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In Our View: Work for justice

Honoring Biendl's memory

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The trial of the Monroe inmate who murdered corrections officer Jayme Biendl in 2011 brings into focus questions of justice, evil, crime and the law. As the narrative is replayed in granular, matter-of-fact detail, the reflex is to turn away. Unspeakable violence. A young life extinguished. Outside of combat duty, no job in public life is as invisible or thankless as that of a corrections officer. To punish, to reform, to keep inmates safe, to keep yourself safe.
"For every person who is there it's fair to assume they share one daily wish," said Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Paul Stern. "At the end of the day they all just want to be able to come home."
A fundamental wish shattered for a 34-year-old soul in the spring of life. Today, Biendl's friends and family preserve her legacy through a 5K memorial walk. The annual event benefits the Behind the Badge Foundation, a statewide nonprofit that supports families of killed or critically injured officers with counseling, memorial planning and other services.
Justice for Biendl's family and preventing a similar horror from happening in the future: These can be elusive goals. Washington's death penalty, still viscerally popular, has a mixed record. A roll-the-dice justice system means that the merciless often receive mercy. (The sociopathic Green River killer, spared execution, is emblematic of justice imperfect.) Last week, Maryland became the 18th state in the country to abolish the death penalty. Arguments include the high cost to taxpayers and a Catholic social-justice tradition predicated on thou shalt not kill.
But moralizing won't galvanize Northwesterners to demand repeal. The Washington Legislature abolished the death penalty once, in 1913. On the state house floor, Rep. Frank P. Goss said, "I deny the abstract right of a government to take a life." That abstract right was revived six years later. There is simply too much evil, too many crimes for victims' families to bear.
Accountability is critical. Institutional mistakes were made, including leaving Biendl alone with her murderer, a convicted rapist with little to lose. The subsequent department firings were more than window dressing, we hope. A culture of safety needs to flow from the top down, with embedded reforms that safeguard officers, employees and inmates.
Biendl's death also throws light on a town where diverse communities intersect. In Monroe, the children of inmates attend classes with the children of corrections officers. Kids born into this need mentors. They deserve the opportunity to break the cycle.
To paraphrase theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, it's our sad duty to establish justice in a sinful world. In memory of Jayme Biendl, we work for justice.

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