In an opinion so bizarre it is only fitting to be released on Leap Day (February 29), the Seventh Circuit ruled on the appeal in U.S. v. Lucas today. The order is available here, and the case originated from the Western District of Wisconsin.
In the appeal, Lucas argues that the district court committed errors that resulted in a too-long sentence. The Seventh Circuit disagreed. Like most disputes, the one between Lucas and his victim, a minor known only as “CG,” arose over money:
Lucas became acquainted with CG while playing an online video game, World of Warcraft. While playing the game, Lucas began sending sexual messages to the minor asking CG to send naked pictures of himself. CG refused, and placed Lucas on a World of Warcraft “ignore list.” But Lucas became fixated on CG, and found other means to contact him. He offered CG $5,000 in online “currency” if CG would remove him from the ignore list. CG agreed, but soon after Lucas again began sending him sexual messages. CG again placed Lucas on the ignore list, but this only served to infuriate Lucas. Lucas began sending threatening messages, telling others that he intended to kill CG, and demanding the return of his “gold.” (source at 2)
Since bringing a civil theft suit against a minor who you solicited for n00ds is generally a very bad idea, Lucas was left to take matters into his own hands. He did so by getting strapped.
Lucas concocted a detailed plan to kidnap CG. He began by building a massive arsenal of weapons rivaling that of a local police department, including rifles, hand- guns, stun guns, canisters of pepper spray, handcuffs, restraints, and other various law enforcement and military equipment. (source at 3)
And, as if proof was needed, Lucas once again demonstrated that you can’t trust kids to keep their stupid mouths shut.
[Lucas] learned CG’s home address by contacting another minor in Madison, whom he had also met while playing video games online. The minor was willing to divulge the address in exchange for $500 (in actual, rather than virtual, currency). (source at 3)
But wait, there’s more!
Finally, Lucas took steps to prepare his vehicle for the kidnapping. Lucas had his car outfitted to resemble a police vehicle, with large antennas in the rear and a pullbar in the front of the vehicle. Lucas then attempted to have an automotive shop remove the emergency release latch from the trunk of his car, presumably so that he could transport CG without fear of his escape. When he examined the car, the shop employee noticed that the inside of the trunk had been lined with a clear plastic cover. (source at 3)
Lucas then drove 20 hours to Madison, Wisconsin to retrieve CG. He identified himself to CG’s mother as a member of the “National Security Recruiting Department,” which she met with incredulity due to his unkempt appearance and affiliation with an ill-defined law enforcement agency. Undeterred, Lucas drew a gun on CG’s mother, aiming it at her face. However, CG’s mother was quick to react and shut the door before Lucas could fire. (source at 4)
Having long crossed the point of no return, did Lucas double-down and invade the house, determined to retrieve CG and get his $5,000 worth? Surely this plot had already required a greater investment, and Lucas, in CG’s driveway with his handgun drawn, was in too deep to quit – or so it seemed. No; when confronted by a closed front door, Lucas turned tail and drove the 20 hours right back to Massachusetts. (source at 4) Two days later, he was arrested there.
Once arrested, Officers found a military-style arms cache, as well as a makeshift outdoors torture basement seemingly inspired by Silence of the Lambs.
Officers recovered two loaded handguns, ammunition, two stun guns, three canisters of pepper spray, seven pairs of handcuffs, twenty-eight flex restraints, three rolls of duct tape, one box of latex gloves, three military style knives, and other miscellaneous items from the trunk of his car. In a wooded area outside of Lucas’s home, officers discovered a cave where Lucas had stockpiled even more weapons. Inside the cave, officers also found two holes Lucas had dug measuring five-feet by ten- feet by two-feet. (source at 4)
Based on these facts and other evidence adduced at trial, District Judge Conley (W.D. Wis.) gave notice of his upward departure from federal sentencing guidelines and imposed a final term of 210 months – 17.5 years, an 18 month upward move from the maximum 192 months provided by the guidelines for all the crimes Lucas was convicted of committing. The Seventh Circuit found that the district court did not commit any procedural error. Furthermore, the court of appeals held that the sentence was not substantively unreasonable, and furthered a proper purpose.
Criminal sentences in America are wildly out of line with the harm done by the crimes they punish. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of narcotics crimes. In my experience, however, the Western District of Wisconsin is attuned to this reality and has no desire to be punitive for its own sake (and as a federal judge, why would you – you have job security for life). But this is one of those cases where the defendant’s conduct makes it hard to impose a lighter sentence, and recidivism appears likely. 210 months is an awfully long time. In this case, though, it may be long enough to keep Lucas outside of the public during his most destructive years.