Saturday, May 16, 2009

Morehouse College Graduate Joshua Norris

CNN reports on the strange story that's unfolding at a famous Atlanta school. Morehouse College is known as the most prestigious black, male college in America. It boasts of such famous alumni such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Spike Lee.

About 500 students will graduate this weekend from Atlanta's prestigious Morehouse College. One person who won't be there is Rashad Johnson, shot three times by a fellow student. But the shooter will receive his diploma -- part of a plea deal that spared him up to 20 years in prison.

Joshua Brandon Norris faced one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and a second count for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. But in a court hearing in January, he was presented with what the judge described as "the break of your life."

It's hard to understand the college's thinking here, which naturally they won't comment on. I would think that quietly dismissing Norris would have been the best way to avoid criticism, so I don't see their actions as an attempt to protect the college. Yet, it's a bit difficult to understand not only the prosecutor's decision to accept such a plea but the school's decision to support Joshua Norris.

The incident began at a Halloween party in 2007 at an Atlanta club, where Morehouse college kids had gathered for a bash. The club owner said he saw Norris causing trouble, and a bouncer threw him out the front door.

Minutes later, the people in the club heard gunshots and everyone hit the floor. The club owner said the shooter was the man he saw kicked out.

Johnson told CNN that there was an altercation outside the club and that he exchanged words with Norris. He said he didn't think much of it, and he began walking to his car when Norris pulled up in his Hummer, got out of the vehicle and pointed a gun at his head.

"When he put the gun to my head, all I could think about was I'm not going to let this kid take me away from my mom, especially with what she's dealing with right now," Johnson said.

He said he grabbed Norris' wrist and pulled his arm down when shots rang out. "I felt the sharpest burning sensation when the first bullet hit my leg. It actually made my leg buckle," he said.

I find the story puzzling to say the least, unless of course, the judge, prosecutor and school know more than we do about it. In fact that's the only explanation I can think of.

On the It's My Mind blog there is indeed more to the story, but it's not good. Joshua Norris is described as an arrogant rich kid who acts as if he's above the law. Other incidents of gun play and brutality are described, which have been covered up and all but buried.

So what do you think? Given the basic facts of the story, is there a way to understand the legal and academic decisions in this case? Do you think there's more to the story than has been reported? Assuming the part about having a gun with him while driving the Hummer is true, is that legal in Georgia? Would such a thing be legal in another state, New Jersey, for example?

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Florida Turnpike Killers Sentenced to Death

The Miami Herald carries the story of the sentencing of the two so-called Florida Turnpike Killers. We discussed this horrible crime before in which an entire family including two kids was wiped out.

The judge called them a group of people living a Scarface movie fantasy, seeing themselves as young drug lords ruling a world of escalating violence that led to the brutal murders of 3- and 4-year-old brothers and their parents.

Imposing a sentence recommended by a federal jury, U.S. Senior District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley on Wednesday told Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez Jr. their sentence for the boys' killings reflected the consequences of their involvement in the drug trade.

He sentenced both to die.

The sentences make Sanchez and Troya, 25 and 26, the first people to receive a federal death sentence in Florida since lawmakers reenacted the penalty in 1988.

One fascinating aspect of the case is that Troya and Sanchez had been willing before the trial to settle the cases in exchange for life sentences. The attorneys said prosecutors on the local level accepted the agreement, but the Attorney General's Office in Washington rejected it and asked for the death penalty.

So, in spite of the additional cost and all the other problems inherent in a capital punishment proceeding, the Attorney General's Office in Washington insists. Why do you think that is?

What's your opinion? Are Troya and Sanchez good candidates for the death penalty? Is their crime one that cries out for the ultimate punishment?

What about the family that was killed? Didn't they, or at least the parents, make the decision to work in the drug business? Didn't they choose to commit numerous crimes? Wouldn't that make them responsible for their own deaths just like the other criminals we've discussed who ended up dead because they were committing crimes? Or do you think there's a difference when the executioner is also a criminal?

There's entirely too much killing going on, can we all agree upon that? Do you think the availability of guns and the prevalence of violence in society, as glamorized in movies like Scarface, are two factors that feed on each other? I know it's not the guns, per se, but wouldn't it be wise if we found a way to keep the gun availability down as we sought to heal our society from violence through education and rehabilitation? What do you think about that?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In the Year 2525

"In the Year 2525" hit number one on the pop charts in 1969. It claimed the #1 spot for six weeks, a remarkable achievement. It also topped the charts in the UK. Coincidentally, it was number one on July 20, 1969 in the USA, the date of the first manned moon landing by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It was nominated for a special Hugo Award that same year.

It is not typical for a recording artist to have a number one hit single and then never have another chart single for the rest of their career.

Wikipedia has the story.

Claims Against Glock Dismissed

The San Francisco Chronicle web site reports on the dismissal of charges against gun manufacturer Glock for a shooting rampage which took place using their products. Now I understand the questions raised a couple times lately by our frequent and extremely respectful commenter Sevesteen, "Do you think that Glock should be liable for criminal misuse of a gun sold to police?"

A federal appeals court dismissed damage claims against gun manufacturers Monday by the victims of a white supremacist's shooting rampage in the San Fernando Valley, saying a 2005 federal law backed by the firearms industry bars such lawsuits.

This seems perfectly clear and reasonable. How could the manufacturer of a legal product be held responsible for the misuse of that product by an end-user? The law suit arose out of a terrible bloodbath which took place in 1999.

Buford Furrow, a mentally disturbed man with neo-Nazi affiliations, took at least seven guns into a Jewish center in Granada Hills and opened fire, wounding three children, a teenager and an adult. An hour later, he fatally shot Joseph Ileto, 39, a letter carrier, in nearby Chatsworth.

Furrow pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison. The suit was filed by Ileto's widow, Lilian, and by three of the wounded youths and another child at the center.

They claimed that the manufacturers deliberately made more guns than the legitimate market could support and sold them through channels that would reach a "secondary market" of private and under-the-table transactions.

The suit said Glock Inc., maker of the 9mm pistol allegedly used to shoot Ileto, sold many guns to police that were unsafe to civilians and ignored government warnings about high-risk distribution channels - in this case, from a police department in Washington state through several owners to an unlicensed trader, who sold it to Furrow.

I have to admit, that claim made me think perhaps it's not so perfectly clear and reasonable after all. Could it be possible that gun manufacturers are producing more guns than the society can legally absorb? Could they be completely aware of the fact that the only way so much product is going to be distributed is by saturating not only the legal market but also the illegal one? Isn't it reasonable to assume that gun manufacturers, like any other producer of consumer products, strive to increase sales? Is it such a stretch to figure there really was some merit to the claims against them?

What's your opinion? Does this entire discussion hinge upon the theory of gun availability and its role in gun violence? If you deny that, then there's nothing to discuss. But, If you admit that gun availability plays a part in the problem, then perhaps these questions about the manufacturer are valid. What do you think?

Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Cage Became The Menagerie

Star Trek fans know that the pilot episode entitled The Cage, starring Jeffrey Hunter, was not aired on television until long after the show went into reruns, in 1988. What Gene Roddenbury did do however was elongate the show into a two-part episode, The Menagerie, which is widely reputed to be the best Star Trek episode of all time.

One fascinating difference between The Cage and The Menagerie is that from among the famous cast members only Leonard Nimoy appears in The Cage. Its story was only about Captain Pike and the Tolosians. To make it longer, Roddenbury wrote in the rest of the cast, embedding, as it were, the pilot film into the longer The Menagerie. Wikipedia has the whole story.

Tennnessee Death Row Inmate Cleared

CNN reports on the great news for Paul House. After spending 22 years on Tennessee's Death Row, State prosecutors on Tuesday asked a judge to drop all charges against him. Mr. House was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in 1986. Special Judge Jon Blackwood accepted the request.

House had been scheduled to be executed next month for the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey. He had been on death row for 22 years but was released on bail last year. He has multiple sclerosis and must use a wheelchair.

The high court ruled in June 2006 that House was entitled to a new hearing.

"Although the issue is closed, we conclude that this is the rare case where -- had the jury heard all the conflicting testimony -- it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the 5-3 majority.

House's appeal was championed by the Innocence Project, affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law in New York.

This is a perfect example of one of the major reasons for abolition cited by Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She gives three reasons: that innocent people are in danger of being executed, like in this case, that capital punishment is disproportionately applied to minorities and that it is more costly than sentencing people to life in prison.

I've always maintained that there's an even stronger reason, one that perhaps rides above all those very valid reasons. I say capital punishment is morally unacceptable. In order to avoid the ethical hypocrisy of killing people for killing people, we must abandon the death penalty.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Georgia Professor George Zinkhan Ruled Suicide

CNN reports on the final chapter in a truly bizarre story.

A wanted University of Georgia professor killed himself with a single gunshot to the head after he dug his own grave and covered it with brush, police said Tuesday.

"Zinkhan's body was found in a small dugout area in the ground, covered with leaves and debris, and it was apparent that he took significant steps to try to conceal his body from being located," a statement from Athens police said.

Does that mean he dug the shallow grave, got in it, covered himself with leaves and debris all the time holding the gun with which he shot himself in the head? I certainly can't see any reason why investigators would invent such a wild story. Can you?

The particulars of his suicide combined with the way he decided to spare his children by leaving them with the neighbor, make this one of the weirdest cases we've discussed.

One of the things that happens in cases like this is information about the gun, its provenance, its history, its role in the crime is lost. Who cares about that when we've got suicide, murder and attempted murder to deal with? This is exactly where the Tiahrt Amendments come into the picture. Tracing the firearm from its manufacturer to the criminal owner is extremely useful information. The more complete the information is the better the recommendations would be as to finding solutions to gun violence. I find it absolutely unconscionable that people who consider themselves upstanding lawful gun owners would support provisions like the Tiahrt Amendments which hinder this process.

What's your opinion? Why do gun owners not cooperate in the efforts too police themselves? Why do they resist even common sense initiatives like a gun trace information database?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Tiahrt Amendments

The Tiahrt Amendments are provisions attached to Justice Department appropriations legislation since 2004. Named after Congressman Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, these amendments are comprised of three main provisions.
  1. One Tiahrt provision severely limits the authority of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to disclose crime gun trace data to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), bars admissibility of such data when victims bring lawsuits against the gun industry, and restricts disclosure of the data even to law enforcement.
  2. The second Tiahrt-sponsored appropriations provision codified the Bush Administration policy destroying certain National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) records after 24 hours.
  3. The third Tiahrt appropriations rider bars ATF from implementing its proposed regulation requiring gun dealers to conduct annual inventory audits to address the problem of guns "disappearing" from gun shops with no record of sale.
According to, The Tiahrt Amendments are a serious obstacle in police work.

For years, the Tiahrt Amendments have been standing in the way of law enforcement efforts to stop the flow of illegal guns to criminals. But now, a coalition of 350 mayors and 200 police chiefs have called for repealing these damaging restrictions.

The Brady Blog makes no bones about the fact that President Obama has disappointed. During his campaign he made unequivocal promises about repealing the amendments, but since taking office has failed to do so.

The Tiahrt Amendments have always been about pleasing a special interest lobby at the expense of public safety. Congress should delete the proposed language and do what the Obama-Biden ticket called for last year when their campaign said they 'would repeal the Tiahrt amendment.'

What's your opinion? Do you agree with the assessment that failing to remedy this situation is an attempt to please a "special interest lobby at the expense of public safety?" Do you think the President's failure to keep this promise represents a reversal in his intentions? Or is it due to delay, the fact that other more pressing issues have taken precedence?

What could the pro-gun crowd be thinking in opposing a change like this? Who would want to restrict the flow of information about gun purchases? Who would want to hinder proper inventory-taking? How can so-called lawful gun owners support such criminal attitudes?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

The Usual Suspects

On The Dallas News site there's a fascinating article about this complicated and wonderful film. Director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie collaborated on the project. In 2006, the Writers Guild voted The Usual Suspects the No. 35 greatest screenplay. (h/t Kottke)

But many continue to wonder just how much of The Usual Suspects, how much of Verbal Kint's (Kevin Spacey) story, is true. (True, that is, within the movie's plot.)

McQuarrie says only after finishing the film and preparing to do press interviews about it did he and Singer realize they both had completely different conceptions about the plot.

"I pulled Bryan aside the night before press began and I said, 'We need to get our stories straight because people are starting to ask what happened and what didn't,' " recalls McQuarrie. "And we got into the biggest argument we've ever had in our lives."

He continues: "One of us believed that the story was all lies, peppered with little bits of the truth. And the other one believed it was all true, peppered with tiny, little lies. ... We each thought we were making a movie that was completely different from what the other one thought."

So who believed what?

With a broad grin, McQuarrie responds: "I'll never tell."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Family Shot for Trespassing - 7-Year-Old Dies

The MSNBC Site carries the Associated Press report.

A 7-year-old boy who was allegedly shot in the head by a couple who thought he and three other people were trespassing on their property died Saturday, authorities said.

Donald Coffey Jr. died Saturday morning at a Houston hospital, less than two days after the boy was struck in the head by shotgun pellets, Sheriff's Cpl. Hugh Bishop said.

Sheila Muhs and her husband, Gayle Muhs, both 45, were charged with second-degree felony counts of aggravated assault in the shootings Thursday. They were being held at Liberty County Jail with bail set at $25,000 each and had not yet retained an attorney, Bishop said.

The Gun Guys describe the incident like this:

There are some gun owners who have a blood lust, ready and willing to shoot and kill other people, including children, for seemingly mindless reasons and just to prove that they can decide who lives and dies.

I've described this very phenomenon as being "trigger happy." I like "blood lust" too. I'm not convinced the Gun Guys have identified the true motives though. I don't know it it's "for seemingly mindless reasons and just to prove that they can decide who lives and dies." At least I don't think that's all of it.

Recently we had lengthy discussions about Ladon Jones, whom I described as "trigger happy" for the simple reason I didn't believe his story that his life was in lethal danger. I figured his motive was one of meting out the just punishment to criminal scum that dared to attempt stealing from him. Not everyone saw it that way, granted, including the authorities.

This case is different, at least it's a little different. The Muhs couple is being held on second-degree aggrivated assaault. The authorities were quick to add that the charges could be increased to murder, but being Texas, I suppose they could be lowered to, what, disorderly conduct?

These people are trigger happy and blood lusting and they shot a kid in the head because he failed to heed their warning, not a verbal warning prior to firing, but a posted one on their property.

"Trespassers will be shot. Survivers will be reshot!! Smile I will."

Any long time readers of this blog might recognize the wording of that sign. Our former commenter, Tom, boasted of having one very similar on his property, also in Texas. He and about half-a-dozen other commenters, who always supported his sentiments, are the first to support these despicable attitudes, which to me seem better adapted to our troglodyte ancestors.

Lawful gun owners, who are secure in the fact that they're responsible people, need not react badly to my assertions. But they often do just that - react badly. Maybe they're not as responsible as they claim to be or not as secure in the fact that they ought to be. I don't know.

I assert there are too many trigger happy and blood lusting gun owners out there. I don't think it 50%, but I don't think it's one-tenth of 1% either. I assert that the lawful gun owners who defensively protect people like this, by denying they exist or by defending their actions, are part of the problem. That's another way the law-abiding gun owner shares in the guilt.

What's your opinion? Did you see the photos of the Muhs couple? What do you think is wrong with them? Do you think the second-degree assault charge was just a formality in order to effectively give them a slap on the wrist?

Please leave a comment.

The Return of Mike Vick

The Miami Herald published an editorial piece by Greg Cote which suggests Mike Vick deserves a clean slate when he returns to pro football. We discussed Vick's criminal fall from grace before, pretty much agreeing that what he was involved in was bad stuff. But can we consider him paid up with society now?

The bigger issue is whether the rest of us can muster anything close to ''genuine forgiveness'' -- or at least begrudgingly admit that the man has paid his debt and deserves a clean slate and a fair chance to resume his life and livelihood.

He does.

By way of comparison, Mr. Cote reminds us that the NFL and other leagues, have examples of "wife and girlfriend beaters, unlicensed gun-toters, chronic drunk drivers and players who have made a cottage industry of appearing on police reports."

Ever heard of Leonard Little? The veteran St. Louis Rams defensive end once killed a woman while driving drunk. He was playing in a Super Bowl 16 months later. It was not to be his last DUI episode, either. He's still in the league.

What makes me willing to forgive Mike Vick is the simple fact that as unpleasant as his crime was, it pales in comparison to what some of the other testosterone-driven bullies in his sport get up to. Some of them pay for their misdeeds, some don't. I say Mike Vick has paid.

What's your opinion?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

John Marek's Appeal Denied - Execution Wednesday

The Miami Herald reports on the upcoming execution of convicted murderer John Marek.

Convicted Broward County killer John Richard Marek has lost an appeal just five days before his scheduled execution.

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday turned down an appeal from Marek's lawyers arguing that his death sentence was unconstitutional since his co-defendant, Raymond Wigley, received only a life sentence.

They also contended that Florida's lethal injection procedures are unconstitutional and that the 25 years he has spent on Death Row constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Marek, 47, is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Florida State Prison near Starke.

Another interesting element in this case is that not only is the partner in crime serving a life sentence instead of facing the death penalty, he may have been the one to actually kill the woman. Three different cell mates of Raymond Wigley's have testified that he admitted strangling the victim himself.

I maintain there's something very wrong with the government putting its own citizens to death. This feeling was reinforced by looking at the site on called Florida Death Row Inmates. Marek is number 225 of 376, and that's just Florida. You see, we're not talking about an occasional freak or monster. We're talking about a percentage of our population, an ever-increasing percentage.

What's your opinion? Are those guys really like garbage that should be gotten rid of? What do you think about Capital Punishment?

Please leave a comment.

Georgia Professor George Zinkhan Found Dead

CNN reports on the story of Georgia Professor George Zinkhan, who shot and killed his wife and two others two weeks ago and promptly vanished.

The body of a University of Georgia professor accused of killing three people was found Saturday buried in woods near Athens, Georgia, authorities said.

Cadaver dogs discovered the body with two guns in a wooded area of northwest Clarke County, about a mile from where Zinkhan's red Jeep Liberty was found last week, Athens-Clarke Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin said.

Athens-Clarke County police confirmed the identity of the body, citing results from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The guns are like those authorities believe were used in the shootings, Lumpkin said.

The body was found "beneath the earth," Lumpkin said, without any clothes.

On the night of the killing, as we discussed before, there was one strange, or at least unusual aspect. Prof. Zinkhan dropped his two young kids off at the neighbor's house before fleeing, saying to the neighbor he'd be back in an hour or so. That was a departure from the all too common cases we see reported in which the crazed dad kills the whole family with his guns.

With the discovery of his body, the case got that much more bizarre. Was he the victim of a random and unrelated murder? Was it suicide after all? Who then buried him in the woods? It certainly is a fascinating case.

One thing is clear for me, as long as we allow the bullying voices of the pro-gun folks and the NRA and the Gun Lobby in Washington to have their way, guys like Zinkhan will always have easy access to guns. I say that's too heavy a price to pay for what they call a god-given right. What do you think?

Please leave a comment.