Another great in-depth story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about chaos in the courts. Note that Metro Atlanta courts other than Fulton County aren’t catch-and-releasing murder defendants like muddy-tasting catfish, like Fulton does.
Volume is no excuse: volume of cases means that judges and prosecutors should be appealing to the public for support and banging down doors at the Georgia General Assembly for more resources, not lowering standards.
Note, too, the line-up of apologists who try to explain away the problem rather than admitting that the D.A.’s office needs more and more-experienced prosecutors, and the Fulton Superior Court desperately needs an intervention.
I’m glad to see Fulton D.A. Paul Howard taking a stand:
“I, like law enforcement officials and 99 percent of the citizens I meet, believe such releases should rarely happen.”
In a statement, Howard said judges are blaming police and prosecutors for their own “seemingly poor judgment.”
Atlanta police Lt. Keith Meadows, head of homicide, was similarly annoyed. “To say we’re presenting weak cases, that’s just disingenuous,” he said.
The homicide unit has a 92 percent conviction rate, Meadows said in an interview Friday.
But if things are so bad that murder defendants are getting released because a hearing isn’t held within the required time-period, doesn’t the prosecutor’s office need more manpower? Howard said recently that he does not need more prosecutors, but evidence suggests otherwise. Paul Howard would have a very receptive audience if he went to the people of Atlanta and said: “I need 20 more prosecutors to actually put a dent in violent and property crime.”
Meanwhile, spokespeople for the Fulton County Superior Court seem to be arguing that because some people are acquitted of murder charges, it’s OK to routinely release remorseless predators onto the streets before trial:
Downs’ office pointed out several murder cases since 2007 in which charges were either dismissed, reduced or the defendant was acquitted.
This is an argument for releasing dozens of murder defendants on bond? Well, heck, since some people are acquitted (no proof of innocence, in many cases), why don’t we just do away with the courts? Why arrest anyone?
Creepy quisling of the week award, however, must go to Ash Joshi, who continues to believe that it was, as Martha Stewart would say, a “Good Thing” that his client, Antoine Wimes (see here and here), managed to bond out on the undisputed and cold-blooded murder of an innocent African immigrant, a gift of trust that Wimes cashed in by battering a woman into a coma and using an infant as a baseball bat:
Ash Joshi, a former Fulton prosecutor who represents Wimes in the murder case, said at first blush, the number of released murder suspects is “staggering.” But “as you have a greater volume of cases, there will be a number of weak cases. What is frustrating to a prosecutor is you believe a person is guilty but don’t have the evidence. A judge has to act on the evidence.”
Joshi said there were several factors in Wimes achieving bond: “His age, there was not a great deal of evidence and he had good ties to the community.” About 20 relatives attended the hearing. Joshi argued Wimes would not be a threat to the community.
Prosecutor Jack Barrs disagreed. “This was just a person who shot and killed somebody for no reason that’s apparent to the state or anyone else,” Barrs said at a pretrial hearing. “It indicates that there is great concern that he is a danger to the community at large.”
Last week, Joshi was unapologetic, saying he did everything he could to get his client a bond, just as prosecutors fought to oppose it.
“They did their job, and I did mine,” he said.
Hollywood and Grisham-esque fantasies aside, Joshi’s job actually is to act in the best interest of his client. It’s a measure of how grotesque and degraded the defense bar has become that Joshi cannot conceptualize that “best interest” for a trigger-happy, sociopathic adolescent might be restraining him from taking more innocent lives until a judge manages to squeeze his murder trial in between all the other important things they’re busy doing at the Fulton County Superior Court.
Remember Mark Barton, the day-trader killer who gunned down 22 people, killing nine of them, in Atlanta in 1999? Clever defense tactics protected him from paying the price for murdering his first wife and mother-in-law in cold blood, and so Barton went on to bludgeon his second wife and two young children in a similar fashion, before ripping nine additional, innocent families apart.
Was that in Mark Barton’s best interest?
Remember when the murder rate dropped through the floor in New York City? That happened because judges, prosecutors, social service agencies, police, council-people, and the mayor (yes, the loud-mouthed, choleric, cross-dressing, adulterous-yet-oddly-effective Giuliani) teamed up to take responsibility for crime, to stop pointing fingers, and to stop defending the lumbering, crumbling behemoth that was the New York State justice system.
Atlanta can’t hope for a loud-mouthed, choleric, cross-dressing, adulterous-yet-oddly-effective mayor in this election season, I think. But we can still dream. Imagine the sea change if the people we entrust to enforce public safety actually stood up together and said: “Yes, the system is broken. We really need to fix it.”