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Saturday, July 28, 2007

"Is 61 years in prison enough retribution?"

"Notorious triple murderer William Heirens seeks parole yet again."

The Chicago Tribune asks this question in a featured story and the correct answer is: For this child murderer, 61 years is not enough. He should spend the rest of his life there, as was intended in the first place.

But, yet again, we're being asked to (a) have mercy on this diabetic old guy because he's been in prison long enough, and (b) let him out because he's no murderer, the poor guy.

This public plea for forgiveness/justice comes around as regularly as Halley's Comet, ever since Heirens became the poster boy for the "wrongful conviction" crowd. Freeing William Heirens would be their crowning achievement, a blow against a criminal justice system that they believe is inherently flawed. Heirens confessed to his crimes, not that it mattered to these folks. They're playing Heirens to inflate their celebrity, because that's how they get the grants and contributions that keep the game going.

The wrongful conviction crowd has done quite well for itself, freeing a number of prisoners whose DNA has contradicted the evidence of their guilt. They've done fine work in exposing the brutality that was allowed to continue for too long in the Chicago Police Department. We all should be glad when innocent people are freed, even though its not clear whether the guilty received undeserved forgiveness with the innocent when former Gov. George Ryan freed or commuted sentences for a bunch of them. Ryan's was a cynical act, designed to burnish his image in the face of his own criminal prosecution. It didn't work, but the wrongful conviction folks were pleased to have him on their side. In a way, they deserved each other.

Heirens didn't have the benefit of DNA evidence back in the 1940s when he pleaded for his life for the grizzly murder of Suzanne Degnan and two others. Suzanne was snatched from her bedroom and later found dismembered in Chicago's sewer system. Heirens says he was coerced to confess to escape the state's own grizzly justice in the electric chair.

Heirens and his handlers have this down to a fine art, coming up with a question here, a seeming inconsistency there and a Plan B finger pointed at someone else. Just enough "evidence" to raise doubts about Heirens' guilt.

But it's BS.

I'm not going to go into the details yet again; years ago when this waltz started I interviewed the prosecutors at the time at length, examined the documents and talked to the Degnan family about their own certitude. I'll just say that I believed then that they got the right guy, and I still believe it. The criminal justice system 60 years ago intended that he should be in prison the rest of his life, and that's where he belongs--not just for the brutality of his crimes, but for the integrity of the system.

Heirens' handlers, though, aren't dummies. Quite the contrary; they've got great PR savvy and a determination to never give up on their poster boy. First, they thought that they could convince everyone that Heirens was innocent, so he could be freed with no strings attached in front of the cameras in what would be a beautifully self-serving PR coup.

No one other than the ideologically blind bought this innocence line though, so it required a change in strategy: We won't talk about his guilt; we'll play the compassion card. This poor old guy has suffered enough. Who can he hurt now? He long ago met the criteria for parole. He's the longest serving prisoner in Illinois history.

Having previously learned a lesson about how negative public reaction can sink Heirens' bid for freedom, they kept a low profile this time. The problem was that they needed to put some public pressure on the parole board without giving the Degnans and opposing forces time to make their voices heard. So, the plan was to allow an in-prison interview with the pathetic creature, so that a mostly sympathetic story would appear a few days before the parole board hearing. Make it a big spread complete with a tape of the harmless old guy in his wheel chair. No tape, of course, of the Degnan family or the prosecutors. And from Heirens, not a word of contrition or of comfort to the victims' families. Ever.

It's a simple plan, and so far it's working beautifully. The TV cameras will be there when Heirens is wheeled out prison and into the waiting arms of his handlers. They'll receive their plaudits and more grants will flow. And during it all, a little girl's brutal murder will be forgotten


S. Sherman said...

I agree with you that they probably got right guy. Heirens convicts himself every time he opens his mouth.

Feel free to read my website on the subject:

Anonymous said...

The man was charged for three crimes, 2 30+ women who were found, bodies cleansed, faces wrapped in an article of the women's clothing and apartment in shambles. The a small child dismembered and scattered in the sewers. If you look at serial killers as much as anyone else you'll realize that all three murders could not have been commited by the same person. The shame felt in the act of covering a face and cleansing a body does not match dismembering a child and scattering her body parts.

so lets take for an instant that Heirens murdered only the little girl. Her parts were found in sewers leading south from Kenmore, Winthrop, Ardmore and Hollywood avenues. These streets all lead south from the murder scene. The placement of the parts were outside of a normal criminal's comfort zone which usually makes up the pattern of him dropping off his crime as he goes home. Heirens lived much farther north and west of where the body parts were found along with the knife that he confessed to using on the little girl. Why would someone walk the parts south of the crime and leave the weapon 7 blocks north? There was also no evidence that this was the murder weapon.

Another point is that the child was dismembered at the joints, requiring a medical skill. Heirens who was a history major, although a bright boy, knew nothing of surgery. The surgical kit they did find, which he stole, was far too small to be able to cut up a cat let alone a child.
Other points: his handwriting did not match neither the ransom note of the girl nor the lipstick scrawl on the women's wall mentioned earlier. The ransom note also contained many mispelled words such as "waite" and "safty" which would not be a mistake made by a boy starting college at the age of 17. He was much more educated than to make those mistakes.

Just take that into consideration before you condemn a man