Off With My Head

Those old enough to remember the 1970s may recall a rock musician named Ted Nugent. Mr. Nugent is still around and now lives in Crawford, Texas, near President Bush's ranch. He has become something of a right-wing hero and is heavily involved with the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun and pro-hunting groups.

Mr. Nugent also writes a column that appears in the Waco Tribune-Herald newspaper. His topic last weekend was a demand for the execution of all convicted child molesters. Whatever you may think of that idea, it is probably not an argument Mr. Nugent should be making, given allegations like these:

When Nugent turned 30, in 1978, he began a relationship with a 17-year old Hawaiian girl, Pele Massa, and became her legal guardian to comply with laws pertaining to relationships with minors.[5] This was covered in VH1's 1998 Behind the Music featuring Nugent, and included an interview with Massa. SOURCE

I searched around the web and found several other mentions of this story, along with a couple of others. I could not find any record of Mr. Nugent denying the allegations. If he does in fact deny them, I will be glad to publish a correction.

It is of course true that consorting with a 17-year-old girl is not the same as molesting a young child. In many places 17 is above the age of consent and such relationships are not illegal. It sounds like it was illegal in Hawaii at that time, since he went through legal maneuvers to avoid prosecution.

And that is the point. If, as Mr. Nugent says in his column, all "child molesters" should face mandatory execution, exactly how will we define the crime? What if, say, an 18-year-old-boy has consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl? He is an adult, legally speaking. She is not. She will literally hold his life in her hands. One call to the police and before you know it he's on death row. Is that what we want? We could discuss hundreds more such scenarios. Mr. Nugent himself could have been caught in the net.

The reason the law allows broad penalty ranges is so that judges and juries can consider each case on its own merits and take all the relevant factors into account when they issue a sentence. Mandatory sentencing laws are emotionally satisfying, but in fact they make it impossible to deliver anything resembling "justice" to the accused and the victims.

Incidentally, if the Waco Tribune-Herald was a real newspaper that paid attention to little things like journalistic standards, they would have disclosed these allegations about Mr. Nugent when they printed his column. They did not, though several people posted comments after the article pointing it out. I wrote a letter to the editor, which they have not published as of today.

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