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An Update on Updating Cases: The Success of the tPP Updates Calendar

An Update on Updating Cases: The Success of the tPP Updates Calendar

Sara Godfrey

During the Spring 2020 term, two students and I began tackling tPP’s backlog of over 650 cases waiting for updates. To do this in an organized and systematic fashion, a team calendar was created to track sentencing dates. Over the summer, we had numerous sentencings scheduled that we tracked.

You can see a portion of that calendar, listed by the project’s internal Case ID system, below.

Holden James Mathews is one defendant that we have been tracking. Matthews, 21, is the suspected arsonist who set fire to three historically African American churches in Louisiana in April of 2019. The defendant is charged with three counts of intentional damage to religious property, two counts of simple arson, and one count of aggravated arson. Intentional damage to religious property qualifies as a hate crime under the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996. Holden has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 22, 2020.

Defendant Garrett Kelsey is also scheduled to be sentenced this month. Last May, Kelsey made threats to a Jewish organization via phone, email, and Facebook. The defendant is charged with one count of interstate transmission of threats to injure a person and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 27, 2020.

Former US Army soldier Jarrett William Smith also has an upcoming sentencing. According to a federal criminal complaint Smith planned building a bomb and distributed instructions on how to create a bomb “powerful enough to damage or destroy US military vehicles and obliterate civilian vehicles and people nearby.” He had considered Antifa members, cell towers, and local news stations as potential targets. In the chat logs accessed by the FBI Smith distributed instructions on how to build IEDs ‘in the style of the Afghans, which an FBI bomb technician confirmed were viable. He is reported to be a member of the Atomwaffen Division and is charged with 1 Count Threatening Interstate Communication, 2 Counts of Distributing Explosives Information, 1 Count Distribution of Information Related to Explosives, Destructive Devices, and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Smith has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 18, 2020.

On another note, our team has also made awesome progress in integrating large group cases from our Pending Cases into our FOUO spreadsheet. We started the semester with a large backlog of 650 pending cases including group cases indicted before 2009! A common theme throughout these large group cases was the lack of sentencing information due to a defendant’s fugitive status. This leaves the defendant with no deposition information which can be unclear to many students when trying to code these defendants; resulting in cases remaining in our pending cases tab for unnecessary amounts of time.

For example, we had a group case from 2005 in our pending cases. Thirty defendants associated with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) were charged in a narcotics conspiracy in which the funds were allegedly used to finance the organization. The US defines FARC as a foreign terrorist organization therefore it meets our inclusion criteria. However, the majority of these defendants were never successfully extradited to the US and remained as fugitives for over a decade. This can be unclear upon the first examination of a defendant’s docket when looking for sentencing information. Typically, if a defendant has been sentenced the information can be found at the top of the docket under their disposition. However, in the ‘MARIN’ case from 2005, there was no disposition information listed.

On closer examination, and scrolling down the docket, I found the record of periodical fugitive calendar call hearings that were taking place for ten years after the defendants had been indicted. These meetings ended in 2015, allowing our team to conclude that the defendant has fugitive status and therefore should be coded as ‘Charged but not tried’ and ‘#’ should be used to indicate this in our remaining sentencing variables. It is very important that in additional sentencing info our team indicates that the defendant has fugitive status.

Below is a screenshot of a similar group case. Like the ‘MARIN’ group case, the ‘MORA-PESTANA’ defendants from 2009 were also lacking sentencing information. All defendants from this group case were also given fugitive status.

It is understandable why cases like these ones can get left behind in our ‘Pending Cases.’ So as we continue to tackle our backlog of pending cases, it is important that we redefine and edit our procedure to make sure situations such as the ones above are clear to our coders. After realizing this situation, our team was able to recognize over 40 defendants in our pending cases who declared as fugitives and should be coded as such, then integrated into our official data set. This is HUGE progress for our team and we plan to continue to tackle our backlog of pending cases throughout the rest of this year.

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