Trump Set To Pardon A Man Who Should Be Serving A Life Sentence For Entrapment

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President Trump stated today that he is considering pardoning attention whore/mob boss/former sheriff Joe Arpaio for his contempt-of-court conviction after refusing a judge’s order to cease traffic patrols targeting undocumented immigrants.

As with all presidential pardons (seriously how are these still a thing?), the prospect of this one has sparked instant outrage and controversy, which as always has broken down along predictable partisan lines. Those on what passes for America’s political left nowadays despise Arpaio for his consistent and extensive history of systemic racial profiling and brutal mistreatment of prisoners, while those on the right adore him for the exact same reasons. I’d like to quickly remind everyone of a rarely-discussed reason why Arpaio should have been rotting in a prison cell for a long time already, which has nothing to do with any of those things.

In 2003, a Maricopa County Superior Court jury acquitted a man who had been in jail awaiting trial since 1999 on the grounds that he had been entrapped into a staged assassination attempt on Sheriff Arpaio. James Saville, a troubled youth with a checkered past, had his prime years from 18 to 22 ripped away from him, and was facing 22 more years if convicted. Had he served that full term, and had evidence not emerged that Arpaio’s goons planted evidence on him in a publicity bid to get their sheriff re-elected, Saville would still be in prison today.

The Phoenix New Times reported in 2004:

Four years after his televised arrest, a Maricopa County Superior Court jury ruled that Arpaio’s detectives had entrapped Saville.

Entrapment defenses rarely succeed because they are exceedingly difficult to prove. James Saville’s attorney, Ulises Ferragut, had to prove that the idea of killing the sheriff had started with law enforcement, that deputies or their agents urged Saville to commit the crime and that Saville was not predisposed to do it.

Ferragut proved all three elements, and James Saville walked out of Arpaio’s jail a free man. After the trial, jurors told Ferragut they were convinced that Saville had been a pawn in an elaborate media ploy.

“Arpaio had cameras out there waiting to film the arrest,” Ferragut says. “The jurors indicated this was clearly a publicity stunt.”

Per Phoenix Magazine in 2005:

Saville’s attorney, Ulises Ferragut, prevailed on all three, even though he began the case by telling the jury that his client, in fact, did everything the prosecution was claiming: He designed a bomb, he bought all the parts for a bomb, he built the bomb, and he went to the parking lot where the sheriff’s car was parked. “But wait until you hear why he did all those things,” Ferragut told the jury.

As it turned out, Ferragut had some powerful help in proving his case, including a dishonest informant who the jury clearly saw as the orchestrator, a defendant they did not believe was an angry young man, and a former undercover sheriff’s officer who they saw as courageous for spilling the beans.

Jurors listened in disbelief as testimony showed it was the sheriff’s money that purchased the bomb parts, and an undercover officer who drove Saville around to buy the parts. They also heard how the sheriff and his top lieutenants had sat inside The Ro-man Table for more than two hours, waiting for the “bomber” to show up. They heard how the media had been alerted that morning that a bust was coming down, and how a television cameraman had waited in the bushes until around 3 p.m. And they learned that Jimmy Saville had been sitting in jail for four long years since then, waiting for his day in court, because the sheriff’s office had dragged its feet in producing evidence, dribbling out one report, one tape, one transcript at a time.

After Saville’s highly publicized arrest Arpaio boldly stood before news cameras stating, “If they think they are going to scare me away with bombs and everything else, it’s not going to bother me.” He was re-elected months later.

In 2004 Saville’s family sued Arpaio for $10 million dollars, and were given a settlement of an undisclosed amount, more than a million dollars of which came out of public coffers.

I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for my Trump-supporting readers, but you are dead wrong about Arpaio. This man is a thug of the worst order, and it is only because of a gross power imbalance within America’s abominable judicial system that he is not currently locked away in a cage where he belongs. There is no way of knowing how many lives he has ruined in order to advance his personal ambitions, but given the way that he has built a career on targeting the most voiceless and powerless populations in America, it would be incredibly naive to think that James Saville was the only one.

Joseph Arpaio is a brutish, evil man, and he deserves to die in prison. You are wrong to defend him, and the president is wrong to contemplate pardoning him. If he ends up serving any prison time at all for his judicial and wholly justified contempt-of-court conviction it will be far too little and far too late a punishment for his personal depravity, but still infinitely better than nothing.

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I write about the end of illusions.

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