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KONK REACTOR column
[Published in the KONK Life newspaper on April 5, 2012.]
Crimes and Punishments
Enough with the trivialities (ref my last column). it’s time to get serious. Dead serious…
Dateline Wednesday, March 21, 2012:
Today, former Big Pine Key resident Keith Weitzman stood before Judge Fowler and pleaded guilty to a charge involving his action that killed someone. He had fallen asleep driving on US1 on Cudjoe Key and veered into a car carrying three California men. One didn’t make it. FHP Lt. Kathy McKinney was quoted: “People don’t realize [sleepy driving is] just as dangerous as getting behind the wheel drunk,” His sentence: $500 fine and community service.
Today, in another Key West courtroom, the case against Nicholas Ferro – who admitted stabbing and killing popular young local Marques Butler a couple of years ago – fell apart when Judge Audlin declared a mistrial due to jury deadlock. After several days of deliberation, one juror could not be convinced that the killing was murder or manslaughter. Local law enforcement, preparing for the worst, had stationed extra manpower inside and outside the courtroom. It was feared that an innocent verdict would inflame the many family and friends who crowded the courtroom. But with the mistrial and the confusion involved, no such uprising appeared.
However, also today, in yet another Key West courtroom an uprising DID occur. It happened after Judge Jones – who is often thought to be sympathetic to community feedback, such as when he let Randy Acevedo off with a slap on the wrist – played hardball in the sentencing of Norma Jean Sawyer. Though the prosecution had not shown any significant PERSONAL gain to Norma Jean in her mismanagement of BCCLT grants (virtually every miss-spent dollar was spent on BCCLT expenses) Judge Jones decided to not only send her to prison for two years, but to put her on probation until she is 87 years old! This horrific miscarriage of justice drew a massive outcry from the crowd of supporters in the courtroom, many of whom had spoken up passionately about Norma Jean’s integrity and good will.
It was a major slap in the face coming from the judge who had turned loose Randy Acevedo with ONE year under probation and NO jail time for his part in the $400,000+ outright thefts from the school system. His logic then: “I’ve never seen such an outpouring of community support.” I guess it all depends on which segment of the community is involved. Seeing such an unbalanced level of judicial discretion is very disillusioning.
Later today, in Key West’s historic Dean-Lopez funeral home, I joined a very large congregation of family and friends paying their last respects to Leonardo Hernandez. Leo had died in his cell last week at the Stock Island jail, the third inmate to have passed away there in the last few weeks. The newspapers had duly reported on his checkered past record of arrests. Most readers would probably write Leo off as just another “career criminal” who the community was better off without and nobody would miss. But in that hall what I saw were a LOT of people who loved Leonardo Hernandez and mourned his untimely demise. When you read such reports in the paper, one should remember that everyone you see in the crime report or the obituaries is somebody’s son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother, cousin or good friend. Nobody deserves to die – not in a jail cell, not in a street fight, not driving on US1.
Finally this evening, I sat at a dinner table with a law enforcement officer who went to school with Leonardo Hernandez, and more recently had occasion to arrest him. This same officer, a trained paramedic, had been the first responder to Marques Butler that night in 2009 as he lay close to death. This drove it very close to home, just how tight knit this community is. You can pay your respects to your friend’s brother in an open casket during the afternoon, and then you can sit with his arrestor in the evening. It’s an apt illustration of One Human Family.
It wasn’t a very good day.
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