As you probably know by now, Juan Leonardo Quintero was sentenced to life in prison today for the murder of decorated Houston Police Officer Rodney Johnson.
I will not criticize the decision of the jury, because I wasn't there, and I don't know what they saw or what did or did not factor into their decision.
That being said, I think the decision is a travesty.
I believe that whenever a person thinks of what the ultimate police officer should be, that they need only to look to the example set by Officer Johnson. A veteran police officer who had stayed in the patrol division like Officer Johnson did is clearly an officer who likes being out and interacting with his community and doing everything in his power to improve it. The stories of his bravery, dedication, and kindness resonated throughout the trial and the media's coverage of it.
To put it mildly, the term "a credit to the Force" doesn't seem to have even scratched the surface in describing this fine man.
On the opposite end of the spectrum of good and evil, we had Quintero.
A convicted sex-offender and previously deported felon who, after shooting Officer Johnson multiple times in the back and head, called the dying hero a "nigger" in his final moments.
The jury had two questions to answers in deciding his fate.
The first was whether or not Quintero would be a continuing threat to society. The jury answered that he would.
The second was whether or not there was evidence that was sufficiently mitigating that would warrant a life sentence be imposed, rather than death. This question is commonly referred to as the "safety valve" question. If a juror finds any reason from the evidence that life is more appropriate than death, they only have to answer "yes", and Life it is. The Quintero jury did not reach a unanimous verdict on this, rather they reached a 10-2 verdict that the answer was yes. That was all that was required by law.
Where the jury found mitigation is beyond me. Quintero was raised in a strict household where none of the other children had turned out to be cop killers, and his "insanity" defense had been rejected during the guilt/innocence phase.
Playing arm-chair quarterback, I think the jury just didn't want to give a death sentence to someone.
Because God knows that if anyone deserved to die for his crime, it was Juan Quintero.
The District Attorney's Office was represented by three of the best prosecutors in the building: Lyn McClellan, John Jordan, and Denise Bradley. If they couldn't secure the death penalty against this monster, then nobody could.
What I fear is that today's verdict is more reflective of the changing attitude of our society, specifically in Harris County, Texas. When voices are more vocal in support of a child molester/cop killer than they are for one of the most honorable peace officers to ever hold a badge, what does that say about the shift in our values?
Have we really gotten to a place where victims of crime, and advocates of victims of crime can be shouted down by those who argue that it is the law (not to mention those who enforce it) which is barbaric, rather than the criminal? Do we really want to celebrate that somewhere Danalynn Recer is toasting her great success today, while the Johnson family is left to wonder what it was that made this crime somehow less deserving of the ultimate punishment?
Susan Johnson, Officer Johnson's sister, said that in prison, Quintero would most likely join one of the prison gang's and be a celebrated member by virtue of the fact that he killed a cop. I fear that her statement is nauseatingly accurate.
Tonight, my heart goes out to the family and the memory of Rodney Johnson. I have so much admiration and awe of the job that Peace Officers of Harris County do every day.
No single officer seems to have embodied those qualities which I look up to more than Officer Johnson.