Plea agreements are based on many factors
Declaring at the outset that he would not comment directly on the Hernandez case, Brian Glenny, First Assistant District Attorney for the office of Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe, explained his office's view of such prosecutions.
"In any case that involves children," Mr. Glenny said in a telephone conversation with The Times last week, "the most important aspect of it, as far as the District Attorney's office is concerned, is what is really in the best interests of the child? Can you get a sentence that would be an appropriate sentence and still see that the child is not going to be emotionally harmed, then that is something we certainly want to look into.
"If you can find a way to resolve the case and not have to have the child testify I think that is certainly something that needs to be explored."
Times coverage of the Hernandez case attracted online comments to The Times website, mvtimes.com, that were often critical of what many comment posters complained was a light sentence.
Mr. Glenny said he understands that the public thinks some crimes are so heinous that they deserve the strictest penalties. "I do not think that impression is incorrect, but you have to look a little more deeper into how do you get to the point where you can get that type of a sentence," he said, making it clear he was not speaking of the Hernandez case specifically, "and would you even get that type of a sentence, say if the case were to go to trial."
Mr. Glenny discussed in general terms the process by which plea agreements are reached. He began by noting that Massachusetts law provides sentencing guidelines. "In each case," he said, "there is going to be a maximum sentence that can be allowed by the statute."
The prosecutors must assess each case's strengths and weaknesses, and then consider what would be a just resolution of the case. "Keeping in mind all the time," Mr. Glenny said, "that it is not just the facts of the case that are involved." There are other considerations, including a defendant's record of prior offenses and history of incarceration.
Another important factor, Mr. Glenny said, is the willingness of victims to come forward. A victim may be intimidated or afraid of what may happen if he or she testifies. In a domestic violence case, the prosecutor said, the victim sometimes has a change of heart by the time the case comes to trial.
In the case of children, Mr. Glenny said, a child's age or emotional or mental state, or the emotional stress of testifying as a witness against a family member must be considered.