Monday, June 11, 2018
It pains us, really, to even have to broach the subject of Christopher Segerstrom.
In our perfect world, the people of Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas wouldn't have to concern themselves again with his name and the awful memories he's responsible for creating. And, more importantly, the family of a little girl robbed of a future nearly 32 years ago would not have to consider a world in which their baby's killer is a free man.
What’s the point?
The 45-year-old killer of a 4-year-old Fayetteville girl 30 years ago should not be paroled.
Barbara Thompson would be 36 today. Only God knows what kinds of adventures and challenges lay ahead for her back in 1986, what kind of life she would have built as she grew into her teens then into womanhood, or who she might have influenced over the course of the next few decades.
Yes, only God knows, but the Arkansas Parole Board should at least try to imagine. Its members owe little Barbara at least that much. All seven board members today are older than Barbara would have been, had she not been lured into those woods behind Lewis Plaza Apartments near the University of Arkansas. At the time, the youngest parole board member was about 13; the oldest around 35, not quite the age Barbara would have been today. They were busy building their lives and had every expectation they had years ahead to do it.
Barbara Thompson had no reason to believe the teenager who promised to help her catch butterflies had evil intentions. Segerstrom, who was 15 at the time, sexually assaulted the girl before striking her in the head with a 40-pound rock and suffocating her.
He extinguished the light a 4-year-old both sees and brings into this world. For his crime, the teenager was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In recent years, however, state and federal courts have invalidated such mandatory sentences for young people convicted of even the most brutal of crimes. The idea is that youthful offenders can, in some cases, be rehabilitated to the point that their lives can be redeemed. Goodness, we certainly hope that's true.
Last May, Washington County Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay was pretty much backed into a legal corner by those higher court rulings. He had to resentence Segerstrom to life with the possibility of parole. Segerstrom, as a result, immediately became eligible for parole consideration.
The decision is now in the hands of the Arkansas Parole Board.
We agree with the basic principle that resulted in Segerstrom's new sentence (and those of thousands of other youthful offenders), but it must also be recognized the "possibility of parole" also means a possibility of no parole. And if any case begs for a rejection of parole, Christopher Segerstrom's does.
The most heartbreaking part of these circumstances is how it requires Barbara's family to be on constant guard against the parole process. They lost more than most people can fully imagine in 1986, and yet their fight to keep the girl's killer behind bars continues. They and today's Washington County Prosecutor Matt Durrett, who was 13 when Barbara died, oppose Segerstrom's release.
"Anyone who would do something like that, I think, forfeits their right to walk among free people in a free society," Durrett has said in the past. "I've been of the belief ever since the first time I heard the name Christopher Segerstrom that he did not deserve to ever get out. Ever."
The courts' changes in law didn't alter the "life" part of Segerstrom's sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison and he wasn't just some teen who was driving a car from which someone else fired a fatal bullet. The brutality of what was done to tiny Barbara Thompson is a compelling argument against his release and for the continuing protection of the community.
The world outside the prison is home to a lot of 4-year-olds who have no reason to fear for their futures.
We hope the Arkansas Parole Board, when it meets June 29 and in the years ahead for Segerstrom's hearing, doesn't do anything to give those young innocents reason to fear.
Commentary on 06/11/2018
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