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Criminals walk free

While Charlotte marches on

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Nobody marched for Olivia Gail Sigmon. Sigmon was executed in front of her 11-year-old daughter during a brutal carjacking in 2004. The killing was utterly preventable. The killer, Anthony Earmond Marcus, had a long criminal record and should have been in jail at the time for stealing Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon's car. But as they often do around here, a judge suspended Marcus' eight-month sentence and put him on probation again. Two months later Sigmon was dead.

Over the years I've profiled family after family left to fight our county's justice system alone in an attempt to get more than a dozen or so years for a loved one's killer. I've told the tales of violent crimes that didn't have to happen, but did because another thug with a mile-long record was let go with probation or a suspended sentence yet again. And still no one marched for their victims.

The problem, apparently, was that these victims didn't die politically incorrect deaths. Had Sigmon been shot by her boyfriend rather than Marcus, a cadre of government funded agencies would have turned her case into a cause célèbre.

Every Thursday after a domestic violence related killing, the Domestic Violence Advocacy Council holds an "awareness march." The council includes representatives of the Mecklenburg County Women's Commission, the department of social services, the sheriff's office, the Shelter for Battered Women, Women First and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Domestic Violence Unit, all of which get city or county funding. The marches are coordinated in part on city- and county-government time with press releases from the county.

The purpose of the marches is to "broaden the public's awareness that there is help available, including programs and services offering safety planning." Because of the marches, the victims' cases often get extensive media coverage, as domestic violence victim Simrit Gill's case did two weeks ago.

If this were an effort by private groups of individuals with no government funding or backing involved, they'd have my applause. But what this actually amounts to is government picking and choosing which causes and victims to care about. It's tragic that around 10 women a year are killed in domestic-violence-related homicides in this county. But isn't it just as tragic that about 70 additional people are murdered -- particularly those who had no criminal record -- while our revolving-door justice system makes a mockery of justice? How about the 80 people who commit suicide or the 43 people who die from narcotics overdoses when help was available?

This week, they will march for Atoi Watson, 24, who was allegedly killed by her boyfriend Eric Morales. (They never wait for a conviction before these marches. They just automatically assume that the man arrested in the case is guilty and that this was in fact a domestic violence incident.)

That someone now gives a rip about Watson is the height of irony, because as is usually the case, hardly anyone cared when she went missing five months ago. When Kyle Fleischmann, 24, disappeared in November, it took two weeks of national TV coverage and 40,000 people registered on his Facebook page to embarrass the police into doing more than putting out the standard missing-persons press release. But Fleischmann had PR-savvy friends and family who kept his story in front of the media with daily press releases and searches. Watson's parents are deceased and her brother went to jail around the time she went missing, so there was no one to advocate for her.

This city staffs Bobcats games with dozens of police officers to handle parking at taxpayer expense, but the department plays the pauper in missing-persons cases, pointing out that it has only five detectives in its missing-persons unit to deal with more than 3,500 cases annually.

After parts of Watson's body were found scattered in the woods behind Morales' home on Saturday, it took WBTV just a few days to find neighbors who had seen the couple fighting outside her apartment around the time she went missing. They described how he had a knife and dragged her back inside. Watson's cousins tried to tell the authorities that they suspected Morales was involved in her disappearance.

It doesn't appear that her killer even bothered to bury her. Yet the alleged murder came to light by dumb luck when a man's dog stumbled on part of her body, which is apparently about what it takes in these cases.

On Thursday, it's likely that more people will march for Watson than ever bothered to look for her. More ironic still is the fact that the thugs I often rail about with the long records of auto theft and armed robbery, the ones who should be in jail, almost always also have long criminal histories of violence against women. Many members of the violent Hidden Valley Kings gang, recently busted on federal drug charges, also had long histories of assaulting women.

If these groups marched every time a thug who should have been in jail killed an innocent person, we'd have all the criminal justice funding we needed, but they don't, and that's the problem. Government shouldn't pick a community's political causes for it, no matter how worthy.

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