TINATRENT.COM

CRIME. POLITICS. ACADEMIA. MEDIA.

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?

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

(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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.