Thursday, May 31, 2012

Justice For All

I'll never forget the first court case I covered as a radio reporter in Marinette-Menominee.  Two Marinette High School students decided to skip classes and spent the day drinking at one of their houses.  The boys then got into a car--which ran off a winding road near the golf course and smashed into a tree.  As often happens in crashes like this, the passenger was killed--while the driver survived.  The teen was then charged--as an adult--with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and homicide by reckless operation of a vehicle.

At his initial appearance on the charges, the mother of the victim tried to interrupt the proceedings a couple of times--each time saying she "needed to tell the judge something".  Correctly, Judge Tim Duket denied her the opportunity.  But after the hearing, I asked her to tell me what she wanted to tell the judge.  The mother then went on a two or three minute tirade about how charging her son's killer was "unfair and unneccessary--as he never meant to kill her son.  This was just a tragic accident and sending him to prison isn't going to bring her son back."

I must have had an obviously incredulous look on my face, as she said "I'm serious, there is absolutely no reason to file these charges--this was an accident--not a crime."  And that was her position all the way through the court process.  Even after the defendant plead guilty to the felony charge, the victim's mother came to the sentencing hearing and used the "Victim Impact Statement" period to launch into a tirade against the Marinette County District Attorney for going against her family's wishes and pursuing the criminal charges--and saying again and again how it was "just an accident" and that "he never meant to kill my son" and that "he has already suffered enough".

That is not the only time I've seen this reaction to criminal charges in connection with incidents like this.  There have been dozens of cases where wives, friends, cousins and even children have been killed--whether it be through drunk driving, reckless driving or other negligent behavior--and those who have lost loved ones insist no "real crime" has been committed.  And that is the reaction I now expect in the case of a Campbellsport girl who killed three friends and injured five more in a crash last February.

The families of those whose daughters were killed had no comment on the filing of negligent homicide charges yesterday--but based on the comments posted under on-line reports of the story show Campbellsport is reacting just like that mother in the Marinette case--"that girl has suffered enough" and "what will be accomplished by sending her to jail" are among the responses.

To those of you who share those feelings I ask: what if that had been a chauffeur who was driving at 100 miles an hour before losing control of the vehicle and crashing?  Would you say "let him be" if he said he felt horrible about killing those girls?  If the SUV had been hit by another vehicle doing 100 miles an hour would you think the driver should go free because "sending him to jail won't bring those girls back"?  I highly doubt you would.

The image of "Justice" wearing a blindfold is meant to convey the message that your skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation and status in society doesn't matter--you will all be treated the same under the law.  It's about time we apply that same basic tenet to one's relationship to the people you harm or kill with criminal behavior.

And as a post-script to this "Two Cents":  Fond du Lac County District Attorney Dan Kaminsky punting this case to Winnebago County DA Christian Gossett due to "the emotional impact this case has had on the Campbellsport area" is GUTLESS.  We all know this is an election year.  You were put into office to handle "tough" cases like this--regardless of how it might affect your "political position".

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