If ever there was a personification of issues of career criminality and judicial leniency in Milwaukee, Otha Brown, Jr. would be it. Unfortunately for a 26 year-old man and a nine year-old girl, that leniency literally had deadly consequences.
Brown, Jr., 32, was arrested and charged Friday with the murder of Jerome Johnson at a Tastee Twist ice cream stand on August 4th. While he was in custody, investigators tied him to the May 5th, 2016 murder of nine year-old Za'laiya Jenkins.
According to a criminal complaint, Brown and another man opened fire at a car following a drug transaction near 15th and Meinecke, but one of their bullets struck Za'laiya, who was inside her home nearby.
Brown managed to avoid arrest on that homicide for more than a year, but now prosecutors allege that he shot and killed Johnson in apparent retaliation for an earlier murder that Brown believed Johnson to have been involved in.
Stunningly, though, at the time of both homicides with which Brown has been charged, he could have (and perhaps should have) been in prison for an earlier offense--and the nature of that offense illustrates that the most significant issue related to gun violence isn't the severity of Wisconsin's gun laws, but the manner in which they are enforced.
Otha Brown, Jr.'s criminal history indicates that he is a cocaine dealer, and he has a criminal history dating back to when he was 17. Naturally, this indicates that he had an extensive juvenile record as well, but juvenile cases are sealed and thus unavailable for public review.
In both 2002 and 2003, Brown was arrested for marijuana, and he very quickly turned to selling cocaine. In 2004, he was charged with manufacturing/delivering cocaine, a Class G felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He pleaded no contest in May of 2005 and was sentenced to a year in prison, but that sentence was stayed and Brown was instead sentenced to six months in jail with work release privileges as well as three years of extended supervision.
While he was still on extended supervision, Brown was arrested again in April of 2007 for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver (again, a Class G felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison), but reached a plea deal in which he served a year in prison followed by a year of extended supervision.
As a convicted felon, Brown was of course not allowed to own a gun, but in August of 2012 he was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The offense, which is often derided as not carrying a stiff enough penalty, is in fact punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Otha Brown, Jr. didn't get anywhere near that. Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge J.D. Watts accepted a plea deal from Brown and sentenced him to just a year in prison.
Had he sentenced Brown to just 35% of the statutory maximum, Brown would have been in prison and thus unable to allegedly take part in Za'laiya Jenkins' murder. Had Judge Watts sentenced Brown to just 45% of the statutory maximum, Brown would have been in prison and thus unable to allegedly murder Jerome Johnson.
Of course, Judge Watts does not bear responsibility for Brown's actions, but his lenient sentencing for a gun crime does demonstrate that maximum statutory punishments for such offenses can be as severe as humanly possible, but maximum sentences are utterly meaningless when judges (and the prosecutors who reach sweetheart plea deals) refuse to take gun crimes seriously.