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Catholic Bishops and British “Journalist” Robert Waterhouse Attack the Victims of Robert Waterhouse

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(Hat tip to Max)

Vicious two-time (at least) murderer and rapist-torturer Robert Waterhouse was put to death in Florida last week.  He took his first life 45 years ago.  To say merely that the wheels of justice move slowly is a repugnant understatement in this case.

Robert Waterhouse, executed in Florida 45 years after his first known murder, having a bit of fun with the press

Waterhouse’s first known murder occurred in 1966, when just offing some woman didn’t matter too much to the new crop of criminal fetishists playing sociologist beneath their black robes (let’s not forget to thank the denizens of that blood-drenched punchline called the New York State Parole Commission).  The victim was 77.  Waterhouse raped and strangled her: he tortured an innocent elderly woman to death.  But luckily for him, he did it in a state and at a time when such things just didn’t matter.

Such an act, and the subsequent early release of Waterman wasn’t considered injustice, just another run-of-the-mill rape/torture/murder/leniency in a city busy channeling William Kunstler’s ethical priorities.  Waterhouse got life, but New York State cut him loose after only seven years.  Seven years for the torture, violation, and murder of a defenseless, elderly woman.

Back in such bad old days (that many in our current justice system are trying to recreate), seven years was a typical sentence for this:

77-year-old widow Ella Mae Carter of 39 Washington Ave., Greenport, died of strangulation. She had been brutally beaten; 14 of her ribs were fractured. Teeth marks were found under her right breast. Police said there was evidence of rape, although that charge was never brought against him.

Life, reduced to seven years.  Too bad it wasn’t what we now call “hate crime” since he just did those things to a woman — then somebody might have actually cared, or might care about Ella Mae Carter today.  Waterhouse just slaughtered an old lady — not the sort of thing AG Attorney Holder gets excited about as he scrolls back through history seeking the right types of indignities and injustice to justify his current policies.  Nor was Ella Mae Carter’s murder the sort of thing activists take up as a decades-long cause.   They took up Waterhouse as their cause instead, of course, costing the rest of us millions, I imagine, in ensuing years.

Nor was Mrs. Carter’s murder the sort of thing that gets people like NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn screeching in front of cameras.  If anyone could prove the 77-year old victim had been gay, well, then, that would be a different story.  Then she wouldn’t be forgotten: she would be memorialized.  Books would be written.  Teaching Tolerance classroom syllabi would be scribed in her memory and imposed on young children.  What she endured would be held forth as proof of something bad, instead of being merely an inconvenient reminder of things the social justice industry want us to forget today: that killers aren’t victims; that victims don’t matter to them unless they fit certain political agendas.

Perhaps, had she been water-boarded at some point between the raping and the strangling, Code Pink would be roused to crudely crayon some signs to wave at Waterhouse’s execution, remembering the torture victim.

The hundreds of thousands of murders that occurred during the crime wave of 1965 – 1995 simply aren’t the types of injustice about which PBS makes solemn documentaries.  Some people simply matter more to the activist classes.  Some torture is outrage: other torture is just an excusable expression of the childhood pain of the torturer, who needs to be rehabilitated and “re-entered” into society.  Some injustice burns brightly decades, generations later; other injustice is swept under the nearest available carpet.

This has been the case for half a century now.  So nobody cared when Waterhouse got cut loose in the early 1970′s.  Certainly not the Kunstler types who were insinuating themselves at every level of the criminal justice system, in service to the criminals.  Few even cared when, a decade later, Waterhouse killed Deborah Kammerer after raping and torturing her.  Her body was found on a St. Petersburg beach.  Her anus had been brutalized.  She fought back, hard, before being drowned in the surf:

Teeth broken. Nose broken. Eyes swollen. She had been sexually mutilated with a bottle. She had a bloody tampon jammed down her throat. Wounds on her fingers suggested she tried to fight back. She didn’t die until she drowned.

Here is another description of the type of torture you never find puffed over by cultural elites like Susan Sontag in the New York Review of Books, et al:

Ms. Kammerer, who was described in news reports as “blonde,” petite, a bar-hopper and a (former) date of Waterhouse,” was found nude, lying face down in the mud flats next to Tampa Bay the following morning. A description in the March 12, 1985, edition of the St. Petersburg Times stated: “(Ms. Kammerer) had drowned, but not before her 5-foot-2, 90-pound body was repeatedly violated…

“According to the medical examiner, Ms. Kammerer took 22 blows to the head, some from a tire iron. Her nose was broken in three places, teeth were cracked, eyes swollen, neck choked, back bruised. She was raped. There were extensive cuts in her rectum, where a bottle was forced. A blood-stained tampon was jammed in her throat.”

Well that certainly sounds like the type of case that brings legal activists like Steven Bright lapping at the door. The jailhouse door, that is, to make a hero of the tooth-smasher, anus raper, woman strangler.  And lap he did, along with scores of other excited anti-death penalty attorneys and one buffoonish British “journalist” who discovered he shared the same name with a rapist-killer, and, on such stimulating grounds, inserted himself in the case.  Can you imagine anything more puerile and egocentric?  Anything more indulgently-dining-outish?  I suppose I lack imagination.

The other Robert Waterhouse: Guardian writer shares the name of a rapist-killer!

In recent media, the other Robert Waterhouse describes his fun times with his murderer-pal while systematically concealing the facts that convicted the murderer.  In The Guardian, of course.  What a distasteful, attention hungry little man, trampling on raped and murdered women to puff himself up.  To indulge . . . a hobby.  His writing illuminates an ugly impulse driving many journalists: he seems aroused by the fantasy of experiencing the “suffering” of the killer on death row; he identifies with the inflictor of torture so transparently that one must wonder how much time he spends strolling like a dirty flåneur in his mind through the details of the murders themselves.

Projected self-pity is such a noxious modern sin.

In his journalism, Waterhouse utterly misrepresents nearly every detail of the legal narrative, leaving out things like the evidence.  For his sake, one can only hope the subjective bits about his own feelings are equally inaccurate, or else he really is an embarrassing specimen:

My friendship with Robert started formally in early February 2001 when I interviewed him at Union Correctional Institution, Raiford. My presence there as a journalist ensured that we met with a screen between us. He was in cuffs and leg-irons. I would get to know him later as a friend in the more relaxed setting of the contact-meeting room nearby, where up to 20 inmates at a time receive approved visitors. But the press interview emphasized our wholly different positions, something that spurs me when I feel the need to be reminded.

I did eventually publish an article in the weekend edition of the London Financial Times. By that time I had met Robert on three further occasions. I spent four weeks last summer investigating his case in St. Petersburg while visiting at weekends, preceded by a few days on Long Island, New York, where Robert was born and grew up, and where he pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge in 1966 [Oh, let's not go into that messy thing, shall we?  Ruins the ambiance.]

He was then only 19. He spent the next nine years or so [simple math, Bob] in Auburn State Prison before being released on life parole, drifting from Long Island to Louisiana and eventually, in 1978, to Florida where he went to live with his aunt and uncle, the people who had raised him from the age of six months and had retired to St. Petersburg.

Robert has always insisted on his innocence of the St. Petersburg murder. A few months back, he wrote his account of the events of January 2-3 1980, the night Deborah Kammerer was murdered, for Justice Denied Magazine. I have questioned him closely on this account. He has stuck to his story, and I am not in a position to say I don’t believe him [translation: I know he's guilty but lack the spine to admit it.] So, in writing about his case, I intend to concentrate not on guilt or innocence but on the wrongs I believe he suffered before and after his arrest on January 9 1980. These alone, I suggest, make up a prima facie example of justice denied.

Let’s start by setting the scene. St. Petersburg, or St. Pete, is a low-density conurbation of some 238,000 souls on the west side of Tampa Bay. Its downtown area faces the bay with a few skyscrapers and a famous pier. The town straddles an isthmus between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. On the gulf side, a string of resorts beside golden sands with names like Treasure Island and Madeira Beach. It’s a sub-tropical retirement haven, which in 1980 also attracted an easy-going, pot-smoking set of drifters [sic] Deborah Kammerer and Robert Waterhouse were among them.

They knew each other. They had smoked dope together and had made love three or four times. Debbie (as everyone called her) was a divorcée whose ex-husband and children were back in Indiana. She was a slight (90 pounds) fair-haired woman. Robert, on the other hand was, at 6ft 2in and 220 pounds, dark-haired and bearded, a strong, flashy 33-year-old determined to enjoy himself after spending most of his twenties behind bars [For torturing an elderly woman to death.  But, whatever.]. He had a string of drinking companions and women admirers.

[Here's the part where Waterhouse leaves out Waterhouse's other crimes, including an attempted double murder for which he wasn't punished.  Details, details.  What a hack.]

One of the places they met was the ABC Lounge on 4th Avenue North and 35th Street North. It was from here that Deborah Kammerer left in the early hours of January 3, probably with the person who murdered her. She was discovered head down in the shallow muddy water of Tampa Bay at Lansing Park beside Beach Drive South East at 19th Avenue SE the next morning by a resident walking his dog. She was naked, had been hit viciously around the head many times, raped and otherwise violated. The autopsy concluded she had been alive when dumped in the water.

Robert, who had also been in the lounge the previous evening, contends that he did not speak to Debbie on that occasion. She was at the main bar with friends; he was in a side bar meeting someone who was to sell him some pot. He says he left early to do the deal, and only returned to drop off his contact. But a barmaid claimed she had seen Robert and Debbie sitting, drinking and leaving together (this was not corroborated by Debbie’s friends). However, that evidence and blood traces in his car which matched her blood type was enough, in a circumstantial case, to convict him.

Just three days after the murder, before Deborah Kammerer herself had been identified, Robert was put under police surveillance following an anonymous phone call. The caller identified his car tag, indicating that all the evidence needed was in the vehicle.

Two days later Robert was pulled over by police cruisers as he left another St Petersburg club. His driver’s license was taken from him. He was told he could only get it back by accompanying police to the police station. There, he was questioned but not arrested. He was free to leave. However, his car must stay. A search warrant issued the next morning for the car led to a warrant for his arrest on January 9. The police, and the district attorney, were sure they had their man.

So the police hit the jackpot when, prompted by the mystery caller, they found that the registered owner of the 1973 Plymouth Satellite was none other than Robert Waterhouse, on life parole for a previous murder. Or was it the other way round? Did they concoct the call to match the profile? The caller was alleged to be a middle-aged male with a New York or New England accent. Robert’s uncle Chet Foster and “family friend” Ken Norwood both fitted the bill, but both denied involvement.

In pre-trial suppression hearings of August 1980, Robert’s court-appointed attorneys, Paul Scherer and John Thor White, moved to strike evidence found in the car as inadmissible because they claimed Robert had been unlawfully detained when made to take his vehicle to the police station. They also moved to strike damning statements taken in a police station interview of January 10 not in the presence of a defense attorney, even though the Pinellas County Public Defender had been appointed to Robert’s case.

Judge Patterson allowed the automobile evidence [Oh, just blood evidence, hair evidence, admission she was tortured in his car, other forensics, nothing important to a British journalist (I am beginning to believe the breed may not actually exist)] (without which the prosecution case would have crumbled) [Yes, prosecutions tend to crumble when you don't consider, you know, evidence] but ruled against the verbal statements. However, after further representation by prosecutors Bob Merkle and Jack Helinger, Judge McGarry reversed Patterson’s opinion and allowed everything to stand.

This was the first, but by no means the last, example of prosecution bullying [Bullying?  Does he mean doing his job?  We are talking about a man who ripped a woman's anus open with a bottle, and this thingy is whining about bullying?].  The trial transcript illustrates many instances of Merkle, in particular, hustling trial judge Robert E. Beach into accepting his view of how things should be conducted.

The trial was a big event in the St. Petersburg of 1980. According to reports the courtroom was packed. Judge Beach, whose background was in commercial law, had seen two decisions recently overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. The DA’s department was known for its aggressiveness. Bob “Mad Dog” Merkle was at the start of a career which took him to be Assistant US Attorney in Tampa and one-time Republican candidate for the US Senate before opting for lucrative private practice. He needed the victory he quickly gained  [Oh, no.  The prosecutor wanted to win the case, even though some British journalist with a fetish problem wanted him to lose it twenty years later!]. 

Among photographic “evidence” allowed as a backdrop to the trial were pictures of Ms Kammerer not as she was discovered in Tampa Bay but after she had been literally scalped during autopsy.  [So what?  Why the scare quotes around the word "evidence"?  This is what happened to Ms. Kammerer, no matter how much Waterhouse wishes to officially cleanse the record.  How sickeningly, sickeningly dishonest he is.] Jurors were illegally offered a handbook of advice on how to conduct themselves. So-called expert witnesses put on the stand by the county were not cross-examined in an adversarial manner. The defense brought only one witness compared with the prosecution’s 30 or so. The prosecution had delayed until the very last moment to disclose exculpatory witnesses to the defense, contravening Brady rights.

Robert was in fact never asked by his defense counsel to provide a list of witnesses. It wasn’t until the trial opened that the defendant realized that his own car would be identified as the crime scene, with Merkle borrowing from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to invoke blood and guilt [Confabulation, distortion, meaningless technicality, utterly meaningless observation, confabulation, and more lying.  Waterhouse was convicted on the evidence.  Too bad there isn't a minimum mandatory for recidivist dissembling].

Here is Robert Waterhouse’s last word on Robert Waterhouse. He calls the rapist-murderer “brave” and a courageous example to us all:

[M]y friendship with Robert, with his wife Frances and with other Death Row families — indeed my opportunity to meet briefly other inmates — is an extraordinary ongoing experience. To be one amongst perhaps 50 people at Saturday visiting time talking, laughing and eating, putting the bravest of faces on the worst of circumstances, is to know that human nature does indeed triumph in adversity.

Robert Waterhouse is surely the most, well, to put it as best as I can, icky advocate of Robert Waterhouse the rapist-killer, but there are others eager to empathize with the murderer, with any murderer.  Here is a deeply disturbing empathy spiel from a childhood friend who felt sorry for Waterhouse because people wouldn’t talk to him at a party after he raped and murdered a 77-year old woman:

Mr. Tyler remembers seeing Waterhouse at the Apple Tree, a Mattituck nightspot, after his 1975 parole. “A lot of the guys he used to hang out with were there, but no one would talk to him,” Mr. Tyler recalls. “No one could relate to him. What do you say to someone who has been in prison for 10 years? It was a very awkward situation. As much as I wanted to go up to him and say, ‘Hi, Bob, how are you doing,’ there wasn’t anything to say. Everyone must have had the same attitude, because no one else talked to him. He was standing there all alone like a lost soul, just looking over the crowd.”

Awww, poor baby.  What is the matter with these people?  What do you ask him, Mr Tyler?  So, Bob, how did it feel to torture and rape that sweet elderly woman to death?  Hey, want a beer?  How about: What the hell is that bastard doing out of prison?   The void where outrage should exist has been replaced with people more worried about hurting the feelings of a serial killer-rapist.  The sheer perversion of what has become of the old saw about “walking in another person’s shoes” would leave Atticus Finch vomiting in his coffin for eternity.  If he existed.

I think we should call crimes like Waterhouse’s precisely what they are: Lynching.  Robert Waterhouse’s murder of Ella Mae Carter became a lynching the moment he walked out of prison instead of spending the rest of his life there; his murder of  Deborah Kammerer was a lynching because our legal system chose to not protect her.  The people who excuse Waterhouse’s crimes and denounce his incarceration, particularly the other Robert Waterhouse, are no different from those who used to stand by the sidelines cheering on murderous Klansmen.  Using accurate language would clarify the mind as we grapple with the fact that there are thousand of Robert Waterhouses out there eluding justice because society doesn’t care enough to apply its own laws when politically irrelevant types of people are denied justice.  Call all such murders lynchings; call them all hate crimes, and then, once we’ve had a nice bracing emetic of ethical and intellectual consistency, we can start to have that real conversation about injustice everyone keeps nattering about.

And when we do that, the Robert Waterhouse journalists of the world can also be named what they truly deserve:  Apologists.  Propagandists.  Aroused houseboys for torturers.  And worse.  Because he clearly enjoys doing this sort of thing with rapist-murderers, enjoys it with enough appetite to deploy his profession to obliterate the memory of women who suffered and died.

Whining about the distasteful nature of a photograph of a tortured woman’s raw scalp.  What a man.

~~~

Most recently, the Catholic Bishops have taken it upon themselves to cruelly criticize Deborah Kammerer’s surviving family.  In the interest, in their case, of opposing the death penalty, the Bishops publicly accuse Kammerer’s loved ones of serious moral transgressions.  This behavior has got to stop.  I ask that practicing Catholics send a letter to the Catholic Bishops asking them to withdraw their statement and apologize to Ms. Kammerer’s relatives.  One need not oppose the Catholic teaching on the death penalty to call for an end to such scapegoating of victims’ families.  Below is my letter:

Dear Bishop _____,

I am writing to ask that you and the other signatories publicly withdraw your statement falsely accusing the families of Robert Waterhouse’s victims of harboring hatred.

In the media, you stated of them: “Anger destroys while forgiveness frees one to live again in peace, blotting out the desire for revenge.”

This is deeply offensive.  You do not claim to know these people, nor does it appear that you have counseled them — and had you done so, you would have no business speaking publicly about their feelings in any case.  Yet you pronounce in the most public forum that you do know what they are feeling, and then you presume to correct them in that public place.  You position alone does not grant you knowledge of, nor authority over, their hearts.

You must also know in your own hearts that press releases like this one are not written to heal.  If they were, you would hardly broadcast them in a newspaper.  You are engaging in anti-death penalty activism, and that is all.  Through the act of publishing these words, you are exploiting your positions as religious leaders and exploiting the act of counseling, not sincerely offering real comfort to possibly (possibly not) troubled souls.

Victims in high-profile cases are too frequently subjected to such pressures from Catholic authorities.  And while I personally know and know of individual religious who have offered the greatest comfort to crime victims, I also know of many shameful demonstrations of public excoriation and political misuse of other victims by Church representatives.  The murderer becomes the victim, and the victim becomes the enemy of the cause.

This sort of advocacy is deeply corrosive.  You are dragging innocent bystanders into your activism for their loved ones’ killers.  You are also choosing to make ethical scapegoats of people who are mere witnesses, both legally and morally, to the workings of our justice system.  Society sentenced Robert Waterhouse to death, not the victims’ families, and not a mob.  Elected officials alone can commute his sentence.  Your appeal to the victims is mere calculation, and it is cruel.

Please withdraw your statement, and apologize to these grieving people for your misuse of them, now and in the future.

~~~

To the other Robert Waterhouse, I have just this to say:

Zip up your pants and get a different hobby, pal.

 

 

 

The Guilty Project: The First Rape is a Freebie, then Loc Buu Tran Slaughters A Young Woman

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Courtwatcher Orlando’s Laura Williams brings attention to the case of Loc Buu Tran:

2006-CF-014820-O In custody since 10/19/06 ~ Trial now scheduled for 11/16/09 with Judge John Adams.  1st Degree Murder. Allegedly stabbed a UCF student to death 10/06 when she tried to break up with him. Also was convicted 8 years ago in Clearwater for rape. Mistrial was declared 8/12/09 after Judge Jenifer Davis realized during the first witness’ testimony that she had worked on the case when in the PD’s office.
Why can’t we seem to get this guy tried?

Good question.  The judge, who rose to the bench after working as a defense attorney, claims that she “didn’t remember” that she had previously represented Tran.  How, exactly, does that happen in an extremely well-publicized murder case of a college student?

Judge Jennifer M. Davis was presiding over the case until she officially disqualified herself this morning on the grounds that she previously had worked in the public defender’s office as an attorney. Davis said she was part of Loc Tran’s defense.

“I’ve had this case for awhile,” Davis said. “It had not occurred to me I had worked in the office that initially represented this case, so legally I have no choice but to disqualify myself.”

Davis apologized to the jury and said she had worked as a supervisor with the attorneys defending the case. She said she didn’t realize until she heard the witness testimony from Nhat-Anh’s sister.

Here’s another question: why did Tran get probation from a judge in Clearwater, Florida in 1998 for the crime of burglary, sexual battery and kidnapping?

Probation for sexual assault.  Pinellas County’s on-line records are sketchy, but it appears that some judge in Clearwater, Florida gave Tran mere probation in December of 1998 for several serious crimes including sexual assault.  Think about that.  Rape a woman, get probation.  “First” offense, a freebie (though it appears it isn’t his first offense — a previous case is listed but there are no extant records).  In other words, nobody bothered to prosecute him that time, so the rape became a second first offense.  That makes the murder a fourth eighth offense.

There is a “sentencing guideline departure” page listed on the County website, but I can’t open that either.  No kidding they departed.

I would love to hear the justification for granting probation for rape.  Especially because Tran went on to take another woman’s life.

From what I can tell, and I’ll check on this after the holiday, after Loc Tran received probation for the 1998 rape, he went on to violate his probation with a fistful of credit card fraud charges which led to his finally being sentenced to prison in 2002.

Rape a woman, walk.  Steal a credit card, and you’re going to the big house, buddy.

But not for very long.  In July, 2002, Tran was sentenced to serve seven concurrent sentences of 3 years, two months each.  Take a good look at the offenses, all telescoped down to one concurrent prison term.  This is how crimes are disappeared by the courts every day, and victims are denied even the semblance of justice.  Or safety.

Current Prison Sentence History:
Offense Date Offense Sentence Date County Case No. Prison Sentence Length
04/27/1998 BURGLARY ASSAULT ANY PERSON 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 9807111 3Y 2M 0D
04/27/1998 SEX BAT/INJURY NOT LIKELY 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 9807111 3Y 2M 0D
04/27/1998 KIDNAP;COMM.OR FAC.FELONY 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 9807111 3Y 2M 0D
04/27/1998 OBSTRUCT CRIME INVESTIGATION 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 9807111 3Y 2M 0D
12/22/2001 FRAUD-CREDIT-CARD 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 0120895 3Y 2M 0D
12/22/2001 FRAUD-CREDIT-CARD 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 0120895 3Y 2M 0D
12/22/2001 FRAUD-CREDIT-CARD 07/24/2002 PINELLAS 0120895 3Y 2M 0D

Then, of course, after letting Tran get away with a known rape for four years, then catching him violating his probation with several other charges, then sentencing him to an absurdly short prison term . . . well, why break a perfect record of sheer contempt for victims of crime, not to mention the safety of women?  The State of Florida let him go early, after serving only 26 months of a 38 month sentence.

They also apparently trash-canned the rest of his probation, for good measure.  It’s all about prisoner “re-entry,” you know.  Probation’s a drag.  How dare we ask judges to enforce the law when rapists need to be rehabilitated back into society and given job training and that all-important-help getting their voting rights reinstated (Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s weird hobbyhorse)?

As we know now, Tran “re-entered” society with a bang.  A slash, really, stabbing a young woman to death when she tried to break up with him.   Given the court’s repeated bungling of his case this time, you have to wonder if he’ll ever really be off the streets.

Take a good look at his face.

This is a man who knows there are no consequences for the crimes he commits against women.  Expect endless, expensive appeals for him, and more of the same when he walks out of prison a second time.

A Truly Offensive Effort to Whitewash the Crime Problem

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What’s the matter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution?

In the last year, the residents of Atlanta stood up and declared that they do not want their city to be a place known for crime, where murders and muggings are taken in stride.  They declared that one murder, one home invasion, is one too many.  They partnered with the police — ignoring the headline-grabbing anti-cop types who perennially try to sow divisiveness.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution stubbornly failed to grasp the significance of these events.  They mocked the anti-crime activists and denied the crime problem with a scorn they would not dream of directing at other types of community leaders or social movements.  They sought out the usual political operatives to feed them quotes denying the seriousness of crime.

They didn’t understand that the public had long-ago grown tired of these condescending tactics.  The newspaper of record especially didn’t understand that the internet gave citizens powerful new ways to see precisely how much their lives and pocketbooks were being affected by crime — whether it was sharing information about the ten-time recidivist standing in their driveway or finding out how many other people got put on hold when calling 911.

Atlantans began to demand a healthier, saner, safer status quo.  They set out to change the culture of the city in ways that will benefit every single person, from the well-off to the poor to criminals themselves (for criminals are not helped by a system that allows them to destroy their own lives).

Now, less than a year later, anti-crime activism has brought about a sea change in the political culture of the city.  Several candidates are running in this election on solid platforms of public safety — notably Adam Brackman, a leader in the volunteer court-watching movement that pressures judges to remove repeat offenders from the streets.

Every politician in this election is on notice that they dismiss public concern about crime at their peril.

And by the time the next election rolls around, I suspect that some of the judges who are failing to uphold the law and siding with offenders rather than law-abiding citizens will be folding up their black robes.  Pressure on the courts, and pressuring the city to end the police furloughs, has already set the city on the path to reducing crime, though it will be a long road.

So why did the AJC choose this moment to retreat to the “crime is a perception thing” debate again?

“People are scared,” said Kyle Keyser, founder of Atlantans Together Against Crime. The group formed in January, in a near-spontaneous reaction to a perceived crime wave that crested with the killing of a restaurant worker near Grant Park.

“Near-spontaneous.”  “Perceived crime wave.”  “Crested.”  Could the reporter wedge in a few more diminutives?  I lived in that neighborhood for decades, and in reality, crime has always been unacceptably high there.  It would be a lot higher if residents weren’t paying through the teeth for security patrols and motion detectors and cameras inside and outside of their homes, a veritable self-imposed police state that reflects the failure of city leaders and especially judges to behave as if all crime matters.

So why is the newspaper still hammering away at the theme that it is the perception of crime that is the problem?  Even when they acknowledge that crime is up alarmingly, from a base rate that is alarming enough, they feel the need to remind people that such things are normal, you know, in urban places:

Residential burglaries are a key component of the property crime category. But while all property crime decreased, reports of residential break-ins grew by 65 percent from 2004 to 2008. This year alone, home burglaries in southeast Atlanta are up 52 percent.

Larcenies have steadily decreased, as well. But thefts from automobiles, a frequent grievance of in-town residents, rose 30 percent in five years.

Criminologists say a high crime rate is inevitable in Atlanta, where widespread poverty and an influx of commuters, conventioneers and tourists create an atmosphere conducive to illicit activity.

Yeah, that pickpocket’s trade show sure brought a bunch of pickpockets to town.  The problem isn’t poverty: it’s profound social dysfunction, and the primary targets of crime are not conventioneers in the security-heavy downtown business district but residents going about their lives.  Some criminologists will say anything, however, in the service of rejecting legitimate worries about criminal behavior:

How well a police department performs its most basic job — preventing crime — can be assessed three ways, said Robert Friedmann, a professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University.

“One is the numbers,” he said. “Two is the numbers. And three is perception.”

Is it?  “Perception” is criminologist-code for “hysteria.”  The argument that Atlanta’s crime problem is merely the “perception” of paranoid whiners was rejected by the public months ago.  Yet here comes the AJC, once again, scolding people for failing to lower their expectations to meet the “inevitable” reality of violent urban crime.

The reporter doesn’t stop there, however.  The end of this article, an article that purports to investigate “dysfunction in the police department,”  is instead dedicated to dismissing the seriousness of John Henderson’s murder and by extension the legitimacy of the entire anti-crime movement.

He does this by claiming, again, that John Henderson’s death was probably just “an accident,” foolishly valued and misapprehended by those who reacted to it:

The case featured many archetypal elements of the high-profile urban crime story: the neighborhood’s historic poverty contrasted against the Standard’s hipster scene; the free-roaming young killers, possibly gang members; the overmatched police force, struggling to keep pace with crime. To many, the case seemed to be a metaphor that captured Atlanta as a growing threat.

Except it wasn’t.

It wasn’t?  It wasn’t what?  The bullet that entered John Henderson’s head was neither an archetype nor a metaphor nor a plot twist: it was a chunk of metal that ended an innocent man’s life, fired from a gun by malicious thugs who displayed murderous contempt for other people’s lives.  To point to the dead body of that young man and say “those who have reacted to this loss are making too much of a big deal about it: it’s just routine, the sort of thing that happens is the big city,” is utterly, starkly, reprehensible.

It smacks of telling people that if they’re “hipsters” who choose to live in-town, they must accept a certain body count among their friends and loved ones, and to complain about that is the real crime.  The reporter backs up this sleazy assertion by insisting that the murder wasn’t as bad as people thought.  Get it?  The murder wasn’t all that bad:

Much of what was reported about Henderson’s killing turned out to be false. He was not shot execution-style. Nor was he wounded four times. He was hit once in the leg during the robbery and once again in the head, maybe by accident, as the robbers fled. One of the bullets came from a handgun the robbers took from Henderson’s co-worker.

“He was hit.”  “Hit,” not shot, a softer word.  “Once in the leg during the robbery.”  Only once, not four times, so why complain about it?  “Once again in the head, maybe by accident.”  Accidentally shooting someone in the head?  What is motivating the AJC to keep bluntly denying the horror of this crime?

I’d interject here that this is not the way the AJC reported on Vernon Forrest’s death.  Forrest chased his robbers with his own gun.  He was no less a victim for it, and the AJC took the right line on that murder, as they did on that family’s demands for justice (as did the Chief and the Mayor, who leaped to action, in stark contrast to their response to Henderson’s murder).  And yet, even after finally doing the right thing, the AJC has now returned to Henderson’s murder to throw a little more dirt.

This is selective policing of the public’s reaction to a cold-blooded murder.  Cold-blooded, no matter where the killer was standing when he fired the bullet.  When you shoot a person through a door, you are as legally and morally as responsible for killing them as you would be if you stood over their body and fired the gun.

The reporter, not the public, is the one wallowing in metaphor and fiction here.  John Henderson is just as dead as he would be if the killing were expertly choreographed.  The public understands this.  They understand that adolescent killers waving guns are just as dangerous as — maybe more dangerous than — seasoned thugs who control their firing range.   Why is the AJC so obsessed with diminishing the responsibility of the killers in this case?  Why do they seem more outraged by the public reacting than by the killing itself?

[T]he area around the Standard was hardly unprotected before the robbery.

From 2:55 to 3:05 a.m., police dispatch records show, the officer assigned to the neighborhood was checking on a gas station at Memorial Drive and Hill Street — 500 feet from the Standard. The officer resumed patrol moments before the robbers smashed the bar’s door.

Short of standing guard at the Standard, it appears the officer could have done little more to prevent the crime.

“There’s a limit to how much officers can impact,” said Friedmann, the Georgia State criminologist. “If someone wants to commit a crime, they’ll commit a crime.”

Well, thank you for clearing that up.  Let’s just forget about it, then.  What’s the big fuss?  The police can’t be everywhere at all times.  This isn’t, like, The Matrix, dude.  So you should forget about complaining when your friends get gunned down.  It’s just life in the big city, after all.

And if it’s the right kind of crime, one involving a victim or location presumed immune from violence, news coverage often implies a broad menace, Friedmann said.

Memorial Drive is presumed immune to violence?  Since when?  Bartenders closing shop are presumed immune to violence?  Sometimes I think criminologists will say absolutely anything to whitewash the reality of crime.  Maybe Fridemann was quoted wildly out of context, because this makes absolutely no sense: he is saying that crime is omnipresent and unavoidable but that a bartender working late at night on Memorial Drive is an utterly unlikely potential victim of crime.  Say anything, in other words, so long as it ineluctably reinforces the conclusion that crime is just a “perception” problem:

“You have a story, people pay attention to it,” he said. “You don’t have a story, people don’t know about it, and it’s as if it didn’t happen.”

I speak fluent Hackademese, so let me try to translate.  Dr. Friedmann is saying that it’s not the murder that is the problem: it’s the fact that people made a big stinking deal about the murder that’s the problem.

Now, to mix things up, back to the reporter denying the severity of Henderson’s murder:

In this case, all that followed — protests over police furloughs, a property tax increase to put officers back to work full time, the “City Under Siege” media frenzy over later crimes — was based on inaccurate information provided by a police detective the day of Henderson’s killing.

Keyser now knows the story was exaggerated.

Does he?  I know Kyle Keyser, and he is committed to ignoring the media’s relentless claims that crime doesn’t matter — the reporter’s insinuation here flies in the face of Keyser’s message and actions.   Playing “gotcha” journalism with a person’s death is pretty ugly stuff.

Sadly, reports of John Henderson’s death were not exaggerated.  Thus, claiming that all that followed — a young man’s funeral, a city coming together to confront the problem of violent crime, more murders, more funerals — hinges on precisely how the gun was held when the bullet entered Henderson’s brain is setting up a straw-man of peculiarly grotesque intent.

The AJC really ought to be ashamed of peddling this type of underhanded opinion-mongering as news.   Nobody in touch with reality cares whether John Henderson was shot by somebody standing over him or shot through a door after being shot once already.  Nobody with a shred of decency would obsess over that distinction and conclude that public outrage over the murder and other crime is just “hype.”  Nor crack a joke about it, as the reporter does:

Pennington has a chance to try to turn the hype to his advantage, to convince Atlantans they’re safer than they think. On Tuesday, the chief is scheduled to address an annual breakfast sponsored by the police foundation.

The event’s theme: “Crime is toast.”

Get it?  Just stop worrying about crime, you ignorant hysterics, and it will all go away.

Outrage: Lisa Davenport, R.I.P. “Always Full of Happiness.” And Others.

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What do you say to the judge in Athens, Georgia to justify kidnapping somebody, stabbing them repeatedly with a screwdriver, and leaving them for dead?

Well, your honor, she’s mine, and she deserved it:

Police first arrested [Phillip] Scruggs in 2001, after family members say he abducted [Lisa]  Davenport, stabbed her with a screwdriver and left her for dead.

A Clarke County grand jury indicted him on charges of kidnapping, kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated assault and violating the state Family Violence Act, and as part of a plea agreement Scruggs pleaded guilty to kidnapping, false imprisonment and battery.

He received a three-year sentence, but with credit for time served in county jail, Scruggs was back out in September 2004.

In 2001, the jury indicted him and the judge (and possibly the prosecutor) let him walk.  At the time, why wasn’t Scruggs charged with attempted murder instead of aggravated assault, which can be excused with one year — a one year suspended sentence, even, if the judge’s hair happens to be blowing that way?

And then why did the prosecutor agree to drop even the aggravated assault charge and let him plead to battery?

Who was this Lisa Davenport, whose life was so unimportant that someone who kidnapped her and left her for dead in 2001 got a slap on the wrist, enabling him to come back later and finish the job?

“Lisa was the kind of person who was always full of happiness and had a glow around her,” [her brother, Eric] said.  Lisa Davenport is survived by her mother, father, two brothers, a sister, daughter and two grandchildren.

I do not give a whit that this was a “domestic violence” case: aren’t the legal experts always nattering on about how the victim is only a witness to a crime, that the prosecutor represents society, not the victim, because the crime is committed against society?  Aren’t victims supposed to be these untrustworthy, dangerous creatures who must be repressed into symbolic non-personhood in the courts lest they feel “vengeful” or something, a thing far worse than the crime itself, according to the experts?

Isn’t that one of the noble ideals under-girding our entire legal system?

Well, here is (I should say was, for she is dead now) one victim whose perspective truly should have been consigned to the status of “state witness” because she was tragically brainwashed by some sick monster into believing her own non-personhood: she went back to Scruggs after he got out of prison.  Then she tried to escape him again, and he killed her.

Here is the truly chilling thing, the thing that ought to give voters in Clark County pause the next time they must stand with their consciences at a ballot box: in 2001, the judge agreed with Phillip Scrugg’s interpretation of Lisa Davenport’s non-personhood.  The judge sided with the man wielding the screwdriver, not the woman being stabbed with the screwdriver.  How, otherwise, do you explain a three-year sentence (actually less) for trying to murder her?

The prosecutor and the judge were supposed to prosecute, and sentence, Phillip Scruggs for the crime he committed, no matter who it was he tried to kill.  But they didn’t.  They failed, and we failed by letting them, and now Lisa Davenport, whose life was deemed so cheap by the courts in 2001, has been murdered by the man we didn’t keep in prison:

A 42-year-old woman who was doused with kerosene and set on fire has died from her injuries.

Family members say Elisa Davenport died around 5 p.m. Saturday at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center, due to complications of burns she suffered on more than 60 percent of her body from the Aug. 17 attack.

“The trauma that her body went through was just too much for her to hold on,” her brother, Eric Davenport, said.

Athens-Clarke police say they plan to take out warrants Monday charging 49-year-old Phillip Scruggs with murder.

Scruggs, who was her boyfriend, had originally faced charges of aggravated assault and first-degree arson for the incident, which caused a blaze that gutted her home and spread to other units in an Athens apartment complex.

Lisa Davenport took two weeks to die in a burn unit in Augusta.  Her brother said Scruggs set her on fire and then sat and watched her burn:

“He didn’t shoot or stab her, but he set her on fire, and set more fire in her house in a way that made it almost impossible for her to escape,” Eric Davenport said. “Then, he just sat across the street to watch what happened, until people pointed him out to the police.”

~~~

How do we minimize the killing of a woman? The criminologists weigh in with clinical terms like “spree killer” and “serial killer,” words designed to distract from the moral outrage of the crime, making it curious, not outrageous.  Or “domestic violence,” which sounds — well — it sounds so domestic.  Minimal.

Ironically, the very same criminologists who are consulted to label certain murders “spree” or “domestic” are also the leaders of the hate crimes movement.  Those crimes, they tell reporters, are the really serious ones, the ones that ought to provoke moral outrage.  Not like killing a woman.  Or twelve women.

Here are celebrated hate crime advisers and criminologists James Allen Fox and Jack Levin, weighing in on George Sodini, who walked into a gym in Pittsburgh and picked off 12 women, killing three of them, a crime that Fox and Levin ever so carefully avoid labeling “hate”:

There are so many features about this shooting spree that are tragically textbook. Like most mass killers, Mr. Sodini struggled through a long history of failure and rejection, from childhood, with a brother he regarded as a bully and a father he saw as distant and unconcerned . . . In his extreme loneliness, Mr. Sodini was without emotional support and comfort . . . Aside from the gunman, the real culprit in explaining mass murder can be found in society itself . . . Many Americans simply have no place to turn when they become desperate. Their misery has no company. Without options and without support, mass murder can sometimes seem like the only way out. . . we must still make an effort, perhaps by reaching out to the seemingly isolated stranger sitting alone at the next table in the restaurant or working out with an iPod at the next treadmill in the gym. We may, in the process of trying, enhance the well-being of others . . .

No outrage here, except at society, which made Mr. Sodini feel bad.  It was just killing a woman — a bunch of women, one woman, whatever, just women.  That’s not hate crime, according to these experts, not even if you set the woman on fire and then sit down to watch her burn because you think you own her, not if you pick off twelve strange women after telling the world you hate women in a blog: none of this is hate, according to these experts, so long as the people you’re hating are heterosexual females.

To say the least, this is not the way Professors Fox and Levin talk when they are labeling a crime — even a minor crime — a hate crime.  Then there’s no long, slow, minimizing rumination about the loneliness of the long distance runner, or other such prattle.  Then they declare zero tolerance and shout for moral outrage.

Imagine if the Athens community had spoken out in 2001 about an attempted murderer getting less than three years in prison for kidnapping and stabbing a woman and leaving her for dead?

Imagine if that crime, and that lack of punishment, had mobilized candlelight marches, and earnest speak-outs, and calls for the prosecutor and judge to step down, because they did not honor the woman’s humanity, her purported equality under the law.

Imagine if the activist politicians, the grand-standers and media-seekers, had stood up and declared that this crime was a crime of hate and would not be tolerated in Athens, that no attempted murder would be tolerated in Athens.  Would Davenport still be alive?  How many others, if other killers were called hate criminals, too, instead of the word “hate” being increasingly reserved for a select few?

And so, the grand-standers were in a jam two weeks ago when Lisa Davenport was set on fire by a man who sat down to watch her burn, because their need to defend a system that dictates that killing women is not hate crime is more important to them than actually speaking out on real cases of hatred, like that one (and so many others).

As Scruggs watched her burn, an American honor crime, like slaughtering your daughter if she tries to marry the wrong man, or setting a widow on fire and watching her burn, there was nothing but silence from the arbiters of moral outrage.

~~~

“There’s just too many of ‘em,” said President Clinton in 1999, referring to acts of violence against women and why they pose a peculiar problem for the leaders of the hate crimes movement.  The Anti-Defamation League fretted that prosecutors might be distracted if women were counted, and the statistics might be “overwhelmed,” so they and others quietly found ways to instruct police and prosecutors to not find hate when women were the target.  And, always, the criminologists chimed in with their expert opinions, shining on the movement’s ideological necessity: to say with a straight face that stealing a car can be a hate crime, but blowing away 12 women is . . . you know, just an understandable expression of loneliness.

The feminist establishment, smacked down for years by the hate crime activists whenever they whimpered that hating women is hate, has learned to remain silent on the George Sodinis of the world.  No activists called for the shooting of 12 women to be labeled a hate crime — some naive young feminist bloggers did (they’ll learn), and Ms. Magazine ran a crabbed little note, but the major organizations kept their lips tightly zipped.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who was pretending to advocate for the inclusion of “gender bias hate” in federal law (it will not really count women) at the very time Sodini started blowing women away, remained silent.  Odd, that he wouldn’t take advantage of such an opportunity.

~~~

“We must give the lie to the notion that there is no difference between an assault and an assault that is motivated by bias.  The differences are very, very real,” Eric Holder thundered in 1999.

What he meant is that murders like Lisa Davenport’s are less bad.  That is the unavoidable meaning of his words: killing Lisa is not as serious as a murder the experts decide to call a hate crime, even though her killer set her on fire and sat down to watch her burn.

You can’t make some murders more morally significant without making other murders less morally significant.  That’s just a fact.

~~~

In 2001, the judge in Athens, Georgia stuck his or her finger in the wind and decided that nobody really cared, and so the judge let Phillip Scruggs plead out after he nearly killed a women who had disobeyed him.  In Pennsylvania, a man wrote that he hated women; then he killed women; then the movement that purports to “expose hate” denied it instead, because the victims were women.  In Islamic states, women get beaten with clubs for showing their ankles on the street and murdered for disobeying their husbands.  We are supposed to be different from radical Islam on the grounds that our legal system is supposed to stand between such killers and their victims.  But that didn’t happen in Lisa Davenport’s case.

How many ways are there to minimize the killing of a woman?  More and more.

Murder by Anti-Incerceration Activism

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From a City Journal article by Heather Mac Donald.  How the murder of 17-year old Lily Burk could have been prevented:

The recent arrest of a vicious murderer in Los Angeles vindicates—tragically, only after-the-fact—several policing and sentencing policies that anti-law-enforcement advocates have fought for years. . .

On July 24 at around 3 pm., 17-year-old Lily Burk was walking down a midtown Los Angeles street on an errand for her mother. A 50-year-old homeless parolee with a three-decade-long rap sheet confronted the high school senior as she approached her Volvo. . .

At 4.52 pm, Samuel pulled the Volvo into a Skid Row parking lot at Alameda and 5th Street and abandoned it. Burk had already been murdered, her head beaten and throat slashed open with a broken bottle; her body was left in her car. . .

Samuel then walked nearly a mile through Skid Row, drinking beer from a paper bag in violation of L.A.’s open container law. Two LAPD officers on horseback stopped him for the public-drinking offense and questioned him. He told them that he was on parole and agreed to be searched, according to the police. They found a crack pipe in his pocket and arrested him. The post-arrest search of Samuel turned up a Volvo key and a cell phone. The next morning, a worker from a Skid Row business discovered Burk’s car with her body in it. Samuel’s prints were in the car; his clothes had blood on them.

Samuel’s apprehension shows the enormous power of broken-windows policing, which the American Civil Liberties Union has fought against on L.A.’s Skid Row and throughout the country.. . . When officers question people in high-crime areas for misdemeanor offenses, they regularly find warrant absconders and parole violators. In 1996, a New York police officer nabbed a young man jumping a subway turnstile, a crime that a decade earlier had been regarded as simply an inevitable response to poverty and too trivial for the police to worry about. The turnstile-jumper, John Royster, turned out to be wanted for an ongoing campaign of terror against women in New York that included murder, rape, and a nearly lethal beating; had he not been picked up for the subway offense, he undoubtedly would have gone on to assault more women.

Of course, the effectiveness of broken-windows policing in capturing Charles Samuel is only half of the story.  The other half is the story of how anti-incarceration activists, and their allies in the judiciary, kept Samuel out of prison in the first place, despite his brutal, violent, recidivist record of crime:

California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law is the most reviled sentencing policy in the country—reviled, that is, by the anti-incarceration lobby. It allows prosecutors to seek a sentence of 25 years to life against an offender who has already served time for two violent or serious felonies when he is convicted of a third felony.

Anti-law-enforcement advocates fancifully charge that the law’s main effect is to send away hapless sad sacks whose only misstep was to succumb to the urge for a pizza when they didn’t have enough change in their pockets to buy a slice. These advocates regularly lobby Sacramento to loosen or repeal the law.

Mac Donald is right: the only time the media writes about three-strikes, it is to push a questionable sob story.  There is no discussion of these laws when they are used to finally get a violent recidivist off the streets.  The media will bang the drums when some offender with a long rap sheet finally kills someone.  But then they go back to playing amnesiac and reflexively opposing the laws that could have prevented the crime in the first place.

In Atlanta, for example, it appears that everybody has forgotten about the various sentencing and judgment errors that ended in Eugenia Calle’s murder.  Apparently, there will be no professional consequences for the judge and prosecutor who let Shamal Thompson walk as a “first offender” (for the third time), rather than enforcing Georgia’s minimum mandatory law, as they were required to do by law.  Are we all just going to collectively forget what happened, until the next time the next recidivist captures our attention by killing someone?  No consequences for offenders and no consequences for the prosecutors and judges who fail to do their jobs and put them away: a perfect circle.  No wonder judges so frequently identify with offenders, and not with the rest of us.

Heather Mac Donald:

Samuel was a good candidate for a third-strike sentence, thanks to an earlier attack that foreshadowed Burk’s murder. In 1986, he walked up to an elderly man sitting on his porch in San Bernardino (in the so-called Inland Empire east of Los Angeles), grabbed the man’s cane and beat him with it, then forced him inside his home and demanded money. When the old man could only come up with ten dollars, Samuel commandeered the man’s car and drove the owner to an ATM. The terrified senior citizen was unable to withdraw any money, however, whereupon Samuel struck him with his cane again, punched him in the stomach, and threatened to kill him if he called the police, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Samuel pled guilty in 1987 to robbery, residential burglary, and car theft and was sentenced to six years. He became eligible for a three-strikes sentence in 1997, following a conviction for another San Bernardino burglary (the 1986 robbery and burglary charges counted as his first two felonies). But his rap sheet failed to note that the 1986 burglary was a residential burglary, as opposed to a non-residential break-in. Only residential burglaries count as “serious” felonies for three-strikes purposes; breaking into a store, office building, or commercial space is regarded as “non-serious” and can be repeated indefinitely without triggering a three-strike step-up in sentencing. (So much for the idea that the three-strikes law is blindly draconian; in fact, it makes careful—perhaps overly careful—distinctions between felonies.)

To make a long story short (I am quoting too much already: read the article, it’s good), Samuel managed to avoid three-strikes in 1997 because somebody did not accurately record his prior record, and no prosecutor caught the error (sound familiar?), and he avoided three-strikes again in 2006 because another prosecutor, bowing to anti-incarceration activism, did not request the sentence (sound familiar?).  Over the years, he got other breaks as well and was most recently sentenced to a “community drug treatment program” despite the routine insistence that violent offenders are not permitted to take advantage of such options.   Now a 17-year old girl is dead, brutally murdered.  How many other people did he get away with killing?

Much misinformation about three-strikes laws circulates in the media:

  • When activists say three-strikes laws offer no room for the get-out-of-jail card that is judicial (in)discretion, don’t believe them.  Even California, with by far the strictest three-strikes law in the country, still allows judges and prosecutors discretion to release violent, repeat offenders to the streets.  Georgia’s law is utterly toothless, with judicial discretion over-ruling virtually any consequences for crime by allowing judges to suspend all time to be served at the times of sentencing.
  • When district attorneys tell you they don’t need addition resources, they are playing politics with your safety.  Nobody seriously believes that any district attorney’s office has the resources to actually enforce the law.  The law has not really been enforced in this country for decades.  Every district attorney’s office is so short-staffed, in comparison to the real quantity of crime, that virtually every offense gets brief consideration by some harried prosecutor and then a generous plea deal.  Criminals know this and act accordingly.  Until that changes, no district attorney should go around claiming that he doesn’t need resources.  Paul Howard.
  • It is 2009.  Even I have learned to use computers, and I am a recalcitrant luddite.  The average computer tech could design a system during his lunch break that would record and database all prosecution, sentencing and incarceration outcomes.  By suppertime, the data could be available to the public on the internet.

However, if people really knew what was happening in the criminal courts, a lot of heads would roll.  Judges and prosecutors would find themselves answering for the leniency so ingrained at every level of the system that it seems natural — so long as you don’t look too hard, and it is not your daughter they are burying this week.

How Atlanta Treats its Wounded Police Officers on Memorial Day

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If the genius of democracy is the peaceful transfer of power through elections, the tragedy of democracy is the exploitation of this public goodwill by elected and appointed officials who treat their last year or so in office (sometimes, their entire time in office) like a tin pot dictatorship, holing up and divvying the spoils while behaving as if the needs of the people are beneath their concern.

There’s little the public can do about a lame duck elected official who treats them with contempt.  Little, that is, except doing their homework for the next election, noting who is aligned with whom, voting accordingly — and carefully counting the towels after each transfer of power is complete.

This last bit of business was sorely neglected when former Mayor Bill Campbell was hauled off in handcuffs — people should not wonder so much when current Mayor Shirley Franklin’s allegedly “reformist” administration feels like deja vu all over again.

Sunday Paper broke this story about the disgraceful treatment of injured Atlanta police officers last weekend. The Atlanta Journal Constitution offered an excellent update yesterday.

Paralyzed cops being denied needed medical services by city administrators: this is the type of injustice that cries out for public leadership.  Phone numbers are below.

And where is Atlanta Police Chief Pennington?  Vegas?  Disney World?  Mars?  These are police officers who were injured in the line of duty — who took a bullet protecting us.  In other cities, that unambiguously means something:

In Atlanta, injured cops are treated like wounded animals put out in the rain.  That Chief Pennington refuses to comment on this mistreatment, let alone oppose it, is extraordinary.  It is the type of thing that should create an outcry, but it has not.  Are people so afraid to speak up for the police who protect them?  Is an entire generation so utterly brainwashed by the type of virulent, anti-cop rhetoric that spews from lefty politics and liberal media that they are able to look at a cop who took a bullet to save innocent people and say: well, who cares?

This is the Vietnam of our age.

Meanwhile, Mayor Franklin and Chief Pennington have managed to find the time for a vendetta against the police officer who stood up for the injured officers.  Sgt. Scott Kreher lost his temper after months of trying to get the wounded officers appropriate medical care and after two hours of being grilled at a City Council hearing.  Kreher said something inappropriate about Mayor Franklin, and now the Mayor is falsely accusing Kreher of being a threat to her and her family.

As columnist Stephanie Ramage points out in her blog, The Ramage Report, Franklin expressed no such anxiety when her son-in-law the violent drug kingpin was terrorizing the city (you can’t make this stuff up).  Here is Ramage on the full statement made by Kreher, not reported in the AJC, which truncated the quote:

The indignities that these cops, all of them injured in the line of duty, have suffered at the hands of Mayor Franklin’s administration are simply unconscionable.

And that is what Kreher told the City Council: “These five officers were injured in the line of duty…I want to beat her [Mayor Franklin] in the head with a baseball bat sometimes when I think about it…I cannot believe Mayor Franklin’s administration would allow this to happen. This administration should be ashamed of itself.”

Mayor Franklin was not present. Kreher was not visibly incensed. . . .

Franklin has said “I think it’s [Kreher’s remark] intended to intimidate me, my family and city officials. I think it’s very dangerous language and when someone says they want to take a bat and hit you in the head, from my experience, they want to kill you.”

Her family is intimidated? Franklin’s daughter is, even this minute, on probation for money laundering for her now-ex-husband, a kingpin in one of the most violent drug rings in the history of Atlanta. Mayor Franklin must have had at least a few dinners with the thug, yet she expects us to believe that she is afraid of a cop who says that her treatment of paralyzed and brain-damaged police officers makes him want to take a baseball bat to her head when he thinks about it sometimes?

Kreher has been suspended, but the Mayor and Police Chief are still refusing to comment on their actually unconscionable treatment of the injured officers.

As if it is laughable — a paralyzed cop snapping a leg bone because he can’t get the city to fix his broken wheelchair.

The relationship between City Hall and Atlanta residents has descended into paroxysms of sado-masochism.  I wonder when folks will say “enough” and start demanding some respect, if not for themselves, then for the men and woman who sacrificed their ability to walk and talk and think for the public’s safety.

This is, after all, Memorial Day, when fallen officers are supposed to be honored, as is happening in ordinary places, places other than Atlanta.

City Council

Mayor

Chief of Police

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 4: Britteny Turman, Grace Dixon, and Frank Rashad Johnson Denied Justice in Atlanta

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On Sunday, May 10, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article by Bill Torpy that raises troubling questions about what is going on in Atlanta’s courtrooms.  Like this April 10 story by Steve Visser, Torpy’s story focuses on an element of the justice system that receives less attention than policing but is arguably far more responsible for the presence of dangerous felons on Atlanta’s streets: the choices, both legal and administrative, made by Atlanta’s judges.

We invest judges with extraordinary power.  We allow judicial discretion in all sorts of sentencing and administrative decisions.  Legislators have tried to limit judges’ discretion in recent years by imposing minimum mandatory sentence guidelines and repeat offender laws.  But Georgia’s sentencing guidelines still give judges far too much latitude to let criminals go free.  Also, far too many judges have responded to this legislative oversight (aka, the will of the people) by simply ignoring the intent, and even the letter, of those laws.

Not long ago, I was sitting in a Tampa courtroom listening to a request to overturn a particularly egregious lapse in judicial discretion in the case of Richard Chotiner.  Chotiner is a former nurse who used his status as a caregiver to sexually assault a developmentally disabled young man.  He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to fifteen years behind bars.  Then the judge let him go, to wait out his appeals as a free man.  To say that this decision was unusual is an understatement; nonetheless, facing criticism, the judge dug in.  Next, he allowed Chotiner to remove his ankle monitor on some trumped-up claim of needing to undergo physical therapy, and then refused to require Chotiner to put the monitor back on after the “therapy” was completed.  It’s hard to see the judge’s decision to remove the ankle monitor as anything other than a petulant reaction to being criticized in the first place.

In other words, this judge decided that his ego was more important than the victim’s peace of mind, public safety, or justice itself.  And when another judge was called upon to re-evaluate the first judge’s lack of judgment, Judge Number Two said that while he would not have let Chotiner go, he certainly was not going to second-guess the brillant legal mind of his esteemed colleague, etc. etc. etc.

Chotiner is still on the loose, though Judge Number Two actually did second-guess Judge Number One’s decision to remove his ankle monitor and ordered it put back on.  I suppose we weren’t supposed to notice that logical inconsistency while swooning in abject gratitude that one of these Apollonian deities had deigned to throw a few scraps the victim’s way.

Now, thanks to Bill Torpy’s article, Atlantans can watch a similar Olympian battle of wills not unfold in the Fulton Superior Court.  Expect other judges not to act to rein in the behavior of Judge Marvin Arrington, who once again completely forgot that he isn’t yet presiding over a fake television courtroom.  Expect the chief justice to not speak out in the face of yet another miscarriage of justice, and to not look into the chain of events that put yet another attempted murderer back on Atlanta’s streets.  They are, after all, judges.  The rest of us should mind our place.

This time, Arrington released a violent criminal who shot a fellow Morehouse student three times with a handgun.  He then treated the court to another episode of what goes on in his mind, saying:

[The attempted murderer] needs to have a curfew. He needs to be in a dorm where you can get some study time. Take organic chemistry and physics. Make him some A’s . . . All of them got cars.  Don’t need no dern car. They need a MARTA card.”

Let me attempt to summarize.  If you have repeatedly shot a person with a handgun, what you need to do is not go to jail, but study more and take public transportation.  That should fix it.

Just like the judge who wouldn’t judge another judge in Tampa, Arrington did feign some harsh words for the defense.  He actually cut the defense attorney off in mid-sentence (!), declaring:

“No more excuses. He doesn’t have any reason to give for not being successful.

“Where is the mama?

“Better put your arms around him and make sure he goes in the right direction. If he comes back here, I’m going to put him in jail. J-A-I-L.”

Then, after spelling out the word J-A-I-L in harsh tones for emphasis, Arrington let Joshua Brandon Norris go free.

OK, I’m not being completely fair to Marvin Arrington. As Torpy’s article explains, an inexperienced prosecutor, and thus the prosecutor’s boss, D.A. Paul Howard, agreed to the crazy plea deal in this case (Allowing a plea in a case of attempted murder means that the sentencing law needs to be changed.  Or, conversely, enforced, with penalties accruing to judges who fail to follow the law).  But regardless of the prosecutor’s actions, it is still Arrington’s courtroom.

Of course, there were reports of other crimes by Norris.  Serious ones.  Like, gun stuff.  Like grinding a bar glass into a girlfriend’s face.  Such things are apparently meaningless, however, in the halls of the bizarro-world of the Fulton Superior Court, where shooting somebody gets you sent to study hall, and aiming a gun at two women gets you — well, nothing.  Here is Torpy’s article.  I’ve quoted from it extensively because it is important — please go to the website and read the whole thing:

Tale of two students with a twist
Shooting victim won’t be Morehouse Man, but suspect to earn degree.

By Bill Torpy
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, May 10, 2009

Joshua Brandon Norris is expected to graduate soon and become a Morehouse Man, with all its prestige. At 22, he’s had a good run during his time at Morehouse College. He drove a Hummer, co-owned a fashion store at Perimeter Mall and owns a stylish $450,000 townhouse.

He also shot another student.

Quite a lifestyle for someone whose dad is a cop in Nashville (see below).  That must be some clothing store.

Across the country, Frank Rashad Johnson, the victim, attends Sacramento City College and lives with his mother, trying to save money. He, too, wanted to be a Morehouse Man.

“My great-uncle was a classmate of Martin Luther King’s,” Johnson said. “It has a long history of exemplary students and good men. It was my dream school.”

But all that fell apart when he was shot three times outside a school-related Halloween party near Atlantic Station in 2007. Police reports say Norris was kicked out of a nightclub, had words with Johnson after bumping into him outside, then shot the fellow Morehouse student during a struggle in the street.

Pause on this for a moment.  One shot, two shots, three shots, six shots in all.  In a public place.

Completing a Morehouse degree is vital to Norris. Fulton County Judge Marvin Arrington ordered him to do so after he pleaded no contest to a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The deal calls for six years of probation and comes with first-offender status —- meaning Norris’ record will be wiped clean if he stays out of trouble.

“You’re getting the break of your life,” Arrington said during the Jan. 27 hearing.

Arrington was accepting a plea offered by the prosecution and the defense.  But he could have done any one of a number of things.  Instead, he went off on his routine about staying in school, as if the situation were somehow not real, a pantomine, or an after-school special.  It’s crazy, how the courts have been hijacked by this type of foolishness.

The arrangement constitutes a bizarre twist of fate for Johnson.

“I sit at home, still recovering from my wound, painfully aware my Morehouse dreams have become a nightmare,” Johnson wrote to Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard after hearing about the deal. “My victimizer (and almost murderer) received a closeted, secretive, back-door slap on the wrist and is now back at Morehouse, moving forward with his educational aspirations without having paid any price for his crime.”

This is the person who is not at Morehouse.  The president of Morehouse chose an attempted murderer over this young man, the victim of his crime.  Nice message to send, President Franklin.

[District Attorney Paul] Howard recently investigated how the case was handled after receiving questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I am uncomfortable with the quality of the prosecutorial services provided … in this matter,” Howard wrote the family. Reid Thompson, the prosecutor who cut the deal, resigned.

Howard surely must have approved the plea deal.  And so, this must be routine.  If the public cannot count on its prosecutors to demand justice, then they have no protection against violent criminals.

The case is an example of how a relatively new prosecutor got caught up in Arrington’s crusade to save young black men. Of an overworked department dealing with a hard-charging defense attorney. Of a victim not getting his just due in court. And, says Johnson’s family, of a young man once again escaping serious criminal charges.

I’d like to know more about how Arrington’s crusade to save young black men ended up with someone who tried to kill a young black man receiving a get-out-of-jail-free card for a serious, violent felony, while the actually endangered young black man who didn’t try to kill anybody got the shaft.

And nearly killed.  But it gets worse.

The deal came after Thompson, a former Fulton police lieutenant who became an attorney in 2005, heard Arrington’s up-by-your bootstraps message in court weeks earlier, according to a transcript of the hearing. Last year, Arrington removed whites from his courtroom to lecture black defendants on proper behavior.

“We’ve got this young man who’s coming back to Morehouse now, he’s close to graduation,” Thompson told Arrington. “Sending him to state prison for two years, I don’t think that would be in the state’s best interest. Hopefully, this will be the lesson he needs.”

This is the prosecutor speaking.  That’s insane.  He resigned?  He should return his salary.  But I imagine there will be a reward system in place for him in academia somewhere.  And why, precisely, was the choice between two years in prison or no time at all?  This was attempted murder, firing a weapon in a public place.  The Code of Georgia does not allow for “attainment of a college degree” as punishment for this crime:

Georgia Code, 16-5-21

(a) A person commits the offense of aggravated assault when he or she assaults:

(1) With intent to murder, to rape, or to rob;

(2) With a deadly weapon or with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury; or

(3) A person or persons without legal justification by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle toward a person or persons.

(b) Except as provided in subsections (c) through (i) of this Code section, [not applicable] a person convicted of the offense of aggravated assault shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than 20 years.

Can anyone explain to me how it is that Judge Arrington, and D.A. Paul Howard, agreed to quietly circumvent this law?  Why aren’t they resigning?  It really is time for new blood at the D.A.’s office.

[The victim, Frank Rashad] Johnson complains his voice remained silent during the hearing. Actually, not only was his voice absent, but a version opposite of what police reports said happened that night was presented. In the hearing, [Prosecutor] Thompson said [victim] Johnson was kicked out of the nightclub before a fight started outside. And the defense attorney picked up from there, telling the judge Johnson and his friends surrounded his client’s Hummer and threatened him.

But several police reports in the court file say it was Norris who was kicked out of the party, one that Johnson never entered. And the reports say Norris returned to his vehicle after arguing with Johnson, then drove back, slammed on his brakes and got out with a gun.

The prosecutor makes the defense’s case, contradicting police reports.

Meanwhile, back in the victim’s world:

Johnson said prosecutors repeatedly told him they were up against a “prestigious” attorney. “I think they were intimidated by him,” he said. “It infuriates me I was never able to give anyone my sense of outrage or my story.”

Here are the details of the crime.  I also doubt it’s the only such case in the Fulton courts.  If you’re searching for the reason why innocent people keep getting killed in Atlanta, here it is:

According to police reports, witnesses said the events of Oct. 31, 2007, unfolded this way:

Norris and his girlfriend were escorted out of a Halloween party at LITKitchen. Norris bumped into Johnson, who was waiting outside. The two exchanged words and Norris walked to his Hummer, drove back and screeched to a halt —- a point nearly every witness mentioned.

Witnesses said Norris jumped out and pushed the gun at Johnson’s face. Johnson struggled with Norris as he fired at least six shots. Three bullets hit Johnson in the leg. Norris fled.

Norris turned himself in a week later after conferring with a lawyer and was released on bond.

Norris’ identity was known.  Why did it take a week to get him?  Was he hiding?  Was his father, a Nashville cop, involved in hiding him?  And since he was on the run for a week, why the hell did a judge let him free on bond, instead of holding him to make sure he didn’t run again?

Who, precisely, let Norris bond out?  To do this:

Eight months passed, and then last summer, Fulton prosecutors moved to revoke Norris’ bond after learning he was accused of smashing a glass in his ex-girlfriend’s face at a Nashville bar. She received severe cuts in her forehead requiring eight inches of stitches, police reports said.

The victim’s aunt, Kelly Carr, told police “when she went to the ER her niece told her Brandon had done this to me.” The aunt also said, “the victim is scared of the suspect because he is out on bond for attempted homicide” and Norris’ stepfather, Daniel Turner, a Nashville cop, “pulled her from the room and said his son, wanted to see/speak with [the victim].”

An officer reported this to internal affairs, which investigated and cleared Turner. The victim was “completely uncooperative,” Nashville police reported.

The victim was scared out of her mind.  And why not?  It’s not as if anybody was protecting her.  Only people like Norris get protection from this system.  Victims learn to shut up.

During Norris’ bond revocation hearing in Fulton last August, the woman testified she was cut when a fight broke out in the Nashville bar while she walked toward Norris’ table. He was cut in the hand in the same fight, according to testimony. Prosecutors later dropped the matter.

Which prosecutor dropped the matter?  What is happening in Paul Howard’s office?  The scariest part is that this level of dysfunction cannot be unique.

How many Joshua Brandon Norrises are walking Atlanta’s streets?  Why isn’t Paul Howard screaming from the rooftops for more resources, if things have gotten so bad that he does not ever try to put attempted murderers away?  Why isn’t the Mayor helping him?  Why isn’t the Chief of Police?  Why aren’t they standing in the city council, and the county commission, and the state legislature, every single day, pleading for the resources to keep killers off the streets?

But in the end, the decision gets made by the sitting judge: Marvin Arrington.  And then his peers do what judges do when other judges fail to enforce the law: they do nothing.

Of course, there’s more:

In another case in Fulton court files, Clark Atlanta University students Britteny Turman and Grace Dixon say Norris pulled a gun on them during a traffic dispute near Morehouse in November 2005. The women, in recent interviews, said Norris screamed profanities and followed them in their car for several blocks.

“He was laughing like it was funny when [he waved his gun and] we both ducked,” Turman said.

“I don’t understand why he didn’t get kicked out of Morehouse,” Dixon said. “He shouldn’t have been there to do this to somebody else.”

The two say they heard no follow-up from Fulton solicitors. Morehouse officials declined to answer questions about Norris.

In fairness, Marvin Arrington never said anything about saving young women.

Asked about Norris’ plea deal in the shooting, Arrington said he has “close to 100 cases a week” and doesn’t remember it. But he recalled the Nashville assault case when Norris came before him during the plea hearing.

“This is the young man who was whipping a young lady?” the judge asked.

Then he let him go.  Told ‘em to study hard.

Johnson [the shooting victim] last month got a letter from Morehouse President Robert M. Franklin after the Johnson family repeatedly contacted the college after the plea deal.

Franklin suggested Johnson return. “Your matriculation would be a wonderful triumph over adversity,” he wrote.

Johnson aspired to becoming a Morehouse Man, as have three generations of relatives. But he has soured on that.

“Honestly, I don’t want to do that; I don’t feel safe there,” he said. “The situation is all backward to me.”

Is anything stopping Paul Howard from prosecuting Norris for his armed attack on Britteny Turman and Grace Dixon?

When the judge in Tampa let Richard Chotiner walk away from a sexual assault conviction, television host Bill O’Reilly stepped in to protest Chotiner’s release.  I hope that O’Reilly would be similarly interested in the release of Joshua Brandon Norris, and the grotesquely raw deal delivered to his victims, Britteny Turman, Grace Dixon, and Frank Rashad Johnson.  They have a right to justice.

The “Benjy Brigade”, Part 1: Boston’s Finest Mount an Attack on an Elderly Victim of Rape

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The theme this week is punitive attitudes towards victims of crime. At the most primal level, the mere existence of victims threatens to spoil all the fun that can be had as you lift your glass from the tray, turn to Professor Ponytail (who could dress better at these things), and say: “When I was mentoring at the federal pen last weekend I met the most inspirational young author — wrongly convicted, of course — we must do something about getting his poetry published. We must!”

Oh, the headiness. That Seventies Susan Sarandon vibe, edgy alchemy of righteousness and rebellion — what a shame if it were all interrupted by flashing on the pensioner in her wheelchair in ugly tan compression stockings, rope scars on her wrists from where the young poet had bound her so tightly the paramedics had to peel the phone cord out from under layers of swollen skin.

No, that will not do. Better not to think about it.

Better still, picture the pensioner as a malevolent hag, somebody deserving of the torture she got (for there is no way to stretch the truth around the fact that she got it) — a racist, of course, accusing the ethereal and handsome young poet out of pure malice.

This is what the city leaders of Boston did throughout the 1990′s to the victim of Benjamin LaGuer, a sadistic rapist who become the toast of the city’s elite, from Boston University President John Silber, to noted pseudo-intellectual Noam Chomsky, to now-governor Deval Patrick, and, sadly, human rights activist Elie Weisel, as well as scores of law professors, judges, lawyers, journalists (including Barbara Walters), celebrities, and authors.

Although the victim identified LaGuer, her neighbor, as the attacker, and other evidence linked him to the crime, Boston’s elite was quick to rush to judgment of the victim after the rapist reached out to them. The story that the victim was a racist and that LaGuer was framed “without evidence” became the only story that mattered in the pages of the Boston Globe, the classrooms of Harvard Law School, and the courtrooms of the Massachusetts appeals courts, where supporters of LaGuer, who adolescently named themselves the “Benjy Brigade,” wielded their considerable social power to push for his release.

LaGuer was showered with literary prizes and honorary degrees, including a magna cum laude degree from Boston University and a PEN award for his barely-literate “memoir,” A Man Who Loves His Mother Loves Women. He became pen pals with dozens of journalists and authors. Although, in reality, LaGuer is no writer, his supporters spoke volubly of his literary talents and personal presence. “My masculinity was like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar on acid,” LaGuer said of himself. John Silber said that LaGuer was “a highly talented young writer who can express himself with remarkable ability.”

LaGuer also said, repeatedly, that he was a victim of prejudice on the part of the rape victim and even suggested that she had not actually been raped. His followers lapped it up.

Only a few spoke for the victim. Dean Mazzarella, a rookie cop at the time of the rape who went on to become the mayor of Leominster, Mass., was the officer who found the woman in her apartment. “The thing I’ll never forget is the smell,” he said years later, “[t]here’s still nothing I’ve come in contact with that’s been that bad.” The rape lasted eight hours: LaGuer broke bones in his victim’s face and left her, naked and bound, to die on her apartment floor. She nearly did die in the hospital, from a heart attack brought on by the assault.

None of this, however, fit the story the Benjy Brigade longed to see fulfilled. Consciously or unconsciously, journalists supporting LaGuer excised the story of the rape and prosecution evidence and details about the victim from their extensive, years-long coverage of LaGuer’s appeals. The Boston Globe went so far as to report that the victim had died not long after the attack, though she was still alive sixteen years later. This wishful thinking, amounting to an excruciating desire that nothing interrupt the rescue fantasy being painted by LaGuer and his supporters, would verge on funny, if it were not horrifying.

The victim’s life story was also distorted by the press. Reporters, reprinting defense arguments as fact, claimed that the woman was both too mentally unstable and physically incapable to identify a suspect after the attack. Family members disputed these allegations, but over the years their statements were rarely included in the long feature stories that focused on LaGuer’s celebrity supporters and legal battles.

The victim’s military service during World War II and her career as a nurse were never mentioned in print: in contrast, LaGuer’s military service was approvingly cited, though his brief stint in the army actually ended when he was caught selling drugs.

Even the wounds inflicted on the victim by LaGuer were used against her. Returning to the case files years later, reporters cherry-picked details in an effort to strengthen LaGuer’s claims. The victim was merely “white,” or “a schizophrenic,” or “a diagnosed schizophrenic who was heavily medicated for pain when she identified LaGuer in a photo line-up.” Few articles failed to mention her race, implying that she made a questionable cross-racial identification from her hospital bed. Most failed to mention that she knew LaGuer because he was the son of her next-door neighbor and no stranger to her.

The fantasies of rescuing LaGuer from his evil captors, especially the recently deceased victim, and the undercurrent of rage directed at her took on a life of their own, mounting to a crescendo in 2001 when Dr. Edward T. Blake, a colleague of Barry Scheck’s, announced that advances in DNA testing had evolved to the point that the small sperm samples taken from the victim’s body could now be identified. John Silber led those preparing for the celebration of LaGuer’s presumed immanent release, but he also said that LaGuer should be released even in the case that he was found guilty. “He has been rehabilitated to any degree that rehabilitation can be measured,” a fawning Silber told the fawning press.

Tomorrow: Journalists Identify the Real Victim: Themselves

Justice Delayed + Tax Dollars Wasted = Justice System Starved

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Apparently, while it may be hard to be a pimp, as the popular song goes, it isn’t particularly hard to be a defendant in a child molestation case:

DragonCon founder’s health might keep him from standing trial

Edward Kramer was charged in 2000 with molestation children

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kramer, first arrested on Aug. 25, 2000, has been indicted on multiple felony charges of child molestation and aggravated child molestation.

He was under house arrest at home in Duluth until last year. Now he can travel but cannot have unsupervised contact with children under 16 and must report his whereabouts every week.

Heck, it isn’t even particularly hard to be a convicted offender — in this case, of a man whose victim was in his early twenties but is developmentally handicapped:

Hillsborough judge allows sex offender to go free during appeals process

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TAMPA — Linda Petruzzi thought her nightmare was over when Senior Judge J. Rogers Padgett sentenced the man who molested her mentally disabled son to 15 years in prison.

But a day later, Richard Martin Chotiner walked out of jail.

The judge allowed the convicted sex offender to remain free on $50,000 bail while an appeals court considers his case, a process that typically takes months or years.

Chotiner, who was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device for a time before his conviction, doesn’t have to wear anything to track his movements now.

The defense bar is derailing our justice system by forcing ever-broadening protections for defendants and convicts. By driving up the cost of getting cases to trial and then dealing with post-conviction appeals, they are stealing justice from the rest of us.

Many in the media are colluding in this crime. Inexplicably esteemed St. Petersburg Times columnist Daniel Ruth (whose crimes against the English language merit an entirely different set of felony charges) got away with a giant legal misrepresentation about the judge who let Chotiner walk after conviction, and the Times, which prides itself on possessing an entire institute of journalists ethics, didn’t even bother to correct him. Ruth wrote an editorial claiming, wrongly, that the judge was required by law to let Chotiner go free on bail after his conviction. Not true: the judge exercised his own “discretion” in releasing the Chotiner, and then he exercised his own discretion again in allowing him to remove his ankle monitor. But who cares? We’re talking about a convicted sex criminal here: empathy over facts, please.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Edward Kramer’s lawyers are playing a reprehensible game with the our tax dollars, trying to up the ante until the state can no longer justify the costs of trying Kramer on three counts of molestation:

An April 29 trial date was postponed Wednesday after Edward Kramer told Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Karen Beyers he was uncertain he could stay awake and alert enough to assist in his own defense. A spinal injury makes it difficult to sit, stand or breathe, and he is chronic pain, he said. . . .

He’s accused of sexually abusing three teenage boys. The mother of two alleged victims, a former friend of Kramer’s, has said Kramer dazzled the boys with action figures, sci-fi memorabilia and celebrity connections. The boys told police that Kramer took advantage of them during sleepovers at his house. . . .

Kramer’s defense attorneys, Edwin Marger and former Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, said that in order for the case to go forward, they will have to prove Kramer is physically competent to stand trial.

“He’s been going through this now for almost nine years and he wants to get it over with,” Marger said.

What is the “this” that Kramer is “going through” that has taken almost nine years? Nothing more than his own lawyers’ machinations to postpone the trial by subverting our justice system.

Pretty strange behavior for a Libertarian. I guess I missed those chapters in Atlas Shrugged where Ayn Rand instructs her acolytes on how to relentlessly milk claims of physical disability in order to postpone fact-finding.

Make that permanently postpone. According to Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, Kramer’s attorneys may indeed succeed in their efforts to derail justice:

“For all this talk about ‘I want a trial,’ Ed Kramer really proved today that he didn’t want a trial because the court made the accommodation for him,” Porter said. “The only trial he wants is the one he controls.”

I hear from many people that Bob Barr is a nice person. Nevertheless, when the issue was handicapped people who weren’t also accused child molesters, he opposed the Americans With Disabilities Act. And here are some oddly jarring quotes from then-Representative Barr’s 1988 efforts to push through the impeachment of President Clinton:

The rule of law finds its highest and best embodiment in the absolute, unshakeable right each of us has to walk into a courtroom and demand the righting of a wrong. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what God you pray to, how large your bank account is, or what office you may hold. If you are an American citizen, no one can stand between you and your access to justice
No one, that is, except a libertarian representing an accused child molester by endlessly gaming the justice system, I suppose.

Lavelle McNutt: Another Serial Rapist Allowed to Walk the Streets of Atlanta

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Last week, I wrote about Lavelle McNutt, a serial rapist given many second chances. His Georgia Department of Corrections record is a record of something else, as well: our failure to imprison repeat offenders, even after the 1994 sentencing reform law was passed.

As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported a few weeks ago, McNutt’s first adult rape conviction, for two separate rapes in New York State, occurred in 1976, just after he turned 18. When you see an 18-year old convicted of a serious offense, you have to wonder about the contents of his sealed juvenile record: 18-year olds don’t wake up one day, break into the first house they see, and rape the occupant. They usually start experimenting with sexual abuse early in adolescence, victimizing their siblings, peers, and other easy targets. How many children and young women had already been sexually assaulted by McNutt by the time he aged out of the juvenile system?

I believe those victims exist, and that unlike Lavelle McNutt, they were abandoned by society. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the football coaches and college presidents who treated McNutt like a victim because he was a rapist abetted him in his crimes, thus sentencing his victims to a lifetime without justice.

The two rape victims in the New York State cases were also denied justice, only in a different way. McNutt was sentenced to a preposterously light term of five years for the two rapes. He served less than three years of that, and by 1979 he was a college student at Atlanta’s Morehouse University. Almost immediately, he was charged in another sexual assault, this time for aggravated sodomy. In May, 1979, he began serving a seven-year sentence for that crime. He got out in three years.

In 1982, Lavelle McNutt was 24 years old and already had three adult sexual assault convictions on his record. Two years later, he was convicted of aggravated assault in Clayton County. Was that a rape case, pled down to a non-sexual charge? He also had a burglary conviction in Fulton County, date unknown. Burglary and aggravated assault charges from the early 1980′s might very well have been rapes, or attempted rapes. Atlanta was notorious at that time for going easy on sex offenders — thanks largely to irresponsible jurors who rendered sex crime prosecutions almost impossible to win, regardless of the circumstances. An ugly contempt for victims of rape was the status quo in the courts. The malaise incited by public prejudices towards victims crashed the entire system, and Atlanta was a rapist’s paradise. And a victim’s nightmare. It would be very interesting to know more about those crimes.

In 1984, McNutt was sentenced to five years for the aggravated assault. Oddly, he did serve nearly all of that sentence, receiving only a few months off, probably for the time he was behind bars awaiting sentencing. This is another reason I suspect that the underlying crime was something more serious than aggravated assault. In any case, for five years the public was protected from him. Pre-sentencing reform, this was the best a prosecutor could do. In August, 1989, he was free again.

In 1992, McNutt was charged in Fulton County with the offense called “Peeping Tom.” Funny as that sounds, he was probably casing out a victim to rape or amusing himself between more serious attacks. He received three years for the Fulton crime and 12 months for a crime labeled “other misdemeanor” in Gwinnett County. He was out again two years later, in 1994.

Georgia’s sentencing reform law was passed in 1994. It was supposed to enhance sentencing for repeat offenders and extend sentences significantly for so-called “serious violent offenders.” But the law was passed with several default mechanisms that enabled judges to keep releasing repeat offenders onto the streets. Consider this language:

Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, any person convicted of a felony offense in this state or having been convicted under the laws of any other state or of the United States of a crime which if committed within this state would be a felony and sentenced to confinement in a penal institution, who shall afterwards commit a felony punishable by confinement in a penal institution, shall be sentenced to undergo the longest period of time prescribed for the punishment of the subsequent offense of which he or she stands convicted, provided that, unless otherwise provided by law, the trial judge may, in his or her discretion, probate or suspend the maximum sentence prescribed for the offense [italics inserted]. (O.C.G.A. 17-10-7)

In other words, a criminal must be sentenced to the maximum penalty the second time he is convicted of a felony unless the judge decides to sentence him to something other than the maximum penalty, such as no time at all, as in the case of six-time home burglar Johnny Dennard. What is the point of a law like this? The point is that the criminal defense bar still controlled the Georgia Legislature in 1994, and other elected officials lacked the courage to stand up to them. The rest of the story is that too many judges betray disturbing pro-defendant biases, even when it comes to violent predators like Lavelle McNutt.

Nevertheless, other portions of the 1994 sentencing reform law did strengthen sentences for repeat offenders. In 1996, McNutt was charged with aggravated assault and stalking in Fulton County. Aggravated assault is not one of the “seven deadly sins” that trigger sentencing as a “serious violent felon” under the 1994 act: if it were, he would have been sentenced to life without parole due to his prior rape convictions.

Yet even as a “non-serious violent felon” repeat offender, McNutt was still required under the 1994 sentencing reform act to serve the entire sentence for his crimes. But he didn’t. He was sentenced to six years and served less than four. He walked into prison in January, 1997 and walked out again three and a half years later, in July of 2000. Even counting the time he may have spent cooling his heels in the Fulton County jail before being transferred to the state prison (or maybe not), he was out of prison four years and two months after the date of the crime for which he was sentenced to no less than six years behind bars, with no parole.

Here is the code section that restricts parole for four-time felons:

[A]ny person who, after having been convicted under the laws of this state for three felonies or having been convicted under the laws of any other state or of the United States of three crimes which if committed within this state would be felonies, commits a felony within this state other than a capital felony must, upon conviction for such fourth offense or for subsequent offenses, serve the maximum time provided in the sentence of the judge based upon such conviction and shall not be eligible for parole until the maximum sentence has been served. (from O.C.G.A. 17 -10-7)

Can anybody explain the fact that McNutt was granted parole? Who let him go early, apparently in direct violation of Georgia’s reformed sentencing law? Did the prosecutors fail to record his three prior felony convictions dating back to 1976 — two rapes (counted as one, unfortunately), aggravated sodomy, and the 1984 aggravated assault? Did the judge ignore the law of Georgia in sentencing McNutt? Did the Department of Corrections ignore the no-parole rule? Who is responsible?

For that matter, why didn’t the judge give McNutt a longer sentence in the first place? How could any judge look at the accumulated evidence of violently predatory sexual behavior, of repeat offenses rolling in after each brief incarceration, and not decide that it was his or her duty to protect the public for longer than six years? Does anybody on the criminal justice bench in Atlanta even contemplate public safety in sentencing?

Furthermore, why was McNutt charged with stalking and aggravated assault for the same incident? Was he actually attempting to commit a sexual assault? Could he have been charged with attempted sexual assault instead, a charge that would have triggered the life sentence (read: 14 years) as a serious violent felon and repeat offender? Was he permitted to plead to a charge that didn’t carry life imprisonment? Did the Fulton prosecutor’s office do everything it could do to keep McNutt off the streets, given his disturbing prior history and relentless sequence of serious crimes?

Also, was McNutt’s DNA checked before he was released from prison in 2000? Could other rapes have been solved, and charged, before he walked out of prison again? How many rapes could have been prevented, including the four recent Buckhead-area sex crimes, if this had been done? His first adult rape conviction occurred in 1976 — his latest rape charges occurred quite recently. Does anybody believe he took a twenty-year hiatus from hunting and torturing women?

Until his most recent arrest, Lavelle McNutt had been a free man since July, 2000, working in Atlanta-area restaurants, even managing them. He wasn’t hiding. As if his prior record isn’t bad enough, the current allegations about him are sickening: an informant reported that he carried “duct tape, wigs, lubricant and sex toys” in his car, to use during sexual assaults. We have all certainly helped him along on the road to perfecting his torture of women.

Why doesn’t a case like this capture the imagination of Atlanta’s many criminologists and law professors who rail endlessly against the putative cruelty of three-strikes laws (when they aren’t busy inventing fake statistical measurements to downplay the city’s crime numbers)? Why aren’t elected officials asking some very hard questions about the enforcement of the laws they passed? Why isn’t the GBI offering a clarification about the status of McNutt’s DNA profile, the date it was entered into the state database, and the number of rape kits it matched?

Why isn’t somebody calling for an audit of the possible prosecution, sentencing, and parole errors that released McNutt to the streets, over and over and over again?