(via SourceFed, CNN) There was an event a few days ago in Shiner, Texas, in which a man allegedly found a man molesting his five year old daughter. The father beat that man into submission, and, it turned out, to death.
I didn't know what to think about that -- and that bothered me. It seemed like a pretty big deal, and the issues surrounding it make me feel like it demands a forceful response. Certainly, a lot of people have the very strong reaction that the man should absolutely not be punished.
I'm pretty good at being dispassionate, but my gut definitely pulls me towards agreement -- I find it hard to justify thinking that the father should go to jail for this. But I also feel uncomfortable with the idea of letting that line be drawn anywhere between acceptable and unacceptable killing between civilians. Further, if there's any time when temporary insanity makes sense as a reason someone shouldn't go to jail for a murder, it's this.
But I think I've figured out how I feel about this, and what I think should happen. My conclusions are below the fold.
First. There should be due process regarding determining whether the accused deceased was actually molesting the five year old girl. This could be difficult, and might ultimately be inconclusive. But if the state comes to a conclusion, that should inform what happens next.
If the deceased is found guilty, then the father should be tried, but I would consider it a gross injustice if he wasn't found innocent by way of temporary insanity. The circumstances of his crime are in that case so extraordinary that it's reasonable to expect he's not a continued threat to society. (And I have no sympathy for anyone who might recreate those circumstances.)
If the deceased is found innocent, the father should be tried, and the severity of his punishment should reflect both what he believed was happening, and how reasonable his mistake was -- he might not be safe to go free if he flies into that sort of rage any time someone's in the same room as his daughter, but if by some extraordinary series of coincidences it can be shown that the deceased was definitely innocent, but that the father was definitely justified in believing he wasn't, that's probably roughly equivalent to the deceased having been guilty, in terms of justified sentencing.
If it can't be determined whether the deceased was guilty, the trial should proceed, and I would expect the father to be found innocent, and at worst suffer a very light sentence.