On Tuesday, at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin, Mr. Justice Paul McDermott sentenced the two boys who were found guilty of the murder of 14-year-old Ana Kriégel. The boys, known as Boy A and Boy B because they were only 13 years old when they committed the murder, will spend much of their lives behind bars. Boy A, who was found guilty of murder and aggravated sexual assault, was sentenced to a life term that can be reviewed in 12 years. Boy B, convicted ofmurder, was sentenced to 15 years with the sentence to be reviewed in eight years.
The two boys are the youngest people ever to be found guilty of murder in Ireland. As a result, there was no precedent for how to sentence the boys, and Justice McDermott exercised some discretion in meting out punishment. In Ireland, murder carries an automatic life sentence, but the young age of the boys was a mitigating factor. The judge was quoted in the Irish Times as saying, “Her family will have to bear their grief for the rest of their lives. At least you will have the opportunity to reconstruct yours in a positive way.” And, he posed a challenge to them, “Will you take it?” I hope that they will, because Ana Kriegel will never have that opportunity.
Both boys will serve their time in Oberstown child detention facility until they turn 18, at which point they will be transferred to a prison for adult offenders. Although the verdict was handed down in the spring, sentencing was delayed until this week so that the boys could undergo psychological evaluations. The Court also considered the victim-impact statement given by Ana’s mother, Geraldine. Ana’s mother expressed how much they miss their daughter, and how this grief will stay with them for the rest of their lives. She said, “Life without Ana is no longer a life, nor is it even an existence–it is a misery that we must endure for the rest of our lives.”
Boy A now acknowledges that he murdered Ana (though he denies the sexual assault), but Boy B continues to deny any involvement in the murder. Their acceptance of responsibility will likely be a factor when the court revisits their sentencing in 12 or eight years, respectively.
|Ana Kriégel. Photo credit: Irish Times.|
The press mishandled the reporting of Ana Kriégel’s murder. Gruesome details of the killing and the state in which Ana’s body was found have been published in newspapers in Ireland and around the world. Ana’s parents have to live with the agony of their daughter’s death, and they also have to live with the knowledge that millions of people know what happened to her. At the same time, the boys responsible for killing Ana have been given legal protection: their names have been withheld, and people in the courtroom can be prosecuted if they reveal the boys’ names to the public.
This contradiction is deeply disturbing. Some people have argued that the boys’ names should be revealed now that they have been found guilty, and that their families should have to live with shame as Ana’s family must live with her death. But an “eye for an eye” does not seem to be an appropriate response. Rather, the media should be more sensitive in publishing the gory details about the murder of a teenager. Nothing can be gained by publishing the private information about the two guilty parties.
The other controversial issue is one of appropriate punishment for this crime. Ana lost her life, and it is easy to argue that the people responsible should also lose theirs–at least by withering away in prison. And yet, the boys were 13 years old when they committed the crime. Should 13-year-old children be kept behind bars for decades for any crime? Consider, even if they live just to be 70, that they will have spent 57 years in jail.
This question leads to a larger philosophical quandary about the purpose of custodial sentences in the criminal-justice system. Clearly, people who are duly convicted of crimes need to be punished for doing so, or we would have no system of justice to speak of. But can a custodial sentence also serve to educate and rehabilitate offenders? Or, do violent offenders forfeit their futures because they have essentially opted out of society?
As an American, I struggle with this last question. Our prisons overflow with nonviolent offenders (mostly for drug crimes) and with people who committed a series of minor offenses but find themselves incarcerated for long periods under so-called “three strike” laws–because it’s a great idea to apply the rules of baseball to meting out punishment for criminals? Until 2005, states were allowed to execute people for crimes committed when they were under 18 (and 22 such executions happened between 1976 and 2005).
Or, with time, counseling, and education, could Boys A and B heal and become positive members of Irish society? We don’t know the answer to that question, which is why their sentences will be periodically reviewed by the courts. They deserve the opportunity, though. And I know it offends people to hear that the murderers of an innocent, vivacious teenage girl “deserve” anything.
Yet history is replete with stories of people who did terrible things, served their time, and became better people. Many of these people were nonviolent offenders such as Frank William Abagnale, the protagonist of Catch Me if You Can, who is a fraud consultant for the US government. But, consider also the case of Kweisi Mfume, who was involved in crime (the degree of involvement is controversial) and fathered five children while still a teenager; he went on to become president of the NAACP and a US Congressman from Maryland. And, there is the impressive historical work of Michelle Jones, who spent decades in prison for murdering her four-year-old daughter, and became a graduate student at NYU.
I wrote my dissertation on sexual assault in the Republic of Ireland, so I know that this nation’s history is also replete with cases in which violent sexual predators have not received appropriate levels of punishment for their offenses–but this is not such a case. Justice McDermott meted out a harsh custodial sentence, and one that is especially unusual in a country that recoils from incarcerating minors. I am glad that he believes in the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption–and I’m equally glad that I did not have to choose the punishment for these boys.
Laura Weinstein is an independent scholar whose expertise focuses on Irish history and politics. She lives in New York City with her husband and three rescue cats.