The Kearney Chronicles, by Will Saunders
I was reviewing a series of work reports the past few days highlighting some recent court cases and fell upon the story of Army Seargeant Maliek Kearney, who planned (with his mistress) and carried out the murder of his estranged wife. It was a premeditated murder, indicative of his violent nature (she secured an order of protection against him). Orders of protection (a.k.a restraining orders) are not usually worth the paper they are printed on, but that’s a topic I’ll address on another day.
He was sentenced to life without parole for the murder, plus 10 years for the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime. The sentence also included a restitution payment of $490,000 to the victim’s family. Dateline NBC did a nice summation of this case that aired January 11, 2019. Look it up if you’re into topics of this sort of thing (Season 27, Episode 14 titled, ‘The Alibi’).
He and his wife, Karlyn Ramirez, were separated. In addition as I stated above, she had a protective order against him. He and his mistress drove seven hours from South Carolina to commit the murder. The mistress was sentenced to 17 years in prison for her role. I read cases often in my work as well as in my personal capacity, and that restitution piece is always puzzling, especially when the perpetrator gets a lengthy prison sentence. I never could understand that. If the sentence included a period of incarceration with a possible future and not too distant release date, then restitution makes sense. The perpetrator can make payments upon release. There have even been instances in which inmates with money in their prison account had a portion of it garnished and sent to the victim. But when a person is serving a life sentence and he or she isn’t ever getting out, what’s the point of restitution, particularly one of such a substantial amount?
That’s the case with Kearney. He will never get out. It would be one thing if Kearney were wealthy and had a net worth, like the case of Bernie Madoff for instance. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison (and he’ll die in there) for securities fraud and Ponzi schemes. His restitution was $17 billion, which he since paid. That I get. But with Kearney, the family won’t likely see a penny of that money. That’s one of the many things I would like to see handled differently if I could wave a magic wand and initiate criminal justice reform. If perpetrators of a particular crime know they will never see life outside a prison ever again in life, there isn’t much incentive for him or her to comply. That’s also why I don’t think lifers should be housed in the same facilities with someone serving a finite number of years. What’s to stop that lifer from trying to get Little Johnny in some trouble, despite Johnny’s sights on his release date and his focus on following the rules and trying to avoid trouble? If I know I’m in prison till the day I die, I may wake up and feel like messing with people who might get out one day — just for kicks. That’s something (prison sentences) I would manage differently.
Another thing I would want to see managed differently is jury selection. I have written about this before in my article, All Victims Are Not Created Equally. With the way things are handled now, the jury is stacked. Well, maybe there’s a better word than stacked, but I cannot think of it right now. In the current system during a criminal trial, both the prosecution and the defense want to ensure the jury makeup looks like their client. As I wrote in that article, “That’s one reason why it can take such a long time to select the jury panel in some cases. It can take weeks or even months in some instances to get the “right” jury panel. The prosecutor wants jury members who can empathize with the victim. The defense wants jury members who can empathize with the accused. Depending on the particular case, you can have thousands of potential jurors in the pool. To date, the largest jury pool was for the trial of James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado in 2015. The jury pool was 9000 people. He was convicted of multiple counts of murder for killing guests at a movie theater. By comparison, the O.J. Simpson case brought in 1000 potential jurors. He was acquitted of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.” Frankly, I would like it to be a purely random sample, with a handful of alternates.
There are other things I would change if I could wave my criminal justice reform magic wand. But I’ll stop here. Things are the way they are for a reason. That doesn’t always mean the reasons are good for everybody all the time, but hey. That’s the way they are because they are grounded in the US Constitution to protect the rights of the accused. But, to borrow a phrase I heard that was originally uttered by the famed attorney Alan Dershowitz (paraphrased), the Constitution should be used less as a shield for the accused and more as sword for their innocent victims.