Thursday, September 19, 2013

A fitting sentence

For those unfamiliar with the ghastly "Fat Longpig" case, in a nutshell, "Longpig" was one Geoffrey Portway who talked online about doing unspeakable things to kids and had a houseful of equipment that indicated he might bring his plans to fruition. That's about all the detail I care to reiterate (the link is right up there ^ for the curious), but I will offer up some commentary.

In comment threads and posts all over the Internet, people are expressing outrage over Mr. Portway's sentence of 26 years and eight months, which is just shy of the 27-year maximum he faced. They're calling for the death penalty or a life sentence. And while I can surely understand that reaction, I'm not quite ready to brandish the pitchfork.

While I don't know every detail of the investigation, it seems to me that it was pretty top-notch. Officers watched this guy online and waited for him to say and do things that allowed them to obtain a search warrant. What they found inside Portway's home was beyond shocking and begged charges associated with child pornography, to which Portway pleaded guilty. He also admitted to soliciting violence.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that the investigative team probably did an exhaustive search for any evidence indicating Portway had kids in his home, which no doubt included a tedious sweep for DNA. They didn't find anything--not one shred of evidence--that indicated Portway had ever acted on his terrible fantasies.

So while I am very very glad this individual is out of circulation, I cannot say his sentence is inappropriate. While he committed serious crimes, he did not murder anyone and he does not deserve a life sentence. He does not deserve to be put to death.

There is no possible way to know if Portway would have ever acted out. Maybe his fantasy world was enough. Maybe not. Either way, punishing people for crimes they did not actually commit is wrong.

But he planned it, Erin!

People plan and talk about a lot of things. Portway apparently crossed the line when he solicited someone else to commit a crime. And they got him on the porn. They threw the max sentence at him.

If legislators use this extreme and emotionally fraught case to enact laws that proactively punish people who might do something, I fear a very slippery slope is afoot. After all, we live in a world sullied by Gitmo and preemptive war. The "keep us safe" mantra has trickled down in myriad ways, like having some unseen Homeland Security officer ogling my teen daughter naked at the airport security check. If legislators make just talking about obscene things a crime, how long until we're all walking on eggshells, afraid to type the word "handcuffs" beneath the watchful eye of the NSA?

In a post-911 world, laws that "keep us safe" from unrealized deeds eventually filter down to you and me. They erode our rights, our privacy and our freedom. Don't believe me? Try lighting a cigarette on an airplane.

As for Portway, I fear for his poor twisted soul.

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Elisson said...

A thoughtful post, for which thank you. There's a whole lot of difference between fantasy and action. Nevertheless, I feel good about this character being out of circulation.

Erin O'Brien said...

Me too. And thanks for chiming in.

You know, I struggle with my position on this, but at the end of the day, those investigators would have found something if it was there to be found.

He would have saved grisly mementos and taken pix. At a minimum, there would have been traces of DNA in that house.

Who knows. God what an awful story.

Joe said...

You are exactly right. Punish for the crime he did commit. The thought police don't yet have authority.