ARE WE serious about gun violence in Philadelphia or not? Here's one that will make you wonder.
Let's talk about the law and citizens who did the right thing about a gun crime - testifying in court - and now feel at risk.
If you've seen the TV ads, you may think using a gun in a crime in Pennsylvania gets you an automatic, guaranteed, minimum five years in the slammer. Absolutely, positively.
But it's not true.
Last Sept. 20, ex-con Floyd Carson, 44, fired three .38-caliber shots on East Sydney Street in Mount Airy and didn't get the five-year mandatory. He didn't get half of that.
I was alerted to this by good-citizen Dwayne Carson, 45, who was used for target practice by Floyd, his brother. Dwayne's girlfriend, Latifah Dodson, and neighbors Carrie Sagedahl, 38, and Laney Ross, 36, all testified to this: With about 10 people on the street after a block party, Floyd drew a gun, pointed it at Dwayne, who was standing next to Latifah. From 20 feet away, Floyd walked forward, firing three times. It's sheer luck no one was killed.
Sound like a five-year-mandatory gun crime to you?
Not to Common Pleas Judge Karen Shreeves-Johns, who acquitted Floyd of the most serious charges - attempted murder and aggravated assault - which carry the "mandatory" five years. The "mandatory," it turns out, is attached to just a few crimes.
That's a mistake. If we're serious about guns, that law must be expanded. If you use or carry a gun when committing a crime - shoplifting bras, writing graffiti, tipping over cows - you must get five years before the other offenses are added on.
Floyd's attorney, William Reilly, who waived a jury trial, says Dwayne and Floyd fought just before the shooting. The fight, Dwayne says, was the result of him firing Floyd for drinking on a job that Dwayne got him.
Everyone agrees Floyd left after the fight and returned with the gun. OK, not everyone. Floyd testified he did not have a gun.
A minority of one.
Despite what we endlessly hear - that guns have one purpose, to kill people - Judge Shreeves-Johns didn't see it that way. She threw out the most serious charges, leaving Floyd with a mess of misdemeanors, but only a single second-degree felony count for gun possession.
Here's a felon who shouldn't have a gun in his hand under any circumstances, he's on a public street, he fires three times, and gets 11 1/2 to 23 months, which is more like a time-out than a serious sentence. The judge also ordered anger-management treatment and drug and alcohol counseling for Floyd.
Is that enough?
A self-described "bleeding- heart liberal," neighbor Ross was "not happy with the sentence. Someone who shoots a gun and tries to kill someone needs more than a few months in jail."
Dwayne, an Air Force veteran with a clean record, "joined my neighbors in testifying," he says, turning his back on the "no snitching" mind-set.
Now, the witnesses are living in fear because Floyd can be back on the streets as early as August - and he lives around the corner.
Dwayne's also upset that Judge Shreeves-Johns wouldn't let him read his victim-impact statement in court. It was a slap in his face.
Here's a piece of it: "Until my brother realizes that his drinking and drugging leads to violence and takes steps to overcome his addictions, my life will be at risk . . . I also fear for the witnesses."
The D.A.'s office found the sentence too lenient, and on Monday prosecutor Branwen McNabb filed a motion for modification of the sentence, which fell below guidelines.
If we are serious about gun violence, we need judges who protect us from armed ex-cons.
And a five-year "mandatory" for gun crimes that means what it says. *
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