Nov 132007

Yes, the Santa Clara County Courts released a killer a few days back and he’s now walking the streets of Gilroy once again – and I couldn’t be happier about it! From the Gilroy Dispatch

Stephen Lake was sentenced to an unusually high 400 hours of community service, three years of probation and $2,110 in court and restitution costs at the San Martin Courthouse Friday afternoon for hitting and killing local bird-enthusiast Norm Watenpaugh Oct. 15, 2006. The 29-year-old Lake – who struck Watenpaugh about 7 p.m. while Watenpaugh was on the tail end of a two-mile walk following his 76th birthday party – could also have his license suspended or modified by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Lake – a trained emergency medical technician who stopped after the accident and tried to revive Watenpaugh – could have received a year in county prison and a $1,000 fine. However, Watenpaugh’s family wrote a letter arguing against this punishment.

That’s right, believe it or not, the victim’s family asked for leniency and the court actually granted it!

The family said incarceration would not benefit Lake or the community. Building birdhouses for the Audubon Society or volunteering with developmentally disabled youth – projects Watenpaugh was known for – would start to replace the thousands of community service hours Gilroy lost, daughter Norma Watenpaugh said during the sentencing.

“There’s not much you can do to replace a father or a grandfather, but there’s something (Lake) can do to put back service and charity in to the community,” she said, bringing her mother Michiko Watenpaugh to tears.

The judge, district attorney and even the public defender are all quoted in the article expressing various degrees of shock and amazement. The concept of someone rationally choosing an attempt to be made whole rather than to punish the perpetrator was completely foreign to all of them.

Under the traditional American system the victims family would actually be victimized twice: once when they lost the grandfather, and then again having to support the person who took his life while the ‘criminal’ sat in jail. Meanwhile society would receive nothing but a bill for his board and care while he was supposedly “paying his debt” to them. By having the perpetrator continue the community service work that his victim was doing, society is harmed as little as possible and may actually receive a greater benefit then if the crime had never occurred.

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