Friday, August 1, 2008

Okay, mob. Get your torches.

By now we've all heard of the outrageous case of incest and imprisonment in Austria. A man kept his daughter in a dungeon-like cellar and repeatedly raped her over the course of 24 years; he fathered seven children from her, one of which died shortly after child birth and was incinerated.

For this, you'd think he'd be imprisoned for life, or perhaps summarily executed, if found guilty. He did confess, after all. Guess how long he could get for this.

Go on, guess.

If you guessed life or death, of fifty years or thirty, you're wrong.

Try only fifteen years.

Josef Fritzl, 73, built a small dungeon out of a portion of his basement and kept his daughter trapped. He built a small bathroom and cooking station, had a bedroom/cell of sorts and an electronic lock on the door. While he was an electrician by trade, there is no way he did this all by himself.

His wife, mother of the captive Elisabeth, knew nothing of what was going on. She was told to stay out of the basement past that 350kg steel door - the whole family was. And so for twenty four years he had a secret. The neighbors knew nothing, nor did his other children, of the rape factory he kept going down there.

It's not like raping his daughter was a new hobby he picked up when she turned 18; he'd been doing it for the prior seven years. The motivations for her imprisonment will surely come out, as will a more rounded story of what happened, of her daily life and the children's. Already we see that he would come down, lock the kids up to have his way with Elisabeth without them seeing it. In short, he was a tyrant over them.

But this isn't about what he did; it's about what the European courts won't do.

According to an
AP article by William J. Kole, "Many Europeans abhor the death penalty, and capital punishment is illegal across the 27-nation EU...even convicted murderers handed life sentences seldom serve more than 25 years."

We in American are divided over the death penalty, whether it is right to take the life of one who has done the same, or equivalent. Some states, like Texas, practically kill their harshest criminals for sport, while other states start that way but switch to a moratorium on capital punishment, as Illinois has. Right-to-lifers aren't just anti-abortion, but anti-death penalty. The two often don't go hand in hand, of course.

In the US, were these actions to have happened here, based on the offenses we have been told of, Josef Fritzl would face involuntary manslaughter for the death of the twin, at least six counts - individual counts - of rape, conspiracy and kidnapping. If you add all that up, just the rape, he could face a minimum of sixty years and that's lenient. The stated punishment would probably be over a hundred. The maximum I can hammer out would see him in jail past our tricentenniel, and well onto the quad.

I find it beyond the pale that such a monster could see freedom while he still lives. If ever there was a cause for at least life imprisonment, it's this. Keep this sort of predator away from the general population, separated from "decent society" by layers of iron bars and concrete.

But of course, my personal opinion would not be three hots-and-a-cot until old age took Fritzl. I am a proponent of the death penalty. In my mind, there are some violent offenders so heinous that we need to risk our own immortal souls to see them swept from this earth. Some take a war analogy, the war on crime, and in war there are casualties on both sides. Is it time to take the fight to the enemy? I don't see it that way. Not every violent offender is irredeemable. Our prisons are there for rehabilitation as well as incarceration.

To limit our recourse to the very worst offenses, though, puts society at risk. The death penalty isn't administered in every quarter like it is in Texas, where people joke about an execution a week. Balanced against the potential crime the death row convicts could commit should, as some future date, their sentence be commuted or the havoc wrought on the inside against the "redeemable," Texas has decided to mete out a harsh justice. Unfair to some, medieval and backwards, there nevertheless is message sent that they will not tolerate the degenerate, violent members of society. Not every state operates like the Lone Star state, but 3 of50, plus the Federal Government, exercise the right to execute a prisoner for a capital offense (listed as murder, treason, espionage). Perhaps it is this culture that shapes my views....

For the greater good of our fellow citizens, their safety and ability to pursue boundless freedoms, I find it the solemn duty of the criminal justice system to mete out lethal justice to those who have crossed the line, who cannot and will not let themselves feel remorse. In the cold heart of Josef Fritzl, what regret is there but for the loss of his incestuous lair? If he cared, he would never have started down that road. If he felt guilt for his actions, shouldn't he have let the imprisoned children loose and submitted himself to the will of the courts at a far earlier time - the death of one of them - or when he realized he was keeping people as caged animals?

Nearly a quarter of a century - twenty-four years - have elapsed between when his daughter Elisabeth became a captive and when she found freedom, all the while suffering the most inhuman, abasing treatment at the hands of the man who helped bring her into this world.

There is no earthly justice that can redress the wrongs done to her, but I hope the Austrian courts do their best to try.


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