by David Sisler
Consider the following three disparate news items which deal with crime and alleged criminals. The acts themselves and the amount and type of punishment which may or may not be rendered are definitely dissimilar. But there is one idea central to each report.
In 1980 Troy Steven Lanier killed two women with his car. He was driving drunk. He was paroled from prison after serving only two years of a five year sentence.
In 1991 Mr. Lanier was again sentenced to five years in prison. He served only, you guessed it, two years before once again being paroled.
In December, 1994 Mr. Lanier admitted to operating a motor vehicle as a habitual offender and seriously injuring a teen-ager. Lanier's attorney stated that his client had been drinking.
Richmond County (Georgia) Superior Court Judge Franklin H. Pierce noted the defendant's record before passing sentence, and Lanier received two five year terms. So this time, he'll serve ten years, right? Wrong. The judge ordered the two sentences to run concurrently! Five years. Tops. Anyone want to wager on a parole in two? Three convictions in fifteen years. Three five year sentences. Two paroles. Two people dead. One seriously injured. And so far only four years served. Where is the accountability in this story? Take five years and we'll see you on the streets in two?
Now if you are weighting offenses from a standpoint of sheer human cruelty, these next two really pull down the scales of man's inhumanity to man.
Item number two: Lyle and Erik Menendez say they suffered from years of physical abuse at the hands of their father. So at ages when it could be reasonably assumed that the abuse had long since ended, they shot-gunned both of their parents to death. Their first trial ended with a hung jury.
In The Private Diary of Lyle Menendez, a new book released this month, Lyle admitted that he "obviously overreacted" the night he and his brother killed their parents. Regardless, when the new trial begins on August 16, the brothers Menendez will still say they should not be held accountable for the double murder.
Well, then who is accountable?
Item number three: Muscovite Sergei Ryakhovsky says a small orange ball transmitted messages to him, instructing him to kill homosexuals and prostitutes. He has been charged with hacking and stabbing to death 19 men, women and teenage boys, then having sex with the bodies.
Ryakhovsky's attorney's were watching Lyle and Erik's lawyers. Now Russia has its first "victim defense." In fact, the Chicago Tribune's on-line computer service even cross-indexes the Menendez case with the Ryakhovsky killings.
Ryakhovsky admits to the killings. Among the dead are 70-year-old grandfather and a 16-year-old cross country skier--neither of them a prostitute or a homosexual. But Ryakhovsky wants a Russian court to let him go. His defense? He was picked on in school, the teachers ignored the abuse, and he was forced to obey strict school rules.
I was picked on in school. In the seventh grade, Jay Bill Rice regularly used me to erase the black boards in Oakland, Maryland's Southern High School. The wood shop teacher, in whose class the incidents occurred, thought it was amusing. Maybe I should be held accountable for Ryakhovsky's despicable deeds. He says he shouldn't be.
Maybe Troy really was sorry he was drinking and driving and hurt a young woman after he had previously killed two. Maybe Lyle and Eric really were abused. Maybe Sergei really was picked on at school. Maybe injuring and killing people with a car while under the influence of alcohol is different from taking a shotgun to your parents or cutting people to pieces and having sex with the remains. Maybe.
But maybe if we would seriously keep a handle on the "little" things, maybe if we didn't excuse any aberrant behavior, maybe if we shout it loud enough--you did it, you pay for it--then maybe, just maybe Muscovites will again feel safe walking in Izmailovsky Park, and maybe no other rich kids will blow away their parents and think they can get away with it, and maybe no other babies will drown in the back seat of their mother's car, and maybe no other Federal buildings will be bombed, and maybe the barricades will comedown from Pennsylvania Avenue. Maybe.
But if that doesn't change things, there is one thing that will--the cross of Jesus Christ. At the cross there is only one verdict. Each of us is accountable for our own actions. Each one of us is guilty. When we kneel at the cross, God makes us innocent. And that is not a maybe.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 7/8/95
Copyright 1995 by David Sisler
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