Last year, at the age of 14, Bobby Martinez, Jr. of Belle Glade, Florida kidnapped and repeatedly raped a ten year old girl. Martinez did not know this child. She was a stranger to him as he was to her. Yet, without reason, he brutalized her in the most horrific of ways and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. Then he further added to her pain and humiliation by urinating on her – a final act showing not only his total disregard for her as a human being but also confirming the lack of any humanity within him.
This past week, in a Palm Beach County courthouse, Bobby Martinez met his fate at the hands of Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes, and he got lucky. State Attorney Daliah Weiss had asked for a 40 year prison term. Instead, Judge Kastrenakes sentenced Martinez to 25 years and, upon release, a lifetime of intensive supervision reserved for sex offenders. My reaction: “Big Whoop!” A 25 year term is akin to a slap on the wrist and who, I ask you, is going to supervise him when he is once again free to roam and prey upon the innocent?
Consider this statistic: According to the San Diego Tribune (6/16/10), the State of California spends an average of $60 million a year tracking more than 7,000 convicted sex offenders with GPS. Yet, over 31,000 alerts went unresolved in an area ranging from Los Angeles through San Bernardino County to the Mexican border.
Did you follow that? In a limited area and even with a GPS tracking system in place, officers assigned to monitor the movements of repeat sexual offenders did not respond to over 31,000 alerts. That’s a lot of women and children placed in jeopardy because rapists are allowed parole.
It is customary in the Florida prison system for sexual offenders to receive therapy in the final months before the culmination of their sentence. During Martinez’s trial, a defense psychologist testified that he is at high risk of raping again if he doesn’t receive immediate treatment. Hoping to avoid such a tragedy, Judge Kastrenakes urged that Martinez be extended whatever therapy is available now – not 25 years from now. Even with therapy, there is no guarantee that Martinez will not repeat his actions. So, let’s consider why he is even eligible for parole.
The fault for that lies with the highest court in the land. In May 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a sentence of life without parole for teenagers found guilty of crimes where death does not occur violates the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Does the Court not consider the rape of a ten year old girl cruel? Aren’t victims entitled to the constitutional guarantee not to live in fear for the rest of their lives? Since my daughter was the victim of a violent crime, I can tell you with absolute certainty that death takes many forms, and the survivors of violent crimes suffer the fear of death anew every day. They should never have to wonder if their attacker will one day be free to finish the job they started.
Let’s consider a few of the cases in which teenagers were sentenced to life without parole prior to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling and whose sentences could now be overturned. Bear in mind, there are 129 prisoners under the age of eighteen serving life terms for such crimes — 77 of those convictions took place in Florida, which has the severest sentencing rate of any state in the country. Needless to say, Florida weighed heavily in the Supreme Court’s deliberations.
Among those teenagers who have been sentenced to life without parole are Nathan Walker and Jakaris Taylor. Walker was 16 and Taylor was 15 in 2007 when they, along with other gang members, tortured and repeatedly raped a 35 year old woman, eventually forcing her to have sex with her 12 year old son, who they had also beaten. The details of this assault are so horrendous that revisiting them even for this article is painful. Information can be found online by researching the “Dunbar Village” case.
The life sentence of Milagro Cunningham is also in question. He was fifteen when he kidnapped an eight year old Lake Worth girl, raped and beat her and then disposed of her body like it was nothing more than a rag doll. To hide his crime, he took that little girl, still alive, to a deserted landfill, where he threw her into a recycling bin and covered her with a pile of rocks. Cunningham left her to die — but she didn’t. By some miracle, she was found and survived her injuries.
In all fairness, it should be noted that the Supreme Court’s split vote (5-4) on this issue does not prevent states from putting juveniles who commit horrendous crimes in prison for life. What their decision means is that states must provide the possibility of parole should the offenders prove to be rehabilitated and each state is free to set its own standards.
What constitutes rehabilitation? How do the experts assure themselves (and us) that a rapist has been “cured?” These are complex questions with no definitive answers. Most experts agree that, if treatment is to be effective, it must be done early and often, especially with youthful offenders. Most experts also agree that therapy doesn’t work for rapists and pedophiles. A 1997 report estimated the recidivism rate for rapists over a long period to be 25%. However —
(From the Center for Sex Offender Management) – Reliance on measures of recidivism as reflected through official criminal justice system data obviously omit offenses that are not cleared through an arrest or those that are never reported to the police. This distinction is critical in the measurement of recidivism of sex offenders. For a variety of reasons, sexual assault is a vastly underreported crime. The National Crime Victimization Surveys (Bureau of Justice Statistics) conducted in 1994, 1995, and 1998 indicate that only 32 percent (one out of three) of sexual assaults against persons 12 or older are reported to law enforcement. A three-year longitudinal study of 4,008 adult women found that 84 percent of respondents who identified themselves as rape victims did not report the crime to authorities. (No current studies indicate the rate of reporting for child sexual assault, although it is generally assumed that these assaults are equally underreported.) Many victims are afraid to report sexual assault to the police.
During the sentencing proceeding for Bobby Martinez, Judge Kastrenakes said, “… we are going to have to deal with Bobby Martinez when he comes out of the prison system.”
My question is “Why should we have to?”