Justice delayed is justice denied. That basic foundation of our legal system applies to the defendant but I think it should also apply to society. And no case more clearly reveals this premise than that of Kenneth Baumruk.
It was 15 long years ago that Baumruk walked into a divorce hearing in St. Louis, pulled out a gun and killed his wife while wounding four other people. There was no doubt of his guilt - the entire episode was captured on the court's video system. Yet 15 years later, Baumruk has yet to be sentenced for this murder. Society deserves a resolution but justice has clearly been delayed.
In virtually every murder case, defense lawyers claim their client was mentally ill at the time of the slaying. They argue that anyone who would kill another must be mentally ill. But in Baumruk's case, he methodically planned the murder. He told co-workers what he was about to do. He hid his murder weapon on the trip to the courthouse. He clearly knew what he was doing and he clearly knew his actions were wrong.
But Baumruk, like so many others, is part of an over-burdened system of justice that tilts awkwardly toward the accused while ignoring the victims. It wasn't until nine long years after the murder that a jury finally convicted Baumruk of murder. But that case was overturned because the trial was held in the same downtown St. Louis courthouse as the murders.
Now I suspect most of us would reason that the location of the trial was meaningless. He murdered his wife and that single fact is the only aspect of importance. But the courts took a different view and so another costly trial was ordered.
Well, last week Baumruk was again found guilty of the murder and will be sentenced in March. Meanwhile, Baumruk has had 15 years of living behind bars. A system is wrong that permits this lengthy delay in a case that is abundantly clear to everyone. And most of us simply don't understand why it takes our system so long to hand out justice.
With appeals, Baumruk is likely to remain in jail for even more time. He's now 67 years old and even if the jury orders the death penalty, his lawyers will argue that Baumruk is now too old for execution.
Society - not to mention the taxpayer - has been denied justice because of the delays in this and other cases. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of Americans still cannot fathom why a case as easy as this has now taken 15 years to resolve. And it's not over yet.