This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
The old saw, “Do the crime, do the time,” suggests that sentencing is simple. In the case of three men now in the criminal justice system – Darcus Allen, Jerry Dean Lain and Barry Massey – it’s anything but.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist opted last week not to seek the death penalty for Allen, who’s accused of serving as the getaway driver a year ago after Maurice Clemmons gunned down four Lakewood police officers at the Parkland coffee shop.
Instead, Lindquist decided to settle for life without parole, the only other alternative if Allen winds up convicted of the state’s most heinous crime, aggravated murder.
The rightness or wrongness of capital punishment is almost irrelevant in this case. The death penalty may theoretically apply to Allen, but – as Lindquist pointed out – Washington has never executed an accomplice to murder since capital punishment was restored in this state.
Between the Washington Supreme Court and the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, Allen’s potential death sentence simply wasn’t going to happen. So why waste the money and time on a complex death sentence trial and many years of appeals?
Though the law doesn’t provide for it, life without parole would also be appropriate for a “mere” assault committed 28 years ago by Lain.
Lain didn’t kill anyone, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. In 1982, he stabbed a young Richland police officer seven times, grabbed Officer Mike Fitzpatrick’s gun, shoved it under his protective vest and fired. He then shot Fitzpatrick in the face. The intent was as murderous as it gets; Fitzpatrick’s survival was a miracle.
The time for Lain’s crime, first-degree assault, is considerably less than the 28 years this sweetheart has already served. The state Sentence Review Board, whose job is to square old penalties with current sentencing guidelines, recently decided to release him.
But Gov. Chris Gregoire found an obscure provision in state law that let her countermand the board’s decision. Good for her. Lain’s prison behavior has included blinding a fellow inmate with acid and attacking another with a hammer. If anything, this guy is more dangerous than Allen.
Then there’s Massey, who – with friend Michael Harris – shot and stabbed to death a Steilacoom marina owner in January 1987. It was a shocking crime that still reverberates in the community.
The twist here is that Massey was 13 – with a mental age of perhaps 10 – when he committed the crime; Harris was 15. Both are serving life terms.
There’s quite a maturity gap between 13 and 15. Harris deserves to die in prison. Massey is a much tougher call. Last Thursday, the state Clemency and Pardons Board voted 3-2 against recommending that the governor shorten his sentence – in part on the odd grounds that he’d had an affair with a female guard.
Gregoire still has full discretion in this case. At some point, justice will demand that a onetime 13-year-old killer not serve a longer sentence than the likes of Jerry Dean Lain.