Justice served in shooting cases

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10/06/2010 5:42 PM |

Two accidental shootings separated by four months, seven and a half miles and polar opposite outcomes reached critical junctures in the criminal justice system within hours of each other late last week. But the timing was the least noteworthy aspect of that coincidence.
In a County Criminal Court in Riverside, Kevin Ehlinger of Mattituck took responsibility Friday for the shot he fired, perhaps blindly, at Mattituck High School last Oct. 9. The bullet grazed, but did not seriously injure, a senior sitting in a classroom. The day before that, Ryan Lademann of Southold stood before a judge in that same court complex and entered a guilty plea in the accidental shooting death of a close friend at a Southold house last Jan. 23.
One bullet all but missed, the other took a life, but in both cases, the shooters won’t serve one more day in jail. In both cases, the sentence will be probation.
How could that be? Isn’t that a miscarriage of justice?
No, not at all. This is justice the way it should be handed down.
The District Attorney’s office concluded that neither man intended to cause any harm. The actions of one resulted in death, so shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime? Not according to family members of Lukasz Pasko, who died at age 26 not long after he was shot. They made it clear to the district attorney that they did not want to see Mr. Lademann in jail. That same message was delivered the next day at Mr. Ehlinger’s sentencing: Darlene Olsen, whose daughter Amanda narrowly escaped losing her life, told the judge, “We want to believe this was not an intentional act. It was just a moment of poor judgement … “
The difference between what happened to Mr. Pasko and Ms. Olsen is measured in mere inches. In both cases, there are “what if?” questions. But what really matters is that the court listened to the voices of the people most affected by the two shootings and in both cases embraced mercy, not leniency. One life was lost, but two were saved from much more than the loss of freedom.
Now that’s justice.