Commentary: Failed justice allowed abduction and rape
Many astounding details surround the story of the California rapist who kidnapped an 11-year-old and kept her captive for 18 years. None shocks more than the raw fact that Phillip Garrido was not locked up, the key lost.
In 1976, Garrido abducted and raped 25-year-old Katherine Callaway Hall. The woman says she was taken to a warehouse where Garrido trapped her for eight hours among carpeting apparently arranged to hold a sex prisoner. By luck, a passing police officer saw something amiss at the warehouse and entered. The terrified Hall ran out naked.
Garrido was sentenced to 50 years in jail. So you can imagine Hall's surprise to see his likeness approach her in a menacing fashion 12 years later at the Lake Tahoe casino where she worked. Hall subsequently learned that Garrido had been paroled in California. She tried to speak with his parole officer, but was told that nothing could be done about him.
Had Garrido been kept behind bars for even 35 years of his sentence, Jaycee Dugard would not have been stolen from a bus stop. She would not have been kept in tents behind his house, raped and apparently forced to bear his two children.
It is hard to imagine what the Dugards went through and now face. Jaycee's stepfather says he endured years of being a prime suspect in the girl's disappearance, a suspicion that destroyed the marriage with her mother. Now reunited with what's left of her family, Jaycee must figure out who these people are, who Garrido was and what is normal.
Until recently, the death penalty for child rape was legal in five states. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, overturned those laws last year. The case at hand involved a stepfather sentenced to death in Louisiana for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. The girl was so badly injured that she needed emergency surgery.
Only Louisiana had people on death row for child rape. Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas required a previous conviction or other aggravating factor to make this a capital crime.
Writing for the court majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that while child rape was a "devastating" crime, it did not rise to the level of homicide. It could not be likened to intentional first-degree murder.
A sickening crime, to be sure, but Kennedy is right. It is not my intention here to call for any expansion of the death penalty. On the contrary. Executing prisoners exposes society to the excruciating risk of killing someone who was wrongly convicted. That hazard grows stronger in the cases of child rape, where young witnesses may not be reliable.
But we who oppose the death penalty must also take on grave responsibilities. We must ensure that justice is served and dangerous predators are prevented from harming others. Both ends can be met by keeping bad people behind bars.
A society willing to put monsters away, rather than kill them, need not consider itself insensitive to the victims or lax on crime. But it must abandon the naive belief (held by some foes of capital punishment) that every criminal can be rehabilitated. Death-penalty supporters argue that an executed offender will never repeat the crime. Their view is valid and must be addressed.
It is especially hard to rewire sexual predators. And an objective reading of Garrido's recent and past history would declare him insane. Garrido had no business walking free, ever.
And so where does that leave those who oppose capital punishment? It should leave them demanding a justice system that doesn't get sloppy about releasing perpetrators of heinous crimes. Sometimes, you have to be tough to be humane.
Froma Harrop's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.