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The Conservative Curmudgeon
February 9, 2010

Violence Illustrates Need for Repeat Criminals to Serve Full Sentences
by Allan C. Brownfeld

ALEXANDRIA, VA — Late in 2009, two violent murders by repeat offenders, who were released from prison long before their terms were served, illustrate the need to carefully review how our criminal justice system conducts its business.

In one case, 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell was abducted from the bedroom of her home in Salisbury, Maryland. Her body was found three days later on Christmas Day. Thomas J. Leggs, Jr., 30, a registered sex offender acquainted with her family, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and burglary.

The suspect had a lengthy arrest record in the state and is listed in both the Maryland and Delaware sex offender registries. The Maryland case dates to l998, when he was convicted of a third-degree sex offense involving a child. In 200l, he pled guilty in Delaware to fourth-degree rape for having sex with a teenager who was not yet 18. He served one year in jail and was placed on probation for the remainder of the seven-year sentence. At the time of his arrest in the kidnapping of Sarah, Leggs was awaiting trial on charges of burglary and destruction of property in Ocean City, Maryland.

“What in the hell is he doing back out on the street, and what is he doing having contact with this child?” is the question posed by Jerry Norton of Citizens for Jessica's Law in Maryland, a group that fights to toughen laws governing sex offenses.

Also late in 2009, four uniformed police officers in Washington state were killed, execution-style, as they sat in a coffee shop near Tacoma. The killer, Maurice Clemmons, had been released from jail in Pierce County six days earlier, even though charges were pending for a second-degree rape of a child and he faced seven other felony charges in the state.

Earlier, in Arkansas, he was serving 60-year and 48-year sentences for various violent crimes and faced another 95 years on other charges. However, in 2000, after he had served just 11 years and over vocal objections from county prosecutors, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons’ sentence. It was just one of the more than l,000 clemencies issued by Mr. Huckabee during his term in office. The Arkansas Leader documented that Mr. Huckabee had granted clemency to more convicts than all of the governors in the six states surrounding Arkansas combined.

Editorially, The Washington Times noted that, “The broader lesson here is that governors and presidents generally should leave clemency decisions for violent offenders to trained parole boards. Sure, there is good reason for giving chief clemency powers to chief executives. We know of cases that cry out for pardons, including people imprisoned by overzealous bureaucrats and prosecutors for such crimes as packing lobster tails in plastic instead of cardboard or of submitting the wrong paperwork for imported orchids. But murderers and rapists are a different matter. A single executive, with hundreds of other responsibilities, is unlikely to be familiar enough with each case and each personality to determine if an individual convict is a threat to strike again. If a judge and jury, upon due consideration, imposed a certain sentence on a violent criminal and an expert parole board has not seen fit to reduce the sentence, a governor or president treads on thin ice in overruling them. It’s an injustice that four officers of the law had to die to teach... that lesson.”

Beyond the question of parole for violent offenders is the fact that we still have with us groups that continue to promote violence against law enforcement officers.

Maurice Clemmons told numerous friends and family members in Washington to “watch the TV” before the massacre because he was going to “kill a bunch of cops.” These individuals — several of whom have been arrested for aiding and abetting Clemmons with shelter, food, money, and medical aid — were not offended by the idea of murdering police officers. Apparently because Clemmons was black and the police officers were white, a militant online group called the National Black Foot Soldier Network celebrated Clemmons as a “Crowned BOW (Black on White) Martyr” and dubbed the ambush a “preemptive strike on terrorists.”

Just three weeks before the massacre of the four police officers, the region saw another police attack. Suspect Christopher Monfort was arrested in the targeted shooting death of Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton and the wounding of his partner Britt Sweeney. Monfort had written diatribes against law enforcement, particularly white policemen. The leader of a Seattle hip-hop punk band commemorated the assassination with a T-shirt depicting Monfort’s face splattered with blood and overlaid with a Seattle police department badge under the slogan “Deliver Us From Evil.”

We have witnessed many years of cop-bashing rap from MWA's "F--- the Police" and Ice-T's “Cop Killer” to Dead Orez's “Police State” (“I threw a Molotov cocktail at the precinct”) and The Game's “911 Is a Joke” (“I ought to shoot 5l officers for the 5l times that boy was shot in New York”). Clearly, years of such music and lyrics have had their effect.

The past decade has seen an overall decline in violent crime. Murders were down 30 percent in Los Angeles, 14 percent in Atlanta, and 10 percent in Boston. New York in 2009 may have had the lowest number of murders since comprehensive recordkeeping began in l963. Policies that put more brave and dedicated police officers on the street, with better technology and smarter tactics, are a key reason for this decline.

Violent criminal acts — such as the recent murders in Maryland and Washington state — could have been avoided if the career criminals who were the perpetrators had been serving their jail sentences. It is high time that repeat violent offenders be kept off the streets. Sentences should mean something. This is an important lesson we should have learned long ago.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2010 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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