The More Things Change . . .

Thirty years ago this month, the murder of a young cancer researcher sparked outrage in Atlanta.  Dr. Mark Tetalman, a nuclear medicine specialist from Ohio, was attending a conference at the downtown Hilton Hotel when armed robbers shot him to death in front of his wife near the corner of Piedmont and Ponce de Leon Avenues.

The business community accused Mayor Maynard Jackson and Police Chief George Napper of dismissing public concerns about crime.  Atlanta had the highest murder rate and the highest overall crime rate of any city, and the numbers were rapidly climbing higher, with a 69% increase in homicides between 1978 and 1979 alone. ... 

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Shedding Light on the Problem: Recidivism, Neighborhood Activism, and The Courts

Midtown Atlanta Neighborhood Association safety chair Randall Cobb, commenting in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about two stabbings in Piedmont Park, got it right:

“Crime has not gone down in the city, no matter what the city says they’re doing,” [he said] noting a spike in Midtown break-ins and armed robberies since 2007. ... 

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Selective Outrage: What the Paralyzed Cop Scandal Says About Atlanta’s Politicians

As elected officials in Atlanta crowd the microphone to denounce Sgt. Scott Kreher for saying something importune about Mayor Shirley Franklin, the list grows . . . of elected officials in Atlanta grandstanding on Kreher while refusing to comment on the city’s grotesque treatment of wounded police officers, the real issue.

Here is a video Kreher helped create that details the systematic abuse of the officers by the city.  And here is a petition supporting Kreher, a decent guy who lost his temper over real injustice.  Not fake injustice.  I urge you to read the text of the petition, if you want to know what really happened. ... 

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How Atlanta Treats its Wounded Police Officers on Memorial Day

If the genius of democracy is the peaceful transfer of power through elections, the tragedy of democracy is the exploitation of this public goodwill by elected and appointed officials who treat their last year or so in office (sometimes, their entire time in office) like a tin pot dictatorship, holing up and divvying the spoils while behaving as if the needs of the people are beneath their concern.

There’s little the public can do about a lame duck elected official who treats them with contempt.  Little, that is, except doing their homework for the next election, noting who is aligned with whom, voting accordingly — and carefully counting the towels after each transfer of power is complete. ... 

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A Fall From A Tree, And Then Rape

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

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

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

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

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

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They Really Do Hate Us: Academics on the Law-Abiding Public

The long list of slights committed by the public against criminals just grew a little bit longer.  We are now guilty of not thinking about the incarcerated enough during the time that they are behind bars, a distraction predicted to grow worse as prisons rely on videoconferencing for prisoner doctor appointments, psychiatric counseling, and family visits.

Although the actually relevant parties — from guards to prisoners to psychiatrists — seem happy with videoconferencing, it does not sit well with Nancy Stoller, a professor of something called “Community Studies” at University of California, Santa Cruz: ... 

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Five Ugly Pieces, Part 5: Around Atlanta

Some mop-up for the week:

The Silver Comet Trail murder case is moving along despite efforts by the defense to derail it.  Tragically, Michael Ledford’s mother had tried to get her son put back in jail before Jennifer Ewing was killed: ... 

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Five Ugly Pieces, Part 4: Britteny Turman, Grace Dixon, and Frank Rashad Johnson Denied Justice in Atlanta

On Sunday, May 10, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article by Bill Torpy that raises troubling questions about what is going on in Atlanta’s courtrooms.  Like this April 10 story by Steve Visser, Torpy’s story focuses on an element of the justice system that receives less attention than policing but is arguably far more responsible for the presence of dangerous felons on Atlanta’s streets: the choices, both legal and administrative, made by Atlanta’s judges.

We invest judges with extraordinary power.  We allow judicial discretion in all sorts of sentencing and administrative decisions.  Legislators have tried to limit judges’ discretion in recent years by imposing minimum mandatory sentence guidelines and repeat offender laws.  But Georgia’s sentencing guidelines still give judges far too much latitude to let criminals go free.  Also, far too many judges have responded to this legislative oversight (aka, the will of the people) by simply ignoring the intent, and even the letter, of those laws. ... 

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Five Ugly Pieces, Part 2: Hiding In Plain Sight

The MySpace Page (thanks, to Grayson) of the “30 Deep Gang” is, according to the creator, “all about money.”  There are images of dice, diamonds, blocks of gold, rap stars, and twenty dollar bills.  There is a photograph of a young man pointing a gun at the camera, and another photo labeled “Lil’ Wayne . . . Prostitute Flange” showing a smiling woman towering over the rap star.  In the “friends” section, there is a picture of a young man with the caption, “Zone 3 shawty money men da longway.”  Zone 3 is where bartender John Henderson was murdered, and the police are looking for “30 Deep Gang” members in Henderson’s death.

Zone 3 is also where I used to live, and the sound of gunfire was a regular thing there.  In order to get by you had to ration your response to it, or you would spend every day responding to it, which is an impossibility.  This is what the mayor and the chief of police are denying whenever they announce that residents are being hysterical about crime.  Residents police themselves, even more than criminals are policed.   Innocent people are held captive by the threat of violent crime, but, still, there are people who believe it is distasteful to demand to be freed. ... 

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Five Ugly Pieces, Part 1: The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council Blows Millions on Brian Nichols, Cries Poor

I’m gonna pull the chain on you, pal. And you wanna know why?  Cause you’re f****** up my city.  Cause you’re walking all over people like you own them.  And you wanna know the worst part?  You’re from out of state. — Tom Sharky, Sharky’s Machine (1981)

Wonder why our courts are falling apart? Remember this headline, from February, 2008? ... 

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The Right Rat: Groundless Accusations Towards Victims of Crime

Yesterday, I wrote about the hysteria that arises when crime victims seek modest rights, such as the right to know when their offender will be cut loose from prison (a shifting proposition — never shifting further ahead, either), or the right to offer a victim-impact statement at the same time the convicted offender is permitted to parade his supporters before the sentencing judge.

It is a measure of society’s disdain for the rights of victims that, even when such laws are on the books, they are spottily enforced and treated like an afterthought, not a rule of law. Our courts are in far worse shape than most people realize, as evinced by my earlier post today. The first causalities of this chaos, inevitably, are crime victims. ... 

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

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

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

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“Defendants Have the Right to Remain Silent. . . Victims Have the Right to be Heard”

I found this quote on the website for the Larimer County, Colorado District Attorney’s office. It is a neat sentiment: well-intentioned, not overly ambitious. It is, in other words, a fitting description of the aims of victims’ rights laws.

It is also utterly untrue. ... 

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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. ... 

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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. ... 

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Update on Jamal (Shamal) Thompson: Is the Law of Georgia Being Enforced in the Courts of Georgia by Judges in Georgia?

WSB-Channel 2 Atlanta Reporter Tom Jones has been following the Jamal Thompson case more closely than anyone, and he confirmed last week that DeKalb County Judge Cynthia Becker, relying on Thompson’s lies about his past, inappropriately granted him first offender status when he had already received that status in a different county in a prior case.

The murder of cancer researcher Eugenia Calle by a recidivist who should have been behind bars raises several questions about the actions of judges and the enforcement of Georgia’s recidivism statutes.  Legislators should move to investigate the application of these laws, to make certain the law of Georgia is being enforced in the courts of Georgia by judges in Georgia.  I suspect any investigation of sentencing outcomes would uncover many instances of first-time offender rules being abused and recidivism statues being ignored in some jurisdictions. ... 

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Meanwhile, In the Groves of Academe and the Forests of Newsprint

There’s no such thing as a crime problem. It’s just a perception problem, you silly hysterics. From the Houston Chronicle, which wants you to know that daring to be worried about crime is the only crime problem that matters:

In the words of a statistician, the decrease in criminality appears to have an inverse relationship, at least for now, with political rhetoric on crime, which has ramped up in recent months. ... 

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Vengeance or Injustice: Which Problem is Real?

From Nicholas Kristof, in Friday’s New York Times:

[W]hile we have breakthrough DNA technologies to find culprits and exculpate innocent suspects, we aren’t using them properly — and those who work in this field believe the reason is an underlying doubt about the seriousness of some rape cases. In short, this isn’t justice; it’s indifference. ... 

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A Personal Look At Drug Court and Community Sentencing

This week, I have been writing about alternative sentencing and drug court. My perspective is shaped by experiences as a “community outreach” worker, witnessing the gaming that takes place when non-profits and private companies are granted fat government contracts with little oversight to monitor and provide therapy to offenders in the community. We are playing with fire whenever we turn over important government duties, like protecting the public, to private individuals – especially when there is no oversight.

Community control supervised by private companies and non -profits have become the status quo, however – and now community monitoring has become one of those things, in our twisted judicial system, that is increasingly viewed as a defendant’s right. ... 

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Mission Creep: Burglars With Drug Problems. And Drug Courts With Burglar Problems. And Reporters With Truthiness Problems.

Atlanta is not the only city where recidivists with long records of serious crime are being permitted to avoid jail sentences because they are also drug addicts. From the Ithaca Journal, Ithaca, New York:

In a plea deal with prosecutors, a Groton woman charged with taking part in burglaries in three counties has been sentenced to time served, five years probation and ordered to attend drug court for local crimes. ... 

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Rehabilitating Adam and Eve, But Not Adam and Steve (Or Eve, Actually)

Sorry for the absence of a blog post yesterday. I went into Tampa to attend a hearing to appeal a judge’s inexplicable and unheard-of release of a convicted sex offender as the offender waits out the appeals process. Appallingly, the hearing judge yesterday decided that it was more important to honor the feelings of a fellow judge than to consider the safety of the victim and the community, and he refused to overturn the prior judge’s strange and inappropriate decision to release the convicted sex offender. Richard Chotiner remains free as he appeals his 15-year sentence for sexually assaulting a mentally handicapped man. I plan to write about this awful case next week.

*** ... 

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Breaking out the Bubbly: National Drug Court Month

National Drug Court Month is just around the corner, so I am going to spend this week taking a closer look at some of the claims being made about the effectiveness of drug courts. By next week, the canned press releases will be seeping out all over the news in the form of stories lifted directly from the press kits provided by advocacy groups such as the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Rather astonishingly, the NADCP press kit asserts that “for twenty years, drug courts have saved millions of lives.” Millions? Really? In New York State, which has one of the larger state drug court systems, only 20,400 people have graduated from drug court since the program began, and nobody can say how many of those people stayed sober for more than a few years after they left the scrutiny of the courts. No man is an island, but really — millions of lives? ... 

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