Wal­lace shooter’s re­lease evokes fa­tal-crimes flash­backs

No­to­ri­ous killings trig­ger an ‘el­e­ment of nos­tal­gia’

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By An­drea Billups

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.

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