Equal justice under law - 'Scooter' Libby and 'Tookie' Williams

Genarlow WilsonParis HiltonA little while ago, I wrote about how Paris Hilton received a comparatively light sentence and initially seemed to be let out (as she was rich, white and famous) while Genarlow Wilson was sentenced to an inordinate sentence of a decade in prison for consensual oral sex with someone a couple of years his junior.

Lewis 'Scooter' LibbyThe case of Lewis 'Scooter' Libby seems to be another case in point. Mr Libby has had his sentence commuted by President Bush so that, although he will remain a convicted felon and will receive a quarter-million dollar fine, he will not serve the thirty months in prison to which he was sentenced for perjury and obstruction of justice around revealing the identity of a CIA agent. The commutation was justified, according to President Bush, because of his long service to his country.

Stanley 'Tookie' WilliamsCompare and contrast with Stan 'Tookie' Williams. Before I go any further, I should say that Williams was for a long time a deeply unpleasant character - a murderer and founder of the Crips amongst other things. Nevertheless, he changed over time in prison. The precise details can be found here.

After a long time in solitary confinement, 'Tookie' wrote children's books against gangbanging and generally sought to repent, through deeds, for former crimes for which he later repented.

The sequence of events for Mr Libby was good --> bad --> redemption while for Mr Williams it was bad --> good --> execution. I was under the impression that it was a principle of justice that a previous good deed or deeds did not mitigate a later crime while repentance for the crime could do just that.

I am not saying for a moment that we should overlook Williams' very dark past - I don't think he tried to either - but all that was sought for him was life imprisonment rather than execution in recognition of his attempts to atone for his crimes. The punishment - the death penalty - was too severe (and, in fairness, I think it is always too severe) given the situation. In Libby's case, the statement from President Bush ran
Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation. I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison. My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby.
The idea that the sentence was unduly harsh was contested, not least by the prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald. Nevertheless, the principle I'd've like to have seen applied in Williams' case did apply in the case of a well-connected, white man.




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