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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rudolph's Spreading Penumbra

Already, Rudolph's influence is spreading.  According to this story (hat tip to CrimProf), a sixty year old man with some medical problems was inspired by Rudolph's good fortune in landing in prison and ensuring that the government would "take care of him" in perpetuity. 

On TV, he followed the case of Rudolph — who pleaded guilty this spring in a deal that will send him to prison for life — and wanted the same fate. “He was saying that he wanted to be cared for by the federal government, that he was in poor health and wanted to be taken care of,” said Atlanta postal inspector Tracey Jefferson. Crutchfield, a 60-year-old electrical contractor who lived alone, claimed $90,000 in medical debts for an unspecified ailment and feared losing his home, another postal inspector testified at his preliminary hearing.

So the guy decides to unload seven shots at Earl Lazenby, a local letter carrier; that way he can serve the rest of his life in prison, and avoid his difficulties and debts. 

The explanation makes no sense to the Lazenbys [the victims' family]. “If all he wanted to do was commit a federal crime, all he had to do was walk into a bank with an empty gun and point it at them and say, ‘Give me your money.’ And that’s your federal crime, and no one gets hurt,” the letter carrier said. “Instead of trying to kill the mailman.”

This whole story reminds me of the familiar locution that life is better in prison for some because at least there you have an Arendtian right to rights. Crutchfield is responsible for his crimes; and we are responsible for ours.  But his motivation for his crime should have us thinking a bit more broadly about social dislocations and obligations of distributive justice. Universal medical care, anyone?

Very sad, all the same.

Posted by Administrators on July 21, 2005 at 09:20 AM in Criminal Law, Dan Markel | Permalink


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OK! didn't you mean the guy was cheated?

Posted by: Mcgill | Dec 7, 2005 7:15:16 AM

Erin, you're right to excoriate the deficiencies of our mental health system generally, but without more information, I'm averse to presuming Crutchfield is simply meshuga. Moreover, I think it's Crutchfield himself who thought, hey, that Rudolph character got a sweet deal, I should go do something like that. This seems to be one instance where the media wasn't sensationalizing it, but rather reporting Crutchfield's thinking. I agree, though, it's not reasonable thinking, but it may be rational...except for the points that Mike brings up, but that's probably just an information problem that Crutchfield had, not necessarily a cognition one!

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jul 21, 2005 3:01:46 PM

I've heard a lot of people talk about how "great" prison life is. And they meant it.

Sure, putting aside the gang rapes, beatings by other inmates and guards, lack of access to decent food or medical care, it's pretty sweet on the "inside," since, like, you know, you get free cable TV and stuff.

Posted by: Mike | Jul 21, 2005 2:37:57 PM

Although I am never one to shy aware from a discussion of universal medical care, I think that if there is any lesson in this story, it is in the failures of the mental health system. I take issue with the idea that we can analyze Crutchfield's "motive" as though it comes from a rational, sane person -- after all, as the Lazenbys' point out, it's really not that hard to land a substantial federal sentence without opening fire on a human being. It is simply sensationalist to treat this as some sort of Rudolph-inspired "twisted"-but-rational plan to get taken care of by the federal government. I consider Crutchfield's actions no more illuminating than any irrational act of a clearly mentally ill man; he might as well have said that he shot the man because the tiny green men said they would help him if he did. (In this regard, I also can't help but wonder what the "unspecified ailment" was that generated such deep medical debt.)

Posted by: Erin Murphy | Jul 21, 2005 1:26:44 PM

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