- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

Here’s how to tell if you have crossed the Over-the-Hill milestone: First, you can no longer tolerate loud, lewd lyrics with a repetitive boom-boom beat; second, you lose your tolerance for bad behavior and criminal conduct.

My cousin, a commendable social worker in the District’s criminal justice system, called me recently to question my “liberal leanings.” He was taken aback by my hard-line stance against an abominable wife abuser who attempted to “fry [her] like Crisco grease.”

Didn’t the Prince George’s County man, who was obviously “troubled” and “needs help,” deserve compassion and counseling? my cousin asked.

I answered with my own terse question: “Did you see her face?”

So, do I still think that it was most befitting that Roger B. Hargrave, 34, a suddenly self-professed “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” receive the maximum sentence, life imprisonment, for trying to kill his estranged wife, Yvette Cade?

You bet. There is a sense of vindication for daring to suggest that Hargrave never see the light of day again, not so much for me, but for his now ex-wife and countless others like her. I wish that many more suffering silently from domestic violence could “finally feel safe” from the man who tortured her, as Ms. Cade does.

Maybe the next domestic violence victim will be spared her fiery fate or worse now that such an unusually harsh sentence has been imposed.

Vindication? The families of the sniper victims had every right to applaud when John Allen Muhammad was led from the courtroom after receiving six life sentences in Montgomery County on Thursday for his role in the October 2002 killing spree.

I was painfully reminded that I was among those in the chorus arguing against the retrial of Muhammad after a Virginia jury sentenced him to death for one of the killings there.

What was the point? You can kill a convicted killer only once. Muhammad will be executed soon enough. And accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo will spend the rest of his days, like Hargrave, sleeping in a concrete prison cell after pleading guilty to the six killings in Montgomery County in addition to his life sentence in Virginia.

Was this retrial worth more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars? Today, I would have to say not a cent was wasted. Now we know the truth about Muhammad’s motives and even deadlier deeds.

In the Montgomery trial, we learned through riveting testimony what many of us had surmised: Malvo was not the main shooter and the teen was unduly influenced by the abusive father figure. To what extent, we still may never find out.

There should be no leniency for the 45-year-old madman Muhammad. For the malleable Malvo, then 17 years old, penniless, a virtual orphan, I had plenty of pity.

Initially, I thought Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, who now seeks higher public office as the state’s attorney general, was being an overzealous prosecutor.

After hearing Malvo’s chilling testimony, I’m surprised to find myself in conversations wondering aloud why Mr. Gansler didn’t seek the death penalty in these cases should the Virginia sentences be thrown out.

Through the years, I’ve wrestled with my “liberal” position about capital punishment. I once was staunchly opposed to the death penalty, but the unthinkable crimes and the untold havoc they wreak on their victims and their survivors have forced me to re-examine my youthful idealism.

State-sanctioned murder is murder nonetheless. Studies have demonstrated the disproportionate death penalty sentences handed down to minorities. We’ve witnessed cases in which the wrong defendant was sentenced only to be released from death row.

Muhammad, trying to show off his keen intelligence, or insanity, or both, has demonstrated that he is definitively demonic as he adamantly maintains his innocence. He apparently knows nothing of culpability. He will persist in torturing his victims and this region with unnecessary court proceedings and appeals.

Muhammad should give up his game so we can all get on.

Malvo, on the other hand, demonstrated greater maturity than his former mentor, who he said turned him “into a monster.” At least the young man seeks to make amends by coming forth and telling the truth and taking responsibility.

“For what it’s worth,” Malvo said. It’s worth a lot.

In handing down his sentence to horror-husband Hargrave, Prince George’s Circuit Judge William D. Missouri admonished the abuser, who doused his wife with gasoline in a public place, for not saying he was sorry.

“You’re avoiding responsibility for what you did,” the judge said.

One of Muhammad’s surviving victims sadly stated: “It’s a shame you cannot look at us to see the lives you have devastated, the lives you have ruined.” For example, a little girl who wants to die so she can be reunited with her murdered mother.

While we need prevention and intervention to control criminal conduct, we also need admission, contrition and punishment. What we can’t accept or abide is one lame excuse or explanation after another for bad behavior.

Perhaps I’ve finally reached the impatience breaking point where I just don’t want to hear the myriad mea culpas anymore from folks who decide to take out their personal problems on innocent bystanders.

Or, maybe my cousin is right and I’m just too far gone over the hill and have lost some of my liberal leanings.

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