When you stop and think about it, our justice system has, for decades now, operated more like a used car lot than the lofty dispensary of justice that we imagine it to be. Still the best system in the world? Maybe, but something went wrong somewhere along the line. Maybe there’s just plain too much crime in this country to adequately deal with using our current infrastructure of police departments, courthouses and prisons. I think we’re in pretty good shape as far as lawyers go.
Maybe our parsing and interpreting of every RSA has gone overboard, our studying of the minutiae replacing common sense. Think back to the O.J. Simpson trial…I mean…really…is this what the legal system has become? Laughable presentations, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt, turn the “trial” into a contest between defense and prosecuting attorneys. It really is a contest between them…who can do the best for their client, and in turn up their own worth in the arena of law as sport. Watch the defense lawyers associations scramble any time a piece of legislation turns up that mentions “mandatory sentences.” You would have to unleash killer bees to see overweight men move this fast. But mandatory sentences, even as codified under “Jessica’s Law”, the law drafted in memory of Jessica Lunsford, the nine year-old Florida girl who became famous in death after being molested, then buried alive, by a serial child predator just released from prison, strike fear into the hearts of defense lawyers. Why? They negate the possibility of plea-deals, that’s why, and force judges to impose minimum, mandatory sentences.
Lawyers and courts will argue that plea-deals save the legal system, and hence the public, money. They often negate the need for lengthy trials, the assembly of juries, the calling of witnesses the use of courtrooms, etc. and the sometimes uncertain outcomes of those trials. There are times when it makes sense. When there is questionable evidence, unreliable witnesses…maybe not enough to ensure a prosecutor that he or she is going to get what they, and probably society at large, consider a suitably lengthy incarceration.
And then there are times when the evidence is strong, and the crime is so heinous, that a trial may be the only way to ensure a suitable punishment is handed down. Indeed, there may be times when a plea-deal is used as enticement to the victim’s family not to have to endure the pain of a trial…testimony…graphic details and pictures…it is easy to imagine wanting to avoid that.
It sounds as though that is what happened to John Foreman in 1983. His son, Jason, at age five, went missing. That was in 1973. It wouldn’t be until 1982 that Rhode Island police would find themselves searching the home of Michael Woodmansee, who lived just up the street from the Foremans. There…wrapped in plastic and a rug, they found the skull, ribs and some bones that would turn out to be those of Jason. He had been murdered, and the flesh removed from his bones in what police believe was a cannibalistic ritual. Sorry for the details…but you’ve got to imagine what this father went through. All of this after…after…enduring 9 years of having know idea what happened to your five year-old son. A neighbor.
Woodmansee was convicted and sentenced to 40 years…under a plea deal which the elder Foreman now blames himself for. “Stupidly, I accepted a plea-deal so we would not have to endure the agony of a trial…”. Well…then maybe we, as a civilized society, ought to find a better way to afford justice to a family like the Foremans.
Michael Woodmansee, only 16 at the time of the crime, and now 52, will be released in August after serving only 28 years, earning early release for “good behavior”. I recall the Massachusetts parole board that voted 6 – 0 to release Dominic Cinelli from a 3 life-term sentence, citing his “strident improvements” while in prison as grounds for his release. Months later he shot and killed a Woburn Policeman during an armed robbery. Woodmansee’s release, though, has a black cloud hanging over it.
That “black cloud” is John Foreman, who told a radio host at WPRO in Providence last week that he will “find Woodmansee and kill him”. He sounds like he means it, too. I wish him happy hunting.
Now, I’ll wait for the emails about how two wrongs don’t make a right and how we have to live with our justice system because “it might be bad but it’s still the best one in the world…”. Or how John Foreman never should have agreed to the deal, or if he kills this man then he will go to jail and he becomes the “second victim”. Yet…I’m a parent, and I listened to this man recall the details of his sons death, sobbing heavily some 37 years later. I try to imagine that pain, and I can’t, but I can certainly understand him wanting to kill that bastard.
Moreover, I’m left wondering…exactly what…what…does one have to do in this country to get a true life sentence? Abducting, molesting, murdering and then eating a five year-old boy is not enough? That fact is far more of a crime than anything John Foreman may do to Michael Woodmansee. Justice was not served…but I’ve got a feeling it’s on the way.