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Herhold: We can't have a society based on vigilantism

7-19-2011 California:

Let's get one thing straight. Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen is not a turn-the-other cheek guy. If someone harmed his family, he would be outraged. He once chased down litterbugs in his neighborhood.

But Rosen is no believer in vigilantism. And as he sifted through the photos of the severe beating and whipping suffered by a child molester at the hands of his victim's relatives, he couldn't hide his distaste. "This is a prison case," he said.

It's a tale with an ugly set of facts. On Thanksgiving weekend, an 8-year-old San Jose girl woke her mother at 2 a.m. to tell her that she had been sexually abused by a houseguest who had duct-taped her mouth and attacked her.

Several hours later, the girl's stepfather, Miguel Cerda, and his brother, Erik Cerda, allegedly drove the accused molester, Avelino Rodriguez, to a ranch in Gilroy.

In the mayhem that followed, Rodriguez lost several teeth and suffered two black eyes, a broken jaw, burn marks and bruising from what appeared to be a whipping.

Saying he understood the provocation, Rosen nevertheless has charged the Cerdas with mayhem, torture, battery, assault and making criminal threats. The district attorney reportedly has offered them a deal of six to eight years in prison.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, has confessed to the attack and pleaded no contest to two felony counts. He is expected to receive a sentence that will require him to serve 19 years in prison before a parole board can consider releasing him.

Lengthy beating

For an experienced prosecutor like Rosen, the call on the Cerdas was not hard. He says the beating and whipping occurred several hours after the molestation, indicating planning, and lasted much longer than a few brief seconds.

"Nobody is calling the police," said Rosen, who points out that Rodriguez could have been left free to commit another crime. "The thought is, 'We're going to get this guy.' "

For a politician, however -- and remember, the DA is also an elected official -- the Cerda case poses more challenges. It's one thing to go after a molester. It's another to go after relatives seeking vengeance.

The online comments on the piece by Mercury News reporter Tracey Kaplan criticized Rosen. "What parent would not want to protect their child or punish the person who harmed their child? What message does this send to the stepdaughter?" asked one reader.

No private vengeance

My take? We can't base a society on private vengeance. We have police and prosecutors for a reason. The gulf between the Cerdas' revenge and honor killings is not so great.

"There are certain core functions of government, and justice for its citizens is one of them," Rosen said. "If we said, 'Yeah, we're gonna give these guys a pass,' then we're encouraging that kind of behavior."

How does Rosen answer critics? "When people do this, it isn't about justice," he said. "It's not helping their daughter or niece. There's nothing for her. All this does is feed their own egos and their sense that now we're in control."

That, I think, is the message to the victim: This is terrible, we are with you, and we will seek justice. But we are better than the man who attacked you. ..Source.. by Scott Herhold

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