Monday, April 14, 2008

Life sentence is too harsh for videotaped beating.

We've all seen the sickening video by now of a sixteen year old girl being beaten to the point where she required hospitalization by six other teenage girls, while two teenage boys acted as 'lookouts.'

And we've heard how the Dr. Phil show has gotten into some hot water for bailing out the alleged ringleader, apparently with the promise of a future interview on the show.

It is also true that the six girls and two boys are being charged as adults. And I agree that the beating was severe enough that this is appropriate.

According to reports published late last week in the Lakeland-area newspaper The Ledger, and to Polk County Sheriff's Office affidavits, Mulberry High School cheerleader and honor student Victoria Lindsay had fought with her mother and was temporarily staying with her friend Mercades Nichols, 17, at Nichols' grandmother's house. On the evening of March 30, Lindsay entered the house, and Nichols and 17-year-old Brittini Hardcastle began to threaten her. Fourteen-year-old April Cooper struck Lindsay in the face and slammed her head into a bedroom wall, knocking her unconscious. Lindsay awoke on the living room couch, surrounded by Nichols, Hardcastle, Cooper, and three other girls, 17-year-old Britney Mayes, 16-year-old Cara Murphy and 15-year-old Kayla Hassell. Lindsay's complaint also alleges that she was held down and prevented from escaping as the girls took turns beating her while they videotaped the incident, statements supported in the video obtained by law enforcement.

What I disagree with is the prospect that at least three of the girls may be facing a life sentence in prison.

All eight suspects are being charged as adults with kidnapping and battery, say court records. The kidnapping charges constitute a first-degree felony, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. The battery charges are first-degree misdemeanors with a maximum sentence of a year in jail. Three of the girls are also charged with witness tampering, a third-degree felony with a maximum of five years in prison.

A stint in prison is probably appropriate for a serious case of assault. And the lack of remorse by the principles involved (and their parents) is sickening. But I'm not sure that a life sentence, or even a very long prison sentence is the answer. Clearly the girls who perpetrated the assault require a lot of counseling (and there are likely some home issues involved that resulted in their becoming this violent) but five year (or life) prison sentences are most likely going to transform them from out of control youth to career criminals.

I believe that some serious work, in the form of community service, may be in order, and that they probably should all go on the 'Dr. Phil' show-- to apologize publically to the victim (with all proceeds from the show to go to her.)

But while it may be appropriate to charge them as adults, I hope that the court will see the wisdom in sparing them serious prison time.

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