Think low bail and early release are big problems? (We do, too!) Now start factoring in under-charging, plea bargains and lenient sentences…
Two years ago, a young police officer, was killed by a pair of criminally inclined brothers in Chicago.
Five weeks ago, a young University of Wisconsin student was raped and beaten so brutally she had to be placed in a medically induced coma by an assailant with no criminal record.
Aside from both victims being young women, one thing both these cases have in common is the low level of charges pursued against the perpetrators.
As crime spiked across the nation, much of the focus has been, appropriately, on the violent crime rates. But less attention has been given to arrests, charges, plea bargains, sentences and release policies – and how those elements of the justice system impact, and can perpetuate, crime. We’ve written about some of these issues here and here and here.
In these two cases, the charging decisions and plea bargains made by prosecutors will determine whether justice is served and whether the criminal pays an appropriate price for their actions.
Eric Morgan: Charge Reductions, Leniency and Plea Bargains
Ella French was a Chicago police officer shot and killed during a routine traffic stop. We covered this case here and here because of the ties to Dane County. The brothers she pulled over, Emonte and Eric Morgan, had family ties to Madison, where Eric and a cousin robbed a group at gunpoint during a drug deal.
The charges in the Madison case against Eric Morgan were downgraded from armed robbery to theft of movable property; the prosecution recommended 100 days in jail and the judge gave him even less: 30 days in jail but stayed the sentence for AODA treatment.
An initial charge that carried 40 years in prison ended with Eric Morgan getting 0 days in prison. Zero.
Morgan did not take advantage of this incredible leniency and turn over a new leaf.
Another Deal for Morgan – Just 7 Years in Officer French’s Death
Instead, two years later when he would have been in jail if he’d gotten even a portion of the max for the reduced sentence, Eric was driving when French pulled the vehicle over. The brothers refused to follow officer instructions during the stop. After exiting the vehicle Eric fled and Emonte drew the gun, shooting 2 officers, then also fled, handing the gun off to Eric who ditched the weapon.
Emonte used Eric’s gun, one he purchased illegally, to shoot both French and her partner in the head. Her partner survived but lost an eye.
Last week Eric, facing 11 felony charges, was offered a plea deal to serve just 7 years in prison, the maximum for one of those charges. Without the plea bargain he would face 23 years behind bars; he is getting less than a third of the available sentence. This week on October 12, he is expected to accept it, and no doubt will be given credit for the time he has served in jail since the arrest. With armed robberies, drug deals, illegal gun purchases, obstruction of justice and a dead cop under his belt, he’ll be about 30 when he gets out. Just getting warmed up for decades more of prime criminal activity.
His brother Emonte had a criminal background and was on probation for a robbery charge at the time of Officer French’s murder. He was facing a pending probation violation. A plea deal has not yet been announced for Emonte Morgan.
Brandon Thompson: Admitted to Attacking UW Student in a Rage Faces Only 3 Charges
In early September, a UW student was raped and brutally beaten in Madison. She was left with life-threatening injuries so severe she was placed into a medically induced coma. Police and medical personnel describe the attack as one of the most horrific and severe they have seen.
The victim had a brain bleed, a traumatic brain injury, a broken jaw, multiple facial fractures, a broken nose, injuries from strangulation, and missing teeth as well as signs of having been violently raped. Brandon Thompson’s DNA was a match for the DNA found on her rape kit.
Video footage shows Thompson’s vehicle following the victim and his exit from the vehicle and heading in the same direction as the victim. Other footage shows someone ‘matching his description’ following her on foot. Thompson pretended to be a good Samaritan, calling through an open window to someone he saw in a nearby house that he had ‘found’ the naked victim in the street and that he had carried her behind the home.
Thompson, a 26-year-old with a degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology, was arrested 3 days later. He told police he “went into a rage” (after coolly stalking her in his car and on foot for a mile) and when he “came to” she was on the ground. He said he remembered hitting her but wasn’t sure if he raped her, but he “could have.” He characterized himself as “a monster” the victim had come across.
According to the complaint (which can be seen here) these timestamps are when video catches the victim and/or Thompson, and the map below shows the locations:
- 2:25 – Victim crosses Park, then West Washington
- 2:26 – Thompson parks at Brittingham Park lot just behind victim, exits vehicle and proceeds up West Washington
- 2:32 – Victim is on West Washington
- 2:35 – Victim is near CVS on West Washington
- 2:37:30 – Victim is in 100 block of South Bedford being followed
- 2:37:40 – A subject following victim who cannot be clearly identified
- 2:39 – Victim walking on west side of street, male matching Thompson’s description on east side looking at her
- 3:18 – Police dispatched to 500 block of West Wilson where victim is found along with blood splatter and her tooth
Thompson faces only 3 charges – sexual assault (Class B felony), reckless injury (Class D felony), and strangulation/suffocation (Class H felony). Many have wondered why in such a vicious attack other seemingly warranted charges were not filed, particularly given the tendency of lenient Dane County courts to allow charges to be plea bargained away and to give minimal sentences.
Some of those charges might include things like:
- Stalking: Under Wisconsin law is a Class I felony can take place over any period of time and involves 2 or more instances of maintaining visual or physical proximity to the victim; video evidence seems to show the victim was followed separately both by vehicle and on foot.
- Aggravated Battery: Intentionally causing great bodily harm is a Class E felony.
- Reckless Endangering Safety: A Class F felony involving endangering the safety of another with utter disregard for human life.
- False Imprisonment: A Class H felony that involves restraining another person without their consent.
- Mayhem: A Class C felony charge that covers intent to mutilate or disfigure that causes great bodily harm.
As in so many jurisdictions under liberal control, Scold and Release prosecutors have little interest in maximizing charges to combat plea bargains and soft judges. The maximum time he could get on the three charges filed – assuming any Dane County judge would give the max, and there are no plea bargains, and the sentences are consecutive not concurrent – is 91 years. But even though he admitted to much of the attack, and his DNA seems to prove the rape, his attorneys are already claiming the evidence is flawed.
It’s likely that in Dane County, Thompson will serve only a small fraction of the maximum for his vicious, calculated attack, while his victim serves a life sentence of consequences.
Both these cases are examples of how a justice system that prioritizes criminals ends up compromising public safety. ***
Amardi Stotts: Shot a Stranger for his Coworker and is on the Streets Without GPS Monitoring
We’ll close with another example, this one in Milwaukee, where a family is demanding justice for their murdered loved-one – demands that are falling on deaf ears in Chisholm’s DA office.
In July, Dale Young was helping his niece leave her boyfriend. The ex-boyfriend told the niece that Young was going to get (expletive) up after he and Young argued, and proceeded to call his coworker Amardi Stotts, who rushed over in his truck and opened fire on Young. The murder was caught on camera as Stotts drove up and pumped more than a dozen shots into Young’s van, striking him 15 times. Reports say the ex-boyfriend and Stotts were on the phone through the shooting.
Stotts was arrested and posted $75,000 bail. He also asked for, and initially received, representation by the public defender. Four days later after paying the bail, the court noted he didn’t qualify for public representation.
Young’s family is angered that Stotts was released without GPS monitoring, and that the ex-boyfriend was not charged for his involvement.
This case is scheduled for a jury trial in February, so he’ll be free on the streets for another 5 months, and there’s still time for Chisholm to plead down the case. Even if Stotts were to be convicted and get a tough sentence, the man who called him to come and exact revenge on his behalf is facing no consequences whatsoever.
Violent Crime Makes the Public Less Safe…So Do Scold-and-Release Prosecutions
Under-charging, not charging, under-sentencing, and plea bargaining away charges all mean criminals spend less time behind bars and we’re all less safe because of it.
Plea bargains are the most common way for cases to end in Milwaukee County, and DA Chisholm says his office does not ‘overload’ charges. He said that they do the ‘sifting’ up front, only charging what as opposed to some jurisdictions where every possible offense is charged with the expectation of a plea deal. A recent 6-year study of plea deals showed 60% of cases in Milwaukee were resolved by plea deals; nearly half involved some charges being dropped and 20% of included a reduction in severity of charges.
If Chisholm is charging fewer offenses than other jurisdiction, and still plea bargaining 60% of cases by dropping or reducing charges, it’s clear that most of the time, criminals are getting off light. But we all know that’s Chisholm’s intent.
We’ve talked about this before, and we will again: We need to have more functionality in the online court database CCAP. The public should be able to download and analyze charging, pleas and how lenient sentences are, by DA, by judge, by jurisdiction, by region. These things are a matter of public record, and keeping them difficult to access and assess makes elected officials – and criminals – less accountable.
As we watch crime rates, we also have to watch what the justice system is doing to hold criminals accountable. They are two sides of the same coin.