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Meting Out Punishment

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West St Paul, Minn--Because Minnesota law gives the victims of crime a right to have their say before sentencing, the judges deciding punishment for four teenage boys whose vandalism spree closed a high school here had a large-scale dilemma.

The "victims" of the $5-million rampage at Henry Sibley High--students, educators, parents, and members of the community--were too numerous for an ordinary courtroom to accommodate.

So District Judges William F. Thuet and Thomas R. Lacy rented a community-college auditorium. And in that setting on May 25 they heard the recommendations of more than two dozen witnesses. Some 300 spectators crowded the unusual "victims' impact" hearing.

Although there were occasional flashes of bitterness from the witness stand, the generally mild testimony suggested that much of the fury that had gripped this affluent St. Paul suburb in the wake of the March incident had passed.

Pleas for leniency predominated, with most of the witnesses saying the youths should be sentenced to high-visibility community service, but not prison terms.

"Vengeance will not restore our school," said Robert Reed, a teacher. "Vengeance will not bring back lost learning."

The four youths, all of whom have pled guilty in the case, used a hand-operated fork lift, an acetylene torch, and paint to cause an estimated $100,000 in direct damages. They also turned on fire hydrants that flooded the school and damaged its asbestos insulation, which must be removed at a far greater expense.

Three of the 25 witnesses recommended time in jail for the offense. One teacher who lost the fruits of 10 years of research said the school's faculty members were divided on the issue, and warned that the split could become bitter if "no time is served."

The judges will sentence the youths on June 12. Though the case of a 17-year-old defendant was handled through the juvenile courts, the three older youths could face up to one year in the county jail and 10 years' probation under sentencing guidelines.

Sibley High School, where all but one of the youths are enrolled, is scheduled to reopen in the fall after repairs.

--Austin C Wehrwein

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