Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

EDITORIAL >> Good words for criminals

Justice is hard enough to render in the criminal courts of the land without the interference of politics. We have seen its corrupting fruits in the criminal-justice process in many a national case the last few years, but it can be encountered as well in the most parochial courts, where nothing but the majesty of the law should hold sway.

A young man named Joshua Dickens, who was elected constable in Faulkner County last year, was convicted this week in Circuit Court of kidnapping and aggravated assault. He admitted torturing a 25-year-old woman he was dating until she confessed to seeing another person and then forcing her to go with him around town.
He specifically admitted holding a cigarette lighter to her over and over while she struggled.
The medical testimony was that she had been severely beaten and burned. She had vomited once when he gagged her. The jury acquitted him of the charge of raping her during the ordeal.
The girl testified that she finally told Dickens she had seen someone else, although it was not true, so that the four and a half hours of torture would end.

He threatened to clamp his constable’s handcuffs on her if she did not go with him.
After convicting him, the jury returned to recommend that his punishment be simple probation.
That’s right, probation!

Even the man’s attorney seemed astonished at the lack of punishment. The long-time defense lawyer said he had never seen a jury recommend probation for the charge of kidnapping.
What had happened to cause a jury to be so tolerant of such thuggery?
We can never be sure what moved the jury, although it could not have been the evidence at the trial. The jury foreman would not discuss it.

Are we overly presumptuous to deduce that it was the parade of esteemed Republican bigwigs who testified, one of them not once but twice, about what a wonderful, trustworthy and deserving young man he was?
State Republican chairman Gilbert Baker, the city’s state senator and a powerful and — yes — popular man about town, said young Dickens, the son of a minister, had campaigned for him and was an excellent and trustworthy person.

Sen. Baker, perhaps Arkansas’ leading champion of family values, would return during the sentencing phase to urge that this splendid man not be punished harshly. Former state Rep. Marvin Parks, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives last year, and former Justice of the Peace Buryl York, a Republican leader, also testified to his moral uprightness.

Judge David Reynolds apparently was as shocked as Dickens’ attorney at the jury’s remonstration, which seemed to say that the jurors thought the man had gone a little too far in rebuking his chattel for daring to see another man. Dickens might be a good Republican, but he is going to serve some time in jail.
The judge sentenced him to five years in prison, which means he can be free in less than a year.
The next day, the Conway paper reported that a 16-year-old girl had made accusations to the police that she had been sexually assaulted by the young man.