Saturday, December 13, 2014

SEX OFFENDERS should not be allowed to purchase lottery tickets; they just might win

~~by Shelly Stow

If proof were ever needed that an individual, once listed on a sex offender registry, no matter for what offense nor how long ago, is forever more thereafter considered unworthy of anything good ever happening in his life, this is it.

A registrant in Florida won a three million dollar scratch-off lottery, and the wrath of every hater in the United States and then some was raised beyond the boiling point.

Now granted, Timothy Poole is no poster boy for righteous living. He has a somewhat extensive record for other types of crimes committed before he was convicted of a sex offense. But it is not because of his larceny nor any of the other crimes that the hue and cry is heard from coast to coast that he should, by any means possible, be denied his winnings. It is because he is a SEX OFFENDER.

Florida has no prohibition against any convicted felon profiting from lottery winnings, not even SEX OFFENDERS. I am currently making book that Florida's next legislative session will see a bill introduced that will do just that. The only uncertainty is whether the proposed legislation will target those with any felony conviction or will focus only on SEX OFFENDERS.

Mr. Poole, since his release from prison in 2006, has maintained a record as spotless as the proverbial driven snow. He works for the family business, a taxi company, and he plans to use the money to help his mother and improve the business. None of that quashed the flood of outrage or deterred the cesspool of nasty headlines, articles, and commentary as to why he should not receive the money and how inherently wrong it is for him to have won it to begin with.

Among the more colorful headlines are, "Who’s winning big in state lotteries? Sex offenders," "People Left Wondering About Justice When Child Molester in Florida Hits the $3 Million Jackpot," "Sex Offender Wins Millions in Florida Lottery Proving Karma Really Isn’t a Bitch," and my personal favorite, "Convicted pedophile Timothy Poole wins $2.2 million in Florida Lottery." The language in the articles does not fall short of living up to the venom suggested by the titles. Mr. Poole is a large man, over 400 pounds, and one of the articles calls him "This fat 450-pound goblin..." And since pedophilia is a medical/psychological condition and not a chargeable crime, one cannot help but wonder how that particular writer can justify his word choice.

These reactions, seeping with vitriol, are not unexpected but nevertheless highly disturbing. If one who has committed any of the myriad of offenses that trigger registration is never, ever, hell no, to move past that to a point in life where good things can happen, where happiness is allowed, what does that say about our professed commitment to rehabilitation? How does that square with the volumes of research telling us that community reintegration of former offenders is the greatest assurance of enhanced public safety?

And does that mean that we, the public, the haters, those who would wrest Mr. Poole's winnings from his hands, are deliberately sacrificing that safety so that we can doggedly hang on to our refusal to believe that people can change?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Really--the nerve of some people!

~~by Shelly Stow

The headline says it all: "Freed Texas day care owners still want exoneration."

I mean, they spent only 20 plus years in prison for a crime that never happened, but they are free now. Isn't that enough?

They--Fran and Dan Keller--ran a day-care facility in the 1980s. They were charged with "child abuse involving satanic rituals." Sound familiar? And yes, this one came complete with "recovered memories" also. "... therapists testified that they helped three children recover memories of satanic rituals and sexual abuse at an Austin preschool the Kellers operated."

But they weren't convicted solely on the testimony of the therapists, goodness me, no. There was physical evidence too. "During their trial, the only physical evidence came from an emergency room doctor who testified that internal lacerations on one child were evidence of abuse."

And that was enough for a jury of their peers to find them guilty of the charges and sentence them to 48 years in prison, of which they served 21. They maintained their innocence for every day of those 21 years, but hey, doesn't everybody who goes to prison say they are innocent?

In 2013, Dr. Michael Mouw, the emergency room doctor whose testimony was instrumental in the guilty verdict, said, according to official court records, that "...what he thought were lacerations were actually normal physiology." Based on that, the Travis County prosecutors agreed that "...the case's evidence was faulty..." and the Kellers were released on bond a year ago.

And now they have the audacity to ask that their convictions be thrown out.

Well of course the Travis County Prosecutors' Office isn't about to do that. You just can't go around proclaiming people innocent once they have been found guilty in a court of law, especially not on a charge of sexually molesting children, not without "... new evidence that unquestionably establishes innocence — something like an ironclad alibi or DNA proof."

What a shame that the burden of proof hadn't been that high in order to find them guilty.

They have lost 21 years of their lives in prison for something they did not do, something that never happened. They were divorced in prison, so they have lost more than the years. There will be those--probably many--who will continue to believe they were guilty--the "Where there's smoke, there's fire" principle.

I pray I am wrong, but I do not believe they will win this. They have been told they must prove their innocence. How do you prove that you are innocent of doing something that didn't happen? This will be decided by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a group of judges who "typically takes a skeptical view toward overturning jury verdicts. The court will be guided by the recommendations of Senior District Judge Wilford Flowers, who presided over the Kellers' 1992 trial and their recent appeals — and who has already twice ruled that they had failed to prove their innocence."

I am not a jurist nor an attorney; I have in the past described myself as someone who can't read legalese without my eyes rolling back in my head, but it seems to me, in my simple, ignorant, non-legal mind, that the state of Texas failed in 1992 to meet its burden of proof in finding them guilty.

Shouldn't that be enough for an exoneration?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

But officer, really...that's not who I am...

by Shelly Stow

Things come in threes, they say--whoever "they" are. I sincerely hope not. Before eight
o'clock on this gloomy Saturday morning, I had read two articles dealing with this topic,
and I sincerely hope not to see a third. The two I read did an adequate enough job of
raising my blood pressure.

The topic? Mistaken identity. Men arrested, held in jail, brutalized, lives destroyed, all
because they were mistaken for a wanted sex offender.

And the most horrible and unconscionable element of all is the subtle, sub-textual
inference that all that happened to them would be "okay" if they had been the sex
offenders for whom they were mistaken.

Case number one occurred in North Carolina, and it took only four months for charges to be dismissed against Tommy Wall, but those four months were all it took for him to be fired from his job of 23 years and to be financially devastated to the point of losing his home and everything he had, including what was most important, his reputation. And why was he arrested? How could this confusion occur? Law enforcement had video of the man they sought, and he was bald. Mr. Wall is bald. How he got on the radar of law enforcement is not revealed, but he was arrested and held in jail for four months because he is bald. His attorney, the third assigned to his case and obviously the first to actually investigate the charges, noted that the video of the bald man actually sought by police showed a large mole on the top of his head. Mr. Wall had no such mole.

"The investigation should have been done a lot better," Webb [his attorney] said. "He has a big, big obstacle to overcome, because once you’ve been targeted and tainted with such a crime as this, it's going to follow you wherever you go."

The second case is even more egregious for several reasons. The wrongly imprisoned man is mentally ill. He was in a Georgia county jail for 525 days--almost a year and a half. He was raped and brutalized while under the custody and "protection" of the Fulton County Jail. And based on all available information, he was arrested because, when he was stopped by police, whether for an actual traffic violation or not is not made clear, he could not produce his driver's license; he is African-American; and his first name is Randy. Law enforcement were looking for a wanted sex offender who was African American and whose first name was Randy. They decided that they had just found their man.

He insisted he was not Randy Williams, the wanted man, but Randy Wiggins. And insisted. And insisted for a year and a half. And for a year and a half, Fulton County law enforcement and the district attorney's office and judicial system combined did not, according to all available information, do a fingerprint comparison between the Randy they were holding in jail and the Randy they thought they had arrested. The truth did not come out until Mr. Wiggins was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Both men are free now. Both men will most likely bring legal action against the respective authorities, and I for one hope they get every penny they ask for and then some.

But what I hope for even more is that this not happen again. If a man were wrongly arrested for murder, there would be no immediate assumption of guilt, especially on the part of employers and others who know him. When the truth came out, it would be a case of mistaken identity, boy, the police can be stupid sometimes, and that would be it.

When a man is arrested for a sexual crime, be it a rightful or a wrongful arrest, the damage is done. Jobs are lost. Friends and acquaintances often flee. Brutalization occurs in jails and prisons, violence that is seen by many as proper consequences of committing--or even thought to have committed--a sexual crime.

What will it take for my hope to become reality? I don't know, but law enforcement must be accountable for their actions. They must take every precaution to assure they are not arresting, charging, and detaining an innocent person. A simple check to see if a bald head is sporting a large mole, a simple fingerprint comparison--is that too much to ask?

If the charge is for a sexual crime, apparently so.