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Dad of slain boy says he'll kill son's murderer

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Trebor
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There have been a few discussions on vigilantism here on this forum, and the topic has even been discussed by Dr. Peikoff in his podcast a few times.

Instead of a hypothetical case (and question), here is one in real life that may well play out. The father of a murdered son (the son was five at the time, in 1975) has stated that he will, if he can find him, kill the murderer if and when he is released early (August 2011) from prison, with his 40 year sentence reduced 12 years for "good behavior." A tragic story.

Dad of slain boy says he'll kill son's murderer

Killer of South Kingstown boy Jason Foreman to be released in August, 12 years early

Edited by Trebor
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The more and more I see things like this the more I feel that these sentence reductions, both in general with felonies and in particular with things like murder and rape should not be allowed, it is just ridiculous. I don't care how nice you were in prison that doesn't change what you did or what punishment should be exacted upon you. Non-felony sentencing's I can understand much of the time however.

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Even the original 40 year sentence was too short. He should have got the death penalty -- which would mean life without parole, since RI does not have it. Besides, the criminal -- Michael Woodhouse -- is 52. In 12 years he'll be 64. Does it make sense to have a 64 year old out and about when he has done the things Woodhouse has done?

From the news articles, it sounds like the judge is not the primary person to blame. Rather, the prosecutors did a plea deal.A quote from the boy's father: "He should have gotten a life sentence, but stupidly I allowed a plea bargain to go so I wouldn't have to put up with the agony of hearing all the evidence at the time." This was obviously a mistake.

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Even the original 40 year sentence was too short. He should have got the death penalty -- which would mean life without parole, since RI does not have it. Besides, the criminal -- Michael Woodhouse -- is 52. In 12 years he'll be 64. Does it make sense to have a 64 year old out and about when he has done the things Woodhouse has done?

I think that you have misunderstood. Michael Woodmansee (not Woodhouse), the criminal, has served 28 years of a 40-year sentence and is possibly going to be released in August 2011 at the age of 52 (not 64).

From the news articles, it sounds like the judge is not the primary person to blame. Rather, the prosecutors did a plea deal.A quote from the boy's father: "He should have gotten a life sentence, but stupidly I allowed a plea bargain to go so I wouldn't have to put up with the agony of hearing all the evidence at the time." This was obviously a mistake.

Whatever else, Woodmansee (who was 16 when he killed 5 year old Jason Foreman) got a 40-year sentence in the early '80's, 7 or 8 years after the murder when he was finally identified as the murderer. Legally he is eligible for release (apparently depending on the results of a mental health evaluation) after having served 28 years. If he's released this August, he will have 10 years of probation.

Legally, what everyone thinks should have happened to Woodmansee is irrelevant, at least to his particular case.

Jason Foreman's father has stated in public (on radio) that he will kill Woodmansee if he's released if he can find him.

Typically, the issue of vigilantism comes up as hypotheticals or after hearing the news of there having been some vigilante act and is discussed (here at least) in an effort to identify the principles involved. If a rapist or murderer escapes justice by a technicality, for example, would it be moral for an individual who knows for certain that the person is guilty to enact revenge?

Now we have a case in which a father understandably wants to kill the murderer of his son if he is released from prison after having served his legal sentence. Legally, though it's understandable that the father wants to kill the man (and even understandable if he does kill him), Mr. Foreman (young Jason's father) has publicly declared his intention of murdering Woodmansee. (Legally, could it be anything other than murder regardless of how much we may sympathize with him?)

Philosophically and legally, what now should happens in response to Mr. Foreman's declaration? And what should happen to Mr. Foreman should he in fact kill Woodmansee if and when he's released from prison?

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I mentioned that Dr. Peikoff has discussed this issue of vigilantism in a few of his podcasts.

Episode 103

10:16 'There's a rape case. The police fail to find the rapist. You know who it is. Is it moral to exact justice on your own, assuming you wouldn't be caught?' You know, maybe hire somebody else or whatever... take vigilante revenge or justice. He says, 'This question comes up as a follow-up to your answer about Climategate. You said,' and he quotes me here, '"You know that these people, the professors, are aiding and abetting a group of killers, and that the government is actively cooperating, then it is self-defense to steal the answer."'"

Episode 125

07:24 "'Can vigilante murder ever be morally acceptable? Specifically' he says 'I'm thinking of a case of a pedophile, not a borderline type of case, but someone who's, for instance, committed rape of a child, and he was not convicted of an alledged crime. Would it be right to take his life?'"

Episode 135

01:10 "Here's a long question which I condensed to the following: 'If injustice rules a society,' and he goes on to give an example from England and in many details: his parents worked very hard, they built a good business, they were crushed systematically by government taxes, regulations, and then whatever they had finally remaining some investors made false charges and the court system rewarded them, and the result was his parents ended up poor, depressed, suicidal. And he wants to know, 'what do you do? Is it proper to be a vigilante in a case like this?'"

And here are a couple of threads here on this forum where vigilantism has been discussed:

Vigilantism

The Rule of Law

Edited by Trebor
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Philosophically and legally, what now should happens in response to Mr. Foreman's declaration? And what should happen to Mr. Foreman should he in fact kill Woodmansee if and when he's released from prison?

Two possible things (at least) can happen;

1) Should the intended victim choose so, he could seek charges for threatening bodily harm against the father should the appropriate jurisdiction(s) have an applicable law.

2) IF the father actually carries out the murder, he would have well established premeditation and malice aforethought by advertising his intent, and likely face capital punishment if such jurisdiction allows, assuming sufficient evidence is otherwise there for the charge/conviction.

IF he really intends to carry out such an act, he's really making the repercussions on himself potentially worse by being so vocal.

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It's sad, but sometimes, criminals get freed. This one served his time. Unfortunately, anything the poor father does now would be against the law. I guess I agree with that. There may be reasons why the killer only received a light sentence. Sometimes, a DA has a choice of plea bargaining if the evidence toward guilt is questionable or risk not getting any kind of conviction. The lesser of two evils, I guess. In this case, the fact that he was only 16 probably factored into the equation.

I don't see this situation coming under the heading of vigilantyism. In this case, the perp was caught and convicted. I've always thought of vigilantyism as a situation when the law is unable or refuses to do anything.

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Unfortunately, anything the poor father does now would be against the law. \

I most certainly do not find it unfortunate that this mans attempts at revenge and self-appointed vigilantism would be illegal. It is not up to him what condition or life status this man has after his release. What I do find unfortunate is that this criminal was not given the appropriate sentencing to begin with and that the sentence was not upheld to boot.

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It's sad, but sometimes, criminals get freed. This one served his time. Unfortunately, anything the poor father does now would be against the law. I guess I agree with that. There may be reasons why the killer only received a light sentence. Sometimes, a DA has a choice of plea bargaining if the evidence toward guilt is questionable or risk not getting any kind of conviction. The lesser of two evils, I guess. In this case, the fact that he was only 16 probably factored into the equation.

Yes, there was a plea bargain; Woodmansee was convicted of a second-degree murder charge.

Killer of South Kingstown boy Jason Foreman to be released in August, 12 years early:

Woodmansee said the police would find a journal. But he was emphatic: Everything in there is just fiction. He said it over and over. It’s fiction.

Inside the house, the police did find a journal which, they said, detailed what Woodmansee had done to Jason.

On Feb. 24, 1983, a trembling Woodmansee, having been found competent to stand trial, took the witness stand in Superior Court and admitted to a second-degree charge of murder.

Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Needham accepted the plea bargain that would spare the Foremans any further ordeal — including details of what the killer may have done — and said that the length of the sentence assured that justice had been done.

Needham ordered all evidence in the case sealed, including Woodmansee’s written account. His journal has remained under lock and key with Vespia since then. Its contents, said Vespia, are “absolutely terrible.”

[Vincent Vespia was the South Kingstown Police Chief at the time of the murder of Jason Foreman]

Father vows revenge on murderer who killed his son in 1975: 'I'll kill him' if he's paroled early:

In the interview, Foreman blamed himself, calling his decision to accept a plea deal that avoided a painful public trial "spineless."

"I've got myself to blame for that ... allowing him to be released early to become a predator to someone else," Foreman told the station. "I'm to blame for all that and I'll make that right.

"I cannot think; I cannot sleep. All I think about is trying to find a way to get to this man to kill him."

I don't see this situation coming under the heading of vigilantyism. In this case, the perp was caught and convicted. I've always thought of vigilantyism as a situation when the law is unable or refuses to do anything.

Depends of course on the meaning of vigilantism. This is an unusual case due to the fact that the criminal has served his time in accordance with his conviction and the laws that applied at the time and which currently apply. The father, just as those who have commented here, does not consider justice to have been served and has stated his intention of killing Woodmansee if he is released, even though his release will be in accord with the law. Myself, I'd still consider that to be vigilantism.

This is a truly sad case. The father (his wife, the mother of young Jason who was killed on her birthday, died in 2000. "Throughout it all, Jason’s mother, Joice –– who died in 2000 at the age of 50 –– continued to believe her boy was alive.") certainly has my sympathy. How horrible this has been for him.

Killer of South Kingstown boy Jason Foreman to be released in August, 12 years early:

“Over the years,” he said, starting to read, “I have blocked out all memories of what happened to Jason Douglas — that was his middle name. The tragic end to his life is too painful to think about.

“I have been able to visit Jason and his mother, Joice, at their gravesite with only love in my heart for them. But now I’m afraid to visit, now that the terrible memories are back to haunt me and my family. There is no forgiveness in me, only revenge.”

He said he expected Woodmansee to serve all 40 years of his sentence “because of the way he did kill Jason. It’s one thing to kill somebody, but to kill him that way … ”

John Foreman didn’t expect to feel this way so soon.

Edited by Trebor
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I most certainly do not find it unfortunate that this mans attempts at revenge and self-appointed vigilantism would be illegal. It is not up to him what condition or life status this man has after his release. What I do find unfortunate is that this criminal was not given the appropriate sentencing to begin with and that the sentence was not upheld to boot.

I'm not claiming to have the right answer here but I think the question needs to be asked-

On what basis need a person automatically accept what the majority have voted for as justice?

At what point when the justice system no longer does justice does an individual rightly claim the right to seek justice for themselves?

It would seem at some point our rights as individuals would morally trump what society dictates if the judicial branch of our government refuses to do justice. The question is- what is that point?

I ask this not necessarily about the particulars of this case, this case just brings the question up.

There are countries where rape is legal in certain circumstances. Does that mean that the individual must give up any hope of justice?

Obviously that is an extreme example... but what if the justice done is so insubstantial as to not qualify as justice at all?

At what point does a lack of justice in the justice system make individual action correct?

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Trebor, justice can never be served in a case like this. Even if the killer were executed, the parents would never get their precious child back.

I understand the father's rage, but I still don't believe he now has the right to his own brand of justice.

I certainly understand that no matter what punishment has been or might be meted out to Woodmansee, the murderer of young Jason Foreman, Jason's father will never have his child back. That is simply not possible.

But is justice solely about recompense? If justice, in the case of an irreplaceable loss, such as the murder of one's child, cannot be served, if it is solely about recompense and is therefore impossible, then there's nothing to be done. Why then was Woodmansee jailed at all?

Obviously justice is not exclusively about recompense. It's also about revenge and punishment. 

I'm certainly not of the view that Mr. Foreman has a legal right to follow though with his threat to kill Woodmansee, even if he thinks that it would  be Woodmansee's just desert. But does he have a moral right to do so?

I took the time to transcribe Dr. Peikoff's response (perhaps with some errors) to one of the three questions on vigilantism which I found in his podcasts. It's a helpful reply.

Episode 125

07:24 "'Can vigilante murder ever be morally acceptable? Specifically' he says 'I'm thinking of a case of a pedophile, not a borderline type of case, but someone who's, for instance, committed rape of a child, and he was not convicted of an alleged crime. Would it be right to take his life?'"

"Well, in general I have to say that if you want to live in a lawful society and thereby delegate your powers of retaliation to a government with the understanding that the alternative would be anarchy, then you could not commit murder as punishment because inherent in your delegation is, man is fallible. And therefore, the errors on the part of the prosecutors can be possible and can't be made an exception. 

You can't say, well I delegate my power to the government except if I disagree because then you're not delegating, you're simply staying still in the state of anarchy. 

But nevertheless, having said all that, which is philosophically a crucial answer, in my own opinion if it was a very exceptional case of great personal importance to you, for instance it was your own child being raped and you could get no action out of the government (now I can't give a more specific definition than that, just an example), I would have to say, I definitely would sympathize with the person who took it into his own hands.

But, one thing I would add, he must be prepared to accept the consequences as valid if he's caught. In other words, he couldn't be caught and then plead, but I was doing the right thing, rectifying your error. He'd have to realize, he's going against the law and they have a right to punish him, but this is so horrendous that he wants to retaliate even if it means his life in jail.

As I say, there are exceptional cases in which I personally would not criticize, would sympathize, but I can't define those cases any further, not at this point in my life."

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At what point when the justice system no longer does justice does an individual rightly claim the right to seek justice for themselves?

It would seem at some point our rights as individuals would morally trump what society dictates if the judicial branch of our government refuses to do justice. The question is- what is that point?

I think that Dr. Peikoff answers that question as well, in his podcast, Episode 103, which I also transcribed, hopefully without error:

10:16 'There's a rape case. The police fail to find the rapist. You know who it is. Is it moral to exact justice on your own, assuming you wouldn't be caught?' You know, maybe hire somebody else or whatever... take vigilante revenge or justice. He says, 'This question comes up as a follow-up to your answer about Climategate. You said,' and he quotes me here, '"You know that these people, the professors, are aiding and abetting a group of killers, and that the government is actively cooperating, then it is self-defense to steal the answer."'"

"My answer, first of all, is that in this situation the police are not aiding and abetting, they're not doing anything; they're simply, as you put it, failing. Presumably they tried, they couldn't, or they were swamped with other cases, or whatever, but they weren't aiding and abetting....Nor are they actively cooperating with the rapist, which is entirely different, first of all, from what I was saying. What I was talking about was people, like the professors, who were actually abetting a crime and a government's supposed to protect you, helping them  doing it. Failing to come up with a crime is not the same thing. 

Now, if you, you can accept a vigilante outlook, but only under one condition, only if you say, this society is past the point of living in it, a peaceful resolution of differences is no longer possible because the total authority is so corrupt, so lax. After all, people originated the society because they delegated the right of force and retaliation in order to achieve the protection of their rights.

If the government is totally, completely failing, then you have the right morally, one has the right morally, to say, i withdraw my delegation. But you have to be able to know what the consequences are. The first consequence is going to be anarchy if that principle is followed. You have to decide, is anarchy is better than the diluted, inconsistent protection you get now. I certainly don't think so. 

In some cases, I sympathize with the person who takes it into his own hands, but I can't endorse that as a principle. I sympathize because it's on the border. It's so horrible that, I wouldn't do it myself, but I wouldn't report it either. And don't ask me which cases. 

The only time when I think it would be really appropriate would be if you were able to declare a revolution: I won't any longer follow this society; I'm going to have a new one. Which is what the original Americans did. They said it's simply not possible to reform the society from within, so we will have a revolution. But they had two things that you don't have: they had an era of all favoring their ideas, reason and individual rights, and you have the opposite, and they had the potential military strength. England, Britain, did not have military weapons and ICBM's and nuclear, etc. So, under these circumstances, the revolution would be hopeless. 

So I won't say that you can do anything except say, I can't take the law into my own hands, I can't do anything about this society, at least as a matter of principle. We vote on them. There may be exceptions.

One other thing. Simply failing in a duty does not mean betraying it and therefore violating your rights and you need to have a private reaction. Any human activity must allow the possibility of failure. But, if and when the protectors turn into killers themselves, you have to escape or do what you can. But right now, you really don't have much of a choice. If you think that the United States is gone to that point, you don't have much of a choice but to leave the country, which there are certain people doing and I can understand why."

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But does he have a moral right to do so?

To the extent that promoting vigilante "justice" serves his rational self-interest in the long term, not to mention that the repercussions on his life may well be his life should he carry out his plan and get caught.

He is by word (and potentially by deed) sanctioning vigilante justice which can lead to all sorts of arbitrary judgements for real or perceived wrongs done to people. For instance, he backs into a car and the other driver feels that shooting at him is the appropriate and just response.

I guess he has to decide, if he's thinking clearly, if he is prepared for the potential impact murdering someone can have on his life. If he got the same sentence as his son's killer, would 28 years in prison (with good behavior) be worth it to kill the guy? If he got the chair would it be worth it? If he gets killed trying to kill the guy and the guy lives.....

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I guess he has to decide, if he's thinking clearly, if he is prepared for the potential impact murdering someone can have on his life. If he got the same sentence as his son's killer, would 28 years in prison (with good behavior) be worth it to kill the guy? If he got the chair would it be worth it? If he gets killed trying to kill the guy and the guy lives.....

I agree.

"Hell of a thing, killin' a man. You take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have." Will Munny (Clint Eastwood) in "The Unforgiven"

Woodmansee took away all that young Jason had and all that he (as well as his father and mother and others) would have had.

In some ways, perhaps the fact that Mr. Foreman has come out publicly and explicitly with his intent to kill Woodmansee will make all the difference for his life. Instead of his having kept it inside, nurturing his understandable hatred and working out plans to actually kill Woodmansee, he has screamed his protest to a horrible injustice. From what I read, it seems that he stuffed the whole matter, as best he could, down deep inside. It has now come back up after all these years with understandable torment. Yet that may prove to be his "salvation." I'm glad that he screamed.

His son is dead, murdered years ago; the killer is alive and about to be set free from the only form of justice he got, imprisonment. That's got to be hell to live with. But now, perhaps he'll find a way to turn his torment and grief into another outlet, perhaps as did John Walsh after the death of his son, Adam, and find life to be worth living. Who knows, perhaps Mr. Walsh has already contacted him. Such is my hope for the man.

Edited by Trebor
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To the extent that promoting vigilante "justice" serves his rational self-interest in the long term, not to mention that the repercussions on his life may well be his life should he carry out his plan and get caught.

He is by word (and potentially by deed) sanctioning vigilante justice which can lead to all sorts of arbitrary judgements for real or perceived wrongs done to people. For instance, he backs into a car and the other driver feels that shooting at him is the appropriate and just response.

Surely the law doesn't have to be subjective though. There is the possibility of objective law even if it is not being applied.

Let's say for example that a life for a life is deemed to be justice.

That being the case, that eye for an eye is deemed to be justice, there are still some other factors to consider. The falliabilty of police, prosecutors & jurists needs to be taken into consideration. If the accused makes a clean confession (no coercion) and there is physical evidence to back up the confession we take away the falliabilty argument and are left with:

Scenario:

Justice has been deemed by law to be an eye for an eye. The accused is absolutely, no doubt guilty by his own admission.

A judge chooses to ignore that and apply subjective law- lets say for instance he decides that having been an abused crack baby he should be shown leniency.

If an eye for an eye is not applied then justice has not occured.

If the proper place of the government is to provide justice so that individuals need not behave as anarchists is one still an anarchist for supplying themselves with that which was denied them by government?

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Justice most definitely and obviously hasn't been served. The killer deserves to die, and his death would mean justice was served. That's an objective fact.

So the father does have the moral right to kill this man. His act would not constitute an injustice, or the endorsement of any kind of an unjust act (like killing someone who backed into your car). It would also not constitute endorsement of anarchy as his preferred political system. He should be fully aware of the consequences (which mean he either has to escape to a country which won't send him back, or go to jail) before making his choice, and judge whether the trade he is making (giving his own comfort or future for achieving full justice) is worth it, but he has every right to do it.

I don't know if I would do it or not, in his place. But, when considering it, being afraid of committing an injustice (against the killer or the society which is letting him out early) would be the last thing on my mind. I find the suggestion absurd, and tantamount to pretending the system did its job, that there is no conflict here and that a peaceful coexistence between a murderer and his victim's family is perfectly feasible.

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"...for instance it was your own child being raped and you could get no action out of the government" - that's your quote from LP's podcast. But action was done. The man was found guilty and sentenced (actually, I hate to say this, but 28 years is a pretty good sentence under our messed up system). As I see it, LP's comment DOES NOT apply because the government DID act.

I'm in the effing position of defending some damned child killer here. Not a good place. All I'm saying is,the killer served his time. No victim can ever feel the punishment is enough. But that's for the law to decided. We can't each decide if we like a judgment and then go out and act ourselves. (On the other hand, any takers on taking out OJ - I can contribute some funds). It's legally wrong, and I think it's morally wrong to subject our subjective desires into the case. (That's what the dad is doing, unfortunately.) The power to punish lies with the court, and it did its job, whether or not we agree with the particulars. (Like I said, giving a 16-year old 28 years is actually not bad, considering some of the sentences I read about.) Killing a killer won't accomplish anything.

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I wasn't talking about the law, I was talking about the whimsical nature of vigilante justice.

Apologies for the imprecise wording... that is how I took your statement to mean.

I probably would have been clearer in saying that it is the subjective nature of our current legal system that often causes people to feel the need to turn to vigilantism. That the vigilantism is but a symptom that a system of objectively applied justice would cure.

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That the vigilantism is but a symptom that a system of objectively applied justice would cure.

No apology needed, I can see how my wording may have been less than precise. I agree with what you say above, largely. However, there will always be people whose emotional reactions will demand "justice" now - they lack the necessary patience to let the legal system do its job.

The "real or perceived wrongs" / "judgements" part was directed at those people who would take matters into their own hands and mete out what they personally consider to be "justice".

In real life, I know of a situation in which a man killed another man over eating a piece of his chicken - death penalty for petit larceny.

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