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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Turning Crime and Punishment Upside Down

July 15, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

You know, when it comes to crime and punishment I just don't have a clue anymore. Not a clue.

A "stun belt" is ordered used by a judge on a defendant in a courtroom, sending a jolt of electricity through the guy's body . . . just because he won't be quiet.

A convicted felon such as Susan McDougal, serving time for fraud and conspiracy in one case while still awaiting trial on charges of embezzling $150,000 in another, is permitted to leave the slammer and live under "electronic surveillance" at her parents' house . . . just because her back hurts.

A traitor to his country such as Christopher Boyce, of "The Falcon and the Snowman" infamy, sells government secrets, escapes from prison and robs a dozen banks, but is eligible to leave prison in 2002 and live in a halfway house . . . just because a parole commission officer believes he "is truly sorry for his past crimes."

I don't get it.

Look, I am not a hard-liner on crime. I don't subscribe to a "lock 'em up and throw away the key" philosophy.

I just don't understand why some people get the book thrown at them.

Just as I fail to see why others receive extraordinary leniency.

For example, Farinoosh Dalili.

*

She was in court Tuesday morning, in Torrance, to be sentenced for a crime.

So were a number of her friends, all of them there to offer their full support.

And many of them wept when the judge passed down his ruling, particularly since their friend the defendant had expected to get off with only probation.

"Roya" Dalili, as she is known, is 31.

She had a daughter named Natalie, 3.

But on March 3, 1997, feeling depressed, Dalili went up to the 10th floor of the Torrance Marriott Hotel, picked up her daughter in her arms and jumped.

Dalili somehow survived.

Her daughter didn't.

Depression is a terrible thing. It explains why people take their own lives. It explains why people who are too afraid to take their own lives go to visit a certain doctor in Detroit, or go to Oregon, where suicide isn't illegal.

But it doesn't justify taking someone else with you.

Especially a child.

I can sympathize if Dalili felt she was a victim of some form of spousal abuse, which her husband denies. (He has filed for divorce and is suing Dalili for their child's wrongful death.)

If she just couldn't bear another minute on this mortal coil, so be it. It's sad, it's gut-wrenching, yet it happens to people all the time.

But to kill a 3-year-old girl because YOU feel blue, that is not understandable. It is unforgivable.

Dalili told the judge if "I was in my right mind, nothing would have happened to my daughter."

Oh, I see. Temporary insanity.

So this is why a child's murderer doesn't get sent to prison for the rest of her natural life. Because she wasn't in her right mind at the time. I get that.

And since the mother is now confined to a wheelchair, and even had to attend her own trial immobilized in a hospital bed, she cuts a pitiable figure. I get that too.

It explains why Judge William Hollingsworth Jr. had such a delicate task in front of him. He had to decide what the state of California should do with an incapacitated woman who had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the jury having rejected murder charges.

In what he described as "a practical solution to a very difficult problem," the judge Tuesday passed sentence on Roya Dalili:

One year of house arrest.

For lifting up a 3-year-old girl and jumping off the 10th story of a building, a defendant's sentence is 12 months of living with her brother and sister.

And what did Dalili have to say about this after the sentence was handed down?

"I think I've been punished enough," she said.

*

I suppose in our hearts, we know how to separate the truly dangerous from the truly disturbed.

We can take it on faith that someone has been "punished enough" by presuming that it will be agonizing being forced to live with the memory of a terrible deed. A life sentence of feeling guilty.

Nevertheless, I can't help but side with the prosecuting attorney in this case, Alex Karkanen.

"House arrest?" he said indignantly. "She can't go to Nordstrom for a year?"

Dalili couldn't throw herself on the mercy of the court.

But she didn't have to.

She got it anyway.

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or phone (213) 237-7366.

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