Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another tale of small town (in)justice?

Read A.G. Sulzburger's story in today's New York Times, dateline Skidmore, Missouri, population 310. The provocative headline is "A Town Goes Mute about a Bully's Killing." In fact, the town of Skidmore has been mute for some 30 years about the shooting death of Ken Rex McElrory. Now, the prosecutor who sought McElroy's killer has been turned out of office, and it appears the killer will never be charged. Here's the story's lede:
The murder of Ken Rex McElroy took place in plain view of dozens of residents of this small farm town, under the glare of the morning sun. But in a dramatic act of solidarity with the gunman, every witness, save the dead man’s wife, denied seeing who had pulled the trigger.

The killing was a shocking end for a notoriously brutal man who had terrorized the area for years with seeming impunity from the law until he was struck down in a moment of vigilante justice.
The story speculates about what constitutes "justice," especially in light of the fact that, when McElory was murdered, he was out on bail pending appeal following his conviction for second-degree assault in the shooting of a grocer. Indeed, at the time of the shooting, McElroy had more recently been released after arrest for coming into town bearing a rifle, despite his status with the criminal justice system.

Sulzberger offers this assessment of small-town criminal justice system.
[T]he memory of the nightmare surrounding Mr. McElroy — during his years of troublemaking and after a killing that many here feel was forced by an impotent criminal-justice system — continues to loom large.
The number of townsfolk who recalled for the story the day McElroy was shot--as well as their memories of his notoriety--say something about the lack of anonymity associated with rural communities. Of course, so does the fact that as many as 60 people saw him shot, but none except McElroy's wife ever testified as to the identity of the gunman. Over the years, her testimony was never sufficiently corroborated to justify a prosecution.

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