From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

Gregory Lance Henderson’s adult life is on the record.

Police and court records. . .

The 31-year-old Columbus man is accused of striking with his car and killing James Anderson, a Lee County, Ala., sheriff’s deputy . . . Henderson was sentenced to 15 years and three to serve for a drug conviction in 2007.  If he had served the full three years, he would still be in a Georgia prison today.

Despite an extensive criminal record (16 bookings in Georgia alone, a felony conviction for aggravated assault, drug convictions), Henderson faced no consequences for most of his arrests.  He drew a 24 months to serve/10 years parole sentence for a violent felony in 2006 and yet somehow didn’t serve that time.  His next arrest came five months later — and even though he’d violated parole (if we can call it parole, since he was actually supposed to be in jail), someone let him walk again.  A few arrests later, he was in front of another judge who apparently did not consider the fact that he was still supposed to be in prison for the last offense and had also been arrested additional times since that conviction.

So, 11 months after he was sentenced to ten years, 24 months to serve, he was sentenced anew on other charges and given 15 years, three years to serve.

Why didn’t the judge revoke the parole, send him off for ten years, and then slap on the additional charges?

Of course, Henderson didn’t serve those three years, either.  He was released 15 months later, and now a Sheriff’s deputy over the Alabama border has been murdered.

Thank you, Muscogee County Superior Court.  Thank you, Georgia Pardons and Paroles.  Hope you send flowers:

Randy Robertson, vice president of the local Georgia Fraternal Order of Police chapter and a Columbus law enforcement officer, said this case illustrates the need for tougher mandatory sentencing laws from the Georgia General Assembly.

“The state of Georgia needs to write an apology to the Anderson family because this guy was not where he was supposed to be, which is incarcerated,” Robertson said Saturday.

Georgia’s recidivism laws are too narrow and its mandatory sentencing laws are utterly meaningless.  The recidivism law excludes all but a few crimes, and defendants can still plead out of the ones that count as “strikes.” (This, as I keep saying, is why we have so many people in prison for “just drug charges” that aren’t really just drug charges.) The mandatory sentencing laws create guidelines and then undermine them by allowing judges to suspend part or all of any sentence (then the Parole Board chops off the other end).  What’s mandatory about that?

Did legislators not read these bills before they passed them?  Were defense attorneys still in charge of the House Judiciary Committee when these bills were drafted with little poison pills attached?  Were publicly law-and-order types privately fudging the legislative intent in order to save the state some money?

Why does nobody ask questions like this?

~~~

Any road, the consequences remain the same: a police officer dead, his family mourning.

Remember this: when cops are dealing with out-of-control recidivists, every arrest, even for minor crimes, puts their lives in danger.  According to comments in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Henderson has a teardrop-tattoo on his face, universal nomenclature advertising intent of and propensity for unpredictable and extreme violence:

So even when he was just getting popped for traffic offenses, he was announcing to the world that it could end very badly for someone.  And finally, tragically, it did.  Nobody should deign to express surprise.

Here are merely the last four years of Henderson’s journey through  — or, mostly, not through — Georgia courts.  Between the rat tangle of lax prosecution protocols, plea deals, judicial discretion and parole, his feet barely touched the courthouse floor, let alone the jailhouse door:

Oct. 14, 2005: Booked into Muscogee County Jail on aggravated assault and armed robbery charges.

Oct. 6, 2006: Pleaded guilty to aggravated assault charges in Superior Court; Judge Robert Johnston sentenced him to 10 years in prison, 24 months to serve.

March 1, 2007: Booked into Muscogee County Jail on possession of methamphetamine and traffic charges.

April 8, 2007: Booked into Muscogee County Jail on misdemeanor battery charges.

May 3, 2007: Booked into Muscogee County Jail on probation violation and aggravated assault charges.

Sept. 7, 2007: Pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine charge in Superior Court. Judge Bobby Peters sentenced him to 15 years, three years to serve.

Oct. 23, 2007: Began prison sentence.

Dec. 29, 2008: Released on parole from Hays State prison by Georgia Department of Corrections.

To revisit the math: while on probation (?) for an aggravated assault for which Henderson is actually supposed to be in prison, he’s busted in March, busted in April, busted in May, pleads to “just drug” charges for the March 1 charge in September and gets out of jail, early, 15 months later.  Then, this:

Sept. 24, 2009: Arrested in Lee County, Ala., on capital murder charges in connection with the death of Sheriff’s deputy James Anderson.

Someone claiming to be Judge Peters responds to criticisms in this comments thread.  Of course, there’s no way to know if it really is the judge, but he says the D.A. didn’t bring charges for the second aggravated assault before him, only a drugs charge.  He also seems to have not looked at Henderson’s prior record, because he apparently did not notice that Henderson was supposed to be in jail when he was in his courtroom.  If any of this is true, it simply means that the courts are in even more disarray, not less, frankly.

Scratch the surface of most “just drugs” cases, and you get someone with an arrest record like Henderson’s.  Judges should know that and want full disclosure of prior records, right?

My name is Judge Peters and I am posting this to correct the article. James Henderson did not come before me for aggravated assault. He was arrested for a possession of residue of meth in a straw when he was stopped for improper tag lights. A plea bargain agreement with the DA and his lawyer was an agreement where he pleaded guilty, gave up his 4th amendment rights, sentenced to 15 years, three in jail and 12 on supervised probation with drug testing and drug treatment.

OK, fine.  Blame the D.A. too.  But why would any judge allow a 15-year sentence for, as he modestly puts it, “residue in a straw” without asking why the D.A. wanted to throw the book?  Why would any judge not wish to ascertain the defendants’ criminal history to consider in sentencing, for that matter?

Why didn’t the judge revoke his parole, or whatever it was Henderson was serving or not serving for the 2006 aggravated assault charge?

Why didn’t the judge also see that Henderson had another outstanding aggravated assault charge, which would qualify him for recidivism status?  I’m willing to believe there are more people responsible than just Judge Peters.  But it is his courtroom, his responsibility.  The buck stops with him, and if all this is the prosecutor’s fault, then the judge has a serious responsibility to do something about such costly lack of communication.  Peters (if it his him) continues:

[Henderson] was paroled by the Pardon and Parole Board prior to his 2010 release date. Deputy [Anderson] was a fine man, all jurisdictions mourn his passing and pray for his family. No one could predict this would happen. the sentence received was a tough sentence for possession of residue of meth. the article was wrong when it listed the crime of aggravated assault as an additional charge at that time. Thank you. — Bobby Peters.

Nobody could predict this would happen?  Well, not if you don’t look at the guy’s record.  Or his face.  The writer claiming to be Judge Peters continues:

[O]nce an individual is sentenced, his fate rests with the Pardon and Parole Board. Victims or family members, DA, may appear before the board or send a letter. I dont contact the board to get a person out or to keep them in. The aggravated assault was a plea bargain in front of another judge in 06. I have asked for a transcript of both cases. The case I heard was a residue meth case where Henderson was on drugs and stopped for no tag light. 15 years with 3 years in prison,12 years on probation, drug treatment, drug testing, random searches, and 12 years to serve if he got in trouble again. No one can ever predict what a defendant will do down the road. This case is really a tragedy for the Anderson family. I dont know why Henderson got out early but the main one to blame is Henderson himself. I, like everyone, am so sorry this happened. Note says no more space. You can call me if you have more questions. — Bobby Peters.

“I have asked for a transcript of both cases”?  Now?  After a cop gets killed?  Why would any judge sentence somebody without knowing their record of violent crime, recidivism, prior leniency shown by the courts, and prior conduct during prior early releases, particularly parole violations?

“No one can ever predict what a defendant will do down the road”?

This one did precisely what he did the last time: got another drug charge, another aggravated assault charge, and then another free pass from another prosecutor, another judge and another pushover at Pardons and Paroles.  No mystery there.

~~~

Every police officer in the state should descend on the Georgia General Assembly this year in memory of Officer James Anderson, demanding real sentencing reform and judicial accountability.  This time.