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On Adria Sauceda’s Murder

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Thanks to a commenter for saying what needs to be said about Adria’s murder:

“I’m Mexican, I live in Mexico and I don’t understand why the inmates’ families want mercy when they didn’t show any with their victims. They took away their lives, they took away all their dreams and hopes. They should be grateful they are going to die via lethal injection, not in a bizarre way their victims did.”

Heartbreaking photos of the child:

And the young woman, before she died:

And her parent’s hands, holding her:

 

Gun Control is a Distraction: the President is Sending Grief Counselors.

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 . . . And, Lester Jackson on Benny Lee Hodge, Sonia Sotomayor, and Apologies for Mass Murderers

Great Leader chatter about Obama healing the nation is engulfing every network news station — including Fox — following the mass killing in Connecticut.  Was it always this way?  I’m thinking back on Columbine, David Koresh, Oklahoma City — is anyone else getting nostalgic for mere partisan political jabs in the wake of grim and senseless violence?  There is something profoundly creepy about the bureaucratic/therapeutic/paternalistic vibe emanating from Washington.  Of course, this is part of the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to expand their mission beyond crime control . . . to social control.  Flying under the flag of “anti-bullying,” “hate hurts,” “restorative justice,” and “prisoner re-entry,” the Department of Justice continues its Great March behind the Great Leader into people’s lives, this time using the excuse of a nut with a gun.

The goal isn’t merely gun control.  Gun control is a speed bump on the way to social control.

In order to align law enforcement’s activities with the agenda of collectivism, it is necessary to either therapeuticize or politicize every crime.  One or the other: a school shooter is generally therapeuticized.  He falls into the category of “victim,” probably of bullying, so long as he didn’t express any of the select group of “hatreds” that are deemed atrocities and thus politicized.  Luckily for school shooters who target females, that particular preference has been slotted back into the inconsequential category, and as it is the only category of shooter choice that has manifested in recent school shootings, school shooters generally just get counted as victims of social suffering — the therapeutic slot.  The Department of Justice is making noises about social bullying today, for example — it’s the stuff on which they can build expensive and intrusive bureaucracies without violating Eric Holder’s allergy to incarceration and law enforcement itself.

So, expect a lot of talk about bullying from the nation’s federal law enforcement agency — and everyone else — in coming weeks.  Ironically, early reports suggest that the killer in this case may have been systematically encouraged to see himself as a victim of “bullying” and social maladjustment.  There’s something to contemplate as the experts descend on schools throughout the nation to cash in on the actions of one unstable individual: might we produce fewer school shooters if we had fewer school professionals encouraging children to see themselves as victims — of garden-variety bullying, social slights, and social exclusion?

For if there’s one common thread that ties together otherwise diverse killers, bank robbers, terrorists, street thugs, and assorted psychopaths, it’s self-pity.  So as the armies of school psychologists and grief counselors and other soft-soap contract-remunerated social engineers fan out across the land, think about both intended and unintended consequences.  It’s bad enough that the federal government is using a tragedy to grow the bureaucratic-therapeutic federal government machinery, but is it even worse than that?  Are we growing future criminals in the process of therapeuticizing violence?

I was driving through South Georgia when the news reports of the Connecticut shootings broke.  It may be Terrific in Tifton but it’s darn hard to get A.M. radio reception from the highway there, so we had to listen to public radio.  ”Obama Will Save Us” positive visualizations popped up immediately, with NPR devoting its earliest hours to Dear Leader chatter and gushing praise for the FBI.  Why the FBI?  Because the federal government was on the way to save the day.  Not that they actually did anything.  But the purpose of NPR is to justify federal powers and federal funding — for themselves and for actual government officials.  So they talked obsessively about how wonderful it was that the FBI was doing this and that for local law enforcement, even though local law enforcement was doing the actual work.

The therapeuticization of justice dictates two responses to crime.  Offenders are transformed into victims of society, and victims are transformed into suspects, at least until they demonstrate that they are also willing to blame society and not the individual offender for victimizing them.  Once everyone agrees that society is at fault, the experts can step in to dictate the cure, which involves creating more therapeutic non-incarcertive responses to crime.  Response is an artful term: it expresses the bureaucratic view that we are one enormous sensate organism reacting with animal reflexes to pain or shock.  If criminals are simply part of the sensate whole, how can we blame them for their actions?  It’s like blaming us . . . well, we are blaming us.  We are all responsible: nobody is responsible.

The alternative view is to accept the existence of moral choice and individual responsibility for crime, followed by judgment and consequences.  As readers of this blog have learned from the anonymous Professor Dunderpants of CUNY’s Media Studies Department, merely believing in such things is considered terribly primitive these days, and not the sort of good primitive that stimulates the anthropology department.  It is bad primitive to  harbor a secret belief in free will these days, let alone express it publicly.

The power to transform criminals into victims and victims into suspects — to dictate not just the administration of justice to the guilty but the emotional responses of everyone to crime — is a tremendous, intrusive power cupped in the hands of the bureaucrats calling the shots.  Fascist power, one might say.  Soft fascism.  The creepy kind.

Therapeuticizing criminals is the end-game of the social roots-theory of crime.  Roots theory was invented by sociologists in the 1960′s who wished to displace responsibility for criminal actions away from the criminal himself and onto society — onto injustice arising from poverty and prejudice in particular.  Poor and minority offenders, the story goes, are not responsible for their actions: they are merely reacting to injustice directed at them when they steal your car or mug your husband or rape your sister.  And social engineering is, of course, the only known cure.  Forty years later, the roots-theory movement has expanded to the point that it may even be applied to a young white male from an upper-class suburb who just slaughtered 20 innocent schoolchildren.  In coming days, even the most rational expressions of anger at the shooter will be quickly smothered by ministrations of therapeuticized justice in the government and the media.

Let the intensive policing of the innocents begin.

          ~~~~~

Related:  Lester Jackson has a compelling article about Justice Sotomayor and judicial sympathy for repeat killers in American Thinker today.  It’s a timely read:

 As detailed elsewhere, pro-murderer media suppression of the truth has played a major role in enabling a wholesale evisceration of capital punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently provided a graphic example, one that would be excruciatingly painful to survivors of murder victims if they knew about it. Many people unfamiliar with the practices and philosophy of the current Supreme Court would very likely be shocked to learn just what values some justices hold. . .

When pro-murderer justices seek — often successfully — to focus upon criminals rather than crimes, the result is to grant certain perpetrators greater protection against punishment for their brutality than others who commit identical or less serious acts without Supreme Court succor. The reductio ad absurdum, of course, is the Court’s fiat proclaiming a Constitutional right, nowhere to be found in the real document, for the most depraved and vicious barbarians . . .

Read the rest here.

And see also:   Rwanda and Columbine: The Politics of Forced Reconciliation

Vision 21: The Good, The Bad, and The Creepy in the DOJ’s New Crime Victim Initiative

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The Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice is busy promoting Vision 21 Transforming Victims Services, the DOJ’s sweeping “new” agenda for providing “services” to victims of crime.  I’m using the scare quotes here because I don’t trust Eric Holder to do anything about crime other than politicize it.

OJP masthead
Vision 21 Transforming Victim Services

Vision 21 is certainly a paean to identity group activism and identity group representation and identity group “outreach.”  True to form, the DOJ leaves no stone unturned in their efforts to kick the justice system further down the road of pure identity-based balkanization.

But the most troubling thing I’m seeing at first glance is the emphasis on providing “services” to victims in lieu of getting justice for them.  It looks like Vision 21 is providing multiple opportunities for activist organizations to exploit crime victims for other ends.  The involvement of groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Soros-funded, pro-offender VERA Institute for Justice suggests to me that one of the primary intentions of Vision 21 is to neuter the voices of real crime victims who demand real consequences and real sentences for violent and repeat offenders.  And, sure enough, Holder’s handpicked leaders have been floating anti-incarceration messaging in the endless “stakeholder forums” that inevitably accompany such initiatives.

Expect to hear a lot about how victims “want to be heard and included more than they want prosecutions.”  Expect offenders to be counted as sort of “co-victims” of crime.  Expect a lot of talk about the restorative justice movement, which was long ago hijacked by advocates for criminals and is now used primarily to keep offenders out of prison, rather than making them take responsibility for their crimes.  The “criminals are victims too” activists who hijacked restorative justice and profit from the vast “criminal re-entry” service industry are running the show at the DOJ.

Visin 21 is certainly a full-employment vision for the criminology profession.  And putting criminologists in charge of anything relating to crime victims is like sticking puppies in tiger cages.  But feeding the criminologists has been a primary goal all along.  Laurie Robinson’s tenure at the DOJ was dedicated to systematically subjugating the criminal justice system to the academic criminologists, in order to, of course, take all that vengeful punishment and incarceration stuff out of the equation (except in the cases of so-called hate criminals).

Now Mary Lou Leary is carrying the full-employment-for-criminologists ball.  FYI, “smart on crime” here means hopefully not incarcerating anyone, no matter what they do, unless Eric says it’s a hate crime:

This focus on careful analysis is one of the Justice Department’s top priorities. We are committed to promoting programs and approaches that are “smart on crime.” Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, I can assure you that this is more than a mere buzzword. For this Department, being smart on crime means resisting knee-jerk reactions, investing in solid research, and ensuring that evidence is translated so it is useful to all of you on the frontlines.

Get it?  This is supposed to be a statement about victim programs, but Leary is talking “knee-jerk reactions.”  They’re helping crime victims avoid “knee-jerk reactions,” like wanting their offenders behind bars.  This will be accomplished with science.

On the positive side, The National Crime Victim Law Institute and other highly credible crime victim advocates are also involved in Vision 21.  And the initiatives to professionalize and expand evidence collection is money well-spent.

Insult to Injury: Feds Say Family of Murdered Border Agent Brian Terry “Not Victims”

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It’s a little known irony that crime victims often have to fight for the “right” merely to be considered victims in the eyes of the court.

It’s different for criminals.  When someone commits a crime, their rights expand exponentially.  The worse the crime, the more legal protection the offender receives.  Foremost among the special rights granted only to offenders is the right to relentlessly appeal one’s case, a right that swells to parodic dimensions, subsidized in nearly every case by the taxpayers.  If the victim or their survivors are taxpayers, they pay for it, too.

So when some convicted rapist and killer appeals his sentence for the fifteenth time on the grounds that he was discriminated against when the prosecutor deigned to mention the future the murdered girl would never have (such speech is strictly regulated by judges, lest it “incite” jurors), then that dead girl’s parents, if they pay taxes, are literally forced to help pay the tab for their daughter’s rapist and murderer to stand in some courtroom disputing the metaphysical dimensions of their losses, for his gain.

Meanwhile, victims don’t have any right to demand that the courts even try their case in the first place.

They’re also helpless as the court decides who will be granted “standing” as victims at the outset.  This is an important decision because only victims with standing may offer impact statements or be informed of future parole hearings.  In other words, without standing at the start of the legal process, victims are permanently barred from testifying to keep their offender behind bars.

In an extremely unusual move requested by federal prosecutors, the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry has been denied standing in the case of Jamie Avila.  Avila is charged with buying the gun that made it into the hands of Brian Terry’s killer — a federal crime.

But it wasn’t just any gun.  The gun that killed Terry was one of the guns involved in Operation Fast and Furious, a disastrous federal scheme to sell American guns to Mexican drug dealers in order to track the guns.  And because of this, the Terry family is caught in a political controversy.

Agent Brian A. Terry, killed in Arizona in December, 2010

Ordinarily, the Terry family’s request for standing would be routine, and prosecutors would be the ones supporting it, while the defense would be the ones trying to silence and exclude the victims.  But the Justice Department and the federal prosecutor assigned to the Avila case, who are deeply involved in the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, are the ones trying to deny the Terrys’ standing.

So we have a Justice Department that is trying to defend its own conduct in Fast and Furious deciding that the victims of their actions don’t count as victims:

In a surprise move in a controversial case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona is opposing a routine motion by the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry to qualify as crime victims in the eyes of the court.  The family asked to intervene as victims in the case against Jamie Avila, the 23-year-old Phoenix man who purchased the guns allegedly used to kill Terry. Such motions are routinely approved by prosecutors, but may be opposed by defense attorneys.  However in this case, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke argues because the family was not “directly or proximately harmed” by the illegal purchase of the murder weapon, it does not meet the definition of “crime victim” in the Avila case. Burke claims the victim of the Avila’s gun purchases, “is not any particular person, but society in general.”

How does a U.S. Attorney justify doing such a thing?  A former U.S. Attorney in Florida named Kendall Coffey suggests that Burke may be trying to avoid further embarrassment and exposure to lawsuits.  Burke himself is expected to be called before Congress to explain the debacle, even as he prosecutes the Avila case:

“The government’s already been put on notice that they might be facing a wrongful death action by the family. And you have to wonder if the government’s efforts to deny the family the status of ‘crime victims’ is part of a strategy to avoid legal responsibility for some of the tragic mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious,” [Coffey] said.

Are political considerations outweighing the right of the Terry family to be heard at parole hearings, to consult with prosecutors, and to weigh in at sentencing?  This is an unfolding story that deserves more attention than it will probably receive.  Besides the Fox News story, former Congressman Tom Tancredo seems to be the only person commenting on this astonishing move by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix {link broken}.  [Update 8/12/11/11:39: Patrick Richardson has more here]

There are politics, and there is justice. This case is roiling with politics, but you can be sure the defendant’s rights will be respected nonetheless.  The same cannot be said for the treatment of Terry family.  Victims have precious few rights in the justice system without prosecutors withholding them for political reasons.

But making justice subservient to politics is precisely what Eric Holder does.  We have never had an Attorney General less suited for the job.

Splitting (Other People’s) Hairs (Or Their Throats): David Oshinski, Amy Bach, Jimmy Carter, and Terry Gross Whitewash Wilbert Rideau’s Crimes

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This is Wilbert Rideau, Academy Award nominee, George Polk award winner, George Soros grant recipient, Jimmy Carter Center honoree, American Bar Association Silver Gavel winner, Grand Jury prize winner at Sundance, NPR commentator, journalist, Random House author, Terry Gross pal, friend of the famous and the rich . . . you get the picture.

Oh yeah, he also kidnapped three innocent people during a bank robbery in 1961, shot them all, and then stabbed the one young woman who couldn’t escape him after he “ran out of bullets,” as the second victim played dead and the third hid in a swamp.  He plunged a butcher knife into Julia Ferguson’s throat as she begged for her life.  Rideau later went on to claim that she wasn’t technically begging for her life, as part of Johnny Cochran’s successful 2005 bid to get him out of prison, but in this conveniently forgotten video, he tells a very different — and shocking — story about the crime.

When you read about people being released from death row, think of Rideau.  The real grounds for his release are typical — a gradual wearing-down of the justice system, manipulation of technicalities, re-trial after re-trial as victims and witnesses die or get forgotten — as, all the while, powerful activists and journalists make heroes out of the men who destroyed innocent people’s lives.

Rideau is unusual only because so many powerful and famous people decided to anoint him mascot status.  Terry Gross can’t stop aurally wriggling in his presence.  I tried to find a photograph of Julia Ferguson, but she has been entirely forgotten.

Random House, by the way, has been promoting Rideau’s book tour as an inspirational life story without mentioning his crimes.  Here is their warm and fuzzy description of their author.  The Jimmy Carter Center Facebook page, meanwhile, says that Rideau “has lived a more productive life in prison than most do outside.”  They write off the murder of Julia Ferguson as “a moment of panic during a botched bank robbery.”  Of course, it took more than “a moment” to hold up a bank at gunpoint, kidnap three people, drive them into the swamp, shoot them, chase them, catch one and slaughter her, but then again, that’s just former President Carter speaking up for justice from his human rights center again.

I don’t know anything about the author of this site, Billy Sinclair, but in addition the video he posts, he has a lot to say about the myths that reporters have invented, or swallowed whole, regarding Rideau.  As a fellow con and former colleague of Rideau, it’s especially interesting to read Sinclair’s take on Rideau’s self-aggrandizing tale of prison yard life — particularly because these stories are ostensibly what make the murderer so valuable to those of us who have, according to the Carter Center, wasted our lives by not bothering to kill anyone and then make up award-winning prison yard stories from behind bars.

I guess they don’t have video technology at the New York Times yet.  Nor New York University, where Rideau apologist David Oshinsky pens his prose.  I don’t know Jimmy Carter’s excuse, since he’s been on tv.  I guess one dead girl isn’t one too many dead girls too much to Carter.

Meanwhile, in the New York Times, NYU Professor David Oshinksy has just published a disturbingly dishonest review of murderer Wilbert Rideau’s book, In the Place of Justice.  The paper also ran a second worshipful review by Dwight Garner.  What’s striking about the two pieces (besides their redundancy — indicating the cult hero status of vicious killers like Rideau among denizens of the Times) is the lengths they go to in pretending to recreate Rideau’s brutal crime while leaving out or actually denying important facts.  If this is the new journalism — paying lip service to crimes before getting down to the main task of stroking the criminals — well, I’ll take the old journalism that simply denied the existence of the crime and the victims whole-cloth.

For it’s actually less degrading for victims and survivors to be ignored than to be forced to play bit parts in salacious spectacles like this one.  But beyond the little matter of human decency, the fact that Wilbert Rideau’s record is being increasingly whitewashed as time goes on speaks to the culpability of NPR, and the New York Times, and academic institutions like NYU that sponsor people like Oshinsky and Amy Bach, who calls the fatal injury to Julia Ferguson’s throat a “one inch cut.”  They’ve gone far beyond merely twisting the record to suit their purposes this time.  They’re publishing lies.

~~~

In the Place of Justice is not, as reasonable people might assume, a title that refers to what happened when activists got Rideau out of prison on a fourth try in 2005 — despite his undisputed kidnapping/murder of a young bank teller and shooting of two other victims in 1961.

No, it’s Rideau’s opinion of having to be locked up for such a triviality in the first place.

The murderer’s view is shared by scores of journalists and academicians who consider the skin color of Rideau’s victims (they were white) to be more significant than Rideau’s decision to shoot them (scores of minority murderers of other minorities do not receive such breathless adoration).  David Oshinski is only the latest in a long line of apologists who shamelessly rewrite history in order to advocate certain murderers’ side — an act that used to accurately be called racism, when it was just as wrongfully committed for the other side, but is now labeled “justice” when committed on behalf of vicious killers like Rideau.  Devaluing some people’s lives is justice, you see; devaluing others’ is injustice: that is where we are now.

We should have the integrity to acknowledge that, because it is preventing us from valuing all lives.

So the history prof (perhaps knee-deep in student essays that skim, not plumb, facts) must have decided this time that enough time has passed without the victims being heard from to pretend that the facts of Rideau’s crime were genuinely in doubt again.  Of course, the surviving victims weren’t given taxpayer-subsidized NPR gigs to flog and manipulate the airways for decades, either.  Oshinski’s description of the crime, laid in the fertile manure tilled by NPR and other activists, is as dishonest a performance as I’ve seen in print in a long time:

The details of his crime would be contested for decadesThere is agreement that Rideau robbed a bank at closing time, kidnapping the male manager and two female tellers. Rideau claimed he was about to release them when one of the women bolted out of the car and the manager tried to overpower him. Rideau opened fire, hitting all three as they fled. When one of the women rose to her feet, he writes, “I grabbed the knife, stabbed her and ran to the car.”  The surviving victims told a different story, insisting that Rideau had used his weapons at close range and that the woman he killed had begged for her life. [bold added]

Remember: passive language reeks cover-up of someone’s pain, and the killer’s culpability.

“There is agreement.”  And, “He was about to release them.”  “Opened fire, hitting all three.”  “The surviving victims told a different story.”  Distance, lie, distance, minimalization, misrepresentation.  In Oshinski’s version, the only fact we know is that Rideau robbed a bank and kidnapped three people: the rest is disputed, the professor claims.  Are there no standards in academia anymore?  Doesn’t this man have colleagues courageous enough to measure his words against the actual record?  You know, fact-check the historians representing their fine institution?

Of course the scores of activists who swarmed to Rideau’s cause were deeply invested in using whatever means possible to advance the idea that the details were contested.

That is, if by contested one means: self-satisfied people standing around cocktail parties one-upping each other at denying the victims’ suffering in an endless game of burnish-the-progressive-credentials.  But facts denied here aren’t really in dispute.  And the real story of Rideau’s release is very different from what Oshinski claims.

Let’s be clear about what Oshinski is playing at here: he is pretending that all that really matters — to the historical record as well as in the courts — is whether Rideau managed to shoot the people he was torturing when they were close to him or a little less close.  For good measure, he casts doubt on whether a dying girl begged for her life.  How nice.

I’ll be a little more direct in my review of his review : such agitprop denial of other people’s suffering is a moral obscenity.  For the New York Times to publish it is shameless.

For, of course, Rideau “told a different story” from the people he killed and tried to kill (except when he didn’t).  That story was rejected repeatedly until one jury committed nullification in 2005 because they believed that the history of racial discrimination was more important than Rideau’s actions in taking one life and trying to end two others.  So be it — that’s on their souls — and another blot on the jury system.  But the fact of what Rideau actually did to his victims was not contested.  Now it has been rewritten by two different men in the Times last week, the latest stage in the long rewriting on the victims’ backs.

Journalism as human rights violation.  Journalism as denial.  How much denial?  When a vehemently pro-criminal reporter like Adam Liptak bothers to report a less glowing story about the killer you’re whitewashing, you know you’re knee-deep in it.  Here is Liptak, writing in 2005:

Mr. Rideau has never denied that he robbed a Gulf National Bank branch in Lake Charles on Feb. 16, 1961, that he kidnapped three white employees of the bank or that he shot them on a gravel lane near a bayou on the edge of town. Two of the employees survived, one by jumping into the swamp, the other by feigning death. But Mr. Rideau caught and killed Julia Ferguson, a teller, stabbing in her in the heart.  The two sides at the trial last week agreed on those basic facts.

So what is not in dispute is that the shot victims tried to hide from Rideau, that he hunted them down and slaughtered the one he caught by stabbing her through the heart (heart? throat?).  Oshinski looks at this and natters on about “close range” versus distance.  How dehumanizing.  Does he have a daughter with a beating heart, I wonder?

Julia Ferguson’s parents did, at one time.

~~~

Liptak, of course, betrays far less interest in Ferguson’s heart than in the ways the legal system granted Rideau endless opportunities for appeal, and the superness of Rideau’s journalistic talents, but at least he gives the D.A. his say:

Rick Bryant, the Calcasieu Parish district attorney, said the jury had ignored the evidence.  “The verdict makes no sense,” he said yesterday. “It’s a subtle jury-nullification type of thing. The jury basically said, there is still a conviction and he’s done a lot of time.”

Of course, the victims and other witnesses lacked the vast resources heaped on Rideau all these decades.  One victim was dead, the other too ill to testify.  That gives people like Oshinski more leverage to cover up the crimes committed against them.  Here is Liptak’s recounting of Rideau’s defense.  It’s not much of defense, really, and it’s a stark injustice that anyone fell for it, insomuch as it really mattered to the jurors at all:

Mr. Rideau said his initial plan was to lock up the employees at the bank and take a bus out of town with the $14,000 he had stolen. When that was foiled by an ill-timed phone call from the bank’s main branch, he said, he came up with a second plan. He would drive the employees far out of town in a teller’s car and escape as they walked back. But they jumped from the car before he could accomplish that, and he started shooting.  “If I had intended to kill those people, eliminate witnesses, I would have done it right there in the bank,” Mr. Rideau testified on Thursday, according to The Associated Press. “It never entered my mind that I was going to hurt anybody.”

How dare those people try to save their own lives, rather than submit to murder by a future famous prison journalist.

Mr. Bryant said the prosecution had been at a disadvantage throughout the trial.  “It’s very difficult to try a case that’s 44 years old,” he said. “We had 13 witnesses who were unavailable, including the two eyewitnesses, and we had to present them by reading transcripts.” One of the survivors of the crime died in 1988, and the other was too ill to attend the trial.

You won’t read about it in the Times or from the pen of any of Rideau’s admirers at NYU, but his former prison co-editor punches more holes in Rideau’s claims of non-premeditated murder in one blog post about the suitcase he brought with him to rob the bank than the collective talent of our nation’s courts, universities and newspapers can fend off in the millions of dollars and thousands hours they have poured into his defense [“WILBERT RIDEAU’S UNEXPLAINED SUITCASE “].

And the lamented blogger crimgirl does a far better job of explaining why Rideau actually got out of prison in 2005 than all the ex-presidents and all the law school professors you can squeeze onto all the pages of all the news that’s fit to print.  I don’t know anything about “crimgirl,” and she doesn’t seem to be blogging anymore, which is a shame:

[A]fter the [1961] confession, Rideau was found guilty by a southern all-white, all-male jury. It’s probable the jurors were racist, corn-fed Klanners; however, this doesn’t negate the fact that Rideau committed the crimes. The verdict was eventually overturned because the confession’s broadcast had tainted the jury pool. In the years to come, two more trials and two more guilty verdicts were overturned on the grounds of racial bias and other jury selection violations. In 2005, a fourth trial took place. The prosecution said he murdered a woman in cold blood, and should spend life in prison. Rideau argued that he killed her, but he didn’t murder her.A racially mixed jury was selected in Lake Charles, LA. To ensure jury nullification, Johnny “Chewbacca” Cochran was hired to lead the defense team. Cochran played up the strengths of their case:

  • In prison Wilbert Rideau had published an award-winning prison-bashing magazine, co-authored a Criminal Justice textbook, shared an Academy Award nomination for an anti-prison documentary, become a sought-after lecturer, and gained many high-profile supporters who fought for his freedom.
  • Racist officials were racist.
  • Thirteen prosecution witnesses were now dead.
  • In a major victory for the defense, the judge only allowed the jury to consider verdicts that would have been available in 1961: Premeditated murder (life without parole) or manslaughter (21 years). If they had gone by 2005 law, he would have almost certainly been sentenced to life without parole, the sentence for killing someone in the commission of a felony.

~~~

Let’s be very clear about what people like David Oshinski and Terry Gross (see below) did to the victims of this crime.  They made their killer into a civil rights hero — for killing them and for refusing to regret it.  That’s the version of “rehabilitation” actually operating here.  And it makes a mockery of any notion of real rehabilitation, or real remorse.  Wilbert Rideau was released from prison by biased jurors who ignored many undisputed facts because he had been turned into a cultural hero by academicians and journalists working as accessories to cover up the details of his victims’ suffering.  In other settings, this is called a war crime — an act of historical denial.

Here, it’s called punching your ticket for tenure.

If there is any doubt that Rideau was released because he does not regret destroying lives, read on:

Theodore M. Shaw, the director-counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which also represented Mr. Rideau, said he found it hard to reconcile Mr. Rideau’s crime with the thoughtful and accomplished man he has become.  “I’ve never lost sight of the fact that when Wilbert was 19 he did something incredibly stupid and tragic,” Mr. Shaw said. “On the other hand, he’s not the man he was then. It’s a story of redemption.”  Mr. Shaw pointed to Mr. Rideau’s journalistic work as proof of his transformation. As editor of The Angolite, a prison newspaper, Mr. Rideau won the George Polk Award, one of journalism’s highest honors. “The Farm: Angola, U.S.A.,” a documentary he co-directed, was nominated for an Academy Award.

In other words, if Rideau had not kept protesting the alleged injustice of people not believing his story that his victims were lying, then he’d still be serving time for the lives he destroyed.  But because he’s never shown actual remorse, he’s a cultural hero and a free man.

Mr. Bryant, the prosecutor, said Mr. Rideau’s achievements were irrelevant. “Rideau’s actions were driven by greed,” Mr. Bryant said, referring to the robbery. “It’s not like he’s been some sort of civil rights pioneer. He’s a crook.”

~~~

But fast-forward five years, and now even these protestations have been cleansed from the record. Rideau is a civil rights pioneer, full stop.  All that’s left is people like Oshinski trying like heck to finish brushing even the slightest unpleasantry into the dustbin of history, insinuating that the victims’ families are the actually dangerous people based on crimes they didn’t in fact, ever commit against Rideau himself, and painting Rideau as a jailhouse saint — you know, like the ones in the movies Oshinski likes to cite:

An hour’s drive northwest from Baton Rouge sits the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, the largest maximum security prison in the United States. On the site of a former slave plantation, it currently houses close to 5,000 inmates and covers more ground, at 18,000 acres, than the island of Manhattan. Surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River, its stunning physical isolation and distinctive antebellum feel have provided the backdrop for numerous feature films and documentaries, including “Dead Man Walking,” “Monster’s Ball” and “The Farm” . . . Slight of frame, weighing barely 120 pounds, Rideau seemed like easy prey. What spared him physically, he believes, was the respect he earned for repeatedly dodging the electric chair. And what saved him emotionally, he insists, were the books he devoured in his solitary death row cell. “Reading ultimately allowed me to feel empathy, to emerge from my cocoon of self-centeredness and appreciate the humanness of others. . . . It enabled me finally to appreciate the enormity of what I had done.”

No, there are no victims here, just professors and journalists and their convict-heroes reading, writing, carrying out mutually gratifying acts of affirmation:

[Rideau] saw prison life as a delicate negotiation. Convicts “possess the power of disobedience, rebellion, disruption, sabotage and violence,” he writes. “A peaceful maximum security prison owes its success to the consent of its prisoners, a consent that comes from mutual understanding and reasonable common-sense accommodations at almost every level of interaction” . . .  The new Angola owed much to Rideau’s skills as editor, gadfly and ombudsman. While in prison, he became a national celebrity, appearing on “Nightline” with Ted Koppel and winning journalism’s coveted George Polk Award. Rideau is hardly modest about it all . . . In 2005, the man Life magazine had featured as “The Most Rehabilitated Prisoner in America” was granted yet another trial.

Well, why should such an accomplished man be modest? Heck, why doesn’t Oshinski just go all the way and say that Rideau’s victims carelessly tripped into the bullets exiting his gun?   Maybe because Terry Gross’ tonsils would get in his way. Here is Gross’ version of her radio colleague and pen pal Rideau’s crimes:

Wilbert Rideau was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1961. At the age of 19, he’d robbed a bank. When he realized the police were on the way, he took three hostages. After one of the hostages got out of the car, he killed one hostage and shot the other two. He described this as an act of panic, not premeditated murder.  As an eighth-grade dropout from a poor family, he couldn’t afford a lawyer and didn’t understand his rights.

How . . . dishonest.  What’s especially creepy is the way Gross imagines the scene only from Rideau’s perspective: “[w]hen he realized the police were on the way, he took three hostages . . . After one of the hostages got out of the car, he killed one hostage.”   This is in no way an accurate description of the crime.  It apes Rideau’s claims that he did not intend the victims’ harm, nor that he intended to kidnap them, and it reduces the death scene to an actuarial nonentity.  Gross seems irked that she must even recount this little aside.

It takes a particularly cold and inhumane chewy-voiced NPR reporter to reduce the death scene to such cold prose.

But the death-scene is just a lagniappe, compared to the toe-curling pleasures that follow:

TERRY GROSS: Wilbert Rideau, welcome back to FRESH AIR. The other times we have spoken, you have been in the penitentiary, and it so great to talk to you knowing you are a free man. Thank you for the conversations and for the reports you did for us from prison. . . .

GROSS: Wilbert, we’ve spoken several times before while you were in prison. We spoke by phone. And the book really filled me in on the details of what you went through during your four trials and how many times you were treated unfairly.But before we talk about how unfairly you were treated, I just want to acknowledge that you really did commit manslaughter, and that Julia Ferguson was killed. You did create a lot of suffering. You’ve never denied the act, but you have said that you never intended to kill anyone. You wanted money. You bought a gun to rob a bank, thinking it was the only way to get a new life was to get money and get a way out of your life. In the middle of the robbery, the phone rang. One of the tellers picked it up and tipped off the caller there was trouble. Knowing the police were on the way, you took three hostages and fled. What did you think the hostages would accomplish for you? [bold added]

Would accomplish for him?  Accomplish?  Darn those hostages.  They just didn’t live up to their potential.

Mr. RIDEAU: I wasn’t thinking. That was the problem. I didn’t know what to do. I mean, understand, when people commit crimes, they’re expecting to get away. I mean, even in all the – it was desperation that drove me to do this, but even in my desperation, I mean, you don’t expect to get caught.

In other words, Wilbert Rideau feels less responsible for killing someone because he was certain he would not be held responsible for robbing a bank.  Had he known he would be held responsible for robbing a bank, he wouldn’t have done it, and nobody would have died.  Now there’s an idea.

If people expected to get caught, nobody would ever commit crimes.  And I didn’t know what I was thinking. I was just – all I knew was that everything had been shot to hell. Everything – you know, it was out of control. And I had no control, and I was scared to death, I mean, because I’m sure they were scared to death, too. But I didn’t have any – all I knew was just get out of that place in a hurry, and I hoped to be able to drop them off someplace and let them walk back. But it didn’t turn out that way.

GROSS: No, the police started chasing you. One of your victims jumped out of the car, and you say you panicked and just shot one of them.

Well, thanks for clearing that up, Terry.  How probing.  If only those lazy victims had worked harder to avoid the path of dear Wilbert’s bullets — but then, NPR wouldn’t have such a stimulating commentator for Gross to natter with.  If only the police hadn’t tried to stop an armed criminal who cruelly took three innocent people hostage, then Wilbur wouldn’t have had to shoot three people, then get out of his car and stab one of them for good measure.

If only the hostages and the police had accomplished more in the service of Wilbert Rideau.

There’s more, of course, of Gross simpering at the feet of Rideau, praising his prose quality, his special insights, his terrible suffering, the tragedy of people misunderstanding him.  There’s always more, once you get the pesky victims out of the way, stomp their throats out so they can’t utter a peep.

But what is strange, and ironic, and utterly unnoticed by Gross and Oshinski and all the other prisoner fetishists eagerly sweating their turn in the wings, is that when you read Wilbert Rideau’s work, what Rideau is actually saying is that he doesn’t want to be anywhere near any of the sick bastards he knew in prison, including the sick bastard that he was, and he certainly doesn’t want people like them walking the streets.  At the end of the day, his is a pro-incarceration argument:

GROSS: Give us a sense of what you faced when you left solitary confinement and joined the general population, and you were appalled by the barbarity that you witnessed. And I should say that the penitentiary at Angola had a reputation as being one of the most bloody prisons in the United States at that time.

Mr. RIDEAU: There was violence literally every day. You had people getting killed and gang wars. You had drug traffickers rampant. You had sexual violence…

GROSS: Sexual slavery.

Mr. RIDEAU: Enslavement of prisoners. Right, sexual slavery, as well. I mean, you know, if – guys would rape you, and you would – that was a process that redefined you not as a male, but as a female, and also as property. And whoever raped you owned you, and you had to serve him for – I mean, as long as you were in prison, unless you killed him or he gave you away or sold you or you got out of prison. And that’s the way it functioned.

GROSS: You wrote an article about sexual violence in prison that is one of your best-known articles. And I think that one won an award, didn’t it?

Mr. RIDEAU: It did, the George Polk Award, and it was also nominated for a National Magazine Award.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. So when you got into general population, you’re relatively short. What did you do to protect yourself as a small man entering general population? Yeah.

Mr. RIDEAU: Well, the first thing is I was looking for a weapon. In fact, when I went before the initial classification board, the chief of security told me that, you know, he asked if knew anybody. I said no. And he said, well, you’ve got to get you a weapon, and either that or go into a protective custody cell.  Well, I just spent all those years in a cell. I wasn’t going back to a cell, and I figured that, you know, I would try to make a life in the jungle. And the first thing I knew I had to do was get a weapon, and I looked around for people I knew, and I saw some of the guys who were on death row before who had already gotten off, and they told me, you know, I wouldn’t have to worry about that.  And that was a peculiarity due to the fact that I was on death row. Prosecutors and media had so – you know, they so demonize people on death row, you know, as being the worst of the worst, until not only do they kind of scare society about these guys, but they also scared the prisoners. It was kind of perverse, but it spared me that whole – I didn’t have to worry about that.

OK, let’s review: prisoners in Angola are violent rapists who prey on the weak, enslave each other, and routinely kill.  Yet Rideau survived unscathed because prosecutors “demonized” men on death row to such a degree that all these raping, killing monsters in the general population feared him despite his diminutive size.

While this story makes little sense, it is the type of thing that makes Terry Gross simper: “Mm-hmm.”  Which is the entire point, really.  The point of Rideau’s fame is that he gives people like Terry Gross the type of victimization they can revel in.  For, testifying about his victimization at the hands of other criminals is actually what Rideau is all about, little as that makes sense when you step back from it and remember Julie Ferguson.  Rideau says certain things happened to him; he complains of being victimized, and reporters and academicians eat it up uncritically because it feeds their fantasy life.

They don’t write purple prose about there being two sides to the story of any of Rideau’s stories. They don’t minimize his allegations of victimization in prison or reduce it to a few stingy lines written in teeth-gritting passing.  They give him awards for denouncing the suffering they’re simultaneously denying that his victims experienced at his hands.  This is a sickness, pure fetish, and it has passed for acceptable behavior for far too long.

Executing David Lee Powell: The Austin Statesman Hearts a Cop-Killer

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Media coverage of executions used to be shameless.  Reporters played advocate, inserting themselves and their inflamed sensibilities into the story, while victims’ families were ignored or accused of being “vengeful,” a crime apparently worse than murder itself.

Only victims’ families were thus demeaned: offenders, no matter the horror of their actual crimes, were depicted in only the most positive light.  They were deemed specially sensitive, or dignified, or talented, or at least pitiful, as if playing up to (or merely embodying) the reporter’s sensibilities magically erased the profound harm these men had visited on others.

Reporters filed bathetic stories detailing this killer’s last meal or that prisoner’s hobbies without mentioning the behavior that had placed the men on death row in the first place, unless, that is, extremely prurient details or a high body count made for interesting reading.

Victims were either ignored, or criticized, or their suffering was objectified.

Such overt expressions of contempt aimed at victims are no longer the status quo. But I don’t believe that what has replaced them in reporting is better.  Now, in the interest of allegedly telling “both sides of the story,” journalists dutifully mention the offender’s crime and say a few nice things about the victim’s life.  They let the victim’s family have their say — something that rarely happened in the past, though they’re often angling for the victims to say something angry, so they can make them sound “vengeful.”

Judith and Bruce Mills hold a picture of Officer Ralph Ablanedo

Then, “balance” accomplished, the reporters get back to the business of valorizing murderers.

David Lee Powell, who slaughtered Officer Ablanedo in 1978

This type of reporting depicts victims and killers as moral equals.  It denies that there is any difference between being an innocent murdered horribly by some sociopath thug or being the murdering sociopath thug (cleaned up for the cameras, of course, via years of taxpayer-subsidized advice from their lawyers).

When both victim and killer are presented as victims, then who, exactly, is the victimizer?

Obviously, the state, or “society,” or “all of us,” which is the reporter’s real point.

Ultimately, in journalism like this, the victim’s suffering, and the family’s expressions of pain, are merely put through the grinder in the service of the offender in a new way.  It’s just a different flavor of dehumanization.  And if this disturbing article and video and even more disturbing editorial in the Austin Statesman are any indication of what can be done to crime victims in the name of such moral leveling, family members of should probably just go back to refusing to speak to reporters at all.

David Lee Powell today, in the Austin Statesman’s Story Detailing His Good Qualities

In a long feature story this week, the Austin Statesman commits the act of moral equivalency in order to advocate against the execution of David Lee Powell.  I say “advocate” here because the reporters are clearly pleading Powell’s case.  How clearly?  The story is actually accompanied by an emotive video of Powell, his voice cracking and wavering, bestowing his jailhouse wisdom to the article’s reporters, who appear on the screen swaying like awed schoolboys to the rhythm of his words.

link to video through article here

The video is a perversion.  It’s porn, a pornographic display of Powell’s feigned remorse, which he utters in the carefully parsed syntax of legal dissembling.  In the video and on the page, the reporters allow Powell to explain away his failure to apologize to the family of his victim for nearly 30 years.  They don’t happen to mention that he spent those years denying responsibility throughout several appeals and re-trials, which is the real reason why he never previously expressed remorse, also why the remorse so exhibitionistically flashed here is unlikely to actually exist:

Saying he is horrified to have caused Ablanedo’s murder, Powell has tried to apologize to the officer’s family and to express regret for the pain he caused by “an act that was a betrayal of everything I believed in and aspired to be.”  “I had wanted to do it for decades,” Powell said of his December 2009 letter to Ablanedo’s family. “Although it was obviously too little too late, it seemed like the right thing to do. It seemed like a small, tentative first step towards healing the tear in the social fabric that was caused” by the murder.

He “tried,” you know.  Just never got around to doing it until the appeals ran out.  It’s clear that Powell doesn’t feel remorse.  He doesn’t even really speak of remorse — instead, he starts rambling about being a victim of a justice system that “humbled” and “bruised” him.  Throughout this performance, the camera pans to the reporters, making them part of Powell’s jailhouse drama.  If their article is any measure of the interactions in that room, it’s an exciting role for them.

The video is clearly edited to convey Powell’s humanity and fragility, and yet it fails to achieve that goal.  Raw contempt shines through his lawyerly demurrals despite all the close-ups of his shaking hands and a soundtrack featuring his breathing sounds, amplified for effect.

Powell spends more time talking about SAT scores and high school grades than the officer’s murder.  So, for that matter, do the reporters.  According to the killer, he “scored the highest score that had ever been scored” on the SAT, and this should define him, not the officer’s murder.  In other words, doing well on the SAT should excuse the killing of a human being.

The rest of the article is the usual jumble of schlock, lies, and omissions.  Impressively, reporters, Chuck Lindell and Tony Plohetski completely paper over Powell’s long history of appeals, quite an accomplishment in a long article about the long time it has taken to execute Powell because of his long history of appeals.

The result is an awful lot like watching a fixed dog hump the air.

Not that any of this is actually funny. It’s grotesque.  It’s grotesque that the Austin Statesman would demean the victims by weighing Powell’s high school grades against the brutal murder of a young cop and father.  It’s grotesque that they pose the pseudo-metaphysical question: Has Powell’s Execution Lost Its Meaning? and then paddle around haplessly answering “yes” for five pages, yet pretend that what they are doing is reporting on Powell’s impending execution.

It’s grotesque that they ambush the victims and exploit their losses, both in the article and in a Statesman editorial which intentionally misrepresents statements by the victim’s family (the family did an amazing job responding to the media).

I had trouble embedding the Powell video in the blog today.  But please go to the newspaper’s website and take a look.  The editorial is here, and the interview with Bruce and Judy Mills, from which their quotes are ripped out of context, is here.

That the editors would behave this way really does speak to a mindset in which victims’ deaths are deemed less significant than their killers’ report cards, or the hobbies they take up on death row, or the fact that they have lots of pen pals . . . all arguments promoted by the fine journalists at the Austin Statesman.  If this is what happens when reporters imagine they are inserting “balance” into their death row reporting, I’ll take the bad old days when they just pointed fingers and screamed “vigilante” at people who had lost their loved ones to violence.  It was a less dirty fight that way.

Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals: Is Alcala Smart, Or Is The System Stupid?

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Much is being made about Rodney Alcala’s allegedly superior intelligence. I don’t buy it any more than I buy it when defense attorneys wave a piece of paper in the courtroom and claim their client is mentally challenged and thus deserves a break.  It’s just theater.  Alcala’s a haircut with cheekbones: his IQ, whatever it might be, matters far less than the pro-offender sentiments of the era when he was first tried, and re-tried.

It certainly didn’t take a rocket scientist to play the California criminal justice system for a fool back in the 1970′s.  Unfortunately, in many ways, the same is still true.

Here are ten specific breaks the system gave Alcala, breaks that either enabled him to add to his body count or torment the families of his victims.  Such breaks weren’t reserved for serial killers with MENSA memberships, which is why places like L.A. were so fatal for all sorts of women.

How fatal?  Seven, or fifty, or even 100 women and girls, depending on how much evidence Alcala provides and the police uncover with the massive public appeal for assistance now underway.  Again, I have to ask: why weren’t these pictures distributed to the public decades ago?  Why were families forced to sit in limbo while authorities had hundreds of photos linking a known sadistic rapist and murderer to scores of unidentified women and girls?  I’m sure the police, given adequate resources, would have worked these cases.  But we’ve never given police adequate resources.  We still don’t charge even serious offenders with the totality of their known crimes.

Still it’s a tribute to reformers that some (though not all) of these fatal justice system errors would not occur today.

#1: Judicial Leniency, Indeterminate Sentencing Sets a Killer Free, 1971

Rodney Alcala was 25 in 1968, when he was caught in the act of raping and beating an eight-year old child to death.  That’s a chilling number, 25.  Kidnapping from a public place, the brutality of the rape, the extreme violence — all are hallmarks of an experienced, brazen killer who had escalated his behavior long before that crime.  If Alcala conformed to typical patterns (and there’s no reason to believe he did not), he probably started sexually victimizing girls and women around the time he reached puberty, a full decade before he attacked “Tali S.”  That’s potentially a lot of unnoticed crimes:

His first known attack was in 1968, when he abducted a second-grade girl walking to school in Hollywood, using a pipe to badly bash her head and then raping her — only to be caught red-handed because a Good Samaritan spotted him luring the child and called police. When LAPD officers demanded he open the door of his Hollywood apartment on De Longpre Avenue, Alcala fled out the back. Inside, police found the barely-alive, raped little girl on Alcala’s floor. It took LAPD three years to catch the fugitive Alcala, living under the name John Berger in New Hampshire — where the glib and charming child rapist had been hired, disturbingly, as a counselor at an arts-and-drama camp for teenagers.

Attempted murder, plus kidnapping, plus rape of a child, plus absconding.  Seems like he’d never see the light of day again.  Unfortunately, for future victims at least, pro-offender psychologists and other activists had so infiltrated the criminal justice system in California that the horror of Alcala’s crime was ignored by the courts.  From the moment he appeared in some California judge’s courtroom, he ceased to be a (failed) killer and child rapist.  He became a client and recipient of social services, a victim needing guidance, rehabilitation, “education,” and counseling.  It’s a soul-sickening travesty, one that deserves more exposure:

When Alcala was caught hiding out under the assumed name Berger on the East Coast [in 1971], a conviction for brutally raping a child in California was not a guarantee of a long prison sentence. California’s state government of that era had embraced a philosophy that the state could successfully treat rapists and murderers through education and psychotherapy.  The hallmark of the philosophy was “indeterminate sentencing,” under which judges left open the number of prison years to be served by a violent felon, and parole boards later determined when the offender had been reformed. Rapists and murderers — including Alcala — went free after very short stints. He served a scant 34 months for viciously raping the 8-year-old, who is known in official documents only as “Tali” . . . Deeply controversial, “indeterminate sentencing” was ended by then-governor Jerry Brown. But by that time, Alcala was free. . . . Retired LAPD Detective Steve Hodel, who investigated Alcala’s rape of Tali, recalls, “My impression was that it was his first sex crime, and we got him early — and society is relatively safe now. I had no idea in two years [he would be out] and continue his reign of terror and horror. I expected he was put away and society was safe. … It is such a tragedy that so much more came after that.”

“Education and psychotherapy.”  For raping and trying to kill a little girl.  It is important to understand that these highly educated “experts” were not simply trying to grope towards to some psychological discoveries that would only be discovered later.

Knowledge that murder is bad, for example, pre-dates 1971.

As I’ve written previously, I believe Alcala would have received a more severe sentence if he had just bludgeoned the little girl, instead of raping her and bludgeoning her.  I suspect the rape actually acted as a mitigating factor, turning him into a victim in the eyes of the people empowered to run our courts.  For when a prison psychiatrist found him “considerably improved” and ready for release less than three years after being convicted of attempted murder and child rape, that psychiatrist was undoubtedly referring to the fad psycho-sexual therapies in use at the time — and still being promoted by many academicians and practitioners today.  Like Dr. Richard Rappaport, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCSD Medical School, San Diego, who testified in Alcala’s most recent trial that Alcala should not be held responsible for serial sex murder because he just can’t help enjoying . . . sexual murder.

#2: Parole Board Leniency, 1974

It takes two to tango: a judge who refuses to hold a sick predator responsible for his crime by giving him an indeterminate sentence, and then a parole board that decides the “rehabilitation’s taken.”  Who served on that parole board in 1974, the one that decided to cut Alcala loose?  I’d love to see the transcript.  If anyone would send it to me, I’ll post it.  This wasn’t some gray-area first offense.  I wonder why the media hasn’t sought out these people and asked them why they let Alcala go.  As public servants, the parole board members should feel obliged to revisit such a devastating error.  A year’s worth of such decisions would make interesting reading — and yet one more interesting corrective to mythic beliefs that our country is too harsh on criminals.

#3: Prosecutorial/Judicial Leniency, Not Believing a Victim, Failure to Punish Recidivism, 1974

After the parole board cut him loose, it took Alcala two months to get caught with another child.  Two months.  Or, possibly, less:

In 1974, two months after he got out of state prison, Alcala was found at Bolsa Chica State Beach with a 13-year-old girl who claimed he’d kidnapped her. He was convicted only of violating parole and giving pot to a minor, however . . .

A convicted, violent, child rapist is found with a 13-year old girl who tells police she has been kidnapped.  What happens next?  Somebody doesn’t believe the child.  Who?  The judge?  The prosecutor?

#4: Parole Leniency, 1977

Alcala served another short sentence, and was apparently declared “re-reformed.”  Then a parole officer cut him some breaks.  It makes you wonder: was there anyone, anywhere in California’s criminal justice system, outside police themselves, who harbored a negative attitude towards violent offenders?

[T]wo years later, upon his second release from prison, the law went easy on Alcala again. His parole officer in Los Angeles permitted Alcala, though a registered child rapist and known flight risk, to jaunt off to New York City to visit relatives. NYPD cold-case investigators now believe that one week after arriving in Manhattan, Alcala killed the Ciro’s nightclub heiress Ellen Hover, burying her on the vast Rockefeller Estate in ritzy Westchester County.Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, who hopes during the current trial to put Alcala permanently on death row for Samsoe’s 1979 murder and the slayings of four women in the Los Angeles area, says: “The ’70s in California was insane as far as treatment of sexual predators. Rodney Alcala is a poster boy for this. It is a total comedy of outrageous stupidity.”

#5:  Social Leniency, 1977 – 1979: The Polanski Effect

It really does take a village.  Between the time Rodney Alcala was released from prison on his second child offense charge, and when he was captured after the murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe, it seems that nobody he encountered (outside the police) felt it was right to judge him for — oh, little transgressions like trying to murder a young child he was raping, or being a suspect in several other murders, or being investigated in the Hillside strangler cases, or ending up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.  Surely, FBI agents and other detectives approached Alcala’s co-workers and employers when he was being investigated for these crimes; surely his family and friends and professional acquaintances knew about the rape and beating of the 8-year old child.

So why did the L.A. Times choose to hire him anyway?  Why didn’t his supervisors there act on the knowledge that he was circulating his home-made child porn to co-workers?  Why did the Dating Game producers allow a child-rapist on their show?  Why did Alcala have such success in high-end social circles, in the art world, and with celebrities such as Roman Polanski?  Well, that one’s pretty easy to answer.

Was Alcala’s social success, in fact, based on his status as a “sexual outlaw,” being “persecuted by the pigs”?  Such was the argot in newsrooms and art circles, after all.  Funny how all the people who knew him then are so tight-lipped now: it sounds as if he really got around, between slaughtering young women:

1977  Ellen Hover, Jill Barcomb (18), Georgia Wixted (27)

1978  Charlotte Lamb (32), Monique H. (15), Jill Parenteau (21).  And more to come.

#6: Yet More Judicial Leniency, and Help From Mom, 1979

Another kidnapping and rape, another lost chance to get Alcala behind bars.  The police catch ‘em and the courts let ‘em go, leaving two more girls dead.  This type of behavior from the bench, sadly, continues today:

Alcala’s alleged reign of terror might have been halted in early 1979, when a 15-year-old hitchhiker called police from a motel in Riverside County to report she had just escaped from a kidnapper and rapist. Although Riverside police quickly charged Alcala with kidnapping and rape, a judge set his bail at just $10,000, paid by his mother. While free, police say, Alcala killed 21-year-old computer keypunch operator [Jill] Parenteau five months later in her Burbank apartment. The killer cut himself climbing through her window, and prosecutors now say Alcala’s rare blood type has been matched to the blood remnants.  Six days after Parenteau’s slaying, Robin Samsoe disappeared, a child-snatching that sent fear rippling through safe, quiet Southern California communities. Samsoe’s friend Bridget told police the two swimsuit-clad girls were approached that day by a photographer who asked if he could take their pictures. The man was scared off by a suspicious neighbor, but shortly after that, Bridget lent Samsoe her yellow bicycle so that Samsoe could make it to ballet class. Samsoe was never seen again.  Detectives circulated a sketch of the mysterious photographer to the media, and a parole officer recognized his parolee Alcala. Twelve days after she vanished, on July 2, 1979, Samsoe’s skeletal remains were found by U.S. Forestry Service rangers. Alcala was arrested on July 24 at his mother’s house in Monterey Park.

#7:  Criminal Appeals, 1984

Alcala was found guilty of murdering Robin Samsoe in 1980 and was sentenced to death.  But that verdict was overturned in 1984 by the California Supreme Court.  The court found that the jury had been “unduly prejudiced” when prosecutors introduced information about about the rape and attempted murder of the 8-year old child in 1968.

Evidence of prior crimes is sometimes admissible at certain times, so long as the priors are materially similar to to crime being tried.  For instance, is raping and trying to murder an 8-year old girl at all similar to raping and murdering a 12-year old girl?  There’s a four-year difference in the ages of the victims there, and a higher success component on the whole “murder” thing.  I’m sure, however, that the California Supreme Court could not have overturned Alcala’s death sentence on such a frivolous distinction.  It must have been some other frivolous distinction.

#8: Criminal Appeals, 2001

This time, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals got a piece of the action.  They decided that, because one witness’ testimony from a previous trial was read from the stand without the witness being in the room, the entire second trial, which doubtlessly cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars to re-try, simply had to be tossed out because of this.

What’s the matter with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals?  Richard Posner says they’re just too large for their own good, with too many different justices thinking together, and he’s got a well-known large brain that thinks in perfect unison with itself.  Me, with my quotidian little intellect, I think they just never saw a serial killer appeal they couldn’t bleed for, since they don’t have to, like, literally bleed, like the victims.  Not a very elegant argument, I know, but maybe it would pass muster before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

#9: Alcala’s Exclusive Access to the Courts, 1979 – 2010

With his denim pantsuit aesthetic and not-very-bright courtroom performances, Alcala doesn’t really present as a brain trust.  But he doesn’t need to be one.  And defendant can tie up the courts — and further devastate victim’s families — with frivolous lawsuits and endless appeals designed to catch certain activist judges’ eyes:

Alcala has spent his time behind bars penning You, the Jury, a 1994 book in which he claims his innocence and points to a different suspect; suing the California prisons for a slip-and-fall claim and for failing to provide him a low-fat diet; and, according to prosecutors, complaining about a law that required he and other death-row inmates to submit DNA mouth swabs for comparison by police against unsolved crimes. Alcala is still as cocky as ever — bold enough to represent himself in the trial for his life, now unfolding in Orange County. And why not? He has a talent for mining legal technicalities and has repeatedly enjoyed success with appellate judges.

Orange County prosecutor Matt Murphy likens Alcala to a video game villain that keeps coming to life and says that the appellate courts have hit restart on this real-life murderous villain’s rampage through the system. The families of the victims as well as those close to the investigation criticize the decisions as misguided political statements by justices who opposed the death penalty and ignored the facts of the case. For Murphy, who tried the latest Samsoe case, each decision to overturn stripped away more evidence from his arsenal against Alcala. And for Robin Samsoe’s family, the legal setbacks have altered the course of their lives, ripping through like aftershock upon aftershock following a devastating earthquake. . . Samsoe’s mother [Maryanne Connelly] spoke eloquently about the hardships she has endured in the 31 years since her daughter’s murder, waiting for justice that never came. . . Meanwhile, her daughter’s killer has spent most of his life in prison, and has perfected the art of working the system to his advantage, filing lawsuit upon lawsuit when he felt his rights were violated while in custody – such as a civil suit against an investigator who did not respond to a request for discovery within 10 days. In fact, a contempt case against the Orange County Jail is still pending. . . Connelly wonders where her rights were, while the man who killed her daughter became comfortably institutionalized. This inequity has become the rallying cry of all the victims’ families, as well as victim’s rights advocates, who say the system has coddled a vicious killer while failing victims’ loved ones.

If the victims’ families had the same rights as Alcala, they could sue him for mental cruelty.  Where such a trial could be held is a difficult question, because his co-defendant would be the justice system itself.

#10: Turning the Courtroom into His Last Killing Field, 2010, and Beyond

“He was blowing kisses at me across the courtroom, and I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Connely said. “And I thought I was going to go crazy, you know. And I reached into my purse and I was going to grab it, you know, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this.’”

That’s Marianne Connelly, speaking recently about Alcala’s 1980 trial for the murder of her daughter: back then, she once brought a gun to the courtroom to shoot Alcala.  I doubt anyone would have blamed her then, and they certainly wouldn’t blame her now, after thirty more years of sitting in courtrooms watching Alcala toy with her, and other victims, for fun.

Where was the judge while Alcala was blowing kisses at his victim’s mother?  Did that judge feel his hands were tied, thanks to our perverse appeals system?  Or did he simply not care?  Why did he allow the defendant to behave that way?

This unique, public humiliation and torture of crime victims is one thing that has not changed in 30 years.  From the most recent trial:

Robin’s brother Tim Samsoe, 44, said the worst thing was watching Alcala perk up in court every time he got the chance to see old photographs of his alleged victims.  “You see the gleam in his eye,” said Samsoe. “He’s enjoying this again.”

According to prosecutors, Alcala always enjoyed torturing his victims:

[Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt] Murphy told the packed courtroom that Alcala took his time terrorizing his victims by choking them with his bare hands, waiting for them to wake up at least once, then strangling them again — sometimes using shoelaces or panty hose. “It is a staggeringly horrific way to die,” exclaimed Murphy. “There is ample evidence the women put up some resistance….He gets off on it. It was fun.”  Once they were dead, Alcala allegedly [he has since been found guilty] would then pose their bodies.

Now the only victims he has access to are the relatives of the women and children he killed:

Robert Samsoe, who was 13 when his little sister was slain, tells L.A. Weekly, “I don’t have any faith in the system. Some people, they are just afforded all the chances in the world. Alcala has cost the state of California more than any other person because of his lawsuits. And they treat him like a king. Everybody is walking on pins and needles around him.

Alcala dragged out his latest trial for weeks, representing himself, attacking victims, rambling on and enjoying himself.  If this judge felt he simply had no power to prevent such behavior, he should now take steps to do something about the warped system of which he is a part.  When is enough enough?

At the trial’s close, Alcala forced family members to listen to a recording of Alice’s Restaurant, a move that nearly drove one columnist to violence.  Frank Mickadeit, of the OC Register, wondered how family members could hold themselves back:

To make the family and jurors listen to somebody, even Guthrie, sing: “I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and guts and veins in my teeth”? I guarantee you, that made nobody in the room think about how horrible Alcala’s death might be, as was apparently his intent. . . In all the years I’ve covered trials, I’ve never once wanted to personally wreak vengeance on a defendant. I can dissociate along with the hardest of professionals. But at Minute 50 on Tuesday, Murphy got me to go to that unprofessional place, where the father, brother and uncle lives.  I think it might have been one young woman’s morgue-photo – a head that was missing a third of its face because Alcala had bashed it away with a rock.  I stared hard at the back of Alcala’s tan sports coat, where the collar met the unruly mass of gray curls that cascades down his back (Arlo-like, if you must know), and I thought hard about that 15 feet between me and that thin neck. A cat-like leap, a bound, a forearm-lock, a snap – he’d never see me coming. The burly deputy sheriff between us would, though, so there was no chance even if I had indulged my momentary fantasy.  I looked to my left. Immediately across the aisle from me was Robert Samsoe, Robin‘s brother – roughly my age and size. He was wearing jeans, penny loafers and white socks, and I could see his right foot tapping nervously during these last 10 minutes of Murphy’s closing. The photo of another victim, her lower lip torn away, flashed up. Murphy hadn’t even begun recounting Robin’s death yet. . . Mercifully, there are no morgue photos of Robin, at least not in the sense that there are of the other murder victims. When they found Robin, just a skull was left – albeit a disfigured one from where Alcala had bashed in her teeth.  Robert Samsoe didn’t leap out of his chair and break Rodney Alcala’s neck, as part of me would have like to have seen.

Of course he didn’t.  The victims figured out long ago that they are not actually people, with human rights, including the right to dignity, in the eyes of the law.  The only person in that courtroom whose rights were being protected was Rodney Alcala.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Rwanda and Columbine: The Politics of Forced Reconciliation

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Occasionally, in response to something I write, I receive an e-mail advising me that, for the good of my soul, I had better stop judging criminals (or criticizing, or even joking about them) and train myself to vigilantly “forgive” them instead.  For example:

Life is too short to walk around with this kind of hate inside. Anger and bitterness is a poison that destroys the pot it is kept in.

There is more at work here than anonymous sanctimony and poor grammar.  There is presumption: presumption that forgiveness does not exist unless it is broadcast like a cheap pop song; presumption that crime victims as a group must be regulated and policed, that they are the dangerous creatures, more dangerous than the offenders who committed crimes against them.

Why is it that people who incontinently think only the best of criminals leap to believe the worst about people who are victimized?  I suppose the simple answer is that they must, in order to justify their choices.  Victims must be distrusted, lest people feel restrained from showering trust and affection on offenders.

Crime must be disappeared in order to legitimate sentimental feelings towards the criminal.

The Ur-text of such sentimental pathology surely is the film Dead Man Walking.  In order to promote herself as an extremely special harvester of extremely hardened souls, Sister Helen Prejean ran roughshod over quite a few facts and suffering innocents, both in her real life and through her artistic collaboration with the vile Susan Sarandon, who’s never met an unrepentant murderer she couldn’t love, lust for, or name her unborn baby after.

Such exercises have little to do with the exercise of actual forgiveness, which is perfectly capable of existing without the interventions of activist nuns, United Nations reconciliation committees, or federal grant-subsidized “restorative justice” professionals.

~~~

In fact, I know a great many crime victims, and exactly none of them are burning up on the inside because they cannot escape the carping furies in their souls (Aeschylus was such a hack).

On the other hand, crime victims do burn understandably hot over never getting their day in court, or not seeing their offender held accountable, or watching him walk free to offend again.  In other words, it isn’t feelings of vengeance that drive crime victims crazy: it’s denial of justice.

Yet that message doesn’t register with the reconciliation professionals.  They are too busy finding ways to level moral distinctions between offenders and victims, if not tip the scales completely.  The “restorative justice” movement itself started out as a program to push offenders to take responsibility for their crimes and make amends — but like many similar programs, it quickly devolved into mere advocacy for inmates.  Scratch the surface of most reconciliation programs and you will find nothing more than anti-incarceration activists deflecting resources that are supposed to aid crime victims.

~~~

Reconciliation and forgiveness are nice words. Closure is a lovely, if overused concept.  But we have turned these words into burdens we hang around the necks of people on the receiving end of crime.  And this has been done in order to benefit criminals in ways that may not really benefit them at all.

~~~

I recently read two interesting books that confront, in vastly different settings, the politics of forgiveness.  Columbine, by Dave Cullen, examines the 1999 Colorado massacre by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; The Antelope’s Strategy, by Jean Hatzfeld, is an account of the government-and-NGO-enforced reconciliation of Tutsi survivors with Hutu murderers a decade after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Although rural Rwanda and suburban Columbine are vastly different places, I came away from these books with an eerie sense that the Colorado and Rwandan murderers were speaking in a single voice.  Eric Harris, sitting in his basement in Colorado taping messages about the slaughter he’s about to commit, sounds chillingly like the leaders of the Hutu killing parties as they recount their daily forays to catch and kill the Tutsis who had escaped the killing of the previous day.  There is the same degree of nihilistic, cheerful premeditation and ambitions of slaughter.   Both Cullen and Hatzfeld seem aware that “root cause” theories, forensic psychology, and even their own considerable powers of explanation can only take them so far in explaining any of these killers’ deepest motives.

Evil, which is frequently overlooked in discussions of crime, is given its due.  So is not knowing — not being able to make sense, after a point.

Columbine was marketed as a corrective to media misrepresentations, but even so, I was surprised by the vast differences between the Columbine story as it played out in the national press and the story Dave Cullen uncovers.  Of course, I knew about the mythology that sprang up around victim Cassie Bernall: reporters had already eagerly discounted that pro-Christian-faith story, as Cullen shows.  But it appears that they were far less cautious with their own favored narratives (secular faith systems, one might say).

It was bullying, the media breathlessly reported, that drove Harris and Klebold to kill, and the victims they targeted were none other than the stereotypical high school bullies who taunted them for being different. Columbine, according to many members of the press, was yet more proof of the terrible consequences of picking on people, and not respecting differences, and the horrors of “jock culture,” and feeling alienated in high school, and so on.  This tale, encouraged by “anti-bullying” professionals, took on a life of its own, and few in the media bothered to question the presumptions underlying it.

But it was not true, not only because the killers were not relentlessly bullied, but because the crime they tried to carry out would have killed many hundreds of random students and rescue workers, had the detonators worked in the bombs they set.  The shootings were random, also, as Cullen proves through an excruciating march through crime scene evidence.

Yet in the interest of promoting a narrative that spread blame to “everyone” for the murders, and additionally laid special blame on jock-types (an acceptable bias), the press played down the story of the bombs and largely invented the story about revenge against specific targets.

These misrepresentations were hardly random.  The victims were tarred with culpability; Harris and Klebold were unburdened of it.  Even though the “bullying” story was a complete fabrication, anti-bullying “tolerance” activists received a massive payday from the $3.8 million dollar fund set up to compensate victims, a payday several times larger than the largest payouts given to the most critically wounded students or the families of the dead.  Some students with lesser injuries didn’t even receive enough money to cover their medical costs, while tolerance trainers raked in the cash for a “crime of bullying” that didn’t really happen and wouldn’t rise to the level of a misdemeanor crime if it had.

So although Harris and Klebold were not victims of bullying, their non-existent suffering was thus “reimbursed” at a far higher rate than the real suffering they inflicted on any of their victims.  And that is an important untold story of Columbine, though, strangely, after going to great lengths to decimate the false “bullying” narrative, Dave Cullen doesn’t question the use of victim funds to perpetuate the bullying story.

What did this payday to “tolerance trainers” actually purchase?  Most likely, to tell the surviving students — and their families, and the families of the dead, and the community at large — that they were all responsible for the social alienation that culminated in the loss of their loved ones.  By paying for tolerance programs, authorities were essentially pleading guilty, on behalf of others, to the crime of intolerance.  Intolerance towards whom?

People who are “different.”  People who feel victimized by society.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold?  Who else?

What might a sane, fact-based response to Columbine look like? It certainly wouldn’t include paying people a dime to sensitize innocent survivors to minor social offenses that didn’t occur in the first place.  Money would have been better spent examining the actual warning signs displayed by the killers, Eric Harris in particular.  Harris was a textbook psychopath who had accumulated a long rap sheet — or would have, had multiple reports of violent threats, stalking, and explosives-based vandalism, in addition to car theft charges, been taken seriously. Instead, probation and classroom records show that he easily adopted the stance of a remorseful and prison-scarred youth (after just a few hours in jail), even earning admiration from one teacher because he’d “learned so much” from the enriching experience of being arrested.

But grieving victims who asked how the two killers could plan a massacre and stockpile and stage multiple weapons and guns without detection found themselves on the wrong side of a grief industry — and intertwined anti-bullying industry — that insisted that questions like these were simply the wrong questions to ask.  It is practically impossible, in the current atmosphere, to blame crime solely on the offenders.  Everyone else is expected to ritualistically absorb some portion of blame — or stand accused of failing to heal, find closure, or audibly forgive.

~~~

But what happens when the scale of the crime is so large that many people are responsible, so many that imposing justice is practically impossible?  In 1994, more than half a million ethnic Tutsi were systematically slaughtered by Hutu militias in Rwanda, a genocide that spared only 300,000 Tutsi in a country of nearly 7 million.  In 2003 the surviving Tutsi learned that the government would be releasing tens of thousands of Hutu being held for the murders.  Already forced to live alongside Hutu who had failed to stop the killings, or even participated in them, Tutsi survivors would now be pressured to participate in tribunals designed to “reconcile” victims with many of the killers who had led the genocide.  Imprisoned Hutu who willingly confessed (often to extremely minor parts of their activities) were allowed to return home to live alongside the people they had tried to kill and whose family members they succeeded in killing.

At the heart of the prison releases was a demographic argument: Rwanda needed imprisoned farmers to return to work, and Hutu women and children needed their men to sustain family life.  But the releases also reflected another demographic reality: in an overwhelmingly Hutu nation, the government was more than willing to push the Tutsi genocide into the past.

Tutsi were already experiencing the nearly unbearable difficulty of living alongside people who had tried to kill them and had raped and murdered most members of their families.  Survivors spend months fleeing from armed men who hunted them repeatedly, day after day, and returned home in the evenings to loot, feast, and rest for the next day’s hunt: entire villages preyed on their former, and future, neighbors.  Given the scale of the attacks and their small numbers, Tutsi who survived the genocide had long-ago settled for symbolic justice and uneasy promises of safety.

But now, forced “reconciliation” was literally supplanting what little justice had actually been delivered.  Few of the Tutsi who speak in The Antelope Strategy harbored any illusions about the effects of pardoning mass numbers of killers.  They can hardly afford wishful talk about “closure.”  They live in fear that reconciliation will embolden the Hutu and, ironically, inflame anti-Tutsi sentiment, leading to outbreaks of violence.

Antelope Strategy is, in part, an extraordinary exploration of the limits of rehabilitation and forgiveness:

Claudine Kayitesi: “In the courts injustice gobbles up justice.  Obviously, not every killer deserves execution — but still, some of them, after all.  Those who burned babies alive, who cut and cut till their arms ached, who led expeditions of a thousand hunters — those should really have disappeared from our lives.  The state has decided to save them.  If someone had asked for my opinion?  I would have sent the propagandists and the major leaders to the firing squad.  That wasn’t done; foreigners exerted influence, and the authorities proved flexible to favor national reconciliation.  For us, it becomes impossible to relieve our grief, even with full bellies.  Basically, justice is not worrying about the feelings of survivors.”

Berthe Mwanankabandi: “What’s the use of looking for mitigating circumstances for people who butchered day after day after day and even on Sundays with their machetes?  What can you mitigate?  The number of victims?  The method of hacking?  The killers’ laughter?  Delivering justice would mean killing the killers.  But that would be like another genocide, and would bring chaos.  Killing or punishing the guilty in some suitable way: impossible.  Pardoning them: unthinkable.  Being just is inhuman. . . This is not a human justice, it’s a politics of justice.  We can only regret that they never show either sincerity or sorrow.”

Innocent Rwililiza: “The other Tutsi, from the diaspora [who fled to refugee camps], make sure the survivors never take revenge. . . The diaspora Tutsi don’t forget anything — either the terror of their flight, or the wretchedness of of exile, or the massacres of their families.  They are neither traitors nor ingrates.  But it suits them to present the genocide as a kind of human catastrophe, a dreadful accident of history, in a way requiring formidable efforts of cooperation to repair the damage.  They invented the policy of reconciliation because seven out of ten Rwandans are Hutus.  It’s a terrible thing, after a genocide: a demographic majority that snatched up the machete.  Reconciliation would be a sharing of trust.  The politics of reconciliation, that’s the equitable division of distrust.”

Usually, western legal philosophy focuses only on the ethical limitations of punishment, not the ethical limitations of mercy.  The Tutsi who speak in the book are not universally negative, but they cannot afford to be naive.  It is not just in places like Rwanda that we are too quick to forgive murderers:

Francine Niyitegeka:  “With age, the scars are healing from my skin. . . But although I am relieved, I am never at peace.  Deep down, I , too, feel oppressed by walking behind the fate that was set for me.  Someone who saw herself in muddy detail as a corpse in the papyrus lying among all the others, comparing herself to all those dead, always feels distressed.  By what?  I cannot say; I don’t know how to express it even to myself.  If her spirit has accepted her end, if she has at some point understood that she will not survive, such a person has seen an emptiness in her heart of hearts that she will never forget.  The truth is, if she has lost her soul even for a moment, then it’s a tricky thing for her to find a life again.”

Columbine Dave Cullen (2009, Hatchette Book Group)

The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide Jean Hatzfeld (2007, Farrar Straus and Giroux)

Outrage: How, Precisely, Did Delmer Smith “try to go straight”?

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The Sarasota Herald Tribune, a newspaper with an addiction to excusing, or at least minimizing, the behavior of the most violent criminals, just did it again.

In a front-page story on Delmer Smith, the brutal South Florida serial killer and rapist charged with yet another woman’s death last week, the paper boldly asserts that Smith “tried to go straight” after his release from prison.  Did he, really?  Is there proof for this fascinating claim?  They don’t offer any: they just say it’s so.

Down here in the real world, Smith was committing extremely violent rapes within weeks of being released from prison.  Confronted with such facts, why would any newspaper leap to limning the silver lining of the rapist’s character?

Habit, I suppose.  In the moral universe of the SHT newsroom, all ex-cons are automatically presumed to be earnest practitioners of self-reform . . . until they’re not, and sometimes even after that.  In Smith’s case, the distance between the prison door and his first known violent attack is actually extremely short.  Released in October 2008, he attacked and beat a female jogger a few weeks later and then immediately committed a violent home invasion and sexual assault of two additional women.  Escalating attacks followed.

The Herald Tribune, however, doesn’t bother to mention this inconveniently compressed time-line.  How could they, and simultaneously resuscitate the beloved theme of felons and second chances?  It’s as if they laid all those brutalized women alongside a story they like to tell about crime and punishment — a story in which hope springs eternal for the rehabilitation of any criminal — and chose the story, over the reality.

They had little to work with, far less than a widow’s mite, but that didn’t stop them.  It’s Valentine’s Day Week, after all:

Delmer Smith III spent much of his life in prison before finally being set free in 2008. Upon his release he moved in with his wife in Bradenton, a woman 23 years his elder that he met as a prison pen pal.  For a brief spell, Smith, 38, seemed to be living within the law, seeking work as a personal trainer, a mechanic and at a grocery store.

Poor Delmer.  Such hopes and dreams.  If only society had been more welcoming to him, why, then, it might have taken him more than one holiday sales season to start raping and killing women.  You see, it’s all our fault.

The Tribune story is drawn largely from claims made by Smith’s geriatric jailhouse pen pal and ex-beau — you know, one of those pathetic women who seeks excitement, attention, and romance by getting involved with violent prisoners.  Women like this regularly cross the line from accommodating to abetting.  That, and the decision to shack up with violent felons in the first place, ought to make reporters wary, but it’s amazing what can be overlooked in the rush to non-judgment.  The Tribune allows this woman to prattle on, behind a veil of anonymity, about her romance with Smith on the same week another victim’s family has been forced to publicly re-live the murder of their wife and mother:

[Smith's] wife — a 61-year-old woman who no longer lives in the area but asked that her name not be used for fear of retribution — first befriended Smith almost 10 years ago. Another inmate was writing to the woman’s friend and asked if Smith could contact the Bradenton woman by phone. A few days later, he called and their relationship took off.  Over the years, they wrote back and forth, including a Valentine’s Day card she still has. One day he called and proposed. She agreed and the woman says they had a ceremony in the penitentiary.

Their relationship “took off.”  She still has his Valentine’s Day card.  How touching.  I’m glad we all know that, because it sort of humanizes him, doesn’t it?

Given their track record (see here, here, and here), I’m actually surprised the Tribune didn’t go even farther — interviewing, say, a forensic psychologist for hire or a “re-entry” expert to offer up platitudes about how we all have to work harder to make offenders feel welcome once they’ve paid that pesky debt to society.  Meanwhile, the paper’s official antipathy towards all types of post-incarceration monitoring — expanded DNA sampling, registration lists, living restrictions –blinds them to the fact that, in the absence of such laws, Smith might still be on the loose.

No, you couldn’t possibly go off message (especially in a news story) and acknowledge that expanding the DNA database really does saves lives (when administered properly, that is).  Better to stick with the usual song-and-dance about ex-cons turning over new leaves, though it hardly fits the facts.   The reporter, and his editors, should apologize for this stomach-churning exhibitionism.

The Guilty Project, Wayne Williams: Still Guilty. And the Role of Child Prostitution in his Murders.

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To name all defendants Innocent Until Proven Guilty is a beloved tradition, and an ethical one, at least so long as the pontificating guardians of the reputations and feelings of criminals are willing to let it go once their clients have, in fact, been proven guilty.

Yet this is almost never the case.  Defense attorneys express a touching faith in the wisdom of the public and juries . . . until precisely the moment a guilty verdict is reached.  Then, like lovers scorned, they denounce everything about their former paramours: their intelligence, their morals, their identities, their actions, their collective and individual races.  All are fodder for the endless second act of criminal justice: the post-conviction appeal.

It’s never over, as victims know, particularly when it comes to notorious defendants.  In the weird rubric of prisoner advocacy, the most heinous criminals attract the loudest cries for reconsideration.   Attention-seeking activists and lawyers seize on the worst of the worst to prove their own superior compassion, or to thumb their noses at society in the biggest way.  And so the garden-variety mugger must line up behind the child murderers and serial rapists.

Susan Sarandon won’t be playing your religious confessor in the Hollywood version of your life if all you did was steal a few cars, no matter how badly you feel about having done it afterwards.  Rape and murder a few kids, though, and she might come calling.

~~~

And that brings us to Wayne Williams. Thanks to the notoriety of the Atlanta Child Murders (at least those Atlanta child murders), Williams possesses all the best in serial killer accessories: a team of lawyers laboring (on our dime) to endlessly re-try his case; internet nuts issuing manifestos that nobody can ever really know if anybody is ever really guilty; miniseries and media attentions, breathless stories about DNA testing that disappear from the news when they fail to exonerate, and so on.

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Wayne Williams

The thirty dead children and young men identified as possible ACM victims are themselves a mere accessory to Williams’ drama.  The police continue to seek the killer or killers of several of these victims.  They are (literally) damned if they do and damned if they don’t, as they were throughout the terrible period when children kept turning up dead, but they do it anyway, because the police are tasked to behave professionally despite the unprofessional nature of the accusations hurled their way.

There are probably police serving in metro Atlanta today who were children in southeast and southwest Atlanta neighborhoods at the time when the murders took place.  Did that experience inspired them to become officers?

Few serious books have been written about the Atlanta Child Murders.  There is The List by Chet Dettlinger and Jeff Prugh, and an interesting academic study by Bernard Headley, The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race.  Now there is a third, The Atlanta Child Murders: The Night Stalker, written by the prosecutor who proved Williams’ guilt, Jack Mallard.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran an interview with Mallard this week.  It is strangely contentious: the reporter seems to be more interest in arguing with Mallard over Williams’ guilt than asking him questions about his book:

Between 1979 and 1981, 30 young African-Americans between ages 9 and 28 were either killed or declared missing in what was known as the “Atlanta Child Murders” case. The victims’ bodies were found in wooded lots, vacant buildings or the Chattahoochee River.

Williams received a life sentence 28 years ago this month for killing two of the victims, but he was implicated in at least a dozen others. He has said for years that he’s innocent. The doubt that shrouded the case has fueled articles and books by people who still question whether Williams was the sole killer.

Well, not really.  That’s not the question the keeps popping up in appeal after appeal for Williams.  Williams’ advocates are specifically actually arguing that he is innocent of the two crimes for which he was convicted.

Oddly, the reporter interviewing Mallard tells readers to “Judge for yourself,” presumably regarding Williams’ guilt.  What an odd way to begin an interview with the prosecutor in a settled case:

Now, finally, Mallard has heeded the urgings of others and weighed in with his new book, “The Atlanta Child Murders: the Night Stalker.” Though a bit pedantic, the book lays out the prosecution’s strategy, from presentation of evidence to cross-examinations. Here, Mallard, 75 and retired, talks about guilt, doubt and closure. Judge for yourself.

Q: Reading this book, it almost feels as though you’re retrying the case right there in the courtroom. But in writing this did you look back and see things you might have done differently or mistakes you might have made?

Ah yes, he is a prosecutor who successfully convicted someone, so he must have been making mistakes.  Nobody ever challengingly demands of defense attorneys whether they made mistakes.

A: As a longtime prosecutor, what I would do is map out a trial plan, like writing a screenplay; everybody has a part. If you work up the right trial plan, then you expect things to go as you planned it. This trial went according to plan.

Well, we can’t have that, can we?  It sounds as if Mallard simply stands by the verdict.

Q: You relied heavily on verbatim testimony for dialogue in this book and you included a few updates. But why didn’t you talk with any of Williams’ original defense attorneys, at least those who are still around?

A: I knew it wouldn’t serve any purpose. [They’ve] always thought that Wayne was innocent.

In other words, verbatim testimony just isn’t verbatim enough, Mr. Mallard: you should have gone to the other side and given them a platform to call you a liar.  Because, of course, they do that for you whenever they climb onto their soapbox, don’t they?  No?  Well, you should do it anyway.

Q: Williams was basically convicted on the basis of carpet fibers and dog hairs found on the victims, which you argued could only have come from Williams or his home. There are still doubting Thomases out there who think the fiber and hair evidence was suspect in some way. Do you think you finally assuaged any doubt about that evidence with the book?

A: Yes, and I think I mention in [the book], had cameras been allowed in the courtroom — you can look at these fibers and compare them in living color in photographs like the jury did — people would really not be suspicious as to whether or not you can identify a fiber.

Q: Yes, but there are still doubters out there, some who’ve suggested that maybe the fibers were somehow planted or inadvertently transferred by a lab technician in the case.

A: Well, you either believe in law enforcement and scientists or you don’t. What you read on the Internet, that’s not evidence. That’s not tested in a court of law. So much of it that is completely fiction.

Q: OK then, consider me a doubter . . .

Wow.  That pretty much speaks for itself.  And here’s what it is saying: I’m a partisan for the defense, inappropriately assigned to challenge you and your crazy “guilty verdict” ideas.  Next, due to my biases, I’m going to get the legal issue completely wrong:

Q: OK then, consider me a doubter, because after reading your book, I could see how he could have committed more than half of the 30 killings that were investigated as part of the case. But there were at least five cases that just didn’t seem to fit, in particular the killing of the two little girls, Angel Lanier and LaTonya Wilson. All the other cases involved boys and young men. Do you think he killed the two girls?

A: No, no, no. The two girls should never have been on the list. There was no scientific evidence at all, no trace evidence linking them to Wayne Williams. There’s 25 of them that had trace evidence to Wayne Williams.

There were 25 dead youths and boys linked to Williams through the evidence.  The state tried the two strongest cases.  They investigated the h*ll out of those murders, using federal money and assistance.  In the end, they could not try every case.  That is a function of the pricey mess the defense bar has managed to make of rules of evidence and criminal procedure.  When you destroy the very meaning of seeking the truth with all available evidence, you make it financially and pragmatically impossible to convict murderers like Williams for every offense.  So the state did what they had to do, convicted him of the two strongest cases, and closed the ones in which they were confident that he was the killer.

The inclusion of girls on the highly politicized victim “List” has nothing to do with Williams’ guilt.  As Mallard points out, he does not believe they should have been on that particular list in the first place.

Q: Well what about the other five? What do we do with them?

A: They’re still open. If one day there’s ever any evidence, even the girls, they potentially can be cleared. It happens all the time.

Q: Was Wayne Williams your most formidable opponent?

A: He probably was in the sense that he was the lengthiest cross-examination. He was on the stand about three days. He was prepared and he was smart and he was hard to pin down. But he kept contradicting himself and the jury saw right through it. He probably cooked his own goose by taking the stand.

Q: Do you think your book will help the victims’ families heal, or will it just upset them?

A: I don’t think it will hurt, but the families I really feel for. They’ve been used by the defense in the support of Williams in his appeals. When victims’ families are supporting the defense, that’s somewhat unusual.

Q: Have you talked with any of them in the years since the trial?

A: No, I haven’t kept up with them.

Q: Ever visit the grave sites of any of the victims?

A: No. I don’t like graveyards.

Mallard comes across as somebody who did his job, didn’t suffer fools, and doesn’t play romanticized games with serious issues like child murder.  How refreshing.

Q: You make a direct appeal in the book to Williams, imploring him to confess to the killings. Have you heard from him?

A: No.

Q: Why did you make that appeal to him?

A: Well, if he wants to do something to help humanity he could do it by helping these mothers settle in their own minds that the killer is not still out there. He knows there’s nobody else out there.

Now, back to the irrelevant questions about the victims who weren’t linked to Williams:

Q: Is it possible that somebody else could have been responsible for the remaining five deaths we talked about earlier?

A: It’s possible, because we don’t have any direct evidence connecting Williams to them. Those, I would say, we don’t know.

Q: Will you write another book? You’ve been involved in several other high-profile cases that could be good reads.

A: Several cases would make good writing, but I’m not sure I want to get into that again. I want to enjoy the remaining years I have.

By, like, not being repeatedly pummeled by inaccurate gotcha’s by a reporter who doesn’t bother to have her facts straight.

~~~

Angel Lanier and LaTonya Wilson’s murders were, of course, not irrelevant.  Nor were the murders of other youths who met violent ends in the same time and place.  One of the many tragedies of the ACM controversy is that Lanier, Wilson, and other victims are still being used by the media and various activists to advance other agendas.  It’s clear that the AJC reporter mentions these murdered girls only to attempt to poke holes in Williams’ conviction for the uptenth time. Why doesn’t somebody revisit the girls’ lives, and deaths, as if they themselves mattered?

Why are we continuing to obsess over Wayne Williams at all, when we should be talking about child prostitution, an ongoing crisis that created the conditions in which young adults and children were extremely vulnerable to predators like Wayne Williams thirty years ago?

Child prostitution, or, better, child-and-youth sexual exploitation, is the great unspoken subtext of the Atlanta Child Murders story.  Not all the victims were involved in trading money for sex, but many reportedly were.  And when a community accepts, or cannot stop, such behavior, every child is in danger.

That’s the point of H.B. 582/S.B. 304, the important Georgia child prostitution prevention bill sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford).  Thirty years after so many youths lost their lives on city streets where the existence of a wild west “sex trade” drew predators targeting both boys and girls, it’s far past time to leave Wayne Williams to rot in prison and turn our attention to preventing similar murders in the future.

Go to this site to learn how to support the legislation.