A $500 Fine For Murder

On Monday, an Atlanta judge fined a 70-year-old homeowner $500 and gave him 1 year of probation for killing a young foreign exchange student who drove into his driveway by mistake. Rodrigo Diaz, 22, from Colombia, was killed on Jan. 26, 2013, while picking up friends for a skating party. His intended destination was across the street. Sailors barrelled out of his house with a .22 pistol, fired once in the air, then shot Diaz through the windshield. When police arrived, they arrested and handcuffed Diaz’s companions in the car and hauled them off to jail.

Comment:  The news stories make it clear that Diaz’ family was instrumental in the lenient sentence; they didn’t want Sailors to go to jail. They also received an undisclosed settlement from his insurance company. Still.

When someone commits a crime, the law views it as a public offense against society, not a private offense against the victim and his family. Thus, when sentencing the perp, the court’s obligation is to society as a whole and not just the victim and his family. In some cases, this may mean going against the family’s wishes.

Based on the facts as stated in the above-linked news reports, there were several discrepancies and aggravating factors in this case:

1) Although Sailors claimed he thought Diaz and his companions were home invaders, in fact they merely drove into his driveway, and no reasonable person would infer they meant him harm or intended to break into his home.

2) Although Sailors claimed he feared for his life, in fact he left the relative safety of his home to confront the unknown visitors outdoors.

3) Sailors apparently lied to the police when he claimed Diaz tried to run him over. Ballistic evidence indicates otherwise.

4) The more plausible story is that when Sailors shot Diaz through the windshield, Diaz was trying to back up his car and leave. That’s not self-defense by any stretch of imagination.

5) The news reports suggest Sailors was using explosive or dum-dum ammunition in his .22 pistol.

6) Diaz was completely innocent. He committed no crime by pulling into the wrong driveway by mistake.

It seems to me any court faced with a case like this has an obligation to put an appropriate value on the innocent life that was criminally taken. Certainly that value is more than $500. Moreover, the circumstances make it clear that Sailors’ actions were aggressive, not defensive, which makes any argument for leniency questionable.

But what judge would allow a defendant to plead to a misdemeanor in any homicide case? There’s no such thing as non-felony homicide, or at least there shouldn’t be. Regardless of the victim’s family’s request for leniency, I would’ve sent this killer to prison. If he died there, well, as they say “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

This case also raises troubling questions about whether the police engaged in racial profiling when they decided who to arrest and take to jail.

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