Friday, October 29, 2010

Are Some Lives Worth More Than Others?: Only Your Prosecutor Knows

Today, two people will be sentenced for killing innocent others. One person will have made a series of very bad decisions while intoxicated ending in her killing a young girl age 11. The other will have made a conscious decision to kill 11 people. The former will receive a sentence of 12 years in jail. The latter will be released after only doing 8 years while he awaited sentence. The former is a young mother of a pre-teen girl, the latter was a mob hitman. The former, the mom who killed an 11 year old by driving recklessly while intoxicated, spawned a law that makes it a felony to drive intoxicated with a child in the car. The latter Mob hit-man will reinforce the idea that you can kill at will as long as you are willing to give up others, even if you lie to do it.

The young mother is Carmen Huertas. She made a decision to get into a car with 6 children (one was her own) and drive them home from a slumber party after she had embibed enough alcohol to blow a .13 BAC. (Not that I think BAC's are the least bit accurate but given her other behaviors that night I would think there was enough other evidence of intoxication to prove she was guilty. You can read the story here and decide for yourself. She was sentenced to a indeterminate sentence of 4-12 years in jail. She could theoretically be eligible to get out on parole in three years and five months
but given just the fact that this was a DWI and the fact that it was the type of death that brings out everyone against the defendant, she will likely do the whole sentence before she is released less any "good-time" she may accrue (about 1.8 years off the top number or 10.4 years in prison so far.)

The mob hit man is Sal (Good Looking Sal) Vitale, former underboss of the Bonanno crime family. Sal was an early follower of another neighbor Joe (Big Joe) Massino, the boss of the Bonnano crime family. Both men grew up in my old neighborhood in NY. Sal was always noted for how good his hair looked. I should know, he used to go to get his hair cut in the same barbershop as I did. He was a big deal there among the Italian barbers. They all knew who he was. I blissfully did not. I did notice he seemed like any other guy who went there. Slightly pampered and otherwise kind of nice. He always went with friends.

About 10 years ago, Sal and his Brother-in-law childhood hero Joe Massino got indicted. Joe was pretty jealous of Sal's popularity among the other under bosses in "the family". He was afraid that Sal may be so much better liked than he, that he ordered someone kill him. The feds moved in to save Sal's life. Sal was infuriated and so he turned on Joe and everyone in the old life. He had enough information to identify over 500 men as either members of or affiliates to the five families of NY. He also had enough information to put 50 of these men behind bars for a long time, some even for life.

Sal Vitale was a cold blooded killer. He didn't have to be. He had smarts. He was a former corrections officer, and he owned a series of small businesses that would have made money for him with or without patronage from Joe Massino and company. Instead, he helped end the lives of at least 11 men and maybe more. He made it possible for others to kill without being punished. He ran loan-sharking and illegal gambling operations. He provided protection for drug dealers and houses of Prostitution. He also however danced to the Governments tune. He turned and he will be rewarded. Is he sorry he was a creep, a killer, a monster? Only he knows. He knew however he created that man. If he could, would he turn down the life he led? Would he walk away from the jaunts to Vegas and Atlantic City? Would he give up his house in Dix Hills for all those years. Would he not have had the fancy haircuts and manicures he got that earned him the nickname "Good looking Sal"? If he knew he would never get caught would he? Or would he have preserved that life even if it meant killing eleven more people. Eleven more fathers brothers sons?

Carmen Huertas, a 31 year old mother who would like to take back about 2 hours of her life. Whether she was found guilty or not, the taking of that child's life would have stayed with her forever. Her chance of ever getting behind the wheel of a car drunk again, would be less than zero.

Jail is supposed to be for punishment and corrections. I fail to see the sense in this today. Carmen Huertas should have been sentenced to 1-3 years and should have been ordered to a program to address her drinking issues. Sal Vitale should have been sentenced to at least a long long period in jail. He could have gotten Death had he not cooperated. His getting a free pass calls into question every detail to which he testified. His testimony was bought and paid for by the government. He knew if he danced to their tune he would walk away, a free man, new identity, new home, new business.

As she addressed the court she said ""I am not a monster," "I am a loving mother who made a terrible decision that caused the death of a wonderful child."

She is right, her behavior was monstrous, but she herself is not a monster she just in fact made a horrendous decision that will forever effect the world of Leandra's family and her own.

Does anyone wonder if Sal Vitale could make the same statement? Is it fair that the prosecution can make these decisions based on how much they were helped? Is it fair that Vitale's victims should get nothing in the way of satisfaction for the loss they suffered?

Huertas is in jail, mostly because of who her victim was, and what that victims family wanted. Vitale is free despite what his victims want and despite what fairness dictates. She is sorry. Given the chance she would not be likely to repeat her poor judgment. He, well you decide: is he sorry or sorry he got caught? Given the chance, would he have turned down all the things his life gave to him and his family or would he have killed again and again, knowing he would never get caught?

The lives of poor people and the lives of rich have different values in a court of law. The lives of people who die at the hands of those that can give the prosecution what it wants, and the lives of those killed by someone who has nothing but remorse to give, have different values. Neither of these are fair, they just are.

If you ever serve on a jury however, when one of these rich powerful guys testifies, and he says he is not getting anything for his testimony, remember, that is just not true. Never was, never will be. They are just monsters who the government is paying to be tell they government's story, whether it be true, or not. Whether they be monsters... or what?

Here is the NY Post's coverage of the sentencing hot off the presses.
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