Has Justice Been Done?

A criminal court in Leipzig sentenced a man to nine years in prison for severely abusing his six-year-old daughter. The court found that the daughter suffered the following abuse:

– the father beat her severely daily for 32 straight days, causing permanent injury;
– the father starved her for a month;
– the girl was almost dead of thirst when she was found;
– the father severely burned her with hot coffee so that more than half the skin on her head was ruined and new hair growth is no longer possible;
– the father forced her to balance a searing hot cup of coffee on her burned head numerous times.

The girl was forced to recount all the abuse in open court.

The Court found the following mitigating circumstances in favor of the father:

– the father admitted the abuse during the trial;
– the father agreed to pay 20,000 euro. for pain and suffering;
– the father agreed to pay damages.

Now the 27-year-old father will be out of prison by the time he’s 36, giving him plenty of time to abuse future children he fathers.

Has justice been done? The facts in this case almost make one wonder if some other kind of justice is not callled for in a case like this where such a sentence is given for such a crime (see New Model Army’s “The Hunt”).



  1. With stuff like this, it’s not so much “justice” that bothers me (for justice might entail this bloke have scolding coffee poured over him); rather, I do not think that someone who clearly has no conscience, no regard for the evil he has done, can be rehabilitated in nine years.


  2. This really brings to light the total inability to truly pay for your crime/sins in mortality. Are we to go back to the Law of Moses and submit him to every crime he dished out or have him rot (with cable tv and hot dinners) in a cell for the next 9 years. Will he change and and be rehabilitated? Probably not.
    I have a feeling that people who commit crimes against helpless children or handicaps, should be made never able to commit those crimes again.
    I know I should teach repentance, but I guess I am not at that stage yet.


  3. Ronan, concepts are starting to get slippery. Remind me again why it would not be right to scald this man with coffee, beat him severely for 32 days while starving him and then only resuscitate him once he has almost died of thirst? I agree with you that true justice might entail that. Remind again what we have against justice in our society — it’s one of those things that you think you understand and then read a story like this and realize that our constructs don’t make much sense.

    Perhaps we need justice AND prevention. First subject him to the same treatment he meted out to his daughter. That serves justice. THEN, lock him up for 25 to life (with no cable TV or porn allowed) to prevent him from abusing her or others again.

    If you think about it, this particular sentence of merely nine years allows this man to abuse the same girl again. She will only be 14 or 15 when he gets out.


  4. Whenever I read a story about a judge passing down a lenient sentence for a particularly heinous crime, I remind myself that there is another judge who will properly compensate in the post-mortal realm for justice denied in the mortal realm.

    As for proper punishment, I am with you, John: scalding coffee, beatings and starvation. Of course, that seems a little lenient…all things considered.

    Kent: Amen! How do you repay such a heavy debt?


  5. While his behavior is horrific, I’m not convinced that the purpose or place of criminal law is to distribute “justice.” (I could, of course, have an oddball definition of justice.) That seems more the realm of civil law. Specifically, whether this guy goes to jail for nine years or 99, whether he has TV in his cell or is scalded by coffee every day for the rest of his life, it doesn’t make his victim whole. She’s in the same situation whatever happens to him (provided he has no more access to her).

    Admittedly, a civil suit resulting in a remarkably high judgment which, somehow, he is able to pay also fails to make her whole (which partly becomes the problem Kent addresses). But it’s meant as a proxy for justice which, inasmuch as he (physically) cannot be forced to undo what has been done.

    I agree that he needs to be locked up, and nine years seems way to little. But I don’t find that imprisonment, or any punishment, is “justice.” It may be retributive, it may be rehabilitative, it may be solely to keep him from being able to do it again, but I don’t see that punishment produces justice.


  6. Whatever happened to inalienable human rights? We are a lot better off with the standards of the enlightenment that have brought about the American republic and the Grand Nation.

    Compared to our enlightenment heritage, an eye for an eye is a relic of barbarism. If someone kills another parent’s child, shall we kill the perpetrator’s child? Shall we rape the rapist?

    If so, who has to be the state’s rapist?

    Who will have to become a monster to mete out “justice” and scald that man’s head? Who has to starve him half to death? Who has to beat him for thirty-two days?

    Dumas’ famous Three Musketeer affords us a little glimpse into the existence of a henchman. Henchmen have to live as outcasts without dignity. We will gain nothing returning to that world.

    There is a much more useful question: Why has no democracy managed to protect children? Why did it take thirty-two days of beatings before someone looked for the girl?

    Did you know that the best predictor for homelessness is growing up as a foster child? That’s something to think about.

    Revenge fantasies might be satisfying but they are useless. They don’t change anything. If we act on them, they fail to deter the perpetrators but compromise our humanity.

    It’s much more important to reduce the suffering than to exercise revenge. Child abuse is an age old problem. It will always be with us.

    There are things that we can do about that. They include being nosy neighbors and fully funding social services for children. Revenge is not one of them.


  7. Amen, Hellmut (and Samdb). “Justice” is a useless term in these instances. Which brings me back to my original comment. Lock-him up, not because it serves just justice (impossible), but because a man such as this cannot be trusted to be a member of society.


  8. Hellmut, I like your explanation. Don’t overlook the fact that this post was intentionally melodramatic. Although you likely think I am crazy/deluded because I still believe in the Church, I can assure you that the Enlightenment is not a foreign concept to me. Your examples work well, of course, but again, rest assured that I wasn’t really advocating jettisoning the Enlightenment.


  9. Don’t worry, John. I am not thinking that you are deluded. If I had started this post then our positions may well have been reversed.

    These cases are exasperating. I was just lucky to join the conversation late.

    Ronan, I agree that crime prevention might be a good reason to lock somebody up, provided that there is evidence of anti-social behavior rather than just a suspicion. I am wondering if longer prison sentences contributed to crime decreases in the nineties because more criminals were off the street (surely, the biggest cause must have been more jobs and rising wages for the first time since the mid seventies). On the other hand, the recent murder of two prison guards in Maryland illustrates the problems that this approach creates.

    Among many other causes of deteriorating working conditions for prison guards, some analysts point to the fact that it is almost impossible to manage prisoners in their twenties who come in with 120 years sentences. These people have nothing to lose. They are a danger to themselves, their fellow prisoners, and the prison guards.

    The most productive responses to child abuse are not sexy. For this man, for example, social services could make sure that he does not raise children after his release. More generally, social services must be adequately funded and efficiently managed to police matters such as truancy immediately.

    The need for resources raises the most intractable question in political science: how does one muster the power to institute public policy on behalf of the powerless?

    Democracy is the best form of government we know but not a single democracy is responding adequately to child abuse. The gulf between what could be done and what is done to protect children is huge. The same is true of the mentally retarded, especially those who do not benefit from the care and advocacy of biological parents (that’s apparently the biggest cause of homelessness).

    We don’t have a good answer to that problem. To some degree, it is part and parcel of our mammal nature. Human off-spring is dependent and therefore vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. There’s a lot that can be done about that but it always requires sacrifice on behalf of somebody.

    In that sense, anger can be productive. It motivates us to forego self-interest and to invest into the well being of someone else.


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