Kopf: A Short Take on Evil

In the rush to empty prisons nicely evidenced by the passage and implementation of the federal First Step Act, I fear that the policy wonks and the judges who follow them disregard a patent truth.[i] There is evil lurking among those who are elderly, yet seek release.

By using the word “evil,” I mean an existential threat to a civilized society. I do not intend the foregoing to be provocative. I mean it literally.

Before Harry Potter’s train leaves, transporting us magically to a world where good consistently triumphs, we need to remember that the journey would not be worth taking without Voldemort showing us that we are risk. We would do well to remember him.

The evil Lord V. is not just a convention of a magnificent writer. Rather, he is a real and a palpable horror and this is true despite his age. As we rush headlong to empty out prisons, we ought as a society to scream “screw compassionate release” when faced with such monsters—assuming, of course, we can differentiate between those who are elderly and remain evil and those who are elderly but too tired or sick to be evil.

So, believe me when I say that in our prisons there is a certain number of very old Voldemorts, albeit in small numbers. Let us take a concrete example drawn from a piece written by Adeel Hassan in the New York Times. See A Murderer Deemed Too Old for Violence Was Just Convicted of Another Killing, The 77-year-old man, who was free despite a long history of violence against women, was convicted of an attack nearly identical to his killing of his wife 40 years ago, New York Times (July 19, 2019).

Read the piece yourself. I’m not going to do the work for you. If you take the time to read it, you will understand what I mean. Or you can simply peer into the face of the evil man seated at counsel table and shudder.

Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)

[i] I intend no comment on pending or impending matters that are before me.

11 thoughts on “Kopf: A Short Take on Evil

    1. Richard Kopf

      losing trader,

      No, Harry Potter was used as a literary device cause he possesses dogs, lots and lots of dogs. Come to think of it, Harry sorta reminds me of you due to the wizardly powers you sometimes display. In that regard, your SJ identification should be changed from “losingtrader” to “Clone Master.”

      All the best.

      RGK

      Reply
  1. Jardinero1

    Regrettably, as a cautionary tale, this is applicable to any prisoner who is released, not just old prisoners. Unless a judge is also a mind reader, there is no way to know which ones are evil and which ones are not. Poor Judge Crowley couldn’t tell this man was evil when he cut the sentence from eight to four years. His error was in assuming that there is an age and fitness level required for murder and battery. Flick proved this not to be the case. One point of fact in favor of Judge Crowley is that, had Flick served eight years, instead of four, he still would have been back on the street at the time the second murder occurred.

    Reply
    1. Richard Kopf

      jardinero1,

      I don’t fault the judge. I have made similar errors. Certainly you are correct that my cautionary tale, as you put it, applies to all prisoners. One of the reasons I wrote the post, however, was to punctuate my belief that old prisoners are not necessarily good candidates for release particularly when one sees a propensity for violence in their past. And, yes, you are right. Reading minds, or as I put it in the post acting on gut instinct, is very much what judges frequently do. And that, my friend, is the legal realism that motivated the post.

      All the best.

      RGK

      Reply
  2. Michael Ausbrook

    In “Live on the Sunset Strip,” Richard Pryor talks about going to the Arizona State Prison with Gene Wilder when they were shooting “Stir Crazy.” One thing he learned, Pryor says: “Thank GOD there are prisons.”
    The whole part of the show is hilarious. Since hyperlinks are not permitted, just look up “Pryor and Live on the Sunset Strip” on YouTube. The prison part of his show begins at about eight minutes.

    Of course, it’s Pryor, so the whole show is hilarious.

    Reply
    1. Richard Kopf

      Michael,

      Good to hear from you my friend.

      Pryor was and remains one of my favorite comedians. I second your recommendation.

      All the best.

      RGK

      Reply
  3. Eddie S.

    There was a case in my area a few years ago where an 80 year old woman killed her boarding house tenant. Her story was he ate too many eggs and got sick. Then after the jury came back with a murder verdict she asked the judge i if she could have another trial. She said that this time she would say what really happened. As I remember the judge didn’t grant her request.

    Reply
  4. MelK

    Well, Judge, to quote a script writer somewhere…

    This is my costume. I’m a homicidal maniac. They look just like everyone else.
    —Wednesday, The Addams Family

    Context is everything.

    Reply

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