Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The 'Crossbow Cannibal' and California's Three Strikes Law

Stephen Griffiths – the self-styled 'Crossbow Cannibal' – has been told he will die in prison.  He was caught after being captured on CCTV shooting dead Suzanne Blamires, his third (known) victim, as she ran from his flat.  Before dragging her back inside he turned to the camera, raising a bottle of juice and offering it an eerie toast.

Griffiths's crimes stand out as particularly horrific in an era when acid attacks, brutal gang rapes and casual stabbings have become disturbingly unremarkable. He recorded himself spray painting lurid slogans on the corpses of his victims, proclaiming  "I am Ven Pariah. I am the bloodbath artist. Here is a model who is assisting me."  He informed police constables with cool pride how he had mutiliated and dismembered the three prostitutes, "slicing and dicing" in the bathtub he called his "slaughterhouse" before partially devouring them, "some raw". 

It is easy to see why most people do not believe such men can be either rehabilitated or deterred.  But they can be stopped.  Stephen Griffiths's crimes could not, for instance, have happened in California.

This is because there he would have long before fallen foul of that state's superb "Three Strikes" law.  Passed with 72% approval in a referendum following a popular ballot initiative, the legislation stipulates the following:

  • A criminal with a previous conviction  – or 'first strike' –  for a serious or violent crime should not be eligible for probation or a suspended sentence if they offend again; instead, they should on their 'second strike' be given a term in prison twice as long as would normally be the case.
  • A criminal with two or more previous convictions faces 25 years to life on their 'third strike', with multiple sentences to be served consecutively rather than concurrently.   
The principle at work here is that it is not acceptable for the state to play dice with people's lives by putting convicts who have demonstrated persistent criminality and a capacity for violence back among the public.  In contrast, the British concept of criminal justice represents perhaps the ultimate abrogation of this principle, and Stephen Griffiths exemplifies this.

By the time he was twenty Griffiths had already spent three years in custody for cutting the throat of a supermarket manager after being caught shoplifting – a derisory sentence for what one would think would be a charge of attempted murder, but there it is. Diagnosed as a "sadistic, schizoid psychopath", he spent some time at Rampton, and was described by a psychiatrist as having a "preoccupation with murder – particularly multiple murder". Later, he would later tell his probation officers of how he saw himself becoming a murderer some time after reaching his early thirties.

Nothing was done, of course, and by 1992 he was in court again following an affray in which he had held a knife to a young girl's throat, seemingly for no reason.  In California this would have been a 'second strike' entailing a heavy custodial sentence.  In Great Britain he was given a two year sentence, but evidently only a portion of it was spent behind bars for in 1993 he was once more back in court, this time for illegal knife-carry and possession of air pistols.  In California, this would have been Griffiths's third strike, and (since there were two seperate offences) meant at least fifty years in prison. Stephen Griffiths would have been out of the game

But in Great Britain it only meant probation, and a body count of at least three.

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