Friday 16 January 2015

How long should extremely violent criminals be imprisoned? (Part 1)                    

It is an unfortunate fact of life that extremely violent criminals who commit horrifying crimes are roaming in many of our neighborhoods.  If the death penalty isn’t applied when these kinds of criminals commit these horrifying crimes, then in my opinion, they should be imprisoned for the rest of their lives.         

Alas, that doesn’t always happen. Some are released back into society to create mayhem again. David Wyatt Jones who was born on March 8, 1958 and who lived in Florida is a prime example of the failure of the justice system in some countries including the United States.

This murderer killed Lori McRae, a young woman and was subsequently sentenced to death for that crime. She was kidnapped and soon after, strangled to death on January 31, 1995 and would be alive today if Jones hadn’t been released from prison after serving only six years of a 20-year sentence which he received on March 19 in 1987 for previously knifing Jasper Highsmith to death. The Highsmith murder occurred in January 1986 after Jones escaped from jail, where he was being held on a burglary charge. He was arrested while driving with his victim’s body in the trunk of a stolen car.

Now the pertinent question that comes to mind is why was this murderer released from prison after serving only six years for that murder? The answer will shock you.

The prisons in Florida were overcrowded and inmates complained (with justification) about being crammed into already filled cells so the courts ordered the prisons in many of the states including Florida to release large numbers of prisoners so that the cells wouldn’t be so overcrowded.

For reasons in which is beyond me, Florida released Jones after having served only six years for the murder of Highsmith. But to make matters worse, Florida had also closed down their parole system so when he and other inmates were released from prison, they didn’t have to account to anyone as to where they lived, worked or conducted themselves.  Fortunately, wiser minds in Florida later decided that it was a big mistake to abolish parole so they reinstated the parole system.

Below is a summary of information that includes the most recent statistics from Florida’s Department of Corrections which is an overview of the state’s overcrowding prisons dilemma. This gives you a better understanding as to why Florida wanted to release so many prisoners before they had completed their sentences.

The annual cost for the operation of the Department of Corrections in Florida is $2,138,519,000. There are 143 correctional facilities in Florida. The prisons hold as many as 100,884 inmates. The cost of incarcerating each inmate is $17,873. The average sentence served is 5.1 years. This means that the taxpayers in Florida would pay $91,523 for the incarceration of each inmate serving 5.1 years in a Florida prison.

Now if Jones had to serve all 20 years in prison for the murder of Highsmith, the taxpayers would have to fork out $357,460 to pay for his incarceration. Was this figure on the minds of the correctional authorities when they decided to release this murderer after him serving only six years of his sentence?  His early release meant that the taxpayers only had to pay $107,238 for those six years he was in prison. That means that her life was extinguished by Jones at a savings of $250,222 of the taxpayer’s money. No matter how you put it, that was a high price that young woman paid so that the Florida government could reduce the cost of incarcerating Jones.  This simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

Now as I mentioned earlier in this article, Jones committed a second murder eight years after his release.        

On February 13, 1997, Duval County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging David Wyatt Jones with first degree murder, robbery and kidnaping of Lori McRae which occurred on January 30, 1995.

The jury heard testimony that in that particular day, Jones was seen by the man at the counter at a Walgreens drug store. After Jones entered the Walgreens drug store, his victim appeared angry after Jones was seen talking to her. It was from then on that everything Jones had done led the police to believe later that it was Jones who had kidnapped Lori McRae. The next day, a man drove in a red and gray Chevrolet Blazer to their business and asked to have the inside of the vehicle cleaned.  The man was Jones.  The tattoos on his arms were those of Jones. The spider web on his arm that is used by White Supremacists signified that he had killed a black person.  

Johnnie Johnson spoke with a man at a gas station convenience store on January 31, 1995, between 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. The man drove a red Chevrolet Blazer. The man asked Johnson if he wanted to buy some credit cards. The credit cards belonged to Lori McRae. Johnson declined the offer. Johnson remembered that the man had some scratches on his face that appeared to be bleeding and his body was covered with a number of tattoos.

Johnson later saw the man on the news and called the police. This means that the police already concluded that Jones was the man who had kidnapped the young woman. Johnson selected the picture of David Jones from a photo line-up.

 The custodian of records for two branches of the First Union Bank and the Navy Credit Union testified about ATM activity on accounts belonging to Lori McRae. Debra Rau of the First Union Bank, Callahan office, testified that the bank has a security camera that continuously runs during non-banking hours at the ATM machine. Her records show seventeen different times in different locations to draw money with an ATM card in less than a twenty-four hour period.

Officer George Grant arrested David Jones on February 1, 1995, between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m.  Jones had been driving a red Blazer matching the description and with the licence number associated with a missing persons investigation.  Jones had scratch marks with dried blood on the side of his face. Upon searching Jones, Grant found two credit cards belonging to his victim and her husband. Jones was transported to the police building and taken to the homicide department where Detective James Parker and Detective Gilbreath questioned him.

Allen Miller, a senior laboratory analyst with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) crime lab, searched and processed the Chevy Blazer. Miller also found stains on the jacket he found inside the vehicle that tested presumptively for blood. The entire vehicle was processed with Luminal and some positive reactions for trace amounts of blood were seen.

Detective James A. Parker questioned Jones at the police station after his arrest. The interview began on February 1, 1995 at 8:20. (T20:1284-1287) Detective Gilbreath also participated. Parker advised Jones of his rights prior to the questioning.

Jones said that he obtained the ATM cards that he was using from a guy named Mark. Jones admitted that he went to a automatic teller in Callahan and the machine gave him the money. Jones explained he had two sets of scratches on his face, one was from the fight with the two men in Callahan, and earlier scratches occurred in an altercation with someone else in Orange Park.

Jones denied that a woman made the scratches. He said, “You need to find the woman because you will find that she did not make the scratches because my skin would be on her.” They would actually be under her finger nails.

As you can see, this man was a really stupid man. Everything he did after he killed the woman left a trail of evidence that a five-year old child could follow.

On February 20, 1995, Jones was arrested and charged with first degree murder for killing Lori McRae even though her body hadn’t been found.

Parker met with Jones in a small room at the jail and verbally advised him of his constitutional rights. Jones said he wanted to talk to Parker about the incident. Parker took Jones to the homicide office where he conducted the interview. Jones said that Jamie Trout was involved in the disappearance of Lori McRae and that Trout possibly got rid of the body. He said that he visited Trout, and Trout left in the Blazer. He said that because Trout lived near a concrete plant, Jones thought that Parker could find McRae’s body in the area across from the concrete plant. Parker and some other officers went to the area to search for the body and were unsuccessful.

After they had searched for about two or three hours, Parker received a notice advising him that Jones wanted to speak to him again. Earlier in the day, on February 21, 1995, correctional officer Troy Vonk was performing a routine cell check when Jones called him over to his cell. Jones appeared distraught and had been crying. He said to Vonk “I need to confess and I need to tell where the body is.”  

Now you must be wondering the same as I am, why was he willing to say where he left the body?  After all, it is rare that a conviction for murder can be reached without a body. It has occurred in the past but rarely.

Sergeant Frazier approached Jones’ cell and Jones told her that he had spoken to his mother, and she told him to get things right and to tell where the body was if he knew. Jones said that he wanted to make things right with God, and he wanted to show them the location of the body.

Since he was facing a charge of first degree murder which could result in him getting the death penalty, perhaps he thought that the jury would take his cooperation into consideration when deciding his fate. Then there is the following possibility. Jones asked Frazier, “Do you think if I tell where the body is, do you think they can get me to have a conference with my mother?”

Vonk who was standing nearby advised him that that was up to his superiors. Vonk then asked “Well, did you kill her?” Jones responded, “Yes, I did.” Jones continued to talk about places where the body was and how he had choked her to death. Vonk then asked how did you do it? Jones said “I just…I saw her in the parking lot and I walked up to her and choked her and threw her in the backseat.”

Detective Parker arrived at the jail on February 21st, at approximately 6:00 p.m. Jones told Parker that he wanted to make everything right with the lord and talk about Lori McRae. Jones said “I killed her and I want to talk to you….I’m sorry….I want to tell you where the body is at.” Jones told Parker it was an accident and that he didn’t mean to do it and he wanted to get right with the Lord. This is the third reason why he wanted to confess. Which one of them was the real reason?

Jones told Parker that McRae was talking to him in the Winn-Dixie parking lot by her truck, he grabbed her, choked her and “I guess I choked her to death.” Jones said he put her in the back seat and that he now wanted to show Parker where the body was located. Parker said that Jones never mentioned the involvement of Jamie Trout again.

Jones told the detectives that the victim’s body was in Baker County. He also said that the victim parked her truck by his car, and as she was trying to get into her truck, he tried to grab her. When she gave him the code number, she tried to resist him and she passed out or died.

I have presumed that the code number he was talking about was her password for her bank card or credit card. This means that he had robbed her of her credit and ATM card.  This is why he was charged with robbing her.

Jones directed the detectives into Baker County. They traveled 50 or 60 miles past MacClenny and past Glenn St. Mary. Jones had them turn on Arnold Rhoden Road, which is a dirt road. There were no homes in the area but there are several storage facilities there until there is nothing but forests on both side of the road.  Jones gave directions to Parker, who was walking with Jones through the woods to find the body. Parker walked to the actual spot where directed and found Lori McRae’s body.

The body could not be seen from the road. Parker called the Medical Examiner’s Office and FDLE to the scene. Dr. Bonifacio Floro, the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, went to the scene where the body was located on February 21, 1995. Floro found Lori McRae’s decomposing body about 50 feet into the woods off of a dirt road in Baker County. Floro noticed that the decomposition of the head, neck and chest area were much more severe that the lower part of the body. He estimated the time of death to be about three weeks earlier.

The clothing on the body consisted of a long sleeved shirt which was open and pulled up to the upper part of the body; a brassiere which was in place except for the left strap; black pants which were pulled down and unzipped exposing the pubic area and buttocks.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jones either raped her before he killed her or when she was dead. I realize that if he her pulled her body through the forest by one of her hands, her pants may be pulled down when being dragged along the ground. And if he dragged her by her feet, her shirt would be pulled upwards towards her neck. But no matter how he pulled her through the forest, it couldn’t be both.

The lower extremities were tied together with a heavy knot. Now that wouldn’t be done while she was dead. It had to be done before she was taken into the forest. There was a ligature around her neck which was tied with a single knot. If she was strangled before she was removed from the car, Jones wouldn’t need to tie her feet. This makes me believe that she was alive when she was taken out of the car and into the forest.  I suspect that she was tied up after they arrived at the spot where she was later found and then raped and then murdered.

Floro found bruising on the elbow, the wrist, the thigh, the upper leg and the left shin. Floro concluded these bruises were acquired prior to death or contemporaneous with the time of death. The injuries to the forearm and legs could have been inflicted during a struggle and were consistent with defensive wounds. Floro found that the middle left fingernail broken which was consistent with a person scratching an attacker.

Floro could not determine if the ropes around the victim’s legs were placed there before or after death since he did not see any abrasion of the skin due to the ropes. In my opinion, it would be pointless for Jones to tie her legs together after she was dead so in all likelihood, her legs were tied together while she was still alive. It was possible she simply did not struggle against the ropes or that her jeans served as a protector of the skin.

Tests from five areas on her blue jeans and from the jacket demonstrated that the bloodstain could not have originated from David Jones. This means that at no time while she was struggling and she scratched his face, his face did not rub against her jeans or her jacket. The final conclusion was that all of the blood on her clothing was that of the victim.

There was enough evidence given at Jones trial to convict him so all that would be left to do would be the penalty phase of his trial. In the United States, when there is a conviction for murder, the jury decides what the penalty should be.

The State presented additional evidence concerning David Jones’ previous conviction for second degree murder and victim impact testimony. Jones objected to any evidence regarding the second degree murder conviction pertaining to his first victim beyond the judgment and sentence of the second conviction as a necessary feature of the penalty phase. He also objected to the victim impact evidence on various constitutional grounds.

Wow! That is really reaching. He was attempting to tell the jury that he didn’t really intentionally kill Highsmith. His explanation was that he got into an argument with Highsmith and fearing for his life, he threw a knife at his chest. and it killed him.  He then said that he blacked out and woke up between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m., finding Highsmith dead so he placed Highsmith in the trunk of a car and drove to South Carolina where he was arrested. The State also published the plea form to the jury where Jones pleaded guilty to second degree murder for the death of Jasper Highsmith.

The coroner’s report had indicated that Highsmith died from trauma to the head and a stab wound to the chest.

Jones moved to suppress oral statements he made to correctional officers and sheriff’s detectives. These statements were obtained after Jones, on two occasions, requested to talk to his lawyer. His motion alleged violations of Jones’ privilege against self-incrimination and right to counsel. Since the officers involved failed to honor Jones’ request to talk to his lawyer, the subsequent statements Jones made to the officers were obtained in violation Jones constitutional rights.

Quite frankly, I find his argument weak at best. He was under no obligation to confess to the correctional officers about the second murder. He chose to do this on his own volition.

The second aspect of the motion was that the judge at his trial committed a reversible error when he failed to grant Jones’ request for a mistrial after Detective Parker commented on Jones’ exercise of his right to remain silent and his right to counsel during custodial interrogation. Parker testified that, after he confronted Jones about a matter during questioning, Jones replied, “I want to stop talking and I want a lawyer.”

Defense counsel immediately objected and moved for a mistrial. The judge overruled the objection, denied the motion for mistrial and according to Jones’ lawyer, Parker violated Jones’ constitutional right to remain silent.

Even if a suspect doesn’t have his lawyer present during an interrogation, he is under no obligation to discuss anything with the detectives who are questioning him. If he chooses to speak to the detectives notwithstanding his lawyer not being present, he does so at his own peril. As long as he was told that he didn’t have to speak to them and that anything he does say may be used against him (the Miranda Rule) and he talks to the detectives anyway and says something that may incriminate him, then what he said can be used against him in court.

Jones’ lawyer argued that the trial court improperly submitted the murder charge to the jury under the premeditation theory. He argued that the evidence failed to exclude the reasonable hypothesis that the homicide was an unintentional killing during the commission of a robbery.

Florida requires the prosecution of "felony murder," which also leads to a first degree murder charge, when the defendant commits homicide while during the commission of a specified felony or an attempt to carry out a felony. The kidnapping of is a felony therefore even the unintentional killing of his victim after she was kidnapped would mean that he would be eligible to be sentenced to death. Since he also robbed her; that too is a felony which made his eligible for the death penalty.

The trial judge found as an aggravating circumstance that the homicide was committed to avoid a lawful arrest. A higher Court has previously held that for this aggravating circumstance to apply for the homicide of a victim who is not a law enforcement officer perfecting an arrest, the evidence must demonstrate that preventing an arrest via witness elimination was the dominate motive for the murder. According to Jones’ lawyer, proof that witness elimination was one of several motives is insufficient. He argued that evidence submitted in Jones’ trial failed to prove that witness elimination was the dominate motive for the homicide.

I find it hard to believe that after kidnapping, robbing and raping his victim, Jones had no intention to kill the only person who could identify him. I believe that when the jury heard the particulars about the kidnapping, the robbery and the rape of his victim, there would be no reason for the prosecutor to convince the jury that those felonies committed by Jones would mean that he committed premeditated murder to make sure that she didn’t point him out later as the person who committed these crimes against her.

The defense moved the trial court to prohibit the introduction of any penalty phase evidence which is designed to invoke sympathy for the victim or victim’s family. Over defense counsel's continued objections, the trial court admitted testimony of victim impact witnesses under the authority of Section 921.141(7) of the Florida Statutes. He said that the admission of this irrelevant and emotionally inflammatory evidence violated appellant's right to a fair penalty proceeding under the state and federal constitutions.

There is no doubt in my mind that the testimony of family members who talked about their anguish of losing a loved one at the hands of a killer was detrimental to the killer’s interest. However, to deny family members the opportunity to explain to the trial judge and the jury how the loss of a loved one at the hands of a killer is part and parcel to easing their pain would not be in the public’s best interest. Society can’t bring back the murdered victim but it can ease the pain of the victim’s family.

The lawyer argued that the Florida Constitution prohibits use of victim impact evidence.

The Florida Constitutional does require that victim sympathy evidence and argument be excluded from consideration when deciding whether or not death is an appropriate sentence. It provides broader protection for the defendant in Florida than the United States Constitutions for the rights of a defendant facing capital punishment.

The admission of victim and argument violates various sections of the Florida Constitution. First, such evidence introduced into the penalty decision’s considerations have no rational bearing on any legitimate aim of capital sentencing. Second, such statements by family members can be highly emotional and inflammatory, thereby subverting the juror’s role to decide whether the harsher punishment should supersede a lessor punishment. Third, victim impact evidence cannot conceivably be received without opening the door to proof of a similar nature in rebuttal or in mitigation of the offence.

The lawyer also argued that the trial judge gave an unconstitutional jury instruction when defining the heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravating circumstance. 

The words used by the trial judge when giving his instructions to the jury on the law said in part;

The crime for which the defendant is to be sentenced was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel. Heinous means extremely wicked or shockingly evil. Atrocious means outrageously wicked and vile. Cruel means designed to inflict a high degree of pain with utter indifference to or even enjoyment of the suffering of others.

In my respectful opinion, I think the trial judge went too far to describe those words. His role at that stage of the trial is to explain the law and not to support the prosecutor’s description of the heinous and atrociousness of the crime.

The United States Supreme Court approved the constitutionality of the use of the words heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravating circumstance provided it was applied to crimes which were both conscienceless or pitiless and unnecessarily torturous to the victim.

In the case of Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the court decided that capital punishment can be constitutional if the jury was directed by concrete sentencing guidelines.

In my opinion, a murder victim would have to have been either tortured before being murdered or raped for a great many hours before the use of such words would meet the dictates of the Supreme Court. There was no evidence presented to the court that Lori McRae had been tortured or raped for a lengthy period of time. This kind of crime the defendant committed intended to be included as heinous, atrocious, or cruel is one accompanied by additional acts to show that the crime was conscienceless or pitiless and was unnecessarily torturous to the victim. As I said earlier, no such evidence was presented to the jury.

Jones’ lawyer objected that the judge permitted the prosecutor referring to the previous murder conviction in the presence of the jury.

The State is permitted to introduce relevant collateral crimes evidence to prove an aggravating circumstance, but with limitations: The evidence must not violate the defendant's confrontation or other rights; its prejudicial effect must not outweigh its probative value; and the details of the collateral offense must not be emphasized to the point where that offense becomes a feature of the penalty phase.

Jones’ lawyer argued that although the prosecutor had the authority to present some evidence of Jones’ prior murder conviction to the jury, the prosecutor exceeded the limitations on such evidence and prejudiced the penalty phase of Jones’ second trial. The appeal court disagreed

Jones’ lawyer argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict his client of first degree murder since her death wasn’t premeditated.

That’s hogwash. The victim in this case died as the result of ligature strangulation. If he had used his hands only, then one might believe that he was trying to keep her quiet.  But when a criminal puts a rope around his victim’s throat, that is an intent to kill his victim.

The lawyer argued that the trial judge erred in finding as an aggravating circumstance that the homicide was committed to avoid arrest.
More hogwash. If he wasn’t trying to avoid arrest, why did he have the inside of his car cleaned? Why did he accuse Jaimie Trout as the murderer when he was the one who did it alone?

Now he was attempting to claim that she died while they were fighting and that he didn’t plan to kill her. Even if that is so, he wouldn’t be charged with second degree murder because it is first degree murder in Florida if you kill someone while robbing or kidnapping them.

Jones’s lawyer urged the Appeal Court to reverse his death sentence with directions that he be given a new penalty phase trial before a new jury. If his request was approved, it would mean that a new trial would have to be instigated since the jury deciding his fate would have to hear all the evidence and not just the arguments by his lawyer and the prosecutor. That wouldn’t happen at all as far as the Appeal Court was concerned.

Jones’ lawyer argued that the death penalty in Florida was cruel and unusual which conflicts with the United States Constitution. Well, it certainly isn’t unusual but it has been cruel in a number of occasions.  Sections 921.141 and 922.10 Florida Statutes which provides for a death sentence to be carried out by electrocution, violates the cruel and unusual punishment provisions of the state and federal constitutions.

In 1997, I was invited by the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Florida Department of Corrections to visit the Florida State Prison in Raiford. While I was in that prison, I sat on the electric chair (called Old Sparky) and talked with a prison official about some of the problems with respect to that method of execution.

Pedro Luis Medina, a 34-year-old Cuban refugee who was convicted of murdering a 52-year-old woman in Orlando, Florida was sentenced to death and  executed in the electric chair on March 25, 1997; less than a month before I sat on that same chair.

During the proceedings, Glen Dickson, Medina's pastor, testified that he saw the flames rising out of Medina's head, smelled an acrid smell and saw Medina take three labored breaths after the electrical current to the chair had been turned off and the strap holding him in it had been loosened. Patricia McCusker, Assistant Superintendent of the Work Camp at Florida State Prison, also testified that she saw Medina's left hand tighten as the current was being applied. She corroborated Dickson's observation of smoke and flames coming from Medina's head and a smell, which she said was a burning smell. McCusker stated that she also saw movements in Medina's chest after the current had been turned off, but claimed it was contractions of the chest muscle that did not imply breathing. That may be true but there have been instances in the past where it was established that not all condemned prisoners died immediately after the current was turned on. One man was actually alive when the current was turned off.  There is no doubt in my mind that death in the electric chair is a form of cruel punishment. 

The attorney general of Florida said after hearing what happened to Medina that if anyone wants to commit murder in Florida, he better not do it because the State has an electric chair that has problems.  I guess his statement made it official—death in the electric chair is a form of cruel punishment.  In January 2000, the Florida Legislature passed legislation that allows lethal injection as an alternative method of execution in Florida. My following article will describe the procedures in the Florida when executing a prisoner by lethal injection.

His appeal was granted in part. Later he brought in a great many appeals. Some he lost and others he won. So far, he hasn’t been executed however, he is still in custody. 

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