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Harsh Crime Should Have Harsh Penalty

A grief-stricken Marcella Nomee Monhatwa doesn’t believe justice was served by the lenient sentence handed down recently to a Moscow woman who killed three members of Monhatwa’s family.

She’s right. A year in the county jail for Janice Hess’ crimes undercuts the seriousness of drunken driving.

The slap on the wrist imposed by First District Judge Jim Michaud also is a slap in the face to Mrs. Monhatwa and the Nomee family - Native Americans who believe they’ve been discriminated against throughout this tragic ordeal.

Nothing can bring back Mrs. Monhatwa’s husband, Howard, 25, or the two children who died in the accident: Justina Nomee, 5, and Amadee Nomee, 18 months. But a tough sentence would have satisfied justice and exorcised the specter of subtle racism that has haunted this case.

In passing sentence, Michaud considered Hess’ upstanding role in the community and a lack of a prior record. But the right social or racial background shouldn’t be an exemption from stern treatment of drunken drivers.

Milton Nomee best expressed the family’s shock at the light sentence: “She gets a year in jail and then gets to go home to her family. We have to go home now, and we still don’t have anything. My grandchildren are still gone. How can I say anything is fair anymore?”

The sentence adds the final insult to the deep personal injury suffered by the Nomees since Dec. 3, 1993, when Hess, with a bloodalcohol level of .17, swerved across the U.S. Highway 95 center line near Plummer.

First, Howard Monhatwa’s body was left in the car for hours while the Idaho State Patrol reconstructed the accident. Then, it was placed in the back seat of the damaged car and towed by a wrecking company to the Kootenai Medical Center morgue.

Finally, Hess never was arrested. The Nomees and Inland Northwest tribal representatives believe authorities would treat a Native American more harshly.

They could be right.

In fall 1991, an inebriated George Manybears was arrested after an accident that killed his pregnant wife and three members of a Spokane family. Later, a jury decided he wasn’t the driver and acquitted him.

Society won’t take drunken driving seriously until the judicial system does.

A sentence of one year for three avoidable deaths shows at least one North Idaho judge doesn’t take it seriously at all.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board