Last year, I went out of my way to defend Linda Schrenko after I believed she had been unjustly attacked in the media.
I felt like an idiot, and awfully betrayed, a few months later when the former state school superintendent was indicted for shuffling federal money into her own pockets. Apologizing for what someone else did stinks, and I found myself in that position.
It isn't even remotely to that extent, but I've got a twinge of that feeling again.
One of the people I admire most in this community is Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale. I've always thought of him as a model of perseverance and integrity.
The other day, he got the editorial thumb's up for transferring the cases of Reggie Rice and Shad Harris from superior court to juvenile court. In spite of people who blistered my ear to complain otherwise, Wheale wasn't just being lenient to accused sex offenders; it was simply the right thing to do.
Great job, judge. And then Wheale turns around and spoils it by giving unbelievably lenient treatment to a sex offender.
As lowlife criminals go, William Archer Stulb, 21, is an example of one who deserves having the book thrown at him. He expressed no remorse for having forcible sex with a 14-year-old girl (he was 18 at the time, excusing his actions by calling his victim a "slut") and was convicted of statutory rape after a jury trial in September. He'd already gotten off easy; he should have been tried for rape or child molestation, or both.
Between his 2003 arrest and his September conviction, Stulb has been charged with criminal trespass and second degree criminal damage to property, and convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, driving with an open container of alcohol, disorderly conduct and possession of alcohol by a minor.
He's certainly not someone who leads such an exemplary life that he should be forgiven for a single indiscretion. Instead, Stulb is exactly the kind of person the public expects to be locked away from further damage to society.
A law-and-order judge should have been waiting with a heavy gavel for Stulb at his sentencing Monday. Instead, the Oprah Winfrey version of Judge Wheale showed up with a wet noodle.
Prosecutors say a standard plea bargain for statutory rape will get the offender five years in prison. Stulb could have gotten 20 years.
Wheale gave him one year. In a state detention center, which Wheale described as "not as bad as prison."
Oh, and he's letting Stulb stay out of jail until after Christmas.
"This is a light sentence," Wheale said. Duh, really?
The obviously disgusted prosecutor, Parks White, says the inexplicable leniency "sends a terrible message to young men in our community about the seriousness of this type of offense, and in doing so, fails the community."
Wheale, obviously struggling with his inner wimp, even admitted that he'll have a hard time explaining his feather-pillow treatment of Stulb to future rapists who get real sentences.
Why wait? Why not try explaining it to Stulb's victim? And to the citizens who have stood by Judge Wheale?
Maybe the judge, having been unjustly accused in the past by a political enemy of having mental problems, should now consider claiming to his political friends a case of temporary insanity.
At least we sure hope it's temporary.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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