Why is a confessed peeping Tom still on the streets?

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years and I’ve never seen a case like this,” says Charlottesville police Capt. J.E. “Chip” Harding, commenting on the case of confessed peeping Tom, 26-year old David Lee Long Jr., who was recently arrested and released after a psychological evaluation deemed him unfit to stand trial.

Long was arrested last summer after being caught breaking into a residence. At 12:30am on August 18, 2005, a woman on Cherry Avenue discovered Long in her bedroom, started screaming, and scared him off. Long later confessed to peeping on six couples while he masturbated, said Harding, even going so far as to show police where the couples lived. Long also showed police where he had pried a screen open, saying he planned to wait for the women to come back. In a separate peeping incident, Harding said a man approached Long with a gun after catching him outside his home and scared him off. During a police interview, Long was asked if he planned to rape the woman whose bedroom he had broken into. “No, but I would have had sex with her if she wanted to,” said Long. Despite all this, Long was released on May 4. As of this posting, Mr. Long could not be reached for comment.

This isn’t the first time Long has been arrested for peeping. In January 2004, Long was convicted of peeping and sentenced to 30 days, but the sentence was suspended. Before that, in 1999, Long was convicted of marijuana possession and lost his driver’s license for six months. Harding worries that Long’s crimes are escalating and that eventually he may really hurt someone. He also wonders why the court system is allowing this to happen.

“It doesn’t seem right to me,” says Harding, “that a guy can do this kind of thing and get away with it because the court decides he’s unfit to stand trial.”

According to assistant Commonwealths Attorney Claude Worrell, who declined to speak specifically about Long’s case, it’s not the court that deems someone unfit to stand trial, but the psychological evaluation the court must order as part of a defendants right to due process. “A judge reviews the evaluation, and can order one new evaluation, but if the experts conclude that the defendant is unfit to stand trial then he doesn’t stand trial.” The psychological evaluation, usually conducted by doctors at a psychiatric facility like Western State Hospital, also determines the defendant’s treatment. In Long’s case, it was determined that he didn’t have the mental capacity to stand trial, but wasn’t mentally handicapped enough to be committed to a facility.

Harding’s frustration goes to the heart of the 14th Amendment right to due process, a right found in many other societies as well. In 2002, the aging Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was deemed unfit to stand trial, despite overwhelming evidence of the killings he ordered during his rule. Objectively, it makes sense that a defendant shouldn’t have to be tried if he can’t understand the proceedings or adequately defend himself, as the right to due process requires, but often times the right gets abused. For example, back in 1991 the real estate mogul Harry Helmsley was deemed unfit to stand trial for fraud and tax evasion, but continued to run his multi-billion dollar empire after he was released.

In Long’s case, the non-violent nature of his crimes, combined with the results of his psychological evaluation and his right to due process, have put a confessed peeping Tom out on the streets.

–- Dave McNair

2 comments

This coming from the same police department that sent one of their own officers 120 miles to testify in a criminal case that they weren't able to peep in a citizen and taxpayer's windows on a cold February night in 2005 after dark (10:00 p.m.)

Are people suppose to leave their doors and curtains open for the police to peep in? The hypocrisy is hilarious!

I've been watching this Hook blog for several weeks now, and I'm getting more and more impressed with the level of original reporting that's appearing. Good job, Hook!--Geoff