How contemptuous of Lawrence Ahrens, the man who admitted to orchestrating a bombing campaign against a romantic rival in Rotterdam last year, to show up in court for his sentencing Thursday in a T-shirt bearing a not-so-veiled threat to his accomplices, who had agreed to testify against him as part of their plea bargains.
To his credit, Visiting Judge Michael Coccoma demanded that Ahrens remove the shirt, which read, “Stop Snitching” on the front and “Snitches Get Stitches” on the back. He probably should’ve done more — at least rebuking Ahrens, citing him for contempt of court, maybe even rejecting his previously agreed-upon plea bargain, which resulted in a 15-year prison sentence.
Ahrens is no angel, as his crimes against a man who dared date his former girlfriend made clear: He hired a few acquaintances to vandalize and fire-bomb his rival’s house and truck, a la former Schenectady school strongman Steven Raucci. And even though no one was hurt in any of the several incidents, as Coccoma pointed out when he sentenced Ahrens, many lives (including those of police and emergency responders) were surely imperiled.
Actually, Ahrens faced as much as life in prison for his crimes — second-degree arson and first-degree criminal possession of a weapon. But rather than express gratitude for the break prosecutors gave him and remorse for his actions, the message his T-shirt bore showed him to be defiant and unrepentant to the end. Perhaps that was his right, but the judge wouldn’t have been wrong to come down on him for it a bit harder.
By permitting Ahrens to convey such a message of intimidation without additional penalty, the judge may have unwittingly discouraged people privy to other crimes, and witnesses in other cases, from speaking up or testifying. Very often, “snitching” by eyewitnesses enables authorities to put criminals behind bars without the expense or risk of going to trial, so no one should be allowed to undermine the process, least of all a convict who’s been given a break.