Saturday, March 7, 2009

Teah Wimberley to have Psychological Testing

The Miami Herald reports on the latest developments in the Dillard High Shooting case.

Teah Wimberly, the Broward teenager accused of shooting her friend to death at Dillard High School, will undergo more psychological testing before a judge decides whether she should be moved from jail to a mental institution.

Prosecutors and Wimberly's lawyer jointly agreed further testing was needed, canceling a Friday hearing, according to Judge John Murphy III's office.

Wimberly, 15, has been an inmate at the North Broward Jail in Pompano Beach since November. She is segregated from the other female prisoners because of her age.

The defense claims that she suffers from serious psychological issues and that she needs specialized treatment that cannot be offered in jail. Prosecutors have argued the teen can be treated in jail.

Before the decision to postpone the hearing, the two sides had been expected to put several psychology experts and therapists on the witness stand Friday to prove their point in court.

Since the terrible shooting, some family background has come out that is being offered now as proof of Wimberley's diminished capacity.

Abandoned as a baby by her mother, she grew extremely attached to her father, Jevon Wimberly, known on stage as ''J Baby,'' who was an up-and-coming comedian in the Miami area. In 2007 he himself shot another man in a dispuite, was convicted of second-degree attempted murder and sentenced to 25 years. Leaving Teah in the care of his parents, he refused to allow her to visit him in jail.

Now that's enough to throw anyone's life off the rails, but is it enough to excuse her actions? Is it enough to mitigate them? Combined with her age, do you think this girl should be held accountable for this murder the same way as say, the Florida Turnpike killers are?

The last time we talked about this case, at the time of Teah's non-guilty plea, we received a comment from a classmate at Dillard High named Lucille.

teah's intention was not to kill amanda, her intention was to kill herself in front of amanda but at the last second she turned the gun. amanda was not gay. they were never dating. i'm fully convinced teah has some problems. she would blog about the how sweet death was and how the darkness soothes her. her mother kicked her out of the house and she had to live with her grandmother. none of this is a reason to kill someone, and i believe teah should not get off easy, but there are some things to be discussed here. if there was no gun available, i'm not sure this would have happened...

Young Lucille is certainly no expert, and I've never claimed to be one, but interestingly we both say the same thing. If there had been no gun available, this incident might not have happened, at least it might not have had such devestating results.

What's your opinion? Can you see how the availability of the gun is often crucial? Do you think Teah should be considered for leniency because of her age and background?

Please leave a comment.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Concealed Carry Permits

On The Brady Blog last week there was an exhaustive post about the question of whether concealed carry permits make the world a safer place. It took me about six months of badgering to get a reluctant agreement that gun owners were just like any other group of people. Previously, I'd been told they are more responsible and more prudent for the simple reason that they know the power of guns. Here's what Helmke says.
The fact is that too many gun owners with concealed carry permits are not law-abiding citizens, while some permit-holders are so incompetent they shouldn't be allowed near a firearm in the first place, whether they've committed a crime or not.

The Brady folks have compiled an incredible list of cases to back up this claim. Unlike my own blog where I normally eschew all research and usually just talk about my feelings, these guys back up their ideas. Here are a few examples, complete with links.
A permit-holder in New York is now the suspect in a quadruple murder.

In Idaho, a permit-holder shot and killed himself in an apparent gun-cleaning accident.

In Colorado, a man who apparently held permits in both Colorado and Utah was arrested while being armed and intoxicated on the grounds of a high school.

An Arizona permit-holder was charged with 14 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and four counts of endangerment after a shootout with police.

There are about a hundred others, but you get the idea. Is this what gun enthusiasts have so often called "lying?" Or is this an example of "distortion?"

What's your opinion? Is it any wonder that President Obama and Governor Sebelius are opposed to concealed carry permits?

Please feel free to comment.

Paul Helmke on the Virginia Tech Shooting

After the Virginia Tech. massacre, Congress and President Bush unanimously passed a law which would prohibit mentally ill people from purchasing guns.

Paul Helmke is the President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. His comments on this video seem to be the epitome of common sense. Who could have a problem with what he said? Who could disagree with what he said? I guess they're the same ones who deny or object to discussions about the so-called "gun-show loophole."

What's your opinion? Why would the poster of the video on Youtube call Mr. Helmke a reptile? Aren't you concerned that mentally ill people, and criminals for that matter, can buy guns privately with no background checks? I am.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Florida Turnpike Killers Guilty

The Miami Herald reports on the four guilty verdicts which came down in the so-called Florida Turnpike Slayings Case.
The case of the brutal murders of a young family along Florida's Turnpike in St. Lucie County in 2006 ended Thursday with a federal jury's guilty verdicts against two men charged in the killings and two others who were part of the drug gang that led to the murders.

It took four days for the 12-member jury to convict Ricardo ''Rick'' Sanchez and Daniel ''Homer'' Troya, both 25, of conspiracy to commit carjacking and four counts each of armed carjacking resulting in the deaths of Jose Luis Escobedo, 28, his wife, Yessica, 25, and their 4- and 3-year-old sons Luis Julian and Luis Damian.

How's that for brutal? They even killed the children. Do you think this was on purpose to send the clearest message possible? Were Sanchez and Troya following orders? Or was it their idea in the process of executing the parents to also kill the kids? Or, does it not matter one way or the other?

Last time we talked about this one, I said this crime comes about as close as one can to meriting the death penalty. What do you think about the different levels of culpability that can be assigned to murders? At one end of the spectrum you've got your drunk driver who accidentally kills someone. Next comes the drug addict who's dying for a fix and kills someone during a break in. After that I would say comes your typical wife-beater who goes too far. On the other end of the spectrum you've got your mafia hit man or the hired drug killer. But, where do we place their bosses? Wouldn't the drug overlord or the mafia don who orders hits be even more culpable than those who carry out those orders?

What's your opinion? Do you think they're all equally guilty, murder is murder?

What do you predict in this case? Will Sanchez and Troya spend the next twenty years on death row and eventually be injected?

Please leave a comment.

Canadian Bus Cannibal Ruled Insane

CNN reports on the ruling in Canada that Vince Weiguang Li is not criminally responsible because he is mentally ill. Li was the man charged in the beheading death of his seatmate on a Greyhound Canada bus last summer, which we talked about here and here.

This ruling comes as no surprise to me. Only the most severe opponents of considering extenuating circumstances in criminal judgments, those who demand personal accountability for everyone's actions, could have a problem with this. Even the Prosecutor agrees.
"This was justice because the correct conclusion was reached," prosecutor Joyce Dalmyn said, according to CBC. "Mr. Li is a schizophrenic. Mr. Li had a severe mental disease. Mr. Li, in my opinion and in the opinion of the psychiatrists, had no idea what he was doing was wrong."
Naturally, the Canadian Mental Health Association agrees with the Prosecutor.

"Mr. Li is also a victim here," said Ruth Ann Craig of the Canadian Mental Health Association, according to CBC. "What's going to happen to Mr. Li is not a cakewalk."

He will be housed in a locked psychiatric ward, Craig said, while he undergoes assessment and treatment to determine whether he is a risk to himself or society.

Why do people have a problem with this? Is it the use of the word "victim" in reference to the offender? Do people think we somehow disrespect the real victim by recognizing that the criminal is also one? Or is it that assessment business? Is it the fact that he may be released from the mental hospital sooner than he would from a prison? I really don't see why that should be the case. Wouldn't a panel of psychiatrists in the State mental hospital be able to come to the same conclusions about Charles Manson that his Parole Board does each time they meet, as an example?

The point is, mentally ill people belong in hospitals not prisons. The decisions pertaining to the length of stay are another matter altogether, in some cases to be determined later.

What's your opinion? Would you rather see Mr. Li spend the rest of his life in prison? Do you think the Canadians are any better at handling this than we are in the States?

I was fascinated again reading that none of the other 34 passengers did anything to stop this. What do you think about that? Most men are reluctant to admit that when faced with a situation that cries out for intervention, they might hesitate, or cower. I'm able to admit that, if I had been one of the other passengers, and if I had seen this knife-wielding maniac attack his seatmate, I honestly don't know for sure what my reaction would have been. Probably I would have been with the crowd, slinking away in fear and shock and regretting it later. What about you?

Is this why people support carrying guns? Is this an example of how people need to be armed in order to overcome their fears and do the right thing? Or perhaps the typical concealed-carry guy is not the type who would slink away. Perhaps the guys who support guns are already able to overcome these fears, even without those gun. What do you think?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The War on Drugs - American Style

Thanks to Patrick, I saw this wonderful video today, which touches on a number of our favorite topics. The script includes this gem, speaking about the war on drugs:

It has led the charge in the dumbing-down of America.

I very much liked the comments of Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. On Wikipedia he's quoted as having said this about himself:

"I'm used to being in the minority. I'm a left-handed gay Jew. I've never felt, automatically, a member of any majority."

That's enough for me to like him right there, but his common sense ideas about government non-involvement in the lives of the people make perfect sense to me. What do you think? What's his opinion on gun control? I didn't see mention of it in his short Wiki bio, but I'm sure some of our commenters will tell us.

Recently we discussed this prison problem here. I came up with a broad-brush proposal
Here's my three-part plan:

1. White collar criminals get out immediately, but it's not a get-out-of-jail-free card. They'd have to pay heavy fines and submit to severe supervision.

2. Then, we remove all the alcoholics, drug addicts and mentally ill from prisons and give them the mental health care they need.

3. After that we release the 25% least dangerous prisoners, right across the board, under the same conditions as the white collar guys.

With all the savings generated we could afford the proper upkeep of the present facilities including the mental hospitals and make the necessary increases in the probation departments.

Maybe that 25% figure in point 3 could be adjusted up or down to accommodate the statistics in the video. What do you think?

Obama promised to do something about this during his campaign. Do you think he will? Has the new Attorney General shown any indications of making the necessary changes? It seems to me this is a deceptively large issue. With so much focus on the wars and the economic crisis, do you think this very important situation will be overlooked?

Please tell us what you think.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Zeppelin - Let's Stick With 'em

Watch more VH1 videos on AOL Video

Murder-Suicide near Chicago

The Chicago Tribune reports on the case of a man, who shot and killed his wife and son, then turned the gun on himself. That wouldn't make it so unusual, sad to say, but this man had murdered his first wife in 1985 and served 13 years of his 30 year sentence.
Richard Wiley left a 40-page, handwritten suicide note indicating he shot and killed Kathy Motes, 50, and Christopher Motes, 17, and saying he refused to go back to prison, Wilmette police Deputy Chief Brian King said.

At his murder trial, Wiley said he suffered from a rare mental disease called "intermittent explosive disorder," but the judge rejected his claim that he was insane. Wiley reportedly called police himself after the 1985 killing and was found "leaning over the victim, hugging her and crying, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.'"

Calling the police and crying over the body sounds perfectly consistent with "intermittent explosive disorder" to me. What do you think? Shouldn't the prison psychiatrists have picked up on something like that? Did his admission and remorse facilitate an early release?

Another thing I find interesting is the frequent refrain, "I'm not going back to prison." In these cases I suppose the deterrent factor of incarceration actually increases the violence. Do you think cases like this are outnumbered by the ones who are genuinely deterred straight?

The murder weapon is always of interest to me. In another fascinating twist to the case, he used a very special weapon. Is there anyone who could deny the fact that the availability of this weapon - what was it, an antique or a collector's item? - played a part.
The murder weapon, found by Wiley's body in a second-floor bedroom, was a black-powder, muzzleloading Civil War replica rifle that may have belonged to Christopher Motes, a Civil War buff, King said.

Wiley apparently had sawed off the barrel of the rifle, which could take several minutes to load because it requires black powder and a metal ball to be loaded through the muzzle, he said.

I'm not sure what that phrase, "which could take several minutes to load because it requires black powder and a metal ball to be loaded through the muzzle," means, unless it's to indicate premeditation and planning. I tend to think he had suffered another of those "explosive episodes," which probably don't subside until blood flows.

What's the enjoyment of these black-powder guns anyway? Is there a sensual pleasure in handling the gun powder and the projectile, actually getting your fingers dirty with the stuff? Is the exhilaration enhanced in firing these weapons, which generally have a stronger recoil than their modern counterparts? Is there something special about the smell of that gunpowder? I'm curious.

What's your opinion? What do you think about this case?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Making of The Godfather

Via Jason Kottke's wonderful site, I discovered the article The Godfather Wars, written by Mark Seal for this month's edition of Vanity Fair. It chronicles the real-life struggle which took place behind the scenes between Hollywood and the New York Mob during the making of the famous film.
In many ways, the men who made The Godfather—director Francis Ford Coppola, producer Al Ruddy, Paramount executives Robert Evans and Peter Bart, and Gulf & Western boss Charles Bluhdorn—were as ruthless as the gangsters in Mario Puzo’s blockbuster. After violent disputes over the casting of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, they tangled with the real-life Mob, which didn’t want the movie made at all. The author recalls how the clash of Hollywood sharks, Mafia kingpins, and cinematic geniuses shaped a Hollywood masterpiece.

Fans of The Godfather movies will love this article. For us any background is anxiously gobbled up, especially a story which contains a glimpse into the family of Al Lettieri who played the unforgettable Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo. Al died much too young of a heart attack, just a few years after this.

The best part happened after the story was published in Vanity Fair. Described here, entitled Meadow Soprano is on the Line, it's almost too good to be true. Lettieri's niece contacted the magazine and agreed to be interviewed in order to flesh out the story, as it were.
The real Mafia played a significant—if hidden—role in the creation of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather, and Mark Seal’s story in the 2009 Hollywood Issue (“The Godfather Wars”) detailed most of it. But one of the most remarkable anecdotes came to light only after the magazine was published, when the daughter of a reputed mobster told V.F. how her family befriended, tutored, and overfed the Corleones.

Here's the video of the author, followed by one of the greatest scenes ever. The Italian which Al Pacino is supposed to have learned in the Lettieri family home in Fort Lee served him well. He sounds exactly like a first-generation Italian American more comfortable with English. Their conversation, by the way, is actually more Sicilian than Italian.

Overcrowded Prisons

There's been a lot in the news lately about the terrible overcrowding in American prisons. This op-ed report in the Miami Herald places the blame on immigration laws.
Latinos now make up 40 percent of the estimated 200,000 prisoners in federal penitentiaries, triple their share of the total U.S. adult population and disproportionate to their representation in state and local jails (19 percent and 16 percent, respectively). Nearly half of the Latino population in federal prisons are immigrants, with 81 percent sentenced for entering or residing in the nation without authorization.

It seems to me that we're incarcerating tens of thousands of immigrants who don't pose a threat to the community. These people shouldn't be behind bars at all.

On the Heavy Sounds and the Abstract Truth blog the blame is placed squarely on the War on Terror.
The “war on terror” is endlessly peddled by the American political establishment as a crusade for freedom and liberty around the world. Yet, as the latest prison figures again demonstrate, far from representing freedom, justice and democracy, the United States is notorious for its propensity to jail its own population.

He quotes some impressive Census Bureau data and concludes with the irrefutable: "No other country in the world comes close to these numbers."

In addition to the increases due to immigration and terror laws, we mustn't forget the "war on drugs." We've often talked about the futility of locking up marijuana users like they do in Texas and Louisiana. Some people go even further and believe more drugs than just pot should be legalized. On the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition site they have some ideas about that.

Recently, according to the BBC, in the UK they've made an attempt to address their problem.
The Ministry of Justice said 2,795 criminals in England and Wales were freed up to 18 days before the half-way point of their sentence in December.

An MoJ spokesman said the government was working "extremely hard" to create extra prison capacity.

So far 47,515 inmates have been let out early under the End of Custody Licence programme.

They include nearly 10,000 violent offenders and more than 4,200 burglars.

The article goes on to explain how many of these people have violated the terms of their release and how many others have become fugitives again. Overall, it didn't sound like an example of success.

On the Preaching to the Choir site, S. provides a concise and chilling analysis taken from the MSNBC report.
1 of every 31 US adults is incarcerated. Georgia has the highest incarceration rate, at 1 in every 13 adults. (New Hampshire has the lowest, at 1 in 88.)

1 in every 11 black adults is under some form of correctional supervision. cite

How's that for a bleak picture? What's to be done about this? The British don't seem to know. What would you do? I've already outlined my three-point plan here.

What's your opinion?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Blood Oranges

Our friend and frequent commenter, Il Principe, has posted a most delightful piece about living in Rome. This post could easily follow my own What I love about Rome (part I).

Here's what the Grand Prince has to say about the blood orange:
Intrigued by the name of the variety when I first heard about it, I was curious as how they tasted compared to Florida oranges. Pleasantly surprised, the blood orange has a mild sweet flavor. It is fun to eat the oranges, look down at your hands, and see the red juice that looks like blood dripping from your fingers.

The witty title of his post is The Godfather, Berlusconi and oranges in Italy. In describing shopping in the outdoor fruit markets of Rome, here's how he ties it in.
Although I am never worried about getting shot at like Don Corleone did when he was picking out some oranges in the movie, I am however always on the lookout for the old ladies and those hand trolleys. Then again, if I keep on writing the truth about Berlusconi, some of his friends from Cosa Nostra in Sicily may make a trip up north and look me up.

Because I like to focus more on The Godfather than either the blood oranges or Berlusconi, I leave you with this. Check out the acting brilliance of the late great John Cazale.

Kathleen Sebelius

After all the promises President Obama made during the campaign about health care, the HHS post (Secretary of Health and Human Services) has got to be one of the most important. Well, what's not important these days? With the economy the way it is and foreign affairs, who could say those players are not important? But I feel the success or failure of Obama to keep his promises about health care for all, is crucial in our eventual judgment of his presidency.

It seems to me there couldn't be a better choice than Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. I wouldn't be surprised if all that nonsense with Daschle was programmed into this choice. I often feel that the political "surprises" that suddenly alter careers in Washington are not surprises at all but elaborate theatrics for our benefit.

Concerning abortion, since she is Catholic, Sebelius has had to walk a difficult line with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas. This is what Planned Parenthood has to say about her:
Sebelius has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood and they have conducted fundraising activity on her behalf. Sebelius vetoed abortion legislation in Kansas in 2003, 2005, 2006, and again in 2008.

In 2008, Sebelius vetoed House Substitute for Senate Bill 389, titled the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act by its sponsors. Proponents of the bill claimed the legislation would strengthen late-term abortion laws and prevent “coerced abortions” particularly with respect to minors.

On Capital Punishment, says the following: "Owing to her Catholicism, Sebelius is opposed to capital punishment." I didn't think the two were mutually exclusive, Catholicism and Capital Punishment, but I can certainly see how a serious Catholic person can conclude that the death penalty is wrong. Wikipedia reports the good news about Kansas.
No one has been executed by the state of Kansas since 1965, although capital punishment is legal there.

Her ideas on gun control are the epitome of common sense, it seems to me. The following is from On The Issues.
Sebelius has said she supports Kansans’ right to own firearms, but does not believe a broad concealed carry law would make them safer: “I don’t believe allowing people to carry concealed handguns into sporting events, shopping malls, grocery stores, or the workplace would be good public policy. And to me the likelihood of exposing children to loaded handguns in their parents’ purses, pockets and automobiles is simply unacceptable.”

Other than vetoing the concealed carry law, she's been responsible for no new restrictions, supposedly supports the 2nd Amendment and even signed a bill, which "repealed a 1933 state law prohibiting civilian ownership of machine guns and other firearms restricted by the National Firearms Act of 1934 provided that any prospective civilian owner successfully meets the requirements of the NFA. The law was passed in part to address legal issues that could have prevented dealers from delivering firearms to law enforcement agencies in Kansas."

Does all that make her a friend or a foe of the pro-gun movement? I think she betrayed her true feelings in that comment about the concealed carry law. They all say they support the 2nd Amendment, at least publicly, and the machine gun law may have been all about those complicated legal ramifications. What's your opinion on her gun stance?

In general what's your opinion of Kathleen Sebelius? Are her ideas about capital punishment and gun control completely outside the scope of her new job? She has also been praised for eliminating a $1.1 billion debt she inherited when she took office. Do these things influence her ability to do the job of Secretary of Health and Human Services?

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dallas Gun Buy-Back Program - Part II

The city of Dallas is doing something about the problem of gun violence; this weekend they've organized another gun buy back program.
Nearly 150 firearms were taken off the streets today by Dallas Police in an effort to keep them from falling into the wrong hands.

It was the result of a "Gun Buy Back" program the city has instituted in an effor to make the city safer.

"Great program. They're gonna get a lot of guns off the street. They should continue it." said Tom Reger who sold a .22-calibre rifle.

Reger is amoung scores of Dallas gun owners who opted to sell their unwanted weapons to police as part of the program.

When we talked about the last one a few months ago, the comments were overwhelmingly opposed to the program. I find the same thing this time in the Dallas sites that have covered the story.

People say the guns are junk anyway and not even capable of killing. Others say they're valuable and the city is ripping the people off by offering a meagre $50-food-coupon. Last time we talked about it here, one commenter, Tom, who now has his own blog, pointed out the problem with this program: "The whole idea supports the faulty logic that reducing the overall numbers of guns in the supply chain somehow reduces violence." Well, obviously I don't agree with that.

What I do agree with is what Deputy Mayor pro tem Dwaine R. Carraway said in the video, that it only takes one gun to kill someone. The other day they collected 147 of them. Admittedly, these were not gang members turning in the tools of their trade, these were not professional killers who've decided to go straight after hearing the Deputy Mayor's exhortations to do so, these were simply people who had guns at home that were in danger of being misused or stolen and thereby contributing to the "flow."

For me, this is a good program. The most fascinating aspect of the whole story is the vehement opposition on the part of the pro-gun guys. I asked before, how does it hurt them? Does the fact that it "supports the faulty logic" explain that? What's your opinion?