Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Thanks, Arkansas, for giving us Maurice Clemmons

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Nov. 30, 2009 at 7:44 pm with 7 Comments »
December 2, 2009 5:29 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

In 2007, gross misjudgments in a distant state allowed a one-man crime wave – Daniel Tavares Jr. – to move to Washington and murder a young Graham couple. A series of blunders in Massachusetts had set him free to pursue his criminal career in Pierce County.

Now it looks as if history may have repeated itself with Maurice Clemmons, the 37-year-old fugitive charged with gunning down four Lakewood police officers on Sunday.

Like Tavares in Massachusetts, Clemmons – still at large as of this writing – was returned to the streets in Arkansas despite ample evidence that he remained a grave threat to society. In both cases, the law-and-order people made rookie errors.

In Massachusetts, prosecutors failed to provide a judge with crucial information about Tavares’ criminal background, and the judge released him without bail – not knowing he’d killed his mother, had a record of violence as long as the prison yard, and was even then facing felony charges for assaulting guards.

Clemmons’ history with the justice system is still unfolding. But one thing is clear already: Had the folks in Arkansas been paying attention, he’d still be doing hard time down there, not fleeing police up here in the aftermath of a horrifying crime.

Basic facts: In Arkansas in 1990, Clemmons was sentenced to 60 years in prison for breaking into the home of a state trooper and stealing a gun, among other items. When convicted, he was already in prison for other felonies. On paper, he reportedly faced a potential term of 95 years – though in Arkansas, such sentences were apparently fiction for public consumption.

In 2000, he was paroled and received clemency from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination last year.

Huckabee on Sunday released a statement noting that he acted on the recommendation of the Arkansas parole board when he granted clemency. True – but Huckabee has been praised for his mercy to convicts as governor. You can’t take credit without also accepting responsibility. In this case, the buck stopped on his desk.

Still, Clemmons was soon thrown back in prison after getting the benefit of the doubt from Huckabee. He was charged with committing two aggravated robberies during his brief freedom. His final release came in 2004, and only because prosecutors – of all people – reportedly had delayed too long in issuing warrants for his arrest. Except for this blunder, Clemmons might have remained in prison at least another 15 years.

Thanks, Arkansas. Go sit in the corner with Massachusetts.

Then there’s the question of how Clemmons came to be released on bail in Pierce County just last week despite multiple felony charges, a long and spectacular criminal career in Arkansas, and months of erratic and violent behavior. The answers will prove interesting – but no one should jump to conclusions until the facts and legalities are better understood.

Maurice Clemmons is a poster boy for three-strikes laws. In retrospect, he had no business living any place not surrounded by high walls and guard towers. Crystal balls are hard to come by, but we wish somebody had fully recognized his danger 15 years ago and 1,800 miles away.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. Get out that crystal ball, let’s see if we can catch the next one before he reoffends. Good computer cross referencing systems in all states would be a place to start.

  2. We can’t completely pass the blame back to Arkansas.

    True, they apparently dropped their no bail warrant to bring him back there as a fugitive. But in light of that, why was the bail in WA set at only $150,000? By this time, he was facing another in a long set of criminal charges, this one involving the molestation of a child.

    I cannot believe how low bail amounts are in this county for this type of offense. Clemmons’ was actually unusually high, in a county where many accused child rapists face little or no bail. There’s something deeply broken about someone who would commit that type of crime, as we all tragically discovered this week.

    I wrote this in July, around the time Clemmons was in jail for his latest offense:
    http://tacomamama.com/content/many-suspected-pedophiles-face-little-or-no-bail-pierce-county

  3. outtahere says:

    It’s a little rough around the edges and still needs a lot of polishing but you just may be getting the hang of it. Good on ya! We might just make an editor out of you yet.

  4. jimkingjr says:

    Perhaps Arkansas would say, Thanks, Washington, for sending the juvenile delinquent to us! Clemmons’ life began here, not in Arkansas, and we can see from the aid and assistance he is getting from his family here that the rotten apple reflects the tree from which it was sprung.

    If Clemmons had been sentenced in this state for the crimes he committed as a teenager, he would have been out of prison much faster than he was in Arkansas. His sentence was commuted to only 47 years- he’s have never received that long of a sentence here, much less a sentence as long as his original one.

    Beware of the fingerpointing! And don’t forget it was one of our own local judges that let him loose so cheaply.

  5. pjizant says:

    It’s easy to blame the state of AK and not look to failure here in our own county that allowed this man to be released to the streets. How about coverage that’s as thorough as Seattle Times? The TNT better get cracking on “booking jail” a system in our county that allows people to post bond without ever facing a judge, if it happens to be a holiday or a weekend. That’s what happened back in May. On 11/23 the courts had to determine bail for the two sets of charges Clemmons faced. The prosecutor in Pierce County, said his office asked for $100,000 bail in the assault case — an amount higher than normal for such charges — based on Clemmons’ history. The judge, John McCarthy, set the bail at $40,000. In the child-rape case, prosecutors wanted $200,000 bail, Lindquist said. The judge, Thomas Felnagle, set bail at $150,000. Beware of finger pointing, Patrick. It’s a bad approach given the details of this case. http://bit.ly/8XRKkU

  6. SearchAndScan says:

    How about we don’t let them out until their time is up?

    No crystal ball is needed.

  7. ldozy1234 says:

    Amazing that a “3 strike” felon was permitted to bail out. Washington- especially Pierce County judicial system needs to hang its head in shame and bear their fair share of the guilt in this case. That needs to be included in this article…. our own system here failed and 4 Officers paid the price.

*
We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0