In 1994, killing a cheating wife is 'understandable'

October 19, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

It's the old story of boy meets girl, girl cheats on boy, boy kills girl with hunting rifle.

And then, in a neat little twist, boy gets off with just 18 months in jail, except, of course, for the time he's out on work-release.

So, we can add these elements to the plot line: Girl gets buried, boy gets slap on wrist.

Don't you love a happy ending? Maybe you heard about it.

This is the real-life story of Kenneth Lee Peacock and his wife, Sandra Kaye Sloan Peacock, and the kindly judge, Robert E. Cahill, who thinks that the wife really had it coming.

Cahill would say at the sentencing: "I seriously wonder how many married men . . . would have the strength to walk away without inflicting corporal punishment."

Or, for that matter, the strength not to blow a great big hole through the offending wife's head. That beats a scarlet "A" any time.

Maybe killin' your cheatin' wife seems extreme, outside the context of a country-western song. But the husband was, well, pretty miffed. What choice did he have?

As Judge Cahill might have put it, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Now we could seriously wonder which century Cahill thinks it is, but that would be getting ahead of the story, which begins as Peacock comes home unexpectedly from work to find his wife in bed with another man. He becomes predictably enraged, forces the other guy out at gunpoint, starts drinking heavily and then grows madder and madder and madder until, several hours after the fact, he picks up a gun and shoots his wife dead.

Peacock turns himself in. The state's attorney charges him with murder one.

But because plea-bargaining is as American as guns in the home, Peacock pleads down to voluntary manslaughter. (In Maryland, if you find your wife having adulterous sex and you kill her in a rage, it's voluntary manslaughter. The tricky part is how you define rage and how long you get to have this rage before it's just plain, simple murder.)

Now Peacock's fate is left to Baltimore County's own Judge Cahill. What's a judge to do?

The judge knows Peacock has committed a criminal act. He is, in fact, a killer. But what kind of killer? He probably isn't going to go shoot anyone else -- unless he marries again and finds his new wife in bed with some other man. He doesn't have a criminal record. He's just a guy who went nuts.

The judge is understanding. No, not just understanding. He is sympathetic. He wants to give Peacock a hug.

After all, he's a victim, too. His wife was stepping out. This is every man's worst nightmare, right? You're a cuckold. You've been humiliated. Your pride is hurt. You know where that inevitably leads. So, sure, you get your gun.

And so, sure, Cahill gives Peacock the 18 months, although the state's attorney had asked for three to eight years, which seems plenty lenient for killing someone, even if it's your wife.

But Cahill was sorry he had to sentence the poor man at all. The judge would say: "I am forced to impose a sentence . . . only because I think I must do it to make the system honest."

He didn't want to. He was forced to.

I'm trying to figure out which is more outrageous -- the sentence or Cahill's statement. You'd think a man smart enough to get appointed to the bench would be smart enough to know better, or at least act like he did.

He has moved alongside his colleague in judicial robes, Tom Bollinger, who last year didn't want to sentence the man who raped a young woman who was passed out drunk in his apartment.

Bollinger said the woman had "facilitated" the act. He also said that finding a woman passed out in your bed was "the dream of a lot of men." Yep, what red-blooded American male doesn't find unconscious women an irresistible turn-on?

Where do they find these guys? And isn't there any room for them in traffic court where they can't hurt anybody? No wonder people are clamoring for mandatory sentencing.

You give a guy 18 months for killing his wife and you might as well print up handbills encouraging people to shoot spouses who cheat, although I wonder if Cahill would have produced the same sentence if it had been the wife who put a slug through her cheating husband's head.

I wonder if he thinks a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do.

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