NEWS- Unfit justice: A peeper remains free
"I've been in law enforcement for 30 years, and I've never seen a case like this," says Charlottesville police Captain J.E. "Chip" Harding. It's the case of a confessed peeping tom, 26-year old David Lee Long Jr., who was recently arrested but released after a psychological evaluation determined he was unfit to stand trial.
Long was arrested on August 18, 2005, after being caught breaking into the residence of a woman on Cherry Avenue. When the woman discovered Long in her bedroom at 12:30am, she 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 allegedly also showed police where he had pried a screen open, saying he planned to wait for the woman to come back. Harding says that during one 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," he allegedly replied.
In spite of such evidence, Long was released on May 4 after General District Court judge Robert Downer declared him unfit to stand trial. Harding said in a recent interview that he worries that Long's crimes are escalating and that eventually he may hurt someone.
"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."
At press time, neither Long nor Judge Downer could be reached for comment, but Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Claude Worrell, who declined to speak specifically about Long's case, points out that it's not the court that deems someone unfit to stand trial, but the psychological evaluation the court must order as part of a defendant's due process rights.
"A judge reviews the evaluation and can order a new evaluation," explains Worrell, "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 while he didn't have the mental capacity to stand trial, he wasn't handicapped enough to be committed to a psychiatric facility.
This isn't the first time Long has been arrested. In January 2004, he was convicted of peeping and sentenced to 30 days, but the sentence was suspended. In 1999, after being convicted of marijuana possession, he lost his driver's license for six months.
In a separate peeping incident, Harding said, a man approached Long with a gun after catching him outside his home and scared him off.
Claire Kaplan, director of UVA's Sexual Assualt Education Office, considers this a pervasive societal problem and she worries that offenders like Long are likely to strike again. "There just aren't enough resources or agencies to help treat these people," says Kaplan.
Indeed, as the Hook's recent news story on the death of a homeless man illustrates, sometimes it's the police who end up dealing with people on society's fringe. Cecil Ray Garlic, an alcoholic homeless man killed April 30 while crossing 29N, had been arrested by police over 200 times.
Harding's frustration over the peeper goes to the heart of the 14th Amendment right to due process. On the one hand, 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 on the other hand, it can also frustrate those seeking justice.
In 1991, the real estate mogul Harry Helmsley (perhaps best known for his famous wife, Leona, the "queen of mean") was deemed unfit to stand trial for fraud and tax evasion, but went on to run his multibillion-dollar empire after his release.
Here in Charlottesville, Harding says, he has seen defendants deemed unfit to stand trial go on to commit other crimes. He says police will try to keep an eye on Long.
Captain Harding worries that David L. Long Jr. will peep again– or worse
CHARLOTTESVILLE POLICE DEPT