Friday, July 1, 2005

Justice for Sarah

Except for appeals that may grow out of her trial, Sarah Johnson finally understands the price of her grisly crimes—two life sentences for murdering her parents with chilling precision in their Bellevue home in September 2003. Justice was done.

Not even relatives who spoke in 5th District Court as part of Sarah's sentencing could find sympathy, compassion or understanding for the 18-year-old and her homicidal rage over her parent's disapproval of a boyfriend.

Her brother Matt delivered the harshest condemnation of all—he doesn't want to see her ever again.

From this lay vantage, Sarah Johnson's arrest, trial and conviction were results of impressive professionalism—from the investigation by Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, the Idaho State Police Crime Lab, Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas and his staff, and 5th District Judge Barry Wood.

But this crime was costly to the community in dollars, too. When final bills are rendered, taxpayers will have spent well over $1 million. In a large community, $1 million for a trial might be routine. However, in Blaine County, the Johnson trial set something of a record.

As we've noted previously, small counties that are expected to prosecute major crimes are severely disadvantaged when faced with trials like this. The costs are more than most county budgets can bear.

If small counties dealing with major criminal prosecutions are to fulfill their obligations to justice, the state Legislature must create and adequately fund a program of financial aid.

Otherwise, a small county might choose a plea bargain with greater emphasis on the "bargain" rather than on justice, leaving the public the worse for it.

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