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Don't Throw Away McHugh's Life

Column by Josh Hartmann
Photography Editor

Hanging in the balance of the court proceedings surrounding the September murder of Yngve K. Raustein '94 is a second life, one threatened by Tom Reilly, the Middlesex Country district attorney, as he attempts to try Shon McHugh as an adult rather than a juvenile. Since the October 1993 night that Shon, a 16-year-old boy, was arrested for allegedly bludgeoning Raustein to death on Memorial Drive, the push has been on to see that Shon spends the rest of his life in jail.

In a fit of public posturing the morning after the murder, Reilly announced his intention to try Shon as an adult and released the alleged perpetrator's name. (Reilly's Suffolk County counterpart apparently doesn't do business the same way; when a teenager was killed in an Orange Line station in Boston last week, the names of the teens arrested in the incident were withheld from the media.)

Granted, if you're looking through Webster's to find the best word to describe Raustein's murder, bludgeoning certainly fits the bill. The crime was a gross example of some of America's worst problems: teenage delinquency, lack of respect for human life, the crumbling of strong working class families. (Is the term family values in Webster's yet?) While we don't yet know the details of whether Shon was drunk, high, or insane at the time of the incident, Reilly's attempt to stick it to Shon certainly appeals to the vengeful side of human nature.

At some point, society has to take some of the blame for such a tragedy. Unfortunately, Reilly would rather see two people die than just one. Let's pretend for a minute that Shon is guilty. Here's what this transfer hearing means: Convicted as an adult for murdering Raustein, Shon faces the rest of his life behind the bars of an adult prison, with adult murderers and rapists obstructing his view. No doubt he will be a victim of those rapists himself. And Reilly would say, "Serves him right."

But if Shon's attorney succeeds in demonstrating the appropriateness of a juvenile charge, Shon will probably face about 20 years' time, and will be in a juvenile facility -- clearly a kinder, gentler place -- until he is at least 21, and possibly 23, years old. He will then serve the balance of his sentence in an adult jail, perhaps not one of maximum security, as an older man less vulnerable to the evil influences present there and one who has had the opportunity to face up to his deeds among his peers and professionals trained to help juveniles.

For Shon to be tried as a juvenile, his attorney must demonstrate several things -- among them, Shon's ability to be rehabilitated and his good performance while in detention.

According to his lawyer, Shon is doing just fine. He had never had any significant run-ins with the law before (one time, as a youngster, he was picked up for giving a guy a couple of scratches with his bicycle, somehow), and his grades have been exemplary while in detention.

There can be only one reason why Reilly would be interested in destroying another life: politics. The district attorney is an elected official, and the incident took place about a month before the November elections. Go figure. It looks good for Reilly to be tough on crime, but his job is to ensure that justice prevails. Is it really just to disregard a second life in a fit of vengeance?