Wallace shooter’s release evokes fatal-crimes flashbacks
Notorious killings trigger an ‘element of nostalgia’
Arthur Bremer’s recent release from prison transported many people back in time to that fateful day in 1972 when he shot and paralyzed Democratic presidential candidate George C. Wallace in Laurel, Md.
Bremer’s release on Nov. 9 also likely stirred memories of other high-profile crimes of that era, including the fatal shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968, and the murderous crime spree led by Charles Manson in 1969 in California.
“In general, there is an odd element of nostalgia that is attached to these crimes, especially for baby boomers,” says Michael Seigel, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. “It may be odd, but I do think that for many of us, it br ings back memor ies of where we were, and what we were doing and how these events impacted our lives.”
Sirhan, 63, remains behind bars at the Califor nia State Prison in Corcoran after being passed over for parole for the 13th time in March 2006. He will not be eligible for parole again until 2011, and reports from pr ison officials suggest that Sirhan, a native of Jerusalem who grew up in California, still harbors anger toward Americans and remains “very hostile.”
As for Manson, he is now 73 and serving five life terms at Corcoran for his role as the conspirator in seven deaths carried out by his followers. He was denied parole for the 11th time in May and will not be eligible again until 2012.
Reports of Manson’s life behind bars have been chronicled on several Web sites, including www.mansondirect.com, which features recent photographs of the aging killer as well as messages and writings he has produced behind bars.
It is unlikely Manson or Sirhan ever will be released from prison, Mr. Seigel says, noting that although they are among a small group of older, high-profile prisoners who have the right to parole, the deck is fully stacked against them.
“The fact that they are either celebrities or they are infamous because of the gruesome nature of their crime and the media attention that comes with that does not bode well for them when they come up for parole,” says criminologist Jeffrey Ian Ross, author of several books, including “Behind Bars: Surviving Pr ison” and “Special Problems in Corrections.”
“The more publicity there is around a case, the more people will weigh in. Not just victims or the families of victims, but other organizations,” says Mr. Ross, a professor at the University of Baltimore. “Parole boards are very cognizant of public opinion, particularly in the controversial cases. That’s a formidable barrier.”
As for Bremer, 57, who reportedly is living in Cumberland, Md., Mr. Seigel says: “George Wallace has been dead for a number of years, and I think it was easier to give him parole because [Wallace] had died. Part of it, too, I think, was that Wallace was never a terribly popular figure in vast parts of the country. That makes it easier.”
Mr. Ross warns that the longer an inmate serves, the more difficult it is for him or her to adjust on the outside as he or she moves from a regulated lifestyle to one that offers immediate freedom.
In many cases, however, citizens should not live in fear that the person who has been released after a long stay, like Bremer, will commit the same offense again.
“Most of the time, murder is not a recidivist crime. Unless someone is a mass murderer or a psychopath, they don’t do it again,” Mr. Seigel says. “Statistically speaking, if someone kills in a fit of passion, the odds of them murdering again is not high.”
Public interest in the crimes is high, however, with a proliferation of such TV shows as “CSI” and “Law & Order,” which fuel the nation’s collective fascination, he says.
“Americans find crime, particularly homicide, as entertainment, which is unfortunate, but has become part of our culture,” Mr. Seigel says.