Editorial roundup

Posted: Wednesday, May 16, 2001

The obvious question

In the wake of Timothy McVeigh's suddenly delayed execution, the obvious question is, how was it possible to overlook 3,135 relevant documents? Most people, no matter how disorganized they may be, would have trouble missing 3,135 of anything, let alone items that are pertinent to one of the most important cases ever handled by the FBI. ...

Louis Freeh picked a good time to retire as FBI director - something he announced two weeks ago and which will take effect in June. Had he not done so, this episode surely would have forced him to leave. ...

On Friday, (McVeigh's) attorneys said they might need more than a month to comb through all the new information. One of them hinted McVeigh himself may abandon his decision to accept death and begin actively challenging the sentence. He had agreed to waive his appeals before the latest foul-up.

The maddening thing is that none of the new evidence is expected to have any bearing at all on the case. McVeigh already has admitted to bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people. ... Yet the government has an obligation to be as thorough and fair as possible in capital cases, and Attorney General John Ashcroft was correct to delay the sentencing. ...

These documents should have been turned over to McVeigh's attorneys during the discovery phase of the trial, which began in 1997.

That they weren't is inexcusable. It also is grossly unfair to the victims and their relatives, who deserve justice.

Deseret News, Salt Lake City, May 14

Plagiarism and the Internet

Computers perform numerous functions, not all of them benign and one of those is cheating on college classwork.

... Studies show that computer-aided plagiarism is more common than college officials would like to think. Last week, University of Virginia physics professor Lou Bloomfield produced dismaying evidence that cheating may be prevalent.

Alerted that some of his students might be plagiarizing for a required 1,500-word paper, Bloomfield designed a computer program to scan the papers that the students submit by e-mail. The program looked for common phrases of six words or more among 1,500 papers and fingered 122 students whose papers may have been plagiarized. In some cases, long passages were identical; in others, entire papers were identical.

Bloomfield's software and similar programs developed at other schools hold out the prospect that the same technology that enables students to become plagiarists will now enable their teachers to catch them.

Coincidently, the UVA story broke a few days after Cliff K. Hillegass died at 83. Hillegass was the creator of Cliffs Notes, the synopses and study guides of books and plays that were vilified as "cheat sheets" when they first came out in 1958. Critics said students would use the notes as intellectual shortcuts, skipping the original work and settling instead for a dumbed-down summary.

How innocent and dated that all seems now.

The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, May 13

Youths in adult prisons

One bill worthy of Gov. Jeb Bush's signature is a measure by Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, and Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, to separate youths under 18 convicted of serious crimes from older prison inmates.

Youths - such as Lionel Tate, sentenced to life without parole for killing 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick when he was 12 - would be housed in one of the state's youthful-offender facilities or separate barracks at adult facilities.

State prisons now house about 70 such youths tried as if they were adults, convicted and sent to prison for 10 years or more. Studies show they are the most likely inmates to be sexually assaulted. As Sen. Geller notes that cannot be condoned by civilized society.

Crime warrants punishment, but rehabilitation must remain a goal. Most inmates eventually return to society. It serves no one's interest if they leave prison harder than when they entered.

The Miami Herald, May 14

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