How did girl's kidnapper receive a second chance?

Posted: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What shocked you most about Jaycee Lee Dugard's story? Was it the fact that she was abducted in plain sight, walking to a bus stop when she was 11 years old? Or the fact that she was still alive when discovered last week, 18 years later?

Was it the fact that for most of those 18 years, she was forced to live in a backyard of a couple's home in California, surrounded by fences, tents and sheds? Or the fact that nobody noticed?

Was it the fact that she was allegedly raped repeatedly by her abductor, even though she was just a kid? Or did it shock you more that she bore two daughters by this suspected monster, and that one of those girls is now 11, the same age Jaycee was when she was abducted?

Did it shock you most that the suspected abductor is married? That his wife, according to authorities, was with him when he kidnapped someone else's child?

Or was it the fact that his mother reportedly lived with him while this was going on?

Was it the fact that police visited the home at times - and never saw anything?

Or the fact that until last week, Jaycee's stepfather was considered a prime suspect, even though he always said he had nothing to do with it?

Did it shock you most that Jaycee's two girls have never been to school? That they've grown up prisoners in the backyard of an abductor's house?

Did it shock you most that a neighbor admitted to seeing tents and hearing children, but when she expressed concern, her husband told her to leave it alone?

Did it shock you most that the suspect called himself religious? That he claimed the Lord spoke to him? That he registered a corporation named Gods Desire?

Or that he had a printing business? That he moved through America undetected? That he came home night after night to a backyard prison holding a child he allegedly raped and the children she bore - and he went on like this for nearly two decades?

All of this shocked me.

But none of it shocked me the most.

What shocked me the most is that the suspect, Phillip Garrido, was convicted in 1977 of kidnapping a woman, raping her and holding her captive in a storage unit.

He was sentenced to 50 years on one charge and five years to life on another.

And he was paroled. After 11 years.

Paroled.

If you can get 150 years for bilking people out of their money - a la Bernie Madoff - then how does a man who demonstrated no respect for human life, who thought so little of it he stole a woman, held her captive and raped her, how does he find himself a free man after 11 years?

Free to do it all over again.

What do they do now with the 58-year-old Garrido? I assume, if he's found guilty, that he won't get out again, although if he served the same time as he did for kidnap and rape, he'd be free by age 69.

But throwing away the key at this point is like putting up storm windows after a hurricane. Assuming the accusations are true, how can incarcerating Garrido begin to make up for the lives he has ruined? He stole the childhood of an 11-year-old girl. He destroyed the lives of her parents, ruined the marriage between her mother and stepfather, haunted the dreams of Jaycee's family members for years and years.

Losing a child is devastating. Losing a child and not knowing if she's dead is beyond description.

Garrido is a registered sex offender, as the law requires. He was visited by authorities, as the law requires. And with all that, he may well have gotten away with an unspeakable evil for 18 years.

I am not without mercy. I do not believe every criminal belongs in jail forever. But there is a reason experts warn that sex offenders are highly likely to strike again and again. And our justice system, playing by its rules, gave this creep another chance.

Garrido, still defying belief, did a rambling phone interview with a TV station after his arrest. He suggested people would be moved when they heard his tale. "It's a powerful, heartwarming story," he said.

No, it isn't.

It's monstrous.

And it never should have happened.

• Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may e-mail him at malbomfreepress.com.



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