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We'll wind up at Jilly's
July 17, 2010 7:30 PM   Subscribe

In 1992, on a rainy night in Palm Springs, a drunk driver took the life of Jilly Rizzo, long-time pal of Frank Sinatra. Jeffrey Perotte (then 28) was an alcoholic "who had the papers for court-ordered alcohol rehabilitation sitting in the glove box of his car". He ran from the scene as Rizzo burned to death, and then attempted to convince officers that it was not him who had been driving, but his girlfriend. Sentenced to life, Perotte (website) 'turned his life around' in prison, earning three degrees along the way. He has come up for parole four times, with "a file full of testimonials from prison guards, counselors and even, twice, the judge who sentenced him," but has been denied each time. "What we've been dealing with all along," [his father-in-law] said, "has been the hidden hand of the Sinatras."
posted by woodblock100 (104 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
The FA doesn't want to open for me, but it seems to me that when a drunk driver hits somebody and flees the scene while they burn to death, it's not unreasonable to expect they would still be in jail two decades later.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:37 PM on July 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


Why is it not unreasonable? Their suffering does nothing to bring back the victim. By all accounts, this man fully realises the horror of his actions and is prepared to spend the rest of his life in prison if that is what happens. What further purpose does imprisonment serve, other than retributive justice?

If he is released, not only will a family have a husband and father again, but the world will have one more person fiercely advocating against drunk driving.

This is another symptom of a broken system of justice and punishment.
posted by twirlypen at 7:41 PM on July 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


"What we've been dealing with all along," [his father-in-law] said, "has been the hidden hand of the Sinatras."

Good for them?

Seriously. If you get drunk and kill someone, enjoy your life in prison. Whether you "turn it around" or not.

Or, you know, don't be a manslaughter waiting to happen in the first place.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:42 PM on July 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


doesn't open ...

The link I provided was to the 'full page' version of an LA Times newspaper story. This is the story starting at the beginning.
posted by woodblock100 at 7:43 PM on July 17, 2010


It would have been nice if they explained *how* the Sinatras might be involved.
posted by gjc at 7:44 PM on July 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


Blaming the Sinatras for this discounts the fact that there are a lot of us out here who have lost loved ones due to the irresponsible decisions of individuals who choose to use drugs or drink and then drive.

I have no pity for this individual.
posted by HuronBob at 7:45 PM on July 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


"What we've been dealing with all along," [his father-in-law] said, "has been the hidden hand of the Sinatras."

Wow, that's really ominous. The hidden hand of the Sinatras, is that anything like the random hand of getting killed by a drunk, driving a half ton of deadly sober steel at you?
posted by nola at 7:50 PM on July 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


"By all accounts, this man fully realises the horror of his actions"

By all accounts he doesn't have access to vodka, a car, a freeway, other drivers who don't know a drunk driver is about to kill them, etc.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:50 PM on July 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why is it not unreasonable? Their suffering does nothing to bring back the victim. By all accounts, this man fully realises the horror of his actions and is prepared to spend the rest of his life in prison if that is what happens. What further purpose does imprisonment serve, other than retributive justice?

If he is released, not only will a family have a husband and father again, but the world will have one more person fiercely advocating against drunk driving.

This is another symptom of a broken system of justice and punishment.


It may be, but let me clarify: Although I'm not sure this man's punishment seems unfair (I don't think it does, but I also try to be of a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God state of mind when stuff like this comes up, and I do think rehabilitation should matter), I think the real issue here is whether the Sinatra family has had something to do with keeping him imprisoned. Maybe so, maybe no, but given our justice system, I don't see any reason to look at this case and automatically assume there's a conspiracy happening; it sounds like business as usual.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:53 PM on July 17, 2010


His website... is a joke... this guy is working towards making big money doing presentations in high school auditoriums...

I'm done... this is too close to home for me...
posted by HuronBob at 7:54 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't believe in the immutability of character. I don't believe that Justice is about punishment as much as it is about social order and rehabilitation... one delivers hatred and violence, the other delivers a just society. I believe in the redemption of Man, with or without a God.

Drinking while driving, and then letting your victim burn alive is unforgivable, and justice must prevail.

Coming to truly understand the evil that you have done, and then spent every waking hour to redeem yourself since?

Justice must prevail.

Society must be served by Justice, and so redemption must be a concept Christians have to acclimatize themselves to. Tough, I know, but...
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:00 PM on July 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


That said, if he's hamming it up rather than being real, back into the clink you go!
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:01 PM on July 17, 2010


doobey doobey doo
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:02 PM on July 17, 2010


It's still Frank's world and we're just living in it.
posted by briank at 8:09 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


More ominous than the hidden hand of the Sinatras is the apparent lack of belief that many of you have in the correctional aspect of the correctional system. "Lock 'em away forever, no matter what", eh? And what about when the system completely screws someone over, as it often does for under-monied individuals?

Not your problem, I guess.
posted by anarch at 8:12 PM on July 17, 2010 [18 favorites]


The implication here seems to be that the Sinatras are somehow behind the decisions to deny parole. Besides the quote from the father in law ("the hidden hand of the Sinatras") where does this idea come from? And is there any proof?
posted by ericost at 8:13 PM on July 17, 2010


It's still Frank's world and we're just living in it.

Yeah, course... Jilly Rizzo isn't living in it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:14 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's not perfectly clear is if the family's famous affiliations really had any more sway than any other family who interacted with the parole board in the same way.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:21 PM on July 17, 2010


I got a malware alert from his website.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:21 PM on July 17, 2010


Not your problem, I guess.

I don't believe that being in jail makes you bad by default. I believe if you suck, and what you do hurts other people, the bear that eats your face is a good bear when he eats your face, and then a bad bear when he eats the face of a little old lady who did nothing wrong. But that your face needed eating, noone can gainsay.
posted by nola at 8:23 PM on July 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


What further purpose does imprisonment serve, other than retributive justice?

And what the fuck is wrong with "retributive justice"? You write as though it is a given that imprisonment must serve some end besides mere imprisonment. For some crimes, it doesn't and shouldn't.

redemption must be a concept Christians have to acclimatize themselves to.

Many of us are not Christians.
posted by Asparagirl at 8:24 PM on July 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


He tries to spread the blame to cannabis use....booooo.
posted by telstar at 8:29 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some people objectively deserve what they get. Or, nothing happens for no reason. Or everyone is guilty for the whole. Or everyone deserves what they didn't get. Just a simple syllogism, from the mind of a mad man.
posted by nola at 8:30 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


At some point, society has to draw a line. There are acts so monstrous that the only just punishment for those acts is the permanent removal of the offender from society. Call it retributive justice, if you like, but there has to be a point where one's actions place one beyond rehabilitation. Whether what this guy did crosses that line, I really don't know.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:31 PM on July 17, 2010


> Some people objectively deserve what they get. Or, nothing happens for no reason. Or everyone is guilty for the whole. Or everyone deserves what they didn't get. Just a simple syllogism, from the mind of a mad man.

Er, shit happens, eh?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:31 PM on July 17, 2010


For this sort of crime, I think life is prison is the least amount of punishment he should get.

This story is only a story because Frank Sinatra is tangentially involved. It makes me sick when I hear about people who repeatedly get DUIs and then are allowed out of prison to go and drive again.

Case in point is Leonard Little, who was with the St. Louis Rams. He was driving drunk and killed a woman in an accident in 1998. His only punishment? An 8 game suspension, probation, and community service.

Little should be in prison for life, and this man should also not be let out.
posted by reenum at 8:33 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just out of curiosity to those that think enough is enough for this guy...how much time should one get for walking away, while another man burns to death, due to your actions, then trying to pretend that it was an innocent person you supposedly love that committed the crime? About the only way this crime could have been worse is if he'd set out to commit it, which one could argue he'd done as soon as he'd turned the ignition.

It sucks his life is being wasted, but sucks he wasted a life.

I have no idea what a reasonable amount of time is for a crime like this, but I'm not seeing an injustice (yet). Get back to me in another 20 years.

p.s. Nancy paid me $20 for this opinion.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:36 PM on July 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


"More ominous [...] is the apparent lack of belief that many of you have in the correctional aspect of the correctional system."

As an alcoholic, I have zero belief in the idea that homicidal drunk drivers are "cured" by being locked away. Removing access to booze and a car will keep them from killing people and elicit plenty of realizations. But it's super easy to not drink and drive in prison.

Dude had a chance to not get drunk and murder someone. Plenty of chances.

Plenty. Of. Chances.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:36 PM on July 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


Er, shit happens, eh?

Yeah, more or less.
posted by nola at 8:37 PM on July 17, 2010


Goodbye, Teddy
August 26, 2009 1:40 AM
posted by ocherdraco (659 comments total) [add to favorites] 9 users marked this as a favorite [!]

posted by haltingproblemsolved at 8:39 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


You don't mess with Frank. Even though he's been gone twelve years. Never. Ever.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 8:43 PM on July 17, 2010


I might have felt a sliver of sympathy for the guy if I hadn't read his website.

The site is an unctious, self-aggrandizing nightmare. Ostensibly, it's about helping people to stop drinking and driving, but the vast majority of the info presented is about what a wonderful human being Perrotte is, and how much he and his family have suffered. He does admit responsibility for the killing, of course; flatly and without dissembling-- but it's something he absolutely has to do if he wants to get parole, ever, and I'm sure he knows that.

Obviously, I don't know the man. Maybe the website isn't showing him in the best light, but honestly, the impression I get is one of manipulative narcissism, not of uprightness and reformed character.

And God, I cannot imagine running away and leaving another human being to burn to death, especially if I'd caused the fire. Uggh.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:53 PM on July 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Drinking and driving and killing someone as a result, that's one thing. Horrible, awful, selfish, but I can see someone turning themselves around and becoming a contributing member of society after.

Running away while the person burns to death (which means there was a possibility (perhaps slight) wherein they either could have lived or at least had some human comfort at the end)? That goes over a whole new line. Stay in jail for a few decades type of line.

Try to blame someone else for the whole thing in addition? Lying selfish coward who should stay put, despite his plans for contributing to society personal enrichment.
posted by batmonkey at 8:54 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I might have a smidgen of pity if this guy had stuck around when the accident happened, but he fled the scene and then blamed someone else for it, his own girlfriend. Reprehensible.

If he spends another couple of decades in prison I wouldn't mind too much.
posted by zardoz at 8:56 PM on July 17, 2010


how much time should one get for walking away, while another man burns to death, due to your actions, then trying to pretend that it was an innocent person you supposedly love that committed the crime?

Well, the whole point of restorative justice is to avoid punishment. Where I live, the most famous case is Reena Virk, where a group of students essentially helped murder a girl about 13 years ago.

Two teens were charged; one (a 17-year-old boy) admitted guilt. The other, a 16-year-old (I think) girl did not.

The boy went to jail. The girl was convicted of murder, received a prison sentence, but has repeatedly appealed, a mistrial repeatedly declared, and repeatedly retried. I think another trial will start sometime in the next year.

The boy went through a process of restorative justice. He was able to understand the magnitude of his crime (murder of a 15-year-old girl) and how much he hurt her parents. He now enjoys a close, trusting relationship with the girls' parents, and will be paroled soon.

The girl has never admitted her guilt (despite being convicted several times for the murder). She has been left in a limbo of trials and prison, and has never been able to move forward in her life.

Needless to say, she is still causing Reena's parents pain.

Restorative justice seems more humane, and more aimed at repairing and healing damage. Punitive justice doesn't help anyone, not the victim, the family of the victim, the perpetrator, or society at large.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:05 PM on July 17, 2010 [10 favorites]


I don't think who he killed is having much effect on whether or not he gets paroled. Leaving the scene and returning with a patsy, though...
posted by Lazlo at 9:10 PM on July 17, 2010


Enough is enough. Let him out, already.
posted by chance at 9:10 PM on July 17, 2010


I find the "I don't care if he ever gets out" attitude that's dominating here pretty crazy. My perspective on this is slightly skewed, because I'm a lawyer who represents, among others, drunk drivers. I've never represented a client who was involved in an accident where someone died, but the difference between a drunk driver who kills someone and one who doesn't is really just random chance. So the question is, how reprehensible is it to drive when you're drunk, and then to flee the scene of the accident?

The answer is pretty reprehensible, but this is the kind of thing that happens to individuals who aren't terrible, irredeemable people. Alcoholics drink, and they frequently drive and that's terrible and dangerous, but we have ways of dealing with it other than just locking them up. There's SCRAM, there's Interlock.

Fleeing the scene of an accident is bad, but it's also something that every single person in this thread would do under the right circumstances. Something shocking happens, something terrible, you panic and you make a bad choice. Here someone died because of it, but at the time you don't know that, and you're not thinking; you're reacting. This can literally happen to anyone, and the "I would never act like that" you're thinking is just self delusion.

I'm not saying he shouldn't have gone to jail; he should have, and for a pretty long sentence, but I guarantee you that since he's been in jail someone has intentionally murdered someone, served their sentence, and been released.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:13 PM on July 17, 2010 [43 favorites]


I might have felt a sliver of sympathy for the guy if I hadn't read his website.

I've gotta disagree, at least for the home page (didn't read any farther).

He described what happened to Rizzo as murder pretty clearly, admits he did it after being warned on the dangers of drunken driving and admits shame trying to foist the responsibility on to his girlfriend.

The stuff about his grandmother's death in 1955 at a drunk's hands (a murderer just like him) and how he hurt his mother again 37 years later felt pretty heartfelt to me.
posted by codswallop at 9:16 PM on July 17, 2010


In addition to the 'punishent vs rehabilitation' aspect to a prison sentence, there is also the question of prevention - the knowledge that a particular punishment will inevitably follow a crime being a factor in preventing further such crimes. This only becomes possible when punishments are indeed carried out, and seen to be carried out.
posted by woodblock100 at 9:18 PM on July 17, 2010


The guy is doing his time and seems to have remorse. A horrible crime, and a horrible conundrum. I would hate to be in his shoes. I would also hate to be any of the family of the man he killed because he was driving drunk. Most of all, I would hate to be in a position to determine whether he served another period of however many years in prison or not.
posted by blucevalo at 9:18 PM on July 17, 2010


Breaking the rule about not posting after midnight...

Bulgaroktonos... your view of mankind astounds me... that this is something that "every single person in this thread would do under the right circumstances..." leave someone to burn to death...??? good lord, who do you think we are?

In 1990, while riding his motorcycle, my son Sean was killed by someone who eventually acknowledged that he had been smoking pot prior to pulling out in front of Sean's motorcycle in an SUV. Sean died instantly as he laid down the bike and the SUV ran over him. Sean was a gifted photographer, a kind and loving person, the world is a lessor place without him.

This was a mile from my house... The village police chief pulled into my driveway, told me there had been an accident... when I asked him "is Sean OK?", he just shook his head and offered to drive us to the hospital. My life, and everyone who loved Sean lives was changed forever.

The driver of the SUV got off with a "failure to yield" ticket...

I sincerely hope that the driver of that SUV, who I never met, I never talked to, has moved on with his life, I hope he has eventually found some peace... whatever happened to him made no difference to the pain and grief we felt.

But...that said.... if he had been convicted of the crime he committed... that is getting behind the wheel of a 2 ton piece of steel while under the influence of a drug that prevented his being able to drive that vehicle... I would have no problem with his still being in jail.. he killed my son.....

This individual doesn't deserve our compassion..he made a decision to drive while drunk...he can live with it...
posted by HuronBob at 9:22 PM on July 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


In addition to the 'punishent vs rehabilitation' aspect to a prison sentence, there is also the question of prevention - the knowledge that a particular punishment will inevitably follow a crime being a factor in preventing further such crimes. This only becomes possible when punishments are indeed carried out, and seen to be carried out.

Drunk driving is probably the poster child for this theory, since there's a lot less drunk driving now, in part because people started going to jail for it. That said, do you think people are really thinking "well, I could drive drunk and hit someone and kill them, and I'll only get 18 years!"

Bulgaroktonos... your view of mankind astounds me... that this is something that "every single person in this thread would do under the right circumstances..." leave someone to burn to death...??? good lord, who do you think we are?

My view of mankind is perfectly reasonable. It's not that we're all monsters, its that Mr. Perrotte just isn't THAT bad. Do you seriously believe that he looked back, saw that someone was going to die, and made a cooly rational decision that he would rather have that person die than go to prison? Seems unlikely. It seems a lot more likely that he hit a car, knew he was probably going to jail, and ran without knowing what was going on. People panic, and we they panic, they don't always display the better aspects of human nature.

This individual doesn't deserve our compassion..he made a decision to drive while drunk...he can live with it...

I cannot possible understand the pain you felt, and still feel, but this is completely wrong. Every individual deserves our compassion; that doesn't mean we shouldn't send them to prison, but compassion is the least we can do.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:34 PM on July 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


I guarantee you that since he's been in jail someone has intentionally murdered someone, served their sentence, and been released.

Truth. But Metafilter is actually being kind in only advocating this sort of sentencing for someone convicted of vehicular homicide. My local paper's comments are full of reasoning, whenever there's a DUI story, that driving drunk is the moral equivalent of intentional murder and should be punished by (say) life in prison.

Mostly, it's Internet Tough Guyism. But frankly, as anarch basically said, I wonder whether the only people in America who still believe in rehabilitative corrections are those actually in the system.
posted by dhartung at 9:38 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


do you think people are really thinking ...

No, of course not. The idea is that people must learn to think, "I'd better not drink and drive, because in addition to possibly hurting someone, I may screw up the rest of my own life."

HuronBob - when I made this post, I was hoping that it wouldn't be something that caused one of the readers to re-live this kind of experience. My optimism was misplaced, and for that I am sorry. But thank you for sharing your experience with us; discussing this sort of topic in the abstract is one thing, in the personal is another.
posted by woodblock100 at 9:42 PM on July 17, 2010


This can literally happen to anyone, and the "I would never act like that" you're thinking is just self delusion.

The millions of drunk drivers who didn't flee the scenes of their crimes, leaving behind the burning-alive bodies of their victims, are evidence that you're full of shit. The millions of drunk drivers who didn't blame their wrecks on their innocent girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse, thereby framing them for manslaughter, are evidence that you're full of shit. The millions of people who didn't drive drunk in the first place are evidence that you're full of shit.

This can literally happen to anyone

EXCEPT THAT IT DOESN'T. It "happens" (oh, and nice use of the passive, transitive, guilt-denying verb there) to a very very very small number of people in the world.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:44 PM on July 17, 2010 [9 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos... thank you for your comment.... and, I do respect your position, as a defense attorney you have a responsibility in this regard...

however... "but compassion is the least we can do....."... yes, we need to be compassionate, but, as we do that, we can hold individuals accountable for their decisions, for their behaviors and choices...

I guess my point here is that, regardless of the position or power of the Sinatra family (if, in fact, that influence is true), this individual took a life, our society has laid out the penalty of doing so... he made a choice...
posted by HuronBob at 9:45 PM on July 17, 2010


No, of course not. The idea is that people must learn to think, "I'd better not drink and drive, because in addition to possibly hurting someone, I may screw up the rest of my own life."

I get that. My point was that, by doing 18 years in prison, he's already screwed up a huge portion of the rest of his life. His life is ALREADY the cautionary example; he doesn't need another few decades before his story starts being a deterrent.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:46 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Setting aside whether the Sinatras have any influence or not, and speaking generally rather than about this case in particular... these days, it is extremely rare for anyone sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in California to actually ever be granted parole, even when she or he is repeatedly and unreservedly recommended for parole by the parole board. This extreme rarity is unusual in the much longer history of parole laws.

LA Times article:
"Until the 1980s, when a succession of tough-on-crime governors came to power, parole was routine for those sentenced to life who showed evidence of rehabilitation."

This American Life radio story:

ACT ONE. HASTA LA VISTA, MAYBE.
In California, Maryland and Oklahoma, the governors canoverrule parole boards' decisions to free prisoners serving life sentences. In all three states this has evolved to the point where very few prisoners get released. For years Nancy Mullane followed the case of Don Cronk in San Quentin Prison, to see what would happen as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reviewed his case. Though Cronk knew the odds were against him, he found it hard to stop himself from believing he'd get out. Nancy Mullane is writing a book called Life After Murder and putting together a two hour documentary on other lifers in Don's situation. (27 minutes)

posted by Bwithh at 9:49 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


And what the fuck is wrong with "retributive justice"?

I generally like retributive justice, but what the fuck is wrong with retributive justice is that it often fails to provide a coherent justification for the punishments that are meted out in its name.

This case is a good example because Peroette is serving a life sentence for second degree murder. That is, although Peroette intentionally took grave risks with others' lives, the conviction doesn't rely on Peroette making a premeditated decision to kill Rizzo or anyone else.

Suppose that Peroette got home without hitting anyone. He could be charged with a variety of crimes, but he couldn't be charged with second-degree murder, since, well, no one is dead. Peroette could have taken the same grave risks with the same mental state and received a vastly different sentence. If that is true, it appears that a portion of his punishment relies on how lucky or unlucky he is. Unless we're prepared to say that luck is a relevant consideration, that conclusion is repugnant to a system of justice that claims to match punishment to moral culpability.

One solution to this problem is punish attempted crimes with the same severity as completed crimes. That works pretty well for first degree murder -- why should a would-be assassin get a lighter sentence because he has bad aim -- but it doesn't work well at all for second degree murder. Peroette wasn't trying to kill anyone. He almost certainly hoped he would get home without incident. Assuming that he couldn't have saved Rizzo by staying at the scene, whatever culpability he has relies on his realizing his plan to drive while intoxicated. That plan was completed as soon as he got on the road, whether or not he would later kill Rizzo; there's no "attempt" there.

We could impose a legal fiction that attempted second degree murder is any activity that would be second degree murder proper were someone to die as a result, whether or not someone does in fact die as a result. That would address the culpability issue, but only partly. Since we're basing the punishment on the gravity of the risk run rather than the outcomes, it would be unfair not to scale punishment on the basis of the gravity of the risk. What if Peroette had one more drink than he did, or one less? And how handily can we compare risk across different types of risky behavior that threatens others (like falsifying records before safety inspections)?

I can see why that kind of retributive system might be desirable, but that's not the system we have, nor is a system that many people want. And so what the fuck is wrong with "retributive justice" is that what we call "retributive justice" is that it is applied highly selectively, such that it looks like no justice at all, but mere revenge.
posted by Marty Marx at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2010 [19 favorites]


woodblock100... thanks...but, no apology is necessary. In fact, if this post causes anyone to think carefully about their decisions, you've done a good thing.... thanks...
posted by HuronBob at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2010


I have no comment on this case in specific. On the subject of drunk driver punishment and release, in general, I can say that as somebody who has had somebody close to me (albeit not a family member) killed by a drunk driver I am fully on-board with the idea that people can reform themselves and, done carefully, should subsequently be released so that they can contribute to society rather than be a burden to it as a prisoner.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:51 PM on July 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


he doesn't need another few decades before his story starts being a deterrent

Actually, I think I would disagree. Surely if all of us understood (clearly) that 'life' meant just that - live in jail until you die - wouldn't the deterrent aspect be considerably strengthened? (As opposed to the current assumption that you will get out in a shorter time ...)
posted by woodblock100 at 9:52 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's making a mistake. Then there's making a mistake that hurts or kills someone, and owning up to it. Then there's making the same mistake, over and over again, showing no signs of stopping despite people working very hard to help you stop, until you kill someone -- and then doing everything you can to convince people it was everyone else's fault but your own.

Honestly, if that's your track record in life -- not taking responsibliity for your own actions, before or after you cause a horrific thing to happen -- I wouldn't want you out and about, either.
posted by davejay at 9:55 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


In addition to the 'punishent vs rehabilitation' aspect to a prison sentence, there is also the question of prevention - the knowledge that a particular punishment will inevitably follow a crime being a factor in preventing further such crimes. This only becomes possible when punishments are indeed carried out, and seen to be carried out.

This argument only works if there are people out there who decide to drink drive because hey, I'll get out on parole after 18 years! Suckers!

He made a series of terrible decisions, he continually failed to realise the potential consequences of what he was doing, and his education came about in the worst possible way. I'm not trying to defend his actions at all, I just don't understand what purpose is served by keeping him locked up. If he were to be released and prevented from getting a driver's license until he proved he doesn't drink any more, who is harmed?

I guess I think there's always some redemption to be had (not in the religious sense), and that a person shouldn't be condemned for the rest of their life due to a series of bad decisions eighteen years ago.
posted by twirlypen at 9:55 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


"the conviction doesn't rely on Peroette making a premeditated decision to kill Rizzo or anyone else." so.... he was unable, unwilling to consider the ramifications of drinking and driving??? When you choose an action, you choose the odds of good and/or negative results... his decision WAS premeditated....
posted by HuronBob at 9:55 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I should go to bed, but once last post to respond.

Huronbob, my main point about compassion is basically why I do what I do. I don't get many of my clients off, and frequently I can't even get them lighter sentences; what I do get them is someone who acknowledges that they're more than just whatever they did to bring them to court.

The millions of drunk drivers who didn't flee the scenes of their crimes, leaving behind the burning-alive bodies of their victims, are evidence that you're full of shit. The millions of drunk drivers who didn't blame their wrecks on their innocent girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse, thereby framing them for manslaughter, are evidence that you're full of shit. The millions of people who didn't drive drunk in the first place are evidence that you're full of shit.

Well, obviously, I didn't say that every one of us, would every time we were in a similar situation, behave identically. My point was that Mr. Parrotte was not respond to some abnormal, unique to terrible people, motivation, he panicked and his response to panic was very human, even if it was the worst of normal human responses.

Glorifying the horror of the acts of criminals is just a way of othering the people who commit crimes. It treats them as if they're a distinct type of person, so unlike ourselves that we know we could never do whatever horrible thing they did. For the most part they're not, though. They're normal human beings who make normal human mistakes with tragic consequences.

I know the drunks who flee the scene of an accident, they're not monsters who don't care if anyone dies; they're people who are scared and make bad choices. I hope that if I were in their shoes, I would make a better choice, but I know that there's a chance I wouldn't.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:03 PM on July 17, 2010 [16 favorites]


We make the grand mistake in justice when we compare the victims' fates with those of the perpetrator.

It is comforting to do so. It puts our minds at ease. Emotionally, it makes sense. But that doesn't make it any less of a fallacy.

The guy did something absolutely awful, while drunk. He then tried to pin it on someone else, which adds to how horrible his actions were.

Since then, he's had 18 years of incarceration to deal with the consequences of his actions, and seems to have gotten the message loud and clear in that time. So the question isn't "what do his actions in 1992 deserve?" but rather, "what purpose does his further imprisonment serve?"

Rehabilitation? Seems like it's done. We can hope, anyway.
Prevention? I don't know the guy, but I would also hope that after almost two decades for this shit that he wouldn't be drinking anymore, or at least drinking and driving, but the law can keep him from ever obtaining a license again, at least.
Retribution? It's a bullshit concept built on the fallacy I mentioned above. "Fuck him" is not a good enough reason to keep someone away from his family.

Additionally, it seems far more likely to me that his going around and speaking about how drunk driving robbed him of seeing his child grow up might prevent more people from doing the same thing than his incarceration would.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:05 PM on July 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


It would have been nice if they explained *how* the Sinatras might be involved.

Every person is assigned a role at the start of the game. You are randomly sided with either the village, the mafia, or a third party. During the night, the mafia secretly meet and discuss to decide who they want to kill, while other power roles decide what to do. During the day, the village players must figure out who is not sided with the village and get rid of them. [more inside]
posted by pracowity at 10:21 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


woodblock100: “The idea is that people must learn to think, ‘I'd better not drink and drive, because in addition to possibly hurting someone, I may screw up the rest of my own life.’”

There is an immediate and glaring problem with this line of reasoning; namely, it's clear that a system of justice based solely or even primarily on fear of retribution simply does not work, because it teaches human beings absolutely nothing about what justice is or what it means.

But even if you ignore that immediate problem, choosing this particular case as an example makes no sense whatsoever. Even a fool knows that when you want to make an example of people, you choose a glaring example that everyone will notice, and you make it clear precisely what you're trying to call out in making them an example. Otherwise, there are mixed signals, and no one anywhere actually gets the message. There is clearly no message to be sent here by making an example, because so many things went wrong that the message can only be confused. If we punish this fellow severely, what message are we sending? 'Don't drive drunk'? 'Don't kill people when you're driving drunk'? 'Don't act like an idiot and lie about it after you kill people when you're driving drunk'? See, this is far too complex a case. The person on the street is apt to see it and say: 'ah, well, it's okay if I drive drunk – so long as I don't kill somebody.' Or 'maybe it's even okay if I kill somebody, as long as I don't lie about it.'

No. That's not how you make an example. It's an irrational waste of life. What you've got to do is find someone who didn't kill anybody, someone who is in fact otherwise perfect in every way, but who was caught driving drunk. Ideally, they should have been driving perfectly, not even breaking any traffic laws. To make a perfect example, you'd have to find the best, most wonderful, honorable person, and catch them driving (albeit perfectly) while intoxicated. And then, to make a perfect example, you should execute this person in the most public and dishonorable way. That is how you induce respect for the rule of law by making an example of someone. That way, the message is clear: it doesn't matter how nice you are, it doesn't matter what other good things you may have done, it's the drunk driving that we will not put up with.

It's surprising to me that so many people talk about wanting to "send a message to criminals" that injustice will be punished by meting out harsh sentences, and yet so few seem to have really thought about how you really go about sending messages to the kind of people who only do justice through fear of punishment.
posted by koeselitz at 10:29 PM on July 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


whatever culpability he has relies on his realizing his plan to drive while intoxicated. That plan was completed as soon as he got on the road, whether or not he would later kill Rizzo; there's no "attempt" there.

Like you, Marty Marx, I've wondered about the fairness of punishing people for unlucky outcomes, and rewarding lucky outcomes as well. It does seem that society in general has signed up for the judge-the-outcome position. If you win the lottery, you're a lucky guy. Flat tire without a spare, and you're a loser.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:29 PM on July 17, 2010


@HuronBob: I didn't preview before I posted, so I didn't see your comment about your son. You have my sympathies, and my assurance that I am not trying to minimize the severity of Peroette's crime, or argue that he is not responsible for Rizzo's death.

I agree that he was perfectly capable of considering the ramifications of drinking and driving. His decision to do so, despite the obvious risks to others' lives, is reprehensible, and both morally and, here, legally culpable. But that decision, the premeditated decision to place others at risk while hoping nothing goes wrong, is different from the premeditated decision to kill someone and to try one's best to intentionally bring about his or her death.

For that reason, retributive justice is a problematic framework for explaining Peroette's punishment. We're saying he's morally culpable because he decided to drive while drunk. Whether or not he actually kills someone seems irrelevant to that culpability, but it would nevertheless have had an effect on the severity of the punishment. Solving that apparent unfairness may not be possible, and even if it were, it would seem to require us to give up the existing system of justice. This is a problem for retributive justice that may be easily handled by competing theories of punishment, not all of which turn on his culpability.

Again, I'm not saying that what he did was not wrong. It was wrong. I am saying that retributive justice is problematic insofar as we don't seem to punish people in accordance with what we take to be their culpability, and it may not even be possible to do so.

To be fair, I'm also saying that the actual system of justice selectively invokes the name of retributive justice as PR for the actual theory or theories of punishment it employs, but that's a separate matter. For what it's worth, I think we'd all be better served by restorative justice for just about everything, but it's difficult, and perhaps impossible, to implement in any appreciable scale.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:33 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Asparagirl: “And what the fuck is wrong with "retributive justice"? You write as though it is a given that imprisonment must serve some end besides mere imprisonment. For some crimes, it doesn't and shouldn't.”

It adds insult to injury by making the victims of crimes into craven, wicked, cruel, heartless wretches. It encourages human beings to believe that causing suffering is a good thing, and that it's right to take pleasure in watching other people go through pain.

In fact, you don't actually believe that retributive justice is a good idea.

But if you still think that you believe that it's a good idea, I wonder: would you really, for example, put the execution of drunk drivers in the hands of the families of the victims? If you really think retributive justice is sometimes proper and good, you ought to accept that true retribution wouldn't call for such silliness as a ban on "cruel and unusual punishments." True retributive justice would put a knife in the hand of the rape victim, tie her rapist to a chair, and leave them alone in a room together to let her do what she saw fit with him.

If you have any problem with this scenario at all, you're not actually in favor of retributive justice.
posted by koeselitz at 10:42 PM on July 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure what I think on this one. Perotte seems like kind of a jerk, he was a repeat offender, and he ran away to let someone burn to death. That is enough for me to be biased against him. However, upon reading the article, it sounds like Rizzo should not have been driving either, as it was raining and he was nearly blind in one eye. He could very easily have been the one to hit and kill someone else because of that (I grew up in a retirement community and fatal accidents from senior citizens hitting other drivers were about as common as fatal drunk driving accidents). I wouldn't feel safe with either one of them on the road.

If he's sincere about never driving under the influence again and devoting his life to public awareness, I don't think parole should be out of the question. Next time. Or the time after that.

I don't see how the Sinatras had anything to do with his not getting parole, though.
posted by wending my way at 10:54 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd like to know how this guy's sentence stacks up against other fatal DWIs. Given the truly, horribly mild sentences given in some notorious fatal DWIs here in New York, 18 years seems extraordinarily long.

One thing that bothers me about this story is this: drunks don't have judgment. You can think that he's a horrible person because of the outcome but if he's truly an alcoholic, then expecting him to make good decisions isn't going to work out. I am not defending him. Anyone who's sobered up or been to AA knows that he has to make amends, take his punishment; the question is, how severe it should be.

As far as running away and leaving the guy "to roast to death" as Nancy Sinatra so indelicately put it, I didn't see anything that said he'd seen this. And again, his judgment was shot.

HuronBob, I am so sorry about your son.
posted by etaoin at 11:16 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Asparagirl wrote: "For some crimes, it doesn't and shouldn't."

I just want to say I completely disagree with that statement. There are some crimes whose perpetrator is unlikely to be rehabilitated, and thus never be likely to be a good candidate for release, but that doesn't mean everyone who commits that crime can't be rehabilitated.

At some point, if a person reoffends, there is simply no choice but to separate them from society, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

I think the parole board is in a much better position to judge than we are, so I'm not posting this because of any injustice to one particular person, but to plead with people who believe that justice should be focused on retribution to reconsider. That sort of thinking is how you get to be Oklahoma.
posted by wierdo at 11:16 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


[One small thing: I'm going to repeat the line that I always repeat in threads about justice and punishment – the fact is that punishment is done for the sake of the person being punished, in order to set them right with what they've done. Plato was right – it is worse to do injustice than to suffer it. When people do terrible things, they harm themselves by removing all of the dignity of their moral being. Punishment exists to restore it. If we as a society doesn't believe in punishing people in order to save them, then we may as well just start throwing people away whenever they do something that offends us or hurts us too terribly deeply. But my experience is that, when we try to base justice on our feelings or our sentiments, we almost always go wrong; what's more, if we really believed that punishment exists to give retribution or to make an example of people, we would be forced to carry that view to its rational conclusion, which would be more monstrous than most of us have ever contemplated.]
posted by koeselitz at 11:30 PM on July 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't see how the Sinatras had anything to do with this ...

In retrospect, I regret my inclusion in the OP of that line from the newspaper story. There is more than enough 'meat' in this episode - the question of whether or not this man should be released - without the need to resort to pseudo-sensationalism. There was no need for me to try and 'sell newspapers'.

It's so easy though, to fall into that sort of thinking, to try and draw attention ... Anyway, apologies ...
posted by woodblock100 at 11:43 PM on July 17, 2010


Nothing wrong with including it, since the Times seemed to think it important. But I wonder how it got into the story and how Nancy Sinatra ended up being quoted. The Times should have either included them and further explain the accusation with some facts, or leave it out. They certainly hinted about a Sinatra family connection but there's no evidence presented here.
posted by etaoin at 11:47 PM on July 17, 2010


Hey, how's that Lockerbie guy doing?
posted by Xoebe at 11:50 PM on July 17, 2010


twirlypen Why is it not unreasonable? Their suffering does nothing to bring back the victim. By all accounts, this man fully realises the horror of his actions and is prepared to spend the rest of his life in prison if that is what happens. What further purpose does imprisonment serve, other than retributive justice?

If he is released, not only will a family have a husband and father again, but the world will have one more person fiercely advocating against drunk driving.


Should this apply to every person who's ended another's life? Reform, show remorse, start a family and get out early? Or any criminal? Should such a precedent be set?
posted by mnemonic at 12:02 AM on July 18, 2010


Navelgazer: “So the question isn't ‘what do his actions in 1992 deserve?’ but rather, ‘what purpose does his further imprisonment serve?’ Rehabilitation? Seems like it's done. We can hope, anyway. Prevention? I don't know the guy, but I would also hope that after almost two decades for this shit that he wouldn't be drinking anymore, or at least drinking and driving, but the law can keep him from ever obtaining a license again, at least. Retribution? It's a bullshit concept built on the fallacy I mentioned above. "Fuck him" is not a good enough reason to keep someone away from his family.”

I'm not talking necessarily about this case – I don't much like debating actual current cases like this, as it's impossible that any of us are really fit to judge, if we haven't heard all of the evidence and actually seen what's going on – but those are not the only reasons to imprison someone or to continue to imprison them. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the process of justice that is, I believe, quite commonly misunderstood on both very polarized sides of the debate on criminal justice.

To be specific: "rehabilitation" doesn't make much sense as the central goal of benevolent punishment. "Rehabilitation" presumes that crime is done through a sort of inadvertent sickness, disease, disorder, or other unintentional malady; if a person is being "rehabilitated," it doesn't much make sense to call what they've done a crime at all, in fact, except insofar as a crime is a technical breaking of the law. If what people most need is to be "rehabilitated," then they're just in the same position as really poor people who haven't been given the chance in society as other people, for example. Nor is "prevention" a clear goal; if punishment does its job at all, it's clearly a net result, but if it were the central goal it would be enough to lock up criminals for the rest of their lives, since that would prevent crime. I believe that both of these perspectives on punishment - rehabilitation and prevention of relapse - have their roots in the behaviorist models of human behavior, because they define things solely on the basis of how people might statistically seem to act: do they act as though they've been fixed? Is relapse observed or not?

But I don't believe that's an adequate way to view the state criminals are in. Punishment doesn't exist primarily to teach them how to live, at least not directly; that's not punishment, it's a sort of community college or something. Punishment exists to return to them their moral dignity by giving them a free exchange by which they can pay for the wrongs they've done. That's the most important thing punishment can do.
posted by koeselitz at 12:19 AM on July 18, 2010


You know what my question is here, particularly for all the retributive-justice types here? What about the person who is not drunk or even drinking, who hasn't done any drugs, but still accidentally kills someone?

One month ago, the world lost a great person to a motorcycle accident. To be more specific, the man who died was my potential father-in-law, and he was just the best guy I've ever met. He was an absolutely amazing guy. Loved everyone, loved everything, and added some joy to everyone's life with whom he came in contact.

Then one day, he was on his motorcycle, just cruising and whatnot. And a lady pulled out of an intersection and killed him because "the sun was in her eyes." She ran him over. Evidently she didn't realize yet that "the sun was in her eyes" the first time she heard a "thud" it didn't register and she just kept going. Frank got thrown (forward) from the bike, and then got run over with a fucking car. So, yeah, someone died because of a stupid person.

But you know what? They did end up charging her with "reckless driving" and some weird thing that I hadn't heard of before, "causing death by negligence," if that rings a bell. So what should happen to her? After all, even though she wasn't drunk, she surely killed someone just as if she had been. She certainly didn't go out to kill anyone that day, nor was she increasing the chances that she would do so by drinking or anything else. She just got stupid at the wrong time and, well, killed someone. By making a stupid choice (i.e. just GOING whether you can see what's coming or not).

Personally, I don't think they should have charged her. But if she had been drunk, then I'd probably be like "DON'T EVER LET HER OUT!" But would I? I don't know. The point is, what about people who kill others through a moment of sheer dumb-ass-ness that just happens to be the WRONG moment?
posted by deep thought sunstar at 12:27 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


that just happens to be the WRONG moment

This, in the end, is why we have judges ... We can't possibly hope to legislate and codify every possible twist and ramification of human behaviour. But we can establish generally acceptable legal principles, then as each case comes forward, put the evidence clearly on the table, weigh it, and try and come to a judgement that makes 'sense', as it were. This is - one hopes - what the parole board in this present case is trying to do.

(But I find it also interesting that Mr. Perrotte - sentenced to '15 to life' - made his first parole application ten years after receiving that sentence, so I find his claim that he has 'served his time' to be a tad self-serving.)
posted by woodblock100 at 12:47 AM on July 18, 2010


Woodblock100, you're right. Clearly, none of the deaths under discussion in this thread were intentional, but deciding culpability in any of these cases is a job that I would not want to have. I do think there's a point where mercy becomes the greater tactic, but I couldn't, in a million years, presume to say where that line is drawn. I could offer more examples for study, but I would then be derailing this thread.

On the point concerning parole applications being filed ten, rather than 15 (the sentence) years later, I am no expert but I'm under the impression that one almost always does it that way. Supposedly it's a vastly inefficient process, and one who files 5 years before their sentence is up actually gets considered/interviewed somewhere near the time that their actual sentence ends. I might very well be completely wrong, but I think that's SOP.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 1:09 AM on July 18, 2010


They did end up charging her with "reckless driving" and some weird thing that I hadn't heard of before, "causing death by negligence," if that rings a bell. So what should happen to her?

She didn't wear her sunglasses. She deliberately chose to drive without sunglasses, knowing that the sun might get in her eyes. Obviously, they should lock her away for life and life should mean life.

That non-sunglass-wearing good-for-nothing motherfucker!

amirite?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:18 AM on July 18, 2010


The law exists as a way of clearly determining, way ahead of time, without personal incentive or vindictive, what crimes are worthy of what punishment. That's why possible sentences are determined by the type of crime, and not just by the whimsy of the people who're told to assign somebody with a punishment. (In theory.)

I've never known somebody killed by a drunk driver. I hope never to know anybody killed in such a horrible way; given the odds, I suspect I shall not be so lucky. I knew two kids who died in a car crash when I was sixteen. The day after there was an awful, awful silence throughout the school, quiet weeping and loud cries still somehow swallowed up by the silence of the rest of us. So while I've never been unfortunate enough to be in the position of blaming a personal tragedy on a face, I've certainly seen the grief that death causes to a community, even just on that initial surface level.

(People still write on their Facebook wall, multiple times a month, talking to them, missing them. Three and a half years and they're still talked to.)

That kind of raw emotion denies logic. It's very difficult to decide things rationally when you've been personally affected by a profound tragedy. That car crash in my (recent) youth led to Kyleigh's Law in New Jersey, which places stricter limitations on young drivers. The law has generated a bit of a controversy: Some parents and teens are convinced that marking young drivers with a red decal will attract ticket-happy cops and sexual predators. I do remember reading the debates about the law as it was being formulated. All of the people arguing for the law (including the parents lobbying for its passage) were arguing with very personal, emotion-drenched language. Lots of raw anger towards critics of the bill, accusations that they were disrespecting Kyleigh's death. It wasn't a level-headed discussion. I've got no opinion on if the law's a good one or a bad one, but I'm wary of its proponents. They weren't pushing for the law from a completely reasonable state of mind.

So the laws dealing with punishments for crimes, they're supposed to be set in stone before the trial begins. They attempt to come up with a sentence that's fair to all parties involved. The law should not be in the hands of somebody who's just lost a child and is perfectly willing to see the man responsible for that death rot behind bars forever. That person doesn't have the perspective necessary to be fair. The law is supposed to decide these things neutrally. That's why we have the legal system rather than the lynch mob.

I know I don't have the personal suffering to be able to offer an experienced perspective here. I fear that if I ever lost somebody this way I'd feel the same violent anger towards the killer, and let that anger do away with any rational judgment I'd be otherwise capable of. But I feel, and this might simply be naivete, that compassion is only really trying when it's operating against our basest desires. It's easy to feel compassionate towards somebody until it's somebody you don't ever, ever want to feel a good feeling about. But that's when compassion is the most important, because it keeps us from sacrificing a part of ourselves to our hatred, and it stops us from denying somebody else their humanity even after they've committed a despicable act.

I might be just naive, and if so I apologize to the people in this thread who've suffered in ways I can't imagine, but the law exists because we cannot be relied on for compassion in moments of crisis.

(And it's nowhere near the anniversary of that crash, but rest in piece, Kyleigh and Tanner. I sat next to Tanner in AP Physics that year; it was hard that day to look at the seat on my right and think the kid who'd been there would never be again.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:08 AM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


EXCEPT THAT IT DOESN'T. It "happens" (oh, and nice use of the passive, transitive, guilt-denying verb there) to a very very very small number of people in the world.

I can't really relate to this. Not to the emphasis you need to place on it or the attitude itself. You might never drive drunk or rob people or whatever. But the world is a random place. Normally that makes things more interesting. But if you believe in an infinite number of parallel universes, that means in one of them, you will be standing at some tourist attraction, back up to get a better photo of your friends being silly and push a child off a ledge to their death. If you think you know how you'll react or if you sit around smugly confident that could never be you, you're doing yourself a disservice. Everyone has moments when their guard falls down.

It always seems to me the "Lock 'em up and throw away the key" crowd, other than those who have been the victims of similar crimes, are more upset with the mirror this kind of person throws up than the crime, that they're reminders we fuck up all the time. Take deep thought sunstar's story (and I'm really sorry to have heard it): that could totally have been me. I'm a decent driver. But I have my head up my ass once in a great while. Usually that just results in a "Whoops! Sorry about that" moment. But if you don't take those moments and learn from them, if you just stuff your fingers in your ears and think "That would never happen to me," I think you're worse off for it. Feel free to pick apart the tense of my verbs in order to diminish my point.
posted by yerfatma at 6:59 AM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't see how the Sinatras had anything to do with this ...

How typical is this case otherwise? Would this story make the papers if the Sinatra name couldn't be invoked?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:02 AM on July 18, 2010


this thread turned out really well. clearly the best metafilter discussions happen after midnite on weekends.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:04 AM on July 18, 2010


this thread turned out really well. clearly the best metafilter discussions happen after midnite on weekends.

You know why, right? Sinatra's people are asleep.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:22 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


A good friend of mine, a guy I went too school with as kids, was a serial drunk driver. He never had an accident, never hurt anyone in any way, just always had the dumb luck of getting caught slightly over the legal limit. He was a farmer, who took over the family spread and made a go of it, even as farms were on the auction block everywhere. While it might sound cliche, he literally was the sort of friend who would give you the shirt off his back, and pull someone off yours if need be. He was a big goofy shit with an incredible spirit.

In the small town we grew up in, they pretty much rolled up the sidewalks at 9PM. It wasn't until the 80's there was even a convenience store to get a pack of smokes or a gallon of milk in the middle of the night. So there were only two types of people on the road late at night; the police, and the people who had just left a bar. In fact the cops would just park a block away from a tavern right before closing time and wait for people to leave, then pull them over. The only real crime in our town at that time was small time pot or coke arrests, various taillights out, and tickets for dogs running at large. But DUI's brought in big money, and more state funding for the police department.

So the cops had my friend on their radar. They pretty much knew if they saw him after dark he was good for a DUI, and they just fuckin hounded him. Even if he was stone cold sober they would pull him over, search his car, the whole shebang.

When he did get popped, it was usually for being some billionth of a point over the limit. While yes I know what he did was irresponsible, and some of you will think he was an accident waiting to happen, I sorta feel that he wasnt any more dangerous on the road than someone talking on a cell phone, or someone who had worked a double shift and was totally spaced and sleep-deprived.

So over the years, he racked up seven DUIs. It got to the point where he had one of those ignition locks you had to blow into to even start his truck. I don't know how, but somehow he managed to slip through these things, be it getting the truck started, or getting off in court without much more than fines and a suspension of his license.

Well, when he got that 7th DUI, his lawyer just told him, "Man, I've done everything I can do, but you are looking at a few years in prison on this one."

Well, my buddy, big old goofy assed farm boy that he was, he took that in stride. He knew there was no way he was going to go to prison for years.

A week before his court date, there was a fun fair/kids day sort of thing out at the lake on the edge of town. He put on this big Winnie the Pooh costume he had, and went out there. He played with little kids all day long and just really made their day. No one knew who was in the costume, everyone just assumed the organizers had set it up and never gave it much thought. It was just blistering hot that weekend, and I can't imagine what it must have been like in a big furry suit, but he was there from the time it started, till the time the last kid left. Then he went home.

He went out to his garage, still in his Winnie the Pooh suit, and hung himself.

It was 3 or 4 days before anyone discovered him. Given the heat and all, from what I heard second hand, most of what was left of him was dripping slowly out of the feet of the costume, leaving a big putrid puddle on his garage floor.

I think maybe some of you are thinking good riddance etc and that's your right, but please don't get all nastyposty OK? This was a good guy who caught some bad breaks, and if anything, maybe it can serve as an example that driving drunk can cause hurt in a lot of different ways you might not expect.

I still keep his obituary on the bulletin board in front of me, as a reminder.

Should you care, his name was Tom, but everybody just called him Gomer.
posted by timsteil at 8:42 AM on July 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


[Retributive justice] adds insult to injury by making the victims of crimes into craven, wicked, cruel, heartless wretches.

The victims of crimes?! You did mean the perpetrators, right? Either we've found our point of serious philosophical disconnect, or else that was a typo. Suffice it to say that I really, really disagree with you here.

Punishment exists to return to [criminals] their moral dignity by giving them a free exchange by which they can pay for the wrongs they've done. That's the most important thing punishment can do.

Again, philosophical disagreement here -- to oversimplify things, in your view, punishment is served for the criminal's sake, and in my view, punishment is served for the victim(s)' and society's sake. Whether the criminal finds some kind of moral redemption and/or penance is an interesting point, but ultimately a non-sequitor.

True retributive justice would put a knife in the hand of the rape victim, tie her rapist to a chair...[i]f you have any problem with this scenario at all, you're not actually in favor of retributive justice.

koeselitz, I do not actually have a problem with that scenario, and that was actually the exact sort of situation I was thinking about when I wrote my initial comment. I think, from the phrasing of your comment, that you don't believe anyone in modern society, or anyone educated, would really think that way, that sometimes a variation on "eye for an eye" can have some merit. And yet, we "retributive" types still follow and try to trust in the law, ceding the idea of revenge to the idea of a fair criminal justice system. But in my heart of hearts, I cannot lie here and say that I would be upset with that victim's actions against her victimizer, even if they are ones I would not carry through myself. I also realize that admitting that is almost taboo, though, probably moreso here than in other venues.

On a related note, speaking as a comic book geek, this is probably why I personally always had such a problem with the "Batman" mythos continually having the talking heads of Gotham clutch their pearls and be upset about his "brand of vigilante justice", when clearly the traditional justice system in Gotham was flawed and corrupt, and unjust in the sense that it could not or would not effectively protect its own innocent citizens. Now, intellectually speaking, I know damn well why having one man in a latex suit be judge/jury/executioner to the criminals is a terrible idea, but viscerally, his actions are a kind of justice, in the face of no justice at all. Obviously, we're talking more the dark-and-grimy Frank Miller era "Dark Knight" here, not the 1960's pow-biff-bang "Batman", but you get my point: retributive justice is still justice, albeit an inferior kind to absolutely perfect civil and judicial justice. But when the latter doesn't exist at all...?
posted by Asparagirl at 9:12 AM on July 18, 2010


You know what my question is here, particularly for all the retributive-justice types here? What about the person who is not drunk or even drinking, who hasn't done any drugs, but still accidentally kills someone? ...The point is, what about people who kill others through a moment of sheer dumb-ass-ness that just happens to be the WRONG moment?

I see a BIG distinction between that kind of situation and the one being discussed in the original post. That's actually why it makes me so semi-incoherently angry when someone bizarrely tries to apply the whole tortured "There, But for the Grace of God, Go I [or We]" attitude to outright crimes like Jeffrey Perotte's rather than to accidents.

Anyone can have a moment of inattentiveness, or hit a patch of wet road, or (to use an oddly detailed example from another comment here) accidentally back up and knock over a child at a tourist attraction because you were trying to take a photo of your friends. Anyone! And that's terrifying to me, that the possibility exists for real harm to another person through dumb luck, or fate, or whatever, with no malice intended whatsoever. Because we all do know that it could have been us, and the guilt would be horrendous.

But that is very, very, different from someone showing depraved indifference to human life. So when people (whether in this thread, or elsewhere) hold up criminals whose actions deliberately caused harm through a myriad of their actions (as opposed to having one stupid unintentional slip-up) as being something that "any" of us could do, it makes me get all kinds of GRAR. When the emphasis is put on how we shouldn't "Other" the guy who let a woman burn to death, or how cruel it is to keep him away from his children, rather than putting the emphasis and attention on their victims and victims' families, I seriously get GRAR. To continually equate the awful-but-unintentional accident with the awful-and-intentional crime is really offensive to the common person who could have drunk all those beers at Last Call, or who could have fled the scene of their car wreck, but did neither.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:44 AM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


let a woman burn to death

(A slight correction - irrelevant to your point - is that Jilly Rizzo was a 'he' ...)
posted by woodblock100 at 10:10 AM on July 18, 2010


Their suffering does nothing to bring back the victim. By all accounts, this man fully realises the horror of his actions and is prepared to spend the rest of his life in prison if that is what happens. What further purpose does imprisonment serve, other than retributive justice?

Where do we draw the line? "It was just a drunk-driving thing, it was an accident and he's really sorry and he's served more time than a lot of more serious offenders...." By that type of logic, Leslie Van Houten should have been released from prison years ago - she allegedly only stabbed Rosemary LaBianca after she was already dead. Yet Leslie remains in prison 40 years later and will probably stay there until she dies, simply because her name is associated with the notorious Manson Family. Maybe retribution is bad, and we're supposed to forgive and forget, but had it been my parent/sibling/husband in that burning car, and the driver (with an established history of alcoholism) was so consumed with guilt that he denied involvement and blamed his girlfriend, then yeah, I would personally want him to spend the rest of his life behind bars. My heart and family dynamic would forever be in a personal hell for the rest of my life, so why should the perp's life be any different? This guy only "turned his life around" because he got caught. Had he slipped away from that accident undetected and never been accused or arrested, do you think he would've finally checked himself into rehab, sober up and go on to earn three college degrees? Most likely he would've kept a low profile for a while then continue on his merry way and eventually would die of liver disease.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:12 AM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


She didn't wear her sunglasses. She deliberately chose to drive without sunglasses, knowing that the sun might get in her eyes. Obviously, they should lock her away for life and life should mean life. That non-sunglass-wearing good-for-nothing motherfucker!amirite?

To me, 'Good for nothing motherfucker' about covers it. I don't know what her sentence should have been, but I think it should have been harsh.

At least a drunk driver has an excuse: their judgement is impaired by alcohol. Her excuse was... what? The sun was in my eyes, but I forged ahead blindly? While sober. She couldn't see. Then, aware of that she hit the gas anyway and drove over someone. Yes, she should be held accountable for driving irresonsibly. To drive blind is grossly negligent. If she couldn't see what was in front of her, she should have slowed to a crawl and pulled over. That would not be an unreasonable expectation.
posted by zarq at 10:22 AM on July 18, 2010


I've driven when I've had too much to drink. I've never hit anything or anyone when I've been in this state. I've never been pulled over much less arrested for DUI.

I've been lucky--any of the above could have happened.

I'm probably not a better person than Perrotte just because I've managed to stay out of jail, so yes, I can see the "there but for the grace of God.." aspect of this very sad tale. And yes, I think that he's paid his debt and that he should be allowed to get on with what's left of his life. If he's at all like me, he will torture himself with his crime more than the criminal justice system ever could.
posted by leftcoastbob at 10:54 AM on July 18, 2010


When the emphasis is put on how we shouldn't "Other" the guy who let a woman burn to death, or how cruel it is to keep him away from his children, rather than putting the emphasis and attention on their victims and victims' families, I seriously get GRAR.

Why SHOULD the focus be on the victim? Seriously. We can't change what happened to the victim. We can't bring back Jilly Rizzo. We can't fix any of the problems that will arise because he's dead. The only person we can do anything to is Mr. Perrotte. Want to lock him up so it can't happen again? Sure, that's a good use of the criminal justice system, but it doesn't sound like he's likely to do anything like that again. Want to lock him up to deter others? Sure, go ahead, but 18 years is long enough to do that.

Want to lock him up because you're angry about what happened to the victim? Well, our system does it all the time, so I can't complain too much, but it doesn't change a damn thing. Jilly Rizzo is still dead, and now another sets of kids don't have a father. That's a necessary evil when the incarceration serves some other function, but when the only goal is vengeance, it's just an evil.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:08 PM on July 18, 2010


Asparagirl wrote: "I see a BIG distinction between that kind of situation and the one being discussed in the original post. That's actually why it makes me so semi-incoherently angry when someone bizarrely tries to apply the whole tortured "There, But for the Grace of God, Go I [or We]" attitude to outright crimes like Jeffrey Perotte's rather than to accidents."

Ok, miss/mister perfect. I take it you've never done anything in your life that, in hindsight, you ought not have done?

I suppose I ought to explain where I come from on these crime & punishment issues. I know through unfortunate personal experience that when people die, especially family members, it blows. Blaming someone for it does not bring them back, it does not even do so much as bring comfort to the mourner. All it does is degrade the mourner and the memory of the person who was taken from us far too early.

It smears both the mourner and the victim with the worst part of human nature, revenge. Hurting others will not make you feel better.

(Incidentally, neither will drugs, alcohol, breaking the law, or any other risky behaviors)
posted by wierdo at 12:32 PM on July 18, 2010


Why SHOULD the focus be on the victim? Seriously. We can't change what happened to the victim

A few different people have put forth variations on this idea in the thread and I'm just having a difficult time wrapping my mind around the concept. Maybe I'm being too literal, but based on this philosophy, pretty much nobody should ever go to jail for anything, since punishment will not undo the crime they committed.
posted by The Gooch at 2:08 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Gooch, I think you're trying to hard to take the position to it's illogical extreme.
posted by wierdo at 2:14 PM on July 18, 2010


Fuck, s/to/too/
posted by wierdo at 2:14 PM on July 18, 2010


Perotte 'turned his life around' in prison

That's very easy when there are no bars, beers, and car keys available to you. We can't know if someone has 'turned their life around' until they have to make ethical choices and exercise self control in situations where it would be easier not to.

That's not to say I don't believe him. Just that his behavior in prison carries little predictive weight.
posted by ctmf at 4:41 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


If he were to be released and prevented from getting a driver's license until he proved he doesn't drink any more, who is harmed?

There was a case in Washington state that sounds pretty similar to Perotte's story: Repeat DUI offender drove drunk again, killing a pedestrian, and ran away from the scene. She expressed deep remorse, vowed to clean up her act, went to jail for years. When she was released from jail, her driver's license was suspended. Sounds like she wouldn't reoffend, right?

Less than three years after her release, she was arrested for DUI again, despite her license suspension.

And this isn't just one isolated incident. For example, state officials estimate more than 180,000 Californians have had their driver’s licenses or privileges suspended for DUI — and more than 70,000 of them continued driving.

The article above mentions ignition interlock devices, which might help prevent drunk drivers from re-offending, but this article in the Seattle Times suggests that people find ways to get around those, too.

Given that, I think it's reasonable for the parole board to want to be absolutely sure that Perotte really understands why he did what he did, so that he can keep himself from falling into the same patterns and reoffending. It sounds like they think that he needs to do some more work on that, and I don't have a problem with that assessment.
posted by creepygirl at 5:03 PM on July 18, 2010


Asparagirl: “... to oversimplify things, in your view, punishment is served for the criminal's sake, and in my view, punishment is served for the victim(s)' and society's sake. Whether the criminal finds some kind of moral redemption and/or penance is an interesting point, but ultimately a non-sequitor.”

Even if we set aside for a moment my admittedly controversial assertion that punishment is for the sake of the punished... the scheme of punishment you're recommending isn't rational. That is, it isn't in the interest of society or of the victims. That's what I was trying to indicate, but I think I wasn't speaking plainly enough.

One thing people often misunderstand about the experience of being wronged in some significant way - for example, being raped - is that retribution or revenge doesn't actually aid the healing process in any way; in fact, it's a more often a hindrance, because it encourages victims to try to become their attacker. Isn't it clear why that's a bad thing? Not for a second am I under the silly impression that people can happily turn around and just forgive the people who have done terrible things to them; but I do know that true justice has absolutely nothing to do with emotion, with sentiment, with petty satisfactions of low urges. The desire to take revenge is itself a terrible thing which should never be encouraged; and the law should try to do justice in situations where victims have been wronged extraordinarily, but it's in just those situations that they should remain completely disconnected from the victims and their families. Otherwise, the law becomes sentimental, and it becomes sloppy, and sooner or later it does something terrible.

“koeselitz, I do not actually have a problem with that scenario, and that was actually the exact sort of situation I was thinking about when I wrote my initial comment... in my heart of hearts, I cannot lie here and say that I would be upset with that victim's actions against her victimizer, even if they are ones I would not carry through myself.”

Then you don't believe in it. You say "I cannot lie here and say I would be upset," but that's completely different from endorsing and encouraging a method of justice. You tip your hand when you say that you wouldn't carry through revenge on criminals yourself. That makes it clear to me that it's something you'd rather not involve yourself in, because you think it's distasteful or ugly in some way. Which makes me wonder: if you think it's distasteful or ugly or horrifying in some way, why in god's name would you allow or even encourage a victim of some terrible crime to dive in? That seems a bit less than merciful.

Sincerely, please understand what I was trying to point out by putting that example down: I wasn't trying to say that it was monstrous in some abstract sense. I was trying to point out that going through the act of raping her rapist doesn't help the victim; in fact, it would be a terrible thing for her to have to undergo, and a society which demanded that she did would be a terrible society. Modern manifestations of revenge-style justice, such as the custom of inviting the family of the victim to be present for the attacker's execution, are only different in degree, not in quality. They're doing the same thing to the victim and the family of the victim: asking them, in some small way, to become the attacker for a moment. That's a terrible thing to do to people who have already been through too much. This is, by the way, true even if they don't understand this point; I don't think revenge is good for anybody, even a victim who believes that revenge will make them feel better. Especially a victim who believes that revenge will make them feel better.

“On a related note, speaking as a comic book geek, this is probably why I personally always had such a problem with the "Batman" mythos continually having the talking heads of Gotham clutch their pearls and be upset about his "brand of vigilante justice", when clearly the traditional justice system in Gotham was flawed and corrupt, and unjust in the sense that it could not or would not effectively protect its own innocent citizens. Now, intellectually speaking, I know damn well why having one man in a latex suit be judge/jury/executioner to the criminals is a terrible idea, but viscerally, his actions are a kind of justice, in the face of no justice at all. Obviously, we're talking more the dark-and-grimy Frank Miller era "Dark Knight" here, not the 1960's pow-biff-bang "Batman", but you get my point: retributive justice is still justice, albeit an inferior kind to absolutely perfect civil and judicial justice. But when the latter doesn't exist at all...?”

Batman means a lot to me. He is in many ways the culmination of a long tradition of characters who stand alone and demand justice in an unjust world, a tradition which stretches back to Dashiell Hammett. But I disagree strongly on what I take to be your interpretation of the Batman legend. Batman doesn't take revenge. He does justice; his justice is blind, unsentimental, and cold. He doesn't get wrapped up in feelings about how terrible this is or how awful that is; he just acts purely. This isn't just an ancillary point; this refusal to take revenge reaches to the very core of what makes Batman who he is.

Or maybe you can give me a count of all the murderers Batman has killed over the years?
posted by koeselitz at 6:09 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


millions of drunk drivers

Now, that's a scary thought.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:06 PM on July 18, 2010


Seriously. If you get drunk and kill someone, enjoy your life in prison. Whether you "turn it around" or not.

Then what's the point of the parole system? We're being disingenuous as a society on this one. It seems to me we present our system of jails and prisons as being rehabilitative, at least ostensibly. Otherwise, parole would be ridiculous. But at the same time, we slam down the gavel and declare "this is too heinous", "we must throw away the key". It's no wonder our system of penitentiaries is impossibly broken. We're masquerading a purely punitive system as rehabilitative. Let's pick one. If we're going to offer parole, and parole people, we ought to be actually, you know, rehabilitating them. This doesn't apply in this case, but still, it does to a large number of cases. This guy appears to be rehabilitated. This may be despite the dire circumstances of penitentiary justice in the U.S.

"What we've been dealing with all along," [his father-in-law] said, "has been the hidden hand of the Sinatras."

This struck me as an all Italian-Americans are Cosa Nostra type thing. Believe it or not there are a large number of people who still fall for this type of gibberish. I could be wrong on this one
posted by IvoShandor at 12:31 AM on July 19, 2010


one more dead town's last parade wrote: "Now, that's a scary thought."

Not really. Most of them are at .08 BAC. That's low enough that when they do something stupid it's because, like most drivers, they are morons and can't drive, alcohol or no.
posted by wierdo at 12:50 AM on July 19, 2010


Umm - 0.08 BAC is more than enough to slow your reaction speed and make you unable to judge speeds or distances correctly. It's not all that low.

Maybe I'm being too literal, but based on this philosophy, pretty much nobody should ever go to jail for anything, since punishment will not undo the crime they committed.


Too literal and hand-picking arguments. Punishment can serve four main purposes - it can prevent the offender from committing more crimes by removing them from society, it can serve our notion of justice through retribution, it can be a deterrent to others who may commit the crime, and it can rehabilitate the offender. What I and others have been saying is that in this case, it has certainly served as a deterrent for others, he appears to be entirely rehabilitated and therefore is no longer a danger to others (though a parole program should involve conditions to ensure this), therefore the only reason to keep him in prison is for retributive justice.

I understand that others feel differently, but I think insisting someone continue to be punished just because they did something wrong - when no other good comes out of their punishment - is petty and childish.
posted by twirlypen at 12:40 PM on July 19, 2010


the only reason to keep him in prison is for retributive justice

I think this is where I have come to in my own thinking on this case after listening to the viewpoints tossed back and forth in this thread. When I first read the story, my thoughts were clear - throw away the key, this guy is gone for good - but I have changed my mind.

We turn over the administration of justice to professionals for a very good reason - to take emotion out of the judgement process. The lady with the scales wears a blindfold, and the only things that count to her (ideally) are the facts in her set of weigh scales.

There seems to have been no question of this man's guilt, and sentence was passed (presumably) based on accepted standards of the day. It was '15 to life', which means that the judge felt that it was variable, based on future data that he couldn't at the time see - the way that this man would behave during his time in prison. The judge left the actual execution of the sentence - the final decision on 'how long' - to his successors, the parole board. It may indeed end up being 'life', but it may turn out to be 15 years, either was acceptable to the original judge, acting as 'spokesman' for the society of his day.

The fact that the sentence was variable was an 'offer' made to this man - 'keep your nose clean, turn yourself around, and you'll be out of there' - and he has fulfilled his end of the bargain; unless this guy is the best actor in town, it seems as though he has indeed turned his life in a direction that does fulfill the requirements for his term to be adjusted to the shorter end of the scale that was set down. The fact that the original sentencing judge has added his voice to those recommending parole makes this even more likely.

What the 'bystanders' - you and I, and the Sinatras, and yes, even the Rizzo family - think about all this is of no consequence. Because for most of us, our decision is based with a high percentage of emotion in the mix. And that is unacceptable.

So I think (based on the information we have available to us) that he would certainly now be eligible for parole. Why has he been refused? I would like to think it is because the parole board perhaps doesn't quite trust his rehabilitation efforts, and thinks he has to do more. I would not like to think that it is because of influence from the Sinatras. But just which is true, I have no way to tell ...
posted by woodblock100 at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2010


twirlypen wrote: "Umm - 0.08 BAC is more than enough to slow your reaction speed and make you unable to judge speeds or distances correctly. It's not all that low. "

Umm - it doesn't slow your reaction times more than talking on a cell phone, being tired, or any of the other things that distract people from driving.

Unless you can point to a study, I'm calling BS. (I've seen studies on .10, never on .08, which is, after all 20% lower)
posted by wierdo at 3:54 PM on July 19, 2010


But I disagree strongly on what I take to be your interpretation of the Batman legend. Batman doesn't take revenge. He does justice; his justice is blind, unsentimental, and cold...Or maybe you can give me a count of all the murderers Batman has killed over the years?

Hah, even as a primarily-Marvel fangirl, I know the answer to that one is zero. (Whether that's a good method of policing the community against recidivist killers like the Joker remains to be seen, but it does conveniently ensure that he will always have a steady supply of work.)

But I wasn't trying to make the point that Batman does eye-for-an-eye. But rather he, and other fictional superheroes, do not feel the need to have to justify why it is inherently right for there to be justice, even costumed vigilante justice, carried out in the first place. I don't think you would see a Batman comic where he takes the position that the criminal justice system, and subsequent criminal punishment, is first and foremost meant for the sake of the sake of the criminal's potential redemption, above serving the rights of the victim and the good of society. You would never see Batman trying to shame victims of crime as being bloodthirsty and cruel for insisting that criminals go to jail, and perhaps stay there for the duration of their sentences. And as for victims hating those who callously and purposely destroy lives, instead of being all Mother Theresa "you must forgive or you only endanger your own humanity" -- well, we all know the origins of his own crime-fighting obsession, don't we?

So no, Batman doesn't take eye-for-an-eye revenge. But his attempts to create justice in the framework of a faulty system would itself be seen as disordered and cruel to those types of people who insist that the victims don't ultimately matter, since they are already dead, or that seeking punishment against the guilty is counter-productive and mean, and so on -- all attitudes you can see explained in this very comments thread.

But as I said, I'm primarily a Marvel Comics fan, and maybe I've missed some stories in the Bat-canon that would be good examples of the opposite opinions.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:45 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fellow Marvel zombie, but the Batman Doesn't Kill thing isn't accurate. Back in the Golden Age he knocked people off all the time and he's still got a taste for the ol' ultraviolence now and then. Even Captain America had his hand forced by the Flag Smasher back in the day.
/nerd-derail
posted by yerfatma at 6:36 AM on July 21, 2010


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