Action News 5 Investigates: Repeat Offenders - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Action News 5 Investigates: Repeat Offenders

By Lori Brown - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - There's a renewed push to get tough on repeat offenders in Tennessee, and the repeat offender problem in Memphis is bigger than you may have imagined.

Take for instance, the case of James Lee.  With 41 arrests and 20 guilty pleas, investigators say Lee is a typical repeat offender.  In fact, he's back in prison now, finishing a previous sentence for which he got early release.
"Those are the kinds of things that frustrate law enforcement, because this guy should not be out on the street," said John Harvey of the Memphis Police Department's Real-Time Crime Center. "He's done enough so he should have been sent away for a long, long time."

Wayne Kennedy has been arrested for 39 crimes - four of them violent - and he's pleaded guilty 15 times.  His crimes include multiple robberies, aggravated assaults, and burglaries.  Each type of crime was committed over and over, and in just about every case, he's back in jail for another crime before his original sentence is even up.
"It's like a parent telling a kid, 'Don't do that,' and the kid does it, and they don't do anything," Harvey said. "They keep doing it, and doing it, and doing it, and when they see there's no penalty for doing it, they continue."

Harvey says Lee and Kennedy are part of a criminal population in Memphis made up of 50,000 people who have been arrested six or more times.  That's more than the entire population of Bartlett, and nearly twice the population of West Memphis, Arkansas.

When Kennedy broke into Memphian Gail Jones Carson's home in December, taking a computer and jewelry, her surveillance cameras caught him in the act.  Kennedy is currently in jail, charged with the burglary, but Carson says he shouldn't have been out when he broke in.

"I did research on him and he had pages of crimes that he had been committing for 20 years," Carson said. "After seeing some of his crimes which were violent, I didn't understand why the man was still on the street."

That's something Harvey and other law enforcement leaders are working to fix, as they call for stiffer penalties for repeat offenders.

Just this week, the Tennessee Public Safety Coalition unveiled four bills designed to make punishment for violent crimes more severe.

"I've never had the exposure to repeat violent offenders as I have had here in Tennessee," Chief Ronal Serpas of the Nashville Police Department said.

Tennessee Senator Mark Norris says a bill he proposed to crack down on repeat offenders is being held up by what he calls inflated cost estimates.  Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin says the real flaw is with the charges.

"Ten burglaries in 24 hours and they're counting it as one? I mean, come on," Godwin said in a recent interview.

For victims like Carson, a solution can't come soon enough.

"If he has five years of probation he will be on the streets," she said.

Possibly repeating the cycle he and 50,000 others in Memphis...know so well.

Bills Proposed to Combat Crime

Requires Repeat Offenders to Serve a Greater Percentage of Sentence Received

Would Count Each Crime Committed in a 24 Hour Period Individually

Dangerous Felony Redefined

Defines "Crime of Force or Violence"

Requires Sentencing Study

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