Tuesday, January 24, 2006

O'Reilly Tells Half the Story; Smears Vermont Judge

Bill O'Reilly has clamped his jaws like a pit bull onto the case of the Vermont judge who gave out a 60-day sentence to a man convicted of sexual assault on a young girl. O'Reilly shows no signs of letting go until the judge, Edward Cashman, loses his job, and he seems to consider it a disgrace to the entire state that Vermont citizens haven't hung the judge from the highest tree.

I've got to admit-- the judge's sentence sounds pretty indefensible, if all you know about the case comes from O'Reilly. Here's what readers of O'Reilly’s most recent column and viewers of his January 13 “Talking Points Memo” know about the subject:
  • 34-year old Mark Hulett "confessed to raping" a girl over a period of four years, while the girl was 6 to 10. Hulett lived in the girl's home, a friend of her parents.

  • Judge Cashman suspended all but 60 days of what could have been, should have been, a life sentence, or at least a 25-year sentence-- the mandatory minimum in the noble state of Florida.

  • Judge Cashman's "sympathies are with the rapist," not with the little girl or her family.

  • Vermonters who don't push for removal of Judge Cashman from the bench are complicit in evil.

  • Inexplicably, elements of the left-wing, secular press are defending Cashman.
As you may have suspected, there are a few things about this version of events that aren’t quite right, and a few that O'Reilly forgot to tell you.

  • Judge Cashman is a conservative Vietnam vet, appointed by a Republican governor, and is a former prosecutor with a reputation for being tough on defendants.

  • Hulett has an IQ of between 75 and 85, putting him in the category of "borderline intellectual functioning." Judge Cashman also determined that he had the emotional maturity of a 12-14 year old, and did not seem to understand why people were upset with him about what he did.

  • The girl’s parents seem to have emotional or mental problems of their own, and seem to have been quite lax about protecting their daughter. They allowed Hulett to sleep in the same bed with their child, and a second man has pled guilty to abusing the girl in separate incidents.

  • Hulett has no criminal record, and there is no evidence that Hulett ever abused any other children—that is he has not sought out children that he hasn’t been placed into bed with.

  • The sexual molestation involved fondling and oral sex, but not vaginal or anal intercourse.

  • Hulett's suspended sentence is for 10 years to life in prison. If he fails in treatment, refuses treatment, uses drugs or alcohol, lives in an apartment complex that has children, visits a bar, or looks at pornography, he can receive life in prison.

  • Cashman had intended to impose a three years of jail time, as recommended by the Vermont Department of Corrections, but if he had done so the Dept. of Corrections would not have provided sex offender treatment to Hulett until he finished his jail term. Cashman determined that the danger to the public upon Hulett’s release would be greater if he did not get treatment immediately, as he can with a 60-day sentence.

  • Cashman found that for Hulett is a good candidate for treatment, but that without treatment he poses a serious risk of reoffending. More on this below.
Did Judge Cashman make the right decision? Citizen Cain isn’t wise enough to say. But reading his statement on the reconsideration of the sentencing order, I was struck by the careful thought that Cashman put into the case, and I was glad that an independent judge was making a decision on the individual merits of the case. Much better that than a huge mandatory minimum imposed regardless of the circumstances. Consider the following from Judge Cashman’s statement:

Treatment experts in this area of human misbehavior believe they are able to group those who molest children based upon the of the offender's perception of the relationship. lf the offender views the encounters as "child to child," the perpetrator is reliving a prior abuse of his own. The age of the child molested often is the same age as that of the offender when he suffered a similar molestation. These offenders appear amenable to treatment and present low risks to re-offend, provided competent personnel properly treat and supervise them.

The other group of offenders perceives the relationships as "adult to adult." This group presents different treatment issues that make predictions of treatment compliance and success much more guarded.

The evidence on this point came into the record from the defense expert. He believes that the defendant falls into the latter group. He did not agree that the defendant would fail in treatment compliance. Yet, he did offer-guarded concern that Mr. Hulett would need lifetime treatment and supervision.

The court finds the balance of the evidence shows that Mr. Hulett presents a long-term risk to re-offend. How long could it go? The evidence of record was that it might be for the rest of his life. He needs treatment. He needs supervision. This presents the most pressing concern for public safety arising in this case.

The cognitive and emotional impairments described above do not impress the court as mitigating factors, as first impression might dictate. Rather, they present additional concern for long term risk control. Mr. Hulett's failure to empathize, as well as his emotional age, may create substantial supervision problems. His intellectual skills require specialized materials and treatment techniques.

The solution to these concerns requires quick and effective treatment. Delay in treatment, especially if connected with lengthy imprisonment, creates additional risks by hardening the defendant into a pattern of thinking that further alienates him from the fundamental social values we are trying to promote.
Again, I don’t know if Cashman came to the right decision, but he clearly was a man trying to do his job as best as he could. Could the same be said of a journalist who sensationalizes a difficult case, incites a public campaign and fails to give his readers and viewers key information to help the evaluate the situation? Bill O’Reilly has every right to disagree with Cashman’s decision, but he’s doing a public disservice by telling only half of the story.
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