"I'm with you folks. I'm a forgive and forget Christian."
- Gov. "Pappy" O'Daniel
Where Art Thou?
That's it. No more forgiveness, no more benefit of the doubt.
If you're arrested, you're guilty. No defense, no appeals, just go to jail and leave the rest of us alone, you crime-committing criminal.
I'm being facetious, of course, in channeling the views of virtually every anonymous person posting on every crime story ever filed on a newspaper Web site. But it's getting harder to believe in the promise of redemption when so many of its recipients squander it.
The latest person to flush his second chance down the toilet is Reggie Rice, the former Greenbrier High School football star arrested this past weekend on charges including armed robbery and kidnapping.
You've no doubt heard the story. Rice, who once had a full-ride football scholarship to The Citadel, is accused of getting together with the school's current quarterback and two College of Charleston students to rob a Citadel assistant coach at gunpoint. And now we learn this might not have been their first heist.
Anyone with even passing knowledge of Rice's history around here had to feel pangs of betrayal. For everyone else, here's a little background.
Back in 2005, Rice, then 17, another 17-year-old Greenbrier student and a 16-year-old hooked up with three younger girls in a little late-night liquor and sex party.
Because of the age differences, Rice and the other 17-year-old landed in jail on felony rape and aggravated child molestation charges. When it became apparent the girls had initiated the party, the district attorney also slapped the "victims" with the rarely used charge of fornication.
Then-Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale insisted the case would be handled more appropriately in juvenile court, and sent it down.
Wheale gave Rice and the others their lives back on a silver platter, and also helped send Rice to his alma mater.
Since then, Rice seemed to have earned his redemption. But then he got injured in 2008, left school and drifted. He told a Charleston magistrate that he didn't really have a permanent home, and had been working temporary construction jobs.
He's now sitting in a Charleston jail with a bond that's higher than anyone is likely to cough up. He dodged a 10-year prison sentence when Wheale sent his case to juvenile court in 2005; it now appears all Wheale did was delay the inevitable.
But wait! There's more! Soon after giving Rice his second chance, Wheale showed even greater leniency to William Archer Stulb.
You remember him, right? He, too, was a promising young man, caught up in an underage sex case and given wimpy treatment by Wheale.
Wheale later suffered pangs of guilt and tried to get tougher on Stulb, whose attorneys kept that from happening. But Stulb was enough of a model citizen that Wheale changed Stulb's sentence to first-offender status to wipe his record clean.
Stulb repaid the favor by molesting an 11-year-old girl. He's now sitting in a southwest Georgia prison.
We've also been treated over the years to the exploits of Jerry Jackson Lee II, the "Teflon Doc," who beat multiple raps thanks to limp treatment from judges. He thanked them by molesting a 9-year-old girl, and is now waiting to see if Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet will shrink his sentence.
Easy ruling: No.
Now, undoubtedly there are dozens of lawbreakers who have been given second chances and have gone on to lead exemplary lives. Newly elected Augusta City Councilman Matt Aitken, a former drug dealer who has made a genuine turnaround, is a shining example.
Unfortunately, he's about the only obvious example, at least around here. Rice and Stulb and Lee, and God knows how many others, have made the message clear: If you commit the crime, the rest of us are going to have to insist you do the time.
You want leniency? Ask for a second slice of toast in the prison cafeteria.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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