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The Green Mile Syndrome: David Lee Powell Was Not Innocent. His Victims Are Not Hateful.

Someone claiming to be cop-killer David Powell’s cousin has written me, accusing Powell’s victims and the justice system of various sins.  Unsupported allegations like these too often pass for debate over the death penalty in the mainstream media.  Therefore, it’s worth a look, though the slurs Powell’s cousin tosses at the victims ought to just be trash canned.  See here and here for my previous posts on Powell.

The writer, John Struve, makes several assertions about minutiae of the appeals process — assertions that should be taken with a very large grain of salt, for he offers no proof.  It’s not as if the courts didn’t revisit these cases in detail: that is why it took 30 years to execute Powell.  It’s not as if Struve lacks access to the court documents.  But he feels no need to back up his claims, and in this, the media has unfortunately trained him to need no proof as he says everything and anything about the case against Powell.

For, while a technical error or defense-biased evidentiary rules can blow a strong case for the prosecution, the defense suffers no consequences for repetitively and flagrantly lying.  Many activists and defense lawyers feel that such lies are an honorable act — a sort of noble rot that produces the always-desired outcome of avoiding consequences for crime.

If Mr. Struve would like to send actual documentation backing up any of his assertions here, I’ll post it.  But his claims sound like the type made loudly and repetitively — in cases like Troy Davis’ in Georgia — that lazy reporters reprint without looking into the original court records, or the prosecution arguments, or the trail of appeals.

John Struve’s letter:

You are all so short sighted. The fact still remains that the dying Ralph Ablanedo, when asked who did this, said, ” a girl” and “That damn girl.”

Powell’s female accomplice was the driver.  Powell opened fire not once, but twice on officers.  Ablenado’s dying words are being misrepresented, which is an awful thing to do.

Several officers testified at Sheila’s parole hearing in 1982 stating that she was a future danger to society and that she did all the shooting and threw the grenade. Unfortunately, this information was not released to us, the family, until 2002, and the prosecutors at that time thought it would be easier to get the death penalty for a man than a woman. He had already exhausted all of his appeals by this time.

Actually, the female accomplice testified that Powell thrust a grenade at her, but she wasn’t able to deploy it right.  I’m sure the officers testified that the she should never get out of prison.  I would be very surprised if they testified that she “did all the shooting.”  Struve appears to be accusing these police of lying in their original testimony in the Powell trial — a serious allegation.  Defamation of character is actionable.

Incidentally, if this case were tried today, changes in the law would make it easier to hold all offenders responsible for a crime in which someone is murdered.

Now a human being that had definite reasonable doubt of guilt has been murdered.

Not true.

Just like Cameron Todd Willingham.

The Powell case has nothing to do with the Willingham case.  The Willingham case, in which a man was executed for setting the fire which killed his three small children, is another cause celebré, thanks to wildly biased and strangely querulous reporting in the New Yorker.

Why is it that New Yorker editors seem to thrill at watching predators prey on the great unwashed?

Meanwhile, back in the real world, forensic scientists are revisiting the Willingham case.  But cherry-picked claims about the fire itself, which constitutes the much-publicized defense, ignores other forensic evidence and the actual testimony that put Willingham behind bars (and you can buy expert witnesses to say anything — they charge by the act, as do many professionals).

I’m not going to bother to link to anything regarding Willingham.  The local news reporting, read in total, explains the controversy.  Virtually everything else should be read with a highly critical eye.  Embarrassingly, even Wikipedia places the word “alleged” before prosecution testimony that passed courtroom muster while allowing defense testimony which failed to pass muster to be stated as fact.  Pretty unprofessional of them, but that’s typical of reporting in these cases.

It’s death by a thousand cuts for the truth. Back to John Struve:

I am 33 years old, so my cousin David had been in jail my entire life.

Officer Ablenado has been dead for the last 33 years of his sons’ lives.  Shame on Struve for attempting to insert himself into that tragedy.

Once it came to a point where justice had failed due to officer and political vengeance

Again, defamation?

that caused the truth to be buried, we realized that we needed to embrace that David was guilty of this single act.

And then there was the auto theft, petty theft, stockpiling weapons, drug dealing, over 100 bad checks — yeah, he was a boy scout carrying hand grenades and automatic rifles around in a car, serially ripping off innocent people by the scores.  Come on.

Maybe not the one who pulled the trigger, but definitely responsible as the law of parties would suggest. He took that responsibility, although up to his murder, always stated that he has no recollection of what happened that dreadfully fateful night. All we wanted was for his life to be spared. Please read his story at letdavidlive.org before jumping on the “eye for an eye” human written testament of justice bandwagon dated over 2000 years ago.

Crying “vengeance” is offensive.  Struve doesn’t know these people.

If killing 100 evil people means that even 1 is innocent, then that indicates that the entire system is dysfunctional. Just think if it were you or someone you loved that was truly innocent. Now, my only hope is that the Willingham and David’s cases serve as martyrs to help us move from the 18th century into the new world where people actually think instead of seek blood for blood. Since David was put to death, then you should

See, we are all vengeful.  Bloodthirsty.  If I had a dime for every time some bloated defense attorney wannabe accused me of wanting innocent people to suffer . . . I still wouldn’t have enough money to buy enough earplugs.

all believe that Officer Leonardo Quintana should be held to the same standards. [?]   The unredacted Key Point report specifically states that his reckless tactics were what caused the police sanctioned murder of a defenseless individual, Nathaniel Sanders III. And unlike David, he had a history of reported violations prior to committing his murder. I used to be a huge proponent of the death penalty, but as I go through life, as I probably would have felt during the Spanish Inquisition, I question the tactics that we, as a society, use to punish individuals for acts of behavior “outside” that of what is considered the norm.

Behavior “outside” that of what is considered to norm? Is Struve equating blowing away an innocent public servant and trying to murder several others (whom Powell shot at, and missed) with, say, changing radio stations or hairstyles?

My brother is a Texas State Trooper. If he were killed in the line of duty or otherwise, I would not want the death penalty for the accused. If he were to murder someone on the taxpayer’s dime or not, I would not want him to receive the death penalty. Now we mourn. Next we move forward with our efforts to abolish the death penalty 1st in Texas, then in the entire United States. NOTE: What do you do when it is later found out that someone WE executed is found to be innocent? Go to their grave and pour some Mickey’s on it?

Nice.  Struve places his feelings above the officer’s family’s, makes himself the center of attention, accuses the real victims of heinous, animalistic rage, defames scores of police officers, and then accuses society of failing to live up to his standards of morality.  So much of this activism is a sickness, parading around as morality.

I wonder if this John Struve is the same person who sent me an anonymous e-mail celebrating the recent murder of Chicago Officer Thomas Wortham?  The sentiment sounds similar.

I welcome any suggestions for identifying anonymous e-mails.

~~~

You don’t have to support the death penalty (I don’t) to be disgusted by what passes for activism and reporting on death row cases.  An enormous, fact-free myth system has been built up around allegations that innocent men fill our prisons and molder nobly on death row.  This “Green Mile” syndrome, indulged by politicians and priests and professors — and more journalists than you could shake a forest of redwoods at — well, it has consequences.  It abuses the real victims, because they are falsely accused of everything from ransacking the justice system to being simply evil.

Careless reporting gives careless people free reign.

Consider the Troy Davis case. It has also become a cause celebré.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported ceaselessly on the activism for Davis and editorially advocated for him.  Yet, nowhere in their reporting (unless there are articles that have never appeared on-line) have they bothered to mention the subject of forensic evidence withheld by the original trial court on a technicality, evidence that strongly supports Davis’ guilt.  Nor have they addressed the case made by prosecutors who were (quite unusually) freed up to discuss evidence against Davis after the Supreme Court made an unusual decision to revisit that evidence.

Nor have they mentioned efforts by Davis’ lawyers to keep physical evidence from being considered as the case gets revisited, thanks to the Supreme Court’s actions.  No, you couldn’t possibly trust the public with information about the real issues at stake in the Davis case, and other death row appeals.  Atlanta readers — by far the largest audience of Davis supporters — know nothing of any of this, unless they read Savannah papers:

Black shorts evidence:  After months of wrangling over evidence and legal issues, attorneys for the state’s attorney general’s office last week asked permission to submit Georgia Bureau of Investigation reports concerning “blood examination on pair of black shorts recovered from (Davis’) mother’s home on Aug. 19, 1989.”  They also asked to submit a report of DNA typing of the item.  Davis’ lawyers cried foul, urging Moore not to allow the evidence which they called “untimely” and “of questionable probative value.”  They argued it would “clearly prejudice” (Davis’) ability to rebut the contents of the report.  The jury hearing Davis’ 1991 trial never heard about the shorts after Chatham County Superior Court Judge James W. Head barred them from evidence because of what he found was police coercion of Davis’ mother, Virginia Davis, when she arrived near her Sylvester Drive home Aug. 19, 1989.  Police seized the shorts from a dryer while searching for the murder weapon.

And this must-read from the Chatham County D.A., published last year in the Savannah Morning News:

Chatham County’s district attorney explains why he’s not concerned that an innocent man may be put to death.

Many people are concerned that an innocent man is about to be put to death. I know this, and I understand it. I am not likewise concerned, however, and I want to explain why.

The only information the public has had in the 17 years since Troy Davis’ conviction has been generated by people ideologically opposed to the death penalty, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused.

While they have shouted, we have been silent. The canons of legal ethics prohibit a lawyer – prosecutor and defense counsel alike – from commenting publicly, or engineering public comments, on the issue of guilt or innocence in a pending criminal case.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, the case is over, and I can try to tell our side.

First , Davis’ advocates have insisted that there was no physical evidence in the case. This is not true.

Crime lab tests proved that the shell casings recovered from the shooting of Michael Cooper at a party earlier in the evening were fired from the same weapon as the casings recovered from the scene of Officer Mark MacPhail’s murder. Davis was convicted of shooting Cooper.

And, while it isn’t physical evidence, consider the “testimony” of Officer MacPhail himself: When he comes to the rescue of a homeless man being harassed and pistol-whipped, the officer ran past Sylvester Coles on his way to catch Davis. This makes Davis the only one of those two with a motive to shoot Officer MacPhail. Yet Davis’ lawyers argue to condemn Coles for shooting MacPhail. Why would he?

In fact, Davis’ advocates are eager to condemn Coles based on evidence far weaker than their characterization of the evidence against Davis. Where is their sense of fairness? This is the same Sylvester Coles who promptly presented himself to police, and who was advised by counsel to tell all that he knew – with his lawyer not even present. Which he did. No lawyer who even faintly suspects a client of criminal conduct would let him talk to the police without counsel.

Second , they claim that seven of nine witnesses have recanted their trial testimony. This is not believable.

To be sure, they’ve produced affidavits; a few handwritten and apparently voluntarily and spontaneous, except for concluding with “further the affiant sayeth not.” Who wrote that stuff? The lawyers, perhaps?

The law is understandably skeptical of post-trial “newly-discovered evidence.”

Such evidence as these affidavits might, for example, be paid for, or coerced, or the product of fading memory.

If every verdict could be set aside by the casual acceptance of a witness’s changing his mind or suggesting uncertainty, decades after the event, it is easy to see how many cases would have to be tried at least twice (perhaps ad infinitum).

Thus the law sets strict standards for such “newly discovered” evidence.

For example, it cannot be for a lack of diligence that the new evidence was not discovered sooner, and the defendant is expected to present that evidence at the earliest possible time.

Yet these affidavits were not offered in a motion for new trial until eight days before the first scheduled execution in 2008 seventeen years after Davis’ conviction. If this affidavit evidence was so compelling, why didn’t they rush to seek a new trial in 2003 when they had most of the affidavits they now rely upon? Or collect those affidavits earlier?

Each of the now-“recanting” witnesses was closely questioned at trial by lawyers representing Davis, specifically on the question whether they were in any way pressured or coerced by police in giving their statements or testimony. All denied it.

And while an 80 percent recantation rate – the first in the history of the world ? – may seem to some as overwhelmingly persuasive, to others of us it invites a suggestion of uncanny coincidence, making it very difficult to believe.

Third , they claim that their “newly discovered evidence” (i.e., the recantations) hasn’t been adequately considered by the courts. This is not true.

The affidavits, in various combinations, had already been reviewed by 29 judges in seven different types of review, over the course of 17 years, before Tuesday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state Parole Board halted the execution in 2007, saying they wouldn’t allow a possibly innocent man to be executed. Then, after more than a year of reviewing all of the evidence on both sides, and hearing from every witness Davis’ lawyers presented – including Davis – they refused to grant clemency.

The trial was fair. Davis was represented by superbly skilled criminal defense lawyers. He was convicted by a fair jury (seven black and five white). The post conviction stridency we’ve seen has been much about the death penalty and little about Troy Davis.

The jury found that Davis, after shooting another man earlier in the evening, murdered a police officer who came to the rescue of a homeless man Davis had beaten. Mark MacPhail had never even drawn his weapon.

A more complete discussion of these – and other – points can be found at Chathamcounty.org/vwap/html [link gone]
Spencer Lawton Jr. is Chatham County District Attorney.

Why would the AJC be so coy, essentially misleading an audience of millions on crucial elements of physical evidence in a controversial case?  Because what they are doing is not reporting: it is advocating for Davis.  Ditto Davis supporters like the Pope, Bob Barr, Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu — none of whom, I’m sure, bothered to reach out to Officer MacPhail’s family.

As I’ve said before, oppose the death penalty on grounds of universal ethics, or opposition to state-administered death, but when you make a faux hero out of a murderous, worthless criminal like Troy Davis, you are doing so at the cost of the humanity and dignity of the real victims.

Slain Officer Mark Allen MacPhail’s Children

Officer Mark Allen MacPhail’s Website

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.

Al Franken’s Latest Rape Joke: Chatigny Advances

Robert Chatigny, whose controversial advocacy for serial killer Michael Ross may have inspired Obama to nominate him to the Circuit Court, advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote.  I wrote here about the reasons why I think Obama would nominate someone like Chatigny:

Obama Shows Contempt for Victims

Chatigny’s supporters, especially Senator Amy Klobuchar, have argued that singling out the Michael Ross case misrepresents the judge’s overall record.  To the contrary, I think his treatment of Ross typifies his approach to criminal law.  Chatigny opposes minimum mandatory sentencing and registration for sex offenders.  He repeatedly delivered minimum or less-than-minimum sentences to men convicted of various sex crimes.  In opinions, he expressed sympathy for all sorts of excuses made by offenders.  He is a judge who has gone out of his way to practice leniency for sex offenders throughout his career.

And before he was a judge, he represented Woody Allen.  You can’t make this stuff up.  So why would the president choose Chatigny over other candidates?  From the Washington Times:

Judge Chatigny has a weird record of empathy for those accused of sexual crimes involving children. It started when he served as co-counsel for director Woody Allen in 1993-94 when Mr. Allen filed a complaint against a prosecutor for discussing in public the potential charges against the moviemaker for reportedly abusing a minor stepchild. Mr. Allen and Mr. Chatigny lost both administrative proceedings in the case.  In another case, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually reversed Judge Chatigny, unanimously, when the judge tried to rule against one aspect of his state’s version of a Megan’s Law sex-offender registry. In 12 child-pornography cases, Judge Chatigny imposed a sentence either at or more lenient than the recommended minimum – with most downward departures involving sentences less than half as long. And in an outrageous case of judicial abuse, Judge Chatigny threatened to take away an attorney’s law license if the lawyer failed to appeal the death sentence of an eight-time murderer of girls and young women. The judge claimed the killer’s “sexual sadism” was a mental disorder that made the murderer himself a victim.

This and other defense attorney ilk is thick on the ground in Washington these days.  During the Chatigny hearings, Sen. Patrick Leahy incontinently ranted about innocent men (purportedly) being rescued from near-death on death row.  Not only is this subject irrelevant to the Michael Ross case, but anti-incarceration activists have wildly exaggerated the prevalence of actual wrongful conviction and misrepresented the majority of cases in which convicts are released from death row.  It may be surprising to hear it, given the strong presumptions to the contrary by people like senators and anchormen and pretty much everyone else, but activists have not, to date, produce evidence that even one person has been wrongfully executed in the U.S. since 1972 (some would set the date far earlier, but the possibility of evaluating the two dozen cases identified by activists spanning 1900 – 1972 are slim).

Between 1972 and 2010, however, there were 700,000  murders in the U.S.

Virtually no one is released from death row because anyone thought they were innocent; they are re-sentenced to serve life or other prison terms because of clemency or reversals in some element of their convictions (disputes over mitigating factors, technicalities, court errors).  These cases then get cynically misrepresented by activists as innocence cases.  Wrongful conviction for capitol crime, while of course tragic, is nearly non-existent, and when it happens, the system works.

By carelessly repeating utter lies about our prisons being stuffed with innocent men, Leahy contributes to an atmosphere in which judges like Chatigny justify their dangerous biases against incarceration for anyone, no matter their crime.  To talk about wrongful convictions in a hearing that is supposed to be addressing the refusal to enforce unambiguously rightful conviction is just exploitative.  But nobody dares to call upon people like Leahy to provide facts.

Just to be clear about what happened: the Democrats, who claim the mantle of women’s rights, voted for a judge with a reputation for going particularly easy on sex criminals, a man who called a serial killer’s sexual compulsions a “mitigating factor” for the murders of young girls, and who now calls his advocacy for this killer “a learning experience” but also says he’d do it again.  The Republicans, who stand accused of neglecting women’s rights, all voted against Chatigny (Feinstein, in a real show of courage, simply declined to vote).

Voting For Chatigny:

  • Patrick Leahy
  • Russ Feingold
  • Arlen Spector
  • Chuck Schumer
  • Dick Durbin
  • Benjamin L. Cardin
  • Sheldon Whitehouse
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Ted Kaufman
  • Al Franken

Voting Against:

  • Jeff Sessions
  • Orrin Hatch
  • Chuck Grassley
  • Jon Kyl
  • Lindsey Graham
  • John Cornyn
  • Tom Coburn

Remember Al Franken’s first rape joke, in this never-run skit about Andy Rooney for Saturday Night Live?

“And ‘I give the pills to Lesley Stahl. Then when Lesley’s passed out, I take her to the closet and rape her.’ Or ‘That’s why you never see Lesley until February.’ Or, ‘When she passes out I put her in various positions and take pictures of her.”

Here is the N.O.W.’s response to the controversy over that one:

[T]he Franken campaign distributed a statement in his defense from Shannon Drury, president of Minnesota’s chapter of the National Organization of Women.  “Now [the skit] is being used as an excuse to label him a misogynist. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Drury wrote Tuesday. “In fact, Al Franken will be a senator who will work tirelessly in support of women’s issues. After meeting with Al personally, I find his honesty and openness refreshing, his intelligence and perseverance inspiring.”

Who says feminists can’t take a joke? Or make one?  The N.O.W. is staying silent on the Chatigny nomination, of course.   Thank goodness we have principled feminists like Tom Coburn, Jeff Sessions, Orrin Hatch, and Lindsey Graham to speak for women in the Senate.  I really mean that.

Meanwhile, the conservative Concerned Women for America are protesting Chatigny’s nomination.  Click on the link in the Penny Nance article below for troubling footage of the Senate nomination hearings:

Brutal Rapists and Serial Killers Find an Advocate in Obama’s Latest Pick

Do you ever wonder WHO those insane judges are that believe sexual predators are only sick and should thus not be given maximum sentences?  I think those judges are unfit to rule.  However, President Obama apparently wants to give one a promotion.

Michael Ross, in a documentary on serial killers, describes how he tied up 14-year-old Leslie Shelley, put her in the trunk of his car, and “took the other girl, April Bernaise [also 14] out and I raped her, and killed her, and I put her in the front seat.”  He said he killed eight girls, ages 14-25, and if he wasn’t caught, he’d still be killing.

It was of this man that Robert Chatigny, a U.S. District Judge in Connecticut, said: “[Michael Ross] never should have been convicted.  Or if convicted, he never should have been sentenced to death.”  Then Chatigny fought to stop Mr. Ross’ execution — twice — and was both times overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Robert Chatigny is President Obama’s latest nominee to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, a lifetime appointment spot and can be a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. . .

Chatigny was grilled by Republican Senators recently in his Judiciary Committee hearing.  Only one Democrat Senator showed up, and she asked no hard questions of the rapist defender.  Here’s a shocking video from the hearing, interspersed with an interview from Michael Ross himself on how he killed and raped his victims.

June 1st, 2010 by Penny Nance

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.

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

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.

Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals: Is Alcala Smart, Or Is The System Stupid?

Much is being made about Rodney Alcala’s allegedly superior intelligence. I don’t buy it any more than I buy it when defense attorneys wave a piece of paper in the courtroom and claim their client is mentally challenged and thus deserves a break.  It’s just theater.  Alcala’s a haircut with cheekbones: his IQ, whatever it might be, matters far less than the pro-offender sentiments of the era when he was first tried, and re-tried.

It certainly didn’t take a rocket scientist to play the California criminal justice system for a fool back in the 1970’s.  Unfortunately, in many ways, the same is still true.

Here are ten specific breaks the system gave Alcala, breaks that either enabled him to add to his body count or torment the families of his victims.  Such breaks weren’t reserved for serial killers with MENSA memberships, which is why places like L.A. were so fatal for all sorts of women.

How fatal?  Seven, or fifty, or even 100 women and girls, depending on how much evidence Alcala provides and the police uncover with the massive public appeal for assistance now underway.  Again, I have to ask: why weren’t these pictures distributed to the public decades ago?  Why were families forced to sit in limbo while authorities had hundreds of photos linking a known sadistic rapist and murderer to scores of unidentified women and girls?  I’m sure the police, given adequate resources, would have worked these cases.  But we’ve never given police adequate resources.  We still don’t charge even serious offenders with the totality of their known crimes.

Still it’s a tribute to reformers that some (though not all) of these fatal justice system errors would not occur today.

#1: Judicial Leniency, Indeterminate Sentencing Sets a Killer Free, 1971

Rodney Alcala was 25 in 1968, when he was caught in the act of raping and beating an eight-year old child to death.  That’s a chilling number, 25.  Kidnapping from a public place, the brutality of the rape, the extreme violence — all are hallmarks of an experienced, brazen killer who had escalated his behavior long before that crime.  If Alcala conformed to typical patterns (and there’s no reason to believe he did not), he probably started sexually victimizing girls and women around the time he reached puberty, a full decade before he attacked “Tali S.”  That’s potentially a lot of unnoticed crimes:

His first known attack was in 1968, when he abducted a second-grade girl walking to school in Hollywood, using a pipe to badly bash her head and then raping her — only to be caught red-handed because a Good Samaritan spotted him luring the child and called police. When LAPD officers demanded he open the door of his Hollywood apartment on De Longpre Avenue, Alcala fled out the back. Inside, police found the barely-alive, raped little girl on Alcala’s floor. It took LAPD three years to catch the fugitive Alcala, living under the name John Berger in New Hampshire — where the glib and charming child rapist had been hired, disturbingly, as a counselor at an arts-and-drama camp for teenagers.

Attempted murder, plus kidnapping, plus rape of a child, plus absconding.  Seems like he’d never see the light of day again.  Unfortunately, for future victims at least, pro-offender psychologists and other activists had so infiltrated the criminal justice system in California that the horror of Alcala’s crime was ignored by the courts.  From the moment he appeared in some California judge’s courtroom, he ceased to be a (failed) killer and child rapist.  He became a client and recipient of social services, a victim needing guidance, rehabilitation, “education,” and counseling.  It’s a soul-sickening travesty, one that deserves more exposure:

When Alcala was caught hiding out under the assumed name Berger on the East Coast [in 1971], a conviction for brutally raping a child in California was not a guarantee of a long prison sentence. California’s state government of that era had embraced a philosophy that the state could successfully treat rapists and murderers through education and psychotherapy.  The hallmark of the philosophy was “indeterminate sentencing,” under which judges left open the number of prison years to be served by a violent felon, and parole boards later determined when the offender had been reformed. Rapists and murderers — including Alcala — went free after very short stints. He served a scant 34 months for viciously raping the 8-year-old, who is known in official documents only as “Tali” . . . Deeply controversial, “indeterminate sentencing” was ended by then-governor Jerry Brown. But by that time, Alcala was free. . . . Retired LAPD Detective Steve Hodel, who investigated Alcala’s rape of Tali, recalls, “My impression was that it was his first sex crime, and we got him early — and society is relatively safe now. I had no idea in two years [he would be out] and continue his reign of terror and horror. I expected he was put away and society was safe. … It is such a tragedy that so much more came after that.”

“Education and psychotherapy.”  For raping and trying to kill a little girl.  It is important to understand that these highly educated “experts” were not simply trying to grope towards to some psychological discoveries that would only be discovered later.

Knowledge that murder is bad, for example, pre-dates 1971.

As I’ve written previously, I believe Alcala would have received a more severe sentence if he had just bludgeoned the little girl, instead of raping her and bludgeoning her.  I suspect the rape actually acted as a mitigating factor, turning him into a victim in the eyes of the people empowered to run our courts.  For when a prison psychiatrist found him “considerably improved” and ready for release less than three years after being convicted of attempted murder and child rape, that psychiatrist was undoubtedly referring to the fad psycho-sexual therapies in use at the time — and still being promoted by many academicians and practitioners today.  Like Dr. Richard Rappaport, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCSD Medical School, San Diego, who testified in Alcala’s most recent trial that Alcala should not be held responsible for serial sex murder because he just can’t help enjoying . . . sexual murder.

#2: Parole Board Leniency, 1974

It takes two to tango: a judge who refuses to hold a sick predator responsible for his crime by giving him an indeterminate sentence, and then a parole board that decides the “rehabilitation’s taken.”  Who served on that parole board in 1974, the one that decided to cut Alcala loose?  I’d love to see the transcript.  If anyone would send it to me, I’ll post it.  This wasn’t some gray-area first offense.  I wonder why the media hasn’t sought out these people and asked them why they let Alcala go.  As public servants, the parole board members should feel obliged to revisit such a devastating error.  A year’s worth of such decisions would make interesting reading — and yet one more interesting corrective to mythic beliefs that our country is too harsh on criminals.

#3: Prosecutorial/Judicial Leniency, Not Believing a Victim, Failure to Punish Recidivism, 1974

After the parole board cut him loose, it took Alcala two months to get caught with another child.  Two months.  Or, possibly, less:

In 1974, two months after he got out of state prison, Alcala was found at Bolsa Chica State Beach with a 13-year-old girl who claimed he’d kidnapped her. He was convicted only of violating parole and giving pot to a minor, however . . .

A convicted, violent, child rapist is found with a 13-year old girl who tells police she has been kidnapped.  What happens next?  Somebody doesn’t believe the child.  Who?  The judge?  The prosecutor?

#4: Parole Leniency, 1977

Alcala served another short sentence, and was apparently declared “re-reformed.”  Then a parole officer cut him some breaks.  It makes you wonder: was there anyone, anywhere in California’s criminal justice system, outside police themselves, who harbored a negative attitude towards violent offenders?

[T]wo years later, upon his second release from prison, the law went easy on Alcala again. His parole officer in Los Angeles permitted Alcala, though a registered child rapist and known flight risk, to jaunt off to New York City to visit relatives. NYPD cold-case investigators now believe that one week after arriving in Manhattan, Alcala killed the Ciro’s nightclub heiress Ellen Hover, burying her on the vast Rockefeller Estate in ritzy Westchester County.Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, who hopes during the current trial to put Alcala permanently on death row for Samsoe’s 1979 murder and the slayings of four women in the Los Angeles area, says: “The ’70s in California was insane as far as treatment of sexual predators. Rodney Alcala is a poster boy for this. It is a total comedy of outrageous stupidity.”

#5:  Social Leniency, 1977 – 1979: The Polanski Effect

It really does take a village.  Between the time Rodney Alcala was released from prison on his second child offense charge, and when he was captured after the murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe, it seems that nobody he encountered (outside the police) felt it was right to judge him for — oh, little transgressions like trying to murder a young child he was raping, or being a suspect in several other murders, or being investigated in the Hillside strangler cases, or ending up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.  Surely, FBI agents and other detectives approached Alcala’s co-workers and employers when he was being investigated for these crimes; surely his family and friends and professional acquaintances knew about the rape and beating of the 8-year old child.

So why did the L.A. Times choose to hire him anyway?  Why didn’t his supervisors there act on the knowledge that he was circulating his home-made child porn to co-workers?  Why did the Dating Game producers allow a child-rapist on their show?  Why did Alcala have such success in high-end social circles, in the art world, and with celebrities such as Roman Polanski?  Well, that one’s pretty easy to answer.

Was Alcala’s social success, in fact, based on his status as a “sexual outlaw,” being “persecuted by the pigs”?  Such was the argot in newsrooms and art circles, after all.  Funny how all the people who knew him then are so tight-lipped now: it sounds as if he really got around, between slaughtering young women:

1977  Ellen Hover, Jill Barcomb (18), Georgia Wixted (27)

1978  Charlotte Lamb (32), Monique H. (15), Jill Parenteau (21).  And more to come.

#6: Yet More Judicial Leniency, and Help From Mom, 1979

Another kidnapping and rape, another lost chance to get Alcala behind bars.  The police catch ’em and the courts let ’em go, leaving two more girls dead.  This type of behavior from the bench, sadly, continues today:

Alcala’s alleged reign of terror might have been halted in early 1979, when a 15-year-old hitchhiker called police from a motel in Riverside County to report she had just escaped from a kidnapper and rapist. Although Riverside police quickly charged Alcala with kidnapping and rape, a judge set his bail at just $10,000, paid by his mother. While free, police say, Alcala killed 21-year-old computer keypunch operator [Jill] Parenteau five months later in her Burbank apartment. The killer cut himself climbing through her window, and prosecutors now say Alcala’s rare blood type has been matched to the blood remnants.  Six days after Parenteau’s slaying, Robin Samsoe disappeared, a child-snatching that sent fear rippling through safe, quiet Southern California communities. Samsoe’s friend Bridget told police the two swimsuit-clad girls were approached that day by a photographer who asked if he could take their pictures. The man was scared off by a suspicious neighbor, but shortly after that, Bridget lent Samsoe her yellow bicycle so that Samsoe could make it to ballet class. Samsoe was never seen again.  Detectives circulated a sketch of the mysterious photographer to the media, and a parole officer recognized his parolee Alcala. Twelve days after she vanished, on July 2, 1979, Samsoe’s skeletal remains were found by U.S. Forestry Service rangers. Alcala was arrested on July 24 at his mother’s house in Monterey Park.

#7:  Criminal Appeals, 1984

Alcala was found guilty of murdering Robin Samsoe in 1980 and was sentenced to death.  But that verdict was overturned in 1984 by the California Supreme Court.  The court found that the jury had been “unduly prejudiced” when prosecutors introduced information about about the rape and attempted murder of the 8-year old child in 1968.

Evidence of prior crimes is sometimes admissible at certain times, so long as the priors are materially similar to to crime being tried.  For instance, is raping and trying to murder an 8-year old girl at all similar to raping and murdering a 12-year old girl?  There’s a four-year difference in the ages of the victims there, and a higher success component on the whole “murder” thing.  I’m sure, however, that the California Supreme Court could not have overturned Alcala’s death sentence on such a frivolous distinction.  It must have been some other frivolous distinction.

#8: Criminal Appeals, 2001

This time, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals got a piece of the action.  They decided that, because one witness’ testimony from a previous trial was read from the stand without the witness being in the room, the entire second trial, which doubtlessly cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars to re-try, simply had to be tossed out because of this.

What’s the matter with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals?  Richard Posner says they’re just too large for their own good, with too many different justices thinking together, and he’s got a well-known large brain that thinks in perfect unison with itself.  Me, with my quotidian little intellect, I think they just never saw a serial killer appeal they couldn’t bleed for, since they don’t have to, like, literally bleed, like the victims.  Not a very elegant argument, I know, but maybe it would pass muster before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

#9: Alcala’s Exclusive Access to the Courts, 1979 – 2010

With his denim pantsuit aesthetic and not-very-bright courtroom performances, Alcala doesn’t really present as a brain trust.  But he doesn’t need to be one.  And defendant can tie up the courts — and further devastate victim’s families — with frivolous lawsuits and endless appeals designed to catch certain activist judges’ eyes:

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. Alcala is still as cocky as ever — bold enough to represent himself in the trial for his life, now unfolding in Orange County. And why not? He has a talent for mining legal technicalities and has repeatedly enjoyed success with appellate judges.

Orange County prosecutor Matt Murphy likens Alcala to a video game villain that keeps coming to life and says that the appellate courts have hit restart on this real-life murderous villain’s rampage through the system. The families of the victims as well as those close to the investigation criticize the decisions as misguided political statements by justices who opposed the death penalty and ignored the facts of the case. For Murphy, who tried the latest Samsoe case, each decision to overturn stripped away more evidence from his arsenal against Alcala. And for Robin Samsoe’s family, the legal setbacks have altered the course of their lives, ripping through like aftershock upon aftershock following a devastating earthquake. . . Samsoe’s mother [Maryanne Connelly] spoke eloquently about the hardships she has endured in the 31 years since her daughter’s murder, waiting for justice that never came. . . Meanwhile, her daughter’s killer has spent most of his life in prison, and has perfected the art of working the system to his advantage, filing lawsuit upon lawsuit when he felt his rights were violated while in custody – such as a civil suit against an investigator who did not respond to a request for discovery within 10 days. In fact, a contempt case against the Orange County Jail is still pending. . . Connelly wonders where her rights were, while the man who killed her daughter became comfortably institutionalized. This inequity has become the rallying cry of all the victims’ families, as well as victim’s rights advocates, who say the system has coddled a vicious killer while failing victims’ loved ones.

If the victims’ families had the same rights as Alcala, they could sue him for mental cruelty.  Where such a trial could be held is a difficult question, because his co-defendant would be the justice system itself.

#10: Turning the Courtroom into His Last Killing Field, 2010, and Beyond

“He was blowing kisses at me across the courtroom, and I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Connely said. “And I thought I was going to go crazy, you know. And I reached into my purse and I was going to grab it, you know, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this.'”

That’s Marianne Connelly, speaking recently about Alcala’s 1980 trial for the murder of her daughter: back then, she once brought a gun to the courtroom to shoot Alcala.  I doubt anyone would have blamed her then, and they certainly wouldn’t blame her now, after thirty more years of sitting in courtrooms watching Alcala toy with her, and other victims, for fun.

Where was the judge while Alcala was blowing kisses at his victim’s mother?  Did that judge feel his hands were tied, thanks to our perverse appeals system?  Or did he simply not care?  Why did he allow the defendant to behave that way?

This unique, public humiliation and torture of crime victims is one thing that has not changed in 30 years.  From the most recent trial:

Robin’s brother Tim Samsoe, 44, said the worst thing was watching Alcala perk up in court every time he got the chance to see old photographs of his alleged victims.  “You see the gleam in his eye,” said Samsoe. “He’s enjoying this again.”

According to prosecutors, Alcala always enjoyed torturing his victims:

[Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt] Murphy told the packed courtroom that Alcala took his time terrorizing his victims by choking them with his bare hands, waiting for them to wake up at least once, then strangling them again — sometimes using shoelaces or panty hose. “It is a staggeringly horrific way to die,” exclaimed Murphy. “There is ample evidence the women put up some resistance….He gets off on it. It was fun.”  Once they were dead, Alcala allegedly [he has since been found guilty] would then pose their bodies.

Now the only victims he has access to are the relatives of the women and children he killed:

Robert Samsoe, who was 13 when his little sister was slain, tells L.A. Weekly, “I don’t have any faith in the system. Some people, they are just afforded all the chances in the world. Alcala has cost the state of California more than any other person because of his lawsuits. And they treat him like a king. Everybody is walking on pins and needles around him.

Alcala dragged out his latest trial for weeks, representing himself, attacking victims, rambling on and enjoying himself.  If this judge felt he simply had no power to prevent such behavior, he should now take steps to do something about the warped system of which he is a part.  When is enough enough?

At the trial’s close, Alcala forced family members to listen to a recording of Alice’s Restaurant, a move that nearly drove one columnist to violence.  Frank Mickadeit, of the OC Register, wondered how family members could hold themselves back:

To make the family and jurors listen to somebody, even Guthrie, sing: “I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and guts and veins in my teeth”? I guarantee you, that made nobody in the room think about how horrible Alcala’s death might be, as was apparently his intent. . . In all the years I’ve covered trials, I’ve never once wanted to personally wreak vengeance on a defendant. I can dissociate along with the hardest of professionals. But at Minute 50 on Tuesday, Murphy got me to go to that unprofessional place, where the father, brother and uncle lives.  I think it might have been one young woman’s morgue-photo – a head that was missing a third of its face because Alcala had bashed it away with a rock.  I stared hard at the back of Alcala’s tan sports coat, where the collar met the unruly mass of gray curls that cascades down his back (Arlo-like, if you must know), and I thought hard about that 15 feet between me and that thin neck. A cat-like leap, a bound, a forearm-lock, a snap – he’d never see me coming. The burly deputy sheriff between us would, though, so there was no chance even if I had indulged my momentary fantasy.  I looked to my left. Immediately across the aisle from me was Robert Samsoe, Robin‘s brother – roughly my age and size. He was wearing jeans, penny loafers and white socks, and I could see his right foot tapping nervously during these last 10 minutes of Murphy’s closing. The photo of another victim, her lower lip torn away, flashed up. Murphy hadn’t even begun recounting Robin’s death yet. . . Mercifully, there are no morgue photos of Robin, at least not in the sense that there are of the other murder victims. When they found Robin, just a skull was left – albeit a disfigured one from where Alcala had bashed in her teeth.  Robert Samsoe didn’t leap out of his chair and break Rodney Alcala’s neck, as part of me would have like to have seen.

Of course he didn’t.  The victims figured out long ago that they are not actually people, with human rights, including the right to dignity, in the eyes of the law.  The only person in that courtroom whose rights were being protected was Rodney Alcala.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Rwanda and Columbine: The Politics of Forced Reconciliation

Occasionally, in response to something I write, I receive an e-mail advising me that, for the good of my soul, I had better stop judging criminals (or criticizing, or even joking about them) and train myself to vigilantly “forgive” them instead.  For example:

Life is too short to walk around with this kind of hate inside. Anger and bitterness is a poison that destroys the pot it is kept in.

There is more at work here than anonymous sanctimony and poor grammar.  There is presumption: presumption that forgiveness does not exist unless it is broadcast like a cheap pop song; presumption that crime victims as a group must be regulated and policed, that they are the dangerous creatures, more dangerous than the offenders who committed crimes against them.

Why is it that people who incontinently think only the best of criminals leap to believe the worst about people who are victimized?  I suppose the simple answer is that they must, in order to justify their choices.  Victims must be distrusted, lest people feel restrained from showering trust and affection on offenders.

Crime must be disappeared in order to legitimate sentimental feelings towards the criminal.

The Ur-text of such sentimental pathology surely is the film Dead Man Walking.  In order to promote herself as an extremely special harvester of extremely hardened souls, Sister Helen Prejean ran roughshod over quite a few facts and suffering innocents, both in her real life and through her artistic collaboration with the vile Susan Sarandon, who’s never met an unrepentant murderer she couldn’t love, lust for, or name her unborn baby after.

Such exercises have little to do with the exercise of actual forgiveness, which is perfectly capable of existing without the interventions of activist nuns, United Nations reconciliation committees, or federal grant-subsidized “restorative justice” professionals.

~~~

In fact, I know a great many crime victims, and exactly none of them are burning up on the inside because they cannot escape the carping furies in their souls (Aeschylus was such a hack).

On the other hand, crime victims do burn understandably hot over never getting their day in court, or not seeing their offender held accountable, or watching him walk free to offend again.  In other words, it isn’t feelings of vengeance that drive crime victims crazy: it’s denial of justice.

Yet that message doesn’t register with the reconciliation professionals.  They are too busy finding ways to level moral distinctions between offenders and victims, if not tip the scales completely.  The “restorative justice” movement itself started out as a program to push offenders to take responsibility for their crimes and make amends — but like many similar programs, it quickly devolved into mere advocacy for inmates.  Scratch the surface of most reconciliation programs and you will find nothing more than anti-incarceration activists deflecting resources that are supposed to aid crime victims.

~~~

Reconciliation and forgiveness are nice words. Closure is a lovely, if overused concept.  But we have turned these words into burdens we hang around the necks of people on the receiving end of crime.  And this has been done in order to benefit criminals in ways that may not really benefit them at all.

~~~

I recently read two interesting books that confront, in vastly different settings, the politics of forgiveness.  Columbine, by Dave Cullen, examines the 1999 Colorado massacre by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; The Antelope’s Strategy, by Jean Hatzfeld, is an account of the government-and-NGO-enforced reconciliation of Tutsi survivors with Hutu murderers a decade after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Although rural Rwanda and suburban Columbine are vastly different places, I came away from these books with an eerie sense that the Colorado and Rwandan murderers were speaking in a single voice.  Eric Harris, sitting in his basement in Colorado taping messages about the slaughter he’s about to commit, sounds chillingly like the leaders of the Hutu killing parties as they recount their daily forays to catch and kill the Tutsis who had escaped the killing of the previous day.  There is the same degree of nihilistic, cheerful premeditation and ambitions of slaughter.   Both Cullen and Hatzfeld seem aware that “root cause” theories, forensic psychology, and even their own considerable powers of explanation can only take them so far in explaining any of these killers’ deepest motives.

Evil, which is frequently overlooked in discussions of crime, is given its due.  So is not knowing — not being able to make sense, after a point.

Columbine was marketed as a corrective to media misrepresentations, but even so, I was surprised by the vast differences between the Columbine story as it played out in the national press and the story Dave Cullen uncovers.  Of course, I knew about the mythology that sprang up around victim Cassie Bernall: reporters had already eagerly discounted that pro-Christian-faith story, as Cullen shows.  But it appears that they were far less cautious with their own favored narratives (secular faith systems, one might say).

It was bullying, the media breathlessly reported, that drove Harris and Klebold to kill, and the victims they targeted were none other than the stereotypical high school bullies who taunted them for being different. Columbine, according to many members of the press, was yet more proof of the terrible consequences of picking on people, and not respecting differences, and the horrors of “jock culture,” and feeling alienated in high school, and so on.  This tale, encouraged by “anti-bullying” professionals, took on a life of its own, and few in the media bothered to question the presumptions underlying it.

But it was not true, not only because the killers were not relentlessly bullied, but because the crime they tried to carry out would have killed many hundreds of random students and rescue workers, had the detonators worked in the bombs they set.  The shootings were random, also, as Cullen proves through an excruciating march through crime scene evidence.

Yet in the interest of promoting a narrative that spread blame to “everyone” for the murders, and additionally laid special blame on jock-types (an acceptable bias), the press played down the story of the bombs and largely invented the story about revenge against specific targets.

These misrepresentations were hardly random.  The victims were tarred with culpability; Harris and Klebold were unburdened of it.  Even though the “bullying” story was a complete fabrication, anti-bullying “tolerance” activists received a massive payday from the $3.8 million dollar fund set up to compensate victims, a payday several times larger than the largest payouts given to the most critically wounded students or the families of the dead.  Some students with lesser injuries didn’t even receive enough money to cover their medical costs, while tolerance trainers raked in the cash for a “crime of bullying” that didn’t really happen and wouldn’t rise to the level of a misdemeanor crime if it had.

So although Harris and Klebold were not victims of bullying, their non-existent suffering was thus “reimbursed” at a far higher rate than the real suffering they inflicted on any of their victims.  And that is an important untold story of Columbine, though, strangely, after going to great lengths to decimate the false “bullying” narrative, Dave Cullen doesn’t question the use of victim funds to perpetuate the bullying story.

What did this payday to “tolerance trainers” actually purchase?  Most likely, to tell the surviving students — and their families, and the families of the dead, and the community at large — that they were all responsible for the social alienation that culminated in the loss of their loved ones.  By paying for tolerance programs, authorities were essentially pleading guilty, on behalf of others, to the crime of intolerance.  Intolerance towards whom?

People who are “different.”  People who feel victimized by society.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold?  Who else?

What might a sane, fact-based response to Columbine look like? It certainly wouldn’t include paying people a dime to sensitize innocent survivors to minor social offenses that didn’t occur in the first place.  Money would have been better spent examining the actual warning signs displayed by the killers, Eric Harris in particular.  Harris was a textbook psychopath who had accumulated a long rap sheet — or would have, had multiple reports of violent threats, stalking, and explosives-based vandalism, in addition to car theft charges, been taken seriously. Instead, probation and classroom records show that he easily adopted the stance of a remorseful and prison-scarred youth (after just a few hours in jail), even earning admiration from one teacher because he’d “learned so much” from the enriching experience of being arrested.

But grieving victims who asked how the two killers could plan a massacre and stockpile and stage multiple weapons and guns without detection found themselves on the wrong side of a grief industry — and intertwined anti-bullying industry — that insisted that questions like these were simply the wrong questions to ask.  It is practically impossible, in the current atmosphere, to blame crime solely on the offenders.  Everyone else is expected to ritualistically absorb some portion of blame — or stand accused of failing to heal, find closure, or audibly forgive.

~~~

But what happens when the scale of the crime is so large that many people are responsible, so many that imposing justice is practically impossible?  In 1994, more than half a million ethnic Tutsi were systematically slaughtered by Hutu militias in Rwanda, a genocide that spared only 300,000 Tutsi in a country of nearly 7 million.  In 2003 the surviving Tutsi learned that the government would be releasing tens of thousands of Hutu being held for the murders.  Already forced to live alongside Hutu who had failed to stop the killings, or even participated in them, Tutsi survivors would now be pressured to participate in tribunals designed to “reconcile” victims with many of the killers who had led the genocide.  Imprisoned Hutu who willingly confessed (often to extremely minor parts of their activities) were allowed to return home to live alongside the people they had tried to kill and whose family members they succeeded in killing.

At the heart of the prison releases was a demographic argument: Rwanda needed imprisoned farmers to return to work, and Hutu women and children needed their men to sustain family life.  But the releases also reflected another demographic reality: in an overwhelmingly Hutu nation, the government was more than willing to push the Tutsi genocide into the past.

Tutsi were already experiencing the nearly unbearable difficulty of living alongside people who had tried to kill them and had raped and murdered most members of their families.  Survivors spend months fleeing from armed men who hunted them repeatedly, day after day, and returned home in the evenings to loot, feast, and rest for the next day’s hunt: entire villages preyed on their former, and future, neighbors.  Given the scale of the attacks and their small numbers, Tutsi who survived the genocide had long-ago settled for symbolic justice and uneasy promises of safety.

But now, forced “reconciliation” was literally supplanting what little justice had actually been delivered.  Few of the Tutsi who speak in The Antelope Strategy harbored any illusions about the effects of pardoning mass numbers of killers.  They can hardly afford wishful talk about “closure.”  They live in fear that reconciliation will embolden the Hutu and, ironically, inflame anti-Tutsi sentiment, leading to outbreaks of violence.

Antelope Strategy is, in part, an extraordinary exploration of the limits of rehabilitation and forgiveness:

Claudine Kayitesi: “In the courts injustice gobbles up justice.  Obviously, not every killer deserves execution — but still, some of them, after all.  Those who burned babies alive, who cut and cut till their arms ached, who led expeditions of a thousand hunters — those should really have disappeared from our lives.  The state has decided to save them.  If someone had asked for my opinion?  I would have sent the propagandists and the major leaders to the firing squad.  That wasn’t done; foreigners exerted influence, and the authorities proved flexible to favor national reconciliation.  For us, it becomes impossible to relieve our grief, even with full bellies.  Basically, justice is not worrying about the feelings of survivors.”

Berthe Mwanankabandi: “What’s the use of looking for mitigating circumstances for people who butchered day after day after day and even on Sundays with their machetes?  What can you mitigate?  The number of victims?  The method of hacking?  The killers’ laughter?  Delivering justice would mean killing the killers.  But that would be like another genocide, and would bring chaos.  Killing or punishing the guilty in some suitable way: impossible.  Pardoning them: unthinkable.  Being just is inhuman. . . This is not a human justice, it’s a politics of justice.  We can only regret that they never show either sincerity or sorrow.”

Innocent Rwililiza: “The other Tutsi, from the diaspora [who fled to refugee camps], make sure the survivors never take revenge. . . The diaspora Tutsi don’t forget anything — either the terror of their flight, or the wretchedness of of exile, or the massacres of their families.  They are neither traitors nor ingrates.  But it suits them to present the genocide as a kind of human catastrophe, a dreadful accident of history, in a way requiring formidable efforts of cooperation to repair the damage.  They invented the policy of reconciliation because seven out of ten Rwandans are Hutus.  It’s a terrible thing, after a genocide: a demographic majority that snatched up the machete.  Reconciliation would be a sharing of trust.  The politics of reconciliation, that’s the equitable division of distrust.”

Usually, western legal philosophy focuses only on the ethical limitations of punishment, not the ethical limitations of mercy.  The Tutsi who speak in the book are not universally negative, but they cannot afford to be naive.  It is not just in places like Rwanda that we are too quick to forgive murderers:

Francine Niyitegeka:  “With age, the scars are healing from my skin. . . But although I am relieved, I am never at peace.  Deep down, I , too, feel oppressed by walking behind the fate that was set for me.  Someone who saw herself in muddy detail as a corpse in the papyrus lying among all the others, comparing herself to all those dead, always feels distressed.  By what?  I cannot say; I don’t know how to express it even to myself.  If her spirit has accepted her end, if she has at some point understood that she will not survive, such a person has seen an emptiness in her heart of hearts that she will never forget.  The truth is, if she has lost her soul even for a moment, then it’s a tricky thing for her to find a life again.”

Columbine Dave Cullen (2009, Hatchette Book Group)

The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide Jean Hatzfeld (2007, Farrar Straus and Giroux)

Jesus Wept

Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys

The Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, with hands together, at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Wisconsin in 1960.

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.  The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal. . .

Read it here.

Rapists, Child Molesters Treated With Most Lenience: Washington Examiner

Why does it seem like the people who commit the most heinous sex crimes are the ones getting multiple breaks from the courts?  Apparently, I’m not the only person wondering.  I certainly hope the Washington Examiner doesn’t mind that I’m copying their article in its entirety.  It’s so staggeringly rare to find stories outside the “Hooray, We’re Emptying the Prisons” media drumbeat these days:

Freed criminals prey on public

By: Scott McCabe
Examiner Staff Writer
March 21, 2010

From left: Darryl Hazel, Robert Joseph Williams and Virgilio Nunez

Cops hunt felons turned loose by system

A high percentage of the top fugitives sought by U.S. marshals in the region had been in the hands of authorities only to slip away through cracks in the legal system or questionable judicial decisions.
Of the criminals designated “Most Wanted” by the Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force, more than 70 percent had been released from custody for various reasons, requiring marshals’ deputies to track them down again.

Imagine the cost of tracking these felons down, not once, but twice, and sometimes more than that.

Some presented a clear danger to area residents:

» Two-time convicted killer Darryl Hazel was two months out of prison when he was arrested on drug charges, released on his own recognizance and went into hiding.

» After Virgilio Nunez was charged with 15 counts of child sex abuse involving multiple children, the El Salvador native was allowed to post $10,000 bail. He remains on the loose, authorities said.

» Robert Joseph Williams was out on supervised parole after serving 20 years of a 35-year prison sentence for raping his adoptive mother. He was put on supervised probation. But during that time he was charged again with drug distribution. He violated the conditions of his probation and disappeared.

» D.C. Jail inmate William Brice, awaiting trial in a near-fatal shooting, was allowed to be released into the custody of his defense attorney and attend his father’s funeral. The inmate fled the funeral, his lawyer failed to notify the court and Brice has the been on the run for more than two years.

William Chambliss, a criminologist at American University, said the biggest mistake when talking about the law or the courts is to think the system is rational, organized and precisely managed.

“It’s fundamentally flawed,” Chamblis said. “It’s impossible to create a large bureaucracy that is not going to make a lot of stupid mistakes.”

Hazel, 33, already had two murder convictions under his belt when he was re-arrested in D.C. for misdemeanor marijuana and heroin charges last year. At age 15 he pleaded to the shotgun death of a Capitol Hills store clerk. At age 22, Hazel killed again, this time in Northern Virginia. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in federal court, served eight years hard time and was placed on probation.

So this guy killed two people.  He served something less than 15 years for two murders.  The D.C. court simply decided to stop monitoring him, and once they got around to picking him up again, he’d been involved in another shooting:

According to records, after his drug arrest, D.C. court officials attempted to call Hazel’s probation officer but the officer had been transferred and the replacement was unavailable. Five days later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office withdrew its request to keep him behind bars.

Hazel was set free and told to return to court in four weeks. He didn’t.

Seven months later, on the day he was featured as a Most Wanted fugitive in The Examiner, U.S. marshals said they got a tip from a reader who reported that Hazel was living under the name of a dead relative. Marshals arrested him.

During their investigation, detectives discovered that Hazel was involved in a shooting three months earlier while using his alias. Hazel has not been charged in connection with the shooting.

Hey, why bother charging him?  It’s just his third known violent crime.  And the other two were just murders.  Yet what you read in virtually every newspaper, day after day, is overstimulated, breathless reporting on “alternative sentencing,” emptying the prisons, and the newest pro-offender cash-cow, “prisoner re-entry.”

None of these initiatives, they tell, us, will apply to violent offenders, of course.

They’re lying:

The most lenient cases, said one Maryland prosecutor, seem to fall on people accused of sex, child abuse or domestic violence crimes, especially if the supsect “doesn’t look like central casting with the knuckles dragging to the floor.” One violent sex offender had to be picked up three times for violating his parole.

Virgilio Nunez, 44, was indicted on 15 counts of child sex abuse in February 2009 when a Montgomery County court commissioner allowed him to post a $10,000 bond, authorities said. Nunez, who was born in El Salvador, hasn’t been seen since. Nunez’s court records were sealed under adoption privacy laws.

State’s attorney for Montgomery County John McCarthy’s office said he could not comment.

Valencia Mohammed, a victim’s rights advocate who lost two sons in separate killings, said she’s amazed that Nunez was allowed to post bail.

“Immigrants seem to be let off on things that I know that we would be held on,” Mohammed said. “Why give them the opportunity flee? Why put the bail so low or make the sentence so lenient that you let the person out to commit so harm? It makes no sense.”

Joe diGenova, former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said these incidents are inevitable in a system that handles huge numbers of cases.

It happens all the time,” said diGenova. He said sanctions should be considered against judicial officials whose mistakes endanger the public. “This is important stuff,” he said. “The public relies on the function of the system.”

Good luck with that “judicial sanction” fantasy.  Judges are above the law: there are barely any mechanisms by which they censure each other, and forget about the rest of us weighing in.  What of that defense attorney who helped his client escape?  Were there even consequences?

Duplicative, hyper-vigilant review boards monitor every move the police make; civil rights organizations scream endlessly over every defendant’s rights and privileges; prosecutors face a rising tide of disruptive legal actions to keep them from doing their jobs.  But defense attorneys can do virtually anything in court with no fear of censure, and judges who fail to enforce sentencing law or make appalling errors that result in wrongful releases are never held responsible.  Not even when someone gets murdered as a consequence of their carelessness.

No, consequences are for the little people.  The non-lawyers, non-judges, non-criminals.

~~~

Here is a very interesting post from Britain by a cop who sees the same thing, day in and day out.  The cops pick them up, and the courts cut them loose, says PCBloggs:

[I]t disturbs me that the courts seem to operate in a world apart from the rest of us, with no accountability whatsoever when flagrantly ludicrous decisions are made and a nonsense made of facts. I have sat in court and heard a defence solicitor telling a magistrate that his client had not been in trouble with the police since the incident in question, with no recourse whatsoever for me to leap to my feet clutching the defendant’s police print screaming “Damned lies!” If a police officer falsely presented facts in court, regardless of whether through ignorance or malice, they would be rightly investigated and potentially prosecuted.

Likewise, if a police officer attended a report of child rape and decided to leave the offender wandering free to attack his next victim, he would probably be jailed for neglect. This judge remains free to continue unchecked. It appears that in the interests of a fair trial, anything goes.
So should the Yorkshire Ripper achieve his parole and go onto offend days, weeks or months later, the judge who frees him would at the worst face removal from office via an internal process. More likely, they would merely be villified in the press but no actual sanctions brought, largely because there are no serious disciplinary or criminal measures that can be brought. I am not suggesting we can or should realistically prosecute masses of judges for manslaughter or neglect for every offender who reoffends under their grammercy. But why should those options be ruled out when they weigh on the minds of every other member of the criminal justice process? Why should accountability fall at the last hurdle?
Why should accountability fall at the last hurdle?  Indeed.

Robert Chatigny: By Nominating Him, Obama Shows Extreme Contempt For Victims

Barack Obama is arguably the most offender-friendly, victim-loathing president the country has ever seen.  His judicial and political philosophies are reflexively anti-incarceration.  His political career suggests a particularly disturbing pattern of disrespect for victims of sex crime.

In the Illinois state senate, Obama was the only senator who refused to support a bill allowing victims of sexual assault to have certain court records sealed.  The bill was intended to protect victims from having their sex lives and other extremely personal information (medical and gynecological records) splayed out in the public record for all to see after a trial had ended.  The legislation was written to protect the dignity of women who had been victimized by rapists, and then re-victimized in the courtroom at the hands of sleazy defense attorneys.

The vote for the bill was 58 – 0.  Obama alone abstained from voting, though he was present.

So, while Obama was far from the only liberal in the Illinois state senate, he was the only liberal in the Illinois state senate who believed that a victim of rape has no right to conceal from the public, for example, the fact that she contracted a venereal disease or was impregnated by her attacker.

And, as he had done so many times before, Obama didn’t even display the courage of his convictions by openly voting against the bill.  He voted, merely, “present,” so his opposition to the law would be easier to conceal in subsequent elections.

It would have been far less contemptuous to simply vote “no.”  Then, at least, victims would know precisely what the young senator and constitutional law professor thought of their dignity.  Abstaining from voting sent a stone-cold message — that Obama considered any consideration of the privacy rights of raped women to be quite a few rungs lower than his future political ambition.

It is important to understand that this vote against victims’ rights was no isolated case in the president’s history, as we are reminded today, when news broke that Obama was nominating U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chatigny for the Court of Appeals.

Chatigny is far from the only liberal judge sitting on the bench, but he is the only liberal sitting judge who became so enamored of a sexual serial killer that he denounced the state for deigning to prosecute, let alone convict, the killer.

Michael Ross started raping at an early age, and he had raped and murdered at least eight young women by the time he was caught.  Although there was no question of his guilt, from the moment Ross entered the legal system, he attracted vocal, activist supporters.  This is, sadly, not unusual: raping and slaughtering eight innocent women is, in some circles, quite a draw.  Records from Ross’ trial and appeal barely focus on the young women: they are the usual intricate inquiry into Ross’ feelings, Ross’ rights, Ross’ mood on death row, Ross’ childhood, Ross’ dating disappointments, ad infinitum.

Oh, and the hurt feelings of one hired defense psychologist, who believed he was being dissed by a trial judge.

The system disappears the victims, then the courtroom disappears the victims, then the appeals process disappears the victims, so by the time activists like Robert Chatigny set out to rehabilitate vicious torturers like Michael Ross, there’s no need to haul out metaphysical barrels of lye to dissolve what’s left of his crimes.  That had already been done, with an efficiency that would make an Argentinian death squad spill tears of shame all over the helicopter tarmac.

Judge Chatigny looked at Michael Ross and saw, not a killer, but someone who was suffering from “sexual sadism” and thus should not be held responsible for his actions.  The judge presented a sort of a twinkie defense on Ross’ behalf, the twinkie being Ross’ compulsive inability to stop torturing women.  Ross had been posturing the same defense from death row for two decades: in the killer’s mind, and the judge’s mind, he was the victim of a cruel mother, world, impulse disorder, judiciary, counsel, jury, and insufficiently plumped procedural protections.  But especially, he was a victim of this faux sadism syndrome, the existence of which, in Chatigny’s mind, supercedes the fatal outcome of Ross’ crimes and delegitimates the state’s prosecution of him.

Fox News reports:

[Chatigny] repeatedly stuck up for Ross, saying he suffered from “this affliction, this terrible disease” and suggesting Ross “may be the least culpable, the least, of the people on death row.”  “Looking at the record in a light most favorable to Mr. Ross, he never should have been convicted,” Chatigny said [emphasis added].  “Or if convicted, he never should have been sentenced to death because his sexual sadism, which was found by every single person who looked at him, is clearly a mitigating factor.”

He never should have been convicted?  Really, really enjoying torturing and killing women is a mitigating factor?  This is the mindset Obama chooses to elevate?

Michael Ross: Not a Victim

The legal strategy crafted by Michael Ross and his supporters was to present Ross as a helpless victim deserving of empathy, instead of a vicious killer meriting punishment.  This is not merely a favored strategy of anti-incarceration activism: it is perhaps the most cherished “ethical practice” of the Left.

It is also only effective if the victims’ lives and suffering are simultaneously erased — buried, and forgotten.  Killers can only be elevated if the memory of their victims is systematically denied.  That is what Judge Robert Chatigny did to Ross’ victims in 2005 and what Obama is doing to them now.

I don’t believe for a moment that Obama nominated Chatigny to the higher bench despite the judge’s horrific transgressions in the Michael Ross case: I believe he nominated Chatigny because of those transgressions.  That would be entirely in keeping with the legal and political worldview Obama has endorsed throughout his career.  And, yes, this is extremely disturbing.

Chatigny’s other claim to fame is opposing sex offender registries.  If this administration gets its way, will sex offender registries become a thing of the past?

Here are the names of Ross’ known victims (their photos are here). Little girls, some of them.  All dead, now.  Too bad Eric Holder doesn’t call them victims of hate crime.  If he did, the president would not have nominated the man who set out to liberate, and valorize, their killer:

Dzung Ngoc Tu, 25, a Cornell University student, killed May 12, 1981. Paula Perrera, 16, of Wallkill, N.Y., killed in March, 1982. Tammy Williams, 17, of Brooklyn, killed Jan. 5, 1982. Debra Smith Taylor, 23, of Griswold, killed June 15, 1982. Robin Stavinksy, 19, of Norwich, killed November, 1983. April Brunias, 14, of Griswold, killed April 22, 1984. Leslie Shelley, 14, of Griswold, killed April 22, 1984. Wendy Baribeault, 17, of Griswold, killed June 13, 1984.

Barack Obama should reach out to every one of these families and apologize.

~~~

Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman are supporting Judge Chatigny’s appointment.  Call the Senators’ offices and urge them to withdraw their support.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy suspended hearings on Chatigny’s appointment when prosecutors from Connecticut sent him a letter outlining the Ross scandal.  Call and encourage Leahy to take the prosecutor’s concerns seriously.

Senator Jeff Sessions is vocally opposing the nomination.  Thank the Senator for taking a stand.