(Updated) Warrick Dunn’s Take On The Kevan Brumfield Case

UPDATE: And now the Advocate has published Dunn’s letter. Good for them.

We get results, apparently.

ORIGINAL: Thursday’s Baton Rouge Advocate had a piece by Joe Gyan detailing the analytical gymnastics undergone by U.S. District Judge James Brady in order to find Kevan Brumfield, the perpetrator of the 1993 murder of Baton Rouge Police Cpl. Betty Smothers, mentally retarded and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

Gyan’s is a dispassionate article which in almost deadpan fashion takes the reader through one hoop after another in Brady’s exegesis of the case; to wit…

Swanson testified for Brumfield in Brady’s courtroom in 2010 that black male students were being disproportionately diagnosed as mentally retarded in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This apparent over-diagnosis problem caused an over-correction by school officials, Brady said in repeating part of Swanson’s testimony.

“School officials, psychologists and appraisal teams were accordingly cautious not to over-represent black males as being mentally retarded and were instead urged to consider other alternative (diagnoses) that would avoid placing the mental retardation label on them,’’ the judge wrote. “Swanson confirmed that East Baton Rouge Parish schools, which Brumfield attended (in the ’70s), had received this admonition.’’

The District Attorney’s Office contends Brumfield’s diagnoses of conduct disorders, under-socialization and aggressiveness during his school years show a conspicuous lack of mention of mental retardation.

“Because the school appraisal teams might have looked past factors pointing toward Brumfield’s mental retardation in favor of diagnosing him with more politically palatable ailments … the Court refuses to treat his lack of prior diagnosis as preclusive,’’ Brady wrote.

So because there had been an overdiagnosis of mental retardation among black kids, Brumfield was part of a group which was ignored in that regard? No suggestion in Brady’s ruling was made that diagnoses of retardation disappeared while Brumfield was in the system, of course; all his ruling indicates is that such diagnoses fell from favor.

Gyan continues further down Brady’s rabbit hole…

Swanson and psychologist Ricardo Weinstein testified for Brumfield at a 2010 hearing that he is mentally retarded. Forensic psychiatrist Robert Blanche, clinical psychologist Donald Hoppe and clinical neuropsychologist John Bolter, all of Baton Rouge, testified for the state that Brumfield is not retarded. Brady said biomedical, social, behavioral and educational factors appear to bolster the conclusion that Brumfield “was and is mentally retarded.’’

Swanson testified Brumfield was tested in the eighth grade and found to be reading and doing math at a third-grade level and writing at a fourth-grade level, the judge said.

Brady also rejected the state’s contention that the facts of the murder for which Brumfield was convicted — the 1993 ambush slaying of Baton Rouge police Cpl. Betty Smothers — show he had the ability to premeditate and lead a heinous crime.

If reading and math at below-grade-level proficiency were somehow dispositive evidence of retardation, we might have to return to the overdiagnosis Swanson reported to Brady, given the current state of achievement in Baton Rouge’s public schools. But the refusal to examine the circumstances in which the crime occurred – the fact that Brumfield and Henri Broadway, his partner in crime, planned a robbery and laid in ambush for Smothers – is what appears to be the most noxious part of Brady’s ruling.

The second-worst part, though it didn’t make it into Brady’s 60 pages of tortured reasoning, is the suggestion being made in some quarters and attributed to Brady by the prosecution, that somehow because Warrick Dunn, the son orphaned by Brumfield’s murder of Smothers who has gone on to a stellar football career and become a charitable benefactor of no small renown in Baton Rouge, has publicly expressed forgiveness toward Brumfield for the murder he’s somehow supportive of a decision to spare  his mother’s killer the death sentence.

That simply is not the case.

Strangely, while Gyan’s piece references a letter Dunn wrote to the Advocate regarding the case the paper has not printed the letter. Dunn’s publicist was informed by that paper’s executive editor Carl Redman that his “celebrity” doesn’t make the letter newsworthy.

Instead, among the letters the Advocate ran last week were a generalized screed against rapacious corporations, an exhortation to “abortionists” to spend their energies in alternative pursuits, a gripe about the insufficient aid given to the handicapped by garbage collectors and a recitation of the Democrat Party platform in advance of the November elections.

Dunn offered no such trifles or politicized ranting. His letter was actually newsworthy; a prominent family member of the victim of one of the most horrible crimes in Baton Rouge in a generation took a position on a controversial judicial ruling in that case.

The Advocate didn’t find it worthy of publication. We disagree. Below is Dunn’s letter to the editor…

Dear Editor:

When I heard the news about Kevan Brumfield, already convicted and serving time on death row for the murder of my mother, Betty Smothers, I was shocked and surprised. After serving 19 years and exhausting many of the appeals he is due, I am sure of one thing – and that is that Mr. Brumfield is not mentally challenged. I disagree with Judge Brady’s ruling and so does my family.

Some have confused my forgiveness of Brumfield as an endorsement for his life to be spared. This has likely come from writing about my feelings in my book, “Running for My Life” where I describe that to relieve my own pain, I had to let go of my anger towards him. But letting go of my anger does not absolve Brumfield and his cohorts from the responsibility of the crime they committed or from the justice that is due.

During  the late hours of January 6, 1993 and into the early morning hours of January 7, 1993 when the murder occurred, my mother arrived with Kimen Lee, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store manager, to make a routine, late night, bank deposit. They drove there in her police car, and Brumfield was ready and waiting to work his plan. They’d figured out how to watch her so they knew where and what time she’d show up. They brought weapons with them and went to where they knew she would be. The scouted and found a place to hide from her view and then waited to ambush & kill her. It was premeditated, cold-blooded murder in the first degree.

In the process of that crime, they also attempted to kill Ms. Kim who managed to live, despite being shot four times, leaving eleven bullet holes in her body. Both Brumfield and his co-conspirator went inside the store 75 minutes before the murder, but bought nothing. They were there to verify that my mother, a female, who was in uniform and bagging groceries (according to a witness) would be security for Ms. Lee and the routine, late night deposit.

For the record, and for the sake of my family, I want to be clear. Mr. Brumfiled and any other person involved in the brutal slaying of my mother, should be held to the fullest extent of the law. From my view, his use of “mental retardation” as a defense is offensive and morally wrong.

I support the actions of our Assistant District Attorney Prem Burns to review and reverse Judge Brady’s ruling. And I urge the citizens of Baton Rouge to be clear – we cannot and will not have this blight against our city.  People want and need to know that the law is on the side of the people, not the criminal.

Warrick Dunn

We don’t claim Mr. Dunn as an ideological ally or poster child of any kind. We don’t know his politics and we don’t presume to make him a pro-death penalty activist. In talking with his people we understand him to be non-political and in reading his book Running for My Life, we don’t find that he takes a philosophical position on the death penalty.

But we as a state have set forth an ultimate punishment for the most heinous crimes committed against our people. That punishment is the death penalty. And the families of the victims of such heinous crimes, like Dunn, are supposed to have at least the small comfort of closure that in those cases the state will deal accordingly with the perpetrators.

And the death penalty has been upheld as constitutional, on many occasions, in both state and federal courts. It is the law of the land.

So when a jury sentences a Kevan Brumfield to death, and that sentence is upheld on multiple appeals, it is an offense against Dunn and his family members to deny them the closure afforded by law. When that denial is accomplished through convoluted artifices such as those contained in Brady’s 60-page ruling that Brumfield is mentally deficient, something never alleged until all of his appeals were exhausted, the offense isn’t just to the victim’s family but to the people in general and Louisiana law.

That’s significant. It’s scandalous. And it raises questions as to why the Advocate isn’t interested in Dunn’s opinion on the justice to be administered to his mother’s murderer.

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