Friday, January 23, 2009

Justice Blinked

45 days, less time served.

That was the sentence handed down in the case of Mia Sardella, the Drexel University freshman whose newborn son was found in the trunk of her car exactly two years ago. An anniversary gift, of sorts. It was also just one of many ironies in a case that many believe shows that justice is only blind if you are poor.

A sad ending to a sad case.

"Unconventional" is the way the Inquirer described it, in Woman gets weekend jail in infant death:

After listening to tearful, impassioned pleas for probation for a 20-year-old Drexel Hill woman accused of killing her newborn son, a Delaware County Court judge imposed an unconventional prison term: 21 1/2 weekends.

* * * *
[Judge] Jenkins sentenced Sardella to nine months to two years, less a day, on the charge of involuntary manslaughter. The judge said Sardella must spend 45 days in prison, in 48-hour increments, and will get credit for the two days she has served. The remainder of the nine months will be house arrest, followed by 15 months of probation.
As the Delaware County paper reported, U.D. woman sentenced to 21 weekends in jail:
Exactly what occurred to Sardella’s infant son at the time of his Jan. 1, 2007, birth remains a question mark, as prosecution and defense experts differ over whether the child was stillborn or born alive and died from asphyxiation.

The body of Sardella’s infant son was found by her mother stuffed in a duffel bag in a car trunk — exactly two years ago to the day Thursday.

The dark-haired, diminutive Sardella, 20, of Upper Darby, was sentenced Thursday to serve 21 weekends in jail to be followed by nine months house arrest, and two years of service helping girls so they avoid doing what she did.

Besides the weekend jail sentence, Judge Patricia Jenkins ordered that Sardella is to contribute time to Project Cuddle, a California-based organization that helps girls consider alternatives to baby abandonment or death.
The Inquirer provides a summary of the tortured history of this case, Woman sentenced in baby’s death:
Sardella was sentenced two years after police pulled a dead newborn male from a duffle bag in a Drexel Hill car trunk. Police said Sardella, who was a Drexel University freshman at the time, concealed her pregnancy and gave birth while she was home on Christmas break. She hid the infant's body in the trunk of her Volkswagen Beetle, according to police.

Sardella initially faced a first-degree murder charge after Delaware County Medical Examiner Fredric N. Hellman concluded in May 2007 that the baby was alive at birth and died of asphyxiation.

In October 2007, the District Attorney's Office backed off that finding and withdrew the first-degree murder charge.

She pleaded no-contest in December to involuntary manslaughter, abuse of a corpse, and concealing the death of a child.
I had predicted that Sardella would receive little or no time (other than the house arrest that she has been under) when all was said and done. See It's No Contest. A case of the right kind of Justice for Just Us. The case has received national attention -- and criticism over the handling of the case. the Inquirer noted,

"The outcome is appropriate," Deputy District Attorney Michael Galantino said of the sentence.

Galantino said he believed his office could have proved the murder charge, but he said the evidence suggested "this defendant's conduct was more reckless than malicious."

Galantino and Donato denied accusations from police and the public that Sardella received preferential treatment because she is a granddaughter of Albert E. Piscopo, chief executive of the Glenmede Trust Co. The investment firm manages high-end portfolios, including the assets of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

I have followed this case from the beginning. See, e.g, Different Strokes for Different Folks, Momma Mia and Mini Mia. And I have said many times before that the case is heartbreaking. Not only because of the loss of life of her infant son, but the life of a young woman who make a tragic mistake that she will pay for well beyond the sentence served. Yet many others have done far less, but receive the harsh hand of justice, merely because they are less fortunate.

The moral of the story is simple: the quality of mercy is much better if you come from the right place.


Marie said...

what a sad, strange case. I can't understand how things like this can happen.

phillygrrl said...


Philly grrl said...

Love your site! Had to link to it.

Doug Wild said...

Ms Sardella's sentence is clearly absurd. Her behavior was premeditated and she should have been punished accordingly. But as you and phillygrrl suggest, all too often, there are multiple standards of justice meted out in this country and wealth and color are, just as often, the determinants of those standards.

By the way, I'm a little bothered by your using the "tragic mistake," phrase regarding Ms. Sardella's criminal behavior in this case. This was no "tragic mistake". An example of a "tragic mistake" is the case of the Huston man who forgot he left his granddaughter in his car. As for Mr. Heron, I can't even begin to react to his kind of idiocy (hmmm...but I guess I just did, didn't I?).

JudiPhilly said...

Doug: I'm not sure how "premeditated" her conduct actually was -- the ability of the mind to engage in denial is astounding. As is the reaction to fear and panic.

It was the lack of acknowledgment once the reality set in that is amazing, and disheartening, to me (along with the disparity in treatment). But isn't that a part of our culture today (which has come from the top -- George Bush -- down)?

I am able to empathize and yet expect some level of responsibility at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive (some reactions are just like that, as you know . . .)

Phillygrrl: Thanks the kind words & the mention.

Marie: It truly is very sad. But, having been raised in a prior generation, with a strict Catholic home/education, I have seen what could happen when there is a total lack of sex education. The results may not have been this extreme, but the impact on the lives of several friends was devastating.