This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
The last verdict for the cold-blooded killings of four Lakewood police officers is in, and with it, Pierce County is witness to the reach and limits of justice.
Killer Maurice Clemmons, shot dead by a police officer while on the run in Seattle, was not around to stand trial. But his accomplices know well the brunt of the law.
Getaway driver Dorcus Allen, convicted by a jury Thursday on four counts of first-degree murder for his role in the November 2009 murders, faces life in prison. Five other friends and relatives of Clemmons are serving a combined 34 years behind bars.
Defense lawyers at times intimated that the defendants were up against a community intent on vengeance. Last week, Allen’s attorney, Peter Mazzone, one-upped the rest, calling his client’s conviction a “modern-day lynching.”
The charge is an insult to the jurors who now know the case far more intimately than most of us ever will.
This was no extrajudicial exercise in exacting vigilante justice. Jurors deliberated for more than four days. They reconstructed a timeline for the day of the shooting. They wrestled with whether Allen knowingly helped Clemmons. They cried and retched.
They entered the jury room split, with seven jurors convinced of Allen’s guilt and five undecided. They emerged Thursday unanimous in their assessment that prosecutors had met their burden of proof.
The jury did its job – just as did jurors who found another of the accused Clemmons accomplices innocent last year.
The Allen verdict was not a lynching by any measure. But if we are honest, we will admit that Allen and his fellow accomplices did serve to some extent as surrogates for a cop killer beyond the reach of the law.
Had Clemmons lived to face public fury for the murders of Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens, the community might not have had much outrage left to spare those who assisted and sheltered him.
Prosecutors might have had less time and resources to mount aggressive cases against his aiders and abettors. For the public, meeting the monster who terrorized his family before he terrorized this region might have better explained why his associates remained in his thrall even after he made good on his rantings.
Appeals courts will have to weigh whether the convictions breach the limits of the law. But the fact that Clemmons wasn’t here to take the heat doesn’t make the full-throated denunciations of those who enabled his horror a miscarriage of justice.
If anything, it shows the utter folly of helping someone bent on annihilation.