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Editorial: DA made best decision in Grinder hit-and-run

Arizona Summer Wildcat
August 4, 1999
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It's hard to explain the death of 31-year-old Martha Grinder.

One could say that bad things happen to good people.

Since she was a regular church-goer, others might say that she's with God now, and that her death was his plan.

But the UA agriculture student, who was killed last month while jogging on Tucson's east side, met a horrible, unjustifiable end. Her 9-month-old daughter, Rollie Marie, almost suffered the same fate.

While doctors helped the baby back to health, they couldn't do the same for Martha.

The death shocked and angered Tucsonans, as Grinder and her daughter were struck by a passing car. The driver didn't stop. He hit a woman and a 9-month-old baby and drove away, leaving them to die in the gutter.

After a couple of weeks, the driver's conscience began eating at him. He heard news reports encouraging Tucsonans to call 88-CRIME if they witnessed the incident. He knew that the Pima County Sheriffs wouldn't stop until they found him.

So he confessed, bravely turning himself in, ready to face the consequences of his crime.

Dustin Powers, a 17-year-old boy, told the police that he momentarily stopped watching the road to adjust his radio. Before he could look up, Grinder and her daughter were struck.

Any normal person would get out of the car, stabilize the victims and find a phone to call 911.

But Powers panicked and bolted, possibly because he didn't know any better.

Dustin Powers was always different. His childhood is a criminal record, comprised of petty crimes. Powers abused drugs, and at the time of the accident, he was on intensive probation for an earlier offense.

At a press conference last week, Powers' mother told reporters that her son was a constant concern. She worried non-stop, always hoping her son would make the right choices.

Powers has admitted to having Attention Deficit Disorder, which leaves many sufferers unable to focus on activities and can affect their decision-making skills.

At his hearing, where the boy was not expected to speak, he cried and lowered his head. Powers and his family have also begged the forgiveness of Grinder's husband.

Yet when the Pima County District Attorney's Office announced that they will try Powers as an adult, but charge him only with two felony counts of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, the public went ballistic.

In response to the outcry, District Attorney Barbara LaWall had to hold a press conference, justifying her decision.

Callers bombarded her office with questions - why not throw the book at Powers? Why not charge him with second-degree murder? Hell, why not give him the death penalty?

LaWall explained her decision in legal terms. But she neglected to make some important statements.

She didn't explain the ideology that separates us from many third-world countries with poor human rights policies.

In this country, some people still believe that rehabilitation beats punishment.

Some people remember that sending a 17-year-old boy - one who's crying out for help - to our brutal jails for a good portion of his life could permanently ruin him.

Psychological counseling, to some people, is superior to allowing hardened criminals to beat on 17 year olds.

But oddly enough, the public can't see that.

Martha Grinder's life is over. Why can't people opt to be humane and try to save Dustin Powers?