What do you say to the judge in Athens, Georgia to justify kidnapping somebody, stabbing them repeatedly with a screwdriver, and leaving them for dead?
Well, your honor, she’s mine, and she deserved it:
Police first arrested [Phillip] Scruggs in 2001, after family members say he abducted [Lisa] Davenport, stabbed her with a screwdriver and left her for dead.
A Clarke County grand jury indicted him on charges of kidnapping, kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated assault and violating the state Family Violence Act, and as part of a plea agreement Scruggs pleaded guilty to kidnapping, false imprisonment and battery.
He received a three-year sentence, but with credit for time served in county jail, Scruggs was back out in September 2004.
In 2001, the jury indicted him and the judge (and possibly the prosecutor) let him walk. At the time, why wasn’t Scruggs charged with attempted murder instead of aggravated assault, which can be excused with one year — a one year suspended sentence, even, if the judge’s hair happens to be blowing that way?
And then why did the prosecutor agree to drop even the aggravated assault charge and let him plead to battery?
Who was this Lisa Davenport, whose life was so unimportant that someone who kidnapped her and left her for dead in 2001 got a slap on the wrist, enabling him to come back later and finish the job?
“Lisa was the kind of person who was always full of happiness and had a glow around her,” [her brother, Eric] said. Lisa Davenport is survived by her mother, father, two brothers, a sister, daughter and two grandchildren.
I do not give a whit that this was a “domestic violence” case: aren’t the legal experts always nattering on about how the victim is only a witness to a crime, that the prosecutor represents society, not the victim, because the crime is committed against society? Aren’t victims supposed to be these untrustworthy, dangerous creatures who must be repressed into symbolic non-personhood in the courts lest they feel “vengeful” or something, a thing far worse than the crime itself, according to the experts?
Isn’t that one of the noble ideals under-girding our entire legal system?
Well, here is (I should say was, for she is dead now) one victim whose perspective truly should have been consigned to the status of “state witness” because she was tragically brainwashed by some sick monster into believing her own non-personhood: she went back to Scruggs after he got out of prison. Then she tried to escape him again, and he killed her.
Here is the truly chilling thing, the thing that ought to give voters in Clark County pause the next time they must stand with their consciences at a ballot box: in 2001, the judge agreed with Phillip Scrugg’s interpretation of Lisa Davenport’s non-personhood. The judge sided with the man wielding the screwdriver, not the woman being stabbed with the screwdriver. How, otherwise, do you explain a three-year sentence (actually less) for trying to murder her?
The prosecutor and the judge were supposed to prosecute, and sentence, Phillip Scruggs for the crime he committed, no matter who it was he tried to kill. But they didn’t. They failed, and we failed by letting them, and now Lisa Davenport, whose life was deemed so cheap by the courts in 2001, has been murdered by the man we didn’t keep in prison:
A 42-year-old woman who was doused with kerosene and set on fire has died from her injuries.
Family members say Elisa Davenport died around 5 p.m. Saturday at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center, due to complications of burns she suffered on more than 60 percent of her body from the Aug. 17 attack.
“The trauma that her body went through was just too much for her to hold on,” her brother, Eric Davenport, said.
Athens-Clarke police say they plan to take out warrants Monday charging 49-year-old Phillip Scruggs with murder.
Scruggs, who was her boyfriend, had originally faced charges of aggravated assault and first-degree arson for the incident, which caused a blaze that gutted her home and spread to other units in an Athens apartment complex.
Lisa Davenport took two weeks to die in a burn unit in Augusta. Her brother said Scruggs set her on fire and then sat and watched her burn:
“He didn’t shoot or stab her, but he set her on fire, and set more fire in her house in a way that made it almost impossible for her to escape,” Eric Davenport said. “Then, he just sat across the street to watch what happened, until people pointed him out to the police.”
How do we minimize the killing of a woman? The criminologists weigh in with clinical terms like “spree killer” and “serial killer,” words designed to distract from the moral outrage of the crime, making it curious, not outrageous. Or “domestic violence,” which sounds — well — it sounds so domestic. Minimal.
Ironically, the very same criminologists who are consulted to label certain murders “spree” or “domestic” are also the leaders of the hate crimes movement. Those crimes, they tell reporters, are the really serious ones, the ones that ought to provoke moral outrage. Not like killing a woman. Or twelve women.
Here are celebrated hate crime advisers and criminologists James Allen Fox and Jack Levin, weighing in on George Sodini, who walked into a gym in Pittsburgh and picked off 12 women, killing three of them, a crime that Fox and Levin ever so carefully avoid labeling “hate”:
There are so many features about this shooting spree that are tragically textbook. Like most mass killers, Mr. Sodini struggled through a long history of failure and rejection, from childhood, with a brother he regarded as a bully and a father he saw as distant and unconcerned . . . In his extreme loneliness, Mr. Sodini was without emotional support and comfort . . . Aside from the gunman, the real culprit in explaining mass murder can be found in society itself . . . Many Americans simply have no place to turn when they become desperate. Their misery has no company. Without options and without support, mass murder can sometimes seem like the only way out. . . we must still make an effort, perhaps by reaching out to the seemingly isolated stranger sitting alone at the next table in the restaurant or working out with an iPod at the next treadmill in the gym. We may, in the process of trying, enhance the well-being of others . . .
No outrage here, except at society, which made Mr. Sodini feel bad. It was just killing a woman — a bunch of women, one woman, whatever, just women. That’s not hate crime, according to these experts, not even if you set the woman on fire and then sit down to watch her burn because you think you own her, not if you pick off twelve strange women after telling the world you hate women in a blog: none of this is hate, according to these experts, so long as the people you’re hating are heterosexual females.
To say the least, this is not the way Professors Fox and Levin talk when they are labeling a crime — even a minor crime — a hate crime. Then there’s no long, slow, minimizing rumination about the loneliness of the long distance runner, or other such prattle. Then they declare zero tolerance and shout for moral outrage.
Imagine if the Athens community had spoken out in 2001 about an attempted murderer getting less than three years in prison for kidnapping and stabbing a woman and leaving her for dead?
Imagine if that crime, and that lack of punishment, had mobilized candlelight marches, and earnest speak-outs, and calls for the prosecutor and judge to step down, because they did not honor the woman’s humanity, her purported equality under the law.
Imagine if the activist politicians, the grand-standers and media-seekers, had stood up and declared that this crime was a crime of hate and would not be tolerated in Athens, that no attempted murder would be tolerated in Athens. Would Davenport still be alive? How many others, if other killers were called hate criminals, too, instead of the word “hate” being increasingly reserved for a select few?
And so, the grand-standers were in a jam two weeks ago when Lisa Davenport was set on fire by a man who sat down to watch her burn, because their need to defend a system that dictates that killing women is not hate crime is more important to them than actually speaking out on real cases of hatred, like that one (and so many others).
As Scruggs watched her burn, an American honor crime, like slaughtering your daughter if she tries to marry the wrong man, or setting a widow on fire and watching her burn, there was nothing but silence from the arbiters of moral outrage.
“There’s just too many of ’em,” said President Clinton in 1999, referring to acts of violence against women and why they pose a peculiar problem for the leaders of the hate crimes movement. The Anti-Defamation League fretted that prosecutors might be distracted if women were counted, and the statistics might be “overwhelmed,” so they and others quietly found ways to instruct police and prosecutors to not find hate when women were the target. And, always, the criminologists chimed in with their expert opinions, shining on the movement’s ideological necessity: to say with a straight face that stealing a car can be a hate crime, but blowing away 12 women is . . . you know, just an understandable expression of loneliness.
The feminist establishment, smacked down for years by the hate crime activists whenever they whimpered that hating women is hate, has learned to remain silent on the George Sodinis of the world. No activists called for the shooting of 12 women to be labeled a hate crime — some naive young feminist bloggers did (they’ll learn), and Ms. Magazine ran a crabbed little note, but the major organizations kept their lips tightly zipped.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who was pretending to advocate for the inclusion of “gender bias hate” in federal law (it will not really count women) at the very time Sodini started blowing women away, remained silent. Odd, that he wouldn’t take advantage of such an opportunity.
“We must give the lie to the notion that there is no difference between an assault and an assault that is motivated by bias. The differences are very, very real,” Eric Holder thundered in 1999.
What he meant is that murders like Lisa Davenport’s are less bad. That is the unavoidable meaning of his words: killing Lisa is not as serious as a murder the experts decide to call a hate crime, even though her killer set her on fire and sat down to watch her burn.
You can’t make some murders more morally significant without making other murders less morally significant. That’s just a fact.
In 2001, the judge in Athens, Georgia stuck his or her finger in the wind and decided that nobody really cared, and so the judge let Phillip Scruggs plead out after he nearly killed a women who had disobeyed him. In Pennsylvania, a man wrote that he hated women; then he killed women; then the movement that purports to “expose hate” denied it instead, because the victims were women. In Islamic states, women get beaten with clubs for showing their ankles on the street and murdered for disobeying their husbands. We are supposed to be different from radical Islam on the grounds that our legal system is supposed to stand between such killers and their victims. But that didn’t happen in Lisa Davenport’s case.
How many ways are there to minimize the killing of a woman? More and more.