21 March 2009

Ben filed an appeal

Let me say first that I try to be an open-minded person. I try to be the kind of person that is willing to listen to other perspectives. However, this is NOT one of those topics. If you don't agree with my thoughts/perspective/ideology on this particular issue, please just move along. This is one of VERY few issues about which I am really not willing to entertain varying perspectives.

A lot of you don't know the story of Ben. It's easily Google-able. Put in "Benjamin Appleby" and you'll find a wealth of information on Ben, most of it demanding his execution.

In a nutshell (because I could go on and one for pages about this, and to spare those who have followed the story through my other blog), Ben was accused of and convicted of murdering and attempting to rape a young woman in Kansas, who had just completed her frosh year of undergrad.

Let me say now (as I ALWAYS have) that I feel for the Kemp family. I can not imagine losing a daughter or a sister in such a horrific way. My thoughts and feelings about Ben in no way mitigate my sorrow for them and their experience.

Ben is from a very troubled family. His parents divorced when he was young and often fought about which one of them would be stuck with him. He found drugs and alcohol by the time he was 12. I met him in our junior year of high school when we were in Creative Writing class together. He is a very intelligent guy, funny and witty. I adored him. He's really the ONLY time I've ever understood the appeal of the "bad boy."

Everyone at school knew his reputation, and the summer after we graduated, he was arrested for armed robbery. Not long after that, he was arrested in a string of public masturbation and public exposure charges. Here's the thing: in one of his court appearances, he said to the judge, "I have a problem that I can't control. I need help." (Yes, this is publicly and officially documented.)

The case of who murdered Ali Kemp went on for years. Her family took out billboards and full-page ads in USA Today. Finally, a break in the case. They arrested Ben. He went to trial and was found guilty. He was sentenced the day after Christmas 2007. He will be eligible for parole when he is 94 years old.

Let me be clear that I DO NOT, IN ANY WAY condone or otherwise excuse the murder and attempted rape of anyone. If Ben did these things (he has always maintained his innocence to me), then he should be punished.

However... I believe that society needs to take responsibility for this. Social workers, government agencies, teachers.... we all failed Ben time and time again. There was never a more clear case of a "troubled" or "at-risk" youth than the kid I met in high school. He flat-out asked for help, recognising that he needed help for an issue that he felt was out of control. It is, therefore, extremely hypocritical of us to throw him in prison for the rest of life after the natural progression and escalation of sex crimes.

His case angers me for several reasons. It angers me that a young girl lost her life. It angers me that our society doesn't believe in correction and rehabilitation. It angers me that we focus more on retribution and punishment. It angers me that we can stand in judgment of someone who we turned our back on SO many times during his childhood.

(Believe it or not, this really is the short version of this story.)

Earlier this year, Ben's attorney filed an appeal. They are citing two issues: (1) he was denied an attorney when he asked for one during interrogation; and (2) he is being punished twice for one crime (because of how the sentencing was structured).

Stay tuned.

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