We laugh and joke about states like Florida and the bizarre crimes that their citizens commit that end up being immortalized on the internet. While some are funny, like the guy who urinated on a police car, some are hyper violent. But as you read the various crime blogs in Florida you start to notice a disparity. Even though all other things might be equal – nature of the crime, lack of finances or personal legal counsel – the odds of going to jail in Florida are tilted four to one in favor of blacks. Those aren’t odds you want working in your favor, ever. According to the Sentencing Project there are 558 white people in jail (per 100,000 whites) versus 2,615 blacks (per 100,000 blacks). Those are the kind of statistics that inspire hand wringing and the occasional letter to the editor. But they also have some serious real world ramifications. The story I’m going to share today is a nice encapsulation of all that can go wrong when justice isn’t blind and impartial and just turns a blind eye to the impartiality.
Today’s story is about Bryan Castleman. He killed his wife and his father in law. I’ll let Chris Olwell from the News Herald fill in the rest.
Bryan Castleman told police he killed his wife and her father, but he didn’t know why, according to criminal complaints filed Tuesday.
He said he stabbed Mary Ann Castleman and Leroy Minnich multiple times and kept their bodies in the house, according to the complaint. A couple days later, he used his father-in-law’s bank card to buy a video game to help him keep his mind off what had happened.
From the Bay County Jail, where he’s being held without bond on two counts of open murder, Castleman declined to be interviewed Tuesday.
It’s not the first time he’s been charged with violence toward women. In 2004, he was arrested and charged with attempted sexual battery, a first-degree felony that carries a potential 30-year prison sentence, as well as false imprisonment.
He pleaded no contest in 2005 to the lesser charge of felony battery, a third-degree felony with a maximum sentence of five years. He was sentenced to probation, which he violated a couple times before he was eventually sent to the Department of Corrections for a few months last year.
Hearing of Castleman’s arrest brought back a flood of memories for Crystal Stallings. The 2004 ordeal left her scarred, she said Tuesday.
“No, I’m not surprised, ’cause like I told the police … it was something in his eyes. I could see cold. He wanted to kill me. I know it,” Stallings said of Castleman. “God was on my side because he was trying to rape and kill me for sure.”
She thinks it could have been her that was killed.
“I sure hate that he’s done this to his wife,” Stallings said. “That’s somebody could to do that to your wife.”
Early on July 10, 2004, Stallings was dropped off by her cousin in a liquor store parking lot in Panama City. As she was walking, Castleman pulled up in his car and offered her a ride.
Stallings was familiar with Castleman, she said, but she didn’t know him well and she was not eager to accept the ride, but Castleman talked her into it. He mentioned knowing members of Stallings’ extended family, older men.
“I figured it was safe enough for me to get a ride,” Stallings said.
She was wrong.
As they drove, he told her he needed to make a quick stop at his house, but when they got there he suggested she come inside because it could take a couple minutes. She didn’t notice when he locked the door behind her.
Castleman spent about 20 minutes pacing around in the back of the house while she waited in the front. She couldn’t really see what he was doing, but he was going on the whole time about his living situation. He was getting a divorce, he said, and would be moving into a smaller place. She didn’t really care.
“I really need to go,” she recalled telling him.
When she stepped in front of him and moved toward the door, Castleman smashed a bottle against the back of her head and she fell to the floor. Then he pulled off her pants and told her, in terms too crude to publish, what he had in mind.
She was bleeding heavily from a fresh head wound, but when he said he was going to rape her, she started to scream and fight. She said they fought for hours, with Castleman dragging her around the house and smothering her with pillows. At the end, he pulled a pillow off her face and held her at knifepoint, eventually asking her if she wanted to die.
She started begging. “I have children,” Stallings said.
He seemed to snap out of it, breaking down; he had a family of his own, he told her.
Castleman stopped attacking her, but he didn’t let her leave. She grabbed her pants and went to the door, but it wouldn’t open.
Castleman pointed up to the top of the door to the lock that kept her inside, and then he started bargaining. She slid to the floor of the door, which she described as the tallest door she’s ever seen. Stallings could leave, as long as she promised not to report him and she would allow him to take her where she was going. Whatever, anything, she recalled thinking.
Stallings bolted when he opened the door. A family friend lived two doors down, and she went there.
Castleman was arrested, but he left Stallings with a V-shaped scar on her head, a superficial wound comparatively.
“It screwed me up in the head,” Stallings said.
Now, let’s review. Please find the part of the story where the victim was asked to approve the lesser sentence.
It isn’t there. Victims are rarely consulted in Florida unless there’s a civil suit or outstanding related charges. Ms. Stallings basically got a chorus of “That’s The Way it Is” and then got told that justice had been done.
So, he was loose. Free to wander the streets, grab a beer and do whatever it is that free people do. Even after violating probation. And violating it again.
Now, take that same crime, pretend that Mr. Castleman is black and plug it into the numbers above. You know as well as I do that our imaginary criminal would be doing the full 30 years, not getting 5 years of probation.
Yes, this is a problem nationwide. But it is almost cartoonishly blatant in Florida.
I’ll give you another example.
On Dec. 4, 2010, 21-year-old Justin Collison, was captured on a YouTube video leaving a Sanford bar, when he walked up behind an unsuspecting Ware, a homeless African American man, and punched him in the back of the head, which drove Ware’s face into a utility pole and then onto the pavement.
Sanford police questioned Collison that night and had possession of the video but did not arrest him. You see, Collison’s father is a Sanford police lieutenant and his grandfather is a former circuit judge and wealthy Florida landowner. Collison wasn’t arrested until one month later, and only after news organizations began airing the video.
And after the hue and cry died down, what was Mr. Collison’s punshment? He had to pay a fine which amounted to covering the homeless man’s medical bills.
He also agreed to seek therapy.
Now, here’s the fun part. The homeless guy had some petty warrants out. He was arrested when he got out of the hospital and put in Seminole County jail.
I don’t think I need to say any more.