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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Is today's justice system really just?

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

I've never fully understood our system of justice. But then again, I'm most certainly not alone in that regard. Two news items crossed my desk this morning. Both involved brutal murders. And in both cases, the murderers received what appears to me to be an unusually light sentence. See if you think the same.

David W. Bates was a gang member from Los Angeles assigned to Kansas City to help with the drug traffic. Bates either feared his drug boss in L.A. or wanted to curry his favor, depending on who's telling the story. Either way, Bates came upon a fellow drug competitor at a liquor store and decided to take action. The liquor store surveillance tape said it all. Bates casually walked up to his victim, shot him once in the head and then coolly walked away.

But here's where my confusion begins. Despite the obvious guilt and circumstances, Bates was sentenced to only 30 years in prison. With normal adjustments, he'll walk free in just over 15 years. And that's for a cold-blooded killing. His excuse? "I was hanging out with the wrong crowd."

Meanwhile the case of Edward Chen is even more chilling. Chen killed his father, mother and brother four years ago following a dispute. But that's not all. He left the bodies in their house but returned four years later (that's right - four years later) and dismembered the corpses, mixed them in cement and dumped them in Chesapeake Bay. Facing a life sentence for the triple murder, Chen instead received a 36-year sentence. That's 12 years per murder in my book.

I've always been under the mistaken impression that in most cases, murderers are never freed. Granted, there are exceptions but as a rule, those who kill never see daylight again. But obviously I'm wrong.

I don't advocate mandatory sentences because all crimes have different circumstances. But murder is murder by any definition and these two cases - though isolated and unconnected - illustrate the problems within our system of justice.

Surely there's a better way.

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