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Clockwork Riots, L.A. Lakers Style: These Are Not Sports Fans

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Imagine the crappiest job in the world:

You put on your Men’s Warehouse suit and drive to the office, dreading the inevitable outcome of the day.  Settling into your cubicle, you arrange the day’s work on the chipped laminate desk: a billy club, mace, and a copy of the quarterly budget figures for your division, awaiting approval from above.  In the next cubicle, Joey H. is already rocking back and forth in his mesh swivel knockoff, working the screws on one of the padded armrests.

The word comes from headquarters right before lunch: the budget numbers are good.

Joey lets out a guttural shriek, rips the loosened arm off his chair and kicks the front wall off his cubicle, still howling.  You grab the mace and billyclub and follow him as he tears a path of destruction to the break room, carefully avoiding getting too close, shouting at him to step down.

Joey ignores you and smacks out a fluorescent light fixture with his arm-rest, sending bits of glass and toxic powder all over accounting.  Then he pulls a wad of gasoline-soaked newspaper out of his pocket, lights it with a lighter, and throws the flaming mass in the paper recycling bin by the door.

Mike D. wearily rises from his desk, shouldering his fire extinguisher, and heads for the blaze.

You follow Joey into the break room.  He’s already used a folding chair to demolish the front of the snack machine, filling his pockets with KitKats while chanting “We’re Number One.”  You notice he’s been working out.

“Put the Kit Kats down, Joey,” you say.

“F*** You, Pig-Man,” he screams, winging a full Red Bull can at your face.  Luckily, you thought to wear your plexi face shied to work today.  Now that you’ve cornered him, Joey head-buts your belly.  That hurts.  You smack him a few times with the billy-club, always aware that the altercation is being recorded on security cameras for later review.  Finally, you manage to subdue him with the help of Kathy P., the new associate from sales.  She’s brought her handcuffs, and Joey’s taken off to the bathroom to wash up and get ready for Personnel to review the security tapes.

Later that day, the verdict comes back from Human Resources.  While you should have tried to stop Joey before he broke the front of the snack machine, you’re not going to get docked pay for using excessive force subduing him, like last quarter.  Kathy P. however, is going to have to go before the panel and explain why she bruised Joey H.’s wrist while snapping the handcuffs on.

Cop Injured By Lakers Enthusiasm

Joey H. gets assigned five hours of community service, which immediately gets suspended, as HR is testing a new program which will use positive messaging and self-esteem training to encourage him to stop setting the office on fire.  (Nancy W., still recovering from those lycra burns from the spring quarter numbers, stifles a bitter laugh).  Joey takes the rest of the afternoon off to meet his new esteem coach at the Starbucks.  The rest of the staff gets down to sweeping up broken glass and trying to scrub the scorch marks off the walls while running the numbers on the cost of replacing the carpet.

All except Kathy P., who is hiding in the bathroom to avoid those a-holes from PR who want to snap her picture and use it to illustrate a story they’re writing about the proper way to subdue a co-worker.  You settle into your smoke-fill cubicle and tug your rumpled necktie, wishing you could take it off as you start in on the stack of paperwork explaining your actions.

It’s going to be a long night.  There’s no way you’re going to catch that Lakers game.


That job would really suck.

It’s called “policing.”

I think most police would be grateful if the media and political leaders would just drop the fiction that such premeditated and utterly predictable riots (oh, I’m sorry, University of Santa Cruz: “uprisings”) really have anything to do with uncontrollable fan excitement over sporting events.

For every honest person knows that certain sporting events are just used by criminals and criminal wannabes to justify — to schedule — their own main events: destroying property, setting fires, looting stores, and throwing heavy things at policemen who are damned if they do respond and damned if they don’t respond.  The Los Angeles Times described the mayhem this time as a “a sour note as Los Angeles Police Department officers clashed with rowdy fans.”  Clashed with?

Imagine what a strictly factual report would say:

Police were forced to prepare for weeks in advance, planning and deploying tactical forces at great personal risk, including risk of lawsuits, and all at taxpayer expense, to try to minimize the anticipated violent lawbreaking scheduled for the conclusion of the Lakers game.

Rowdy fans? Do these look like rowdy fans, or do they look like people who showed up knowing they’d have some consequence-free fun breaking things and attacking bystanders and cops?

Alas, there’s always an apologist in academia ready to argue against personal responsibility:

Psychologist and author Robert Cialdini, who has studied the behavior of sports fans, said the seemingly inevitable reaction by fans on the winning side is rooted not only in the emotional connection they build to their teams but in a chemical one as well.  Fans are so heavily invested in their teams that studies have shown that their testosterone levels spike significantly after they watch a major victory, Cialdini said. Elevated levels of the hormone are known to cause increased aggression, especially in young men.

See, they’re not responsible.  They’re just hormonal.

“When the team wins, we win and we feel it in a very personal way,” Cialdini said. “We’re likely to experience a great sense of arousal and joy even though we haven’t done anything.”

OK, why do people riot when their team loses, too?  Shouldn’t they be taking up needlepoint and thinking about changing their hairstyles instead?  And does this really look like joy over a championship season?


How about holding the rioters accountable, instead of the police? L.A.T. columnist Sandy Banks did acknowledge that the police presence was necessary, but even she couldn’t resist minimizing the actions of the criminals and reserving too much irritation for the cops putting their lives on the line . . . to protect people like her.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but why is it so difficult to look at images like this and just blame the guilty parties . . . full stop?

The antics of a bunch of losers shouldn’t obscure the patience, goodwill and high spirits of the thousands of fans who ventured downtown for a communal party and wound up being treated like pariahs. . .  The basketball game had barely begun when LAPD officers were summoned to dispatch growing crowds in the area.  “Keep moving, keep moving.” The command came over the loudspeaker as a phalanx of officers advanced, moving us off the paseo and onto crowded Figueroa Street. They pulled metal gates across the entrance to the complex to keep us out. . . . [The police] deserve a lot of credit for controlling the chaos. Everywhere you looked there were cops: on horseback, scooters, motorcycles and bikes, in buzzing helicopters and siren-blaring black-and-whites. If that set some nerves on edge, it also made clear who was in charge.  But it was hard not to feel unwanted. “If you don’t have a ticket, go home” was the officers’ message — explicitly delivered and universally ignored.

Throwing chunks of concrete at cops’ heads and trying to pull people out of their vehicles aren’t “antics.”  And what Banks labels a police message here is actually a message from the criminals, to people like her: they own the streets, and law abiding people don’t.  The police were merely stuck in the middle, trying to prevent innocent people from being injured by violent, lawless criminals.

I’d like to see Ms. Banks follow up by following the cases of fifty-or-so rioters arrested for violent “antics,” as they get serially dismissed by the courts.

Maybe then she’ll gain a better understanding of why it really is that L.A. — and other cities, like Atlanta — can’t host public events for decent people like her.  And the answer has nothing to do with whether your team wins, or how the police react to it.

David Lee Powell Executed: “Restorative Justice” Activist Sissy Farenthold Blames The Victims for Not Appreciating Him Enough


Texas executed David Lee Powell yesterday for the murder of police officer Ralph Ablanedo.

Ablanedo’s family has been waiting for Powell’s appeals to end for 32 years.  They have endured a lifetime of watching Powell be cast as some type of especially sensitive, peace-loving man as he manipulated the legal system — a spectacle they were forced to subsidize with their taxes.

David Lee Powell

They have also endured a lifetime of name-calling, rage, and accusation directed at them by Powell’s “peace-loving” supporters, including the editorial staff at the Austin Statesman, which disgraced itself last week by misrepresenting the family’s public statements in an editorial.

The Statesman was a little more careful in its news coverage of the execution.  For instance, they quoted entire sentences from the victims:

Afterward, Bruce Mills, a former Austin officer who was Ablanedo’s friend and later married his widow, said it felt as if a weight had been lifted.  “Relief would be the word to describe it,” Mills said. “No more hearings. No more appeals.”

But then the Statesman ran another editorial accusing the Mills/Ablenado family of “rage and revenge.”  The author of that op-ed, Francis “Sissy” Tarlton Farenthold, claims to represent the “Restorative Justice” movement — one presumes that is why she feels entitled to levy hateful, false accusations against crime victims.

You know, in the name of dignity and love.

Actually, she probably is speaking for the RJ movement: Restorative Justice was long ago hijacked by criminal’s rights activists who have taken resources, including federal tax dollars, designated for victim services and directed them against victims who believe the proper outcome for crimes like murder is incarceration.  It’s a shameful legacy, one that the original founders of Restorative Justice should be a whole lot more forthcoming about opposing.

Sissy Farenthold, who says Powell “brought the world to her”

Because what the movement has become is a parody, a cruel parody in which victims are scolded, bullied, and policed by “spiritual counselors” (many just academicians and activists) whose allegiance lies with the people who have victimized them — when the victims aren’t simply being ignored.  Ms. Farenthold, for one example, is associated with the anti-victim, pro-offender ACLU.  Now she claims to be speaking for crime victims?  In many places, Restorative Justice is just a front-name used by other activists groups to gain federal grant money they then use to attack the criminal justice system in general and incarceration in particular.

Although the movement was started by a group of well-intentioned pastoral workers, Restorative Justice is currently just another arm of the radical prisoner’s rights movement, fronted by useful idiots on and off the federal payroll.

“Useful idiot” is a good term to describe Farenthold’s op-ed. Like so much of this type of thing, she seems more interested in promoting herself as a special observer than actually practicing the virtues she loudly trumpets.  What sort of person feels comfortable imposing herself into a strangers’ intense pain at the loss of a loved one and claiming to know what they are thinking?  What sort of person claims such insight into other people’s souls, leveling ugly words at them like “rage” and “revenge” and “retribution”?

Even worse, Farenthold actually scolds the Ablanedo/Mills family for not being welcoming enough of David Lee Powell’s magical efforts at healing them.  I can’t believe the Statesman felt that this was appropriate for publication:

Restorative justice calls for Powell to be spared so that he can continue to address the needs and concerns of the Ablanedo family . . .

Address the needs and concerns of the Ablanedo family?  What is this, The Green Mile?  For the record, Powell didn’t apologize to his victims until his legal team decided it would be a good step . . . very recently.  Yet Ms. Sissy (her nickname, not mine), the ACLU activist, has a different story (she also downplays the “throwing a live hand grenade at officers” thing, observing that the pin wasn’t pulled):

Powell has demonstrated his remorse and humanity by living a redemptive life for three decades. He has taught illiterate inmates how to read, write and improve their lives. He had no history of violence before his crime and none in his 32 years on death row. And he has expressed his deep remorse to Ablanedo’s family.

Well, actually not.  And there are plenty of grade school teachers who teach people how to read without, you know, blowing them away with machine guns.

If you oppose the death penalty, oppose the death penalty, but stop pretending manipulative thugs like David Lee Powell are special humanity mascots.  Because taking an innocent man’s life should not be weighed against (allegedly) prepping people for the SATs.

Because it’s degrading. And “degrading” isn’t the same thing as “restorative,” unless what you’re seeking to restore is the special hell Powell and his supporters put the Ablenado/Mills family through with their three decades of legal antics.

The editorial is really just sick stuff, coming from an attention-seeking old woman:

Why do I want this convicted killer not to be put to death? As a legislator, lawyer and human rights campaigner, I have been opposed to capital punishment all my life. For decades, I fought without knowing anyone on death row. Then, 20 years ago, I met Powell.

I, I, I, me, me, me.  Like so much death row activism, attention-seekers glom onto other people’s tragedies to make themselves feel important.  They claim to have superior knowledge of murderers’ souls to enhance their own sense of superiority.  That pretty well describes the motley anti-death penalty activists you see publicly protesting.  And that would be just their own character burdens, until the media gives them a platform to lash out at the victims, and lash out they do, despite all their high-and-mighty rhetoric about love and respect and valuing life.

Which one of these photographs really reeks of “vengefulness”:

This one?

Officers gathering to support the Ablenado/Mills Family

Or this one?

Anti-Death Penalty Activist Frances Morey Crudely Attacking Powell’s Victims

Splitting (Other People’s) Hairs (Or Their Throats): David Oshinski, Amy Bach, Jimmy Carter, and Terry Gross Whitewash Wilbert Rideau’s Crimes


This is Wilbert Rideau, Academy Award nominee, George Polk award winner, George Soros grant recipient, Jimmy Carter Center honoree, American Bar Association Silver Gavel winner, Grand Jury prize winner at Sundance, NPR commentator, journalist, Random House author, Terry Gross pal, friend of the famous and the rich . . . you get the picture.

Oh yeah, he also kidnapped three innocent people during a bank robbery in 1961, shot them all, and then stabbed the one young woman who couldn’t escape him after he “ran out of bullets,” as the second victim played dead and the third hid in a swamp.  He plunged a butcher knife into Julia Ferguson’s throat as she begged for her life.  Rideau later went on to claim that she wasn’t technically begging for her life, as part of Johnny Cochran’s successful 2005 bid to get him out of prison, but in this conveniently forgotten video, he tells a very different — and shocking — story about the crime.

When you read about people being released from death row, think of Rideau.  The real grounds for his release are typical — a gradual wearing-down of the justice system, manipulation of technicalities, re-trial after re-trial as victims and witnesses die or get forgotten — as, all the while, powerful activists and journalists make heroes out of the men who destroyed innocent people’s lives.

Rideau is unusual only because so many powerful and famous people decided to anoint him mascot status.  Terry Gross can’t stop aurally wriggling in his presence.  I tried to find a photograph of Julia Ferguson, but she has been entirely forgotten.

Random House, by the way, has been promoting Rideau’s book tour as an inspirational life story without mentioning his crimes.  Here is their warm and fuzzy description of their author.  The Jimmy Carter Center Facebook page, meanwhile, says that Rideau “has lived a more productive life in prison than most do outside.”  They write off the murder of Julia Ferguson as “a moment of panic during a botched bank robbery.”  Of course, it took more than “a moment” to hold up a bank at gunpoint, kidnap three people, drive them into the swamp, shoot them, chase them, catch one and slaughter her, but then again, that’s just former President Carter speaking up for justice from his human rights center again.

I don’t know anything about the author of this site, Billy Sinclair, but in addition the video he posts, he has a lot to say about the myths that reporters have invented, or swallowed whole, regarding Rideau.  As a fellow con and former colleague of Rideau, it’s especially interesting to read Sinclair’s take on Rideau’s self-aggrandizing tale of prison yard life — particularly because these stories are ostensibly what make the murderer so valuable to those of us who have, according to the Carter Center, wasted our lives by not bothering to kill anyone and then make up award-winning prison yard stories from behind bars.

I guess they don’t have video technology at the New York Times yet.  Nor New York University, where Rideau apologist David Oshinsky pens his prose.  I don’t know Jimmy Carter’s excuse, since he’s been on tv.  I guess one dead girl isn’t one too many dead girls too much to Carter.

Meanwhile, in the New York Times, NYU Professor David Oshinksy has just published a disturbingly dishonest review of murderer Wilbert Rideau’s book, In the Place of Justice.  The paper also ran a second worshipful review by Dwight Garner.  What’s striking about the two pieces (besides their redundancy — indicating the cult hero status of vicious killers like Rideau among denizens of the Times) is the lengths they go to in pretending to recreate Rideau’s brutal crime while leaving out or actually denying important facts.  If this is the new journalism — paying lip service to crimes before getting down to the main task of stroking the criminals — well, I’ll take the old journalism that simply denied the existence of the crime and the victims whole-cloth.

For it’s actually less degrading for victims and survivors to be ignored than to be forced to play bit parts in salacious spectacles like this one.  But beyond the little matter of human decency, the fact that Wilbert Rideau’s record is being increasingly whitewashed as time goes on speaks to the culpability of NPR, and the New York Times, and academic institutions like NYU that sponsor people like Oshinsky and Amy Bach, who calls the fatal injury to Julia Ferguson’s throat a “one inch cut.”  They’ve gone far beyond merely twisting the record to suit their purposes this time.  They’re publishing lies.


In the Place of Justice is not, as reasonable people might assume, a title that refers to what happened when activists got Rideau out of prison on a fourth try in 2005 — despite his undisputed kidnapping/murder of a young bank teller and shooting of two other victims in 1961.

No, it’s Rideau’s opinion of having to be locked up for such a triviality in the first place.

The murderer’s view is shared by scores of journalists and academicians who consider the skin color of Rideau’s victims (they were white) to be more significant than Rideau’s decision to shoot them (scores of minority murderers of other minorities do not receive such breathless adoration).  David Oshinski is only the latest in a long line of apologists who shamelessly rewrite history in order to advocate certain murderers’ side — an act that used to accurately be called racism, when it was just as wrongfully committed for the other side, but is now labeled “justice” when committed on behalf of vicious killers like Rideau.  Devaluing some people’s lives is justice, you see; devaluing others’ is injustice: that is where we are now.

We should have the integrity to acknowledge that, because it is preventing us from valuing all lives.

So the history prof (perhaps knee-deep in student essays that skim, not plumb, facts) must have decided this time that enough time has passed without the victims being heard from to pretend that the facts of Rideau’s crime were genuinely in doubt again.  Of course, the surviving victims weren’t given taxpayer-subsidized NPR gigs to flog and manipulate the airways for decades, either.  Oshinski’s description of the crime, laid in the fertile manure tilled by NPR and other activists, is as dishonest a performance as I’ve seen in print in a long time:

The details of his crime would be contested for decadesThere is agreement that Rideau robbed a bank at closing time, kidnapping the male manager and two female tellers. Rideau claimed he was about to release them when one of the women bolted out of the car and the manager tried to overpower him. Rideau opened fire, hitting all three as they fled. When one of the women rose to her feet, he writes, “I grabbed the knife, stabbed her and ran to the car.”  The surviving victims told a different story, insisting that Rideau had used his weapons at close range and that the woman he killed had begged for her life. [bold added]

Remember: passive language reeks cover-up of someone’s pain, and the killer’s culpability.

“There is agreement.”  And, “He was about to release them.”  “Opened fire, hitting all three.”  “The surviving victims told a different story.”  Distance, lie, distance, minimalization, misrepresentation.  In Oshinski’s version, the only fact we know is that Rideau robbed a bank and kidnapped three people: the rest is disputed, the professor claims.  Are there no standards in academia anymore?  Doesn’t this man have colleagues courageous enough to measure his words against the actual record?  You know, fact-check the historians representing their fine institution?

Of course the scores of activists who swarmed to Rideau’s cause were deeply invested in using whatever means possible to advance the idea that the details were contested.

That is, if by contested one means: self-satisfied people standing around cocktail parties one-upping each other at denying the victims’ suffering in an endless game of burnish-the-progressive-credentials.  But facts denied here aren’t really in dispute.  And the real story of Rideau’s release is very different from what Oshinski claims.

Let’s be clear about what Oshinski is playing at here: he is pretending that all that really matters — to the historical record as well as in the courts — is whether Rideau managed to shoot the people he was torturing when they were close to him or a little less close.  For good measure, he casts doubt on whether a dying girl begged for her life.  How nice.

I’ll be a little more direct in my review of his review : such agitprop denial of other people’s suffering is a moral obscenity.  For the New York Times to publish it is shameless.

For, of course, Rideau “told a different story” from the people he killed and tried to kill (except when he didn’t).  That story was rejected repeatedly until one jury committed nullification in 2005 because they believed that the history of racial discrimination was more important than Rideau’s actions in taking one life and trying to end two others.  So be it — that’s on their souls — and another blot on the jury system.  But the fact of what Rideau actually did to his victims was not contested.  Now it has been rewritten by two different men in the Times last week, the latest stage in the long rewriting on the victims’ backs.

Journalism as human rights violation.  Journalism as denial.  How much denial?  When a vehemently pro-criminal reporter like Adam Liptak bothers to report a less glowing story about the killer you’re whitewashing, you know you’re knee-deep in it.  Here is Liptak, writing in 2005:

Mr. Rideau has never denied that he robbed a Gulf National Bank branch in Lake Charles on Feb. 16, 1961, that he kidnapped three white employees of the bank or that he shot them on a gravel lane near a bayou on the edge of town. Two of the employees survived, one by jumping into the swamp, the other by feigning death. But Mr. Rideau caught and killed Julia Ferguson, a teller, stabbing in her in the heart.  The two sides at the trial last week agreed on those basic facts.

So what is not in dispute is that the shot victims tried to hide from Rideau, that he hunted them down and slaughtered the one he caught by stabbing her through the heart (heart? throat?).  Oshinski looks at this and natters on about “close range” versus distance.  How dehumanizing.  Does he have a daughter with a beating heart, I wonder?

Julia Ferguson’s parents did, at one time.


Liptak, of course, betrays far less interest in Ferguson’s heart than in the ways the legal system granted Rideau endless opportunities for appeal, and the superness of Rideau’s journalistic talents, but at least he gives the D.A. his say:

Rick Bryant, the Calcasieu Parish district attorney, said the jury had ignored the evidence.  “The verdict makes no sense,” he said yesterday. “It’s a subtle jury-nullification type of thing. The jury basically said, there is still a conviction and he’s done a lot of time.”

Of course, the victims and other witnesses lacked the vast resources heaped on Rideau all these decades.  One victim was dead, the other too ill to testify.  That gives people like Oshinski more leverage to cover up the crimes committed against them.  Here is Liptak’s recounting of Rideau’s defense.  It’s not much of defense, really, and it’s a stark injustice that anyone fell for it, insomuch as it really mattered to the jurors at all:

Mr. Rideau said his initial plan was to lock up the employees at the bank and take a bus out of town with the $14,000 he had stolen. When that was foiled by an ill-timed phone call from the bank’s main branch, he said, he came up with a second plan. He would drive the employees far out of town in a teller’s car and escape as they walked back. But they jumped from the car before he could accomplish that, and he started shooting.  “If I had intended to kill those people, eliminate witnesses, I would have done it right there in the bank,” Mr. Rideau testified on Thursday, according to The Associated Press. “It never entered my mind that I was going to hurt anybody.”

How dare those people try to save their own lives, rather than submit to murder by a future famous prison journalist.

Mr. Bryant said the prosecution had been at a disadvantage throughout the trial.  “It’s very difficult to try a case that’s 44 years old,” he said. “We had 13 witnesses who were unavailable, including the two eyewitnesses, and we had to present them by reading transcripts.” One of the survivors of the crime died in 1988, and the other was too ill to attend the trial.

You won’t read about it in the Times or from the pen of any of Rideau’s admirers at NYU, but his former prison co-editor punches more holes in Rideau’s claims of non-premeditated murder in one blog post about the suitcase he brought with him to rob the bank than the collective talent of our nation’s courts, universities and newspapers can fend off in the millions of dollars and thousands hours they have poured into his defense [“WILBERT RIDEAU’S UNEXPLAINED SUITCASE “].

And the lamented blogger crimgirl does a far better job of explaining why Rideau actually got out of prison in 2005 than all the ex-presidents and all the law school professors you can squeeze onto all the pages of all the news that’s fit to print.  I don’t know anything about “crimgirl,” and she doesn’t seem to be blogging anymore, which is a shame:

[A]fter the [1961] confession, Rideau was found guilty by a southern all-white, all-male jury. It’s probable the jurors were racist, corn-fed Klanners; however, this doesn’t negate the fact that Rideau committed the crimes. The verdict was eventually overturned because the confession’s broadcast had tainted the jury pool. In the years to come, two more trials and two more guilty verdicts were overturned on the grounds of racial bias and other jury selection violations. In 2005, a fourth trial took place. The prosecution said he murdered a woman in cold blood, and should spend life in prison. Rideau argued that he killed her, but he didn’t murder her.A racially mixed jury was selected in Lake Charles, LA. To ensure jury nullification, Johnny “Chewbacca” Cochran was hired to lead the defense team. Cochran played up the strengths of their case:

  • In prison Wilbert Rideau had published an award-winning prison-bashing magazine, co-authored a Criminal Justice textbook, shared an Academy Award nomination for an anti-prison documentary, become a sought-after lecturer, and gained many high-profile supporters who fought for his freedom.
  • Racist officials were racist.
  • Thirteen prosecution witnesses were now dead.
  • In a major victory for the defense, the judge only allowed the jury to consider verdicts that would have been available in 1961: Premeditated murder (life without parole) or manslaughter (21 years). If they had gone by 2005 law, he would have almost certainly been sentenced to life without parole, the sentence for killing someone in the commission of a felony.


Let’s be very clear about what people like David Oshinski and Terry Gross (see below) did to the victims of this crime.  They made their killer into a civil rights hero — for killing them and for refusing to regret it.  That’s the version of “rehabilitation” actually operating here.  And it makes a mockery of any notion of real rehabilitation, or real remorse.  Wilbert Rideau was released from prison by biased jurors who ignored many undisputed facts because he had been turned into a cultural hero by academicians and journalists working as accessories to cover up the details of his victims’ suffering.  In other settings, this is called a war crime — an act of historical denial.

Here, it’s called punching your ticket for tenure.

If there is any doubt that Rideau was released because he does not regret destroying lives, read on:

Theodore M. Shaw, the director-counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which also represented Mr. Rideau, said he found it hard to reconcile Mr. Rideau’s crime with the thoughtful and accomplished man he has become.  “I’ve never lost sight of the fact that when Wilbert was 19 he did something incredibly stupid and tragic,” Mr. Shaw said. “On the other hand, he’s not the man he was then. It’s a story of redemption.”  Mr. Shaw pointed to Mr. Rideau’s journalistic work as proof of his transformation. As editor of The Angolite, a prison newspaper, Mr. Rideau won the George Polk Award, one of journalism’s highest honors. “The Farm: Angola, U.S.A.,” a documentary he co-directed, was nominated for an Academy Award.

In other words, if Rideau had not kept protesting the alleged injustice of people not believing his story that his victims were lying, then he’d still be serving time for the lives he destroyed.  But because he’s never shown actual remorse, he’s a cultural hero and a free man.

Mr. Bryant, the prosecutor, said Mr. Rideau’s achievements were irrelevant. “Rideau’s actions were driven by greed,” Mr. Bryant said, referring to the robbery. “It’s not like he’s been some sort of civil rights pioneer. He’s a crook.”


But fast-forward five years, and now even these protestations have been cleansed from the record. Rideau is a civil rights pioneer, full stop.  All that’s left is people like Oshinski trying like heck to finish brushing even the slightest unpleasantry into the dustbin of history, insinuating that the victims’ families are the actually dangerous people based on crimes they didn’t in fact, ever commit against Rideau himself, and painting Rideau as a jailhouse saint — you know, like the ones in the movies Oshinski likes to cite:

An hour’s drive northwest from Baton Rouge sits the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, the largest maximum security prison in the United States. On the site of a former slave plantation, it currently houses close to 5,000 inmates and covers more ground, at 18,000 acres, than the island of Manhattan. Surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River, its stunning physical isolation and distinctive antebellum feel have provided the backdrop for numerous feature films and documentaries, including “Dead Man Walking,” “Monster’s Ball” and “The Farm” . . . Slight of frame, weighing barely 120 pounds, Rideau seemed like easy prey. What spared him physically, he believes, was the respect he earned for repeatedly dodging the electric chair. And what saved him emotionally, he insists, were the books he devoured in his solitary death row cell. “Reading ultimately allowed me to feel empathy, to emerge from my cocoon of self-centeredness and appreciate the humanness of others. . . . It enabled me finally to appreciate the enormity of what I had done.”

No, there are no victims here, just professors and journalists and their convict-heroes reading, writing, carrying out mutually gratifying acts of affirmation:

[Rideau] saw prison life as a delicate negotiation. Convicts “possess the power of disobedience, rebellion, disruption, sabotage and violence,” he writes. “A peaceful maximum security prison owes its success to the consent of its prisoners, a consent that comes from mutual understanding and reasonable common-sense accommodations at almost every level of interaction” . . .  The new Angola owed much to Rideau’s skills as editor, gadfly and ombudsman. While in prison, he became a national celebrity, appearing on “Nightline” with Ted Koppel and winning journalism’s coveted George Polk Award. Rideau is hardly modest about it all . . . In 2005, the man Life magazine had featured as “The Most Rehabilitated Prisoner in America” was granted yet another trial.

Well, why should such an accomplished man be modest? Heck, why doesn’t Oshinski just go all the way and say that Rideau’s victims carelessly tripped into the bullets exiting his gun?   Maybe because Terry Gross’ tonsils would get in his way. Here is Gross’ version of her radio colleague and pen pal Rideau’s crimes:

Wilbert Rideau was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1961. At the age of 19, he’d robbed a bank. When he realized the police were on the way, he took three hostages. After one of the hostages got out of the car, he killed one hostage and shot the other two. He described this as an act of panic, not premeditated murder.  As an eighth-grade dropout from a poor family, he couldn’t afford a lawyer and didn’t understand his rights.

How . . . dishonest.  What’s especially creepy is the way Gross imagines the scene only from Rideau’s perspective: “[w]hen he realized the police were on the way, he took three hostages . . . After one of the hostages got out of the car, he killed one hostage.”   This is in no way an accurate description of the crime.  It apes Rideau’s claims that he did not intend the victims’ harm, nor that he intended to kidnap them, and it reduces the death scene to an actuarial nonentity.  Gross seems irked that she must even recount this little aside.

It takes a particularly cold and inhumane chewy-voiced NPR reporter to reduce the death scene to such cold prose.

But the death-scene is just a lagniappe, compared to the toe-curling pleasures that follow:

TERRY GROSS: Wilbert Rideau, welcome back to FRESH AIR. The other times we have spoken, you have been in the penitentiary, and it so great to talk to you knowing you are a free man. Thank you for the conversations and for the reports you did for us from prison. . . .

GROSS: Wilbert, we’ve spoken several times before while you were in prison. We spoke by phone. And the book really filled me in on the details of what you went through during your four trials and how many times you were treated unfairly.But before we talk about how unfairly you were treated, I just want to acknowledge that you really did commit manslaughter, and that Julia Ferguson was killed. You did create a lot of suffering. You’ve never denied the act, but you have said that you never intended to kill anyone. You wanted money. You bought a gun to rob a bank, thinking it was the only way to get a new life was to get money and get a way out of your life. In the middle of the robbery, the phone rang. One of the tellers picked it up and tipped off the caller there was trouble. Knowing the police were on the way, you took three hostages and fled. What did you think the hostages would accomplish for you? [bold added]

Would accomplish for him?  Accomplish?  Darn those hostages.  They just didn’t live up to their potential.

Mr. RIDEAU: I wasn’t thinking. That was the problem. I didn’t know what to do. I mean, understand, when people commit crimes, they’re expecting to get away. I mean, even in all the – it was desperation that drove me to do this, but even in my desperation, I mean, you don’t expect to get caught.

In other words, Wilbert Rideau feels less responsible for killing someone because he was certain he would not be held responsible for robbing a bank.  Had he known he would be held responsible for robbing a bank, he wouldn’t have done it, and nobody would have died.  Now there’s an idea.

If people expected to get caught, nobody would ever commit crimes.  And I didn’t know what I was thinking. I was just – all I knew was that everything had been shot to hell. Everything – you know, it was out of control. And I had no control, and I was scared to death, I mean, because I’m sure they were scared to death, too. But I didn’t have any – all I knew was just get out of that place in a hurry, and I hoped to be able to drop them off someplace and let them walk back. But it didn’t turn out that way.

GROSS: No, the police started chasing you. One of your victims jumped out of the car, and you say you panicked and just shot one of them.

Well, thanks for clearing that up, Terry.  How probing.  If only those lazy victims had worked harder to avoid the path of dear Wilbert’s bullets — but then, NPR wouldn’t have such a stimulating commentator for Gross to natter with.  If only the police hadn’t tried to stop an armed criminal who cruelly took three innocent people hostage, then Wilbur wouldn’t have had to shoot three people, then get out of his car and stab one of them for good measure.

If only the hostages and the police had accomplished more in the service of Wilbert Rideau.

There’s more, of course, of Gross simpering at the feet of Rideau, praising his prose quality, his special insights, his terrible suffering, the tragedy of people misunderstanding him.  There’s always more, once you get the pesky victims out of the way, stomp their throats out so they can’t utter a peep.

But what is strange, and ironic, and utterly unnoticed by Gross and Oshinski and all the other prisoner fetishists eagerly sweating their turn in the wings, is that when you read Wilbert Rideau’s work, what Rideau is actually saying is that he doesn’t want to be anywhere near any of the sick bastards he knew in prison, including the sick bastard that he was, and he certainly doesn’t want people like them walking the streets.  At the end of the day, his is a pro-incarceration argument:

GROSS: Give us a sense of what you faced when you left solitary confinement and joined the general population, and you were appalled by the barbarity that you witnessed. And I should say that the penitentiary at Angola had a reputation as being one of the most bloody prisons in the United States at that time.

Mr. RIDEAU: There was violence literally every day. You had people getting killed and gang wars. You had drug traffickers rampant. You had sexual violence…

GROSS: Sexual slavery.

Mr. RIDEAU: Enslavement of prisoners. Right, sexual slavery, as well. I mean, you know, if – guys would rape you, and you would – that was a process that redefined you not as a male, but as a female, and also as property. And whoever raped you owned you, and you had to serve him for – I mean, as long as you were in prison, unless you killed him or he gave you away or sold you or you got out of prison. And that’s the way it functioned.

GROSS: You wrote an article about sexual violence in prison that is one of your best-known articles. And I think that one won an award, didn’t it?

Mr. RIDEAU: It did, the George Polk Award, and it was also nominated for a National Magazine Award.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. So when you got into general population, you’re relatively short. What did you do to protect yourself as a small man entering general population? Yeah.

Mr. RIDEAU: Well, the first thing is I was looking for a weapon. In fact, when I went before the initial classification board, the chief of security told me that, you know, he asked if knew anybody. I said no. And he said, well, you’ve got to get you a weapon, and either that or go into a protective custody cell.  Well, I just spent all those years in a cell. I wasn’t going back to a cell, and I figured that, you know, I would try to make a life in the jungle. And the first thing I knew I had to do was get a weapon, and I looked around for people I knew, and I saw some of the guys who were on death row before who had already gotten off, and they told me, you know, I wouldn’t have to worry about that.  And that was a peculiarity due to the fact that I was on death row. Prosecutors and media had so – you know, they so demonize people on death row, you know, as being the worst of the worst, until not only do they kind of scare society about these guys, but they also scared the prisoners. It was kind of perverse, but it spared me that whole – I didn’t have to worry about that.

OK, let’s review: prisoners in Angola are violent rapists who prey on the weak, enslave each other, and routinely kill.  Yet Rideau survived unscathed because prosecutors “demonized” men on death row to such a degree that all these raping, killing monsters in the general population feared him despite his diminutive size.

While this story makes little sense, it is the type of thing that makes Terry Gross simper: “Mm-hmm.”  Which is the entire point, really.  The point of Rideau’s fame is that he gives people like Terry Gross the type of victimization they can revel in.  For, testifying about his victimization at the hands of other criminals is actually what Rideau is all about, little as that makes sense when you step back from it and remember Julie Ferguson.  Rideau says certain things happened to him; he complains of being victimized, and reporters and academicians eat it up uncritically because it feeds their fantasy life.

They don’t write purple prose about there being two sides to the story of any of Rideau’s stories. They don’t minimize his allegations of victimization in prison or reduce it to a few stingy lines written in teeth-gritting passing.  They give him awards for denouncing the suffering they’re simultaneously denying that his victims experienced at his hands.  This is a sickness, pure fetish, and it has passed for acceptable behavior for far too long.

Is Solitary Confinement The Really Expensive Part?

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Ah yes, the silly season. Reporter claiming to be writing about solitary confinement jumps right into equating solitary confinement with “hard-line criminal justice polic[y]” instead.  According to this view, solitary confinement is not, as one might think, a rational response to the dangers created by extremely violent offenders.  Nor is it a way to protect prisoners who might be vulnerable to harm because of their appearance, orientation, or gang status.  Nor even a response (one that ought to be appreciated) to the endless lawsuits filed against corrections facilities demanding protections for prisoners — protection from themselves, or others.

Nope, in the eyes of the media, every issue relating to incarceration and crime is just another opportunity to lash out at allegedly “draconian” sentencing policies.  In this view, using less solitary confinement to address budget constraints isn’t a sign that prisons are having to deal with the financial downturn like everyone else.  Using less solitary confinement is:

a dramatic acknowledgement, analysts say, that states can no longer sustain the costs of hard-line criminal justice policies.

Hmmm, which analysts?  And what’s so “hard-line” about using solitary?  Don’t prisoner activists want maximum safety for inmates?  If corrections officers didn’t care about prisoner safety, they wouldn’t bother spending more of their budgets to separate prisoners from each other, right?

What’s really being protested (I mean reported) here is incarceration itself.  What the activists want is nobody going to prison, ever.  Thus, this even more incoherent comment on the use of solitary confinement, dialed in to fill the article’s next slot:

“The whole philosophy of being just tough — locking people up and throwing away the key — has not solved the problem,” said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, Democratic chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Well, luckily, nobody does that key thing.  And “solved” which “problem”?  The problem of crime?  According to Sen. Whitmire, incarceration doesn’t solve the problem of crime.  So . . . what does this have to do with solitary confinement?  Are we supposed to stop putting criminals in solitary confinement or stop putting them in prison?  Or are we just supposed to sit here listening to meaningless claptrap, nodding our heads?

Unsurprisingly, unlike Whitmire, corrections spokespeople aren’t in the mood to play politics with what is, for them, a life-or-death issue:

Decisions to return dangerous inmates to the general prison population anger some prison officials, who say the changes could threaten the safety of corrections officers and other inmates.  “The departments of correction are rolling the dice with public safety. … This is going to blow up,” said Brian Dawe of the American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network, an association of officers.

Elsewhere, here’s the guy whose picture appears in the yellow pages under “Solitary Confinement: Arguments For”

Robert Gleason

For seven days, Robert Gleason Jr. begged correctional officers and counselors at Wallens Ridge State Prison to move his new cellmate. The constant singing, screaming and obnoxious behavior were too much, and Gleason knew he was ready to snap.  On the eighth day — May 8, 2009 — correctional officers found 63-year-old Harvey Gray Watson Jr. bound, gagged, beaten and strangled. His death went unnoticed for 15 hours because correctional officers had not followed proper procedure for inmate head counts at the high-security prison in southwestern Virginia.  Now, Gleason says he’ll kill again if he isn’t put to death for killing Watson, who had a history of mental illness. And he says his next victim won’t be an inmate.  “I murdered that man cold-bloodedly. I planned it, and I’m gonna do it again,” the 40-year-old Gleason told The Associated Press. “Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is put me on death row.”

This is a much more direct discussion of solitary confinement.

Gleason already is serving a life sentence for killing another man. He fired his lawyers last month — they were trying to work out a deal to keep him from getting the death penalty — so he could plead guilty to capital murder. He’s vowed not to appeal his sentence if the judge sentences him to death Aug. 31.  “I did this. I deserve it,” he said. “That man, he didn’t deserve to die.”

There are no innocents here.  The victim had a pretty ugly record, too:

Watson was serving a 100-year sentence for killing a man and wounding two others in 1983 when he shot into his neighbor’s house in Lynchburg with a 10-gauge shotgun. According to prison records, Watson suffered from “mild” mental impairment and was frequently cited for his disruptive and combative behavior.  Watson was sent to Wallens Ridge on April 23, 2009, a day after he set fire to his cell at Sussex II State Prison. Gleason and Watson became cellmates on May 1, 2009.

This is the reality of prison — scores of violent men locked up for our safety, and their safety, while activists circle outside, trying to come up with any reason whatsoever to get them free again, as we foot the bill.

In the days the two spent locked in an 8-by-10-foot cell, Watson would talk about how he had “drowned” two television sets because they “had voodoo in them,” Gleason said.  He would also belt out “I wish I was in the land of cotton” from the song “Dixie” and other songs at all hours, scream profanities and masturbate. In the chow hall and in the recreation yard, Watson would get inmates to give him cigarettes for drinking his urine and clabbered milk.  “You can’t be upset with someone like that,” Gleason said. “He needed help.”  Gleason said his requests to separate the two were met with mockery and indifference by correctional officers and prison counselors. He said he knew what he’d do once officials refused to put Watson in protective custody.  “That day I knew I was going to kill him,” he said. “Wallens Ridge [prison] forced my hand.”  It was after midnight when Gleason used slivers of bed sheets to tie Watson’s hands and arms to his body and fashioned a gag out of two socks. He later removed the gag and gave Watson a cigarette, telling him it would be his last. Gleason said Watson spit in his face when he went to take the cigarette out of Watson’s mouth, so he jumped on his cellmate’s back and beat and strangled the man.

Interestingly, the D.A. immediately offered Robert Gleason a plea deal in Watson’s murder.  Gleason demanded death row instead:

[Attorney Ron] Elkins had offered to let Gleason plead to second-degree murder. He also offered to drop the capital murder charges and come back with a charge that didn’t carry a death sentence. Elkins wouldn’t say why he made those offers.  However, capital murder cases are typically lengthy and expensive, especially as appeals wind through the courts. Even though Gleason confessed, Elkins said he proceeded cautiously to ensure the case couldn’t be overturned on appeal.

Here is the real financial crisis in the justice system: a defense bar that has undermined our ability to afford prosecutions to such an extreme degree that prosecutors actually have second thoughts about trying a murder case . . . when they’re not busy being worried about affording the endless, frivolous appeals that will inevitably follow.

Just think about how many thousands of lesser crimes get dismissed every day because it “costs too much” to try them.

Think about how many prosecutions never go forward because of the high price of endlessly re-trying every conviction.

But that — that’s not the type of thing you read about in the paper.

Executing David Lee Powell: The Austin Statesman Hearts a Cop-Killer


Media coverage of executions used to be shameless.  Reporters played advocate, inserting themselves and their inflamed sensibilities into the story, while victims’ families were ignored or accused of being “vengeful,” a crime apparently worse than murder itself.

Only victims’ families were thus demeaned: offenders, no matter the horror of their actual crimes, were depicted in only the most positive light.  They were deemed specially sensitive, or dignified, or talented, or at least pitiful, as if playing up to (or merely embodying) the reporter’s sensibilities magically erased the profound harm these men had visited on others.

Reporters filed bathetic stories detailing this killer’s last meal or that prisoner’s hobbies without mentioning the behavior that had placed the men on death row in the first place, unless, that is, extremely prurient details or a high body count made for interesting reading.

Victims were either ignored, or criticized, or their suffering was objectified.

Such overt expressions of contempt aimed at victims are no longer the status quo. But I don’t believe that what has replaced them in reporting is better.  Now, in the interest of allegedly telling “both sides of the story,” journalists dutifully mention the offender’s crime and say a few nice things about the victim’s life.  They let the victim’s family have their say — something that rarely happened in the past, though they’re often angling for the victims to say something angry, so they can make them sound “vengeful.”

Judith and Bruce Mills hold a picture of Officer Ralph Ablanedo

Then, “balance” accomplished, the reporters get back to the business of valorizing murderers.

David Lee Powell, who slaughtered Officer Ablanedo in 1978

This type of reporting depicts victims and killers as moral equals.  It denies that there is any difference between being an innocent murdered horribly by some sociopath thug or being the murdering sociopath thug (cleaned up for the cameras, of course, via years of taxpayer-subsidized advice from their lawyers).

When both victim and killer are presented as victims, then who, exactly, is the victimizer?

Obviously, the state, or “society,” or “all of us,” which is the reporter’s real point.

Ultimately, in journalism like this, the victim’s suffering, and the family’s expressions of pain, are merely put through the grinder in the service of the offender in a new way.  It’s just a different flavor of dehumanization.  And if this disturbing article and video and even more disturbing editorial in the Austin Statesman are any indication of what can be done to crime victims in the name of such moral leveling, family members of should probably just go back to refusing to speak to reporters at all.

David Lee Powell today, in the Austin Statesman’s Story Detailing His Good Qualities

In a long feature story this week, the Austin Statesman commits the act of moral equivalency in order to advocate against the execution of David Lee Powell.  I say “advocate” here because the reporters are clearly pleading Powell’s case.  How clearly?  The story is actually accompanied by an emotive video of Powell, his voice cracking and wavering, bestowing his jailhouse wisdom to the article’s reporters, who appear on the screen swaying like awed schoolboys to the rhythm of his words.

link to video through article here

The video is a perversion.  It’s porn, a pornographic display of Powell’s feigned remorse, which he utters in the carefully parsed syntax of legal dissembling.  In the video and on the page, the reporters allow Powell to explain away his failure to apologize to the family of his victim for nearly 30 years.  They don’t happen to mention that he spent those years denying responsibility throughout several appeals and re-trials, which is the real reason why he never previously expressed remorse, also why the remorse so exhibitionistically flashed here is unlikely to actually exist:

Saying he is horrified to have caused Ablanedo’s murder, Powell has tried to apologize to the officer’s family and to express regret for the pain he caused by “an act that was a betrayal of everything I believed in and aspired to be.”  “I had wanted to do it for decades,” Powell said of his December 2009 letter to Ablanedo’s family. “Although it was obviously too little too late, it seemed like the right thing to do. It seemed like a small, tentative first step towards healing the tear in the social fabric that was caused” by the murder.

He “tried,” you know.  Just never got around to doing it until the appeals ran out.  It’s clear that Powell doesn’t feel remorse.  He doesn’t even really speak of remorse — instead, he starts rambling about being a victim of a justice system that “humbled” and “bruised” him.  Throughout this performance, the camera pans to the reporters, making them part of Powell’s jailhouse drama.  If their article is any measure of the interactions in that room, it’s an exciting role for them.

The video is clearly edited to convey Powell’s humanity and fragility, and yet it fails to achieve that goal.  Raw contempt shines through his lawyerly demurrals despite all the close-ups of his shaking hands and a soundtrack featuring his breathing sounds, amplified for effect.

Powell spends more time talking about SAT scores and high school grades than the officer’s murder.  So, for that matter, do the reporters.  According to the killer, he “scored the highest score that had ever been scored” on the SAT, and this should define him, not the officer’s murder.  In other words, doing well on the SAT should excuse the killing of a human being.

The rest of the article is the usual jumble of schlock, lies, and omissions.  Impressively, reporters, Chuck Lindell and Tony Plohetski completely paper over Powell’s long history of appeals, quite an accomplishment in a long article about the long time it has taken to execute Powell because of his long history of appeals.

The result is an awful lot like watching a fixed dog hump the air.

Not that any of this is actually funny. It’s grotesque.  It’s grotesque that the Austin Statesman would demean the victims by weighing Powell’s high school grades against the brutal murder of a young cop and father.  It’s grotesque that they pose the pseudo-metaphysical question: Has Powell’s Execution Lost Its Meaning? and then paddle around haplessly answering “yes” for five pages, yet pretend that what they are doing is reporting on Powell’s impending execution.

It’s grotesque that they ambush the victims and exploit their losses, both in the article and in a Statesman editorial which intentionally misrepresents statements by the victim’s family (the family did an amazing job responding to the media).

I had trouble embedding the Powell video in the blog today.  But please go to the newspaper’s website and take a look.  The editorial is here, and the interview with Bruce and Judy Mills, from which their quotes are ripped out of context, is here.

That the editors would behave this way really does speak to a mindset in which victims’ deaths are deemed less significant than their killers’ report cards, or the hobbies they take up on death row, or the fact that they have lots of pen pals . . . all arguments promoted by the fine journalists at the Austin Statesman.  If this is what happens when reporters imagine they are inserting “balance” into their death row reporting, I’ll take the bad old days when they just pointed fingers and screamed “vigilante” at people who had lost their loved ones to violence.  It was a less dirty fight that way.

Is Texas Incarceration Policy Really Different Now, Or Is That Cowboy Just A Journalist Riding His Hobbyhorse?


With a flick of public relations rhetoric, Texas has suddenly become a media darling to criminal justice journalists who previously viewed the state as mean and bloodthirsty.  The sudden transformation of the Lone Star State into the South Massachusetts of empathetic corrections was accomplished entirely in the media, of course, where gaining good PR is as easy as clicking your heels and saying: “I think it’s time we considered alternatives to incarceration, Joe.  This puttin’ people in jail just ain’t working.”

You don’t have to do it, you just have to say it.  Then you hand out lollypops and watch the great reviews (oops, I mean newspaper stories) roll in.

Articles of this stripe all read the same, which is unsurprising, as they start with pure opinion (incarceration is mean and us reporters believe it doesn’t work), proceed to cherrypick other opinions (some judges are looking at drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration, as if they didn’t already), beat in vague inference (drug treatment works, sometimes), add two cups of accusing the public of inventing the problem of crime in their own overactive imaginations (that’s just a “perception” your car got stolen, Ms. Hysteric), all topped with a dollop of political grandstanding (let’s get us some of that drug treatment and stop being mean, like Bob over there, who says he’s “tough” on crime just to get re-elected . . . hey, you gonna quote me, right?).

The Texas Miracle version of this story has been making the rounds for weeks.  Now it’s surfaced in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in an “analysis” of the “difference” between Georgia and Texas sentencing practices, one that feigns objectivity while ignoring real sentencing practices and hammering away at the notion that crime actually exists and is the — you know — reason we have criminal sentencing.

Note the not-very-objective lead, beneath the not-very-objective headline, beneath the not-very-objective series heading:

Government Waste in Georgia

A billion-dollar burden or justice?

Hmmm, which do you think it’s going to be?

AJC investigation: Georgia leads nation in criminal punishment

By Carrie Teegardin and Bill Rankin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia taxpayers spend $1 billion a year locking up so many criminal offenders that the state has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. When it comes to overall criminal punishment, no state outdoes Georgia.

Well, except for those three other states.  Also, don’t crime rates matter, as in: ‘Georgia also has a higher rate of criminal activity than these states it is being compared to here?’ No?  OK.  Just asking.

Hard-nosed measures approved with wide public support forced a five-fold increase in corrections spending since 1985.  A monumental prison construction campaign that quadrupled space over the last four decades seemed like money well spent as record crime rates in the 1990s left Georgians fearful of becoming the next victims of violence.

Wow.  That’s a lot of vague, condemnatory prose squeezed into a few brief lines.  “Hard-nosed” measures?  “Seemed like money well-spent?”  And you know, “wide public support” is code for “what a bunch of deluded buffoons.”

What was that support for?  For not being victimized by violent repeat offenders, the impetus for Georgia’s excellent two-strike law?  How much did violent crime rise?  What percentage of serious and recidivist crimes resulted in prison sentences, before and after those new prisons were built?  Was that money well spent, looking at the decline in crime rates after two-strikes for violent crime was passed, for example?  Anyone?

One might also ask what the alternative response to those “record crime rates” might have been.  Rolling over and letting criminals destroy even more lives?  Kill more of their peers, who were on the front line of the carnage?  But you can’t talk about the number of lives saved by raising incarceration rates.  Not in the Atlanta Journal Constitution or any other big-city paper.

Reporters simply believe incarceration doesn’t work.  End of story.

The rest of this purported “study” consists largely of quotes from politicians positioning themselves against spending money on incarceration for a variety of vague reasons: you might call it more of a study of politicians’ habits in exploiting the subject of crime than a look at crime itself.  Revelations include the startling fact that some conservatives don’t like paying for new prisons because they don’t like taxes, or “big government.”  Wow, that’s really illuminating:

Mark Earley, a Republican former attorney general in Virginia who is chief executive of the nonprofit Prison Fellowship, agreed.  “When you have in Georgia 1 in every 70 adults [incarcerated] and 1 in every 13 is in some form of correctional control, that’s big government with a big big G, ” he said.

The big “G.”  Usually, reporters mock such language.  But when it’s in the service of advancing their hobbyhorse of empathizing with violent offenders, I guess anti-guvmint claptrap gets a pass.

How unsurprising that Early is also “chief executive of the nonprofit Prison Fellowship.”  Just like Mike Huckabee, who made a very destructive public hobby of sharing Bible passages with rapists and killers before cutting them loose?  Well, that’s a viewpoint you can take to the bank.

Unlike, say, actual recourse to actual crime statistics, which are nowhere to be found.

Shake the bushes and it’s not actually hard to find someone with an -R after their name who gets off on hanging out with prisoners while posturing for the cameras.  Of course politicians will always say they like alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.  That’s why there are and always have been alternatives, including the much-abused alternative of simply letting the vast majority of offenders plead their sentences down.  Everyone’s always happy to talk about alternative sentencing, but has it worked?  In which cases?  Are violent offenders being permitted to slip through the cracks?

Oh, never mind.

Extraordinarily, the AJC article, which purports to analyze Georgia’s incarceration policy from 1990 to 2010, contains just one mention of an actual crime: stealing baby formula.  Yes, that’s right: stealing baby formula.  Of course, we all remember the bad old days of the baby formula wars, back in old 1-triple9.  Lost a lot of good men that day.

Goodness.  The reporters were obviously so deep in serious analyzing mode that they managed to overlook the 13,000 murders that happened in Georgia over the same time.  Not to mention the 50,000 forcible rapes.  500,000 aggravated assaults . . . and so on.  Nope.  Not a one.  One case of stealing baby formula stands in for all those horrific human losses, just so the reporters can smugly point fingers at the public and scream: Hysterics!  Passing all those hateful laws just to incarcerate poor baby formula thieves!

How intellectually dishonest.

Of course, this type of reporting isn’t really about analyzing the efficacy of incarceration policies.  But when reporters actually go so far as to fluff up some fake Jean Valjean moment (more likely a baby formula theft to procure drugs, not feed babies) instead of actually addressing the tidal wave of violent crimes that took the lives 13,000 Georgia residents, why does nobody call them on it?

Meanwhile, back in reality, there is no simple way to compare Texas’ current shifts in sentencing policy with those in any other state: journalists who feign to do so are mainly extrapolating political speeches and vast budget line-items that bear no conclusive relationship to the actual working of a diverse (in the old fashioned sense of the term) landscape of courts.  At least they don’t need to worry about the vast cheerleading squad we call academia actually pointing out their errors: evaluating sentencing outcomes is a court-by-court task that virtually nobody, including academicians, ever bothers to attempt.  Those who do end up with book-length descriptions of justice systems that fail to address most crimes, out of despair and lack of funding: one illuminating example is Edward Hume’s year-long observation of the Los Angeles juvenile court system: No Matter How Loud I Shout.

For, when there is no such thing as a judicial precinct where every charge is brought against every defendant, and when a large, if not the largest, percentage of charges get abandoned or pled down outside the courtroom, how can any policymaker or academician or reporter or pundit make sweeping claims about statistical outcomes with a straight face?  Judges know this.  Prosecutors know this.  Yet they are never asked by most journalists (who also know this) to simply quantify all decisions, to produce their complete records for the public to scrutinize, a task that would be as easy as hitting a button in the computer age and would tell us a great many thing the public does not know but deserves to know.  We are, after all, footing the bills as well as dealing with the consequences of every decision made in every court.

Actual facts are never demanded, or provided, to support all this nonsense about “finally” offering alternatives to sentencing (there are always alternatives — there always have been alternatives, including just not bothering to act on most crimes).

No, this is all merely grandstanding.  Smoke and mirrors.  But it has passed for public debate about crime for fifty years, and journalists are hardly going to change their game now.

Riots and Reporters

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Recently, the death of former L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates inspired a smattering of recollections of the Rodney King riots, in which 53 people died.  That loss of life, which included horrific murders of good samaritans trying to save others, is largely forgotten in favor of a narrative that exculpates — even celebrates — the rioters, while blaming police for both causing the violence and failing to quell it once it started.

In other words, the police were guilty because they used too much force against King after he weaponized his car, but they were also guilty because they didn’t use enough force against the rioters, though they would have been just as guilty had they used more force to stop the rioters.  The police are guilty no matter what they do, not just in America, but everywhere.  And in this strange rubric of culpability, they are deemed more guilty when the crime rate increases but also more guilty when the crime rate decreases.

Conversely, rioters are rarely held responsible for the crimes they commit, which may be why they often look so happy hurling bricks through store windows, while the policemen look so grim.  Riots are holidays from even small amounts of social responsibility for people who carry that burden lightly enough to begin with, and the worst violence is usually committed by criminal hangers-on just looking for any excuse to break things and steal and beat people while posing for the cameras.

In 1992, this dynamic had ugly consequences in Atlanta. The Rodney King riots in Atlanta were a weird, wannabe event, a manufactured spectacle, though the violence was real.  Looking back, I can’t avoid a creeping suspicion that the riots got as bad as they did in Atlanta because CNN is headquartered in the area where they occurred.  CNN reporters often illustrate their stories by taking their cameras to the streets below their studios: anyone familiar with the area will recognize the CNN food court in footage from countless stories on countless subjects.  CNN “man on the street” interviews are often something quite a bit more specific, as in: “the man on Forsyth Street between Luckie Street and MLK, in downtown Atlanta at lunchtime.”

So after the riots broke out in L.A., CNN did what they always do and went looking for footage in downtown Atlanta just beneath their studios (any other news network would do the same).  What ensued was strange mini-riots in which youths were obviously acting out for the cameras.

You can’t deny the excitement of news reporters when they’re jostling for position in a big national story like that one.  Is it fair to say that they egged the rioters on?  I’m not sure I would go quite that far.  But I do remember this: uninvolved people got off the streets pretty quickly, leaving little pockets of rioters fighting little pockets of police, being shadowed by little pockets of the media, all in the shadows of the CNN headquarters.  In L.A., it was far too dangerous to report from many portions of the city: police helicopters were actually taking fire over populated areas.  In Atlanta, the street scene arose symbiotically with the television cameras.

And the losers, as usual, were the police.  As Jack Dunphy writes in an interesting article here, Daryl Gates’ recent death has become yet another occasion for the media to single him out for blame for the damage done to Los Angeles by the rioters.  The way I remember it in Atlanta, the police were exasperated hall monitors trying to keep gangs of young men from doing more damage to downtown businesses and innocent pedestrians while the reporters aimed their cameras at the policemen, hoping one of them would make a wrong move, and the story would explode.

Benjamin LaGuer. Brutal Rapist Identified by DNA. His Famous Friends are Still Trying to Blame the Victim.

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Benjamin LaGuer, who became a cause celeb among the media and academic demigods of Boston until it turned out his DNA matched the crime scene (after faking his first DNA test by substituting another prisoner’s DNA), wants out of prison again (see here and here for earlier posts).

He has fewer supporters this time, but Noam Chomsky and John Silber are still ponying up.  Most of his fan club went into hiding or mourning when it turned out that LaGuer’s DNA was indeed in the rape kit — rather than grope towards ethical consistency by apologizing to a rape victim they had viciously dragged through the mud.

After the DNA match, John Silber and Noam Chomsky, who led the race-tinged hate campaign against the elderly victim, continued claiming that LaGuer was really innocent or that, even if he was guilty, he didn’t really understand that he was guilty, so “technically” he was innocent . . . and other appalling nonsense.   Silber, to the eternal shame of Boston University, actually testified on LaGuer’s behalf again last week.  Here is what Silber said about the man convicted of binding, torturing and raping an elderly woman for eight hours — before spending years attacking her from behind bars:

“I think he is one of the finest examples of a courageous, honorable human being I’ve ever met,’’ John Silber, a former president of Boston University, said at the hearing.

The victim’s son-in-law commented:

“There was never a question in her mind of his identity,’’ he said. “She was a courageous woman, and that seems to have been forgotten.”

John Silber is playing an extremely ugly game on the back of a deceased, scapegoated rape victim, and nobody in Boston, or elsewhere, seems to have the integrity to call him, or his elite peers, out.

The worst behavior, however, has been exhibited by the media itself. Reporters abandoned all traces of objectivity or ethics in their rush to champion LaGuer.  For years, they published “articles” that were, in reality, mere regurgitation of the latest defense strategy.  They behaved as if there had never been a prosecution, or a successful trial . . . or a brutal rape.  As time passed and appeals piled up, both the facts of the case and the details of the crime were buried in favor of speaking for the defense, or shilling breathless feature stories about LaGuer’s writing, personality, his preening supporters, and his courageous suffering.

Print journalists misrepresented the judicial record to such an extreme degree that it can only be called intentional.  And the lynchpin of all this behavior was attacks on the victim, sometimes veiled, sometimes not.  In their self-centered desire to be part of a narrative that reminded them of To Kill a Mockingbird (“Benjy Brigade” members repeatedly cited the book), reporters helped foment a hate campaign against an elderly victim of rape.

It is astonishing that people could even call themselves reporters while exchanging personal letters with LaGuer, giving him money, chattering about his “art,” and advocating for his appeals, but the media in Boston shamelessly did all of these things.  The LaGuer coverage became a textbook example of violating journalistic principles and practices.  Except, this textbook will never be written: local academicians were themselves too busy piling onto the “Benjy Brigade.”  There has been no public reflection on the rules that were broken.  Why bother?  It’s just the victim and her family that were harmed, and their humanity doesn’t matter.

Was it really a reporter, for instance, who helped LaGuer gain phone access to the victims’ hospital room, enabling the convict to pose as a priest on the phone and lash out at the dying woman?  Others proudly announced to the world that they had become one of LaGuer’s “pen pals” or prison helpmates.  Where were their editors; where were the media ethicists and academic onlookers while reporters were acting this way?

Eagerly doing the same.

Some are still whitewashing the record.  Recent news coverage questioning the veracity of the DNA test fails to so much as mention LaGuer’s earlier botched attempt to substitute another prisoner’s DNA for his own — an important part of any story.  Such omissions, large and small, are par for the course for reporters who once lined up excitedly to befriend LaGuer and accuse the victim (a U.S. veteran) of everything from insanity to racism — reporters who then lapsed into silence once they didn’t get the DNA results they were eagerly anticipating.

The handling of the LaGuer case says a great deal — and nothing admirable — about the ways the media is covering other claims of wrongful conviction.  The pattern of acting as mouthpieces for advocates, burying non-DNA evidence, ignoring actual court records, attacking innocent victims, whitewashing convicts’ records, and wildly misrepresenting the actual causes and prevalence of wrongful convictions is now sadly routine.

Benjamin LaGuer’s victim endured an unusually brutal rape, and then a public lynching at the hands of the most powerful people in Boston.  The lynch mob is still attacking her memory, after her death.  They have learned nothing, and they have no shame.

Republican Politics Fuels the Murder Rate. No, Really. The L.A. Times says so.


In an absurd instance of partisanship disguised as criminology, the L.A. Times is laying blame for the future homicide rate on people’s dissatisfaction with President Obama:

The recent spike in violent political rhetoric coupled with last week’s arrest of two men who threatened the lives of two Democratic House members has a lot of commentators worried about a surge in domestic political terrorism.  Those fears are misplaced. Not because there won’t be violence, but because politically inspired violence won’t necessarily be aimed at politicians.

You see, it’s not that “there won’t be violence.”  It’s that people who oppose the Democrats will go on killing sprees against ordinary Americans instead of politicians.  Or maybe in addition to themTimes editorialist Gregory Rodriguez says so.  He read a book about it.  Or, hopefully, he just skimmed it, because then what he writes here isn’t entirely the book author’s fault:

A few months ago, Ohio State University historian Randolph Roth published a groundbreaking book, “American Homicide,” that offers something like a unified theory of why Americans kill each other at such a high rate and what can be done about it.  After meticulously tracing trends in violence and political power in the U.S. from colonial times to the present, Roth concludes that high homicide rates “are not determined by proximate causes such as poverty, drugs, unemployment, alcohol, race, or ethnicity, but by factors … like the feelings that people have toward their government and the opportunities they have to earn respect without resorting to violence.”

All the way from colonial times.

Now, I have little doubt that Rodriguez is offering a less than complete description of the actual theory Roth is positing.  At least, one might hope.  Historians get in so much trouble when they project their political fantasies about things like homicide and gun control back onto the past.

Or worse, when they project those fantasies forward.  If the book is being accurately described in the L.A. Times, it sounds a lot like another classic of historical-criminological projection, All God’s Children, in which New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield blamed the Civil War for things like carjackings in upstate New York during the Carter years.  Any projection will do in the service of projecting blame from the people actually committing crime and onto the rest of us.  Or our great-great-grandparents.  Or children.  If it takes telescoping 250 years of history and as much data on comparative homicide rates as can be massaged from fragmentary sources in order to prove that America is and always has been rotten to the core, then caution be darned:

Roth’s analysis in fact puts politics at the very root of the highest homicide rate of any First World democratic nation. He points to the Civil War as the genesis of even peacetime unrest. It was not simply a case of violence begetting violence. Rather, high homicide rates were the symptom of low overall political confidence. The Civil War, Roth says, was “a catastrophic failure in nation building,” when a large percentage of the population lost faith in government and eyed their countrymen with distrust.  “Our high homicide rate started when we lost faith in ourselves and in each other,” he says.  Conservative writers like to argue that distrust for government is part of our birthright as Americans. And they’re right. It’s built into the system and can be found in the writings of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. But there’s a difference between distrust and disdain. The tradition of truly hating government began with the Civil War and a nation literally torn apart by contrasting visions and mores.

Sigh.  When I see history being slapped around like a bag of cats, it’s my brain that feels disenfranchised.

And then I remember that we are exceptional in America, and if our birthright is to be exceptionally violent because we’re such innate aberrants, then it’s up to us to embrace it.  At least we’re not a bunch of milquetoasts like the French:

Or Stalin:

(of course, the persecution of the Kulaks was difficult but necessary)

I know, I know, it’s not fair to bring this other stuff up (Hitler). Professor Roth says he is looking only at a very specific phenomenon: street crime in relation to political dissent that at the same time is not a direct expression of either organized or unorganized political action and which occurs only in “First World democratic countries” (no Pol Pot)  (No Mao).

Sort of like longitudinally comparing Newark to the Cotswolds and finding us short.  And there might be a lesson in that, but then again, maybe we should just move along from the whole “analyze” thing and start blaming Republicans, because the Times editorialist is chafing at the bit to get there:

Roth essentially believes that that antagonism plays out today when elections leave half the nation feeling empowered and the other half feeling disenfranchised. The more people who feel empowered, the lower the homicide rate.

Ummm, the more which people feel empowered?  One man’s empowerment is another man’s dis-empowerment, but with one of the outcomes, the murder rate goes down?  Let’s just not go there.

So, how does the professor arrive at the far end of this fascinating veiled leap?  Does he have data winnowing the political views held by the murderers themselves?  Has he uncovered some trans-historical political satisfaction scale for the homicidally disaffected?

Of course not.  He has no way of determining the actual politics of actual killers, who make up only the tiniest of fractions in any of the communities being thus tarred with their presence.  And then there’s the sticky wicket of not being able to produce any coherent measure of “empowerment” for large portions of the non-homicidal population throughout most of history.  Women of all races were never, until recently, as empowered as men, but that didn’t drive them to commit enough murders to affect the murder rate.  Likewise, murder rates by slaves and ex-slaves don’t exactly support Roth’s hypothesis.  And over the past fifty years, the political, economic and social power of African American men has increased as the murder rate among them rose precipitously, then fell, then rose again, then recently fell slightly, then even more recently started climbing a bit.

Details, details.  Apparently, it’s not about actual power: it’s about perceptions of power.  Can the homicide rate really be minutely correlated to municipal or national feelings?  Are killers as a group actually (and solely) driven by their sense of representational power?  What happens when the President is a Democrat and the Mayor a Republican?  In New York City, when this was true, there was the most statistically significant decrease in crime in the last half century.  But if Roth is to be believed, the New York miracle had nothing to do with policing or sentencing and everything to do with conscious — if unclear — political choices made by the killers and potential killers themselves.

What do you do with a theory like this when Bill Clinton is “feeling your pain” as Rudy Giuliani offers you a curt “up yours”?

If people feel their government shares their values and acts on their behalf, they have greater trust and confidence in their dealings with others. Conversely, those who feel out of power and mistrustful of government carry those attitudes into everyday relationships with murderous results.  As Roth sees it, even activists and politicians — from the right or the left — who sew [sic] bitter disdain for government are indirectly encouraging the mistrust that breeds violent behavior.  “The extent that people feel dispossessed affects how they deal with other people,” Roth told me. “They carry that anger … to a discussion in a tavern or a property dispute. That anger can cause us to lose our temper more quickly.”

A property dispute?  A tavern?  Remember, Roth is insisting that trans-historical homicide rates “are not determined by proximate causes such as poverty, drugs, unemployment, alcohol, race, or ethnicity.”  So the next time you’re in a tavern, and that really drunk Colonial guy at the end of the bar slits some guy’s throat with a cutlass while screaming about easements and letting the cat go in his yard, remember:

That was really a fight about perceptions of political disenfranchisement.

Now here’s where the story gets really . . . academic.  Roth claims to have discovered what fueled the white homicide rate in 1980: it was losing the Vietnam War (in 1973).  No, busing.  Oh sorry, the Iran Hostage Crisis:

Roth’s research compares the trends in “political trust” and murder statistics. For example, white homicide peaked in 1980, the final year of the Carter administration, when people angry over school busing, the Iran hostage crisis, and the defeat in Vietnam were u[n]happy in large enough numbers to bring white trust in government to its post-war low.

Now, I know the Ford years were not particularly memorable for any of us, but, come on.  What does 1980 have to do with a war that ended in 1973, besides 1980 being the year when the white homicide rate peaked and Reagan entered office?  Is there even one iota of evidence that white men who committed homicide in 1979 were Reagan supporters who would soon start feeling better about things once Carter was gone, and stop the killin’?  Could Roth produce evidence of even one murder related to feelings about the Iran hostage crisis?  But wait, we’re just coming up to the real point:

Does this suggest that Barack Obama’s election will cause a shift in rates of violence? Absolutely. According to Roth, FBI data released in December bear that out. In the first six months of 2009, urban areas that Obama carried saw the steepest drop in the homicide rate since the mid-1990s.

Actually, that drop wasn’t nearly as steep as the one previously mentioned that occurred after Republicans seized control in places like New York City and restored order, following the murderous bloodshed that reigned during Democratic administrations (which were, by the lights of this theory, better received).  Also, there is currently an uptick of violent crime in many urban areas, including Chicago, despite Obama still being president.  Could Republicans be creeping into urban areas and killing people there, just to muddle the theoretical waters?  I wouldn’t put it past them.  Not that there is any evidence of this happening.

But that’s just evidence.  And what, allegedly, is happening on the flip side of the coin?  Roth’s answer delivers far less than it promises:

In the first six months of 2009, urban areas that Obama carried saw the steepest drop in the homicide rate since the mid-1990s.  During that period, the states with the largest percentage of counties that voted more heavily Republican in 2008 than they did in 2004 saw an 11% rise in homicide in cities of over 100,000 residents.

Whoa.  That looks like a lot of work.  States — states, not urban areas, or suburban or rural areas — with “the largest percentage of counties” that “voted more heavily Republican in 2008 than they did in 2004” saw homicide rates climb “in cities of over 100,000.”  I think what Roth is trying to say here is that his argument doesn’t work if you compare Red states and Blue states, or Red counties to Blue counties.  Crime rates actually remain pretty geographically stable, except for the “donut effect’ occurring in some big cities where public housing, and the crime that goes with it, is being pushed outside city limits by gentrification.  But those generally aren’t places that voted more heavily Republican in 2008 than 2004, so he isn’t counting them.

What is he counting?  Not very much, really.  The difference between a tiny number of bizarrely selected places over a tiny period of time.  Sort of like statistical gerrymandering.

But what’s really important is that the Republicans are going to kill everyone:

I asked Roth to speculate on what could happen if the right continued its violent rhetoric and didn’t gain seats in November or 2012. He suggested looking back at the 1960s and 1970s, when left-wing activists were preaching their own disdain for government. As trust of government evaporated, the murder rate doubled.  As my grandmother would say, “God Bless America.”

No, Gregory Rodriguez, bless your heart, as polite folks are wont to say when someone utters something embarrassingly dumb.  More than dumb, actually: the insinuations in this article are offensive, albeit impressively bipartisan in their offense, if you think about it.

Then there’s the untruthiness.  For instance, the murder rate started climbing in the 1960’s long before Bill Ayers and his utterly charming wife began advocating killing cops and extremely pregnant movie stars and other living things.

Frankly, I don’t know who should be more insulted: Republicans who are being accused of responsibility for future acts of street violence because they lost 2009 elections, or Democrats who are being portrayed as being such innately violent people that they must get their way in the voting booth, or else the murder rate will rise again.

I like to think better of all people who choose to express themselves politically.  I don’t presume they’re one chad away from bloodshed, for instance, even when I don’t agree with them.  But maybe that’s just me.

Thanks to Modern Sex Offender Registries and DNA Databases, A Rodney Alcala Would Not Succeed Today

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Today, the lead story on all my local news stations was about a Schizu named Tuchi who saved his family from a house fire by barking incessantly at the flames.  Dog-saves-family-from-fire stories are always popular.

Not so popular, at least to the media?  Stories about how registering sex offenders saves lives.  There is only one story to be told about sex offender registries, according to the fourth estate, and that story is how registries viciously destroy men’s lives when all they did was commit one little sex crime and must now live forever under the cold eye of the state.

The corrective to such thinking is always just under the reporters’ noses, but most never seem to suss it out.  Rodney Alcala is one such corrective, but once you get past the fact that Alcala has a giant IQ and funny hair and was once a contestant on The Dating Game, the media (with one significant exception) seems to have lost interest in any lessons that might be learned from his long and shocking criminal career.

For the L.A. Times, studied incuriosity is understandable: after all, they literally allowed Alcala to operate under their noses — in their offices — after he’d racked up an incredibly horrifying, publicly recorded sex crime record.  I’d be busy changing the subject, too.

But what about everyone else?  Alcala is a poster boy for the efficacy of registering sex offenders and other demonstrably violent criminals.  Here is a guy who went from raping and trying to murder an 8-year old in California to working as a camp counselor in New Hampshire while spending weekends in New York killing socialites.  Sure, he did it under an assumed name, but when you combine fingerprinting and national registries and DNA database sharing, you come up with a pretty compelling explanation for the sharp reduction in sex crimes over the past twenty years.

And when you don’t bother to do these things right, what you get is a trail of raped and murdered women, from places like Venice (Florida) to Bradenton, precisely where I once tried, and failed, to prevent a similar trail of women’s bodies, eighteen years ago.

Things are better today.  But they won’t stay that way if we don’t recognize and acknowledge innovations that have actually lowered the crime rate.  Powerful, well-funded, pro-offender activist groups are always working to roll back the clock on things like DNA databasing and minimum mandatory sentencing and three-strikes laws and sex offender registration, and, sadly, they’ve got most of the print media yipping their agenda like so many toy poodles.

Rodney Alcala: The Forrest Gump of Sex Murder. And What That Says About the Rest of Us.


Yesterday, serial killer Rodney Alcala was sentenced to death for the third time for the 1979 murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe.  He was also sentenced for the torture-killings of four other women.

Today, the media is reporting brief, painful snippets about the five victims.  Many other victims are believed to exist.

Tomorrow, Alcala will undoubtedly begin appealing the sentence again.  Why not?  The taxpayers of California pay his legal bills: his lawyers have grown fat over the past three decades, helping a serial killer play games with the appeals process.   The victims have spent lifetimes sitting in courtrooms watching him toy with their loved ones’ memories.

Perhaps the worst part of this story is the role played by certain culturally powerful people who knew about some of Alcala’s most vicious crimes but still allowed him get out of prison or provided him with the cover of social credibility.

Had Alcala been put away for life after he was caught, in 1968, in the act of raping and beating an 8-year old girl, his later victims — Georgia Wixted, Jill Parenteau, Charlotte Lamb, Jill Barcomb, Robin Samsoe, and others — would be alive today.  But in 1971, at his sentencing, the state of California decided that Alcala deserved another chance.  They gave him to just a handful of months for the crime, practically letting him walk free for the near-murder of an 8-year old.  The child survived only because police broke into Alcala’s house while he was beating her head in with a steel pipe.

This sentence is a perfect illustration of the theory that, until recently, predators actually received lesser sentences when they sexually violated their victims.  I believe Alcala would have gotten a much longer sentence if he had merely tried to kill the child, without raping her, too.  In the therapeutic environment of the 1970’s justice system, being a sexual offender was literally an excuse for lawbreaking.  Sex offenders were to be pitied, if not slyly admired.

Anybody care to challenge that?

Rodney Alcala

Now for the weighty hangover of such indulgences. Investigators are asking anyone missing loved ones to look at this gallery of photographs that were in Alcala’s possession.  It’s not known how many women and girls he killed, so the photos may lead police to more victims.

You have to wonder why this wasn’t done decades ago.  The photographs have been in the possession of authorities since around 1979.  Perhaps if the state were not so strapped from subsidizing Alcala’s relentless manipulation of the courts, they would have a little more cash on hand to look for more of his victims:

Alcala has spent his time behind bars penning You, the Jury, a 1994 book in which he claims his innocence and points to a different suspect; suing the California prisons for a slip-and-fall claim and for failing to provide him a low-fat diet; and, according to prosecutors, complaining about a law that required he and other death-row inmates to submit DNA mouth swabs for comparison by police against unsolved crimes. . . He has a talent for mining legal technicalities and has repeatedly enjoyed success with appellate judges.

Astonishingly, after being convicted of the vicious rape and attempted murder of an 8-year old, making the FBI’s ten most wanted list, absconding, being sent to  prison, being released, then getting packed off to prison again for abducting a 13-year old girl, Alcala landed a job at the Los Angeles Times.  The newspaper is being quite circumspect on the whole serial killer recruitment snafu thing, but it was reported in L.A. Weekly.

You might think a whole building full of investigative reporters would have betrayed a little curiosity when a two-time convicted child rapist started flashing home-made child porn around their water cooler, particularly considering the fact that he was also under investigation for the Hillside Strangler killings at the same time.

You’d think so, but you would be wrong.  From the L.A. Weekly:

Even as the L.A. Times was publishing sensational articles in the late 1970s about the mysterious Hillside Strangler, who terrorized much of L.A. at that time, Alcala, who worked typesetting articles for that paper, was being questioned by the LAPD in relation to those very murders.  In an interview with the [L.A.] Weekly, Alcala’s former Times colleague Sharon Gonzalez remembers: “He would talk about going to parties in Hollywood. It seemed like he knew famous people. He kept his body in great shape. He was very open about his sexuality. It was all new to me.”  He brought his photography portfolio to show his Times workmates, she says, and the photos were “of young girls. I thought it was weird, but I was young, I didn’t know anything. When I asked why he took the photos, he said their moms asked him to. I remember the girls were naked.”

You don’t want to seem like you’re judging the man.

Gonzalez adds that she wasn’t “smart enough or mature enough to know” that she was looking at child porn. Yet incredibly, she describes how L.A. Times‘ management in the 1970s had a golden opportunity to turn Alcala in, but did nothing: “There were other people in the department who were in their 40s and 50s. The [Times] supervisor at the time — she saw it.” Instead, the reaction at the newspaper was, “We thought he was a little different. Strange about sex.”

Which L.A. Times managers knew about Alcala’s record? His impromptu workplace polaroid shows?  Good for Gonzalez for coming forward: does anyone else have a conscience?  Considering the paper’s current editorial stance opposing sentencing enhancements and measures to monitor sex offenders, it would be illuminating to know if any current editorial board members were among those who knew him back then.

Of course, doing nothing to stop child rape was in at the time.

It is actually hard to believe that Alcala was given a job at the Times despite his heinous record.  Was he given the job because of it?  There is no way they couldn’t know about his past: he was a registered sex offender, had made a daring escape and had been, you know, in the papers.  Were journalists actually so besotted with ideas about the illegitimacy of incarceration that they bought the idea that he had been . . . rehabilitated?

Had Maileresque outlaw mentality really eroded such giant chunks of the ethical hive?

Alcala studied film-making under Roman Polanski, too. I wonder what other passions they shared.

Hollywood pedophiles, media crusaders, rapist-loving parole boards, lenient judges, hip defense attorneys, art-world glitterati, The Dating Game (also post-child rape): this guy was the Forrest Gump of sexual torturers.

The most painfully comprehensive coverage of the Alcala saga is Christine Pelisek’s excellent series of articles in L.A.Weekly.  Read them and weep:

Dating Game Serial Killer Suspect Cross-Examines Himself Over His Hair

Orange County Prosecutor: Suspected Serial Killer and Dating Game Contestant Rodney Alcala Savagely Killed His Victims Because “He Enjoyed It.”

Rodney Alcala’s Final Revenge: Begged to Spare Victims’ Families At Trial, The Alleged Serial Killer Ratchets Up The Suffering

Rodney Alcala: The Fine Art of Killing: One Man’s Murderous Romp Through Polite Society

Orange County Judge Sentences Serial Killer and Dating Game Winner Rodney Alcala to Death


Tomorrow: Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals

Admissability of Evidence, Assignment of Blame: The Paterson, NJ Rape Case

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Man rapes, tortures five daughters, impregnates them repeatedly, forces them to deliver babies at home.

Administers beatings with steel-toe boots, wooden boards.  Withholds food, doles out extreme psychological torture.

Flees authorities.  Keeps the young women captive for decades.  For their lifetimes.  Receives probation after getting caught once.  Some of the babies die.  Daughters, wife forced to secretly bury them.

But what about the admissibility of evidence?  Isn’t that what’s really important here?

AP — A New Jersey man with apocalyptic visions is accused of years of terrorizing his family, raping his five daughters and impregnating three, beating his children with wooden boards and even moving at one point to avoid child welfare investigators.  The nightmarish picture of a family subjected to more than a decade of threats and violence and largely cut off from the outside world is emerging in a state courthouse where prosecutors are preparing to have the man stand trial five times, one per child victim. . . . In her testimony, his daughter described experiencing and witnessing beatings administered with wooden boards and steel-toed boots. She said minor transgressions often were punished by the withholding of food.   The girl’s mother testified some of the babies were delivered at home and never received birth certificates, and said in at least two instances babies who died in the home were buried without authorities being notified.  The children were home-schooled, she said, and were discouraged from interacting with other kids.  “No one really asked questions of each other because somebody would tell on somebody and somebody would get in trouble,” she said.  Even after she became aware of sexual abuse, she said she was too frightened to confront him.  “I was afraid to ever accuse him of being demented, or being a pedophile. I knew the word but I wouldn’t dare use it because it would result in a beating,” she said. “I’m sure my not standing up to him didn’t help the kids. They felt disempowered also. There was just a lot of fear. Everybody was threatened.”  Daryl Pennington, an attorney representing the defendant, did not return messages seeking comment

Now, wait for it . . .

Attorneys are scheduled back in court on Friday, when state Superior Court Judge Raymond Reddin is to rule on the admissibility of the wife’s testimony.

It’s the system, not Judge Reddin’s fault, but they will spend more time in that courtroom quibbling over rules of evidence than talking about the crimes themselves.  Such is our justice system, after fifty years of defense-driven exclusion of evidence rulings.  The truth, the whole truth, about what this man has done will unavoidably take a back seat to our sickening and criminal-biased criminal procedural rules.

So who, other than the defendant, is at fault?

Usually, the media’s default angle in a case like this is the “failure of child protection authorities” line.  But is it really the child protection workers who failed when the court lets him go?  In this case, child protection did their job by getting this animal into a courtroom and at least temporarily removing one of his children from the home.  They some judge cut him loose.

Many reporters view child protection workers as fair game — prosecutors and judges, not so much.

Refreshingly, the AP reporter here does not point fingers at the child protection workers and call it a day.  He seeks comment from the prosecutors in the previous case, where the offender was permitted to walk away from extremely serious charges.  However, the reporter doesn’t name the judge who delivered such a lenient sentence.  Maybe the prosecutors were asking for more time.  Maybe it was the judge’s fault.  Maybe both the prosecutor and the judge wanted to throw the book at this man, but they were constrained by a system that still makes it difficult to hold people responsible for crimes committed against their own children.  Here is the AP account:

As the first [rape] case nears trial, questions have been raised about whether state authorities could have put a stop to the abuse sooner. Some of the crimes are alleged to have occurred while the family was under scrutiny by the state child welfare agency, and after the father had been arrested and pleaded guilty to assault and child endangerment.

During that time, child protection authorities has already brought the man to court.  His success in essentially beating the charges (mere probation, despite fleeing, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, abuse) cannot be laid at their feet.  Doubtlessly, beating those charges empowered the abuser.  I’m sure the child protection workers feared for his daughter’s lives after the court cut him loose.  Then, this:

Arrested in 2006, [the defendant] stands accused of raping five of his daughters, three of whom are believed to have given birth to a total of six children. He is being held on $1 million bond.  Having been ruled competent to stand trial earlier this year, he faces 27 charges including aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, lewdness, child endangerment, aggravated criminal sexual contact and criminal sexual contact.

He is back in jail now, awaiting trial, but this man was out of jail on bail for the 2006 rape charges for a very long time. has more troubling details about his time out, below.

If the defendant was being evaluated for mental competence, for such serious offenses — five young rape victims, three repeatedly impregnated by him — and if the question was whether he even had the ability to control this behavior (shades of the twinkie excuse of sexual assault), and if his wife and daughters had been tortured by him and were terrorized by him, and he believed their lives were his to destroy, what the hell was he doing out of prison for five minutes, let alone 3+ years, while being “evaluated for psychological competence”?

What type of system says to a serial rapist and torturer: OK, you may not be able to control your rapin’, torturin’ behavior, so we’re going to cut you loose while your lawyer drags out the process of getting you checked out by the yours-and-mine shrinks?

Our system.  I wonder how many other little girls this rapist was able to “get” while awaiting trial this time.  We know some of what he did the last time he walked away with a slap on the wrist:

Authorities say the assaults began in the mid-1980s and lasted until 2002, when the parents separated, and occurred at residences in Paterson, East Orange, Orange and Eatontown. . . According to court records and published reports, the girls’ father was arrested in 2000 and charged with kidnapping for allegedly trying to take three of his children from state custody at a Monmouth County medical center. He posted bail and later pleaded guilty to assault and child endangerment and was sentenced to a year’s probation. Prosecutors in Passaic County say one of the daughters, then in her early teens, was raped as late as January 2002.  New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements.  But the man’s wife and one of his daughters testified that the agency had indeed removed at least one of the children from the family’s home, and that the family had temporarily moved, first to Jersey City and then to Florida, to avoid the agency’s investigation.

Who was the judge in the 2000 case?  What does he or she have to say about the decision to give him probation for such serious offenses? has more information about the 2006 bail decision. The defendant has been out on bail for years and was only remanded six months ago.  Read this horrifying passage carefully:

It is a complicated series of events that led a state Superior Court judge in Paterson to remand [the defendant] to the Passaic County Jail on Sept. 24 after having been free on $500,000 bail since his 2006 arrest. [He] is awaiting trial on charges he sexually assaulted his daughters and deliberately impregnated them.  [The defendant], 50, committed the sexual assaults from 1985 through 2002 in Paterson, East Orange, Orange and Eatontown, according to prosecutors. Authorities have described him as a “blueblood,” or someone who believes in keeping his bloodlines pure, and that the assaults were a disturbing attempt to create “purebred” offspring.  A hearing is scheduled before state Superior Court Judge Raymond Reddin in Paterson on Tuesday to determine how to deal with the matrix of factors that have made and could continue to make the $280,000 home he used as collateral for his bail insufficient. [The defendant] will remain in jail as long as the matter is unresolved.  What led to the suddenly precarious status of [the defendant’s] bail was that prosecutors noticed the defendant was apparently accompanied by a woman and a young child at a recent pretrial conference before Reddin last month, said Joseph Del Russo, Passaic County chief assistant prosecutor. Defendants in sexual assault cases — as a condition of bail — are often ordered not to have contact with small children. Prosecutors checked to see if such a no-contact order was part of [the defendant’s] bail conditions set back in 2006. As it turns out, it was. But that became a side issue when prosecutors noticed an even bigger problem, Del Russo said.  “We began to discover that his original bail posting — that is, the original process of posting bail with the County Bail Unit — was flawed,” Del Russo said. The most glaring problem, Del Russo said, was that proof that the property [the defendant] owned was worth $285,000 and was unencumbered — meaning no liens against it — was misleading. The document providing that proof was actually a title search produced by the seller of the property, according to Del Russo.

Let me attempt to reign in my disgust here long enough to paraphrase:

This child-raping animal has been walking free for 3 1/2 years while his attorneys successfully deflected his trial on multiple rape and torture charges.  By now, the defendant is so unworried about consequences that he actually showed up in court with a woman and young child — knowing full well that by having the child with him, he was violating his bail conditions in a child-rape case — in front of law enforcement, the prosecutor, and the judge.

However, the revelation that the child-rapist had another child under his control isn’t what landed him in jail again.

No, the endangering-another-innocent-child-after-impregnating-three-of-your-daughters-six-times-and-raping-two-others isn’t the problem.  Oh, heck no.  That, according to the reporter, the courts can swallow.  Regarding that, they’re good with the guy being out on the streets indefinitely.  Another two or three years, at least.

So what’s this bigger problem than child rape?  Real estate valuation.

The quote bigger problem unquote is that the child-rapist’s house, which he put up for collateral for bail, has some title issues and needs to be reappraised.  Yes indeed, that’s far more relevant than letting a child-rapist traipse out of the courtroom with another little baby in tow:

The most glaring problem, [Passaic County assistant prosecutor Joseph] Del Russo said, was that proof that the property [the defendant] owned was worth $285,000 and was unencumbered — meaning no liens against it — was misleading. The document providing that proof was actually a title search produced by the seller of the property, according to Del Russo.”The seller produced for [the defendant] a title search that showed the house was paid for — free and clear — and unencumbered,” Del Russo said. “Instead of [the defendant] showing his interest in the property, he showed us a document from the seller, rather than from him. So we don’t know, when he brought the house, whether he had a tax lien that followed him, or if he took a second mortgage on it. It was certainly misleading, let’s put it that way.”

Pardon me for being blunt, but shouldn’t the prosecutor be raising hell about the fact that the child rapist has a little child in his custody instead of prattling on to the media about real estate minutiae?

To heck with the mental state of the defendant: unless the reporter got the story very wrong, the heads Passaic County authorities need to be examining are the ones on the northern end of their own necks.  While the rest of us examine our hearts.  Doesn’t child rape matter?  Child rape.  Impregnating your daughters, over and over again.  Forcing them to give birth in front of you, for the love of God.  Making them bury their babies in secret.

Kicking their little bodies with steel-toed shoes.  Between rapes.  The prosecutor is busy talking about real estate?


Whenever I read a story like this, I wonder at the lack of outrage.

  • Where are the campus rape activists and the N.O.W. activists, with their “take back the night” marches and “teach-ins” and glossy “no-means-no” leaflets?  Is that all just . . . self-serving theatrics?
  • Where are the legal activists and law school students and law professors who pour millions of dollars and thousands of hours into investigating perfectly legitimate convictions every year because “every single injustice is unacceptable” . . . unless, of course, it is injustice absorbed by the victims of crime?
  • Where are the across-the-disciplines academics who never met a violent offender who didn’t simply titillate them?  Do they ever doubt their loyalties, ethics, or research claims, looking at a case like this?
  • Where are the tough-on-crime politicians?  Are conservatives still playing shy on child molestation because their “pro-family” constituents don’t like the state messing with private lives?  Are the “dad’s rights” deadbeats whining about attacks on the patriarchy again?  The small government purists linking arms with the A.C.L.U. to denounce prison costs?
  • Where are the crusading journalists, especially self-styled experts like Dorothy Rabinowitz, who has been dining out on the story of two (two!) bad child rape prosecutions from two decades ago, although no pattern of wrongful prosecution was ever uncovered (because none existed)?  Rabinowitz’s large-print account of the Amirault and Michaels cases has done immeasurable damage to the ability of prosecutors to convince jurors that a child has been raped, yet Rabinowitz has never revisited her own claims that these anomalous cases represented anything other than a real good chance to present herself as some sort of breathless freedom fighter.  “Like lightning, the charge could strike anyone” she trilled.  With no supporting evidence.  Because there was none.  This shameful chapter in the usually reliable Wall Street Journal’s history, and Rabinowitz’s histrionic, projection-heavy, thin-on-facts book, No Crueler Tyrannies, could both use an honesty makeover via some attention to the unfolding Paterson case, which has far more in common with the  average child molestation case than the handful of decades-old cases Rabinowitz still rails about.

You know, in the interest of opposing cruel tyrannies.

Media (Un)Ethics: Using the Anniversary of Jessica Lunsford’s Murder to Advocate For Sex Offenders

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Last week marked the fifth anniversary of Jessica Lunsford’s murder. Nine-year old Lunsford was kidnapped, raped, and buried alive by her neighbor, a convicted sex offender.

You would think the anniversary of Lunsford’s horrific murder would give rise to thoughts about our failure to protect her and other victims of violent recidivists.  You would think reporters would cover stories about early release of sexual predators, lax sentencing of sexual predators, and failure to punish sexual predators.  You would think that, but you would be wrong.  In Florida’s “prestige” media, the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald,  Lunsford’s death is treated as a cautionary tale — not cautioning against the fatal practice of going easy on child rapists, mind you, but scorning those who are trying to prevent similar crimes from happening again.

The problem, according to John Frank of the SPTimes, is not that John Couey was free to kill Jessica five years ago: the problem is that public, thoughtless brutes that we are, reacted to the murder of Jessica by lowering our opinion of sex offenders:

The brutal killing of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, which happened five years ago today, fueled the creation of a boogeyman in Florida politics: the sex offender.

Never mind that the “boogeyman” in this case and countless others was not an imaginary threat but a real one, thus not technically a boogeyman at all.  This is the breathless first sentence of a breathless denunciation of any and all efforts to keep track of sex offenders, from stricter sentencing, to registration laws, to living restrictions, to simply not feeling warm and fuzzy enough towards that convicted child molester who wants to lead your son’s scout troop.

I say “denunciation” instead of “reporting” because reporting signifies a veneer of objectivity.  At least the Times refrained from attacking Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, this time.   That must have been hard for them, for attacking Mark Lunsford over everything from his educational background to the type of car he drives has become a sort of newsroom sport among Times staffers.

I wrote about Lunsford-bashing here and here.

Lunsford has been unforgivably smeared, and now the anniversary his daughter’s death is being used to slyly advocate for rapists and killers under the guise of “reporting.”  If only the St. Petersburg Times had an institute for journalistic ethics or something: maybe they could visit it and learn to reign in such ugly behavior.  Instead, because Mark Lunsford is a crime victim advocate, rather than an advocate for criminals like the man who murdered his daughter, he’s fair game to the so-called reporters who hound his every move.

Thirteen Strikes and Still Not Out. The Media Gets Three-Strikes Wrong Again. Robert Ferguson is Not a Victim.


Reporters searching to illustrate the cruel and arbitrary nature of California’s three-strikes law have struck out again.  Their careless advocacy is actually providing opportunities to inform the public about facts that should have been part of the reporting on this subject all along.

Particularly, that the three-strikes law isn’t arbitrary.   Prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing to apply “three-strikes,” or not.  All that hype about an hysterical public forcing prosecutors and judges to send away shoplifters and pot smokers for life sentences?  Not true.  Prosecutors choose to forgo three strikes from 20% to 40% of the time when they could use it.

Petty criminals striking out for a series of minor property crimes?  Not true.  The California law actually requires the first and second “strikes” to be for serious and/or violent crimes.  When the third crime is a lesser offense, that’s when prosecutors often choose not to pursue enhanced sentencing.

Three convictions over a lifetime, even for youthful offenses, and then you’re out?  That’s not the way the law works.  Look at the real records of the people sentenced.  Routinely, only some of their prior “serious and/or violent” offenses are counted as first and second strikes.

Yet the wildly slanted reporting continues.

For years, the media poster boy of three-strikes was Jerry DeWayne Williams, mythically incarcerated for life for stealing a slice of pizza (a story that is not true, no matter how many times it is fervently recounted by overstimulated sociology professors — see my post, here).  In fact, Williams has been arrested three more times with virtually no consequences since that not-actually-serving-life-for-pizza-theft incident.  He threatened to kill someone, in front of a police officer, and got released.  He violated probation — twice — and got released.  Yet the “experts” don’t relay such facts to their students when they rant against three-strikes laws and the cruelty of the American Justice System in the front of the classroom.

Nor do they explain why they have been using such an inane falsehood to illustrate their arguments against this law for more than a decade now.  Have they no better case to make?  Such as, maybe, a real one?

Recently, the activists-cum-academicians-cum-journalists excitedly found another fake “three-strikes victim” to play up.  Robert Ferguson, an ugly piece of work, became an instant hero when he shoplifted a bag of cheese from a grocery store and a prosecutor tried to have him put away for 11 years, prompting wild outcry.  Activist rage ran high against the prosecutor, and the “arbitrary” system, and the cruelty that lies in people’s hearts, etc. etc. etc.

Thanks to another little-contemplated fact of three-strikes laws — that judges also may exercise sentencing discretion — Ferguson will actually be out of prison in about two years.  Yet the newly-minted myth of his oppression will undoubtedly live on in the hearts of sloppy reporters and college professors.

It is now apparently a hanging offense for a prosecutor to so much as request a strict sentence for a career criminal.

And, contrary to newspaper reports, Ferguson did more than steal a bag of cheese.  That was the less serious charge,  not that you would read it in the paper.  Marcos Breton, of the Sacramento Bee, offers a bracing corrective to the hagiography being built up around Robert Ferguson:

Robert Ferguson is the definition of a recidivist criminal, in and out of prison since the early 1980s.  He didn’t just steal a bag of Tillamook shredded cheese worth $3.99 from Woodland’s Nugget Market. He stole the wallet of a mom tending to her sick kid at a 7-11.  He’s broken into people’s homes numerous times. And every time he’s been released from prison, he’s committed new crimes and gone back in.  He could have been sentenced to life in prison long before now. His public defender, Monica Brushia, confirmed he has six strikes against him with all the burglaries and crimes he’s committed over the years.  Ferguson just hasn’t been sentenced that way. . .

Some would argue that 11 years is still too severe for Ferguson’s crimes – and [Yolo County Judge Thomas] Warriner agreed. With time served, Ferguson could be on the street in less than two years, Brushia said.  “He hasn’t gone around hurting people,” said Brushia, who added that Ferguson can’t control his bipolar impulses.  So what happens when he gets out of prison next time? “I told him, ‘You really need to stay medicated and get the psychological help you need,’ ” Brushia said.  Does Brushia think he’ll stay clean? “I’m not a fortune teller,” she said.

How contemptuous of her.  She should have to repeat that to Ferguson’s next victims.  For that matter, does she really think she’s doing her client a favor, getting him released to a situation where, according to her, he is a constant danger to himself and actually innocent people (if this bipolar stuff is true, rather than being the latest excuse reeled out to justify anti-social behavior)?  Ferguson has 13 previous convictions.  He has spent 22 of the last 27 years in prison for other crimes.

13 convictions.  13.  Six separate burglaries.  And it makes the international wire services and shrieking headlines in Europe when some prosecutor asked a judge to do something to protect the public from him?

It’s worth repeating that Ferguson was not only being prosecuted for shoplifting cheese.  He had an additional, more serious crime, for which the prosecutor was seeking the enhanced sentencing.  He thuggishly robbed a woman who was distracted when her sick child vomited in a 7-11.

Imagine if the media had reported truthfully:

Career Criminal With 13 Convictions Tried for Robbing Mother Tending Her Sick Child, Additional Theft

That sounds lots worse than what was reported by the brave truth-tellers of the MSM:

Man Who Put Cheese Down His Pants Faces Life Sentence

Make that “sounds worse” to everyone except the criminal-fetishizing New York Times, which calls the assault on the mother “petty theft,” and CBS News, which calls the robbery of the mother, and I quote, “(extremely) petty theft.”  Nice.

Marcos Breton continues:

The truth is, there is a good chance Ferguson will victimize someone again. He has nearly 30 years’ experience as a career criminal.  What if he breaks into a home, stumbles in on a family and panics?

Good point.  He’s a mentally ill career criminal who has already escalated to breaking into houses and attacking individuals in public spaces.  Who, besides Ms. Brushia, wants to bet that will end well?

The prosecutor in this case, Jeff Reisig, has been demonized. However, as Breton explains, Reisig virtually never uses three-strikes:

[I]n the end, Reisig wasn’t seeking a life sentence. After a psychologist’s report indicated that Ferguson is bipolar, Reisig sought 11 years.  Since 2000, only 12 people – less than 1 percent of Yolo’s felony caseload – have been sentenced to life under the state’s “three strikes” law, Reisig said.

To summarize: for the past ten years, more than 99% of the felons walking into a Yolo County courtroom have not been subjected to three strikes, and 12 were, a little more than one per year.  Yet this is not good enough for the activists: they want 100% of all felons to be given endless second chances.  In their eyes, every criminal is simply a misunderstood saint.  In their eyes, we are the only real criminals, for wanting to be safe.

The dishonesty of the media on three-strikes is impressive. Ferguson’s more serious offense goes largely unreported in the rush to condemn the prosecutor and make up sheer lies about the workings of our justice system.  Fewer than 1% of felons in Yolo county get three-strikes, and yet the New York Times uses the story to groundlessly blame the California budget crisis on the three-strikes law, squeezing in some misinformation about Jerry DeWayne Williams for good measure.  Meanwhile, misrepresentations spreads around the world.  The UK Telegraph gets the sentencing wrong and doesn’t include the wallet theft; the Guardian, likewise, runs multiple, inaccurate stories that neglect the actual charges and misrepresent the law.  What an embarrassment, all around.

This website has real statistics on California’s “three strikes” law.

Three Strikes Laws: The Myth of Jerry DeWayne Williams and His Pizza Slice


As California begins emptying prisons over the protests of voters, a powerful coalition of anti-incarceration activist groups are declaring victory over the quaint notion that people should be punished for crime:

Prison reform advocates such as Jim Lindburg, a lobbyist for the Friends Committee on Legislation, hope that the state’s first significant corrections-policy change in decades ushers in a whole new mind-set on crime.  “There’s really nothing scientific or magical about the length of prison sentences,” Lindburg said. “Those are political calculations made in a political environment. It seems preposterous to me to suggest that letting people out a little bit early is going to have any kind of (negative) impact on crime rates. I think we just need to change the way we think about public safety.”

Well, actually, there’s already been at least one disturbing crime committed by one of the first men released a “bit early,” so scratch the “no negative impact” thing.

Also, there’s nothing “magical” about the length of prison sentences.  To the contrary, imprisonment works in the most mundane and predictable way: it keeps non-reformable offenders away from fresh victims for a set amount of time, and schools others in the consequences of offending again.

What hubris, accusing the public of “magical thinking” because they want offenders off the streets.  Why is it that those who trumpet loudest about their own peace-loving natures and non-hierarchical ways always come off as angry, insufferable elitists?

The Friends Committee on Legislation of California  (FCLCA) , guided by Quaker values, advocates for California state laws that  are just, compassionate and respectful of the inherent worth of every  person.

Make that the inherent worth of offenders, full stop.  Oh please, just do it.  You know you want to.  The Friends do not waste their breath or stationary advocating for the inherent worth of people who aren’t convicts, or ex-cons.  Ditto all those activist nuns getting their jollies on death row.  There’s no thrill in standing alongside ordinary people who fear for their safety — no thrill, and generally no microphones, either.


As the anti-incarceration movement gears up to exploit the financial crisis, expect more mass early releases and the gutting of three-strike and other recidivism laws.  Consequently, alongside all the faux-Buddhist arguments about one hour in prison being the same as 100 or 1,000 days (the real magical thinking), academic cheerleaders have now exhumed that all-time sorriest argument against three strikes laws: the fake-life-for-stealing-a-slice-of-pizza guy.

Why fake?  Because Jerry DeWayne Williams didn’t get life.  He didn’t serve 25 years under three strikes.  His sentence, like the sentences of 25% to 45% of the offenders who qualify for three-strikes, was downgraded to a “second-strike” offense . . . because judges and prosecutors have that discretion and use it every day.

Here is professor Jennifer Walsh, writing in late 2002:

[S]tatistics indicate that discretion in three strike cases is invoked frequently and consistently. A 1998 survey of California District Attorneys revealed that prosecutors in urban jurisdictions use discretion in approximately 20-40 percent of eligible cases [now higher] . . . An evaluation of judicial discretion exercised in San Diego County found that judges exercised discretion in 29 percent of eligible three strike cases. They were also 100 percent more likely to use discretion if the triggering offense was minor. Moreover, judges were more likely to strike a prior strike if the defendant had no history of violence and no history of weapons possession or weapons use.  Perhaps most reassuring is the data that shows that in San Diego County, over half of the initial third strike filings that involved a minor third strike offense were later downgraded to second strike offenses. This exercise of discretion by prosecutors and judges prevented these defendants from receiving the enhanced sentence when they were perceived as undeserving.  Findings like these confirm that the judicious exercise of discretion under the California three strikes law creates a safeguard for defendants who are technically eligible for the mandatory sentence, but whose past and present conduct is considered to be outside the spirit of the law.

Read that paragraph carefully, because you’re not going to see it in the news, where reporters simply cut and paste rhetoric from various activist groups, wildly misrepresenting the law itself.  Professor Walsh notes that those subjected to California’s three-strikes law generally had violent or serious crimes as their third offense:

State statistics indicate that the third strikers in prison include 294 for murder; 34 for manslaughter; 1,408 for robbery; 356 for assault with a deadly weapon; 416 for other assaults or battery; 136 for rape; 241 for lewd act upon a child; 136 for other sex offenses; 83 for kidnapping; 776 for residential burglary; 288 for possession of drugs for sale; 191 for sale of drugs, 28 for manufacturing drugs; 356 for weapons-possession; and 25 for arson.

First and second offenses must be for serious or violent felonies to trigger the enhancement, another little-noted fact.

But facts simply don’t matter to the activists.  If facts mattered to them, they wouldn’t be holding up Jerry DeWayne Williams as an example of a person who was sent away for 25 years for stealing a piece of pizza, because he wasn’t.

And it’s very much worth asking why criminologists and reporters cling so eagerly to this one story, repeating it endlessly when it is not true in the first place and is also decades old now: can’t they produce a better tale of woe?

But it gets worse.

This week, the Los Angeles Times ran a bizarre feature on Jerry DeWayne Williams.  The gist is that Williams is a victim of three-strikes even though he was not subjected to it.  It is apparently enough that the law exists for Williams to continue to feel victimized by it.  The reporter calls this serving a “life sentence” of having to abide by the law:

“I walk on eggshells,” [Williams] said. “Any little thing that I do, I could be back for the rest of my life.”

Strangely, however, not even that claim holds up under scrutiny.  Williams has received lenience repeatedly since the pizza incident, a fact that neither he nor the reporter seem to view as a contradiction of his profound feeling of victimization.  One of his subsequent crimes was even a threat of violence:

in September 2003, his girlfriend called 911 and reported that Williams was verbally abusing her. A police officer arrived to find Williams moving out after a fight and demanding $150 he had paid toward the bills.  As the officer looked on, Williams told his girlfriend: “I’m going to put a bullet in your ass if I don’t get my money.”

A prosecutor and a judge let him off:

Williams, who was unarmed, was arrested and charged with making a criminal threat, a felony that could have landed him back in prison for life. But Kings County prosecutors did not treat the crime as a third strike. Williams pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was released from jail after 17 days.

And then he immediately broke the terms of his probation upon leaving prison, again with no consequences:

As part of his sentence, he was barred from leaving Kings County without permission. Nevertheless, Williams moved to Moreno Valley to live with another sister. An arrest warrant was issued and remains active.

And then again:

Since landing in Moreno Valley, he has been arrested once — for being drunk in public — but was released without charges being filed.

How on earth does the reporter square such facts with his depiction of Williams as a desperate, haunted man peering nervously over his shoulder, terrified of the slightest slip-up?  He was not afraid to violate his probation.  Twice.  He was not afraid to threaten to murder someone — in front of a policeman.  He doesn’t sound particularly frightened at all.  He sounds as if he knows that he can avail himself of a passel of silk-stockinged civil liberties attorneys any time a knucklehead cop dares to take him in for attacking a woman, or some other offense.

He sounds as if he knows that his notoriety has placed him above the law.

In one of the many courtrooms, Williams has been sentenced in, a prosecutor “unfurled a computer printout of Williams’ criminal history that extended from his outstretched arm to the floor,” and yet Williams is not behind bars.  Considering the gang and drug activities that consumed his earlier years, the threat of three-strikes has probably saved his life, but he is far too busy whining to be grateful.


What the criminologists and the activists will not admit, will not acknowledge, let alone discuss, is this: for every Jerry DeWayne Williams, there is a John Floyd Thomas, arrested repeatedly in California over the span of more than two decades for sex crimes and burglaries but released repeatedly, to rape and (now we know) kill again.

Jerry DeWayne Williams may owe his life to the three strikes law, but it did not arrive in time to save the lives of the thirty women in Los Angeles Thomas is now suspected of raping and strangling.

Thirty murdered women.

Funny, you never hear Quakers (or most criminologists) talking about that.


To read more factual material about California’s three-strikes law, go to the Three Strikes and You’re Out: Stop Repeat Offenders website.  Rather than trumped-up anecdotes and accusations of fascism, you’ll find data on California’s three-strikes offenders, statistics on use of judicial discretion, examples of dangerous offenders who would have been out of prison, but for the law, and studies evaluating the effect of the law on California’s crime rate.

Update on Marcus Wellons, and the Eternal Appeals Machine

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Funny how the details turn out to be so very different from what the media — not to mention many on the Supreme Court — made of them:

Jury Regrets Racy Candy That Fed Killer’s Appeal

Now will anybody other than the local newspaper revisit the case?

Outrage: How, Precisely, Did Delmer Smith “try to go straight”?

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The Sarasota Herald Tribune, a newspaper with an addiction to excusing, or at least minimizing, the behavior of the most violent criminals, just did it again.

In a front-page story on Delmer Smith, the brutal South Florida serial killer and rapist charged with yet another woman’s death last week, the paper boldly asserts that Smith “tried to go straight” after his release from prison.  Did he, really?  Is there proof for this fascinating claim?  They don’t offer any: they just say it’s so.

Down here in the real world, Smith was committing extremely violent rapes within weeks of being released from prison.  Confronted with such facts, why would any newspaper leap to limning the silver lining of the rapist’s character?

Habit, I suppose.  In the moral universe of the SHT newsroom, all ex-cons are automatically presumed to be earnest practitioners of self-reform . . . until they’re not, and sometimes even after that.  In Smith’s case, the distance between the prison door and his first known violent attack is actually extremely short.  Released in October 2008, he attacked and beat a female jogger a few weeks later and then immediately committed a violent home invasion and sexual assault of two additional women.  Escalating attacks followed.

The Herald Tribune, however, doesn’t bother to mention this inconveniently compressed time-line.  How could they, and simultaneously resuscitate the beloved theme of felons and second chances?  It’s as if they laid all those brutalized women alongside a story they like to tell about crime and punishment — a story in which hope springs eternal for the rehabilitation of any criminal — and chose the story, over the reality.

They had little to work with, far less than a widow’s mite, but that didn’t stop them.  It’s Valentine’s Day Week, after all:

Delmer Smith III spent much of his life in prison before finally being set free in 2008. Upon his release he moved in with his wife in Bradenton, a woman 23 years his elder that he met as a prison pen pal.  For a brief spell, Smith, 38, seemed to be living within the law, seeking work as a personal trainer, a mechanic and at a grocery store.

Poor Delmer.  Such hopes and dreams.  If only society had been more welcoming to him, why, then, it might have taken him more than one holiday sales season to start raping and killing women.  You see, it’s all our fault.

The Tribune story is drawn largely from claims made by Smith’s geriatric jailhouse pen pal and ex-beau — you know, one of those pathetic women who seeks excitement, attention, and romance by getting involved with violent prisoners.  Women like this regularly cross the line from accommodating to abetting.  That, and the decision to shack up with violent felons in the first place, ought to make reporters wary, but it’s amazing what can be overlooked in the rush to non-judgment.  The Tribune allows this woman to prattle on, behind a veil of anonymity, about her romance with Smith on the same week another victim’s family has been forced to publicly re-live the murder of their wife and mother:

[Smith’s] wife — a 61-year-old woman who no longer lives in the area but asked that her name not be used for fear of retribution — first befriended Smith almost 10 years ago. Another inmate was writing to the woman’s friend and asked if Smith could contact the Bradenton woman by phone. A few days later, he called and their relationship took off.  Over the years, they wrote back and forth, including a Valentine’s Day card she still has. One day he called and proposed. She agreed and the woman says they had a ceremony in the penitentiary.

Their relationship “took off.”  She still has his Valentine’s Day card.  How touching.  I’m glad we all know that, because it sort of humanizes him, doesn’t it?

Given their track record (see here, here, and here), I’m actually surprised the Tribune didn’t go even farther — interviewing, say, a forensic psychologist for hire or a “re-entry” expert to offer up platitudes about how we all have to work harder to make offenders feel welcome once they’ve paid that pesky debt to society.  Meanwhile, the paper’s official antipathy towards all types of post-incarceration monitoring — expanded DNA sampling, registration lists, living restrictions –blinds them to the fact that, in the absence of such laws, Smith might still be on the loose.

No, you couldn’t possibly go off message (especially in a news story) and acknowledge that expanding the DNA database really does saves lives (when administered properly, that is).  Better to stick with the usual song-and-dance about ex-cons turning over new leaves, though it hardly fits the facts.   The reporter, and his editors, should apologize for this stomach-churning exhibitionism.

The Guilty Project, Wayne Williams: Still Guilty. And the Role of Child Prostitution in his Murders.


To name all defendants Innocent Until Proven Guilty is a beloved tradition, and an ethical one, at least so long as the pontificating guardians of the reputations and feelings of criminals are willing to let it go once their clients have, in fact, been proven guilty.

Yet this is almost never the case.  Defense attorneys express a touching faith in the wisdom of the public and juries . . . until precisely the moment a guilty verdict is reached.  Then, like lovers scorned, they denounce everything about their former paramours: their intelligence, their morals, their identities, their actions, their collective and individual races.  All are fodder for the endless second act of criminal justice: the post-conviction appeal.

It’s never over, as victims know, particularly when it comes to notorious defendants.  In the weird rubric of prisoner advocacy, the most heinous criminals attract the loudest cries for reconsideration.   Attention-seeking activists and lawyers seize on the worst of the worst to prove their own superior compassion, or to thumb their noses at society in the biggest way.  And so the garden-variety mugger must line up behind the child murderers and serial rapists.

Susan Sarandon won’t be playing your religious confessor in the Hollywood version of your life if all you did was steal a few cars, no matter how badly you feel about having done it afterwards.  Rape and murder a few kids, though, and she might come calling.


And that brings us to Wayne Williams. Thanks to the notoriety of the Atlanta Child Murders (at least those Atlanta child murders), Williams possesses all the best in serial killer accessories: a team of lawyers laboring (on our dime) to endlessly re-try his case; internet nuts issuing manifestos that nobody can ever really know if anybody is ever really guilty; miniseries and media attentions, breathless stories about DNA testing that disappear from the news when they fail to exonerate, and so on.


Wayne Williams

The thirty dead children and young men identified as possible ACM victims are themselves a mere accessory to Williams’ drama.  The police continue to seek the killer or killers of several of these victims.  They are (literally) damned if they do and damned if they don’t, as they were throughout the terrible period when children kept turning up dead, but they do it anyway, because the police are tasked to behave professionally despite the unprofessional nature of the accusations hurled their way.

There are probably police serving in metro Atlanta today who were children in southeast and southwest Atlanta neighborhoods at the time when the murders took place.  Did that experience inspired them to become officers?

Few serious books have been written about the Atlanta Child Murders.  There is The List by Chet Dettlinger and Jeff Prugh, and an interesting academic study by Bernard Headley, The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race.  Now there is a third, The Atlanta Child Murders: The Night Stalker, written by the prosecutor who proved Williams’ guilt, Jack Mallard.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran an interview with Mallard this week.  It is strangely contentious: the reporter seems to be more interest in arguing with Mallard over Williams’ guilt than asking him questions about his book:

Between 1979 and 1981, 30 young African-Americans between ages 9 and 28 were either killed or declared missing in what was known as the “Atlanta Child Murders” case. The victims’ bodies were found in wooded lots, vacant buildings or the Chattahoochee River.

Williams received a life sentence 28 years ago this month for killing two of the victims, but he was implicated in at least a dozen others. He has said for years that he’s innocent. The doubt that shrouded the case has fueled articles and books by people who still question whether Williams was the sole killer.

Well, not really.  That’s not the question the keeps popping up in appeal after appeal for Williams.  Williams’ advocates are specifically actually arguing that he is innocent of the two crimes for which he was convicted.

Oddly, the reporter interviewing Mallard tells readers to “Judge for yourself,” presumably regarding Williams’ guilt.  What an odd way to begin an interview with the prosecutor in a settled case:

Now, finally, Mallard has heeded the urgings of others and weighed in with his new book, “The Atlanta Child Murders: the Night Stalker.” Though a bit pedantic, the book lays out the prosecution’s strategy, from presentation of evidence to cross-examinations. Here, Mallard, 75 and retired, talks about guilt, doubt and closure. Judge for yourself.

Q: Reading this book, it almost feels as though you’re retrying the case right there in the courtroom. But in writing this did you look back and see things you might have done differently or mistakes you might have made?

Ah yes, he is a prosecutor who successfully convicted someone, so he must have been making mistakes.  Nobody ever challengingly demands of defense attorneys whether they made mistakes.

A: As a longtime prosecutor, what I would do is map out a trial plan, like writing a screenplay; everybody has a part. If you work up the right trial plan, then you expect things to go as you planned it. This trial went according to plan.

Well, we can’t have that, can we?  It sounds as if Mallard simply stands by the verdict.

Q: You relied heavily on verbatim testimony for dialogue in this book and you included a few updates. But why didn’t you talk with any of Williams’ original defense attorneys, at least those who are still around?

A: I knew it wouldn’t serve any purpose. [They’ve] always thought that Wayne was innocent.

In other words, verbatim testimony just isn’t verbatim enough, Mr. Mallard: you should have gone to the other side and given them a platform to call you a liar.  Because, of course, they do that for you whenever they climb onto their soapbox, don’t they?  No?  Well, you should do it anyway.

Q: Williams was basically convicted on the basis of carpet fibers and dog hairs found on the victims, which you argued could only have come from Williams or his home. There are still doubting Thomases out there who think the fiber and hair evidence was suspect in some way. Do you think you finally assuaged any doubt about that evidence with the book?

A: Yes, and I think I mention in [the book], had cameras been allowed in the courtroom — you can look at these fibers and compare them in living color in photographs like the jury did — people would really not be suspicious as to whether or not you can identify a fiber.

Q: Yes, but there are still doubters out there, some who’ve suggested that maybe the fibers were somehow planted or inadvertently transferred by a lab technician in the case.

A: Well, you either believe in law enforcement and scientists or you don’t. What you read on the Internet, that’s not evidence. That’s not tested in a court of law. So much of it that is completely fiction.

Q: OK then, consider me a doubter . . .

Wow.  That pretty much speaks for itself.  And here’s what it is saying: I’m a partisan for the defense, inappropriately assigned to challenge you and your crazy “guilty verdict” ideas.  Next, due to my biases, I’m going to get the legal issue completely wrong:

Q: OK then, consider me a doubter, because after reading your book, I could see how he could have committed more than half of the 30 killings that were investigated as part of the case. But there were at least five cases that just didn’t seem to fit, in particular the killing of the two little girls, Angel Lanier and LaTonya Wilson. All the other cases involved boys and young men. Do you think he killed the two girls?

A: No, no, no. The two girls should never have been on the list. There was no scientific evidence at all, no trace evidence linking them to Wayne Williams. There’s 25 of them that had trace evidence to Wayne Williams.

There were 25 dead youths and boys linked to Williams through the evidence.  The state tried the two strongest cases.  They investigated the h*ll out of those murders, using federal money and assistance.  In the end, they could not try every case.  That is a function of the pricey mess the defense bar has managed to make of rules of evidence and criminal procedure.  When you destroy the very meaning of seeking the truth with all available evidence, you make it financially and pragmatically impossible to convict murderers like Williams for every offense.  So the state did what they had to do, convicted him of the two strongest cases, and closed the ones in which they were confident that he was the killer.

The inclusion of girls on the highly politicized victim “List” has nothing to do with Williams’ guilt.  As Mallard points out, he does not believe they should have been on that particular list in the first place.

Q: Well what about the other five? What do we do with them?

A: They’re still open. If one day there’s ever any evidence, even the girls, they potentially can be cleared. It happens all the time.

Q: Was Wayne Williams your most formidable opponent?

A: He probably was in the sense that he was the lengthiest cross-examination. He was on the stand about three days. He was prepared and he was smart and he was hard to pin down. But he kept contradicting himself and the jury saw right through it. He probably cooked his own goose by taking the stand.

Q: Do you think your book will help the victims’ families heal, or will it just upset them?

A: I don’t think it will hurt, but the families I really feel for. They’ve been used by the defense in the support of Williams in his appeals. When victims’ families are supporting the defense, that’s somewhat unusual.

Q: Have you talked with any of them in the years since the trial?

A: No, I haven’t kept up with them.

Q: Ever visit the grave sites of any of the victims?

A: No. I don’t like graveyards.

Mallard comes across as somebody who did his job, didn’t suffer fools, and doesn’t play romanticized games with serious issues like child murder.  How refreshing.

Q: You make a direct appeal in the book to Williams, imploring him to confess to the killings. Have you heard from him?

A: No.

Q: Why did you make that appeal to him?

A: Well, if he wants to do something to help humanity he could do it by helping these mothers settle in their own minds that the killer is not still out there. He knows there’s nobody else out there.

Now, back to the irrelevant questions about the victims who weren’t linked to Williams:

Q: Is it possible that somebody else could have been responsible for the remaining five deaths we talked about earlier?

A: It’s possible, because we don’t have any direct evidence connecting Williams to them. Those, I would say, we don’t know.

Q: Will you write another book? You’ve been involved in several other high-profile cases that could be good reads.

A: Several cases would make good writing, but I’m not sure I want to get into that again. I want to enjoy the remaining years I have.

By, like, not being repeatedly pummeled by inaccurate gotcha’s by a reporter who doesn’t bother to have her facts straight.


Angel Lanier and LaTonya Wilson’s murders were, of course, not irrelevant.  Nor were the murders of other youths who met violent ends in the same time and place.  One of the many tragedies of the ACM controversy is that Lanier, Wilson, and other victims are still being used by the media and various activists to advance other agendas.  It’s clear that the AJC reporter mentions these murdered girls only to attempt to poke holes in Williams’ conviction for the uptenth time. Why doesn’t somebody revisit the girls’ lives, and deaths, as if they themselves mattered?

Why are we continuing to obsess over Wayne Williams at all, when we should be talking about child prostitution, an ongoing crisis that created the conditions in which young adults and children were extremely vulnerable to predators like Wayne Williams thirty years ago?

Child prostitution, or, better, child-and-youth sexual exploitation, is the great unspoken subtext of the Atlanta Child Murders story.  Not all the victims were involved in trading money for sex, but many reportedly were.  And when a community accepts, or cannot stop, such behavior, every child is in danger.

That’s the point of H.B. 582/S.B. 304, the important Georgia child prostitution prevention bill sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford).  Thirty years after so many youths lost their lives on city streets where the existence of a wild west “sex trade” drew predators targeting both boys and girls, it’s far past time to leave Wayne Williams to rot in prison and turn our attention to preventing similar murders in the future.

Go to this site to learn how to support the legislation.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Press releases from activist organizations are not facts.

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the latest breathless confabulation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No matter what David Aronberg claims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few of the “Don’t Worry, They’re Harmless” Absconded Sex Offenders in Atlanta


Charles Eugene Mickler: Mickler is classified as a sexual predator (the most dangerous offenders), yet somehow he didn’t serve any time in a Georgia prison for his 2007 sexual battery conviction?  Can anyone explain that?



Willie Morgan Jr. is the other Atlanta-area absconder also classified as a sexual predator.  No picture in the Georgia Registry.  There is a picture, however, in the Florida Sex Offenders Registry.  Morgan was convicted in 1995 of sex crimes against children in St. Petersburg.  He relocated to Atlanta before absconding:



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


Why doesn’t somebody write stories about how you used to get three years for aggravated child molestation, then eight years for the second offense, before Georgia legislators courageously reformed the law (to the dismay of anti-incarceration activists)?  Today, Ortiz would be facing a minimum twenty-five year sentence for his first aggravated child molestation conviction, and there wouldn’t be a second one.  That is, if the judge enforced the sentencing law.


Ricardo Alverdo isn’t an Atlanta case: he absconded from Troup County.  But his is a typical case, in that it raises more questions about sentencing and the courts.  Alverdo was convicted of aggravated assault with intent to rape in 2004.  Unless there’s something wrong with the Georgia Corrections database, Alverdo, like many, if not most, of these convicted sex offenders, never made it to a prison cell.  He was never sent to state prison.  That most likely means he was not sentenced to more than a year behind bars, if that.  Did he serve a few months in a county jail and then get cut loose?  Did he serve any time at all?  Georgia law requires a minimum one-year sentence for aggravated assault with intent to rape.  Did the judge just deliver the minimum?  Is one year anybody’s idea of a fair sentence for trying to rape someone?



Michael Barber of Fulton County didn’t go to state prison for child molestation in 2005, nor did Michael Brown, convicted of child molestation in Fulton County in 2004.  It’s unclear if either of them served any time at all, even in the county jail.  The minimum sentence for child molestation by 2004 was five years, but (again, if the Corrections database is working) some Fulton County judge apparently let them go instead.  Barber definitely absconded during the time when he should have, by law, still been in prison, and Brown may have done so as well, depending on when he took off.  What on earth in happening in the Georgia courts?  And why isn’t the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asking questions about that?


Michael Barber


Michael Brown


Dawud Brimsley doesn’t appear to have spent five minutes in jail after he was convicted of aggravated assault with attempt to rape last March in Fulton County.  Ten days after the conviction, he registered as a sex offender, presumably because he walked out of jail.  Even if he got the minimum, he is still supposed to be in jail, but instead he’s now on the run after committing a violent sex crime.  That means a judge in Fulton County did not follow sentencing guidelines.  Which judge?  And are there any judges out there who do anything other than assign the minimum sentence, no matter the crime?  But there’s no reason to worry, according to the newspaper:

215523db8 ~~~

David Brent Telano was convicted of aggravated child molestation and “aggravated sexual” (one assumes assault) in Fulton County in 1994.  But there are no records for him in the state corrections database, either.  Did he even go to county jail, for a year, or less?  He didn’t go to prison.  Now he’s absconded:



Jermiah Anthony Facundo, should have never been let out of jail in the first place.  Sentenced for rape, aggravated sodomy, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm in 1999, he served less than ten years of his sentence, walked out of prison in 1999, registered in Fulton County, then took off some time after December of 2005.  Where has he been for the last five years?  That’s anybody’s guess, but he is representative of many of the men on this list, men with extremely violent records:



So there are rapists, armed rapists, attempted rapists, sexual batterers, and (many) aggravated child molesters on the absconder list.  Many of these men never went to state prison for crimes committed in 1987, 2007, even 2009.  And this is only a list of the men (plus a few women) who have absconded: of the thousands of sex offenders in Georgia, how many of them actually served more than a year or two for very serious crimes?

With a three-pronged attack of lawsuits, lobbying, and sympathetic media coverage, anti-incarceration activists are trying once again to convince the public that Georgia is “too harsh” on sex offenders.  They’re trying to roll back the clock on Georgia’s sentencing reforms, reforms that would have saved, for just one example, Miguel Ortiz’ second child victim from being raped by him.  It takes five minutes of perusing the conviction and incarceration records of these offenders to see that, in reality, we’re still letting rapists and child molesters walk away with a slap on the wrist.

Lots of them.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

The Coming Year of Prisoner “Re-Entry”: Attempted Murder in Chicago, Then Back on the Streets in a Fortnight


As the Justice Department and everybody else barrel forward with plans to get as many violent offenders back on the streets as quickly as possible (to save money, you know, and aid those poor benighted, imprisoned souls), here’s a reminder of the inevitable consequences of anti-incarceration-early-re-entry-alternative-sentencing-community-control chic, from the Chicago Sun-Times, via Second-City Cop:

She lost 20 teeth. She suffered a brain injury and seizures. And she struggled to pay her medical bills because she didn’t have insurance.  Jen Hall was the victim of a brutal, disfiguring beating outside a Jewel store in the South Loop in August 2008.

Her attacker, Derrick King, was later sentenced to three years in prison for the crime. King, 48, went into state Department of Corrections custody in early October, but he was paroled only two weeks later under a policy change by Gov. Quinn’s administration. . .

On Aug. 25, 2008, King and Joyce Burgess attacked Hall and her boyfriend, police said. King asked the couple for cigarettes, but when they said they didn’t have any, Burgess knocked down Hall, who was celebrating her 36th birthday.  King, who police say was homeless, kicked Hall in the head and face, knocking out her teeth. King also struggled with Hall’s boyfriend and reached into his pockets to try to rob him, police said.  King was convicted and sent to prison on Oct. 6. He was paroled under the MGT-Push program on Oct. 20, records show.

And then, of course, he not only immediately set out to commit another crime, but he terrorized his next victim by bragging to her that he was the man who had attacked Hall:

Then, on Oct. 21, King was nabbed by Chicago Police in a similar crime. He threatened a 49-year-old woman after asking her for a cigarette in the 500 block of West Roosevelt, not far from where he beat Hall.  When the woman declined, King said: “Remember the couple who got beat up real bad for not giving a cigarette? That was me!” according to a Chicago Police arrest report. King then charged toward her, police said. The woman flagged down a patrol car and the officers arrested King. Police charged King with simple assault, a misdemeanor.

Disturbed yet?  Here’s where it gets even more disturbing. Even after King tried to beat two people to death, then attacked a third victim, the Department of Corrections was not particularly motivated to pull him in.  He was almost on his way out the door again, and it sounds as if only police vigilance actually resulted in Corrections agreeing to issue a warrant:

The Department of Corrections initially declined to issue a warrant to send King back to prison on a parole violation, but eventually a parole supervisor signed off on a warrant, according to the police report.

So if this were not a case of some notoriety, it is likely that no judge or parole official or prosecutor would have bothered to enforce the law regarding King’s parole.  I can’t count the times I’ve looked up an offender’s record, and he has two, or five, or ten additional recorded offenses during the time that he is on parole — that is, during the time that he is supposed to be returned to prison for any additional offense.

And it’s not as if people like this get caught every time they throttle someone.  How many of his fellow homeless has King beaten or threatened?  How many people has he terrorized, people who escaped and decided, reasonably, that there was simply no point in trying to get the authorities to act on a criminal complaint?  Derrick King nearly killed a woman and strolled out of jail fourteen days later.

Fourteen days for what should have been attempted murder.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is now calling his secret early release of violent offenders “a mistake.”  Bunk.  A mistake is when you do something in error: this is both a guiding philosophy and a policy.  The offenders released in two weeks are merely one step further down a deliberative path that has similar offenders released after two months or six months, at most.

Or simply not prosecuted in the first place.

Derrick King’s early release is something that happens with most offenders in every major city in the country, with the exception of those that have reformed the behavior of their courts by adopting “broken windows” policies, most notably, New York City.  A Derrick King probably wouldn’t slip through the cracks in New York City: he slipped through in Chicago.  It’s simple, really.

And yet, in much of the mainstream media, and in the universities, and in courtrooms, and in Eric Holder’s Justice Department, the mantra of “emptying the prisons,” and “prisoner re-entry” is relentless.  The Justice Department is funding (that is, we are funding) scores of programs designed to keep the maximum number of offenders out of prison and in the communities where they victimize others.  These programs go by various names and make various unattainable promises, but they operate on one unifying principle: anything but incarceration as the default response to crime.

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


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

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

Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied

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

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

Inquirer Staff Writers

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

He shot him as a favor to a childhood friend.

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

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

“Basically, I beat it,” he says now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The consequences are staggering, too:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time, he means.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then innocent policemen get assassinated.

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

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


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

No?  I didn’t think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He typed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—I have thought about this for so long baby

—yea its been a while for them

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

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

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

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

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

No?  I didn’t think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is called: “work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody gets paid for their activism.

Even journalists.

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

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

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

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

STORY REMOVED: US–Rapist’s Home-Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, you have to want to change.

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

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

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


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

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

Just like vicious sociopaths do.

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

Or, you might just call it a new low:

Suspected Fort Hood Shooter Saw Toll of PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They can misuse it in four syllables now.

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