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System fails in Seattle shootings

cartoon 12-11-09

Editorial Cartoon by Michael Escañuelas

There is a lot to consider when looking over a list of potential pardons for convicted felons.

There is their mental health, because you don’t necessarily want to send an unstable person with a criminal history back into society, if their behavior isn’t clearly under control.

There is also the question of whether the person’s release will somehow benefit society.

Certainly, celebrities and athletes have an edge in rehabilitation for their crimes, something that Maurice Clemmons, the man suspected of fatally shooting four Seattle policemen on Nov. 29, did not have, but had a knack for getting out of prison regardless.

When Clemmons was arrested and incarcerated for aggravated robbery and assault in Arkansas in 1989, he was only 18 years old. During the trial proceedings, he was bound in shackles because the judge felt the extra security was warranted, according to Nov. 29 Seattle Times article written by Seattle Times staff writers.

The judge was proven correct, as Clemmons would attempt to hide objects on his person. Taking a lock from a cell and attempting to throw it at a bailiff, Clemmons instead struck his own mother, according to records, the Seattle Times Nov. 29 article reported. He had also attempted to steal a guard’s pistol while being escorted to the trial room.

Then, enter Mike Huckabee. The man, who was governor of Arkansas during Clemmon’s trial proceedings, had recently caught a great deal of flak when it was revealed that it was he who had initially commuted Clemmon’s lengthy sentence of 203 years down to 48 years, giving him the possibility of parole. Clemmons was released 11 years later.

In a recent interview with “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart, Huckabee made the point of defending himself and his decision to release Clemmons, pointing out that while he took full responsibility for being the first domino in a series of events with Clemmons, the judicial and justice system repeatedly failed not only our society as a whole, but the the four police officers Clemmons shot.

There is no real political up-side to commuting prisoner’s sentences, Huckabee said, also indicating that race (Clemmons is African American) might have influenced the long length of his original sentence. If it had been a white male, he would have paid a $1000 fine, which his father would have probably paid for, Huckabee said during the interview.

Despite Huckabee’s reasoning for releasing Clemmons, the prosecutors in Arkansas protested his release, according to the Seattle Times news article posted on Nov. 29.

“This is the day I’ve been dreading for a long time,” Larry Jegley, prosecutor for Arkansas’ Pulaski County in the same Seattle Times article.

But it was Clemmons’ apparent mental breakdown that should have been most troubling of all. According to the report done by the Seattle Times, Clemmons was under investigation for child rape, but was released only six days before the article was published.

During the investigation, Clemmons sister reported to the sheriff’s office that, “Maurice was not in his right mind and did not know how he could react when contacted by law enforcement.”

According to the Seattle Times, his sister also said that Clemmons was worried that the secret service was coming for him. Furthermore, his sister also said that Clemmons was having a mental breakdown.

But despite all of this, Clemmons was released, even though he had seven more felony charges in the state of Washington, the Nov. 29 Seattle Times story reported.

Clemmon’s actions show while Huckabee had indeed made a bad judgement and that he had seriously misjudged Clemmon’s character as a citizen of the United States, it ultimately was the entire judicial process that failed its own officers and society.

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