A man who was serving a life sentence in Louisiana for stealing hedge clippers from someone’s garage in 1997 has been granted parole after spending 23 years in prison.
Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, was facing life behind bars due to the attempted burglary conviction and his criminal record. However, the state’s draconian habitual offender laws led to Bryant’s harsh sentence.
Bryant’s life sentence became the subject of withering criticism from civil liberties advocates and the chief justice of Louisiana’s Supreme Court, who called the sentence “cruel and unusual” and a legacy of slavery and racism in the Southern state.
According to Bryant’s parole panel, Bryant’s criminal record consisted of 22 arrests and 11 convictions. The past convictions included four felonies, only one of which was for a violent crime – an attempted armed robbery of a taxi driver in 1979.
In 1997, Bryant was driving when his car stalled and he went into somebody’s garage looking for a tank of gas. At that point, he was encountered and attempted to flee on foot.
When police apprehended him, he was accused of having stolen a pair of hedge clippers that were found in his vehicle, a claim that he denied. Evidence suggested that he had, however, intended to commit theft. Bryant’s previous criminal record and the state’s harsh repeat offender laws led to him receiving a life sentence, which he tried to appeal for the next 23 years.
Two months ago, Bryant’s case appeared before the Louisiana Supreme Court, which voted 5-1 to reject the appeal. The five votes came from while male board members, while the sole dissenting vote came from Bernette J. Johnson, the state’s first Black Chief Justice, who called for a review of the case.
In her opinion, Chief Justice Johnson blasted the sentence as completely disproportionate to the crime, noting that Bryant’s sentence had already cost taxpayers $518,667.
“Harsh habitual offender laws … permit a life sentence for a Black man convicted of property crimes,” Johnson wrote. “This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose.”
“If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers,” she added.
Additionally, she described his past criminal offenses as the sort of “petty theft” rooted in the “ravages of poverty or addiction.”
She also blasted the state’s notorious repeat offender law as similar to the racist Black Codes and “Pig Laws” that unjustly penalized poor Black people for crimes like stealing farm animals or being unemployed, while also treating common misdemeanors and trivial offenses as felonies. In Mississippi, “pig laws” meant that any theft of property over $10 was enhanced to grand larceny. As a result of the “pig laws,” the prison population quadrupled.
On Thursday, the Committee on Parole voted unanimously to release him by a vote of 3-0. Bryant will be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings due to his history of drug and alcohol abuse, and he must also perform community service and adhere to a curfew.
Louisiana State University (LSU) Professor Robert Lancaster, director of the LSU Parole and Re-entry Clinic, represented Bryant during the hearing. Bryant was also assisted by Kelsey Jenkins, a third-year LSU Law student who helped Lancaster draft a memo that was submitted in support of early release.
“Mr. Bryant’s sentence is an example of the flaws in Louisiana’s criminal legal system, but the Parole Committee’s decision to grant him early release shows the importance of periodic evaluation of an individual’s rehabilitation, which Mr. Bryant will continue with the support of the Louisiana Parole Project, Inc.,” wrote Jenkins.
Rights defenders such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana hailed the decision as long overdue.
“Now it is imperative that the Legislature repeal the habitual offender law that allows for these unfair sentences, and for district attorneys across the state to immediately stop seeking extreme penalties for minor offenses,” said Louisiana ACLU executive director Alanah Odoms in an emailed statement.
Over 1.5 BILLION Face Masks Now Believed to Be Polluting Oceans Thanks to 2020
As 2020 draws to a close, one of the most recognizable symbols of the year may be the protective face mask.
As the novel coronavirus swept across the globe earlier this year, billions of people began wearing the face coverings, with one study estimating that no less than 129 billion face masks were being used every month around the world.
However, as face masks have become ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives, they’ve also grown to litter every corner of our neighborhoods, from storm drains to creeks, parks to beaches.
“Once plastic enters the marine environment, it’s very difficult to move,” Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, the group’s director of research, told Denver 7.
“The fact that we are starting to find masks that are breaking up indicates that this is a real problem, that microplastics are being produced by masks,” Bondaroff said.
The Hong Kong-based group estimates that some 1.56 billion face masks will have flooded our oceans in 2020 alone – a grim statistic that they have witnessed firsthand since face masks began washing up on a small island off the coast of the Chinese mega-city since the start of the pandemic.
The masks could become yet another major contributor to the ongoing crisis of plastic pollution in our ocean, with disposable face masks taking as long as 450 years to break down.
The single-use masks that are recommended by health authorities and used as personal protective equipment in hospitals across the world are made of multiple layers of polypropylene, which are thin fibers of plastic.
And with 52 billion masks being manufactured in this year, with the average weight of each single-use polypropylene surgical face mask being 3 to 4 grams, we could be looking at anywhere from 4,680 to 6,240 metric tons of new marine plastic pollution.
Ocean pollution has already reached such monstrous proportions that an estimated 100 million tons of plastic can now be found in the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations. Between 80 and 90 percent of it comes from land-based sources. And according to a report prepared for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by 2050 it is estimated that plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh all fish.
In recent years, ocean biologists and conservationists have expressed alarm over the growing problem of plastics and microplastics inundating the world’s oceans and water supplies, leaching carcinogenic toxins and chemicals into the marine environment, with plastic drink containers trapping and confining — and ultimately killing — marine wildlife.
“The question that we couldn’t answer was how many [masks] are entering our oceans? We just didn’t know,” Dr. Bondaroff said.
OceansAsia’s recent study could offer some alarming clues as to the extent of the pollution, however.
“The 1.56 billion face masks that have entered our oceans in 2020 are there for the long run,” he said. “They will remain in the ocean for 450 years or more, and they’ll break into smaller pieces.”
The report notes that the global sales force of face masks has grown exponentially, increasing from $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020.
The surging sales come as health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued official health guidance urging U.S. residents to always wear a face mask in public in lieu of or in addition to physical distancing measures meant to help prevent person-to-person transmission of the deadly disease.
“That’s important, we need to keep people safe, but at the same time that has a lasting impact on our environment, and we’re seeing that on the beaches,” Bondaroff added.
The report requests that the public wear reusable masks when possible while also disposing of masks properly as a step toward drawing down overall consumption of single-use plastics.
The group also calls on authorities to encourage the use of reusable masks, including releasing guidelines on the proper manufacture and use of reusable masks, while also educating the public about responsibly disposing of masks, among other measures.
Downtown Chicago transforms into Gotham City as film crews shoot for “The Batman”
Parts of downtown Chicago have transformed into Gotham City this weekend as film crews have begun shooting exterior scenes of the latest reboot of the Batman saga, titled “The Batman.”
On Thursday and Friday evening, crew members began preparing the Loop near Chicago’s Thompson Center for overnight action sequences involving motorcycles. Gotham City Police Department squad cars could also be seen driving around the Loop while tattered flyers advertising Gotham Music Festival were also visible.
The latest incarnation of the Batman franchise stars Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame in the titular role, as well as big stars like Zoe Kravitz, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Colin Farrell and Andy Serkis. The film is slated to be released in March 2022 after facing several release delays due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The production of the film also hit a snag after Pattinson was diagnosed with the virus.
Film production crews typically use fake code names for projects in hopes to not attract too much attention, and in this case filming notices posted across downtown Chicago are using the title “Vengeance” rather than The Batman.
The production crew didn’t appear to be too keen on keeping things secret, as evidenced by social media posts thanking the crew members from letting fans snap photos alongside props.
“Shout out to the Chicago crew of THE BATMAN — very kind and patient, let us take pictures and then kindly asked us to keep walking,” said Batman fan and local journalist Jake Hamilton in a tweet. “[They] still allowed us to be fans and were fun about it. There’s no city like Chicago.”
The film has primarily been filmed in London, but Chicago has served as a double for Gotham City in previous films about the Caped Crusader such as Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008).
Fans have been eagerly analyzing every image from the production of The Batman to pick up clues about the plot points of the film.
On Friday, Twitter user Yassine shared an image from the movie’s London set that appears to indicate that the film will be connected in some way to the larger “DC Extended Universe” tying the various characters of DC Comics lore to one another. In the photo, an extra can be seen wearing a Superman costume in what appears to be a Hollywood party scene.
However, it remains unclear how The Batman will tie into the larger DC world, which includes such popular characters as Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Shazam.
The new film is rumored to focus on Bruce Wayne delving into detective work to track down a serial killer who is running loose in Gotham City. Recurring antagonists of Batman such as Penguin, Catwoman, and Riddler will be among his biggest foes while lesser villains such as the Mad Hatter and Two Face will also play small roles.
It’s also been rumored that another villain could appear in the film, but this detail remains under wraps.
Ex-cop who showed off nude photos of murder victim Lauren McCluskey faces no charges
Lauren McCluskey, a student at the University of Utah, was murdered by a stalker in 2018 after police officers largely ignored her pleas for help. Instead, the officers acquired nude photos of the young woman and shared them between themselves.
And now, two years later, the former University of Utah officer who disseminated explicit photos of the 21-year-old victim has been cleared of any criminal charges.
On Thursday, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office announced that former officer Miguel Dera would not be prosecuted despite the clear misconduct of him acquiring and then sharing the photos of McCluskey.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill admitted that the officer’s actions were “definitely reckless,” but no state laws exist on the books that address such offenses, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.
“We realized there was no real statute we could use for this case,” Gill explained. “We’re incensed like everyone else by the behavior. It was inappropriate. But if there’s not a statute, there’s nothing we can do.”
McCluskey was shot to death in 2018 by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 38, who had been harassing and blackmailing the young student for weeks prior to her killng. Rowland took his own life hours after murdering McCluskey, according to police.
The two had briefly dated in 2018 before McCluskey ended the relationship after finding out Rowland had lied about his age and criminal past. Rowland was a convicted sex offender who proceeded to stalk and extort McCluskey.
When McCluskey reached out to campus police to end the harassment, Deras was assigned to the case. McCluskey provided the explicit photos to the officer in hopes that he would use them for the investigation.
Instead, Deras shared the photos of McCluskey with at least three of his male coworkers without any work-related reason, according to an investigation by the Utah Department of Public Safety. The DPS report also found that lewd comments were allegedly made about the images.
In the days prior to her death, McCluskey complained about campus police failing to follow up or update her, according to 911 transcripts.
While the district attorney claims that “no real statute” could have been used to pursue justice in the case, Gill all-too-conveniently waited until precisely one day after the state could have filed misdemeanor charges against the former officer for abusing evidence. However, the statute of limitations has now expired.
“We just got it so late and were limited in what options we had,” Gill said.
Family attorney Jim McConkie said that Lauren McCluskey was also abused while she was alive by the officer, who saw fit to share her photos and brag about them without her consent mere days before she was murdered.
“What Gill is saying to women with this decision is, ‘We can’t help you. Don’t come to us,’” McConkie said.
McCluskey’s parent’s, Jill and Matt McCluskey, have expressed outrage about the failure to file charges.
“Instead of helping her, Deras showed her images to other male officers and bragged about it,” the parents said. “A consequence of Gill’s decision is that women will hesitate to report extortion and harassment for fear that the private information they provide will be compromised, or even leered at, by officers for reasons unrelated to her case.”