Beverly Jean Ernst, whose 3-month-old twins died after being left unattended in a car, was sentenced Nov. 6 to four years in prison. Her crime was inexcusable. Her negligence was reprehensible. And two little human beings saw no more of life than three months. That she was a horrible mother is not debatable. What is debatable is whether or not she should spend four years in prison.
Ernst is guilty of extreme carelessness, but is she guilty of malice? She should indeed pay a price--a heavy price. But what single price could be heavier than to carry the weight that she must bear all the remaining days of her life?
After handing down the sentence, the judge in the case stated: "Miss Ernst, I wish you well. I think you can make a turnaround." There is no doubt that the judge thought long and hard about what kind of sentence would best serve justice. However, to hand this woman, who already has one hell of a cross to bear, a sentence of four years in prison is to take away any hope of rehabilitation and place instead an almost insurmountable obstacle to such rehabilitation.
What purpose can such a sentence serve? It certainly will not rehabilitate anyone. Nor will it serve to deter parental negligence. Such a crime is not committed with intent nor will it be avoided by pointing out an example. There is no need to deal Ernst a further blow. What is needed is an attempt to show compassion and an effort to rehabilitate a devastated member of the human race.
MILTON B. ROUSE
San Juan Capistrano