Editorial : Not enough
The news reports during the past months concerning the conviction of Mario Hernandez on charges of child abuse cannot have been more disturbing, horrifying, or sobering to Islanders. We generally think of ourselves and this community as beyond such ghastly behaviors. Indeed, the letters columns this morning include several examples of the sort of behavior we have grown to expect of ourselves and our neighbors. It is what makes us pleased and proud to be residents of these six towns. But, in the largest sense, there is obviously more to us.
We are reminded too often that while responsible, generous, neighborly behavior may be the rule among us, there are exceptions. And the exceptions lead to questions. For instance, do we pay enough attention to the sordid as it may require? Is it enough to deplore the behavior, and the response to such behavior by persons of responsibility, or is there more to do?
Certainly, based only on the overlong history of the vile behaviors documented on June 17 by Mr. Hernandez himself, as he entered his guilty plea, the answer to both questions is no.
This is not to ignore the frustrating, maybe impossible, difficulties that are part of any, even the most wholehearted public effort, to detect this sort of behavior, to investigate it, to protect the young victims, to bring the bad actors to court, to prosecute and convict them, and to impose meaningful penalties. It's a long, fraught road. In this case, authorities along the way made earnest efforts, within the constraints of the law, to affect what they knew was astonishing and appalling misbehavior, yet it continued for years and affected several undeserving youngsters.
As Times writer Steve Myrick has reported, allegations of child abuse present complex legal issues for school officials, police, social service agencies, and the court. The immediate safety of the children involved, the rights of defendants, and the possibility that a trial could take an unexpected turn, all play a role and sometimes lead to a sentence that the public criticizes sharply.
In the Hernandez case, Mr. Myrick writes, "the prosecution's case rested heavily on the testimony of the two children involved. Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard made it clear in the courtroom that the reason she had agreed to accept a plea agreement was to spare the children the ordeal of testifying. In outlining evidence she described as 'sickening,' Ms. Marshard said the Commonwealth would prove that Mr. Hernandez repeatedly hit the young children with a wire, a kitchen utensil, and a boxing glove. Mr. Hernandez, a native of El Salvador who is in this country legally, admitted to those facts in court, as part of his guilty plea. Ms. Marshard asked Judge Julian to impose a total of 9.5 years in a House of Correction, with only one year to be served. She said that if the case had gone to trial and resulted in a conviction, she would have asked for the full 9.5 years to be served.