Oct 022014
 

In the small State of Louisiana (around 4.5 million inhabitants), not a week goes by without at least one rape (or murder or any other criminal) case being discussed in the media – mostly one-sided. One reads headlines as, for instance, „Girl/ woman brutally raped,“ rapist „arrested,“ „indicted,“ „convicted,“ „faces life sentence,“ or „sentenced to life.“ Each time, the full name (and often also a photo) of the suspect is disclosed from day one, although he has not been convicted yet. An arrest in the USA is sufficient to ruin your life forever, no matter whether or not you are guilty, indeed. Suddenly, you have a criminal record and the whole world can read about it on the internet.

On the other hand, there are serial rapists, who may never be caught. One of those was Dennis Rabbitt for almost three decades. Rabbitt, dubbed the “South Side Rapist”, is a white native of St. Louis, Missouri, the “good guy” from the neighborhood, but also a pathological, extraordinary sex offender. He began raping at the age of 17 in the early 1970s and had never been caught until February 28, 1999. He is also an excellent burglar. He realizes opportunities as e.g. open windows immediately. And he used to observe his potential female prey for some time before he eventually entered their homes to rape them at night. He wore socks over his hands and usually forced his victims to bath or shower after the assaults. The age of his more than 100 victims ranges from 14 through 82.

Rabbitt was not indicted, tried and convicted of any sexual assaults committed in Southern Nevada. The statute of limitations for those crimes had run out before he was arrested in New Mexico. For a small part of his crimes, he is serving 6 life sentences in Missouri and will not be eligible for parole for 90 years.

How many innocent men have been in prison for rapes people like Dennis N. Rabbitt did? What is the role of the media here? Some of the problems are:

  • Unfortunately, sensation sells better than quality.
  • The fatal side effect of sensationalism (the opposite of good journalism) is premature reporting.
  • Sensation increases the voyeurism of its consumers at a possibly innocent person’s expense. The press and the media do have an ethical responsibility to respect human rights.
  • Because many facts are not investigated, known or proven yet, a story at an early point of time provides room for gossip and speculation.
  • Law enforcement (prosecutors, sheriffs and judges are elected politicians in the USA!) is under pressure to quickly get someone convicted of the crime,which can cause mistakes, misconduct and corruption.
  • Freeloaders and red herrings might complicate a classic truth seeking investigation.

I would like to suggest that no name and no face is disclosed to the public until someone is found guilty in a court of law. In Germany (the country with the traditionally strictest privacy policy in Europe), names and photos of a prisoner are taboo even after a conviction, because so called (rehabilitated) “criminals” are to be back in society as soon as possible. Rehabilitation and successful integration base on fairness and the chance for a new beginning.

Inspirational source: State of Nevada v. Curtis Downing at http://cases.iippi.org/curtis-lundy-downing/.

On the IIPPI Forum, there is a thread about ethical journalism, especially when it comes to reporting on rape. Amazing how well it matches with the detailed book about Vincent Simmons’ case and the old one-sided stories in the press.

Also see “Giving Rise to Prejudice.”

Although no rape or murder case, this is a local example from Avoyelles Parish how irresponsible the revelation of full names of merely arrested people by the press is: “Man ‘wants life back’ after Grand Jury dismisses charges” by the Avoyelles Today.

This might interest you as well: USA: Almost 50% of all prisoners worldwide are in the “Land of the Free” . Louisiana alone is the prison “nation” number one.

How Germany does Prison – Americans on a mind-boggling incarceration road trip. (from June 16th through June 21st 2015)

Similar article:
Just one example of racial disparity in Louisiana

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May 222011
 

book-cover

Book Cover

If truth was as clear, powerful, and respected as water, Simmons’ actual innocence—demonstrated in the new book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” by Katja Pumm—would wash him out of the penal system. He has been confined since Monday May 23, 1977—which falls on the same weekday this year.

TIME LINE

MONDAY, MAY 9, 1977 (approx. 9 P.M. – 12 P.M.):
Eighteen year-old Keith Laborde is driving around with his minor cousins Sharon and Karen Sanders in his old car. 

SUNDAY, MAY 22, 1977 (approx. 6 P.M.):
Sharon and Karen Sanders report to Sheriff “Potch” Didier, Major Fabius Didier, Captain Floyd Juneau and Deputy Barbara DeCuir at the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office that a “black man” raped them on May 9, 1977.

MONDAY, MAY 23, 1977:
(7 A.M.): Captain Floyd Juneau’s and Lieutenant Robert Laborde’s shift begins.
(8 A.M.): Juneau and Laborde “decide” to arrest African American Vincent Simmons.
(9 P.M.): Simmons is strolling down Waddil Street in Marksville near the St. Joseph cemetery. Lead investigator Captain Floyd Juneau and Lieutenant Robert Laborde come by in their patrol car and arrest him “on view,” without an arrest warrant, for two counts of aggravated rape. 
At the Sheriff’s Office, Potch Didier tells Captain Melvin Villemarette to establish a line-up with the arrestee. The line-up consists of one white and seven black persons. Fotos show that Simmons (number 4) is the only one in handcuffs.Keith Laborde, Sharon and Karen Sanders are together in the room behind the mirror and indentify the handcuffed man.
(approx. 9:30 A.M. – 10:00 A.M.): Officers Laborde and Villemarette take the shackled Simmons upstairs to the ID room. They do not interrogate him. Vincent Simmons refuses to sign a confession that Laborde has formulated. Lieutenant Robert Laborde shoots Simmons in his left chest missing the arrestee’s heart by three inches. Several colleagues and the sheriff witness the scene seconds later. Laborde and Villemarette allege that Simmons took Villemarette’s gun and tried to shoot them.
Before the shooting, Keith Laborde begins to give his statements to Deputy Barbara DeCuir and Captain Floyd Juneau.
Coroner F. P. Bordelon arranges for the shooting victim to be rushed to the Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana. Simmons is unconscious. Lieutenant Laborde’s weapon is released for investigation.

District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll calls the victims’ family at the house of Keith Laborde’s father.Sharon and Karen Sanders give their handwritten statements.
Judge Earl Edwards now orders to arrest Vincent Simmons for the rape of Sharon and Karen Sanders. The police officers take fotos of Keith Laborde’s car and the alleged crime scene on Little California Road. Lieutenant Robert Laborde writes a supplementary report concerning the “offense” of the “investigation and shooting of Vincent Simmons” in Captain Villemarette’s and his own name.

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 1977:
Coroner F. P. Bordelon examines both girls and discovers that one of the girls’ “hymen was in tact and I was unable to insert one examining finger.” The twins mention the name “Vincent Simmons” for the first time while telling Dr. Bordelon what happened on May 9, 1977.Captain Juneau and Lieutenant Laborde request a search warrant for the homes of two of Simmons’ sisters. They seek “maroon trousers, silk looking shirt with tassle like appendages” and a “brown handle pistol about six or seven inches long.

WEDNESDAY, May 25, 1977:
(2:30 P.M.): Captain Floyd Juneau seizes a “black shirt with ruffles,” a “pair maroon jeans,” and a “pair of double knit pants (maroon in color)” at Simmons’ common law brother-in-law’s house. The investigators Floyd Juneau and Robert Laborde charge Vincent Simmons with two counts of aggravated rape and two counts of attempted murder.

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 1977:
Four days after the shooting, Vincent Simmons is released from hospital. Sheriff deputies take him back to Avoyelles Parish and put him in a one man jail cell at the Sheriff’s Department.  
 

FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 1977:
The Grand Jury of Avoyelles Parish indicts Vincent Simmons for two counts of aggravated rape and two counts of attempted murder and returns a True Bill.Coroner F. P. Bordelon formulates his findings about his medical examination of the two fourteen-year-old girls in his written reports addressed to District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll.  

THURSDAY, JUNE 23, 1977:
Public defender Harold Brouillette files a Motion for Preliminary Hearing. Judge Earl Edwards orders that “a preliminary hearing be held in the case of State of Louisiana vs. Vincent Simmons on the two counts of aggravated rape on the 7 day of July, 1977, at 1 o’clock P.M.” 
WEDNESDAY,

JUNE 29, 1977:
The United States Supreme Court rules in Coker v. Georgia that the death penalty is unconstitutional for the crime of rape.
THURSDAY, JULY 7, 1977 (1 P.M.):
After the preliminary hearing, Judge Edwards schedules Simmons’ trial for July 18, 1977.
 

THURSDAY, JULY 14, 1977:
Assistant District Attorney Jeannette Theriot Knoll files a Motion to Amend Indictment. She requests that the indictment of two counts of aggravated rape be amended to two counts of attempted aggravated rape. Judge Edwards signs the motion behind closed doors–without a second Grand Jury hearing.
Note: now after the decision in Coker v. Georgia, aggravated rape only carried a twenty-year sentence per count upon conviction because there was no other law in the books yet. Attempted aggravated rape, however, would imprison Simmons for fifty years per count, if convicted. 
 

MONDAY, JULY 18, 1977: jury selection 

TUESDAY, JULY 19 and WEDNESDAY, JULY 20, 1977: trial. It ends with a guilty verdict. 

THURSDAY, JULY 28, 1977:Judge Earl Edwards imposes a one hundred-year sentence (fifty years for each count, to run consecutive).

Case summary with documents on the Innocent in Prison Project International website at http://cases.iippi.org/vincent-alfred-simmons/

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