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August 15, 2012

Alabama judge gives rapist 624-year sentence, consecutive to prior 100-year term!

It is hard to resist blogging about sentencing rulings that involve prison terms so silly and extreme that they seem to undermine, rather than ensure, respect for the law.  This local story from Alabama, headlined "Dothan man gets 624 years in rape, sodomy case," seems to be an example of such a ruling. Here are the basics:

A Dothan man told the court he believed he didn’t receive a fair trial just before he received a 624-year prison sentence Tuesday for the repeated rape and sodomy of a woman during a kidnapping.

Mark Anthony Beecham, 25, testified on his behalf at his sentencing hearing held before Circuit Court Judge Kevin Moulton. Moments before Moulton announced the sentence, Beecham said he and his attorney, Thomas Smith, were not given enough time, two months, to prepare for trial on his eight felony charges.... “I believe I was denied a fair proceeding,” Beecham said.

Moulton then sentenced Beecham to the prison term. Beecham received a 99-year prison sentence for the following six felony convictions: first-degree kidnapping, two counts of first-degree rape and three counts of first-degree sodomy.  He also received a 20-year sentence for a felony first-degree theft of property offense and a 10-year sentence for felony first-degree bail jumping....

Assistant Houston County District Attorney Banks Smith asked the court for the maximum sentence. “This is one of the rare cases where we get to see the face of evil,” Smith said. “He’s a serial rapist.”

Attorney Thomas Smith asked the court to consider his client’s young age at the time of the offenses -- he was 19 years old -- and how he had no prior felony convictions before the offenses.

James Thornton, an associate pastor at Northview Christian Church, testified on behalf of Beecham. “I consider him to be a believer as most of us are, but we all have flaws,” Thornton said.  “I believe redemption is available to all of us should we choose it.”...

Houston County Circuit Court Judge Jerry White has already sentenced Beecham to a 100-year prison term for the rape and sodomy of another woman during the burglary of her home.  Moulton ordered the 624-year prison term to run consecutive with any other sentence he was already serving for a total of 724 years in prison.

Beecham has also already been convicted of sexual battery and kidnapping in Florida, where he received a 20-year prison sentence.

August 15, 2012 at 06:45 PM | Permalink

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Well, if you don't give the person the death penalty -- the people of many a state wouldn't give certain crimes the death penalty even if the USSC let them -- what do you do in cases like that where the person committed multiple serious crimes, each which might give you a sentence the length of the person's remaining life? In fact, even if you DO give a person the death penalty, what do you do when the crime is particularly heinous? Can't punish the family, constitutionally speaking. Do you put a stake thru the person's heart in the grave?

The net result is crazy length terms that are akin to those biblical accounts where people live until they are 200 or something. But, really, what would be the best policy here?

Posted by: Joe | Aug 15, 2012 7:21:31 PM

@ Joe:

I mean, it could be that our sentences are calibrated too harshly, anyway. We're certainly an outlier in the international community in terms of our sentencing, such that you'd be hard pressed to get LWOP for a property offense in any other democratic nation, but you can get it here.

So if you make LWOP available for property offenses (for example) it then unduly depreciates the heinousness of offenses that actually deserve it. If we didn't hand out LWOP sentences so often anyways, it would actually mean something when we did. Instead, we run into this problem of 600+ year sentences, and the DP.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 15, 2012 7:41:19 PM

Guy, that would simplify things up to a point, but only so far.

A crime like rape or attempted murder would still entail a long sentence. A serial rapist, therefore, would need to be given long sentences for each crime. This would be on top of perhaps other crimes done in the process, such as robbery or such. At some point, you will have sentences long past the lifespan of a human. Even someone who does lesser crimes might get long sentences if LOTS of them are done.

The case is most easily seen if you are against the death penalty. Do you give LWOP for all types of murder? The sentence is symbolic of the level of guilt. The same sentence for each would suggest, wrongly, each person did the same thing wrong.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 15, 2012 7:54:50 PM

(edit: "all types of murder" is misleading ... I mean all types of those murder so heinous or otherwise warranting LWOP)

Posted by: Joe | Aug 15, 2012 7:56:30 PM

Joe, as you know,
Alabama and up to 20 states were seeking or in possession of the execution penalty for rapists.

As it nullified the laws prohibiting abortion in nearly 50 states, the Supreme Court removed the ability of potentially 120 million people to punish torture-rapist-molesters with death.

Were you to present the details of this inexcusable crime to the public, (excluding “Guy”) would they not agree to a “crazy length term()… akin to those biblical accounts”?

Think of the victims.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 15, 2012 8:31:39 PM

“Guy”: :
outlier in the international community

any other democratic nation

problem of 600+ year sentences, and the DP

Thanks for continuing to remind us to keep that which is most important first and foremost in our minds, to wit, world opinion.
If Obama leaves us, who else is there with such a relevant perspective, but you?

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 15, 2012 8:42:53 PM

Joe:

I don't mean to say that we should hand out the same sentences for all crimes. Sentences should be apportioned on the facts of the case, the circumstances of the defendant, etc. I wouldn't imagine we would give LWOP for all murder, just as we don't impose the DP for all murder, either. My proposal is just that if we ramp down our sentencing for other crimes, LWOP starts to have meaning again.

@ Adamakis:

Perhaps you'd prefer Taliban-style justice? They certainly don't care how their perceived internationally, either.

Posted by: Guy | Aug 15, 2012 9:49:20 PM

Typo: they're

Posted by: Guy | Aug 15, 2012 9:49:42 PM

Adamakis, I'll ask again. Since Doug Berman thinks these long terms are "silly and extreme," what should we do, including in the "up to 30" states that take the death penalty off the table? An editorial comment about abortion and asking me to "think about the victim" (as if I am not -- that's my how point; we give the long terms to symbolize just how bad the crimes are) is not very helpful.

If someone does not think it is "silly and extreme," ignore the question.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 15, 2012 9:58:14 PM

That's valid Guy, but again, it won't remove the problem in all cases.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 15, 2012 9:59:25 PM

Joe:

Sure -- you're going to have horrific criminals whose crimes rank amongst the worst of the worst -- folks like OBL and Brevik. But even if we go with the proposition that the death penalty is necessary to effectuate society's condemnation of these crimes, don't we run into the same problem? Isn't the needle too good for them, then? Don't they need to be tortured, slowly, until they pass out, revived, then tortured some more? Wouldn't that better effectuate society's condemnation of their crimes? Should we skin them, and drain them of blood, and put their heads on pikes in DC? I say, anything less is just coddling these horrific criminals...

Posted by: Guy | Aug 15, 2012 11:35:30 PM

Joe,

I would solve this problem by making sentences of natural life available to the judge rather than forcing them to craft a punishment in terms of years. You would still see things like 5 or 6 LWOP sentences, to be served consecutively,but at least to me that doesn't sound as silly as a direct 600+ year prison term.

If the legislature were to simply mandate that once a calculated sentence under any of the rubrics in use exceeds a given threshold (75 years sounds about right to me for this), that it is automatically converted into a sentence of natural life and that no further calculation of sentence components need be undertaken, I think the silliness would basically disappear.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 15, 2012 11:52:06 PM

|| Adamakis, I'll ask again. Since Doug Berman thinks these long terms are "silly and extreme," what should we do, including in the "up to 30" states that take the death penalty off the table? ||

"silly and extreme that they seem to undermine"

1. One could say that such optically undermine the integrity of the definitive "life sentence", but that is much more substantially undermined by parole, automatic "good time", and the like.

2. How much does it matter if the multi-rapist Beecham dies with 600 or more years remaining on his earned sentences?

3. At least the crimes/victims are recognized,
[unlike when we don't-even-try a lifer for murdering AGAIN, which has been advocated on this blog] .

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 16, 2012 8:40:28 AM

Guy:

I detained and booked, & assisted operations to kill or capture the Taliban.

Your snipes, however, must be much more disturbing to them, boudeh.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 16, 2012 8:49:23 AM

The sentence may seem silly on the surface, but each individual count may be subject to post-conviction challenge, and could fall for any number of problems with the plea or trial, change in the law, etc. Also, I am unfamiliar with the Alabama system, but stacking sentences may have the practical effect of delaying parole consideration. For a repeat offender for this type of crime, the judge may have been making a rational decision to delay parole opportunities as long as possible.

Posted by: defendergirl | Aug 16, 2012 10:52:15 AM

I think defendergirl has a good point though I'm not sure if it is the only reason for these things.

Guy, yes, there is a limit to what a humane government can do (some of the old "worse than death" things were symbolic or almost mystical, like not giving the person a good burial -- see Hamlet, the concerns of burying a possible suicide).

I think that's a major point of the 600+ sentence (though defendergirl makes a possible pragmatic point) -- it provides a symbolic message about just how bad the crimes are. That's my point regarding your LWOP discussion. Yes, we can make sentences more reasonable, but there still will be cases where the person will have done enough that a true accounting might add up to past LWOP.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 16, 2012 1:50:54 PM

On the practical point, defendergirl is correct. A term of years is generally a longer term than a simple life sentence. LWOP was not an option on these cases b/c the offenses were all counted as first offenses. Apparently he had no convictions prior to this spree he went on. In Alabama, he will have to do 85% of each term of years before he is eligible for parole on that case, then 85% of the next one, and so on. A locally famous judge in Jefferson County sentenced a child molester to over 700 years under similar circumstances to this case. The urban legend has the defendant saying he can't do that much time and Judge Parsons replying "Well, do as much as you can." You kind of have to hear it in that old, southern, whiskey soaked voice to appreciate it fully.

Posted by: Ala JD | Aug 16, 2012 2:28:43 PM

Ala JD --

Although I'm pretty much of a tea-totaller, please send me some of that brand of whiskey.

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In Memoriam: Prof. Hugo Adam Bedau

17 August 1915 Leo Frank lynching

Capital Punishment is like slavery: nobody has the right to impose it.
Death penalty is a clear violation of human rights: right to equality, right to life, freedom from torture.
It is a black hole in the Law: a land with unclear borders changing in different times and countries.
It is a “privilege” of the poor, because “capital punishment means that those without the capital get the punishment”.
It is an irreversible punishment that kills the insane and the innocent.
It is not self-defense, but revenge.
It is not a more effective deterrent than prison and makes worst the evil it pretends to cure, because death penalty brutalizes and makes society more violent.
Death penalty is a human sacrifice, a ritualistic slaughter carried out in cold blood by the State. It is a travesty of justice and “nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering”.
Sooner or later everybody will realize that capital punishment is an immoral, indecent, illegal, expensive, stupid, cruel, dangerous, racist, classist, arbitrary, capricious, inconsistent, not working violation of human rights.


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