Friday, April 18, 2014

Justice is blind — and deaf and dumb

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of justice. I say concept because it really seems more theoretical to me than practical. One man’s justice is another man’s nightmare.

Compare, if you will, the concept of justice in the book of Leviticus to, say, present-day New York state law. Or for that matter, compare the concept of justice in a present-day third-world nation to anywhere in America. Both societies believe their concept is correct and the other is an abomination.

There was a time in my life — when I was much younger — that I considered going into law. I’m not sure whether this was the reason I wore a tie to school every day in fifth grade or whether wearing a tie made me want to be a lawyer. But they occurred around the same time.

Going through junior high school without a single girlfriend made me ditch the tie — and my belief that the world was fair. So out went the idea of being a lawyer. Law isn’t the practice of fairness, it’s the practice of law. And I think we all know they’re not the same.

Take, for example, the case of Cornealious Anderson. In the year 2000, he was convicted of armed robbery (with a BB gun) and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Then he was sent home and told someone would get ahold of him concerning when to begin his prison term.

Anderson waited. And then he waited. And then he got married. And waited. Had a kid. Waited. Got a couple traffic tickets. Had two more kids. Waited some more. Thirteen years went by — the same amount of time he was to have spent in prison — before the state of Missouri remembered that he was supposed to serve time.

Last July Cornealious Anderson was standing in his kitchen making breakfast for his three-year-old daughter when a SWAT team broke down his door and took him into custody.

At 37 years old, Anderson was taken to Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo. to begin serving a sentence on a crime he had committed when he was 24. He is to get out in 2026.

In a not-too-dissimilar circumstance from last week’s column, a man found himself serving time for a crime that someone else had committed. Yes, of course, it was Cornealious Anderson that had committed the crime but he was a very different person at 37 than he was at 24.

It’s easy to see that he cleaned up his life. He started three businesses in that time. He had become a productive member of society. He had been rehabilitated. That tends to happen. Twenty-four-year old punks often turn into 37-year-old upstanding citizens.

To me, the kicker here is that Anderson hadn’t been hiding. He wasn’t on the lam. He just thought they forgot about him. And if someone forgets you’re supposed to go to prison, are you going to remind them?

Currently, Anderson is trying to appeal his case, hoping that sheer justice will get him out of prison. It simply isn’t fair to send someone to prison until they’re 50 for a petty crime they committed when they were 24.

The problem is there’s no “fairness” clause in Missouri law — or any other law for that matter. And the system doesn’t account for his self-rehabilitation. They have to rehabilitate them in their own way.

Barring a clemency being granted by the governor, Anderson will serve his 13 years. He’ll miss out on his kids growing up. And they’ll grow up without a father. And when he leaves prison in 2026, he won’t be the same man he is today. Anyone would be hard-pressed to suggest he might be better. Most likely, he’ll be worse.

I can only hope that Cornealious Anderson gets the justice he deserves. And not the legal ruling that has been cast upon him.

Scott Leffler really did wear a tie to school every day in 1985. Now, not so much. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler for baseball hat clad selfies, though. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

‘Need to know’ a double-edged sword

I’m inquisitive by nature.

No. Strike that.

Inquisitive doesn’t begin to describe me. I must know everything. About everything. I hate being in the dark. I guess that’s what makes my career choice so very obvious. I think “must know everything” is at the top of most journalists characteristics.

It’s not only journalists that have a need to know everything, of course. I’d say that society as a whole — or at least a very large portion of it — falls into the same category. Which is why the media exists, I suppose. If it were only journalists who needed to know everything, who would pay our paychecks?

Here we are more than a month removed from the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 24-hour news channels are still on top of it — 24 hours a day. The fact that an airplane went missing and we can’t explain it is killing us. I’ll admit, I’m befuddled by its disappearance and I continue to watch the “Breaking News” alerts, thinking that eventually one of them is actually going to be breaking news, as opposed to what we’ve been getting, which is not breaking news.

In the grand scheme of things, the Malaysian airplane disappearance is fairly recent. We could go back a lot farther for things that we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. What really happened at Waco? Who killed JFK? Where was Barack Obama born? OK, I jest on that last one. But you get the gist.

The fact that there are facts that we’re not privy to or that we can’t piece together to make a clear picture of bothers us. And yet, when you really step back and think about it, does it matter that much? Waco, JFK, and Obama becoming president are all history. No amount of information is going to change the facts that we know. And no black box is going to bring back the passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It’s a sad reality that information doesn’t change the facts.

On another topic entirely, I read a story on the Associated Press the other day about a man serving life in jail for a crime he committed when he was 13. He’s up for parole — again — after being denied parole in 2012.

Obviously the brutal murder he committed in 1994 — the killing of a four-year-old — can never be undone. And there’s no real way to atone for the death of another, but I think 20 years in prison for a crime that was committed as a teenager is enough — no matter how heinous the crime.

I know that I’m not the same person as I was in 1994. I can’t imagine that Eric Smith, the man who, as a boy murdered Derrick Robie, is either. In other words, the person in prison right now isn’t even the same person that committed the crime.

Is he a better person or a worse person? Sadly, I think the odds are the prison has made him worse for the wear over the last 20 years, but that’s another problem to solve on another day.

Scott Leffler is thankful for Twitter, where he can learn everything about everything — even if the things he learns aren’t true. You can follow him there @scottleffler and hope that the things he says are true.