Harold "Bobby" Lingle is borderline mentally retarded by all accounts. Just how much so will decide his eventual fate as he stands trial for the murder of a Springfield woman and her three young children. Regardless of the outcome, Lingle has admitted his role in the murders and it is highly doubtful he will ever leave the Missouri prison system. But that alone may not be the point.
Lingle and his friend Richard DeLong conspired to kill the woman who was pregnant with DeLong's child. Lingle held the woman down while DeLong strangled her. On these few points, there is no disagreement. DeLong had earlier killed her three small children one-by-one.
The real issue in this case is the degree of retardation suffered by Lingle. And it's important because there are thousands of Lingles in our society, though hopefully few others will follow the model formed by Lingle.
Lingle was able to function in society though he is illiterate, attended classes for the mentally retarded and sought mental health care prior to the murders. But regardless of his diminished mental capacities, Lingle was able to live within society with limited troubles. That all ended in early 1999 when he joined DeLong in the murders. In return, Lingle was to receive $250 in drugs.
DeLong has already stood trial and received life in prison. Lingle will receive the same fate, though his lawyers will urge a more lenient sentence. The jury will ignore those requests and put Lingle behind bars for life.
How should we treat those on the fringes of society, those who have learning difficulties yet are still capable of handling their own affairs? These people are not all ticking time bombs like Lingle and yet, they seek compassion when a crime is involved. It would be ideal if society had a way to intervene in these lives before such tragedies. But that's a pipe dream that is impossible.
So now we have another mentally-impaired person who commits a brutal murder. He offers no excuse other than his inability to control his every action. And society - unable to change anything and with no other alternative - will provide for Lingle's needs until the day he dies. And four graves in Springfield will attest to our inability to address the dark side of humanity.