Mandatory sentence tied the judge's hands in 'nanny' court...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

June 26, 1998

Mandatory sentence tied the judge's hands in 'nanny' court 0) case

The issue in the case of Louise Woodward is not guilt or innocence and is not the authority of a judge to override a jury verdict by downshifting a finding from second-degree murder to manslaughter.

The issue is the state of Massachusetts' blind adherence to mandatory sentencing.

In Massachusetts, the mandatory penalty for a finding of second-degree murder is a life in prison sentence -- no judge, no jury discretion.

The Massachusetts judge found himself between a very difficult rock and hard place.

There was a 17-year-old girl with no criminal history, unlikely to ever find herself in the same position again and eligible to be deported looking at a mandatory sentence of life in prison. On the other hand was an international, embarrassing situation covered daily and nightly by CNN and every other major news service and carried live in Great Britain.

As it stood, the entire system of American justice -- not just one state -- was at issue around the world.

In Maryland, the "nanny" might at best have earned a footnote on the local 6 o'clock news.

In Maryland, the judge, following a jury finding of second-degree murder, might have sentenced the girl to 30 years with (hypothetically) 29 years suspended or some amount of time in between.

The Woodward case proves how badly a state legislature can confound its courts with ill-considered limitations and why mandatory sentencing is stupid in any sense.

Nancy Moran

Baltimore A few things occurred to me upon reading "Scholarships supply high-tech incentive" (June 16).

One is the thought that this program will lure minorities into high-technology fields. I am a minority at the University of Delaware.

I chose mechanical engineering because of genuine interest. If someone isn't interested in a career in technical fields, failure will come at some point down the line -- in the classroom or the workplace.

Also, deans of engineering programs fail to realize that no formal systems are in place to ease the transition for minority students entering predominantly white universities. Programs should be developed to allow students to network with all types of students, not just minorities, when they need to bounce ideas off someone.

It is quite easy to get minority students to the door. Getting them through the program is the trick.

Therefore, along with the scholarships, schools should develop programs to promote networking.

Finally, employers seeking to hire graduates of these programs need to provide summer internship experience to supplement classroom instruction and allow students to gain experience so they can hit the ground running after they finish school.

Ricardo Blackett

Baltimore

Stopping, not maintaining, works best against heroin

I totally and strongly agree with one, and only one, point raised in Samuel Battista's response to the criticism of the recent heroin maintenance program on the drawing board in our city (`Give heroin maintenance a try instead of criticism," June 16). New approaches to such an age-old problem should be applauded, encouraged, even attempted.

I do not, however, believe that stopping a flood by casting sandbags into the middle of the wave is the answer. No raging fire was ever put out by aiming torrents of water across the flame but at the base where it seems to start. So, too, with the heroin epidemic. Maintenance, another word for upkeep, will only encourage drug dealers and smugglers to come up with new and different ways of getting drugs into our cities.

The closing of this particular window of profit and crime for

dealers will only open the door to an expanding and a more intensely competitive arena for dealers, with our metropolitan areas as the battlegrounds. Shouldn't taxpayers' hard-earned dollars go toward the prevention of drugs at the shorelines and borders rather than inner cities, where half the battle seems to have already been lost?

Crafton K. Gray

Baltimore

Bandleader Zim Zemarel brought joy to fans, friends

Carl Schoettler's swinging salute to Zim Zemarel was music to my eyes ("Swinging into the millennium," May 31). As a deejay in Baltimore from 1957 to 1991, I met Zimmy early and stayed late as his band played for our daughter Kim's wedding reception.

Mr. Zemarel was and, I'm sure, still is a joy to be around. In those dismal "payola" years, he was a class act in every way. His infectious smile got him more airplay for Columbia Records than all the folded-up fifties a few other promoters attempted to pass around.

One day in the 1960s, Mr. Zemarel said he was headed for Vegas and a Columbia Records bash loaded with headliners and closed to the public. He said he could get me in if I "just happened to be in Vegas that evening."

Much to his dismay, my wife and I were scheduled to stop there during a vacation. I accepted his invite.

He turned pale as even the local Vegas deejays weren't invited.

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