ISJ EDITORIAL: Where’s the justice?
When a crime occurs, we all want to see justice served in terms of those responsible having to pay some sort of penalty for their misdeeds.
Our court system metes out justice by ordering offenders to pay money via fines and often by sentencing them to spend a certain amount of time behind bars.
For especially heinous crimes, our court system can even sentence someone to death.
As a community we expect our court system to impose punishment on criminals that’s commensurate with their crimes. If our court system continually fails to do this, the community not only starts to lose faith in the justice system but the criminals among us start to realize that they can commit misdeeds without any fear of paying anything close to a meaningful penalty.
Unfortunately, there have been a couple of instances recently that have left the community wondering what those in charge of our local justice system were thinking when it comes to punishing criminals.
One case involved Severo Luera, 39, of Garland, Utah, being sentenced earlier this month for his role in the murders of 62-year-old Brent L. Christensen, his 32-year-old son Trent Jon Christensen and Trent’s 27-year-old girlfriend Yavette Chivon Carter.
The three were found shot to death in 2013 in the home they shared in the small town of Holbrook in Oneida County. Authorities say that Luera had admitted to being one of five men who went to the victims’ home for the purpose of killing them.
As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, Luera pleaded guilty to his role in the murders and was sentenced to 16 years in prison with the possibility of parole in eight years. But because Luera has already been incarcerated for more than four years awaiting the adjudication of his case, he’ll be eligible for release via parole in less than four years.
Luera is the only person who’s ever been charged for the triple murder and authorities have provided no indication that they’re going to charge anyone else.
Luera expressed remorse at his sentencing last month and shed some tears in the courtroom.
But what about the pain felt by the families of the three victims? At least Luera and his cohorts, who he apparently isn’t remorseful enough to identify, did not kill Trent Jon Christensen and Carter’s two young children who were in the house at the time of the triple murder. But that in no way can ever excuse the fact that three people died, including the parents of those two children.
The fact Luera could be released from prison in less than four years for the murders is a bit unthinkable.
But his case wasn’t the only one recently in which the crime of taking a life was punished via the proverbial slap on the wrist.
Anthony Richard Leinweber, 39, of Chubbuck, was sentenced on Monday to 10 years in prison for fatally shooting former friend and business associate, Robert Phelps, 38, also of Chubbuck, in the parking lot of a local convenience store.
Leinweber will be eligible for parole and release from prison in less than four years.
He was initially charged with second-degree murder for killing Phelps but that charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter as part of his plea bargain with our justice system.
The plea bargains that gave Luera and Leinweber these light sentences were each approved by a judge, which in our justice system is the final check and balance on whether the crime fits the punishment.
In both cases, the judges signed off on plea deals that seemed merciful, to say the least. We can’t imagine what the victims’ families thought about the sentences.
Their loved ones are gone from this world for good while the lives of the convicted perpetrators will be inconvenienced by what could be a relatively short stay in prison.
Most of us aren’t demanding the death penalty every time someone takes a life but we do want such perpetrators to receive harsh sentences.
A sentence that potentially allows someone like Luera or Leinweber out of prison in less than four years is far from harsh.
There is one local judge who obviously felt the same way when confronted with an offender set to receive extremely light punishment for his crime.
Judge Rick Carnaroli had doubts about a Pocatello father’s remorse and accountability for severely injuring his 3-month-old daughter.
So instead of going along with the plea bargain that would have resulted in 37-year-old Kory Robert Prescott being sentenced to probation for felony injury to a child, Carnaroli last month hit Prescott with the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the crime.
We hope that more of our local judges take Carnaroli’s lead and refuse to let criminals off the hook for serious offenses.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of evidence that Carnaroli is currently the exception.
We get it that jails and prisons are overcrowded, prosecutors don’t have the resources to take every case to trial and oftentimes incidents that lead to criminal charges are complicated.
The community can understand giving someone a light sentence for drugs, a minor altercation or other forms of bad judgment that don’t lead to serious injury or death.
But when we get into the realm of taking a life or nearly taking a life, the community demands that justice be served.
And our justice system needs to meet that challenge.
The prosecutors and judges who comprise that system should realize that giving what appears to be a grossly inadequate sentence to a murderer hurts the credibility of the entire system.
We would feel a whole lot better about prosecutors who take a murder case to trial and push for a conviction against an accused killer but fail as opposed to prosecutors who try to achieve justice in such cases via plea bargains.
And we’d like to see more judges with the courage of Carnaroli to say “no” when confronted by plea bargains in which justice is left wanting.
There are some crimes where mercy for the accused should not be a priority.
Because failing to hold offenders accountable is akin to having no justice at all.