This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: New research from the Brennan Center focuses on mass incarceration in the US as both a reflection and a cause of inequality. People who get caught up in the criminal justice system – a group that’s disproportionately poor and Black – are not only held back by the social stigma that comes with a criminal record; they also sustain enormous financial losses as a result: those who spend time in prison miss out on more than half the future income they might otherwise have earned. And a piece from The Marshall Project focuses on the US Sentencing Commission, the powerful behind-the-scenes agency that writes sentencing rules for the entire federal prison system. The commission, which helps set prison terms for more than 70,000 Americans each year, is required by law to be independent, bipartisan, and to represent a diversity of backgrounds. But the Trump administration has broken from that precedent, moving to fill the agency’s five empty seats with white, male, tough-on-crime former law enforcement officials.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: The New York Times reported this week that according to new research from the National Registry of Exonerations, official misconduct – including witness tampering, fabricating or concealing evidence, and misconduct in interrogations or at trial – plays a role in more than half of all wrongful convictions. The study found that overall, exonerated Black defendants were slightly more likely than white defendants to be victims of official misconduct, by a margin of 57% to 52%. This disparity increased with the severity of the crime; in exonerations involving death sentences, the study found misconduct in 87% of the cases involving Black defendants, compared with 68% for whites. A related piece from The Atlantic highlights “the other police violence”: the many different forms of police misconduct that disproportionately target innocent Black men – and the culture of impunity that protects police officers even after their misconduct comes to light. And another piece from the New York Times outlines how New York City’s police unions came to embrace – and endorse – President Trump. In one of the most liberal and racially-diverse cities in the country, police union leaders have stridently repeated the president’s “mayhem messaging,” declared war on the Democratic mayor, and attacked Black Lives Matter protesters in scathing, obscene terms. Partly to blame is the widening demographic gap between the city, its police force, and the police unions’ leadership, which is overwhelmingly suburban, conservative, and white.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the New York Times Magazine takes a deep look into “what happened inside Ed Buck’s apartment.” Ed Buck, a prominent political donor, was arrested in 2019 after two Black men suffered fatal drug overdoses in his West Hollywood apartment in two separate incidents less than two years apart. Federal prosecutors and the Los Angeles DA will soon try to prove in court that Buck was illegally distributing meth from his apartment and helped cause at least two overdose deaths. The piece explores the details of the case, Buck’s background and those of his victims, attempting to separate conspiracy theory from tabloid spin from fact. And a piece from The Atlantic recounts the wild true story of Toby Dorr, AKA “the Dog Lady.” A mild-mannered, law-abiding animal lover and mother of three, Toby led a simple, if unfulfilling, life. In 2004, wanting to make the world a better place, she started a dog-fostering program at the state penitentiary in her hometown of Lansing, Kansas. It was there that she met John Manard, a convicted murderer 22 years her junior, fell in love, and conspired to smuggle him out of prison in a wire dog crate.
And in culture/true crime: Slate reviews A Wilderness of Error, an upcoming true crime docuseries from FX. The series tackles “one of the most-argued-about mysteries in the history of true crime”: the murder of Colette MacDonald and her two young daughters in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1970. In an interview with New York Magazine, actress Alfre Woodard discusses police violence, the “ripple effects of institutionalized murder,” and the making of Clemency, the 2019 film in which she starred as a death row warden haunted by a botched execution. And the Los Angeles Times profiles Susan Burton, a formerly incarcerated activist, author, and founder of the annual Justice on Trial Film Festival.