Judge Cahill's grievous failure

October 19, 1994

Having weathered icy roads, a truck driver returns home to find his wife in bed with another man. Her fate? Shot dead by her husband, after several hours of drinking and arguing. His fate? Eighteen months in jail and the sympathy of Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill, who all but justified capital punishment -- vigilante style -- for adultery by intoning at the sentencing, "I seriously wonder how many married men . . . would have the strength to walk away without inflicting some corporal punishment."

If this were Saudi Arabia, or some other country where men held sway over their wives' lives and fate, the judge's remarks would go unnoticed. But this is a nation where anger, even rage, is no ground for taking a life. If Judge Cahill doesn't understand that simple fact of law, he has no business on the bench. This behavior is so egregious that it deserves the immediate scrutiny of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and perhaps even further attention from the General Assembly.

The case raises other questions as well. Why was a man originally charged with first-degree murder allowed to plead guilty to the far lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter? The facts of the case make that charge ludicrous.

Kenneth Lee Peacock didn't shoot his wife immediately upon discovering her infidelity, but rather several hours later. The alcohol he consumed during the interval was even cited as an excuse for his crime -- an ironic note in a state that has gone to great lengths to hold drunken drivers criminally responsible for every ounce they imbibe. Peacock's rage is understandable, but he had no right to kill his wife.

Yet he did, in a premeditated manner. And now the Baltimore County court system has compounded the crime by slapping him on the wrist. He will spend only 18 months of a three-year sentence in the county jail, with home detention if jail authorities approve. He will also be allowed work-release with his employer. Perhaps the most telling note of this outrageous sentence is a requirement for 50 hours of community service, working at a domestic violence program.

It is not Kenneth Peacock's job to teach any lessons from this case -- he still has a lot to learn. Neither is it Judge Cahill's job to sympathize with his rage. Rather, it is a judge's responsibility to ensure that murderous rage is taken seriously by the courts, and punished with the gravity it deserves. Judge Cahill failed grievously.

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