Unjust Parole

Wednesday, December 5, 2007, 18:07 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

When I was in the fifth grade, a police officer in my town was shot and killed in the line of duty. It was—and remains, thank God—the only on-duty law enforcement death in the town’s 280-year history.

Yesterday, the man who committed the murder was granted parole. And I’m physically sick to my stomach.

Patrolman James J. Lonchiadis was shot in the heart on March 5, 1975, on Shrewsbury’s busy Route 9 commercial corridor by Edgar Bowser, a 16-year-old Rhode Island resident who was out to steal a car. For reasons I don’t recall, Bowser was allowed to plead to second-degree murder, thereby leaving open the possibility of eventual parole. First-degree murder in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts carries a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole, which seems to be a more appropriate punishment for taking someone’s life without extenuating circumstances.

The Parole Board, in their decision, indicates they have forgotten that punishment is one component of sentencing, the others being protection of the community and rehabilitation of the offender.

In its Record of Decision issued yesterday, the Parole Board said the brother-in-law planned the entire crime, placed the gun in the teen’s hands and convinced him that if he were to steal the car, the juvenile court system would not hold him accountable.

The board noted several reasons for its decision to finally grant parole to Mr. Bowser. The board said his overall conduct throughout his entire incarceration has been positive. It also said he had received only five disciplinary reports in his 31 years of incarceration.

“This gives the board some evidence that he would be able to follow society’s rules, as well as community parole supervision, and conform his conduct to that of a law-abiding citizen since he is able to do so in a prison setting, one in which there are an abundance of rules and regulations that an inmate must follow or be subject to discipline,” the majority board wrote.

The board also noted Mr. Bowser has completed 49 unsupervised furloughs without incident, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, completed a 50-hour course in tractor-trailer instruction and several programs aimed at reducing recidivism. He also is involved with Catholic Charities and Toastmasters International.

What the board failed to note is that while Bowser’s brother-in-law gave him the gun and instructed him to steal the car, he didn’t compel or coerce the teenager into killing someone. And that Bowser was well above the age of reason and had full control of his decision-making faculties when he pulled the trigger. And that the convicted killer earned those college degrees at taxpayer expense in all the free time he had while being incarcerated for his crime.

Nor did the board explain how participation in Toastmasters does anything to ameliorate the effect of his crime. Officer Lonchiadis is still dead.

His mother, now elderly, still faces each day without her son.

His son (now an officer in the Shrewsbury Police Department) and daughter are still fatherless.

The only difference between today and 33 years ago is that there is now another generation in the Lonchiadis family, one that will never know the grandfather who would be only 60 years old if he had been shown just a fraction of the mercy his killer received from the Parole Board.

These victims—not only the deceased but the survivors—are real people who have been harmed by Bowser in a way that can never be fixed.

So he behaved well in prison. How is that a reason to cut short his sentence? He wasn’t there being punished for misbehaving in prison, and rather than being given time off for good behavior, it would make more sense to give the guys who don’t follow the rules additional time for bad behavior.

And as for the contention that Bowser has been rehabilitated and can now contribute meaningfully to society, I would point out that he would have plenty of opportunities to do good in prison, where people have more of a need for good role models. Let him do his good works with them. To use his new found sense of morals in that manner would be an admirable and appropriate way to continue what should be a lifelong effort to atone for his act.

The bottom line is that Bowser may no longer be a danger to society, and he may be rehabilitated. But there is still the punishment component of his sentence. The unprovoked taking of human life warrants lifetime punishment, even if the killer turns into Mother Teresa. That is the third component of just sentencing, and it would have been nice if the Parole Board hadn’t forgotten about it yesterday.

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