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USC shooter's 40-year prison sentence: Don't call it justice

Brandon Spencer, the 21-year-old former gang member sentenced to 40 years to life in prison for attempted murder, may have sobbed like a toddler Friday after learning that the next several decades of his life will be spent behind bars, but he deserves little sympathy, wrote Times columnist Sandy Banks on Monday.

But several of our readers had a much more charitable, even forgiving, attitude toward Spencer.

The two sides don't dispute the facts: A gun-toting Spencer showed up at a Halloween party at USC in 2012 looking to exact revenge on a gang rival; several shots later, three innocent bystanders in addition to Spencer's target were injured.

But where Banks spots an "object lesson by wannabe gangsters carrying guns," most readers who sent letters to The Times -- including two of the three likely to be published in Wednesday's paper -- see an overly punitive system too eager to throw away the life of a young man, one that metes out punishment based partly on race and not just on the severity of the crime. Some say Spencer's actions were those of a young, impulsive mind that could be healed and developed through rehabilitation and education. Several cited far shorter prison terms handed out to rapists and killers to make the point that Spencer's race may have played a role in his sentence.

Underpinning nearly all of the letters is a sense of exasperation with criminal justice in the U.S. They characterize Spencer's sentence as a waste of money and of a young life. Here are some of those letters.

Glendale resident Susan Straughn Harris notes sentencing discrepancies:

Has there ever been a more heartwrenching photo than the one of Spencer crying?

This is a prime example of just how broken the justice system is in this country. I know there are people who will say "the law is the law." The law may be the law, but it is not handed out with any evenness. Don't get me wrong, I am anti-gun and Spencer did a terrible thing. Many people could have died. I am not excusing his crime.

But 40 years?

In the same paper that first reported Spencer's sentence was a story of a man named Cody Wygant, who is accused of killing his 16-month-old son because he was crying. He faces more than 10 years if convicted. 

It's not always smart to bring race into a debate. However, our jails are filled with people like  Spencer. Where is the justice here?

If ever someone were ripe for rehabilitation, it's this man. How many thugs have we seen receive similar sentences, only to smirk and even laugh? This is not a man who is upset that he got caught. He appears genuinely sorry for what he did.

Let's hope his appeal brings a more just sentence.

Robert Bubnovich of Irvine says Spencer deserves a shot at redemption:

The photo of Spencer crying makes my blood boil. People should know the difference between right and wrong. It is clear that Spencer is sorry for his actions and is aware that there ought to be consequences.

But the courts also should know the difference between justice and injustice. Forty years in prison for wounding a few people is a clear injustice. Putting Spencer in prison for four decades amounts to a death sentence: He will lose the chance to live a normal life; his dreams will die in prison. 

I hope he gets a chance at redemption.

Marcia Goodman of Long Beach also decries inequity in sentencing:

It would seem that there's as much inequity in the criminal justice system as there is in the economy.

Spencer received an inappropriately harsh 40-year sentence for wounding four people in a shooting at a party at USC. Even though Spencer had no prior criminal record and no one was killed, prosecutors had the unmitigated gall to request four consecutive terms totaling 160 years. That's outrageous.

Meanwhile, in the same edition of The Times, an article noted that someone who was charged with two dozen shootings and one death is serving a comparatively light 27-year term. A separate piece reported that a Florida man accused of smothering his 16-month old son (and who has a lengthy rap sheet) may receive a sentence of more than 10 years.

Where is the fairness?

Los Angeles resident Charles Martin echoes Sandy Banks:

"I'm sorry for what happened, but I can't spend the rest of my life in prison."

Not wanting to sound insensitive, but Spencer's comment should be hung on the walls of all middle schools and high schools along with his picture. Better yet, how about some billboards throughout the city?


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Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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