The St. Petersburg Times has been digging into Tommy Lee Sailor’s past, asking hard questions about Florida’s many failures to keep Sailor behind bars. Sailor is the serial rapist and self-described serial killer who was deemed “reformed” by Florida Corrections — until last New Year’s Eve, that is. Only his victim’s courage, quick thinking by 911 operator Ve’Etta Bess, and quick action by the police saved that victim’s life.
So on the one side, you have the response of public safety professionals, and the victim herself. On the other side, you have the courts, and the Department of Corrections, and Sailor’s attorneys, and even prosecutors, all agreeing to let Sailor go, or not even try him for sex crimes, not once or twice, but repeatedly.
The cops catch them, and then the courts let them go.
In the wake of Sailor’s violent holiday rampage, I predicted that local media would not dig into Sailor’s previous history, nor name officials who let him off easy in the past.
I love being wrong about stuff like this.
St. Pete Times reporter Rebecca Catalanello just filed this story. She names some names. It is damning. This exposé ought to be required reading for any state legislator planning to try to roll back the state’s “three–strikes” laws in order to save money.
Because Tommy Lee Sailor is what happens when you cut corners on public safety:
TAMPA — “I’m a serial rapist,” he taunted her. “I’m a serial killer.” His hands closed around her neck and things went black. . . [P]olice had come to the neighborhood before. Detectives knew the man she said attacked her. Judges and probation officers knew him, too. Tommy Lee Sailor, 37, had been arrested at least 30 times before the Jan. 1 attack — never for murder, but three times on rape charges. He had spent only three years outside prison since age 16. Four times, probation officers told judges and parole commissioners that prison was the best place for Sailor. In July, after the last warning, the Florida Department of Corrections released him, counting on an ankle monitor and a probation officer to track his whereabouts.
So, despite 30 arrests, and pleas from parole officers that he was too dangerous to release, the Florida Department of Corrections decided to take another chance on Sailor. How hateful, towards the victims.
The buck stops with the heads of state agencies in cases like this, or at least it ought to. But Charlie Crist’s appointee, Walter McNeill, has not made a public statement about his department’s failure to keep women in Florida safe by taking Sailor’s crimes seriously.
Why no comment from above? And where is Frederick B. Dunphy, head of the Florida Parole Commission?
Is there any single legislator in Tallahassee planning to ask these men some hard questions about early release of violent recidivists? That needs to be part of the discussion about rolling back the state’s three-strikes law.
These are the things state officials know about Sailor. When he was 11, police charged him with lewd and lascivious behavior with a child. A judge withheld adjudication.
Sexual assault of a child. And the state does nothing, except protect Sailor’s anonymity so he could go on to rape other children. Rapists start young, and they target children in their family and neighborhoods before moving on the more difficult targets. We know this: we’ve known it for a long time. No judge belongs on the bench if he or she doesn’t act on such knowledge. Who was the judge? That judge wasn’t named. But they should come forward and explain themselves. Because what that judge did was sentence Sailor’s first known victim, and probably many more young victims, to the act of being raped. That judge saw only one victim: the rapist. He or she violated every principle of justice.
But, hey, it’s just a rape victim. Or maybe 20.
[Sailor] made it to the ninth grade at the former Monroe Junior High School. But in 1987 alone he got arrested 11 times. Among his listed offenses: aggravated assault, grand theft motor vehicle and battery on a law enforcement officer. At age 16, he armed himself with a can of Mace and stole beer. The courts had heard enough. A judge sent him to prison. Earlier crimes caught up with him, lengthening his sentence. He earned a GED in prison, then got out in 1992 at age 20.
Three or four years for one sexual assault (probably many more), dozens of arrests, violent crimes. Welcome to the bad old days, before three strikes. Only they’re beginning to look a lot like the present, despite three strikes laws that sit on the books. Will anyone in Tallahassee talk about that?
[Sailor] still faced 30 years’ probation when he moved in with his Port Tampa grandmother and got a job at a Subway. Eleven months after his release, he was charged with robbery. Probation officers Maureen Watson and Annetta Austin recommended that Sailor be returned to prison “for the maximum time allowed,” his probation permanently revoked. Sailor, wrote Watson, “is not a good candidate for any type of street supervision due to his violent tendencies and continual criminal behavior.”
Too bad nobody listened.
Sailor, then 21, had been out of prison little more than a year when three women told police he had raped them, all within a month. One woman, a former girlfriend, said they were sharing a beer in a Port Tampa park on Valentine’s Day 1994, when he dragged her to the men’s bathroom, choked her and forced himself on her. She was 29. Two weeks later, on March 1, he met a medical assistant at a gas station and drove her to a secluded spot near MacDill Air Force Base, where he beat her, raped her, then apologized and wiped her mouth. She was 27. Two weeks after that, he met a Circle K clerk at a bar. They wound up in her car, which got stuck in the sand on a dirt path at the edge of the base. The clerk, who was 29, tried to stay calm while he raped her repeatedly. Afterward, she cried and asked him why. “Because I knew you wanted it,” he said, according to a police report.
So this is a persuasive guy, groomed by lenient judges and lenient prosecutors and lenient parole officials to know that a predator like him can get away with serial rape in Florida. Where’s the thrill in that?
Prosecutors dropped the Valentine’s Day case. The victim, who previously had consensual sex with Sailor, waited a month to report the attack and was, according to police, reluctant to take him to court. As the other two cases headed to trial, Sailor struck a deal. Sentencing guidelines at the time suggested he could serve 11 to 19 years in prison for each sexual battery, if convicted. Probation officers Annetta Austin and Maria Hanes recommended the maximum. They also wanted Sailor to spend an additional 17 years in prison for breaking the terms of his probation. Had that happened, he might have been an old man when released. Instead, he pleaded guilty to the two rapes and an unrelated robbery. Circuit Judge Donald Evans, now retired, approved the deal.
Shame on Judge Evans. Shame on every single judge who lets sex offenders like this shave down their time behind bars, for no other reason but that all the other judges do it. I’m hardly surprised that some of Sailor’s victims were reluctant to testify. Why should they believe the state would protect them? And for what? Subject yourself to that terror, not to mention the humiliation of being abused by a scummy defense lawyer on the stand, and then all the judge is going to do is give your rapist exactly the same amount of time anyway?
Concurrent sentencing. How many lives have been lost to the ethically discordant sound of those words?
We should gain some clarity on this fact: concurrent sentencing is a prosecutor and a judge saying to the victim: “Your life will count half, or a third, or a tenth as much as your rapist’s life counts. He can go out and rape you and your mother and your sister, and we will value his future freedom over the crimes two of the three of you have experienced. Three of you equals one of him, in the eyes of the court. Now shut up and go home.”
We’re appalled by stories like this one from Pakistan, where rape victims get punished for their assailant’s crimes. But, really, how different is it to place a Tommy Lee Sailor back onto the streets by denying the legal personhood of some of his victims?
The story of Sailor’s most recent trip back to freedom is simply horrifying. Over the years, the Times reports, multiple parole officers begged parole commissioners and judges to keep him behind bars. Up the chain of command, however, there was always somebody willing to let him go.
Here is Sailor, snowing Parole Examiner John B. Doyle with some fabricated story about finishing beauty school and finding work. Why, precisely, did anyone in Parole think it was a good idea for a convicted serial rapist to become a beautician in the first place? I can’t believe I have to write that down. It’s nauseating to think about, isn’t it?
The Florida Parole Commission sent a hearing examiner, John B. Doyle, to meet with [Sailor]. Doyle heard from Sailor, Tampa police Officer Michael Jacobson and probation officer Aaron Gil. “I would like to get another chance so that I can finish school,” Sailor told Doyle. Gil recommended that Sailor go back to prison, based “on the seriousness of his original offenses.” But Doyle, the examiner, decided otherwise. “You did a lot of time on the street, Tommy, and you’re doing something with your life, getting to school,” Doyle said, according to an audio recording of the hearing. “But it looks like you’re having a small problem with drinking. I did find you guilty of all charges, but I’ll take a gamble on you.” Doyle noted that Sailor was about to finish training at the beauty school. That meant he would be able to get a job. That meant he could repay the cost of his supervision. At the time, Sailor owed $2,868 to the Department of Corrections. On July 22, the parole commission met and agreed to let Sailor stay on probation.
Will any legislator hold hearings on this travesty of justice? Will any legislator hold the Parole Board responsible for what they have done?
Good for the St. Pete Times. They may have saved lives with their reporting. I’m going to go buy the newspaper.