LAND MINES & CONSPIRACY THEORIES

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The Kwame Kilpatrick mess is a little like walking through a field littered with landmines. Every day, it seems, there's another explosion — or two or three. Thursday morning is a good example.

What was supposed to be a routine arraignment for defendants  Kilpatrick and Christine Beatty to enter not guilty pleas erupted when Judge Leonard Townsend stepped in from right field and prodded Kilpatrick's lawyer to seek a lifting of the mayor's travel restrictions and removal of the tether so that KK could attend the upcoming Democratic convention in Denver.

The judge justified his move by saying that defendant Kilpatrick has a right to be presumed innocent until a jury decides otherwise, and that the tether he's been ordered to wear and restrictions on travel outside the tri-county area are the types of things imposed on somebody who's already been convicted.

That argument would make sense if those bond conditions had been imposed on the mayor since the outset. But that's not the case. Kilpatrick has twice violated court-ordered restrictions, with each violation resulting in harsher rules.

Given that fact — along with Townsend's comments that Kilpatrick is an "important man" and that his constituents have a right to see their mayor performing his duties without him wearing prison garb — there's only one word to sum up Townsend's performance this morning: Bizarre.

Assistant Wayne County prosecutor Lisa Lindsey — barely able to contain her anger at the judge's actions — pointed out that although Kilpatrick has not been convicted of any underlying criminal charges, two different judges have found him guilty of violating bond conditions.

Townsend, a retired judge filling in for an ill Judge Margie Braxton, has a reputation of being tough on defendants. He was once referred to as a "hanging judge" in this rag. But he was all sweetness and light on Thursday as he looked out for the constitutional rights of defendant Kilpatrick as well as the rights of Michigan citizens to have superdelegate Kilpatrick attend the Dem convention.

Within hours another judge overruled Townsend, ordering the tether back on and reinstating the restriction limiting Kilpatrick's travel to the tri-county area.

What gives?

We heard a possible answer on Mildred Gaddis' WCHB-AM radio talk show when she got Angelo Henderson on the line. Now a minister, Henderson is former Detroit bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. Henderson asserted that the African-American Townsend is also a Republican.

That, said Gaddis, explains everything.

Here's the conspiracy theory: The GOP wants to do everything it can to embarrass Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, and a 350-pound black mayor facing multiple felony counts is a wonderful millstone to hang around the candidate's neck.

Henderson and Gaddis went so far as to muse that Kilpatrick could become Obama's Willie Horton. For those of you too young to remember or old enough to have failing memories, a bit of background: Horton was serving a life sentence for murder in Massachusetts in the 1980s, but was allowed to participate in a weekend furlough program. Horton took advantage of the furloughs to commit armed robbery and rape. Those facts — and the image of African-American Horton — were used in a devastating attack ad against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee running against George H.W. Bush for president in 1988.

We know how that turned out.

Not that we want to give too much credence to conspiracy theories — it may be that Townsend is just a loose cannon. And although it's a way-long stretch to be comparing the Kwamster to Horton, the conversation supports what we've been writing — that Kilpatrick's legal problems could spell big trouble for Obama. With polls showing the race between Obama and John McCain a virtual dead heat in this state, and with Michigan playing a pivotal rule in selecting the next president, the whole Kwame Kilpatrick mess has implications far beyond what it is doing to Detroit.

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