Monday, August 11, 2008

Pleading Guilty in Return for Fast Food - Have We Reached a New Low?

The UK paper The Guardian has reported on a strange and troubling plea deal reached recently in Portland, Oregon. According to the paper, Tremayne Durham pleaded guilty to murder in return for the government's offer of two fast food meals.

After almost two years in prison, New Yorker Tremayne Durham could stand it no longer. His craving for a decent bit of nosh was so intense that he agreed to pay a high price - a life sentence. Durham, 33, struck a plea bargain last month in which he was guaranteed a meal of KFC chicken, Popeye's chicken, mashed potato, coleslaw, carrot cake and ice cream - in return for pleading guilty to murder. As part of the deal, and after receiving a life sentence this week in court in Portland, Oregon, Durham will also get a second feast, this time on an Italian theme, with calzone, lasagne, pizza and ice cream.

The judge, Eric Bergstrom, is understood to have accepted the bargain because it would save the state of Oregon thousands of dollars in hosting a trial and possible subsequent appeals. The murder happened in June 2006 as a revenge killing. Durham travelled from New York City right across the country to confront an Oregon company from whom he had ordered a truck costing $18,000.

He had been intending to enter the ice cream business, but when he changed his mind the company refused to give him a refund on the truck. In a blaze of fury, he intended to collar the owner of the truck company but instead came across a former employee, Adam Calbreath, and shot him dead.

He will now have 30 years behind bars before he is given any chance of parole and the opportunity for another KFC feast.

We have discussed sentencing differentials before and the significant impact they have on a defendant's decision regarding pleading guilty. Generally, the greater the sentencing differential between the bargained for sentence and the sentence faced at trial, the greater the chance the individual will accept the offer. While I'm sure there was some sentence bargaining going on in the background of this story (note the life sentence rather than LWOP or capital punishment), it seems to tell a very sad story that this defendant may have been persuaded, at least in part, to plead guilty in return for some fast food. On the other hand, perhaps he knew he would enter a plea deal and decided to get a little something extra out of a bargain he would have accepted regardless. We can only hope the latter is the case.

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