Mar 22, 2013 - By Steven R. PeckPlea-deal statements are an engrossing part of the process
The first of the sentences in the "Hudson homicides" has been handed down. Laziur Stephen Hanway will spend the rest of his life in prison. He is just 20 years old.
More sentencing will follow, most likely through plea agreements but perhaps through a criminal trial or two, as the justice system works its way through the complicated case in involving five defendants, one of them a minor.
Since the double homicide occurred in November 2011, coverage of it has taken on a weird type of entertainment value to the average Fremont County reader. Reporter Christina George has written exhaustively about the crimes, the investigation that cracked the case, and the seemingly never-ending series of courtroom hearings concerning the various defendants. George's newspaper work on the case earned first prize for general news reporting this year from the Wyoming Press Association.
But now that the case is getting closer to its conclusion, whatever abstract amusement might have been generated by the news coverage is replaced quickly again by the grim shock of the whole thing.
This was not a crime from a TV cop show, or a piece of pulp fiction from a magazine. This was the real deal. Eric Likes and Elva Quiver were real people, and they were killed in their home in a brutal way.
The defendants aren't a vaudeville stage act. They are young people who, their judgment muddied by alcohol, hatched first a robbery plot, then a murder scheme, and finally an arson-based coverup. None of it worked. At the time, one of the five alleged perpetrators was young enough to be in middle school.
Most criminal complaints these days are adjudicated, eventually, through the plea-bargain process, in which a defendant, faced with overwhelming evidence signaling almost certain conviction at trial, will agree to plead to a somewhat lesser charge and somewhat lesser sentence in order to see quicker justice and avoid the costs of a trial.
Some people complain that plea agreements allow criminals to get away with a larger crime by pleading guilty to a smaller one, but there is an engrossing aspect to the bargain process that is useful and revealing. Before a perpetrator's plea bargain can be accepted, the person must stand in open court and tell what he or she did. There is no defense attorney to protect the person at that point, no rules of evidence and testimony to hide behind or obscure details.
That's what Laziur Stephen Hanway had to do the other day. His plea statement becomes part of the permanent record of a bizarre and riveting case.
Want a lighter sentence? Fine. Plead guilty, then stand here and tell the public what you did. That process -- in which defendants put their deeds into their own words, as a judge, victims, families and other witnesses watch -- is an excruciating and revealing part of the punishment as well.