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2nd-chance-worthy crimes vs. deal breakers: murder? sexual assault? beating Rihanna?

Happy Friday, friends and frienemies. It's been a helluva week, but not necessarily a bad one. Suck on that for a minute.

But while you absorb my attempt at philosophizing, here's the essence of today's moral debate: How do we determine what crimes can be forgiven and forgotten, and how do we determine which crimes are total deal breakers that even if forgiven will never be forgotten?

Off the top of my head, I'd argue sex crimes and murder are deal breakers.

But upon reflection of the Great Public Mindset that short list may not be completely accurate.

Yesterday my colleague Fred Grimm, a terrific local columnist, wrote a column about how various government agencies have mishandled a housing debacle for homeless convicted sex offenders in Miami-Dade County. The issue was that housing can't be found for these guys 'cause of different restrictions in local communities mandating that these guys can't live too close to schools and what not. So a big group of 'em is literally living under a bridge in Miami.

Now, for the record, I have no sympathy for sex offenders, whether they've served their time or not. It's not the kind of thing for which I'll accept "I've found Jebus!" And while I fancy myself something of a spiritual guy, I don't think I could bring myself to forgive this kind of crime.

Setting my feelings aside though, one government official in Fred's column argued that these sex offenders had paid their legal dues and presented more of a threat to the community, because they are living unmonitored under a bridge instead of at a real address where probation/parole authorities can keep a better eye on them.

Enough rambling though. Here's the crux of this post: Some readers who commented on Fred's column argued that some crimes - in this case sex crimes - are so bad that they warrant no form of redemption.

My snap judgment was that I agreed with those commenters, but I thought about it all night. And when I woke up this morning I was second guessing myself, because I couldn't come up with a solid "list" beyond sex crimes of which crimes allow for a second chance and which don't.

No need to rehash all of the ongoing saga of singers Chris Brown, 19, and Rihanna, 21. He's alleged to have beaten the crap out of her in his car shortly before the Grammys a few weeks ago. He's now been charged with two felonies in relation to the alleged beating. Entertainment industry pundits predict his career is done. If he did what he's accused of, I hope Karma and the prison system deal him a serious blow.

Thankfully Brown, if he's guilty (and the evidence is really piling up), didn't permanently injure Rihanna. But what if he'd killed her?

One of my former favorite authors, Nathan McCall, is a convicted killer, who saw some sort of light back in the day when he was in prison, started writing, got an education, and post-prison became a big time news writer and an author and a college professor.

McCall's turnaround has been chronicled in news reports in the past. He's been celebrated widely for being a new person and for being such a help and a voice to the downtrodden.

I used to be a huge fan of actor Charles Dutton. He's a convicted killer - he served time for manslaughter, a crime committed long ago in his "past" life

Both men were convicted of taking lives when they were younger. What if McCall had been found guilty of fondling someone - man, woman, or child - when he was a younger man? Would he have been given opportunities to become a star writer? What about Dutton? If his crime had been rape instead of manslaughter or if he'd driven drunk and struck and crippled a pedestrian, would have found a movie career after that?

R&B singer R. Kelly ALLEGEDLY  likes to urinate on teenagers. That's not a crime, but it's damn sure nasty. After he was indicted by a federal grand jury several years ago for a host of sex crimes (for which he was later acquitted at trial) his album sales remained strong and spiked upward for a time.

British singer Amy Winehouse has had a very public battle with apparent and occasionally admitted substance abuse and erratic behavior - she has on several occasions assaulted autograph seekers and total strangers in the form of punches and slaps. Not as bad as girlfriend beating or sex assault or murder, but you could argue her alleged drug use is hurting kids, 'cause she's putting money in the pocket of some sidewalk pharmacist, giving him capital to continue funding his illegal industry.

Director Roman Polanski had sex with a teenager, was charged with a crime for it, and fled the country to avoid the law. In spite of that, some of Hollywood's biggest names have gone overseas to work with Polanski in recent years.

I could go on and on and on.

What's your take? Which crimes allow for a career after the criminal's dues are paid? Which don't?

BTW, don't forget to follow me at http://twitter.com/jamesburnett.


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ɔıuʎɔıʇsɐɔɹɐs ǝɥʇ

Hey as long as these guys don't start tryin' to marry each other like they're fighting to do here in NC, I don't care WHERE they live. Also as long as it's not in my back yard.


James, I noticed past tense on the favored author and actor choices.

Did you stop liking their work when you found out when they were killers?

To me, there are actions and consequences rather than forgiveness and second chances. I've grown fairly jaded as I age. I've come to realize there is really no good or evil in the world, there is only socially acceptable and socially unacceptable.

What is socially acceptable has very wide boundaries depending on what part of the world you are in.

For example majority of Americans think that eating a dog is animal cruelty. Not that big of a deal in certain places in Asia. Why do we get to say it's wrong if their culture accepts it?

I tend to find more things socially acceptable than the rest of society it seems.

I'll use one of your examples.I really like Charles Dutton. I think he's a phenomenal actor and I've heard multiple interviews with him where he has spoken frankly and honestly about the crime he was convicted for. My view is that he paid the price that society required of him.

If people don't agree with that then they should honestly try and change the laws to reflect the way that they feel. If you think manslaughter is unforgivable, then you should actively seek to have manslaughter as an offense that has a life sentence with no parole. The same goes for any other crime that you feel strongly about.

James B.

Sarc, you lost me. You mean sex offenders in NC are trying to marry one another? That's like an arsonist and homemade bomb maker hooking up. Shouldn't be allowed.

Wavemanncali, I guess I shouldn't have used past tense. It's not that I don't like McCall's writing anymore. I've just read so many new people since I discovered him back in the day that he's slid to the bottom of my favorites list. While it appalled me that he'd killed someone under criminal circumstances as a younger man, I confess I was comfortable - fascinated even - reading his books. I figured he'd served his time and so many "smart" people had deemed him a changed man who'd paid his dues under the law that who was I to insist that he keep paying. I also admit though that I don't feel so forgiving when it comes to certain other crimes. A "former" child molester who wrote a book when he got out of prison? I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.

BTW, I don't think manslaughter is unforgiveable. You'll notice this post is one big question...what you think of it and a zillion other crimes. Like I said, I was A-OK with Nathan McCall and Charles Dutton.

Besides, you don't want me setting new laws. I'd demand life sentences for people who don't pick up after their dogs in the park.


James -- this just twists my head into knots.

ɔıuʎɔıʇsɐɔɹɐs ǝɥʇ

Sorry. On retrospect I see where I was unclear. It's not sex offenders trying to hook up - it's gays wanting to marry in NC. Here the homophobes want to write discrimination into our state constitution by amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman ONLY. Progressive state, NC, No?

class factotum

I notice you left out an entire category -- when the criminal has not paid the price at all, yet has lived life just fine, even though his crime has been well known. It has never been proven or even charged in a court of law that Teddy Kennedy left Mary Jo K. in that car to die and then used his political power to cover up the crime, but there is pretty strong evidence. Yet his life has gone on just fine.

That is pretty troubling.

class factotum

Sorry James. Your blog, your choice! I could have phrased that better, as in, "What about when the criminal hasn't even paid the price?!" Not the accusatory, "I NOTICE!" No insult intended.

James B.

Pamela, I take that as high compliment!

I get you now, Sarc. Sorry, my brain was working slowly first time around.

Class Factotum, thanks for the follow-up. I was gonna reply that "left out" is a loaded couple of words that suggest the ommission of Kennedy and Chapaquittic was an intentional or conspiratorial thing in this post. I just picked a few examples off the top of my head. Maybe if I'd mulled over this post for an hour after writing I'd have thought of Kennedy too. But to your point, we have O.J. Simpson, whom a huge majority of Americans, strongly believe killed his estranged wife and Ron Goldman. But a jury acquitted him of that crime. Why hadn't we accepted O.J. back into society (pre-robbery/kidnap conviction)? Because so many people, including me, are convinced he did it. Whereas Kennedy was never arrested or charged with anything. He was spared great public wrath, if you don't count him not being able to run for president ever. I'd say he and O.J. are opposite sides of the same coin...sort of.

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