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August 16, 2010

Fascinating juve crime and modern parole story from Georgia

The front-page of CNN.com has this interesting story of crime and punishment from Georgia that implicates a lot of modern issues about sentencing law, policy and practice. The piece is headlined "Family uses killer's letters to keep him behind bars," and here is how it gets started:

Billy Ray White vowed 20 years ago that when he got out of prison, he would track down the relatives of the man he'd murdered and subject them to gruesome deaths.   In a handwritten letter to J.D. Hall's daughter, the convicted killer promised to carve her up like a turkey and make her head into a flower pot. In another letter to Hall's son, he said he would put him through a meat grinder and force his relatives to eat him....

The letters were from "Charles Manson," but White has admitted to writing them. In a 1991 letter to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole, he acknowledged that writing them was a "stupid thing" to do and asked for forgiveness.  But the letters continue to haunt him, just as they do the recipients.

In late June, White was denied parole for the sixth time since he was sentenced in 1985 to two consecutive life sentences plus 10 years for Hall's murder, armed robbery and theft of a motor vehicle, a parole board spokesman said.  Prosecutors and the Hall family received the news from the parole board last month after mounting an impassioned campaign to keep White behind bars, citing fears that he would make good on his threats....

But the debate is not over.  His parole comes up again for reconsideration next April, in a scenario that plays out similarly every day across the country, pitting the interests of surviving victims against the rights of convicts to re-enter society if deemed ready.

White was sentenced to two life sentences before the era of life without parole.  Had he been sentenced today, he would be a likely candidate for life without parole, said University of Georgia law professor Ronald Carlson.

"This is a classic case of how parole boards have to balance a commendable life after the crime versus the heinousness of the offense, but that's somewhat of a diminishing problem because we have now life without parole for this sort of crime," Carlson said.  "In the interim, there's going to be some dramatic cases where prisoners who've done some pretty awful things are going to try to get parole."

The burden is on the prisoner to convince the board that he is not a future danger to society and that his efforts to rehabilitate himself outweigh the heinousness of his crime.  "One of the things that's key to the decision-making process is, frankly, an educated guess," Carlson said.  "The board is informed, but there's still no scientific judgment available about future dangerousness of an applicant."...

Unlike many convicts seeking parole, according to Carlson, White has someone in his corner. His sister Judy says he is a different person from the "troubled teen" who shot Hall at his home in Douglasville, Georgia.

The woman, who asked that her last name not be used out of fear of reprisal, said people might understand her brother better if they knew of the neglect and abuse he endured as the child of alcoholic parents. "They're reviewing him on those stupid letters -- which he completely regrets -- but he was a young teenager when all this happened. He's 39 now," his sister said in a phone interview from her Florida home. "He just wants a chance to prove to the world that he's changed."

White has spent most of his life in state custody.  He was 13 when he shot Hall in the face on the morning of March 30, 1985.... White never denied shooting Hall, a well-known member of the community who ran a family-owned grocery store and a construction company.

Because of his age, White was not eligible for the death penalty.  Georgia law at the time did not have life without parole, so he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus 10 years.  The question of whether he would be released has always been a matter for the Georgia Parole Board.

White was four years into his sentence when he sent letters to Hall's widow and three children. "I might be 39 or 40 when I get out but I'll still be in prime shape," he said in the letter to Hall's widow, who, according to her family, has never read it....

Douglas County District Attorney David McDade, who prosecuted White in 1985, has led the fight to keep him in prison, citing the nature of his crime, his failure to show remorse and, not surprisingly, the letters.

August 16, 2010 at 10:18 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I understand this was a terrible tragedy, but from what i read and from understanding 13 year olds, I really think that he didn't mean it. It was truly an accident and if he wasn't stealing at the time, maybe society would have been more understanding to him. I really think people are being mean and vicious towards him. Yes the family has suffered, so has he, more so. He had an abusive family who quit on him, he was headed to foster care, then he was put in prison at age 13. Come on, at age 17 he was probably molested and who knows what else, and knowing from his heart it was accident, then at that age when he wrote the letters, he was so full of hate and angry and no one to take it out on, so he used words to the family because they did not believe he didn't mean to kill him. Absolutely yes he wrong to do so, but who was there to tell him otherwise?
I'm sorry but I think the family needs to let go of those letters, look at what this man has been trying to do since he wrote those and set him free. I know someone is dead, but this man has never had a chance at life, give it to him now. He has a great famly support system, give him a chance. Quit using the letters, by the way, to everyone involved, answer this, did you ever write anything you regret when you pissed off at the world? i did, horrible things, did i act on it, absolutely not, i was a kid.
Does anyone know how i can contact his sister, I would like to start a support group for him before April 2011 and try to get this guy back into the real world.

pjh

Posted by: pjh | Aug 16, 2010 12:35:02 PM

Lets me see if I understand you. Because he was 'only' 13 and maybe abused it was okay for him to murder someone and then say he was going to kill the murdered man's family.

I am sorry, that is nonsense. One, the family does not have to let go. They have every reason to keep this murder in prison and be scared if he gets free.
Second, it does not matter if he has 'changed.' He is still a murder who threaten innocent people afterwords. He should stay in prison.

Posted by: brian | Aug 16, 2010 12:44:36 PM

@brian, I don’t if this guy should be released, but nowhere in his post did pjh say that “it was okay for him to murder someone.” Actually, he said the opposite.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Aug 16, 2010 1:42:14 PM

Based on the first paragraph of the article, it's unfortunate that Billy Ray White is still alive.

This part, I don't understand:---
"This is a classic case of how parole boards have to balance a commendable life after the crime versus the heinousness of the offense, but that's somewhat of a diminishing problem because we have now life without parole for this sort of crime," Carlson said. "In the interim, there's going to be some dramatic cases where prisoners who've done some pretty awful things are going to try to get parole."
----

What's the "commendable life after the crime" that he refers to?

Posted by: sdb | Aug 16, 2010 2:45:37 PM

Can it be that 'we' have forgotten all the new research and findings as to how the brain of a child/adolescent can not think, cognize, as does an adults'? Setting this aside: have 'we' forgotten that the actual rationale for a "juvenile justice system" was that juveniles were not to be viewed or held accountable in the same fashion as adult offenders? 'We' now refer to juvenile crime and juvenile criminal activity instead of to juvenile delinquency...does anyone even recall the original reason for the use of the word delinquent?
The "distance" from 13 to 39 ...how far I have come - and you? Have 'we' any idea who this person 'we' have incarcerated actually is - today?
Having some small familiarity with Douglas County, Georgia, I feel free to say I would not want my worst enemy to be tried there. It is a truly remarkable place and deserves study - by a competent forensic psychiatrist, imho.
To the family of the victim - my deepest sympathies. To the fellow who, as a child, committed this act and later (still a child) wrote these letters - my deepest sympathies and apologies for the state of American "Justice".

Posted by: Throsso | Aug 17, 2010 11:54:07 AM

"Can it be that 'we' have forgotten all the new research and findings as to how the brain of a child/adolescent can not think, cognize, as does an adults'?"
This does not apply to every young person who commits a crime.
".... that juveniles were not to be viewed or held accountable in the same fashion as adult offenders?"
All murders should be treated in a similiar fashion.

"Have 'we' any idea who this person 'we' have incarcerated actually is - today?"
It does not matter. He is a murder who threatned his victims family. These facts have not changed.

THe point is not only did he commit murder, he threatene the victims family. They have every reason to believe that the killer may kill again. For there sakes and society, he should remain in prison.

Posted by: Brian | Aug 17, 2010 7:46:37 PM

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