Sunday, November 18, 2007

Boy's murder spurred laws to save others

By Randy Schultz

Palm Beach Post Editorial Page Editor

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The news last week was that the Supreme Court halted the execution of Mark Dean Schwab.

The news 16 years ago was that this pedophile never should have been able to murder 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez.

Under the death warrant Gov. Crist signed, Schwab faced execution at 6''p.m. Thursday. But the high court had blocked every other execution until the justices consider whether lethal injection - the method of execution in all but one of the 38 states that allow capital punishment - is constitutional. So it came as no surprise Thursday afternoon when the court stopped the clock on Schwab.

There are death-penalty cases where guilt is in doubt. This is not one of them. Schwab most certainly killed Junny Rios-Martinez. He led investigators to the boy's body, near Cocoa. There are death-penalty cases in which killer and victim come together through tragic twists of fate. This is not one of them. Schwab picked his victim after seeing his picture in the paper, for winning a kite-flying contest. He pursued him until a bit of unfortunate luck went his way.

Even opponents of capital punishment might agree that if it is the law, it is for people like Mark Dean Schwab. But Schwab's place in the debate over lethal injection matters less than what Florida has done to keep the next Schwab away from the next Junny Rios-Martinez.

Released early, he killed soon

The timetable of events is enough to make anyone seethe:

On July 20, 1987, Schwab lured a 13-year-old boy to an apartment, and then held a knife while he raped him.

On March 18, 1988, Schwab was sentenced to eight years in prison.

On March 4, 1991, Schwab was released and given 15 years' probation. Yes, he served much less than half of his sentence. When he got out of prison, his mother bought him a car.

On April 18, 1991, Schwab killed Junny Rios-Martinez.

How could this happen? Travel back to the early 1990s, when Florida faced a prison crowding crisis.

When crack cocaine hit the state in the mid-to-late 1980s, the Legislature overreacted, passing laws that gave prison time for everything from selling to using. The state's prison population swelled, and the Department of Corrections had to get rid of inmates well before their release date to meet constitutional requirements on crowding. The violent got out with the less-violent.

But Wayne Holmes, who prosecuted Schwab and is now chief of staff to Brevard County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, takes it back even earlier. "I started in 1979," he said last week, "and judges did not take sex offenders seriously." At that time, he recalled, judges could find child victims incompetent to testify against their attackers. "Fortunately, there have been so many changes since then."

Some are beyond rehabilitation

First came a law named for Junny Rios-Martinez, requiring that sex offenders do at least 85 percent of their time. The state began building prisons, to head off another crowding crisis.

The courts now provide support for child victims, not hostility. Changes in statutes of limitation allow prosecution longer after a crime, when the victim feels confident enough to come forward. Schwab's first victim has done so. Many counties have crimes-against-children prosecutors. The state now won't release hard-core sexual predators until they have been cleared to return to society.

It's all part of a growing realization that some of these criminals are beyond rehabilitation. "The problem," Mr. Holmes said, "is that this is a behavioral disorder, not a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, when the mind just isn't working right. The pedophile will obsess, and he will reoffend. How do you change that person's behavior?"

Mr. Holmes remembers asking a psychologist in court if a sex offender could be treated successfully. "He said, 'If you give me $1 million and no other patients, I couldn't guarantee it.' "

Mark Dean Schwab is sick, but not stupid. To get to his first victim, he befriended the boy's family. He tried the same trick with Junny Rios-Martinez, but the family was vigilant. Schwab was able to succeed only because, when he called the boy's school posing as the father with a message to meet him at a ball field, a new person at the school took the call. At that ball field, Junny got into a rental truck with Schwab.

Because of Junny Rios-Martinez, other children haven't been killed. The system doesn't make news for such successes. But it's still news.


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