I’m beginning to think one of the required courses for law school is “Common Sense Erasure 101.”
From the lowliest ambulance chaser, to judges, to lawmakers, it sometimes seems as though these people believe the answer to 1 + 1 is open to negotiation. Or maybe it’s just that, once you pass the bar, you never pass another one again, if you get my drift.
The latest bit of legal lunacy concerns the sentence that Ariel Castro, the Ohio man in jail for imprisoning three woman for a decade, is expected to receive as part of his plea bargain.
Now I don’t pretend to know much about the law…or anything about the law. But I think I know a little bit about human life spans. Enough, at least, to recognize that, no matter how monstrous the crime, a sentence of life plus 1,000 years is a tad excessive.
Let me be clear: I’m not advocating for any sort of leniency here. I’m only advocating for some sort of sanity. As much as we might like the punishment to fit the crimes, we have to know our limitations and recognize that “life without possibility of parole” is really the best we can do regarding the length of a prison sentence.
Castro himself said in court, “I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me.” Yeah, well, he’s getting the entire library thrown at him. What does his sentence even mean? That we’re going to keep his body in jail for 1,000 years after he dies? I pity the poor guard who has to escort Castro out to the exercise yard in 300 years.
It’s like a buffet restaurant advertising “All you can eat…plus FREE seconds!”
I have to admit that my very first thought upon hearing the probable sentence was that I’d really like to buy a house from Ariel Castro’s attorney* and haggle over the price. I mean, if life plus 1,000 years is the deal they ended up with, what was the prosecutor’s first offer? Banishment to The Phantom Zone with General Zod as a cellmate? A few hours listening to Mary Murphy give comments on So You Think You Can Dance?
I wonder how the negotiations went.
Prosecutor: Your client has been charged with 977 counts of rape, kidnapping, assault and giving both Communist dictators and the Little Mermaid a bad name. If you’re willing to save the government the cost of a trial and the victims from having to testify, I think I can get the judge to agree to life without chance of parole plus 30,000 years.
Castro’s Lawyer: Absolutely not. We won’t agree to anything more than 250 years.
Prosecutor: How about 1,000?
Castro’s Lawyer: Okay.
I understand that the real bargain here was avoiding the death penalty, and that the additional 1,000 years is just sort of punctuation…the judge saying “What you did was so bad you can’t possibly live long enough to receive all the punishment you deserve.”
It just seems, I don’t know, stupid. It’s like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy “I’ll get you, my pretty,” and then adding “and your little dog, too.”
I know this type of sentence isn’t unique, and that people have been sentenced to things like consecutive life terms, implying that once the prisoner dies, the state will hunt him down when he gets reincarnated and re-send him to jail for that life, even if it turns out they have to incarcerate a beagle.
And if you’re going to sentence people to life plus 1,000 years, or consecutive life sentences, why not apply the same logic and give really heinous murderers multiple death sentences?
Warden: Thanks for coming to the execution today folks. Here’s how it will work. Roger on my left and Ralph on my right will simultaneously flip their levers. One will begin the execution, the other will simply turn all the TVs in the prison to gay porn. In this way, neither Roger nor Ralph will know who killed this prisoner and who started the orgy in Cell Block C. The lethal injection sequence will start while, at the same time, the death chamber will fill with poisonous gas and 2,450 volts of electricity will course through the electrodes attached to the prisoner. Then the trap door beneath the chair will open, and the prisoner will hang by his neck. Does the condemned have any last words?
Condemned: What, no guillotine?
Let me reiterate: I’m not disputing that Castro has earned every year of his sentence. However, if I donate a million dollars to my local PBS channel, I might have earned 16,666 copies of the DVD Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense for Channel 13 to back a large truck up to my garage and deliver them, no matter how magical they may be.
My point is that, merited or not, the 1,000 years is just a little too over the top. I think if the government is going to hand down a sentence like that, it should be required to keep Castro alive long enough to serve it. Why should he be able to get out of serving his entire sentence just by dying? It should be “…with no possibility of parole…or death.”
That would show him, all right. Now just add a TV in his cell playing a continuous loop of Mary Murphy’s Hot Tamale Train routine with no possibility of muting and you’ve got yourself a punishment.
See you soon.
*Providing the house wasn’t in Cleveland.