The public needs to realize that "sometimes, people are just really, really bad."
That's exactly what District Attorney Jack Thorp told us this week, when asked about the potential ramifications of State Question 805.
Columnist Steve Fair has already explained why he thinks S.Q. 805 isn't such a great idea. There are many subtleties, but in a nutshell, it would preclude past "bad acts" of defendants from being considered in sentencing. Many who favor the initiative say it would reduce Oklahoma's extraordinarily high incarceration rate, and would take into account potential reform.
Thorp has several problems with S.Q. 805, which can be expected, given the nature of his job and what he sees in terms of the seamy underbelly of life in District 27. The biggest issue, though, is that it would hide information from a jury.
"When I try a case to a jury, they want to know about prior convictions before determining an appropriate sentence," he explained. "They only (usually) know about the criminal history after they have determined guilt. Honestly, to me, hiding prior convictions from a sentencing authority is like lying to the jury."
Perhaps one of the best examples of how "prior bad acts" can and should make an impact is that of notorious Cherokee County criminal Rex Brinlee, known for his propensity to use bombs to kill and maim his victims. The Daily Press is in the midst of a three-part series on a man who can honestly be described as a monster. The second in that series is on the front page of today's TDP, and the final installment will appear in the weekend edition.
The reason for the look back at history is not to inflict further harm on the families of the victims, several of whom are alive and grieving to this day. Rather, it is to remind readers that what Thorp said is true: Some people will never be anything but bad, and it is the responsibility of members of this community to recognize the evil among us for what it is - and to stop it in its tracks.
Brinlee killed Dorotha Day Fern Bolding, and some of her family members have told us that fact has rarely been mentioned by TDP or other media sources. Focus tends to turn toward former District Judge Bill Bliss, whose life Brinlee tried to snuff while Bliss was in the district attorney's office. Brinlee was ultimately put away for murdering Bolding, and by then, everyone knew how horrible he was. But as will be clear to readers, measures like S.Q. 805 could help hardened criminals like Brinlee, and arguably allow them to continue their reigns of terror.
Bolding's surviving family members point out - and so do family of his other targets - that Brinlee deserves no sympathy. He got none from the newspaper back then, nor will he get any today in his grave. That type of pity may be the impetus for some of those pushing S.Q. 805, and if so, it's misguided. Nor can S.Q. 805 be compared to S.Q. 780, which voters passed to prevent non-violent offenders from receiving unreasonable sentences.
As Thorp will explain in later interviews, prosecutors have enough problems now without this one added to their plates. Violent criminals need to be held accountable, and with the loopholes that have now been created with the Supreme Court's McGirt decision and other factors, S.Q. 805 could present yet another roadblock to justice.
When you vote on this measure Nov. 3, think about people like Rex Brinlee, and whether it would help the perpetrators or their victims.