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A grown-up crime

Sep 13, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The Rails to Trails suspects are being treated as adults, and it is justified

Civilized society is uncomfortable with the idea of treating minors in the same fashion as adults when it comes to criminal justice.

Generally speaking, that is a good thing.

Youthful indiscretions and poor judgment shown by minors usually ought not to be examined in the same harsh glare as crimes committed by adults who ought to know better.

But there are exceptions.

Two of them, apparently, were arrested last week for the beating death of one man and the savage injuries to a woman along the Rails to Trails recreation path in Riverton.

The two suspects, both in their mid-teens, are being prosecuted as adults. They appeared in court Thursday for the first time.

The Rails to Trails is viewed, practically speaking, as a public park. It is well-used by people of all ages, including families with children. It is open to all and largely unsupervised. There is an important sense of public trust among those who use it for its intended purpose.

This means that the citizens who go for a morning jog on the path or walk the dog for half an hour after work, or who take a stroll before dinner while holding the hand of a grandchild, or trot beside as Junior pedals along on training wheels, all need to feel the utmost confidence that Rails to Trails is a safe place to be.

This doesn't mean that everyone we encounter, or who encounters us, out on the path will be best friends. But it ought to mean that anyone using it can go about his or her law-abiding business without threat or assault.

The crime alleged to have been committed by Santana Mendoza and John Potter, ages 16 and 15, respectively, would be horrendous no matter where it took place. That it was perpetrated in a spot set aside specifically for the leisurely, wholesome enjoyment of the public adds to its severity.

This was an outrageous crime -- so outrageous that our society is ready to permit the prosecution of two citizens recognized legally as children. On most occasions, the legal protections afforded minors are legitimate. Sometimes, however, a line is crossed. Our county's prosecutors have decided that this is one of those times.

That decision is at variance with normal policy. But don't expect much objection. This was a grown-up crime. As a defense, "boys will be boys" just won't cut it.

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MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Thursday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office at 3:28 p.m., in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.

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