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

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Sometimes, journalists should apologize.

Tony Holt of the Tampa Tribune is one.

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

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

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

Judith Lavezzi is another long-time friend of Kalisz.

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

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

It is a degrading act of leveling.

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

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

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

How dare we judge?

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

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

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John Kalisz

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

Now a bill has come due:

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

A4S_capreedmug01151_103115dCaptain Chad Reed

Two women are also dead, one Kalisz’ sister:

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

He also shot his niece and another victim who survived:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michael Barber

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Michael Brown

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of them.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no, it was all Verizon’s fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile:

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

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

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

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

Answer that, Ms. Plessinger.  Mr. McNeil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about fiddling while Rome burns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They send a police officer.

The Guilty Project. Death by Parole Board: Ankle Bracelet Didn’t Stop Ronald Robinson From Killing Officer Michael Crawshaw

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It’s too bad we don’t have CSI units slapping crime tape around our parole boards.  From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Ronald Robinson, 32, of Homewood, who is charged with the slayings of Officer [Michael] Crawshaw and another man Dec. 6, has a long criminal history and a record of repeatedly violating terms of his parole . . . From 1998 to 2003, Mr. Robinson was repeatedly accused of wielding firearms on the streets of Pittsburgh and surrounding communities. In a January 1998 criminal complaint, police said Mr. Robinson choked and punched a woman and then pointed a semi-automatic gun at her. In 2001, he was accused of shooting a man in the leg.  Two years later, according to court records, a pair of witnesses told police that Mr. Robinson fired a gun in the air at Hawkins Village in Rankin. In each case, many charges were withdrawn.

In other words, after each shooting, Robinson was permitted to plead down to lesser charges.  He apparently suffered no consequences for the 1998 semi-automatic attack.  He also apparently served less than two years for shooting a man in 2001, for he was out on the streets, firing a weapon, again by 2003.  He then repeatedly violated parole assigned for the 2001 and 2003 crimes.  How many times did Robinson violate parole and get caught?  The Post-Gazette doesn’t say, but they do note that, according to the Pennsylvania Board of  Probation and Parole, “Parolees are sanctioned an average of five times before being sent back to prison.”

Robinson was granted serial leniency.  Then he killed a police officer:

At the time of the Dec. 6 homicides, he was on parole following convictions in the 2001 and 2003 cases. He had been released from prison in 2007 after serving a minimum sentence; the maximum sentence would have kept him in jail until February of next year.  Mr. Robinson repeatedly was caught violating the conditions of his 2007 parole, according to court records. As punishment, he was jailed for two weeks in July and then released to a halfway house for felons. He was wearing an electronic monitoring device on his ankle at the time of the shootings.

Officer Crawshaw’s family has started a petition drive with a painfully obvious message: stop letting armed, recidivists plead to lesser charges, and we will need to bury fewer police officers.  Officer Crawshaw’s cousin, Sarah Kielar, has information about the family’s campaign on facebook, here:

On Sunday December 6, 2009, Penn Hills Police Officer Michael Crawshaw was shot and killed by Ronald Robinson, a career criminal who was on parole and wearing an electronic monitoring device at the time of this crime. We the family and friends of Officer Michael Crawshaw need your help. The system failed Michael and changes must be made.
During the past four years, 11 law enforcement officers have been shot and killed in Pennsylvania. In Allegheny County alone, in just 13 months, five law enforcement officers have been killed. In the most recent example of this senseless violence, Officer Michael Crawshaw was murdered by Ronald Robinson, who like the other offenders described below, exhibited a blatant disregard for human life, the police, and the rule of law. In Robinson’s case, he had multiple prior convictions and was serving a 2 ½ – 5 year sentence when the parole board reported that he was “misconduct free,” they had “a positive attitude toward this inmate” and had “no objection to parole.” Once released, Robinson repeatedly violated the conditions of his parole and was even jailed for 2 weeks due to these violations.
• Agent Sam Hicks: In November 2008 FBI Agent Sam Hicks was shot and killed while serving an arrest warrant on Robert Korbe. Although Robert Korbe did not pull the trigger, had he not been a career criminal, law enforcement officers would not have entered the house and Agent Hicks would not be dead. Korbe had three previous felony convictions but had been sentenced only to probation. He had been arrested on additional violent felony charges just 6 months prior to Agent Hicks’ death.
• Cpl. Joseph Pokorny: In December of 2005, Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Joseph Pokorny was shot and killed by Leslie Mollett during a traffic stop in Carnegie. Prior to this killing, Mollett had been arrested 8 times in 10 years, resulting in three felony convictions. Yet, he had received only a single 2-4 year prison sentence and had recently been paroled prior to murdering Cpl. Pokorny.
• Philadelphia Police Officers Charles Cassidy, John Pawloski, Sgt. Stephen Liczinski and Sgt. Patrick McDonald: During a 16 month period between November 2007 and February 2009 all four were shot and killed by violent repeat offenders with multiple felony convictions, one of whom was reportedly paroled just weeks prior to the killing.

How many times will this story repeat in 2010?

The Guilty Project: Patrick Hampton

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From the Bradenton (FL) Herald:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1994:

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

1995:

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

1996:

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

1997:

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

2003:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s that saying about the definition of crazy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a good look at his face.

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

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

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

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

Dennis Earl Bradford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Lessons Learned, or Not Learned:

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

Joseph P. Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Smith raped and murdered an 11-year old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Ferrell: A Rap Sheet Too Long to Repeat, Shoots A Cop Now

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DeKalb Officers blog pulled up James Ferrell’s arrest record after Ferrell shot a cop last week, an attempted murder already reduced to an aggravated assault charge.

How is shooting an officer, even if you only hit him in the leg, not attempted murder?  If the sentencing code of Georgia is so incoherent that it is better to charge someone with a lesser crime in order to circumvent the possibility of a shorter sentence, why doesn’t the legislature fix that terrible problem?  Or is it the District Attorney’s office that is being incoherent on the “shooting a cop isn’t attempted murder” thing?  Would Ferrell be charged with attempted murder if he had shot a cop in some other county?

Of course, this latest spree is not Ferrell’s first, or fifth, or even tenth run-in with the law. His first adult arrest, in DeKalb County, at least, came in 1986, 33 days after his 18th birthday, a real efficiency record.  Candles still warm on the plate.  So one must presume a sealed juvenile record.

Fast-forward 23 years. Here is the story, reported in the AJC:

Ferrell was as passenger in a car stopped shortly before noon Thursday. The officer was running a license check when he spotted Ferrell climb out of the car and run . . . The officer chased the passenger and got into a struggle with him. During the struggle the suspect grabbed for the officer’s gun . . . He was unsuccessful but later produced his own gun, which he used to fire at least one shot. A bullet grazed the officer’s knee.  As the officer was recovering, Ferrell carjacked a nearby motorist and drove off in a Ford F-150 . . .

In September, Ferrell skipped out on his parole and had a warrant issued for his arrest, according to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.  DeKalb court records show Ferrell is also wanted on a warrant for failure to appear in court.  That warrant stems from a 2008 arrest where Ferrell was charged with hit and run, fleeing, obstruction and impersonating an officer, according to records. He was released on bond, but failed to return to court in April.

So last April, Ferrell, while on parole, committed a serious crime, including impersonating an officer.  Even though this violated his parole, some judge let him bond out of jail anyway.  And, of course, he didn’t show up back in court.  Inexplicably, it took until September before the state parole board noticed and issued a warrant for his arrest.  Meanwhile, DeKalb was busy sending him certified letters that he cleverly avoided answering.

Hey, DeKalb County, he’s just not that into you.

What does it take to not be let out on bond? Bear in mind, this is a guy with a twenty-year history of serious, violent crime.  In 1990, he was sentenced to 20 years to serve for multiple armed robberies and aggravated assault.  That was some sentence to get back then — it must have been one heck of a serious aggravated assault.

Serious, like shooting a police officer, which will now also show as only another “aggravated assault” on the new page of his rap sheet, if it doesn’t get pled down, too.

I’m at a loss.

Of course, Ferrell didn’t serve even a third of that 1990 sentence: he was back out on the streets by 1996, and then he was arrested again and returned to prison briefly and released and arrested again, this time for rape, all the while when he could have been cooling his heels in a prison cell.

By 2003, when Atlanta police arrested him for rape, Ferrell had served only nine of the 20 years to which he’d been sentenced in 1990.  And somehow, despite repeated parole violations, nobody bothered to make him finish the sentence.  So what is the point of parole again?

It is not clear what happened with the Fulton County rape charge: it seems to have disappeared.  That would be a nice question to ask someone: what happened to the rape arrest?  It looks like nothing happened.  Why?

And now a cop is shot.  “Grazed,” some say.

Well, thank goodness it wasn’t something serious.  Just another day in our absurdist criminal courts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

It’s Time for a “Guilty Project”

Failure to Update DNA Database

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Where is the Outrage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

Why Police Morale Stays Low: Cop Killer Gregory Lance Henderson was Supposed to be in Prison. Twice Over. And, a Judge Responds.

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From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

Gregory Lance Henderson’s adult life is on the record.

Police and court records. . .

The 31-year-old Columbus man is accused of striking with his car and killing James Anderson, a Lee County, Ala., sheriff’s deputy . . . Henderson was sentenced to 15 years and three to serve for a drug conviction in 2007.  If he had served the full three years, he would still be in a Georgia prison today.

Despite an extensive criminal record (16 bookings in Georgia alone, a felony conviction for aggravated assault, drug convictions), Henderson faced no consequences for most of his arrests.  He drew a 24 months to serve/10 years parole sentence for a violent felony in 2006 and yet somehow didn’t serve that time.  His next arrest came five months later — and even though he’d violated parole (if we can call it parole, since he was actually supposed to be in jail), someone let him walk again.  A few arrests later, he was in front of another judge who apparently did not consider the fact that he was still supposed to be in prison for the last offense and had also been arrested additional times since that conviction.

So, 11 months after he was sentenced to ten years, 24 months to serve, he was sentenced anew on other charges and given 15 years, three years to serve.

Why didn’t the judge revoke the parole, send him off for ten years, and then slap on the additional charges?

Of course, Henderson didn’t serve those three years, either.  He was released 15 months later, and now a Sheriff’s deputy over the Alabama border has been murdered.

Thank you, Muscogee County Superior Court.  Thank you, Georgia Pardons and Paroles.  Hope you send flowers:

Randy Robertson, vice president of the local Georgia Fraternal Order of Police chapter and a Columbus law enforcement officer, said this case illustrates the need for tougher mandatory sentencing laws from the Georgia General Assembly.

“The state of Georgia needs to write an apology to the Anderson family because this guy was not where he was supposed to be, which is incarcerated,” Robertson said Saturday.

Georgia’s recidivism laws are too narrow and its mandatory sentencing laws are utterly meaningless.  The recidivism law excludes all but a few crimes, and defendants can still plead out of the ones that count as “strikes.” (This, as I keep saying, is why we have so many people in prison for “just drug charges” that aren’t really just drug charges.) The mandatory sentencing laws create guidelines and then undermine them by allowing judges to suspend part or all of any sentence (then the Parole Board chops off the other end).  What’s mandatory about that?

Did legislators not read these bills before they passed them?  Were defense attorneys still in charge of the House Judiciary Committee when these bills were drafted with little poison pills attached?  Were publicly law-and-order types privately fudging the legislative intent in order to save the state some money?

Why does nobody ask questions like this?

~~~

Any road, the consequences remain the same: a police officer dead, his family mourning.

Remember this: when cops are dealing with out-of-control recidivists, every arrest, even for minor crimes, puts their lives in danger.  According to comments in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Henderson has a teardrop-tattoo on his face, universal nomenclature advertising intent of and propensity for unpredictable and extreme violence:

So even when he was just getting popped for traffic offenses, he was announcing to the world that it could end very badly for someone.  And finally, tragically, it did.  Nobody should deign to express surprise.

Here are merely the last four years of Henderson’s journey through  — or, mostly, not through — Georgia courts.  Between the rat tangle of lax prosecution protocols, plea deals, judicial discretion and parole, his feet barely touched the courthouse floor, let alone the jailhouse door:

Oct. 14, 2005: Booked into Muscogee County Jail on aggravated assault and armed robbery charges.

Oct. 6, 2006: Pleaded guilty to aggravated assault charges in Superior Court; Judge Robert Johnston sentenced him to 10 years in prison, 24 months to serve.

March 1, 2007: Booked into Muscogee County Jail on possession of methamphetamine and traffic charges.

April 8, 2007: Booked into Muscogee County Jail on misdemeanor battery charges.

May 3, 2007: Booked into Muscogee County Jail on probation violation and aggravated assault charges.

Sept. 7, 2007: Pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine charge in Superior Court. Judge Bobby Peters sentenced him to 15 years, three years to serve.

Oct. 23, 2007: Began prison sentence.

Dec. 29, 2008: Released on parole from Hays State prison by Georgia Department of Corrections.

To revisit the math: while on probation (?) for an aggravated assault for which Henderson is actually supposed to be in prison, he’s busted in March, busted in April, busted in May, pleads to “just drug” charges for the March 1 charge in September and gets out of jail, early, 15 months later.  Then, this:

Sept. 24, 2009: Arrested in Lee County, Ala., on capital murder charges in connection with the death of Sheriff’s deputy James Anderson.

Someone claiming to be Judge Peters responds to criticisms in this comments thread.  Of course, there’s no way to know if it really is the judge, but he says the D.A. didn’t bring charges for the second aggravated assault before him, only a drugs charge.  He also seems to have not looked at Henderson’s prior record, because he apparently did not notice that Henderson was supposed to be in jail when he was in his courtroom.  If any of this is true, it simply means that the courts are in even more disarray, not less, frankly.

Scratch the surface of most “just drugs” cases, and you get someone with an arrest record like Henderson’s.  Judges should know that and want full disclosure of prior records, right?

My name is Judge Peters and I am posting this to correct the article. James Henderson did not come before me for aggravated assault. He was arrested for a possession of residue of meth in a straw when he was stopped for improper tag lights. A plea bargain agreement with the DA and his lawyer was an agreement where he pleaded guilty, gave up his 4th amendment rights, sentenced to 15 years, three in jail and 12 on supervised probation with drug testing and drug treatment.

OK, fine.  Blame the D.A. too.  But why would any judge allow a 15-year sentence for, as he modestly puts it, “residue in a straw” without asking why the D.A. wanted to throw the book?  Why would any judge not wish to ascertain the defendants’ criminal history to consider in sentencing, for that matter?

Why didn’t the judge revoke his parole, or whatever it was Henderson was serving or not serving for the 2006 aggravated assault charge?

Why didn’t the judge also see that Henderson had another outstanding aggravated assault charge, which would qualify him for recidivism status?  I’m willing to believe there are more people responsible than just Judge Peters.  But it is his courtroom, his responsibility.  The buck stops with him, and if all this is the prosecutor’s fault, then the judge has a serious responsibility to do something about such costly lack of communication.  Peters (if it his him) continues:

[Henderson] was paroled by the Pardon and Parole Board prior to his 2010 release date. Deputy [Anderson] was a fine man, all jurisdictions mourn his passing and pray for his family. No one could predict this would happen. the sentence received was a tough sentence for possession of residue of meth. the article was wrong when it listed the crime of aggravated assault as an additional charge at that time. Thank you. — Bobby Peters.

Nobody could predict this would happen?  Well, not if you don’t look at the guy’s record.  Or his face.  The writer claiming to be Judge Peters continues:

[O]nce an individual is sentenced, his fate rests with the Pardon and Parole Board. Victims or family members, DA, may appear before the board or send a letter. I dont contact the board to get a person out or to keep them in. The aggravated assault was a plea bargain in front of another judge in 06. I have asked for a transcript of both cases. The case I heard was a residue meth case where Henderson was on drugs and stopped for no tag light. 15 years with 3 years in prison,12 years on probation, drug treatment, drug testing, random searches, and 12 years to serve if he got in trouble again. No one can ever predict what a defendant will do down the road. This case is really a tragedy for the Anderson family. I dont know why Henderson got out early but the main one to blame is Henderson himself. I, like everyone, am so sorry this happened. Note says no more space. You can call me if you have more questions. — Bobby Peters.

“I have asked for a transcript of both cases”?  Now?  After a cop gets killed?  Why would any judge sentence somebody without knowing their record of violent crime, recidivism, prior leniency shown by the courts, and prior conduct during prior early releases, particularly parole violations?

“No one can ever predict what a defendant will do down the road”?

This one did precisely what he did the last time: got another drug charge, another aggravated assault charge, and then another free pass from another prosecutor, another judge and another pushover at Pardons and Paroles.  No mystery there.

~~~

Every police officer in the state should descend on the Georgia General Assembly this year in memory of Officer James Anderson, demanding real sentencing reform and judicial accountability.  This time.

More Lessons from the Milwaukee Serial Killer Case: Victims’ Lives Aren’t Worth Very Much

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Failure to Protect:

Following the identification of Milwaukee serial killer Walter E. Ellis, Wisconsin officials are acknowledging that at least 12,000 DNA samples that were supposed to be taken from convicted felons and databased are missing from the state registry.

Add to that the 50,000 felon samples acknowledged missing in Illinois, and the hundreds of thousands of other samples from both felons and victim kits that are routinely discovered “stockpiled” or “shelved” or simply gone missing, and what becomes visible is a systematic abandonment of the rights of victims and protection of the public from crime.

So why is there no outcry?  Why are ten, or thirty, or fifty dead women so easy to leave behind?  Sure, we read these stories with prurient interest.  The term “serial killer” piques imagination and inspires Hollywood stories.  But nobody seems to be able to take the next step, to behaving as if injustice to victims matters as much as injustice to anyone else.

For it isn’t just that Ellis’ DNA sample disappeared.  It’s far worse than that.  Ellis convinced another felon to give a sample for him.  On discovering the duplication of samples in the database, the tech simply threw out the one wrongly attributed to Ellis and left his profile blank.  It sounds as if this happened all the time, but nobody did anything about it.  Ellis was released from prison three months before the faked DNA sample was noticed, and his address was known, but authorities did nothing to obtain an accurate sample.

Even with a serial killer operating in Ellis’ neighborhood, and his own prior record, there apparently wasn’t enough curiosity about his effort to conceal his DNA.

Bodies, Bodies Everywhere:

DNA technology has been used in criminal convictions in the United States since 1987, when the first rape case was won using DNA in Orlando, Florida.  Despite the astonishing promise of this technology, it was years before some states even began testing suspects for DNA, and nearly a decade passed before the FBI managed to convince the first few states to begin sharing samples.  At every step of the way, civil liberties organizations have fought implementation of DNA testing, except, of course, in cases where it might be used to exonerate someone.

Georgia recently passed the threshold of solving 1500 cold cases from their database, though “solving” doesn’t necessarily translate into convicting the offenders.  Who’s got the money for all that?  And Georgia, like every other state, still suffers from perennial backlogs and rape kits that go missing.  Meanwhile, murderers like Brian Nichols get stables of silk-stocking lawyers on the public dime.

Little wonder the bodies keep piling up.  In addition to the seven murder victims now tied to Walter E. Ellis, twenty other similar, unsolved murders are being investigated again.  That’s twenty-seven raped and murdered women in Milwaukee whose killers were never caught.  Why?  Lack of resources.  Too many murderers, and not enough cops:

Nick Sandoval, a detective . . . said the homicide unit was understaffed and detectives were often overwhelmed by the number of killings they were investigating. There were 85 homicides that year.  “We were so short-handed,” he said. “Homicides would come in and we would start on one and we never really got our teeth into them to the point that we could do decent follow-up work. We would come in the next morning and, lo and behold, we would have another one. It was like a vicious circle.”

Here is what the cold case investigators in Milwaukee had to comb through:

They sifted through 500 names in case files, 15,000 sexual assault cases spanning 23 years, 6,000 prostitute-related investigations, and 2,000 arrests in the geographic areas where bodies were discovered over a 15-year period.

As I mentioned in this post, Ellis was arrested multiple times.  It isn’t clear why he wasn’t convicted and sentenced to prison after some of those arrests.  How much precious police time and manpower got wasted because prosecutors and judges didn’t follow through?

A Convicted Rapist Working in a Hospital?

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, there are so many serial killings and serial rapes being re-investigated now that it takes color-coded charts to sort them out.  Investigators searching for the killer of ten young, black women recently stumbled upon a serial killer responsible for another cluster of crimes: the rapes and rape-murders of dozens of elderly white women in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Like Walter Ellis, John Floyd Thomas managed to avoid giving police a required DNA sample.  Prior to the advent of DNA, Thomas had twice been convicted of rape, sent to prison, and released.  Later changes in the law required him to submit a sample, but he apparently didn’t comply and was not caught.  He was finally identified by a detective who was trying to solve the young women’s murders by rounding up convicted rapists who had avoided the new DNA law.

One chilling aspect of Thomas is his criminal longevity: his first rape conviction came in 1957, and he is now tied through DNA to a 1986 case.  That’s nearly 30 years — or perhaps longer — of raping and killing women.  Why didn’t he get caught?  Well, he did, of course, once in 1957, and again in 1978, but he was released early, so he could continue doing this:

The “Westside Rapist” became one of the more notorious criminals of the era. Victims ranged in age from the 50s to the 90s. Bella Stumbo, the late Times feature writer, wrote in December 1975 that the “serenity” of the neighborhoods where the victims lived “had been so grotesquely invaded by that elusive maniac the police loosely refer to as the ‘Westside rapist,’ now accused of sexually assaulting at l[e]ast 33 old women and murdering perhaps 10 of them.” She said residents lived in “small colonies of terror.”  The attacks appeared to stop in 1978. That year, a witness took down Thomas’ license plate after he raped a woman in Pasadena. He was convicted and sent to state prison.

Five years later, he was out, and the killings started up again.

Thomas was enabled by his family and by a legal system that made it very difficult to keep him locked away for long.  Others also apparently overlooked his criminal record to give him jobs in social work, a hospital, and a state insurance agency.  It is hard to understand how somebody with a prison record for rape could get a job in social work, or in a hospital, where he had access to vulnerable, elderly, immobilized women — his preferred targets.

Thomas was a work acquaintance of activist Earl Ofari-Hutchinson, who wrote this thoughtful article in the wake of Thomas’ capture.

Released Early and Not Monitored

Meanwhile, investigators are asking why Phillip Garrido, who kidnapped Jaycee Lee Dugard when she was 11 and held her captive as a sex slave for 18 years, was released decades early from a federal conviction for another brutal sex crime.

Decades early.  The federal system, at least, is supposed to be strict when it comes to offenders serving time.  Garrido received a 50-year sentence for an horrific kidnapping and sexual assault in 1976.  11 years later, he was released, apparently in violation of federal sentencing rules:

[Q]uestions intensified Monday over how Phillip Garrido could have served only 11 years in prison after a 1976 rape and kidnapping for which he had been given a 50-year federal sentence as well as a life term in Nevada.

Garrido was convicted of kidnapping in federal court for abducting Katherine Callaway in South Lake Tahoe on a November night nearly 33 years ago and driving her — handcuffed and hogtied — to Reno. He then pleaded guilty to a Nevada state rape charge for assaulting her in a storage unit.

Former Assistant U.S. Atty. Leland Lutfy, who prosecuted the kidnapping case, said Monday that he was “amazed” because, at the time, he believed that defendants convicted of federal crimes were required to serve two-thirds of their sentences — in this case, 33 years. That would have kept him safely away from Dugard, who was snatched from her quiet street in 1991.

“It makes no sense to me,” he said in an interview.

The real question Lutfy and others need to be asking is this: how many more Phillip Garridos are out there?

I wonder why anyone bothers to express surprise that an offender with a life sentence walked out of prison after a few years to commit more violent crimes against women and young girls.  It happens every day.  The U.S. Parole Commission, which was responsible for Garridos’ release, is refusing to answer questions:

A spokesman for the U.S. Parole Commission did not return a call for comment about why Garrido was set free in 1988.

Loyola Law professor Laurie Levenson said that barring an extraordinary situation, “there is no way on a 50-year sentence he should have been out.”

Count me not surprised: parole boards are frequently stacked with pro-offender activists who believe themselves to be above the law.  In trial testimony that should have been reviewed by the federal parole board, Garrido admitted to acting on uncontrollable sexual urges for children as young as seven:

Phillip Garrido admitted that starting in 1968 he hung around schools and pleasured himself while “watching young females.”  “I have done it by the side of schools, grammar schools and high schools, in my own car,” Garrido said in court testimony obtained Tuesday by The Daily News.  Asked how old these girls were, Garrido replied, “From 7 to 10.”

Nevertheless, the parole board decided that he should be released after serving one-fifth of his sentence, and he immediately kidnapped Jayce Lee Dugard.  Three years later, when Jayce was 14, she gave birth to the first of the children with which her rapist impregnated her.  Parole officers apparently didn’t notice that the man they were supposed to be watching had a pregnant prepubescent girl living in a shack in his backyard.

That means the parole officers also did not avail themselves of any records regarding his conviction.  Or something even worse — they knew his history but still viewed Garrido as the real victim of a harsh system.  How could they neglect to check the structures in his backyard, when he was on parole for kidnapping a woman and holding her in a storage unit, and neighbors raised questions about the young females in the storage unit in his backyard?  It belies the imagination, yet the media seems strangely incurious about Garrido’s parole officers.  Why?

~~~

This woman, U.C. Berkeley Police Specialist Lisa Campbell, didn’t think Garrido’s behavior was normal when she saw him dragging his “family” around the Berkeley campus.  She started asking questions and ultimately rescued Jayce Lee Dugard and her daughters:

Walter Ellis, John Floyd Thomas, Phillip Garrido: the cops arrest them, and the judges and parole boards let them go.  Not anymore, at least, for these three men.  But how many women and children had to be raped, and killed, in just these three cases, before anybody in the courts could be bothered to respond appropriately, all the times these men could have been put away?

Probation for Murder in 2006, and Now Two Adults and A Baby Are Murdered

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Ronald Clemons, the 24-year old who is now charged with killing three people, including a three-year old baby, should have still been in prison for a 2004 murder when he committed this crime.

Here we go again.

Paul Kersey writes: “According to DeKalb County’s OJS, Ronald Clemons was arrested seven times before this week’s incident. His first arrest on record was when he was 17, so I think it’s safe to assume he has a juvenile record.”

In September of 2004, Clemons participated in a murder on the same street where he committed a triple murder this week.  In the previous killing, a DeKalb County prosecutor let him plead to aggravated assault and offered a light sentence.  A DeKalb County judge signed off on the plea.

Why?  It’s worth noting that community standards play a role when someone like Clemons gets away with murder — the community creates the atmosphere of leniency, and the community elects District Attorneys who go easy on violent criminals.

For some reason, Clemons was not sent to prison until a year and a half after the 2004 murder, in March of 2006.  He was supposed to serve three years, no parole, but he was released after serving approximately three-quarters of that time.

Maybe he got credit for time served.  Or maybe the Georgia Pardons and Parole Board let him walk.  Who knows?

What we do know is that, having internalized the lesson of no consequences, Clemons then went on quite a tear.  He’s also charged with robbing three men at gunpoint.

Five months ago, he was charged with violating parole.  That case is still open: apparently the prosecutor’s office failed to act on it.  If they had, people might not have died.

Clemons’ father told the newspaper that his son could not be guilty because murder is “completely out of character for my son.”  Now there are three more bodies to be explained away.

See DeKalb Officers for more on the (non) prosecutions of Ronald Clemons.  Don’t miss the acerbic comments, by cops who see this happening every day.

And, meanwhile, here is a practically identical case in Britain this week (minus the guns: they have to kill with fists more often over there, and so they do).  If things go as they’ve gone in Atlanta, this “Jamie Webb” should work up to slaughtering babies and other innocent bystanders sometime around Autumn, 2012.  Conveniently, he’ll be out of prison then, too.

Some Preliminary Observations About Walter Ellis, the Milwaukee Serial Killer

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The Walter Ellis case is still unfolding, but there are already lessons to be learned.

One of those lessons is that police agencies around the country are on the verge of connecting serial rapists and killers to many unsolved crimes, thanks to DNA and re-opening cold cases.  The picture that is emerging of these men will change what we know about serial offenders.

It will also, hopefully, change some assumptions about what goes on in our justice system.  Many people believe that we are too harsh on offenders, that people deserve one or two or five “second chances,” that rehabilitation works, and that minimum mandatory sentencing and “three-strikes” laws are too harsh.

The Walter Ellises of the world pretty much drive a stake into such preconceptions:

AP — MILWAUKEE — Walter Ellis was anything but unknown in his north side neighborhood in Milwaukee — a mix of condemned and run-down houses with some nicer, newer homes.  Even as the bodies of suspected prostitutes began turning up in garbage bins and abandoned buildings near his home, the stocky Ellis had regular — sometimes violent, often friendly — interaction with neighbors and family, and more than a dozen run-ins with police.

If those run-ins were scrutinized, what would they tell us?  How many times did some judge let him walk?  How many times did a prosecutor decided it wasn’t worth sending him away for a few months?

Ellis was not a stranger to law enforcement, with 15 arrests since 1978.

How many times did he get first-offender status?  Time served?  Community counseling?  Simply no prosecution at all?  Would minimum mandatory laws or three-strikes laws have kept him off the streets?

He’s received probation or fines for burglary . . .

Probation for burglary.  Nice.  The DNA database “hit” lists are littered with rapists whose only prior convictions were for burglary, or drugs.  Sometimes rapists were allowed to plead down to burglary when there was a rape but prosecutors didn’t feel the victim would be believed.  Sometimes these men were caught entering or hiding in a house before they committed a planned sexual assault.  For many decades, burglary was a commonly-known get-out-of-jail-fairly-free card for rapists.

So when a judge gives a burglar probation because “burglary isn’t a serious crime,” he or she may very well be letting a sex offender walk free.  All residential burglars should be required to provide DNA samples.  Too bad that didn’t happen before Walter Ellis murdered this woman, in 2007.  Her murder, and others, could have easily been prevented:

Ouithreaun Stokes

[Ellis has] received probation or fines for . . . delivery of a controlled substance and retail theft. He also has faced charges of soliciting prostitutes, battery, robbery and recklessly endangering safety, all of which were later dismissed. He received a 3-year prison sentence for drug possession in 1981.

When you see a drug possession conviction, think about this: often offenders will agree to plead to drug offenses if other charges are dropped.  Often, the drug charge is the one most easily proved, even though the offender is known to be responsible for other crimes.  So when people claim that we live in a prison state because “X% of offenders are in prison for non-violent drug charges,” realize that a substantial percentage of these people committed other crimes.  They just weren’t prosecuted for them.

It was in 1988 that [Walter Ellis] pleaded no contest to second-degree reckless injury. According to the criminal complaint, he hit his ex-girlfriend in the head several times with a claw hammer, causing her to get 30 staples and more than 22 stitches. The complaint said the woman woke and found him standing over her, smelling of alcohol and accusing her of cheating. She got out of bed, they struggled, and he hit her with the hammer, it said.

It looks like the AP got it wrong: it was 1998, not 1988.  Attempted murder with severe physical injury.  Good thing it was just a domestic, or else he might have gotten life in prison, you know?  Ah, the magic of plea bargaining: attempted murder – domestic violence = second degree reckless injury = five years.

Police have said Ellis’ DNA matches that found on nine women ages 16 to 41 who were killed in a three-square-mile area from 1986 to 2007.

Wow.  Too bad nobody in the courts took that claw-hammer-to-the-brain-thing very seriously.

Here is an excellent blog-post tracing Ellis’ crimes and incarcerations.  The blogger, Kathee Baird, gets the offense dates right, unlike the AP.  She observes:

Online court records show Ellis has been busted at least twelve times for crimes against people as well as property crimes and that he once lived near the area where many of the homicides occurred.  It appears that every time that Ellis was incarcerated the strangulation killings on the north side subsided. Between 1987 and 1994 there were no homicides that fit the North Side Stranglers m.o. . . .

Back to the AP:

Ellis, sentenced to prison, was supposed to have DNA taken before he was released in 2001 under a state law that mandated taking samples from people convicted of a felony.  The state Department of Corrections said it did take the sample, but the state Justice Department said it has no records showing they ever got it. On Wednesday, legislators demanded to know why the DNA sample never made it to crime analysts. If it had, police say, the case might have been solved before the last of the slayings occurred in 2007.

Our justice system is criminally lenient.  We have a pathological contempt for rape victims: we still utterly lack the public will to put rapists away.  What, you say?  This must be an isolated case?

50,000 Felons Released Without Submitting DNA

CHICAGO – About 50,000 felons have been released from Illinois prisons and county probation systems without submitting DNA samples.  Under Illinois law, every felon sentenced on or after Aug. 22, 2002, must provide DNA. The samples are stored in databases that can be used to link suspects to other cases.  A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections says nearly 10,000 felons were released from state prisons without providing DNA. And Attorney General Lisa Madigan‘s office estimates county probation departments didn’t get samples from 40,000 additional felons due to delays in implementing the law.  DuPage County State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett helped push for collecting DNA from felons. And he says the failure to get samples from all felons means “serial murderers and rapists have probably remained on the loose.”

Back to Milwaukee:

In 2006, Ellis pleaded guilty in a hit-and-run involving Carolyn S. Prophet, 57, of Milwaukee. Prophet, who is disabled and has problems walking, said Ellis hit her car repeatedly and then swore and threatened her.  “The man is a psycho,” she said. “He kept ramming me.”  Bystanders stepped in when he got out of the car, she said. Ellis told them he was going to call police at a pay phone but never returned. She said the police who investigated the crash told her they knew Ellis from prior run-ins.

And then what happened?  Did anything happen?  Didn’t his other violent crimes lead to a long prison sentence?  Didn’t his 12 crimes against persons matter?  Doesn’t ramming a disabled, elderly person with a car count for anything?

The following comments by Ellis’ neighbor are chilling.  The woman says that Ellis is a good guy and yet that he is unpredictably violent and dangerous.  She doesn’t blame him for any of this, or even for threatening her repeatedly: she blames other people for “not helping him.”  This is what happens when people convince themselves that prior criminal acts should be overlooked, and the courts reflect that belief:

[Ellis’] neighbor[] said that as a child she tried to avoid walking past Ellis’ house — “He would come and just hit you out of nowhere,” she said.  But Jordan said Ellis seemed to have changed when she saw him about a year ago at a birthday party. She described him as pleasant and intelligent. She said she was shocked to hear of his arrest, but wishes someone would have helped Ellis early in his life.  “When I look back at it, all the indicators were there,” she said. “That behavior, the violent nature in him was already embedded.”

Maybe something will be learned this time.  Maybe nothing at all.

Not One More: Judge Cut Killer Loose, Then He Used Infant “as a Bat”

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Atlanta Fox 5’s Mark Teichner is reporting that it was Fulton Magistrate Judge Karen Smith Woodson who released Antoine Wimes on bond instead of holding him in the 2008 murder of Nigerian immigrant Etus Obi Onyemaechi.  Wimes shot a young mother and either beat or “used her infant as a bat” during a home invasion Monday night.

Atlanta reader Paul Kersey has this to say:

So at least now we know DeKalb wasn’t doing any special favors by letting Sheriff’s Deputy Derrick Yancey out on bail after he allegedly killed two people last year. Fulton County will even let an ordinary street thug out after he allegedly killed someone.

And doesn’t everyone feel safe and happy knowing how well those electronic ankle monitors work? Allowing accused killers like Yancey and Wimes to have at least a 12 hour head start on law enforcement isn’t a problem, right? If that’s how DeKalb and Fulton handle the worst of the worst, then God help us all!

According to Fox 5, both the D.A.’s office and the county’s pretrial services office opposed Judge Woodson’s decision to bond Wimes out.  She did it anyway.  I don’t see how anyone could hear the details of Onyemaechi’s murder and decide that Wimes belonged on the streets.

There was one person who agreed with Woodson’s decision.  “I own this world, like Scarface,” Antoine Weems yelled to reporters when he was taken into custody.  Thank God no officers were killed bringing “Scarface” back to the jail cell he never should have left.  A cop in Tampa wasn’t so lucky last night.

~~~

It’s time to send a strong message to Metro Atlanta judges:

Not One More.

Not one more violent offender released before trial.

Not one more armed criminal freed back onto the streets of Atlanta.

Not because he’s 15; not because his mommy says he’s a good boy; not because he’s a college student and you want him to “stay in school”; not because you want to play Lady Bountiful and send him to drug rehab; not because you think he has great potential as a wedding dress designer.

Not one more killer out on the streets because you’re not keeping up with your calendars.  Not one more released because the defense attorney is whining that his client is languishing in a cell.  Not one more pity party for some thug with a ten-page record.  You are turning these children into killers by pandering to them.

No more ignoring sentencing laws that had to be passed in the first place because you were letting murderers and rapists walk with slaps on the wrist.  No more screwing up and giving first-time offender status to some eight-time offender because you refuse to bother making a phone call.  No more hiding behind a dysfunctional Clerk of Court’s office as an excuse.  No more treating victims as if they don’t exist.  No more knee-jerk siding with the defense.

Not One More:

Eugenia Calle

Etus Obi Onyemaechi

Linda Yancey

Marcial Cax-Puluc

Jennifer Ewing

Vernon Forrest

Nikki and Defante Neely

A Fall From A Tree, And Then Rape

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Michael Ledford’s attorneys want the jury to believe that Ledford is not responsible for murder and rape — is not responsible for any of the rapes he committed — because he once fell out of a tree.

If they believe that he is utterly incapable of controlling himself, and that he must rape and kill, then where were they when he was released from prison?  Why didn’t these experts — or rather their peers, somebody from the cohort of prison psychiatrists — make the case that Ledford should have been committed to an institution upon release from prison?  For surely he has not fallen out of another tree since his release: he has not changed.  If he was that dangerous and that crazy a few years ago, why did nobody do anything then?

They did nothing, the prison psychiatrists, the parole officers, the lawyers, because they do not believe in incarceration.  They did nothing, the forensic psychiatrists, because too many of them view their role as freeing people from prison, not keeping them there.

The only time these people hoist themselves out of their own self-righteous fogs of misplaced empathy and acknowledge that their “clientele” are, indeed, dangerous and prone to rape and kill again, is after one of them has been caught raping and killing and thus faces the chair.

Then they admit what they have know all along: the people they force on the rest of us, through a catalog of defense tricks, including the mess they’ve made of determining culpability at sentencing — are very, very dangerous.

I admit I have a difficult time writing about this.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll calm down.  It reminds me too much of the psychiatric passes given to my own rapist, a violent, terrifying, serial predator who, I was told, got time knocked off one sentence for being mentally slow, then somehow miraculously stopped being slow in prison and obtained — of all things — a “psychology degree,” which got more time knocked off his sentence.  Many are the hands that contributed to that release.

Which enabled him to go back to sexually torturing elderly women all the sooner, and if there was any real content to his prison “degree” (which I doubt), it merely provided him with pointers for busking up the horror-show.  Frankly, I didn’t find him slow at all.  I found him methodical and very good at his craft.  I found him impulsive — and details of his prior record bore this out — but also perfectly capable of exercising control.  Crazy?  Sure.  As crazy as he wanted to be.

Then again, I don’t have one of those psychology degrees.

So it is difficult for me to watch a spectacle like the Ledford sentencing without wishing to track down the cawling idiot — a graduate student or a professor, no doubt, in need of a beard trim and some source of self-esteem not connected to identifying with society’s predators — who got all titillated trotting over to the prison and pretending to teach my rapist “psychology,” so he could get out of prison early.

This leaves me wondering what pointers Ledford picked up on his own journey through the system.  What did he learn to say, to position himself as a victim in the eyes of the parole officers and psychiatrists and defense lawyers who helped him minimize his last sentence and avoid re-incarceration while he violated parole repeatedly, all the while gaining confidence that no consequence would accrue because no consequence did accrue.

And then he killed Jennifer Ewing.

Silver Comet Trail Killer’s Sentencing: Our Twisted System for Excusing Killers

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The sentencing phase has begun in the Silver Comet Trail case, and this is a good opportunity to see the types of things that keep or get a killer off death row — not just now, during sentencing, but later, during the endless appeals that will inevitably follow.

Anti-death penalty activists always use the “evidence” presented during the sentencing phase to try to get their clients off death row, “evidence” in quotes because the types of things that get presented in court during sentencing are wildly subjective.  Nevertheless, if the defense says later that jurors did not consider these factors appropriately, there’s an appeal.  And if one defense lawyer says later that the defense lawyer at trial did not present this subjective “evidence” appropriately, there’s another appeal.

And this is how most convicts get off death row — not because they’re innocent, as activists would have you believe, but because the subjective story being told about their intentions, and feelings, and childhoods (not their actions) is being re-scrutinized at the behest of defense attorneys who have turned this process into a sickening series of extra bites at the apple — and an excruciating, decades-long ordeal for the victim’s family.

Do defense lawyers sometimes intentionally “mess up” during sentencing in order to lay the groundwork for future appeals?  Well, according to some who have chosen to brag about their trial techniques, they do.

But resorting to conspiratorial behavior is hardly necessary in the system we have now.  Convicts can appeal over the craziest things, and during sentencing itself, many crazy things are permitted to be called mitigating factors — factors, that is, that excuse the killer and keep him off death row.  Decades of pro-criminal jurisprudence has manufactured a system of allowable grounds for appeal that is so excessive it is a wonder that anyone goes to jail for anything at all.

Mitigating factors in Ledford’s case include arguments that he is less responsible for murdering Jennifer Ewing because he was drinking, and drinking makes him want to sexually assault women, so he’s less responsible for what he did to Ewing if he was drunk around the time that he did it.  Get it?

In other words, Jennifer Ewing’s suffering, her death, and the meaning of the loss of her life to those who loved her is being measured against a can of beer in Michael Ledford’s fist.

And remember, you’re paying for this.

I encourage you to watch the arguments for mitigating and aggravating factors in the Ledford sentencing very closely.  More tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

In the St. Petersburg Times this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, of course, it gets worse.

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

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

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

Get it?

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

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

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

“But we’re a fascist state.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The record so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(this is part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a picture of John Silber’s book:

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

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

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

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

The “Benjy Brigade”, Part 1: Boston’s Finest Mount an Attack on an Elderly Victim of Rape

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The theme this week is punitive attitudes towards victims of crime. At the most primal level, the mere existence of victims threatens to spoil all the fun that can be had as you lift your glass from the tray, turn to Professor Ponytail (who could dress better at these things), and say: “When I was mentoring at the federal pen last weekend I met the most inspirational young author — wrongly convicted, of course — we must do something about getting his poetry published. We must!”

Oh, the headiness. That Seventies Susan Sarandon vibe, edgy alchemy of righteousness and rebellion — what a shame if it were all interrupted by flashing on the pensioner in her wheelchair in ugly tan compression stockings, rope scars on her wrists from where the young poet had bound her so tightly the paramedics had to peel the phone cord out from under layers of swollen skin.

No, that will not do. Better not to think about it.

Better still, picture the pensioner as a malevolent hag, somebody deserving of the torture she got (for there is no way to stretch the truth around the fact that she got it) — a racist, of course, accusing the ethereal and handsome young poet out of pure malice.

This is what the city leaders of Boston did throughout the 1990’s to the victim of Benjamin LaGuer, a sadistic rapist who become the toast of the city’s elite, from Boston University President John Silber, to noted pseudo-intellectual Noam Chomsky, to now-governor Deval Patrick, and, sadly, human rights activist Elie Weisel, as well as scores of law professors, judges, lawyers, journalists (including Barbara Walters), celebrities, and authors.

Although the victim identified LaGuer, her neighbor, as the attacker, and other evidence linked him to the crime, Boston’s elite was quick to rush to judgment of the victim after the rapist reached out to them. The story that the victim was a racist and that LaGuer was framed “without evidence” became the only story that mattered in the pages of the Boston Globe, the classrooms of Harvard Law School, and the courtrooms of the Massachusetts appeals courts, where supporters of LaGuer, who adolescently named themselves the “Benjy Brigade,” wielded their considerable social power to push for his release.

LaGuer was showered with literary prizes and honorary degrees, including a magna cum laude degree from Boston University and a PEN award for his barely-literate “memoir,” A Man Who Loves His Mother Loves Women. He became pen pals with dozens of journalists and authors. Although, in reality, LaGuer is no writer, his supporters spoke volubly of his literary talents and personal presence. “My masculinity was like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar on acid,” LaGuer said of himself. John Silber said that LaGuer was “a highly talented young writer who can express himself with remarkable ability.”

LaGuer also said, repeatedly, that he was a victim of prejudice on the part of the rape victim and even suggested that she had not actually been raped. His followers lapped it up.

Only a few spoke for the victim. Dean Mazzarella, a rookie cop at the time of the rape who went on to become the mayor of Leominster, Mass., was the officer who found the woman in her apartment. “The thing I’ll never forget is the smell,” he said years later, “[t]here’s still nothing I’ve come in contact with that’s been that bad.” The rape lasted eight hours: LaGuer broke bones in his victim’s face and left her, naked and bound, to die on her apartment floor. She nearly did die in the hospital, from a heart attack brought on by the assault.

None of this, however, fit the story the Benjy Brigade longed to see fulfilled. Consciously or unconsciously, journalists supporting LaGuer excised the story of the rape and prosecution evidence and details about the victim from their extensive, years-long coverage of LaGuer’s appeals. The Boston Globe went so far as to report that the victim had died not long after the attack, though she was still alive sixteen years later. This wishful thinking, amounting to an excruciating desire that nothing interrupt the rescue fantasy being painted by LaGuer and his supporters, would verge on funny, if it were not horrifying.

The victim’s life story was also distorted by the press. Reporters, reprinting defense arguments as fact, claimed that the woman was both too mentally unstable and physically incapable to identify a suspect after the attack. Family members disputed these allegations, but over the years their statements were rarely included in the long feature stories that focused on LaGuer’s celebrity supporters and legal battles.

The victim’s military service during World War II and her career as a nurse were never mentioned in print: in contrast, LaGuer’s military service was approvingly cited, though his brief stint in the army actually ended when he was caught selling drugs.

Even the wounds inflicted on the victim by LaGuer were used against her. Returning to the case files years later, reporters cherry-picked details in an effort to strengthen LaGuer’s claims. The victim was merely “white,” or “a schizophrenic,” or “a diagnosed schizophrenic who was heavily medicated for pain when she identified LaGuer in a photo line-up.” Few articles failed to mention her race, implying that she made a questionable cross-racial identification from her hospital bed. Most failed to mention that she knew LaGuer because he was the son of her next-door neighbor and no stranger to her.

The fantasies of rescuing LaGuer from his evil captors, especially the recently deceased victim, and the undercurrent of rage directed at her took on a life of their own, mounting to a crescendo in 2001 when Dr. Edward T. Blake, a colleague of Barry Scheck’s, announced that advances in DNA testing had evolved to the point that the small sperm samples taken from the victim’s body could now be identified. John Silber led those preparing for the celebration of LaGuer’s presumed immanent release, but he also said that LaGuer should be released even in the case that he was found guilty. “He has been rehabilitated to any degree that rehabilitation can be measured,” a fawning Silber told the fawning press.

Tomorrow: Journalists Identify the Real Victim: Themselves

Justice Delayed + Tax Dollars Wasted = Justice System Starved

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

DragonCon founder’s health might keep him from standing trial

Edward Kramer was charged in 2000 with molestation children

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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

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

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

Hillsborough judge allows sex offender to go free during appeals process

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lavelle McNutt: Another Serial Rapist Allowed to Walk the Streets of Atlanta

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Last week, I wrote about Lavelle McNutt, a serial rapist given many second chances. His Georgia Department of Corrections record is a record of something else, as well: our failure to imprison repeat offenders, even after the 1994 sentencing reform law was passed.

As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported a few weeks ago, McNutt’s first adult rape conviction, for two separate rapes in New York State, occurred in 1976, just after he turned 18. When you see an 18-year old convicted of a serious offense, you have to wonder about the contents of his sealed juvenile record: 18-year olds don’t wake up one day, break into the first house they see, and rape the occupant. They usually start experimenting with sexual abuse early in adolescence, victimizing their siblings, peers, and other easy targets. How many children and young women had already been sexually assaulted by McNutt by the time he aged out of the juvenile system?

I believe those victims exist, and that unlike Lavelle McNutt, they were abandoned by society. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the football coaches and college presidents who treated McNutt like a victim because he was a rapist abetted him in his crimes, thus sentencing his victims to a lifetime without justice.

The two rape victims in the New York State cases were also denied justice, only in a different way. McNutt was sentenced to a preposterously light term of five years for the two rapes. He served less than three years of that, and by 1979 he was a college student at Atlanta’s Morehouse University. Almost immediately, he was charged in another sexual assault, this time for aggravated sodomy. In May, 1979, he began serving a seven-year sentence for that crime. He got out in three years.

In 1982, Lavelle McNutt was 24 years old and already had three adult sexual assault convictions on his record. Two years later, he was convicted of aggravated assault in Clayton County. Was that a rape case, pled down to a non-sexual charge? He also had a burglary conviction in Fulton County, date unknown. Burglary and aggravated assault charges from the early 1980’s might very well have been rapes, or attempted rapes. Atlanta was notorious at that time for going easy on sex offenders — thanks largely to irresponsible jurors who rendered sex crime prosecutions almost impossible to win, regardless of the circumstances. An ugly contempt for victims of rape was the status quo in the courts. The malaise incited by public prejudices towards victims crashed the entire system, and Atlanta was a rapist’s paradise. And a victim’s nightmare. It would be very interesting to know more about those crimes.

In 1984, McNutt was sentenced to five years for the aggravated assault. Oddly, he did serve nearly all of that sentence, receiving only a few months off, probably for the time he was behind bars awaiting sentencing. This is another reason I suspect that the underlying crime was something more serious than aggravated assault. In any case, for five years the public was protected from him. Pre-sentencing reform, this was the best a prosecutor could do. In August, 1989, he was free again.

In 1992, McNutt was charged in Fulton County with the offense called “Peeping Tom.” Funny as that sounds, he was probably casing out a victim to rape or amusing himself between more serious attacks. He received three years for the Fulton crime and 12 months for a crime labeled “other misdemeanor” in Gwinnett County. He was out again two years later, in 1994.

Georgia’s sentencing reform law was passed in 1994. It was supposed to enhance sentencing for repeat offenders and extend sentences significantly for so-called “serious violent offenders.” But the law was passed with several default mechanisms that enabled judges to keep releasing repeat offenders onto the streets. Consider this language:

Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, any person convicted of a felony offense in this state or having been convicted under the laws of any other state or of the United States of a crime which if committed within this state would be a felony and sentenced to confinement in a penal institution, who shall afterwards commit a felony punishable by confinement in a penal institution, shall be sentenced to undergo the longest period of time prescribed for the punishment of the subsequent offense of which he or she stands convicted, provided that, unless otherwise provided by law, the trial judge may, in his or her discretion, probate or suspend the maximum sentence prescribed for the offense [italics inserted]. (O.C.G.A. 17-10-7)

In other words, a criminal must be sentenced to the maximum penalty the second time he is convicted of a felony unless the judge decides to sentence him to something other than the maximum penalty, such as no time at all, as in the case of six-time home burglar Johnny Dennard. What is the point of a law like this? The point is that the criminal defense bar still controlled the Georgia Legislature in 1994, and other elected officials lacked the courage to stand up to them. The rest of the story is that too many judges betray disturbing pro-defendant biases, even when it comes to violent predators like Lavelle McNutt.

Nevertheless, other portions of the 1994 sentencing reform law did strengthen sentences for repeat offenders. In 1996, McNutt was charged with aggravated assault and stalking in Fulton County. Aggravated assault is not one of the “seven deadly sins” that trigger sentencing as a “serious violent felon” under the 1994 act: if it were, he would have been sentenced to life without parole due to his prior rape convictions.

Yet even as a “non-serious violent felon” repeat offender, McNutt was still required under the 1994 sentencing reform act to serve the entire sentence for his crimes. But he didn’t. He was sentenced to six years and served less than four. He walked into prison in January, 1997 and walked out again three and a half years later, in July of 2000. Even counting the time he may have spent cooling his heels in the Fulton County jail before being transferred to the state prison (or maybe not), he was out of prison four years and two months after the date of the crime for which he was sentenced to no less than six years behind bars, with no parole.

Here is the code section that restricts parole for four-time felons:

[A]ny person who, after having been convicted under the laws of this state for three felonies or having been convicted under the laws of any other state or of the United States of three crimes which if committed within this state would be felonies, commits a felony within this state other than a capital felony must, upon conviction for such fourth offense or for subsequent offenses, serve the maximum time provided in the sentence of the judge based upon such conviction and shall not be eligible for parole until the maximum sentence has been served. (from O.C.G.A. 17 -10-7)

Can anybody explain the fact that McNutt was granted parole? Who let him go early, apparently in direct violation of Georgia’s reformed sentencing law? Did the prosecutors fail to record his three prior felony convictions dating back to 1976 — two rapes (counted as one, unfortunately), aggravated sodomy, and the 1984 aggravated assault? Did the judge ignore the law of Georgia in sentencing McNutt? Did the Department of Corrections ignore the no-parole rule? Who is responsible?

For that matter, why didn’t the judge give McNutt a longer sentence in the first place? How could any judge look at the accumulated evidence of violently predatory sexual behavior, of repeat offenses rolling in after each brief incarceration, and not decide that it was his or her duty to protect the public for longer than six years? Does anybody on the criminal justice bench in Atlanta even contemplate public safety in sentencing?

Furthermore, why was McNutt charged with stalking and aggravated assault for the same incident? Was he actually attempting to commit a sexual assault? Could he have been charged with attempted sexual assault instead, a charge that would have triggered the life sentence (read: 14 years) as a serious violent felon and repeat offender? Was he permitted to plead to a charge that didn’t carry life imprisonment? Did the Fulton prosecutor’s office do everything it could do to keep McNutt off the streets, given his disturbing prior history and relentless sequence of serious crimes?

Also, was McNutt’s DNA checked before he was released from prison in 2000? Could other rapes have been solved, and charged, before he walked out of prison again? How many rapes could have been prevented, including the four recent Buckhead-area sex crimes, if this had been done? His first adult rape conviction occurred in 1976 — his latest rape charges occurred quite recently. Does anybody believe he took a twenty-year hiatus from hunting and torturing women?

Until his most recent arrest, Lavelle McNutt had been a free man since July, 2000, working in Atlanta-area restaurants, even managing them. He wasn’t hiding. As if his prior record isn’t bad enough, the current allegations about him are sickening: an informant reported that he carried “duct tape, wigs, lubricant and sex toys” in his car, to use during sexual assaults. We have all certainly helped him along on the road to perfecting his torture of women.

Why doesn’t a case like this capture the imagination of Atlanta’s many criminologists and law professors who rail endlessly against the putative cruelty of three-strikes laws (when they aren’t busy inventing fake statistical measurements to downplay the city’s crime numbers)? Why aren’t elected officials asking some very hard questions about the enforcement of the laws they passed? Why isn’t the GBI offering a clarification about the status of McNutt’s DNA profile, the date it was entered into the state database, and the number of rape kits it matched?

Why isn’t somebody calling for an audit of the possible prosecution, sentencing, and parole errors that released McNutt to the streets, over and over and over again?

Tea and Sympathy: How Recidivists Get Away With Multiple Crimes.

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Yesterday, I wrote about Russell Burton, who got away with violent sex crimes in two different states thanks to a sympathetic judge, an apathetic military command, and a psychopathic appeals system.

Burton is in good company. With sex offenders, in particular, there always seems to be somebody willing to step up and offer a helping hand. Such behavior is not limited to ladies who latch onto serial killers like frowsy pilot fish. Distinctively non-marginal people like college presidents and judges often assume the role of head cheerleader for some of the worst repeat offenders.

Cause, meet effect. When Miss Lonelyhearts licks her Enjoli-scented pink envelope and seals it with a kiss, she is merely swaying the boundaries of rationality. Respected public figures sway parole boards.

A recent string of rapes in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood illustrates the point. There is something jarring about reading a narrative of serial rapist Lavelle McNutt’s past accomplishments, especially coming from people who obviously still admire him, but coverage like this offers real insight into the ways powerful people enabled certain serial offenders:

Early success a distant memory

List of trouble: Disgraced West Point cadet labeled a ‘sex fiend’ faces new criminal charges.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, April 03, 2009

As a teenager, Lavel McNutt seemed branded for success.

He was a Maryland high school football star, made high marks in his classes and got into the prestigious U.S. Military Academy with the help of a nomination from the vice president of the United States.

“He was one of the best [high school] receivers back then, I think, in the state of Maryland,” said Scott Swope, who was the team’s quarterback and is now a strength-and-conditioning coach for University of Maryland athletic teams. “He was very fast. He had great hands.”

He was very fast and had great hands.

But McNutt’s life has been defined not by accomplishments, but by what he has done wrong. Public documents and decades-old news accounts depict McNutt as a disgraced West Point cadet whose successes were overshadowed by emotional problems that drove his sexual impulses.

Today, he sits in the Fulton County Jail awaiting a court hearing in two separate criminal cases, including an attempted rape at a Buckhead-area apartment complex. They’re the latest in a string of criminal charges —- many of them sex-related or involving women —- going back to his college days in the 1970s.

More charges are likely, Atlanta police said. They have identified McNutt as a suspect in at least four attacks on women since August, crimes that had sex-crime detectives suspecting that a multiple rapist was targeting women in the Buckhead area.

A tipster who led police to McNutt last month offered incriminating details about him. The caller reported that McNutt kept items in his car used in such assaults, including duct tape, wigs, lubricant and sex toys, court documents show.

The caller, whose identity has been withheld, also said McNutt blamed his wife for his misdeeds, claiming “she would not engage in sexual intercourse with him,” documents show. Yet McNutt’s sex crime convictions began long before their marriage in 2002.

When a sex offender blames his wife for his crimes, that’s a sex offender talking. But what happens when other men agree with him?

In 1975, he was appointed to the academy at West Point after then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller nominated him as a prospective cadet, according to newspaper accounts. McNutt became a starting defensive back on Army’s football team midway through his freshman season, newspaper accounts said.

But his West Point career ended abruptly the following spring, when he was charged with raping two women three weeks apart, a Smith College student who came to the West Point campus for a dance and a 30-year-old housewife from a nearby community. He was convicted of both attacks and became the first cadet ever to be court-martialed for rape, The New York Times reported at the time. McNutt, then 18, was kicked out of the Army and sentenced to five years in a military prison.

By 1979, he was attending Morehouse College.

1975: two rapes, five years, out in three or less, then admission to Morehouse. What was Morehouse College thinking, admitting a twice-convicted stranger rapist? Obviously they were not thinking of the young women attending nearby colleges.

The desire to re-cast rapists as victims is a powerful American prejudice, but unlike many other prejudices, this one will get you far. Academia, law schools, bar associations — try sympathizing with rape victims in such settings. But spend weekends volunteering in a reading program for rapists? You’re draped in caché.

By 1979, he was attending Morehouse College when McNutt was convicted of aggravated sodomy of a Delta Airlines flight attendant at a hotel near the city’s airport, court documents show. On the day he was given a seven-year prison sentence, a minister who knew McNutt well testified that he had “grave emotional problems” that began in childhood.

Since then, McNutt has mostly been in prison, county jail or on probation, court records show. He has at least nine convictions in metro Atlanta, including two on Peeping Tom charges and two for loitering and prowling.

Nine convictions. Let’s see a list of the judges who continued to let this man go.

“It’s a shame,” his high school buddy Swope said. “What a tragedy to have a life like that.”

A correction: it is no “tragedy” to be a violent predator of women, hating and hunting them down. Tragedy implies undeserved suffering.

During a 1996 conviction for stalking and aggravated assault, court papers state that McNutt had been diagnosed with “sexual deviance,” but did not elaborate.

“Your honor, the defendant’s a sex fiend, obviously,” a county probation officer, Jeffery Kahn, told a Fulton County judge. “And I have some grave concerns in this case about the safety of this community with a man like this running around.”

But run around, McNutt did.

When not locked up, McNutt gravitated to jobs in Atlanta’s food services industry. He managed a cafeteria. He managed a Wendy’s restaurant. And, most recently, he was a manager at Fox Sports Grill in Atlantic Station. But McNutt struggled to support himself financially. When arrested last month, McNutt was living at his mother’s condo and driving his mother’s car.

Don’t these restaurants do background checks? My rapist was working in a fast food restaurant and stalking women customers. Here is a link to the National Crime Victim Bar Association. There’s nothing like the possibility of a civil suit to focus the mind when faced with the decision about whether to hire a serial rapist to manage your female employees and interact with your female customers.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for McNutt because he was driving his mother’s car? To be continued . . .

***

I am going to be in transit and not blogging over the next few days. On Monday, I will post more about McNutt’s criminal record.

Recidivist Chutes and Ladders: The Russell Burton Record

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The children’s board game, Chutes and Ladders, offers a clearer template for understanding our criminal justice system than a hundred studies put forth by academicians and think tanks.  Here is one example:

Russell Burton, who has been called a “Ted Bundy in the making,” was born in 1967.  According to the Los Angeles Daily News, when Burton was 17, he was arrested in Lancaster, California and charged with “breaking into a woman’s apartment and fondling her in bed.”  “Fondling” is a troubling term here: you fondle your child, or a puppy.  When you break into a woman’s house and try to rape her, that isn’t “fondling.” (“81 Years for Sexual Predator,” L.A. Daily News, 4/27/05, fee for link)

LADDERS:  But apparently, the judge felt otherwise.  A Los Angeles Juvenile Court Judge allowed Burton to avoid prosecution for B & E and attempted rape — by joining the Army.  The Army accepted him, and he was stationed in Georgia.  Thus, in 1984, nearly ten years after the first hard-won battle for rape law reform, the sentence for breaking into a woman’s house and attempting to rape her could still be no sentence at all.

Columbus, Georgia has paid a high price in violent sex crimes.  Several serial offenders have cut a bloody path through that town —  and the Army did precious little to stop at least two of them.

On September 3, 1987, Burton pulled alongside a car being driven by three teenage girls in Columbus, Georgia, near Fort Benning, where he was stationed.  He got the girls to pull over by indicating that something was wrong with their car, pointed a gun at them, and forced them to drive to a remote area.  He raped one girl and orally sodomized the other two.

Benning was 19 years old when he committed this crime.  The sophistication of the attack and the high risk involved — multiple victims, gun use, confrontation in a public place, abduction from one location to another — indicates that he was already an experienced, violent rapist.

CHUTES: In 1988, Burton was sentenced to life for the rape, 20 years for the kidnapping, and 20 years for the sodomy.  He entered prison in Georgia with a life sentence.  There was no sentence of life without parole in Georgia at that time.

Astonishingly, life without parole only became an option in Georgia a few week ago, during the 2009 Georgia General Assembly (previously, a prosecutor had to try for the death penalty to qualify a case for life without parole).  Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, when Democrats controlled the Georgia legislature, defense attorneys controlled the judiciary committees.  Credit where credit is due: such sentencing reform only became a reality in Georgia when Republicans took over both chambers.

LADDERS:  In any case, Burton didn’t have to wait for any parole board to cut him loose: the United States Court of Appeal for the 11th Circuit did that in February, 2002, fourteen years after he was sent away for life.  The Court granted Burton a new trial on the grounds that the district attorney “inappropriately” mentioned that Burton had exercised his right to remain silent when he was arrested.  Now, I know that constitutional attorneys would argue that mentioning Burton’s demeanor upon arrest is horribly prejudicial and tramples all over his rights.  But this blog isn’t a courtroom, so facts can be stated in plain English here: a violent sexual predator was released from prison because a prosecutor told the truth about what the violent sexual predator did when he was arrested, instead of not telling the truth about it, in a court rigged to let criminals off for virtually anything, instead of designed to discover the actual truth of a case.

Rigged like the fairway games at a sleazy carnival.

Or a dice throw in a children’s board game.  Such is our appeals process.

MORE LADDERS:  Burton was released from prison pending a new trial.  Then somebody decided that it wasn’t worth spending the money to try him again — thus deciding that the safety of women is less valuable than other things we could be spending money on, like appeals for violent rapists like Burton.*  In 2003, he was permitted to plead guilty to one count of rape and three counts of kidnapping in exchange for time served.

MORE CHUTES:  It turned out to be a good thing that Burton was required to plead to a sex offense.  Rapists used to be routinely permitted to plead down to non-sexual offenses.  That is why a high percentage of the first several thousand rapists identified through DNA matches had prior records only for crimes such as substance abuse and burglary, two common pleas that allowed predators to move from place to place and continue committing sex crimes with impunity.

Burton moved back to California and was required to register as a sex offender, which turned out to be one of the many, many thousands of good things that arise from sex offender registries — things you will never read about in any newspaper, of course.  Newspapers depict registering sex offenders as terribly cruel and ineffectual.

Anyway, after the good judges of the 11th Circuit threw Burton’s life sentence out on a technicality, and after the State of Georgia declined to try him again, it took him less than a year to go on a violent, crazed hunting spree against women.  It may have taken even less time, for there are no guarantees that Burton didn’t attack women in Columbus, or elsewhere in Georgia, or Alabama while he was awaiting the re-trial that never happened.

What is certain is that in 2004, freshly arrived from Georgia, he stalked and tried to abduct a woman in a parking lot in Palmdale, California.  The woman escaped.  He then attacked a teenager with a knife, trying to drag her into his car.  She escaped, and he was arrested.  After his arrest, three young girls came forward and reported the following crime:

The girls said a man approached them at the store saying he had car trouble and needed a ride, Lankford said. When he climbed into their car, he threatened one girl with a screwdriver and forced the sisters to take him to another town and back. He then forced one sister to drive his car while he rode with the other two. At a second parking lot the sister driving his car jumped out, and the man ran to his car and sped away. (“Felon Chargd in New Crimes,” Columbus Ledger-Inquirer, 3/2/04, fee for link)

These are the types of crimes that end with children’s bodies melting in the desert.  Luckily, those five victims escaped, but who didn’t?

By 2004, Burton was a fluent advocate for his own rights.  Upon arrest, he said to the police, “I’m a child molester, I want my phone call, and I want my attorney.” (ibid.)  Here is where the sex offender registry comes in: had he not been listed as a sex offender, he certainly would not have mentioned his prior convictions, and he might have been let free to await trial before the three young girls had time to see him in the newspaper or the judge learned of his record in Georgia.  Such things happen all the time, as readers of this blog know.

So the sex offender registry law may have saved lives in California that week.  The next time you read a news story condemning registries, remember Russell Burton.

CHUTES: In 2004, Burton was tried in Los Angeles Superior Court and found guilty of stalking, attempted kidnapping, making terroristic threats, and possession of cocaine.  His sentence for these crimes illustrate the effectiveness of California’s “three-strikes and you’re out” laws:

Burton’s sentence consisted of three terms of 25 years to life plus a one-year weapons enhancement and a five-year prior-serious-felony enhancement. (“Rapist’s Sentence Cut by 25 Years,” Los Angeles Daily News, 10/30/06, fee for link)

A dozen years earlier, prior to sentencing reform, Burton would likely not have received such a long sentence for these crimes, even though he has proven that he poses a serious threat.  And without the “three-strikes” rule, any sentence he did receive would have been slashed automatically the moment he set foot in prison.

LADDERS and CHUTES:  Burton immediately set to appealing his new convictions.  Why not?  In 2006, an appeals court agreed to throw out one of his 25-year sentences, the one for stalking, on the grounds that following a woman from one shopping mall to another did not rise to the level of stalking (the more people learn about the substance of most appeals, the better).  But in addition to doing this, the 2nd District Court of Appeals of California also rejected Burton’s claim that the three-strikes law constituted cruel and unusual punishment because so much time (14 years, to be precise) had elapsed between his crimes.  Here is what the court had to say, as reported in the Los Angeles Post:

“His prior strikes were for serious, violent offenses. So were two of the three convictions for which he was originally sentenced here, presently including the attempted kidnapping of a young woman, using a knife,” the ruling said.

“The interim between the two sets of offenses was consumed mostly by imprisonment, which did not restrain appellant from recommencing the same type of crime upon release. Given appellant’s unbroken history of violent crime, we cannot find this case to be one of the admittedly rare ones in which the recidivist sentence is unconstitutional,” the appeals court said.

CHUTES, CHUTES, CHUTES.  It looks as if Burton has finally lost in his bid to be free, thanks to the public outrage over repeat offenders that inspired changes in state laws and sentencing policies.  We won the game, this time.

But none of these laws are carved in stone, and many voices, including highers-up in the new Justice Department administration, are clamoring to roll back sentencing guidelines, overturn three-strikes laws, and eliminate sex offender registries.  The federal Adam Walsh law, requiring states to participate in a national registration system, is officially in limbo, short-circuiting the next stage of information-sharing between the states.  We’re at an information impasse in other ways, too: if any private industry in America had an IT network resembling that used by most courts, they would cease to exist.

The price of incarceration is eternal vigilance, too.

*Re-trying Burton doubtlessly would have been difficult, especially for the victims.  And it is always a risk to involve jurors in rape cases, for prejudices against rape victims persist and in many ways have grown stronger.  Too many people feel it is their duty to root for convicts as under-dogs, and they stupidly romanticize anyone appealing a case — until it’s their own daughter or mother who gets raped.  But difficulties like this are also used as an excuse to do nothing at all to restrain violent offenders in the interest of saving money in an overwhelmed and under-staffed court system.  This should have been a case where all stops were pulled out to keep Burton in prison.

Atlanta Outrage: Heads Should Roll in the Murder of Harish (Harry) Roy

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With a hat tip to Martha K., the following story was reported on Friday by Michael King of 11 Alive News in Atlanta:

ATLANTA — A murdered convenience store clerk might be alive if not for a slip-up the last time his alleged killer was arrested.

Yusef Cantrell, 27, should have been in jail instead of out on the streets Sunday night when he’s accused of killing a clerk at a West End convenience store.

Atlanta police have had an outstanding warrant for aggravated assault against Cantrell since late last year. On March 20, he was arrested for marijuana possession. At the jail, he gave a fake name — Tobias Cantrell — to jailers, and was released.

They never made the connection to the outstanding warrant. Two days later, convenience store clerk Harish “Harry” Roy, 24, was shot and killed. . . .

[P]olice say Cantrell leaped over the counter and immediately shot clerk Harry Roy in the forehead. Roy never stood a chance. As Roy’s body lie on the floor, Cantrell straddled it and passed cigar boxes full of money across the counter to his accomplice, Damiam Grover.

A 24-year old is dead in a crime that could have been prevented if the suspect had been fingerprinted and the fingerprints identified the last time he was taken to the city jail.  This is a shocking disgrace, made worse by Cantrell’s (of course) substantial prior record, which includes an escape charge in DeKalb County.

Yet, three days later, the silence from City Hall is deafening.  What, precisely, will it take for Mayor Shirley Franklin to rise from her slumber and demand or show accountability regarding her own staff?  Here is the featured news story today on the City of Atlanta website:

City of Atlanta’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Awarded Accreditation by the National Recreation and Parks Association.

The website is also promoting a golf tournament featuring Shirley Franklin (The Mayor’s Cup) and encouraging residents to “take action” by participating in Earth Hour.

No word on action taken to ensure that other violent felons have not been released from the Atlanta City Jail without being checked for outstanding warrants first.  Golf tournaments while the city burns.  Bloody bread and circuses.

Meanwhile, Chief of Police Richard Pennington has, to date, also utterly failed to weigh in.  Pennngton’s officers apparently picked up Yusef Cantrell and delivered him to jail, where he was wrongfully released and went on to kill an innocent citizen.  All the effort, and risk taken by Pennington’s officers came to nothing because of a shockingly careless error committed at the City Jail.  Why is this of no concern to the Chief?  Why is he not speaking out?  Doesn’t he work weekends?  This is what administrators get paid for, right?

And where is Diane Jones, Assistant Chief of the City of Atlanta’s Department of Corrections?  Why isn’t she very busy explaining how her employees failed to check an inmate’s fingerprints before they let him go? (Perhaps not calling them “clients” would be a start.)  Is it common practice to take the offender’s word for fact when they offer a name that might be an alias, rather than checking their fingerprints at the jail?  Is this practice only coming to light because somebody got killed, and reporter Mike King did the footwork? Cantrell even gave jailers his correct last name.  Why didn’t that trigger a warrant check?  Are there so many wanted felons with the same last name that it didn’t even ring a bell?  Or, in reality, did nobody check anything?

So, how many other dangerous felons with outstanding warrants are released without consequence and walking the streets because they don’t do fingerprinting at the City Jail?

Some more unanswered questions: how much money does the Assistant Corrections Chief get to do her job?  Where was she this weekend?  Administrators earn handsome salaries and benefits, allegedly because they are supposed to shoulder the responsibility when something goes wrong.  That’s the way the system is supposed to work: that’s why they get the big bucks.  Yet Ms. Jones hasn’t even answered a question, let alone taken responsibility.  She has a lot of explaining to do.  And then she should be fired.  Here is the City of Atlanta website, with contact numbers.

Harish Roy deserved better.  A friend said of him: “He was always a great example of being a gentleman, and being very trustworthy, honest and funny.”

You would think some of the elected officials in Atlanta could bother to get around to simply saying that.