Pubdate: Thu, 15 May 2003
Source: Birmingham News, The (AL)
Copyright: 2003 The Birmingham News
Author: Robert L. Benjamin


I read a May 1 news story written by Val Walton profiling U.S. District 
Judge Inge Johnson, the judge who handled the Securities and Exchange 
Commission's case against Richard Scrushy. There is one sentence in this 
article that got my undivided attention: "Johnson gained notice as a 
circuit judge for overruling a jury and sentencing a man to death for 
murdering a woman and her two daughters."

I was the foreman of the jury who delivered the jury's recommendation of 
life in prison without parole.

I am not writing this essay to question whether Johnson's decision to 
overrule the jury was based on her desire to receive notoriety, although 
she has since received promotion to the federal bench. But I am writing 
this article to qualify the basis for the decision made by the jury. And, 
hopefully, the judge will hear.

There was no doubt in any of the jurors' minds that Alonzo Burgess 
committed this crime. There were more than 50 articles of evidence that 
convicted him. The main sticking point for the jury was whether Burgess was 
a victim of his environment. Burgess was a crack cocaine addict. We, the 
jury, questioned whether Burgess was responsible for the availability of 
crack cocaine in his environment. We, the jury, answered no.

I would like for Johnson to understand that there is a serious problem with 
crack cocaine in the black community. I just recently lost a family member 
to crack cocaine. No, he's not dead. But he can no longer function as a 
complete human being. Putting crack cocaine addicts to death is not a solution.

Robert L. Benjamin

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