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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Inappropriate punishment for questionable criminal offenses seems to have been a recurring theme in some of my recent commentaries. On November 29 it was the story of Tuong Van Nguyen , the Australian who was convicted of a drug offense in Singapore and was hanged for that offense last Friday. And the very next day it was the pediatrician who was sentenced to five years in jail for owning a collection of child pornography pictures.

Neither of these convicted "criminals" was in any way railroaded. Singapore has a mandatory death penalty for many drug offenses and Illinois considers it a crime to be in possession of photographs that show young children engaged in sex acts. I just have a hard time coming to grips with the idea that death is an appropriate punishment for breaking any drug laws, particularly a one time offense for what the offender believed was a noble purpose - and I think it’s one hell of a stretch to make just the ownership of some dirty pictures a criminal offense punishable by incarceration - even if they are pictures of children and the owner is some kind of sicko.

Now we have another case where questions are being raised about the validity of a guilty verdict which is going to be vigorously appealed. But in the meantime, the convicted offender is sitting in jail about to start a twenty year sentence for a crime which is being described as "inappropriately touching seven young girls" while they were being coached in a gymnastics clas.

Whether or not the verdict will be overturned is not a matter on which I can’t comment. A jury heard evidence, including the testimony of the girls in question - and believed that the coach - one Michael Cardamone - did indeed "molest" them. He denies it and he or friends of his have set up a web site to help appeal the verdict. If he isn’t successful, he’s going to be in jail for a long time because he insists that he is innocent and thus will never express "remorse" - which seems to be a requirement for a felon to be even considered for parole.

Although I haven’t followed the case closely, I am aware that none of the "molestation" took place in private - out of the sight of witnesses. No - it all took place in a large, open gym, while coaching was going on and while the gym was filled with people other than the alleged victims. So obviously there was no rape or attempted rape. Obviously there was no embracing and kissing going on. This sort of activity would have been spotted by many people. Hell - the kids would have screamed to high heaven. The "crime" seems to have consisted of the coach touching the girls "inappropriately" while he was working with them. The accusation was that he had touched them under their leotards while they were doing certain exercises.

I don’t know how a coach touches kids "under their leotards" which, the last time I looked, were one piece, tight fitting garments. I know that coaches will sometimes touch someone they’re working with to get them into the right posture or to direct how an exercise is to be done or to support them in an exercise. I wasn’t much of a gymnast when I was a kid in school, but I know I was touched by gym teachers from time to time and I suppose I could have considered some of the touching "inappropriate’ if my mind had moved in that direction. And I know that groups of kids - or a clique of kids - can sometimes get together and - perhaps innocently - make "something" out of "nothing" and then find themselves unable to back away from it when it becomes serious and puts someone in jeopardy. I don’t know if it happened in this case but I’d be willing to bet that if you could have sat these kids down before their coach was arrested and told them that if they insisted that he had molested them he would be going to jail for 20 years, they would have backed off. Assuming they could understand what was being said. According to news reports, some of these kids were as young as three years old when the "abuse" began in 2000. The allegation was that the offenses took place between 200 and 2002.

But let’s assume for a moment that Cardamone did touch some kids "inappropriately" and was able to do this in full view of dozens of other people in the gym , including other instructors. What does that make him? Is he a pedophile and a serial molester as both the judge and the prosecutors in the case labeled him? They insist that he is indeed an "untreated and untreatable" sex offender because he will neither admit guilt nor express remorse. A little hard to do if you sincerely don’t believe you have done anything wrong. Cardamone had no prior criminal record. He’s married and has children. He had never been accused of anything that the average person would recognize as a sex crime. The judge in the case had the authority to grant probation. Instead, he got 20 years - more than some murderers get for their crimes!!

I don’t know Cardamone or much of anything about him and as I’ve already said, I haven’t followed the case closely Most of my knowledge of it is confined to very recent news stories. He could be innocent. Juries get it wrong. Criminal cases are brought inappropriately. I know. I was a victim myself once. Or he could be guilty as charged. My beef is with the sentence which I consider to be way out of line - as I believed the five year sentence for owning pornographic pictures to be not just out of line but close to ridiculous. It seems that when it comes to any kind of "sex" offense - no matter how remotely removed from what the average person would think of as criminal behavior it might be - harshness is the order of the day.

I thoroughly endorse the idea of removing violent pedophiles from society and locking them away for a long time. Sub-humanoids who assault helpless children should be thrown in jail and never see the light of day. But this kind of sentence for the possible crime of "touching" - under skin tight leotards yet - strikes me as a criminal justice system run amok. Though I guess Cardamone can consider himself lucky in one sense. The prosecutors wanted a sentence of 35 years and the judge could have sentenced him to as much as 63 years!!!

For his inappropriate touching.

I guess he’s even luckier that it happened here. If it had happened in Singapore, we’d be talking about the arrival of his body from that far off island paragon of virtue and justice.