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January 28, 2019, 12:57 PM

Editorial: Justice Wasn’t Done

By Richard Steier

Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch would probably be the first to admit that he lost his temper in reacting to a Brooklyn judge’s decision Jan. 23 to give Justin Murrell what amounted to a wrist-slap in sentencing him to 16 months to 4 years in prison for causing the grievous injuries suffered by Police Officer Dalsh Veve a couple of years ago.

He essentially said as much at the end of his outburst in a court corridor, declaring, “This is wrong, and there’s no nice way to say it.”

The following evening, NY1’s “Inside City Hall” anchor Errol Louis lit into Mr. Lynch, playing a spliced-together clip in which he repeatedly denounced Mr. Murrell as a “mutt” and chastising the PBA leader for inflaming the situation.

Mr. Louis, in his NY1 role and as a Daily News columnist, is both influential and one of the wise heads of the local media, more given to using his experience and perspective than to stirring controversy. In this instance, however, he overreacted, and with far more time to reflect on the circumstances than the PBA leader had before making his intemperate remarks to a group that included dozens of cops, as well as reporters.

When Mr. Murrell was convicted by a jury late last year of first-degree assault but acquitted of attempted murder charges for having driven a stolen car at speeds approaching 60 miles an hour until Officer Veve—who had clung to the vehicle when the then-15-year-old sped off rather than submit to questioning—fell off, he got a break that seemed based more on his youth than the facts in the case.

Tried as an adult but sentenced under the law as it’s applied to minors, he faced a maximum of 10 years in prison. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez quickly made clear that was the sentence he would seek before Supreme Court Justice Ruth Shillingford. In an editorial for the Dec. 28 edition of this newspaper, we stated, “Ten years is both the most he can get and the least he deserves.”

Justice Shillingford felt otherwise, citing Mr. Murrell’s youth at the time of the incident and what she described as his good behavior while locked up awaiting trial and then sentencing. But as Mr. Lynch noted, avoiding trouble while locked up, given the charges hanging over him, was less an indicator of maturity than it was an IQ test: only a hopeless knucklehead would be incorrigible enough to do something to compromise his chances of getting lenient treatment.

Allowances had already been made for Mr. Murrell’s youth by his facing no more than 10 years behind bars for a crime which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years for an adult. He put the life of not only Officer Veve at risk but that of anyone else in his path on residential streets as he drove wildly trying to shake off the cop. Justice Shillingford’s argument that this didn’t prove he was already a hardened criminal was contradicted by his prior record.

As of June 3, 2017, when his path crossed with Officer Veve’s, Mr. Murrell had been arrested 11 times, three of them for felony robbery, and had violated his parole three times. Justice Shillingford held out hope that he could be salvaged, but his record indicates Mr. Lynch’s assessment of him as “a potential cop-killer” might be more grounded in reality.

Even if you took the more-optimistic view, why should that have entitled him to a sentence considerably lighter than the maximum?

Mr. Lynch’s anger turned particularly florid when he said of Justice Shillingford, “She spit on every shield on every chest in the city, and she spit on that family.” But he also spoke eloquently of the ordeal still ahead for Mr. Veve, who has been promoted to Detective but is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from brain injuries that among other afflictions, make it difficult for him to recognize his wife and young daughter, and, as the PBA leader noted, to even hold them.

“I’ve never sat in a courtroom,” Mr. Lynch said, “where a judge looked at a police officer confined to a wheelchair, heard the [wife] speak of how their lives changed…and then say this mutt should be treated as a child.”

He was not alone in contending that the judge unjustly showed more compassion for a youthful criminal than she had for his permanently disabled victim.

Police Commissioner James O’Neill called the sentence “an absolute disgrace…Justice fell short today.”

DA Gonzalez, another law-enforcement official not given to hyperbole, said in a statement that Mr. Murrell “has repeatedly proven that he has no regard for the rule of law and is a danger to society…The rule of law, the safety of our police officers and the circumstances of this case demanded a more-appropriate penalty.”

Their reactions are a pretty good sign that, as blistering as Mr. Lynch’s words were regarding both the judge and the convicted man, they weren’t out of line. Sometimes expressing unbridled anger at injustice is both necessary and fitting.