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Archive for the ‘punishment’ Category

Seed Newsvine

In Illinois it takes 12 jurors to unanimously recommend the death penalty in order for that sentence to be imposed. One juror chose to spare the life of Juan Luna, convicted of multiple murder at a Brown’s Chicken store in the Chicagoland area.While we may never know the motives of the holdout, unless she decided to come forward, I want to applaud her conscious choice in withholding her vote to put this convicted killer to death.

Luna proclaims his innocence. He was convicted on circumstantial physical evidence. If there is one chance in 10,000 that the conviction is in error and Luna’s claims are, in fact, true then it is clear that life in prison is the proper course of punishment.

Every life, including that of the convicted, is sacred and worthy of being saved. To do otherwise, to sanction state murder, is not justice. It is vengeance. The death of the convicted murderer will not bring back the lives he took. It will not fill the hole left in the heart of the families of the victim. And, then there is the ever so slight possibility that we were wrong in convicting Juan Luna.

No, the proper punishment is to spend the rest of his life in prison, eating cardboard food, fearing for his safety around each and every corner, sleeping with lights on and guards staring at his every movement. He is 33 years old. He has a long time to think about what he did.

The families of the victims were split. The daughters of the slain owners of the Brown’s Chicken store took a strong stand against the imposition of death for Luna.

The Ehlenfeldt sisters, whose parents were both killed that night, had earlier taken a stand against the death penalty.

“We respect the decision,” said Jennifer Shilling, one of three daughters of restaurant owners Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50, and his wife, Lynn, 49. “At 33, Luna will spend the rest of his natural life in a maximum-security correctional facility where he will only know the sterile routine of a convicted felon.”

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
Eleven of the jurors who convicted Juan Luna of the 1993 Brown’s Chicken massacre voted to sentence him to death Thursday, but his life was spared because of a lone holdout.
The 12-member jury spent just two hours deliberating, then voted overwhelmingly for the death penalty, according to Cook County prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors who spoke to reporters after the sentencing.
Jurors said the holdout was the same woman who initially balked before the panel voted unanimously last week to convict Luna of murdering seven workers at the Palatine fast-food restaurant during a robbery. They declined to identify her.
“We didn’t gang up on her because that’s not right,” said juror Tim Beltran, 22, of Westchester. “You don’t want to force her into anything.”
Under Illinois law, a death sentence can be imposed only by a unanimous jury vote. The split vote left the jury to recommend a life sentence for Luna, 33.

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Seed Newsvine

The life of Allen Lee still hangs in the balance as Community High School District 155 officials fail to take any action in the case of Allen Lee, the student accused of disorderly conduct for writing what his teacher and other school officials considered to be a disturbing paper in response to a “free” writing assignment.At no time has the school or the district taken appropriate action in this case. Before involving the police options like counseling, social service intervention, or simply making parents aware of the situation should have been taken. The more appropriate actions would, then, have never been news. No one would even know Allen Lee’s name, which is as it should be. Had this young man been found to be a danger to himself or others then, and only then, should authorities be notified.

The chilling effect this story has on teaching creative writing is enormous. I spoke with several high school seniors who clearly understood Lee’s side of this controversy. One of the seniors told me that were she to be assigned a free write she would simply write “I can’t think of anything to write.” She would do this until the time for writing was over to assure that she would not have her life disrupted. What I find interesting in this student’s case is that she is a top-student, involved in many school activities, maintains a top grade point average and is headed for an elite school. While I have not seen her writing, her teacher assures me that she is creative and thoughtful. Now this…she is turned off and the incident didn’t even occur in her school.

Somewhere, somehow, there is an adult that will do the right thing in the case of Allen Lee. If not NOW–WHEN?

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
After listening to two Cary residents speak in support of a Cary-Grove High
School senior whose essay resulted in a disorderly-conduct charge and his
removal from school, the school board met in closed session Monday evening
without taking any action on his future.
After the two-hour closed session, Community High School District 155 board
President Ted Wagner refused to answer any questions about Allen Lee, 18,
whose lawyer said earlier that he hopes the student can return to school as
quickly as possible and graduate as scheduled May 26. Lee is being tutored in
a district office away from the school.
During a creative-writing class April 23, students were given a “free
writing” assignment in which they were told not to censor or judge what they
wrote. Lee’s stream-of-consciousness essay included references to “shooting
everyone” and “having sex with the dead bodies.”

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Seed Newsvine

In the inappropriate action of calling in the “thought police” the Cary-Grove High School began a process that may cause Allen Lee’s life to be adversely impacted, perhaps beyond repair.

When I was teaching in the middle school I had an 8th-grade student who was a brilliant writer. She was also into the entire Goth scene. She wore her hair like Morticia, painted her lips and nails black, wore black clothing from head to toe and I cannot ever recall her smiling or laughing. She wrote stories and poems that made reference to blood in the snow, stabbings, trees that strangled strangers as they passed by, death and dismemberment. I thought her writing was brilliant but it was also quite disturbing. In discussions with my principal at the time we decided the best course of action would be to refer this student to our school counselor for evaluation. The counselor met with this student, discussed her findings with the school psychologist, met with me and the student’s parents and we all came to the conclusion that the student was neither a danger to herself or to others. This was the proper and appropriate course of action. But it was not the course of action taken by the Cary-Grove High School.

What evidence, other than Lee’s freewrite, is there that he is a danger to himself or others? What intermediate steps did the high school take to determine whether Lee is an immediate or future threat to himself or others? It seems that they skipped these steps and went for the immediate kill–call the cops. The best they could do was trump up a disorderly conduct charge. And Lee’s life is forever altered.

Shame on the teacher, the principal, the district superintendent, the police and the charging prosecutor for not taking the time to assess the situation. Shame on all of them for not thinking of alternatives that might actually be more appropriate. But, then, when one has already made up one’s mind why does one have to bother with facts or alternative solutions.

The first major fallout is the Marine Corps withdrawing their commitment to Lee’s joining the service. My goodness, the boy hasn’t yet been convicted of anything. What ever happened to the proposition that one is innocent until proven guilty? What will be next in store for Lee as he spins down this Kafkaesque path.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
Like many misunderstood writers, a Cary-Grove High School senior arrested for turning in a provocative class essay offered an “author’s note” Friday by way of explanation.
In it, Allen Lee said his reference to “shooting everyone” and “having sex with the dead bodies” was not a personal statement but words a character in a story might say, which explained why the sentence was in quotations.
His references to drugs, he said, were a comment on drug problems at the school.
However, the Marines informed the student Friday that they have discharged him from the enlistment program because of the incident, but that he could reapply if the charges were dropped. Lee said he couldn’t comment, but his lawyer said his client was crushed by the news.
Although students were warned that they couldn’t threaten anyone in their writings, Lee said he assumed those parameters were removed when the teacher told the class to take 30 minutes and write whatever came to mind—without worrying about censorship.

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Seed Newsvine

It is chilling to think how many potentially innocent people languish in US prisons falsely convicted of crimes. It is even more frightening ti think how many people who are falsely convicted face the ultimate penalty in the United States.This story tells the story of a man who spent 25 years of his life in prison in Illinois falsely convicted of the crime of rape and finally exonerated based on DNA evidence. Can you imagine spending that amount of time in prison knowing you were innocent?

Our system of justice is designed to protect the innocent even at the expense of letting some guilty go free to spare the falsely accused of facing punishment–even death.

I do not have a problem placing the guilty in prison. But I do have a problem with a system that ignores the facts in order to increase conviction rates. We must do a better job to insure that we are punishing the right people–NOT THE WRONG ONES.

clipped from www.reuters.com
CHICAGO (Reuters) – A man convicted of rape in 1982 was exonerated on Monday on the basis of DNA evidence, the 200th time in the United States that such technology has reversed a conviction, lawyers who worked for the man said.
“I want to get on with my life … have a life,” said Jerry Miller, 48, after an appearance in Cook County Circuit Court where a judge tossed out his conviction at the request of prosecutors.
The New York-based Innocence Project, which has pursued such cases, said it marked the 200th DNA exoneration since 1989. Miller, it said, served 24 years in jail before a parole. In all the 200 people exonerated by DNA evidence served 2,475 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, it said.
“They are just the tip of the iceberg. Nobody truly knows how many innocent people are in prison. Only a small fraction of cases involve evidence that could be tested for DNA and even among those cases, evidence is often lost or destroyed before it can be tested,” the group said.

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