Judge Cahill's Betrayal

October 25, 1994

"I seriously wonder how many married men. . . would have the strength to walk away without inflicting some corporal punishment."

Those words have brought Judge Robert E. Cahill national notoriety -- and justly so. A 18-month work-release sentence for a man who fatally shot his wife after finding her in bed with another man might not be surprising from a judge in some benighted part of the world where men still hold sway over their wives' lives and fate. From a judge in Maryland such a sentence -- and the public sympathy from Judge Cahill -- is unacceptable.

Judge Cahill has betrayed a basic principle of American justice: Rage, however justified, is no excuse for murder. A wronged husband has many alternatives -- from a heated discussion to divorce -- but murder is not among them. A slap on the wrist and the sympathy of the judge sends a chilling message that domestic violence can be justified and explained away. That is a deadly precedent.

Whatever Judge Cahill's record in the past, the sentence he handed down in this case and the accompanying remarks are egregious enough to merit immediate scrutiny of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and perhaps even further attention from the General Assembly.

The handling of this case raises other questions. Why was

Kenneth Peacock, originally charged with first-degree murder, allowed to plead guilty to a lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter? The facts make that charge ludicrous. Peacock didn't shoot his wife in the first flush of a shattering discovery, but after a couple of hours of drinking and arguing. The alcohol was 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.

Of all the outrageous aspects of this case, perhaps the most telling clue that judges in Baltimore County just don't get it is the requirement that Peacock serve 50 hours of community service at a domestic violence program. It is not Kenneth Peacock's job to teach any lessons from this case -- he clearly has a lot to learn.

So does Judge Cahill. Starting with the principle that adultery is not a capital offense.

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