Our Justice System and Those Ticking Time Bombs

by Diane Dimond on December 7, 2009

Epitome of a Ticking Time Bomb

Epitome of a Ticking Time Bomb

Attention all parole boards. Attention all governors who may be contemplating year-end commutations of inmate sentences. Also, may I have the attention of all judges who routinely bang the gavel at bail hearings and allow dangerous career criminals back on our streets?

It doesn’t matter how overcrowded our prisons are – it’s time to re-think what you’re doing!

Please, look closely at the recent case of 37 year old Maurice Clemmons, the career criminal who got break after break from civil servants in two states (Arkansas and Washington) and then fell through the cracks of our justice system’s so-called safety net. The end result was an execution style shooting spree in Lakewood, Washington that left four dedicated police officers dead over a coffee shop breakfast table.

It’s what can happen when a parole board, a governor or a judge fails to keep the rest of us safe.

Justice Should Be Blind - But Not Punishment

Justice Should Be Blind - But Not Punishment

Clemmons was bad news for a long time. In junior high school in Arkansas he was arrested for bringing a 25 caliber gun to class. While still a minor he was convicted of five felonies and sentenced to 48 years in prison. In 1990, when he was 18, Clemmons was convicted again on several additional counts of burglary and theft and got 60 more years in prison. A 108 year prison sentence for a hardened teenager and still his sentence was commuted.

In applying for release Clemmons wrote that he’d come “from a very good Christian family,” had never been in trouble with the law before he was forced to move from Seattle to Arkansas at the age of 16. “I’d just moved away from all my childhood friends and had no friends in Arkansas. (It was) a very crime ridden neighborhood … I was unable to resist the negative influence of the other neighborhood boys.”

Governor Mike Huckabee

Governor Mike Huckabee

In the spring of 2000 Arkansas’ then-governor, Mike Huckabee, took his parole board’s recommendation and set Clemmons free.

You’d think getting a second chance like that would set a person on a more righteous path – but not Clemmons. Less than a year later he was back in prison on a parole violation. Astonishingly, the state of Arkansas released Clemmons again in 2004.

In retrospect, we can now say those were two major mistakes by officials in Arkansas. But the state of Washington isn’t blameless either.

Clemmons was approved to transfer back to his native Washington shortly after his 2004 release from prison. He was placed under the supervision of the Washington Department of Corrections. Not surprisingly, given his background, his violent streak and documented erratic behavior the D.O.C. listed Clemmons as being at a “high risk to re-offend.”

Flash forward to May 2009. Police in Tacoma, where Clemmons lived with his wife and ran a landscaping business, came to learn just how mentally deranged he had become. They were called by family members worried about his frightening behavior.

Police Did Their Job

Where's the Safety Net For Cops?

Clemmons had been throwing rocks at neighbors and their cars. He had ominously forced relatives, including children, to strip naked on Sundays.

He reportedly claimed he could fly, that the Secret Service was out to get him and that President Obama would soon visit to confirm that he was the new messiah. On Sunday, May 10th, 2009 Clemmons viciously attacked two sheriff’s deputies.

No matter, Pierce County, Washington has an astonishingly lax system that allows defendants to post bond and go home without ever facing a judge if it happens to be a holiday or a weekend. That’s exactly what Clemmons did.

In July of this year authorities filed charges that finally landed Clemmons in jail again. He was accused of raping a 12 year old female relative. While incarcerated for several months officials in both Washington and Arkansas argued about who should take Clemmons. Prosecutors in Washington tried to assert that he was a fugitive in violation of his Arkansas based transfer papers and should be shipped back. Arkansas officials sent word they had no intention of reclaiming Clemmons and washed their hands of his case.

Judge Felnagle Released an Ex-Con & Child Rape Suspect

Judge Felnagle Released an Ex-Con & Child Rape Suspect

That left Clemmons’ fate up to two judges in Pierce County, Washington. Judge John McCarthy heard the assault case and set bail at $40,000. Judge Thomas Felnagle caught the child rape case and set Clemmons’ bail at $150,000. Prosecutors thought both amounts were too low. Clemmons found a bail bondsman to get him out.

Six days later those four Lakewood officers were dead.

The rest is well known. Clemmons was shot dead in the street and in possession of one of the slain officer’s guns. Several of Clemmons’ cohorts were arrested on charges of aiding his escape.

What isn’t known is how many other parole boards, governors, judges and – yes – even bail bondsmen have helped release ticking time bombs like Maurice Clemmons. And here we thought we had a safety net.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

DianeDimond December 7, 2009 at 3:41 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Don D. writes:

" Really liked your editorial on the failure of the safety net. Absolutely mind boggling that a vicious slimeball like Clemmons got so many legal good deals. So many cases where he should have been locked away for good. Now, the judges and politicans are directly responsible for the deaths of 4 innocent cops. I hope their consciences are troubled by their errors.

I presume you know of the "Onion Field" slaying where the CA parole board was secretly taped where they repeatedly disregarded the law in allowing parole and in one case they said something like "if we use the guidlines, he'll never get out!". Well that's why the guidelines were there, to protect the public. They didn't care abouty the public.

The only new tax I would be happy to pay would be for more prisons to keep more animals locked up for longer periods of time."

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Jeff Liddell December 7, 2009 at 1:13 pm

With my only son relatively new to the ranks of police officers in Bossier City, LA, this subject is near and dear to me. We have skirted around this subject numerous times on Diane’s site, but this particular incident concerning the Lakewood shootings may be the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back. According to surveys of criminologists, repeat offenders commit 75% of all crimes. That refers to criminals already having been convicted, served time and released. Not repeat offenders that have never been caught. Is our penal system a failure at rehabilitation, or is just that certain individuals are beyond redemption. Since we have seen many parolees turn their lives around and become successful human beings, it would appear the latter is true, some people just cannot be changed under any circumstances. So the key has to become identification of these types and keeping them behind bars or in some type of restrictive setting. How can this be accomplished without stepping on the rights of individuals, I wish I had the answer and hope to read some ideas in response to this article from Diane. It is obvious that some of the actions of elected officials in these matters sorely lack good judgement, perhaps parole should not be a part of any sentence pertaining to violent crimes? Perhaps political pardons should not be a tool of elected officials?

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:45 am

I really wish I was smart enough to think of a suitable answer, Jeff. I agree that POLITICAL pardons are susceptible to all sorts of problems, like being used as a tool to win votes from certain communities – and they're ripe for possible corruption/bribery.
I like your suggestion that in the case of VIOLENT crime conviction (especially for a repeat offender) no parole be allowed – period.
Anyone else out there got an idea?

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:24 am

ABQ Journal Reader Mary writes:

"Diane, I might be wrong, but I don't believe our justice system will get their eyes off money, women, and booze long enough to consider, or even recognize, the gravity of the violent situations that are proliferating in businesses, schools, sports and other large-crowd venues."

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:26 am

FaceBook Friend Marian D. writes:

"They need to keep them locked away forever.Stronger laws needed!"

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:26 am

FaceBook Friend Leonard M. writes:

"Send em all to Afghanistan!"

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:27 am

FaceBook Friend LaDonna B. writes:

"we are so busy trying to give everybody a second chance, but, with criminals, 9 times out of ten, they repeat crimes and usually with every crime they become more bolder and more dangerous..i personally don't think we are tough enough on crime in this country..back in the 1800's, we hung ppl publicly 4 mere petty crimes, im not suggesting we bring back public hangings, but, what are we doing to stop ppl from living a life of crime???

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:32 am

Facebook Friend (and Retired Prison Warden from Maryland) Ralph L. writes:

"Parole and Probation Officers in most states are under manned and under funded. With mental hospitals closing, states releasing inmates enmass to ease the crowded conditions within, there is no safety net for the general public . Ms. Allen is right without some programs to help rehabilitate and enough people to properly supervise when inmates are released the Maurice Clemmons' out there will always be lurking. Diane, just think, how many people like Clemmons have not been exposed by the media, I can tell you in Maryland its too many too imagine.

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:33 am

Ralph:
THAT'S what worries me the most – the number of people who, like Clemmons, are just like ticking time bombs waiting to go off. Maybe next time at a school, or a hospital or inside a crowded grocery store.
I shudder to think about it…

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:35 am

FaceBook Friend Michael B. writes:

"In this case we can thank Gov. Huckabee for commuting his life sentence and getting him back in society. The original judge got it right, but Huckabee knew better."

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:36 am

Yeah, but Mike, – Huckabee didn't act in a vacuum. His state parole board recommended the get-out-of-jail-free card!
If only we had enough staff and psychiatrists to really help us know if these cons were telling the truth about wanting to turn their lives around!

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jeff hughes December 8, 2009 at 1:36 am

The judges that allow ex-cons and worthless scum like child rapists need to be held accountable for their lax attitudes…and I am talking about prison time!! They would rethink life in a BIG hurry!! The one that killed Clemmons after all that…I, myself, hope ththat one gets a nod from God on the Judgement Day. Some people just are not going to be rehabilitated, and the sooner the people that influence law realize this, the sooner the death penalty can be utilized. Do YOU want to live next to a guy like that, or be his next victim? Don't be so "in left field"…..jeepers!

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:37 am

FaceBook Friend Leslie S. writes:

"Because they just don't care about these guys, who are more expensive to put away… he was even shown on tv talking to his minister, it's guys like these that are dangerous and falling thru the cracks more and more!"

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DianeDimond December 8, 2009 at 1:29 am

FaceBook Friend Michele A. writes:

"We need to get out of the mind set of prison as punishment – prison should be a place outside of societies harm for reform. Unless we educate and give these people some alternatives in life (life skills, training) all we are doing is releasing back to the only life they knew – which is usually crime. When it comes to sex-crimes, that is tough … Because society only cares when they recommit the crime. To put the money up to actually revamp the entire Justice system isn't important – unless they themselves become a victim of violent crime.

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DianeDimond December 10, 2009 at 12:08 pm

The Mom of a Murdered Son, Juenenne Jackson writes:

I can't believe they let this guy out. Well yes I can and it is so scary. When the judge gave the sentencing to the two men that took my son life I was shocked. Watson who shot my son got he received 75 yrs to life plus another life. He has already started his appeal and he made a report to the Bar about his lawyer, saying he didn't do his job. Which is not true. The other guy who kicked and hit my son after he was shot and on the ground the judge took away one of his strikes and only gave him 10yrs and 4 months. If she would have left the strike then he would have been a THREE STRIKER and would have been in prison for the rest of his life. This wasn't the first time he was arrested with a gun. He was arrested awhile ago for a robbery with a gun and that is how he got his second strike. I was so mad at the judge for that. Now he has an appeal because he said the judge didn't give him his rights. Which is not true. But he shouldn't have any right neither ine should. If the court STOP giving these guys chances and keep them in jail maybe our world would be a better place. Now I am scared that when Parker is released in about 6 or 7 yrs he will end up hurting or even killing someone else and destroy that family like they did to my family. I want to fight and make sure that their right are taken away. If you do a crime you should do the whole time in jail or prison. You shouldn't give them these creep any special things in prison. NO TV'S, NO GYM EQUIPMENT, NO HEART TRANSPLANT AND NO BAKING CONTEST LIKE THEY HAVE IN CHINO PRISON IN CALIF. Thank you letting me vent to you."

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