Aug 6, 2010 … SHAWNEE, Okla. — An Oklahoma man who went to jail on a capital murder charge was initially sentenced to serve just one year, …
- In July, H. Beatty Chadwick, 73, was finally released from a Pennsylvania jail after serving more than 14 years behind bars because a series of judges believed they could thereby force him to admit that he was hiding marital assets from his 1995 divorce (which he always denied). Chadwick was the longest-serving incarcerated American who had not been charged with a crime.
- A British prison research organization revealed in July that, over the last 10 years, the country’s notoriously generous inmate furlough program has seen almost 1,000 of its prisoners escape, including 19 convicted murderers. (The government said the rate of “non-return” is less than it used to be.)
- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was livid in June when he learned that inmate Tuvia Stern, housed in the city’s notorious lockup The Tombs, had arranged a privately catered, 50-guest bar mitzvah for his son inside the facility’s gym, officiated by a prominent rabbi and assisted by five jail guards. The caterers were even allowed to bring in knives for food preparation and dining. It was not surprising that it was Stern who pulled it off, because at the time he was awaiting sentencing for running two slick business scams.The normal way that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons transfers “low-risk” inmates between institutions is to buy them bus tickets and release them unescorted with an arrival deadline. In the last three years, reported the Las Vegas Sun in May, 90,000 inmates were transferred this way, and only about 180 absconded. Though supposedly carefully pre-screened for risk, one man still on the loose is Dwayne Fitzen, a gang-member/biker who was halfway through a 24-year sentence for cocaine-dealing. (Since the traveling inmates are never identified as prisoners, Greyhound is especially alarmed at the policy.)
- The head of Florida’s Department of Corrections admitted in May that at least 43 children (including a 5-year-old), who observed their parents’ prison jobs as part of “Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day” in April, were playfully zapped by 50,000-volt stun guns. DOC Secretary Walt McNeil said the demonstrations (in three of the state’s 55 prisons) even included one warden’s kid, but that only 14 children were individually shot (with the rest part of hand-holding circles feeling a passing current). Twenty-one employees were disciplined.
- Blind Justice: An administrator of criminal-case appeals in Louisiana committed suicide in 2007, partly (according to his suicide note) because of guilt that, for 13 years, he had complied with a judge’s order to deny, sight-unseen, all appeals filed by defendants who were acting without lawyers. (Under state law, only death row convicts get assistance for appeals; all others, even convicted murderers, either fend for themselves or forfeit the appeal right, no matter how indigent.) According to the administrator (the extent of whose claims are still being investigated by the state Supreme Court), none of the supervisory judges involved in denying the 2,400 appeals ever read a single word in them.
- In the 1920s, when inmate “chain gangs” were in their heyday, Alabama sheriffs were allotted a prison meal budget of $1.75 per prisoner per day, with thrifty sheriffs allowed to pocket any excess for themselves. According to a May Associated Press investigation, the policy, and the amount, are unchanged to this day in 55 of the state’s 67 counties, and also unchanged is the fact that sheriffs have cut the menus so cleverly or drastically that some sheriffs still make money on the deal. (The per-meal fee under the National School Lunch program for low-income students is $2.47.)
- In February, a court in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, sentenced Briton Keith Brown, 43, to the standard four-year-minimum term in prison for violating the country’s extreme “zero tolerance” drug laws, even though the only drug found was a “speck” (0.003 grams) of cannabis caught in the tread of his shoe and discovered only because the Dubai airport uses sophisticated drug-detection equipment. Previously, a Canadian man was imprisoned for “possession” of three poppy seeds (from a bread roll he had eaten at Heathrow Airport in London) that had fallen into his clothing as he prepared for a flight to Dubai.
- (1) Sheriff’s deputies arrested Cynthia Hunter, 38, in Brandon, Fla., in October, and she remained in jail for 50 days until a lab finally concluded that the “methamphetamine” in her purse was really dried cat urine that she had legally purchased for her son’s science project. (2) Deputies arrested Andrew Johnson, a white man, in Ocoee, Fla., in November, believing he was Anthony Johnson, a black man wanted on a felony drug charge. Andrew Johnson was allowed to post bond while the case was under investigation, but his driver’s license was confiscated, and his mother had to drive him to and from work.Until a July Florida appeals court ruling, Mark O’Hara, 45, had been in prison for two years of a 25-year mandatory-minimum for trafficking in hydrocodone, based solely on the 58 tablets found in his possession in 2004, even though his supply had been lawfully prescribed by a physician. The state attorney in Tampa had pointed out that Florida law did not mention a “prescription” defense to trafficking, and even though O’Hara had lined up a doctor and a pharmacist to testify, the jury wasn’t allowed to consider the issue. After the appeals court called the case “absurd” and ordered a new trial with the prescription evidence allowed, the state attorney still refused to drop the case.
- Injudicious Judges: In September, District of Columbia Superior Court judge Judith Retchin ordered Jonathan Magbie, 27, to jail for 10 days for first-offense marijuana possession (a virtually unheard-of sentence in D.C.), despite the fact that Magbie was a quadriplegic with permanent tracheal, urinary, and stomach tubes and was often ventilator-dependent, in addition to having various other infirmities. (Magbie died four days later, after what the D.C. Health Department concluded in December was severely inadequate care in jail and in an emergency room.)