Donna Stark: Similar names, different men

October 14, 2010 12:00:00 PM



Lately my husband, Bill Stark, has been asked if he is the William Starks who is running for judge. People frequently call our home asking for Mr. Starks, and we also get mail sent to our address for the attorney William Starks. Confusion of the two names is understandable as both men are attorneys. However, our name has no "s" on the end. William is the son of Paul and Nelda Starks. My husband has recently retired from an active law practice and William Starks has been practicing law for 10 years and is now running for Circuit Judge, place 1 against the incumbent, Jim Kitchens. 


Let me be clear again since we are talking about similar names that this is not the Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, Jim Kitchens, but the Jim Kitchens who tried Tyler Edmonds in Starkville. You will remember that Tyler Edmonds was tried as an adult and convicted of being an accomplice in the murder of Joey Fulgham. Tyler was only 13 when he was sentenced to life in prison without parole until he was 65 by Jim Kitchens. Later this conviction was overturned and in a second trial Tyler was found innocent of the charges. 


Having lived in this university city for a number of years, I have watched as students get caught with drugs and then get sent away with the maximum sentence. Those people whose cases end up before Kitchens rather than Judge Howard are terrified, knowing their chances for leniency are few with Judge Kitchens. 


While vigorous prosecution and sentencing might be a reason for some people to vote for Judge Kitchens, it is not for us. Our jails are filled with people whose lives are ruined because of a misjudgement. Do not misunderstand me, I am not suggesting dangerous criminals should be on the street, but young people do make bad choices, and at times illegal ones. Yes, they made a mistake, but do we really want to continue with a judge who is determined to deliver the maximum sentence and fill our prisons with drug offenders? 


Recently, it turns out that Judge Kitchens testified under oath and gave false testimony in the sentencing phase of a murder trial which could have resulted in the death penalty for Quintez Hodges. While I would like to think it was a case of vigorous prosecution resulting in a mistake on his part, and not malicious intent, again we are left with a second trial because of misjudgement. Can we afford more years of Jim Kitchens? 


We are not related to William Starks, but we are supporting him for Circuit Judge, Place 1. In conversation with William he stressed the need for a drug court for the purpose of rehabilitation rather than incarceration of offenders, and he emphasized he would use a common sense approach as a judge. 


As a person who has been distressed by the "Cradle to the Prison Pipeline" that results in so many young people going to prison, I am hopeful that William Starks will be elected and use that common-sense approach he has talked about rather than automatically sentencing people to years in prison. President Obama has said, "We know that even as we imprison more people of all races than any nation in the world, an African American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a prison." Do we really believe that is justice? Do we really want to imprison more people than any other country in the world and five times as many persons of color? To my way of thinking that is a terrible misuse and abuse of humanity. 


Let''s not make the mistake of re-electing Jim Kitchens. I hope you will join my husband, Bill Stark and me in supporting and voting for William Starks for Circuit Judge, Place 1. I think he represents a better chance for common sense and true justice. 


Donna Stark 








Correction and clarification 


Judge Kitchens called me this evening and said I had misrepresented his record on sentencing regarding college students (Voice of the people, Oct. 13). He said he was not in the habit of giving maximum sentences and did a large number of plea agreements. His other point was my letter left the impression he was not fair to African Americans. My concern regarding the number of people in prison was not meant to be a suggestion that he showed prejudice when it came to sentencing African American people. I do not believe that to be the case. My concern was the sheer number of people we send to prison for drug offenses and the disproportionate number of young African American men who go to prison. This is a national problem, not just a local one. I did not mean that he was racially unfair. I thanked him for calling me and correcting my error, and I do apologize for my mistake. 


Donna Stark