The Dallas Morning News compares the fates of two criminals who violated probation, with wildly different results in the courtroom of Judge Keith Dean. The first example is Tyrone Brown, a poor black man who at age 17 took part in a $2 stickup in which no one got hurt. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and was put on 10 years of probation. He broke the rules once, by smoking marijuana. Judge Dean responded by replacing the original sentence with a life term in prison, and Brown still sits in prison today, 16 years later.
The second example is John Alexander Wood, a well-connected man who pleaded guilty to murder for shooting an unarmed prostitute in the back. He also got 10 years of probation. Wood proceeded to break the rules by, among other things, smoking crack cocaine. He repeatedly failed drug tests. He was arrested for cocaine possession in Waco while driving a congressman’s car. Judge Dean has let Wood stay free and, last year, exempted him from most of the usual conditions of probation. The Morning News notes that judges in Texas and most other states have few limits on possible punishments when defendants violate probation, which sets the stage for lawful but extreme disparities.