CRIME & PUNISHMENT

Aaron Markus Richardson’s prison sentence is a gross miscarriage of justice.

On June 23, 2013, Richardson fired a single shot into federal judge Timothy Corrigan’s home. Mercifully, the bullet missed Corrigan by mere inches and he was, for the most part, unharmed; his only injury was caused by the glass that shattered when the bullet went through his window.

Upon Richardson’s arrest days later, authorities found evidence that he was plotting a second attempt on Corrigan’s life. He was subsequently charged and convicted of 24 crimes, of which attempted murder was the top biller.

Last week, Richardson was sentenced to 343 years in prison.

Let that sink in for a moment: Richardson was sentenced to three-and-a-half centuries behind bars for crimes that resulted in only a scratch.

Clearly anyone who attempts to murder someone deserves to pay the price, and perhaps that price should be increased if the victim is a public servant such as a federal judge. But three-and-a-half centuries is far, far from a fair price, particularly in light of the penalties others have received for far more heinous offenses.

Consider that Charles Cullen, who was convicted of killing, as in actually murdering, 22 people, was sentenced to 127 years.

Consider that Dennis Rader, better known as the BTK Killer, was sentenced to 175 years for killing 10 people. Does it make sense that, if it were possible to live that long, Richardson, who has killed no one, would spend approximately twice as much time in prison as a killer whose sobriquet stands for ‘bind, torture, kill’?

Consider that David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, was sentenced to 365 years — only 22 more than Richardson — for killing six people and attempting to murder seven others.

With the exception of Berkowitz, who has been eligible for parole since 2002, these serial killers received less punishment than a man who killed no one.

It bears mention that all three serial killers are white and Richardson is black. It also bears mention that Richardson has severe mental health problems.

Consider that, although the U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that 13 percent of the population is black, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2013 that 37 percent of all incarcerated males were non-Hispanic blacks. Further, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, in the federal system, blacks are sentenced to terms that are 20 percent longer than whites convicted of similar crimes.

Consider also that PBS reported in 2014, “in state prison, 73 percent of women and 55 percent of men have at least one mental health problem”; in federal prison, 61 percent of women and 44 percent of men have at least one mental health problem.

Now what do you think of Richardson’s sentence? Does it seem fair? Does it seem just?

No, it does not.

Justice is supposed to be evenhanded. The punishment is supposed to fit the crime.

No matter how unremorseful the criminal nor how “cunning,” as prosecutors called Richardson — though one wonders how cunning he could be, given his incomprehensible belief that he’d get away with murdering a federal judge whose name he’d forged on obviously fake court documents — the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment.

Aaron Richardson may be an evil man. But sentences like his, those of the ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ variety, are just one example of how cruel our justice system can be, particularly in situations involving an affluent victim and a perpetrator who is mentally ill, poor and/or a minority.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, including such oppressive regimes as China, Russia and Iran, a statistic that has led politicians as diverse as Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to agree that we are in dire need of criminal justice reform.

They talk about the failed War on Drugs; they talk about systemic racism. But few are willing to go on record pointing out specific instances in which the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

One of the many issues plaguing our criminal injustice system is that no one makes the connection between mass incarceration and being tough on crime. Politicians, judges, prosecutors and cops are routinely lauded for being “tough on crime” but no one acknowledges that they are part of the problem.

For if it’s just to condemn a man to spend over three centuries in prison for trying — and failing — to kill a judge, what sentence befits someone who rapes and murders children? Should we peel their skin off slowly, Games of Thrones style? Burn them alive at the stake, Salem Witch Trials style? Pull them apart on the rack, Spanish Inquisition style?

Make no mistake, there are some who would have us mete out such atrocious punishments as these. But theirs are not the ideals that should guide this nation.

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