On Wednesday morning, about 20 middle-schoolers — all African-American, all male — walked into the courtroom on the 13th floor of the federal courthouse in Minneapolis to witness a sentencing in a criminal case. Not long afterward, the guy who invited them, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, strode into the room.
The defendant was familiar to Davis. A decade earlier, the judge sentenced him to 70 months for a prior gun conviction. Now, having pleaded guilty to federal gun and cocaine possession charges, he was again in front of Davis.
Following the usual back and forth between defense counsel and prosecutor, Davis asked the defendant to address the assembled kids: “What can you tell them about what you’ve done to keep them from having to wear and orange jumpsuit and going to prison?”
The defendant’s response was direct and to the point. “This is a place you don’t want to be,” he said. After that Davis pronounced a sentence — 87 months and three years of supervised release.
Once the official business was concluded, Davis left the bench, put his arm around the defendant and guided him toward the spectators’ bench where the students were seated.
“I didn’t want to send him to prison. Unfortunate circumstances put him in the situation where he’s back in court,” Davis explained. “It’s important for everyone to understand that we all stumble. We all make mistakes. But we can’t continue to make the same mistakes.”
At that, Davis led the youth in a brief chorus of the old Jesse Jackson mantra, “I am somebody” before exiting the courtroom.
In the course of the proceedings, the full name of the defendant never came up. But given his role as the subject of a cautionary tale about the dangers of the criminal life, it’s hard to imagine a more apt one than Santino Corleone Walker.
As all true movie buffs recall, of course, Santino Corleone is the name of the mobster character played by James Caan in “The Godfather.” In the film, Santino winds up getting ratted out by a traitor and killed, leaving his death to be avenged by his younger brother, Michael Corleone.
As it happens, Santino Corleone Walker once had a brother named Ricardo Michael Corleone Walker. But that Michael Corleone can’t help Santino Walker. He was killed in a drive-by shooting in northeast Minneapolis back in 2006.