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Out on street by slip-up in DA’s office

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
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Here is a guy I would not like to meet and I would not like anyone else to meet: Ernest L. Burnett, age 42, of Schenectady. At least I would not like to meet him if the charges against him are true.

The charges are that last September he assaulted his girlfriend at her residence on Glenwood Boulevard, choked her, tied her up hand and foot, held a box cutter to her throat, threatened to make her eat boric acid, then finally loaded her into the trunk of his car and drove off with her.

The girlfriend managed to escape and get help, and Burnett was arrested two months later. (I don’t know why it took so long.)

There is a concern about meeting this fellow because he is now out on the street, having been released from jail even though he could not post the $50,000 bail that was set.

The reason he was released is that the district attorney’s office failed to present to the court the indictment against him in a timely manner. A grand jury approved the indictment in early January, but the district attorney’s office didn’t hand it up until Feb. 17, according to the assistant district attorney who is handling the case, Christina Tremante-Pelham.

That made it impossible for the district attorney to declare his readiness for trial within the 90 days of the defendant’s being incarcerated that the law requires.

So last week Burnett’s lawyer was able to argue successfully in County Court that his client should be freed, albeit under the supervision of the office of probation and with an order of protection directing Burnett to stay away from his girlfriend.

“Why there was the delay is something we’re looking into,” Tremante-Pelham said.

It’s troubling to me that a guy accused of such brutality and facing a possible 25 years in prison as a result of it should be free on the streets, but apparently it is not troubling to the person who should care the most, meaning his girlfriend.

She was in court the other day when the defense lawyer was arguing for Burnett’s release, and the lawyer said on her behalf that she did not want an order of protection. Can you imagine that?

We’ve seen this before, of course — a battered woman who stands by her batterer — but if this doesn’t beat all. The guy allegedly comes close to killing her, and she’s OK with him coming calling again.

I would say I’m not OK with it, and I’m glad the court wasn’t OK with it either.

As for the lapse in the DA’s office that allowed this character to be put back on the streets, let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.

Meanwhile, the case now heads toward either trial or plea bargain, and we’ll see how it turns out.

Atrocities, real ones

Then we had the letter to the editor the other day reasserting that Catholic freedom of religion

is abridged if the church is not allowed to deny contraceptive insurance coverage to employees of its various institutions. I will not rehash the arguments but will only respond to the following ancillary statement about me: “The fact that Carl [that’s me] had to go back 1,500 years to make his point about atrocities committed in the name of God proves its inherent weakness.”

Apparently the writer misunderstood what I was up to.

I had brought up the atrocities of the First Crusade — 1,000 years ago, not 1,500 — to counter the fantastic claim by Rick Santorum that crusader aggression was “anti-historical,” or not true, and also to counter the assertion by another letter writer that the history of the church is “2,000 years of people martyred for their beliefs.”

I thought it would be salutary to remind that writer of some of the outrages committed in the name of the church during those 2,000 years and to point out that for most of the time it was the church doing the martyring, by way of burnings at the stake, garroting, flaying and so forth, as punishment for such transgressions as minor doctrinal differences, perceived witch-hood, or, in the case of William Tyndale, translating the Bible into English.

(Tyndale was garroted, impaled and burned to death.)

I’m sorry to reach so far back in history — Tyndale got his treatment 500 years ago — but if people are going to go around saying the Crusades were not Christian aggression and Catholics have been suffering martyrdom for 2,000 years, naturally I have to reach back.

To compare any of this barbarism, however, to the current disagreement over insurance coverage for contraception, is just too much of a stretch for my bones, and I respectfully urge my Catholic readers to get a grip, as the saying goes.

Requiring insurance companies (not churches) to provide contraceptive coverage to employees of church-affiliated institutions is not at all like feeding a Christian to a lion or like a Christian garroting, impaling and burning a translator.

WORD WATCH

There it was, on the website of The New York Times yesterday, an opinion piece on the question, “Are people getting dumber … whether humanity is devolving.”

I’m sorry to be the one to deliver the news, but “devolve” is not the opposite of “evolve.” I see the word misused that way so often I have stopped saving examples, and if the misuse continues I’m sure it will eventually be accepted and become standard as so many other misuses have become standard. But as of now, “devolve” still means “to pass on or delegate to another” (American Heritage Dictionary), or, intransitively, “to be passed on or transferred to another,” as in, “The burden of proof devolved upon the defendant,” which is the way you most often see it. But not, “the discussion devolved into a shouting match,” or, “the human species is devolving.” Not yet, anyway.

 
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