At Long Last, A Judge With The Eloquence Of Roy Bean
I'M often surprised at how restrained and unemotional most judges are when sentencing some two-legged beast to prison.
It's seldom that a judge blows off steam for himself and society in general.
Most of them deliver lectures that are less harsh than some of my old principals gave us when we were caught sneaking a smoke in the boys washroom.
That's probably because some bar groups would start screaming that the judge was not displaying proper judicial decorum.
It's the position of the American Bar Association that judges should treat everyone with courtesy - even some creep who zaps children.
But as we're being overrun by criminals, maybe judges should start tossing some fire and brimstone into their sentencing speeches.
They might look to Judge W. Wyatt McKay for inspiration.
Judge McKay hears criminal cases in Trumbull County, Ohio. Recently, he had kind of a loathsome guy in front of him. The creep had kidnapped, robbed and repeatedly raped a young girl who was delivering newspapers.
When it was time to sentence the villain, Judge McKay said:
"When you slithered out of your hole that day, and you spewed your venom all over this defenseless 12-year-old girl, you made this court's top 10 hit list.
"I've had the misfortune of being involved with some of the lowest scum this county has to offer and you've made the top 10.
"In a way, the best sentence this court could give would be no sentence at all because if you left this courtroom, I don't think you would be alive 10 minutes. You are nothing but a weed, a weed among wheat . . .
"And when we have a weed, it's my job to eradicate the weed, because if I don't, you will choke the wheat.
"Therefore, I'm going to take you off the streets for just as long as I possibly can."
(The judge then ticked off long sentence after long sentence for each of the many crimes committed against the girl.)
"It means you aren't even eligible for parole until you're 92.
"That leaves only one more count, aggravated robbery . . . You stole this little girl's bra as a souvenir, probably to brag about it to your friends later on.
"Well, I'm going to give you a souvenir of Trumbull County justice. And that is, you will receive a maximum sentence of 10 to 25 on the aggravated robbery for the stealing of that bra.
"And I hope that in your last 25 years in prison that you remember that souvenir.
"Get this scum out of here."
Oh, I like that closing line: Get this scum out of here.
In a phone conversation later, Judge McKay, 46, said: "If sentencing is to have any deterrent effect at all in the community, it's necessary for judges to be pretty explicit, both about the crimes and about the criminals. It's a catharsis for our whole community to hear what's been done. And it's a catharsis for the judge, too, to tell you the truth. We hear a lot. But I remain within the bounds of judicial decorum. It's not like I spit and yell."
Was he familiar with the Gonzalez sentence once handed down by the legendary Judge Roy Bean, back in the days of the Old West?
He sounded surprised. "You know about that? The Gonzalez case? That's my inspiration. Got that right here on my desk. Want me to fax it to you?"
That wasn't necessary, since I have it on my desk, too. In fact, it's in one of my books.
And I should have guessed that he, too, would be an admirer of the prose of Judge Bean.
For those who aren't familiar with it, here is what that hanging judge said in about 1881 when sentencing a killer and all-purpose menace:
"Jose Manuel Miguel Xaviar Gonzalez, in a few short weeks, it will be spring. The snows of winter will flow away, the ice will vanish, the air will become soft and balmy.
"In short, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzalez, the annual miracle of the years will awaken and come to pass.
"But you won't be there.
"The rivers will run their soaring course to the sea, the timid desert flowers will put forth their tender shoots, the glorious valleys of this imperial domain will blossom as the rose.
"Still, you won't be there to see.
"From every treetop, some wild woods songster will carol his mating song, butterflies will sport in the sunshine, the busy bee will hum happy as it pursues its accustomed vocation, the gentle breeze will tease the tassels of the wild grasses and all nature, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzalez, will be glad but you.
"You won't be there to enjoy it because I command the sheriff of the county to lead you away to some remote spot, swing you by the neck from a knotting bough of some sturdy oak, and let you hang until you are dead.
"And then, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzalez, I further command that such officer retire quickly from your dangling corpse, that vultures may descend from the heavens upon your filthy body until nothing shall remain but bare, bleached bones of a cold-blooded, bloodthirsty, throat-cutting, chili-eating, sheep-herding, murdering son of a bitch."
Ah, Judge Roy Bean, where are you now that we need you?
But we are fortunate to have Judge McKay.
Get this scum out of here.
Nicely put, and my sentiments exactly.
Mike Royko's column appears Friday on editorial pages of The Times.
Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.