Monday, March 20, 2006

Conservatives and Yellow Journalism.

By now everybody has heard about Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John A. Connor, who was vilified by the likes of Bill O'Reilly for sentencing "a convicted child rapist" to probation. Even though the sentence was imposed months ago...December, in fact...this story wasn't media fodder until the end of March. Why the delay? Political gamesmanship. Elections are coming this fall and Republicans are at risk. They need fodder and Judge Connor is a Democrat. If they can demonstrate that Liberals are sympathetic to child rapists, they won't have to face real issues. Papa Bear Bill O'Reilly was more than happy to sensationalize this story by omitting the facts.

What facts? Well how about the facts that implicate Republican Prosecutor Ron O'Brien? O'Brien has served as the Franklin County Prosecutor for a couple of terms and with embattled Governor Bob Taft on his way out, he is looking at advancing to a state post. He's had his sights set on the Auditor's office for sometime and might upgrade to Attorney General depending on which chair is open when the party music stops playing. O'Brien is the man in charge of all of the criminal cases tried in Franklin County, where Andrew Selva allegedly raped two boys and where Judge Connor sentenced Selva to a treatment program and house arrest. Of course, the conservative wags told the country that it was probation.

What O'Reilly didn't tell you is that Selva was originally charged with 20 counts of rape, but that those were dismissed in September of 2004 due to lack of evidence and inconsistent testimony. In March of 2005, the prosecutor negotiated a deal instead of seeking another indictment. The deal included two counts of sexual battery and a stipulation that the prosecution would not submit a sentence recommendation. A week later Selva pleads guilty to the sexual battery charges before Judge Connor and the judge orders a sentencing investigation. In December of 2005 Connor sentenced Selva to a year of house arrest and five year's probation.

Connor's rationalization of the sentence is reasonable. Through the investigation he discovered that Selva had no prior record. Witnesses for the prosecution and defense indicated that it was unlikely Selva would offend again and Selva had voluntarily committed himself to a sexual-offender counseling program. Since the deal presented to the court indicated that Selva had committed no sex acts against anybody after November of 2002, Connor had to presume that Selva had ceased criminal conduct for a period of at least 3 years.

According to the facts of the case presented to him, Connor imposed a fair sentence. Connor couldn't take the original charges into consideration as they were dismissed. Connor had to act only on the case presented to him, which did not include charges of rape, or a sentencing recommendation. In Connor's eyes, the prosecution did not see Andrew Selva as a threat to the community, and Connor did not see the benefit of a prison sentence. Instead Selva is under intensive supervision for a period of at least five years.

I agree that child molesters should be dealt with severely, but the burden of holding criminals accountable for their crimes falls on the shoulders of the Prosecuting Attorney. That's why we elect them. Judges aren't supposed to impose harsh sentences, the prosecutor is supposed to convince the judge they are necessary. Ron O'Brien's involvement in the case is unknown. It was handled by assistant prosecutors. That alone speaks volume as to the urgency O'Brien placed on the case. Had he felt that Selva was a threat to the community he would have taken more control over the case. Instead it was left to flunkies who negotiated a slap on the wrist sentence with an accused child rapist.

Judge Connor did his job. He followed sentencing guidelines and imposed a punishment that fit the crime. He's not the bad guy. Neither is Selva. If the victims and the people were let down in this case it was by a prosecutor more concerned with his climb up the political ladder than the cases before his office. Ron O'Brien is the one to blame.

Shame on the press, especially the conservative pundits, who piled on to this story without verifying the facts. They turned it into a political ambush by characterizing Connor as an incompetent activist judge. And they have the audacity to claim a liberal bias?

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