Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Event was a Tragedy. The Sentencing was Worse

The news ticker that crawls across the bottom of ESPN basically 24 hours a day rarely brings to light any information you did not already know. You get your daily Brett Favre "update." You'll see something like, "Kobe vows to play better in Game 4." Or a "breaking" story that some diva wide receiver is not planning to report to his NFL mini-camp. It's essentially the same little snippets every day, just with some of the names changing.

But every once in a while, you catch something on there that makes your jaw hit the floor and causes you to blink half a dozen times, almost trying to wake up from the inconceivable dream you must be having. What you just read could not possibly be true.

This was my reaction earlier today when I saw the news that Donte' Stallworth, he of the drunken driving homicide just three months ago, was sentenced to 30 days in prison for the offense.

30 days???

Wait a second, that can't be right. It must have said 30 years. I probably read it wrong. We are talking about killing another human being, here. Referring to a length of time by how many "days" or "weeks" is usually reserved for the question, "How old is your baby?" When you are talking about a jail sentence for killing a fellow man, you should hear terms like "years," "decades," or even "lifetimes."

I fire up the computer, hop on the Internet to confirm the story, and sure enough, I saw it crystal clear the first time. Stallworth ended Mario Reyes' life when the innocent man was simply trying to catch a bus to go home from work...and for that unforgivable act, he will now spend a few weeks in jail.

Injustice?? That doesn't even begin to describe it.

I've always been utterly confused by the lack of penalties that go along with killing another human being while driving drunk. The story of star defensive end Leonard Little became the symbol for the atrocities in the legal system often associated with this heinous crime.

Little left a birthday party in 1998 toting a blood alcohol level of .19, which is over twice the legal limit. He proceeded to slam his SUV into an innocent woman, ending her life in an instant. For this abominable act, Little spent a total of 90 days in the slammer.

You would hope that most jail sentences would serve as a constant reminder to the offender not to repeat their crime. But when you can end another person's life and face less than 100 days, really how much impact will be made on that person's decision making in the future?

Little is a prime example. Just six years following the DUI manslaughter, he was stopped again for drunk driving. Don't worry...he didn't serve a single second of jail time for that one.

I imagine that Donte' Stallworth's penalty would have been much more severe if the crime were committed with a gun, and not a car. What if Stallworth had just been wandering the Miami street drunk out of his mind that morning, and fired a gun for no reason at Mario Reyes, the victim? There is no way that this crime would be met with a 30-day jail sentence. But what's the difference between that scenario and the one that actually occurred?

By guzzling alcohol throughout the night and then grabbing his keys and heading out onto the road, Stallworth was basically grabbing a gun and firing it into a crowd.

Would one of his bullets strike and kill an innocent person?

Or would he catch a break with the bullet landing harmlessly into an empty field?

You never know...that's the point. Stallworth could have made it home without incident that morning, but there was also the very real possibility that his car would end up doing fatal damage. Is a car any less of a deadly weapon than a gun? It's a piece of machinery weighing thousands of pounds that travels at speeds in excess of 100 mph. By operating a high-powered automobile with your instincts and reflexes heavily compromised, as Stallworth did, you are now playing with fire. Most of the time when you play with fire and you get burned, you end up paying the price.

Well, unless you're a star athlete, of course.

The term "accident" is so misleading in cases like this. An "accident" is when one car slides on an unavoidable patch of ice and winds up striking another vehicle.

But this was no "accident." Nobody forced Stallworth to drink hand over fist the night before. Nobody forced him to drive his Bentley home that night. He made all these choices, hoping to be lucky enough to make it through the ride safely. But to refer to it as an "accident" is to suggest that the event was out of Stallworth's control. That is not the case here.

As a professional athlete with all the means in the world to have his own personal driver, chauffeur, limo service, whatever...Stallworth still chose to get behind that wheel. I understand he was impaired, but the selfishness associated with such a decision cannot be overstated.

Are you telling me Stallworth did not know before that night's festivities that he would be drinking? Please. He could have made a million different arrangements before the night to ensure he got home safely, but this is a man that values no other life but his own. More than likely, he knew full well that he would wind up driving himself home completely drunk the next morning and that by doing so he would be putting others' lives in danger; but apparently that prospect did not make much of a dent in the wide receiver's train of thought.

The issue of "whether or not" Stallworth received preferential treatment is a laughable one. Is this even a question? Would any normal person do what he did, and wind up with a 24-day sentence?? (Stallworth will only serve 24 of the 30 days.)

used his fame and fortune to essentially buy himself out of prison time that he so rightfully deserved. He wound up agreeing to a lucrative settlement with the victim's family to prevent any type of lawsuit or further action. How generous of him. What would a normal citizen do to get himself out of such a jam without the same large finances that Stallworth possesses? That person would probably face a much stiffer punishment. So much for the legal system treating everyone the same.

The judge in the case also referenced Stallworth's blemish-free record before the crash. Exactly what does that have to do with anything?

I understand if maybe you are busted failing to put on a turn signal, and the cop pulls you over, but lets you off because you have a perfect record. It's a relatively pain-free mistake, and your history of exemplary driving lets the cop know this will probably not happen again. But when the crime you commit directly leads to the loss of another man's life, doesn't that stand on its own? What does any past event, or lack thereof, have to do with it?

Is the fact that Stallworth hasn't done this kind of thing before supposed to impress me? Oh, this is just the first guy he has killed...oh ok, my mistake. He's a model citizen.

Believe it or not, Mr. Stallworth is also receiving praise for his behavior immediately following the accident. When he struck Reyes in the middle of the road, he stopped his vehicle and remained on the scene. Yeah...and??? So let me get this straight. You can drive your Bentley recklessly around a busy downtown street, smash another guy to smithereens, and you are basically commended for not fleeing the scene? Why not give him a key to the city while you're at it? If you didn't know any better, you would think this whole trial and sentencing was actually a Saturday Night Live sketch. Only, the SNL stuff is never this unrealistic.

There will be stories in the next couple of weeks about how the NFL will look at the case to determine whether or not they want Stallworth coming back to the league. Even though he will be a free man, they can still opt to suspend him. It doesn't matter to me. He isn't a football player to me anymore. He's a murderer. A murderer that will have a full 24 days in jail to reflect on his mistake, and the man's life that he took away.

In all likelihood, Stallworth will appear on that ESPN ticker five to ten years down the road, getting arrested for another DUI, just like Leonard Little.

When you kill another person and get penalized as if you stole a carton of milk from the local Kroger, what's to stop you from doing it again?? Nothing.

Our justice system has spoken, and sadly, in this case, they have provided anything but.

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