Justice can be served only without revenge

Justice is a strange thing in our society. Everybody seems to want it, but few seem to accept it when it’s applied.

It’s not uncommon to hear people who have been terribly wronged utter the words, "I want justice to be done." Sometimes, though, what they really want is revenge. A "penalty as deserved" is indeed part of the definition of justice. But the word revenge is nowhere to be found. You will, however, find the words impartiality, fairness and lawful at the top of the list.

In the Scott Kinkele homicide and the recent guilty pleas by Eben Berriault and his half-brother Seth Anderson, it is tempting to think justice evaded our legal system. The two men, who admitted to killing Kinkele in July in what can only be described as an evil act, did not get away with the crime. Not only were they caught rather quickly, they were held accountable for their actions.

Skagit County Prosecutor Tom Verge has been under considerable pressure to take the case to trial under aggravated first-degree murder charges, which carry the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison. And few, including members of this editorial board, would have been sorry to see such an outcome. His decision to accept guilty pleas to premeditated, intentional first-degree murder has been met with understandable criticism by many, including Mary Kinkele, Scott’s mother. While many may have hoped for an upgrade in charges, even a death penalty conviction, it would be unfair to label the final results a failure or a miscarriage of justice. Lesser charges do not diminish the despicable behavior of these men or belittle the value of Scott Kinkele’s life.

Verge’s office achieved a couple of things in accepting Berriault’s and Anderson’s pleas. It assured that these men will be locked away for a long time and it eliminated the very real possibility of a death penalty decision being reversed, forcing prosecutors to consider seeking a new sentencing trial.

Pursuing a death penalty case is a risky venture, as Verge recently pointed out. Our state does not send people to the gallows very often. In nearly 20 years, Washington has executed just three people. And the federal court that reviews our state’s death penalty sentences doesn’t have a reputation of liking them.

Verge probably would have won a conviction in the case and possibly even a death penalty sentence had he pursued it. But look no further than the cases of convicted killer Charles Ben Finch, whose death sentence was thrown out last year because jurors saw him in shackles, and convicted child killer Richard Matthew Clark who is appealing on similar grounds, to

see how uncertain such a procedure

can be.

It couldn’t have been easy for Verge to consider all the options and how best to apply the law while being deluged by calls and letters, mostly calling for the death penalty. Yet he managed to apply the elements of justice. He held his ground with these men and forced them to either acknowledge their crimes to society or face stiffer charges, possibly leading to their deaths. He ensured a great degree of community safety from the two half-brothers. In fact, it’s very likely Berriault, the shooter, will finish the remainder of his life in prison.

Those may not be the results most of us wanted, but it is justice.

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