Maximum sentence is not enough

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Most of like to see something good in everyone. The class bully, a bratty neighbor kid, a demanding boss. Stand back, and with time, we may see that the bully is actually insecure, the neighbor child is starved for attention, the boss has unbearable pressures of his own.

Many of us will even extend the benefit of the doubt to outright criminals -- the thief addicted to drugs, the jealous spouse caught in a crime of passion -- we can even understand greed or hatred without condoning them.

But try as we might, Dennis Rader is beyond understanding.

The 10-time sex killer who gave himself the name BTK for "bind, torture, kill," was sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms on Friday, with no chance of parole for 175 years.

It was little solace to the families of his victims to be able to vent a fraction of their pain at Rader's sentencing hearing in Kansas. Calling him "social sewage" was too kind.

With a local television station with headquarters in Wichita, Southwest Nebraskans have been following the BTK killing spree since it began 30 years ago.

Starting in 1974, and ending in 1991, Wichita-area residents were on edge, wondering who might be next, and whether the man next to them might be BTK. Investigators were right in thinking that the serial killer had a "normal" life, blending in with society.

But few of us could image the monster that Dennis Rader turned out to be. We learned his true nature during televised replays of his talks with authorities.

Showing little remorse, the power hungry dog-catcher and weed-enforcement officer referred to the killing of his victims as "putting them down" and as just another "project."

Taunting police through messages and packages, Rader was attention-hungry as well as power mad. "It was the saddest day of my life," he said once -- not referring to the day he was caught by stupidly sending police a computer disc with damning clues. Instead, he referred to the day when interrogators decided they had had enough of him.

Wisely, prosecutors asked the judge to bar Rader from seeing or listening to news reports about his murders, prohibited from possessing anything with which he could draw or write about his sexual fantasies, and disallowed from making audio or visual recordings other than for law enforcement purposes.

Rader's rambling, disjointed statement at his sentencing proves that he still cannot see beyond himself to those he has killed and the families he has devastated. Rader couldn't be sentenced to death, because Kansas had no death penalty at the time the crimes were committed.

Under the circumstances, his sentence was the best authorities could do. But 10 life sentences won't be long enough for him to begin to pay for his crime.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: