Here's what happened: three young black men, including a 22-year-old named Renato Hughes, broke into the home of Shannon Edmonds, who is white, intending to steal some marijuana. During the course of the burglary, they beat Edmonds' stepson, Dale Lafferty, with a baseball bat, causing permanent brain damage severe enough to render him unable to live independently or even feed himself.In 1970, all you had to say was, "racism!" and everyone would fall all over themselves to be sympathetic. The race card has been so overused to justify criminal behavior that most Americans just ignore it now. And that's unfortunate, because sometimes racism really is an issue.
During the course of the robbery, Shannon Edmonds managed to get his gun, and he shot the intruders, killing both of Hughes's accomplices. Edmonds had both marijuana and prescription drugs in his system, but he had prescriptions for both (remember, California has legal medical marijuana). Edmonds isn't charged at all. Renato Hughes, by contrast, is charged with felony murder under the California "provocative acts" doctrine. That's right, he's charged with felony murder in the death of his accomplices, despite the fact that it was the homeowner, not charged, who pulled the trigger.
Predictably, some people are playing the race card. They claim the victim ought to be the one in the dock:
The NAACP complained that prosecutors came down too hard on Hughes, who also faces robbery, burglary and assault charges. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.Note the use of the term "boy," despite the fact that the two invaders were 21 and 22, old enough to vote, sign contracts, even buy a beer. All a way of posthumously deflecting responsibility for their own criminality. (I guess Reverend Brown follow the Maureen Dowd theory of childhood.)
The Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP and pastor at Hughes' church, said the case demonstrates the legal system is racist in remote Lake County, aspiring wine country 100 miles north of San Francisco. The sparsely populated county of 13,000 people is 91 percent white and 2 percent black.
Brown and other NAACP officials are asking why the homeowner is walking free. Tests showed Edmonds had marijuana and prescription medication in his system the night of the shooting. Edmonds had a prescription for both the pot and the medication to treat depression.
"This man had no business killing these boys," Brown said. "They were shot in the back. They had fled."
According to Reverend Brown's apparent theory, a homeowner has to turn on a dime and hold his fire the second his attackers begin to flee, even if they are still in the house and still a potential threat. That is simply unreasonable -- a home invasion creates a situation of total confusion. Edmonds had no way of knowing whether these people were no longer a threat. And even if they had begun to flee, we have no way of knowing that, with the adrenaline and confusion, this fact had reached his brain at that point. It is absurd to second-guess a homeowner subjected to this sort of attack. (Another reason why police no-knock raids should be strictly limited.)
It is hardly surprising that Hughes's mother is equally outraged. She thinks that her son and his friends were there to buy drugs, not rob the place. Well, I suppose that it is barely possible that this is some sort of drug-deal-gone-bad situation, but it seems unlikely. Most drug sellers don't shoot their customers, and her version doesn't account for the beaten stepson.
I used to visit Lake County pretty frequently. It is not a particularly liberal place, considering how close it is to the Bay Area, and if you showed me evidence of racism in how criminal justice is administered there, I would not be completely shocked. But I can't imagine that white thugs behaving this way would have got off any easier.
UPDATE: One of the complaints is that the third party of this criminal crew was charged with murder under something called the Provocative Act doctrine. From November 15, 2007 Associated Press:
Prosecutors said homeowner Shannon Edmonds opened fire Dec. 7, 2005 after three young men rampaged through the Clearlake house demanding marijuana and brutally beat his stepson. Rashad Williams, 21, and Christian Foster, 22, were shot in the back. Hughes fled.What is the Provocative Act doctrine?
Hughes was charged with first-degree murder under California's Provocative Act doctrine, versions of which have been on the books in many states for generations but are rarely used.
The Provocative Act doctrine does not require prosecutors to prove the accused intended to kill. Instead, "they have to show that it was reasonably foreseeable that the criminal enterprise could trigger a fatal response from the homeowner," said Brian Getz, a San Francisco defense attorney unconnected to the case.
The NAACP complained that prosecutors came down too hard on Hughes, who also faces robbery, burglary and assault charges. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.
"Provocative Act" Doctrine – A felon may be held responsible for the death of another at the hands of a third party, if the basis for the charge is not felony-murder, but instead is founded on what is sometimes termed the "provocative act" doctrine, which is simply a form of reckless homicide, e.g., a felon recklessly provokes a victim to shoot in self-defense, killing an innocent bystander.Gee, I can't imagine how forcing entry into someone's home for the purpose of robbery might be considered a provocative act, can you?