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