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The absurd incongruity of the state’s application of shock probation has added a new twist of the sword of inequity, a new and ugly demonstration of why the law must be rewritten, redefined or – best of option of all – repealed.
Exhibit 1: Tonya Nicole Brown delivers a baby in a restroom of a restaurant in Shelby County, puts that living baby into plastic bags and shoves them into a trash receptacle, gets back into her vehicle and drives home to Lexington.
Exhibit 2: Law office manager Jody Wills steals millions from the accounts of her employer and lover, admits to stealing about $900,000, is given a more lenient sentence than she had accepted and ultimately is sent to prison because she fails to make a restitution schedule on the money she owed.
Exhibit 3: Both women agreed to plea arrangements to lesser charges in Shelby Circuit Court and accepted 10-year sentences in prison. Ms. Wills had an aggressive restitution schedule, but there was no restitution for the death of Ms. Brown’s daughter.
One of these women was granted shock probation and served only a few months in prison.
The other was denied shock probation and is about to spend her second year in prison.
The logical guess as to which is free would not apply, of course.
Ms. Brown, following the killing of her baby, was granted freedom because she had been shocked by the time she spent in prison.
Ms. Wills, after a year of attempting to make $600-per-week payments, has not been shocked sufficiently, and her debt won’t be paid for years.
How can the application of a single law produce two so contradictory results?
This is not to suggest that Ms. Wills should not be in prison, serving out the sentence to which she agreed. We most assuredly think that she should.
We just believe she is a poster person for a legal latitude that is so poorly navigated and even more loosely applied that it creates victims rather than protecting them.
There is further irony afoot here, as well.
Ms. Brown was freed by an interim judge working in Shelby Circuit Court – former senior judge Steven Mershon, who was moved by a letter-writing campaign on her behalf and an emotional plea from Ms. Brown herself. Her husband and daughter needed her at home, Judge Mershon said.
Ms. Wills only had been free from prison since 2010 because Judge Mershon, in another cameo appearance, decided that the penalty she had accepted was too long to allow for restitution and ultimately sentenced her to 9 months of house arrest in the Shelby County Detention Center, which allowed her to work and to see her family.
Ms. Wills ultimately was sentenced to serve behind bars and denied shock probation by Senior Circuit Judge Charles Hickman, the man elected to serve our county, who responded to a motion from Commonwealth Attorney Laura Donnell that Ms. Wills was not fulfilling her probation.
That ruling is under appeal from Ms. Wills’ attorneys, but it has no mitigating affect on the request for shock probation.
Ms. Wills now has served twice as long as Ms. Brown.
Ms. Wills will be on probation long after Ms. Brown.
Ms. Wills stole some money, and Ms. Brown killed her baby.
As we have documented in past years, not only has this admitted killer been freed by shock probation, but thousands of other felons have walked away from jail cells – some to go on to commit new crimes that killed others.
Do we not grasp this problem? Can’t our lawmakers and our adjudicators – the court system – see that there is insufficient oversight of shock probation?
Doesn’t it seem as if we determine who should receive speeding tickets based on the color of a vehicle or arrest for DUI only those who had been drinking bourbon and not beer?
Does this example of inequity not offer the ultimate contrast to how two cases can be disparately dispensed by the same court, if different judges?
Ms. Wills no longer is eligible for shock probation. That window of opportunity has passed.
Unless an appeals court grants her a new hearing on the sentence she received, she will be in jail for most of the next decade, paying her debt to society if not to her former employer.
Ms. Brown is spending the holidays again with her family – minus one member who did not survive.
Frankly, we are shocked at the whims and trivialities of our judicial system.
But we can’t escape our sentence of seeing a bad law applied as it has been, can we?