What follows is a preliminary effort to piece together Shamal (aka Jamal) Thompson’s long and troubling journey through Georgia’s broken criminal justice system prior to February 17, 2009, the day he murdered* an innocent cancer researcher named Eugenia Calle. Ten months earlier, a DeKalb County Superior Court Judge named Cynthia J. Becker let Thompson walk free from what should have been a ten-year sentence for burglary. She did so on the grounds that he was a first-time offender.
He was not.
I gathered the records of Thompson’s many other criminal charges and pleas merely through Internet searches and a few phone calls to court clerks in Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties in Georgia. These counties and jurisdictions vary quite significantly in their commitment to making public safety information available to the public. Fulton County’s public records system is almost uniquely shameful in comparison to similar courts throughout the country, while DeKalb County’s records are impressively detailed and easy to access on-line.
This information is preliminary, based only on a few phone calls and web searches. If you choose to reproduce or quote this article, please understand that I am unable to guarantee its absolute accuracy at this point. Court records themselves often contain errors, and I can only reproduce what is entered on-line by the courts. However, I include the public records case numbers for every case I cite, and if anyone involved in the justice system (or not) wishes to offer corrections or add to this account, please contact me through this website.
Why Didn’t Judge Cynthia Becker Do What I Did?
I am not a lawyer. I don’t even live in Georgia anymore, though I lived in southeast Atlanta for twenty years. Yet I managed to look up Shamal Thompson’s criminal history while sitting at a computer in Florida. From 500 miles away, with no press credentials or official status or legal secretary or law clerk, I was able to easily discover what several judges in Georgia apparently did not care enough to find out: Shamal Thompson was no “first-time offender,” or mere “troubled kid” when he strolled into courtrooms throughout Metro Atlanta and was repeatedly given a slap on the wrist and a fourth, or tenth, second chance. He was no first-time offender when he strolled into Eugenia Calle’s condominium and beat her to death on Tuesday.
He was clearly no first-time offender in 2006, when he walked away from felony charges of aggravated assault in DeKalb County after the ADA declined to present the case against him to the Grand Jury (DeKalb County on-line Judicial System, #D0170113). He was no first-time offender in 2007, when State Court of Fulton County Judge John Mather let him take a plea on theft-by-taking (State Court of Fulton County #06CR314782). And he was certainly no first-time offender ten months ago, when DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia J. Becker let him walk out of prison with time served on a ten-year sentence for Burglary that she chose to reduce to a six-month “first offender” sentence, and then reduced, even more, to time served (DeKalb County On-Line Judicial System #07CR3936).
How does ten years become six months become time served? How does somebody who has bonded out of several courts and been charged with multiple crimes multiple times keep getting defined as a “first-time offender?” Why do judges keep releasing him, and DAs keep declining to prosecute him? How many innocent people have to die before we acknowledge that our courts are so de-funded and functionally broken that predators have little or nothing to fear from being arrested over and over and over again?
How many people have to die before we say that we’ve had enough?
Here is the burglary sentence delivered to Shamal Jerome Thompson on April 3, 2008 in a courtroom in DeKalb County, Georgia. Think of it as Eugenia Calle’s death sentence:
|Docket Text Details|
|Docket Filing Date||03-APR-2008|
|Associated Party||SHAMAL JEROME THOMPSON|
|AS TO THOMPSON, FIRST OFFENDER SENTENCE, 10 YEARS TO SERVE 6 MONTHS IN JAIL AS TO COUNT 1. CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED FROM 9/30/2006 – 10/4/2006 AND FROM 2/11/2008 TO PRESENT, TIME TO SERVE REDUCED TO TIME SERVED. MUST PAY $32/M PROBATION FEE AND $50 INDIGENT DEFENSE FEE, RESTITUTION IN THE AMOUNT OF $350, RESTITUTION NEEDS TO BE PAID WITHIN 12 MONTHS, IF PROBATION IS DONE CORRECTLY AND RESTITUTION IS PAID CASE MAY CLOSE AFTER 5 YEARS. SIGNED BY JUDGE BECKER ON 4/3/2008|
Why did Judge Becker give Thompson First Offender status? His adult record stretches back virtually to the day he ceased being a juvenile, which certainly suggests that he committed crimes that we, the public, cannot even know about before he turned 18. And why, once again, was I able to find these things on-line, hundreds of miles away, while the courts in Atlanta kept letting Shamal Thompson back onto the streets?
WSB Atlanta offers some truly gut-wrenching insight into what Judge Becker was using her Internet for when she should have been looking into Thompson’s criminal history before sentencing him on those burglary charges. She was looking at the bridal gown website Thompson claimed to have designed. According to WSB (and WSB was the only news station that reported this), “Judge Becker cited the Web site and the ‘beautiful designs’ on the site as part of the reason for the light sentence she gave Thompson in the burglary case.”
Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.
Perhaps because I wasn’t busy looking at bridal gowns, what I found on-line about Shamal Thompson had less to do with taffeta than serial identity theft. And fraud. Little clues that should have led the Judge to ask herself: “Is this guy even telling me the truth when he tells me he’s a bridal fashion designer?” Cynthia Becker needs to resign, out of embarrassment if not some deeper comprehension of the grotesquely ironic lack of judgment she displayed.
Am I the only person who thinks Cynthia Becker needs to quit her day job? Well, here’s a good way for you to decide. Because DeKalb County keeps such stellar on-line records, you can actually go to their website, the Online Judicial System of DeKalb County.
Go to Shamal Thompson’s case, #07CR3936, and you will see a list of documents – a case docket. Some of the documents are on-line, and some, like the court transcripts, aren’t on-line, but you can go to the court and request to see those. Or pick some other offender – someone who has been terrorizing your neighborhood, or someone who has been in and out of the courts, or another of Becker’s cases. Take a look at the dockets and think about all of the money we’re wasting on truly baroque and foolish things, while the crimes themselves – the point of the courts – seem to literally disappear in the endless processing and pleading and not prosecuting, or “nolle prosequi.”
Nolle prosequi can occur because nobody had the resources to even investigate the case, or because there are too many defendants, or too many crimes, or because the public has become so gob-smacked with the idea that they are freeing innocent men that it is practically impossible to get most people put away anymore. Nolle prosequi might as well be translated: we’re losing this game every day.
And don’t expect critical news about the broken court system from the daily paper. They run personality pieces on criminals and mash notes about defense attorneys and never, ever, challenge judges. The AJC hasn’t done a substantive series questioning sentencing in the courts since 1993. They’ll go after the police, and some of the time when they do they should, but the courts get treated with real kid gloves.
So I encourage you to go to the courthouse and see how things work. But please remember, court clerks are busy people. The good ones rank among the un-noticed heroes of our dysfunctional courts. They don’t get the cushy no-show jobs like Juanita Hicks, former Fulton County Clerk of Court, who appointed her crony, Cathelene Robinson, who then turned around and paid Juanita to “write a history of the Clerk’s Office,” which Hicks of course, didn’t get around to writing.
But she did take the money, which is just one reason why Fulton County says it can’t afford to put criminal records on-line, so you can’t go on-line and find information about the dirt-bag who just kicked in your back door.
Just remember that when you’re standing in the hallway of the courthouse with a paper in your hand on which Judge Cynthia Becker prattles on about Shamal Thompson’s design skills: it wasn’t the clerk behind the counter who let Thompson walk out the door you’re about to walk out through. The clerk behind the counter probably would have thrown him in prison, where he belonged.
Who is Shamal Thompson?
I know nothing of Thompson’s life story. For that type of “color coverage,” you’ll have to wait for the AJC to run long, plaintive stories about his difficult youth. Meanwhile, here is what I was able to find out about Shamal Thompson’s crimes and history, so far:
Thompson was born either on 3/11/86 or 11/3/86, and he may well have used different birthdates, as well as different names, to avoid detection of his other crimes. Of course, with technology like the In-ter-net, and fingerprint databases, such simple ploys should not have worked at all. Did they? Interesting question.
On May 18, 2005, a warrant was issued for Thompson in Gwinnett County on the charge of theft by receiving stolen property (#05W-17152). It would be two years before the courts addressed these charges. He also apparently committed an act of theft on December 9, 2005 (#06CR314782). The information I received was confusing, but the State Court of Fulton County wouldn’t address those charges, either, until 2007.
Meanwhile, on September 28, 2005, Thompson was arrested in DeKalb County. He was released on October 5. Charges included felony aggravated assault, fleeing/attempt to elude, and reckless driving. Eight months later, on July 25, 2006, an Assistant District Attorney declined to present the case to a Grand Jury in DeKalb, and Thompson walked (#D0170113, or use the name Shamal Thompson, and be sure to hit the “all” button on the “case status” prompt).
Why did the ADA decline to go forward with the case? Why didn’t the jurisdictions of Gwinnett and DeKalb communicate with each other and deliver Thompson to Gwinnett to face his outstanding warrant there?
In any case, on August 26, 2006 (note, we’re up to 2006 now – the dates get confusing: there’s so many of them), Thompson committed a felony burglary in DeKalb County. He was arrested and spent five days in jail – from September 30 to October 4, 2006. This case wouldn’t reappear until 2008, in Judge Becker’s court.
About ten weeks later, December 5, 2006, Thompson was in trouble again, this time in the State Court of Fulton County. I have little information on this case, and the on-line database from the State Court of Fulton County is ridiculously unusable. The charge was forgery-in-the-first-degree; Thompson was the second defendant in the case, and it is “still open,” according to a helpful clerk on the phone. The case number is #06CP5770.
Next, on or around December 18, 2006, Thompson was either charged with theft-of-services and identity fraud or appeared in court on those charges. Again, the information I have is confusing, but the clerk told me that the case is still open; the “last court date scheduled for it was January 2, 2007; and that the Fulton DA “hasn’t scheduled another court date.” The case number is #06CP60870.
All of this could be made clear to us on-line, of course, if there were any functioning leadership at the Clerk of Court during the expensive and ruinous years of Juanita Hicks and Cathelene Robinson.
The next day, December 19, 2006, Thompson had 11 counts of identity fraud “dismissed at jail.” Whatever that means. It could be that some overworked cop didn’t show up, or didn’t show up the sixth time, after Thompson’s defense attorney managed to spin the date a half-dozen times before. It could mean some paperwork disappeared. Or was disappeared. It could be that the overworked DA’s office couldn’t cope, that the case seemed insignificant compared to the thousands of others they were investigating and preparing. In any case, in case #06CP60926, Thompson walked out the door. Free again.
For forty days, at least. On January 30, 2007, the State Court of Fulton County got around to addressing Thompson’s 12/9/2005 theft charge. Judge John Mather accepted a plea, and Thompson walked. The case number is #06CR314782.
It would be great if somebody in Atlanta would go to the State Court of Fulton County and take a look at Judge Mather’s sentence and any other materials related to the case. For if Thompson accepted a plea, why is it that Judge Becker gave him a first-time offender’s break, and Judge Michael Clark (we’ll get to him next) simply dropped charges against him and let him walk?
Onward and upward. On April 23, 2007, Judge Michael Clark of the Gwinnett Superior Court cut Thompson a deal: in exchange for Thompson pleading guilty to theft by receiving, Clark dropped another charge of theft by taking and gave him five years probation — as a first offender. Case #06-B-02474-4, Gwinnett Courts.
Questions arise. If Thompson pleaded guilty on January 30, 2007, why did he get to plead guilty, again, as a first offender, some seven weeks later? For that matter, had Judge Mather give him a first-offender deal, too, those seven weeks prior to his second first-offender plea, despite his juvenile record, if it exists, and all the other confirmed charges floating around? The head swims. But, then again, I’m sitting here in Florida, getting paid nothing to watch the dolphins cavort, dreaming of crime victims.
I’m not some judge in her chambers in DeKalb County getting paid to enforce the law. Dreaming of wedding gowns.
Some time around February 11, 2008, Shamal Thompson was back in jail again in DeKalb County, where he stayed until April 3, when he convinced Judge Cynthia J. Becker that his bridal gown web design skills entitled him to a third first-offender sentence, a further reduction in that sentence, and immediate release with time served, justice be damned.
And 319 days later it was, wasn’t it?
What Will Happen Now?
What will happen now is that Shamal Thompson has just bought himself (on our tab) a very expensive and high-profile defense team who will use our money to accuse us as a society of failing this talented /troubled/ mentally unstable/ promising/ neglected/ sensitive/ misunderstood young man while using every trick they’ve embedded in the criminal justice system to try to get him off again as they grandstand to enhance their public personas while lining their pockets and wailing that they do all this in order to defend justice from its enemies.
Lapdogs in the daily press will breathlessly report this.
Eugenia Calle’s family and loved ones will bury her body and remember all the good she did while she was alive.
Her colleagues will go back to trying to cure cancer.
Who Was That Who Saw it Coming?
In 2005, a writer named Coley Ward published a startling article in Atlanta’s Creative Loafing. Called “Case Dismissed: Accused Felons Often Are Released When Officers Fail to Testify,” Ward interviewed Fulton County Magistrate Judge Richard Hicks, who complained that more than half of the felony cases scheduled in his courtroom had to be dismissed, usually when police officers didn’t show up to testify. The police argued back that they didn’t always receive subpoenas in time, or that they were on duty elsewhere or off the clock – working for free. DA Paul Howard (whose own staff is stretched beyond human means) argued that most of those felons eventually got re-arrested for something else and thus indicted, an argument Judge Hicks called statistically untrue. Even if it were true, Coley Ward points out, what type of system lets out half its felons, or more, on the grounds that they’ll be back again soon?
Everybody agreed on one thing, though: the justice system is so broken that the chance of a felon even getting indicted once he has been caught, if he is caught, is so small in Fulton County that it hardly seems worth worrying about.
Now picture Shamal Thompson boldly strolling through Dr. Eugenia Calle’s condominium lobby, trying to get back into her apartment, where he knew her body lay, after killing her and going on a cold-blooded shopping spree with her credit card. No consequences. No fear.
We should have all seen it coming. Thompson appears before Judge Richard Hicks on March 3, four years after Hicks pulled the fire alarm on his own courthouse.
And the Mayor and the Chief of Police continue to say that there’s no problem, that it’s all in people’s heads, that crime is down.
I once had a defense attorney say: “Geez, you take this stuff so personally.” Well, I’m a victim of violent crime, and so is my husband and many, many of my friends in Atlanta. I matriculated from Emory University’s Graduate School, and as a public health worker and lobbyist, I occasionally worked with the epidemiologists, including those involved in seeking the links between hormones and cancer that defined Eugenie Calle’s research (I never met her). My dear friend, Toni, lost her life to cancer two years ago. Another dear friend and mentor, Vicki, has been fighting breast cancer for years. I lost a beloved male friend suddenly to cancer last year. And since Christmas, my mother has been waging a valiant fight against late-stage lung and brain cancer.
So, yeah. As someone who prays daily for those gone to cancer and those fighting it now, I take the loss of a brilliant and dedicated cancer researcher personally. God rest.
As a crime victim, I take crime personally.
As an Emory alum, I take their community’s safety personally, and I would expect all members of the campus, even those faculty of the offender-besotted-ilk, to take the murder of a member of their community seriously.
As a woman, I take the vulnerability of women personally. As a former Atlantan who worked hard to make the city a safer place for women and children, I take crime in Atlanta seriously.
It’s up to us – black and white, neighbor by neighbor by neighbor, to come together to demand that criminals be removed from the streets. Permanently. The only way to break the cycle of violence — to save the younger brothers and sisters of all the Shamal Thompsons out there, is to change what the courts have been doing for the last thirty years.
Stop letting the predators out. All of them.
Start prosecuting crimes. All of them.
Start telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what is happening in our courts. They are the problem. And that is what this blog will be about.
I am so, so sorry for Eugenia Calle and for the people who loved her.
Tomorrow: What citizens in Atlanta are doing to fight crime and monitor the courts.
*Of course, Thompson has not yet been convicted of the crime.