L. Neil Smith's

Number 23, March 1, 1997.

Did Eight Years in Jail 'Reform' Lawrence Singleton?

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Lawrence Singleton, now 69, was 50 when he picked up 15-year-old hitchhiker Mary Bell Vincent of Las Vegas, near Berkeley, Calif.
         Singleton -- a former merchant seaman -- drove Miss Vincent in his van to a lonely spot near Modesto, where he raped her, hacked off her forearms with an axe, and left her to die.
         Miss Vincent survived, and testified at Singleton's trial. He was sentenced to 14 years in a California state pen.
         Californians raised quite an outcry when their parole board freed the convict in 1987, after he had served only eight years of his sentence. Residents staged angry demonstrations to prevent the parolee for being released into first one and then another California community. Finally, state authorities relented, lodging Singleton in a mobile home on the grounds of San Quentin prison until his parole ended in 1988.
         Singleton then returned to his home state of Florida, where he was arrested once in 1990, and again earlier this month, on charges of shoplifting, petty theft and resisting arrest.
         One might wonder why someone with Singleton's criminal history was still walking around free after committing new crimes -- especially after a recent suicide attempt led to a brief stay in the local loony bin, where he was subjected to the usual inconclusive "evaluation."
         (Will we never lose our faith in an enterprise which is able to determine someone is dangerous only after he kills? If this mumbo-jumbo continues to insist on the label of "science," will its practitioners submit to a control experiment? Have a panel of esteemed psychiatrists evaluate 10 unknown "suspects," two of whom are mass murderers who agree to pretend otherwise, eight of whom are not. Let the good doctors tell us which two are the psychopaths. Then see if the experts at the 1-900 "Psychic Hot Line" can do any better. Could revolutionize the whole practice of modern medicine.)
         Anyway, a free man Singleton was -- until Feb. 19, when a Hillsborough County deputy, responding to a domestic violence call in an outlying area east of Tampa, made a grisly discovery in Singleton's kitchen.
         A neighbor reports Singleton, covered with blood, told arresting officers he'd been chopping vegetables when he cut himself. He claimed he left the room to answer the phone, and upon his return was surprised to discover the bloody body of a naked, middle-aged woman on his floor.
         "They framed me the first time, but this time I did it," Singleton said in a public statement as he was led in handcuffs from the local substation.
         California authorities insist heavier penalties for violent and sexual offenses have been restored since Singleton's 1979 conviction -- that today someone convicted of such crimes would not be eligible for parole for decades.
         But who will still argue that prison is either humane or effective? And where is it written that we can only keep trying what's never worked before?
         America incarcerates a higher percentage of her citizens than any other nation in the world. But our booming and misnamed "corrections industry" is clogged with those charged with purely administrative crimes -- "malum prohibitum" as the lawyers say, as opposed to "malum per se."
         We waste jail space on ever more "offenders" who have failed to obey arbitrary bureaucratic regulations unheard-of 90 years ago -- tax or stock trade violations, moving dirt without an EPA permit, commerce in firearms or medicinal plant extracts which would have been perfectly legal for our great-grandfathers (as intended by the Second and Ninth Amendments) -- any number of violations which amount to failure to genuflect before our bureaucratic masters, while the Lawrence Singletons of this world are sent out the revolving door to prey on an unsuspecting public again and again.
         If our lawmakers don't want to see citizens taking matters into their own hands -- with all the tragic possibilities for error that entails -- it's past time for modest "reforms."
         To reduce the "criminals" in hand to a manageable number, we need to repeal the entire thicket of new state and federal laws passed since 1912, so police can get back to rounding up the predatory perverts who actually rape, rob, murder, and dismember ... not drug dealers, honest prostitutes, or machine gun owners, all of whom should receive pardons and apologies.
         Then, for the remaining incorrigible Lawrence Singletons, if we are too squeamish to use any death penalty quick and sure, try this: exile to South Georgia or the Kerguelen Islands (till a suitable asteroid can be found), for life, branded on the forehead and advised that anyone who shoots them dead upon their unwelcome return to civilization will pick up a quick $50,000, tax-free, for their marksmanship.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/.

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