Private 1st Class Manning: Sentencing vs. Sympathy

The Private Manning story, covered well here by Ms. Miller, is in some ways much like the recent black trucker’s murder spree in CT in which 8 whites were gunned down and WaPo and NYT grieved only for the shooter, because of dubious allegations of racism. Was there an attempted lynching? KKK painted with flaming pink lipstick on his lunch box? Swaztikas adorning his personal vehicle from psycho fellow workers? Nein. Maybe he got the stink eye from fellow workers a few times, maybe something unkind was said to him. Neither means automatic racism. We’d have to know the exact context of these alleged incidents. Could it have been just misperception on his part, or were they angry about something else altogether, like his work ethic? And maybe, given the totally inappropriate seriousness of his ultimate response, the man was seriously and even clinically paranoid. His “girlfriend” says he said there were “racists” with whom he worked…she says that he said. In other words, the NYT article was a “he said she said” deal.  Regardless, a hint of racism (or not) is no excuse for mass murder. Nothing was done to him by his employers prior to the point at which he was fired after being caught stealing from them, and that’s a firing offense anywhere.

I agree completely with Ms. Miller’s assessment of Manning, and yet I do have sympathy for the kid. But here’s the deal, my caveat: you should be assessed for your crime, in court, cold-heartedly and based solely on your act and sentenced accordingly. After your sentence, which again should only reflect your crime, then conditions that may have played into your state of mind can be considered and dealt with accordingly.

Having raised two daughters, both of whom were taunted throughout their school careers in a tony and well-heeled suberb of uber-liberal Madison, WI (where such behaviors go unpunished and instigators are often from the wealthier families), I feel for any kid who is bullied at school. My girls survived the experience, however, and both drew positive results from it. One has just been accepted into a doctoral progam and will receive her MBA in Sept. The other, recently married, more recently had our first grandchild, and works in shipping and handling in the warehouse of the business my wife and I work for. They are well adjusted and happy and while bullying is an awful thing, it’s a sad but typical life lesson that you can turn into a positive experience if you’re well-grounded.

When I was a freshman at good ol’ “PU” (University of Platteville, a state college in Wisconsin), a young man–who had been given the cruel (or as it turned out, accurate) nickname “Psycho Jack” in high school, and who hailed from a nearby small town–walked into the school cafeteria one day with a German Lugar and put a bullet in the brain of the homecoming queen who he had been stalking for some time. She died instantly. This was fall 1964, and at the time the Supreme Court was paving the way toward handing out ever lighter sentences for ever more serious crimes.

Psycho Jack got five years in Mendota State Hospital, a site notorious for housing at the time, Ed Gein, of the movie “Psycho” fame. I always wondered if Psycho Jack became pals with ‘Psycho’ Ed.  And I wondered if Gein would have gotten five years (after all, he only killed one person, the rest he dug up) had he been sentenced a decade later.

I suspect that were P. Jack to have done that today, he would have been labelled a sociopath and since DSM IV was approved a decade plus ago, those with that label are no longer eligible for an insanity plea, because the 11 sociopathic subtypes, while considered evidence of mental disease, are at the same time deemed untreatable (at least that was so in DSM IV, it may have changed slightly since then). In which case, he would likely have received a much more appropriate sentence, but even then not stiff enough to meet the reality of his deed. I frequently saw Jack in the college pool hall, where I too loitered too frequently, and while he stood out as eccentric, he did seem to function more or less satisfactorily.

Upon “graduating” from Mendota after his five years, he married a “fellow student” (from Mendota, not PU) and the entire episode has haunted me ever since. Did they have children? If so, how were they raised? Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. Bottom line: only a sick society would have leveraged so lenient a sentencing for so serious an act.

Sentencing should reflect the severity of the crime, then and only then can we intervene with America’s famous humanitarianism and deal with the convicted, and appropriately sentenced criminal, in a way that is sympathetic and helpful. Up to that point, he’s just another murderer and should be treated as such.

The same applies to Private Manning. If there is sufficient evidence that he was harrassed and that the harrassment was of a serious nature, counseling would be appropriate. However, he should be sentenced without compassion and strictly for the egregious crime, the results of which could reverberate for years, that he allegedly committed.