By Doug Wyllie
On Christmas Eve 1987, a 10-year-old girl was savagely sexually assaulted and then stabbed to death—left lying naked in a second-floor bedroom of her family’s home the South Jamaica section of Queens, New York.
The brutal rape and murder of little Vanessa Broughton shocked a population ostensibly desensitized to incidences of violence in the mid-1980s. Citing a 140-page precinct-by-precinct survey conducted by the NYPD, the New York Times reported that the number of murders “soared by 50 percent or more in 21 of New York City’s 75 police precincts in 1986″—a year in which there were 1,582 homicides in the Big Apple. Broughton was one of 1,672 people to be murdered in 1987.
Following a short investigation, 20-year-old Charles Rowe was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a deadly weapon. Found guilty at trial, he was sentenced to 20-years-to-life in prison. That would ever assuage the loss of an innocent young life forever taken, but some solace might be found in the thought that the offender would probably never be free to re-offend.
Unfortunately, the space between probably and definitely is ample enough to accommodate plenty of human tragedy. The most recent chapter in Rowe’s sordid story goes like this…
There are Breaks, and There is Broken
Rowe—now 56 years of age after having spent nearly 35 years behind bars before being released from the Sullivan County Correctional Facility in January of last year—was out on “lifetime parole when he launched into a brutal crime spree” that included assaulting a 61-year-old woman and raping a 69-year-old woman in two separate incidents earlier this year.
According to Fox News, Rowe was arrested—less than a year after he was released from prison—for allegedly stealing a van from a U-Haul storage facility in December 2022.
During the subsequent court proceedings, prosecutors with the Queens District Attorney’s Office had asked that bail be set at $25,000, but a judge administratively released him without bail pending a preliminary hearing in his parole revocation.
Queens Criminal Court Judge Stephanie Zaro told him, “You are getting a break.”
So, off he went on his merry way to terrorize innocents in two similar but separate attacks—both of which took place at the same U-Haul facility as the December auto theft—remaining free despite “twice blowing off court appearances” in connection with the abovementioned court process.
The first recorded incident of this terror—it can probably be safely assumed that additional episodes evaded any meaningful observation, much less any official reporting—was the violent sexual assault of the 69-year-old woman. During that attack he reportedly told his victim, “If you don’t do what I want I am going to kill you.”
About six weeks later, another woman in her 60s came upon Rowe trespassing in her rented storage area—at the same U-Haul facility where the auto theft and rape had occurred—and when she challenged him, Rowe reportedly replied, “Let’s not turn this into a murder.”
Rowe is finally back behind bars, now facing a host of new charges including burglary, first-degree rape, first-degree sexual abuse, predatory sexual assault, first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery, petty larceny, and weapons possession.
But it wasn’t for lack of trying by the “progressive” political elites who persistently insist on indulging the impulse to favor prisoners over ordinary people. Those individuals—and groups—were the driving force behind the so-called “Less is More Act” under which Rowe was allowed to walk free following the December 2022 auto theft arrest.
In fact, a law enforcement professional anonymously told the New York Post that Rowe is “the poster child for parole violation” who prior to Hochul’s signing of the legislation “would have been held in jail where he wouldn’t be able to victimize innocent people.”
Officially called the Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act, the bill was sold to the public as a measure to “reform” the parole revocation process in ways that would benefit people whose parole might be “unfairly” revoked for a “trivial” or “technical” violation such as missing appointments with their parole officers, breaking curfew or testing positive for illegal drugs or alcohol.
The bill—sponsored by Assembly Member Phara Souffrant Forrest and State Senator Brian Benjamin with the support of groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Black Freedom Project, and the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice—was passed by the New York Legislature in June of 2021 and signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul in September 2021.
On paper, some of the proposal looks good. For example, allowing a person their right to counsel at parole revocation hearings, increasing the State’s burden of proof of a violation during such hearings, and stipulating a relatively speedy process are totally in line with the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
But “eliminating automatic detention based on the mere accusation of a violation”—as is explained in literature presented by the law’s proponents—is a bridge too far.
Missing a meeting—appointments with parole officers included—happens to even the most well-meaning people. But stealing a vehicle isn’t a “trivial” or “technical” matter, particularly when the accused has a history including the rape and murder of a 10-year-old child.
Letting such a person loose among an incalculable number of potential new victims—confined by only the most modest measure of “community supervision” as guardrails against reoffending—is an obvious indication that something in the system is pretty severely broken.
Less is Less and More is More
In a press release issued upon signing “Less is More” into law, Governor Hochul said, in part that “there is no justice in mistreating incarcerated New Yorkers.”
There isn’t a ton of justice in mistreating law-abiding New Yorkers either, but, whatever…
In an analysis of the impact of “Less is More” on New Yorkers, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research said that the legislation’s “systematic alterations to the community supervision system almost certainly have unnecessarily released serious, sometimes violent offenders, some of whom go on to commit serious, sometimes violent offenses.”
The authors of that report—Charles Fain Lehman and Elias Neibart—note also in their conclusion that changes made in the parole revocation procedure “put a weight on the scales not just for the most sympathetic parolees but also for hardened criminals whom the parole system would otherwise be deterring or incapacitating.”
Lehman and Neibart added, “In the name of fairness, it sacrificed public safety.”
Like most legislation—federal, state, and local—passed in modern-day America, the name is a lie. Less isn’t more—less is less and more is more. Less attention paid to details in the public safety realm leads directly to less public safety. More leniencies afforded to potentially violent offenders leads directly to more frequent—and more violent—offenses.
For a variety of reasons, Charles Rowe should not have been roaming the streets of New York City, free to commit his atrocious attacks on two elderly women. Of course, as has been stated many times in this space, there’s commodious space for culpability, but blame ultimately falls on a voting public that continues to elect to public office the politicians who prioritize perpetrators over ordinary people.
In fact, consistently voting in favor of coddling criminals is tantamount to willful criminal negligence.
This article originally appeared at the National Police Association.