Monday, November 30, 2009


All the focus seems to be on Mike Huckabee, who as governor of Arkansas gave clemency to Maurice Clemmons after Clemmons received a 60-year sentence for burglaries committed before he turned 18, but I think those who are wondering why Clemmons was free to (allegedly) shoot four cops in Washington State yesterday ought to take a look at how the authorities have dealt with him since then:

Clemmons had been in jail in Pierce County [Washington] for the past several months on a pending charge of second-degree rape of a child. He was released from custody just six days ago, even though was staring at seven additional felony charges in Washington state.

Clemmons posted $15,000 with a Chehalis company called Jail Sucks Bail Bonds. The bondsman, in turn, put up $150,000, securing Clemmons' release on the pending child-rape charge....

He was married, but the relationship was tumultuous, with accounts of his unpredictable behavior leading to at least two confrontations with police earlier this year.

During the confrontation in May, Clemmons punched a sheriff's deputy in the face, according to court records....

In another instance, Clemmons was accused of gathering his wife and young relatives around at 3 or 4 in the morning and having them all undress. He told them that families need to "be naked for at least 5 minutes on Sunday," a Pierce County sheriff's report says.

"The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus," the report says.

As part of the child-rape investigation, the sheriff's office interviewed Clemmons' sister in May. She told them that "Maurice is not in his right mind and did not know how he could react when contacted by Law Enforcement," a sheriff's report says.

"She stated that he was saying that the secret service was coming to get him because he had written a letter to the President. She stated his behavior has become unpredictable and erratic. She suspects he is having a mental breakdown," the report says.

Deputies also interviewed other family members. They reported that Clemmons had been saying he could fly and that he expected President Obama to visit to "confirm that he is Messiah in the flesh."

Prosecutors in Pierce County were sufficiently concerned about Clemmons' mental health that they asked to have him evaluated at Western State Hospital. Earlier this month, on Nov. 6, a psychologist concluded that Clemmons was competent to stand trial on the child-rape and other felony charges, according to court records....

Yeah, here's a guy who's as sane as you or me -- oh, except for the forced nakedness, the messiah complex, and the belief in his own superhuman powers. That and the apparent multiple felonies up to and including child rape.

Obviously this guy was a toxic mix of dangerous and crazy, and yet he could be back on the streets after posting a $15K bond.

Regarding insanity, as I understand it,* Washington State judges competence to stand trial by the M'Naughten Rule, which regards you as sane if you know right from wrong, whether or not you have sufficient impulse control to avoid doing wrong.

Other states in the union have different insanity tests -- but why does this one persist in even a single state, when even moderate powers of observation would tell you that some people's brains have pockets of proper moral processing but aren't at all capable of preventing those people from committing dangerous, harmful acts? Is it because we think it's weak and wussy to find certain people insane instead of locking 'em all up and throwing away the key?

Of course, then we don't lock 'em up and throw away the key -- when the system does declare Clemmons a common (alleged) criminal, it assesses a very low bail for child rape, for heaven's sake. (Well, the man is black, after all. It's quite possible his alleged victim wasn't a photogenic blond girl over whom Nancy Grace could bill and coo. So no big whoop, right?)

What a mess -- and yet, although a head or two may roll in Washington State, after this the system will treat guys like guys like Clemmons the same way all over the country. The only national impact this will have is on Mike Huckabee's 2012 presidential bid, which has taken a serious hit. Will this hurt his chances of being the Palin-stopper? Who'll step up if so? (I care because I think there's an excellent chance that Barack Obama will be a one-term president -- especially if, as Paul Krugman says, unemployment is still likely to be above 8% in 2012. Theocrat Huckabee scares me almost as much as Palin, so I'm actually pleased if he's taken a hit, deserved or otherwise.)


*UPDATE: See the comments, where I'm told I garbled this.

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