Tuesday, August 16, 2005

7 Years for Killing Five

Seven years ago Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden killed four students and one teacher in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Last Thursday, Johnson walked out of jail a free man.

Arkansas' juvenile justice system prevented the state from holding either killer beyond their 18th birthdays. Federal prosecutors used weapons laws to keep the boys locked up until age 21.

Now, in the eyes of the law, Mitchell Johnson has no criminal record. He could even legally, if he chose to, buy a gun.

“If you’re a juvenile who commits a serious violent crime, you should lose your right to be able to purchase a weapon,” insists gun control advocate Peter Hamm.

Arkansas has since changed its law, allowing young offenders to be punished first as juveniles and then transferred to adult prison once they turn 18.

But Jason Ziedenberg, an advocate for the juvenile system, says Mitchell Johnson has served long enough in a system designed to rehabilitate. “That’s a far better impact on public safety than having him come out of prison 10 years, 15 years from now, without any chance of re-integrating in the way that we’d want,” says Ziedenberg.

Johnson’s parents aren’t saying where he’ll go now that he’s out. But his mother says it won’t be Jonesboro.

The shooting was cold-blooded and premeditated. Frightening to think kids so young could be so ruthless. More frightening to think Johnson could buy a gun.