2006-01-25 / Editorials

Let The Punishment Fit The Crime

By Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn

On Wednesday, January 11, little seven-year-old Nixzmary Brown was tortured and ultimately beaten to death by her mother and stepfather. So came to an end a life that the investigation has shown was filled with pain, hunger and fear. The very people who were supposed to protect Nixzmary from harm and danger not only killed her, but apparently tortured her to the point where she was forced to use a cat’s litter box as a bathroom, was regularly tied to a chair by her wrists with rope and duct tape, and systematically starved; she weighed 36 pounds at the time of her death.

People from around the city, country and the world have expressed outrage and horror at this tragic event. Compounding the anger that surrounds this nightmare is the fact that, if convicted of murdering their own child, her mother and stepfather face a maximum sentence of only 25 years to life. While little Nixzmary is dead and buried, never able to experience all the things that little girls her age dream about, her killers may one day again be free.

Several years ago, former Assemblymember Stephen Kaufman and I introduced a package of legislation dealing with child abuse. Unfortunately, none of that legislation ever made it out of committee and onto the floor of the Assembly. Among those bills was a version of the legislation that state Senator Serphin Maltese and I introduced on January 20 of this year that would increase the penalty for parents who kill their own children to life without parole.

Unfortunately, we are too late for little Nixzmary Brown, but we hope to pass this legislation in time for it to act as a deterrent to, and as the appropriate punishment for, those who would commit such a heinous crime in the future No single bill is going to prevent every similar tragedy in the future, but this legislation will at least ensure that justice is done when such a vile crime takes place.

It would be easy and popular to call this bill “Nixzmary’s Law”, but unfortunately it could be named after any number of children killed by their parents or stepparents.

We could call it “Lisa’s Law”, after Lisa Steinberg, who was tortured and killed by her so-called father, Joel Steinberg. After beating her to the point of unconsciousness, Steinberg left the little girl dying on a bathroom floor and went out for the evening. Lisa may be long gone and forgotten by some of us, but Steinberg is again walking the streets after his release.

We could call it “Sylena’s Law” after Sylena Herrnkind who was savagely beaten and murdered by her parents, Julie and Matthew Herrnkind. They confessed to slamming their daughter’s head against the bathtub and scrubbing her skin with steel wool and peroxide. When she screamed in pain, begging her parents to stop, they stuffed a bar of soap into her mouth to shut her up. The soap bar, with her teeth marks embedded in it, was used as evidence against them by the prosecution. Despite their confessions and convictions, they too will one day be eligible for parole.

We could name this proposal for any of the other children who have been killed by the very person that they should have been able to trust more than anyone in the world, their mother or their father. Regardless of the name we give the legislation, the only thing that matters is getting it passed.

I’m not a lawyer, but I am a mother and a grandmother. I understand how precious human life is. These crimes are an abomination, a sin against everything that our society is supposed to believe in. More has to be done to protect children than simply passing this law, but those who commit these horrible crimes deserve the maximum penalty. These children are dead and buried and will never be able to walk the streets again. The people who killed them should never be able to do so either.

Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn represents the 20th Assembly District in Flushing.

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