When the argument passed the boiling point, John Alan Redden used a belt to make his point. His wife at the time, Ginger Redden, had the bruises and welts to show for it — her left arm a mass of discolored bruises extending from her shoulder to her elbow, bruises on the small of her back and legs, a welt bearing the impression of the belt buckle on her cheek. For good measure, he took a golf club and jabbed her with it until she fell to the floor. After kicking her a while, he jumped on top of her and began to strangle her with his bare hands, as the finger marks on her neck a day later clearly showed. Somehow, in her desperate fight for her life, Ginger Redden broke his grasp and fought him off. He told her he would kill her if she tried to leave him.
The state of Mississippi calls this aggravated assault/domestic violence, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Circuit Court judge Lee Coleman calls it something far less serious than that — “an abnormality,” as he put it when sentencing Redden to a suspended five-year sentence and unsupervised probation. Unsupervised probation is basically the honor system, unheard of where felony cases are concerned.
Spectators at the Feb. 5 sentencing, many of whom had appealed to Coleman for leniency, could not have been more surprised with the sentence. Privately, some of Redden’s supporters were simply hoping the judge would not give him the maximum penalty. Incredibly, Coleman gave him less than the minimum. If Coleman had had a dinner-for-two coupon stashed away in his robes, he would probably have given Redden that, too.
So, aside from the public embarrassment that accompanies being a convicted wife-beater, Redden will suffer no real consequences for the brutal attack on his former spouse.
Although Coleman would not elaborate on the sentence, during the sentencing he alluded to the fact that Redden was a businessman and a community volunteer.
Since when is the convicted offender’s standing in the community relevant in a violent crime? Has “blind’ justice regained its sight to the point that it can see only what it wants to see?
A reader commenting online seems to think so: “Good thing he didn’t have marijuana on him (a victim-less crime) or he might have actually got in trouble. This is the problem with our legal system. If you almost kill someone you get no time, but if you have drugs for personal use and are black, you get 10 years.”
This sentence is a blow to all those who have advocated for victims of domestic abuse, who say such sentencing greatly undermines a victim’s confidence in the judicial system and makes them less likely to report these crimes.
It’s worth noting that in the only other aggravated assault/domestic violence case that went before Coleman, his sentence did not include jail time, either.
Clearly, wife-beating is not a serious offense from Coleman’s point of view.
Coleman did a serious disservice not only to the victim but to the people of the state, the judicial system and the credibility of his office.
This case will be the standard by which all of Coleman’s future sentences will be measured. If you give a pass for a violent criminal, what logical grounds exist for jail sentences for non-violent offenders? Every sentence he passes down will be measured against this one.
When Lee Coleman asks voters to rehire him next year, we expect the specter of John Alan Redden will loom large. And well it should.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.