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definition - Willie_Horton

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Willie Horton

Willie Horton

Horton's mug shot from "Weekend Passes" Ad
Born (1951-08-12) August 12, 1951 (age 60)
Chesterfield, South Carolina, United States
Charge(s) Murder, assault, armed robbery, rape

William R. "Willie" Horton (born August 12, 1951) is an American convicted felon who, while serving a life sentence for murder, without the possibility of parole, was the beneficiary of a Massachusetts weekend furlough program. He did not return from his furlough, and ultimately he committed assault, armed robbery and rape.


  Criminal activity and incarceration

Horton was born in Chesterfield, South Carolina. On October 26, 1974, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Horton and two accomplices robbed Joseph Fournier, a 17-year-old gas station attendant, and then fatally stabbed him 19 times after he had cooperated by handing over all of the money in the cash register. His body was dumped in a trash can. Fournier died from blood loss.[1] Horton was convicted of murder, sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and incarcerated at the Northeastern Correctional Center in Massachusetts.[2]

On June 6, 1986, he was released as part of a weekend furlough program but did not return. On April 3, 1987 in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Horton twice raped a local woman after pistol-whipping, knifing, binding, and gagging her fiancé. He then stole the car belonging to the man he had assaulted. He was later shot and captured by Corporal Paul J. Lopez of the Prince George's County Police Department after a pursuit. On October 20, Horton was sentenced in Maryland to two consecutive life terms plus 85 years. The sentencing judge, Vincent J. Femia, refused to return Horton to Massachusetts, saying, "I'm not prepared to take the chance that Mr. Horton might again be furloughed or otherwise released. This man should never draw a breath of free air again."[3]

On April 18, 1996, Horton was transferred to the Jessup Correctional Institution (then called the Maryland House of Correction Annex), a maximum security prison in Jessup, Maryland, where he remains.[4]

Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was the governor of Massachusetts at the time of Horton's release, and while he did not start the furlough program, he had supported it as a method of criminal rehabilitation. The State inmate furlough program was actually signed into law by Republican Governor Francis W. Sargent in 1972. However, under Sargent, convicted first-degree murderers were not eligible for furlough. After the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that this right extended to first-degree murderers, the Massachusetts legislature quickly passed a bill prohibiting furloughs for such inmates. However, in 1976, Dukakis vetoed this bill arguing it would 'cut the heart out of efforts at inmate rehabilitation'.[5] The program remained in effect through the intervening term of governor Edward J. King and was abolished during Dukakis' final term of office on April 28, 1988. This abolition occurred only after the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune had run 175 stories about the furlough program and won a Pulitzer Prize.[6] Dukakis continued to argue that the program was 99 percent effective; yet, as the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune pointed out, no state outside of Massachusetts, nor any federal program, would grant a furlough to a prisoner serving life without parole.[citation needed]

  Horton in the 1988 presidential campaign

The first person to mention the Massachusetts furlough program in the 1988 presidential campaign was Al Gore. During a debate at the Felt Forum sponsored by the New York Daily News, Gore took issue with the furlough program. However, he did not specifically mention the Horton incident or even his name, instead asking a general question about the Massachusetts furlough program.[7]

Republicans picked up the Horton issue after Dukakis clinched the nomination. In June 1988, Republican candidate George H.W. Bush seized on the Horton case, bringing it up repeatedly in campaign speeches.[7] Bush's campaign manager, Lee Atwater, predicted that "by the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name."[7][8] In April 1988, Lee Atwater asked aide Jim Pinkerton for negative research to defeat Dukakis.[citation needed] Pinkerton returned with reams of material that Atwater told him to reduce to a 3×5 index card, telling him, "I'm giving you one thing. You can use both sides of the 3×5 card." Pinkerton discovered the furlough issue by watching the Felt Forum debate. On May 25, 1988, Republican consultants met in Paramus, New Jersey, holding a focus group of Democrats who had voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984. After giving the focus group the material Pinkerton provided on the index card, most of the voters switched from favoring Dukakis to favoring Bush.[citation needed] These focus groups convinced Atwater and the other Republican consultants that they should 'go negative' against Dukakis. Further information regarding the furlough came from aide Andrew Card, a Massachusetts native whom President George W. Bush later named as his Chief of Staff.[9]

  Jumping the gun

Although commercials about Willie Horton were not run until the fall campaign, Bush first mentioned him at the Texas Republican convention on June 9, 1988. The following week at the Illinois Republican convention in Springfield, Bush began to press the argument against Dukakis by declaring that Dukakis had let Horton loose to 'terrorize innocent people' and continued support of the furlough program until the Massachusetts legislature changed the law.[citation needed] Bush again mentioned Horton at the National Sheriffs Association in Louisville, Kentucky and declared himself in favor of 'life without parole' for convicted murderers.[citation needed]

Over the Fourth of July weekend in 1988, Atwater attended a motorcyclists' convention in Luray, Virginia. Two couples were talking about the Horton story as featured in the July issue of Reader's Digest. Atwater joined them without mentioning who he was. Later that night, a focus group in Alabama had turned completely against Dukakis when presented the information about Horton's furlough. Atwater used this occurrence to argue the necessity of pounding Dukakis about the furlough issue.[9]

  The fall campaign

Beginning on September 21, 1988, the Americans for Bush arm of the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), under the auspices of Floyd Brown, began running a campaign ad entitled "Weekend Passes", using the Horton case to attack Dukakis. The ad was produced by media consultant Larry McCarthy, who had previously worked for Roger Ailes. After clearing the ad with television stations, McCarthy added a menacing mug shot of Horton, who is African American. The ad was run as an independent expenditure, separate from the Bush campaign, which claimed not to have had any role in its production.[10]

On October 5, 1988, a day after the "Weekend Passes" ad was taken off the airwaves, was the date of the Bentsen-Quayle debate, the Bush campaign ran its own ad, "Revolving Door", which also attacked Dukakis over the weekend furlough program. While the advertisement did not mention Horton or feature his photograph, it depicted a variety of intimidating-looking men walking in and out of prison through a revolving door.[11] The commercial was filmed at an actual state prison in Draper, Utah, but the individuals depicted – thirty in all, were paid actors.[citation needed]

Attempting to counter-attack, Dukakis' campaign ran an ad about a convicted heroin dealer named Angel Medrano who raped and killed a pregnant mother of two after escaping from a federal correctional halfway house.[12] Conservative pundit Ann Coulter argues this case was less relevant since Medrano had no criminal history of violent behavior and Bush was not running based on his work in the federal justice system.[13] The controversy escalated when Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen and former Democratic presidential candidate and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called the "Revolving Door" ad racist – a charge which was denied by Bush.[12]

In 1990, the Ohio Democratic Party and a group called "Black Elected Democrats of Ohio" filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that NSPAC had coordinated or cooperated with the Bush campaign in airing the ad, which would make it an illegal in-kind campaign contribution.[10] Investigation by the FEC, including deposition of officials from both organizations, revealed indirect connections between McCarthy and the Bush campaign (such as his having previously worked for Ailes), but found no direct evidence of wrongdoing, and the investigation reached an impasse and was eventually closed with no finding of any violation of campaign finance laws.[10]

  See also


  1. ^ Simon, Roger (1990-10-01). "The killer and the candidate: how Willie Horton and George Bush rewrote to rules of political advertising". Regardie's Magazine. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-9217204_ITM. 
  2. ^ Kessler, Ronald (2007-11-29). "Released Killer Won’t Be Romney’s ‘Willie Horton’". Newsmax. http://www.newsmax.com/RonaldKessler/released-killer-romney-/2009/12/12/id/341499. 
  3. ^ Bidinotto, Robert (July 1988). "Getting Away with murder". Reader's Digest. 
  4. ^ "Maryland DOC inmate locater". http://www.dpscs.state.md.us/inmate/search.do?searchType=detail&id=78228. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  5. ^ "What Became of The Democrats?". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/20/books/what-became-of-the-democrats.html. 
  6. ^ "Columbia Journalism Review". http://web.archive.org/web/20080328003243/http://backissues.cjrarchives.org/year/95/2/pulitzers.asp. 
  7. ^ a b c "Media Matters: Ingraham, Hannity revived claim that "Al Gore brought up Willie Horton"". 2005-02-16. http://mediamatters.org/items/200502160008. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  8. ^ "the 80s club". http://eightiesclub.tripod.com/id346.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  9. ^ a b Germond, Jack W.; Jules Witcover (1989). Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars: The Trivial Pursuit of the Presidency, 1988. Warner Books. pp. 159–161. ISBN 0-446-51424-1. 
  10. ^ a b c "Independent Ads: The National Security Political Action Committee "Willie Horton"". http://www.insidepolitics.org/ps111/independentads.html. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  11. ^ "Candidate ads: 1988 – George Bush". http://www.insidepolitics.org/ps111/candidateads.html. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  12. ^ a b Dowd, Maureen (1988-10-25). "Bush Says Dukakis's Desperation Prompted Accusations of Racism". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE7DE1F3AF936A15753C1A96E948260. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  13. ^ Coulter, Ann Godless: The Church of Liberalism. p. 69

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