What we think: Shouldn’t we all be outraged?

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We are outraged because we think there has been an extreme failure in the system designed to protect the innocent, and nothing is more innocent than a child that has seen the light of day.

Earlier this summer, a woman named Casey Anthony went on trial under the glaring lights of national TV, charged with murdering her 4-year-old daughter and covering up that crime.


She became a national lightning rod, a source of vile hate, a person castigated in the streets even when a court found her not guilty of those charges, for which she could have faced the death penalty.

A tragedy had occurred in the death of Caylee Anthony, to be sure, and it brought with it pure outrage among those who thought the guilty person was getting away with murder.

We offer that today as a comparison to the case of Tonya Nicole Brown, not much younger than Casey Anthony, who admitted that she killed her newborn daughter.

She delivered the baby in a restroom and stuffed her into garbage bags that she deposited in a trashcan.

Ms. Brown was arrested a few days later, charged by a grand jury and allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter so she would serve only 15 years in prison.

Today, though, through a legal plea for leniency, she is free, and we are outraged and want to scream in the streets as well.

We are outraged because we think there has been an extreme failure in the system designed to protect the innocent, and nothing is more innocent than a child that has seen the light of day.

We are outraged that Ms. Brown’s actions that day in April 2008 only can be considered as the most egregious affront to our senses.

We are outraged that she had her baby in a restroom, disposed of it as she did, ignored the safe haven of a neighboring firehouse and got into her vehicle and drove away.

And we are outraged that our courts have allowed her to go free.

The easiest and straightest finger we would point would be directed at Senior Judge Steven Mershon, the person who considered and ultimately approved Ms. Brown for a shock probation program that allows her to walk out of prison and return to her life as a wife and mother of a previous daughter.

After a few months behind bars and credit for time served, Ms. Brown was home for the holidays in 2010.

Mr. Mershon is well-versed in shock probation and had full and independent discretion to grant the request, as he had done in numerous other cases.

But apparently his judgment didn’t consider his first responsibility to a newborn, defenseless child left for dead. His empathy for Ms. Brown appears to have been far greater than his concern about a baby’s death.

We also, however, hold responsible Commonwealth Attorney Laura Donnell, who allowed a cold, apparently calculated and violently awful death to go unpunished to the fullest extent of the law.

We understand and appreciate Ms. Donnell’s commitment to her job. We understand her large caseload, the clogged court dockets and the pressure to adjudicate as quickly as possible.

But the plea arrangement Ms. Donnell wrote for Ms. Brown, allowing her to avoid murder charges, doesn’t seem an appropriately aggressive position for perhaps the most heinous crime in Shelby County’s history, certainly the most heinous in this century.

Ask yourself: Is this the way you would want our chief prosecutor to deal with those responsible for the death of one of your loved ones?

We doubt Ms. Donnell would want that, either, and we don’t accept her defense of her decision to allow a plea deal, that it appeared “appropriate” to the crime.

Ms. Donnell did enter a brief to Mr. Mershon in which she said to grant shock probation would be wrong.

There is no recourse for Mr. Mershon. In the next year or so, his tenure as a senior judge will expire, and he will be retired, the program in which he serves, in fact, dissolved.

Ms. Donnell will face her own day in court in 2012, when she is up for re-election. You, the public, then can decide how well she has done her job.

And Ms. Brown has only to stay out of trouble for now less than five years to avoid forfeiting her freedom for the crime that she admitted that she committed.

Let’s contrast Ms. Brown’s sentencing to the fate of Joshua Fast, a man also charged with second-degree manslaughter and prosecuted by Ms. Donnell in Mr. Mershon’s court.

Mr. Fast was sitting in a  pickup truck outside a home when his friend was fatally shot by a former roommate, placing Mr. Fast in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mr. Fast, under a similar plea agreement for lesser charges, is serving 10 years in prison for his role in that death, a crime in which he didn’t pull the trigger, didn’t even see the shooting occur.

Ms. Brown dropped her baby in a trashcan and walked away.

There seems a whole lot wrong here.

And we are outraged.