published Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Cook: 15 years, seven shotgun shells

Hixson's Ed Young just made national news. The Sunday New York Times, no less.

I just hope he's able to get a copy in federal prison.

"If you want to understand all that is wrong with America's criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young," Nicholas Kristof wrote.

If you don't know the story of Ed Young -- first expertly reported by this paper's Todd South -- then sit back, kiss all ideas of justice and prosecutorial decency goodbye, and enter the Kafka-esque tale best summed up in one dizzying sentence:

Young will spend the next 15 years in federal prison for possessing seven shotgun shells.

"I don't even know if they were functional," said his attorney, Chris Varner.

Perhaps the place to begin is the Armed Career Criminal Act: Anyone with three prior convictions (violent felonies or serious drug offenses) caught with a firearm faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in jail.

Yes, Young, 43, is a felon.

Nearly two decades ago, he did time for burglary. His targets?

"Houses they knew to be unoccupied," said Varner. "The last thing they wanted was violence."

(Never, not once, was he ever accused, much less found guilty, of carrying a weapon. Remember that.)

Released from prison, Young turned his life around: married to wife Stacy, four beloved kids, working until rheumatoid arthritis turned him into a stay-at-home dad, and, apparently, generous neighbor.

When a neighbor's husband died, Young helped the new widow sell off some belongings, taking some furniture to a flea market but keeping behind at his home one chest of drawers.

Inside were seven shotgun shells.

Not a handgun. Not even a shotgun.

Just seven shells.

Soon, hunting for a suspect in local robberies, police came knocking. Young let them in. They searched his home, and found the shells.

"It is not against Tennessee state law for a felon to have a shotgun shell," said Varner.

But the Hamilton County district attorney didn't pick up the case. U.S. Attorney Bill Killian did.

Remember the Armed Career Criminal Act? Killian took that standard and went for the throat: 15 years in jail.

Had the case remained in county court, Young would have been sentenced to something far more realistic.

"Ten to 16 months," said Varner.

Young's 15-year-seven-shell sentence is longer than Billy Long's jail sentence, the former Hamilton County sheriff in prison for everything but the kitchen sink: extortion, money laundering, drugs, weapons.

"[Long's] sentence was almost four years shorter than Ed Young's," said Varner.

Mandatory minimum sentencing handcuffs local judges who otherwise would be able to use things like common sense and wisdom in presiding over a case like Young's. (During the trial, presiding Judge Curtis Collier even instructed the Youngs on ways to fight mandatory minimum sentences.)

Varner, citing the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, hopes this fall the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will overturn the ruling for being grossly disproportionate.

"I just ... I mean, it wasn't ... it wasn't my intent," Young told Collier in the courtroom. Soon after, Young's eldest son ran from the courtroom, weeping.

What is the intent of mandatory minimums? It is to criminalize people for life? It is to seek the meanest punishment? To fill our jails?

"With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States has almost one-quarter of the world's prisoners," wrote Kristof.

Including one Ed Young, 43 and disabled, a good dad spending the next 15 years in federal prison and its criminals, all thanks to prosecutorial zeal (Kristof hinted at Killian as Hugo's Inspector Javert) and seven shotgun shells.

"I need help," Young's wife, Stacy, said. "I need him home with me."

So every other weekend, she drives down to the Atlanta prison. Policy there dictates only four people per visit, so Stacy drives down Saturday morning with two children, then, she drives them back home, wakes up Sunday morning, and makes the trip again with the other two children.

It would be easier, of course, for them all to go down at once, spend the night in a motel.

But they can't afford it.

And, one of the children -- the one with the broken heart -- might wake other hotel guests.

"The little one cries himself to sleep every night," said Stacy.

Good. No mercy. Teach him a lesson. After all, isn't that what punishments are supposed to do?

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Walden said...

I believe it bears mentioning that Mr. Killian is an Obama appointee.

Another observation... surely there is more to the story than what David (and Nick Kristof) has presented in his story. Surely.

August 13, 2013 at 2:07 p.m.
klifnotes said...

But Walden, neither Mr. Killian nor Obama enacted those tougher laws. They were originally sought by right wing conservatives who had a certain group in mind those laws would mostly effect. Now, like the stiffer drug laws, there's a rush to slacken and modify the rules, because those laws are breaking up to ripping apart far too many white families, with far too many white children ending up in foster care. That wasn't part of the plan when conservatives wanted stiffer sentencing laws on crime.

Black families have suffered this for decades, and one can't miss the devastating outcome this has had on their communities and entire generations. As when a family member receives a certain type of conviction, it can harm or even destroy an entire family and future generations. Convictions convict the entire household.

America is number 1 when it comes to countries with the highest number of its citizens serving time in prisons and jails.

August 13, 2013 at 2:24 p.m.
mleonnig said...

This article shows exactly what is wrong with journalism today, even Op-ed pieces. Mr. Young, who "Turned his life around" according to Cook and the NYT, was facing felony robbery charges from 2011, so he took this as his best deal. The charges were dropped ony because he too this deal. SO... not exactly the "innocent man who turned his life around" story is it? Great job to our modern jurnalists for leaving such an intregal piece of the story out to fit their liberal narrative. Crime is atr an all-time low because we are holding people responsible for their actions, Mr. Young deserves this 15 years.

August 14, 2013 at 5:50 p.m.
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