September/October, 1998 Volume XIII Number 2

The value of kids and kittens

By Cathy Ramey

The news speaks for itself, and it is not good. In Janesville, Wisconsin spectators in the courtroom disrupted proceedings by erupting into cheers, with hands and arms waving in victory. Nearly 80 others who could not crowd into the room were heard celebrating only seconds later.
Thirty-seven year old Barry Herbeck had just been sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing five cats and a dog in an effort to release pent up anger.
Herbeck is, without any doubt, a loathsome sort of fellow. Taking his children with him, he answered ads for "free" cats and then violently abused them by punching or tossing them against a wall until they died. The family's eight month old German shepherd was found having been suffocated with duct tape sealing the animal's mouth and nose, his body stuffed into a container.
One might argue that 12 years would be just about the right amount of time such a miscreant would need to find other ways to vent his rage. We have no problem with the judge's admittedly harsh sentence, but might suggest the time would be better spent in leg and arm restraints in a state hospital such as the one portrayed in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Our sympathies are not with Mr. Herbeck. However, his punishment, when viewed alongside another case is shocking.
In Wilmington, Delaware, college sweethearts Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson were finally sentenced in July for the death of their son.
Refusing to divulge her pregnancy and seek medical assistance, Grossberg gave birth in a motel room on November 12, 1996. Peterson then placed the newborn into a garbage bag and threw the baby boy into a dumpster behind the motel.
Grossberg and Peterson were each initially charged with first-degree murder, a charge carrying the possibility of a death sentence. Bail was established and posted for both by well-to-do families, and they managed to spend over eighteen months on a sort of community release pending trial. In March of 1998 Peterson agreed to plead guilty and testify against Grossberg in exchange for a reduction from first-degree murder to a manslaughter charge.
Grossberg too then pleaded guilty only one month later.
So, for depriving a baby of adequate oxygen by wrapping him in a garbage bag, throwing the infant into a trash container so hard that his skull was fractured in several places, and then leaving him mortally injured to die alone of exposure, the couple, for all practical purposes, got a "Get Out of Jail Free" card from the justice system.
Amy Grossberg, whose complicity was in refusing to get medical care, giving birth, and then telling her boyfriend to "get rid of" the baby, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. That comes down to less than 23 months if Grossberg is credited with time off for good behavior and participation in the prison's educational programs. She was given the longer sentence for refusing Peterson's alleged efforts to convince her to seek medical attention prior to the delivery of her baby.
Brian Peterson, whose actions were directly responsible for the baby's bodily injuries and death, was sentenced to just 2 years. With good behavior he will be out of prison after having served less than 18 months.
In the case of Barry Herbeck, the man who killed cats and a dog, a reporter at the courthouse said only that he "looked stunned" when given the maximum sentence for his crimes. Too humbled by his misdeeds and the resultant proceedings, Herbeck left the courtroom without saying a word.
Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson, on the other hand, though they each pled guilty, left the courtroom after making comments that subtly distanced them from the crime of putting an infant to death.
Grossberg stated, "I'm extremely sorry for what happened to my baby. I blame nobody but myself."
Peterson remarked, "Mistakes were made that cost my son's life. . . . I'm so sorry for what happened."
"Mistakes"? A mistake involves the idea of a well-intentioned error. Peterson's tossing of the child several feet into a dumpster and then leaving him there to die constitutes more than a mistake. The only expected outcome would be physical injury and death. And referring obliquely to being sorry for "what happened" as though "what happened" involved circumstances beyond one's control, is not quite like saying "I'm sorry for what I did."
Beyond the lack of real accountability for the sweetheart killers, spectators to the two trials cannot help but see the inconsistencies of justice afforded kittens and helpless humans by our court system. Kill a kitten, and go to jail for a large chunk of your life. Kill a child, and the public will be told of your own private agony for having experienced any consequence at all for your behavior.
And why not? If Amy Grossberg could have flown to Wichita and procured the services of George Tiller on November 11 of 1996, there would now be no problem. One of Peterson's "mistakes" apparently was in not purchasing a plane ticket for his girlfriend to go and have the little boy properly killed, as was the case with the 12 year old incest victim whose parents hustled her off to have a 29 week old unborn baby mercilessly killed by Tiller during the last week of July.
Finally, the government has reeled over the last few years-really since the Oklahoma City bombing-at the revelation that many very ordinary people in America find our system of governance to be untrustworthy. Perhaps these stunned bureaucrats ought to give pause and examine a system that throws the book at a man for killing cats, but then merely slaps the wrists of those who murder innocent human beings, handing down a sentence as if the boy in the garbage bag was worth little more than a cat.
It reminds me of a ludicrous statement my father once made to me when we were discussing the disciplining of children.
"Kids," he said, "until they're of a certain thinking age, are just like lttle animals." He gave the example of a mother cat who would bite and hit her kitten away when no longer able to contend with its behaviors. The force of what he was saying was that kids and animals both learn lessons early in life only by being tossed around.
I got angry at the time, and so would you and many others perhaps. His words were out of step with what we see as reasoned reality. Our wordspeak is aimed at stopping child abuse.
But old habits die hard. Helene Dyer, a college professor from Madison Wisconsin remarked at the Barry Herbeck trial, "Just because the victim is not human, the crime is the same," appaluding the judge's decision to give Herbeck the longest sentence in recent history for killing animals.
The court system in Delaware too has just stated by its action in the Grossberg-Perterson case that kids are not much different than kittens, you can throw them against the wall of a dumpster and walk away almost scott free.
We join the likes of Tod O' Daniels, defense attorney for Barry Herbeck who said, "It's my fervent hope that this public outrage and this energy [over killing five cats and a dog] be directed toward human victims. . . . It disappoints me a lot that we don't get this much concern in cases that don't involve animals."

Fly in the ointment
The value of kids and kittens
Abortion mill beyond offensive
Both China and the US have defined the unborn as property

© 1997 Advocates for Life Ministries