Florida Prosecutor Can Send Anyone To Prison (Except George Zimmerman)
Oh, great, Wonkette has brought out the cute animals. You know what that means: This one's going to be rough, but we'll get through it together. And what a fine specimen of humanity we will consider today: Angela Corey, the state attorney for Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, who in 2013 failed to get George Zimmerman convicted of killing Trayvon Martin, but did manage to get Marissa Alexander sentenced to 20 years for having fired a warning shot into a wall when her abusive husband threatened her (Alexander was later released in a plea deal for the three years she had already served). Now, we should also note, for balance, that Corey's office did eventually send Michael Dunn to prison for life in the notorious "loud music" murder of Jordan Davis, so there's that. On the whole, however, a profile of Corey published Tuesday in The Nation lives up to its headline suggesting she might be "the Cruelest Prosecutor in America." Corey may have let Zimmerman off the hook, but she does a terrific job of charging young children as adults and winning them long prison sentences, all in the name of being Tough On Crime. Whether she delivers justice is another question altogether.
Yes, this is another of those pieces where we're going to tell you to go over to The Nation and read the whole thing, because a summary is simply not enough to adequately convey what an awful person this Angela Corey is. The touchstone story for Jessica Pishko's portrait of Corey is the case of Cristian Fernandez, who at the age of 12 was charged as an adult in the murder of his two-year-old brother, although Pishko suggests the evidence that he actually was responsible for the toddler's death is iffy. Throughout the story, Corey comes off as a canny political operator, seeking maximum penalties wherever possible and assuming that only the most stringent application of sentencing will keep criminals from running rampant in Duval County. And if some defendants' rights aren't taken all that seriously, well, what of it? We have to protect the community from murderous scum, whether they're really murderous or scum.
Cristian Fernandez's troubles started with his very first interview in the police station, where instead of explaining his rights, the female officer handed him a sheet of paper listing his Miranda rights and asked him if he understood:
Cristian was otherwise alone, squirmy, resting his head on his chubby arms and sometimes talking to himself, as if practicing what to say to the adults who would question him, muttering, “Pow! Pow! Pow!” He responded to Soehlig’s questions with a barely audible “Uh-huh,” so she prompted him to say “Yes.” It was after 2 am.
“Has he woken up?” Cristian asked at one point, referring to his 2-year-old brother David.
“He’s still sleeping,” Soehlig replied, meaning that David was still in a coma.
David eventually died of his injuries. Cristian was tried as an adult for first-degree murder, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole. The story is also covered in Juvenile Lifers, a 2014 documentary viewable online (we haven't watched it yet, because the Nation story was quite enough cheerful juvenile justice system news for one day).
According to Pishko, Corey's office is dedicated to the idea that America needs more, not less incarceration:
In 2010, Duval had the highest incarceration rate in Florida—significantly higher than every jurisdiction of comparable size or larger, even though crime everywhere in the state was at a historic low. Despite this fact, Corey has opposed efforts to change the sentencing structure for nonviolent offenses to alleviate overcrowding at local jails.
Duval is one of the few counties in America in which the number of death sentences hasn’t decreased—a significant outlier during a decade of nationwide decline. One in four Florida death sentences comes from Duval, even though it has less than 5 percent of the state’s population; per capita, it’s the highest in the nation.
Corey has also gone after juvenile offenders, doubling the number of minors charged as adults in felony cases. In Cristian Fernandez's case, Corey seemed convinced Cristian was one of those mythical "Superpredators" that were all the rage in the 1990s: he grew up in a severely dysfunctional home; his mother, Biannela, gave birth to him after she was raped at the age of 12 herself. You know, one of those gifts God sends women:
The two were at one point in foster care together, both wards of the state, after they were found wandering in a motel parking lot, unfed and dirty. Biannela also had abusive boyfriends, one of whom molested Cristian. Her last boyfriend shot himself in the head in front of her children.
So clearly, instead of seeing those factors -- or the fact that Biannela terminated her parental rights regarding Cristian -- as reasons for mercy, Corey treated them as clear contributors to Cristian's deep criminal pathology:
[She] fought his transfer to a juvenile facility—because, she alleged, he was “too dangerous” to be around other young people. Under Florida law, first-degree murder requires an intent to kill and carries a mandatory life sentence; in the Fourth Circuit, all juveniles charged with murder are automatically charged as adults. (Under current Supreme Court law, juveniles are no longer eligible for mandatory life sentences, though they can still be charged as adults.)
Publicity generated around the case led to Cristian's getting a pro bono defense team, who eventually worked out a stiff but far less punitive plea deal with Corey's office: Cristian went to a juvenile detention facility, where he is at least getting some schooling, and will be released in 2018, when he's 19, with an additional five years probation to follow. Not that Corey is satisfied with the deal; she's convinced he's a monster:
In 2011, Corey told a local reporter that she went to court because she “wanted to see: What does a 12-year-old who did this look like? Is he going to look like what you would envision?”
In fact, Cristian looked like a 12-year-old kid.
When I spoke with Corey, she still couldn’t seem to believe that anyone cared about Cristian’s case. “The problem with the juvenile system,” she told me, “is that I don’t think it can address the problems that create the kind of mind that can kill and rob or continue to do violent acts to other people.” As for Cristian, she reiterated: “We have to do something. We have to protect the community from this young man.”
There's so much more in the Nation piece to suggest Corey is driven by a sense that communities are only kept safe when as many defendants as possible are locked up for as long as possible. We haven't even touched on the incredible story of the public defender who ran in joint campaign appearances with Corey, which hardly suggests he was out to defend the accused so much as to help Corey put people away. His office was so ineffective that the number of defendants representing themselves soared. Or Corey's continued resentment at the team of pro bono lawyers, who she saw as outsiders and troublemakers who kept her from putting a monster away. Or her resistance to evidence from medical experts on brain development and how the neurology of the adolescent brain (hello, still-developing cerebral cortex!) makes young defendants less culpable than adults:
“Medical personnel are not subject-matter experts in the criminal-justice system; our prosecutors and judges are.” She argued that while mental-health experts are asked to give input in cases involving troubled juveniles, “medical research is constantly changing.”
So yes. She seems nice. Go read the whole Nation piece, and maybe you'll meet Donald Trump's pick for Attorney General.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.