DAVID L. MYERS: Dougherty, Bianco served people well
In a recent letter, Rob Stoerkel asserted that the guilty pleas and sentencing of Lewis Beatty were unjust. He further criticized District Attorney Patrick Dougherty and Judge Thomas Bianco for these perceived injustices.
My initial reaction was that this seemed connected to political sour grapes lingering from the elections of Mr. Dougherty and Mr. Bianco into their current positions. Mr. Stoerkel also implied (but did not state) that the only just outcome in this case would have been the death penalty. This conclusion is not supported by the reported facts of the case, or by scientific research findings on the effectiveness of capital punishment.
Mr. Beatty's attorney revealed his client not only had a documented history of mental illness, but Mr. Beatty also sought and was turned away from mental health treatment one week prior to his fatal crimes. Although not publicly available, results of subsequent psychological examinations and testing likely substantiated Mr. Beatty's mental health problems prior to and during the killings.
Attaining a death sentence under these circumstances would have been difficult at best for District Attorney Dougherty. If Mr. Dougherty had been successful, a lengthy appeals process would have been guaranteed, with the probable outcomes of either the death sentence being overturned, or Mr. Beatty spending the rest of his life on death row and never actually being executed (see Pennsylvania's history of administering the death penalty).
Following Mr. Beatty's guilty pleas to three counts of first degree murder, Judge Bianco imposed three consecutive (one after the other) life sentences of incarceration.
Under Pennsylvania law and correctional practices, this ensures that Mr. Beatty will spend the rest of his life in prison, in a highly restrictive maximum security environment. With Mr. Beatty's now limited appeal rights, Christine Beatty's family (who, as reported, approved of the guilty pleas and sentencing) can be certain of the sentences imposed and avoid the repeated anguish of a death penalty appeals process.
Decades of research on the death penalty has revealed that perhaps the only valid reason to support capital punishment is on the basis of vengeful retribution, which Mr. Stoerkel's letter targets. The weaknesses of capital punishment are well-established and too numerous to discuss in this letter. The facts of the Beatty case, however, point to justice being served through the guilty pleas and sentences imposed, and rather than failing the community, Mr. Dougherty and Mr. Bianco served the people well.
David L. Myers, Ph.D.
IUP professor of criminology
editor, Criminal Justice Policy Review