Sheriff: Recent crime highlights need for stricter sentencing

Published 6:45 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2019

When police arrested Leon Flowers in the murder of a Brundidge gas station clerk in July, Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas called for sentencing enhancements to make sure criminals involved in gun violence stay behind bars.

Flowers had been charged with murder in the 2015 shooting death of a Pike County man, but the charge was reduced to manslaughter in a plea deal. The judge sentenced Flowers to serve a split sentence of 18 years: three in prison and the other 15 on probation. Because he had already served three years in the Pike County Jail awaiting trial, he was released on April 30, 2019, on time served.

Three months later on July 24, Neil Purush Kumar was found dead of a gunshot wound at the J&S Buy Rite, part of the Gulf Station in Brundidge. Flowers was charged with capital murder in the robbery, prompting Thomas and other law enforcement agents to speak out about sentencing guidelines that allowed for Flowers’ early release.

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Thomas said he advocates a five-year minimum sentence enhancement on any crimes involving a gun to keep violent criminals off the streets longer.

“When you talk to these patrol officers and sheriffs across the state, you hear about the increased gun calls and gun crimes and you watch the nightly news and it’s just constant crimes involving guns,” Thomas said. “People are concerned for their families and children when they go to a retail store, restaurant, convenience store where they may be shot or catch a stray bullet. The majority of the time these guns are stolen from somewhere. How do we address it?”

Tom Anderson, Pike County District Attorney, said the five-year minimum sentence is a proposal that likely would gain support from law enforcement and the public.

“I would think that most people, especially those in law enforcement, would support that,” Anderson said. “And the general public would rally behind it.”

Thomas said in Alabama criminals are serving about 30 percent of their sentences, a rate which Anderson said is plausible. “With the presumptive sentencing guidelines … terms are significantly less than under the habitual offender acts,” Anderson said.

“On a 10-year sentence, that’s about 36 months,” Thomas said. “Adding a five-year minimum sentence would add an additional 60 months that would have to be served day for day. We’ve got to send a strong message that there’s a zero tolerance for gun crimes. It’s dangerous for the public. and it’s dangerous for the officers answering these calls and serving these search warrants dealing with this gun violence.”

Many of the violent crimes are being committed by repeat offenders, Thomas said.

“These crimes are committed a lot of  times by people who already have a criminal history,” Thomas said. “The punishment doesn’t necessarily fit the crime. It’s frustrating to law enforcement who takes an oath to serve and protect our public.

“People wouldn’t be so quick to grab a gun if they knew there were tough penalties in place. There’s not a one-cure-fix-all, but this is one step, and it’s a strong step.”