Making A Murder Go Away

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Chicago police figures report a drop of nearly 300,000 serious crimes in 1993 to just over 50,000 in 2013. Can we believe it?

In a recent special report, ”The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates”, Chicagomag.com investigates the somewhat shaky foundation for the city’s impressive drop in crime. The first part, published this Monday, reveals some jaw dropping reasons for this miraculous development. It tells a story about police officers and other officials working within the justice system who systematically re-label serious crimes into something less serious, or in some cases, completely writes them off as “noncriminal” investigations. The piece illustrates this madness with the story about Tiara Groves, a 20-year old girl, who was found tied up, gagged and murdered in an abandoned warehouse in Chicago. This was later ruled “noncriminal” because of the pathologist’s inability to explicitly state the cause of death (unspecified means).

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The warehouse where the body of 20-year old Tiara Groves was found

For us at the crime section of Nationmaster, this is interesting for a laundry list of reasons.

Imagine the implications. If murder rates can be manipulated like this, how can we at all be sure of statistics relating to crime? If the act of gagging, tying up and murdering someone can be considered “noncriminal”, how about battery and bicycle thefts? Crime statistics is to be taken with a healthy scepticism even without this kind of statistical abuse. But when these attempts to “sugar coat” your statistics also enters the picture, it undoubtedly gets harder still. Comparing crime statistics within a certain geographical area over time is usually more reliable than making grand statements based on the crime statistics reported by two different countries. With the Tiara Groves case in mind, why this is becomes painfully obvious.

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If you can make a murder go away, how about the less serious offences?

Crime statistics are already handled differently from country to country, and this kind of “dressing up” your numbers makes a comparison even sketchier. Also, changes in routines within a certain geographical area will cause numbers from one year to another to change, regardless of the actual trend and the physical reality. For example, changes in the willingness from the public to report crimes to the police, for whatever reason, and what types of crimes the police decide to focus extra resources on are two kinds of routines that generally have a heavy impact and can skew crime statistics over time. Murder rates have, however, traditionally been a steady rock for criminologists to cling to with regards to the truthfulness in the quantity reported. With these findings and revelations, this might have to be revaluated and more scrutiny might be needed even here.

Keep in mind, under- or over reporting different types of criminality can be very beneficial for certain groups within law enforcement. Getting patted on the back for a job well done (under report) or more funding (over report) might be just too alluring for certain individuals. The statistics we provide at NationMaster are to be interpreted with all these caveats in mind. Remember Tiara Groves.

Friend’s Dreams Get Man 40 Years Jail

The so ever-present question about protection for the members of society from vicious killers versus the risk of wrongly incarcerating (or, in the worst case scenario, killing) innocent human beings have recently been actualized in two spectacular cases where both presumed “killers” have been set free.

Mary Virginia Jones, 74, got her get out of jail free card from the judge this Monday; after spending more than three decades wrongfully incarcerated for murder, kidnapping and robbery. Ryan Ferguson was a bit luckier. He walked out of prison a free man November last year after only just shy of ten years behind bars. This obviously raises some questions about the American legal system, especially how it’s implemented on a day-to-day basis. How many people are serving sentences for crimes they didn’t commit? But it’s also fascinating on a purely theoretical level. What should our standards be? Are Mary Virginia Jones’ 30 wrongful years in prison the price we as a society should accept her to pay so we can sleep safer at night? And can we really find it reasonable that Ryan Ferguson takes one for the team and spends his young, formative years locked up? We can shout till the cows come home about “toughness on crime” or even better, the “war on crime”, but the fact of the matter is this:

People’s lives are getting destroyed.

Ryan Ferguson talking with his lawyer Kathleen Zellner.

Ryan Ferguson talking with his lawyer Kathleen Zellner.

The other side of the coin is, however, equally problematic: Lunatics, people who refuse to adjust to the laws of our societies and consistently inflict harm upon others, needs to be locked up. There needs to be a line in the sand. The only question is where it should be. A more lenient approach, with harsher requirements when it comes to sentencing could keep people who deserve to stay on the streets out of prison. And take note, we’re not talking about changing any laws here, it’s the application of said laws and how law enforcement and the judicial system interprets them that could possibly be adjusted. The case of Ryan Ferguson just happens to be a brilliant example of how the authorities’ practical implementations of the law can lead to disaster. Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that he was convicted solely on dreams (supressed memories, supposedly) conjured up by his drug-addicted friend, and the testimony that followed from them. Even if we disregard the fact that supressed memories has been frowned upon by the expertise for the last 15 years or so, no physical evidence (and there were heaps) could be pinned to Ferguson. Still, he got 40 years.

On the other hand, you’ve got people like Jared Remy of Waltham, Massachusetts, who after being a criminal defendant 19 times for abusing various girlfriends now is suspected for finally murdering one of them. The Boston Globe wrote a piece about this, “For Jared Remy, leniency was the rule until one lethal night”. One could definitely argue that in this case, leniency stole a young girl’s life away.

However you choose to look at it, there is a price to pay. The question we, as a society, have to ask ourselves is how to make it as low as possible.