There are three possible reasons why Silda Dean wrote a letter saying she lied when she claimed to have been molested by Scott Dean, the former county commissioner and Harlem mayor who adopted the girl and four of her siblings from Guatemala:
• She was lying then, but now she’s telling the truth.
• She was telling the truth then, but she’s lying now because of pressure or persuasion.
• She was telling the truth then, but she’s lying now because she’s appointed herself as Dean’s personal pardons and paroles board and has decided a year in prison is enough punishment.
Which do you think it is?
I’d like to believe it’s the first one, but if that’s the case, it’s troubling to think someone could be rescued from an orphanage and repay the favor by sending her benefactor to jail on false charges.
If it’s the second reason, that’s alarming, too. If there was a crime, that should be the end of it. No amount of pressure or persuasion should be brought to bear on a victim who is telling the truth, particularly if it’s a victim of child molestation.
But if it’s the third reason? That’s really scary.
There’s no doubt that quite a few people believe Scott Dean got a far harsher sentence than was warranted by the facts of the case. (Of course, his haters are still upset that he wasn’t castrated and hanged in the public square, but thankfully the Taliban aren’t in power here.)
More than a few people believe Dean got that 20-year sentence not because the evidence demanded it, but because Superior Court Judge Jim Blanchard didn’t want anyone to accuse him of going soft on a public official. No danger of that. If anything, many court observers came away from the trial with the view that Blanchard had his thumb on the scales in the prosecution’s favor, so the sentence was merely a reflection of his inclination during the trial.
But of all the people who think Dean should have received a shorter sentence, none outside the court potentially have the power to actually shorten that sentence.
None of them, that is, except for the victim, Silda Dean, who now says she wasn’t a victim at all.
That’s why that third possible reason is particularly disturbing. Unlike some societies where, for example, surviving members of a murder victim’s family can personally carry out the execution of the killer, our court system is not designed to allow victims to determine or carry out the punishment of those convicted of crimes.
Sure, such victim empowerment has its appeal, just as it sounds tempting to put people in stocks in the public square, or to stone adulterers. But we moved past such barbarism decades or centuries ago. Americans don’t cut off the hands of thieves any more than we execute rape victims – punishments that are accepted in some cultures.
Here, we rely on what we hope are the balanced scales of justice to weigh the crime and impose proper penalties. While victims are consulted, they don’t directly pronounce the sentence or punishment for obvious reasons: justice is supposed to be impartial and unemotional, not meted out with rage or fear or favoritism.
In this case, if the victim has decided to claim she no longer is a victim because she believes, for whatever reason, a year in prison is adequate punishment, then to abide by her claim is to say that we will allow victims to provide their own ex-judicial appellate process.
Maybe it’s just me, but that’s almost as scary as willfully sending someone to prison for a crime she now says he didn’t commit.
However this process moves forward, we should fully expect the district attorney’s office to vigorously question Silda Dean to determine, as best they can, the answer to the fundamental question: Was she lying then, or is she lying now?
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222. Follow at www.twitter.com/barrypaschal.)