Cronkite News Service Story on Tough Sentencing Laws Underplayed Criminal History of Ex-Prisoner

Categories: Media, Schmedia
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Arizona's sentencing laws are so tough that a woman recently served two years in prison for her first DUI because of a previous conviction for possession of marijuana.

The disturbing news can be found in a May 23 article by a journalism student about the need for smarter sentencing guidelines in Arizona. The story was first published by Arizona State University's Cronkite News Service, then picked up by numerous news sites around the state.

Trouble is, the article doesn't reveal the whole truth about the ex-con, Candita Gottsponer. As it turns out, she's not a good example for the article's thesis.

Skeptical of the claim, New Times backgrounded the woman's criminal history and found it was much more extensive than the article described.

But what really bugs us is not that reporter Rebekah Zemansky (who just graduated) did not write her story as we might have. It's that her editor, Associated Press veteran Steve Elliott, and the editors of news sites across the state, failed to realize the absurdity of the sentencing tale. It appears that many newspapers published the story on their websites without questioning it.

The lengthy article, entitled, "More conservatives joining push to change sentencing guidelines," begins like this:

PHOENIX -- Even with a record for marijuana possession, Candita Gottsponer didn't expect to go to prison for her first DUI. But a state law toughening penalties for repeat offenders left the judge with no other option.

She served 23 months at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville.

That info's repeated in the caption beneath Gottsponer's photo. The article doesn't expound further on the reason for Gottsponer's incarceration.

A check of the state Department of Corrections websurte shows that she wasn't merely sentenced for a first-time DUI based on a single pot conviction. She was sentenced for a 2009 aggravated DUI conviction, a 2003 conviction for possession of "dangerous drugs" (not marijuana), and a 2004 conviction for first-degree failure to appear.

Under the "parole classification" heading, it looks like Gottsponer was sent to prison for a while in 1998, too, though the site doesn't state why.

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Image: Arizona Department of Corrections
Candita Gottsponer was recently released from prison after serving 23 months. Her criminal history shows why she's not a great example of overly harsh sentencing laws in Arizona.

Court records show a long history of legal problems. Yes, she was convicted of pot possession in 1999. But that's been the least of her worries. Gottsponer was:


* Convicted of theft of $1,000-$2,000 in 1997. She'd been charged at the time with both theft and fraudulent use of a credit card.

* Convicted of possessing dangerous drugs in July 1997. The plea deal dropped additional counts of pot possession and drug paraphrenalia.

* Convicted of providing liquor to a minor in 2002.

* Convicted in April 2009 for possession of dangerous drugs and failure to appear (probably for the above-mentioned 2003 and 2004 violations.) The plea deal in the case dropped additional charges, including pot and paraphrenalia possession and two counts of the involvement or use of a minor in drug offenses.

* Charged in June 2009 with aggravated DUI (passenger under 15 years old), misconduct with weapons and false reporting. That DUI is probably the one mentioned in Zemansky's article.

It's difficult to piece together what happened in 2009 based on documents available online. But we're not convinced the judge had no options.

Gottsponer was sentenced to 2 1/2 years, but was released after 23 months, the DOC site shows.

Zemansky declined to comment when we reached her last night.

Cronkite News Service Editor Steve Elliott called us from the road today, saying he wasn't able at that time to verify what we told him about Gottsponer's history but will double-check everything when he gets back from his trip.

"If something's wrong in the story, we'll correct that," Elliott says.

That's not going to be an easy correction to write, from what we can tell.

Interestingly, Elliott mentioned that Zemansky "looked through [ottsponer's] priors" while reporting the story. If so, we can't figure out why the story didn't mention the priors.

Zemansky's article ran far and wide. A Google search shows it was re-published on the sites of the East Valley Tribune, Arizona Daily Sun, Ahwatukee Foothills News, Arizona Capitol Times, Daily News-Sun, Tucson Sentinel, USA Today, and lots of blogs.

Arizona's already America's whipping post because of its right-wing politics -- no further embellishment is needed. We can only assume that when editors of these news sites saw the Cronkite story's headline, which backhandedly criticized conservatives, their brains went to mush.

The Cronkite News Service feeds the declining newspaper industry with free content. Receiving editors seemed to believe that the content in question fit the "Arizona's whacked" narrative. That's assuming the editors looked at the story at all. Some sites may have picked it up automatically.

But a student news service is not the professionally staffed Associated Press. As newspapers and websites rely more on students to fill in where laid-off journalists cannot, they'll need readers like us -- and you -- to help with the learning curve.



UPDATE: Cronkite News Service publishes a correction on the article.

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I'm not sure how the title of the article written by Zemansky is a backhanded criticism of conservatives.  Doesn't the Zemansky article identify two different groups of conservatives, some supporting a revision of sentencing guidelines and some wanting to maintain mandatory minimums?   Even if Gottsponer was not the ideal example of sentencing guidelines, I'm not sure that that detracts from the premise of the article as I read it.  I thought a major point was that there is a fiscal argument about revising sentencing guidelines that is being made by some conservatives, an argument that has support within and outside of Arizona.  In automatically assuming a liberal/conservative divide, Stern has failed to respond to the most interesting complexity of the argument.   Part of my question is what is behind those conservatives that oppose and block the revisiting of mandatory sentencing?  Tough on crime?  Or connections to the private prison industry?  Now, that would be good to see a professional...or a student...journalist investigate.  This tempest is misdirection.


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So, what's worse?  The student reporter understating a criminal statement or the professional journalist overstating it?

In the case of the tie, does the loss go to the self-important douche-bag with his sanctimonious know-it-all attitude?

If so - and if you had bet that Stern was a good reporter: you lose!


"* Charged in June 2009 with aggravated DUI (passenger under 15 yearsold), misconduct with weapons and false reporting. That DUI is probablythe one mentioned in Zemansky's article. "

Josh Pearce got popped for aggravated DUI with his wife and five-day-old  son in the car and got probation. He got busted again for two felony counts of DUI and got more probation. He busted his child's skull and didn't even get charged. 

I think Candita Gottsponer had the wrong daddy. If she was Candita Pearce she likely wouldn't have seen the inside of a jail cell.


Newtimes has always done a good job covering the important issues that matter most but other news outlest are afraid to touch. They would be doing us a great service if they would help shed light on our outragious mandatory minimum guidelines. I agree with "Concerned Taxpayer" this need to start an on going series covering this very important issue.


The public needs to read these stats. If we went back to the 70's rate of incarceration, 4 out of 5 prisoners would be released. The mass industrial prison complex making the U.S. the #1 jailer in the world is a shameful statistic. (see Pew Report on the States)excerpt from article:"Texas, for example, started programs in 2007 that allow more non-violent offenders into substance abuse programs combined with probation as an alternative to prison.The Arizona Auditor General's report also noted Mississippi had increased early releases for non-violent offenders, Florida had expanded house arrests and Georgia had allowed non-violent offenders to serve time during the day but be home at night.Levin said that financial realities will force Arizona to take a hard look at following suit."We don't want to just write a blank check for any other government program," he said. "Why should we write a blank check for prisons?"Arizona's prison population1970 -- 1,6721974 -- 1,7521980 -- 3,4801985 -- 8,1521990 -- 13,6991995 -- 20,7422000 -- 26,5102005 -- 33,4712010 -- 40,508

Concerned Taxpayer
Concerned Taxpayer

Sentencing=prison growth for $$'s that should be going to education, health care and social services which include rehabilitation.Tim Rutten: California's prison overcrowding problem - latimes.com"The issue California now confronts, however, doesn't really turn on solving this social scientific mystery. Our problem is, as the court pointed out, that overcrowding has reduced this state's prisons to a state of constitutional and human indecency — and that's a moral and legal scandal. Though it's been quoted with the frequency of cliche, Dostoyevsky's admonition remains true: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."


While complaining about the editorial failures of the Conkrite team in allowing a story to run that falsely supported the thesis that AZ's laws are too tough, Stern makes his own errors in explaining the woman's past legal problems. Worse, unlike the innocent mistakes of a college writer, he has deliberately acted to mislead his readers.

Specifically, when trying to demonstrate how bad this woman is, Stern includes in her "rap-sheet" all the charges against her that were dropped - in other words, for which she was neither prosecuted nor convicted. He does this because it makes her seem a lot more menacing.  Unfortunate for Stern, in America and in Arizona, non-convictions don't count for mandatory sentencing, and that is what this story is supposed to be about. (The reasons for this are numerous, and if Stern or anyone else needs an explanation why, then they don't belong in this discussion.

Most sad of all is that Stern didn't need to bolster his claim by including non-convictions on charges that may well be the product of over-charging. The woman is a menace to society, too bad, that Stern seems to be a menace to good reporting.



You have no proof that Josh cracked his own child's skull, much less that he got away with it.

As with anyone who brings a child with a similar injury into an ER, he was investigated and no charges were filed.

The secondary point of THIS article, after the primary one of being a hissy fit by the author, is that the lady here had a long (if exaggerated by the author) history of felony convictions that warranted her imprisonment.

You acknowledged as much in a previous post.

Josh was treated by the book and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to indicate he got any special treatment.  

The PNT has been very careful not to make that explicit claim.  It has danced around it so as to give the impression, but it knows that when viewed objectively by legal professionals, Josh's sentencing is absolutely, unequivocally consistent with any other similarly situated convict.

In other words, the PNT can't find an expert to claim Josh got special treatment, so it uses sensationalism in place of Journalism to cause you, the reader, to think something it can't claim directly.

You, dear sir, are the victim of Yellow Journalism, and a masterful job of it, to boot.

Your fevered hate of Pearce (formed in reality, I am sure) has responded to the sensationalist, irresponsible rants of a fallen writer - someone who so hates Pearce that he willingly breaches the accepted standards of his profession. 

The PNT wants Pearce gone, so do I, but I'm not willing to tell lies, even an implied one, to see it happen. Why can't you do the same?


No shit !


1970 -- 1,672    1974 -- 1,752   1980 -- 3,480   1985 -- 8,152    1990 -- 13,699   1995 -- 20,742   2000 -- 26,510    2005 -- 33,471     2010 -- 40,508


Those who profit from the mass industrial prison complex Arizona has become, like the private prison corporations -- CCA, GEO -- do not want to reform Arizona's draconian sentencing for obvious reasons. Long sentences guarantee more beds. Unfortunately, the taxpayers are at risk for becoming their "clients" and are left holding the bill.

Concerned Taxpayer
Concerned Taxpayer

The bottom line is this woman was a poor example of Arizona's harsh mandatory sentencing that has put a first offender, non-violent, non-sexual in prison for 75 years. First offenders, non-violent receiving years in prison need to be investigated and written about. It's time to reform Arizona's sentencing laws and there are many examples other than this case. The students need to dig into this critical issue that is sinking the state. A great public service would be if Mr. Stern would shine the harsh spotlight on this topic in an ongoing series. The public needs to be informed. 


Rubbish. Probation for an aggravated DUI with a five-day-old child in the car? I've known people to lose custody of their child for this kind of thing. And then probation for a SECOND DUI? That's definitely a degree of leniency not seen in Gottsponer's case.

And with regard to the fractured skull of Pearce's daughter, the injury occurred while the nine-day-old infant was in his care and his story of how it happened didn't jibe with the injury.  Given the baby's age, it pretty clearly wasn't a self-inflicted injury - the child wasn't capable of so much as climbing out of a crib.

How does a nine-day-old infant fracture it's own skull? It's a puzzler, isn't it? Impossible, really, without the assistance of someone much older. And the child was under Pearce's supervision at the time.

So spare me the shrill indignation. Pearce may not have been prosecuted for fracturing his daughter's skull, but there is little doubt that he was responsible for it.


There is money to be made in prisons.


Agree on the mandatory min and the Private Prison Industrial Complex issue.

That,however, wasn't the bottom line for this article.

The conclusion gives insight to the intent, and in that conclusion we learn this article is about a "professional" journalist deriding the editors at a "student" news service.

This article is about ego and economics.

Stern writes: "But a student news service is not the professionally staffed Associated Press. As newspapers and websites rely more on students to fill in where laid-off journalists cannot, they'll need readers like us -- and you -- to help with the learning curve."

Stern had his shot - he could have puffed his chest while chiding the students AND showed them how a professional would have attacked the same story.  Of course, that would have required real work, work reserved for real, as opposed to a self-identified "professional" journalist.

For now we have to content ourselves knowing that Stern needs readers like us -- and you -- to help him with the professional standards and comity curve.


Just a casual observer to your little debate but this part struck me as incredibly fucked-up:

"Please, don't be modest! You are, as you have boasted on another thread, an attorney AND a Christian. Who apparently lives in sin with a public defender. And who cannot actually argue from relevant facts but instead must appeal to his credentials, and, more laughably, the credentials of unnamed cocktail party attendees, to lend a false air of credibility to his contentions. And who can't discern the difference between an insult and an argument."

Resorting to outright ad hominem attacks to discredit someone about a point that has nothing to do with the article the post is on?  Get a life!  Do you really think these kind of attacks further your argument?  They don't, they make you look like a childish fool.



Please, don't be modest! You are, as you have boasted on another thread, an attorney AND a Christian. Who apparently lives in sin with a public defender. And who cannot actually argue from relevant facts but instead must appeal to his credentials, and, more laughably, the credentials of unnamed cocktail party attendees, to lend a false air of credibility to his contentions. And who can't discern the difference between an insult and an argument.

Very impressive! An attorney and a Christian who doesn't seem to be much of either.

According to Lemons' article, Josh Pearce was booked in 2005 for extreme DUI, unlawful flight from law enforcement, and assault. A glass pipe (presumably narcotics paraphenalia) was also found in his possession at the time of the arrest.

Lemons could find no indication that these charges were either prosecuted or dismissed; They seemingly just fell down the memory hole.

That strongly suggests preferential treatment. Or is it your position that this sort of thing is common and Pearce was just the random beneficiary of system-wide, disappearing criminal charges?

Josh Pearce's infant daughter sustained a life-threatening fractured skull while in his care;  He claimed that he was internet surfing and that his other children had taken his infant daughter from a "bouncy-chair," put her on the floor and kicked her.

Medical personnel said the injury could not have been caused by the two children. And the "bouncy-chair" was found by  law enforcement in the back yard, covered with a thick layer of dirt and dust, appearing to have lain untouched there for a considerable period of time.

No charges filed. But Pearce and his wife were the only adults in the home, medical personnel said the children could not have inflicted the injury and the daughter, and that the injury was not consistent with an accidental drop or fall. The victim was only nine days old and obviously not capable of doing herself serious harm. So who did it? A one-armed man?


More bullshit.

I'm a lawyer. The woman I live with is not only a lawyer, but a public defender. A good number of our friends are criminal defense lawyers.  You don't think this comes up at social gatherings?

There is no there, there.

If anything preferential had gone on, even one little iota, don't you think Lemons and the PNT, not to mention the rest of the media would be all - and I do mean all-the-fuck - over this?

The PNT can't find an expert to say what it implies, which you now run with as fact, so it resorts to Yellow Journalism.

All your post does -- especially your link back to a story that does nothing to substantiate your claim of preferential treatment -- is prove that Yellow Journalism works.

And for this reason, because some of us who oppose Pearce are willing to set aside logic and common sense, the rest of the movement to remove Pearce is labeled as the work of fools.

Just shut the fuck up - you're hurting the cause.


And then there's this -


"On October 5, 2005, Joshua Pearce was arrested in an incident wherehe allegedly fled police and drove through a red light. According tothe report, this was after a fight at a Filiberto's with two Hispanicmales. Joshua claimed he was attacked by the two men. One of the mentold police Joshua attacked them first.No racial slurs were exchanged, according to the report.Joshua was booked on several charges: extreme DUI (his blood alcohol level was 0.15); unlawful flight from law enforcement; and assault. The Mesa cop found a glass pipe with residue in the car, and a urinalysis detected THC. According to one police officer, "Joshua said he smokes as much marijuana as he can get..."I'm not clear on what the result of this incident was. I know thatcourt documents made mention of this DUI, but I don't see a convictionfor it in the court record, much less for the rest of the charges.Perhaps they were dropped. I do know that when Joshua was stopped in2006, he was driving on a suspended license."*****Now, if I claim that Joshua Pearce got preferential treatment, in part manifested by leniency in sentencing and in part manifested by charges simply disappearing or being dropped, your attempting to refute this by simply pointing to lack of convictions is absurd.


 "The conclusion gives insight to the intent, and in that conclusion welearn this article is about a "professional" journalist deriding theeditors at a "student" news service."

I rather thought Stern was deriding the Associated Press. And to some degree, rightly so. They have followed the general newsroom trend of cutting staff to the bleeding bone, and it shows. That isn't necessarily a reflection on the individual journalists remaining at the AP, but it is a reflection on AP management and the industry as a whole.

I agree that Mr. Stern errs when he presents charges of which Ms. Gottsponer was never convicted as somehow factoring into her sentencing for a first-time DUI.

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