A few years ago I was asked to investigate an incident in which a 19 year-old boy was stabbed 42 times. He was found in the back seat of his own automobile, which had crashed into a tree near Butte Falls, Oregon. Emergency Medical Technicians who first arrived on the scene thought he was dead. With a collapsed lung and heavy loss of blood, he nearly was.
But victim Michael Kane miraculously survived to tell police that his two cohorts had tried to kill him. The two had been found along with Kane at the scene of the accident. They were unable to leave the scene due to injuries they suffered.
The evidence of their guilt went well beyond Mike Kanes allegation, and I can tell you with absolute confidence that, had the two been prosecuted for attempted murder, not even the O.J. Simpson jury would have acquitted them. They were guilty as sin, and the accident caught them quite literally red-handed!
But Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston didnt want to prosecute the two for attempted murder, so he didnt. I was astonished to discover that Huddleston had complete immunity from any form of consequence for his failure to act, and because the Medford Mail Tribune Newspaper never let the public know about this travesty and others, Huddleston was re-elected to yet another 4-year term.
Now, compare that refusal to prosecute two individuals who had unequivocally demonstrated their willingness to murder another human being, to a recent prosecution that I can only characterize as pointless and ultimately useless. The actual article appeared in the 12/6/03 issue of the Medford Mail Tribune.
Michelle Wimberly is a 26 year-old mother of two. She lit an incense stick in her childrens room and fell asleep in another room. No one knows for certain how it happened, but the room caught fire and one child died in the inferno. The other child was injured, but was released from the hospital three days later.
Wimberly tested large for methamphetamine in her system, and she had a history of drug abuse, but there is no indication she was criminally negligent in caring for her children. She had not left the children unattended, however, those responding to the scene said she was difficult to wake when they discovered the fire.
Nearly a year after the fire, Wimberly was charged with second-degree manslaughter by the same Jackson County District Attorney who let the other two homicidal maniacs skate in the Michael Kane case. She faced a minimum of 6 years and 3 months in prison under Oregons tough Measure 11 sentencing requirements, so she wound up pleading guilty to a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide and fourth-degree assault, charges the DA wants her to spend 2 years and 4 months in prison for.
Now look, I am anything but a bleeding-heart liberal who is soft on crime, but this kind of prosecution will serve no benefit to society whatsoever. In fact, society is further victimized by it.
Not only has Michelle Wimberly lost her oldest child due to an arguably avoidable accident that will haunt her for the rest of her life, but her other child faces 2 ½ years of separation from her Mom in addition to losing her older sister. That probably means the taxpayers will have to care for Wimberlys daughter while the same taxpayers have to warehouse her mother in state prison. The emotional cost is unfathomable.
You know, if criminally prosecuting a mother like Michelle Wimberly would bring back her daughter, or if it would deter some other mother from making the same kind of mistake, then some essence of usefulness could be gleaned from this kind of criminal prosecution. But this kind of prosecution cannot bring back little Ashley, and it will have absolutely no deterrent effect whatsoever, for the simple reason that, avoidable or not, what happened was an unintended accident, and no law has ever been passed that stopped people from being stupid or inattentive at the worst possible time.
Presumably, DA Huddleston chose to prosecute Wimberly because she was under the influence of meth when the accident occurred, but sleeping under the influence isnt the same as driving under the influence, and Huddlestons problem in court would have been his inability to prove that Michelle Wimberly would have been able to save her daughter had she not been sleeping under the influence of meth. This was a defensible case.
Some people sleep hard whether they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or not, and had I been Wimberlys attorney, Id have advised her to fight the original charges to the bitter end. But this kind of plea bargain is what you get when youre indigent and your only legal counsel is a public defender.
In the meantime, I recently noticed the name of one of the men who tried to kill Mike Kane. His name appeared in the crime reports section of The Medford Mail Tribune. This time, hed stolen a car, but hes been in and out of jail so often for so many things Ive lost count.
Ironically, his biggest problem is methamphetamine, so apparently Michelle Wimberly just didnt know the right people. Nobody really knows for certain why Huddleston let that scumbag off of a guaranteed Measure 11 sentence, but I can assure you it was not for lack of evidence, and the man has criminally victimized a lot of people in Southern Oregon since Huddleston let him walk.
Thanks to the Medford Mail Tribunes refusal to cover the story, the voters will probably never know this, and Huddlestons other sins, so theyll probably re-elect Huddleston again.
The Mail Tribunes editorial staff are well known for their refusal to publish stories and opinion pieces critical of certain public officials who have done some amazingly bone-headed things costing the taxpayers dearly. Most of the losses involved avoidable lawsuits -- you know, like who hasnt heard of the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act, and who doesnt know sexual harassment is a no-no?? Give me a break, and whats worse is that the offenders never get fired!
Currently, the Mail Tribunes editorials are filled with self-righteous outrage and indignation at the fact the people of Oregon want to roll back a nasty tax increase recently passed by Oregons legislature. Go figure. Sometimes I wonder if publisher Grady Singletary isnt high on something himself.
Carl F. Worden