The ambush style murders of four Puget Sound area cops is understandably a shock to people across the nation.
While I have read no reports that Maurice Clemmons is anything more than a person whom the police would like to question in the killings, it does bring back into my consciousness the fact that prison terms are not just about the criminal. Prison terms for the convicted are justifiable to protect the public from violence, and forgetting that criminal incarceration is a vitally important tool for promoting the public safety is a mistake.
Maurice Clemmons is free today and mingling in the area. Why?
Clemmons' criminal history includes at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and at least eight felony charges in Washington. The record also stands out for the number of times he has been released from custody despite questions about the danger he posed.In his Arkansas history is this:
Clemmons had been in jail in Pierce County for the past several months on a pending charge of second-degree rape of a child.
He was released from custody just six days ago, even though he was wanted on a fugitive warrant out of Arkansas and was staring at eight felony charges in all out of Washington state.
In 1990, Clemmons, then 18, was sentenced in Arkansas to 60 years in prison for burglary and theft of property, according to a news account. Newspaper stories describe a series of disturbing incidents involving Clemmons while he was being tried in Arkansas on various charges.At this point who knows is Clemmons is the crazy thug that killed those officers, but his violent history and all-out-nuts thought processes should have been worth consideration when he was granted his freedom despite convictions and sentences that the state had already proven and justified.
During one trial, Clemmons was shackled in leg irons and seated next to a uniformed officer. The presiding judge ordered the extra security because he felt Clemmons had threatened him, court records show.
Another time, Clemmons hid a hinge in his sock, and was accused of intending to use it as a weapon. Yet another time, Clemmons took a lock from a holding cell, and threw it toward the bailiff. He missed and instead hit Clemmons' mother, who had come to bring him street clothes, according to records and published reports.
On another occasion, Clemmons had reached for a guard's pistol during transport to the courtroom.
When Clemmons received the 60-year sentence, he was already serving 48 years on five felony convictions and facing up to 95 more years on charges of robbery, theft of property and possessing a handgun on school property. Records from Clemmons' sentencing described him as 5-foot-7 and 108 pounds. The crimes were committed when he was 17.
Clemmons served 11 years before being released.
News accounts say [then Governor Mike] Huckabee then commuted Clemmons' sentence, citing Clemmons' young age at the time the crimes were committed.
Lee Atwater successfully made Willie Horton the running mate of Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential campaign. We are still several years away from 2012, but Mike Huckabee may have found his running mate too.