Anti-Stitt Postcard Is Despicable
By Steve ByasWhen I received a postcard from a group calling itself the Sooner State Leadership Fund, trashing Governor Kevin Stitt, picturing him as commuting the sentence of a murderer, it brought back some bad memories for me.
When I was running for state representative back in 1996, I was enjoying a 12-point lead in a poll taken by the Oklahoma Republican Party. The party had done polls in about a half-dozen legislative races, and the results all confirmed the polling – except mine.
Rather than winning by 12 points, I actually lost by less than 200 votes. I won the absentee vote, which was mostly complete by the weekend before the election, despite Democrats usually out-performing their election day results with absentee voting even back then.
But that last week-end, my Democratic opponent distributed thousands of blood-red handbills throughout the district quoting me as having said the U.S. government blew up its own Murrah Building. Of course, I had said no such thing, but this was the first election after that terrible event, and many families in my district had lost a loved one in what was then the greatest act of domestic terrorism in American history.
I sued and a Cleveland County jury found that I had indeed been libeled. It is almost impossible to win a libel suit because of something published during a political campaign, but the decision was upheld, unanimously, by the Court of Civil Appeals, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Since that time, I have had candidates call me and bemoan that they had been libeled “just like you were,” much to my irritation. I have not heard any such cases as egregious as mine.
The postcard reads, “Kevin Stitt released Lawrence Anderson from prison 26 years early,” complete with a photograph of Anderson. It then adds, “Lawrence Anderson went on to MURDER Andrea Blankenship. He cut out her heart and cooked it with potatoes. He then MURDERED Leon Pyle and Kaeos Yates.”
This leaves the impression that Stitt had commuted the sentence of a murderer, who then went out and murdered more people after his release.
Pretty bad, if true.
But what had Anderson done to be in prison? He had four counts in Grady County of distribution of a controlled substance, another count of possessing a firearm after conviction, and finally, a count of bringing contraband into jail/penal institution.
For that, he served nine years of a 35-year sentence. To me, nine years for these offenses seems quite sufficient. It is not like Stitt could have predicted that a guy in prison for distributing a controlled substance was going to go out and commit three heinous murders. Under that reasoning, no one should ever be released from prison, regardless of what they did or how many years they had served for it. Bring contraband into the jail, and go to Big Mac for life!
I am all for sending murderers, robbers, and rapists to the pen. I even favor the death penalty for heinous crimes, like cutting out someone’s heart. But we don’t punish individuals for future crimes!
Look, there are things to criticize Governor Stitt for, as with all public officials. But unless we are prepared to throw people in prison for non-violent crimes and keeping them there forever just in case they might get out and kill someone, this post card is unfair in the extreme.
After all, we better jail those people who copy DVDs and keep them there, too, because who knows what they might do once they get out.
Steve Byas is Editor of the Oklahoma Constitution and author of several magazine articles and books, including History’s Greatest Libels. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org