Friday, January 20, 2012

EDITORIAL >> System fails to protect

James Michael Davis was a habitual criminal who got out of jail because an overloaded criminal-justice system couldn’t figure out how to keep him behind bars until he allegedly killed two people in the Cabot area before Christmas.

Davis, 37, slipped through the cracks of law enforcement and the prison system and couldn’t be locked up for any length of time. The victims’ families and law-enforcement officials keep asking themselves: Why wasn’t Davis in jail that evening he stabbed to death David Linnon Smith, 56, and Tracy Mills, 45, in their home?

Although Smith and Mills had befriended Davis, they had no idea what fate awaited them. According to our reporter Joan McCoy, Davis should have been in the Pulaski County Jail for stealing a car in Cabot. But he was released just two days before Smith and Davis were killed because he had already been in jail for 60 days without charges being filed against him, and that is as long as allowed under state rules for criminal procedure.

Davis, from Conway, is held in the Lonoke County Jail without bail. His ordinary name probably threw off law-enforcement officials who didn’t realize Davis was a danger to society.

The State Police are conducting an internal investigation to determine why a trooper’s report of Davis’ alleged car theft wasn’t turned over to Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley in time for him to file charges and keep Little Rock District Judge Alice Lightle from ordering his release.

The case just kept spiraling out of control: After he left the Pulaski County Jail, Davis could have been held in the Cabot lockup but wasn’t. Cabot had a misdemeanor arrest warrant for Davis for failing to pay fines to district court. If it had been possible, a Cabot police officer would have taken Davis to Cabot, but the police department lacked the manpower to go after Davis. In any event, how many misdemeanor cases have the potential of turning into a double homicide? Not many.

Davis also could have been back in prison for violating his parole. Convicted of theft of property, he failed to report to his parole officer, didn’t show up for work or appear in court. He pretty much went his own way because the system couldn’t keep up with him.

A hearing to revoke his parole wasn’t held until Tuesday morning — too late for the two people who were murdered. Everyone agreed at the hearing Davis should have landed in prison long before the murders.

But the system is too complex, with too many competing turfs and jurisdictions and too much room for fatal errors. All the complicated computer systems in the world couldn’t stop him because the people who run them couldn’t predict Davis’ behavior.

Every department and agency involved in this tragedy is promising a thorough review, which could save lives in the future. But it is too late for David Linnon Smith and Tracy Mills.