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THROWING the book at a youthful offender is rarely ideal justice. To be young is typically to be (a) dumb and (b) corrigible--a combination that argues for forbearance. Yet Spotsylvania Circuit Judge David Beck on Wednesday pronounced a veritable model sentence on two violent young home invaders, giving them more hard time than the laggard law recommends.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 10, Tylor Laing, 20, and Jonathan Frame, 22, forced their way into the Tidewater Trail home of Clyde and Joyce Hamrick and terrorized the elderly couple with a sawed-off shotgun. When Mr. Hamrick asked to be allowed to fetch oxygen for his wife, who suffers from pulmonary illness and uses a wheelchair, Frame said, "Let her die." The thugs left with prescription drugs and about $500.
Judge Beck gave each 26 years in prison--21/2 times what state guidelines call for. This was a fair and laudable sentence for two reasons.
(1) Virginia has no statute targeting home invasion--a crime that usually combines robbery, weapons offenses, and other felonies in one episode of sustained terrorization. "Over and above" sentences fill this gap.
(2) As security devices permeate, say, convenience stores, armed robbers see residences as softer targets. Though statistics are scarce, home invasions seem to be a growing criminal trend, injecting anxiety community-wide into what should be the most secure refuges of law-abiding citizens. That calls for deterrence. Twenty-six years deters.
"Thou sparest when we deserve punishment," says the Book of Common Prayer, "And in thy wrath thinkest upon mercy." That's another pretty fair guideline. But what Laing and Frame plied was heartless, premeditated psychological torture on defenseless people who had never wronged them, yet found themselves 5 pounds of pressure on a shotgun trigger away from eternity.
So: not this time.