The two cases could scarcely have less in common. One is a murder for which a Columbia County man will serve life in prison; the other is an embezzlement for which an Evans woman will spend no time behind bars.A significant point in each case arrived last week, however, and offers an instructive look at crime and punishment.First, the murder. Nearly eight years ago, Jason Kennedy killed 19-month-old Caitlyn Cawthon, his girlfriend's daughter, while babysitting the toddler. District Attorney Danny Craig took Kennedy to trial three times, with each jury deadlocking.In a fourth trial in 2001, Craig won a conviction and secured a sentence of life in prison. Kennedy appealed, claiming that he shouldn't have been convicted of felony murder. The tot's death wasn't malicious or cruel, his attorneys said, because the blow that killed her brought death so quickly.Fo
rtunately, Georgia's Supreme Court saw through the legal smokescreen and last week unanimously affirmed Kennedy's conviction. That's the end of the road for Kennedy's search for a get-out-of-jail-free card; he'll die behind bars, which is perhaps a much better fate than a child-killer deserves.By way of contrast, what fate does Susanne White deserve? The 35-year-old Evans woman didn't hurt anybody physically. Her crime was stealing $80,000 from the Windmill Home Owners Association while serving as treasurer.In a plea agreement last week, White avoided jail after paying back most of the money, promising to pay back the rest and getting $11,000 in fines. She'll also serve 10 years' probation, receive counseling, take anti-depression medication and not handle anyone else's money.But to hear some of her ripped-off neighbors, you'd think White should get as much jail time as Kennedy.Let's take a deep breath here. Prosecutors aren't going to recommend sending first-time offenders like White to jail. A first-time burglar? A first-time car thief? Maybe; but keep in mind that such people are the reason we lock our doors at night. No one is going to look over their shoulder in fear of their neighborhood fees being pilfered.Besides, every white-collar criminal or small-time crook sitting in jail takes one bed space that isn't available for street thugs and hard criminals who really do make our streets less safe. Sure, the all-too-human need for vengence makes it hard to see a crook go 'free. But every Susanne White on the street makes more room for a Jason Kennedy, and that's a trade we'll gladly make. A footnote: If we look for a silver lining, White's case woke up neighborhood associations all over the county, encouraging them to plug the holes in their porous books. Windmill couldn't have been ripped off of such a huge sum if good accounting procedures were in place and you can bet they won't be fooled again.
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