The Libertarian Standard » Private Crime http://libertarianstandard.com Property - Prosperity - Peace Sat, 05 Apr 2014 18:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 A new website and group blog of radical Austro-libertarians, shining the light of reason on truth and justice. The Libertarian Standard clean The Libertarian Standard thelibertarianstandard@gmail.com thelibertarianstandard@gmail.com (The Libertarian Standard) CC-BY Property - Prosperity - Peace libertarianism, anarchism, capitalism, free markets, liberty, private property, rights, Mises, Rothbard, Rand, antiwar, freedom The Libertarian Standard » Private Crime http://libertarianstandard.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://libertarianstandard.com/category/priavate-crime/ TV-G On the Boston Lockdown http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/04/20/on-the-boston-lockdown/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/04/20/on-the-boston-lockdown/#comments Sat, 20 Apr 2013 20:39:09 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12440 One doesn’t have to be any sort of radical to be appalled that thousands of police, working with federal troops and agents, would “lockdown” an entire city—shutting down public transit, closing virtually all businesses, intimidating anyone from leaving their home, and going door to door with SWAT teams in pursuit of one suspect. The power of the police to “lockdown” a city is an authoritarian, borderline totalitarian power. A “lockdown” is prison terminology for forcing all prisoners into their cells. They did not do this to pursue the DC sniper, or to go after the Kennedy assassin, and I fear the precedent. It is eerie that this happened in an American city, and it should be eerie to you, no matter where you fall on the spectrum. You can tell me that most people in Boston were happy to go along with it, but that’s not really the point, either. If two criminals can bring an entire city to its knees like this with the help of the state, then terrorism truly is a winning strategy. (And we should also keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of the massive police response did not aid in capturing the suspect—it ultimately turned on that old fashioned breakthrough—a normal denizen calling the authorities with information.)

If America suffered a bombing like the Boston Marathon atrocity every week, America would feel like a very different place, although the homicide rate would only be about one percent higher. I acknowledge the maiming was on a mass scale, but this kind of attack has to be taken in perspective in terms of how much of a risk it poses to the average American, because we have to consider what response the people would tolerate in the event of more frequent or far worse attacks.

If the people of the United States will cheer seeing a whole city shut down, even for just a day, in the event of a horrific attack that nevertheless had 1/1000th the fatalities and about two percent of the casualties of 9/11, what would Americans support in light of another 9/11? What about a dirty bomb going off in a major city? The question has nothing to do with what government wants to do, or whether police statism is a goal or simply a consequence. What will the *people* want and expect the government to do if tens of thousands were chaotically killed and injured in a terrible terror attack, or if many small attacks hit the country? I fear they would welcome the abolition of liberty altogether, given their reaction to last night. That, of course, is altogether the wrong response. If we cannot look at the police reaction last night very critically, there is really no hope for even moderate protection of our civil liberties today.

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Maybe The Journal News did us a favor after all http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/01/03/maybe-the-journal-news-did-us-a-favor-after-all/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/01/03/maybe-the-journal-news-did-us-a-favor-after-all/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2013 05:17:46 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=12196 Print and online media were predictably flooded with stories on guns and gun control in the week following the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Few stories, however, attracted attention like this one published by The Journal News, a White Plains, New York-based paper, which included an interactive map pinpointing the names and locations of registered handgun permit holders throughout two suburban New York counties. The Journal News did nothing wrong in obtaining the information; handgun permits in New York are public records, and a Freedom of Information Act request was all the paper needed to get them.

Although legal, their action is problematic for other reasons, not the least of which is that the story accompanying the map starts off with the shooting of a local woman by her mentally disturbed 77-year-old neighbor, who “had amassed a cache of weapons — including two unregistered handguns and a large amount of ammunition — without any neighbors knowing.” Which seems to beg the question of how a map of registered permit holders might have alerted this person’s neighbors to his firearms ownership status. Also, there is no way of knowing who owns rifles and shotguns, even though they’re just as lethal as handguns, because New York does not require ownership permits for them. So what legitimate public interest is served by a newspaper outing legal handgun owners, who presumably (because felons cannot own firearms) have not committed any crimes?

Whatever their motivation, The Journal News was perhaps not prepared for the firestorm of criticism it ignited, which has prompted them to hire armed security for their editorial offices:

The armed guards — hired from local private security companies — have been stationed in The Journal News’s headquarters and in a satellite office in West Nyack, N.Y., since last week, said Janet Hasson, the president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group.

“The safety of my staff is my top priority,” Ms. Hasson said in a telephone interview.

Quite understandable, but for a newspaper that apparently believes the presence of guns in their readers’ neighborhoods constitutes a safety risk they should know about, doesn’t it strike anyone as ironic that it would then hire people with guns to protect its staff? The only point they seem to be proving is that guns help people feel safer. So wouldn’t a neighborhood full of legally-owned firearms be among the safest places to live? We already know the answer to that¹.

¹ With the caveat, of course, that mandatory gun ownership is no more libertarian than gun restrictions.

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On the sexual (and political) exploitation of children http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/11/16/on-the-sexual-and-political-exploitation-of-children/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/11/16/on-the-sexual-and-political-exploitation-of-children/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2011 07:39:18 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=9490 Jerry SanduskyOf all the child sex abuse allegations levied against retired Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, none perhaps is more disturbing than the report that he used his non-profit foundation Second Mile to gain access to young boys — not only for himself, but for donors to his organization.  Sexually assaulting children is by itself a monstrous act to contemplate; the idea that they may be pimped out to others is nearly unfathomable.

Yet to hear the mainstream media report it might lead one to believe that the problem of child sexual slavery is reaching horrifying levels in the U. S., and while it’s certainly not something to be ignored, it’s also not the “epidemic” the alarmists — and especially law enforcement — have portrayed it as.

One example of this media-fueled hysteria is a report released in September 2010 by the Women’s Funding Network, which earned them a national spotlight, not to mention an invitation from a House subcommittee, before which WFN chief program officer Deborah Richardson breathlessly warned that child prostitution was “exploding” in the U. S. — anywhere from 20 percent in New York to 65 percent in Minnesota.  Lock up your daughters!

The study focused in particular on classified ad sites such as Backpage.com and Craigslist, whose adult sections, it claimed, were enabling the rapid expansion of the child sex trade.  Craigslist succumbed to pressure brought by numerous U. S. Attorneys and closed its adult section, but The Village Voice, whose parent company owns Backpage, decided to do its own review of the study, and found it was based on looking at the pictures of girls in sex ads on the Internet — and making assumptions that a certain percentage of those ads must be for underage sex workers.  There was nothing remotely scientific about the data acquisition or methodology; the research group almost literally made up most of the data.

Craigslist sex adDespite its questionable methods and conclusions, the study’s findings blew across the media landscape like a summer wildfire.  Its numbers were reported without any critical analysis in papers such as USA Today and the Detroit Free Press, and cited by actress (and sex trafficking activist) Demi Moore, whose Web site still links to the WFN study.

None of this means that the child sex trade doesn’t exist, or that there aren’t a lot more Jerry Sanduskys lurking out there.  But it does mean that publicizing bogus studies without any critical context can lead to bad policy decisions by lawmakers and law enforcement agencies.  And we end up with Megan’s Law and Jessica’s Law and the Adam Walsh Act and other ill-conceived laws, all named after dead kids to make them seem critical to civilization’s continued existence, and not the further expansion of state power that they really are.

The air had barely escaped an Orlando courtroom following the Casey Anthony trial, in which she was found not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter, before an activist began pushing for a “Caylee’s Law”, which would have made it a felony for parents not to report a missing child within 24 hours.  It is precisely during these times of high emotion, when sensationalized cases of crimes against children make headlines and inflame radio personalities, that such laws should not be considered.  For they often serve only to increase the power of the police state without doing much to protect their intended beneficiaries.  Politically popular and emotionally resonant they may be, but dead kids make for bad laws.

Raising awareness of social ills is important, but so is truth and justice, and the media serve neither when they engage in reporting that looks less like responsible journalism and more like alarmist propaganda for an ever-encroaching state.

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Parallel Justice in Germany http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/08/31/parallel-justice-in-germany/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/08/31/parallel-justice-in-germany/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2011 15:37:50 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=9046 According to Deutsche-Welle, Muslim communities in Germany are often seeking private arbitration in criminal cases, in opposition to the state “justice” system. This apparently alarms some people. It is a common cry among the politically active conservative set that the liberal embrace of multiculturalism is leading to a fragmented Europe. Consider this note from the article, however:

“When a serious crime is committed, German police step in to investigate what’s happened,” he said. “But parallel to that, special Muslim arbitrators, or so called peace judges, are commissioned by the families concerned to mediate and reach an out-of-court settlement. We’re talking about a tradition that’s more than a thousand years old in Muslim societies.”

I wonder how long it will take for someone to claim that the practice of a 1000+ year old tradition is the result of modern liberalism’s undermining of European values? I’m sure they’ll work out a way to prove that in centuries past, Muslims (and other religious groups) in Europe deferred to secular, socialist democracy.

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Anders Behring Breivik and Norwegian Prisons http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/07/27/anders-behring-breivik-and-norwegian-prisons/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/07/27/anders-behring-breivik-and-norwegian-prisons/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2011 21:27:58 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=8913 The latest news from Norway is the prison that might, for the next 21 years, be a home for Anders Behring Breivik. After reviewing the videos and photos, I must say, Ohio State offered me no better when I went there on scholarship some years ago (and my scholarship was only good for four years). My dorm mates were generally more presentable, perhaps, but I never got a hot blonde personal trainer. Halden Prison almost seems designed to entice the vacillating young psychopath, who has not yet worked up the gumption, to go ahead and follow through on his dreams.

It is a subject that, for the modern American, is begging for ridicule and parody. I myself nearly dipped into it in the first paragraph, and I admit that the idea of a man murdering so many innocents and thereby earning an all-expenses-paid stay at the Halden Resort rankles a bit. The fact that the descendants of the Vikings are responsible adds another fascinatingly perverse element to it.

And yet… does the modern American, currently occupied with mocking Scandinavia, not have a closer target for his contempt? Is the prison system that he is forced to subsidize any less perverse and appalling? Might one not even argue — I almost hesitate to type the words — that the Norwegian way, though indisputably stupid, is superior to the American way? Not if one is running for office, of course, but those of us not connected to politics, i.e., those of us who can still afford to use our thinking organ, might wish to examine things with a critical eye.

Though there is some difference between the best and the worst of American prisons, in general they are overcrowded, punitive and dehumanizing. Perfect, therefore, for giving us a sense of satisfaction when we send a ne’er-do-well into its walls but not necessarily designed to achieve the best long-term results. Does the inmate emerge bigger, stronger, more damaged and angrier than ever? Did we incarcerate him a drunk driver but redeliver him to the world a rape victim and incurable antagonist of civil society? Has he made innumerable contacts in the underworld where he will now spend his life working because no business will hire him? An answer of yes — or even maybe — to any of these questions should indicate, to the man who wants to think about criminal justice and not merely express rage, that our system wants some serious reform.

As a general blueprint for criminal justice, I have never seen anything better than what Rothbard argued for, and until I do I shall be a partisan for it. A criminal must pay restitution to his victim once a neutral third party has determined guilt and if the victim so demands. The victim, or the victim’s heirs, decides on retribution. The retribution may not exceed the original crime. Leaving aside for a second the obvious difficulties with precision — and I admit there are many — any society that does not adopt something like this system is medieval in its mindset on the topic and has no business calling itself modern.

So let’s be Rothbardian and release from our prisons anyone who has done nothing to make someone a victim. My understanding is that this alone would cut the prison population by more than half. Let’s follow in the footsteps of Murray and release from prison anyone who is merely a thief, whether by physical appropriation or fraud, and merely make them pay restitution. Let’s release violent offenders after a beating is administered to them in proportion to the beating they gave their victim (if the victim so desires) and let them get a job so they can pay their restitution. Let’s execute murderers.

Now who is left in our prisons? Not many. Just a few violent offenders who represent a standing threat to the community. And how should we design our prison system? I submit to the good reader that it should be something like the Norwegian model.

Remember that prisons in our new Rothbardian world are not castigatory. We gave them beatings and made them pay. There is nothing disciplinary left to do. We hold them for no other reason than that they cannot be trusted to play well with others. But in what environment are they most likely to become the sort of person who can live in civil society and be productive?

The typical pathologically criminal individual has a horrific childhood full of abuse. Though it is not something easy to cure, results can be had if the task is approached in a kind and caring manner. While the Norwegians seem to be asphyxiating on a surfeit of compassion, our system is wholly devoid of it. Halden Prison may strike one as a bit opulent, and more than prisoners would be willing to pay for if they paid for their own incarcerations — as they must in a just society — it still seems to me to be on the right track when rehabilitation is the goal — as it must be when punishment is handled by other means.

Both corrective systems are stupid and, in different ways, counterproductive. I don’t want to see a person like Anders Breivik alive, let alone within a megaparsec of comfort and contentment. But the Norwegians at least have managed to produce something like a feature of a libertarian world, even if they do not put it to correct use. America’s prisons are a ghastly embarrassment.

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Keeping Rights on Paper, Losing Them on the Streets http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/07/22/keeping-rights-on-paper-losing-them-on-the-streets/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/07/22/keeping-rights-on-paper-losing-them-on-the-streets/#comments Sat, 23 Jul 2011 04:55:39 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=8863 While many people love to promote the various rights guaranteed by the Constitution, it is interesting to see how rights are restricted not through legislation or even an active judiciary, but simply by law enforcement not respecting them. Consider the right to keep and bear arms and this officer’s reaction to a man exercising his right. The Second Amendment has been upheld by the courts, and there have been recent landmark cases restoring that right to people unfortunate enough to live in places like Washington, D.C. Legal victories such at that have little effect on those supposedly hired to defend person and property, however:

Here is an example of how the mere presence of police officers is a defacto restriction on the exercise of rights. This could have easily turned into a deadly confrontation. If the officer had killed this man, it is unlikely, given what we have seen across the country, that he would have faced any criminal charges, even though his entire demeanor makes it unmistakably clear that this officer is just that: a hardened criminal.

This sort of behavior makes carrying a gun a much more dicey affair. Eventually, people may find that carrying a gun actually makes them less safe, as the likelihood of an encounter with the police becomes greater than an encounter with a private criminal in a growing police state. This is already the case with blacks, but as I have mentioned before, the rights we have in the face of the police is an example of equality in oppression, rather than equal freedoms. Perhaps in the future, the courts can go ahead and formalize the whole thing and say that we have no rights that the uniformed man is bound to respect.

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The State v. Honesty http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/04/25/the-state-v-honesty/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/04/25/the-state-v-honesty/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2011 01:59:41 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=8417 Gizmodo reports on a story from New Zealand about a supermarket which accidentally opened with no employees inside the store. People shopped and checked out using the self-checkout lanes. Half of the people actually paid, but note the explanation as to why the other half did not (emphasis mine):

In fact, after reviewing the tape, a religious studies professor said it seemed like everyone was going to pay until they got stuck at the self checkout machine waiting for an employee to approve an alcohol purchase. Once they couldn’t find an employee, they left with their groceries in tow.

Here we have a case of the government actually incentivizing theft and costing the store money through its moral policing. Without state laws against underage drinking, it is unlikely that stores would require employee approvals for any purchase.

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Life Sentence at 11 Years Old? http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/02/18/life-sentence-at-11-years-old/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2011/02/18/life-sentence-at-11-years-old/#comments Fri, 18 Feb 2011 12:00:22 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=7937 Good’s Cord Jefferson asks: “Should an 11-Year Old Boy Go to Jail for Life?” Read the account. It is horrifying that a boy could do something so evil. My own daughter is 11. I could simply not imagine her doing anything like this. I am sure many of you feel the same. Indeed, the sense that this boy is completely alien to our own experience is one of the reasons it is tempting to support locking him up and throwing away the key. Despite this, however, such a move would do far more harm than good. This is not simply a matter of him being too young to punish. That is perhaps true, perhaps not. Rather, it has to do with the evils inherent with the state monopoly on justice and punishment, and the particular evils introduced when we combine that monopoly with a child offender.

The state, through taxation, separates the consumer of goods, such as roads and schools, from the buyer of those same goods. None of us are customers of a public school in the sense of being able to take our money elsewhere if we get bad service. This causes people to lobby legislators and other public officials and causes a lot of the aggravation that people express when they need the state to do something. But it also, through the criminal justice system, separates the recipients of justice — the victims and families of victims — from the criminals and tortfeasors. This separation has some very significant evil effects of its own.

By establishing a system of prisons, with wardens, guards, and other personnel, who never have any personal reason to punish inmates, the state creates a punishment industry. Note that this is not a “just punishment industry,” but simply a punishment industry. The people involved in the actual day-to-day punishment have no direct connection to the punished. The inmates are just part of the job. The state actually encourages, necessarily, that the prison industry employees dehumanize the inmates. This is true whether the felon is a serial rapist or a drug addict who has never harmed a soul other than himself.  As morally corrosive to the guards and wardens as this is with adult inmates, it is even worse with children.

In addition to the evil effects it has on the jailers, the privatization of such things will naturally lead to the prison industry lobbying for more things to be considered crimes. Consider the example we see in the arts: Copyright holders have pressed for longer and longer copyright terms, moving laws further and further away from the original terms envisioned by the Framers. Such a push for the expansion of the term and scope of offenses punishable by imprisonment is similarly inevitable.

Punishment is not limited in scope to the punished. It affects the punished, the punishers, and those affected by both. Monopolizing it and expanding it, while perhaps giving some comfort to the victims and those outraged by crime, has the additional effect of expanding the state and, eventually, barbarizing those who support it.

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Movie Preview: Sucker Punch http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/12/15/movie-preview-sucker-punch/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/12/15/movie-preview-sucker-punch/#comments Wed, 15 Dec 2010 22:00:26 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=7350 Zack Snyder, director of 300 and Watchmen, has a new film project coming out in 2011 that may be of interest to genre-loving libertarians: the upcoming movie Sucker Punch. It may not have an overtly libertarian theme or plot, but it does appear to center around an issue that is relevant to libertarians, particularly women and libertarians interested in the time period in the US in which this film is set, the 1950s.

The premise and setting of Sucker Punch remind me of Angelina Jolie’s film Changeling, directed by Clint Eastwood, written by J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame, and set in 1928. Both films depict periods in the United States in which it was all too easy to commit someone, particularly a woman, to a mental institution against her will. In Changeling, Jolie’s character is involuntarily committed to the local hospital’s psychopathic ward by a corrupt cop for political/job preservation reasons. In Sucker Punch, the main character, Baby-Doll (what’s with the name?), is involuntarily committed to a mental institution and scheduled for a barbaric lobotomy. I suppose we’ll have to wait to find out why and by whom she was committed.

So, in Sucker Punch, as in Changeling, it appears we will be presented with a story illustrating (wrongful) involuntary commitment, the unequal status of women in recent US history, a struggle for freedom and to maintain one’s sanity in an oppressive medical institution where the authorities insist you are insane. Unlike Changeling, which was a historical film, Sucker Punch will be an action fantasy.

Here is a brief description of the movie from its Wikipedia page. And don’t miss the video preview below. Oddly, the Wikipedia article mentions the film will be a musical but we get no hint of this in the trailer.

Snyder has described the film as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”, including dragons, B-52 bombers and brothels. Snyder’s wife and producing partner Deborah Snyder concludes, “in the end, it’s about this girl’s survival and what she needs to do to be able to cope.” In November 2010, Warner Bros released the official synopsis for the film:

“Sucker Punch” is an epic action fantasy that takes us into the vivid imagination of a young girl whose dream world provides the ultimate escape from her darker reality.  Unrestrained by the boundaries of time and place, she is free to go where her mind takes her, and her incredible adventures blur the lines between what’s real and what is imaginary.

She has been locked away against her will at Lennox House for the Mentally Insane (in BrattleboroVermont), but Baby-Doll (Emily Browning) has not lost her will to survive.  Determined to fight for her freedom, she urges four other young girls—the outspoken Rocket (Jena Malone), the street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), the fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung) and the reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish)—to band together and try to escape their terrible fate at the hands of their captors, Blue (Oscar Isaac), Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) and the High Roller (Jon Hamm).

Led by Baby-Doll, the girls engage in fantastical warfare against everything from samurai to serpents, with a virtual arsenal at their disposal.  Together, they must decide what they are willing to sacrifice in order to stay alive.  But with the help of Wiseman (Scott Glenn), their unbelievable journey—if they succeed—will set them free.

Cross-posted at Prometheus Unbound.

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Last Stand http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/11/20/hunter-s-thompsons-last-stand/ http://libertarianstandard.com/2010/11/20/hunter-s-thompsons-last-stand/#comments Sun, 21 Nov 2010 05:27:03 +0000 http://libertarianstandard.com/?p=7175 Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder, Hunter S. Thompson, and the Last Gonzo Campaign
Ghost Road Press, 2010

by Matthew L. Moseley

Reviewed by Ryan McMaken

Hunter S. Thompson was one of the 20th century’s greatest literary social critics, and one of the most anti-authoritarian. In the tradition of Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken, Thompson never flinched at exposing the hypocrisies and contradictions of American life and ideology, and his contempt for authority permeated not just his writing but his life as well.

Thompson killed himself in 2005, shortly before his remains were shot out of a giant cannon in Aspen, Colorado. Yet, right up to the end, Thompson made himself a gadfly and a nuisance and an enemy of the agents of the state who have so much power over the lives of the powerless.

In Dear Dr. Thompson, writer Matthew Moseley has provided an entertaining first person account of Hunter S. Thompson and his “Last Gonzo Campaign.” Through the book, which is both a true crime account and a study of Thompson the man, Moseley details Thompson’s involvement in the Lisl Auman case in which, Auman, then barely out of her teens, was kidnapped by a drug addled gangbanger who murdered a police officer. Later, prosecutors claimed Auman had assisted the murderer and, thanks to media hysteria and prosecutorial recklessness in the name of “sending a message” to cop killers, Auman was sentenced to life in prison without parole under the felony murder law in Colorado.

Then one day, while serving her life sentence in a Colorado prison, Auman wrote a letter to Hunter S. Thompson a few hours away in Aspen. Thompson’s assistant Deborah Fuller read the letter aloud to Thompson. The letter spawned the “Free Lisl!” campaign which would turn out to be Thompson’s last great campaign against injustice.

The Murder

Lisl Auman was handcuffed in the back of a police car in the parking lot of an apartment complex when skinhead Matthaeus Jaenig, whom Auman had met that morning, murdered a police officer.

Denver’s Westword newspaper provides a concise description of the scene:

Freeze this image in your mind.

It’s the afternoon of November 12, 1997. Lisl Auman, 21 years old, is standing in front of a boxy condominium…Behind her is the hulking form of Matthaeus Jaehnig, struggling frantically with the lock on the condominium door. In front of Lisl are first two, then three police officers. She has her hands up. She is taking one, two hesitant steps forward.

In seconds she will be on the ground, hands behind her for the handcuffs, an officer’s knee in her back, his voice in her ear, yelling, calling her a bitch. She will be bundled into a police car and driven a short way off in the condo parking lot.

Jaehnig, meanwhile, will have veered from the door, around a set of stairs–coming within a few feet of the officers–and into an alcove…There is no exit from it other than the stairs he has just passed or the locked doorway to a second condo.

Officer Bruce VanderJagt arrives…VanderJagt is a courageous and much-admired eleven-year veteran of the Denver Police Department. He has twice received a Distinguished Service Cross–once for disarming a gunman terrorizing the employees of Porter Memorial Hospital, once for running into a burning building to help save the occupants…VanderJagt peers around the corner. There’s a fusillade of shots. More quickly than the mind can grasp, a bullet rips away the right side of VanderJagt’s head. For long seconds he remains standing. Then he falls.

Minutes later, Jaehnig takes VanderJagt’s service revolver and kills himself.

Auman is taken to the police station for questioning.  Police assumed that Auman had been an accomplice of Jaehnig’s and that she and Jaehnig were allies and perhaps friends. The truth was more complicated.

Auman and Jaehnig had only met earlier that day. Jaenig was the friend of a friend whom Auman had asked for help in retrieving some of her belongings from the apartment of a former boyfriend who had been abusive and had been keeping many of Auman’s belongings in his apartment at the Hudson Hotel in Buffalo Creek in the mountains above Denver.

Auman’s friend invited along Jaehnig, a skinhead with a long history of violence in Denver.  But Lisl Auman didn’t know anything about Jaehnig’s past. By the time the group reached Buffalo Creek, it was apparent that Jaehnig was someone to be feared, and when Jaehnig started burglarizing Shawn Cheever’s apartment, Auman couldn’t do much about it.

Many hours later, as Jaehnig was leading the police on a high speed chase through the city streets of Denver, Auman had become a hostage to the heavily armed and obviously violent Jaehnig who forced Auman to hold the steering wheel while he leaned out the window and fired wildly at the police in pursuit.

The chase eventually ended at the apartment complex in Denver where Auman fled from Jaehnig and where Jaehnig murdered Bruce VanderJagt.

Was Auman a hostage or was she an accessory to murder? And if she was an accessory, could she be charged with first degree murder for a crime that took place while she was locked in the back of a police car?

Under the felony murder law, the answer to the latter question is yes.

Felony Murder

Moseley describes the concept of felony murder:

Felony murder is a favored statute of prosecutors because it allows them to cast the widest possible net around a crime to include people who may have had no intent for the crime to happen. Colorado law states ‘ the purpose of the felony murder statute is to hold a participating robber accountable for a non-participant’s death, even though unintended, as long as death is caused by an act committed in the course of or in furtherance of the robbery or in the course of immediate flight therefrom. [Emphasis Moseley’s] Prosecutor’s have used it to ensnare forty-five people under the age of eighteen in Colorado, and over 2,000 juveniles in the U.S., who are all serving sentences of life without parole.

The problem in the Auman case is that it was not clear at all that Vanderjagt’s murder in Denver had anything at all to do with the theft that occurred in the mountains many, many hours before. Nor was it clear that Lisl Auman was in the course of immediate flight from the burglary. Indeed, it was most likely that Auman ran to police protection in flight from Jaehnig himself, who had obviously been endangering the life of Auman for hours before the final shoot-out.

However, as one of the attorneys who sympathized with Auman noted, the way the law was being interpreted by the courts meant that “she could have jumped out of the car [as Jaenig sped down the highway] and she still would be guilty.”

A prosecuting attorney later pointed out that the fact that Auman had been in police custody did not matter: “It does not matter where she was. She could have been at McMurdo Sound in Antactica. She could have been on Mir Space Station.” She was still guilty because, as the prosecutors claimed, both Auman and Jaenig were in the course of immediate flight from the burglary of Shawn Cheever at the Hudson Hotel in Buffalo Creek, Colorado.

Another benefit of the felony murder law is that prosecutors don’t even need to show that the defendant intended to kill anyone. According to Jeffrey Hartje, a criminal law professor at the University of Denver, “Conspiracy and felony murder are the favored children in the prosecutor’s nursery…With felony murder and conspiracy, you don’t have to show intention, making a conviction much easier.”

Freed of having to show that Auman intended to kill anyone, the prosecutors simply sought to show that she was somehow in league with Jaenig. In order to convince a jury of the justice of locking Auman away forever, in spite of the fact that she seemingly was no accomplice at all, prosecutors contended that Auman had handed Jaehnig the gun he had fired at police. The police had absolutely no physical evidence of this, but a police officer later changed his original statement to claim that he had indeed seen Auman hand Jaehnig a gun.

The police and prosecution painted a picture of Auman as a surly skinhead and as a misfit and as a angry young women who raged against authority. The local media dutifully repeated and reprinted the prosecution’s theories. The police, the public and the media had apparently decided that someone had to pay for VanderJagt’s death, and since Jaehnig was dead, Auman was going to have to do.

After an endless number of press conferences organized by prosecutors, numerous condemnations of Auman in the press, and a short trial, the jury voted to convict in spite of the fact that no fingerprints or evidence of gunpowder residue could be produced to connect Auman to any weapons, and the fact that no intent was ever proven.

Auman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Auman writes to Thompson

While serving her life sentence, Auman wrote a letter to Thompson, noting that Thompson’s books had been banned from the prison library. (The prison system says this is not the case.) After being read the letter, which briefly outlined Auman’s plight, Thompson declared to his staff “What the f*** are you so cheerful about? If I were you I’d slit my wrists.” According to Moseley, from this point on, Lisl’s case slowly “sparked an inner rage” in Thompson.

In January 2001, Thompson used his Hey Rube column at ESPN.com, which the editors thought was supposed to be about sports,  to write a column denouncing the treatment of Auman, thus beginning Thompson’s public campaign to free Lisl Auman.

At his high-powered Super Bowl party that year, Thompson called together all the powerful and influential friends he could muster, including various well-connected attorneys and politicos, “and the National Committee to Free Lisl Auman was born that night.”

Thompson wouldn’t accept that someone could be locked in prison for life for a crime that occurred when the “guilty” party was locked in the back of a police car. He also refused to believe that there was anything unique about Auman’s story, or that she was justly paying the price for her carelessness, or that she was “asking for it.” For Thompson, Auman was exactly  like a million other non-criminal young women, except that they had been lucky enough to not find themselves on the wrong end of a police smear campaign.  For Thompson, America is a place where people end up on the wrong side of the law without much effort.

As Thompson would later write in an appeal for help from friends and colleagues:

There is no such thing as Paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment… What happened to Lisl Auman can happen to Anybody in America, and when it does, you will sure as hell need friends….Take my word for it, folks. I have been There, and it ain’t Fun.

Thompson Joins the Fight

There’s no room to delve into the legal details of Lisl Auman’s appeal here, but what is important is that, by shining light on the Auman case, Thompson shone a light on prosecutorial misconduct, police corruption, and the injustice of the felony murder statutes.

This suited Thompson perfectly well. Dear Dr. Thompson provides a variety of amusing and interesting insights into Thompson’s views of police power and the corrupting nature of government power. Thompson’s gift for thoroughly accurate hyperbole would rub many the wrong way, but his disdain for official abuse of power seemed to know no bounds, and this came through in his comments and behavior throughout the campaign to free Auman.

Thompson was well aware of the political nature of the district attorney’s office, and he doubted the scruples of then district attorney Bill Ritter who would later use his position as a launching pad to become governor of Colorado.

According to Moseley, “Thompson thought Ritter wouldn’t support Lisl because of pressure from the police union, which he called a mafia. ‘The police union needs a cooperative DA and the DA needs a cooperative police union…[But you shouldn’t be] allowed to abuse just because you have a gun and a badge. It is savage behavior. It’s uncivilized. It goes back to the law of the tooth and the fang…’”

For Thompson, the prosecutors served the police and the police served the prosecutors. The public, on the other hand, was on its own. This cozy arrangement was all the more troubling to Thompson because he saw that so little was being done about it.

When queried on the matter, Thompson would become rather animated.

“They (the police) just think they can get away with it. They tell each other that. ‘We the brave, the true, the just.’ S**t on them.” he said getting peeved and pounded on the kitchen cabinet. “See I get a little excited when I think about taking on the cops again. Somebody says ‘Aren’t you worried about this [his involvement in the Lisl Auman case] Aren’t you concerned to fight the police? After all they are very powerful.’ Well, they are as powerful as you let them be.”

By the time he got to commenting on the chief of police at the time, Thompson certainly wasn’t holding back:

Richard Nixon was so crooked he had to have his servants screw his pants on every morning, and so is Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman. He and his force have committed more crimes against humanity than Lisl Auman ever dreamed of.

The sheer ferocity of Thompson’s outrage in the matter was what made Thompson such an effective force behind the Free Lisl! Campaign. Thompson vowed to overturn the felony murder law and free Lisl Auman. He railed against the injustice of her imprisonment to influential friends, lawyers, celebrities and reporters. Lisl Auman, who had been locked away years earlier and forgotten, was suddenly someone Thompson would not let be forgotten. He worked behind the scenes, “work[ing] the phones every night,” to make sure that Auman’s appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court was the best that could be mustered. Moseley himself, a seasoned public relations man, was enlisted by Thompson to make sure that the press, which had so obediently followed the prosecution’s line in the court of public opinion during her trial, might this time give Auman a fair chance. Thompson used his celebrity status and threatened to crusade against and to even run for office against local politicians who maintained that Auman should remain in prison. This wasn’t an idle threat. Thompson had caused political havoc in Colorado before, and everyone knew it. In a close race, an enraged Hunter S. Thompson could spell defeat for those he might target.

Thompson wasn’t simply thrashing about looking for attention. Although Auman’s freedom essentially came down to a decision by judges, Thompson wasn’t so naive as to think that judges aren’t influenced by the public or the press.  Just as politics and a hostile media had helped lock Auman away, so, Thompson hoped,  an overwhelming campaign to turn public opinion in her favor might help save her.

Thompson knew the public must begin to see “justice” in America as he saw it, even if just for a little while. As Auman’s appeal progressed, Thompson called long time Denver Post reporter Ed Quillen and, according to Moseley, “Quillen was so taken with the conversation that he wrote a provocative column about Lisl’s case” containing the following lessons to be learned:

1. When a policeman is killed, somebody has to pay. If the killer is already dead, then some other party must be found and prosecuted, no matter how far the prosecutors have to stretch to make a case, no matter how many cops have to change their stories before the trial.

2. Do not ever talk to the police without a lawyer, no matter how innocent you think you are. Until your lawyer gets there, keep your mouth shut. That’s your right and you should exercise it.

3. If you somehow end up in the company of a homicidal maniac whom you’ve never met before that day, pray he lives through the shoot out.

Thompson’s Last Good Deed

In the end, although the Supreme Court did not overturn the felony murder law, it did conclude that the jury had received faulty instructions during her trial, and in 2005 Lisl Auman was freed from prison and remains out of prison to this day. It was a technicality. And it was one that called no larger issues of law into question, suggesting that perhaps the court was looking for a reason to set her free without upsetting the legal  apple cart too much. And ultimately, it suggests that Hunter’s scorched-earth campaign against all who maintained  the justice of Lisl’s imprisonment, just might have made the difference.

Thompson killed himself shortly before the Court handed down its decision, so he never knew how it had all turned out.  But many were uneasy with the fact that it had taken so much to get justice for Lisl Auman.

“Do you think anyone gave a rat’s ass about Lisl until Hunter came along?” asked Mary Ellen Johnson of the Pendulum Foundation, who tracks felony murder cases. “No. They didn’t and it shouldn’t be that way. I wish no child had to have a guardian angel like Hunter Thompson and that it is was based on justice, but it was not. Lisl’s story is not even that unusual. The only thing unusual about it is Hunter. Otherwise nobody would care.”

And people did care because of Thompson. Not only did he help to free Lisl Auman, but he inspired those around him to understand that justice is not free in America, and it’s not blind, and it can be turned against you to serve the political ambitions and the thirst for vengeance in others.

Lisl’s case is not unique, but at least she was actually tangentally involved in the murder committed by Matthaeus Jaenig that day. Others, like Tim Masters or Randall Dale Adams, to just name two, were not guilty of anything criminal in any way, and were locked away for years to suit the prejudices of prosecutors and police.

Dear Dr. Thompson is an important contribution to the literature on miscarriages of justice, but it is also an important account of the final days of Hunter S Thompson, who, in addition to writing some of the best journalistic prose of the last fifty years, never backed down from a chance to take on the same forces whom he wrote so forcefully against for so  long.

And finally, Moseley himself deserves credit for working to bring the details of this case to light. The same institution that wanted to lock up Lisl Auman for life is none too enthusiastic about advertising the fact.

According to Moseley,the district attorney’s office took over a year to respond to his request to review the case files, and when they finally did respond, they demanded hundreds of dollars in “retrieval” and “redaction” fees.

These are just some of the many barriers that the state throws up against anyone it doesn’t want snooping around, and the state holds almost all the cards. Moseley wasn’t discouraged, however, and in the end he produced a work of journalism which is no doubt an embarrassment to some powerful people, but is nevertheless an important account of how the legal system works in America.

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