Posts tagged ‘Crime’

Six Times Life In Prison For A Non-Violent Crime


Six Times Life In Prison For A Non-Violent Crime

 

 

Posted toCrime News Norfolk

Travion Blount’s punishment may be the harshest in America for a teen who didn’t commit murder. The 15-year-old robbed a Norfolk party with two older gang members. He hurt no one. His friends got 10 and 13 years. But as it stands, Blount will die in prison.

Interactive | Anatomy of a sentence

Part 1 below | Cruel and unusual?

Part 2 and video | Do the crime, do the time

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By Louis Hansen
The Virginian-Pilot
© November 4, 2013

NORFOLK

At the opening of the trial, a Norfolk circuit judge glanced down at Travion Blount.

“He looks young,” the judge said.

“He’s 17,” his defense attorney answered.

A clerk stood and read 51 felony charges against Blount: among them, illegal use of a firearm, robbery, abduction.

Blount said two words to each: “Not guilty.” He said little more during his three-day trial.

A dozen victims, a detective and two teens he once called friends testified against him. Witnesses described an armed robbery committed by two older teenagers and Blount, then 15, at a house party near Norfolk Naval Station in September 2006. The three collected cash and marijuana. No shots were fired, but one person was struck by a co-defendant.

After a few hours of deliberation, a jury foreman submitted a stack of forms to the judge. Blount was guilty on 49 counts.

In Virginia, juries play no role in juvenile punishment. Blount was ordered to return to Courtroom 7 for sentencing in four months.

Defense attorneys tried to avoid the law-and-order judges assigned to courtrooms 3, 5 and 7. They joked about “357 justice” – like a .357 Magnum pointed at their clients.

On March 12, 2008, at Blount’s sentencing, the judge told everyone that gun convictions came with set punishments under Virginia law.

He stepped through the weapons charges, one by one. The count added up to 118 years.

Next, the judge addressed the remaining 25 felony convictions. He suspended several sentences. But for the crimes against three victims – all juveniles, robbed at gunpoint of purses, cellphones and wallets – he did not. The rulings: life, life, life, life, life and life.

Blount knew he would spend years in prison. He didn’t expect to die there.

Angela Blount watched her son turn and ask, “What happened, Mom?”

____

Travion Blount might be serving the harshest punishment delivered to any American teenager for a crime not involving murder, experts say. His case, and others like it, are forcing judges and lawmakers to ask: Can a young criminal life be redeemed?

Blount’s advocates argue his six life sentences for an armed robbery violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Nobody’s asking to let him out tomorrow,” said his attorney, John Coggeshall. He wants a new sentence for his client, comparable to the codefendants’. The older defendants – who, according to testimony, led the robbery – pleaded guilty and received just 13 and 10 years in prison.

The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based appeals firm, represented Blount in Virginia last year. Lawyers for the nonprofit have successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of juvenile offenders.

But the Virginia Supreme Court last year turned down Blount’s appeal. The court ruled in an earlier case that teen offenders with life terms have a meaningful option to leave prison: geriatric release. Long-term inmates are eligible to appeal after they turn 60 in Virginia. But less than 1 percent of eligible prisoners, or five of about 800, were granted geriatric release last year, according to the state.

Blount and at least one other Hampton Roads inmate, a Virginia Beach teen convicted of rape, have appealed for new sentences in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. The state Attorney General’s Office is opposing the requests.

Blount’s crime was not particularly noteworthy. No shots were fired, and he didn’t hit any victims. It did not merit a mention in the morning newspaper.

By comparison, Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad killed three people in Virginia and terrified millions in October 2002.

Malvo, a juvenile at the time of the sniper slayings, was convicted in a Chesapeake courtroom of capital murder and acts of terrorism in Virginia. He received two life terms for those crimes.

Travion Blount got a longer sentence. As it stands, both will die in prison.

 

Angela Blount holds back tears as she talks about her son’s childhood and how quiet he was. Blount has visited her son once at Wallens Ridge State Prison, a day’s drive away. (Thé N. Pham | The Virginian-Pilot)

 

Angela Blount and Patrick Mills met at Virginia Beach traffic court. Blount, a hotel housekeeper, and Mills, a grocery stock clerk and competitive weightlifter, dated briefly. After the relationship ended, their son, Travion, was born in Norfolk on Oct. 9, 1990.

Blount said her son was a happy but shy child. She and her children settled into a townhouse on Balview Avenue in Ocean View, and Travion attended Oceanair Elementary School. He played football and basketball in the neighborhood.

 

As a boy, Travion Blount spent weekends with his father, Patrick Mills, going out for breakfast, fishing and playing. Blount’s father and mother dated briefly but never married. (Courtesy of the Blount family)

Travion spent weekends with his father, getting breakfast at Mick’s Pancake House, fishing or watching movies.

Family photo albums capture Travion in quiet moments – posing with his sisters, cousins, mother and father. At family gatherings, he avoided talking to adults.

He loved his long hair. He sat hours while his older sister braided it down his back.

He hated school. One year, his class was assigned to speak on current events every Friday. Travion hid in the bathroom or told the teacher he wasn’t ready so he wouldn’t have to talk in front of his classmates.

Around the time he was 9, he skipped school and began to get into trouble, his family said. He met Morris “Mo” Downing in middle school, and it was Mo, a few years older and streetwise, who brought Travion into the gang life. They were like brothers.

Travion joined the Crips when he was 11. He hung out on street corners in Park Place, typically wearing a white T-shirt, white Rocawear shorts and Air Jordans. He wore his hair long, usually in braids. He topped it off with a Yankees cap.

His mother says he idolized Downing. She never met him, though. In fact, she struggled to find her son.

In 2006, 15-year-old Travion had more than 20 unexcused absences at Norview Middle School, repeating sixth grade for the fourth time. In an August 2006 interview about teen truancy, Angela Blount told The Pilot that she reached out to several agencies, including truancy court, to get her son in an appropriate program.

“I hope he can get the things that he needs,” Blount said at the time. “I don’t want him just to give up.”

The following month, Travion rode around Norfolk with Mo and David Nichols, another teen, and hatched a plan to rob a drug dealer.

 

 
 

Federal Budget A Bad Deal Benefiting Only Millionaires And Billionaires


Federal Budget A Bad Deal Benefiting Only Millionaires And Billionaires

 

A bipartisan budget deal to avert another government shutdown comes before the Senate this week. The vast majority of House members from both parties approved the two-year budget agreement last week in a 332-to-94 vote. It is being hailed as a breakthrough compromise for Democrats and Republicans. The bill eases across-the-board spending cuts, replacing them with new airline fees and cuts to federal pensions. In a concession by Democrats, it does not extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people, which are set to expire this month. To discuss the deal, we are joined by David Cay Johnston, an investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize while at The New York Times. He is currently a columnist for Tax Analysts and Al Jazeera, as well as a contributing editor at Newsweek.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A bipartisan budget deal to avert another government shutdown comes before the Senate this week. The House approved the two-year budget agreement last week in a 332-to-94 vote. The bill eases across-the-board spending cuts, replacing them with new airline fees and cuts to federal pensions. In a concession by Democrats, it does not extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people, which is set to expire this month. Republican Congressmember Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray called the deal a win for both sides.

REP. PAUL RYAN: I think this agreement is a clear improvement on the status quo. This agreement makes sure that we don’t have a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure that we don’t have another government shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don’t lurch from crisis to crisis.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY: Our deal puts jobs and economic growth first by rolling back sequestration’s harmful cuts to education and medical research and infrastructure investments and defense jobs for the next two years.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Republican Congressmember Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray.

The budget deal is being hailed as a breakthrough compromise for Democrats and Republicans, but not everyone supports it. Democratic Congressmember Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said in a statement, quote, “At the end of the day, the bill abandons 1.3 million Americans who desperately need unemployment insurance, and does nothing to promote economic growth or job creation. Furthermore, the legislation is paid for on the backs of the middle class and military families, while not touching the wealthiest amongst us and allowing corporations to continue to benefit from tax loopholes,” he said.

Poverty In The Land Of Plently


Poverty In The Land Of Plently

The holiday season is upon us. Sadly, the big retailers are Scrooges when it comes to paying their staffs. Undergirding the sale prices is an army of workers earning the minimum wage or a fraction above it, living check to check on their meager pay and benefits. The dark secret that the retail giants like Wal-Mart don’t want you to know is that many of these workers subsist below the poverty line, and rely on programs like food stamps and Medicaid just to get by. This holiday season, though, low-wage workers from Wal-Mart to fast-food restaurants are standing up and fighting back.

“Wal-Mart was put in an uncomfortable spotlight on what should be the happiest day of the year for the retailer,” Josh Eidelson told me, reporting on the coordinated Black Friday protests. “These were the largest protests we’ve seen against Wal-Mart … you had 1,500 stores involved; you had over a hundred people arrested.” Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, with 2.2 million employees, 1.3 million of whom are in the U.S. It reported close to $120 billion in gross profit for 2012. Just six members of the Walton family, whose patriarch, Sam Walton, founded the retail giant, have amassed an estimated combined fortune of between $115 billion-$144 billion. These six individuals have more wealth than the combined financial assets of the poorest 40 percent of the U.S. population.

Wal-Mart workers have been organizing under the banner of OUR Walmart, a worker initiative supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Workers have taken courageous stands, protesting their employer and engaging in short-term strikes. Wal-Mart has retaliated, firing many who participated. One of those fired was Barbara Collins, who worked for eight years at the Wal-Mart in Placerville, Calif.

“I was terminated for speaking out,” Collins told us on “Democracy Now!” On Nov. 18, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the strikes were protected worker actions. Collins, who was speaking to us from Bentonville, Ark., where she was protesting Wal-Mart at its world headquarters, told us: “The NLRB ruling is just overwhelming. We are really excited that they found that we’re telling the truth, that they broke the law, and we want to be reinstated.”

The public-policy think tank Demos issued a report, “A Higher Wage is Possible: How Walmart Can Invest in Its Workforce Without Costing Customers a Dime.” Demos analyzed a growing demand from the Wal-Mart worker movement for a guaranteed base salary for full-time workers of $25,000 per year. “We found talking to Wal-Mart workers over and over again that their wages give them just enough to meet their basic needs, and at the end of every month, they’re making critical trade-off decisions,” Catherine Ruetschlin, one of the report’s co-authors, told us. “Determining whether they’re going to get medicine or pay their school fees or put food on the table or keep their electricity on.” The report explains that “if Walmart redirected the $7.6 billion it spends annually on repurchases of its own company stock, these funds could be used to give Walmart’s low-paid workers a raise of $5.83 an hour,” meeting the salary goal of the workers.

Parallel to the Wal-Mart campaign is a drive for higher wages in the fast-food industry. In more than 100 cities, workers are organizing protests and strikes … and winning. In SeaTac, the Washington state municipality where the Seattle-Tacoma Airport is located, voters approved a local minimum wage of $15 an hour. As with Wal-Mart workers, fast-food giants like McDonald’s and Yum Brands (which owns KFC and Taco Bell) all feast from the public trough: Their workers, earning poverty wages, depend on public-assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid, while their enormous CEObenefit packages qualify for corporate tax deductions, as reported by the Institute for Policy Studies this week.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, equivalent to an annual income of $15,080 for a full-time worker. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be $10.74, enough to lift a family of three above the poverty line. If the wage had grown at the same pace as worker productivity (since each worker per hour produces much more now than in decades past), it would be $18.72 per hour. And if the minimum wage had skyrocketed at the same pace as wages for the top 1 percent, it would be $28.34. These figures from the Economic Policy Institute explain why President Barack Obama is pushing for an increase in the minimum wage.

Progress on the minimum wage, and on workers’ rights at Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and the other multinational corporations that depend on public subsidies for their workers, will come not from a stroke of the president’s pen, but from the concerted efforts of workers and their allies, from the streets to the voting booths.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.

© 2013 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

In The State Of Idaho The Private Prison Corporation Creates A Partnership With Prison Gangs To Manage The Prison Population For Higher Profit


By Adam Peck on Nov 15, 2012 at 11:55 am

A new lawsuit brought by eight inmates of the Idaho Correctional Center alleges that the company is cutting back on personnel costs by partnering with violent prison gangs to help control the facility. Court documents and an investigative report issued by the state’s Department of Corrections show how guards routinely looked the other way when gang members violated basic facility rules, negotiated with gang leaders on the cell placement of new inmates, and in one instance may have even helped one group of inmates plan a violent attack on members of a rival gang.

Rather than working with corporate headquarters or local authorities to combat the growing threat of gangs, CCA officials at the prison — the state’s largest, with more than 2,000 beds — used those same gangs as a way to control the rest of the inmates and save money:

The inmates also contend that CCA officials use gang violence and the threat of gang violence as an “inexpensive device to gain control over the inmate population,” according to the lawsuit, and that housing gang members together allows the company to use fewer guards, reducing payroll costs.

“The complaint alleges that CCA fosters and develops criminal gangs,” attorney Wyatt Johnson, who along with T.J. Angstman represents the inmates, said in a statement. “Ideally, the lawsuit should force this to come to an end.”

The CCA has operated the prison in partnership with the Idaho corrections department since 2000, at the beginning of a boom period when the number of inmates detained in CCA’s private prisons nationwide climbed nearly 50 percent between 2000 and 2009. States have invited private prison corporations to run some of their facilities as a cost-cutting measure, even though recent studies show that private prisons ultimately cost states millions more than public ones.

Private prisons are also experiencing a boom in the number of corruption complaints being leveled against them. In Arizona, lawmakers passed several pieces of favorable legislation after receiving more than $60,000 from industry lobbyists, in Alabama a judge likened one private facility to a “debtors prison,” and in Pennsylvania a judge was sentenced to nearly three decades in prison after it was discovered he had sent hundreds of younger residents into a privately-run juvenile detention facility in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes from the owners of those detention centers.

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Lobbyists, Guns and Money – NYTimes.com


Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Paul Krugman

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Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

And in case you were wondering, no, the kind of privatization ALEC promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting is a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.

But where does the encouragement of vigilante (in)justice fit into this picture? In part it’s the same old story — the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. It’s neither an accident nor a surprise that the National Rifle Association and ALEC have been close allies all along.

And ALEC, even more than other movement-conservative organizations, is clearly playing a long game. Its legislative templates aren’t just about generating immediate benefits to the organization’s corporate sponsors; they’re about creating a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.

Did I mention that ALEC has played a key role in promoting bills that make it hard for the poor and ethnic minorities to vote?

Yet that’s not all; you have to think about the interests of the penal-industrial complex — prison operators, bail-bond companies and more. (The American Bail Coalition has publicly described ALEC as its “life preserver.”) This complex has a financial stake in anything that sends more people into the courts and the prisons, whether it’s exaggerated fear of racial minorities or Arizona’s draconian immigration law, a law that followed an ALEC template almost verbatim.

Think about that: we seem to be turning into a country where crony capitalism doesn’t just waste taxpayer money but warps criminal justice, in which growing incarceration reflects not the need to protect law-abiding citizens but the profits corporations can reap from a larger prison population.

Now, ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters — a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda — is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.

 

 

Lobbyists, Guns and Money – NYTimes.com.

Arizona Lawmaker: Women Should ‘Watch An Abortion Being Performed’ Prior To Having It | ThinkProgress


CUSHING, Okla. – U.S. President Barack Obama firmly defended his record on oil drilling Thursday, ordering the government to fast-track an Oklahoma pipeline while accusing Congress of playing politics with a larger Canada-to-Gulf Coast project.

Deep in Republican oil country, Obama said lawmakers refused to give his administration enough time review Calgary-based TransCanada’s controversial 2,700-kilometre Keystone XL pipeline in order to ensure that it wouldn’t compromise the health and safety of people living in surrounding areas.

“Unfortunately, Congress decided they wanted their own timeline,” Obama said. “Not the company, not the experts, but members of Congress who decided this might be a fun political issue decided to try to intervene and make it impossible for us to make an informed decision.”

Facing fresh criticism from Republicans who blame him for gas prices near US$4 a gallon, Obama announced Thursday that he was directing federal agencies to expedite the southern segment of the Keystone line. The 780-kilometre line will run from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast that would remove a critical bottleneck in the country’s oil transportation system. The directive would also apply to other pipelines that alleviate choke points.

“Anyone who says that we’re somehow suppressing domestic oil production isn’t paying attention,” Obama said, speaking at the site of the new Oklahoma project.

Republicans said the moves were little more than a publicity stunt, arguing that it wouldn’t help TransCanada (TSX:TRP) build the pipeline any sooner. Construction is expected to begin in June with completion next year.

“The American people can’t afford more half-measures on energy from the president. No matter what he says, the reality is he killed the Keystone pipeline and the energy production and 20,000 jobs that went with it,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman.

Environmentalists were also critical. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defence Council said Obama’s move was “downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting” the Texas-to-Oklahoma line, “especially when the industry has a history of oil spills.”

Obama’s order urges speedy review of the Cushing project and directs federal agencies to incorporate previous environmental studies of the Keystone proposal that included the southern route.

The use of previous studies should help move the project forward more quickly than if a review of the project started from scratch, although it’s unclear exactly how much time the expedited review will save.

Republicans call the president’s actions a belated attempt to take credit for a project over which he has relatively little control. While federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department play a role in the approval process for the domestic portion of the pipeline, states have a more direct say in approving the route.

The full Keystone pipeline became a political flashpoint late last year when congressional Republicans wrote a provision forcing Obama to make a decision, and environmental groups waged a campaign to kill the project. Obama delayed the project in January.

Obama has been highlighting his energy agenda this week in Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and later Thursday in battleground Ohio, a trip that reflects the degree to which high gas prices have begun hitting consumers in their pocketbooks.

For Obama’s advisers, rising gas prices pose a threat to his re-election bid because they could undermine the benefits of a payroll tax cut that he made the centerpiece of his jobs agenda last fall — Congress approved the tax cut extension in February — and throttle the economic recovery.

Republicans view rising gas prices as emblematic of Obama’s energy record and hope to tag him with the blame even though no president has much control over prices at the pump. Gas prices have risen more than 50 cents a gallon since January in response to a standoff over Iran’s nuclear program that has threatened to disrupt Middle East oil supplies.

GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, campaigning at a Harvey, La., company that services oil rigs, said Obama’s administration should open more federal lands for leases to boost U.S. oil production and revenue for the federal government.

“Here’s an opportunity for us in this country to do something about it: increasing jobs, lowering energy prices, decreasing the deficit, all of the things you would think the president of the United States would be for,” Santorum said.

Mitt Romney, Santorum’s chief rival for the Republican nomination, has labeled Obama’s top energy advisers as the “gas hike trio,” urging the president to fire three Cabinet secretaries because of the high prices.

Obama was ending the day with a stop in battleground Ohio, talking about automobile research and development at Ohio State University in Columbus. The president has cited his decision to raise fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon for new vehicles by 2025 as an important step in conserving oil and saving consumers at the gas pump.

Obama has repeatedly invoked his decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler from collapse with billions in federal aid, a move that saved hundreds of thousands of auto assembly and supplier jobs in Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere. Romney opposed the bailout, and Obama’s team intends to make it a stark contrast between the two candidates if the former Massachusetts governor wins the GOP nomination.

 

Arizona Lawmaker: Women Should ‘Watch An Abortion Being Performed’ Prior To Having It | ThinkProgress.

They’re Over 1000 Hate Groups In USA And Growing


Southern Poverty Law Center

Fighting HateTeaching ToleranceSeeking Justice


Active U.S. Hate Groups

Stand Strong Against Hate

Join people across the nation who are standing strong against the hate. Add yourself to our map as a voice for tolerance.

The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 1,002 active hate groups in the United States in 2010. Only organizations and their chapters known to be active during 2010 are included.

All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

This list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.

Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing. Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list. Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.

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