Friday, January 23, 2009

Justice and Mia Sardella

Justice was meted out in a Delaware County courtroom yesterday to Mia Sardella.

Judge Patricia Jenkins sentenced the 20-year-old Drexel Hill woman to 45 days in jail, to be served on weekends, in connection with the death of her newborn son. Sardella had entered a no contest plea to a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Actually, the full sentence was a bit more complicated than that. Jenkins sentenced Sardella to nine months to two years in jail, less one day on the felony count. What it boils down to is that starting next weekend Sardella will report to Delaware County Prison for the next 22 consecutive weekends. She’ll do 45 days, less the two days she has already served. The remainder of the nine months will be served on house arrest, followed by the 15 months of probation. Sardella has been on electronic home monitoring for the bulk of the two years since she was initially charged, ironically the exact date of yesterday’s sentencing.

Jenkins also has one unusual ingredient as part of the sentence. She ordered Sardella to do two years of community service, specifically with a California agency called Project Cuddle, which works with young mothers to reduce cases of baby abandonment.

I’m sure it struck Judge Jenkins as a perfectly just sentence. It seems that way to me, too. And to Mike Galantino, who prosecuted the case. The assistant district attorney indicated after the sentence that it appeared Sardella’s actions were “more reckless than malicious.” Defense attorney Art Donato concurred.

The sentence was announced late yesterday morning. We posted our first story on our Web site around noon.

And I knew what was coming.

I will call it “The Bonfire of the Inanities.”

There are many things about the technology that we are dealing with in the newspaper business that I like. First and foremost, it allows us to deliver news 24 hours a day to our readers. There was a time not all that long ago when we would have been forced to sit here with what has been a very controversial story in this county and listen to TV and radio stations deliver news of the Sardella sentencing. We would not hit the streets with our next print edition until the next morning.

Those days are over. We posted a quick bulletin with the details of the arrest. Then we updated with information on the other aspects of the sentence. And we udpated the story again with a full report from our courthouse reporter.

Our Web site also does something else. It allows us to be much more of an interactive venue. We have always solicited readers’ opinions in print, asking them to write letters to the editor and even phone in their beliefs to Sound Off.

Now readers can post comments to the stories that appear online.

On this story, there have been no shortage of opinions. And people have turned to the Web site to make their feelings known in some very strong, plain language.

Shortly after we posted our first story yesterday, the comments section of the site exploded.

From the beginning of this case, there have been those who have complained that it was treated differently than other cases. They believe the delay in bringing charges offered evidence that there was two different sets of justice dispensed in Delaware County, one for people of means, and one for everyone else.

I don’t think that argument holds water. I still don’t. Mia Sardella initially was charged with first-degree murder in this case. Eventually that charge was dropped. Then a third-degree murder charge was slapped on her. Her plea agreement also saw that charge disappear. Eventually she pleaded no-contest to charges of involuntary manslaughter, which happens to be a felony, abuse of a corpse, and concealing the death of a child.

I have received more phone calls and e-mails connected to this case than just about any story I can remember. As usual, I’m the guy in the middle. Those in Sardella’s corner insist we’ve been unfair in our coverage; those against her believe we also are cowering because of the status of her family.

I am not going to convince those who believe that Mia Sardella got preferential treatment otherwise. They will continue to bombard the Web site with their comments. We will review them and remove those that we feel cross the line. And lots of them do.

Mia Sardella’s sentence strikes me as just about exactly what I expected, very similar to the sentence handed out a few years back to a young woman in Ridley in similar circumstances.

Had this case gone to trial, it likely would have boiled down to a battle of legal experts as to whether or not the baby was alive at the time of birth, or as the prosecution was ready to argue, “that this child was born alive and that he died as a result of asphyxiation.”

It strikes me that Sardella would have had a very good chance of beating these charges if she had gone to trial. But she did not go that route. She entered a plea. In effect, she was admitting that her actions were wrong.

That argument is now moot.

A contrite Sardella appeared before Judge Jenkins and sobbed.

“I will never get over the loss of my child, nor will I ever forgive myself for what I did,” she said.

Clearly there are a lot of people in the county who agree with her.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Mike OConnor said...

Phil, You had to know by the headline
of 45 days; that many of your readers
would take exception to what many reasonable people would seem to be an unusually light sentence.I'm not passing judgement on Mia Sardella or her family but on you,Gil Spencer and the Times. By use of the 45 DAYS headline you inferred that the sentence was light while chastising
your readers for reacting to the very same headline.

January 26, 2009 at 3:26 PM 
Anonymous Doug Wild said...

Moot or not, this case is an example of the variable standards of justice that exist in this country.

What happened between Ms. Sardella's having been "initially" charged with first degree murder, and subsequently having been "slapped" (no attempt to manipulate readers with word choice here, right?) with a third degree murder charge?

Sardella's behavior was not unintentional. It was intentional and it was premeditated. Her sentence in no way reflected that premeditation or her criminal intention.

One final question (well, actually two questions): 1. Is Ms. Sardella a woman of color? 2. Is Judge Jenkins a woman of color? Of course these questions are rhetorical but the answers may well be uncomfortably pertinent.

January 28, 2009 at 7:46 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well as to fair or not I really can't say as I was not there that night when Mia chose to have a baby in the basement of her house where her family made her a special room!! She hid the baby in a duffle bag in her car? isn't that an act of hiding something you know is wrong?? She has stolen things from her family, lied,she has led a life of privileges!! She was given alot do to the wealthniess of her family , it is all true! as I know the family and Mia and her Mother well!! Now she has really gotten away easy again!!How remorseful she really is is only between her ahd God, but I think she is incapable!

January 30, 2009 at 6:25 PM 

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