News 4 Investigates: Offenders of gun crimes given probation ins - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: Offenders of gun crimes given probation instead of jail time

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

Gun violence is rampant in St. Louis, but police and prosecutors say many of the people convicted of gun crimes in the city are often given a slap on the wrist once their cases go to court.

"If you point a gun at somebody and take their property, you should go to prison," said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

However, Joyce says that is often not the case in St. Louis. In nine out of ten cases in St. Louis courts, defendants refuse a plea bargain with prosecutors and plead their case to a judge.

The gunman who robbed and shot Roneisha Williams was repeatedly cut breaks by judges, including put on probation twice, even though prosecutors recommended 15 years in prison for each case.

A week after Vincent Newman got out the last time, he preyed on Williams.

When prosecutors asked for a life sentence, the judge gave him 20 years. He could be out 15 years from now, around his 40th birthday.

"The laws are supposed to protect us, but how can they protect us if there are ways to get around it?" Williams asked.

University of Missouri St. Louis criminologist Rick Rosenfeld examined hundreds of cases involving assaults and robberies with a gun, and unlawful use of a weapon. In 63-percent of those cases, the defendant received a suspended sentence and probation.

"The ones who went to prison did have longer criminal records. They averaged about nine prior felony arrests, but the ones who got suspended sentences averaged about six felony arrests," said Rosenfeld.

News 4 Investigates examined more than a hundred cases on our own and found repeated examples of criminals convicted of assault and robbery with guns getting suspended sentences, participating in corrections programs that lasted 120 days, and then getting out, and in many cases violating their probation, sometimes because they victimized someone else.

A spokesman for the St. Louis City Circuit Court said the judges couldn't comment publicly for our story because they aren't supposed to discuss cases heard in their courts, but the judges also refused to discuss any other issues, like their decision to refuse to open an armed offenders docket, or gun court that would have increased bonds and pushed gun-related cases through the courts faster, strategies that researchers say have worked in courts in New York and Rhode Island.

Once again, we gave the judges opportunities to not only address specific cases, but also the issue of a special gun related docket.

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