Oft forlorned by the public policy of Fayette County Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson, we must nevertheless rise in his defense on the question of whether killing somebody in an accidental car wreck is equal in moral gravity to killing somebody over a woman.
The correct answer is that if it ever is, then not very much.
The state law of Kentucky allows juries who convict people who cause fatal wrecks to choose from a garden variety of crimes, ranging from murder — for somebody who commits a wanton act and is extremely indifferent to human life — to manslaughter, for those wanton, but not indifferent to human life, and to reckless homicide, for those who merely deviate grossly from the standard of conduct a reasonable person would observe and fail to perceive the risk caused by that conduct.
If you have had a little to drink, enough for a low range B.A., or if you are taking illegally what the rest of the county takes legally, then the law says you were aware of risks whether you were or not.
If you did not understand the previous paragraph, take comfort. Juries never understand it, lawyers can't understand it, and the official comments following the statute mocked it, saying that the standards to choose between offenses "cannot be cited as an example of linguistic clarity."
So, people are convicted not on the level of their errant conduct, but by its result. Juries, like legislators, find grief to be irresistible.
Groups like M.A.D.D., whose motives are pure, do great disservice to the rule of law by making it nearly impossible for a legislator to correct legislative error.
Juries pick the crime not according to the vague, rather poetic, instructions they get, but by how mad they get.
Thus, a young man in our region spent almost a year in jail, before conviction, on a high bond, and after conviction on no bond, before being freed by the Court of Appeals who said that the only thing he had done called reckless was to use excessively worn tires below the speed limit.
Where was the outrage for that year in jail? Mothers, where were you when a portion of a young man's life was taken away?
It would be hard to imagine a punishment equal to the gravity of 11 Mennonites losing their lives at once. Why do we all so greatly admire Mennonites and Amish but refuse to live like them?
By chance, I was in Lancaster, Pa., the day after the schoolhouse massacre and heard massive outpourings of affection which the locals had for their Amish, who promptly went about forgiving the murderer and went on farming.
They may not get closure, the latest government entitlement, but they will get closer to closure than families who want revenge.
But talking on a cell phone, while stupid when driving, is not equal to killing those Mennonites on purpose.
Larson was in on the birth and early nurturing of the current penal code, primarily authored by professor Robert Lawson, the hillbilly from the Kentucky section of West Virginia who will be described by anybody who took him as the best teacher they ever had in their life.
He now acknowledges that the current state of the law is fraught with problems. Nowadays, it is mainly the commonwealth attorney who must assure the integrity of the system when it comes to the prosecution of fatal car wrecks. Many otherwise good prosecutors will shed themselves of a little of their integrity rather than confront the grief of victims' families.
Now, I promise. This is the very last time I will defend Ray Larson.