When deciding on an appropriate sentence for someone convicted in a criminal trial, a judge in the U.S. court system must consider several often incompatible factors. Does the necessity of harsh punishment outweigh the possibility of rehabilitation through some form of compassionate sentencing? And does treating a criminal with leniency at the same time present an undue threat to the public?
It seems unlikely that Middlesex, Mass., Superior Court Judge Maria Lopez considered these factors fully last week in sentencing child molester Charles "Ebony" Horton to five years’ probation and one of house arrest after he admitted to charges of kidnapping, attempted rape of a child, indecent assault, and assault with a dangerous weapon.
Horton admitted to luring a 12-year-old boy into his car in Dorchester last November, threatening him with a screwdriver, and attempting to rape him before police intervened. A serious crime indeed, certainly not a "low-level" one, which is how Lopez, astonishingly, described it.
But even if Horton is truly remorseful and, as his lawyers say, well on his way to rehabilitation, one must question the wisdom of confining him to his apartment in the Mary Ellen McCormack housing development.
The project, in heavily Irish South Boston, is full of working-class families. Children are everywhere. How, one wonders, does placing a convicted child sex offender in their midst serve the public interest? Clearly, under these circumstances, this particular concern trumps all others.
Not surprisingly, Judge Lopez’s decision caused a public outcry. Mayor Tom Menino has weighed in with a scathing press release. It said, in part, "Rather than take appropriate action and incarcerate this convicted felon, Judge Lopez chose to return him to a community full of families with hundreds of young children that is adjacent to one of the largest public parks in the city of Boston." The Boston Housing Authority has begun its third eviction proceeding against Horton.
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Perhaps the 22-year-old Horton can change his ways, and perhaps the prosecutor’s recommendation of eight to 10 years in prison is excessive. But deciding to put a child molester back among children is nothing short of bizarre. Charles Horton belongs in prison and in a program where he can get help for his problems. Most important, however, the children in the McCormack project deserve to play safely and without fear.