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Lloyd Waters: The elusive search for justice continues

June 17, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

I have to tell you that I’m beginning to have a little problem with this thing we call “justice.” How exactly does it work anyway?

Out of Texas, a few weeks back, came the story of Diane Tran, an 11th-grader who attended Willis High School near Houston. They say that Diane was an honor roll student who just happen to have a little problem with the law.

Specifically, she was a truant from high school, who missed 10 days of school in a six-month span. This truancy put her in violation of the law in Texas, and resulted in her arrest and appearance in court.

On her day in court Diane appeared before Judge Moriarty. She explained to the judge that she was working two jobs and helping to support her remaining family after her parents divorced and went separate ways.

The judge had apparently warned her that if her attendance didn’t improve she would suffer the consequences. As part of her sentence, Judge Moriarty confined her to 24 hours in the Montgomery County Jail and a $100 fine.

Although the public has rallied around Diane and apparently raised some $70,000 on her behalf, she should really be thankful that she had Judge Moriarty and not Judge Roy Bean, the hanging judge, for her trial.

Judge Bean might have said, “Sometimes you just have to hang truant kids to make an example of them.”

I know administering justice fairly in Texas must be difficult at times.

I can remember reviewing some court cases as a prison warden and I just shook my head.

Some convicted murderers received the death penalty; some received life in prison; while others  got anywhere from 10 to 50 years.

Not much consistency, I thought.

Yep, justice, for sure, can be a little elusive.

My all-time favorite example of justice at work involves the case of Private Eddie Slovik.

Slovik was a Polish-American who lived in Detroit. As a youth, he was always in trouble with the law for petty offenses, spent some time in prison and was later paroled. Early on he was rated as a 4-F or unsuitable for the draft because of his prison record. After he got married his classification changed to 1-A and he was drafted and became a member of the 109th Infantry Unit as a rifleman and sent to France.

As the battles and bullets raged around him, Slovik decided that he didn’t like war, became very nervous, and made a decision to desert his unit and the U.S. Army.

Once he was returned to his unit, he refused to be reassigned to his rifle company, and was officially charged with “desertion.”

Slovik received a military trial and was sentenced to death by firing squad.

He appealed his conviction and sentence to Gen. Eisenhower, who denied his appeal.

On Jan. 31, 1945, Private Slovik was strapped to a six by six post and prepared for execution. Twelve riflemen were selected from his unit and prepared to fire and execute a deserter.

Before Slovik was shot, he offered the following words:

“They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army; thousands of guys have done that. They’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old.”

At 10:04 a.m., the command to ready, aim, and fire was given. Eleven bullets struck Private Eddie Slovik’s body, and although his death was not immediate, he died just moments later.

Justice at work, I concluded. But a few statistics always seem to haunt me.

There were 21,000 military deserters during World War II and Slovik was the only one executed for desertion. Thousands of soldiers deserted in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, yet only one person has ever been executed for desertion. Eddie Slovik.  

I guess Slovik’s understanding of justice right before his death was a lot different than those other deserters left living.

So much for justice.


Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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