The Lightest Sentences Handed Out For The Worst Crimes
Crime doesn’t pay, that’s what they say, but sometimes bad people get away with things they shouldn’t. At the end of a trial, even if you’re found guilty of a heinous deed, it’s often up to the discretion of a judge how much time behind bars you’ll get — if any at all! In this feature, we’ll share 10 cases of people who broke the law and got off with ridiculously light sentences.
Let’s open this one up with a slap on the wrist sentence that has been all over the news. Brock Turner is the Stanford swimmer who was caught sexually molesting a passed out woman behind a dumpster, leading to an emotionally charged rape trial. At the end of it, the judge gave him a paltry six months in prison, which outraged many observers. Prosecutors had recommended a prison term of six years, but letters from Turner’s family — including one from his father describing the sexual assault as “twenty minutes of action” — swayed the judge to leniency. Now there’s a massive public petition trying to get him removed from the bench.
Let’s run a hypothetical situation. You’re drunk, you’re in a bar and you don’t like somebody’s face, so you punch them hard enough to leave them a bloody puddle on the ground, causing $24,000 in damage. You should theoretically go to jail for assault, right? Not if you’re Australian lawyer Virgil Power, who did just that to Michael Halbauer in 2014. “Coward punching” is apparently a big deal in Australia, where multiple people have died from cheap shots to the head, but Power was given community service and let off without a fine, partly due to his status as a fifth-generation lawyer. The same judge had handed down a sentence for nine months in jail for a similar crime, but that was with a much poorer and less famous defendant.
On the surface, the murder case against Bay Area transit officer Johannes Meserle was a slam dunk. After his partner wrestled a man named Oscar Grant to the ground, shouting racial slurs at him, Meserle pulled his gun and shot him point-blank in the back. His defense lawyer claimed that Meserle made a mistake and thought he was shooting him with his taser, despite the two items operating completely differently. That didn’t stop the jury from giving him the lightest charge possible, involuntary manslaughter, instead of the cold-blooded murder that witnesses saw. Meserle got a scant two years with time served for killing an innocent man execution style.
Robert H. Richards IV
One thing you might notice as you read through these stories is that many crooks who get off easy are pretty well-off financially. Robert H. Richards IV committed one of the most nightmarish crimes imaginable when he raped his three-year-old daughter. The heir to the du Pont chemical fortune was charged with multiple counts of second-degree child rape, which carry a minimum sentence of 10 years. He hired a high-priced lawyer who managed to get the charges reduced to fourth-degree rape contingent on a plea. The total time Richards got in jail? Absolutely nothing. The judge ruled that the child rapist would “not fare well” behind bars, so shouldn’t be incarcerated.
So many of these cases have us wondering just what the hell the judge was thinking. British businessman Colin Read seems like somebody with a serious anger problem — when his wife forgot to iron his shirts one day, he retaliated by viciously branding her with a steaming hot iron. He had also cut her with a knife because she didn’t make him a sandwich. That’s the kind of violent, unstable individual who should be in jail, right? Not according to the judge, who gave the management consultant a paltry £2,000 fine and no jail time — not even any community service, because his job made him “too busy” to do it.
Sex offenses are deeply disturbing crimes, no matter who the perpetrator. The case of Loren Morris is a troubling one, in many ways due to its circumstances. When she was 16, Morris started having sexual intercourse with an eight-year-old boy, and continued to molest him over 50 times through the next two years. Police found out about it when the boy talked to schoolyard friends, and took her in on child sexual intercourse charges. Morris, now 21, was given the lightest sentence possible, just two years, because the judge thought that she “realized it was wrong.” Uh, no duh, buddy. She will in all likelihood just serve a single year of that sentence before being released on probation.
Fame is a powerful source of leverage in America, and this tale is one of the worst examples. In 1984, Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil, wasted out of his mind, rammed his De Tomaso Pantera into a Volkswagen, killing passenger Razzle Dingley, the drummer for Hanoi Rocks. In addition to Dingley’s death, Neil was also responsible for the serious injuries of two people in the Volkswagen. Astoundingly, Vince only spent 15 days in jail for vehicular manslaughter, despite driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. He had to pay $2.6 million to the families of the victims, but a mere two weeks in jail seems like an insult to the whole concept of justice.
Richard W. Thompson
There are lots of reasons why a criminal would be given a short sentence, but this one is the most ridiculous. Richard W. Thompson is a sex offender who was found guilty of molesting a 12-year-old girl in 2006. When it was time for sentencing, judge Kristine Cecava laid down a ruling that had observers scratching their heads. She admitted that Thompson’s crime deserved prison time, but gave him probation instead… due to his height. The judge was concerned that the 5’1″ molester was “too small to survive” doing hard time in state prison. Needless to say, victims rights organizations were more than a little miffed about the bizarre decision.
Here’s another incredibly rich dude who ruined somebody’s life and got away clean. Martin Erzinger was driving his brand new Mercedes in 2010 when he plowed into a bike rider, brutally injuring him. Like a good person, Erzinger immediately drove to a nearby parking lot and pulled out his phone… to call his car dealer and report the damage to the vehicle. Uh-oh. Erzinger was a man of great wealth, an asset manager at Morgan Stanley with over a billion dollars in his care, and he got the best defense possible. His lawyers claimed that the “new car smell” aggravated his sleep apnea and caused him to drift off the road and not realize he’d smashed into a person. The judge ruled that “felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession” and gave him a misdemeanor sentence of no prison time and a year of probation.
How much are the lives of four people worth? For Ethan Couch, the teen who drove drunk with a restricted license in 2013 and plowed into a crowd of innocents, it doesn’t seem to be very much. Couch’s defense brought in a psychiatrist who claimed that he was suffering from “affluenza,” a mental condition experienced by rich people who don’t understand that there are consequences for their actions. Astoundingly, the judge bought it and instead of the prosecution’s recommendation of 20 years in jail for four counts of intoxicated manslaughter, ordered him to go to a private rehabilitation facility instead. Couch later broke his probation and fled to Mexico with his mother. When he was captured, a judge finally put him behind bars for two years.