Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rick Casey Champions Another Cause

I didn't get around to reading the Chronicle until well after dark this evening, and I'm glad for that. The reason being that if I had read Rick Casey's latest holier-than-thou tripe in the paper, I probably would have just been irritated all day.

Casey has stepped to the defense of the Baytown juvenile who was charged with capital murder this week for murdering her newborn son. I don't know any more details than anyone else who has been reading the paper and/or watching the news, but my understanding is that the baby was found strangled, drowned, and had toilet paper crammed down his throat by his 14-year-old mother.

Gee, who wouldn't have sympathy for that?!

And, of course, Rick Casey is quick to assess who the real villain is in the scenario: Bill Hawkins, the Juvenile Division Chief of the District Attorney's Office.

Yes, let's quickly skip over the fact that apparently we, as a Society, are now quite comfortable with 14-year-olds having babies, and the fact that the 14-year-old should have had some parents to guide her in what to do regarding the child. Let's not blame the 14-year-old herself, either. Let's act as if a 14-year-old has the moral equivalency and intelligence level of a three-year-old, and excuse her right off the bat.

The real villains in this scenario are the prosecutors, yet again, because dammit, those kill-joys down at 1201 Franklin are just totally acting like they've got a stick up their butts when it comes to infanticide.

They dared to charge a 14-year-old with Capital Murder.

Well, guess what, Rick -- from everything I've read in the paper, it sure as hell seems to me that there's a lot of evidence to indicate that she did commit Capital Murder.

Casey's over-arching theme is more about the fact that the D.A.'s Office has a policy of charging the highest crime possible, and gosh-darnit, that's just freaking mean! What a stupid policy! The Office really should look long and hard at how they are filing charges. They really should be filing these charges as lesser offenses.

For example:

The guy who sexually assaults a six-year-old shouldn't be charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child, when a Class C Assault with "offensive touching" would work.

The guy who burns down his neighbor's house shouldn't be charged with Arson, when a simple misdemeanor of Criminal Mischief will do.

And the guy who goes and shoots a gas station attendant while he's stealing $20 shouldn't be charged with Capital Murder. Hell no, let's charge him with Class C Theft.

Casey surmises all kinds of facts that may or may not be in play, such as the 14-year-old just being confused or stressed out. I'm sure that's true, but it doesn't somehow make the charges of Capital Murder less appropriate.

Bill Hawkins cited a Chuck Rosenthal-era policy of always charging the highest crime possible. Although I wasn't familiar that this was an actual "policy", I fail to see the problem with charging a person appropriately for their actions, especially when it comes to a fatality crime. There are plenty of charges where filing the lesser offense may be appropriate (say for instance, a Class C paraphernalia case on a crack pipe rather than a felony Possession of a Controlled Substance).

But on a Capital Murder? Give me a break, Rick.

Casey talked to both Clarence Bradford and Pat Lykos about their views on the filing "policy", and both danced around the issue, saying that they would have to look at the facts. Although Lykos and I aren't exactly fans of each other, I can say that I found more assurance in her statements than in Bradford's. Her response was to look more at a totality of the circumstances, while Bradford's was more of a vow to stay away from a maximum punishment.

Casey's indignation continues on with the D.A.'s Office. Even after they dared to charge her with Capital Murder, they then dared to keep her detained! And Rick goes ahead and pontificates that the 14-year-old won't flee or commit any more crimes while awaiting trial. Man, it must be nice to be so omniscient.

God forbid that we treat this 14-year-old like a juvenile who has been charged with the most serious crime on the Texas books.

My favorite part of the article comes at the end, after arguing that we should be trying to help this 14-year-old child.

Here, Casey preaches: "That's what a civilized society does with 14-year-olds."

Civilized Society?

Are you freaking kidding me, Casey? What part of any of this is civilized? The part where a 14-year-old is having a baby? The part where that baby is choked to death on wet toilet paper? The part where a 14-year-old doesn't have any appreciation for human life or empathy for what she is doing to the most defenseless of all living creatures?

Are you really preaching that the only thing that isn't "civil" is the prosecution of this?

Rick, you really need to shake your moral compass a few times. I think that damn thing is broken.

I believe I will be siding with the baby that died in the toilet on this one.


Anonymous said...

Casey is like a walking straw-man and this case is so horrible that I'd rather stay away from it specifically but I do have a related question. What is the theory behind charging someone that is 14 as an adult? It's obviously not a strict mental age issue- if someone is 18 but emotionally immature prosecutors don't file a motion claiming the person should be charged as a juvenile.

My perception is the person's 'mental/emotional' age, not the crime, is the determining factor. IOW- The heinousness of the crime shouldn't be the determining factor as if horrible = adult.
Am I correct that this how it is supposed to work?

I'm not a criminal lawyer but I'm also not a troll, just asking this as an honest question about the rationale.

Rorschach said...

Since a great many cases are dealt with via a plea agreement, is it not also reasonable to start with the highest charge that is appropriate in order to have room to negotiate downwards?

Flip said...

This is why I stopped reading Casey's article after the first sentence or two. I KNEW what was coming and that it would anger me. It's also why I rarely read the Chronicle and almost never even bother with Casey at all.

Muck said...

Shouldn't Casey have pointed out that even if convicted of capital murder the teenager is not eligible for the type of punishment that an adult could receive?

And I guess Casey feels the 14-year-old who took part in the Jennifer Ertman/Elizabeth Pena gang rapes and murders shouldn't have received 40 years either.

I remember working that story when it dropped. Some crimes a 14-year-old commits deserve more than "help."

pro.victims said...

anon 9:58:

The juvenile justice system, by law, generally loses control over a person once they turn 18 years old. In some instances, where a juvenile is sentence to confinement in the Texas Youth Commission (kid prison), TYC can keep control over them until they are 21, or they can transfer them to adult prison.

At this point, there is no indication this girl will be certified as an adult to stand trial as an adult. So far, she has only been charged, and since she is a juvenile, she is initially charged AS a juvenile.

As a juvenile, the maximum punishment she can receive is 40 years in prison. This would mean she would serve the first part of it until she was an adult, in TYC, then be transfered to TDC (adult prison) to serve the balance.

If she is certified as an adult, she could face a maximum punishment, even on capital murder, of life in prison without parole, since she committed her offense while she was under the age of 17.

The decision to certify her as an adult would contemplate the nature of her crime, any juvenile criminal history she has, and the limitations the law allows for her punishment as a juvenile.

Compare her to an identical 18 year old. The 14 year old could get a prison sentence, and be released by the age of 18 into public, serving about 3 - 4 years, and with no possibility of being re-incarcerated if she violates her juvenile parole (you can't put 18 + year olds back into custody in TYC, since TYC is for kids). By contrast, an 18 year old who commits the same crime could face life without parole, or death.

In part, your observation is correct - the more heinous the crime, the more likely there will be an adult certification. But more heinous crimes, generally speaking, deserve more severe punishment. The juvenile venue limits, sometimes severely, the punishment options. This case got press, but I've seen stone cold juveniles who committed murders who were literally facing a max of a few months in jail, due to where their birthday fell in relation to the day they committed the crime.

miss_msry said...

Rick Casey has always been out of his element in Houston and should be sent back to the minors (S.A.) And don't get me started on all those other high school quality columnists at the Chron.

jigmeister said...

In answer to your questions Anon 9:28, the law is a one way street. A juvenile can be certified as an adult, but an adult 17 and older cannot be certified as a juvenile. Certainly the DA can and will consider the emotional age along with other factors in making the decision to seek certification and indictment from a Grand Jury.

Anonymous said...

Probably like yourselves, I was as offended by Casey's "grits for breakfast type blog" article as I was by the Nick Anderson cartoon concerning the Joe Horn no-bill. Not that I endorse vigilante justice, but the Horn case is a big fat NG coming down the line had it been indicted, because the technicality of the law be damned, Houstonians in certain parts of town live in virtual war zones.

Here, if a fourteen year old: (1) knew she was pregnant and had discussed this with others, and
(2) stuffed toilet paper down the baby's throat; and (3) wasn't retarded or mentally ill to the extent she would have never been attending school, then she needs to be in jail until her first parole eligibility at age 54. She will then be too old to bear children if released on her first parole eligibility.

Yeah, she's a crazy, messed up kid. The kind we don't need living amongst us, lest she kill or injure someone else. Again. Personally, I feel sorry for her, because you know mentally she lives in a different place than most of us. The place where lives, even a newborn babies life, means nothing. She has the ability to kill one of the most precious beings that exists in our world: a newborn babe.

I am confident that a properly charged capital case, such as this one, can be sorted out by the jury. If they are of the Rick Casey mindset, they can just hang up and refuse to believe reality. Fortunately, very few jurors I have dealt with in my career would agree with Casey.

Everyone who has ever prosecuted the murder of a child or teen has wondered, at least fleetingly, what that person might have been when they grew up? Could they end world hunger or bring about world peace, or cure a dread disease, or even just live happily ever after? We never get to find out, and that is the part about murder that robs society as a whole.

Think about that one, Casey, when you are looking for someone to feel sorry for.


James Dixon said...

pro.victims--well said. That was a well written, concise, and accurate picture of the juvenile justice system and how it deals with these matters. thanks.

Ron in Houston said...

I've always puzzled at what some newly pregnant women do. I think there is a sort of hormonal-stress induced form of insanity that takes over these women.

I could definitely see a 14 year old being highly confused about what was happening.

Anonymous said...

JAGJO writes:

Casey's column should be served up with a granola bar and free tickets for the first 100 readers, to his annual " Hug a Tree" celebration.

Anonymous said...


I thought it was an annual "hug a crook" celebration.