A sad story from Douglas County

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The criminal justice system in this country has always been an oxymoron. Bail is economically discriminatory. Justice is often determined not by guilt or innocence but by the skill or lack thereof of one's attorney, which is often directly connected to the fee he or she charges. Understanding there are always exceptions to the rule, people with substantial economic resources can afford the best attorneys, which in turn gives them the best chance of "beating" the charges against them while the poor and the destitute have to make do with an attorney appointed to them by the court, which tends not to encompass the same level of skill, knowledge, expertise and effort. In addition to the economic factor which weighs heavily on many cases that come before a judge or jury, we also have decisions and verdicts that make little or no sense at all. We often find ourselves wondering if the judge or jury heard the same testimony and evaluated the same evidence we did because their decision simply didn't make any sense. In addition to verdicts that often make no sense, many sentences make no sense either.


There was another "makes no sense" sentence earlier this week in Douglas County. Patrick Krause was in court facing third-degree assault charges and misdemeanor child abuse charges for hitting his son on the way home from a baseball game because the 9-year-old boy struck out twice. The boy's mother and Krause's wife, Joanna Draper-Krause, saw that her son had a black eye, a fat lip and a bruised ear when he arrived at his home in Papillion from the game in Omaha. She took him to Midlands Community Hospital in Papillion and, at the suggestion of police, she then applied for and received a protection order in Sarpy County that temporarily prohibited her husband from contacting her or their three children.


At trial, the wife stood close to her husband's side, crying, in front of the judge's bench. The defendant's son wrote a letter proclaiming him to be the greatest dad in the world. The prosecutor, obviously understanding the nature of domestic violence, saw this support as behavior typical of an abused family, with the abused sticking by the abuser, and asked Douglas County Judge Edna Atkins to send the defendant to jail. Instead, she fined him $750 with no jail time for hitting his son after he pled guilty to third-degree assault. In his plea agreement, the misdemeanor child abuse charge was dropped. This account was written by Lynn Safranek and appeared in the Friday Midlands edition of the Omaha World-Herald.


So even though the prosecutor recognized the dynamics of domestic abuse, unfortunately the judge didn't. No jail time, so no wake-up call to a grown man who hit his own son so severely that the results were immediately obvious to the wife. To her credit, she did what she should have done. She took the boy to the hospital and then requested and was given a protection order against her husband. However, one can only suppose she did these things before her husband was able to "talk" to her, since she obviously was supporting him at trial. She also, most likely, suggested to her son that he write a letter of support for his dad so he wouldn't be sent to jail. This is what abused families do and until the justice system understands the dynamics of domestic abusers and their victims and the permanent damage done to anyone subjected to that abuse, this cycle of violence that has reached epidemic proportions in this country will continue. Before reaching her decision, the judge should have perused the literature on domestic abuse. Case after case after case can be found similar to this one where the person being abused defends the abuser in a court of law. I'm personally aware of a situation where onlookers came to the aid of a woman being physically abused by her husband in public. The "good Samaritans" were rewarded by having assault charges filed against them BY THE ABUSER and the wife testifying FOR her abusive husband and against them at trial, which ended in convictions, fines, and probation for the men who came to her aid and nothing for the abuser.


The criminal justice system MUST do a better job of educating itself in this area of criminal behavior. It is against the law to strike another person unless you're acting in self-defense. It doesn't matter who that person is. No one has a "right" to hit anyone, whether it's a total stranger, your wife, or your child. And no one can forgive the offender for doing what he did. A son can't "excuse" his dad's behavior by saying he's the best dad in the world. A wife can't "excuse" her husband's behavior by saying that he's really a good man, or a good provider, or he works hard for the family, or he loves his kids, or it was her fault that he hit her or any of the hundreds of excuses women and children use to get their abusers off the hook. Striking people in anger is criminal and the people who do it are criminals.


The sooner the criminal justice system learns this and punishes the offender appropriately, the sooner it will have an impact on domestic abuse.


Does anyone truly believe this is the first time Patrick Krause ever struck his son? Does anyone truly believe he's never struck his wife? Does anyone truly believe he'll never strike either of them again?


There are many laws on the books with penalties attached that I don't necessarily agree with. We send too many people to jail for the wrong things. But this is not one of those. Any man who strikes his defenseless 9-year-old son or his defenseless wife ought to be made to pay the maximum penalty prescribed by law.


By "slapping him on the wrist", this judge has given this abuser permission to continue to "slap" as well.

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