Jon Bruning: A Man Lost to His Own Ambitionby Kyle Michaelis
Sometimes the get-tough attitude on crime should be tempered by mercy, Attorney General Jon Bruning said during an unsuccessful attempt Wednesday to get an inmate’s life sentence reduced.How right Bruning was. Unfortunately, today Bruning betrayed every principle and every truth he spoke by letting his ambition to run for higher office in 2008 guide his taking action that would have made him "want to throw up" less than two years ago.
Bruning failed to persuade the other Pardons Board members — Secretary of State John Gale and Gov. Dave Heineman — to give a second chance to a man sentenced when he was 18 to life without parole for his role in a murder.
Bruning admitted this stand could jeopardize his own re-election bid. “We are continually trying to get ourselves re-elected by trying to be tougher than the next guy,” Bruning said. “And at some point, it’s got to end”....
With the 2-1 decision, the Pardons Board continued its 14-year record of denying requests to commute life sentences. But the decision sparked a passionate debate on being tough on crime.
Bruning pointed out that, historically, the state Pardons Board commuted life sentences several times a year until the early 1990s. And Bruning admitted his own get-tough record. “I’ve been so tough on crime, it makes me want to throw up sometimes,” he said.
But there is a time to consider mercy, he noted. Bruning said he was willing to commute this sentence “at my own political peril”....
“It’s the voice of the people driving this issue of law and order,” Gale said.
“It’s the voice of politicians who are trying to get re-elected,” Bruning said.
Tuesday's Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
The three-member Board of Pardons refused 2-1 to commute the life sentence of a man who has spent 29 years in prisons for the death of a retired postal worker. The decision means Reginald Bennett has no chance to be paroled out of prison....What changed between 2005 and 2007? Only Jon Bruning's taste for power. What a shameless and pathetic son of a bitch. Here, Bruning finally had the opportunity to prove that he stood for something - ANYTHING - more than Jon Bruning. This is a pretty clear demonstration that he's forsaken conscience and humanity for his own ego and ambition.
Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning said Bennett’s case was not extraordinary enough to merit commutation....
Bruning...pointed to Bennett’s decision three decades ago to follow his attorney’s advice and reject the plea agreement. “Ultimately I’m not sure the system failed him. He could have taken the deal,” Bruning said.
Bruning also pointed to death penalty opponents, who say the state should do away with the death penalty because “life means life.” But a decision to commute a life sentence “is proof that life doesn’t mean life,” he said.
In addition, approving one commutation would open a flood gate for the 200 people in Nebraska’s prison system with life sentences, Bruning said.
“If we open the gate, it is going to be very difficult to say no to anyone. So do we want to open the gate?”....
Only Secretary of State John Gale said he believed Bennett’s case was one of the exceptions....
Gale pointed to Bennett’s record in prison, his lack of a previous criminal record, the fact he called for an ambulance and stayed with the victim until it arrived, and his strong family and church support and his record in the prison.
“I think this is one of those rare cases that deserves an opportunity for commutation.”
Did Bruning ever care about the value of mercy? Was ever really willing to take the right action at his own "political peril"? I suppose it doesn't matter now. He got his headlines at the time. Maybe that was all he ever wanted.
Bruning can fabricate whatever justification he wants - a 30 year-old plea bargain rejected by a 21 year-old kid, "life means life", opening the flood gates - but it's hard to imagine a worse load of complete bullshit.
I don't often use such harsh language on the site, but I don't know any other way to convey the full degree of my outrage at this sinful, unforgivable hypocrisy. It is sad enough that Nebraskans have elected three straight governors like Heineman who have let politics trump compassion for 16 years. But, Bruning has brought this ongoing controversy to a new low - pandering to our worst instincts in violation of that which he knows is right.
These other politicians? Maybe they really don't know better. Maybe they really do believe that being blindly tough on crime serves the public interest. Maybe they really do believe that there's no place for mercy and rehabilitation in our criminal justice system.
Jon Bruning, though, does know better. He's gone on record saying so. And, that makes his action all the more shameful and all the more sinful.
Below is a picture of Reginald Bennet's mother responding to Bruning's unsurprising flip-flop that decided her son's fate. She may be alone in her tears, but her loss is our loss - a blow to everything that is good and right about Nebraska and its people, who are better than this and deserve better from their elected officials.