Three men are now in custody for the murder of boxer Vernon Forrest. Of course, two are recidivists with state records and histories of getting off easy for multiple crimes, and the third is probably just too young to have accumulated a non-juvenile record yet. The man they killed was a world-champion athlete who founded a charity in Atlanta to help the mentally challenged. How many times does the same sickening story have to play out?
Forrest’s mother told the Atlanta Journal Constitution she hopes the three men never leave prison again:
“I’m praying for justice to be done,” Mildred Forrest said early Thursday evening.. . . “I want to see them prosecuted to the fullest,” she said. “I don’t want to see them out of jail any more.”
Why doesn’t the justice system get serious about repeat felons before they kill?
It was twenty year-old Damario Ware who first pulled a gun on Forrest outside a gas station. How many times has Ware done this before? He had to be brazen to attack a powerful professional athlete, and he had to know what he was doing to get his victim’s guard down by asking for money. You don’t commit that type of crime the first, or the tenth time you’ve got a gun in your hand. He obviously had no fear of consequences from his victim, or from the courthouse, which is located a few block away. That would be his stomping grounds, in and out and in and out on a few city blocks.
I did not bother trying to access Ware’s prior record in Fulton County because I did not feel like taking my chances by phone with the Fulton Clerk of Court’s office, but I hope somebody in Atlanta is compiling the criminal histories of all three of Forrest’s killers.
Jquante Crews drove the getaway car. He has six known aliases and has already served two one-year sentences in state prison. He is 25 years old. How do you accumulate six aliases by the time you’re 25? Has he ever done anything legitimate? You have to wonder about a person’s family, when they live like this and nobody does anything about it.
On paper, shooter Charman Sinkfield’s criminal history — at least the Cobb County part, which you can view on-line — is a tangle of drug offenses, probation revocations and thefts. He has served three separate prison terms since 2000. Of course, his first adult charge occured right around the time of his 18th birthday, so there is doubtlessly a sealed juvenile record, as well.
Sinkfield seemed to get arrested a lot in the company of family members. If the state had taken his crimes seriously and removed him from that toxic environment when he was 15 or 18, would he be on a different path now?
Since the age of 22, Sinkfield has spent 46 months in prison and 56 months out of prison, not counting possible stints in the Fulton County system, which I cannot access on-line. Presuming a life sentence for Forrest’s murder, he is now facing thirty or more years behind bars.
Here are the parts of Georgia’s recidivism law that could have been applied to Sinkfield, had anybody cared to do so:
§ 17-10-7. Punishment of repeat offenders; punishment and eligibility for parole of persons convicted of fourth felony offense:
[A]ny person convicted of a felony offense in this state . . . 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. . . [A]ny person who, after having been convicted under the laws of this state for three 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.
The highlighted parts are what render this law meaningless: they give judges absolute discretion to suspend the entire sentence for any non-violent crime, even the eighteenth time somebody appears before them. The highlighted parts are the reason why psychopaths in East Atlanta continue to walk the streets after their tenth burglary conviction, and why Charman Sinkfield continued to walk the streets after being convicted of multiple crimes and refusing to follow the terms of his parole.
How much was Sinkfield emboldened every time he gamed the system and won?
Charman Sinkfield should have been in prison on the night he killed Vernon Forrest. If only some prosecutor had used Georgia’s recidivism law at some point in Sinkfield’s criminal career, and some judge had agreed to impose a real sentence, Forrest would still be alive, and Sinkfield wouldn’t be facing life in prison or the death penalty. Two men’s lives could have been saved.
“Leniency” hardly sounds lenient when you look at it that way.