To the Valley News:
Aug. 8, 2013 was a sad day for justice and for a well revered family of Crown Point. Society was not served well when Judge Richard B. Meyer handed down the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement reached in the People v. David R. Lang case.
Background, for anyone not familiar with the tragic consequences of a drunken afternoon on a family farm in June 2012: David R. Lang shot and killed his brother Russell, at the residence they shared on the family farm on Lake Road in Crown Point. Both David and Russell were lifelong Crown Point residents. This horrific incident was David’s first criminal offense of any type. Family and friends have always contended that this was an alcohol-fueled tragic accident. They obviously knew first hand, the love and destructive enabling that existed between their brothers.
Jury selection was to begin on July 8, 2013. But on June 5, David was brought to the court, unbeknownst to any in his family. Judge Meyer started the hearing by stating his wishes to have David Lang’s trial to begin in a week’s time because another case on his docket had been cleared. David Lang’s Public Defender, Brandon Boutelle, protested the one week notice, citing evidentiary items were still being gathered and expert testimony, on David’s blood alcohol level at the time of the shooting incident, were still not in. After a barrage of questioning by Judge Meyer, as to wether he would even allow such an expert to appear in his courtroom, a recess was called. Within the short recess, out of public eyes, a plea agreement was reached. No call was made or attempted to contact the victim’s family. Because that family was also Dave’s family.
On the afternoon of Aug. 8, sentencing began with the theatrics of a district attorney on the verge of her third electoral bid. Her lust for winning overshadowed any compassion or decency towards the surviving family. She construed a soliloquy of how events transpired on that fateful day in June 2012. But DA Sprague’s timeline of events was riddled with suppositions that did not come out at trial (there was none) or acknowledged in any plea deal. With all of David’s family and friend in attendance, sitting behind him, DA. Sprague mocked letters sent to the court pleading for leniency. The court had received numerous letters from David (and Russell’s) family, friends, community and beyond. Sprague made reference that lacking in all of these correspondences was compassion for the deceased of the two brothers. She stated that all concern in the letters was for David and not Russell. She mocked one letter that included references to other examples of alcohol-infused family tragedies that had received leniency.
I find DA Sprague’s comments appalling and completely insensitive to this much respected and private family. Judge Meyer obviously agreed with the DA in sentencing David to the maximum 15 years in state prison with 5 years probation following. Dave will be 91 years old by then. The surviving family’s wishes for leniency was first mocked then ignored.
Society at large will not be a better or safer place with David locked up. Public Defender Boutelle stated that senior citizens locked up in prisons share an exorbitant amount of the money spent on prisoners due to their failing health and old age.
David spent an entire 70 years in Crown Point, without any criminal history. He is a friend to many. His severe alcohol addiction (coinciding with Russell’s) led to this family tragedy. Can’t we as a community have compassion on this well respected family? In a compassionate society, that could think out of the box, in extraordinary circumstances, such as these, could surely could come up with a way to serve the public good. I am struck with a vision that David could have been rehabilitated with alcohol treatment and confinement to his own property. Home confinement, coupled with alcohol and movement ankle bracelets, could have been an out-of-the-box punishment rather then what amounts to a life sentence in a state penitentiary, with the most hardened and violent live-long offenders. Taxpayers would not have had the burden of paying for David’s end of life care and needs.
When might thoughtfulness come into play instead of the Draconian incarceration of a first-time senior citizen offender? Why shouldn’t the victim’s family be kept apprised by the DA, of any court appearances and plea deals, even when they are similarly related to the defendant? Why shouldn’t their feelings be considered when rendering comments and sentence upon the defendant?
So in going forward, can we assume that DA Sprague, when faced with a similar case, involving a tragedy within one family, that she will disregard and even mock the surviving kin? In her mission statement it reads: “The DA and her staff realize that all victims deserve to be treated with compassion and respect.” That is not what I witnessed in the courtroom.
Laura Burchell, Flushing