentencing?  “Gas for travel not related to the foundation”?  Does Susan Martin actually think non-profit executives don’t routinely write off cocktails and green fees, not to mention entire trips, to a power of 100 of that night at Outback, as entertainment expenses, and donor grooming, or to celebrate a legislative victory, or thank staff for their performance?  That is half a bill for one lunch to introduce a new employee or any of the thousands of other entirely ordinary corporate activities non-profits engage in, and yet, because this particular man did it (at Outback!), the St. Petersburg Times is making it a federal case.

Seventy-three dollars.  Years ago.  What did Couey’s lawyers eat that night, fat on the taxpayer’s dime after weeks of milking the system in the most despicable ways?

Whenever I read an article like this, I wonder what type of salary the paper’s reporters expect for their own kids, once Junior gets that degree in Social Justice from Yale and heads out to earn a living doing advocacy work on right types of causes.

I also wonder at how absolutely secure reporters are in their presumptions about everything from class to their apparently over-rated faith in the objectivity of their reporting.

But at the bottom of all of this lies a truly corrosive attitude towards all crime victims who dare to speak out.  There is one standard for victims’ rights associations and another standard for the A.C.L.U.; one standard for scrutinizing prosecutors and another for scrutinizing the defense bar.

Remember the movie Reversal of Fortune, the dramatization of Alan Dershowitz’s courageous and principled defense of Claus Von Bulow (written by Alan Dershowitz)?  Remember the gritty basketball/bull sessions in which Dershowitz lectures his law students that he takes clients like Von Bulow even though Von Bulow is scum so he can subsidize his real work selflessly representing oppressed members of the underclasses — that is, if by “selflessly” he actually means “getting paid absurd amounts by an Ivy League school when not being jetted around the world first class to get paid even more money for offering my opinions on criminal justice, which happen to conform perfectly with the opinions of this cheering squad of reporters hanging onto my every word?

Everybody gets paid for their activism.

Even journalists.

Journalistic Ethics Week, Part 1: Nausea, or the (Attempted) Rehabilitation of Anthony Sowell

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Stop the presses! It’s journalistic ethics week, and so perhaps it’s fitting that this first story plopped down in a big steaming mess on the pages of every newspaper that carries the AP.

Anthony Sowell, who was recently found knee-deep in the decaying bodies of his victims, doesn’t deserve to be labeled a rapist, according to the AP.

The fawning press, which was understandably having a real hard time finding a way to squeeze Sowell into the role of “the only real victim here,” has now achieved its goal, if only in a tiny, biased, misrepresentation-of-a-technicality way:

STORY REMOVED: US–Rapist’s Home-Bodies

CLEVELAND — The Associated Press has withdrawn its story about a sex offender who lived in a Cleveland house where several corpses were found. Authorities say that despite a police news release that described Anthony Sowell as a convicted rapist, he was convicted only of attempted rape. The story will be refiled as CLEVELAND-BODIES FOUND.

How brave of them.  How . . . edgy.  Of course, this little grandstand doesn’t mean anything legally.  Or ethically.  Or rationally.  It is simply a piquant demonstration of the entirely consensual, sado-masochistic relationship that exists between the defense bar and the fourth estate.

Sowell is a convicted sex offender.  Attempted rape is a sex crime.  If they’re going to split the infinitive, as it were, why not change the headline to “US –Sex Offender’s Home — Bodies Found.”  But no!  That might affect his self-esteem, or cause him PTSD or something.

And you know, it’s all about the killer’s self-esteem these days.  If we spent more time focusing on their needs, they wouldn’t need to kill so many people to express themselves.

In addition to actually being a convicted sex offender, Sowell is also an accused sex offender, if the women who escaped him recently are to be believed.

But why should the journalists believe them?  Why should they take the word of mere crime victims over the word of somebody who gets his rocks off strangling women to death?  Hell, if they start doing that, it will take a tiny bit of the fun out of death row defense, and then what will Hollywood make courageous movies about?

No, it’s far, far more principled to treat those women like the degraded slags they are.

Oh, wait, is someone suggesting that these women aren’t degraded slags?  But that’s what the AP said:

Hunting from home may have been easier because of the marginal lives led by Sowell’s alleged victims. All four of the Cleveland women identified until now battled addiction in their lives.

Have any of these women been convicted for substance abuse crimes?  Did they really all agree to accompany him voluntarily to his home?  Or were they only alleged substance abusers?  This is second-hand information, after all.  How, precisely, do you define “marginal”?  Will the AP issue a retraction if it turns out that, upon further jurisprudential-ly investigation, these women were only former substance abusers, or were not abusing substances when Sowell grabbed them, or did not have criminal records and therefore must above all not be labeled wrongly in the fake-pine paneled, dimly lit basement that passes for journalistic ethics these days?

But who cares about the victims, really?  Journalism is all about rehabilitating the offender.  Behaving as if the victims are human beings entitled to the same rights as those who kill, either in the courts or on the pages of the fishwrappers that fancy themselves courts is so . . . Lifetime.

In reality, in 1989, Sowell only pled to attempted rape to gain a reduction in charges for rape and kidnapping. The victim, who was pregnant at the time of the attack, had actually been kidnapped, bound, gagged and raped (thank you, Cleveland Plain Dealer, for bothering to get it right).  If the AP is so pointillistically hellbent on offering a legally accurate record of events, then why take out all mention of sex crime?  The plea was a legal fiction, a technique that a guilty man used in order to shorten his sentence as much as possible.  It slotted Sowell into a sentence in exchange for admitting to a lesser crime, but it did not create forensic or legal proof that the rape was only “attempted.”

Too bad these types of facts don’t matter in the ethical universe of the AP.

I wonder if DNA still exists from that case.  Perhaps, if the police could offer the legal vigilantistas in the media proof of precisely where Sowell’s penis went after he kidnapped, bound, and gagged a woman — you know, like cradling the skull of a Pot Pol victim, or sifting through the final hours of the Argentinian disappeared — they might see the error of their ways.

But I doubt that would be the outcome.  Retractions are for sex offenders, not their victims.  It’s simply too long a stretch from crudely cleansing Sowell’s record of any mention of sex crime to accurate reporting.

First, you have to want to change.

The nauseating spectacle of AP editors rushing to make an unnecessary correction that turns into a literal denial of the facts of Sowell’s previous conviction is actually a perfect metaphor for what the media has become, and I don’t make this accusation lightly: the media has become a tool for denying the reality of crime.  And like all official deniers and court-propagandists, their ugliest excesses arise from the degree that they believe their own lies and omissions: exactly none of the newspapers that ran this AP “retraction” simultaneously bothered to explore its legal accuracy, or significance, or revisit the documents from the court case.

And so they all march lockstep, all trampling the experience of the woman who was brave enough to survive Sowell’s attack 20 years ago, denying her rape, treating her like human garbage, just as Sowell treated his victims.

NPR Wallows in Sympathy for Mass Murderer. It Must be Saturday.

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Over the years, I’ve noticed that Saturdays seem to be the day when NPR reporters take a deep breath from the toils of the week, settle down with a steaming cup o’ joe, and recharge their batteries by indulging in a little calisthenic empathy for the pointedly unsympathetic: child killers on death row, for example, or gang members terrorizing neighborhoods full of innocent people they don’t bother to interview (because it would just be perplexing to listen to the grandmas explain that what they really need is more police protection from gangs).

There is a frisson of self-righteousness in such behavior, and a bonus frisson of danger, imagined, not real, of course, because no child killer or gang member worth his salt would bother to shank the PR machine.  So, through their empathetic identification with vicious sociopaths, the reporters get to feel simultaneously superior to everyone else and victimized by society.

Just like vicious sociopaths do.

Anthropologists have some term for this behavior, I’m sure.  I like to call it “soul-sickening excuse-mongering for brutal criminals.”  And this Saturday was certainly no exception: in fact, you might call it a paragon, or pinnacle, or watershed.

Or, you might just call it a new low:

Suspected Fort Hood Shooter Saw Toll of PTSD

It seems unfathomable that an Army psychiatrist trained to heal soldiers with psychiatric injuries could then fire on fellow soldiers. . .

Nader Hasan, cousin of the alleged shooter, suggests that one factor may have been that the Army psychiatrist had treated scores of soldiers and Marines who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD.

“He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw there,” Nader Hasan, told the New York Times. . .

Hasan, you see, just felt too much, according to both his cousin and this reporter, who has decided that this is the true story, rather than taking the killer at his word and deed — that Hasan obviously felt not too much but too little, felt nothing, really, for the humanity and suffering of others.

It’s either that, or his crime was a pure act of identity-based violence on the part of a committed terrorist.  But we couldn’t possible talk about that.

Of course, there is no actual proof that Hasan was traumatized through witnessing the suffering of other soldiers, let alone that this trauma is what drove him to assassinate a dozen-plus people and shoot many others in a carefully premeditated crime.  There is proof that he is the killer, which is of course why the reporter goes to pristine lengths not to jump to conclusions about his guilt (“suspected” killer “alleged” shooter) while jumping all the way to the conclusion that trauma is in fact what drove him to kill.

You really have to walk in these guys’ shoes to see it the way they see it, man.

The reporter also describes Hasan as one of the “unsung heroes” bravely helping undo the “stigma” of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (only not so much, now).

Because, you know, when there are a baker’s dozen innocents to mourn and bury, it’s important is to reflect on the ways their killer made all our lives better:

When I first did stories about troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it was NPR policy to spell out post-traumatic stress disorder. Now we routinely just say, “PTSD.” The reason is that most everyone now knows about PTSD. And the condition generally stirs sympathy, some of its stigma is now gone.

Military psychiatrists are the unsung heroes of that significant change.  They’ve been strong advocates for troops with PTSD. They’ve insisted that psychiatric illness be seen as an injury of war, just like an injury caused by bullets and bombs. They’ve educated families, who often are the ones who persuade soldiers to seek treatment.

Hasan may have destroyed all of those families, but he was helping them, too.

So let us pause in the greedy, self-centered regret for the murdered soldiers to recall that, thanks to military psychiatrists like Nidal Malik Hasan, NPR reporters no longer have to stumble over eight whole syllables when they want to misuse the term “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

They can misuse it in four syllables now.

If NPR had one drop of shame coursing through its veins, it would punch itself in the face.

“Inmates Rights” From the Left, Under-funding from the Right, Prison Guards Shanked in the Middle

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From the Valdosta Daily Times:

Inmates out of control
Former officers share tales of terror at Valdosta State Prison

Recent reports of violent incidents at Valdosta State Prison have triggered an uproar among former and present correctional officers who claim the inmates are out of control. . .

“The state of Georgia is running that prison with as little staff as possible …,” an anonymous officer told The Times. “One officer is on the floor dealing with 100 close-security inmates at a time, who are locked up for murder, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated assault and so on. We are only one step away from a maximum security prison. Many of these offenders will never be released from prison and have nothing to lose …”

Another officer said that people are throwing drugs and cell phones over a back fence for the inmates.

“We are also finding several shanks,” the officer said. “And the administration won’t do anything about it.”

The officer added that at least 80 percent of the inmates have mental issues.

“We have no protection out there and we are scared.”

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, a story with a slightly happier ending, in the Tampa Tribune.

Redding Trial Update; Expose on Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission

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From reader Chris Murphy, who attended the Jonathan Redding hearing to determine if Redding will be required to provide information to a Grand Jury about his partners in the murder of John Henderson:  

I was at that last hearing. The judge, Kimberly Esmond Adams, was looking for any excuse to allow his attorney into the grand jury, which goes against the rules. She delayed the decision, and it never was publicized what she ruled. That’s the kind of s**t that passes for justice: make a ruling, but do it when no one is around, if possible.

Does anybody know what happened?  Will Redding be required to appear before the Grand Jury?  The trial has already been delayed by a motion by Redding’s defense attorney in which she argued that her client didn’t understand the fact that he was being charged with murder.

~~~

Such are the criminal courts these days. They are our courts, but judges pretend as if the public has no right to know what they are doing.

And in Georgia, judges are abetted in secrecy by a judicial performance review system that is the weakest, most toothless, in the nation.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution published a good article on the subject — I would only disagree with their description of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission as “one of the slimmest in the nation.”  I think it’s probably the weakest.  The state spends more money every year on a hundred utterly unnecessary things.  Yet, curiously, nobody in the legal community makes a peep.

So what can be done?  It will require legislation to grow the commission to a reasonable size and legislation to require these people to behave as if they are operating in America, not some Soviet-style, untouchable, secret bureau.

It’s your money, and it’s your court, folks.  You’re not going to be able to get the Bar Association, or any other legal group to do this: lawyers know better than to challenge judges.  And judges are shamefully silent on even the worst abuses and incompetence perpetrated by their peers.

Legislators didn’t “accidentally” forget to fund the Commission tasked with overseeing judges’ actions, you see.  Look at the names in this usual-suspects list, and you begin to see how lawyers and politicians are the same animal in this state — an animal that feels really comfortable telling you to butt out if you have concerns about the way things are being run in the courts.

No, this is a good old-fashioned conspiracy, and it starts at the Capitol, and it involves both parties — Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much, but they agree that they don’t want nosy non-lawyers demanding accountability from them and the friends they put on the bench.

There are people sitting on those benches all over the state who have utterly no business being in a courtroom.  Somebody outside the system is going to have to demand change and wrest some power away from the cozy cabal that protects judges — from the legislative hearing rooms at the State Capitol to the powerless Commission.

(How do you prevent real reform?  Create a powerless reform board and declare victory.)

It is a disgrace that Mike Bowers had to step in to take on the investigation of Kenneth E. Fowler, but the bigger disgrace lies in all the other incompetent judges who don’t have anybody taking a stand against them.  So I would ask: why isn’t Bowers, not to mention other well-connected lawyers, doing more to change the state’s absence of a real Judicial Qualifications Commission?  Where is the ever-so-principled Roy Barnes, who sees a white suit in every mirror he passes?  The ersatz-populist Sonny Perdue, our own chubby Jacksonian?  Has anybody even seen Thurbert Baker recently?  Did he move?

(Well, but, it’s their friends on the bench.)

Why isn’t the A.C.L.U. screaming bloody murder about the secrecy of these reviews?

(Answer: they love incompetent judges.  Incompetent judges often cover their tracks by grandstanding on behalf of “poor victimized defendants” and other claptrap that plays well in the press.  And the defense bar sticks some of the worst judges on the bench in the first place: when it’s pro-defendant judges doing wrong, especially letting offenders off in violation of state law, don’t expect the A.C.L.U. to complain.)

But the prosecutors don’t show much backbone, either.

Until people start demanding that their elected officials actually fund the Commission and demanding disclosure of their activities, judges in Georgia will remain firmly above the law.