The Blotter Presents 143: A Confession and Let Him Have It

Plus, James Earl Ray, Nancy Grace, and NYC crime stats.

If only Britbox were available outside the UK! My guest Al Lowe Huff and I would absolutely recommend you try it out for A Confession — the Martin Freeman-starring six-parter on the Sian O’Callaghan murder investigation, and Steve Fulcher’s subsequent downfall for stretching the “caution” statute until it snapped — but unless you’ve got a British CC/debit card, you’re SOL. (For now, anyway.) A Confession features great performances, nimble exposition, process-y sequences, and…Pete, who is a jackass, but fascinating. When it finally shows up on Masterpiece in a year, make a note.

Later, we discussed Let Him Have It, which put Christopher Eccleston on the map with a nuanced turn as Derek Bentley — and, like A Confession, explored without congratulating itself the effects of crime and punishment on families living in the scorched earth left behind.

Both properties are like a reunion for Midsomer Murders guests and Call The Midwife alums, one propulsive, the other atmospheric; Al and I recommend both in Episode 143 of The Blotter Presents, which you can hear right here.

With many city inmates getting released to avoid COVID-19, what’s the impact on crime in NYC? WNYC’s Beth Fertig notes that it’s complicated, starting with the fact that the reduction in the Rikers population — it’s down 28% since mid-March — isn’t entirely down to coronavirus preventive measures:

The bail law that changed in January resulted in fewer people being held in jail. Then, when the city went into lockdown mode in March, major crimes dropped by almost 29 percent and fewer people were arrested, reversing what had been an uptick in crime.

Fertig also explains that it’s hard to pin down trends because of the different types of prisoners released (the three main groups consist of prisoners serving year sentences or shorter; parole violators; and arrestees held on bail but released by judges). As well, only two boroughs responded as to how many of the releases NYPD and borough ADAs concurred with. (Elsewhere in the article, it’s evident that the police weren’t feeling the vast majority of the releases.)

The headline on Gothamist was that 8 percent of those released got re-arrested. My first reaction would be that that’s low; the police say it’s high; Fertig reminds us that there’s “no comparison point” for a similar situation, and with this many variables, the only conclusion we have much “use” for is that commercial burglaries spiked in the last month and a half…which they did nationwide, and which anyone could have told you would happen. The piece is worth a read, but let’s face it: we’re not going to see the true outlines of the pandemic’s effect on the courts and carceral system for years. — SDB

Even Best Evidence’s Least Wanted poster child Nancy Grace thinks the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery is sketchy. Proving that even a broken Fox-programming host can be right twice a day, Grace argued in a recent episode of her show Crime Stories with Nancy Grace that the father-son duo who shot Arbery in February can’t use “citizens’ arrest” OR self-defense based on Georgia statutes. Granted, she’s probably mostly annoyed that the McMichaelses took matters into their own hands instead of letting her heroes in law enforcement “handle” Arbery, but I’m not tuning in to her show to get that suspicion confirmed. (Need an explainer on the case to date? CNN has one here.) — SDB

Still hacking through the underbrush of “heritage” magazines at my house, but finding some long-read gems, including Héctor Tobar’s “The Assassin Next Door” from the 7/29/19 New Yorker. The assassin in question is James Earl Ray, who murdered Martin Luther King Jr., and while Tobar’s actual contact with Ray was figurative, the piece is evocative, both about Tobar’s childhood and his gradual awakening to racism and de facto segregation; and about Ray and his upbringing, hopeless as it probably always was. There is empathy for Ray as a boy, this overlooked and never special creature:

The teachers who met James Earl Ray as a boy saw a proud, angry young man suffering from neglect. His fifth-grade teacher noted that sometimes he was barefoot and smelled of urine. On his report card, she wrote of Ray, “Attitude towards regulations: Violates all of them. Appearance: Repulsive.”

What happened later is, while not forgivable, not surprising either.

If anyone out there has read Gerald Posner’s Killing The Dream and can recommend in either direction, let me know. (I don’t entirely agree with his JFK conclusions, but it’s persuasive and well written.) I can let you know that, when we’re all allowed to do things again, you should try to visit the National Civil Rights Museum, which is where King was killed. I was there 10 years ago and I’ve never forgotten the sensation of looking out over the motel lot at Ray’s sniper’s nest across the way. Lays a chill on you that’s tough to shake, and should be. — SDB

We take requests. Curious about a book or article? Need a fraud-doc “playlist” to kill time — or appropriate viewing for your teenager’s home-school “history unit”? Let us know! It’s what we’re here for. (Want to write such a playlist or syllabus? We’re here for that too, and we pay! Not much, but it’ll keep you in DoorDash for a meal or two.)

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