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