Leader Blues

Thursday, October 04, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>It doesn’t take long to get out of prison

You’ve probably noticed how criminals get their names in the papers over and over again. They get convicted and sent to prison for a few years, and then they’re out on the streets, and before you know it, they’re in trouble again.

Some of them are smart enough to avoid the slammer altogether — or they hire smart lawyers who get them off the hook — but even those who get convicted of serious crimes don’t spend that much time behind bars.

An ex-con named Demetrie Culbreath, who grew up in Jackson-ville and served five years of a 20-year sentence for killing a man in a drive-by shooting in 2000, was himself killed over the weekend in a drive-by shooting outside a nightclub in Little Rock.

Culbreath, 30, got into an argument with a group of patrons at the notorious Sandpiper Club on Geyer Springs Road. They left the club and got their guns from their vehicles when a Jeep drove up, gunning down Culbreath and two others. He was pronounced dead at St. Vincents Hospital.

This was almost the mirror image of the drive-by shooting he was involved in back in 2000, only this time someone else was doing the shooting from a vehicle and Culbreath was the victim.

Then there’s the case of Shawn Kelly Yielding, 36, of Cabot, who is accused of murdering his friend Kevin Wayne Bell, 39, who was shot several times in his kitchen the week before last.

Back in 2000, Yielding was found guilty of second-degree murder in White County for stabbing and killing a man over $20 at a Searcy apartment complex.

Yielding was charged with first-degree murder but agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder instead and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

He was freed three years later, but he didn’t bother reporting to his parole officer, so he also faces an absconding charge in addition to murder, although the latter charge is probably the least of his worries.

Culbreath and Yielding served a fourth of their sentences because with time spent in jail while awaiting trial and good behavior in prison, even violent criminals are eligible for parole long before their sentences are up.

It’s an old story, but Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley thinks it’s ridiculous to free killers after just a few years behind bars.

“I’ve long had difficulty with how our parole and good-time system works,”

Jegley told us Tuesday. “There ought to be a bright line for violent offenders.”

In other words, don’t let them go before they’ve served most of their sentence — because if you let them out before they did their time, they’ll just kill again.

“I know our prisons are overcrowded,” Jegley continued, “but the people who shoot at folks have no regard for human life. People who shoot at others have no second thoughts at all.”

When violent criminals are in their 20s and 30s and go free, chances are high they’ll kill again. The older they get, those chances drop considerably.

Had Culbreath and Yielding stayed in prison till they were in their 40s, two people would probably still be alive today.
It’s too late for Culbreath to think about that, but you have to wonder if that thought has crossed Yielding’s mind as he sits in the Lonoke County Jail, waiting for his murder trial.