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Murderers and rapists set free to rape and kill again. 22-year olds with five-page rap sheets and no incarcerations. Suspended sentences for gun crimes. Wrongful acquittals and failures to prosecute. What’s the matter with our justice system?

“Poppa Love” Speights: It Takes a Village to Rape a Child

This has been the unfortunate theme running through my head as I watched the “Poppa Love” Speights saga unfold in recent weeks on the Tampa news.  Speights came to the attention of police years ago, when his young daughter reported being repeatedly raped — and threatened — by him.  But despite his lengthy police record (30 arrests) and the young woman’s testimony, prosecutors felt they could not convict Speights at the time.  A year later, the police had proof that Speights was a child rapist when another, even younger girl gave birth to his baby: she had been 12 at the time Speights impregnated her, and DNA matched him to the crime.

But that was two years ago: since then, a judge granted Speights bail to await his trial for child rape, and he apparently returned to the household where he had raped and impregnated the young girl and where a dozen or more other minor children still resided.  His mother, wife, aunt, and several of his own children supported Speights, so it is reasonable to assume that he remained in contact with many other potential child victims, either with or without the permission of child protection authorities.  His bail was not repealed when his trial began, and Speights absconded two weeks ago when it began to dawn on him that he might not walk away from the latest charges, as he had done literally dozens of times after arrests in the past.  He was convicted in absentia and recaptured after an expensive manhunt.

Yet despite all this, despite raping and impregnating a child and fleeing a courtroom and being featured on America’s Most Wanted, Speights still believed he could game the system: he asked the judge yesterday for house arrest for the child rape and seemed genuinely surprised when Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe ordered life in prison instead.  Is Speights crazy, or are we crazy?

I say we’re the crazy ones.  Speights was merely reacting logically to a situation he had experienced dozens of times in the past.

For, until yesterday, the state has never really held Speights responsible for anything, from serially abandoning children, to breaking dozens of laws, to committing heinous sexual crimes.  Despite his extremely lengthy arrest record, he has never served state time.  Despite fathering more than 30 children and apparently having no legal employment (none was reported in the news), he was still living with approximately a dozen of his offspring in housing doubtlessly subsidized by taxpayers, who also doubtlessly subsidize the dozen or so other women who have filed paternity charges against him over the years.  Despite being accused of child rape twice, and fleeing custody once, he was permitted to bond out of jail in 2008 and remain free for two more years, as taxpayers also paid to prepare his defense.  Despite being identified as the father of an infant conceived in a child rape that took place in the presence of other minor children, he was apparently permitted to return home to those children (I say apparently because nothing was reported about restrictions placed on Speights when he was released to await trial).

It isn’t accurate to say that Speights tried to hide his crimes: a man who names himself “Poppa Love,” and tattoos his name on his girlfriends and girl children cannot be said to be trying to hide anything.  And despite their unruly protestations in court, his mother and current wife and aunt and assorted girlfriends cannot really pretend that they didn’t know about his behavior, not when he has had a dozen paternity charges filed against him and multiple domestic violence charges, and other child rape charges.  These women knew, and they too should be held responsible for recklessly endangering children.  Speights even tried to pin the child rape on two of his own sons.

The obscene spectacle of a child rapist with 30+ children claiming in court that he is a good, responsible father who allegedly “puts food on the table” and “presents under the tree” is only exceeded by the grim spectacle of a court system and child protection system that either could not or would not prevent him from doing more harm a long time ago.

Speights is the rapist, but we’re the ones who failed to protect his victims, all the while literally subsidizing his crimes.

The Guilty Project: Why Were “Papa Love” Speights’ Other Victims Denied Justice?

Now that fugitive child rapist “Poppa Love” Speights has been tracked down by the police (for the second time — after a Tampa judge actually cut him loose on bail despite his flight from the law on child-rape charges in 2008), maybe more of his victims will come forward.

Then again, that’s what was said the last time, too.

You can hardly blame Speights’ victims for not trusting authorities to keep them safe — some authorities, that is.  The police worked hard, for years, to put Speights away.  Other child victims came forward, at grave personal risk, only to be denied a day in court.  The courts remain bluntly inaccessible to victims of child rape and overly sympathetic to their assailants.  This is true despite decades of advocacy.  Here’s why:

  • Myths of wrongful prosecution, fed by media activists such as Dorothy Rabinowitz, who wildly exaggerated the prevalence of wrongful prosecutions after a handful of unjust prosecutions made headlines . . . twenty years ago.   Rabinowitz and other self-proclaimed “wrongful prosecution experts” irresponsibly claimed that these isolated cases constituted a vast, shadowy movement against innocent, falsely accused defendants.  There was no such thing, and neither Rabinowitz nor any of her equally irresponsible peers ever bothered to try to make a statistical case.  Nor were they asked to do so: it was enough to point fingers, shriek “witch hunt” and dine out on the outrage they were generating — while countless child victims watched their own chance for justice evaporate, thanks in large part to the hysteria Rabinowitz orchestrated.  How many prosecutions were actually found to be flawed?  So few they are remembered by name and may be counted on one hand.  How many victims of child sexual assault were consequently denied even a chance for justice?  It’s impossible to know.  But hundreds of thousands of cases of child sexual abuse have gone un-prosecuted in the twenty years since Rabinowitz et. al. helped put a deep chill on the public’s willingness to believe victims of this crime.
  • Pro-offender biases on the part of judges. Too many judges see their role as defenders of defendants instead of objective arbiters of the law.  This probably has a lot to do with the number of politically-connected defense attorneys who make it to the bench.  I personally can’t conceive of any other reason why some judge let Speights walk free in 2008, even after he was found to have fathered a child by raping a 12-year old.
  • Defendant-biased evidence rules that make it virtually impossible to introduce facts and arguments in the courtroom.  In Trials Without Truth, William Pizzi explains how Supreme Court-driven exclusionary rules have warped the trial system, always in favor of defendants.
  • Public unwillingness to foot the bill (and the defense bar’s successes in padding it).  Even when evidence exists to try defendants, prosecutors working with extremely limited budgets can only afford to try a fraction of cases, or sometimes a fraction of charges against individual defendants.  Add that to the multiple ways defendants can get off on technicalities, and prosecutors are forced to shelve the majority of the cases they ought to be bringing to trial.

The criminal career of “Papa Love” Speights is a direct consequence of these prejudices and shortcomings.  His sexual crimes against children have been known to the police for years, but they never succeeded in bringing charges that stuck, until DNA identified him as the father of an infant whose mother was 12 when she was raped and impregnated by him.  Even then, a judge let him go free to await trial.

Another child victim who had come forward — his own daughter — never got her day in court, says St. Petersburgh Times reporter Alexandra Zayas:

A teenage girl went to police in 2005, saying her father raped her repeatedly for two years, paid cash for her silence and for good measure, showed her a gun.  Prosecutors lacked enough evidence to pursue charges.  A year later, that same man raped a 12-year-old niece and slipped her $20.  He was John Jerome Speights Jr., a 45-year-old with more than 30 children and paternity claims from more than a dozen women. He calls himself Poppa Love.

Speights actually tattoos his name on his wives and female children:

His ex-wife’s thigh “belongs to P. Love.” Daughters are inked “Daddy’s Girl.”  Over the years, he has had access to many young girls, including his own daughters and other relatives.

The details of the daughter’s rape are chilling.  The child reached out to authorities and told the police of other victims, but the State Attorney’s Office declined to act.  Why?

His daughter was 14 when it started. At a family reunion in northern Florida, she told police, she ended up alone with him in a motel room.  He asked if she was a virgin, she told police. He said he was going to give her a test. Then he had intercourse with her, while telling her, “I am not having sex with you,” she said.  It happened more than once, she reported. On a porch, in motels, in his car, near a graveyard. In the front yard of her aunt’s home. In his house, after he locked the other kids out.  The daughter said he told her to think of him as her boyfriend. That he would whip her brothers if she didn’t have sex with him. That if she told, he’d shoot himself, she said, or drive them both off the road. . . Speights denied the allegation. When police came, he fled.  They spoke to his wife. She said neither of them was employed and that she collected disability checks for the kids.  “Eight children live with them,” the detective wrote. “She said that she doesn’t know their ages because there are too many of them to keep straight.”  The daughter reported seeing young girls taken out of the bedroom late at night, but none of them alleged abuse.  Speights skipped his interview with police. His wife told them his attorney had advised him against talking.  The following day, a detective presented the case to the State Attorney’s Office and was told there was insufficient evidence. The case was closed but could be reopened with more proof.

Where was child protective services?  Astonishingly, Speights actually took one of his victims to court for child support — and the victim was thrown into jail.  The girl was 15 when he impregnated  her:

Court files suggest that [the niece’s child] wasn’t the first baby he fathered with a teen. In 2004, he filed a child support case in one such case. He was 30 when their son was born. She would have been 15. She could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.  When she failed to pay, the Hillsborough court held her in contempt and Gulfport police threw her in jail.

A judge in Hillsborough County court threw a teen mother in jail at the behest of the adult who impregnated her.  Another judge — or possibly two — let Speight remain free from 2008 to 2010.  If this case does not cry out for a top-to-bottom review of the court’s response to child abuse and sexual abuse cases, what does?

If only crusading journalists like Ms. Rabbinowitz behaved as if victims deserved justice, just like regular people.  Don’t hold your breath, though.

Tomorrow: What, if anything, can be done.

The Guilty Project: Who Let Child Rapist John Speights Escape on Bond? And What About Those Other 30 Arrests?

This is John Speights. He strolled out of a Tampa courthouse last week during his trial for raping a 12-year old child and disappeared.  The sheriff couldn’t stop him because a judge had let him bond out back in 2008, when he was originally charged with ten counts of child rape.  And, oh yeah, he’s been arrested at least 30 other times in Tampa alone for charges including battery, bigamy, aggravated assault, cruelty to a child and domestic violence, yet he has no state prison record, which means that prosecutors had to drop some or all of those charges, or other judges cut him serial breaks for multiple violent crimes . . . or all of these things happened, enabling him to remain free to rape children.

The police catch ’em and the courts let ’em go:

John Speights, aka “Poppa Love”

Oh and, by the way, Speights impregnated his child victim, yet the judge granted bond anyway, even, apparently, after the results of the DNA test were known.  The child victim gave birth two years ago, and Speights was unambiguously identified as the father.

If ten counts of child rape affirmed by DNA doesn’t count as a no-bond situation, what does count?

Was the judge who let him go in 2008 (despite knowing about the DNA) the same judge who presided over Speight’s trial last week, or did two entirely different Tampa judges independently make the same troubling call: that a man who impregnated a little girl should be permitted to remain free while being tried for an offense that would put him behind bars for life?

And if there were two judges involved, why didn’t the trial judge withdraw Speight’s bond?  Is this another case of one judge not wishing to “second guess” the decision of another (see here, here, and here)?

The judge who let Speights bond out in 2008 put his child victim, a relative, in grave danger, but she’s hardly the only child who was endangered by Speight’s bond.  Speights has fathered 32 children of his own, and he raped his victim in a household where 12 of his children were also living.  So he was committing child rape in a house with 12 other potential victims, and he even committed child rapes in a room where his infant was sleeping, and yet, some judge looked at this evidence and let him go back to that household and those children to await trial?

That betrays a profound lack of seriousness in the court’s approach to this crime.

For, does anybody actually believe Speights only raped one little girl?  Besides the judge, that is?  Thanks to DNA, prosecutors and police were able to build the current case against him, but detectives told America’s Most Wanted that they had tried to build sexual assault cases against Speights in the past, only to have the victims withdraw out of fear.  Given that, and his prior arrests for acts of violence against women and children, and the fact that his relatives are defending him and have turned on the current victim, there is no way this man should have been permitted to see the light of day since his first appearance in the courtroom two years ago.

Not only is Speights a violent child sexual predator who tried to flee the police when they went to arrest him for child rape, but he is an extremely dangerous type of violent child sexual predator: one who has groomed a cabal of accessories among his own family.  The family is so well-trained that they left the courtroom when he waved his hand, marching out as he absconded.

It takes a village to rape a child.

In this case, the “village” includes Speights’ family, the Hillsborough County Courts, and twisted exclusionary rules that make it nigh-on impossible to mount a successful prosecution of even the worst offenders.  Not a very nice place to live, this village.  How many other children are in danger from Speights at this very minute?

It utterly defies comprehension how some judge could sit in a courtroom, look at Speights’ 30 prior arrests, his prior history of absconding, the intimidation of the victim, the age of the victim, the impregnation of the victim, the evidence of rapes committed in the presence of an infant and multiple other children, the record of violence, the family members supporting the rapist, and still say: “Hey, here’s a guy who deserves to be released on his own recognizance.”

And why isn’t anyone in the media asking the right questions? Instead of asking the court why a dangerous child rapist with a history of fleeing police was granted bond in the first place and then had that bond upheld by the trial judge, reporters asked the sheriff why he couldn’t keep Speights from leaving the courthouse.  The answer, of course, was simple: the law wouldn’t allow them to stop him, once the judge granted bond:

Speights had been free on $60,000 bond since 2008. According to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Larry McKinnon . . . when a person has been released on bond, it is not the responsibility of the bailiffs to monitor them when they are in court. They are allowed to go as they please, although they have been entrusted to show up for all court matters.  “The bailiff’s responsibility is to monitor the proceedings of the court and not to guard or supervise those out on bond. That’s why they’re out on bond,” McKinnon said.

Reporters have carefully avoided naming any of the judges involved.  I imagine that’s because they know that if any judges get criticized, they will lose valuable media access to all judges.  That’s how the game gets played, after all.  I’ve had more than one reporter tell me so.  Easier to point fingers at the nearest cop and call it a day.

And God forbid if Bill O’Reilly comes knocking on the courtroom doors about another Tampa rapist inappropriately cut loose by a judge.

~~~

America’s Most Wanted featured Speights on their show and have offered something nobody in the local press seemed to think important: a detailed description of the man, and his tattoos.  They’re hard to miss:

5 feet 10 inches tall and 205 pounds — and he’s covered with tattoos, including: praying hands and Playboy bunny on his right arm; snowman and tiger on right shoulder; cross with a rose on his left arm; a rose with the name “Twandra” on his chest; “Pop” on the left side of his chest; “$$$” on the inside of his left thigh; and the word “Psych” tattooed on the left side of his neck.  Catch this convict before he hurts someone else. Call us right now at 1-800-CRIME-TV if you’ve seen him.

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

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

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

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

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

The victim’s son-in-law commented:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagerly doing the same.

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

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

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

Michael Harvey, “Mr. X,” Guilty of Murder. Now, Where Was He From 2005 – 2008? 1999 – 2003? 1985 – 1998?

Michael Harvey is now the third man found guilty of one or more murders of prostitutes and other women in southeast Atlanta in the early 1990’s.  As I wrote last week (see here and here), the state missed at least two earlier chances to link Harvey to that crime and get him off the streets: once in 2003, when they were supposed to have taken DNA from him before he left prison for another sex crime, and again in 2005, when they (apparently) got around to testing his DNA and linked it to the murder of Valerie Payton — but then failed to charge him for three more years.

OK folks, the trial is over.  When is somebody going to ask the GBI, and Fulton County D.A. Paul Howard, why it is that the rape kit of a women murdered by a probable serial killer, and a DNA sample they could have obtained as early as 1996?

You don’t just wake up one day and stab a woman fifty times, arrange her body for display, and leave a note on her stomach taunting the police — written on the back of a photo of her 8-year old child.  Talk about a crime that cries out for justice — and indicates other victims.  In fact, Harvey has another sex crime conviction, and a third victim testified at his trial that he raped and threatened to kill her around the same time Payton was murdered.

One would think the GBI would have prioritized getting Payton’s rape kit tested, and maybe they did — or maybe they didn’t.  Maybe the APD never sent the rape kit to them.  Maybe it’s all the fault of the Fulton County D.A., which had the ability to push for DNA testing when Harvey was convicted for another sex crime and kidnapping in 1996 (got a mild slap on the wrist).  DNA had been used to convict sex offenders for a decade by then.  Rape and kidnapping had been clearly identified as a social ill, too, though his sentence hardly reflected that.  Maybe it’s the fault of the Department of Corrections, which released Harvey in 1999, by which time they should have been databasing the DNA of all felons convicted for sex crimes.  Certainly, by 2003, Harvey was required by law to give a sample, when he served time for an aggravated assault.  Why wasn’t he identified then?

Where was Michael Harvey between November 1985 and May 1998, after he already had a record, before he was first arrested for a sex crime?  Where was he between September 1999 and February 2003, after he was convicted of one sexual assault, sternly scolded for a whole 16 months, then cut loose again?  Where was he between June 2003 and his arrest in 2008 for the murder he was linked to in 2005?

Where was he in 2005, when he was identified as Valerie Payton’s murderer but not officially charged for three more years?

Somebody screwed up.  Why does nobody care?

Mr. X: Did the State of Georgia Let a Serial Killer Go?

Some mornings, it’s pitifully easy to find something to write about.

Like, this morning.  Back in the early 1990’s, a serial killer was stalking women in the Reynoldstown neighborhood in Atlanta.  Reynoldstown was, in all senses of the term, crack-infested.  There were a lot of drug-related deaths.  There were a lot of prostitutes: the two go hand in hand.  Men from all over metro Atlanta would drive there to get an extremely cheap woman, or girl.  Or boy, I imagine.  This was precisely the same area where little boys were disappearing during the Atlanta Child Murders in the 1980’s.  It wasn’t a very long walk to some of the body dump sites.

I lived a few blocks east, in Cabbagetown.  On Fridays, I avoided gardening in my front yard because the men with Cobb County plates were trolling the streets, picking up emaciated prostitutes.  Some of the prostitutes jerked and twitched as they walked from cocaine-induced tardive dyskinesia.  Anyone who believes prostitution is a victimless crime is an intellectual buffoon.  The wives of the Johns were certainly victims.  There was a mother-daughter team jumping in and out of cars on my street corner: the daughter didn’t wear shoes.  She looked like she weighed about 75 pounds.  Her arms and legs were a constellation of bruises and sores.  What were those old men from the suburbs thinking?  She could be their granddaughter.  She was visibly sick.

By 1990, when I moved in, Wayne Williams had been sitting in prison for nearly a decade.  The cameras had gone elsewhere, and the money, too: politicians like Maynard Jackson and Arthur Langford (curious story, that) had sucked up the cash decent people sent to Atlanta to help the murder victims and long ago moved onto the next gravy train.  Eight female prostitutes dead in Reynoldstown didn’t attract much attention outside the police, who, contrary to stereotype, were actually the only people who gave a damn about the deaths.  Police, relatives, and local people — they knew who had children, and who went missing, and who had been a nice teenager before she got hooked on drugs.  On the other side of town, both female and transvestite male prostitutes were getting killed.  The transvestites were getting shot in the head: the women were mainly strangled or beaten to death.  If I remember correctly, if this particular murder didn’t occur later, one of the female victims was found strung up from a tree in a graveyard.  I went looking for more information about the transvestite killings and found only this blog post by “atl-Steve,” who lists nine of the Atlanta transvestite murders, eight between 1990 and 1992, seven shot in the head.  There were probably several serial killers preying on people in Atlanta at that time.  The drugs and the prostitution gave them extremely easy access to victims.  Life was extremely cheap.

One of the stories that circulated was about a Mr. X: in 1994, a woman’s body was found with a note that said: “I’m back in Atlanta, Mr. X.”  The woman was a prostitute, and she had been strangled.  This morning, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, there is a story about the upcoming trial of Michael Harvey, who is linked to her murder through DNA.

That’s where the story stops making sense.

Michael Darnell Harvey: Mr. X

The newspaper is reporting that Michael Harvey was linked to the murder through DNA in 2005 and arrested in 2008.  It isn’t clear why it took three years to arrest him.  Was he on the run?  Was he being held on other charges?  It doesn’t say.  But it seems to me that if the police had been looking for him all this time, somebody would have said that.  And if he had been in custody in Fulton county pending charges after the DNA match, somebody would have said that.

Because the alternative is so extremely disturbing.  The alternative is that Michael Harvey was identified as a murderer, likely a serial killer, in 2005, and then nobody did anything about it for three years.  In the age of DNA, that can’t possibly be true, can it?  I hope I am missing something here.

Since 2000, all felons sentenced to state prison in Georgia have had to provide DNA samples to the state, to be added to a DNA database.  That law was passed thanks largely to recently deceased feminist activist Vicki McLennon and Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, and it has solved many sex crimes and saved lives.

In 2002 or 2003 (it isn’t clear from the state database), Michael Harvey was convicted of an aggravated assault in Fulton County.  The crime occurred August, 2002.  He was sentenced to six months and spent February to June, 2003, in state prison.  At that time, he should have given the state a DNA sample.  He also had a prior false imprisonment and attempted sexual assault conviction on his record.  Wouldn’t the DNA from anyone with a sexual assault conviction be  carefully checked for other sexual assaults?  In any case, if the law was followed, Harvey gave the state a DNA sample no later than June 2003.  His DNA was matched to a stranger serial murder in 2005.  He was charged with that murder in 2008.

So somebody has some questions to answer:

  • If he was in fact released, why was Michael Harvey, a convicted sex criminal, released from prison in 2003 without his DNA sample being entered into the state database?
  • Why wasn’t he arrested and charged with murder in 2005, when the GBI linked his DNA to a serial murder?
  • Why did it then take three more years to charge him with the crime?  Is this a screw-up that should be laid at the feet of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard?

And some larger questions:

  • Was he really convicted only of aggravated assault in 2002/3, or was that a sex crime charge pled down to mere assault by some willing prosecutor and judge?  Were any other convictions actually sex crimes that got pled down, too?
  • Why did Michael Harvey get only three years for attempted rape and false imprisonment in 1996?  Three years for trying to rape a woman?  Nice.
  • Why didn’t the state of Georgia bother to take a DNA sample from Harvey when he was convicted of rape in 1996?  DNA was being widely used by then, and as a sex offender, Harvey probably had to provide a sample, even though the state law requiring DNA of all felons had not yet been passed.  Did he give the state DNA?  Why wasn’t it tested, if it wasn’t tested?  Is that sample one of the thousands shelved and forgotten by a criminally careless criminal justice system?
  • Does Michael Harvey’s DNA match any other crimes, especially crimes committed since the state last cut him loose?

Here is Harvey’s prior conviction record:

CASE NO: 130362OFFENSE: NOT AVAILABLE
CONVICTION COUNTY: CONVERSION
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE

CASE NO: 130362OFFENSE: NOT AVAILABLE
CONVICTION COUNTY: CONVERSION
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE

CASE NO: 130362OFFENSE: BURGLARY
CONVICTION COUNTY: FLOYD COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 2 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS

CASE NO: 130362OFFENSE: THEFT BY TAKING
CONVICTION COUNTY: FLOYD COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE

CASE NO: 130362OFFENSE: THEFT MOTORVEH OR PART
CONVICTION COUNTY: FLOYD COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE

CASE NO: 130362OFFENSE: THEFT MOTORVEH OR PART
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 6 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS

He spent four years behind bars for these crimes, October 1980 to November 1984.  A long time for motor vehicle theft.  And that burglary: was it really just burglary?

CASE NO: 176538OFFENSE: NOT AVAILABLE
CONVICTION COUNTY: CONVERSION
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 09/07/1984
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE

CASE NO: 176538OFFENSE: CRMNL INTERFERE GOVT PROP
CONVICTION COUNTY: HABERSHAM COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 1 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS

CASE NO: 176538OFFENSE: simple battery
CONVICTION COUNTY: HABERSHAM COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE

He appears to have served nine months for these crimes, February to November 1985.  Then the Atlanta killings began.

CASE NO: 392286

OFFENSE: FALSE IMPRISONMENT
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 08/08/1996
SENTENCE LENGTH: 3 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS

CASE NO: 392286

OFFENSE: AGG ASLT W INTNT TO RAPE
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 08/08/1996
SENTENCE LENGTH: 3 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS

CASE NO: 392286

OFFENSE: AGG ASLT W INTNT TO RAPE
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 08/08/1996
SENTENCE LENGTH: 3 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS

He appears to have served 1 year, 4 months in state custody for this crime, from May 1998 to September 1999.  He probably served some of his sentence in county custody prior to being transferred to state prison.  But his DNA, if it was sampled, was never checked against other rape and rape-murder cases in Fulton County while they still had him behind bars.  Come on, folks: 1999?  Unsolved rape-murders?  There’s no excuse.

CASE NO: 515573OFFENSE: AGGRAV ASSAULT
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 08/18/2002
SENTENCE LENGTH: 0 YEARS, 6 MONTHS, 0 DAYS

He served February – June 2003 in state custody for this crime.

2005: Harvey’s DNA is matched to the 1994 murder of Valerie Payton.

2008: Harvey is charged with Valerie Payton’s murder.

~~~

“I’m Back in Atlanta.  Mr. X.”

Living in Cabbagetown in the early 1990’s gave me a front-seat view of the realities of prostitution.  Not that they’re particularly difficult to discern from further distances.  Ironically however, just a few years later, I entered graduate school and found that academic feminists had a very different attitude towards what they euphemistically termed “sex work.”

While real feminists were pounding the halls of the Georgia legislature and city officials to strengthen laws against rapists, child molesters, and pimps who targeted children (Mayor Shirley Franklin’s finest legacy), many of the academic feminists I met were busy “celebrating” prostitution as a “liberatory practice.”

So, in a city where scores of prostitutes, including children, suffered addiction, disease, violence, rape, and murder as a direct consequence of their “careers,” the academics were excitedly playing at being fake prostitute labor organizers and paying fake professional “sex workers” like the repugnant Dolores French to come titillate them with trumped up stories about happy hookerdom.  French is married to defense attorney Michael Hauptman, who used to specialize in getting violent child molesters off (his e-mail name is loophole) — sort of a two-fer for those whose outrage over date rape never bled over into actually advocating for harsher sentencing for any rapists.

The distance between Valerie Payton’s murdered body and this dismal intellectual buffoonery?  Four miles, or a thousand light years.  Take your pick.  Meanwhile, I hope somebody in Atlanta will get to the bottom of Michael Harvey’s story.  Nothing is particularly clear right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2: Parole Board Leniency, 1974

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

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

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

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

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

#4: Parole Leniency, 1977

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#7:  Criminal Appeals, 1984

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

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

#8: Criminal Appeals, 2001

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

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

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

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

Alcala has spent his time behind bars penning You, the Jury, a 1994 book in which he claims his innocence and points to a different suspect; suing the California prisons for a slip-and-fall claim and for failing to provide him a low-fat diet; and, according to prosecutors, complaining about a law that required he and other death-row inmates to submit DNA mouth swabs for comparison by police against unsolved crimes. Alcala is still as cocky as ever — bold enough to represent himself in the trial for his life, now unfolding in Orange County. And why not? He has a talent for mining legal technicalities and has repeatedly enjoyed success with appellate judges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to prosecutors, Alcala always enjoyed torturing his victims:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t have to be that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anybody care to challenge that?

Rodney Alcala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Tomorrow: Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals

Jesus Wept

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

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

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

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

Read it here.