All sorts of uninformed people, like governors and editorial writers, complain that we put people away for far too long. Judges whine that their hands are tied because of the horrors of minimum mandatory sentencing. Even conservative anti-government types, often egged on by the statistical fibs and confabulations of the pro-pot-libertatian-wing of their movement, see the prison system as a bloated bureaucracy ripe for slashing.
They don’t know what they’re talking about. They have no idea what it takes to end up in state prison, and what types of animals will be released by their careless demands for “reform.” Chatter about emptying the prisons and creating even more (yes, we have plenty already) “alternatives to incarceration” leave the defense bar giggling into their thinning ponytails in anticipation of all the serial sex offenders and vicious adolescent gunmen, and murderers they’re going to be getting off in the next few years.
Let’s meet a few:
Lonnie Hyram Johnson, Utah
Lonnie Hyram Johnson won a sort of trifecta from judges who seem only to have been merely amused by his propensity to rape children. First, in 2006, some judge in Washington State gave him less than a year to serve for raping a teenage girl. After that, other child victims — his niece and her cousin — came forward to report that Johnson raped, sodomized and molested them repeatedly between 2001 and 2006. He faces 20 felony counts, with lifetime sentences. But despite the fact that he served time in Washington, apparently without any problems, Utah has declared him too competent for civil commitment but too incompetent to stand trial due to a “cognitive disorder.” What’s that? A cognitive disorder could be, say, fear of spiders. Or mild depression. So Lonnie Johnson might be slightly depressed at the thought that there could be spiders in prison. And no little girls to rape. So he’s being released. Next stop: Salt Lake City.
Ah, the joys of alternatives-to-incarceration. States like Colorado save big bucks on their prison budgets. Plus, with all those tax dollars being shoveled through Eric Holder’s “Prisoner Reentry” cult, there’s lots of money in not putting people into prison these days, lots of loud activist groups on the ground drawing those federal dollars to “educate” and “rehabilitate” and “job train” these offenders back into states of goodness and light (and then, of course, to report back to the in-house bean-counters that their rehabilitation programs are roaring successes). Everybody wins, sort of. All these guys needed was a hand up, right?
Edward Romero, for instance, got a hand. In fact, thanks to the good state of Colorado, he got an entire body, Alicia Martinez, a sixteen-year old girl he kidnapped and mutilated. The authorities asked the media to not report the details of the crime because the young woman had to be identified through dental records. Romero was under “intensive supervised probation” for a serious previous crime when he killed Martinez. What’s one young girl’s life really worth? After all, the state saved some $30,000 a year by not putting Romero away. And isn’t that what really matters?
Is it unfair to paint the whole system red because of one rogue mutilator? But wait, there’s more. The Denver Post compiled a list of ten probationers who committed murder or attempted murder while living the dream of alternatives-to-incarceration.
David Thomas Orton. Nice guy. Beat his wife, terrorized his children, got probation, then shot at the cops. Charged with ten counts of attempted murder. It’s nice to see prosecutors using the attempted murder charge: there’s no point in awarding leniency just because you have bad aim.
Heck, let’s just show the judge’s face. Judge Edward Bronfin apparently decided to believe that four months in prison was adequate punishment for Christopher Rodney after Rodney nearly beat a man to death:
Denver Police arrested Rodney in 2009, charging him with a vicious, random beating and robbery. It was a crime that landed him a 6 year prison term but a Denver judge released him in just 4 months. Rodney confessed to the Nov. 8, 2009, assault on a man who had just gotten off an RTD bus at a downtown bus stop. A videotape obtained by CBS4 shows Rodney and a second suspect attacking their victim from behind at the Denver bus stop, pummeling him with fists and feet until the man lost consciousness. Rodney stole the man’s cell phone.
On June 1, 2010, court records show Rodney pleaded guilty to robbery and assault for the 2009 case. Citing the extreme violence and the random nature of the crime, Denver prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Rodney to 8 years in prison. Denver District Court Judge Edward Bronfin sentenced Rodney to 6 years in prison and agreed to allow him to return to court in 4 months for a sentence reconsideration hearing. Rodney was back in Bronfin’s courtroom Oct. 15, 2010. He had been imprisoned for 4 months of a 6 year prison term. Bronfin decided Rodney had served enough time. The judge cut the inmate’s sentence from 6 years behind bars to 3 years probation and Rodney was freed.
Now that’s the kind of judicial performance that wins brownie points with Eric Holder’s Justice Department. After all, Christopher Rodney was only 19 when he got himself caught up in this “attack an innocent person getting off a bus and beat them into unconsciousness” thing, and Holder is hellbent on making sure young men don’t get “caught up” in the criminal justice system.
But it looks like Rodney would have better off in prison:
The next time the judge and prosecutors heard from Rodney was this week when he was arrested for the murder of Jeffrey John Wallace, 4 months after Judge Bronfin ordered Rodney be placed on intensive supervised probation and released from prison. “I don’t know what the judge’s reasoning or thinking was behind the sentence reconsideration. And we’re horrified when we see previous defendants come back around under these kinds of circumstances. It’s a bad day,” said [Denver DA Spokesman Lynn] Kimbrough.
Judge Bronfin is refusing to explain his sentencing decision.
And how does the judge get away with not explaining himself? A life was lost because he indulged in some fantasy that he was saving poor, misunderstood Christopher Rodney. Rodney apparently wrote a long, plaintive letter to the judge, talking about his dreams and plans and saying he needed a second chance to make his life better:
“I would really like a second chance to live in the society like a regular person,” wrote Rodney. “I want to be a regular upstanding citizen in the society that takes care of real responsibilities . . . I am sincerely sorry for all the trouble and problems I caused. So in saying all that I would really appreciate a chance to do what’s necessary to change my life and be successful,” wrote Rodney.
When judges indulge themselves by imagining that they are heroes, rescuing the downtrodden, and something of course goes horribly wrong, there are only two possible choices. They can acknowledge that their narcissism cost someone a life, or they can hide and pretend it didn’t happen, denying the value of all victims’ lives. Any judge who chooses the latter should be forcibly removed from the bench. Are victims worth so little?
What really happens is that judges whose self-indulgence cost lives often end up becoming more and more radicalized, deifying defendants in order to legitimate and cover up their own fatal mistakes. There’s a huge reward system in this choice — honors from the offender-centric law school world, kudos and election support from well-heeled anti-incarceration activists, affection and free passes from many in the media, and thanks from the radical budget-cutters and sundry reformed former felons on the Right.
Plus, you get to feel persecuted: “They’ve got it in for me, you know” you can whisper over the rim of your chardonnay glass at the next A.C.L.U. Awards Banquet.
It’s a nice life. Nicer than being strangled to death by Christopher Rodney, for sure.
But there’s more wrong with the system than judges who look in the mirror and thinks they’re seeing Gregory Peck. When we talk about “alternatives to prison,” we’re frequently talking about parole and probation systems that are nothing more than a colossal joke. Everyone knows this, but nobody does anything. Given his magic candy-bar second chance, Christopher Rodney immediately capitalized on it by embarking on a consequence-free course of complete disregard for the terms of his parole:
He missed mandatory treatment, tested positive for marijuana, got into a car wreck while fighting with his brother and punched a wall during an argument with his girlfriend. All the incidents were known to his probation officer; none was enough to get that officer to seek revocation.
Yadda yadda yadda. The system was teaching Christopher Rodney to assume that authority is illegitimate. Good thing he didn’t end up shooting a cop.
Like Aaron Davon Williams did:
Aaron Davon Williams, 20, was convicted of burglary for breaking into a Denver home in 2009 and sentenced to two years of probation. A judge revoked his probation Jan. 14, after a probation officer reported that he found guns in Williams’ home and that Williams shoved a probation officer during a home visit. Police say Williams shot an Aurora police officer in the leg after a traffic stop March 17. Williams then fled to an apartment building, where he held a family of four hostage. He was shot after he exited the apartment through a window. Police say he was holding a handgun when several officers fired.
At least that cop survived. Deputy Sam Brownlee, shot by yet another special parolee, Ruben Reyes, did not.
Reyes was granted mere parole after trying to kill a passerby in a road rage incident. He beat the man and tried to run him over. What does it take to receive a prison sentence? Apparently more than that. He was a known gang member with a long criminal history:
Reyes has a criminal history, including July convictions for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and underage drinking in Morgan County, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records. He was convicted of felony menacing with a real or simulated weapon in February. Reyes, who went by the street names, “Demon” and “Smiley,” also had previous arrests for assault causing serious bodily injury and driving under the influence of drugs, according to CBI records.
So none of these things landed him behind bars, and now an innocent police officer is dead. Reyes is the type of offender whose record gets erased over the course of multiple decisions to drop charges. This behavior enables academicians to make claims that X% of young men are behind bars for “only burglary,” or “only fighting,” or “only drugs” and should be freed, and people (and politicians) believe them. This thug seriously wounded at least two people and tried to kill one of them before murdering a cop. Still his family got together with anti-incarceration activist Denver Attorney Michael Evans and tried to sue the city for “causing” Reyes death. It’s worth reading this exchange, if only to let the sheer perversity wash over you:
The attorney for the family of a man who shot and killed a Weld County Sheriff’s deputy demanded an apology from Sheriff John Cooke for the killing of the gunman . . .Denver attorney Michael Evans sent a notice early this week to Cooke and to the Greeley and Evans police departments warning that Rueben Reyes’ family could file a civil lawsuit for $250,000 plus punitive damages unless they could reach a settlement.. . .After Cooke said the notice was an attempt to make money, attorney Evans sent the e-mail letter to the sheriff, stating: “This case is not about the money. Its (sic) about the value of human life, or the complete disregard for it.”
The attorney then told Cooke the Reyes family has agreed to release the sheriff’s office from any civil lawsuit if the sheriff takes the following actions:
1. You will write a personal letter to the family apologizing for the loss of Mr. Reyes;
2. Promise to correct your agencies (sic) policies and procedures (which even your own investigative review panel agrees are faulty);
3. Discipline or terminate those individuals who are responsible choosing not to act to save Mr. Reyes’ life at the scene.
Cooke said of the letter written to him: “It’s very unethical to send me an e-mail like that. He knows I have an attorney, and they know they should deal with my attorney and not directly with me.” . . . Attorney Evans set a deadline of 5 p.m. Friday for Cooke to take action on the demands, and “If you don’t accept, then I guess you would have to agree that its (sic) really not about the money after all.”
What a tool. But I digress.
Among the ten Denver parolees re-arrested for murder or attempted murder, five of them took innocent lives. Kevin McGregor shot football player Tom Walker during a robbery in Boulder. McGregor had been released early from prison by yet another Denver judge:
More than two years before Kevin Michael McGregor was accused of fatally shooting a University of New Hampshire football player during a botched robbery on University Hill, he helped rob a man in south Boulder by stabbing the victim in the head, police reported. He was convicted by a jury in that case of charges including second-degree assault and third-degree assault, and he was sentenced May 22, 2009, to five years in prison. But he asked for a sentence reconsideration 120 days later, and on Jan. 11, 2010, Boulder County District Court Judge Gwyneth Whalen agreed to allow McGregor to leave prison and instead serve a three-year probation sentence.
McGregor took an innocent life, that of a brave young man who tried to rescue a young woman who was being robbed at gunpoint by McGregor. He’d previously stabbed a victim in the head during an armed robbery. What is the matter with judges in Colorado?
Judge Whalen isn’t talking, either. McGregor’s attorney argued that he had learned his lesson, that he was improving himself, and that, if he stayed in prison, he might be the victim of violence. The judge believed him, and Tom Walker died:
[Attorney Keith] Pope . . . argued that his client should be let out of prison because the Boulder County Probation Department recommended McGregor be sentenced to community corrections based on his minimal criminal history, stable employment history and need for substance-abuse treatment. ”The Probation Department further noted that Mr. McGregor had been compliant with the conditions of his bond prior to trial, had been attending community college and had expressed remorse for his involvement in this matter,” according to a motion filed for McGregor’s sentence reconsideration. McGregor, who was 19 at the time, had not been a problem while in jail and prison, suggesting “amenability to community-based sentencing,” according to the motion. And if McGregor stayed in prison, Pope argued, he would be “prone to victimization” because of his youth.
You see, he was young, which worked in his favor. And a drug addict, which worked in his favor. And a potential community college student, which worked in his favor. In the sickening world of mitigation, absolutely everything works in defendants’ favor. Even the fact that they committed an horrific crime is transformed into a learning experience:
[A]unt, Sue Petracek, wrote in an e-mail that she believed McGregor’s eyes had been opened “to the pitfalls of some kinds of loyalty” through his recent experiences, and he was ready “to take responsibility for what he makes of his life going forward.”
How nice. Another relative shamelessly made up stories about McGregor’s kindness to animals (you know, except the human animal into whose skull he drove a knife):
Family members supportive of McGregor’s release wrote letters for the court at the time of his sentence reconsideration, saying he was a man with “very strong core values.” ”His compassionate nature is really expressed when he deals with children and animals,” McGregor’s aunt Sandy McCallister wrote in an e-mail. “I know Kevin to be very responsible and trustworthy. Kevin understands the value of family and good friends and has always had a respectful, sensitive, happy nature.”
So how much did this orgy of judicial lenience end up costing Colorado taxpayers? That’s ten crime scenes; five murders; five death investigations; four potential death penalty trials (one killer was shot by police). Plus life behind bars for the surviving four killers; medical bills for one suspect; medical bills for two police and two victims wounded by gunshots, including a severely wounded cab drive shot in the chest; medical and counseling bills for several other surviving victims, including child hostages; two attempted murder trials, and long (hopefully life-long) incarcerations for the two surviving attempted murderers.
Plus, defense lawyers for the six surviving defendants, whose lives are over, for those who care. The other four defendants’ lives are literally over.
Not to mention the pain and suffering of the survivors, and the hell the murder victims’ families will now endure as they spend the rest of their lives sitting like ghosts in courtrooms watching the legal system enact its criminal-centric charade.
Let’s see the savings in that.