Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

January 23 2014

18:13

Mandatory Sentencing: Victims Speak Out

Our Jan. 22 hour discussed the national struggle around how to justly sentence violent juvenile offenders. For many years, courts handed down mandatory life sentences without hope of parole to young adults who had committed a crime before the age of 18.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled such sentences should no longer be mandatory and that such sentences should be considered cruel and unusual. The court felt children’s brains were still developing and that judges should be empowered to make a judgment on a case by case basis. But what they didn’t tackle was the more than 2,500 inmates, living out life sentences without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. Did the rule apply to them? It’s a question that many states have been struggling to answer in the year since.

An important voice in the conversation is that of a victim’s family — the people who lost a love one at the hands of these offenders, who could now be facing re-sentencing hearings, and even a lifetime of parole hearings. During our hour, heard from three people who had lost someone at the hands of a juvenile offender in our hour today. All three offenders were sentenced to the mandatory life without parole, but in the wake of these new decisions, that all may change.

PAUL DOWNING “He knew right from wrong, and there’s nothing that could justify, what he did.”

Janet Downing, who was murdered in 1995 by a 15-year-old neighbor. (Courtesy the Downing Family)

Janet Downing, who was murdered in 1995 by a 15-year-old neighbor. Janet is pictured here in the fall of 1990.  (Courtesy the Downing Family)

On July 23rd, 1995, Janet Downing, a 42 year old mother of four, was murdered in her Somerville, Mass. home. The perpetrator, Edward O’Brien, who was 15 years old at the time of the murder, stabbed Downing 98 times.  A family friend and neighbor, O’Brien had lived much of his life across the street from Janet Downing. A little more than two years later in October of 1997, O’Brien was found guilty of first degree murder and automatically given the mandatory sentence – life without parole.

This past Christmas Eve, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that such mandatory sentencing would no longer be allowed in compliance with a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2012. As a result, the state announced that it would begin looking back at all of its juvenile life without parole sentences and holding new sentencing hearings.  Janet’s son, Paul testified in his mother’s murder case when he was barely older than his mother’s killer. He and his family must now prepare themselves for the possibility that O’Brien will be resentenced in the coming months. Paul, now 35, joined us during our hour.

Tom Ashbrook: What do you think of this ruling that would mean a reconsideration of the life without parole sentence of your mother’s murder, Edward O’Brien?

Paul Downing: It’s definitely reopening a wound for the entire family. It’s a very scary thought that this person possibly could be among us again. It’s… it’s not going very well with a lot of us. For a lot of people that supported us.

TA: It was a terrible murder, you were neighbors, his grandfather had been chief of police in your town – Somerville. He was only 15. A big boy, 6’4”, 250 lbs., 260 – but even for all that – he was only 15. I mean, is it a matter of justice, vengeance, what Paul, that he should be in prison for the rest of his life? When you think about this case, do you think, well maybe, maybe he’ll change over 20, 30, 40, 50 years?

PD: There’s nothing to excuse what he did. My mother suffered over 90 stab wounds, and it was an extreme atrocious act. From someone she knew very closely. Whether his brain was developed, or not at that point, he knew right from wrong, and there’s nothing that could justify, what he did. There’s just nothing to excuse it.

TA: have you heard exactly what might happen now? What will happen with the Massachusetts high court ruling?

PD: We’re currently in limbo. My family won’t know more till about June? I would say? Where he may be up for parole at that time. So yes, he has the ability to appeal his case, and who knows where he might go with the direction of how he might get himself out. And the thought of that – it’s very terrifying.

TA: Resentencing means getting back into all of that, and it was clearly terrible. But what about – you’re older now; he’s older now, what about someday when he’s 50 years old, when he’s 60 years old, 70 years old, maybe even 80 years old? At which point you may think – well it was terrible, but that’s a lot of time, let’s say enough.

PD: If I can get my mother back, then maybe – I’d say okay, it’s alright. But you know I’m sorry, a life was taken, a person is never going to exist again. My mom will never be alive, so fair is fair. You did what you did. You get to live still. Don’t forget that.

SEAN AYLWARD: “the cruel and unusual punishment here is to victims and their families, not to these convicts.”

In 1992, Beth Brodie was a 15-year-old high school cheerleader in Groveland, Mass. That November, Richard Baldwin, 16, beat her to death with an aluminum baseball bat.

In 1994, Baldwin was convicted of first degree murder – with the mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Like Edward O’Brien, Richard Baldwin’s case falls under those up for resentencing in Massachusetts. Beth’s family and friends are outraged that the perpetrator of such a violent crime would have the hope of parole available to them.

Beth’s brother, Sean Alyward. called us to share his sister’s story and his feelings about the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision.

Sean Alyward: She was 15, he was 16, and she did not pursue a romantic relationship with him and he took offense to that. Throughout the course of a day, in conversations with her mutual friend, he drove to the home of a mutual friend with a baseball bat, and lured her to the home – and then bludgeoned her to death.

TA: We will remain always sorry for that whole story, how are you thinking about the Supreme Court ruling now Sean, and what ought to happen with the killer of your sister?

SA: Well what the family cannot understand is the retroactivity behind this, and I have heard the arguments in the last few minutes about it. But had the states still abided by death sentences laws, what would we do then? How far back do you go and where do you draw the line? To bring this back up and strip victims’ families of their rights or solace that they may have found since it happened, is just tragic. It’s not right; the cruel and unusual punishment here is to victims and their families, not to these convicts.

TA: It’s an absolutely heinous crime. There’s no question about it, but what about the notion of redemption over time Sean? Your sister was 15, she deserved to live, this was a 16 year old boy who did a terrible thing, what about the idea that over many years, a) there’s punishment and b) the human brain is not fully developed at 16 – there’s room for redemption – how do you think about that Sean?

SA: We’ll her brain wasn’t fully developed either, if this is the argument, yet she knew the difference between right and wrong. She didn’t do anything wrong.  She was a saint. She recognized that this was not somebody she wanted to have a romantic relationship with. So in his eyes, the proper thing to do here is take somebody’s life? That’s just simply not fair, so why should he experience any of the rights and freedoms that she could have used up to this point.

TA: Sean, do you know what process is now underway?  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled on this so presumably resentencing will come to this – do you have a sense of how that will unfold Sean?

SA: We’re actually preparing for the parole now. Preparing with District Attorney Blodgett  and he’s been very proactive in this, and he’s been very supportive. He’s got probably the best attorneys from his office working on our parole hearing. But it’s just unfortunate that my family is going to spend the rest of our lives preparing for these (hearings) because even if he is denied parole in this first hearing, he’s going to be up for parole in whatever the court sees is fair. Whether it’s three or five or even ten years, (we’ll be) constantly preparing for this parole.

I think the argument here should be left open for the judges in these cases. Take the mandatory out but leave (life without parole) as an option, cause in some cases these guys need to go away without the option of parole.

Jeanne Bishop and her sister, Nancy, in Scotland in 1990. Nancy was killed later that year. (Courtesy Jeanne Bishop)

Jeanne Bishop and her sister, Nancy, in Scotland in 1990. Nancy was killed later that year. (Courtesy Jeanne Bishop)

JEANNE BISHOP: “This sentence is merciless. It freezes in time forever something someone did at a very young age.”

But there are those who have lost love ones who have decided to support the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In April of 1990 Nancy Bishop Langert and her husband Richard were murdered in their Winnetka, Illinois home just outside of Chicago. Nancy was just 25 and pregnant with the couple’s first child.  In her last moments, she left a message for her family – a heart, and the letter “U,” scribbled out in her blood.

Six months after that night, 16 year-old David Biro was arrested for the murder. He was sentenced to life with no chance of parole. Jeanne’s family was overcome with relief.

Nancy’s sister Jeanne, has spent more than 20 years since working as a public defender with Cook County (which includes the city of Chicago.) Through her work, and her faith, she decided that her sister’s killer deserves the change of hope, redemption, and mercy that comes with knowing parole is possible.

Jeanne joined us during our hour to share her sister’s story and how she came to this conclusion.

TA: do you support the Supreme Court in saying, let’s leave open a chance for redemption or not?

Jeanne Bishop: I do support that Tom, and I do because I believe that any kind of mandatory sentencing for adults or juveniles ignores the unique circumstances of the facts of the case, of the characteristics of that person. I just don’t think we can take a cookie cutter approach. And I also have to say in my own case, the young man who killed my family members received a mandatory sentence for killing my sister and her husband, but he received a discretionary life sentence for killing their unborn child. With the respect to the mandatory sentence, my family was not even allowed  to do a victim impact statement at sentencing because there was not aggravation and mitigation hearing, there was no possibility for us to have input into the sentence.
TA: how has your attitude about that sentence evolved over the years if it has? Were you satisfied at the beginning, were you happy to see him put away for life, mandatory – If it’s changed why? How?

JB: When he was sentenced my mother turned to me and said, “We’ll never see him again,” and I was glad of that. I wiped him off my hands like dirt. And over the years having worked as a public defender, seeing the clients that I have up close, and seeing my own thinking on things evolve, and having children, young  men – boys of my own, to realize that this sentence is merciless. It freezes in time forever something someone did at a very young age. People do have the capacity for remorse – to rethink what they’re doing. And that’s true in the case of the person that took my sister’s life. He started out remorseless – denying the crime. He took the stand and blamed it on someone else. But when I got in touch with him now that he is age 40, he wrote me a 15 page letter, apologizing, confessing to the crime and kind of tracing the arch of his thinking on his crime.

January 22 2014

08:40

Jail Time And Violent Juvenile Offenders

Fighting for life without parole for young offenders. Tough states do not want to back down – or re-open old cases.

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, right, hugs Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo after he cast a vote for her bill that would give teenage criminals with long-term prison sentences, a chance for parole, during the Assembly session at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. By a 51-21 vote, the Assembly approved Hancock's SB260 which would create a parole review process for cases where an individual, who was younger than 18 at the time of the offense and prosecuted as an adult, would be able to come up for parole after serving a lengthy minimum sentence. (AP)

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, right, hugs Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo after he cast a vote for her bill that would give teenage criminals with long-term prison sentences, a chance for parole, during the Assembly session at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. By a 51-21 vote, the Assembly approved Hancock’s SB260 which would create a parole review process for cases where an individual, who was younger than 18 at the time of the offense and prosecuted as an adult, would be able to come up for parole after serving a lengthy minimum sentence. (AP)

Guests

Erik Eckholm, national legal correspondent for The New York Times. (@eckholm)

Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator at The Campaign For the Fair Sentencing of Youth. (@jkentlavy)

Paul Downing, son of Janet Downing, who was murdered by Edward O’Brien in Somervile, MA in 1995.

David Freed, district attorney for Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. President of the Pennsylvanian District Attorneys Association.

Jeanne Bishop, assistant public defender in the office of the Cook County, Illinois Public Defender. Sister of Nancy Bishop Langert, who was shot to death at age 25 along with her husband and their unborn child. (@jeannebishop)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: Juveniles Facing Lifelong Terms Despite Rulings – “Lawsuits now before Florida’s highest court are among many across the country that demand more robust changes in juvenile justice. One of the Florida suits accuses the state of skirting the ban on life without parole in non-homicide cases by meting out sentences so staggering that they amount to the same thing. Other suits, such as one argued last week before the Illinois Supreme Court, ask for new sentencing hearings, at least, for inmates who received automatic life terms for murder before 2012 — a retroactive application that several states have resisted.”

Detroit Free Press: Parole hearings on hold for 360 Michigan juveniles serving life sentences – “The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Attorney General Bill Schuette a stay of a federal judge’s order that would require parole hearings for about 360 Michigan juveniles now serving life sentences for murder with no possibility of parole. Today’s order is an early Christmas gift for families of murder victims who have been traumatized by the possible release of teenaged murderers sentenced to life without parole,’ Schuette said in a news release.”

NPR: Unlikely Advocates For Teen Killers: Victims’ Families — “One man’s mother had been killed by four teenage girls. Another man’s son was killed by a teenage boy. Yet all of them want the court to find life without parole for juveniles unconstitutional. It’s not a group you often hear about. Many in the room said they frequently are unwilling to share their feelings about the issue because they have been accused of not missing their loved ones enough. On this day, there was enough sorrow in the room to fill an afternoon — but also enough forgiveness.”

January 17 2014

09:01

Week In The News: Bad Water, School Shooting, Net Neutrality

Poisoned water in West Virginia. Net neutrality takes a hit. Another school shooting – New Mexico. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Water buffaloes are made available to local residents in South Charleston, W.V. to fill coolers and other containers at the GeStamp Stamping Plant-South Charleston Sunday morning, Jan. 12, 2014. The ban on using water for drinking, washing and cleaning remains in effect following the chemical spill Thursday in the Elk River that has contaminated the public water supply in nine counties. (AP)

Water buffaloes are made available to local residents in South Charleston, W.V. to fill coolers and other containers at the GeStamp Stamping Plant-South Charleston Sunday morning, Jan. 12, 2014. The ban on using water for drinking, washing and cleaning remains in effect following the chemical spill Thursday in the Elk River that has contaminated the public water supply in nine counties. (AP)

Guests

John Heilemann, national affairs editor at New York Magazine and MSNBC political analyst. Co-author with Mark Halperin of “Double Down: Game Change 2012” and “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime.” (@jheil)

Nancy Cordes, Congressional correspondent for CBS News.  (@nancycordes)

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst.

From Tom’s Reading List

CNN: ’Pay to play’ on the Web?: Net neutrality explained — “How would you like to have to pay a fee to be able to stream YouTube videos at full speed? What if you liked downloading music from, say, Last.fm or Soundcloud, but those sites suddenly became infinitely slower than bigger sites like Amazon or iTunes? Those are the kind of major changes to the Internet some folks are envisioning after a federal court ruling this week on what’s come to be called ‘net neutrality.’”

Politico: House approves bipartisan spending bill — “The House approved and sent to the Senate a landmark $1.1 trillion spending bill that fills in the blanks of December’s budget agreement and sets a new template for appropriations for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s second term. Adopted 359-67, the giant measure literally touches every corner of government. And more than any single document to date, it defines the new budget reality that faces the president and his activist agenda.”

Reuters: Pregnant women warned off West Virginia water in cleared areas — “One week after the spill into the Elk River prompted authorities to order some 300,000 people not to drink or wash with their tap water, officials have cleared more than 200,000 of them to start drinking the water again after tests showed levels below the 1 part per million level safety standard set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But pregnant women should continue to steer clear of the water in an ‘abundance of caution’ until the chemical is completely undetectable, West Virginia American Water said.”

October 09 2013

18:55

Shaun McCutcheon On McCutcheon Vs. F.E.C.

On our Oct. 9 hour on the Supreme Court’s deliberations over limits to financial contributions in Federal elections featured a variety of voices and opinions, including the opinion of the McCutcheon himself of the case’s title. Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman who has actively supported Conservative political causes in and beyond his home state and who hopes to expand the number of candidates to whom he can directly offer money, filed suit against the Federal Election Commission in order to expand the number of individual races to which he could donate money.

McCutcheon spoke with host Tom Ashbrook about his reasons for bringing his legal challenge all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

It’s basic freedom of speech and right to political assembly. And again, this is about donating directly to, you know, as many candidates and committees as you choose. I don’t think you all have been talking about, say, a challenger who cant self fund, but might be a great manager in politics. The challengers are the ones that have trouble raising money because of these limitations. And A lot of the candidates I donated to did not win, so I don’t see how you can call that influence when the candidate didn’t even make it out of the primary. I’m talking about supporting more candidates, including primaries and run offs and things like that.

McCutcheon stressed that concerns over the potential for the total removal of spending limits on Federal elections as a result of his case were overblown.

 

No I do not worry. This is a case about the aggregate limits, not the base limits. The base limits and the committee rules and the PAC rules all those things that are in place take care of the corruption argument. This is about donating to more candidates and more committees and spending your money however you choose…

This is about free speech. This is about getting your message out into the marketplace of ideas. All Americans are entitled to free speech. So you know, money does not necessarily guarantee that a candidate will be elected. It just allows them to advertise,  and get their message out and allows people to get to know [sic] ‘em and hear their ideas. This is promoting and improving democracy, not limiting it. This is about changing the world for the better…

Again, all Americans are entitled to free speech. Both sides — all sides, there’s more than two — have donors who can donate and advertise. This is about free speech. More speech and more ideas is not gonna hurt anything.

McCutcheon was very concious of some public criticism about his motives in the case — several members of Congress submitted amicus curiae, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — and stressed that his aim in the case is to expand the aggregate number of races to which a donor can contribute.

Again, this is about more candidates and more committees. If say, my ninth race was an Alabama House race and I wanted to donate to a tenth Senate race in North Carolina in both the primary and… It’s about more candidates and more committees. This is about aggregate limits, not base limits.

McCutcheon — and many court reporters, for that matter — seemed to feel that the Justices were likely to rule in his favor.

Yes I found it very interesting. The humor was in the courtroom was inspiring, it exceeded expectations. I heard a lot of great ideas. I was very impressed with the Court and the process.

What do you think? Is that what free speech ought to mean? Blast away with all the bucks you’ve got? Will this Court endorse that vision of the American democratic process? Leave your comments below, or let us know how you feel on Facebook, Tumblr or @OnPointRadio.

05:25

The Supreme Court And Campaign Finance Limits, Again

The High Court and blowing the lid off campaign contributions.

Guests

Robert Barnes, Supreme Court correspondent for The Washington Post. (@scotusreporter)

Richard Briffault, professor of constitutional law at Columbia University and expert on campaign finance law. (@ColumbiaLaw)

Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21, a non-profit that advocates for transparency in government and campaign finance reform. (@FredWertheimer)

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: Supreme Court Skeptical of Limits on Federal Campaign Contributions — “The chief justice seemed to be looking for a way for the court to lift the aggregate ban on candidate contributions but keep a separate restriction on the amount given to political parties and committees.Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said that lifting the limits in the way proposed by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee would allow an individual to contribute more than $3.5 million, rather than the current limit of $123,000.”

NPR: Supreme Court Hears Another Challenge To Campaign Finance Law — “McCutcheon could spend any amount he wants to by giving to independent groups that have proliferated since Citizens United. These groups raise millions of dollars to spend on candidate elections, but they do so independently and are not supposed to coordinate with the candidate campaigns. McCutcheon, however, doesn’t want to give to independent groups; he wants to give directly to candidates and the Republican Party.”

SCOTUSBlog: How is Political Influence Bought? – ”If the Supreme Court really does not understand how money moves around in American politics, how can it fashion constitutional rules to prevent abuses?  That seemed to be the most penetrating question that hung over the one-hour hearing Tuesday on the latest dispute over campaign finance.  The answer seemed to be that the Court is not really sure about the former, but it still is going to try to do the latter.”

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl