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The Guilty Project, John Kalisz: Somebody Who Shoots Five People is not a “Saint”

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Sometimes, journalists should apologize.

Tony Holt of the Tampa Tribune is one.

Three days after John Kalisz went on a rampage, wounded two, and killed three, his sister, her friend, a young Police Captain — many more than five lives destroyed — Holt wrote an article highlighting Kalisz’s “better side”:

Sadness, guilt and disbelief have cost Melissa Williams a lot of tears during the past 72 hours.John Kalisz has been her friend for 14 years. He was the subject of a term paper she wrote while in college.

He helped pull her out of a dense fog following the collapse of her marriage, she said. . .

Judith Lavezzi is another long-time friend of Kalisz.

“He may have been a man of a blurry and difficult past, but the John that I knew, and knew pretty well by the way, is a man of compassion, strength and giving back,” she said.

And so on.  Unforgivably, the article is titled “The Saint and the Sinner: Friends Recall Two Sides of Kalisz.”  What does it mean to seek evidence of a man’s goodness in the week he has taken five innocent lives?  It places the killer’s alleged positive qualities, and his acquaintances’ grandiose and self-serving emotions, on one side of a scale and the victims’ lives, and their families’ real losses, on the other side.

It is a degrading act of leveling.

Just because there are stunted people weeping for John Kalisz — and Kalisz is not even dead; he will recover — doesn’t mean they merit notice.  Recently, I have been hearing from sex offenders and other offenders who feel enraged that society dares to judge them.  I have been hearing from their supporters, who are dismayed that I do not look at these men and feel pure empathy for their plight.  That anyone would dare to withhold consideration of their qualities, which seem to consist mainly of the fact that they are sex offenders and thus deserve pity, is viewed by these people as a crime far more unconscionable than the crimes they actually committed.  And even mentioning their crimes is far beyond the pale.

Like the sex offenders demanding empathy from me, John Kalisz appears to have seen himself as a victim of “the state,” an entity simultaneously faceless, fascist, and composed of millions of repugnant small-minded people who refuse to proffer the generosity of spirit they see as their due.  It is a strange thing to have people like this judge others as lacking compassion, when they have shown so much contempt towards the people they victimize, but the letters I’ve received are dripping with rage.

This rage is what John Kalisz acted upon when he told his friend he was going to kill a policeman, any policeman who came for him.  How dare we stop people from sexually abusing their nieces, or terrorizing their relatives, or shooting four women?

How dare we judge?

The Guilty Project: John Kalisz Got Probation for Armed Assault: Now Two Women and an Police Officer Are Dead

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Less than three months ago, John Kalisz received probation for aggravated assault with a weapon.  Now a police officer in a town near Gainesville, Florida is dead at his hand, along with two other victims.  An additional two women are seriously injured.

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John Kalisz

The state of Florida certainly saved a bit of money when some judge in Hernando County decided to give Kalisz the following free pass last October: probation for a violent crime, rather than enforcing the law.  Elected officials are making noises about saving money by rolling back minimum mandatory sentencing and releasing more and more offenders directly back into their communities.

Now a bill has come due:

Carrying two loaded shotguns, Kalisz told his brother in Clearwater by phone that he would kill as many deputies as possible, Hernando sheriff’s officials said.  Kalisz pulled into a BP station at the intersection of U.S. 19 and County Road 351 in Cross City, [Captain Evan] Sullivan said, and came out shooting, hitting Dixie County sheriff’s Capt. Chad Reed in the face.  Reed, 33, died Thursday night. . . Reed, who formerly worked as the county’s emergency management director, was married with two young children. . . Reed recently graduated from the FBI National Academy.  “Capt. Reed was a fine man, a great law enforcement officer and a hometown boy in Dixie County,” Sullivan said.

A4S_capreedmug01151_103115dCaptain Chad Reed

Two women are also dead, one Kalisz’ sister:

The dead women were identified as Kathryn Donovan, 61, of 15303 Wilhelm Road and Deborah Buckley Tillotson, 59, of 12282 Old Chatman Road, Brooksville.  Records show that Donovan was Kalisz’s sister.

He also shot his niece and another victim who survived:

The injured women are Amy Wilson, 33, of 9539 Upland Drive, Hudson, and Manessa Donovan, 18, also of 15303 Wilhelm Road. She is the daughter of Kathryn Donovan.

What lesson did Kalisz learn from his last encounter with the criminal justice system?  He learned that he could attack someone with a weapon and get away with it.  Then he acted on that knowledge.  Will anybody in the courts now stand up, take responsibility, and call for a review of the policy (or violation of policy) that led to Kalisz being released the last time?  The murdered officer, who gave his life saving others, certainly deserves that type of respect.

And as legislators begin down the road of dismantling Florida’s extremely limited and effective minimum mandatory laws, they should remember these crimes.  There’s always a societal price for lenience, and it’s a hell of a lot higher that the cost of enforcing the law in the first place.

Media Bias in Crime Reporting: Hank Asher, the St. Pete Times, and Journalists’ Favorite Armed Robber (of the Week)

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Two stories today underscore the media’s fundamental prejudices — prejudice against those who try to uphold the law, and prejudice for offenders.

In the St. Petersburg Times, there was a follow-up story to Susan Taylor Martin’s highly personal hatchet job on Mark Lunsford, father of murder victim Jessica Lunsford.  Back in November, Martin sneeringly attacked Lunsford for, among other things, having the temerity to earn $40,000 a year working as an advocate for child predator laws although, as she observed, he holds “only” a high school diploma.  She also criticized Lunsford for comping a $73 celebration at Outback Restaurant on the night the man who raped and murdered his daughter was convicted for her death.

You know, comping . . . one . . . meal.  Like journalists like Ms. Martin do when they attend nicely-heeled journalistic ethics conferences, and civil rights banquets, and other activities approved by the Central Committee for the Maintenance of Media Elitism.

See my previous post on the article here.

Now Martin has returned to the subject of Lunsford’s employer again, publishing a less lurid but hardly objective “follow-up report” on Hank Asher, the computer mogul who hired Lunsford as a lobbyist.  The article purports to address Asher’s work in data mining to support anti-terrorist, child predator, and foster care investigations, but Martin cannot seem to resist indulging her weird obsession with the lifestyles of people who advocate for, rather than against, law enforcement.  The photo caption once again mentions the price of Asher’s house and the fact that he owns a jet; the story is largely a re-hash of ground covered in her earlier story.

Maybe someone at the Times decided that Martin’s November slash job on Asher and Lunsford was so far outside the bounds of acceptable reporting that they’re doing a make-over.  If this is it, well, the third time around, they need to send in someone who isn’t so busy examining the silverware:

Data-mining whiz Hank Asher, who has a private jet and a $3 million mansion, rents part of the Boca Raton office park where IBM once made personal computers.

We actually know that already, because such details were prominently featured in the Nov. 11 story.  You don’t see the Times obsessing over the personal income of people with whom they see eye-to-eye, like defense attorneys and prisoner advocates.  You don’t see them questioning the motives of former elected officials who dedicate themselves to the defense bar after retiring from public service.  But anyone who works, instead, to put child predators behind bars — well, surely they must be hiding something.  Read the rest here.

On the flip side, criminologists and journalists are mourning the death of their favorite armed bank robber.  No point in lingering over little details like what it felt like to be his victim when he held the gun to their head, though.  John Irwin, you see, was not only an armed felon who fell into crime for the noble reason that he found it stimulating — he then went on to become a criminologist and anti-incarceration activist, serving on the board of the radical anti-incarceration Sentencing Project, organizing a “prisoner’s union” to hijack more of our tax dollars for frivolous lawsuits, and most recently celebrating his media-approved adventures in anti-victim advocacy with an autobiography titled Rogue.

Of course, the media is reverential towards this type of contemptuous behavior toward the law, and against crime victims.  The innocent person whose brains Irwin threatened to blow out for kicks and giggles was, of course, not consulted:

John Irwin had the usual choice when he got out of Soledad Prison in 1957 after a five-year stretch for armed robbery: Do more crime, or remake his life.  He chose rebirth – with a passion.  Over the next half century, Mr. Irwin became one of the nation’s foremost advocates for compassionate reform of the prison system, the author of six heralded books dissecting criminal justice, and a tenured sociology professor at San Francisco State University. . .”John was fearless about being honest about the realities of crime and justice,” said Naneen Karraker, a national advocate for prison reform. “He had the courage to see things differently from the common way.

That would be “compassion” towards predators, not their victims, and “fearless” and “courageous” as in spewing the journalist-and-academic approved party line opposing incarceration for all offenders, even the most violent and dangerous, no matter the cost to society.

Among other “fearless” acts, Irwin started something called the Convict Criminology Movement, in which inmates and ex-cons got tax dollars to get college degrees, and a leg up in getting hired as college professors — while their victims received nothing, of course, and thus ended up subsidizing their predators’ educations and careers.  Nice.  The man who raped me got one such utterly fake prison-house degree, which helped enable him to get out of prison early (for the third time) and get back to his true calling raping elderly women.

Thanks, John Irwin.

How many people have been raped and murdered by convicts who should have been in prison but were out on the streets because of Irwin’s campaigns?  There’s no way to ever know.

But to call such activism “courageous” in the virulently anti-victim, pro-offender, anti-incarceration circles Irwin moved in is absurd.  Anyone who thinks being an ex-con would in any way be a detriment to the tenure process hasn’t spent much time being “fearless” on college campuses over the last 30 years.  There is nothing courageous about telling the choir exactly what they want to hear.

Don’t Blame Verizon: Tommy Lee Sailor, Charlie Crist, Walter McNeil, Frederick B. Dunphy, and the Economy of Outrage

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The Florida Department of Corrections (headed by Walter McNeil) needs to stop pointing fingers and start taking responsibility for the escape of Tommy Lee Sailor.  They’re the ones who screwed up by failing to notice when the violent serial offender absconded from his ankle monitor on New Year’s Eve, enabling Sailor to attack yet another innocent victim.

The Florida Parole Commission (headed by Frederick B. Dunphy) also needs to stop hiding and start answering questions about their decisions and policies that freed Sailor before his sentence was complete.

But instead of doing the jobs they’re paid handsomely to do — that is, lead agencies, and take the heat like grown men when they fail at their jobs — McNeil and Dunphy are hiding out and letting their press flacks blame . . . Verizon.

That’s right.  According to our fine political appointees, Tommy Lee Sailor wasn’t wandering the streets looking for a woman to rape and kill because the parole board is more interested in cutting the prisons budget than keeping people safe, or because Corrections so fundamentally dropped the ball on monitoring him that they actually feel comfortable verbalizing excuses like: these alarms go off so often it’s hard to tell what’s an emergency, and, the dog ate my rapist-monitoring text message.

Oh no, it was all Verizon’s fault.

From the St. Pete Times, which is doing a good job of questioning the official blather:

Around 12:15 a.m. Saturday, the company hired by the state to track violent offenders got notice that something was not as it should be with Sailor. . . The call center at Odessa-based Pro Tech Monitoring sent text messages to Sailor’s on-call probation officer, Pam Crompton. When contacted by a reporter, Crompton referred all questions about what happened to the Florida Department of Corrections [as she should].  One text message, called an “alarm,” went out to Crompton at 12:44 a.m., Corrections Department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.  Another flew at 1:57 a.m. Crompton heard nothing, Plessinger said.

Let’s review:  Pro Tech Monitoring, a private business which profits from policies that release dangerous offenders back into the community with nothing more than a ring-a-ling around their ankles, gets notice that Tommy Lee Sailor, an exceedingly dangerous felon, has absconded on New Year’s Eve.  What do they do?  They send a text message.  Then, after receiving no reply from the parole officer responsible for Sailor, they wait an hour and thirteen minutes . . . before sending another text.  Then they go have a snack or get distracted by the tv, because that’s apparently all they did.

“I’m going to kill you,” Sailor told his victim.  “I’m a serial rapist.” “I’m a serial killer.” “I don’t care about going back to prison.”

Why didn’t somebody at Pro Tech Monitoring pick up a damn phone and call the police?  So asks “Ben Overstreet,” a commenter on the St. Pete Times website.  He modestly suggests:

Send out the first text, and if that person does not call back in 5 minutes send out another to them and their Boss, no response in 5 minutes. Send local Law Enforcement to the address. Problem solved.

Too bad this Ben Overstreet person, whoever he is, isn’t getting the big bucks overseeing violent parolees.  Sounds like he’s onto something which apparently did not so much as occur to all the king’s horses and all the king’s men actually being paid to watch Sailor.

Oh, they did try to call Sailor, but he wasn’t home.  He was out hunting.  Women:

The call center tried to reach Sailor through his monitoring device, but the offender didn’t respond.

Does anyone else find this grotesquely ironic? A recidivist, violent felon and serial rapist absconds on New Year’s Eve, when the police have their hands full and the bars are brimming with amateur drinkers and other potentially endangered species, but when the monitoring company gets no response from the felon’s parole officer, they try to call the rapist himself, instead of calling the police?

What were they going to ask him if he came to the phone?

Meanwhile:

The victim secretly alerted 911 at 4:27 a.m. and dropped her cell phone on the floor. A 911 dispatcher tracked the phone signal to her location, and police arrived at 4:44 a.m. Only then did [Parole Officer] Crompton’s text messages start filling up her in-box.  One, two, three alerts came all at once at 4:54 a.m. to her Verizon Wireless phone.  Crompton checked them.  Two were about Sailor. The third, also delayed in its delivery, was about another offender, [Corrections Department Spokeswoman] Plessinger said.

We’re supposed to believe that the parole officer didn’t receive any messages from Pro Tech Monitoring until ten minutes after the cops showed up at the scene of the attempted rape/murder.  Is that the truth, or just the sound of the bureaucratic hive buzzing?

The real question, the question that either has not been asked or has not been answered, is this:

Why the hell didn’t the Corrections Department and Pro Tech Monitoring have a policy to keep trying to contact the proper authorities until they succeed whenever a violent offender like Sailor breaks loose?

Answer that, Ms. Plessinger.  Mr. McNeil.

Florida Corrections chief Walter McNeil actually does a whole lot of communicating, at least on the Correction’s website, where he posts a blog of passing thoughts and affirmations.  He quotes Oscar Wilde and Teddy Roosevelt, delivers advice about the flu, talks a lot about the value of clergy.

So he should have no trouble articulating a response to this scandal.  And respond he should, because the message coming from his agency’s talking head suggests that the main reason Sailor’s escape (and it is an escape, make no mistake about it) went unnoticed is because it is so very common for these ankle thingies to go off; it’s just not considered a big deal; the policies were followed appropriately, you know, so how dare the rubes imply that we’re not doing our job according to the laughable rules we invented to monitor our own performances?

[Corrections spokesperson] Plessinger said that if [Parole Officer] Crompton had gotten the original text message at 12:44 a.m., she would have gone to Sailor’s house, found that he wasn’t home and notified police to be on the lookout for him.  Police might have been waiting when Sailor arrived home.  Still unexplained is why the text messages weren’t delivered on time. The Corrections Department is satisfied that Crompton followed procedure and that the Pro Tech system worked as designed.  Right now, Plessinger said, they’re asking questions of Verizon Wireless, the cell phone provider.

“Crompton followed procedure and . . . the Pro Tech system worked as designed.”

Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

It is a disgrace for government officials to behave this way. Clearly, the problem is that the bar is set far too low for keeping tabs on dangerous felons who have been released back into society (or not put away in the first place, like convicted rapist Richard Chotiner).  Clearly, the problem is systematic disdain for rape victims and other current and future victims of crime.  Some victims, that is.  Imagine how different the official response would have been if Sailor had been intentionally hunting some type of person other than women, and thus hate crime laws “kicked in.”

Then there wouldn’t be this big reverberating sound of silence coming from the halls of power, nor half-baked accusations flung at a wireless company.  Heck no.  Then the Attorney General would jet in from Washington.  Crist would work himself into a lather denouncing crimes “motivated by hatred” (other than hatred of women, of course).  Schoolchildren around the state would groan collectively as their teachers announced yet another week of anti-bullying-teaching-tolerance re-education in the wake of that crime.

Whew.  Good thing it wasn’t hate, because all those workbooks and classroom posters get really expensive.  Just another garden-variety attack on a woman.  So instead of grandstanding, the heads of state are practicing active hiding.  The head of Corrections is busy reminding his staff that “nobody walks alone,” and to wash their hands after sneezing and bragging about all the grant money Florida just got to implement even more “prisoner re-entry” services and “community-based alternatives to incarceration.”  The governor’s busy burying Chain-Gang Charlie deeper in that huge pile of mothballs in the back of his closet.

The mindset betrayed here is a troubling one, and it isn’t limited to any one political party.  The left-wingers believe criminals are just misunderstood victims of society; the right-wingers, despite all their tough talk on crime, don’t want to pay what it would actually cost to prosecute and incarcerate every dangerous offender: nobody is taking a real stand on any of this.

Not one elected official has bothered to speak out on the travesty in Tampa, a government failure that nearly cost a woman her life.

“I wanted to pick somebody that I knew, that I had confidence in. I just had a personal relationship and an affinity for this man,” Charlie Crist said, in appointing McNeil to head up Corrections.  How about somebody whose priority is being tough on violent criminals?  Tommy Lee Sailor attacked at least two prison guards in incidents serious enough to be prosecuted as felonies: why is the head boss at corrections going on about washing your hands during flu season instead of talking about attacks on prison guards?  Meanwhile,  Crist’s recent criminal justice initiatives include spending our tax dollars on special “outreach” to felons to help them re-register to vote, just in case they’re too lazy to do it the way the rest of us do, by rising off our own tushes and going to the library.

Talk about fiddling while Rome burns.

Here’s an Oscar Wilde quote to chew on: “The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

Or, as Tommy Lee Sailor pointedly observed: “I don’t care about going back to prison.”  At least somebody’s telling the truth around here.

The Guilty Project: Tommy Lee Sailor, “I Don’t Care About Going Back to Prison.”

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Which part of this story isn’t part of the reported story?

  1. A violent rapist is foiled when his victim secretly dials 911 and a savvy emergency operator keeps silent for 15 minutes while monitoring the attack and getting help to the woman in danger.
  2. Improvements in the technology that pinpoints cellphone locations save the victim of a violent rapist when police are able to find her after she secretly dials 911 during the attack.
  3. A convicted serial rapist, convicted serial armed robber, and self-proclaimed serial killer receives serial leniency from Florida’s Parole Board.  Unjustly freed from prison, he disables his ankle monitor, leaves his house for hours to go drinking in a bar, and returns with a victim he proceeds to try to rape, while threatening her with death.  He nearly gets away with a heinous crime, and police must risk their own safety to hunt him down, when he should never have been out of prison in the first place.

#3.  Of course.  And with no real reporting on the multiple failures that led to Tommy Lee Sailor being free and under-monitored, the following won’t be part of any future story, either:

The parole board members responsible for the serial rapist’s serial early releases and the corrections supervisors responsible for failing to act on the ankle monitor alarm are investigated by the media.  Political connections are exposed and scrutinized.  The Department of Corrections cleans house, vowing to fix the multiple systemic failures that allowed Tommy Lee Sailor gain freedom and get to the place where he leaned over his victim and hissed in her ear: “I’m a serial killer.”  “I don’t care about going back to prison.”  “I’m going to kill you.”

115282Tommy Lee Sailor: “I don’t care about going back to prison.”

There are a lot of strange things in Tommy Lee Sailor’s record. I imagine that some of the prosecutors or victims who encountered him would have something to say about his criminal past.  Sailor is classified as a “sexual predator,” the most serious classification on the books.  His adult criminal record — you know, the only one we can see — begins with two counts of armed robbery at age 17.  Doubtlessly there’s a sealed juvenile record as well: are there sex crime convictions in it?  Sailor committed the two armed robberies in July of 1988.  He was sentenced to 12 years for each robbery in 1989, but the sentence must have been suspended because he was re-sentenced several years later.

In-between, he was sent to prison for nearly three years, from March 1989 until December 1992, for a 1988 crime described as attempted burglary of an occupied dwelling and “Shoot/Throw Missile – Bldg/Veh.”  Attempted burglaries of occupied dwellings are often interrupted rapes.

Sailor walked out of prison in December, 1992.  But he wouldn’t be re-sentenced for the 1988 robberies until October of 1994.  Why?  Why did he get a free pass on two armed offenses?  Who gave him that free pass?

Whoever handed him that pass also handed Sailor the opportunity to commit either two or three sexual assaults, one in February of 1994, and two separate counts on the same day in March.  Probably more than two or three, of course — rapists are rarely caught, let alone tried, for every rape they commit.  So at least two women, and probably more, were victimized by this dangerous rapist because somebody in Hillsborough County, Florida didn’t think it was important enough to put Tommy Lee Sailor behind bars for committing armed robbery, even after he was also caught breaking into an occupied house.

Somebody probably decided that it was more important to “re-enter” (the latest argot) Sailor into society than hold him responsible for his crimes.  Somebody decided that Sailor’s future — his putative, fictional “rehabilitation” — was ever so much more important than justice or the safety of his victims.  I wonder who got him off that time?  A prosecutor short on time?  A defense attorney cozying up to some notoriously lenient judge?  Some community activist who got paid big bucks to “mentor” young offenders like Sailor, the greatest scam in late 20th Century corrections?  I worked for a “community activist” who pretend to do that.  For very big bucks.  Tax dollars.

So Tommy Lee Sailor wasn’t actually convicted for those armed robberies until 1994, when he was simultaneously tried and convicted for one armed-or-injury sexual assault and either one or two unarmed sexual assaults.  In October of 1994, he received 10 years for each of the armed robberies and ten years for each of the sexual assaults, doubtlessly to be served concurrently.

He did, however (unlike virtually every other offender whose record I look up), end up spending more than 10 years in prison.  He ended up spending nearly 14 years in prison, if the on-line records are correct, from November 1994 to July 2008.  I say “if” because his criminal convictions just keep on coming.  Most likely, he was committing those additional crimes while incarcerated.  He received 26 months for “Batt/Leo/Firefgt/EMS/Etc.” in 1995 (battery of a law enforcement officer); 12 years for the same crime, plus aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer, in 1997: if any one of those offenses, or one of his rapes, or one of his armed robberies had only been added to his original sentence, instead of assigned to serve concurrently, Sailor wouldn’t have been free to attack that woman in Tampa last week.

And if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.

By the time he first walked out of prison, a mere 17 months ago, Tommy Lee Sailor had accumulated, on paper, 98 years in prison for adult convictions alone (not counting the 24 years for armed robbery that became 20 years in the second go-round).  Nobody expected him to serve even a fraction of that time, of course.  The fact that he actually served 17 years of it suggests that his behavior in prison was far from compliant.

But that wasn’t the end of his prison career: he was picked up six months ago and sent back to prison for about a month.  Probation violation?  Or, to be accurate, yet another probation violation?  How many times did he violate?  How many second chances did he get?  Did he set off alarms more than once?  If so, why was he permitted to go back on an ankle bracelet?  Seeing as this was a clearly violent and uncowed recidivist felon with several attacks on law enforcement officers and women, why wasn’t his probation taken seriously enough to merit an immediate response when he disabled the ankle bracelet last week?

What, precisely, do you have to do to get treated like a dangerous felon?

Inquiring minds want to know. Really, they do.  The mainstream media whines constantly about the “death of the newspaper” and all that, but if they bothered to actually investigate stories like this one, they would find willing audiences.  It’s their attitude that turns people off, frankly — an attitude of utter incuriosity about the things that matter to the public, such as why it is that a person with a record like Sailor’s could be out of prison.

Think about this: Tommy Sailor was so unconcerned about getting caught violating his probation that he actually brought his victim back to the location where he had just disabled his ankle monitor and attacked her there.  He probably was going to kill her.

And then there’s the issue of safety for police officers.  Were the officers who were alerted to Sailor’s house aware that he had a record of assaulting police?  It took me about a minute to look up this much of Sailor’s record on-line (some reporters got his record wrong, so I don’t know what they rely on for information, because it’s easy enough to check).  I certainly hope there is a system in place to provide responding officers with warning of prior acts of violence against police.

Because when somebody says, “I’m going to kill you” and “I don’t care about going back to prison,” after being released early, it’s not like they send the sentencing judge, or some parole board talking head to go round him up.

They send a police officer.

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.

The Guilty Project: Patrick Hampton

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From the Bradenton (FL) Herald:

Repeated Judicial Leniency, Misuse of Mental Incompetence Status, Parole Board Leniency, Repeated Failure of “Community Control”

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This is Patrick Hampton. In 2003, he tried to kill a man by stabbing him “several times” with a steak knife.  Instead of sending him to prison, Judge Peter Dubensky sent him to a mental institution.  Some six months later, Dubensky ruled that Hampton was competent for trial.  Then he sentenced him to four years in prison.

Four years for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.  Why?  Hampton walked into prison in March of 2005.   Two and a half years later, August 2007, he walked out.

So, between Judge Dubensky’s inane sentencing and the equally inane actions of Florida’s parole board, which persists in letting violent felons walk early despite the trail of broken bodies that ensue (like, mine), Hampton was free to kill his stepmother last Friday.

There is nothing wrong with judges finding people mentally unfit to stand trial, of course.  But once they are deemed fit, they need to actually be held responsible for their crimes, or they need to be kept incarcerated if they’re so dangerous that they’re not responsible.  One or the other, right?  Mental illness combined with criminal acts shouldn’t be treated like some sentencing version of an early-bird two-for-one.

Did Dubensky go easy on Hampton because he decided that his mental illness excused his attempt to murder someone?

Or does Dubensky just go easy on extremely violent, recidivist felons?

Or did he go easy on Hampton for some other reason, some dangerously misguided paternalistic impulse for a man he’d seen in his courtroom before?

According to Manatee County’s criminal records, the 2003 stabbing was not the first time Judge Dubensky encountered Patrick Hampton in court.  That would be way back in 1997:

ADJUDGED GUILTY SENTENCED TO 6 MONTHS COUNTY JAIL WITH CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED CONCURRENT WITH 93-3601F $261.00 COURT COSTS BY JUDGMENT THIRTY DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL-JUDGE PETER DUBENSKY PLEA SHEET FROM 07/07/97.

From what I can tell from the on-line sources, that incarceration appears to have resulted from the last time someone went easy on Hampton because he was mentally ill.  After he attacked his father, he was given outpatient therapy and probation instead of a prison sentence, then he violated the terms of probation:

REPRESENTED BY PATRICK FORD, ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDER STATE REPRESENTED BY IRENE PLANK WITHDREW DENIAL ACKNOWLEDGE & WAIVER OF RIGHTS FILED IN OPEN COURT COUNT I ADMITTED VIOLATION OF PROBATION. PROBATION REVOKED ADJUGED GUILTY ON ORIGINAL OFFENSE PLACED ON 2 YEARS COMMUNITY CONTROL, CONTINUE AND COMPLETE OUTPATIENT PROGRAM AT MANATEE GLENS. CONTINUE TAKING MEDICATION. ORIGINAL CONDITIONS TO APPLY. COST OF SUPERVISION WAIVED. COUNT II ADMITTED VIOLATION OF PROBATION. PROBATION REVOKED CREDIT OF TIME SERVICE IN THE COUNTY JAIL 30 DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL-JUDGE ROBERT J BOYLSTON VIOLATION OF PROBATION DOCKET FROM 4/3/96

So, let’s get this straight: Hampton violated probation, so he was placed on outpatient community control?  What the heck is probation anyway?

Note, too, the “cost of supervision waived.”  It and other waivers appear throughout his lengthy trips through the Manatee County Courts.  Between that freebie, and the price of giving him multiple public defenders, and dozens of separate court hearings, and the cost of hospitalization for his victims, and the cost of some court shrink evaluating him every time he decided to stop taking his medication and went on another tear, and the cost of the police catching him and delivering him to one courtroom or another, where yet another well-paid judge let him go on “community control” again and an admonishment to take his meds, can you imagine how much it has cost the taxpayers of Florida to allow this violent, recidivist felon to walk the streets?

Think about that the next time some liberal state politician screams that alternatives to incarceration cost less than incarceration.  Also think about it the next time some conservative state politician screams that we’re spending too much on the state prison budget and quietly betrays his own “tough on crime” stance by colluding with the liberals to let offenders out early to save a dime (thus displacing costs to the counties, where they’re harder to track).

And then there’s that other cost: one human life, Maxine Hampton, 83. Evidence of her murder includes a broken glass, a knife, and a frying pan.  Imagine that.  Who could have possibly predicted that a mentally unstable, non-medically compliant, violent recidivist who had stabbed at least one person in the past and had a history of violence towards his parents would do the same again?

1994:

REPRESENTED BY DAVID EHLERS, ASST PUBLIC DEFENDER STATE REPRESENTED BY IRENE PLANK COUNTS 1 & 2: PLEAD NOLO CONTENDERE, ADJUDICATION WITHHELD COUNT I- WITHDREW PREVIOUS PLEA ACKNOWLEDGE & WAIVER OF RIGHTS FILED IN OPEN COURT PLACED ON 5 YEARS PROBATION. ENTER AND COMPLETE THE OUT PATIENT PROGRAM THROUGH GLEN OAKS OR MANATEE GLENS. TIME SERVED COUNTY JAIL WITH CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED. WAIVE COS. WAIVER OF PRIVILEDGED COMMUNICATION SIGNED AND FILED WITH PROBATION. $250.00 COURT COSTS BY JUDGMENT.COUNT II-PLACED ON 12 MONTHS PROBATION CONCURRENT WITH COUNT I. COS WAIVED. TIME SERVED COUNTY JAIL WITH CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED. THIRTY DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL (PAUL E. LOGAN) PRE TRIAL CONFERENCE DOCKET FROM 3/24/94

1995:

NOTICE OF CASE ACTION FILED CRIMINAL CHARGES WILL NOT BE FILED AS TO AGGRAVATED BATTERY & 2 COUNTS OF CRIMINAL MISCHIEF CHARGES WILL BE FILED AS BATTERY & 2 COUNTS OF CRIMINAL MISCHIEF UNDER MISDEMEANOR CASE #95-5668M

1996:

PROBATION REVOKED ADJUGED GUILTY ON ORIGINAL OFFENSE PLACED ON 2 YEARS COMMUNITY CONTROL, CONTINUE AND COMPLETE OUTPATIENT PROGRAM AT MANATEE GLENS. CONTINUE TAKING MEDICATION. ORIGINAL CONDITIONS TO APPLY. COST OF SUPERVISION WAIVED. COUNT II ADMITTED VIOLATION OF PROBATION. PROBATION REVOKED CREDIT OF TIME SERVICE IN THE COUNTY JAIL 30 DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL-JUDGE ROBERT J BOYLSTON VIOLATION OF PROBATION DOCKET FROM 4/3/96

1997:

REPRESENTED BY ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDER CYNDEE NEWTON STATE REPRESENTED BY CYNTHIA EVERS WITHDREW PREVIOUS PLEA ACKNOWLEDGE & WAIVER OF RIGHTS FILED IN OPEN COURT PLEAD NOLO CONTENDERE, ADJUDGED GUILTY SENTENCED TO 6 MONTHS COUNTY JAIL WITH CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED CONCURRENT WITH 93-3601F $261.00 COURT COSTS BY JUDGMENT THIRTY DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL-JUDGE PETER DUBENSKY PLEA SHEET FROM 07/07/97

2003:

REPRESENTED BY DAVID EHLERS, ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDER STATE REPRESENTED BY DAWN BUFF WITHDREW PREVIOUS PLEA ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND WAIVER OF RIGHTS FILED IN OPEN COURT PLED /NOLO CONTENDERE, ADJUDGED GUILTY PLACED ON PROBATION FOR 3 YEARS COST OF SUPERVISION WAIVED 100 HOURS PUBLIC SERVICE HOURS IN EQUAL MONTHLY INSTALLMENTS WITHIN 34 MONTHS COURT IMPOSE COURT COSTS OF $261.00 BY JUDGMENT $150.00 COURT FACILITY FEE PURSUANT TO ARTICLE 5 TRUST FUND BY JUDGMENT $40.00 PUBLIC DEFENDER APPLICATIONS FEES, REDUCED TO JUDGMENT $150.00 ATTORNEY’S FEES BY JUDGMENT . . . TAKE ALL MEDICATIONS AS PRESCRIBED DEFENDANT SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER SENTENCING GUIDELINES FILED IN OPEN COURT THIRTY DAYS TO APPEAL – JUDGE MARC B. GILNER FROM 02/12/03 PLEA SHEET

The on-line records from Manatee County indicate at least five separate felonies against Hampton, along with either three or four other cases prior to 1993 that cannot be viewed on-line.  Some are serious felonies, some minor felonies, but in each case the result appears the same: the judge ignores Hampton’s mounting record of recidivism and sends him for more therapy.  The dockets for each viewable case involve multiple court hearings, multiple lawyers, multiple instances of judicial leniency.

One of Hampton’s many defense attorneys blamed a lack of mental health resources in the wake of his client’s latest attack:

[David] Ehlers on Monday recalled his former client as a man with obvious mental illness and needing more treatment.  “He was clearly someone who was mentally ill,” said Ehlers. “But the situation is that the demand for mental health services is overwhelming, and the state probably doesn’t keep everyone in as long as they should.”

So what did Ehlers do about his client’s obvious inability to live safely in society, which he says was clear to him?  He cut a deal with a judge for a pittance of prison time and got Hampton back on the streets as fast as he could.

In hindsight, was that really in “the best interest of his client”?

And did the state really fail to provide Patrick Hampton with mental health resources?  Since at least 1994, he has been ordered to receive, and provided with, state-provided in-patient and out-patient mental health care.  Over the last 15 years, he repeatedly rejected the outpatient treatment, but instead of protecting the public from an unstable man with a proven record of violence, judges kept sending him back for more “community control.”

What’s that saying about the definition of crazy?

The Guilty Project: The First Rape is a Freebie, then Loc Buu Tran Slaughters A Young Woman

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Courtwatcher Orlando’s Laura Williams brings attention to the case of Loc Buu Tran:

2006-CF-014820-O In custody since 10/19/06 ~ Trial now scheduled for 11/16/09 with Judge John Adams.  1st Degree Murder. Allegedly stabbed a UCF student to death 10/06 when she tried to break up with him. Also was convicted 8 years ago in Clearwater for rape. Mistrial was declared 8/12/09 after Judge Jenifer Davis realized during the first witness’ testimony that she had worked on the case when in the PD’s office.
Why can’t we seem to get this guy tried?

Good question.  The judge, who rose to the bench after working as a defense attorney, claims that she “didn’t remember” that she had previously represented Tran.  How, exactly, does that happen in an extremely well-publicized murder case of a college student?

Judge Jennifer M. Davis was presiding over the case until she officially disqualified herself this morning on the grounds that she previously had worked in the public defender’s office as an attorney. Davis said she was part of Loc Tran’s defense.

“I’ve had this case for awhile,” Davis said. “It had not occurred to me I had worked in the office that initially represented this case, so legally I have no choice but to disqualify myself.”

Davis apologized to the jury and said she had worked as a supervisor with the attorneys defending the case. She said she didn’t realize until she heard the witness testimony from Nhat-Anh’s sister.

Here’s another question: why did Tran get probation from a judge in Clearwater, Florida in 1998 for the crime of burglary, sexual battery and kidnapping?

Probation for sexual assault.  Pinellas County’s on-line records are sketchy, but it appears that some judge in Clearwater, Florida gave Tran mere probation in December of 1998 for several serious crimes including sexual assault.  Think about that.  Rape a woman, get probation.  “First” offense, a freebie (though it appears it isn’t his first offense — a previous case is listed but there are no extant records).  In other words, nobody bothered to prosecute him that time, so the rape became a second first offense.  That makes the murder a fourth eighth offense.

There is a “sentencing guideline departure” page listed on the County website, but I can’t open that either.  No kidding they departed.

I would love to hear the justification for granting probation for rape.  Especially because Tran went on to take another woman’s life.

From what I can tell, and I’ll check on this after the holiday, after Loc Tran received probation for the 1998 rape, he went on to violate his probation with a fistful of credit card fraud charges which led to his finally being sentenced to prison in 2002.

Rape a woman, walk.  Steal a credit card, and you’re going to the big house, buddy.

But not for very long.  In July, 2002, Tran was sentenced to serve seven concurrent sentences of 3 years, two months each.  Take a good look at the offenses, all telescoped down to one concurrent prison term.  This is how crimes are disappeared by the courts every day, and victims are denied even the semblance of justice.  Or safety.

Current Prison Sentence History:
Offense Date Offense Sentence Date County Case No. Prison Sentence Length
04/27/1998 BURGLARY ASSAULT ANY PERSON 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 9807111 3Y 2M 0D
04/27/1998 SEX BAT/INJURY NOT LIKELY 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 9807111 3Y 2M 0D
04/27/1998 KIDNAP;COMM.OR FAC.FELONY 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 9807111 3Y 2M 0D
04/27/1998 OBSTRUCT CRIME INVESTIGATION 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 9807111 3Y 2M 0D
12/22/2001 FRAUD-CREDIT-CARD 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 0120895 3Y 2M 0D
12/22/2001 FRAUD-CREDIT-CARD 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 0120895 3Y 2M 0D
12/22/2001 FRAUD-CREDIT-CARD 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 0120895 3Y 2M 0D

Then, of course, after letting Tran get away with a known rape for four years, then catching him violating his probation with several other charges, then sentencing him to an absurdly short prison term . . . well, why break a perfect record of sheer contempt for victims of crime, not to mention the safety of women?  The State of Florida let him go early, after serving only 26 months of a 38 month sentence.

They also apparently trash-canned the rest of his probation, for good measure.  It’s all about prisoner “re-entry,” you know.  Probation’s a drag.  How dare we ask judges to enforce the law when rapists need to be rehabilitated back into society and given job training and that all-important-help getting their voting rights reinstated (Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s weird hobbyhorse)?

As we know now, Tran “re-entered” society with a bang.  A slash, really, stabbing a young woman to death when she tried to break up with him.   Given the court’s repeated bungling of his case this time, you have to wonder if he’ll ever really be off the streets.

Take a good look at his face.

This is a man who knows there are no consequences for the crimes he commits against women.  Expect endless, expensive appeals for him, and more of the same when he walks out of prison a second time.

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.

The Guilty Project, Dennis Earl Bradford: A Jury Understood Why He Had To Slash That Woman’s Throat

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The Guilty Project documents flaws in the justice system that enable serial offenders to commit more crimes.

Failure to Prosecute, Wrongful Acquittal by Jury, Early Release by State, Family/Employer Cover-Up

Dennis Earl Bradford

Dennis Earl Bradford made the news recently when cold-case investigators in Houston linked his DNA to the brutal kidnapping, rape and throat-slashing of an eight-year old child in 1990.  The child survived and was able to give investigators an excellent picture of her assailant and his first name, Dennis, which he told her.  Unfortunately, Bradford was not identified at the time as a suspect in the crime.

He moved to Little Rock, where he was caught, six years later, after committing a similar crime: he kidnapped a woman, raped her at knife-point, and slit her throat, telling her he was going to kill her.  That victim survived as well and was able to provide Bradford’s tag number to authorities.

According to CNN, Bradford was originally charged with attempted first-degree murder, but prosecutors took the murder charges off the table for some reason.  Sometimes, saying you’re going to kill someone while kidnapping them, raping them, and slitting their throat just isn’t murderous enough, I suppose.

Then a Little Rock jury refused to convict Bradford for the rape.  He had bought his victim a beer and offered her a ride home.  Therefore, they reasoned, she was asking for the rape, and she must have been hankering for a throat-slitting as well.  They did find him guilty of kidnapping, thus putting the final touch on an incoherent, irresponsible verdict: according to this brain-trust, he moved the woman against her will, but she went right along with being cut up with a knife.  And women who drink beer can’t be raped, you know.

Bradford was sentenced to 12 years in 1997 but strolled out of prison a mere three years later.  He had a toddler and a baby at the time he committed the Little Rock rape.  His boss thinks he’s a fine, upstanding citizen despite that little attempted murder/rape/throat slashing thing, and now the revelation about the eight-year old victim:

Bradford worked as a welder for United Fence in North Little Rock. A company representative said Bradford had been working there for 10 years and was a “good guy” who had mended “his old ways” and “changed his life.” He wouldn’t go into specifics about what those “old ways” were.

His family is similarly convinced of his excellent nature.  Good thing he can’t get to his own young daughter anymore:

Members of Dennis Bradford’s family . . . say the Dennis Bradford they know would not do these things.  They say he is a man his grandchildren know as a loving and gentle man.

Why can’t people like this just keep quiet, out of some simulacrum of human decency?

~~~

Lessons Learned, or Not Learned:

Dennis Bradford’s 1996 acquittal for a violent sex crime looks very much like the several free rides Sarasota (Florida) jurors and judges handed Joseph P. Smith before he kidnapped, raped and murdered Carlie Brucia.

Joseph P. Smith

Prior to having the shockingly bad luck of being caught on video abducting the 11-year old, Smith had been caught three other times attempting to abduct other victims.  But after each attack, judges or jurors judged the victims instead of Smith and let him go.

In 1993, Smith jumped a woman who was walking home from a club, breaking her nose and bones in her face.  A police officer interrupted the attack before Smith could make away with the stunned woman, but Sarasota Circuit Judge Lee Haworth decided to go easy on Smith, allowing him to plea to a lesser offense, granting him a mere sixty days in jail, and then reducing that sentence to weekend incarcerations.

For breaking a woman’s face, trying to drag her away, rape and likely kill her.  But she’d probably had a beer or two, after all.

In 1997, Smith, armed with a knife, pepper spray, and confidence that he would not face judicial consequences, attempted to abduct a woman at a gas station by claiming he needed a jump start.  She wouldn’t let him into her car but agreed to follow him back to his vehicle: luckily, someone who witnessed the odd exchange called the police, and they interrupted him again and found the weapons concealed in his shorts.  The officer who stopped him wrote that Smith “intended to do great harm” to the victim.

But another judge let him off easy, letting him plead to a concealed weapons charge in exchange for probation, rather than attempted abduction.

The third attack was witnessed by a carload of retirees, who grabbed their golf clubs and chased Smith away from a screaming woman he’d jumped by the side of a road and was dragging into the woods.  The retirees testified at Smith’s trial, but the jury acquitted him nonetheless: the woman had drunk a few beers, after all.  Jurors bought Smith’s risible story that he thought the woman looked suicidal and he was trying to help her into the woods, to safety.  They shook his hand and called him a good guy, a victim of persecution.

Then Smith raped and murdered an 11-year old.

Joseph Smith and Dennis Bradford both targeted children, targeted adults, and got let off easy for acts of extreme violence against females on the grounds that the women were asking for it.  Judges and jurors simply excused their violent assaults because some of their targets were women in bars.  Such prejudiced acquittals aren’t supposed to happen anymore, but any prosecutor will tell you they’re common, even with the levels of violence displayed.  In some jury boxes, drinking a beer can apparently still spell “deserving rape, or death.”

And in Bradford’s case, the details of his 1996 assault suggest an experienced rapist with the forethought to do away with evidence, good character kudos from his boss at the fencing company notwithstanding:

According to a 1996 police report, the victim told investigators Bradford drove her around for 20 or 30 minutes listening to a cassette tape. He took her to a secluded area and once the car stopped, immediately he began choking her and beating her in the face.

She told investigators Bradford held a knife to her eye and threatened to cut her jugular vein several times while she was raped.

Afterwards Bradford took her to a nearby creek and demanded she wash off all of the blood and evidence.

The victim told police her attacker then drove back into town and dropped her off in front of Oaklawn racetrack. He told her he planned to kill her, but got scared at the last minute.

How many more victims will surface?  You don’t start out kidnapping victims from their bedrooms and slitting their throats, nor do you simply take five years off between violent, thought-out attacks.  What you do is concentrate on victimizing the types of women nobody will believe, women who drink beer, for example, who will be dismissed by jurors who look at their broken faces and slashed throats and say: “she sure was asking for it.”

Anti-incarceration activists often complain that putting men in prison “turns them into hardened criminals.”  In the case of Joseph Smith and Dennis Bradford, judges and jurors letting them off easy for their crimes appear to have done the same.

Criminal Apologetics and Bizarre Technicalities in St. Pete: Blaming Cops for Criminal Acts

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I didn’t have to look far to find today’s dreadful example of the media blaming anyone except criminals for criminal acts.  In the St. Pete Times today, Howard Troxler, a normally reasonable man, wanders far down an ugly path by questioning the recent conviction of a knife-wielding repeat offender on two grounds: the purported reputation of the officer who confronted him, and some trumped-up technicality about types of knives that should be considered weapons.

Troxler apparently feels that police officer Joe Ardolino is permanently tarnished because, in 2003, he was involved in a car chase (of a violent, prolific offender) that ended in the suspect’s death.  Never mind that Ardolino was cleared in the incident, as he should have been: once charged, always guilty, at least when it comes to the police.  Troxler crosses a troubling line when he impugns the officer in the subsequent murder of a fellow officer:

Ardolino was the deputy who made news in 2003 for a chasing a traffic violator through the Lacoochee area of Pasco County until the driver crashed into a palm tree and died. The resulting racial tension contributed, a month later, to the mistaken-revenge murder of Sheriff’s Lt. Bo Harrison.

Joe Ardolino is in no way responsible for the murder of Lt. Bo Harrison.  Ardolino was chasing a suspect; the suspect crashed his car and died; the suspect’s family swarmed the scene, practically started a riot, and accused the police of killing him.  Later, Lt. Harrison was assassinated outside a nightclub.  Calling it a “mistaken revenge murder” is unbelievably inappropriate.  When someone aims a semi-automatic at an officer’s head and pulls the trigger, where does “mistake” enter in, no matter what the defense argues in court?  The killer is responsible for murdering the officer.  Full stop.

After Reed crashed his car, Ardolino tried to revive the suspect while being threatened by a hostile crowd; he was cleared of wrongdoing, and yet, in the eyes of the St. Pete Times, he still must be guilty of something.  Here are some details from the 2003 incident:

[Michael] Reed’s family members said he leaves behind a girlfriend and a 11/2-year-old daughter, Mykeia. Friends said he was quiet and liked to visit Rumors nightclub.

The suspect’s family said he was “quiet.”  His criminal record, of course, tells a different story:

Records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show Reed was arrested at least eight times since 1994 on charges ranging from vehicle theft to burglary to cocaine possession with intent to sell. In 1996, when he was 17, he was one of two men who took part in the early morning robbery of R & J Foods that left three people hospitalized with gunshot wounds. A judge sentenced him to 41/2 years in prison in connection with the incident.

[And, once again, we have a criminal who might still be alive if a judge had taken seriously an armed robbery that left three people shot.]  Anyway, this is what Ardolino was doing as the suspect’s family threatened him:

The scene of the crash had turned tense as 75 to 100 people yelled threats, profanity, and racial insults at deputies, according to the Sheriff’s Office. . .

Reed had been hurled through the front windshield of his white Chevrolet and was hanging off the car’s hood. His left ankle was hooked on the car’s antenna. Ardolino put a handcuff on Reed’s left hand. After checking Reed for breathing and pulse and finding none, Ardolino began giving Reed chest compressions. After several compressions, Reed began trying to breathe.

Ardolino checked again for a pulse and found one. He unhooked Reed’s leg and laid him on the ground beside the car.

“I then heard Mr. Reed’s breathing become labored,” Ardolino’s report said. “His teeth were tightly clenched together, and he was sucking air through his teeth.”

Ardolino pried Reed’s mouth open and tilted his head so that fluid could drain from his mouth.

“He then continued to breathe while I held his mouth open,” Ardolino wrote.

The crash happened at 6:22 p.m. Ardolino arrived at the scene one minute later, and the chief of Tri-Community Volunteer Fire, Mike Morgan, arrived at 6:27 p.m., according to sheriff’s spokesman Powers.

Ardolino reported that when fire rescue arrived, he briefed an unspecified paramedic on Reed’s condition.

“He took over administering aid,” Ardolino wrote.

This is called a police officer doing his job in the face of extreme danger.  Witnesses said the officer was being intimidated and was outnumbered.  This is called a sacrifice.  Cops are put into dangerous situations all the time; they are forced to deal with dangerous people all of the time; they are investigated and accused and interrogated constantly, and yet they still show up and do their jobs: that’s the curiosity of it.

So, four years later, Ardolino gets called to a dangerous domestic violence scene.  The offender, Steven Miholics, who had already been to prison for child abuse (as I’ve said, you have to do a lot to a child to end up in prison), kicked his way into a house.  He armed himself with a knife.  His terrorized family managed to call the police.  Ardolino showed up and confronted the man, who lunged at him.  Ardolino shot him.  Miholics survived, was prosecuted, and was sentenced to 15 years.  As he should have been.  Now he wants that reduced to a one-year sentence because the knife he was holding was dull, and Troxler thinks he has a point.

Picture the scene of the domestic violence call, the knife, the split-second decision the officer must make.  Here is what Troxler thinks of it:

On appeal, Miholics’ new lawyer raised the issues both of allowing the deputy’s testimony and whether Miholics could have been legally convicted of a “deadly weapon” assault in the first place.  State law had been changed in 2006 to exempt a “blunt-bladed table knife” from the definition of a weapon. For Miholics, this could have meant the difference between a year in jail and 15 years in prison . . . This man Miholics has struck out in every way — his record, his choice to wield a knife and spatula as he met the Pasco deputies, his decision to fire his lawyer at a crucial juncture. I do not think many people will feel sympathy for him. And yet, as I said, these twists are worth noting.

“These twists are worth noting”?  Oh, don’t be shy.  By the lights of newspaper columnists, no offender should ever stop appealing any verdict, no matter the evidence, no matter the cost, no matter the ludicrousness of the grounds, no matter the disruption and danger and suffering of the victim.

Prisons should just be big bingo halls where every offender gets endless bites at the apple until they scamper out the door.

“Twists are worth noting”?  Justice be damned, more like.  Does Troxler believe that a police officer confronting a man with a violent record, at a very chaotic home invasion-domestic violence scene, should pause and say:

“Hey, wait a minute, that might be a blunt-bladed knife.  If I shoot the guy trying to stab me with it, I could get into trouble because some defense attorneys convinced the State of Florida to exclude blunt-bladed knives from the legal category of “deadly weapons.”  So since I can’t quite see from here how sharp that knife is in that crazed aggressor’s hand, I’ll just try to back out of the kitchen without getting killed so I can stay on the safe side with the courts.”

This is what we’re asking of officers, among a thousand other stupid, dangerous things.

Also stupid?  Suggesting that somebody who terrorizes his family, invades a house, and lunges at a cop with a knife should only get one year in prison.

Troxler manages to squeeze an impressive amount of responsibility-deflection into one column:

  • He brings up officially discredited claims against Officer Ardolino from 2003 to question his credibility in the 2007 case, rather than blaming Reed for his own criminal acts back then and the crowd for threatening the officer as he tried to save the offender’s life.
  • He claims that the judge should not have let Miholic represent himself (something Miholic had a right to do, and chose freely), suggesting that Miholic was incapable of bringing the defense that the officer “overreacted” to Miholic’s knife because its blade was dull (Here Troxler chomps at the bit to re-try the case on grounds that don’t even apply because there was no question that the shooting was justified — does no condemnation of police ever satisfy the appetite to condemn police?  Ever?).  Amazing.  And sloppy.
  • He blames the prosecutor and judge for the “deadly weapons” charge, rather than blaming Miholic for lunging at an officer with a knife.
  • He points a finger at Officer Ardolino for Lt. Bo Harrison’s murder, rather than blaming the murderer.  That’s disgraceful.

Quite a list.  Here are the people Troxler doesn’t hold accountable:

  • criminals who shoot people in robberies and flee from police
  • people who wrongfully accuse officers and threaten their safety
  • people who kills cops
  • people who lunge at cops with knives

Detect a pattern?

Tragically, the justice system reinforces this deflection of responsibility every time they permit defendants to make absurd arguments about things like the relative dullness of their knives.  Every cop responding to a call for help has to remember that the courts are stacked against them in this way, and a thousand others.

Imagine a world where, instead of advocating for the release of people like Miholic, Howard Troxler writes columns advocating for the legislature to change that dangerous and wrong-headed “blunt-bladed table knife” law.  No?  I didn’t think so.

Delmer Smith and the A.C.L.U.

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Delmer Smith is now either being investigated or charged in 11 attacks on women and one on a man that occurred after he left DNA at a crime scene in 2008.  Had the FBI bothered to upload his DNA profile into their database in a timely manner, these 12 rape, murder, and assault victims would not be victims today.  For, if the FBI had done its job, Smith would have been identified the first time he committed a sexual assault after release from prison, and police would have known where to find him because he also had to register his address with the parole board.

Looking beyond the FBI’s screw-up, this case illustrates the importance of probation and registration requirements and of laws that require all convicted felons to give samples of DNA.

If the system had been working as it was supposed to, Smith would have never gotten the chance to victimize so many people.  Yet these DNA database laws are vehemently opposed by the A.C.L.U.

If the A.C.L.U. had its way, convicted felons like Delmer Smith would be able to keep committing crimes under the cover of anonymity, while police hands would remain tied.  The police would be denied the very tools that are credited with significantly reducing the rate of rape in recent years.  That’s thousands of rapes prevented by getting serial rapists off the streets.

The A.C.L.U. argues that the government can’t be trusted with sensitive information like DNA; they argue that ‘in the future, the database might get misused.’ They insinuate that medical information might be gleaned from the information in the database, which is just silly.  They float accusations of potential racial profiling.  They say anything, in other words, to try to inspire fear, in order to achieve their real goal, which is to block the enforcement of the law, by any means necessary, no matter the body count.

When you hear arguments about how unfair it is to force ex-cons to register with the state, or to keep their DNA on record for the next time they decide to rape an elderly woman or beat someone to death, think of Delmer Smith’s 11 victims.  Good policing stopped Smith after bad administration of the federal DNA database slipped up.  But this case illustrates precisely why the police need all the tools they can get.

No matter what the A.C.L.U. says.

DNA Could Have Stopped Delmer Smith Before He Killed, But Nobody Cared Enough To Update the Federal Database

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This is Delmer Smith, who is responsible for a recent reign of terror on Florida’s Gulf Coast that left women from Venice to Bradenton terrified of violent home invasions, murder and rape:

Delmer Smith gave a DNA sample to the Feds 15 years ago, when he was incarcerated in Michigan on federal bank robbery charges.  And then what did the Feds do?  Well, in fairness, they were super busy not watching Phillip Garrido as he repeatedly raped and impregnated the child he was holding captive in his backyard.

So the feds apparently did nothing with Delmer Smith’s DNA.  Now a slew of women have been raped, and at least one murdered, crimes that could have been easily prevented if the feds had done what they were supposed to do and entered Smith’s DNA into the appropriate database.

But they couldn’t be bothered, just like the states so often can’t be bothered, just like Florida couldn’t be bothered fifteen years ago when they let my rapist walk out of prison to commit more rapes of frail, elderly women because they didn’t bother to link him to other crimes using DNA from kits they were supposed to test, but didn’t.

In precisely the same neighborhoods Delmer just tore through: Sarasota, Venice, North Port.

This time, to be clear, it wasn’t the Florida courts that screwed up: it was federal authorities.  Funny how they all screw up in precisely the same way, though: serial neglect of serial criminals who rape and kill again.  How much do they screw up?  Well, I’m understandably tuned in to this little piece of Florida’s West Coast, but it takes about fifteen minutes on Lexis-Nexus to find similar “mistakes” in every state.  We are letting extremely violent criminals slip through the cracks, and nobody seems outraged about it: nobody seems to be trying to plug the many holes in the system, or even to try to figure out what those holes are.

~~~

What to do?  Although police are usually the ones singled out when a serial offender is on the loose, their actions are rarely the reason recidivists are free.  Blame the courts — from lax prosecutors to lenient judges, to the hash the defense bar has made of our criminal justice system.  Also blame parole boards, and legislators and governors who refuse to fund prosecutions and prisons at realistic levels.

Finally, blame the activists who will do anything to get certain offenders out from behind bars, all the while banging the drum that “America is a prison state: we incarcerate too many people for too long. . .” Any cursory review of crime reports, arrests and convictions shows that precisely the opposite is true: we incarcerate too few people, and we let them go too soon.

People still routinely get a few months in jail for molesting a child, or probation for shooting someone.  But how do we make this visible, when prosecutors and judges want to hide their actions, and reporters won’t report on it?

It’s Time for a “Guilty Project”

Failure to Update DNA Database

Delmer Smith: suspected in a dozen home invasions, several rapes, one  or more murders, all thanks to the failure of federal authorities to enter his DNA profile in the CODIS database.  Too bad the F.B.I. sent a profiler down to Florida tell the cops that the killer was probably a male with anger issues, instead of making sure CODIS (which is the FBI’s responsibility) was up to date.  How many other violent offenders have slipped through the cracks in CODIS?  Does anybody know?

Serial Judicial Leniency, Failures to Prosecute, Failures to Enforce Parole, Failure to Correct DNA Deception, Failure to Update DNA Database

Walter E. Ellis, arrested at least a dozen times, including two (or three) attempted murders; convicted of several serious crimes, including attempted murder; repeatedly released early, despite multiple parole violations; received merely three years for nearly killing a woman with a hammer; charges apparently dropped for attacking another women with a screwdriver . . . and Wisconsin authorities didn’t bother to get a DNA sample from Ellis at the time they discovered that the sample supposed to be his had been “donated” by another inmate, a child rapist.  12,000 other convict samples are currently missing from Wisconsin’s list.

Serial Judicial Leniency, Failure to Update DNA Database, Reliance on Inaccurate Profiling(?)

John Floyd Thomas, first convicted of rape in 1957, arrested multiple times, convicted of rape again, released early again, now suspected of killing as many as 30 elderly women, avoided giving a DNA sample when he was required to do so, apparently without any consequences.  True Crime Report is attributing his ability to elude capture to inaccurate profiling indicating a white killer, but I’m not sure about that because there were surviving victims thought to be linked to the serial murders.

~~~

Where is the Outrage?

Prior to these belated DNA matches, the only one of these three men who served any substantial time in prison was Smith, and that was for robbing a bank, not assaulting a woman.  Authorities in Milwaukee can’t even figure out what happened to one of Walter Ellis’ previous attempted murder charges for an attack on a woman.

Just trying to kill women still doesn’t count for much, it appears.

The flagrant acts of these men, and of thousands of others — the lack of consequences they experience that enables them to attack multiple female victims — all beg the question: why aren’t serial crimes targeting women counted as hate crimes against women?

Why aren’t the resources of the hate crimes movement — the public outrage, the state and federal money, the well-funded private opposition research, the media attention, the academic and activist imperatives — brought to bear on cases where the people being targeted are women?

The answer is shameful.  Hate crimes leaders and opposition researchers don’t want their movement “distracted” by the the fact that women are far and away the most common category of victims targeted because of their identities.  These activists want to keep the focus on the picture they are painting of America, on race and ethnicity and sexual orientation, so they don’t want their statistics “overwhelmed” by a whole bunch of woman victims.

Consequently, activists who otherwise fight to get certain crimes counted as hate crimes fight even harder to keep any serial crime against women from being counted as hate — as the media laps at their heels, quiescent as a warm gulf tide.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been a central player in this ugly little deception for more than a decade now, so don’t expect changes anytime soon, especially with journalists’ self-enforced code of silence.

However, to give Holder credit where credit is due, he does advocate expanding the federal DNA database, an unpopular position to take in the current administration.

~~~

There is a personal silver lining in the Delmer Smith case. The man who had the temerity and insight to finally put my rapist away for life is the same man who had the temerity and insight to catch Smith before he killed more women.  It was a cognitive leap and real police work, apparently done by linking Smith to the sexual assaults after he got caught in an unrelated crime, a violent bar brawl.  And then locking him up on federal parole violations until a DNA sample could be tracked down.

Thank you, Venice Police Captain Tom McNulty, for taking yet another bastard off the streets.  That’s policing.

The Genesis of a Lie: How Brutal Killers Become Victims, Part 4

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On September 4, the jury in the Denise Lee murder trial returned a verdict of death for the man who kidnapped, raped, and murdered her, Michael King.  The next day the Sarasota Herald Tribune ran a story detailing the travails King would face on death row, such as limited access to exercise and no air conditioning:

Air conditioning is forbidden on death row, so inmates mostly keep still.  “It’s awful,” said the Rev. Larry Reimer, who has visited for 27 years to minister to a death row inmate. “It is hotter there than you permit animals to be kept.”

Yes, and how was Denise Lee treated?

What on earth would inspire the Tribune to run such a story?  It is advocacy, not news.  It insults the victim’s family to run a puff piece about their daughter’s killer just one day after they endured an horrific trial.  The Tribune waxes poetic about the plight of killers, gawkingly calling death row “still life with concrete.”

King should take note: he would do well to start writing poetry himself, as so many of these thugs do, and thus attract audiences of journalist-groupies, leftist nuns, college presidents, and minister-types who derive self-importance by chattering about the special insights they gain while peering into the souls of men who destroy other people’s lives:

[Rev. Larry] Reimer also has seen the recently arrived death row inmates. He may not know their names, but he knows the look.  “The young men who’ve just come there, they look like they don’t know how they’re going to cope with this.”

In my opinion, if these ministers were really tending to killers’ souls, they wouldn’t grandstand about it.  Wouldn’t the desired ethical response to killing be humility and shame?  This sort of talk isn’t really about killer’s souls, though — or their coping skills.  It is about the speaker positioning himself as morally superior: it is about judging and condemning the rest of us for not seeing the special spark he imagines he sees when he peers into Michael King’s eyes.

The same applies to journalists.  When reporters write about death row, there is often a tone of titillation — porn or fetish — about it.  You sense thrill and self-righteousness, and frissons of identification with powerfully bad men, in all the painstaking descriptions of the walls, the floors, the food, the recounted last meals.  Conditions are pretty crummy for non-violent offenders in prison too — more crummy, because they are targeted by the violent ones — but small-time offenders are small potatoes.  Who wants to identify with a pickpocket?

I remember one particularly disturbing article from some years back, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in which an activist defense lawyer carried on about how he treasured this little scale-model death row cell one of his clients had crocheted for him — with a little bunk and little slippers, and so on — no mention, of course, of the little lives the man had taken to end up there, or the danger he posed to other inmates and guards.

Sure enough, it doesn’t take long for the Tribune reporter to solemnly invoke Michael King’s dietary restrictions.  It’s intoxicating, a real safari through environs that would doubtlessly improve if inmates were not actually murderous sociopaths:

Their meals are delivered to them, along with the plastic sporks that are the only cutlery they can use.

And this, bizarre, detail:

The ingredients for an inmate’s last meal must cost no more than $40 and be available locally.

~~~

Then the reporter turns to Juan Melendez, who was released from death row, to describe his experience on death row.  The message is clear: not only is death row terrible, but the people on it are probably innocent.  To do this in the wake of King’s trial is repugnant.

Nobody thinks Michael King is innocent: it isn’t even an issue.  So why didn’t the reporter interview somebody who is on death row for a crime he did commit?  What happened to Melendez is a tragedy, even if he helped bring it on himself, as most of these men do, by committing other crimes and choosing bad criminal running buddies.  In any case, there is no justification for aggressively bringing Melendez’ activism into a story about this vicious murderer, except that the reporter clearly feels that everyone on death row is a victim of injustice:

Juan Melendez, who was exonerated and released in January 2002 after 17 years, 8 months and one day on death row, remembers the hopelessness and the roaches and rats. He also remembers the camaraderie with other inmates. He got to know them in the exercise yard, and by chatting cell-to-cell.

They taught Melendez how to speak English. They also taught him how to get a plastic trash bag from a trusty and hang yourself with it from the towel rack that is one of a handful of furnishings in a death row cell.

“I had to wet the floor and sleep on the floor. That’s how hot it was,” Melendez said.

At 5 a.m., Melendez said, the trusties put the breakfast trays into metal slots in each cell.

“If you wait five seconds to get the tray, you ran out of luck,” he said. “The roaches beat you to it. They were waiting for breakfast, too.”

How touching: they’re English teachers.  And bathetic references to hanging: one can only presume that these earnest “teachers of English, etc.” were better at killing other people than hanging themselves, because they aren’t dead, right?  I’m sure I will receive angry mail accusing me of lacking empathy for these men.  But why are we hearing about camaraderie among a group of men who have committed heinous crimes, in the wake of what Denise Lee suffered, without also being told about the crimes they committed?

Who cares if they are depressed?  This is sentimentality predicated on disappearing victims from the story.  How could the Tribune publish this one day after King’s conviction?

~~~

Well, there is “how,” and there is “why.” The “why ” comes next, with another anecdote about another killer, weirdly cobbled onto an article about Michael King:

After 14 years of legal arguments, attorneys in the south region succeeded in getting a prisoner off of death row last week.

David Lee Thomas, 43, convicted of murder and attempted robbery in Lee County in 1991, is mentally retarded — a “mitigating” fact that his defense attorneys did not raise at his trial. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled it unconstitutional to execute people who are mentally retarded.

The lead defense attorney in the Thomas case, Rachel Day, negotiated a settlement with prosecutors that will move Thomas off death row and into general population. He will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

“He knows that serving a life sentence, the conditions will be considerably better for him than they were on death row,” Day said. “He’ll have a lot more freedom to work, to study, to walk, to exercise, than he would on death row, which is extremely confined.”

The implication is clear: merely one day after the people of Sarasota sentenced Michael King to death for his crimes, the Sarasota Herald Tribune began its campaign to oppose the will of the people and “rescue” King from death row.

Expect more stories linking King to other allegedly retarded offenders, allegedly innocent offenders, and offenders who were allegedly insufficiently represented.  Expect King to join other killers who are promoted as innocent victims of a brutal American system by activists in Canada and Europe — see here for David Lee Thomas’ fan club, which makes no mention of his crime, just as the Tribune avoided all but the briefest mention of it.  He was a repeat felon, of course, released from prison just prior to committing murder.  His victim’s name cannot be found anywhere, but he appears as a victim in several places.

Expect Denise Amber Lee to fade from memory, as Michael King takes her place.

They’ll show us.

The Genesis of a Lie: How Brutal Killers Become Victims, Part 3

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On August 28, jurors in the Michael King trial in Sarasota, Florida found King guilty of raping and killing 21-year old mother, Denise Amber Lee.  Here is a photo of Lee’s father, Rick Goff, listening to the last 911 call Denise managed to make, in which she was recorded begging for her life.  It’s worth remembering that the families were forced to sit through all the courtroom games the defense played while trying to get King off on a technicality.  Which technicality?  Any and all of them, of course.

Immediately following the jury’s conviction, the sentencing hearings began.  King’s lawyers set out to argue that a childhood sledding accident rendered him incompetent, a mitigating factor the jurors would have to weight against his crimes — if it was true.

Before the trial, King’s lawyers had attempted to have King declared incompetent.  Then, during the trial, he stumbled around acting catatonic, putting on a show.  At one point, the judge stopped the trial and ordered him evaluated — again.  The judge was probably trying to prevent grounds for later appeals, and King was found to be competent.

But here is a troubling thing: even though King was found competent, the fact that the judge requested the test, instead of King’s own attorneys requesting it, is also grounds for appeal.  His lawyers didn’t request the test themselves, at that very moment, though they made the case for incompetence at other moments, so King can claim that he had insufficient counsel.

Get it?  If the judge hadn’t ordered the test, the absence of the test could trigger an appeal, and because the judge did order the test, then that’s grounds for appeal.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: the justice system is crippled by the power of the defense bar.

Likewise, one of the arguments they were allowed to make against a death sentence is the fact that King wasn’t drinking or using drugs.  But if he had been drinking or using drugs, that could be a mitigating factor, too.

So the man in the picture above is not done re-living his daughter’s horrific death: he is now facing ten or twenty more years of sitting in courtrooms, watching the lawyers play games on behalf of her killer.

~~~

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune slipped into advocacy for the killer at several points in their coverage of the King trial, but it was their story choice during the sentencing phase that really crosses a line.

Two days after the jury returned a guilty verdict, when they were about to begin deliberating sentencing, the Trib published an article implying that the jurors might have nightmares and psychological problems if they voted for death.  Of course, the reporter quoted so-called academic experts (actually, academic anti-death penalty activists), who claimed to have conducted objective research:

Studies by professors and other death penalty experts suggest that some jurors lose sleep, some have nightmares and many keep the experience shielded from their closest family and friends.

Well, of course they do.  Being forced to confront a murderer’s actions and autopsy photos is also disturbing.  Knowing that the man you have just sentenced to death is about to become a media darling and cause célébre for the next twenty years probably causes some compunction, as does being accused of everything from bad faith to bloodthirstiness to vengefulness to racism, which are things that get said every day in courtrooms and classrooms and the news about jurors who vote for death.  Oh, and religious impropriety, also:

One lesson central to the many faiths is to hate the sin but forgive the sinner.  So even if jurors find the defendant a monster, it can be difficult to choose death.

the Tribune reporter scolds.

In a news story.

Is it the death penalty, or the murder, or the false accusations of bias that actually keep jurors awake at night?  Is there “research” measuring that?  You certainly won’t get a straight answer from the Capitol Jury Project, consulted here and described as an objective research group studying “why people make the decision they make, how they interact with other people making the same decision and whether it affects their lives.”

Actually, the Capitol Jury Project is one of many anti-death penalty groups that use public tax dollars to manufacture research designed exclusively to overturn death penalty laws.  The project’s director, William J. Bowers, is indeed an academician, but he calls the death penalty “Legal Homicide,” works as an “activist in the trenches,” and testifies in courtrooms that jurors are incapable of comprehending or fairly applying the law.  If I was a juror, I would not let them interview me for one of their many studies seeking (and inevitably, finding) bias or incompetence or heartlessness in jurors.

Or post-traumatic stress disorder, as the Tribune implies.   Of course, the reporter didn’t seek the otherwise journalistically de rigeur “opposing view” offered by death penalty supporters, who observe that jurors often experience pride and satisfaction in helping see justice done by sending killers to death row.

That viewpoint just isn’t newsworthy, you see.  And wouldn’t it be inappropriate to raise such a subject on the eve of the sentencing deliberations?

Tomorrow: Coming Down on the Jurors, and Turning Michael Smith into Society’s Victim

The Genesis of a Lie: How Brutal Killers Become Victims, Part 2

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With so many opportunities to exclude evidence, and so few ways to get it admitted, it is only the most unlucky offenders who ever see the inside of a courtroom.  This terrible reality is what many journalists and defense attorneys call the genius of our system, though, of course, it doesn’t feel that way when it is your daughter or wife begging for her life.

~~~

Michael King was on the road to being lucky until his victim, Denise Lee, set out to prove that he was committing a terrible crime.  Lee, a twenty-one year old who had been kidnapped in front of her two infant boys, then brutalized, raped, and informed that she was going to be murdered by King, somehow possessed the composure to hide her ring in his car so that police would find it there.  She also opened King’s cell phone and called 911 while trying to engage him in a conversation that would lead police to his car.

Denise Lee’s father was a police officer, so she probably knew how difficult it would be to get evidence of her own impending murder admitted into a courtroom.  In essence, she spent the last hours of her life trying to overcome the games defense attorneys would later play with her death.

Thanks to Denise Lee’s bravery, Michael King entered the courtroom with virtually no chance of being acquitted.  But in our warped system of criminal justice, the defense attorneys still had games to play and tax dollars to burn — something they seize with impunity whenever a conviction is not really in doubt.  So what should have been a brief and straightforward trial threatened to become a costly spectacle, just as the Brian Nichols trial was a spectacle: an opportunity for defense attorneys to manipulate the system while shrilly claiming to be defending higher principles.

Defense attorneys get away with this behavior largely because they get a free pass from their fans in the press box, who do not even feign objectivity.

During the King trial, a reporter for the Sarasota Herald Tribune stooped to posting mash notes about courthouse “sightings” of his favorite defense attorney on the trial blog, as if he were attending a rock concert, rather than the trial for the rape and murder of a young mother.  That’s simply grotesque.  That undermines the credibility of the newspaper.

But it isn’t unusual.  Defense bias is pervasive in some newsrooms, the Sarasota Herald Tribune being one.  While other local papers stuck to reporting the details of the King trial, the Tribune busied itself manufacturing an ornate case for the defense, presenting their tactics and arguments thinly disguised as news stories.

Thus, jury selection was covered via a series of articles questioning when, or if, jurors can ever possibly be objective.  Before the trial even started, the Trib’s favorite defense experts were already using the paper to paint a picture of King as the victim of an unfair system.

“Attorneys to Look for Internet Bias in Lee Case,” one headline blared:

Community outrage over the abduction, rape and murder of North Port mother Denise Lee simmered for months on online bulletin boards and chatrooms.

Now, attorneys for the man charged with Lee’s murder are going to ask potential jurors if they used the Internet to discuss the crime. . .

“They need to ask if the guy has a Facebook page, if he Twitters, if he has a Web name he uses,” said Art Patterson, a jury consultant and social psychologist based in Sarasota. “We sure want to know, because people say things in there they’d never admit in court.”

The answers could help decide who sits on the jury, and whether the case remains in Sarasota County. . .

In court papers filed this week, King’s attorneys argue that media coverage and strong reaction to the crime online have added to an atmosphere that makes it impossible for him to get a fair trial here.

Well, of course jury consultants for the defense want to know these things.  Their job is to put as many people as possible on the jury who are biased towards the defense.  That type of juror bias is not included in the article.  The reporter only worries about jurors who express pro-conviction sentiments.  He quotes not one, but two experts echoing his worry.

One of the “experts” is the subject of the mash note mentioned above.

The reporter is the mash note’s author.

In another Herald Tribune article about jury selection in the King trial, another defense attorney is given front-page license to scold the public for their presumed inability to be as fair as — say — defense attorneys:

[J]urors already have a hard time with the idea that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, defense attorney Betsy Young said.  “They’re required to walk in saying, there’s an innocent man sitting there,” Young said.

Actually, that is not true.  Jurors are not required to walk into the courtroom believing a defendant is innocent.  Jurors are required to suspend their judgment of the defendant’s innocence or guilt, listen to the evidence, then draw conclusions based only on that evidence.  To allege that jurors must know nothing in order to be fair is to imply that no defendant could possibly get a fair trial. 

The Tribune let this wild misrepresentation stand as “reporting.”

~~~

After the trial was over, and the jury took all of half of an afternoon to find Michael King guilty of the crime for which he was obviously guilty, the Trib mounted its soapbox for the defense again.  This time, their goal was to help create the impression that Michael King was incompetent.  They did so with long, drawn-out articles detailing every aspect of the defense’s case for incompetence but barely mentioning the prosecution’s challenges to these claims.

This “evidence” supporting King’s alleged incompetence is bizarre:

Defense attorneys will stress a different side of King that jurors heard all this week during the penalty phase: a man whose childhood sledding injury at age 6 set up a lifetime of diminished mental capacity.  King was described as a good father of a 13-year-old son, a good boyfriend and a good plumber, whose buzzing headaches and “zoning out” increased along with the stress of losing his girlfriend and house. . .

Rodney King said he attributed virtually all of his brother’s problems, including seeing things that were not there, going into a trance-like state, getting lost while driving and hearing buzzing in his head, to a head injury Michael King suffered during a sledding accident as a child. . .

James King said his son had learning problems, especially with spelling and math. He recalled one time when Michael King asked for help in writing out numbers on a check and had to ask his then 11-year-old son for help.

And here:

[M]uch of Tuesday’s testimony came from Dr. Joseph Wu, an expert brought in by the defense who said King’s suffered a brain injury as a child that left him less able to follow society’s rules. People with similar injuries to their frontal lobes have trouble separating fantasy from reality, Wu said, and tend to be paranoid and act out under stress.  King was 6 years old when he was injured. Riding a sled being pulled by a snowmobile, his head slammed into a big wooden beam. His brothers said the snowmobile was going between 40 mph and 80 mph.  In court, Wu suggested a link between the head blow and statements from his brothers about King’s odd behavior.  King once acted out a scene from a Bugs Bunny cartoon with a real bow and arrow, Wu said.  As a teenager, he acted out a scene from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with a real chainsaw, coming within five feet of family members with it.

To summarize: Michael King had ringing in his ears.  He had a weird disorder that enabled him to function well enough to finish school and marry and buy a house and run a business and be “a good father” but also made him snap and rape and torture and kill a total stranger one day, 30 years after falling off a sled.

Curiously, this is the only aspect of the case that the Sarasota Herald Tribune allowed to stand without contradictory input from “experts.”

During the jury selection process, the paper solicited outside defense experts and jury consultants to weigh in on every aspect of the (read: poor) job the court was doing in selecting the jury.  During the trial, reporters let defense experts pose questions regarding the viability of the evidence (prosecution evidence, that is).  During sentencing, they solicited ministers and academicians to weigh in solemnly on everything from the psychological impact of choosing a death sentence to the metaphysical implications of turning one’s back on the religiously ordained quality of mercy (more on that charming theme tomorrow).

All other parts of the trial were subjected to subversive, outsider debate in the news part of the newspaper’s pages, but some sleazy defense witness waving meaningless brain-wave pictures at a disbelieving jury was above reproach?

They couldn’t find a single doctor or shrink or press-hungry tenured faculty member or trial-expert-for-pay-in-the-yellow-pages to similarly question the judgment of Doctor Wu?

~~~

Of course, merely reporting defense arguments is reporting, and the articles detailing Michael King’s incompetence defense also include details of what Denise Lee suffered.  But what they exclude is telling: the reporters carefully and selectively skirt the prosecution’s direct refutation of King’s incompetence claim.

Why does this matter?  By choosing to do this, the paper creates an impression of two victims — Lee and King — rather than one victim and one inhumane predator who is entirely responsible for gratuitously destroying her.

It’s a simulacrum of the defense strategy: if you cannot possibly deny that there is one victim in the room, pretend there are two.  It has no place anywhere in a newspaper, except perhaps on the opinion page, where the writer must at least own up to promoting such views.

Tomorrow: The Perils of Being a Sarasota Juror

Empathy for Murderers, Contempt for Their Victims

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One day after the on-duty murder of Tampa Police Cpl. Mike Roberts, the St. Petersburg Times actually published a story bemoaning the killer’s hard life.

We learn that Humberto Delgado Jr. had insomnia, was good at fixing things, was a dad just like Roberts — well, not exactly, because he didn’t support his children and he murdered a police officer, but the Times is nothing if not relentless in its efforts to assert that offenders are as much the victims of the crimes they commit as the people they choose to victimize:

Delgado wore dreadlocks. He spoke of peace, and God, and looking at the bright side. A neighbor said he limped on a cane.

His family said his medications didn’t alleviate his pain. He would work jobs for a week or two, but said his injuries didn’t allow him to stay.

He used to live with his girlfriend and son in North Carolina, but left because he was unable to provide for them, [Omairie] Hurst [his cousin] said. He felt powerless. He moved to Florida and lived with his uncle in Oldsmar for a while.

He felt so powerless he abandoned a third child and acquired a bagful of guns.

In recent weeks, Delgado told a friend that his uncle was pressuring him to leave. He told his cousins that his uncle didn’t want Delgado’s pet pit bulls in his yard and disapproved of his long hair. His father and stepmother said he left because he wanted independence.

He wanted independence.  People were keeping him down.  They didn’t like his hair.  They wouldn’t give his pit bulls a place to live and were tired of paying his rent.  He couldn’t hold a job, but he could design a Facebook page and fill it with self-aggrandizing claptrap.  He was mad at the VA because he didn’t like the type of housing they were offering him.  He didn’t have a car and had to use public transportation.

Delgado’s family certainly wasted no time going public with their claim that this crime was society’s fault, not his fault, because society didn’t do enough to help him.  The St. Pete Times mirrors this view with a long feature story detailing every boy scout badge Delgado earned despite the great odds against him:

A guy so smart, he could take anything apart and rebuild it.

Well, almost anything.

He needed help rebuilding his life, [his family] said. He never got it.

~~~

The Tampa Tribune also ran a story about Delgado’s background that includes quotes from people who knew him, but it doesn’t paint the killer as a misunderstood victim.

Instead, the Trib offered this insightful editorial about the lessons we might learn from Cpl. Robert’s death.  It deserves wide circulation:

A Hero’s Death and Painful Reminder

The Tampa Tribune August 21, 2009

Think of Cpl. Mike Roberts the next time you hear someone bicker about police being too quick to use deadly force.

The Tampa Police officer was shot to death Wednesday night as he tried to apprehend a man pushing a shopping cart along Nebraska Avenue and behaving suspiciously in Sulphur Springs.

The tragedy reveals the kind of life-and-death snap judgments officers often must make and why those familiar complaints about officers being trigger-happy are usually bunk.

This seemed a typical vagrant encounter at first. But the man pushing the cart was not some harmless transient. He was a former Virgin Islands policeman and Army veteran carrying a bag full of guns and apparently a heart full of rage.

The man attacked the officer. The 38-year-old Roberts did everything possible to subdue the man – even attempting to Taser him – without shooting.

The man managed to pull free and grabbed a handgun from the cart. He beat Roberts on the head with it and then shot him just outside his bullet-proof vest.

Now the father of a 3-year-old is dead. His family and fellow officers are in mourning and a community is in shock.

The term hero is used loosely these days. But Roberts truly was a hero. There is no telling what the assailant might ultimately have done with his arsenal, which included an assault rifle. . .

[T]here are evil, unpredictable people in our midst. Everyone must be alert, and when questioned by police, answer with respect and in a nonthreatening manner.

The challenges faced by Mike Roberts and all other officers merit greater public appreciation. Without warning, a routine call can demand a split-second decision that determines who lives and who dies.

What they said.

Another Entirely Accurate Critique of the Miami Homeless Sex Offender “Crisis”:

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From PROTECT, the National Association to Protect Children:

Miami’s Julia Tuttle Causeway fiasco–where about 70 “registered” sex offenders have been herded under a bridge to live–is being challenged in court by the ACLU.

PROTECT wrote about the situation earlier this year (See “Gimmicks Gone Wild,” March, 2009 Newswire), calling it a “cynical game of sex offender dumping.” The New York Times reports today that Miami probation officers are telling released sex offenders to go join the encampment, because there are virtually no area rental apartments to be had that don’t violate local residency restriction ordinances for “registered” sex offenders.

Miami area officials, like those in many jurisdictions around the country, are passing the ordinances in a desperate gesture to keep released sex offenders away from children.

The New York Times reports that Florida Governor Charlie Crist “placed the responsibility [for monitoring released offenders] squarely on local governments.”

As long as state politicians continue to peddle sex offender “registration” schemes as a low-cost alternative to incarceration and intensive probation and parole, local authorities will continue to fall back on ineffective zoning ordinances and highway bridges as their main public safety strategy.

Crime Denial at the New York Times: An Update

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Yesterday, while writing about the Times‘ willful misrepresentation of a child sexual assault conviction, I noted:

[W]hen I see an offender with a record of one or three instances of “inappropriate touching,” I suspect that’s the tip of the iceberg.  I suspect the conviction is the result of a plea bargain agreed to just to get the sick bastard away from the child and onto a registry, which is the most victims can reasonably hope for in the courts these days . . .

Well, it didn’t take long to illustrate that point.  From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Convicted Rapist Sentenced to Life — Again

Barry Daniels was supposed to spend the rest of his life in prison when he was convicted in 1978 of raping a child.

Instead, he served 19 years and was released, returning to Cincinnati where he worked for more than a decade as a maintenance man.

On Tuesday, Daniels was back in court, to be sentenced after he was convicted of raping another child, a 9-year-old girl last September.

Prosecutors had offered Daniels a plea offer of — you guessed it — sexual touching.  Just like this guy, whose fib about his own crimes was credulously reported as fact in the New York Times:

Patrick Wiese, 48 . . . said he served time in prison after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately. . .

Unfortunately for the nine-year-old victim in Cincinnati, Barry Daniels refused the plea offered to him, and the child was forced to testify against her rapist.  Fortunately, the jury believed her and sent Daniels to prison for life — again.  Hopefully this time it will stick:

The girl testified during the trial and, despite the stress and embarrassment, proved to be a star witness.

Before the jury was seated, prosecutors [had] offered Daniels a plea offer – to try to prevent the child victim from having to testify – that would have resulted in him pleading guilty of sexually touching the child and being imprisoned for a maximum of five years.

Note that Daniels was offered a sentence that would have put him back on the streets in five years or less.  Prosecutors were willing to essentially “disappear” the rape of a child to get him back into the system, to spare the child more trauma, and, doubtlessly, to avoid incurring the costs of a trial.  Such are the economics of justice these days: a child rapist who rapes another child after being released early is offered a slap on the wrist.

Chillingly, Daniels was willing to take his chances.  And why not?  It’s practically impossible to seat a jury these days in which there is not at least one knucklehead who imagines he is playing Atticus Finch, or re-playing 12 Angry Men, or who just believes that there is never any way to know that anybody is actually guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of anything.

The Daniels jurors did none of these things, bless them.  But if I was guilty of raping a nine-year old child, I’d still take my chances with a jury.  And when you see news articles bemoaning society’s cruel treatment of “men who did nothing more than sexually touch a child,” remember to ask yourself what they really did.   

Crime Denial at the New York Times, Part 1: Regarding the Torture of (Some) Others

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The New York Times is the most important newspaper in America, and that is unfortunate, for in their pages, ordinary criminals are frequently treated with extreme deference and sympathy, even respect.  Some types of criminals are excluded from this kid-glove treatment, but that is a subject for another day.  For the most part, ordinary (property, drug, violent, sexual) criminals comprise a protected class in the Times.  Even when it must be acknowledged that someone has, in fact, committed a crime, the newsroom’s mission merely shifts to minimizing the culpability of the offender by other means.

There are various ways of doing this.  Some have to do with selectively criticizing the justice system: for example, the Times reports criminal appeals in detail without bothering to acknowledge congruent facts that support the prosecution and conviction.  They misrepresent the circumstances that lead to (sometimes, sometimes not) wrongful convictions while showing no curiosity about the exponentially higher rate of non-prosecution of crimes.

Then there is their intense personal interest in — advocacy for — offenders.  They pen long profiles of criminals, detailing their difficult childhoods, their self-reported rehabilitation, their suffering in prison, and the social conditions that allegedly “drove them” to victimize others.  These stories rarely include more than passing mention of offenders’ crimes, if they even do that.

Here is the crux of the problem arising from their pro-offender biases: you cannot easily empathize with both a rapist and his victim, so the victim must be erased, or maligned, and the crime erased, or minimized, in order to enhance the reporter’s fictional vision of the criminal.

It is as if these people labor in irony-poor air beneath a giant, pulsating edition of Camus’ The Stranger.

In addition to sloppy ethics, this allegiance to one side of the story leads to sloppy reporting.  Sloppy reporting is hardly the worst sin, but it is one that might embarrass them more deeply than the act of reducing victims to one-dimensional, inhuman flotsam.

That part, after all, is entirely intentional.

Last Thursday, the Times ran a typical crime-denying story about the travails of sex offenders who have been released from prison and now live in a homeless settlement under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami.  The sex offenders’ advocates say that they are living in tents under the causeway because local laws restrict convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of zones where children gather, and they can find no other place where they may reside legally.

The Times reporter spoke with two of the approximately seventy sex offenders who live under the bridge.  He did not bother to note that there are hundreds of registered sex offenders who actually live in apartments near the bridge and throughout the city.  You can see the location of registered sex offenders living either on or near the Julia Tuttle Causeway at the Florida Sexual Offenders and Predators website.  Go to “neighborhood search”; enter “3400 Biscayne Blvd., 33137″ (an address near the bridge), and choose “five mile radius” and “map” to view the entire downtown.  The men dwelling under the bridge appear on the left shore of the causeway.

Some of the men living in apartments have been registered quite recently, so I don’t know why it is that they have housing while others are “forced to” reside under the bridge.  Is it a question of money and not just the living restrictions law?  Are they addicts who would be homeless anyway, and that is the only place where they can live while homeless?  Is it simply getting harder for offenders to find housing because they have to register their addresses now, and landlords are understandably hesitant to accept them as tenants because then their other tenants and neighbors have access to their criminal records?  Is the housing problem caused by sex offender registration laws, as much as by sex offender living restriction laws?  What are the additional circumstances, not reported by the media, that end in an offender moving under the bridge?  Such questions are not addressed in the many news stories about the poor-sex-offenders-living-under-the-bridge.

There are thousands of homeless people in Miami: the ones who are not sex offenders, however, are not currently a pet cause in the national press.

The sight of so many sex offenders in one place is startling: it is no solution for them to live there, of course.  But then, when you expand the search area on the sex offenders website to see the sex offenders living throughout the city, something else becomes startling, as well.  Some streets seem filled with offenders.  There are seven hundred registered sex offenders in downtown Miami alone.  When you look at that map, at flag upon flag until the city disappears beneath them, you can understand why people said: “Enough. We don’t want any more of them near us.”

That is another thing you will not read in the New York Times.

The A.C.L.U. is using this sex offender encampment to challenge living restriction laws, and so “Julia Tuttle Causeway” has become a sort of national rallying cry for activists who oppose placing restrictions on where convicted sex offenders may live.  These activists unabashedly include reporters who have done an especially poor job of covering the living restrictions issue from all sides.

For example, one reporter writes that there is “no proof” that living restrictions prevent crime, and then another reporter repeats that as fact, yet they do not bother to write about instances of convicted offenders being picked up and returned to prison for refusing to stay away from restricted zones.  They never discuss cases where family members tried, and failed, to have a threatening offender returned to prison but could not because, prior to these laws, the bar was often too high to do so.  Parole officers were hesitant to act without adequate power, or they were sympathetic to the offender, or apathetic, their apathy aided by vague laws.  For one tragic example, see the Silver Comet Trail killer, here and here.

Now, large numbers of convicted sex offenders who would have flown under the radar before the registration laws and living restriction laws went into effect have instead been removed from the streets for violating the terms of their release.  Of course, there is no way to count the number of potential sexual assaults that are headed off by enforcing this part of offenders’ sentences.  But that is part of the story, if you actually report the story objectively.

Enforcement of living restrictions is complicated.  At what point do restrictions become too onerous?  Too cost-inefficient?  How many men are returning to prison for violating them?  How many of these men attacked additional victims while they were breaking the laws?  Are strict registration rules, without living restrictions, perhaps the better choice?

Or do living restriction laws offer poor communities the only chance to avoid becoming dumping grounds for huge numbers of sex offenders, even if it is a piecemeal, inefficient approach?

The Times doesn’t care to answer such questions. Faced with a complex subject, they retreat to their preferred narrative, that the men living under the Julia Tuttle Bridge are victims of government oppression:

Under the bridge on Thursday, tents and plywood shacks competed for space with rusty bicycles, a skinny cat, and a beige lawn chair. In a sign of the camp’s bereft permanence, a yellow electrical cord attached to a generator snaked through the camp flat against the ground, pounded by countless footsteps.

Bereft permanence.  And make that completely innocent victims: otherwise, the narrative grows muddy.  But how do you make the case that these seventy convicted sexual offenders are innocents deserving of sympathy?   Shockingly, rather than reporting their official records, the reporter does this by allowing the offenders he interviews to describe their own crimes:

Patrick Wiese, 48 . . . said he served time in prison after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately. . .

Look at how carefully the reporter crafts this phrase: “after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately.”  Having her . . . touch . . . inappropriately.  A whisper of a crime.  A transitory moment, a merely “inappropriate” gesture, and now he lives under a bridge, poor man, poor Humbert Humbert, three solid years of the countless pounding footsteps and extension cords and relentless sun.

Of course, that is not what really happened.

Here are the crimes for which Patrick Wiese was convicted: three counts of molesting a child under the age of 12 over a period of nine months.  The disposition is available on-line.  Why would a reporter fail to check the record?

Or rather, which is worse: failing to check the official record, or checking it and then intentionally misrepresenting it?

I have a hard time believing that the Times wouldn’t bother to do a simple, on-line fact check, so I think the reporter looked at Patrick Wiese’s record and tried to figure out how to make Wiese sound as “innocent” as possible, even though the only way of doing so would be to collude in obfuscating — denying — his repeated sexual assault of a young child.

The Times, after all, wanted its readers to see only one thing: a bridge, with broken men huddled beneath it, abused by the world, not abusers.  And so the reporter, doing his job, denied through careful omission repeated instances of sexual torture in the interest of advancing this agenda.

You know, like Rumsfeld did with Abu Ghraib.

Only when Abu Ghraib happened, the Times howled to the heavens.  Then, they took a stand in favor of total transparency.  They rejected arguments about the safety of the troops in wartime, calling them a smokescreen for a political agenda.  They published an “important,” line-in-the-sand essay in which Susan Sontag raged over the horror of subjecting male prisoners to sexual abuse, titled “Regarding the Torture of Others.”  They published scores of other articles exploring every aspect of those violations, slowly, graphically, outragedly.

Add to that, ironically.  For when this Times reporter was required by routine standards of journalistic accuracy to note the repeated sexual assault — the repeated sexual torture — of a child, “under twelve,” the Times allowed that crime to be swept under the carpet in the interest of advancing their agenda.

Some victims of repeated sexual abuse are just more important than others, I suppose.

It would have taken one sentence to present a correct record of Patrick Wiese’s crimes.  Not only should the Times have done that, but given the subject of the article, they should have noted his denial of the serious nature of his crime alongside the official record documenting it.  The article, after all, was supposed to be about measures taken to address recidivism by sexual offenders.

How do you justify talking about recidivism policy while denying the recidivist nature of the crimes committed by the very person you are using to illustrate the subject?

Consider the particular horror of this instance of child sexual abuse.  The victim was a child, under twelve; she was forced to live with her rapist.  He had access to her all of the time; she was also forced, for months, or years, to behave as if the rape was not happening.  She had to go to sleep at night with him in the house.  She was told by him that she was the one who was guilty of touching him.  She was told that “touching” him (one must assume sexually manipulating him) was a minor thing, nothing to take seriously or tell.  And then, after enduring the horror of repeated assault, then police interviews, and frightening exams, and a terribly frightening trial, a reporter comes along and says to the world precisely what the rapist said to her: “She touched him.”  “Yeah, it was inappropriate.  Touching.”

I know several victims of childhood sexual assault, and this type of denial on the part of others is every bit as soul-corroding as the assaults themselves.

Consider this, too: anyone who works with childhood sexual abuse victims will tell you that prosecuting abusers is incredibly difficult because circumstances make it very easy to avoid leaving the types of physical evidence that can hold up in court.  After all, offenders live with their victims; they often dress them and undress them and bathe them and lie down next to them in their beds, so unless a child-victim is so severely injured that he or she is brought to the hospital directly following an assault in which semen was left behind, or the victim is infected with a traceable venereal disease, there is little chance of proving forcible rape.  Oral sodomy is even more difficult to prove.

So when I see an offender with a record of one or three instances of “inappropriate touching,” I suspect that’s the tip of the iceberg.  I suspect the conviction is the result of a plea bargain agreed to just to get the sick bastard away from the child and onto a registry, which is the most victims can reasonably hope for in the courts these days, as jurors increasingly demand DNA evidence or actual photographs of the crime.

One would think the amount of denial of crime that is built into our criminal justice system would be enough: enough of a burden to place on victims; more than enough of a burden to place on a child who has been forced to live with her abuser until somebody finally forced him to live somewhere else.  Like under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami.

But in the newsroom of the New York Times, there is never enough crime denial, never enough opportunities to bury what has been done to victims in order to make the offenders the only real victims in sight.

The Tech Crime Wave. What Can Be Done. What Can’t Be Done.

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What can be done about crime in the neighborhoods around Georgia Tech?  As reported by the AJC, the youths who have been arrested — and the ones who are yet to be caught — are perhaps the most dangerous type of criminal: immature and armed.  As James Fetig, an administrator at Georgia Tech, observed:

“[o]ne concern is the age of the criminals. Police tell us they are between 16 and 19,” Fetig said. “This is not a time when young men tend to consider consequences. We are very concerned that one of these robberies could go terribly wrong and have terrible consequences.”

Here is another concern: young men charged with gun crimes often walk out of courtrooms in Atlanta with little or no punishment — merely emboldened to commit more crime.  How often does this happen?  Nobody will say.  The DA’s office does not release such statistics.  The AJC has done nothing to produce such numbers.  The Fulton County Justices will not tell us.  The Clerk of Court?  Ha.

It is amazing that something so clearly in the public interest as the disposition and sentencing in criminal cases is secreted away from public scrutiny.  Yet, there it is.  And that is a major reason why people in Home Park and elsewhere throughout Atlanta will continue to live as prisoners in their own homes.

When you look at instances where prosecution and sentencing statistics have been released, it is easy to see why judges (and, sometimes, prosecutors) don’t wish for the public to know how they are spending their time.  In Orlando, Florida, which has an active court-watching culture, the Orlando Sentinel conducted this shocking study of sentences handed down for gun crimes:

The state’s 10-20-Life law — passed by state legislators and signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999 — promised crime-weary voters that armed criminals would face long, no-bargain prison terms. Florida quickly spent $500,000 on newspaper, radio and TV ads spreading the message: “Pull a gun: 10 years. Fire a gun: 20 years. Shoot someone: 25 years to life.” . . .

[B]ut few suspects in Orange County get such tough mandatory penalties even as the campaign to end gun violence enters its 10th year, the Orlando Sentinel has found.

Only 5 percent of 7,437 suspects arrested in Orange County on gun charges from 2003 through 2007 received mandatory sentences, court and prison records show.

The record is even worse for suspects arrested with an AK-47 or other assault weapons, those military-style rifles that police officials say warrant the most serious punishment when misused. Just less than 2 percent of such cases in Orange County produced mandatory terms.

Do not believe that Atlanta is any different.  It may be worse.  It is the rule, not the exception, that offenders get a free pass on their first adult conviction.  It is the rule, not the exception, that most cases get pled down, usually a process involving prosecutors agreeing to redefine the charge to avoid minimum mandatory laws.  In Orlando:

Records show a third of all gun cases in Orange County were dropped by prosecutors who screen incoming cases. Additional cases were dismissed, bargained down or acquitted — casualties of evidence problems and the need to keep nearly 80,000 cases moving through justice system every year.

The vast majority of suspects receive very little punishment.

And when a defendant caught with a gun does not get charged, he may still qualify, the next time, for judges’ absurd passion for letting all “first time offenders” walk free.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out exactly how many times the Georgia Tech area defendants have been arrested and released, or allowed to plead down, as in the following?

What happened to Daryl Barndo Ford demonstrates why tough sentences are rare.

Four years ago, the 22-year-old was arrested in Orlando when drug agents seized a fully automatic assault rifle, a pistol and 16 grams of crack cocaine.

Because Ford was a felon with six prior arrests, state and federal laws prohibited him from having any type of firearm. When caught hiding under his mother’s bed, Ford had eluded three arrest warrants for weeks by sleeping in local motels rather than the family’s Clear Lake home.

The AR-15 rifle found in Ford’s locked bedroom had been converted illegally to fire automatically like a machine gun, according to police reports. Two ammunition magazines were taped together so the weapon could be reloaded instantly after firing a 20- or 30-shot burst.

As part of 10-20-Life, Ford faced a minimum three-year sentence if the office of Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar successfully prosecuted him as a felon with a firearm.

Problems arose when police did not want to disclose the identity of an informant who led them to Ford. And Ford’s mother would not say whether Ford had exclusive access to the locked bedroom. So prosecutors cut a deal.

Dropped were felony charges of dealing crack, possessing a machine gun, possessing a gun with altered serial numbers — a common sign of a stolen weapon — and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Ford pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.

His punishment: 23 days in jail.

Since then, Ford has been arrested six more times on drug and gun charges. His longest sentence to date: six months in county jail.

Ford has now accumulated a dozen known arrests for drug and gun charges.  He is a repeat felon.  And judges and prosecutors in Florida still have not obeyed state laws requiring them to sentence him to at least three, if not ten years behind bars.

How do people like Ford continue to walk?  Why do judges get away with ignoring the will of the people, who have decided, legislatively, that certain crimes require mandatory minimum sentences?  Usually, it appears, prosecutors simply do not try to put offenders away for the minimum time because they are overwhelmed by cases.  Pleas must be negotiated in nearly all cases if prosecutors are going to have the time to prosecute anyone.  Why is the system like this in the first place?  Because, contrary to what the mayor and academicians and newspapers will tell you, we have lots of crime and lots of criminals.

We also release criminals back to the streets every day because the criminal bar has succeeded in twisting the system until it simply does not resemble a rational search for the truth.  The ridiculous latitude in suppressing evidence, for example, efficiently and speedily re-delivers criminals to the streets,  No other country has a system so hell-bent on excluding evidence from scrutiny.

And so, Daryl Ford loose on the streets with his dozen convictions is what we get.  We get streets saturated with criminal activity, so much so that authorities are forced to simply throw up their hands and say: We know they’re guilty, but we have to let them go.  We know they will eventually kill innocent people, but we don’t have the resources to even begin enforcing our own laws as they are written.

And still, the Pew Foundation and the editorialists and many criminologists keep telling us that the problem is too much incarceration, too harsh sentencing.  These claims do not even begin to stand up to real evidence, of course:

Light sentences are no rarity in assault-weapons cases. In the 243 cases analyzed by the [Orlando] Sentinel that went to court, prosecutors won 112 convictions, but just seven suspects received the 10-20-Life penalties. In 43 cases, the state dropped the gun-related charges in return for pleas to lesser crimes, such as possession of drug paraphernalia.

Of those convicted, 83 served less than a year in jail. The median sentence was six months. . .

All charges were dropped in 40 percent of the 243 cases. Reasons for those 97 dismissals included insufficient evidence and problems with victims and witnesses.

The remaining 34 cases include defendants still awaiting trial, fugitives and seven defendants tried in U.S. District Court under federal law. Two of the federal suspects were acquitted over an invalid search warrant. The other five received sentences of five to 17 1/2 years.

Out of 243 cases of gun crime in Orlando in 2008 involving assault-weapons, only seven defendants received the minimum penalty required by law.  This is not the type of fact you will find in the highly influential Pew Center report urging lawmakers to cut back on incarcerating convicts — because we’re just too harsh on the poor guys.  It is not the type of fact you will find in most newspaper articles purporting to examine the criminal justice system.

It is the type of fact you should think about the next time you are staying late at the library and need to figure out how to safely make your way home.  And it is definitely what students should think about after they matriculate and leave the dangerous parts of town behind, because there are still children living in those places, without a way out.

What can Georgia Tech students and all the other beleaguered residents of Home Park do to make their streets safer, not just temporarily, or for this semester?  They should go to court.  They should go watch a day or a few days of processing violent criminals, and tell other people what they saw there.  They should take that Orlando Sentinel article and try to replicate that research in their own city — or pressure the newspaper to do so (newspapers being in the business of trying to get readers to read them these days), because catching gun-wielding criminals is only the first part of keeping them off the streets.

We don’t even know how bad it is in the courts.  We don’t know what we don’t know, and there is little excuse for not knowing it in a metro area with hundreds of thousands of undergraduates, thousands of professors, three law schools, and millions of residents.

The Next Step for Georgia Court Watching

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I have been watching the growth of court-watching in Georgia, and it is encouraging to see the practice taking hold.  Nothing will change on the streets until public scrutiny is brought to bear on the courts, where evidence abounds that judges have been breaking and bending the intent of Georgia’s sentencing laws with no professional consequences whatsoever.

No consequences for judges, even when they actually violate Georgia’s sentencing laws.  No prosecutor dare complain when a judge cuts an illicit deal with an offender — because the prosecutor must appear before that judge, or one of that judge’s peers and colleagues, every single day.  You can’t be critical of judges and be effective in the courtroom.  So there are no consequences for judges, even when their decision to overlook the law or their failure to do their jobs with appropriate diligence results in preventable murders, like the killing of Dr. Eugenia Calle.

The judiciary is far too much an insider’s club — loyal only to each other and unwilling to hold their peers to appropriate standards of conduct.  Does anyone disagree?

Thus, court-watching.  The judiciary behaves better when they know they are being watched.  And when they don’t behave better, someone will be there to see it and report it to others, maybe even complain about it.  To whom do you complain?  That’s a subject for another day. The next step for Atlanta is to create a site where all the different court watchers can report on the courtroom decisions they witness — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Atlanta’s court watchers could not adapt a better communication model than Orlando CourtWatch’s.  Here is their blog and here is their organizational website.  This nonprofit has trained 150 volunteers in two years and monitored more than 7,000 hearings.  With the exception of a proliferation of Snow Whites and Goofys, Orlando has a good deal in common with Atlanta, demographically and crime-wise, so the same could certainly happen in Atlanta.

Orlando CourtWatch is organized differently from the Atlanta program, which is being run through the D.A.’s office.  The Orlando CourtWatch organization is an independent 501-c3 with one paid staff member, and their primary focus is domestic violence courts.  But the organizing model would apply to any court.  And having a program independent of the D.A. is useful in many ways, not least of which being that independent court watchers could speak out without worrying that they are endangering prosecutions by doing so.

In terms of impacting public safety, I think court watching is every bit as vital as neighborhood watches.  When offenders are permitted to cycle through the system, they are not only free to commit more crime: the local system gets depleted of funds as it addresses the same criminals over and over again.

So lives get endangered (including the lives of all those 18-year old criminals, for those who exclusively sympathize with them), tax dollars get squandered, and nothing gets resolved.

Tomorrow: Georgia Tech Crime Wave, and What to Watch for in a Court

An Important Law Georgia Still Does Not Have: Arrestee DNA Databasing

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Back in the 1990’s, Georgia Lt. Governor Mark Taylor made it a priority to build the state’s DNA crime database.  He did this long before other states got on board, and for many years Georgia was rightly viewed as a leader in using DNA to solve violent crimes.  Taylor was driven by his strong commitment to victims of rape and child molestation who had been denied justice.  He did not heed the civil rights and convict rights lobbies who tried to stir up hysteria over using DNA to solve crimes (ironically, these same activists are howling over the Supreme Court’s utterly reasonable decision last week not to enshrine post-conviction DNA as a blanket, federal right, when 46 states already guarantee it, as even Barry Scheck admits: don’t believe virtually anything you read about this case on the editorial pages).

Taylor’s leadership on DNA databasing yielded an extraordinary number of database “hits” long before other states got their databases up and running.  In 1998, only convicted and incarcerated sex offenders were required to submit DNA samples in Georgia, yet 13 repeat-offender rapists were immediately linked to other sexual assaults, and scores of “unidentified offender” profiles were readied to be used if those offenders were finally caught and tested.

The convicted-and-imprisoned-sex-offenders-only database also revealed a chilling reality: many of the prolific rapists whose DNA matched other sex assaults had only ever been convicted of non-sex crimes such as drug crimes, burglary, and robbery.

Any prosecutor of a certain age will tell you that, before DNA evidence, it was so difficult to prosecute rapists that prosecutors often made the choice to allow rapists to plead to non-sex offenses such as burglary just to (temporarily) get them off the streets.  This strategy was directed at serial, stranger sex offenders who were known to the cops but managed to avoid conviction because the public was so resistant to finding anyone guilty of rape.  Taylor’s database made this injustice to victims visible.

Unfortunately, the types of injustice (to victims) and justice (against offenders) the database revealed was of little interest to the media.

Nevertheless, for several years, Georgia’s DNA database quietly withstood efforts by “civil rights” activists to shut it down.  In 2000, the legislature expanded DNA testing to all incarcerated felons: 70 crimes were immediately solved, including serial rapes committed by convicts who had no prior rape convictions.

In 2007, the legislature expanded the database again, adding felony probationers — that weird category, the existence of which should splash some cold water on heartfelt feelings that we are far too harsh in sentencing and imprisoning criminals.  In the real world, even violent felons still routinely walk away with nothing more than probation for their crimes.

As of a year ago, thanks to the expansion of the database, 12 of these “felony probationers” were linked to serious crimes through DNA.  That’s 12 fewer violent offenders on the streets.

Still, no paper.  Few headlines.  Fewer editorials.  And, eventually, Georgia began to fall behind other states in DNA databasing.

As I write this, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has briefly emerged from his offender-kumbaya-fervor to sign a bill requiring all people arrested for felonies to submit DNA samples for analysis — just like they submit photographs and fingerprints.  Florida now joins 20 other states that are using DNA to investigate and solve crimes (Denver D.A. Mitchell R. Morrissey has a good website explaining the use of DNA in the courts).

But Georgia still languishes on the list of states that do not require DNA samples to be drawn upon arrest for a felony.  Here is a chart comparing state laws from the DNA Resource Report.

In 2008, the Georgia Legislature did pass Senate Bill 430, which started out as a felony arrestee DNA database bill but got watered down through the legislative process.  It emerged as little more than a statement affirming that prosecutors may ask the GBI to check a suspect’s DNA sample against the existing database so long as “the sample was obtained through a search warrant, consent of the suspect, court order, or other lawful means.”  Then it concludes: “The bureau [GBI] shall not add a DNA profile of any such suspect to any DNA data bank except upon conviction.”

In other words, a bill that started out attempting to add felony arrestees to the state database morphed into a bill specifically restricting arrestee DNA from being added to the state database.  I’d like to know the story behind this watering-down, particularly as it occurred at the same time when other states were successfully expanding their DNA databases to include felony arrestee samples under certain conditions.

Why did Georgia fold?  Is there another bill in the works?

If you still aren’t convinced that arrestee DNA databasing is an urgent need, take a look at the website for DNA Saves, the organization Dave and Jayann Sepich started after their daughter Katie was raped, strangled and set on fire in New Mexico in 2003.  Her offender was arrested and convicted of several other crimes, but his DNA had never been databased, so her murder went unsolved and he went free to continue attacking women for three years after Katie’s death.

How many victims of murder and rape in Georgia would have been protected by such a law?

Meanwhile, here is a statement from FDLE commissioner Gerald Bailey to the St. Petersburg Times correcting some of its inaccurate and fear-mongering press on the issue of arrestee DNA:

A valuable tool in fighting crime

Your editorial regarding the new Florida Department of Law Enforcement DNA database legislation failed to provide the public with a full picture.

This initiative, once funded, will expand Florida’s DNA database to include samples from persons arrested for felonies. The process is no different from the way Florida already stores and handles fingerprints from arrests. Like the current law on fingerprints, the DNA legislation has provisions for removal of the file when a person arrested for a felony meets certain requirements.

The database in its current form has been a great investment for our citizens; every month it generates an astounding 230 hits. These hits match an unknown DNA sample left at a crime scene to a known felon whose DNA is already on file, or links two or more unsolved crimes. It’s an invaluable investigative tool.

Including felony arrests means more samples in the DNA database and more crimes solved. It also means crimes will be solved faster and, most important, crimes will be prevented. Taking DNA at the first felony arrest ensures that DNA is taken from those offenders who evade felony conviction time and time again. It ensures that DNA from the first felony will be matched to that offender’s next crime, halting further victimization and saving lives.

Florida becomes the 21st state to take samples from felony arrestees. There is no other tool that can prevent violent crimes as efficiently and effectively as this. The Legislature got it right. Our citizens expect this level of protection. I think they deserve it.

Gerald Bailey, commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee

I certainly deserved it: too bad it wasn’t there to help me in Florida when I needed it.  Worse, too bad it still doesn’t exist to protect victims in Georgia.

That Perception of Crime Thing

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I stop by the convenience store near my house a few times a week. It is the only store for a few miles in either direction, on a rural stretch of highway.  There’s a stop light, the divided highway, a single train track, the convenience store, and then 55+ trailer parks, tomato fields, and cow pastures leading out to the bay.  If you drive south on the highway, you hit the county line.

In other words, it is a perfect target for crime.  Easy-in, easy-out, with little traffic and a good view of the people coming and going.  The women who work as cashiers there are world-weary.  They are bitter and fatalistic about the fact that they keep getting robbed.  When I spoke with one of them a few weeks ago, she seemed a little embarrassed that she was even upset about the latest armed robbery.  She looks like somebody who has had few breaks in life and has learned not to complain.  She stands less than five feet tall and might weigh 100 pounds soaking wet, as they say.  Like most of the store’s employees, including the security guard they have hired, she is a senior citizen.  Once you get to be in your sixties, it’s hard enough to find work.

Frustration was visible in her eyes as she described the robbery-before-the-last-one.  She gets up and goes to work every day, and then she has to deal with constant worry when she gets there.

The store is part of a chain, and the owners have spent significant amounts of money on security, which, of course, gets passed on to all of us.  They installed cameras and hired a security guard.  Now there are signs in English and Spanish telling customers that the cashiers will not change large bills and that cash is deposited into a locked safe during business hours.  The next step, I suppose, is bulletproof glass, but the employees will still have to come out from behind the glass to stock shelves.  It is no way to live, sitting behind bulletproof glass.  And (shades of Florida, and the generational divide) what will happen when the cashiers need to go outside to smoke their cigarettes?

Apparently, the robbers never get much cash, but this does not stop them from coming back.  The cashier looked jumpy as she told me this.  She is angry that these men would rob working people.  She is angry that her life is being put on the line for a handful of twenties and a few rolls of change.  “They took quarters,” she said, disgusted.

Meanwhile, last Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke before the National Institute for Justice about ways the Justice Department is working to reduce the stigma of having a criminal record.  “Prisoner re-entry” is the feel-good buzzword of the year.  The feds are gearing up to spend massive amounts of taxpayer dollars on programs to help criminals “re-enter” society (I worked for a man who got a grant from the City of Atlanta to do this: he was supposed to teach repeat offenders how to produce rap videos as “job-training.”  I suppose it is a silver lining that he did not really bother to do the work).

Now the Justice Department is sponsoring research that looks to me to be laying the groundwork to conceal criminal records from prospective employers — on the unsurprising grounds that employers tend to choose non-criminal over criminal applicants for any given job.  The idea that people who do not have criminal records actually merit a leg-up over people who have committed crimes is not the type of idea that gets bandied around in research circles, of course.

Attorney General Holder feels the problem lies not with the character of people who commit crimes but with the way the public perceives people with criminal records.  He said:

Most employers perform criminal background checks on everyone they consider hiring and have varying levels of concern about the criminal records of prospective employees. That means that people with criminal records are always vulnerable to being turned down for a job. In many cases, employers may want to hire an otherwise qualified person, but they feel that his or her criminal record suggests a future risk of criminal conduct. Without some ability to assess whether a person with a criminal record presents a greater risk than someone else, they prefer to err on the side of caution and pass him or her over.

This new research – which is preliminary and ongoing – has found that there may well be a point at which someone who has committed a crime is no longer at any greater risk of committing a future crime than someone who has never committed a crime before.

Why not let employers decide whether or not an ex-felon seems to have reformed himself enough to merit being trusted with a job?  Is it now out of bounds to suggest that acknowledging one’s criminal past is part of rehabilitation?  Holder apparently feels it is within the mission of the Justice Department to reform (conceal?) the reputation of people with criminal records, even at considerable cost to the rest of us — the employer who is liable if someone they hire robs them or harms someone else while on the job; the safety of employees who are not made aware that their co-workers are ex-felons.

What Attorney General Holder did not say is more telling than what he did say.  He did not mention punishing criminals as deterrence, of course (such talk is strictly taboo).  He did not address the needs of people who have been victimized.  What he chose to speak about was the needs of ex-cons and his desire to change the way other people perceive them.

How exactly, one might ask, would researchers determine the “point at which someone who has committed a crime is no longer at any greater risk of committing a future crime than someone who has never committed a crime before”?  This sort of stuff smacks of manufacturing desired results.  Can anyone imagine criminologists announcing, at this stage of the game, that their “preliminary and ongoing” research has actually revealed that employers are taking unacceptable risks when they hire people with criminal records?  No, the point of funding this research is to support the Attorney General’s stated goal of “prisoner reentry.”  The table is set in advance.  Statistical justifications will doubtlessly follow.

To put it another way, the head of the law enforcement branch of our government has nothing to say to the hard-working convenience store clerk down the road from me who keeps getting robbed at her job because he has chosen, instead, to offer job assistance to the men who keep robbing her.

Shedding Light on the Problem: Recidivism, Neighborhood Activism, and The Courts

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Midtown Atlanta Neighborhood Association safety chair Randall Cobb, commenting in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about two stabbings in Piedmont Park, got it right:

“Crime has not gone down in the city, no matter what the city says they’re doing,” [he said] noting a spike in Midtown break-ins and armed robberies since 2007.

“It’s organized crime,” he said. “These are not crackheads looking for a quick turnaround. These guys are moving into a neighborhood and hitting it with everything they have.”

It’s recidivism.  It’s the failure of the courts, where a defendant has to experience a pretty darned unlucky day to end up being put in prison at the end of it.  Courts in Metro Atlanta are leaking like sieves.  They’re broken.  They have become vehicles for empathy, where judges call themselves “change agents” and victims and the public get treated like interlopers.  Prosecutors drop cases because they can’t handle their caseloads, or worse.  Cops don’t have the resources to work through a case and then show up in court for three or five or ten appearances, often on their own time.

Defense attorneys and defendants know they can make charges go away simply by asking for more time, by invoking delays, by exploiting the system in a thousand different ways.

It is too bad that residents who already pay taxes must then turn around and monitor the courts, and patrol their own neighborhoods, because City Hall and the Superior Court are failing so miserably in their duties.  But, there it is.  Luckily, there is no shortage of intelligent people willing to make these sacrifices, and the internet is now enabling them to share information in entirely new ways.

Court-watching is the new neighborhood patrol, as citizens realize that it is not enough to work with the police in their own neighborhoods.  They have to make sure that after an offender is caught, he does not catch an easy plea or an easy judge.

I’m hearing about all sorts of new court-watching efforts these days, not just in Atlanta, but around the country.  The best website I’ve seen comes out of Orlando, Florida, where two victims of life-altering domestic violence started going to court to observe the outcomes in other battering cases.  Ann Lickteig was beaten so brutally that she required several hours of neurosurgery: nevertheless, her batterer was acquitted.  Laura S. Williams lost her two-year old daughter when her ex-husband killed the child, and himself.  Somehow, these women find the strength to go to court every week and report on what goes on there.

The first thing most court-watchers realize, I think, is that what happens in a criminal courtroom is nothing like popular culture ideas about justice.  Consider this: as of 2002, the most recent federal numbers, one out of four armed robbers did not even get sentenced to prison after they were found guilty of the crime.  That makes armed robbery an even safer bet, for the robber that is, especially if he is a juvenile or does not yet have a record.  Judges’ routine abuse of first-offender rules make first-offender status a veritable get-out-of-jail free card, and sometimes two or three if nobody bothers to check to defendant’s record in other jurisdictions.  So why not stroll into Piedmont Park and pull a gun or a knife on someone?

Even when defendants get convicted, the sentences are usually risible.  The idea that we are too hard on defendants, that prison terms are unduly harsh and cruel, simply does not survive in the light of facts.  Beloved as these themes may be to Pew Center researchers, criminologists, and crusading journalists, it is not uncommon to discover that the man who got caught breaking into your back door has been caught and released, like some burglar fish, five, ten or twenty times in the past.  What is actually uncommon these days is to encounter a criminal who has not been through the system and let go again almost immediately.

Here is a typical post from Courtwatch Orlando:

Last week I saw a no contest plea in the case of State v. Eberson Florial (2009CF960) in front of Judge Bob LeBlanc. Florial was initially charged with Domestic Battery by Strangulation, but the formal charge was Felony Battery – Great Bodily Harm. Florial was sentenced to 2 days in jail with credit for time served (the Statute requires 5 days), enroll in a Batterers’ Intervention Program (BIP), and 18 months probation.

Where to begin?  Imagine being sentenced to two days in jail for the crime of Felony Battery — Great Bodily Harm.  The statute “requires” five days.  Five days?  And still, the judge did not enforce it?  The blogger here lays a good bit of blame on the state prosecutor for not asking for more, and that is a problem in Atlanta, too.  But when you look at a sentence like this, how can you not conclude that every party — from the legislature that permitted the sentencing, to the prosecutor who agreed to the plea, to the judge who did not enforce even the minimal law in this case — have utterly failed at their jobs?  Here is what the blogger thinks:

I am delighted to see the State include [Batterer’s Intervention Program] in the sentence (it’s not often we see this in felony court). The kudos to Judge LeBlanc are because he asked the State if there was also to be a no contact order or, at a minimum, a “no hostile” contact provision added to the sentence. The State admitted that it wasn’t part of the plea negotiations, but the judge included a “no hostile” provision in the sentence.

If the judges begin to hold the State accountable for negotiated sentences according to what Florida Statute requires, I think the judicial system will begin to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes more effectively than it sometimes does now.

“If judges begin to hold the State accountable for negotiated sentences according to what Florida Statute requires.”  In other words, judges and prosecutors in Florida are not following the law any more than judges and prosecutors in Atlanta.

And that is why the guy who climbed into your back window last month is climbing into your neighbor’s window right now.  It’s important to get more cops back on the streets (not least because they need to be paid for the time they spend preparing evidence for cases and appearing in court to testify), but that is only the beginning.

In Atlanta, several neighborhood groups have begun the process of watching the courts by sharing information about the criminal histories of defendants caught in their area.  Trolley Patrol, a fee-based protection service that covers several southeast Atlanta neighborhoods, has launched a website with information about court watching and information about arrestees.  The “i-neighbors” networks spread out over the city have become places where residents do their own crime mapping and even crime solving.

With the critical mass of anti-crime organizing going on in Atlanta right now, I hope it won’t be long before a more formalized program of watching the courts takes hold.  Just don’t expect elected officials, or the judiciary, to welcome this scrutiny.  They like things just the way they are.

Bloody Outrage: Another Murder That Could Have Been Prevented — Updated

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CORRECTION TO THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE:  A reader informed me that the names of judges currently presiding over a court division in Florida attach to previous cases from that division — therefore, the judge listed online may not be the same judge who meted out a previous sentence in that division.  I have corrected the following story to reflect this.

Why this happens is another issue.  There ought to be real transparency in court proceedings, and it shouldn’t require a trip to the courthouse or a phone call to sometimes-unresponsive clerks to discover how a particular judge ruled on a particular case — who let a sex assailant and child abuser go free, to kill another victim, for instance.

Corrections are underlined.  If anyone can provide the names of these judges, please let me know.  I can’t access the dockets — although I pay these judges’ salaries, and so do you.

In the St. Petersburg Times this morning:

Sex offender accused of pregnant St. Petersburg teen’s death

Polk County Sheriff’s deputies have arrested a 36-year-old St. Petersburg man for the murder of a pregnant teen whose body was found Monday in Davenport.

Aurelio Martinez, (left) a registered sex offender, was arrested at about 7 a.m. on a second degree murder charge for the killing of 17-year-old Bria Metz.

I looked up Martinez’ sex offender record. In October, 1997, in Dade County (Miami), Martinez was convicted of burglary with assault and battery and sexual battery. He was also convicted of probation violation because he was on probation at the time of the attack.

Serious stuff, right? Burglary, assault and battery, sexual assault? So what did the presiding judge do? He or she sentenced him to probation. Probation for burglary, assault, a sex crime, and violating probation.

I guess the judge figured Martinez was getting good at probation. He’d been been on it for so long.

There’s a problem, though: the judge was not supposed to sentence Martinez to probation for these crimes. There’s another problem, too. Because some judge let Martinez go, probably in violation of Florida sentencing law, Martinez was free to commit felony child abuse with injury to the child in 2003.

In November, 2003, in Hollywood, Florida (Broward County), Aurelio Martinez and Amy Andrea Young were charged with child abuse, presumably of Ms. Young’s child. Police actually filed two charges against Martinez: felony child abuse and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Judge Carlos Rodriguez presided, the weapons charge apparently disappeared (of course), and Martinez was sentenced to three years in prison.

Here is where it gets confusing, at least from what can be seen on-line. The child abuse and assault with a deadly weapon crimes were committed on 11/2003. Martinez was sentenced in 7/2005, twenty months later. Was he in prison during that time? Or was he on probation again, until he violated that probation as well? Broward County wants me to pay for access to that part of the website — the charge is five dollars simply to find out Martinez’s sentence. That’s nuts.

[Note to Howard C. Forman, Clerk of Courts, Broward County: I already pay for that website. It’s called taxes.]

My guess is that Martinez was in jail awaiting sentencing. It would be nice to think so — nice to think that the judge hadn’t given him probation again, for beating a child. In any case, he entered the state prison system in 7/2005 and got out 25 months later, which is either two years behind bars or nearly four years behind bars, depending on what happened in 2004.

In 2006, during the time he was in prison, he was also sentenced to one year and three months in the 1997 “burglary/assault-and-battery/sexual assault” charge in Dade County. Maybe he was going to get out early from the child abuse charge, and they finally decided to give him some time for “burglary/assault-and-battery/sexual assault/parole violation.” Or maybe it took them several months to figure out that he was on probation in another county for serious felony charges.

If they did decide to give him a bit of time for the sexual assault, finally, it wasn’t much, and it was served concurrently with the felony child abuse sentence.

Are you enraged yet? I’m enraged. Probation for a sex crime, even after violating probation, and then less than two years for the sex crime after his probation was revoked because he’d violated probation a third time and committed felony violence against a child, and he still didn’t even serve all of that sentence? Do we have absolutely no standards? And still, the academicians and activists and the Pew Foundation whimper:

“We’ve got too many people behind bars. We’re a fascist state.”

But, of course, it gets worse.

Let’s start at the beginning. Only, we can’t do that, because juvenile records are sealed. Oh, well. Aurelio Martinez’s first adult charge, unsurprisingly, occurred months after his 18th birthday. Funny how that happens: I wonder what he was doing before he aged out of juvenile. The 1991 charge was for loitering and resisting arrest. It was dropped. Whatever. It didn’t take long for Martinez to get into serious trouble. In 1994, he was convicted of felony burglary, felony grand theft, felony possession of burglary tools, and carrying a concealed weapon.

You know where this is going. Three felony convictions? Probation, of course. Some judge let him go. One year of probation, starting 12/15/94. What was this judge thinking? What is he thinking today, after the murder?

Another charge against Martinez was decided by the judge that day — it has a different case number and different filing date. I’m not sure if it is a totally separate offense. In any case, felony armed burglary in that case was dropped (thank you, plea bargains), felony cocaine possession and concealed weapon charges were disposed with probation, and probation violation was disposed with terminating probation. But at the end of the day, Martinez walked out of court on probation anyway.

Get it?

“But we’re a fascist state. We’re so hard on criminals.”

Imagine being the police officer who had to arrest Martinez, knowing full well he was armed, that he had used weapons, that he had a record.

Imagine being the social worker walking into his home a few years later to try to rescue a child. We send unarmed child protection workers into homes where there are armed felons. We expect unarmed child protection workers to challenge the authority of armed felons.

“But we’re a fascist state.”

Nobody asks judges to do what we ask of unarmed child protection workers and police officers. Perhaps if we asked them to confront the violent people they send back into the community in the communities they send them to, sentencing patterns would change.

What is the matter with our judges? In this case, it looks very much like at least one judge broke the law. But even if he didn’t — even if there was some loophole that permitted that judge to let Martinez walk free — why, in his judgment, did that seem like the right thing to do? How does any judge justify putting armed felons back on the streets, with no time served?

If no judge broke the law in releasing Martinez, clearly there are still problems with our repeat offender laws and minimum mandatory laws that need to be resolved by the legislature.

Because we can’t trust judges to keep us safe.

At least Martinez had to register as a sex offender in 1998, an act that placed his DNA on record and reminded him that his DNA would be in the state database, so if he committed another sexual assault, he could be identified. How many rapes have sex offender registries prevented this way?

But this raises another enforcement issue: is anybody enforcing the sex offender registry laws? In 2001, in Broward County, Martinez violated the registry rules. Adjudication was withheld — in other words, nobody did anything. And then he brutalized a child.

The record so far:

  • 1991: Aurelio Martinez turns 18 and his subsequent crimes become public record.
  • 1994: A judge lets Martinez walk on a fistful of serious, felony charges, including armed burglary.
  • 1997: Another judge lets Martinez walk on even more serious, felony charges, including sexual assault, probation violation, burglary, concealed weapons.
  • 2005: Judge Carlos Rodriguez slaps Martinez on the wrist for felony child abuse charges, drops other weapons charges, and chooses to not use his authority to enhance Martinez’s sentence in any way, despite his record, the unadjudicated sex offender registry violation, and the other times he has violated probation by committing violent crimes.
  • 2007: Freed a few years later, Martinez violates probation again and flees.
  • 2009: By his own admission, Martinez murders pregnant, 17-year old Bria Metz by strangling her.

Another question: did anybody know that Martinez was in St. Petersburg? If so, why wasn’t he picked up before Metz died, but only afterwards? From today’s St. Pete Times:

Martinez, who is currently in the Pinellas County Jail on violation of probation stemming from a 2003 child abuse case, told detectives he was with Metz was at his home the night she disappeared.

Metz wanted money, Martinez told detectives, and he drove her to her grandmothers. The two argued about money and began fighting after Metz threatened to expose their relationship to law enforcement.

Martinez told detectives that he grabbed Metz’ neck and held her for three to five minutes.

Serial judicial leniency claims another life. Bria Metz joins Eugenia Calle, and how many other victims of murder, killed despite numerous chances to put their murderers away?

Vengeance or Injustice: Which Problem is Real?

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From Nicholas Kristof, in Friday’s New York Times:

[W]hile we have breakthrough DNA technologies to find culprits and exculpate innocent suspects, we aren’t using them properly — and those who work in this field believe the reason is an underlying doubt about the seriousness of some rape cases. In short, this isn’t justice; it’s indifference.

Solomon Moore, a colleague of mine at The Times, last year wrote about a 43-year-old legal secretary who was raped repeatedly in her home in Los Angeles as her son slept in another room. The attacker forced the woman to clean herself in an attempt to destroy the evidence.

Tim Marcia, the detective on the case, thought this meant that the perpetrator was a habitual offender who would strike again. Mr. Marcia rushed the rape kit to the crime lab but was told to expect a delay of more than one year.

Kristof’s column underscores a point I’m trying to make with this blog: while many journalists, politicians and activists endlessly complain that our criminal justice system is too harsh, too punitive, and too prone to incarcerate, the reality of crime in America is that the vast majority of criminals get away with virtually all of the crimes they commit and serve very little time for the rest of them. Our standards have become reflexively anti-punitive — the word “standards” hardly fits anymore.

Consequently, we don’t seem to have any problem telling victims that they will have to accept being denied justice. But the moment a victim speaks out — complains, criticizes, vents, or even observes that injustice has been visited upon them — suddenly, their words — mere language — constitute a severe threat to public safety.

Pundits who empathize with the most depraved offenders howl with outrage the moment a victim expresses even mild dissatisfaction with the outcome of a court case. Activists who eagerly search the faces of child killers for glimmers of goodness are the ones most likely to peer into the wounded eyes of a victim and feel a frisson of disgust that vengeance — vengeance — might lurk there. People who advocate lenience for the perpetrators of horrific crimes are the first ones to advocate vigilance in slapping down victims who get too uppity in their demands for recourse and legal rights.

If we policed the streets the way we police victims’ feelings, we wouldn’t have victims of crime in the first place.

I have experienced this troubling conundrum first-hand. Years after I encountered my rapist and learned his potential for sadism, I was astonished to learn that alumni from my college were still trying to get him released from his life sentence for another rape — not because they think he is innocent, and not because he raped me in particular, but just because he exists and is in prison, which automatically qualifies him for empathy. This man has no connection to the small college I attended; he merely lived nearby and brutalized elderly women in Sarasota, where the school is located, and so, in spasms of righteousness, he has become a cause.

Meanwhile, I cannot count the times I have been accused of:

  • wanting to kill or otherwise punish those accused of crime without a trial
  • wanting to put innocent men in prison
  • wanting to lock up children for life upon their first offense
  • subscribing to fascist ideology
  • lacking human feeling

merely because I am a crime victim, advocating for enforcing the law. My sins, as you can see, are many.

Tomorrow: The “Benjy Brigade”: Boston’s Finest Mount an Attack on an Elderly Victim of Rape

Justice Delayed + Tax Dollars Wasted = Justice System Starved

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Apparently, while it may be hard to be a pimp, as the popular song goes, it isn’t particularly hard to be a defendant in a child molestation case:

DragonCon founder’s health might keep him from standing trial

Edward Kramer was charged in 2000 with molestation children

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kramer, first arrested on Aug. 25, 2000, has been indicted on multiple felony charges of child molestation and aggravated child molestation.

He was under house arrest at home in Duluth until last year. Now he can travel but cannot have unsupervised contact with children under 16 and must report his whereabouts every week.

Heck, it isn’t even particularly hard to be a convicted offender — in this case, of a man whose victim was in his early twenties but is developmentally handicapped:

Hillsborough judge allows sex offender to go free during appeals process

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TAMPA — Linda Petruzzi thought her nightmare was over when Senior Judge J. Rogers Padgett sentenced the man who molested her mentally disabled son to 15 years in prison.

But a day later, Richard Martin Chotiner walked out of jail.

The judge allowed the convicted sex offender to remain free on $50,000 bail while an appeals court considers his case, a process that typically takes months or years.

Chotiner, who was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device for a time before his conviction, doesn’t have to wear anything to track his movements now.

The defense bar is derailing our justice system by forcing ever-broadening protections for defendants and convicts. By driving up the cost of getting cases to trial and then dealing with post-conviction appeals, they are stealing justice from the rest of us.

Many in the media are colluding in this crime. Inexplicably esteemed St. Petersburg Times columnist Daniel Ruth (whose crimes against the English language merit an entirely different set of felony charges) got away with a giant legal misrepresentation about the judge who let Chotiner walk after conviction, and the Times, which prides itself on possessing an entire institute of journalists ethics, didn’t even bother to correct him. Ruth wrote an editorial claiming, wrongly, that the judge was required by law to let Chotiner go free on bail after his conviction. Not true: the judge exercised his own “discretion” in releasing the Chotiner, and then he exercised his own discretion again in allowing him to remove his ankle monitor. But who cares? We’re talking about a convicted sex criminal here: empathy over facts, please.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Edward Kramer’s lawyers are playing a reprehensible game with the our tax dollars, trying to up the ante until the state can no longer justify the costs of trying Kramer on three counts of molestation:

An April 29 trial date was postponed Wednesday after Edward Kramer told Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Karen Beyers he was uncertain he could stay awake and alert enough to assist in his own defense. A spinal injury makes it difficult to sit, stand or breathe, and he is chronic pain, he said. . . .

He’s accused of sexually abusing three teenage boys. The mother of two alleged victims, a former friend of Kramer’s, has said Kramer dazzled the boys with action figures, sci-fi memorabilia and celebrity connections. The boys told police that Kramer took advantage of them during sleepovers at his house. . . .

Kramer’s defense attorneys, Edwin Marger and former Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, said that in order for the case to go forward, they will have to prove Kramer is physically competent to stand trial.

“He’s been going through this now for almost nine years and he wants to get it over with,” Marger said.

What is the “this” that Kramer is “going through” that has taken almost nine years? Nothing more than his own lawyers’ machinations to postpone the trial by subverting our justice system.

Pretty strange behavior for a Libertarian. I guess I missed those chapters in Atlas Shrugged where Ayn Rand instructs her acolytes on how to relentlessly milk claims of physical disability in order to postpone fact-finding.

Make that permanently postpone. According to Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, Kramer’s attorneys may indeed succeed in their efforts to derail justice:

“For all this talk about ‘I want a trial,’ Ed Kramer really proved today that he didn’t want a trial because the court made the accommodation for him,” Porter said. “The only trial he wants is the one he controls.”

I hear from many people that Bob Barr is a nice person. Nevertheless, when the issue was handicapped people who weren’t also accused child molesters, he opposed the Americans With Disabilities Act. And here are some oddly jarring quotes from then-Representative Barr’s 1988 efforts to push through the impeachment of President Clinton:

The rule of law finds its highest and best embodiment in the absolute, unshakeable right each of us has to walk into a courtroom and demand the righting of a wrong. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what God you pray to, how large your bank account is, or what office you may hold. If you are an American citizen, no one can stand between you and your access to justice
No one, that is, except a libertarian representing an accused child molester by endlessly gaming the justice system, I suppose.

The Starving Criminal

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Recently, the august St. Petersburg Times sundered a little bit more of its augustness in the interest of chasing down the pocket change that passes for newspaper profits these days.

They started a mug shot page.

Not so long ago, the Times would not have chosen to publish people’s mug shots. Not so long ago, mug shot books were low-tech, if lucrative, publications, run off by the thousands and sold alongside car shopper catalogs in convenience stores to people whose interest in viewing the photos ranged from the personal to the prurient.

Well, we are all prurient now.

In addition to the pictures themselves, the Times posts an odd selection of data culled from the police reports. You can learn how many of the people arrested in the last sixty days have blue eyes (2,736) or weigh more than 300 pounds (98). You cannot learn how many people have been arrested for aggravated assault, or DUI, though you can click on individual mug shots to see the charges filed against that person. You also cannot know the outcome of the charges, whether the person is found innocent or guilty, or what type of sentence is handed down by the courts. The latter would be very useful information, and I do not see why it is so difficult for the Times to put off posting people’s mug shots until they can also report on case outcomes, except that judges frequently behave as if the public has no right to scrutinize the actions of the court. Knowing how much time a person actually gets for trying to kill their wife or causing an accident while drunk would be eye-opening.

But at least we know the color of those eyes.

Scrolling through the images of people who have just been arrested is haunting in more ways than one, though I imagine it quickly becomes routine, like becoming insensitive to violence in movies. Some of the people look terrified, and they are crying. Others look as if they don’t know how to cry. It may be false to imagine that you can read something about a person’s character from his or her mug shot, but many of the arrestees look unfed and unloved — un-nurtured. Scars, tattoos, torn-up faces, unfocused eyes, birth defects, malnutrition, drug ravages, blankness, rage: it is entirely possible to simultaneously pity them and hope they stay behind bars.

The British prison psychiatrist and author, Theodore Dalrymple, has an essay about malnutrition among young men in British jails. It is available at City Journal (“The Starving Criminal“) and in his book, Our Culture, What’s Left of It:

That many young inmates are grossly malnourished when they enter prison I have absolutely no doubt, because each day I see cases of severe malnutrition among those who have recently entered the adult prison in which I work. Of an average daily intake of 20 prisoners, perhaps six, of whom four are drug addicts, show obvious outward signs of malnutrition. A rough estimate (allowing for recidivism) would suggest that perhaps 1,000 malnourished men arrive in my prison annually: that means (if my prison is typical, and there is no reason to suppose otherwise) that each year at least 25,000 malnourished men enter the British prison system. . .

The prisoners’ teeth are falling out; their tongues are glisteningly smooth, angrily magenta red, and the corners of their mouths are cracked, as in vitamin B deficiency. They are in their early twenties to their early thirties.

Prison, Dalrymple observes, fattens these men up. Once free again, they return to starving themselves:

From the dietary point of view, freedom has the same effect upon them as a concentration camp; incarceration restores them to nutritional health. This is a new phenomenon, at least on the scale on which I now see it. Last week, for example, I treated in my hospital a skeletal man who had been released from prison only two months before and had in that short time lost 44 pounds. A recidivist, he had served many short sentences for theft, and his weight went up and down according to whether he was in prison or at liberty. This is a common enough pattern of weight gain and weight loss among the males of my city’s underclass. It has a meaning quite alien to those who believe that modern malnutrition is merely a symptom of poverty and inequality.

Dalrymple locates the cause for this malnourishment in a larger spiritual crisis, not of faith but of parenting and socialization, or rather the lack of these things. He describes one young burglar deprived of the life experience that teaches one to eat normally:

I asked the young man whether his mother had ever cooked for him.

“Not since my stepfather arrived. She would cook for him, like, but not for us children.”

I asked him what they—he and his brothers and sisters—had eaten and how they had eaten it.

“We’d just eat whatever there was,” he said. “We’d look for something whenever we was hungry.”

“And what was there?”

“Bread, cereals, chocolate—that kind of thing.”

“So you never sat round a table and ate a meal together?”

“No.”

In fact, he told me that he had never once eaten at a table with others in the last 15 years. Eating was for him a solitary vice, something done almost furtively, with no pleasure attached to it and certainly not as a social event. The street was his principal dining room, as well as his trash can: and as far as food was concerned, he was more a hunter-gatherer than a man living in a highly evolved society. . . .

It never takes many links in a chain of reasoning to get from their smooth and raw magenta tongues to the kind of family breakdown favored by a certain ideology of human relations, encouraged by our laws and fiscal system, and made viable by welfare payments. It is the breakdown of the family structure—a breakdown so complete that mothers do not consider it part of their duty to feed their own children once they have reached the age at which they can forage for themselves in a refrigerator . . . it is hardly surprising if young people who have not learned to socialize within the walls of their own homes, who have not learned even the minimal social disciplines required by people who eat together, should be completely antisocial in other respects.

One of the things that startled me about the children I met in similar households in Atlanta — before I had seen it enough times to grow insensitive to it — was the utter absence of any normal stimulus or routine, including mealtimes, in their daily lives. My neighbor, D., who produced at least fourteen children (we lost track after that), seemed to do no parenting at all beyond shoveling her offspring out the door to the school buses and social service program vans that literally lined up outside of her house every morning: I have no doubt the Head Start employees were the ones who taught many of D.’s children to eat.

Once, when she went into the hospital to deliver yet another child, her plan for feeding the rest apparently consisted of telling them to walk to my house and ask me for something to eat, and also to ask me to please not call social services on her for doing so. This was not out of any sense of pride, for anyone could hear D. chewing out the social workers who arrived like clockwork on her doorstep if they failed to provide her with this or that thing she was demanding. It wasn’t out of any sense of fear that the authorities would notice that she had acquired an expensive, wide-screen television and other pricey electronics despite her complete dependence on public funds: social workers are not allowed to ask questions about such things anymore.

I suspect D. didn’t want me to call the child protection workers because it would inconvenience her slightly to be accused of child neglect again. Not a big problem, and nothing would come of it, but an inconvenience nonetheless. Of course, the fathers were entirely absent, except when one of them needed a place to stay or a child to beat, it seemed.

When I look at the faces in the mug shots on the St. Petersburg Times’ website, I see many people who would be surprised that anybody was bothering to notice them — if they were capable of forming the emotion.

Here’s Why I Loved Reading the St. Petersburg Times When I Was in College

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The St. Pete Times has recently begun running a “mugshot” feature, like the ones published in cheap tabloid form and sold in convenience stores.  It’s a sad day for that institution (the Times, not convenience stores).

Here is the type of reporting for which the Times used to be routinely known.  It offers real insight into a tragic crime and –unlike so much reflexively pro-criminal reporting, like this disturbing L.A. Times whitewash — explores the price innocent people pay for our collective failure to put criminals away:

Pasco County deputies: 89-year-old Port Richey woman beaten, sexually assaulted

By Erin Sullivan, Times Staff Writer 
In Print: Thursday, April 9, 2009


PORT RICHEY —

Three masked men broke into the home of an 89-year-old woman early Wednesday morning, beat her in her bed and sexually assaulted her. Before they left, they ransacked the house in the Palm Terrace Gardens subdivision.

The woman went to a neighbor’s home for help and was taken to a hospital.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office got a call from the hospital at 6 a.m.

Authorities say the woman was released later that day and is recovering. Her name and address are withheld because of the nature of the crime.

She couldn’t give detectives a good description of the men because they covered their faces. Detectives think there might be a link between this crime and another that happened to the woman.

On April 2, her house was broken into and her red Pontiac Sunfire was stolen. It was later recovered.

Wednesday afternoon, few people on the streets in Palm Terrace Gardens — just north of Ranch Road and east of Zimmerman Road — knew what had happened that morning.

“You have to be pretty low to do something like that,” said Beverly Mills, a petite 17-year-old with glasses and cornrows. She and four other teens stood at the edge of a parking lot on Areca Drive, across from the Palm Terrace Civic Association building. The doors were locked. The phone is disconnected.

“We hear sirens all the time,” Beverly said.

Suddenly, a black Pontiac swerved over to them, missing them by inches.

“Who is that?” said Shakira Merritt, 16.

The driver screeched to a halt, leaned out and screamed an expletive.

“What?” Shakira said.

He sped off.

“Who was that?” Shakira asked.

They didn’t know. The group paused for a moment and then continued their conversation.

It wasn’t yet 5 p.m., but the streets were full. Toddlers in diapers on Big Wheels cycled out on the street in front of cars. Dogs and cats roamed loose, as did ducks from a nearby lake. Kids and adults walked in the road, playing basketball. A woman in an electric wheelchair rode slowly down a street smoking a cigarette, with a toddler in her lap.

At a corner lot home, a 75-year-old woman worked in her yard. She does not want to be named because she fears her neighbors.

“Oh, mercy me,” she said, when asked how the area has changed in the 26 years she’s lived there. She walked to her front lawn, in her robin’s egg blue work gloves, her faded pink sweatshirt with tissues shoved in one cuff, her hair kept back in a kerchief.

“The lawns were beautiful,” she said. “And look at it now.”

Her second husband wanted to move here, so they did. He died 13 years ago. Now she lives alone with her cockatiel, who is 15.

She says she’s had bottles thrown at the house. People steal things, such as her water hose, plants, a frog statue, even her metal address sign with two doves of peace.

She has more than a dozen security lights on the house and driveway. Before she goes to sleep, she checks outside every window and opens the door to look in the courtyard. As soon as the economy gets better, she’s selling her house and moving.

“I’m afraid,” she said.

But when told of the attack on the 89-year-old woman earlier that day, her expression didn’t change. She was not shocked. She talked of 11 and 12 year-old kids who wander the streets at 1 a.m.

“Where are their parents?” she asked.

A few minutes later and a few streets over, a black SUV weaved the breadth of Foxbloom Drive, curb to curb, tires squealing. People got out of its way and watched it as it tore down the street and turned left in a cloud of smoke.

And then everyone went back to what they were doing, continuing their chats and walks and yard work, dogs barking, life as usual.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this story. 

***

UPDATE: Three teenage boys have been charged with the rape, beating and attempted murder of the 89-year old woman.  They are suspected of having burglarized her home in an earlier crime.  Anyone who believes we should reduce burglary to a misdemeanor crime — essentially eliminating penalties for it, given the realities of plea bargaining, should think about this: breaking into a person’s home is a troubling violation of another person’s privacy.  Once you have become immured to violating others that way, it’s not such a big step to breaking and entering somebody else’s body, especially when authorities start to officially treat burglary as a minor offense.