May 14, 2014

When the Death Penalty is the Wrong Answer

Passions were running almost hotter than the temperature today in Central New York with the announcement that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) will not be seeking the death penalty in the case of a local car jacking-rape-murder case.

The case, very well known in our area and beyond, involved a man awaiting trial for child pornography charges who managed to remove his monitoring bracelet multiple times and allegedly stalk folks leaving a gymnastics class. Fate put a woman and a child in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both were terrorized; the woman lost her life, the child was brutally assaulted.

The monster who did this pleaded guilty on state charges, saving the child from having to testify.  Had the DOJ opted to prosecute on federal car-jacking charges, with a potential death penalty, the guilty plea could have been withdrawn, the state charges reopened, and the child forced to testify not only in the state case but in the federal case as well.

All of that has been taken off the table with the decision today. The defendant will serve life without parole on the state charges, and 30 'additional' years on federal child pornography charges, both sentences having been announced previously. No trial, no testimony from the child, and no light of day for the guilty party. Formal sentencing is set for later this week.

To everyone out there, be they radio DJs or anonymous commenters on social media, the most insightful comments are the ones below, the first from US Attorney Richard Hartunian:
No sentence that could ever be imposed in this case will undo the tragic death...or the pain inflicted on the young victim, or adequately account for the depravity of the crimes committed. The mandatory life sentence in state court and the imposition of an additional 30 years federal consecutive sentence will insure that (the perpetrator) can do no further harm. 
The second noteworthy comment is from a relative of the two victims. The family was opposed to the death penalty and is pleased that, regardless of why, the DOJ has decided not to pursue the case:
It had absolutely nothing to do with any philosophical opposition to the death penalty or any concern about that person's life. It had 100 percent to do with protecting the interests of Jane Doe.
The family member also noted that he was surprised by the decision; apparently, there was enough waffling on the issue of the federal charge to cause concern:
Whenever I had asked what about this case would encourage them (prosecutors) to supersede the wishes of the family, they repeatedly talked about how this was such a heinous crime, how this was one of the worst crimes that anyone could remember.  I simply said I would imagine that any family that had gone through a homicide would probably be able to say the same thing. 
The outrage that we feel, as individuals and as a community, can't begin to compare to the outrage that must have been felt by this family, now clearly focused on protecting the little girl, on helping her heal, on doing everything in their power to give her some sense of self that doesn't include the word 'victim'.  Our anger at what happened, and grief over the loss of the woman, a beloved and respected community member, cannot hold a candle to the emotions felt by this family.

The desire to see the perpetrator face trial with his very life hanging in the balance seems like justice --but who are we to define justice for this family? Commenters who think that what the family wants should have no bearing on this case are wrong -- they, more than anyone, are entitled to speak out on this.  Here's one more comment from a family member:
...I know this was the outcome I wanted for the situation as it is. I could not think about the stress and pain a trial would put on the little girl or my family, or the men who tried to save my sweet and loving cousin...
I applaud the courage of this family, and their position in this case, and the dignity with which they have handled everything from the very beginning of this tragedy. We can all learn something from them.

On the other hand, those who choose to see this as a 'failure of the Obama administration', who see this as the government being 'soft on crime', and who try to make political hay out of this?

We can learn nothing from you.