Racism may be more common in the Deep South but the court system has remained unchanged in the North and the South.
Lexington Kentucky and Vail Colorado are 1182.37 miles apart when talking about distance. Lexington sits at 1000 ft above sea level while Vail runs between 8022 and an impressive 11570 ft above sea level. On the map Lexington sits at Latitude 38.03 N and Longitude 84.44 W with Vail appearing at Latitude 39.64 N and Longitutde 106.39 W.
However, when the subject of racism in the criminal justice system is discussed, elevation and latitude make little, if any difference. It seems in the North they’re just more honest about it.
Two similar criminal cases, one in Lexington and one in Vail, demonstrate this in BLACK and WHITE.
Here are the similarities:
- Martin Joel Erzinger tragically ran over a cyclist on July 3 in Vail Colorado with his Mercedes and fled the scene of the accident.
- Glenn Rahan Doneghy tragically struck a police officer in April in Lexington Kentucky with his SUV and fled the scene of the accident.
- Erzinger was later arrested at his home address.
- Doneghy was later arrested at his home address.
- Erziner alledgedly veered from his course onto the side of the road and hit Dr. Steven Milo.
- Doneghy alledgedly veered from his course and struck Officer Bryan Durman near the side of the road.
- Erzinger’s victim, Dr. Steven Milo suffered extensive injuries. “Milo suffered spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and damage to his knee and scapula, according to court documents,” Randy Wyrick for Vail Daily reported. “Over the past six weeks he has suffered ‘disabling’ spinal headaches and faces multiple surgeries for a herniated disc and plastic surgery to fix the scars he suffered in the accident.” “He will have lifetime pain,” Milo’s lawyer, Harold Haddon, wrote. “His ability to deal with the physical challenges of his profession — liver transplant surgery — has been seriously jeopardized.”
- Doneghy’s victim, Officer Bryan Durman, tragically died from his injuries.
This is where the stories go in opposite directions:
- Erzinger oversees over $1 billion in assets for “ultra high net worth individuals, their families and foundations,” according to Worth. Erzinger is white.
- Doneghy has a criminal history, mental health history, drug abuse history and has a modest income. Doneghy is black.
- Martin Joel Erzinger will not be charged with a felony because “Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession,” according to District Attorney Mark Hurlbert. Hurlbert explained that charging Erzinger with a felony could affect his job and ability to pay restitution. “When you’re talking about restitution, you don’t want to take away his ability to pay,” the DA said.
- Doneghy has been charged with murder. The indictment says that Doneghy “knew or should have known that the accident resulted in the death or serious injury of a person,” but that he didn’t stop to help. Defendants in cases like Doneghy’s usually are charged with one of three offenses: reckless homicide, which carries a sentence of one to five years; second-degree manslaughter, five to 10 years; or wanton murder, 20 years to life.For charges of second-degree manslaughter and wanton murder, the accused knows his actions could cause serious injury or death but consciously disregards the risk. For a murder charge, the accused shows “extreme indifference to human life.”
- The prosecutor in Vail is honest, at least, about the reasons why a rich Smith Barney fund manager is being handled with kid gloves. Hurlbert tells the Vail Daily that his “inartful comments” did not convey his reasons for charging Erzinger with misdemeanours instead of a felony. Here is his edited answer.
Despite what is implied in the Vail Daily, Dr. Milo never asked me to plea Mr. Erzinger to a felony. Dr. Milo asked that I plead Mr. Erzinger to a felony deferred judgment and sentence.
What this means is that Mr. Erzinger would plead to a felony leaving the scene of an accident, and the judgment would be set aside.
In either two or four years, as long as Mr. Erzinger met certain conditions, the case would drop off his record and he would be allowed to seal this case. Since there was no alcohol or drugs involved, the only conditions I could legally ask for were that he pay restitution and stay out of trouble.
Given that he had a clean history, Mr. Erzinger would essentially have been able to write a check, and the case would then be dismissed. On top of that, while Dr. Milo was still probably recovering from his injuries, Mr. Erzinger would be able to say that he had no criminal history and even deny that anything had happened. That is not something I could stomach.
I therefore offered that Mr. Erzinger plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and careless driving causing serious bodily injury.
This means that for the rest of his life, Mr. Erzinger will have on his record that he carelessly drove, caused another human being serious bodily injury and left the scene. He will lose his driver’s license, face potential jail time as determined by the judge and still have to pay restitution, which as I said in the Vail Daily is important to us but not an overriding objective in the plea.
Obviously there is a benefit to Mr. Erzinger on taking the misdemeanors — he keeps his job.
Doneghy’s case was treated much differently. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Detective Richardson testified before the grand jury and earlier at a preliminary hearing in district court that a witness had said the only vehicle traveling down the one-way street at the time of the incident was the suspect vehicle, the attorneys say.
The detective then said in both hearings that the suspect vehicle deviated from its course of travel and struck Durman as he stood next to the vehicle he was investigating, the attorneys say in the motion.
But the witness, Ronnie Hood, was sitting on his porch, several doors down the street from where Durman was struck, and he told Richardson that the shrubs in front of his house blocked his view of the street, the attorneys say. Hood did not know anything had occurred until he heard a loud noise, which was the collision, they say.
“And from Mr. Hood’s own lips Detective Richardson had knowledge during both times that he testified that Mr. Hood did not see the suspect vehicle traveling down Limestone, deviating from its current course of travel and striking Officer Durman,” the motion says.
The motion says that had the grand jury not been told that the suspect vehicle deviated from its course and struck Durman, Doneghy might not have been indicted for murder.
The motion also maintains that when Doneghy’s attorneys asked Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Lori Boling who the supposed witness was who saw the incident, Boling replied that there was no witness.
The defense attorneys maintain that false testimony was presented to the grand jury “in order to elevate the seriousness of what occurred in the case against Glenn Doneghy.”
- Hurlbert appears to be saying that he would rather have Erzinger have a record forever instead of a clean record after a couple of years. He also says that he can’t change it. “I made the plea offer months ago, and the defense has accepted. This means that even if I wanted to change the plea offer, I could not.” Erzinger is in no danger of facing jail time and he will not lose his job directly because of the charges against him. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert is not charging Martin Joel Erzinger with a felony, because “Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession,” which is managing billions for rich people.
Attorneys for Glenn Doneghy, who is accused of murder in the death of Lexington police Officer Bryan Durman, have filed a motion seeking dismissal of the indictment against their client, claiming that a detective gave false testimony before the grand jury that indicted Doneghy and in a hearing on the case in Fayette District Court. Attorneys Kate Dunn, Gayle Slaughter and Sally Wasielewski, in the motion filed this week, also say that prosecutors knew that the detective, David Richardson, gave false testimony before the grand jury. The attorneys accuse the Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office of prosecutorial misconduct.
At issue were these sentences Richardson spoke in front of the grand jury and at a preliminary hearing: “A witness advised the only vehicle driving on the roadway at the time was the suspect vehicle. The suspect vehicle deviated from its current course of travel and struck Officer Durman as he stood next to the vehicle he was investigating.”
Doneghy’s attorney, Kate Dunn, argued the statement made it seem as if a witness had seen Doneghy’s vehicle veer off course and hit the officer. However, the witness the detective was referring to, Ronnie Hood, testified Friday that he did not see the collision. He only heard it.
“The bushes in my yard were blocking my view,” Hood said.
The detective argued that his statement that Doneghy’s vehicle “deviated from its current course of travel” was not intended to tie in with the witness statement before it. The latter sentence was a “matter of fact” supported by “evidence, common sense and simple math,” he said.
During heated and lengthy cross-examination that drew several objections from prosecutors, Dunn questioned whether Richardson paused long enough between the sentences to differentiate the witness’ statement from the unattributed statement.
“If you were sitting on a grand jury and you heard an officer testify to what you just heard, would you assume there was a difference?” Dunn said.
Judge James Ishmael overruled the motion after hearing more than an hour of testimony and cross examination, saying he found no evidence of intentional abuse of the grand jury.
Ishmael conceded that “a reasonable person” could have thought a witness supported Richardson’s second statement.
“But did Detective Richardson say that? No, he didn’t say that,” he said.
This is as blatant a case of Clintonesque semantics as I have ever seen! Yes, Judge Ishmael claims, the detective’s words could have been taken, and probably were, in a way that could have confused and influenced the decision of the grand jury. However, since one could pause in different ways, use accents differently and alter the inflection of one’s voice and change the meaning in different ways, the officer did not lie.
Ishmael, it seems, has dodged the wrath of Lexington’s white population and increased his chances at re-election. It’s hard to fault Ishmael in his position. The citizens have already voted, and rightly so, to honor Officer Durman by naming the street after him. I would imagine that the Judge expects the system and the jury to make the proper decision in the courtroom. The most disappointing matter is the lack of charges against the officer and the Assistant County Attorney.
Rich or poor, U.S. citizens are entitled to equal justice. But promise and practice in U.S. law can sometimes seem worlds apart.
It was not until 1956, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg reminded New York University law students last week, that the Supreme Court finally “made its first broad pronouncement in the area of economic equality in the criminal process.”
^ Severe Disadvantages. The landmark Griffin v. Illinois decision held that constitutional rights were violated by a state law under which defendants had to purchase a transcript of the trial be fore they could appeal to a higher court.
“There can be no equal justice,” said the court, “where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.” Since then, the court has handed down several related rulings, notably the Gideon decision affirming the right to court-appointed counsel in all criminal cases if a defendant cannot afford to hire a lawyer (TIME, Oct. 18).
Martin Erzinger and Glenn Doneghy committed the same crime in almost identical situations. The similarities, however, stop there. The prosecution in Erzinger’s case admittedly doesn’t want to disadvantage a rich, white fund manager and cause him to lose his job. Erzinger will be charged with misdemeanors. The prosecution in Doneghy’s case has ignored all laws, lied to the grand jury, lied to the defense attorneys and intend to pursue beyond the maximum legitimate charges against a poor, already disadvantaged black man.
Thus is the state of racism in the American justice system in black and white. It is no wonder blacks outnumber their white counterparts 500% in our prison system.
Change.org has organized a petition titled “Don’t Drop Felony Charges Against Hit-and-Run Wealth Manager.”
The petition reads:
Traffic laws exist to motivate all drivers to act in a manner that is safe for other users of the road, including pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers. To those of us who rely on bicycles for transportation and recreation, enforcement of laws that ensure our safety on the road is vital.
The enforcement of traffic laws should not differ depending on a driver’s ability to write a check, but rather on the ability of the law to motivate drivers to drive safely. What Martin Joel Erzinger is accused of doing is clearly criminal, but dropping felony charges will set a message to drivers that the penalties for neglecting the welfare of others on the road, causing life-altering injury, and showing no concern for the victim might not be as serious as the law indicates.
While Martin Joel Erzinger would like to write a few checks and move on with his life, we must ensure that actions such as his are punished to the full extent of the law. Please do not drop felony charges against Martin Joel Erzinger.
I’d like to add to this petition. Please drop the murder charges against Glenn Rahan Doneghy.
Remember this, if the proper charges are not filed, the jury may dismiss the case altogether.
I’m asking that the entire black community and anyone else who believes in Equal Justice Under The Law to donate $5 to his legal fund. Contact attorneys Dunn, Wasielewski and Gayle Slaughter for information on how to donate.