The Elton John Richard II case is a perfect example of what happens when someone arrives at one of these pivot points and fails to recognize the predictable outcome of a simple choice. It’s only fitting that we examine some of those points – points where different choices could have led to a far less tragic outcome.
It all started years ago when Daniel Romero chose to involve himself in activity that could only be described as risky and one that ultimately led to his demise at the hands of a determined Marine. Make no mistake - Daniel Romero sealed his fate when he chose a life of larceny. His family argued at sentencing that Romero had helped people along the way - it's probably even true - but the simple fact is Romero chose to make stealing from others a part of his life.
(Sidebar)Perhaps Romero's worst choice and biggest mistake was to try and steal from a man who had the training and the determination to protect his property and his family. His last choice was to try and flee from justice and the detention that he rightly deserved.
Folks, armed robbery should be a dangerous occupation. One should certainly give serious consideration before deciding to go into the field. Societies' mistake is that we’ve created a system of laws, legal precedents, and administrative rules that serve to protect offenders and endanger the rest of us.
If you’ve ever wondered why we’ve got such a huge problem with auto-theft in the Albuquerque area the answer is simple – APD is not allowed to pursue a criminal that is fleeing in a stolen vehicle. The result is predictable, somewhere around 600 vehicles are stolen every month. More importantly, criminals know about the policy. So what do you think they do when an officer attempts to pull them over… what would you do?
Now take a look at the actions of Romero's victim. Yes, victim. There's no other way to describe a man who will be serving a two year prison sentence for making sure that Romero would never pose a threat to society again. Remember, Romero is dead today because he chose to flee from justice – that choice cost him his life.
From all accounts Richard made every attempt to take Romero into custody – repeatedly ordering Romero to stop and lay on the ground. If Richard had simply wanted to execute Romero it would have been far simpler to shoot him in his yard. Richard chose to protect his property, he chose to protect his family, and ultimately he chose to protect the rest of us.
There were other choices along the way... The DA chose to prosecute, the defense chose to enter a no contest plea, and the judge chose to sentence Richard to two years in prison and order him to pay the family $500 a month.
This is where we believe Judge Murdoch erred. The admission of guilt inherent to the no contest plea gave the judge a tremendous amount of discretion. Unlike Romero, Richard chose to remain at the scene, he chose to enter a plea accepting the consequences under the law, and he chose to face a judge without remorse, accepting the consequences of his actions.
(Sidebar)Now Governor Bill Richardson faces a choice. Whether or not commute the sentence of a Marine whose only crime is serving justice by attempting to detain for prosecution a convicted criminal. We think the choice is an easy one. Commute the sentence to time served and drop the AFLAC for felons provision. Crime shouldn’t pay - not for the criminal not for the criminal’s family.
Is it just us or does it seem strange to pay the family of the deceased (not victim) $500 a month for five years when they're at least partially responsible for the choices that Romero made? It's kind of like life insurance for thieves designed to replace the income lost from their ill-gotten gain. Talk about theft - Richard kept his Bronco and thanks to Judge Murdoch now has to pay the family of a thief enough to buy them one.
It's too bad that Romero ended up dead. But the truth is Romero's record of armed robbery indicated that his fate would more than likely have been the same even if he'd faced a less competent adversary. More importantly, it's hard to predict how many innocent victims Romero would have created along the way and how many bodies might have been left in his wake.
As a society we need to take a very long hard look at the laws governing administration of justice by civilians. We as a people have a right and a duty to do everything within our power to protect our families and our property from people who would take them from us unlawfully. If we truly want to be safe, we need to take part in our own protection. The Constitution guarantees us that right and there’s little doubt that the founding fathers intended that we play a role and take responsibility for our own safety.
In the meantime, we need to address the immediate concern of Elton John Richard II. Under the law he may be guilty of a crime (and has admitted as much), but to us he's a hero that made all of us just a little bit safer.
----- Post Script -----
We've seen a couple of references to the lack of remorse that Richard showed at his sentencing. Why should this be an issue at his sentencing? It seems to us that Mr. Richard faced his sentencing in the same manner as he faced a felon attempting to steal his property and flee... with clarity of thought and without emotion. Otherwise, Mr. Richard would have simply shot the offender in his yard and avoided a mile and a quarter run.
You need to ask yourself whether or not a police officer involved in the exact same sequence of events would be required to feel remorse. First of all, he would have never been prosecuted, but should he have felt remorse anyway? We'd say absolutely not.
Remember, there's right and wrong and then there's the law and they don't always overlap. Mr. Richard may have been guilty under the law but in our opinion, his actions were not wrong and completely justified. We applaud Mr. Richard for facing his sentence without pretense and without a false display of emotion even knowing that such a display would more than likely have reduced his sentence. That takes courage and the conviction that you did everything right and shouldn't be held against him.
The executive powers of pardon, clemency, and commutation were meant for cases like this. The founding fathers understood that the law is not always applicable and created a safety valve to be used by executives to right a wrong in specific cases where the law cannot or should not apply. Governor Richardson wields that power here in New Mexico - he should use it to right the wrong perpetrated by the courts in the name of a law that should not have been applied.