ONE DUNBAR VILLAGE TRIAL ENOUGH
Palm Beach Post Editorial
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Thursday marks the 2-year anniversary of the gang rape of a 35-year-old mother who was forced to have sex with her 12-year-old son in West Palm Beach’s Dunbar Village housing project. Their attackers held them at gunpoint for three hours, then poured alcohol, nail polish remover and ammonia on the woman in an attempt to destroy evidence. They poured cleaning solution in her son’s eyes. The only reason they didn’t set the pair on fire, the woman told police, was because they couldn’t find a lighter.
The attack shined a spotlight on Dunbar Village, a 1940s-era, barracks-style complex where crime and poverty festered, in part because of official neglect. Dunbar Village is quiet and safer now, says West Palm Beach Housing Authority Executive Director Laurel Robinson. Shots no longer ring out at night. This summer, the authority plans to tear down 13 boarded-up buildings that provided a hideout for drug dealers.
Ms. Robinson said her goal is to tear down all the buildings, provide the tenants with housing vouchers to move and revamp the entire 17-acre site. “We’re very hopeful,” she said, “that some of the stimulus money may become available for applications.” Past applications have been denied. Dunbar now should be a priority for the Florida congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The victims no longer reside in Dunbar Village. Prosecutors handling the case say they have no idea where the woman and child live. The pair does plan to testify in the trial set for Aug. 18.
Defense attorneys for Jakaris Taylor, 17, Nathan Walker, 18, Avion Lawson, 16, and Tommie Poindexter, 20, want their clients tried separately. To avoid life in prison, Taylor had agreed to a plea deal in which he would testify against the others for a 20-year sentence. But he failed to cooperate, and withdrew the plea. Prosecutors cite that confusion, along with the complex nature of the case – four defendants, collecting and examining evidence and witnesses – to explain why it’s taken two years to get to trial. It took four years to get the April conviction of Milagro Cunningham for raping an 8-year-old girl and leaving her to die in a Lake Worth trash bin.
There is evidence linking the four Dunbar defendants – each of whom is being tried as an adult – to the crime. DNA links Walker, Poindexter and Lawson. Taylor’s fingerprint was found in the apartment. Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts will fight the motions to sever the cases. “This is a woman and son who suffered an egregious, heinous event,” said Ms. McRoberts, “and we’re trying to avoid having to make them go through it more than once.”
Ms. McRoberts is right. The victims finally are getting their chance at justice. That shouldn’t come at the price of having to relive the brutality they suffered four times.
PUBLIC DEFENDER ACCUSES PROSECUTOR OF BACKING OUT OF DEAL IN DUNBAR VILLAGE GANG RAPE
WEST PALM BEACH – One of four young men charged in the gang rape of a mother and her 12-year-old son in a West Palm Beach public housing complex is accusing the state of backing out of a plea deal.
Tommy Lee Poindexter, 20, confessed his involvement in the Dunbar Village attack and gave authorities information on at least three murders, according to a defense motion.
The Palm Beach County Public Defender’s Office filed the motion late last week on Poindexter’s behalf, asking a court to compel the State Attorney’s Office “to perform its side of the agreement.”
Public Defender Carey Haughwout says the deal calls for Poindexter to receive a 25-year prison sentence in exchange for his truthful testimony about his involvement in the case, plus information he had about three other homicides.
Poindexter and co-defendants Jakaris Taylor, now 17, Avion Lawson, now 15, and Nathan Walker, now 18, are accused of forcing their way into the victim’s apartment, then raping and sodomizing her and her son for three hours. The victims told police the attackers forced the mother and son to have sex.
In an attempt to eliminate DNA, the assailants then poured household chemicals on the woman before robbing her and leaving, according to authorities. The case made international headlines and highlighted problems at the crime-ridden, public-housing community.
Earlier this year a plea deal reached between Taylor and the state — calling for Taylor to receive a 20-year sentence — fell through after Taylor refused to provide information.
Haughwout could not be reached to comment Tuesday despite attempts by telephone. Lanna Belohlavek, who was prosecuting the case, recently left the State Attorney’s Office.
According to Haughwout’s motion, Poindexter agreed to a plea deal on Dec. 8 and three days later gave a complete statement about his involvement in the Dunbar case and about three local homicides. There were also discussions about a fourth homicide and Poindexter possibly receiving immunity before providing that information, according to the motion. The state agreed to more time to discuss immunity with then State Attorney Barry Krischer, according to Haughwout.
Krischer retired soon afterward and State Attorney Michael McAuliffe took office in early January.
The following month, Haughwout wrote, the state announced a plea deal had never been reached, though defense counsel disputed the claim and asked the state to review Poindexter’s taped statement.
“Thereafter … [the defense] was told by the [State Attorney’s Office] that there would be no plea agreement because the new State Attorney did not approve of the 25-year resolution,” she wrote.
State Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Edmondson declined to comment Tuesday, citing office policy. “We respond [to motions] in court,” Edmondson said.
Haughwout says because of the information provided, Poindexter’s safety could be in jeopardy. Furthermore, she wrote, the state needs to hold up its end of the deal.
“A change of personnel does not determine whether the government is released from its obligations in a plea agreement,” she wrote.
Poindexter is next scheduled to appear in court July 17. The men are set for trial Aug. 18.
Missy Diaz can be reached at mdiaz@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5505.
In the months that followed, there has been a plea bargain deal sought by one of the perpetrators to secure a lesser sentence of 25 years, in exchange for information for his part in this horrific crime, and for information he has concerning three other homicides.
“Public Defender Carey Haughwout says the deal calls for Poindexter to receive a 25-year prison sentence in exchange for his truthful testimony about his involvement in the case plus information he had about three other homicides.”
Twenty-five years. Fifty years. One hundred years. There is not enough time in any prison sentence that can do justice for the hellish crimes committed that day by those masked monsters against that mother and her young son.
But, then this ominous note:
“The victims no longer reside in Dunbar Village. Prosecutors handling the case say they have no idea where the woman and child live.”
It is one thing to not divulge the whereabouts of a victim of crime. To admit to not “having any idea where the woman and child live” smacks of indifference.
The trial is set for August 18, 2009.
We shall see if this young mother and her son will receive justice—-or a slap in the face.