Tag Archives: Richards

Parkland Tragedy Aftermath: Fix the Broken Judicial System

It’s so frustrating — and so typical. No sooner than the stories were posted about the slaying of four police officers in Parkland, Wash., those who hate cops hit their talking points while those who hate the government hit theirs. And those who support cops were incensed by the hatred being posted while still others found ways to turn a senseless tragedy into a podium for a political rant of left or right persuasion.

This is why I didn’t even feel like writing a blog on the events that unfolded when suspected killer Maurice Clemmons was sought for, found and subsequently killed by a Seattle patrol officer after the Sunday slaying of four Lakewood Police personnel: police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronnie Owens. I didn’t see a need to add to the cacophony of opinion flying about this horrific event and it’s many sordid ramifications.

But one thing seemingly everyone can agree upon — cop hater and lover, left wing liberal and right wing conservative, and every two-bit Joe that can type a message on a comment list — is that the judicial system failed us.

Even here, the blogosphere goes nuts with everyone and his brother pointing fingers and laying blame. “Someone must pay” seems to be the prevailing attitude from former Arkansas Gov. and one-time Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to Pierce County judges who set bail earlier in November. No one steps forward to accept responsibility for their actions and how those actions may have contributed in some fractional way that allowed Clemmons to be on the street Sunday morning, and everyone is quick to point fingers across the country between Arkansas and Washington over which state messed up more. But nowhere do I see anyone looking beyond the blame game to identify just exactly where the judicial system broke down and how we can go about repairing it.

Without creating a timeline of Clemmons’ life, let’s look at one crucial moment in his violent past. In 1989, at the ripe old age of 16, Clemmons was sentenced to 108 years in prison after being tried as an adult for eight felonies that included aggravated robbery and burglary. Tried by a judge and jury, it was determined he was so dangerous that he would serve the multiple sentences consecutively, rather than concurrently, as is the norm for multiple sentences.

Clemmons applied for clemency in 1999, writing a single word in response to the question why he sought such action: “Mercy,” he wrote.

In 2000, then Gov. Huckabee — with the advice of a four-member clemency board — saw fit to commute the 108-year sentence to 57 years, thus allowing Clemmons to apply for parole immediately, decades sooner than he could have with the original sentence. A judge had to approve the clemency.

According the the Tacoma News Tribune, Sixth Circuit Judge Marion G. Humphrey supported it, adding a personal note, “I favor a time cut for Maurice Clemmons,” Humphrey wrote. “Mr. Clemmons was 16 years old when his cases began in this court. I do not know why the previous judge ran his sentences consecutively, but concurrent sentences would have been sufficient,” (italics added).

And right there lies exactly where our judicial system fails.

Humphrey does not know why the sentence was consecutive because he never bothered or was required by law to find out. A judge and jury that had to sit for days to hear of the teenager’s violent and reckless crimes saw firsthand why it was necessary to put him away for a long time and did their job as the state expected them to do.

How, then, can we have justice served when a governor or another judge down the line can look back on a trial and conviction — in this case a decade old — and arbitrarily decide they were “too harsh” in the sentence and change it? They didn’t sit in the trial. They didn’t see the evidence. They didn’t take in the testimony.

What they get is an inmate’s continued pleas for clemency and “mercy,” and sometimes get to hear from the prosecuting attorney’s office why they shouldn’t commute a sentence — although in this specific case, prosecuting attorney Larry Jegley said his office was never notified about the clemency request.

Then the same judge who granted clemency, also provided comment for the parole board, saying, “I strongly support parole in this case.”

Judges, governors and anyone else with the power to change a sentence should be mandated by law to know ALL the facts of a case and must talk with principals from BOTH sides of the court case before being given the power to alter one man’s life — allowing him the potential to alter so many more lives down the line — as Clemmons did on Sunday.

But I don’t hold out much hope for being able to change the judicial system. That would be akin to creating a new educational or health care system in this country. Too many ramifications, too many ways that too many people can jump on some blog and rant and rave and turn it into some beast of an issue that soon has nothing to do with what was intended.