How a Former Prisoner Took Down a Big Shot from the Private Prison Industry (and Cheney Pal)
Continued from previous page
Puryear defended his membership by noting that three federal judges, including Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, were members of the Club (Judge Merritt is no longer an active member). Puryear also observed that as an Associate Member he did not have voting privileges himself -- although that failed to explain the inability of any women members to vote, or why all of the Club's Resident Members were male and none were black.
Others are not so shortsighted. Puryear's ex-boss, former Senator Bill Frist, resigned his Club membership in 1993 shortly before he entered national politics. Rather than moot the controversy by canceling his membership, Puryear remains a member of the Belle Meade Country Club to this day.
Puryear's membership in an elitist country club with discriminatory practices did not go unchallenged. Friedmann contacted three women's rights groups, the National Organization for Women, the National Council of Women's Organizations and the Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, which sent letters to the Judiciary Committee sharply criticizing Puryear's affiliation with the Belle Meade Country Club.
"If Mr. Puryear is appointed to the federal bench, it is difficult for us to conceive how women defendants and plaintiffs, or indeed women attorneys, could appear before him and expect to receive impartial and equal consideration given Mr. Puryear's past membership in the Belle Meade Country Club and his defense of that membership," stated Susan Scanlan, Chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
Estelle Richardson's Death Revisited
PLN has reported extensively on the death of Estelle Richardson, 34, a prisoner at the CCA Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility in Nashville, Tennessee who was found unresponsive in her segregation cell on July 5, 2004, one day after a cell extraction.
An autopsy revealed she had a fractured skull, four broken ribs and a lacerated liver. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Levy, who ruled Estelle's death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to the head, determined her injuries could not have been self-inflicted. "If she had fallen from a high window or if she had been hit by a car, I would expect to see these types of injuries," he said at the time.
Four CCA guards were indicted in connection with Estelle's death in September 2005; however, the charges were later dropped because the timing of her fatal head injury could not be accurately determined. In February 2006, CCA quietly settled a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Estelle's two minor children. Her homicide remains unsolved. [See: PLN, April 2005, p.14; Feb. 2006, p.1; May 2006, p.19].
Initially, the opposition campaign raised the Estelle Richardson case as an example of Puryear's priorities in representing and defending CCA. While there were no allegations that he had done anything wrong in connection with the investigation into Estelle's death or the subsequent civil litigation, Puryear's primary concern was protecting CCA's interests -- which, of course, is what he is paid millions of dollars to do.
"What about the public's interest in knowing who beat Estelle Richardson to death?," asked Friedmann. "What about bringing her killers to justice, whether they were CCA guards or other prisoners? That, apparently, was not one of Mr. Puryear's concerns, and a person who has no interest in ensuring that justice is served has no business being a judge."
Puryear faced tough questions about Estelle's case at his February 12, 2008 Judiciary Committee hearing, and provided some rather disturbing answers. He stated the four CCA guards arrested in connection with her homicide had been "exonerated"; the cause of Estelle's death could not be determined and she may have died accidentally; and her four broken ribs might have been caused by CPR, which he said was a "common" occurrence.