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Could the Oklahoma Beheading Have Been Prevented?


Last Thursday, Moore police responded to an "active shooter" situation at Vaughan Foods. A man who had just been fired from his job went into another office in the building and began attacking, killing one woman and seriously injuring another. 

The next day, it was revealed that the "shooter" was actually the company's COO--an off-duty reserve officer who fired in order to stop the attacks, and the assailant was armed with a knife and beheaded his first victim.

Since then, witnesses have said that the suspect, Alton Nolen, was a recently converted Muslim who was trying to convert his co-workers to Islam as well. Nolen, who changed his name on his Facebook profile to Jah'Keem Yisrael, allegedly converted to Islam himself while he was in prison for conviction of cocaine possession with intent to distribute and escape from detention.

Because of his ties to Islam and the gruesome details of the rampage, Nolen's case is being investigated by the FBI. At this time, law enforcement officials are saying there is no evidence that the attacks are linked to terrorism. Perhaps it is time to put an end to the religious-scapegoat allegations?

Regardless, with ISIS and its supporters connected to several beheadings in recent weeks, the story of a beheading in Oklahoma of all places has captured international attention.

Whether this is an act of terrorism by a "lone wolf" acting in support of ISIS urgings to commit random acts of violence against westerners, or whether it is an act of workplace violence using a method of assault guaranteed to get media attention, the fact remains that a woman was brutally killed and another savagely attacked. The heinousness of the assault leaves many asking if such an act could have been avoided.

According to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, it could have been prevented if Nolen had served more time in prison. Nolen was sentenced to 2 years in prison for marijuana possession, 2 years for escape from detention, 2 years for assault on a police officer, and 6 years for possession with intent to distribute cocaine. His sentences were allowed to run concurrently, and Nolen was released in March 2013 after serving only 2 years.

Should Nolen still be behind bars? Maybe, but it is important to keep in mind that Nolen was released from prison because he was granted all of the credits for potential sentence reductions that are allowed under the Oklahoma Statutes. That's right: while Nolen was incarcerated, he was given the benefit of all rules and regulations that our Legislature made applicable to him, just as he should have been. It is a complete cop-out for anyone to say in retrospect that Nolen should have served more time than he did. Nolen served the amount of time that the State of Oklahoma required of him based on his crimes of conviction and behavior while incarcerated.

It is even more imperative to view the current allegations in relation to the nature of Nolen's previous crimes--drug possession and an attempt to flee arrest. Even the single violent charge--assault of a police officer--seems to be more of a case of an officer being injured incidentally as Nolen ran away. From the trooper's own description, he shoved her aside after she cuffed one hand, and as he ran, she was still holding on to the handcuffs, causing torn ligaments and other injuries to her finger and hand. Certainly, it is not excusable, but it seems less an attempt to injure than an attempt to get away.

The injured Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper, Betsy Randolph, is another person who thinks Thursday's atrocities could have been avoided. Randolph described her 2010 altercation with Nolen to CNN. She says that, in retrospect, she wishes she had killed him when she had the chance. This is a dangerous statement to make--especially since the description of the traffic stop in which Randolph was injured gives no indication that the use of lethal force would have been in any way justified.

This isn't Minority Report. There is no "Pre-Crime" division of law enforcement, and the nature of Nolen's convictions don't indicate a propensity for this degree of violence or brutality. We have a justice system that sentences criminal defendants only for the crimes they committed, and not for the crimes they "could" commit at some undisclosed time in the future. Certainly, we wish there had been a way to prevent the beheading and stabbings in Moore. We wish we could have stopped a vicious and heinous attack before it ever started. In this case, however, it so far doesn't seem as if there were signs to indicate the storm that was brewing. It is practically impossible to judge a defendant's future risk of violence with any sort of certainty, and it is bogus for any individual to claim otherwise.

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