This past Monday, Maryland courts found former police officer Richmond Phillips guilty of the first degree murder of his mistress Wynetta Wright and their infant child Jaylin. According to the prosecution, Phillips shot and killed 20-year-old Wright in May 2011 after a heated argument regarding a child support dispute. He then proceeded to drive 11-month-old Jaylin to a nearby apartment complex, and left her to die inside her mother’s SUV as temperatures in the car rose to a sweltering 125 degrees. The search for Wright’s body began when she failed to show up for the paternity hearing, and her body was found days later in the park where the dispute had taken place.
The case against Phillips gained momentum as Kimberly Everett, another of Phillip’s mistresses at the time of the dispute, stepped forward with incriminating testimony regarding the murder weapon. Everett reported that Phillips was in possession of a “small caliber” gun matching the .22 caliber gun used in the murder. Phillip’s defense responded to these charges arguing that the evidence was too circumstantial for a conviction and that his client “didn’t do this thing”. Regardless, Phillips was charged with the murder of both his mistress and daughter, and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 20 years.
Over the last year and a half, this case has attracted substantial media attention and has been met with a heated public response. Though it is not uncommon for such cases to attract public attention, Phillip’s respected position as a law enforcement officer clearly played a role in the case’s popularity. As community leaders and role models, police officers are held to a higher ethical standard than the ordinary citizen. As they swear in the police Oath of Honor, a public statement of commitment to ethical behavior, officers are expected to uphold both the constitution and public trust in the people they serve. Leaders in the force are charged with ensuring that such ethical standards are adhered to within the organization. Therefore the case raises important questions regarding police oversight and their duty to uphold these ethical standards in the private, as well as public, sphere.
Contemporary Issues in Crime:
In your opinion, does one’s position as a public servant and law enforcement officer hold them to a higher private ethical standard above those of an ordinary citizen?
Should our government play a larger role in the oversight of law enforcement activity?
James Holmes, the primary suspect in the Colorado theater shootings
Sitting in a darkened movie theater, waiting for the start of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, many people’s minds will undoubtedly drift to the Aurora, Colorado massacre. Thirty minutes into the darkly violent film, the shooting may press even more heavily upon their consciousness. Nolan’s final installment in his Batman re-boot is a taut action thriller, perhaps even darker than the first two films. The main villain of the film, a mask-wearing, psychopathic revolutionary named Bane, uses martial arts, guns, and explosives to terrorize the citizens of Gotham City, breaking Batman’s back and nearly breaking his spirit in the process. Although James Holmes, the primary suspect in the shooting, dyed his hair orange and compared himself to “the Joker,” the villain of the previous film, it’s hard not to think of his actions whenever Bane or one of his minions opens fire in a crowd or kills senselessly. Whatever identity it takes, evil remains the same.
At the start of The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham is in “peacetime.” Organized criminals great and small have been put away in the bleak Arkham prison, thanks to Batman and the ethically-dubious Harvey Dent Act. Bruce Wayne is in reluctant retirement. Commissioner Gordon is on the verge of stepping down. The police department has gotten lax and self-congratulatory. A storm is brewing, however, in the form of the rumored mercenary, Bane.
“The idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”
Similarly in the real world, the U.S. is in “peacetime,” and has been for a very long time. It’s been almost one hundred and fifty years since we had a war on U.S. soil, seventy since we were in a war that dramatically altered life for the average American, and forty years since the last military draft. Aside from a few national tragedies, America is in a comfortable position as a strong, peaceful, and dominant world power.Tragedies like the one in Colorado, however, shake up this peacetime, leaving us, as a nation, fragile and frightened of the Banes and Jokers in our own midst. At moments like these, one of our best options is to follow the people of Gotham City and turn to Batman.
In response to the Colorado shootings, Christopher Nolan said, “I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theater is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.” For Nolan, and for many Americans, the theater is a transformative place of escapism, where people can go to experience the strange for a few hours before returning to their daily lives. It is joyful, even when the films are not, which is often the case with Nolan.
Perhaps the most important part of Nolan’s message in both his press release and The Dark Knight Rises is the “hope” of movie theaters. Early lessons in the film seem to teach the debilitating deception of hope. Selina Kyle desperately hopes for the “impossible” clean slate. Pennyworth hopes for a peaceful end to “Batman.” Bane puts Wayne in a prison whose most sadistic feature is the skylight at the top—a constant reminder of the “impossible” escape option. Wayne escapes the prison, however, gives Kyle the so-called “clean slate,” and meets Pennyworth abroad, not as the dark brooding Batman, but as a joyful Bruce Wayne.
A report on the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings
It’s difficult to find hope in peacetime complacency. Hope is a response to darkness, like Bane’s ticking time bomb or Holmes’ theater massacre. It is faith in the near-impossible, in a superhero without guns or powers or in a nation without terror. Holmes’ actions may have destroyed the innocence of the theater, but they have not destroyed its hope. For every person who finds an outlet for their anger in the Batman villains’ senseless killing, many, many more draw hope and inspiration from Batman’s triumphs.
The Colorado shooting has been called senseless many times over, and in the respect that a dozen innocent civilians have been slaughtered, that term is appropriate. How we, as a nation, can begin to make sense of such violence, however, is by looking past the violence of the film to its message of hope and change. As with Batman, every dark night must end.
For info on the relationship between animal abuse and mass shootings, click here.
Caylee Anthony, the deceased two-year old and inspiration for ‘Caylee’s Law’
Joining the ranks of AMBER Alert and Code Adam is another missing child system inspired by an infamous case: ‘Caylee’s Law’. Caylee Anthony, the deceased two-year-old whose trial captured the nation’s attention in 2011, inspired the law after her young mother, Casey Anthony, failed to report Caylee as missing for over a month. Although the jury acquitted Casey Anthony on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child-abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child, they declared her guilty on four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Judge Belvin Perry sentenced her to one year and $1000 for each false information count to be served consecutively. Incorporating her time already served and credit for good behavior, Anthony was released from prison on July 17th, 2011, just a couple days after sentencing. America was outraged.
In response, Michelle Crowder of Oklahoma proposed ‘Caylee’s Law’ on Change.org, a petition-hosting website, suggesting increasing the penalty to a fourth-degree felony for failing to report a missing child within twenty-four hours of their disappearance or one hour of their death. The petition quickly went viral and garnered over 1,300,000 signatures, pressuring lawmakers across the country to design such a law.
Edward Mehnert covers his mouth with duct tape as he protests the verdict against Casey Anthony during her sentencing. Anthony’s trial provoked such a media circus that Time magazine called it the “social media trial of the century.” (AP Photos/Alan Diaz)
The backlash to the proposed law was almost as strong. Critics cited ineffective previous laws inspired by dead children and cautioned against making lasting legislature out of anger and fresh wounds. A Huffington Post article criticized the impracticality of the one hour and twenty four hour cut-offs, demonstrating the difficulty of determining time of death so precisely and offering complicating hypothetical situations. What happens if your child is at a sleepover and doesn’t call home? Under this law, would you have to call your child at summer camp every day? What happens if your infant dies in his or her sleep? You might discover the death several hours later. Do we really want to punish a grieving parent in that situation with a felony? Although common sense should guide judicial rulings in these situations, there are many current examples of gross and insensible violations of justice.
Critics also fear that the law will make cautious parents falsely report absent children as missing, clogging up the police department’s missing persons cases. The excess of false cases would obscure the real missing children cases and prevent them from being investigated in those first few crucial hours. Critics claim that the law will be unenforceable and ineffective in its goal of protecting children, merely entrapping innocent parents.
State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport speaks out on House Bill 600, Louisiana’s proposed ‘Caylee’s Law,’ on June 25th
Despite these criticisms, several states have moved ahead with legislation. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie passed a ‘Caylee’s Law’ in January, 2012, making the failure to report a missing child age thirteen or younger after twenty-four hours a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to eighteen months in prison and fines up to $10,000. Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed House Bill 37 into law in April, another variant of ‘Caylee’s Law.’ This law heightened to felony status the act of misleading a law enforcement official in a missing child case. Louisiana’s version of ‘Caylee’s Law’, House Bill 600, passed in early June, and declares that failure to report a missing child is punishable with up to 50 years in prison and $50,000. Overall, thirty-two states filed some form of legislature in the past year to criminalize the failure to report a missing child.
News covering Breivik’s terror trial began April 16, close to a year after the terrorist attacks, allows for a look into the Norwegian legal system.
There were two terrorist attacks in retaliation against the Norwegian government and a Workers’ Youth League summer camp. The first attack was a car bomb explosion in front of Oslo government headquarters killing 8 and injuring 209 people. The second attack occurred in a summer camp by a man posing as a policeman and opening fire killing 69 and injuring 110.
On the first day of the trial, families of the victims and prosecutors shake hands with Breivik. Soon after, Breivik addresses the court in an hour-long speech entailing motives behind the attacks – “self defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country” – and a plea of innocence of all charges.
Lawyers who represent the victims and families of victims interrupted his speech stating that he is using his time to express his extremist views on the current country. And also, the judge at the trial insisted on Breivik to get to the point. Regardless, he spoke of his reasons and motives behind the attacks as necessary.
Breivik termed the Norway prison as “pathetic” and would rather befall two outcomes – a full acquittal or the death penalty.
One key issue of this trial is Breivik’s mental competency and stability. If Breivik is found mentally insane, he will be committed to psychiatric care rather than being jailed if found guilty.
Breivik admits to setting the car bomb and killing those in the youth summer camp. He says that he targeted teenagers because they were representatives of “multiculturalist regime”.
The weekend of New Year’s Eve no doubt sees its share of accidental fires, between the chaos of celebration and the customary fireworks, but this year’s holiday weekend had more than its share of deliberately set fires, thanks to a spree arsonist in Southern California.
Since Friday morning 52 fires have been linked, mostly set in vehicles. Many of them spread to homes, endangering countless lives and causing millions in property damage. No more fires fitting the profile have been set since Monday, however, when Harry Burkhart, a man police hope was acting alone, was detained.
The investigation is still underway, so Burkhart has not yet been charged with the majority of the fires, but he and his van are both consistent with witness descriptions connecting them to the fires. For more on the story, go here.