AE Monthly

Articles - July - 2006 Issue

Who Says Crime Doesn't Pay?

Smiley.edward

Move over Martha!


By Bruce McKinney

Dostoevesky must be rolling over in his grave as the connective tissue between crime and punishment has recently been whittled down to a thread in the guilty pleadings of Edward Forbes Smiley III in state and federal courtrooms in New Haven. Mr. Smiley, the Edward Scissorhands of the antiquarian map business, reached an attractive plea bargain agreement with various authorities and now waits only judicial blessings to begin his penal retreat that prosecutors have promised to keep brief. Judicial guidelines suggest 57 to 71 months and the sentence is expected to be something less than the minimum. Whether an autobiography is in the offing is unclear but the time to write it has been mapped out.

Mr. Smiley has acknowledged in court he removed 97 maps from rare atlases and books at seven important research libraries: New York Public Library [32], the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale [11]; Boston Public Library [34]; Beinecke at Yale [9]; Houghton Library at Harvard [8], Newberry Library [2] and British Library [1]. It is unclear if institutions that avoided the same fate did so because they had better security, poorer maps or haven't yet noticed.

It's particularly appropriate that Mr. Smiley excised many European maps as his plea agreement closely parallels the European concept of penitence and lenient justice. In the American courts his treatment is a function of cooperation, skillful lawyering and his highly peculiar status as a first-time-offender given that he has pled guilt to stealing 97 antique maps from 7 libraries over seven and a half years. Apparently what is meant by first-time-offender is actually first-time-caught. Charles Manson would have benefited from this logic.

That many of the stolen maps are being returned is a great relief to the aggrieved libraries and a heads-up that many are responding to with added security. At Cleveland Public which recently installed security cameras patrons have been observed in many states, none of them Ohio. Mr. Smiley, the deus ex machina for many of these recent security installations and upgrades, may someday become a Jeopardy clue as a result. No doubt many library patrons who in the past have been able to see splendid material first hand will be barred access in the future because Mr. Smiley abused his.

That a well educated white man in the highly civilized environs of Connecticut is to receive a merciful punishment is a testament to the American judicial system and evidence that it sometimes works. That Blacks, Latinos and poor whites who do not have maps to barter often serve much longer sentences for much smaller crimes is not. There is a message in this plea agreement and we don't need a map to figure it out.

AE Monthly


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