This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: A piece from The Marshall Project examines the future of criminal justice under President Joe Biden. Biden ran on the most progressive criminal justice platform of any major party candidate in generations, promising to end private prisons, cash bail, mandatory-minimum sentencing, and the death penalty. The piece outlines possible paths forward for the Biden administration on a range of criminal justice issues, from police and bail reform to immigration detention. Pieces from the New York Times and Bloomberg CityLab explore the impacts of this summer’s social unrest on the election. While Republicans’ law-and-order messaging and the rhetoric of “defund the police” may have cost Democrats in some down-ballot races, concerns about racism and police brutality also galvanized the Black, urban voters whose turnout proved critical to Biden’s win. And a piece from the New Yorker focuses on LA, where, for the last three years, Black Lives Matter activists and families of people killed by the police have gathered outside the Hall of Justice every Wednesday to protest. But last Wednesday, the day after the election, the street was a site of celebration: DA Jackie Lacey had been voted out.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from The Marshall Project focuses on state judicial elections, where “law and order” still reigns supreme. Even after a summer of mass protests about racism in the criminal justice system, this year’s nationwide crop of state supreme court races looked much like they always have: “expensive, dark-money-filled contests between political groups trying to prove their candidate is the most merciless toward violent criminals.” And there’s evidence that these “tough-on-crime” messages trickle down into judges’ behavior on the bench: a 2015 analysis showed that the more frequently television ads air during an election, the less likely state supreme court justices are, on average, to rule in favor of criminal defendants. And Vice goes inside FCI Fort Dix, a low-security men’s prison in central New Jersey and now ground zero of the most severe coronavirus outbreak in the federal BOP. With almost 250 active cases among inmates and staff, prisoners describe Fort Dix as a “war zone,” where quarantine rules go unenforced and medical care is hard to come by. The outbreak has been traced back to the BOP itself, which, at the end of September, transferred nearly 300 prisoners to Fort Dix from Elkton, Ohio. 17 of the transferred men later tested positive, effectively creating a new outbreak at a prison that had gone months without detecting an infection. Advocates say that nine months into the pandemic, the BOP still hasn’t learned from past mistakes – and, by ramping up transfers between institutions in the midst of the crisis, undermines its own efforts to contain the spread.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from ESPN revisits the cold-case murder of Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman Bryan Pata. In 2006, Pata – then 22 and just months away from being selected in the NFL draft – was shot, execution-style, in the parking lot of his apartment complex. Miami-Dade police interviewed over a hundred people in connection with Pata’s death, and the investigation report ran to nearly 200 pages. But more than a decade later, the case remains unsolved. And HuffPost recounts “the tortured life and tragic crime” of Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row. In 2004, Montgomery – a survivor of incest and sex trafficking who suffers from severe mental illness – was sentenced to death for the “especially heinous murder” of a 23-year-old pregnant woman. If her execution goes forward, Montgomery will be the first female federal inmate to be executed in the US in almost 70 years. Her death is scheduled for December 8 – just over a month before the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to end the federal death penalty.
And in culture/true crime: The New Yorker highlights “Why Would I Dare: The Trial of Crystal Mason,” a new show from Rattlesnake Playwrights Theater. “Why Would I Dare” is a virtual reenactment of the real-life 2018 trial of Crystal Mason, a Black woman who was prosecuted for voter fraud after she mistakenly registered to vote following a prison term. NPR reviews We Keep the Dead Close, journalist Becky Cooper’s just-published account of a grisly murder at Harvard that took place in 1969 and remained unsolved until two years ago. The Wall Street Journal reviews “Trial 4,” the latest true-crime docuseries from Netflix. The show centers on the story of Sean Ellis, a Black man who spent decades in prison for the murder of a Boston police officer until his conviction was overturned in 2015. And The Ringer speaks with Drakeo the Ruler, the South LA rapper who spent three years in jail on a bizarre, convoluted gang conspiracy charge. In his first interview since his release, Drakeo discusses his case, how prosecutors weaponized his lyrics against him, and his time behind bars at LA’s infamous Men’s Central Jail.