Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sean's Last Wish (cont.)

Stephen Moller was sentenced to three years prison time at a courthouse in Greenville, SC for the punching death of Sean Kennedy. Moller pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He could have received anywhere from time served up to five years. The three year sentence falls somewhere in the middle, but he will likely only serve another year in jail.

My heart goes out to Elke Kennedy, Sean’s mother. The pain she has had to endure is beyond description. She received very little comfort or relief at the hearing yesterday. Moller’s attorney, Ryan Beasley, put forward several shaky arguments as to why his client should be released on time served (about seven months). He tried to downplay the incident as merely a disagreement and fight between two drunken party goers. Beasley even went so far as to suggest that Sean’s fatal injury came about from someone helping him after the punch and dropping his body. I understand our justice system gives every defendant the right to a vigorous defense. However I wish our intelligence would not be insulted so much.

The larger question is the role of a hate crime. In a way, should it have mattered? A young man was killed, and it was not an accident. While death may not have been the mostly likely outcome, it is one of many reasonable and possible outcomes. Also where were the charges of assault and many others that I’m sure I’m not aware of? Why did the DA’s office agree to such a simple charge in this death? I realize in the state of South Carolina there is no second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. However, it appears other charges were not even pursued.

This is a situation in which the gay and transgender communities have become all too familiar with. Our cases as a general rule are not investigated or prosecuted as strongly. Why is that? Part of the justice system says that you are at the mercy of the local system no matter whether you are a victim, suspect, or the accused. Across this country, there is a huge variance in how similar cases are handled. Add to that the complexity of politics and election cycles, and we are all subject to how a particular DA may be feeling that day. We are all affected by the prejudices and whims of the individuals in justice and law enforcement. This is why it’s so important to elect fair minded and level headed candidates when we have the opportunity. At some point, the scales of justice must be made truly level. We all lose when they are not level.

I will be seeing Elke Kenndy at the PFLAG meeting in Salisbury Saturday morning. I look forward to giving her a big hug and offering my support. In her grief and sorrow, she has triumphed with her spirit. By carrying on her son’s memory, Elke insures that Sean will continue a positive impact on the world. At the same time, I pray for Stephen Moller’s soul.

Greenville News Article

Associated Press Artcle (courtesy Charlotte Observer)

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