Source: Playboy Magazine
Contact:  December 1997 Issue
page 5455

Time Out for Justice

Why talking about drugs IS worse than murder

Politicians in Washington are demanding a new crackdown on  and harsher
penalties for  cocaine users, among other narcotics violators. Yet before
the nation embarks on drug war number 327, we should stop and examine what
our political ruling class has already achieved. The files of the November
Coalition, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and various media accounts
are filled with horror stories. It is worthwhile to compare sentences that
are given to drug offenders with those received by murderers, rapists, child
molesters, armed robbers and other victims of difficult childhoods.

Jose Tapia, along with a friend, carried out "the largest mass murder in
Rhode Island history," according to Providence prosecutors in 1996. Tapia
and his buddy intentionally set fire to the home of a family of Guatemalan
immigrants. Six people (including four children) died in the flames.
(Typically, the criminals were both evil and stupid: Tapia and his friend
were trying to torch someone else's home but got confused.) Tapia received a
sentence that will make him eligible for parole in 21 years. By contrast,
Kyle Lindquist, a 36yearold excavating contractor and father of three, was
busted in 1992 on conspiracy charges of intent to possess and distribute
1000 kilos or more of marijuana. Lindquist got a sentence of 23 years with
no possibility of parole. Apparently, conspiring to hustle some weed is
worse than burning down a house full of children.  

Rodney Kelley murdered two brothers in 1991 near a New Orleans freeway
overpass, shooting each in the head and robbing the corpses. The police
caught Kelley but then prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty to man
slaughter, which meant an eight year sentence  and eligibility for parole
after only four years. By contrast, Will Foster, a 38yearold software
programmer and father of three, grew marijuana in his basement to treat his
severe rheumatoid arthritis. Based on a bogus tip from a supposed
"confidential informant" that Foster was selling methamphetamine, police
raided his home. While no methamphetamine was found, police did find about
70 marijuana plants, many of which were seedlings. Because Foster was a
first time offender, the judge let him off with a 93year sentence.  

William Edward Neusteter used a handgun to rob a 7 Eleven and several of its
customers in Denver in 1995. District judge R. Michael Mullins sentenced
Neusteter, the son of a prominent local businessman, to five years'
probation. Similarly, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who went berserk
and began shooting at kids who were spray painting graffiti, and who engaged
in a high speed chase and then lied about the circumstances, was convicted
of "assault with a firearm, gross negligent discharge of a firearm, shooting
from a vehicle and filing a false report." 

Sheriff's Deputy Bobby Rodriguez could have faced 14 years in prison, but he
received five years' probation. By contrast, Amy Marie Kacsor and many other
luckless individuals have had five years added to their federal prison
sentences merely because firearms were found in their homes by police
searching for illicit substances. Kacsor, a 26yearold Michigan resident,
was busted for growing marijuana in her basement. The police searched her
house and found two registered handguns owned by her mother, as well as two
hunting rifles owned by Kacsor's boyfriend. Federal judge Stewart Newblatt
denounced the additional sentencing as vicious.

In July 1995 Anthony Brown and his brother beat and raped a woman in Atlanta
within days of Anthony's release from prison on armed robbery charges. Brown
pleaded guilty to rape and received a one year prison sentence. Under the
state mandatory sentencing law, he should have received life in prison as a
repeat violent offender, but prosecutors decided to be nice. His brother,
who also pleaded guilty, was required to submit to five years of "intensive"
probation. By contrast, Todd Davidson, a 27yearold Deadhead, was
originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to possess LSD
with intent to distribute. A friend with whom he shared a motel room sold
some acid to federal agents. Davidson was caught in the same net, and he was
found guilty partly on the basis of a re mark made prior to the sale.  

Daniel Green received a six year sentence after using an ax to smash the
skull of a 17yearold boy and almost killing him (the victim was in a coma
for three months and suffered permanent brain damage). North Carolina prison
officials were beneficent and set Green free after he had served just a
third of his sentence. Two months after he was paroled, Green and Larry
Demery murdered Michael Jordan's father, James, and stole his Lexus. By
contrast, Christopher Sia was initially sentenced to 24 years in federal
prison after he was set up by an undercover federal agent. Sia's sentence
was determined by a peculiar guideline that bases LSD penalties on the
weight of the drug and its "carrier medium"  in this case blotter paper and
a liquid solvent. Despite a modification in the sentencing guidelines, LSD
offenders continue to receive disproportionately severe sentences.  

Edwin "Fast Eddie" McBirney received a five year sentence for fraudulent
practices (such as using federally insured deposits to pay for sex parties)
that wrecked his Texas savings and loan and cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated
$70 million. McBirney, served slightly more than half of his sentence. By
contrast, Kelly Hackett, a 29 year old Ohio resident, got a five year
sentence after a "friend" (who turned out to be a government informant)
brought an undercover agent to her house. They wanted to buy some crack.
Hackett called an acquaintance, who sold them 5.4 grams of crack. Four
months later, Hackett was arrested. Thousands of Americans are serving five
years in federal prison (with no parole) after being apprehended in
possession of less than two pennies' weight of crack a mere five grams.
Thanks to propagandists of the drug war, crack holds a special place on the
political demonology honor roll of the late 20th century. First offenders
who have never even been caught jaywalking automatically receive five years
in prison, thereby making reelection campaigns safe for incumbent

Elmer Tate of Warwick, Rhode Island admitted guilt in three separate child
molestation cases, in 1992, 1994 and 1996. Yet each time, local judges
awarded him a suspended sentence. Apparently, the molesting of children may
or may not deserve punishment, depending on the whims of judges and
prosecutors. By contrast, the mere hearing of certain words is a hanging
offense. Loren Pogue, a middle aged real estate agent, got snared in 1990
because he agreed to help a friend sell a plot of Costa Rican land. Because
the buyers  undercover agents mentioned that they intended to use the
mountainside as a landing strip for Colombian cocaine flights, Pogue was
convicted of conspiracy to import, possess and distribute cocaine.
Regardless of the absurdity of the scheme, the fact that the word cocaine
was mentioned at the closing of the real estate deal earned Pogue 27 years.  

The Reverend Richard Rossi Jr., pastor of the First Love Church in
Pittsburgh, was charged with attempted murder after his wife identified him
as the attacker who beat her nearly to death while they were house hunting
in a Pittsburgh suburb. In 1995 Rossi was permitted to plead no contest to
second degree aggravated assault and served 96 days in jail. Upon his
release he announced he was writing two screenplays. By contrast, Donald
Clark, a farmer in Manatee County, Florida, was caught with 900 marijuana
plants by state officials in the mid Eighties. After serving time in a
Florida state prison, he assumed his debt to society was paid. But in 1988
federal prosecutors decided to pursue conspiracy charges against Clark. As
the St. Petersburg Times noted, "Since he was charged under federal
racketeering laws, he was considered responsible for every seedling ever
grown in Manatee County during the Eighties. That added up to a million
plants." He received life without the chance of parole. 

The average murderer serves eight years in prison. According to Julie
Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, many people have been
sentenced to ten years or longer merely for "conspiracy" via indiscreet
discussions with federal informants  "dry cases," in which no illicit drugs
are directly linked to the defendant. With our current moraljudicial
system, talking about drugs disapproved of by politicians is a worse crime
than killing citizens. In one five year period beginning in 1986 the average
prison sentence for drug offenses nearly tripled (from 27 months to 78
months). The number of people in federal and state prisons on drug charges
has increased tenfold since 1980; since 1987, drug defendants have accounted
for nearly three quarters of all new federal prisoners.  

Under federal sentencing guide lines, a person is entitled to the same five
year prison ticket for possession of five grams of crack that he would
receive for embezzling between $10 million and $20 million from a bank  or
for using a threat of violence to extort between $2.5 million and $5 million
from someone, or for kidnapping someone and seriously injuring the victim.
Obviously, crack is terrible stuff.  

Politicians seek to portray drug users and dealers as incurably heinous, yet
they ignore the fact that three quarters of people sentenced to state
prisons on drug charges have no history of criminal violence. Last year, the
number of people sentenced to prison for drug crimes significantly exceeded
the number of people sentenced for violent crimes. At a time when most big
cities have a record number of unsolved murders on the books, more than
19,000 state and local law enforcement officials are assigned to the drug
war on a fulltime basis.  

Florida State University economists Bruce Benson and David Rasmussen looked
at the situation and concluded that cracking down on drugs unintentionally
fosters theft, burglary and other property crimes because law enforcement
resources are diverted. Their study notes that between 1982 and 1987, when
Florida police focused on drug law enforcement, drug arrests rose 90
percent, while total arrests rose only 32 percent. Property crimes
escalated, with robbery rates rising 34 percent and auto thefts by 65
percent. As more resources are allocated to fight drug crime, the chance of
arrest for property crime falls.  

Politicians receive billions of dollars from citizens each year to fund the
criminal justice system and provide police protection. But more than 5
million Americans were victims of violent crime last year. The only
explanation for lawmakers' obsession with penalizing drug offenders while
neglecting public safety is that they are far more anxious to control us
than to protect us. As always, the lesson of political history is the same:
Save us from our saviors.