Vanguard Commentary: Free Speech and Daniel Marsh

In November Mr. Billingsley spoke on his new book
In November Mr. Billingsley spoke on his new book

On Tuesday, the Vanguard published the piece “New Digs for Daniel Marsh” by Lloyd Billingsley. The first reaction by a number of our readers was that they were offended by the article, and one member of the Vanguard editorial board noted, “I am going to write an apology to the readers of the Vanguard for the unintended consequences of a policy that I helped to form.”

Feeding into the concern was the belief that Mr. Billingsley is simply trying to stir things up to sell more books. The interesting thing, however, is that a number of our regular posters saw nothing wrong with the article whatsoever.

And that’s really the point. From the foundation of the Vanguard – I knew it was going to be a site where the content leaned hard in one direction, where I was personally going to be a strong voice, not afraid to let it all hang on the line.

At the same time, I think it is important to understand that I never believed I had a monopoly on “the truth.” In fact, I’m not convinced there is a truth. I felt it important to create a dialogue space where all opinions could be aired and then people could debate the wisdom of those opinions.

We have done that in multiple ways. While we have in recent years tried to hold the line on civility in the comment section, we have never censored actual opinions. And we have a relatively open opinion submission policy.

We try to post all submissions of articles that meet a very basic standard of civility. Generally speaking, we try to limit our pieces to local voices and/or local issues, but occasionally on topics of interest we will go outside of that.

For me, the piece by Mr. Billingsley met those basic standards and, if we therefore didn’t like what he had to say, we could challenge it – not through censorship or non-publication, but through debate and discussion.

As we saw in Tuesday’s comment section, reasonable people disagreed on the article and its content.

But let there be no mistake. I very strongly disagree with Mr. Billingsley on Daniel Marsh.

It is interesting that he references schools and voices like Princeton’s John DiIulio. Back in September 2014, Mr. Billingsley, in an op-ed in the local paper, wrote, “During the 1990s, Princeton political scientist John DiIulio charted the rise of ‘superpredators,’ violent young men who kill and show no remorse. DiIulio has since backed off on this theme but Marsh, who laughed as he described the crime to police, suggests the superpredator type remains active.”

However, Mr. DiIulio did not just back off his theme, it was completely discredited. A 2001 New York Times article reported that “John J. DiIulio Jr. conceded today that he wished he had never become the 1990’s intellectual pillar for putting violent juveniles in prison and condemning them as ”superpredators.'”

”If I knew then what I know now, I would have shouted for prevention of crimes,” Mr. DiIulio told the NY Times.

However, in 1996, Mr. DiIulio created a whole theory around the notion that ”a new generation of street criminals is upon us — the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known.

”Based on all that we have witnessed, researched and heard from people who are close to the action,” he wrote with two co-authors, ”here is what we believe: America is now home to thickening ranks of juvenile ‘superpredators’ — radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more preteenage boys, who murder, assault, rape, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs and create serious communal disorders.’

”At core,” the authors said, ”the problem is that most inner-city children grow up surrounded by teenagers and adults who are themselves deviant, delinquent or criminal.”

”He became a sensationalist, a simplistic analyst who rather toadied to that point of view,” said Norval Morris, professor of law at the University of Chicago and co-editor of the Oxford History of the Prison. ”He should have known better than that.”

But that is the theory that Lloyd Billingsley puts forth at the core of his book on Daniel Marsh. Ironically, the work of Mr. DiIulio has been cited as the impetus “for state initiatives to move juvenile offenders into the adult criminal justice system.”

Those are the kinds of laws we see in place today, that consign Daniel Marsh to prison potentially for life for a crime committed at the age of 15. When the Vanguard reached out to Mr. Billingsley to try to understand why he reached for a discredited theory to support his sensationalistic story, he deferred comment twice.

Instead, what we see now in the criminal justice is a movement away from the extreme sentencing of juveniles. Daniel Marsh was sentenced to 52 years to life by Judge David Reed, but even that has a caveat; because of his juvenile status, Mr. Marsh will be eligible for a mandatory parole hearing at his 25th year of incarceration.

Mr. Billingsley continues to push the predator angle, writing, “On April 14, 2013, Daniel Marsh murdered Chip Northup and Claudia Maupin. He killed, tortured and mutilated the couple because it gave him pleasure. A Yolo County Jury found him guilty and sane. That’s why Daniel Marsh is now inmate No. AW081 at the California Institute for Men in Chino. If he never gets out of there it won’t bother me.”

He also really doesn’t understand the viewpoint of the other side. In fact, in December, he derided what he saw as misplaced sympathy for Mr. Marsh.

In the City-Journal he writes, “In politically correct Davis, nobody organized a march or demonstration on behalf of the victims’ families. Instead, a group of Davis High School students launched a ‘Free Dan Marsh’ page on Facebook and school district officials offered counseling for traumatized students. Among the guidance the district offered was information on ‘how to look out for students who may be vulnerable to self-injury or harm as a response to receiving traumatic information.’”

He added, “Meantime, the People’s Vanguard of Davis, a local left-wing rag billing itself as ‘a community-based watchdog and news reporting organization,’ portrayed Marsh as the victim of a school district that needed to spend more money on mental health. Robert Northup, Chip’s son, told me that the minister of his church said his father, stepmother, and their murderer had ‘equal stature as victims and were all equally worthy of our empathy.’”

Our mindset is somewhat different than portrayed. We have been concerned with the rights of the accused and believe that Mr. Marsh’s entire conviction was put in jeopardy by what we see as a flawed interrogation process that coerced a confession from him.

There are serious questions about his mental state at the time of the murder and, despite the jury’s findings, I have real questions about his sanity. Finally is the fact that he was just 15 years of age at the time of the murders.

A lot of people believe that he is a psychopath and will always be dangerous, but an emerging school of research on brain development suggests otherwise.

In a 2004 publication on juvenile justice and the death penalty, the American Bar Association put out a report entitled, “Adolescence, Brain Development and Legal Culpability.”

The research in that publication is now ten years old, but they noted, “Adolescence is a transitional period during which a child is becoming, but is not yet, an adult. An adolescent is at a crossroads of changes where emotions, hormones, judgment, identity and the physical body are so in flux that parents and even experts struggle to fully understand.

“As a society, we recognize the limitations of adolescents and, therefore, restrict their privileges to vote, serve on a jury, consume alcohol, marry, enter into contracts, and even watch movies with mature content. Each year, the United States spends billions of dollars to promote drug use prevention and sex education to protect youth at this vulnerable stage of life. When it comes to the death penalty, however, we treat them as fully functioning adults.”

There is a growing body of research that shows that human brains are, in fact, not fully developed until age 25.

Dr. David Fassler, a psychiatry professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, has testified before legislative committees on brain development and views the research as an explanation rather than an excuse of teen behavior.

He said, “It doesn’t mean adolescents can’t make rational decisions or appreciate the difference between right and wrong. But it does mean that, particularly when confronted with stressful or emotional circumstances, they are more likely to act impulsively, on instinct, without fully understanding or considering the consequences of their actions.”

It is not that I believe that Daniel Marsh should walk away from the horrific double murders of two people with no punishment, but it seems reasonable that decisions on how long he needs to serve his time, and how long he represents a threat to the community can be better assessed in 25 years than now.

By then, we will benefit from a quarter century of additional research on the brain and the potential ability to treat these kinds of mental afflictions – frankly, time is on our side in terms of evaluating his mental state and determining whether he still represents a threat.

There is no reason that we can’t make our determination at a future date on these critical issues, when we have more data and knowledge.

At the end of the day, we are talking about a horrible crime that a 15-year-old committed. Maybe he is a monster or maybe he was a troubled kid, and the right people just didn’t see the critical warning signs in time.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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33 thoughts on “Vanguard Commentary: Free Speech and Daniel Marsh”

  1. zaqzaq

    Duane Wright’s article was much more offensive than the one by Billingsley but I did not see any apologies from the editorial board for that leftist drivel.

      1. zaqzaq

        Your opinion, not mine.  It was offensive, not provocative.  Everyone has their viewpoint and the apologist member of  the editorial board just shows her true colors with the pathetic apology.

  2. SODA

    I will try this one more time.  My son is getting married Saturday and they have asked the two mothers to act as MCs at the ceremony, welcoming and giving a (up to) 3 minute speech. So I have been researching motherhood quotes to round out my reiminsecnes of my son, my relationship to him as his mother and my hopes for the couple.

    Maybe that is why the previous article provoked a gut reaction in me.

    Why can’t I have compassion for the victims, their families AND Daniel Marsh’s mother  and family and Daniel.  Why is that wrong? What is compassion; isn’t it possible to expand one’s heart to include all?  I consider compassion similar to love, there can be an limitless amount.

    So now I will try not to read the responses to this article and post as the ones the other day were unsettling to me.  Time for the wedding!

  3. Biddlin

    Mr Billingsley is the object of some posters misdirected anger. I have never said, “I have no compassion for Daniel Marsh.” I have pondered why so many posters expressed so little or no compassion for the victims. I am puzzled  that the “second most educated town” in America is apparently tone deaf to the image you portray, so far beyond the city limits.


    1. hpierce

      You make a good point about “tone deafness”, on many subjects…  I think about 20% of the posters here have that affliction ~ 80-90% of the time, and ~ 65-70% of the posters here (including myself) have occaisional bouts of the malady, to varying degrees.  Good to call it out, though.  Hearing is a different process than listening.  Better to do the latter, unless it is a siren coming up on your left.

    2. Davis Progressive

      i think any anger is directed out of the sense that he is being sensationalist trying to make a buck.  that said, for the most part i didn’t see it in the column.

      1. Tia Will

         i didn’t see it in the column”

        It was not present directly in the column. It was only apparent if you knew the backstory and if you felt as I did that he was again exploiting any opportunity ( in this case the transfer of Mr. Marsh) to promote his book. If you doubt his self promotional intent, just look at the picture at the top of this story where he has not only a poster of the book about the Davis tragedy, but also a poster of another of his books which has nothing to do with this case. Does anyone feel that he just happened to put that up for additional decoration when he spoke ?


        Everyone has their viewpoint and the apologist member of  the editorial board just shows her true colors with the pathetic apology”

        When have I ever hidden my “true colors”. For better worse, agree or disagree, I tend to say exactly what I think. And I say it using my own name. Some people might feel that taking anonymous pot shots is pathetic.

    3. Tia Will


      Mr Billingsley is the object of some posters misdirected anger”

      Not anger, at least in my case. The emotion is disgust. Disgust that any individual would choose to promote their own financial well being based on the tragedy of others taking advantage of every perceived bit of “news “regardless  of how small or in this case apparently how inaccurate, in order to bolster sales. Again if you doubt this is the case, just look at the picture and tell me how you believe a book about Hollywood relates to the Davis tragedy. And how is that emotion misdirected ?  Who is responsible for his writings and promotions if not Mr. Billingsley ?

      1. Barack Palin

        Oh please, most of the guest authors have bios posted and Billingsley has the books he’s written in his bio which I don’t see any problem with.  I’ve seen other author’s bios on here where things like radio programs they have and  blogs or columns they run are listed among other things.  Are they guilty of promotion?

  4. dlemongello

    To me a monster is a troubled person.  Isn’t that why the monster is a monster?

    Regarding punishment, that is not my main reason for believing someone should be locked up. It is more for protection of the rest of us as far as I am concerned.  If I was positive someone would not be bad again when they came out I would not say they should stay in just to finish being punished.  And to add to that, so many people are in jail/prison for things that I do not even think should be punishable, usually drug, including marijuana related offenses.

    Regarding compassion for Chip, Claudia and their families and friends, I think people just don’t say it because it is assumed, not because it is absent.

    1. hpierce

      “To me a monster is a troubled person.  Isn’t that why the monster is a monster?”

      Am hoping you don’t mean ‘monster’=’troubled person’, which would mean ‘troubled person’=’monster’.

      If you meant an “all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares” analogy, I do not disagree.

      1. dlemongello

        I wrote it very carefully precisely the way I did so it means exactly what I wrote, monster is troubled person, (not every troubled per is a monster). So yes to your last sentence.

        1. Tia Will

          “monster is troubled person”

          I understand this point of view. I intrinsically do not like the idea of using dehumanizing words to characterize human beings. Using these kinds of words allows us to somehow separate our own humanity from that of “the other” even though I am quite sure that this is not your intent.

          A couple of recent examples of dehumanization”

           I felt like a 5-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan,”  – use of a monstrous character to invoke fear

          it looks like a demon” – another clearly dehumanizing expression

          Words matter. Descriptions matter. Would it not be easier to pull the trigger on a “monster” or a “demon” that it would be on a fellow human being ?

  5. Davis Progressive

    there is some interesting content here on superpredator theory.

    here’s a more recent article:

    diIulio is an interesting figure.  he was a political scientist and prof at Penn.  he ended up director of the wh office of faith-based community initiatives under gwb in 2001 – pre 9/11, btw.  he ended up with the neocons working at the weekly standard and with guys like bill bennett and james q. wilson and that ilk.  a lot of people in my profession see his work which has largely been discredited as changing the thinking of juvenile incarceration.  so i find it interesting that billingley would latch onto it to throw gas on the daniel marsh fire.

    1. Miwok

      I would agree with this assessment, since I grew up and went to a University like this. Biblical Based research sometimes ends up more Bible than research. the few professors I liked best had open minds, but that is dangerous in that environment, which always has eyes looking over your shoulder.

  6. Robert Canning

    As someone who works with inmates in a prison setting and has a passing knowledge of some of the things Mr. Billingsley writes about, my objections are based on his lack of knowledge about psychology and criminology. I find his sort of writing sensationalistic and meant to sell his books, not educate the public or make us aware of trends in crime or anything like that. It is akin, in my opinion, to the yellow journalism practiced in the 1930s or the journalism practiced by William Randolph Hearst. it’s inflammatory, appeals to sensational stereotypes and is simplistic in it’s overall tenor. There’s no nuance.

    And it’s a shame, because the story of these two beloved people and a very disturbed young man is not black and white.

    1. Tia Will


      If free speech must be filtered to not cause some discomfort, it is not free speech.”

      Agreed. And that is why I stand by the posting of the article even while being highly critical of it.


  7. hpierce

    For those who haven’t checked the author out (the last thing I want to do is promote him, but all should see the theme of his writings…

    I can see why he would be a “darling” of the far right. No matter what he wrote on the local matter…

    [moderator] tried to fix your link but couldn’t make it work. Sorry

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