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Opinion: Many Killers were "Basically Good" People

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Opinion: Many Killers were "Basically Good" People

Bill Daley, uncle to RJ Vanecko who was recently charged with involuntary manslaughter, said his nephew is basically a good kid.

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On Monday, your Ward Room blogger visited Dixon Correctional Center, where I met several murderers.

One was a deeply religious man, a spiritual counselor to his fellow inmates. For most of his 69 years, he had led an exemplary life. Except for that moment, in 1967, when he shot and killed a police officer who pulled him over for speeding. The man had lived 25,000 days. For 24,999 of them, he’d been a model citizen.

“You can do a thousand good things,” he told me. “But it only takes one bad thing to end up in here.”

I thought of that quote when I read what Bill Daley said about his nephew, R.J. Vanecko, who is facing a trial for delivering the punch that killed David Koschman eight years ago. Daley, the most articulate and intelligent of the brothers, again played the role of family spokesman in the case.

“He’s basically a good kid,” Daley said.

I’m sure Vanecko has a lot of good qualities. But freedom is not for those who are basically good, and have only killed one person. It’s for those who are entirely good, and have never killed anyone.

Vanecko has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, a Class 3 felony. Even if he’s convicted, he could be sentenced to probation, if the judge decides that, except for that one punch, he’s basically led a good life.

I can guarantee you he’ll get a lighter sentence than another inmate I met, who’d basically led a good life except for sticking up a man and shooting him. That guy was doing 65 years for armed robbery and attempted murder. He didn’t even kill anyone, as Vanecko has been accused of doing.

It’s common for friends and family of convicts to tell the judge that they’d led exemplary lives -- except for that one little mistake. But most convicts don’t have a family member who was Secretary of Commerce, or Mayor of Chicago.

 

This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.

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