Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009

The Tacoma Massacre

Maurice Clemmons was 16 when he was sentenced to, among other things, two 30-year terms in prison for burglary and a violent, armed purse-snatching in Little Rock, Ark. But in May 2000, after 11 years behind bars, he wrote an impassioned letter to then Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained pastor. "I have never done anything good for God," Clemmons wrote, asking for clemency. "Now, I'm humbly appealing to you for a brand new start." Huckabee commuted the sentence, and Clemmons got out on parole. But Clemmons never went on to do anything good for God. Instead, he almost immediately violated his parole and returned to jail. In and out of prison on various degrees of parole and clemency, he lived a life of crime. He moved west to Seattle, where he had grown up, to try to start a lawn-care business. But in May, he began acting and speaking erratically, telling people he could fly and that his role as the Messiah would be acknowledged by President Obama. He attacked his neighbors. He sexually assaulted two young girls. Arrested in July, he posted $40,000 bail on Nov. 23. Then, on the morning of Nov. 29, he walked into a suburban Tacoma coffee shop and shot four police officers while they were working on their laptop computers. An intense two-day manhunt ended with Clemmons' being shot to death in the early hours of Dec. 1. But his life raised many questions about the management of the country's criminal underclass — issues that will reverberate for a long time.